Sunday, January 31, 2010

18 Days

Eighteen days. Eighteen days since my last period. It used to be one of those 28 days like clockwork things, then about three years ago, it shortened to 24 days. I don't know why I expected it to go the other way, to get more infrequent and then disappear altogether, but I did.
Intellectually, I'd prefer to be done with it, the mess, the accompanying mood shifts. I have heard many women get a burst of energy when it's over, and I'd like that. My mood shifts are not strong enough to be noticeable except in hindsight. One day a month, I'm cranky and tend to lose patience with my husband or son, but it's never a whole big drama. Still, I'd like it to go.
As soon as menopause is behind me, I'll be glad. I wish it would hurry up and be over. So far, I don't feel any need medicate or control this process, a complex feedback loop that will not respond linearly to any homeopathic remedy you might throw into the mix. It would be like trying to control the weather or push clouds. You might, in fact, make everything worse.
I have not yet desired to stop or turn back the clock. Not everyone feels this way, I realize, but I have not yet found a period in my life I'd like to set in amber and continue indefinitely. I'm always hoping for more--more information, more experience, more and different pleasures. And so far, I've been lucky.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What Looks Like Work . . .

I know I sound cruel to my elders. I hate it that I feel this way. I'd like to go back to an earlier me, one that didn't count the cost of each action I take on behalf of others. My own helpfulness has led people to believe that my grasp of logistics and strong arms will be forever at their beck and call. Surely, we all share the same goals?
Problem is, we never discuss these goals. I cannot discern these goals from the traditional hoopla surrounding the holidays. To question the necessity of any one element of the hoopla is to become a killjoy. The illusion that everyone loves the Christmas season is a fragile bubble only a Grinch would pop.
My elders are bored. They worked so hard--for their houses, their children's education, their retirement--but now they have nothing to do. They live like the idle rich, but they don't know what to do with their time. They hope I (or my sisters) will help them fill it or kill it. They look forward to holidays as a goal for all their underutilized energies, as a time when they feel entitled to exact more than the usual desultory efforts from us.
I'm not bored. I'm working. But my work--writing--doesn't look like work to them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nostalgia for Past Pleasure

How many times can we do the same thing, over and over and over, and still pretend it gives the same pleasure as before? I was feeling cornered by the third day of holiday cheer, that no part of my mental space was left to me. All of it was commandeered by the needs of the group. So I sat down with my dad's laptop and played a mindless game, Snood. My fingers kept clicking the mouse, while I desultorily chimed in on the absolutely statutory conversation. As Julian Barnes said in his memoir piece, "The Past Conditional," (New Yorker, Dec. 25 & Jan. 1, 2007) the certainty that some of my family members have always shown that they know the correct way to proceed in all circumstances has been "usefully clear in childhood, restrictive in adolescence, and grindingly repetitive in adulthood."
It was delightful when we were children to have a complex Christmas ritual, the month or more of preparation, the illusion of plenty for a time when we were in fact usually economically challenged. We were churchgoers then, too. Now it is so difficult to trump the plenty of everyday that two weeks of excessive calorie intake and two Christmas trees with a mountain of presents under each still leaves the younger generation vaguely underwhelmed. These are the kids who annually are treated to three to five birthday parties to cover friends, school, and both sides of the top-heavy family.
Nostalgia for past pleasure seems to be fueling this escalation of effort and spending, but as far as I can determine, it is not in fact giving the perpetrators the pleasure they seek to recapture. Which is the definition of neurosis--to keep doing the same thing again and again, even though it doesn't work, in the hope that this time it will.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is the Way We Do: Holiday Edition

What is accomplished during the holidays?
We check each others' bodies for gross changes. We explain to each other the thickening lenses of our glasses, the weight lost or gained, the blood sugar levels, the cholesterol. We are amazed for each other by time's dragging pull on our weak, soft flesh. We check for gray hairs, doubled chins. We notice the humped upper backs on our parents, their diminishing stature. We repeat to each other anecdotes and family received wisdom. We check each others' children for common familial genetic traits: tongue-rolling, round or flat buttocks, the curved arc of flesh inside the knee. We discuss the emerging character of each others' children. We boast about our own kids, while looking for the secret negatives in our siblings' broods. We seek to vindicate our parenting style. We try to convey the highlights of the past year or month to each other; in seeking to explain our life, others take our words as advice, assume we are recommending it as the single righteous path to happiness. It's not. It's just what we've found out so far, our own singular take.
My story is no self-help book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get It In

About the writing thing. Yeah.
Over the Christmas break, I found myself getting a bit edgy, then cranky. At first, I couldn't figure out why. Then it dawned on me that with both my husband and son home from school (my husband's a teacher), I had to carve out an hour or two from each day for writing, whether they liked it or not. When they're in school, I don't have to account for every hour they're not home. When we're all "on vacation," somehow I do. It's hard to tell your closest loved ones that you have a priority, any priority, that you believe trumps their claim on you. I don't like to do hard things, like explain myself. Maybe that's why it took me so long to get back to writing?
It got worse on the actual days around Christmas and New Year's, because not just my immediate family, but a whole room full of the extended family--none of whom would (or should, for that matter) believe it crucial that I tiptoe away and get in a little scribbling. They all have their own reasons to love or hate holidays, and I can't expect any sympathy from them on this point. But somehow I still seemed to feel it was all their fault I couldn't.
In a related story, my sister told me last year that she had finally figured out that when she kept her ears warm in winter (with earmuffs, in her case), she was a much kinder and gentler person. When she said that, I answered, "And when you know that about yourself, it's your duty to do all you can to make life on this planet that much better for those around you. But new earmuffs."
About halfway through the Christmas vacation, I had it figured out, woke up earlier, and got the writing done, then joined civilized society with a lighter heart. So my point is, now that I know this about my own mood states, whose fault is it if I fail to get a little writing in?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hair is Where?

Well, not where it used to be. I used to feel like a Neanderthal woman, thickly pelted on forearms and shins, but now years of Lycra-wearing has worn off the worst of it in those areas. I still have hair in abundance where the modern sleek young women have waxed everything to rubber doll smoothness--or so I'm given to understand by TV shows and magazines. There are fashions in these things as well as clothing and hairstyles. Brazilian used to be a nationality; now it's a private hair style, a menu item on the waxing board.
So, swimming. Recommended by my masseuse to "open the shoulder." I used to love swimming, the cool sensation of water flowing past my skin, the buoyancy, the semi-weightlessness. I felt lithe and graceful in water, a mermaid in her element. Something I never felt on land. Swimming was the only exercise I could enjoy. All others made me sweaty, chafed and frustrated, were linked with humiliation and ill-fitting gym suits.
Now, however, the bother of going somewhere, undressing, getting all wet, drying off again, and getting redressed just seem like a huge hurdle. Until the shoulder thing. At least I can swim. I was on the swim team in high school. Before anyone gets overly impressed though, all you had to do to be on the swim team was show up at the pool and put on a suit. No try-outs, no cuts. I learned the strokes, I became a better, more efficient swimmer, but I never got any faster really. I finished every race two or even three lengths behind the winner. The coach kept nominating me for the three-inch trophy for perseverance, or dedication, which should have had engraved on it in parentheses, "despite lack of improvement." Happily, I was not my lap time. I was not my beautiful stroke. I was not how my body looked in a swimsuit.
It has never ceased to startle me that there are poor souls who continue to grasp at the straws that rain down on them in an indifferent universe for any hint of who they are, what they should do or be. I can feel a global sympathy for that plight, but I do not know how it feels.
Of course, I have other problems.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No More Slouching

What I can't do any more, due to thoracic outlet syndrome:
1. slouch like a teenager
2. cross my legs
3. hold a pencil for 3+ hours per day
4. type in this blog at my old outmoded computer desk, the kind with the keyboard slide-out thing
5. curl up on the couch to watch a movie on DVD
6. sit up in bed and read holding a book in that cursed right claw.
All of these are long-standing habits of mine, habits I'm going to have to break if I don't want to be in pain. I certainly don't want to become too acquainted with "pain management."
Oh, well, on to plan B.
Swimming. Next post: "Hair is Where?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Generals' Table

