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Lagom: Or, why we’re not Swedes


a pile of balanced smooth stones arranged in bigger to smaller sizes vertically, from the ground up. Set against a blurred nature (green) backgroundBalance. Who knows what this term means anymore? Do you feel balanced? I don’t. Everything is off. Maybe since 9/11/2001, everything’s been off for us as a nation. 

“Off” is that feeling you have when you suffer a loss of a loved one or experience a terrible trauma. The world is still turning, but you’re not. Traffic is whizzing by, packages are showing up, and money is changing hands. But when you look out your window, the scene is in various states of skew. “How can those people just walk down the street like that?” You think. “How can that old woman sit there and sip her tea like nothing?”

We all have these times when we exist in this alternate dimension. I’ve spent my life in it, having experienced a few traumas as a small child. I’ve heard it called “The Other” – a dimension one degree off from the automatic life we’re bred for. Once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to get out. The old metaphor of the forbidden fruit works: information can permanently knock you out of your groove. I contend that everyone is off in some way. Everyone has been broken. Everyone has been, at one point or another, disabused of their bliss. Some are just better than others at finding a new rut to settle into.

I, like many of my suburban mother peers, claw at new ruts. We’d love an escape from this helter-skelter scene we find ourselves in. We are suckers for rut markets, like the wine industry and self-help books.

Cover of Niki Brantmark's book titled Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life

So I, like many of my fellow feminine-mystified women, come across a trendy book about yet another culture’s solution to this skew, I can’t resist taking a look. I have now read about hygge, minimalism, Japanese tidiness, the Tao, the 8 fold path of yoga and Danish happiness (not to mention all of the American and British “positive psychology” research. This week, I’m reading about the Swedish concept of balance called Lagom. “Not too little, not too much,” according to this book (aff. link) by Niki Brantmark, is the rule Swedes live their lives by. 

Ms. Brantmark is a Brit married to a Swede. She translates her adopted culture for us english-speakers via her books and her website, which, admittedly, I’ve spent hours looking through. Everything is beautiful, of course. And tidy. And overwhelmingly white. The Swedes *really* like white. 

“I found myself captivated by this slower, fuss-free way of living,” says Brantmark in her book’s introduction. She offers that “…our Nordic friends take their time to do things right – in a wonderful, uncomplicated way.” 

“How nice for them,” I thought.  

Most of us are forced into ways that aren’t so pretty or starched clean. Despite the bullshit meter I’ve been building as I’ve read all of this “silly Americans don’t know how to be happy” canon, I kept reading. Ms. Brantmark’s subtle superior tone doesn’t ever disappear. She seems to lack an awareness of what life is like for those who don’t live in dense cities like London or Philadelphia. For example, she mentions “forest school” on page 172. From what I can understand, a forest school is a sort of nursery where kids can go year-round and play outdoors while learning about the environment. This sounds like a commercial version of scouting, which we already have but without the market interest. (I think I prefer it that way). The book is simply a descriptive list of traditions in Sweden that, frankly, have their counterparts in our culture. Americans have fewer words for them, maybe. “Lagom” seems to be a great catch-all concept that all Swedes innately know but can’t exactly explain to foreigners. Like us, but with cash. 

These little hardcover books make great hostess gifts, if your hostess is ultra-secure in herself and what her messy house looks like. If not, she’ll assume you’re sending her a signal to gut her house and start over. Better stick with wine. 

But what about this concept of the middle? All the talk is about balance lately. Balancing work and life (by the way -work isn’t life? and life isn’t work?), balancing a marriage and kids, balancing meals, activities, hobbies. Everything is “balance.” But how much hate is too little? How much love is too much? Some things simply can’t be balanced. There is no room for some things in extreme, and there is no room for lackluster efforts in others. 

I try to balance my career goals with my mothering goals. Mothering has been winning, so I guess I could be considered off-balance. But as I’m getting older, I’m beginning to finally accept that off-balance is the natural state. We can course correct, we can resettle and resurface. But we’re still in The Other. What’s surprising is when we wake up and realize The Other is reality. The dream was an illusion, a hypnotic hum, a rose glass that broke when a curtain fell and showed us life’s inner workings. We weren’t put into The Other; we were always there. We just stopped watching the show.

To everything there is a season, we’ve been told. Some seasons are getting longer, though, and we’re all ready to turn the page. Read up on balance, perhaps your inner ears will learn something. Maybe a middle-ground is what you seek. I’m finding I’m too all-or-nothing (i.e. American) to find much use in the concept. I used to pride myself in being a middle-of-the-roader, and that shrugging state is sufficient for many things, but now I can see there is no middling when it comes to accomplishing important things. There may be baby steps, but they are steps and not half-hearted side rolls. We need one or two extremes in our lives, perhaps more. What have you been middling that deserves your guts and gusto?

Lagom for everything else. Cash for the dream. 

a tall, single pile of coins set against a blurred clock in the background


For photo credits (other than book cover) click on the photos to go to the Pixabay user’s page. 

Cover of Niki Brantmark's book titled Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life 0 comments

Broken stories


empty wooden chair against a background of abandoned roomThere’s a house in my town that’s abandoned. I’ve never seen it, but a fellow school parent I know lives across from it and I’ve heard the stories. Teens breaking in, shady squatters with even shadier dealings, an owner that shows up one day before the county reclaims the lot, allowing for several more years of ruin and hazard to stain the otherwise well-kept suburban street.

Often I wonder if I should write about the house for the hyperlocal blog that I (don’t really) keep. Perhaps some real journalism – What are the local laws? When does the house get categorized as officially abandoned? What would happen if a mysterious arsonist lights it up? – would be a service to the community. I never pick up that pen and notebook.

Real journalism requires insurance, which I don’t have. “Media Liability” was not listed on my homeowner’s policy, strangely enough in this age of social sharing apps. Real journalism also requires investigation, which would mean visiting the abandoned house, sitting on my friend’s front porch and seeing her daily view of danger, her daily reminder of death. Did I say she was a parent? She’s been raising kids across the street from this “attractive menace,” as the insurance companies call pools and trampolines and abandoned houses.

Real journalism may increase my friend’s premiums, but this is not why I stay away. I’ve had enough ruin. Slow destruction or instant obliteration, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’ve been filled with rot.

Today I went to a viewing for a recent high school graduate, a classmate of my daughter. We saw this boy walk on Thursday night with the rest of his class. It was a glorious night of wonderful weather and gorgeous skies and unbridled smiles. By Saturday, he was gone. Suicide is depression’s rot. It comes like a prospective new rehabber, a solution to the abandonment, an end to the decay. It lies.

We will have many more years of nothing, now, in the place where a college kid, a young professional, a new groom, an adventurer, a proud father is supposed to be.

My chest is locked tight. I now know at least 5 mothers who have lost children before those babies reached adulthood. One little girl didn’t even make it through childbirth. One other dear precious girl was taken by that other rotting evil, cancer, when she was 13. It was her loss I felt today too, like it was here, again, that desperate it-can’t-be-true plea to the gods that drops out with every exhale. I could feel the same pain today when I was with my daughter and so, so many of this boy’s other 423 classmates. I could see the same pain in my friends’ faces, those other boy-moms who share that special they’re-all-in-my-basement-eating-everything boy-mom bond. They are destroyed. They have watched this boy grow up. They are exhaling abandoned pleas.

Rats move in, when homes are abandoned. A few years ago, an empty house around the corner from mine caught fire. The neighbors across the street encountered its rats in their own basements a few hours later. They found their holes and plugged them up. The house was remodeled and got occupied. Everything that falls to ruin should be like this. Every person should be like this. Plug up the holes. Remodel. Add another story.

But any real journalist would tell you, people aren’t houses. We are not so easily fixed.

Days will come when we will go about things, like it always happens. Today, for me, isn’t that day. Those days where one lives alongside decay, living with the constant chipping of the paint and the ever-growing weeds, will come for me. I hope those days will come soon for this mother, this father, these brothers and sisters, this family and these friends who have lost a son.


empty wooden chair against a background of abandoned room 0 comments


wood-cut black and white of a greek or roman monster. Face with wiry/snakey hair.

It would happen at night. I’d be so exhausted after a long day of work and caring for a kid and a toddler, I’d almost miss the bed while falling into it. But as soon as my head hit the pillow, it wasn’t sleep that came.

It would happen during the day. Longing for some uninterrupted writing time, I’d be so excited when my husband volunteered to take the kids out for a few hours. I could hardly wait to line up my coffee cups, my pens and pencils. I’d settle in my favorite chair. But as soon as the car would pull out of the driveway, it wasn’t beautiful prose that flowed out of my mind.

The Frights. The Voice Inside Your Head. Grecco the Gorgon. Whatever you call that “What if!” voice that feeds you horrible scene after scene in your mind, I had it. Therapists call it “invasive thoughts.” They say it’s a symptom of anxiety. I call mine a simple, sneered, “Her.”

woman holding her face - close up, sepia toned

Her always fed me the big ones: my husband and/or kids dying, total financial ruin, rape, pain, car crashes, name-your-horror. Never anything like spiders or a basket of snakes for me. Nope. Only the Full Monty of Human Terror: in bloody, screamy gore. On repeat.

After years of insomnia, dragged days, stalled creativity, fights with kids and my spouse over my (didn’t-feel-crazy-at-the-time) fears, I finally decided it was time to face this fire. Today I can report that I rarely have any of those fight-or-flight, tight-bodied moments that would wreak havoc on me so often. I can’t say I’ve 100% conquered Her, but I can say I get to sleep pretty OK and I don’t ever lose creative time to Her’s bloody musings.

How did I move to being paralyzed with fear to moving through life in (relative) peace? I wish I could tell you to “DO THIS 1 THING TO STOP ANXIETY IN ITS TRACKS.” But this is real life, and I’m no guru. But I did stop Her. You can stop your Her, too. But I have a question to ask you first:

Do you really want to?


a large pink banner with white all caps type with an arrow and a circle saying "CLICK HERE"

(Don’t actually click on it unless you want to see the Pixabay source page)

Let’s pause for a second here. If you want a quick-and-easy tip to help stop invasive thoughts, I’ll give you one. Here are two steps to do right now:

  1. Name your nemesis. You can call it Grecco the Gorgon, Satan, or just Her.

    cartoonish drawing of a white woman with light brown/reddish hair with her mouth wide open in a yell, set against a multicolored, striped, inward-angle background

    CLAP BACK, Sister!

  2. When the thoughts come, bellow (in your mind, or out loud if you’re alone) in your biggest, gigantiest, hairiest, scariest voice, “HOW DARE YOU TERRORIZE ME?!! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!” Interject as many curse words as you prefer. Go for full, monstrous intimidation. Imagine yourself HUGE and Grecco as tiny.

OK. Try those two steps for a bit and come back later.


Now. Back to the addiction.

Oops, did I say “addiction?” That was a bit cheeky of me.

Addiction, to a professional, is a physical process where a person displays “the compulsive uncontrolled use of habit-forming drugs beyond the period of medical need or under conditions harmful to society” (Merriam-Webster). Addiction to a non-medical person is an “enthusiastic devotion, strong inclination, or frequent indulgence” (Merriam-Webster).

To call Her an “indulgence” is a bit cruel, wouldn’t you say? You may ask: What kind of pleasure or service was I getting from Her scaring me stiff every night? Is it possible there was not only a mental service Her was giving me but a physical one as well (i.e., endorphin or other hormone influx)?

It wasn’t my fault that Her was terrorizing me. I did not invent Her or want Her to do that. But. BUT. I was allowing it, and banning it wasn’t something I felt in control enough to do.

So I sought out some answers. I’d heard about “addiction to anger” and its hormonal implications. That was definitely a part of the anxiety, as the processes behind anger and anxiety are similar. After researching the physical “pleasures” of anxiety, I went to psychology for insight into the mental habits (or “addiction”) I’d formed. My advanced degree in Psychology helped a bit here, because I knew where to look. There are many different theories and approaches to anxiety or “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” (I was never diagnosed with this, btw). I searched high and low and gathered insights from many different sources. I’ll sum up what I found that made sense and worked for me.





“How does it serve you?”

This is a question I came across during my research. Every action we do, whether consciously or unconsciously, serves some purpose. The purpose can be huge or trivial, but there is a reason for it. The key is to find which actions are not serving us well. We want our actions to align with our values. We want our choices to take us one step closer to overall good health. Her was not serving me well. She was serving me sick. I had to find out why Her dogged me so terribly.

I asked the Universe (my books, articles, therapists, etc.) where Her came from.

Once there was a time that I was small, vulnerable, and sometimes for just a moment and other times for a long, long span, alone. I had to find my own way. Although I survived, I learned some tough lessons. During the challenges and in the aftermath, Her started bending my ear. As I experienced more and more challenges, Her was there, picking up queues, sniffing out clues, and predicting the next onslaught of threat.

Her, see, thinks she is Guardian Angel Gorgon. She got a little miffed when, in my youth, I ignored her warnings. Her got a little louder. Then louder. When we feel vulnerable, our good ol’ gal Gorgons come to call.

Here’s where the truth gets a little ugly: We feel better when Gorgon is screaming. Our brains are tricked into thinking that if we watch the bloody footage then we are in fact preventing the said tragedy from happening. At the same time, we indulge our car-wreck curiosity over the devastation. Humans are fascinated by death and destruction, maybe more so than with birth and creation. Our Gorgon shows and re-shows a rotten reel of devastation to serve that morbid pastime.

It’s no way to live, but that’s the only way we know how.


See the “Click Here” section above.

Her actually cowered the first time I hollered back. Like a toddler she winced and said, “I am only trying to protect you.”

I responded, “I am an adult now. I’d prefer you be an adult too. Advice is OK. This terror is not. It’s really mean and I want you to stop it.”

“OK.” She said.

Of course, children take a while to grow, so that wasn’t the exact end of Her’s terrorizing, but it did calm down a lot after that. Also, now when Her starts up, I pause and ask, “Woah. What’s going on here, really? What other truth are you really trying to hide from me?”

Sometimes I get an answer, like, “You are afraid you will never be a novelist.”

Ouch. I see why Her was trying to not tell me that.

I respond, “Wow. Am I thinking about that right now? I must be, deep in my brain. Well, thank you, Her, for trying to keep that bomb from me. But I’d rather take the bomb, please.” Then I get to work unpacking that fear (you learn how to do this by reframing and other techniques from therapy).

Sometimes I don’t get any answers. Her just tries to barge in and terrorize me. Sometimes I get a bomb like the never-a-novelist one and I can’t face it right then. At those times I try to be easy on myself and find a physical activity to do for a few minutes. Dancing, walking, yoga, arts and crafts (I am an avid crafter and colorer-in of mandalas). Walking or dancing are the most effective and I’ll tell you why.


black cut out against white background of a man in a mid-run stance

You’ve heard about the fight-or-flight response. It’s an instinctual decision process your body/brain uses to assess threats to your person. Can I take this lion or not? Do I lunge or run? These decisions are made in milliseconds, but all your bodily and intellectual information is assessed.

So far we’ve talked about the mental 


exercise of reframing your Gorgon into a helpful but misinformed voice. That’s relatively easy to do and doesn’t require much of a lifestyle change. Reshaping your fight-or-flight response won’t be so easy. And this may be the hard truth of managing anxiety that you may not want to hear.

Anxiety, loosely defined, is when we think our skill set does not match the challenge at hand. You can lessen the challenges (reframing) or you can up your skill set (training), or work in a combination of both.

Here’s the thing: Your body/brain knows only one skill set: Physical. Sure, it takes into small account your wits. But mostly it makes decisions based on your body’s ability to face physical challenges, even if those challenges aren’t at all physical. This means, dear friend, you must train your body to the point where it feels like it can handle threats.

Now. Before you stop reading, know that I do not mean signing up for a six-pack class by some fitter-than-you shady gym cult. The bad news is yes, you must exercise. But the good news is that bodies are dumb and even just a little exercise works.

Kenneth Ginsburg is a medical doctor who specializes in resilience in Adolescents. He’s written a few books on the subject and lectures widely as well as maintains a post at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. On my anxiety research journey, I came across Dr. Ginsburg’s books. I had an opportunity to hear him speak. What he said about kids with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) really struck me. He said: they need a lot of exercise.

Duh, right? Of course hyperactive kids need a lot of exercise. But spasmodic movement isn’t what Dr. Ginsburg meant. He said one particular muscle group must be exercised. The research showed that if ADHD kids had more time moving this one joint and muscle group, they did better in school, behaved better generally and some could actually reduce or eliminate their medication.

What joint and muscle group was it? The hip flexor, glutes, hamstrings and quadricep muscles.

At the talk I attended, Dr. Ginsburg demonstrated the movement he said is so critical for the health of ADHD kids. He lifted up his leg so his bent knee was hip-height, then he put the leg back down again. He repeated the motion. “This,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “this movement here. It’s what tells our body we can outrun the lion. This is the movement, when repeated regularly via running or walking, that will help kids feel able to make themselves safe.” He suggested ADHD kids run before school and maybe run after school too. He’d seen results in the research where kids who started running regularly could reduce or eliminate medication. That’s freaking amazing, right?

Let’s take a short break from that shocker to talk about an easier thing you must do. 


tonal dark horizon with center backlight, silhouetting a lone deciduous tree

Ugh. I hate even writing this part. SO MUCH SHIT is all over the interwebz about “mediation this, meditation that,” I can’t even take it anymore. But I would be remiss to not include it in this  article.

My writer friend Jaye* told me once she has too hyper a brain for sitting and meditating. That’s like someone saying they are too dirty to take a shower. Of course you have an addled brain. That’s what brains do. That is their job, to take in all sorts of information and cattle-prod it to different places. Unfortunately, brains are terrible cowboys, and don’t organize your loose livestock well. They must be trained.

The concept of meditation is so simple, it’s dumb. It feels dumb doing it at first. Here’s the crux of it: You sit still, you close your eyes, you concentrate on observing your breath going in and out of your nose. That’s it. That’s the basics of mediation. Anyone can do it. The key is to expect your mind to wander. When it happens, you laugh at your “monkey mind” and gently bring it back to observing your breath. You may have to do this 1000x in 10 minutes. That’s all part of the work. Advanced meditators still have monkey mind. That’s why they still meditate. It’s an exercise, not some quest for perfection.

I try to meditate every day for 10 minutes. I use the Calm app. My average in the past was 100% every day, but now I’m at 4-5x a week. My goal is to get it back up to 7days/week, and I’m almost there.

I don’t know exactly why focusing (and refocusing, and refocusing) your attention on your breath every day for ten minutes is an effective tool against the Gorgon. Perhaps it is just exercising your focus muscle? But something happened to me after just six months of trying this everyday: I heard from Her less. I wasn’t doing anything else but meditating, and I saw results. When Her would start up, I’d stop and breathe and see if I could feel exactly where the air hit my nostrils and left again. It’s like magic why this works, but it does. Try the Calm app. People also seem to like the Headspace app. (These are paid apps but worth it. I’m not getting any ad dollars from this endorsement, and I’m in no way affiliated with those companies).

OK, back to physical exercise.


As the disability advocates say, we all have a disability of some sort, you just can’t see it. Our lions may be different.

My friend Parvati, who is very scootery to deal with her Multiple Sclerosis, can’t run or walk or even swing dance anymore like we did together in days past. Parvati, like most wheelchair-bound people, has a different lion. Arm strength is the key to fighting off hers off. Wheelchair-bound people take arm strength very seriously. If they can’t lift themselves out of a chair, they are in big trouble. If anyone you know that is chair-bound is  suffering from anxiety, my advice would be to get those dumbbells out.

My blind-from-birth friend Aster learned how echolocation (clicks with his tongue) to help him navigate outside. I saw him in action. It’s pretty amazing. The point is, we all have something physical that requires some grit to learn and do that will help us control the Gorgon.

If you are only limited by your lifestyle choices, then you have two options for Gorgon control.

1. You can find some common ways to deal with your Gorgon, like:

  • Medication
  • Therapy
  • Coping strategies like shopping, drinking, addictions


2. You can accept the hard truth and regularly move your hip flexors. You can walk almost everyday (like 4 or 5 days/week) for at least 20 minutes at a good-ish pace until you start to feel more in control, then maybe go to 3 days a week (and 30 minutes), never letting 3 or more days in a row go by without exercise.

If you notice in Option #1, the solutions are expensive endeavors. In Option #2, you have a choice that is almost free. In the short term you may have to purchase some equipment. Winter is tough, but as the Nordic people say, “there is no bad weather; there is only bad clothing.” You may have to buy jackets, scarves, boots, etc. Once you get used to walking outdoors in the wintertime, it can actually be quite peaceful and refreshing. You may have to get up early in the summer to walk before work. You may have to buy sneakers and air-wicking clothing. If you’re like me, you will have to invest in lots of bug spray and SPF. If walking outside isn’t for you, get a treadmill or find a mall or an indoor track.

An hour or two of your day, every day, must go toward body maintenance. Once the Gorgon is under control, you can probably get away with every other day for exercise. I don’t walk everyday. Sometimes I do yoga instead or sometimes nothing at all. I’ll be busy writing and I won’t feel like it. But I promise you, I do not go 3 or more days in a row without some sort of exercise. If I do, Her comes back in childish, brutal force. I lose sleep. I start eating bad foods. A downward spiral starts and gets hard to hop out of.

Listen, I recommend therapy for everyone. EVERYONE. If you haven’t done your therapy work, then get on that, especially if your Gorgon is debilitating you. I suggest looking for a Cognitive/Behavioral Therapist. That’s the method I’m reflecting in this post, and it is the leading trend in psychotherapeutic approaches for the past decade or more. It’s effective and “short” (not a lifetime of couch-laying like in the “talk therapy” of past eras).

You may not feel like therapy, and you may not feel like walking or running or dancing or moving your butt at all, but the hard truth is the work must be done if you are to be in control of the Gorgon. That’s why I asked if you really wanted to silence the Gorgon. It takes work, but no work you can’t do.


All these cute click-bait articles about how to “conquer anxiety” are the junk food of the psychology world. You click on them for a quick fix, but tiny bit of wisdom won’t fake our body/brain into feeling like it is nimble and clever. Soon we forget the bits we consumed, and the Gorgon is back, screaming louder than ever.

Gorgons take a long time to form. The lifestyle additions of reframing, meditation and exercise (and maybe therapy) will be the strongest, most effective combination to get them under control.

I can say this: you will probably see a marked improvement within weeks of a walking routine. Meditation will get easier, too, as you learn to be easier on yourself for your mind wandering. And if you want further reading that may be helpful, search on “reframing technique” to learn how to situate events in a proper, less scary, light.

You can do it. Serenity now, Sister.


young white woman holding a pennant flag that says "freedom" ________________

*Names changed to protect the possibly-unwilling-to-be-singled-out

All images from Pixabay. Click on each to navigate to source page. 

woman holding her face - close up, sepia toned 0 comments

[SPOILERS!!! In this post I discuss Arkangel, Black Mirror: Episode 2., Season 4. Plot points are revealed herein.]

Being a parent

Parenting is like living in a dystopian casino where you must roll snake eyes to get food.

The hardest lesson I’ve learned from parenting has been this: my anxiety is my own. It is not my child’s (or anyone else’s) responsibility to alleviate my fears. And parenting from a place of fear is the worst way to parent. It will only lead to bad ends.

Some fears are simply habits of thought, not based on previous experience or evidence. Other fears grow from trauma and hang on tight. Still others are based on what media and culture say we should fear. No matter the source, we transfer these fears onto our children. We want our kids to take fewer risks, make sound decisions, and stay safe so we need not worry.

In the Black Mirror episode entitled Arkangel, a need of relief from anxiety consumes a single mother, Marie. Directed by Jodie Foster (yes, THAT Jodie Foster) and written by Charlie Brooker, the episode shows helicopter parenting gone awry. Here’s the Netflix summary of the episode’s plot [characters’ names are my addition]:

“After nearly losing her daughter, a mother [Marie] invests in a new technology that allows her to keep track of her child [Sara].”

Parenting-via-tech seems like the theme of the episode, but the theme is actually loss. Living without someone you love is an incredibly devastating prospect, and we get hints that Marie has already experienced some tough losses in her life. We see evidence of this in Marie’s situation:

  • Marie exhibits immediate anxiety over the health of her newborn.
  • Sara’s father is not present in their lives, and no partner was present at Sara’s birth.
  • Marie has no romantic partner.
  • Marie seems particularly attached to Sara (more so than normal).
  • Marie’s father is living with her but Marie’s mother seems to have died/abandoned them.
  • When Marie is recalling an incident in her own childhood, she doesn’t mention her mother’s involvement. The dialog indicates her father raised Marie alone.
  • The house itself is in increasing disrepair.
  • When Marie’s aging father falls ill, no friends or family come to help.
  • In general, we get the feeling that Marie is on her own and she only partially recovered, if at all, from the losses she’s experienced.

After 3-year-old Sara goes (temporarily) missing one day, Marie seeks the help of a tracking company called Arkangel. The company implants a chip in Sara’s brain. Via the accompanying Arkangel app/tablet, Marie can see what Sara sees, track Sara’s movements and vital signs, and Marie can even filter Sara’s view of real-life violence or upsetting things. (Archangels in the Christian tradition rule over other heavenly creatures and carry messages between God and humans. The fictional company’s name is a hint to what the technology does: It sees all, it knows all. It rules all the child sees, and it relays everything to the parent.)

artistic purple background behind a microchipElectronic Leashes

Child-monitoring-on-steroids is something we have to talk about. The fictional Arkangel app is a long way off (if even possible), but we do have implantable GPS chips, Find my Friends on the iphone, and geo-tracking in social media apps. An Arkangel chip may be an impossibility but we have enough invasive technology now to spur the conversation about parenting, a child’s civil rights, and what kind of society we want.


Anxiety is loosely defined as the state in which a person feels their skillset is not sufficient to meet their perceived challenges. As parents, we fear many things, but underneath it all, the fear is really about, in my opinion, our lacking the ability to survive if we suffer the loss (or debilitating pain) of a child. When that fear rages, we will employ almost any method to help alleviate it.

Helicopter parenting” is one (poor) attempt at anxiety-relief. It is a catchall term for a vaguely-defined phenomenon of hyper-involved child-rearing practices, and a product of Boomer Generation parenting.

When Sara is a teen, she goes AWOL. By this point, Marie is accustomed to having phone-access to Sara. (Marie agreed to not use the unremovable Arkangel chip once Sara reached middle school). When Sara goes missing, Marie has a desperate moment. She returns to the Arkangel technology, which she promised she’d shut off forever, to locate Sara. Such a broken promise is understandable; When a child drops off the map, a parent wants to locate them quickly.

This “keeping Sara safe” guise goes badly, of course, as we would expect. Sara is not pleased to have been discovered participating in illegal activities. The relationship deteriorates from there. The show ends with Sara physically beating Marie with the Arkangel app/pad (ironic!) and then hitching a ride out of town with a random trucker.

Pervasive tech and societal changes

In real life, “just in case” tech turns into everyday standard machinery. Once a technology’s occasional/emergency status is established, society’s idea of “safety” changes. Assumed-safe practices like walking to school alone and riding a bike to the corner store start to be thought of as risky behaviors. The “emergency” monitoring becomes everyday standard. If a child goes missing today, a mom would be berated for allowing the kid to leave the house without his cell phone. Society has changed so drastically on this “free range kid” norm that some Millennials and GenZ viewers of Stranger Things report disbelief over the 1980s kids’ wanderings. They doubt kids would have been left to their own devices for so many hours. In a span of 30 years, the practice of parenting has changed almost beyond recognition. As far as cultural shifts go, that’s super quick. We are still reeling.

Any parent today would be tempted to use the Arkangel app when in search of an absent kid. Heck, I use “Find Friends” on the iPhone just to avoid the whole “Where are you?/I’m on my way home!” text exchange. I’d use a locating app in a New York second if I felt my kid was truly missing. And if there was a true risk of abduction? Everyone of my family would be chipped.

A child’s rights to privacy

Children are under the care and legal status of their guardians. The guardian’s rights ~somewhat~ transfer to the child. A kid who refuses to be chipped or carry a cell phone currently has little legal ground on which to stand.

Some questions:

  • Do we legislate implantable GPS chips (beyond simple FDA health rules)?
  • Do we legislate inalienable rights for minors as we do for adults? What will minor status look like in a society that grants similar rights to minors? Does current law cover any of these issues?
  • What psychology or sociology theory of family systems addresses the onset and wide adoption of invasive technology like implantable chips? Will we need a new counseling method to help families process these new lifestyle elements?
  • How will adolescence change? How will constant monitoring affect the development of adolescents into adults? What will be the purpose of the stage of adolescence and when is will it be considered “over?” (i.e., when is one considered an adult, not legally but culturally?)

These are only a few questions we are just beginning to ask. Black Mirror is art reflecting life. How will our life reflect its art?


The concept of “Privacy” is changing. Like the Brits before us, we are becoming accustomed to CCTV cameras perched in many public spaces. As a woman, I feel safer with the cameras than I do without them. The cameras may be a deterrent to those who may hurt me. I have no statistical basis for this opinion. However, in the past I have asked police to employ a store’s recorded camera data to identify someone who did hurt me. (The police got the “tapes” and found the guy. It was a minor incident but enough to piss me off.) On the other hand,

We must be conservative in the amount of privacy we sacrifice in the name of safety. People often like to recite “I have nothing to hide” as a way to justify imposing laws and invasive tech. Invasive tech isn’t about criminality; It’s about democracy. The more we are exposed to third parties, like commercial stores, organizational interests, enemies-of-the-state, the weaker of a democracy we may have. Being tracked gives unregulated entities the ability to manipulate us. As humans, our behavior patterns are predictable, That doesn’t mean they are to be “owned” as data by anyone else. That is not the case in the dystopian society in which we now live. Companies and even foreign governments collect and employ our behavior patterns for their own gains.

Safety is a trap. In a sense, democracy and safety are mutually exclusive. Are we children under a parental government? Which freedoms do we fight for? Which are not all that essential? Would we believe a government that said they had the Arkangel app but promised not to use it? Would we encourage them to use it in certain situations? Where would the usage creep end? What would be considered “emergency” and what would be considered “everyday standard usage?”

I don’t know. But I do know this: our communications, data and behavior patterns should not be observed or owned by anyone else but ourselves. Check out the EFF and help the fight to keep your choices your own.




Black Mirror Logo by Netflix.
Photos on Pixabay.com. Microchip by Noupload. Archangel by TheDigital Artist. 


Making new “desire paths” in the brain

This is not [exactly] about sex. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read on for hints on how to find more happiness in your life.  

The mostly blue and white cover of the book, Hardwiring Happiness by Rick HansonMy latest library book is Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. The book’s copyright is from 2013; I’m not expecting to be blown away from any of the study results Hanson cites. I’m more interested in how he explains neuroplasticity to a layman reader. Simply, neuroplasticity is the term scientists use to describe the brain’s ability to adapt. In complex terms, neuroplasticity is the microscopic and systemic change that occurs in the brain’s structure in response to stimuli.

