No Doctor? No Problem!: Before the pandemic, were people overusing health care?

In mid-April, as the medical world braced to contain the incoming flood from the coronavirus pandemic, doctors and patients alike were concerned about the disruption of preventative and elective health care. For some, the gap in visits was dangerous – newly diagnosed cancer patients had treatments cancelled when outpatient clinics were forced to close; early intervention measures and screenings of all types were put on hold. Virtual care, while a viable alternative for some, did nothing to address the number of surgeries and procedures that were left in limbo while hospitals restructured to meet pandemic exigencies. Healthcare workers feared that the consequences of delayed care might be severe.

But as time went on, something odd happened – a vast majority of patients whose care had been put on hold were doing just fine. Why? This is something the science community will be asking for years to come. There is no simple answer, because so many things changed at that point, and they all changed at the same time. Statistics by themselves can be misleading – visits to emergency rooms for heart attacks and strokes were down, but this may have also been due to patients’ fear of contracting COVID-19. But my friend Dr. H told me that there were also decreased admissions to the hospital for heart attacks and strokes, which for the most part isn’t a decision that is up to patients. He suggested that the lower rate could also be because people were staying inside and not pushing themselves. “They aren’t putting themselves in danger by drinking and driving a car or just getting stressed out.” Many people got to spend time away from work, at home with family, which helped balance the uncertainty of the times. But those on the front lines faced conditions akin to those of a live combat zone. It was a time of great contrasts.

In a June 22, 2020 article in The NY Times, cardiologist Dr. Sanjeep Jauhar opened a complex can of worms with this perspective – “There is a more troubling explanation to consider: Perhaps Americans don’t require the volume of care that their doctors are used to providing. It is well recognized that a substantial amount of health care in America is wasteful, accounting for hundreds of billions of dollars of the total health care budget.”

There is something to think about as our healthcare facilities gear up to reopen. The toll that the pandemic has taken economically on the American medical industry is astronomical. The elective surgeries and procedures that had to be cancelled were a major money maker. Hospitals were forced to cut back on hours and furlough employees; some doctor’s offices, unable to sustain their overhead and payrolls with no income, were forced to close. They are all strongly motivated to get back to business as usual, but Dr. Jauhar has other thoughts: “If beneficial routine care dropped during the past few months of the pandemic lockdown, so perhaps did its malignant counterpart, unnecessary care. If so, this has implications for how we should reopen our healthcare system. Doctors and hospitals will want to ramp up care to make up for lost revenue. But this will not serve our patients’ needs.”

A friend of mine had an interesting experience during lockdown with a serious back problem. “Steve” had been in pain on and off for 35 years and had degenerative disc disease. Nothing, not even stem cell injections, had helped. He ruptured a disc on New Year’s Eve 2020 and when steroid injections had no effect on the pain, his doctor scheduled a micro discectomy in March – then the pandemic hit. By the time Steve could schedule the surgery again, his doctor ordered a new MRI only find the ruptured disc 80% healed. It is just one story of many, but in this case, Steve did more than wait – he got the book, Back Mechanic, by Dr. Stuart McGill, and followed the program faithfully. This raises a point – making our own effort is something too many of us leave out when we believe that a surgery or procedure is going to do it for us. The restrictions of the pandemic gave many of us a motivation we never had before, and we rose to the occasion. It is one silver lining in this massive cloud.

Our society is doing a lot of restructuring right now, because we have a new normal to live. Times of great upheaval can also provide opportunities for great change. As the healthcare system begins to open up, both doctors and patients need to consider carefully whether postponed surgeries are really necessary and learn some new tricks to tip the scales. Our bodies do have the ability to heal themselves – let’s give them a little more help.

For the full Times article visit nytimes.com/2020/06/22/opinion/coronavirus-reopen-hospitals.html




Election Meddling?: One writer worries about the K-Pop TikTok campaign

Dear C and Dr. B;

I can’t say I was upset when the POTUS got poor attendance at his Big Rally, but when I found out that one reason for it was a prank played by Korean K-Pop teens using the TikTok app, I was a bit disturbed. It turns out that not only did the K-Pop teens submit hundreds of fake registrations for the rally, they encouraged all their fans in the US to do the same. Every person who registered then did a no show, which effectively thinned the crowd.

I’d like to see Trump lose as much as the next Democrat, but what bothers me about this is that it has a tinge of “interference by foreign governments.” I’m pretty sure that the K-Pop stars are influenced to a great extent by the companies that own their contracts. I don’t know why Korean teen stars would want to get American fans involved in a political agenda for reasons of their own. My teenaged daughter has the TikTok app. Do I have to be worried now that foreign corporations with political interests are brainwashing her? Is this what elections are going to be like from now on? They were a big enough circus before, but now they seem to be so filled with potential corruption that it scares me.