I'm going to get back to the body here pretty soon. These days I spend way too much time at the generals' table, where my elders complain about their ailments, aches and pains, pleasures they've been forced to give up. In the officers' mess of a professional army, the lieutenants' table would be discussing women and sex, the majors food, wine, and cigars, and the generals their gout. Somehow I prematurely joined my parents and their friends at the majors' table when I was about 14, and have stayed there until recently, when they all turned into generals.
My mom can't eat peppers, cucumbers, or cantaloupe; they cause an untoward volume of gas. My aunt will not eat tomatoes; I don't know why. My mother-in-law would rather die than eat green vegetables: literally! If I should perchance fail to remember one of these arcane prohibitions, they are horrified. How could I forget such important details about them? Don't I love them any more? None of them should eat white bread or sweets, but that is what they want, and bake, and bring to my house to get it out of their own cupboard where it will tempt them. No, thank you, don't bring that here! I don't want it either!
I want to go back to the lieutenants' table. Anyone know where it is?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not Crazy

When I told friends about my involvement in an intervention, they all asked me--all of them!--whether I thought they were alcoholic. I don't know! Why are you asking me? Are you telling me the whole truth about your drinking habits? If I say you aren't an alcoholic, will that give you some kind of esoteric permission to continue to drink as you do, possibly step it up a little?
What I do know is that living with people who are addicted can make you crazy. That the addicts I know are very clever and can turn things around to make you feel like the one who is in the wrong. You're not doing enough for them, not letting them have fun, not being understanding enough. And if you dare to call them on any of this, they turn it around and accuse you of being controlling.
According to AA, if you're asking people if you're an addict, you probably are. If you say you are not an alcoholic, then for sure you are. Is AA a cult? Is the entire American culture to be viewed only through a 12-step lens? If so many people are addicts, does that mean that 100% of the American population is addicted to something? Can my coffee addiction be equated with meth addiction? Once again, Americans show their preference for the easy answer, the one-shot deal, the magic pill.
Are you an alcoholic? The answer is, it depends. I don't know. Are you? Do you need everyone else in America to be addicted to something so you can feel better about your own dependencies? If so, you probably are.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All About Satisfaction

Here's how I know I'm not an alcoholic. I have been to Al-Anon meetings and visited cherished relatives at Hazelden this fall and based on what I learned, I am not an alcoholic. I do drink. Wine. But I do not have the necessary self-hatred nor the desire to punish those I may hold responsible for any pain I feel. Then there's my tolerance. Way too low to get me in any trouble. I hate feeling like shit and I won't do it. Not even to make you feel better about being an alcoholic. I won't stress eat, or eat to keep you company. I can't smoke even one cigarette. What I am addicted to are my own self-generated endorphins. And coffee.
So it turns out I'm a Euro-drinker. It's not that I've never felt the temptation to just go ahead and overindulge. Sure, I have. I've even done it, but then felt no compulsion to do it all over again the next day.
The first glass tastes great. The second is quickly affected by the law of diminishing returns. When tempted to a third glass, I find tannins have turned my tongue to leather. Time for a nice cup of coffee! (Yes, I'm a foodie. Low-end farmers market type, not single-source cacao type. I don't have the cash to be that snobby kind.) Just one glass relaxes me plenty. I don't have that far to go to feel fine. But I have no plan to teetotal. Neither do I diet. I'll go into the deprivation/indulgence cycle later.
I'm all about satisfaction myself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Message of the Massage

I go in for a massage last week. As she scents the room with orange blossom and sandalwood, the massage therapist asks me if I have any "issues." So I start in on my litany of symptoms, that old thoracic outlet syndrome. What joy to have someone in thrall to every click and pop your body makes! I get as naked as I can, given the fact that I have my period, and "hop" ( for hop, read lumber) up on the table, position myself face down, nose through the horseshoe-shaped faceholder thing, which always makes me feel like a dairy cow in a stanchion. My masseuse with the many tattoos proceeds to beat upon me in the most satisfying way. Desultory chat continues for a few minutes, but then the deep relaxation that comes from placing your body in someone else's hands, someone you trust, takes over and I enter a meditative state. Skin spangling under her touch, my mind wanders. Goes nowhere, finds its way in and out of cul-de-sacs. Time runs at some different speed than usual.
Here's the weird part. When she finishes any section of my body, my left leg, say, she pauses, lays her hands lightly at the top of my leg and brushes her fingers from thigh to heel. I don't know what this is for. Whoa! She's done! Then she rings a gong. Why? She leaves so I can get redressed in private and I see that it wasn't a gong, but a large white glass bowl that she hit with a stiff cardboard tube. I hit it too a few times. Delightful alternative Eastern religious spiritual feeling, and so cheap! Well, I'm only $125 the poorer. Good deal.
We Westerners are such cheap dates when it comes to Eastern mysticism. We want all the benefits of Zen without doing any of the hard work. They must know something over there on the other side of the Pacific. They all look so calm. So much calmer than we feel. They must be happy, we think. Maybe that's what happiness looks like. Don't forget though, in Japan and China, they think we all look so happy over here, smiling so big all day long. Maybe if they watch our movies and buy all the stuff we sell here, they can smile like us. Who knows?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yes, married.

