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April, 2016:

Being Nobody

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie approves of this fire.

Rosie and I shipped ourselves up to Flagstaff for a long weekend. I found a cozy place on Airbnb where we could start and end our day sitting in front of the fire. I needed a few days to do a self-retreat, to rest and re-charge. This gave me the chance to takes some much needed time to think about what’s important to me and what I want to do personally and professionally during the next year.

The highlight of the trip was doing the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. I love ropes courses. I love climbing trees, and when I traverse the obstacles, nothing else matters except the challenge in front of me.

After a brief orientation with one of the guides to learn how to use the carabiners and attach ourselves to zip lines, we headed out to the trees to take on the course. This course has five levels – Green, Silver, Blue, Red, and Black – each level more difficult than the last. (Apparently only 50% of participants finish the whole course – including me! It’s quite a workout.) The highest platform was 61 feet off the ground and longest zip line was over 300 feet long.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

One of the obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Courtesy of FLG X.

I was the only person in my group who wasn’t there with family or friends. At first it made me uncomfortable, but halfway through the course, I realized that this gave me the chance to be nobody. For three hours, my “job” was to climb trees, navigate obstacles, and sail along zip lines. For three hours I wasn’t a lawyer, a writer, or even a dog parent. For three hours I was Joe Nobody, anonymous, and free to merely be “Ruth from Phoenix.” I just got to be a person.

My friends invited me to do this ropes course with them last year and I’m glad I declined to go. Even amongst friends, I still would have felt pressured to perform. Completing the course alone, I didn’t feel the added stress that comes with the fear of being watched and judged.

In a society filled with job titles, reputations, and expectations, it was a gift to take this break from reality. I felt no pressure to perform, except the pressure I put on myself get across the next part of the course. Going to the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course gave me the opportunity to be a human being instead of a “human doing.” For three beautiful hours, my only job was to put one foot in front of the other.

Bigots Pay More

I’m frustrated about the slew of anti-LGBT laws that have passed and are under consideration all over the country. I was happy to see celebrities responding to the transphobic bathroom law in North Carolina – Bruce Springsteen cancelled his show and Mumford & Sons donated the profits from their North Carolina show to a local LGBT organization.

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663 by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I don’t live in North Carolina or Mississippi, but I want to respond to these anti-LGBT laws too. I’ve been reading the labels on products in my kitchen and bathroom to make sure I’m not buying things from those states. Originally I considered adding a “bigot fee” for any speaking engagement in a state that has an anti-LGBT law in place, but then I had a better idea.

I raised my speaking fee and added the opportunity for discounts for those that qualify:

  • Equality Discount – for states, cities, and counties that don’t have anti-LGBT laws in place: $1,000 discount (Companies that opposed these laws before and after these laws passed also qualify – it’s not their fault the people in power are closed-minded jerks.)
  • Gender Neutral Bathrooms Discount – must be at hiring company and venue locations: $500 discount
  • Equal Pay Discount – if the hiring company can demonstrate they give equal pay to all genders in comparable positions: $500 discount
  • Non-Discrimination Discount – if the hiring company lists sexual orientation and gender expression in its non-discrimination policy: $500 discount

If a company wants to hire me and they qualify for all the discounts, it’s a $2,500 savings. These are issues that are important to me and I’m happy to give discounts to those who share my views enough to implement change and stand for equality.

Mad at Sugar

I’ve been trying to eat a healthier and more conscientious diet. Since January, I’ve been a gluten-free vegan at least 90% of the time. This significant shift in my diet hasn’t been that hard. There are lots of options for wonderful flavorful fresh foods. I hope I make my co-workers jealous with how awesome my lunch smells every day.

I like to joke and say that I have palette of 5 year-old. I like simple foods and I like foods that taste sweet. I used to be the person who put 4 spoonfuls of sugar in their coffee (now down to less than 1) and eat candy by the handful. But then I noticed that my sugar intake was affecting my mood. Around the office (where we have a sugar-laden snack counter) I frequently said that giving me sugar is as dangerous as feeding a Gremlin after midnight – usually while helping myself to more jelly beans.

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

Sugar Kills by Juhan Sonin from Fickr (Creative Commons License)

I decided to be more thoughtful about my sugar intake. I’ve seen documentaries that discuss the impact of sugar on health – particularly Americans – like Fed Up. Annoyingly, the nutritional information on food labels doesn’t include what percentage of added sugar that food item contains. But, the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 25 grams (100 calories) of added sugar per day (no more than 37.5 grams for men).

Armed with this information, I started to be more diligent about reading food labels in my kitchen. Holy crap there’s a lot of sugar in seemingly nutritious food!

The vanilla almond milk I was using as a substitute for cream in coffee had 13 grams of sugar per cup! (Thankfully its unsweetened counterpart has zero added sugar and no artificial sweeteners.) At first, I was happy when Cheerios changed its recipes to be gluten free. Honey Nut Cheerios are delicious – hey, maybe that has something to do with the 9 grams of sugar it has per serving! (For comparison, Lucky Charms has 11 grams per serving.) Who knew it was so hard to eat breakfast!

I’ve since changed my breakfast from cereal to kale-and-fruit smoothies. Screw you Kellogg’s and General Mills.

Last week, I had an upper respiratory infection. I was coughing so much, my throat felt like it was on fire. I thought some whole fruit popsicles or sorbet might be a nice alternative to drinking copious amounts of ice water. I walked the freezer section of the store, reading the back of every healthy-appearing item. To my dismay, the first two ingredients in every option in the store were water and sugar.

Bah! Sugar is everywhere! Even in “healthy” options.

I don’t mind making most of my food from scratch, but geez, I’d like to enjoy some processed stuff. I don’t disagree that a lot of these foods are delicious, but it pisses me off that companies promote these toxic foods as healthy. Now, I have to be that guy who is meticulous about reading ingredients on food labels in stores.

I’m frustrated that food manufacturers can’t be trusted to be forthcoming about what they’re pushing. It’s hard to know at a glance what’s actually good for me. This is another reminder that most companies are more interested in manipulating us to benefit their bottom line, rather than create quality foods.

Major to Minor – Chase Holfelder

I love music that is strong musically and has a powerful message that’s so real it’s a bit eerie. Those are two of the reasons why I love Chase Holfelder’s Major to Minor work. He takes a song where the original is written in a major key and transposes it into a minor key. With this treatment, songs are still familiar and take on a completely new meaning and feeling.

I became aware of Chase’s music when his rendition of “Amazing Grace” was used on an episode of Deadliest Catch. I had to buy it on iTunes immediately. (And I’m not a religious person.) Chase takes some latitude with the lyrics, but it fits with the tone of this song.

Earlier this year, Chase released a Major to Minor version of “Over the Rainbow.” I love this version so much, I never want to sing the Judy Garland rendition again. I wish Chase would per out a karaoke track for this song.

“Over the Rainbow” is gay anthem and this version captures the pain and perseverance that sometimes comes with coming out. It’s scary to be reminded that there are people who would kill us or deny us our rights for not being gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise not conforming to the hetero-male/female norms.

I want to do a photoshoot inspired Chase’s music. I’m envisioning a plain black backdrop, jeans, white tank top, bare feet, and capturing whatever feelings come out while listening to his music – hopefully something strong and raw.

The first Major to Minor song Chase did was “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s gorgeous. I would support a national movement to perform this song in the minor key during times of war or conflict. It would still represent national pride, but the minor key would remind us that members of our armed forces are putting themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom.