Underneath my yellow skin

Pop Culture, Emphasis on Pop

don't try this at home.
Let me entertain you!

In the past week, I’ve been sucked into the talent show videos rabbit hole. It started–oh, hell. I don’t know how it started, but I began compulsively watching the best and worst auditions of Britain’s Got Talent, then it widened out to America’s Got Talent, X Factor, and whatever else I felt like watching. There’s something compelling about the best and the worst, duh, for respectively, the spine-chilling, ‘holy shit!’ factor and the, ‘I cannot believe what I’m seeing/hearing right now. This is a train wreck’ impulse.

I’ve learned a few things watching these audition shows (and followup clips when I really like an act). One, there are a lot of deluded people out there. I’m not talking about the people who are decent at what they do, but don’t quite have the ‘it’ thing, but people who have no talent whatsoever. There were a few I was convinced were doing it as a joke, but many were so sincere.

Side note: I started watching Season 8 of American Idol, and any time they would take a closer look at a contestant, I knew the person was either going to be terrific or terrible, usually the latter. Any time a singer said, “I know I’m going to win,” I knew they’d be awful, but I rarely was ready for how terrible they would be. Then, most of them would be shocked that they weren’t given a golden ticket, and some of them explosively so. I couldn’t help thinking, “Where are your friends? Your family? Isn’t there anyone to give you some tough love?” I know some of them probably just ignored their family (one guy explicitly said his mother told him he couldn’t sing) and friends, but others had family and friends with them that told them they were the best and shouldn’t give up! I understand wanting to support your loved one, but it’s cruel to give hope where there is none. It’s like telling me I could be a WNBA star if I just really tried hard enough. Or I’m going to be president. It’s. Not. Going. To. Happen, and my friends would be doing me a disservice if they encouraged me to pursue either of these activities.

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The Hottest of All Takes that are Hot

i have your hot take right here.
The hottest.

There were a few special elections in red districts last night that had the Dems excited, but ended in narrow losses. There was a lot of hype about the elections and the possibility of turning the districts blue. When that didn’t happen, there were the expected hot takes as to what the problem was. Many were along the lines of we need new blood in the party, and the even more predictable worry about the appeal of the Democratic Party to rural white people. This has been the theme of 2016: How the Democratic Party has abandoned rural (read, white) Americans. It’s playing out in Minnesota with the new light rail line being vilified by congresspeople from rural areas, painting it as a benefit to the Twin Cities at the expense of rural people. More than half of our taxes come from just 4 of our 87 counties, and they’re all ‘city’ counties. When the rural counties fall short on what they can pay, guess who picks up the tab? Yet, even in this article which is definitely pro-city, there’s the obligatory ‘both sides do it’ paragraph tossed in at the end.

I’ve written about my weariness with this hot take before, that city people need to stop looking down their noses at the poor, beleaguered country folk. I’m not denying that city people have and will sneer at rural people. People look down on other people; it’s the way of life, sadly. What bothers me is that for the hundreds of hot takes I’ve read (or scanned), scolding urban liberals for overlooking or laughing at rural people, I’ve maybe read four or five stories pointing out that big cities pay way more than they take in and that we’re equally looked down at (if not more so) by county people than the other way around.

We’ve become the punching bag when conservatives (and some rural Dems) want to push for their agendas. Limousine liberals stuck in our salons sipping kale smoothies watching Trevor Noah while talking about how much we hate people who live in the country. Real Americans. The heart of America. The Bible Belt. The salt of the earth kind of people. It’s a lie, and yet, it’s one that has stuck. For whatever reason, it’s fine to laugh at city people and call us special snowflakes while taking our money, but we’re supposed to reach out and ignore their disdain and try to bridge the gap.

I was traveling with my best friend and another friend through the heart of America (this is many years back now), and we stopped at a gas station in Iowa (or Wisconsin. Can’t remember. Very rural, though). All three of us were wearing tank tops, and two of us have tats. One black woman, one white woman, and me. The woman at the counter was rude to all of us, staring daggers at us as we picked out our pops. When I went up to pay, I held out the money, and she took it by the corner so she wouldn’t have any chance of touching me. Then, when she was giving me my change, she dropped it on the counter right in front of my outstretched hand.