Nora Done

Dr. B says: I also have mixed feelings over this. On one hand I am overjoyed that the younger population got involved and made a difference. This was very empowering for them. On the other hand, I did hear an NPR story regarding K-Pop stars that mentioned that they have a high suicide rate, as they are allowed no free will. It seems like even their farts are under contract. There is nothing they say that isn’t controlled and doesn’t benefit their contract holders, so I think this shows that South Korea is messing with our politics. It also shows how much influence South Korea has over our kids’ minds through electronic media. This is really worrisome. 

I am not sure what, if anything, we can do about it either. I talked to my own teenage daughter about this and it didn’t seem to enlighten her even a bit. As she says to everything, “I know, I got this!” She doesn’t and doesn’t.  

C says: I can see where the Trump rally fiasco might seem like a great triumph to the K-Pop fan base and others. After all, if we can trust the fact checks, Trump made a habit of lying and playing dirty pool long before he got into office. It seems only fair that his own game be turned on him. Truth be told, the failure of the Republican convention was one of the few political skits that I enjoyed all the way through. But you are right – it bothered me that part of it was manipulated. I’d like to think that what I was seeing was The Truth.

Apparently, the media and the times are straining to turn the upcoming election into an ongoing game, and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you win. It’s a type of competition that is dangerous during a global pandemic. The infections and death rates from COVID-19 are resurging across the country, and a big factor in our failure to contain the spread of the virus is the lack of trust we have in our leaders. We were given messages from our scientific experts, only to have that information refuted or skewed to a surrealistic extent by the POTUS. As a result, no one was certain who to trust, but that didn’t stop them from asserting their individual rights. Even now, as the numbers grow, millions of Americans (encouraged by Trump’s own lack of protective gear) are deliberately exposing themselves and others to the COVID-19 viral spread, calling protective masks yokes of oppression and “Fascist Muzzles.” They see legislation mandating masks as a violation of their personal freedom and send death threats to political leaders who try to enforce safety measures. I fear the damage from Trump’s legacy of lies is something we will continue to grapple with into the future, no matter who wins – Trump didn’t create this national bad attitude, he just fanned the flames.

It’s important to understand why this trend to manipulate truth for convenience is a serious problem. Sometimes, the truth is a matter of life and death. Viruses don’t care about anyone’s political agenda, and we need to be able to trust what we hear. If you want to see what can happen when people believe internet misinformation, just watch this CNN video: cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/06/24/mask-mandate-florida-anger-erupts-coronavirus-vpx.cnn. The countries that have most successfully contained the coronavirus spread are the ones where the leaders supported the scientific methods of experts and gave citizens information they could trust. The health of our nation can only be rebuilt with integrity. K-Pop’s TikTok games are not going to do it.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Labels? Instincts? Stereotypes?: One reader questions their knee-jerk reactions

Dear C and Dr. B;

The issue of stereotypes and profiling has taken over the news – Black people and people of color are perceived as greater threats, wherever they are or whatever they are doing – and cops are feared by Black people and people of color as a matter of course. Then there are the stereotypes and profiling of privileged white women (Karens) and Jews … oh, and the Chinese now, because the POTUS blames them for the coronavirus. What I am saying is that we all seem to be seeing others as labels, not as individuals, and making a whole lot of assumptions based on cultural beliefs rather than facts.

It makes me wonder about what I have up until now considered my instincts. For instance, if someone comes to babysit my kids or pets, and I have a bad feeling about them, that seems like a genuine instinct. Or sensing whether someone on a first date is worth a second one – that’s very real and personal. I think we have to trust what our experience has shown us to a degree – that’s how we learn not to touch things that are hot or go near a hostile dog on a chain. But what about the feelings we have about total strangers based on stereotypes? Like that woman in the park who called the police on a Black man just because he asked her to put her dog (as park rules required!) on a leash?

Dagwood

C says: Few of us have ever actually witnessed the headline events emblazened on our screens and devices. It’s all second hand, but we build our opinions on it as if we really knew. However, there’s a big difference between instincts you’ve developed through personal experience, and ideas you’ve gotten from news and media sources. Just compare your “watching from the couch” opinions on violence to the sense of personal violation you feel when the violence happens to you, and you’ll understand the difference quite clearly. 

