Friday, September 29, 2023

The benefits -- and pitfalls of turning to the Crappy Childhood Fairy

The keyboard instead of the couch -
the new posture of seeking help
She calls herself and her YouTube channel, "The Crappy Childhood Fairy," though her real name is Anna Runkle. In this time of unaffordable or inaccessible professional therapy, her deft media presentation skills and openness about her life's story have made hers one of the top go-to names in the burgeoning realm of online alternatives to seeing a therapist.

"I’m not a doctor or therapist," Runkle's Crappy Childhood Fairy website says. "I’m someone who grew up in a rough family that was deeply affected by addiction and all the problems that tend to go with that – poverty, violence, neglect, and shame."

As a child, she sometimes had to shop for food and cook, as the household's adults were not around. And Runkle has said she experienced sexual molestation in the home.

Today, with a persona that blends likability and real world wisdom, Runkle brings insights to hundreds of thousands seeking healing, connection or just some online diversion while perusing YouTube channels.

Her credentials are varied -- she earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, and has been a professional comedian, a customer experience consultant and a video director -- but when it comes to psychotherapy, the Fairy's qualifications are school of hard knocks.

From her recent past in those jobs, Runkle freely shares with her viewers recollections of her occasional failures to be focused and reliable to colleagues, something to which many of us in the creative fields can give a reluctant nod of recognition.

And with gentle straightforwardness, her message is that facing how your symptoms are hurting others is an important part of healing from past abuse or neglect.

The Fairy, or CCF has become a big enterprise with paid levels of use and free services, all of which are energized with user posts, which of course make for algorithm assets.

I applaud Anna Runkle's emphasis on healing and accepting responsibility, rather than being mired in past pain. I also like her focus on some simple hands-on healing methods, like the benefits of de-cluttering.

There are downsides to her channel, however. 

In her criticisms of therapy per se, she is sometimes preachy and sweeping, treating her own bad experiences as universal.

Runkle once characterized those who criticize her over her negative view of therapy as personally hateful.

Though many of them undoubtedly have been, there is a lack of nuance in this. Conflating all criticisms of her with vitriolic personal attacks can be a tactic to play on sentimentality over reason, and it seemed to have that effect.

Legions who posted in the comments rallied around her as a friend under siege, never asking: were there also criticisms that were not mean or personal?

In the wider YouTube world, there is a problem of impetuous self-diagnosing by viewers. It's bad enough when the online work of a genuine therapist or psychiatrist sparks an "I suddenly realize I've got that" bandwagon. But when a non-professional prompts those inevitable comment thread reactions, it's a worse problem.

Though a YouTuber such as Anna Runkle shouldn't be held  responsible for every viewer's statements, she should set aside her disdain for the therapy profession long enough to tell those who self-diagnose they certainly should consider seeing a qualified healer first.

A particularly bad example came on a thread about the dangers of the toxic trait called people pleasing.

A viewer posted: "Thanks. I realized that my niceness is a mental illness, what a revelation...." And this comment wasn't the satire those words may sound like; it continued in a serious vein.

Whoa! To start with, niceness is not people pleasing. People pleasing is not a mental illness, but a habit. And this viewer was thanking someone not qualified to define a toxic habit in them, much less a mental illness.

As of this writing, eight months after that comment was posted, there has been no cautionary response posted by the Crappy Childhood Fairy or her staff. The "niceness as mental illness" equation is allowed a free pass.

It's no secret that big YouTube operations generally do resort to click bait from time to time to keep the views coming during the ebb periods. But a tactic the media-savvy Runkle used in 2021 was click bait in overdrive, and I saw it as blatant manipulation. 

In a YouTube video headlined "Is This A Healing Miracle? You Decide," she spends several minutes discussing in detail the fate of a loved one who was said by a doctor who examined him in an emergency situation to be weeks away from certain death.

That patient was her ex-husband but still good friend, who was afflicted with cancer. Well, days later he was declared out of immediate danger, and was improving so robustly he was back at his office. The cancer was now called treatable.

It sounded for all the world that this CCF YouTube was plainly making the case that a miracle gave the man his life back.

Well, twelve minutes and some seconds into the video, Runkle says, "That's not actually what happened. What happened was, we had a wrong diagnosis.... There wasn't really a miracle."