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I Believe I Can Fly

I was listening to NPR on my way to taiji on Saturday, and it was in the middle of a story by a guy named Jake who had interviewed his friend, Brian, about his (Brian’s) suicidal tendencies. I was dropped in the middle of the story, so I didn’t have all the background, but it was immediately gripping. Brian’s voice was flat, stripped of all affect. and I immediately recognized it as deeply depressed. I assumed it was recent, but soon found out that it was from 1999. That made more sense with some of what he was saying, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

It was fascinating to me because I think about death a lot, and even though suicide isn’t on the forefront of my mind that much these days, it’s still tucked away in a corner, ready to break its way out. I have never woken up and been glad to be alive. The best I can do is not be sad that I’m not dead. So, Jake’s interview with Brian after the latter tried to kill himself for the second time. Jake simply wanted to try and understand why Brian felt the way he did, so he lets Brian do most of the talking.

The thing that struck me is how rational Brian sounded in his explanation as to why suicide was the answer to his problem. The brain can justify anything, and his brain had honed its justification to perfection. When Jake asked him if he thought suicide was selfish*, he responded by saying that it was selfish in the way going to therapy was selfish. It was a way of solving a problem, he explained in a clinical voice. He wasn’t trying to convince himself or Jake that this was true; he actually believed it. He was convinced that his solution was no different that trying to work it out in therapy.

This is the insidiousness of depression. Listening to Brian, I could say, “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Suicide isn’t the same as therapy at all.” But, I understood where he was coming from. When I was deep in my depression, I was able to convince myself that I was toxic to the world and that it would be better off without me. It didn’t matter how many friends I had or what anyone said to me; I was convinced the world would be better off with me dead.


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A Tale of Two Best Friends

I met my bestie when we were both working at Katahdin (now extinct), me as a counselor in a day treatment program for juvenile delinquents*, and her as the administrative assistant. We were the only oddballs in the place, and we started talking during the annual Christmas lunch or some such. She had a tattoo (this was before I had mine), and she had been an English major in college. We really clicked, and we started hanging out outside of work. She did all the work in the beginning because I was deeply depressed and had a multitude of low-esteem issues. I couldn’t fathom she’d want me to bother her, and it took her asking me a year after we became friends if I wanted her to keep calling me to realize that she actually wanted to be friends. This was before Facebook, Twitter, and email were a daily thing with me, so I couldn’t even like one of her posts to let her know I was thinking of her.

We’ve seen each other through some difficult times, and we’ve seen how the other has grown in the past twenty-two years. I’ve called her the yang to my yin, the positive to my negative. She has a kid and gray hair now, and I have a cat and white streaks in my hair. When she lived here, we went out every few months, but it was comforting to know I *could* see her if I needed to in fifteen minutes or less.

One of our favorite things was to go out drinking** and dancing, and I vividly remember a time when we were both pretty sloshed and hungry after hours of dancing. We went to White Castle to get some sliders because that’s what you do when you’re drunk and need something to eat at two in the morning when everything else is closed. We took our sliders to the lake*** and walked on the shore as we ate. Suddenly, we both had to pee, and of course, there were no restrooms around. There was no on around, and it was dark, so we both found a semi-private spot and did our business. I accidentally peed on my foot, which struck me as hilarious.

I bring it up because I never would have done that without Kat, my partner in crime. She’s way more spontaneous than I am, and she can push me out of my comfort zone with little effort. She doesn’t live in state any longer, and we have to make a more conscious effort to keep in touch offline. We talk once every few months, and it’s as if we’ve never stopped talking. She is one of those people with whom it doesn’t matter how much time has passed–talking is as easy if not easier than when we first became friends.


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Social Media Unplugged

crashing into social media.
A constant social media stream.

Ed. Note: I’m writing this on Saturday, June 17th, 2017, which is the first day of my experiment of not checking social media on Saturdays. I decided to live-blog the experience to fill up some of the time in which I’d otherwise be surfing my social media. If I have to suffer, so do you. Enjoy.

Ed. Note II: I define a day as starting when I wake up and ending when I go to bed. So, my days start around noon and  end five or six in the morning. 

12:45 p.m.