I don’t think it’s that hard for any of us as individuals to know what is right and what just isn’t. Unless you have a sociopathic disregard for your fellow humans, you know that betraying and hurting others for personal gain is bad and helping them when they get flattened is good. But when it comes to a national attitude, we are talking about something different – collective code that runs deep into our country’s history. These attitudes can be so ingrained we don’t even see them. Black men have been unjustly accused and killed for many years, but only repeated and collective outcries, such as the recent ones sparked by George Floyd’s death, can begin to wake us up. How many white women killed by Black cops would it have taken to produce the same outrage? I am guessing one would have done it

So how do you know which instincts to trust? You don’t. But I would venture to guess that any instinct that resists reasonable questioning is one that you really should question. 

Dr B says: Humans think in labels. It’s one of the brain’s shortcuts that allows us to function at real time speeds. Biologically, labels aren’t meant to be 100% accurate. They act more like catalysts, intended to push us to gather more data. Humans are territorial animals and labels help define the parameters of a given group. We also form pecking orders, so we defer the specifics and details within any label to authorities that set up the group’s acceptable behaviors. These are all survival mechanisms that allow for brain efficiency, but which also make us vulnerable to marketing ploys put out there by religions, products and politics. 

All of us have beliefs we’ve been taught that may not be true but that do affect our behavior. The key is to learn to question your givens to see if they actually apply. There is a Facebook post going around that shows classic historical style photos, but with all the stereotypes reversed. The Black slave has become the master sitting with a gun aimed at chained white slaves. The white men are in the kitchen baking while the Black mistress walks by draped in jewels. These photos shock and seem intuitively wrong to me as they are being picked up by my brain’s labeling/shortcut system. This reaction I have just goes to show that no matter what I consciously believe, my inner programming, like most of us, is still prejudiced. 




De-escalation: The Nonviolence Institute seeks sustainable peace

Since the death of George Floyd, protests and violence has erupted in waves across our country. On June 1 in Providence, we witnessed vandalism and looting, while in Minneapolis, NY, LA, Philadelphia and other cities, the burning, rioting and clashes between protesters and police rose to a frenzied pitch unabated. Under this cloud of tension and fear, it was a proud night on June 5 when the people of RI come back nearly 10,000 strong to march through those same streets carrying a message far more powerful: They were not there to destroy. They were there to give recognition and dignity to those who died, and to make this just cause be heard. Small conflicts that threatened to flare up were contained and diffused. The successful and peaceful protest was a victory for those who believe that nonviolence can change the world. 

For nearly two decades, the Nonviolence Institute (NVI) in Providence has been a force for sustainable peace. Their mission: “to teach, by word and example, the principles and practices of nonviolence, and to foster a community that addresses potentially violent situations with nonviolent solutions.” I asked Sal Montiero, senior nonviolence facilitator at NVI, if the Institute had been a presence at the protest on June 5. “Of course, that’s our job,” he told me. The street workers at the Institute knew that the kids they work with would be at the rally. The NVI was there for support, making their presence highly visible as always, wearing the NVI logo ID.

The NVI helps the community it serves by addressing the real needs, in real time, of the people who live there. When gun violence brings death and anguish to families, the NVI is there to confront violence with nonviolence. The support that they give to victim’s families helps to stem the viral spread of anger and pain. When the COVID-19 lockdown brought economic hardship, increased tension and shortages to the neighborhoods, the NVI website carried a list of resources for every need, from medical supplies to green socks. NVI street workers put their own lives at risk to bring services to people’s homes, pass out masks and gloves, and keep a watchful eye and peaceful presence as restrictions and tension rose. Montiero explained that the NVI’s service to the community involves both fixing problems in the moment – intervening in crisis situations – and working with youth and members of the community to introduce nonviolence as a better alternative to gang violence. Martin Luther King’s Blessed Community is a driving motivation behind many practices and training offered at the Institute.

I asked Sal if they’d seen domestic abuse rise along with street unrest. “Domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, they’ve all increased,” he told me. “The COVID-19 crisis increased every factor that was already in place.” Right now, NVI has five street workers in Providence and two in Pawtucket, engaging with the people on the streets and in the neighborhoods. They hear what is going on, and see what the issues are. It’s an effective way to gauge the pulse of the community. And when help gets to where it’s needed, when it is needed, outcomes can change.

