Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 35: Public Television Give

Today our give was to our local PBS station, WFYI. We got a solicitation in the mail. It turns out that they lost about 50% of their state funding this year, amounting to a shortfall of nearly $250,000 ... on top of an already tough year economically. We can never really give too much to them because, since we cut out our cable television, it's pretty much the only television that we allow Elijah to watch. He's very engaged with their programming, and remembers a lot. For example, one day he pretended to be a meteorologist (and pronounced the word almost-correctly) because he'd seen it on Sid the Science Kid.

For reasons beyond this, PBS has a special place in my heart this year, because they've actually helped with one of the big changes which has startled me during this whole process. As I've described earlier, my mother is losing a ton of weight (a figurative ton, that is)... and I attribute it largely to a PBS donation last fall.

PBS Donation Gives Back
Last year, when I donated, it was during their regular annual drive and we qualified for some gifts in exchange for the donation. I really wanted the National Parks: America's Best Idea series ... 12 hours of gorgeous footage of our national parks, along with their history. But Amber had other ideas. (It's okay, I eventually recorded the National Parks series on our DVR and got to watch it. Absolutely gorgeous!)

Amber decided that we should get a set of Wayne Dyer materials, as a Christmas gift for her mother. Her mother, she said, really liked him and it would be a nice gift. So we checked off the box to get the Wayne Dyer book Excuses Begone!: How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits, along with the related CD and DVD of his PBS special on the topic.

Now, honestly, I'd never heard of this guy, but it was clear he was some sort of self-improvement guru, and over the last couple of years I've grown to appreciate that these guys can be helpful, so I wasn't opposed to getting it ... but neither was I particularly enthusiastic about it.

I grew even less enthusiastic as it neared Christmas and the stuff wasn't showing up. We got two postcards stating that WFYI was back-ordered on their reward materials, and we'd get it when it arrived in stock. So as we neared Christmas, this gift just wasn't ready, so we went ahead and got Amber's mother some other set of gifts, thinking that the Wayne Dyer stuff could be set aside for her birthday.

The package arrived a couple of weeks after Christmas, when I was in the process of preparing for the 40 Days of Giving project. I sat them out on the table, and quickly found that the CDs had been opened up and placed in the car, where Amber was listening to them as she drove around town. "Mom won't mind," she told me.

I began to listen, and was fairly impressed. Though Dyer is a spiritual guru, this particular set doesn't require a lot of spiritual commitment - it's just common sense. Basically, he urges people to look at what excuses they use and then consider whether they are really certain that excuse is true. He cites some new research in epigenetics (very cool stuff), which indicates that even our genetic code does very little to lock down the behavior of our biology. Even the most solid excuse - "It's in my genes" - seems to no longer be valid.

Given that these excuses are never 100% certain, you then have a choice of whether or not to believe them. Some of these very excuses came up when I was in the planning phases of this project, as I began to look at the logistics of actually carrying it out.

"It'll be too hard." Well, maybe or maybe not. Instead of assuming it will be, why not assume that it won't be, and run with that?

"I can't afford it." Again - maybe or maybe not. Why not think "There's a way I can afford this" and then begin looking for it.

As I said, none of this is particularly spiritual ... although the implications of Dyer's epigenetics talk is that you can positively think your body itself into a better situation, potentially curing cancer or losing weight with some positive thinking.

And that's where my mother comes into the story.

One day, I'm listening to the disks while I drive my mother to the foot doctor. I had to pressure her to go, despite the fact that she had a gaping, oozing wound on her foot. She'd gotten a large blister on her foot, rubbed them together in her sleep one night, and caused it to split open. Her feet were regularly swollen and red, and I was concerned about circulation problems. She was also diabetic. She needed her foot looked at, so I was dragging her to the foot doctor.

During the drive, she listened to the CD, just as it was talking about a study where the placebo effect was shown to work even in place of surgery. A group of people with arthritis in their knees were split into three groups. Two groups received surgery to alleviate the problem, but the third group received only incisions, but no actual surgery. Then all three groups, thinking they'd had the surgery, went through physical therapy. The group that thought they had surgery, but didn't, recovered at exactly the same rate as the ones who had actually had the knee surgery! The pain was relieved, the movement increased, at exactly the same rate. The surgery itself, and the skill of the surgeon, appeared to have no actual impact on the patients' outcomes.

Upon questioning, I told my mother that this was some guy from PBS, Wayne Dyer. Then I took her to the foot doctor.

Amber and I continue listening to the Excuses Begone! disk, and are fairly impressed. Amber has already decided that her mother wouldn't really like it, because he's kind of "New Age-y" for her. For example, at one point Dyer says, "You are god," as a means of demonstrating how much power you have to influence your own life. Well, for a fundamentalist Christian, that just doesn't fly, so we decided to keep the Wayne Dyer stuff ... and I became quite a fan.

At one point I said to Amber, "My mother should really listen to this."

Well, it turned out she didn't have to. The Wayne Dyer Excuses Begone! special was on PBS, and Mom happened to catch it while flipping through channels. Realizing that it was the show I'd mentioned, she watched it.

What happened next was nothing short of astounding.

Since String Theory for Dummies had come out, I'd occasionally made reference to the fact that I looked forward to the day when I could write full time. Each and every single time this topic came up, my mother immediately pointed out that I'd be foolish to give up a job with such good benefits and pay. (I was making nearly as much after 5 years with the company as she'd made teaching school for 25 years! This isn't a sign of my immense wealth ... it's a sign of how badly teachers are paid.)

Then, just a few days into the 40 Days of Giving project, I went over to her house. She said, "I saw that Wayne Dyer show, and I wanted to tell you something." She looked me in the eye. "If you ever decide that you want to quit your job to write full time, you won't hear a word of complaint from me."

I was absolutely stunned at this total reversal. For my entire life, Mom had emphasized the importance of having a secure job with benefits. This was the woman who had told me, as a young child, that if I wanted to be a writer, I'd better have a job that could pay the bills.

Something about that PBS self-help show had clicked the tumblers into place for her. And that was just the beginning. I came by her house a week later and noticed some new exercise and diet materials. Within a few days, the change was noticeable: Mom was losing weight.

My mother had, for well over a decade, weighed well over 300 pounds. At her heaviest, she reached 370 pounds. She'd moved up to be near us in the fall and had put some weight on since then. Now it was coming off ... and coming off quickly. When she went to the doctor about two weeks into the 40 Days of Giving project ... and she was twenty pounds lighter than when she'd moved. We estimate that, in just two weeks on her diet, she'd lost nearly 30 pounds.

And she has, since then, continued to lose weight ... although it has, thankfully, leveled off. (We don't want the poor woman to waste away.)

Just today, in fact, she reclaimed some property from me because of how much she'd lost. When we'd gone to Florida this summer, she'd bought me a "Grumpy Gator" t-shirt. She'd wanted one, but the largest size they had was XL, which she hadn't fit into. She bought it for me with the understanding that when she lost the weight to fit into it, she could have it back. Neither of us honestly expected that I'd have to fork it over.

I've never been happier to give up anything in my life.

And this all started with a show on PBS that convinced her she didn't have to just accept the excuses she'd been using for so many years ... so giving some money to them is, I figure, well worth it.