Woke up late, and am already frazzled because I have to leave for taiji in twenty-five minutes. I haven’t done my morning routine, and my instinct is to check social media because I have several notifications. Immediately, I start bargaining with myself. “I’ll just answer my notifications and then say I’m going to be off social media for the rest of the day. That’s a good compromise.” I am stern with myself because I know if I allow for that, I’ll soon slide my way back into social media all the time. It helps that I have to do my morning routine and change before heading out to taiji.

3:15 p.m.

I’m in the restroom at the co-op, checking the temperature as I pee. Verdict: Unfuckingbearably hot. I studiously ignore the notifications until I put my phone away.

4:00 p.m.

The notification numbers are staring at me, mocking me, from their respective tabs. I can’t stop seeing them, so I put them in their own separate set of tabs. It’s in the back of my mind, though, that I should check. It’s time to admit it: I have an addiction. By midnight, my hands will be shaking, and I’ll be scrounging for all the social media scraps I can find, muttering to myself, “I just need one hit, Hong.” Yes, I call myself by my last name; I don’t know why. I’ve been doing it for decades, and it probably won’t change any time soon. For now, though, I’m holding steady.

4:30 a.m.

One way to ease the hunger is to take a long nap. It was so long, I’m tempted to call it my actual sleep and check social media. That would be cheating, however, because I know I’ll sleep some more in a bit. Oddly enough (not really that odd), the longer I go without checking, the more distance I feel from it. I’m tempted to see how many days I can go without checking, but I know I’ll give in at some point.

Ed. Note: It is now Sunday, so I’ve made it through one day of being social media-free. Am fiercely making up for it now.

I woke up this morning*, and the first thing I did, of course, was check social media on my phone. Facebook, not Twitter, because I wanted to take it a leisurely pace. I put it away while I fed Shadow and did my morning routine. Then, I jumped into my mentions and got right back in it.

When I was checking Facebook, I felt OK. The minute I looked at Twitter, though, I could feel my anxiety rise. All the constant poutrage and incessant yelling at each other wore me down in an instant. There was a reason I had decided to take a break from social media, and it was this. Social media, especially Twitter, heightens my anxiety and my anger. It also disrupts my ability to focus on other things because I always have the tabs open. I’ve muted my phone so I don’t get the constant notification beeps, and that helps, but it’s still hard not to glance at the Twitter and Facebook tabs to see if I have any notifications.

I think it’s been good to take a day off from social media, and I plan to do it every Saturday. However, I also think I need to regulate my daily intake of social media. The thing I noticed on my day off was that after the initial anxiety of not checking in every few minutes, it was so damn freeing not to think, “What’s happening on social media?” and feeling compelled to check. The longer I went without checking, the more I was able to relax and let it go.

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In Goop–And Gwyneth–We Trust

I became aware of something that for someone in my business* is like the Super Bowl, PBO’s inauguration day (COME BACK, BARACK!), and a wet sloppy kiss from Jason Momoa all rolled up into one: Goop’s first ever wellness summit, called In Goop Health. Which makes no fucking sense to me. Is it supposed to be a riff off in good health? It vaguely reminds me of In God We Trust, but I don’t think that’s supposed to be it. I think it’s the former, but it’s still enough to make me go, ‘Huh?’ The summit was this past Saturday in Culver City, CA, and it would have been my dream to go all Samantha Bee at the Republican convention up in this bitch.  One of my all-time favorite skits is when she tried to get Republicans to say the word ‘choice’ in reference to Bristol Palin’s decision to have her baby, and the lengths to which they refuse to do so until the very end is laughable. I love how Sam doesn’t give the word to them, she just makes them finally have to say it.

I think I’d take a slightly different tack, though. I’d go incognito as one of them! Granted, I’d have to buy a pair of Sweaty Betty Haven Yoga Pants, but they’re only available in black. While this is my favorite color, it’s not really acceptable for the Goop crowd. I don’t want to be stereotypical, but I may have to turn to lululemon for my white yoga pants needs. This may surprise you, but I haven’t looked at yoga pants in–well, ever, really. What I’m discovering is that the traditional yoga pants, as it were, has been replaced by the semi-transparent leggings, and I am not having ANY of that. I did manage to find Dance Studio Pants III (Regular) in white that will work, and the name is almost as long as the pants are expensive. It would be worth it, though, if it meant I could flit amongst the Goopies–Goopites?–undetected. Add to that a Balenciaga Classic Hip Bag for the low, low price of $850, and I’m good to go!