Why the fact that I'm married is highly beside the point:
Single and divorced women of my acquaintance believe I have no basis for complaint since, after all, I'm married. I hit the jackpot. My life is transformed. I have no right to tell my story, since it is not their story. What do I know of their loneliness and despair? Well, quite a lot more than they think I do.
For instance, does it mean I have an automatic date when I want to go to a movie, or a play, or whatever? No, it does not.
Does it mean I'm never be myself, wondering how I am to fill what can seem like vast stretches of tundra until I am with the people I love?
Does it mean that when we are together, we both feel like using this quality time in the same way? Sometimes he is so dead tired I have to watch him sleep to be with him.
Twelve minutes a day. That's what I read in the New York Times magazine a few years ago. That's how much time a working couple get, on average, each day to check in with each other, talk, keep the love alive. Tall order.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

To Whom Do You Report?

When does your body become your own? For some women, they may never get to the point of claiming it. To whom do you report?
To your mother: "Go back upstairs and change those socks. You are not going to church in those. They don't match."
"But they're both white! What does it matter? Who cares if they match? Who'll be able to see them when I'm kneeling in church? They'll be under the pew."
"I care. I'll know."
To your sister: "Eww! You can not wear those white tights. Look at the size of your thighs in those!"
To your roommate: "Tuck that shirt in. I'm telling you, it looks like hell hanging out like that."
To your boyfriend: "Why do you shave under your arms? I like you better the natural way. Napoleon sent a message to Josephine: 'Arriving Saturday. Don't wash.' I'm saying, don't mess with your pheromones."
To your husband: "You got your hair cut again. Why did you do that? It's shorter than mine now. You know I like it long."
To your children: First, if you breastfeed, your chest is their territory. Even if you don't, your lap, your arms, your legs, are theirs to seek comfort from. And you cannot deny it to them. All day you are battered by their physical need for your body, and you crash into bed exhausted. Then, unexpectedly, that guy who gave you those kids to raise wants to do some more impregnating, or just wants to touch you, have you touch him, and you are all touched out. Ack! Back up! Maybe when they are all in school, you can help him out with that. Not now.
To your teenaged children: "Mom, that looks horrible! Tell me you kept the receipt!"
To your mother-in-law: "No, don't tuck it in. Why do you always wear such dark, drab colors? Do you want to look like a schoolmarm?" Yes, you do. You are a schoolmarm.

I was lucky. I solved the problem of the body rather early, I think. All these other people felt they could weigh in on my choices, on the aesthetic impact my body made on their surroundings, but I felt only surprise at their opinions, at their need to express them to me. I had my own feelings about how they dressed and how they looked, but I kept them to myself. I had a more live-and-let-live attitude to how they decorated my milieu.
I thought I looked fine. I didn't beat myself up about the parts of my body that were out of my control: the bones of my ankles, the size of my feet, my lack of cleavage, my childbearing hips.