We just figured out a few decades ago that the brain changes over time, and not just “senioritis” changes we see in old age. Instead of being formed as we are children and staying static throughout our lives, the brain experiences damages and healing like all other organs. But just as a broken bone won’t heal well without medical intervention, damaged brains won’t heal well without help.

Brains, like people, prefer paths of least resistance. Little information wires consisting of neurons, axons, dendrites, and lots of other cool stuff carry messages all over your brain. Since animals are professional energy-conservationists, the brain looks for the quickest road that will get a message from Point A to Point B.

Ever been on a college campus? You’ll notice a trail or two etched through the quad’s greens. Usually these worn paths sidestep lawn corners or make a diagonal swath through a giant field. In civil engineering circles, these foot-made lanes are called “desire paths” or “desire lines.” Wikipedia cites other nicknames for the phenomena, including “bootleg trail” and “goat track.”

color photo of a footpath carved into a lawn from a sidewalk to the front of a brick building.

We’ve all helped make desire paths. Why would we walk a 90-degree angle when a 45-degree cut-through gets us there quicker? We wouldn’t, and neither do other animals. Brains like shortcuts.

Some of these brain shortcuts come out as biases, influencing belief and behavior. Biases are default decisions. When we experienced something in the past, we learned from it and our brains made its first shortcut associated with that situation. Depending on the frequency of similar situations and the severity of the experiences, the shortcut can quickly or slowly become a deep rut in the landscape of our brains. That’s how bias works.

Instant biases are formed by strong negative experiences. No repetition necessary. If our brain detects a life-threatening circumstance, it will decide for you. It will say:


This is why we tend to dwell on negative things instead of positive things. We can survive thousands of positive experiences but one negative experience can kill us. The brain is super-serious about survival. It will bombard you with reminders of what is negative. Unfortunately, it can’t tell the difference between stubbing your toe and falling off a building. It has a BAD/GOOD setting when it comes to building pathways. Bad experiences get priority. This is why biases are so easy to build and so hard to break down. This bias is called the negativity bias.

Here, Dr. Hanson explains the what negativity bias does to us and the general purpose of his book:

“Leveling the Playing Field.
The negativity bias doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. But if you’re happy, you’re happy in spite of it. It’s a bias, ready to spring into action depending on events. When you feel good, it waits in the background, looking for a reason to make you feel bad. When you [already] feel bad, it makes you feel worse.

This bias creates two kinds of problems. First, it increases the negative. It pulls your attention to what is or could be bad, makes you overreact to it, and stores the negative experience in implicit memory. It also creates vicious circles of negativity both inside your brain and with other people. In a variety of ways, this bias increases your stresses, worries, frustrations, irritations, hurts, sorrows, feelings of falling short, and conflicts with others.

Second, the negativity bias decreases the positive. It slides your attention past the good facts around you. It makes you under-react to the good facts you do notice. And it slips the good experiences you do have right through your brain, leaving little or no trace behind. This bias is a kind of bottleneck that makes it harder to get happiness in your brain.

In effect, the negativity bias is tilted toward immediate survival, but against quality of life, peaceful and fulfilling relationships, and lasting mental and physical health. This is the simple default of the Stone Age brain. If we don’t take charge of it, it will continue to take charge of us.

Tilting toward the positive simply levels the playing field. Taking in the good corrects for the two tendencies of the negativity bias: This practice decreases negative feelings, thoughts and actions while increasing positive ones.

And over time, taking in the good can help you experience that your core needs for safety, satisfaction, and connection are finally fully met. …” – Page 29-30, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Brains can forge different “desire paths” in their landscapes. Building new, positive paths can be a bit of an uphill battle, especially for those of us who have suffered brain traumas like concussions, abuse, or poverty. It can be done, though. Watch this 4.5 million-views talk by Daniel Amen about SPECT scanning and brain rehab for further thoughts on healing a bumpy brain. Dr. Amen also has 12 Prescriptions for Creating a Healthy Brain Life for you to try. 

I’ll let you know if I find any groundbreaking advice in this book. For now, know your obsessiveness, anxieties and invasive thoughts can be unraveled and de-powered, and a new way of living is possible. Look into Cognitive-Behavioral training if you’re interested in attacking your brain’s negativity bias now.

Stay healthy. 🙂



Photo of a desire path in a lawn by user wetwebwork on Flickr

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