I asked Montiero what he thought about the looting and rioting that was going on across the country. He doesn’t condone it, but he understands what is behind it. “Imagine that for your entire life, the whole system is against you. Opportunities are denied you, police target you, and you are bullied nearly everywhere you go. After years, when one peaceful protest after another brings no change…”  

Montiero believes that education is ultimately the key to change. He has been studying and practicing the principles of nonviolence in his own life for more than 25 years and has facilitated nonviolence trainings all over the globe; he’s currently teaching at Providence College and Moses Brown School in Providence. “Telling kids the what and why of what is happening today is crucial for the type of understanding that can make a real difference for the future. We all need to examine ourselves and ask, ‘What is it I do to be part of the problem?’ Kids need to look at the brutality and racism and say, ‘It’s not OK.’”

For those who ask why the protests over George Floyd’s death are still continuing, the answer is this: Those who demand justice cannot stop until something in DONE.

For more on the history and mission of the Nonviolence Institute, visit nonviolenceinstitute.org




Real Help for Real Artists: MassMoCA workshops help artists thrive

The toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on our economy has been as debilitating as the disease itself, and some of the hardest hit were those who worked in creative fields. As the shut downs began, performance artists watched bookings disappear, teaching artists saw workshops and residencies cancelled, galleries were forced to close their doors, and conferences and sales were put on hold. Fortunately, immediate help came from unexpected places – in a rare legislative move, freelance artists were qualified for both unemployment benefits and small business loans. In an additional show of support, the RI Artists Relief Fund was set up to make grants available to the arts community. This short-term assistance was a godsend, but now artists are faced with the same dilemma all businesses and workers are: How do we all adapt our methods to this “new normal”? It is here that Assets for Artists, a program branch of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), has stepped up to the plate. 

MASS MoCA, now the largest non-profit art center in the country, is set on 16 acres of grounds in North Adams, Massachusetts. Originally a textile and print factory, the complex evolved over the years into 26 buildings and a maze of interlocking courtyards and passageways rich with historical association. Throughout its history it has been a place where new ideas thrived, with people seeking the most advanced knowledge and technology available. That spirit of innovation has continued into its present day incarnation as a creative hub, and Assets for Artists is a prime example of thinking outside the box to address the real world needs of artists today.

I spoke with director Blair Benjamin, who filled me in on their program and the pivot it has taken since the coronavirus lock down. He gave me some background first. Assets for Artists was founded on the belief that artists provide great value to our communities and are key contributors to helping economies to thrive. To that end, the classes and seminars have offered support artists need to advance the business and financial goals of their practice. This is a hard fact that is too often left out of the creative curriculum – artists have to make a living like everyone else. The Assets program has helped them to do just that, with professional development workshops and multi-level financial and business coaching that enables artists to build a sustainable economic future. Thanks to MASS MoCA’s sprawling campus, Assets for Artists has been able to offer a residency program, The Studios at MASS MoCA, that gives visiting artists from around the globe much needed time and space for their own creative development. 

When the COVID pandemic hit, the program shifted to adapt – live workshops became virtual classrooms and the seminars focused on the new challenges artists are facing in a post-pandemic world. A whole new line-up of free finance and business webinars for artists in CT, MA & RI was posted May 10, including new offerings in English and Spanish, all designed to help artists step into the next phase of economic recovery and hit the ground running.

The myth of the starving artist is one that Assets for Artists wants to dispel. Artists have always been innovators, perhaps because they have been left out of the support that is afforded for other small businesses. But in our new normal, the time is ripe for creative thinkers to establish themselves as a solid force in economic growth. 

For more on Assets for Artists, visit their website at assetsforartists.org. Current offering highlights can be seen at assetsforartists.org/news. All available webinar trainings are listed at assetsforartists.org/blog/2020/4/6/a4a-webinars-for-a-post-covid-world-zkylb. Classes fill up fast, and workshop space is limited, so don’t wait.




Rage Mode: One writer asks how to deal with rage

Dear C and Dr. B;

This morning I woke up to news stories of violence and looting in downtown Providence. It shocked me to the core to see this happening in my own city – people breaking into the newly reopened Providence Place Mall, breaking store windows along Westminster and trashing businesses that people worked so hard to build up, burning police cars…the whole city was in mourning as it tried to clean up today.

What hit home even further was a scene I witnessed in a grocery store this same morning. It started as a misunderstanding by an impatient and pissed off woman, who subsequently verbally accosted another woman who wasn’t doing anything but checking her groceries through the self-check-out. That woman’s companion decided to get into it with the angry woman, who got abusively angry and began hurling more profanity and insults. The companion in turn hurled some insults back at her that I never would have expected to come out of his mouth. The adrenaline was surging so strongly in the screaming woman that she was shaking and the innocent woman’s companion was so angry he walked out of the store with the cart and left the woman who was the target of all this undeserved rage stranded at the register with her groceries. I felt like I was watching something start that could have ended in gun shots or other physical damage, these people were SO angry at each other. What is a person supposed to do when they find themselves right next to this behavior, out of nowhere? I was midway through a checkout trapped on the bylines. It scared the crap out of me.