The base fee for the day was $500. That was the no-frills ticket, and you had to pony up $1,500 if you wanted the privilege of supping and drinking with Gwyneth and her pals. I can’t imagine anything I’d want to do more than watch Gwyneth sprinkle Moon Juice Brain Dust in her morning smoothie which includes ingredients such as maca, ashwagandha, ho shou wu, and cordyceps. The recipe suggests different Dusts for different times, and this is straight text, “Sex Dust, for, you know”. Seriously? We’re (presumably) grown-ass adults. We can say we’re fucking, can’t we?

Anyhoo, most of the write-ups about the ‘summit’ were straightforward, taking what the speakers said at face value, or even gushing about them. The one publication that actually took time to dismantle all the bullshit is, incredibly, The New York Post. The first paragraph reads as if it’s from The Onion:

Gwyneth Paltrow’s inaugural health-and-wellness summit on Saturday kicked off just as you’d expect: well-groomed women wearing yoga pants and expensive handbags hooking themselves up to IVs and oxygen tubes in a parking lot, experiences otherwise associated with the glamour of getting triaged at a disaster site.

In fact, I was pretty sure I was being pranked, but, sadly or gladly, that was just the tip of the Goopy icebearg! There was talk of ‘integral photosynthesis’ and of ‘the ontological experience called your life’. There was a presentation of a 10-minute face-lift that included local anesthesia and needles being poked in someone’s face. This procedure is apparently one of the simple things in life costing $3,500 and one of the side effects may be blindness. It’s better to look good than to be able to see, amirite ladies???

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How We as a Society Respond to a Crisis

pew pew
Maybe put these at half mast for a bit.

I woke up to the horrific news that a man who volunteered for Bernie Sanders shot at Republicans while they were practicing for the annual congressional baseball thing. Two congressmen were wounded along with a lobbyist and a legislative something or the other, and the gunman was shot and killed by the police. Two police officers were also wounded. Looking at my Twitter TL which is mostly filled with ardent Dems, I saw two trends happening, neither of which were good. One, screaming at Republicans who were, naturally, casting the blame on Democrats, saying in effect, “You started it!” Two, Clintonites shitting on Bernie and his supporters. Again. Still.

I have many things to say, and my thoughts are not the most coherent right now, so I’m  just going to muddle my way through it. Let’s start with number one. I’ve seen way too many, “No way are the Dems to blame in any way for this bullshit. It’s all Republicans and their strong allegiance to the NRA.” I’ll acknowledge the obvious–yes, the Republicans are mostly to blame for the lack of gun control in this country, with a healthy assist from the Dems (this seems to be the one truly bipartisan issue), but to deflect all blame is bullshit and hypocritical. It’s the same thing some Dems did after the Kathy Griffin stunt. Many denounced her actions, but many said it was fine because Republicans weren’t outraged by all the ‘kill Obama’ memes that were being circulated while he was president. I feel trite for saying this, but two wrongs do not make a right, and ‘the other side is doing it’ is a cop-out.

I will also say that Republicans are not as quick to distance themselves from their nutters as Democrats are. Sanders issued a full statement this morning saying he was sickened that the shooter had volunteered for his campaign and that there was no room for violence. I can’t recall a single Republican making a similar statement after a right-winger went on a shooting spree. In fact, they’re quick to say, “Let’s not politicize this” when it’s a right-wing shooter, but how quickly they’ve jumped on the ‘Democrats are to blame’ train in this case. So, yes, I get the impulse to push back hard and deny the accusations.

However. If we on the left want Republicans to take accountability for the rhetoric that flows from their side when a right-wing dude* goes on a shooting spree, we had damn well better take a hard look at ourselves when the situation is reversed. I’ve seen an increase in violent rhetoric from the left, or at the very least, callous disregard when it’s expressed if it’s aimed at this president or this congress, and it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not trying to be all morally superior here, but we’re supposed to be better than that. I’ve written about this before, but if we are disgusted by Republicans who laugh at pictures of Obama effigies being lynched, then we have to be equally disgusted with Kathy Griffin’s beheading shtick as well. And, as I’ve said, many on the left were quick to denounce it, but several felt compelled to defend her by saying the Republicans had done worse in the past.