To whom have you reported? What did they say?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Aesthetic Impact

Strangely, I'm as happy with my body now as I've ever been, perhaps mainly because I look better than many women in my age group, better than many younger women, too. The parts of my body that still annoy me--the soft upper thighs, the puckery loose skin that will never get smooth and tight (never was smooth and tight) hardly matter, since, once clothed, no one else sees that. I've also almost completely purged myself of the ingrained notion (ingrained by whom? more on that later) that I must look good to others. That "they" (whoever they are) don't want to see my bulging thighs, my jutting butt. Maybe they don't. They don't have to look. Those overweight guys who squat down and flash their nasty hairy ass cracks never worry about the aesthetic impact of their actions. Why should I? Especially now, when I am entering the invisible phase of my life. Not that I was all that visible even as a young woman.
I had been one of the many unremarkable young women. The herd of equally unremarkable men briefly scanned my outline and dismissed me, before focusing on one of the few remarkably beautiful girls. How could I not take that as a slight at the time? How glad I am to have left the meat market realm of high school, college, dating! My positive attributes do not ride the surface of my skin.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fuzzy Logic

I can't see my armpits to shave them cleanly any longer. In the shower, without my glasses, the focal length between my eyes and pit is my fuzziest. I know I'm a Luddite; I could get it all lasered off if I cared deeply about how it looked, but I don't. I only continue this pretense of beauty work because my own sweat smell bothers me, is lessened when I shave. That's it.

One damn thing after another. Now the periodic numbness in my fourth and fifth fingers of my right hand spreads to my thumb, becomes shooting pain, zinging up my neck and down my arm to the elbow. I can barely hold a pencil to write. Yoga and lifting weights become impossible. I soften, atrophy, sink into more pain. Finally, I break down, go to the doctor, ask to be allowed to get physical therapy. My kindly Vietnamese general practitioner, the one who usually just sits and blinks in the flood of words I spew forth, examines me, gives me the referral. I want to be sure he has enough information, not too little. Perhaps I overdo it. He blinks and blinks.
So I go to the physical therapy place on Christmas Eve. That's the only appointment I could get, and by the time I get there, the pain has lessened. I've learned how to sleep to keep it from worsening. The therapist seems a little baffled by my not-very-severe symptoms and I am cast as a bit hysterical once again. Crying wolf. But when is the right time to take my own discomfort seriously? On my deathbed? I keep apologizing for taking up the therapist's time, explaining how I didn't want to wait as long as my husband did last year, until he could no longer sleep at all and was gulping overdoses of ibuprofen around the clock. Of course, I say to the therapist, I realize this is at least partially due to the inexorable processes of aging. But part not. Surely it's postural and I'll still be able to write, won't I?  I say, I didn't want to wait so long that I am hunched and cackling and stuffing small children into ovens. At this, the therapist's head pops up from her diagrams of human musculature and says, hey, that's funny. Is that the kind of stuff you write? Fairy tales, I think. I say, No. Humor. Ha ha ha!
When I was young, I saw so many of my cohorts really believed in fairy tales. They were not cautionary for them, but promises.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Shopping--The Baseline

Then it's the baseline colonoscopy. Three days before, I have to start the low-fiber diet. Not a pleasure for me. I don't really like low-fiber foods--white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes--and to be forced by the health professionals to eat as badly as the majority of the American population, to have to get a baseline in the first place because so many people take all health guidelines so skeptically, it burns me up. My bowels are probably glistening pink garden hoses from the all the healthy, low-fat, high-fiber, practically vegetarian eating I've been doing since 1999. And yet I must go through all this rigamarole to prove to the doctors that I'm telling the truth about my diet. Because everybody else lies.
I know most people would take this as a license to eat as badly as possible--with the doctor's seal of approval! I suppose it should feel like a reprieve, like getting out of school early or having an exam postponed, but it doesn't.
I stay awake for the whole thing. I was right. Not a polyp or involution in sight. I ask the doctor what's the strangest thing he's ever found up there. He changes the subject by telling me about the book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. He tells me I did an excellent job on my prep. I am inordinately pleased, a gold star or a smiley face sticker on my medical record. Will they believe me next time when I report my diet? Probably not.