Sadie 

Dr. B says: A book I am reading calls this the perfect storm – the fear, anxiety and restlessness caused by the  pandemic restrictions has become bottled up. Added to this is a fear of the looming the unknown – climate change, terrorism and sensationalist news from the media yelling the sky is falling. Mix in some anxiety fueled by opportunistic politicians fanning the unrest and political divides to create and use chaos for their own advantage, and voilà – the whole country is on their last straw. 

What you can do is to stay calm – don’t add fuel to the growing fire. Perhaps if you just start singing some happy ditty everyone knows. People will be takin aback at first, but if you continue I’ll bet everyone will join in. It might break the tension and fear that the whole room is feeling. Right now, we all need to sing a happy song.   

C says: As a self-defense instructor, I don’t advise singing in such situations. This is a tactic that may work in an otherwise civilized group where people know each other, but I have seen agitated people go completely ballistic when a total stranger tried a similar approach. It can too easily be seen as belittling or insulting to the angry party. Anyone who starts an ugly shouting match in public is already itching for a fight, and they are likely to seize upon even well-intended gestures as cause for more anger.

If you are on the sidelines when an argument erupts and it is none of your business, stay out of it. Unless you are a member of store security or another authority with trained ability to intervene, then – 1) you have no legal right to interfere, and anything you do could backfire; you may even later be seen as another instigator; and, 2) if violence were to erupt, anyone who gets involved in the drama becomes a target. There is no way to predict who will be hurt. I would go so far as to recommend freezing on the spot, because movement draws attention. 

We’d all like to imagine that we could be heroes and save the day if a dangerous situation unfolded in front of us. But anyone who is actually trained to deal with such things knows that takes many hours of repetitive conditioning in order to remain controlled when those around you are losing their cool. If I saw a situation where someone was hurting a child, I know that my instincts as a mother would launch me into rescue mode, no matter what my intellect told me; but it still wouldn’t be a very smart thing to do. As a general rule of thumb, do NOT ever get involved in a fight between strangers unless it is under extraordinary circumstances and there is no way out. These days, many people are carrying around unspeakable rage and anger, and if you don’t know who you are dealing with, you may be putting a match to what could become a giant explosion.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Outdoor Etiquette: With so many people taking to the great outdoors, manners are even more important

Dear C and Dr. B,

With the restriction of the coronavirus lockdown, the only fun thing left for people to do is get out and explore all the parks and conservation lands that have remained open. What I cannot understand is why people leave their garbage all over. The worst part is those dog poop bags. They are everywhere and people don’t dispose of them properly. Do they think the bags are going to decompose? I just don’t understand. How can someone be conscientious enough to bring a poop bag, but think nothing of littering the park’s paths with bags of dog shit? 

– Phil

Dr. B says: I’ve wondered the same thing, so I spoke with the director of a local nature preserve and conservation area. With the pandemic, traffic has really increased there. I told him I was glad people are getting out because it’s good for their mental health, but those poop bags really get under my skin. The director told me they had put out a survey on this question to their members. According to the survey, those dog poop bags are advertising they are biodegradable, so people believe they just dissolve. This is silly on so many levels. First, after 100 years (which is how long the bags probably do take to biodegrade), you would still end up with dog poop on the trail in the same spot. Does it make any sense to preserve it in a bag? Second, when plastic breaks down into micro plastic it can pollute the water supply and poison animals and people. It is linked to leukemia, autoimmune disorders and cancer. Please, people! Carry your garbage and poop bags out of the parks and dispose of them properly. If you really are determined to leave your dog’s shit on the ground, please have the courtesy to use a stick and throw it into the woods.

C says: A number of manufacturers make leashes that have little poop bag dispensers attached to them, along with a clip for the filled bags, so you can bring the poop with you until you find a can without having to carry the poop bag in your hand or in your pocket. Every dog walker should get one. In Rhode Island, there are fines for leaving pet poop lying around, and very specific directions on what to do with it: “proper disposal shall be accomplished by transporting such feces to a place suitable and regularly reserved for the disposal of human feces.” That is NOT our woodland paths and public parks, people!