This isn’t even about going high when they go low: I just don’t feel good about myself when I give in to my impulses to stoop to that level. I don’t like hypocrisy, especially when I find it in myself. I am not saying we shouldn’t stand up to this administration or this congress, but I am saying we should be mindful of our words. They do have an impact, and our collective increasing tendency to be as intolerant as our Republican counterpart is not a good look on us.

As to the  second trend, it just makes me so fucking tired. “Bernie and his supporters have to take responsibility for this.” Oh, really? Like Muslims when a Muslim person commits terrorism? I’m not equating the two in terms of discrimination, obviously, but the mentality is the same. This guy was a Sanders supporter, so therefore, all Sanders supporters are tainted with the same brush. It’s OK, though, because Sanders supporters are all cis white males, so it’s OK to slag on them in such a manner.

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Baby Steps and a Shimmy

fuck the heat.
I can’t go on. Tell Shadow I love him.

First of all, it’s hot as balls today, which means I’m even grumpier than usual. I’ve griped about the heat before, but it’s frustrating to try to make some people understand why I hate it so much. It’s not just me whining (though I do plenty of that); it’s not me being a delicate snowflake (though I’m that as well). It’s a physical impediment to me being able to do what I want/need to do. When I feel overheated, which is at about 70 degrees for me, I can feel the energy literally drain out of me. It’s akin to depression in that it makes it hard for me to move. My bestie and I used to have a running joke about the heat versus the cold. When we went out during the winter, she’d shiver and say, “Doesn’t the cold make your spine crunch?” I’d reply, “No, it makes me feel ALIVE!” When we went out in the summer, I’d say, “Doesn’t this heat drain you of your will to live?” She’d reply, “I love it! It energizes me!” She’s from Florida, and I’m a born and raised Minnesotan, so that might account for a large part of our different outlooks.

Last Saturday, I was in the co-op parking lot when it was 92 degrees out. I felt the energy drip out my body in a profusion of sweat, and I could barely force myself to go into the co-op. All I wanted to do was sit down where I was and cry. I found myself mentally snapping at everyone in the co-op for the stupidest things. I had to grit my teeth to stop myself from being a bitch, and by the time I got back in my car, I was in tears.

I hate having to defend myself, but I feel it’s necessary because it’s hard to constantly be judged (even if it’s not directly aimed at me) for being almost inert in the summer. It’s a weird disconnect to hear other people talking about how gorgeous the weather is when it’s eighty degrees out and wanting nothing more than to shoot a million ice arrows into the sun. My brain slows down when it’s hot, and that’s the worst part of all. The one thing I pride myself on is that I am a quick thinker. Anything that impedes my ability to think is on my shit list. Valerian is another. I took it once in desperation as a way to sleep, and it slowed my thinking so much, I wanted to kill myself. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. It was bad. Alcohol and drugs are also on the list.

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Learning to Let Go (of Social Media)

cut me off, ma. i've had enough.
Why are my emotions dialed up to eleven all the time?!?

Recently, I had a situation in real life where I had an intensely negative reaction to something someone said. It was instantaneous and visceral, though I tried to restrain it as best I could. Later that day, I started thinking about cutting back on social media, and, yes, the two are connected. One thing I’ve noticed about spending a lot of time on social media, specifically Twitter, is how it’s made me more reactionary. If I see something I don’t like, my body flushes, my heart starts racing, and I feel as if I want to punch someone. Part of that is because people tend to be declarative on Twitter, leaving no wiggle room. There’s a lot of name-calling, putting other people down, and negativity in general, and that’s just between Democrats–which is arguably worse than some exchanges between Democrats and Republicans.

It’s also because when something starts trending, everyone has to throw in their two cents, even if they’re not knowledgeable on the subject. So, much of my TL becomes a wall of the same ill-informed, not-nuanced opinion, and reading it over and over again has had a bad effect on my brain. In addition, my attention span has shortened, and I’m not happy with that. I can still read a long form piece, but it takes more concentrated effort on my part than it used to. When I write, I find myself thinking, “Let me just check out what’s happening on Twitter/Facebook” about every half hour or so. I’ve recently muted my notifications on my phone so I still get them, but I don’t get the beeps. That means I’m not constantly checking to see who’s said what to me, which really can wait until I’m done with whatever I’m doing–especially writing.