The sandwiched generation is right. I am still taking care of my child while my elders decline. My elders had their kids earlier in life, in their twenties, and thus we the kids were off their hands before they were faced with taking care of their elders. They don't seem to recognize this conundrum. Their point of view on this is that if they feel they need help, with whatever it is, then I should drop everything and come over. Even if the whatever is the continual search for more furniture and knickknacks. Why don't I want to go shopping with them any more? their eyes plead. Don't I love them any more?
Well, that's not really the question, is it? Yes, I do love them. But no, I don't want to go shopping with them. I never liked shopping, not when I was a kid, not when they assumed I did, because didn't I buy something too? Not later either. Still don't. But when I was younger, I believed I had enough time to do what they liked, and what I liked, so I went along. I only complained a little. Now, although the icy fingers are not as tightly clutched around my throat as they are around theirs, I still feel the finiteness of my remaining time and that if I don't defend it, they will not respect it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Day at the Spa?

Next, at my mammogram, the way the all-female staff tippy-toed around me, as if I were a hand grenade with the pin already pulled, as if I were a nineteenth-century hysteric who had to be babied and pamp- ered! This assumption that menopause has left me unreasonable, hormonal, bereft. As if this brain, this identity I've been burnishing for decades, educating, understanding and explaining is a thin curtain over achthonic swamp of rage. These assumptions begin to enrage me. I want to be a "cool customer" like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. But their tender treatment of me as a feral beast, or some-one for whom the pretense that a mammogram is a day at the spa--a flower, a mint, a thank you note of an intricate glass plate in the dressing room--that this might work is what angers me. Not that having a mammogram is an unwelcome reminder that time will march on, cancer may strike, that or something else, and that my unique collection of cells will cease to exist. As if my temporary presence on this planetsomehow adorns it. That is what many women in my age group appear to believe. Such reminders of mymortality don't bother me. They are what they are. We can all stand to be reminded once in a while.
But I know it doesn't matter why I get angry at this point. It will be interpreted as a menopausal hor-mone storm. Any righteous anger felt by any woman at any point in her life can be written off as hormonal--teenaged, pregnancy, PMS, perimenopause, menopause--then total irrelevance. Ageism will take over from sexism as need be.

I should probably get a few of the basic facts down right away--after all, what's the point in hiding anything any more? Everyone suspects the worst anyway.
1. I am married. This is both true and significant at the same time as it is highly beside the point.
2. I have a 14-year-old son. He is tall and handsome, intelligent and a good student, and he won't wear deoderant. I just keep the door to his room closed at all times. It's a funk fair in there.
3. I'm a writer.
4. I've never been hungry. I've never been unable to find a job if I needed one. Luckily, I'm not looking now.
5. I am both blessed and saddled with a large extended family that both requires and expects my help. I was fine with all that, I had the time and the energy, until my son was born and then their expecta-tions of what I should be doing for my nuclear family began to interfere with my ability to keep helping them (put on a big show for Christmas, say) and that made me realize they wanted me to be a more per- fect mother to their grandchildren than they had been to me or my husband. Well, make a choice. I can be your good daughter, or I can be a good mother. I don't have that super gene (that you don't have ei- ther). Just because you expect me to take up your slack doesn't mean I have to do it. I'm in the sand- wiched generation.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Peri Who?

It started in earnest at my annual check-up. The gynecologist asked me, "So, when did your periods stop again?"
I tensed my abdomen slightly as he pressed on it with his warm gloved hand. "Uh, I'll have to get back to you on that. If you'd like to be the first one I call with that news when it happens, I'll move you to the head of the list."
"So, not yet, huh?"
I relaxed my abs just as he inserted a finger into my anus without warning. Yow! It was bad enough being over the hill looking back at that pipsqueak doctor only forty years old, but when he assumed I had slipped further down that slippery slope than I had, was it time to think about dyeing my hair? I didn't want to, though. I have a salt-and-pepper mop top, getting slightly saltier each year. Just as I am. I never used to use the f-word. Now all it took was the phone ringing and out it popped with a terrifying vehemence.

Hi, my name is Barb, and I'm not an alcoholic. I know that statement will make many of you believe that I am. I'll risk that. This is my truth-telling blog, my attempt to lay bare the aging body of a 52-year-old. Unlifted, unbuffed, unplucked, no smoke and mirrors. I read that hilarious book by Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck, and realized, you know what? I don't feel bad about my neck. Or my big old butt. Or my non-canonical thighs. Or my strong opinions. Or my increasingly faulty filter. I used to keep my opinions to myself because I feared hurting other people's feelings, but hey, they weren't all that worried about mine, so here goes.