Dear C and Dr. B;

Since the COVID thing, I’ve been going for walks on the East Bay bike path and it’s become a sometimes crowded place. My complaint isn’t about social distancing or masks, because people have been pretty good about that. What is driving me nuts are the bikers who drive up behind me and say “on your left!” It can scare the crap out of me if I don’t expect it, and I’m afraid some day, I’ll be so startled, I’ll jump in front of the bike by accident as I’m turning around. Why do they have to do this, when there’s plenty of room to go around me? It’s not like I’m stumbling all over the path or something, and have to be warned!

– Jumping Jack

C says: The reason this scares the crap out of you is the very reason bikers give warning – you had no idea they were there. If you did, it wouldn’t be such a shock. And keep in mind that the biker sees you long before you see them. You may be walking in a straight line, but if you haven’t turned and looked behind you the whole time, they know you aren’t aware of their presence. It’s for your safety as well as theirs that they “scare” you. I have seen walkers suddenly lunge across the path because they dropped a hat that was blowing away, and I’ve seen bikers hurt very badly because someone changed their direction. If you don’t ride a bike, you haven’t had the experience yet, but if you did, trust me, you’d be warning people too.

Dr. B says: I believe the rule of the bike path is that bikers stay on the right, just as cars would on a road. This means going around people when they are walking on the path. Just three hours ago, I warned a walker on a path with my bell, and just a few hours before that, I almost backed into a bike when they gave a verbal warning, as I didn’t hear what they actually said. I try to use my bell, but that doesn’t always work either. It seems like the best solution is to just be more aware.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Advice from the Trenches: Dealing with the psychological effects of quarantine

Dear C and Dr. B

Since the lockdown, my husband is working from home and my kids are back from college and learning online. We go on family walks daily and have dinner together every night. Morning sex is great as no one is in a rush to get anywhere. I hate to say it, but I am overjoyed. The problem is, when I hear the news or talk to my friends who lost their jobs or talk with those with younger kids who are driving them nuts, well –  I feel guilty that I am so happy and that the coronavirus has momentarily improved my life. Don’t I have the right to be happy during a pandemic? 

Bonnie  

Dr. B says: Feelings don’t follow rules. Although you do not have a constitutional right to happiness, you certainly have a personal right to any and all of your feelings. There are no wrong feelings, only wrong behaviors. I would not recommend gloating to your friends about how lucky you are. But you can be a good, solid listener to those less fortunate than you.   Sympathy for others shows understanding for their situation, but over-empathy makes their suffering your own and that doesn’t help anyone. 

C says: Bonnie, the coronavirus is killing people and crippling the economy, it is not improving anyone’s life. However, for many people, the resulting lockdowns have provided a chance to stop running around, and subsequently, spend more time at home. Some people have seen this as an opportunity to abuse alcohol, drugs and family members. You’ve turned it into an opportunity for family closeness and bonding. Good job! You aren’t screwing anyone else in order to wrongfully gain happiness at their expense, so go ahead – be happy! And if you see a chance to help others who are less fortunate, don’t forget to be a good neighbor. It’s something else you can feel good about.

Dear C and Dr. B;

I have a list of stuff that I have put on the back burner for literally years, and I haven’t been able to find time do any of it. Then came the COVID-19 lockdown, and like many others, I found myself without a job and with a lot more time on my hands. At first, I was all gung ho about cleaning out my closets, finishing the book I’d started to write and planting a garden. I started quite a few projects. But as time goes on, I feel more and more like I am in a fog. It’s hard to concentrate, and there seems no point to doing anything because the future is kind of foggy, too. Now, I spend much of the day starting jobs, then getting distracted and playing game apps on my iPad. If I try to force myself to do something creative, there’s no energy there. Even three cups of coffee have no effect. I am keeping my routines, getting exercise and eating healthy. I just don’t want to do anything. How do I get out of this coma? 

Slo Mo Monty

Dr B says: Change of any type manifests in grief. It could be that the loss of your normal life and your routines are manifesting as grief – your reaction shows many similar stages. There’s denial (the cleaning and busy times), and anger, (which may be directed either restrictions, or the non-mask wearers who won’t comply with restrictions). What you are currently describing is depression – fatigue, lack of motivation and listlessness.  Hopefully, you will move on to acceptance when the new norm forms, which will happen if this goes on long enough.  

Another cause of listlessness for many can be too much couch and TV time, weight gain due to overindulgence in comfort foods, and lack of exercise. Too much social media is also exhausting and the blue light of devices screws up our sleep/wake cycle. Lockdown can also mean less overall engaging outside the house. People are exhausting if you are trapped at home with family that doesn’t allow much free “me” time or rejuvenating social network time with friends. Try to address as many of these issues as possible and see how you feel.  