There have been studies on what overuse of the internet has done to our brains, but it’s still too early to say a lot about the results definitively. This article on the negative results match what I’ve found to be true in myself, though I will add that I’ve always skimmed portions of novels, even before the internet. I don’t like pages-long descriptions of scenery, so I always scan those or skip them completely. I prefer to visualize the environment in my own mind, and I don’t like flowery purple prose, anyway. The point remains, though, that when I read, I am more apt to check my social media than I am comfortable with.

Back to my IRL situation. The problem isn’t that I had a reaction to what was being said because my reaction was not out of line–it’s the intensity of the reaction that bothers me and how it was instantaneous. I’m not making the civility argument; I’m making the, “This is not good for my health” argument. I’m also making the, “This is not a good way to have a discussion” argument. I’ve already written in the past how I feel worse about myself since ingesting social media as a steady diet. I used to think I never should speak up about anything because my opinions weren’t valid or worthwhile to state. I also thought, “Why would anyone want to hear anything I had to say?” With the help of taiji and therapy (the title of my self-help book!), I’ve been able to work through it to the point where I was spouting my opinion all over the damn place. Hell, it’s what I do here all the time. But, ever since I’ve started using Twitter on a regular basis (and to a lesser extent, Facebook), I find myself biting my metaphorical tongue more often.

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When Perception Becomes Reality; An Infinity Loop

when perception is reality.
Is this how you see me?

About a week ago, I received a frantic email from my mother. She needed a new password for a website, and she was having a hard time making one the website would accept. She sent me their requirements and asked me to clarify what they wanted. She added that maybe I could just do it for her because she was having such a hard time with it. I looked at the requirements, and they were pretty standard. The password must be at least eight characters with (at least) one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one special character. I sent her back an explanation and an example and told her to try it one more time; if she still couldn’t do it, I would help her. She emailed me back asking if the number counted as a character, and I said yes. Everything you input, I told her, counts as a character.

A few days later, she called me. She had tried and tried, but couldn’t get it to work. She asked me to help her, and I reluctantly agreed. I hasten to add that I was reluctant because I thought she could do it on her own, and I didn’t want to baby her, not because I didn’t want to help her. My mom is, in her own words, a bit of a technophobe, and she she becomes irrationally freaked out and anxious any time she has to do something on the computer that is outside her comfort zone. In addition, English is her third language, and she doesn’t speak it on the regular these days, so having to do all this shit in her third language probably doesn’t help, either.

Let me tell you a little story about when we both worked at the county (different departments). She called me up one day and said, “I can’t get this website to work.” I walked her through it. I said, “Put the address in the address bar.” That took more explanation. Then, “Did you press Enter?” Mom: “I have to do that?” I’m telling you this to show you my mom’s mentality when it comes to computers. It’s so strange to me because she’s an extremely intelligent and competent woman. She was the first psychologist to practice sandplay therapy in Taiwan–in fact, she brought it to the country all by her damn self. She has a two-year waiting list of people wanting to learn it from her (at least she did when she first started. It might have eased up now that there are more certified sandplay therapists in Taiwan, all trained by her). It’s hard for me to understand how something as simple as a resetting a password can reduce her to such despair.

Yes, I know it’s partly an age thing and a not having grown up with computers thing, but I didn’t, either. I didn’t touch my first computer until I was in college, and everything I know is self-taught or gleaned from the brain of my techie brother. I don’t know nearly as much as he does, but I know more than average about computers I would guess. Again, this isn’t to slag on my mother, but to point out that there’s no reason for her to get so upset about computer basics. It also makes me sad that it’s so anxiety-inducing for her. I can bet that when she was told she had to reset her password, she started freaking out, which makes it all that much harder. Then, she probably started obsessing over it in the back of her mind. She built it up so much, when she sat down to tackle it, she was already in a state of panic. Then, with each successive failure, it only reinforced her helpless and hopeless feeling.

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