C says: My Sensei had a saying: “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” None of us really knows what to do right now, but, as Americans, we are accustomed to think that we are to “take action” when a problem arises. Certainly, that is true if a forest fire is bearing down on us. But prevention is a quiet game. If you are successful, NOTHING happens. Such a concept pretty much blows our national mythology.

Your circuits are shorted for the moment, Monty. Don’t worry about it. Listen, if you have a long list of stuff you haven’t gotten to in years, you’ve probably been pushing yourself for that long without a rest. Take advantage of this chance to recharge your batteries. When the time comes to act, you will jump to the task with renewed energy. I guarantee it.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




The Skye Is the Limit: Skye Gallery adjusts to life under lockdown

When I visited Skye Gallery on March 7, it was packed – people spilling out onto the sidewalk, voices bubbling and music throbbing inside the brightly lit reception for DIVINE 2020. On April 29, Jonny and I faced each other across a white table in the back room, masks in place while keeping a careful social distance. The opening seemed like a memory from another world. I asked this Providence gallery owner how the pandemic had gone down at Skye.

Jonny Skye: I was closely monitoring online; every day there was a new unfolding. We’d had that very well-attended opening on March 7; even then, a couple of concerned people wore gloves and stayed outside. This gave me pause. By March 12, when Mayor Elorza declared a state of emergency and the city stopped issuing entertainment licenses, I knew I had to cancel all events. By March 28, Governor Raimondo said all non-essential businesses must close. Everyone was staying inside by that point anyway.

Cathren Housley (Motif): Did you have a plan in place for adjusting to the new restrictions?

JS: I did not have a plan. I am still making it up as I go. There is no solid ground in this dilemma we face. Being flexible and paying attention to all the information available is daily work; it has taken some time to sort through what makes sense business wise for the gallery. 

CH: RI has really stepped up to help the people of the state. What was available for sole proprietors like you? 

JS: I applied for over eight grants and supports. As soon as I saw something go up, I dropped everything and applied. The Artist Relief Fund (RISCA, RI Foundation, Providence Dept of Art, Culture and Tourism, and the Alliance for Artist Communities) responded first and really gave me a bolt of confidence that I wasn’t going to lose the gallery. Soon after, the money through the RI Dept. of Labor and Training for small businesses also came through. The other grants I applied for I haven’t heard from yet. I really need to find grants, as my business model is commission based – I don’t have assets to borrow against.

CH: What other responsibilities and problems have you had to take on because of the pandemic shutdown?  

JS: There is too much to say here. I am responsible for supporting the health and optimism of the artists I work with – ongoing conversations, sending opportunity links, writing and submitting on their behalf, and generally sharing woes and hopes. The gallery is not just a business, it is a support system for many people; I do consulting with local businesses outside of the gallery as well. I am a mother of four grown children who are navigating the situation independently, yet need varying degrees of support. For me, and most others, providing emotional and tangible support to family and friends, along with the daily worry of infection, has added a lot of extra responsibility.

CH: So, how do you do business with all that going on, when people are being hit with a global crisis like this one? 

JS: I felt morally conflicted. How could I promote art sales when people were anxious, sick, dying, hungry and housing insecure, when the scaffolding of everyday life was being taken away? I know art is critical to humanity, but I couldn’t reconcile it in my heart. When the idea of virtual openings was pushed by folks, I couldn’t reconcile that for the gallery either. I see art objects as talismans, not just images. They hold the spirit of the artists who poured themselves into their creation. ­Being able to gather at events and opening celebrations were key marketing and community building efforts of the gallery. So I’ve had to let my thoughts and feelings unfold, along with all this new input, to find the right mix of respect for people and art that aligned with the mission of the gallery, and the reason I am doing this anyway.  

CH: How do you keep going in the meantime?

JS: I was heartened by some early success from the DIVINE 2020 exhibition – mostly friendly neighbors who wanted to ensure the gallery would remain and were also excited to acquire a new piece of art while supporting an artist and a giving positive boost to their creative confidence. This energy has waned in the past month or so, but luckily, the added supports I mentioned earlier are allowing me to cover the basics of rent and utilities and give me room to imagine and build the framework for a new business model. I want to capitalize on the need of folks for intimacy and a sensory experience with art, as it connects us with humanity. I have decided to hang shows in the front of the gallery through the end of the year so people can clearly view new work from the sidewalk. I will operate by appointment, encouraging patrons to come safely one or two at a time, experience the work, enjoy conversation and check out our back room stock. I have built a new scheduling function into the website, skye-gallery.com, as well added more work to the website. I will continue my IG and FB promotion and add new initiatives as the days unfold, to stay relative to what’s going on.

CH: What do you think the biggest disadvantages to lockdown are? And do you see anything positive coming out of it?

JS: The negatives are the anxiety, fear, separation, dying alone, mourning alone and the seeding of more distrust.

At the same time, we have been given the gift of slowing down – the earth gets a breath and we get a breath. There is an opportunity in this for each of us to reflect on the meaning of our lives and the ways our patterns aligned or didn’t align to what truly matters to each of us. It’s a short trip our spirits get to take in the human body. Taking the time to see who we are outside of work hustle and consumption is good for our culture and the collective energy of the planet.

CH: Any parting thoughts?

JS: I am supremely grateful that Skye Gallery is important to this community. I am committed to the artists and patrons who value it and will continue to ensure its relevance so that it can continue to uplift and help us see a way forward with respect for life and our culture.

Skye Gallery will present new paintings by Brett Cimino, on view beginning Saturday, May 23, 2020. INTERTWINED, the current show featuring the work of Nepalese artist Ragini Upadhayay Grela (see story at motifri.com/ragini-upadhyay-grela) will continue to be available for view and purchase at skye-gallery.com, along with the works of other artists. You can schedule a visit to 381 Broadway in Providence at skye-gallery.com; Skye Gallery can always be reached at skyegallery@gmail.com and 401-481-4480, and be sure to follow@skye_gallery  




Friends with Benefits: He’s gay and his lesbian bestie wants more

Dear C and Dr. B;

I know a lot of women who have gay male besties. Well, I’m a guy and my best friend Sarah is a gay woman. We do everything together. She is the only one I feel safe enough with to be entirely honest. She accepts me unconditionally and I always have fun hanging with her. But recently, something changed between us and I don’t know how to handle it. Last week, she told me that she loves me. I said that I loved her too, like a sister. That’s when she said she had fallen in love with me. The next  time we hung out, after a couple of glasses of wine, she started coming on to me. I was really surprised because I thought she was just into women, and I told her that. She said, “I don’t know … it’s just how I feel.”  

We fooled around, but didn’t actually have sex. Now I am entirely confused. She is starting to act differently, getting possessive about me too and pissed if I notice other women. This is a real switch from when she used to point them out to me and ask, “What do you think about her?”  She is putting pressure on me to have sex and is acting rejected that I have pushed it off.  What do I do? What would happen if we did it? I don’t want to lose her as friend. Can someone who’s gay suddenly switch like that?

John

Dr. B says: No label is entirely true in real life. Humans are human and emotions have no boundaries. But just because one feels something doesn’t mean one should act on it. Sex will ruin your relationship, but good boundaries will make it stronger over time. Your relationship with Sarah was based on trust, and you felt safe. If you have sex you will be violating that trust and it will destroy your sense of safety. It might be a different story if you had romantic feelings toward her too, but you don’t, so it would be dishonest and cruel to sleep with her – taking advantage of an opportunity rather than be respecting her as a person. If you stay true to your own feelings and are consistent with the boundaries you had before, she might get mad at first, but should come around. The one unchangeable thing about emotions is that they always do change.    

There are many types of love and sexual love is just one variety. If you want to experience other forms of love, don’t have sex with your best friend!

C says: What is happening with you and Sarah has nothing to do with whether or not she’s gay – she’d probably be like this if she thought she was in love with another woman, too. What you are experiencing is a neurotic, but fairly typical, oxytocin-charged reaction to the onset of a possible relationship. Oxytocin is a pesky hormone that is released by intimate contact, and for many women, it creates a desire to bond. I know that if I’m just friends with a guy, I don’t give a crap who they are attracted to. But if I sleep with that same guy, everything changes. I have an urge to bond, and I become embarrassingly territorial and needy, no matter how independent and non-judgmental I felt before. I am convinced at this point that it is entirely chemical, because it NEVER happens unless I have sex with a guy – so having sex is something I’d never consider with a guy, unless we both wanted an intimate relationship where bonding was pretty much expected. Do you want an intimate relationship with Sarah? If you don’t, then don’t sleep with her or she’s going to be out there hoping for bonding on her own. It’s a cruel thing to do to a friend.

There’s a reason that the whole straight woman with a gay friend works – sex tends to mess things up. Tell Sarah that her friendship means more to you than sex does, and you don’t want to take a chance on losing it. Few intimate relationships are forever, but BFFs are. If she knows how much you love her as a person, but walks away, at least it’s her choice, not yours. That’s the kind of dignified out a real friend would give.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com