But the m-word isn't done on this YouTube. The fact that she and her ex-husband's other loved ones were so relieved that he was not dying after all makes his cancer seem less brutal than if the false diagnosis had never come down.

That has given the group a new appreciation of life. That's the miracle. The new outlook is reason to be pleased, and happy for them. But the sequence of this story played with viewers' emotions by suggesting for more than a dozen minutes something divine or metaphysical, then letting us know it's a far more relatable use of "miracle."

I don't know that Anna Runkle intended to deceive, but the video's timeline conformed to a standard method of extending YouTube watch times; getting viewers to stay through a certain length of a YouTube is generally needed to receive a desired amount of ad revenue.

And seeing the comment thread fire up with religious fervor from commenters -- including lots of mid-sentence capital H for "his" and "him" -- was all I could take. It was another grim reminder of how many people don't notice bait and switch, or don't care that they are being manipulated by it as long as they feel uplifted by a good story.

   Did this video manipulate Anna Runkle's viewers. You Decide:

The video me demoralized after months of using the Crappy Childhood Fairy channel to some real personal avail.

I posted my problems with her tossing the word "miracle" around so loosely, and unsubscribed -- wiser about the cut throat economics that rule YouTube.


Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, Ky. USA

Sunday, September 17, 2023

My First Ever Weird Experience -- It's Called Retirement

I have been retired for two days and it is weird. Really weird.

I've never known this situation, nor have I ever had a loved one cross into it during my conscious life; my wonderful mother - who was my sole parent - died at 59. My grandparents were retired going back my earliest memories of them. Transitioning from full-time work to fully retired is all new to me. And disorienting. 

I keep feeling tugs within me to get ready to go back to work as usual, as my two days off are done for the week -- get my food ready for tomorrow, make sure I have bus fare and line up the workplace ID badge, keys and wallet so I can make a quick exit tomorrow morning. And don't drink tea after 4 pm so I'll be rested enough to make that departure. That's how it has been for decades, but suddenly those are needless procedures.

I've made it all the way here - Wow
I don't have to go to work -- and I still get to eat. Nobody can fire me. This goes against our socialization, which holds that if you don't work, it means you are lazy. And you don't deserve to have a roof over your head.

But I'll continue to have my meals, and that roof atop my one-bedroom apartment. That's because of course the rules are different for retirees. They are people who have done their duty and are now rewarded with leisure. Besides, retirees are too weak and frail to do work. And they walk so slowly and never notice their turn signals are flashing, so it's better for everyone if they stay at home all day.

Notice I'm calling retires "they" and "them." That's because I can't fathom that I am in fact a retired person. Yes, I know they -- that is we don't really walk inordinately slowly, and most of us can lift anything a normal daily routine calls for a person to lift. And we notice our turn signals.

Beyond the fact that "retiree" doesn't mean slow and out of it per se, there's also my personal non-standard situation -- no boast intended, but I look about two decades younger than my 65 years and I lost 80 pounds a dozen years ago have kept it off. I'm 6-foot-1 and weigh 177 pounds.

To say I can still do lifting doesn't tell the whole story. Today, at age 65, I can lift and climb stairs much more easily than I could 30 years ago.

Okay, I'm not meaning to sound like Jack Lalanne. In fact, let me tell you that the fine state of health I find myself in today followed young adult and middle years of poor condition and a long list of health troubles. In my mid 20s through my early 50s, I chose a bad diet and experienced frequent overweight, heart palpitations, and periodic bouts with paralyzing agoraphobia (a malady you don't want).

Is it? Or have I found
 my just reward?
So my age progression has sort of been reversed, making retirement even more weird. I'm greeting it more like the day you got your driver's license. A second youth. For the last couple of days, I've been in a gentle euphoria.

Of course, I'll have to see how well my retirement pay, modest savings and Social Security hold up. My expenses are considerably less because I live as a minimalist; for 10 years, I happily have not owned a car or any kind of television.

Nonetheless I may be back to working in a few months, but perhaps in need of only 50 or 60 bucks a week, which could be attained through online writing, an avocation that is usually pure fun for me.

For the moment, however, and perhaps for the long term, this is otherworldly. Things look different. My mood is freed from so much baggage. I feel like I'm in a strangely unfamiliar place without leaving home.

Those observations may sound like the description of someone's positive LSD trip -- at least from what I've heard. I've never used illicit drugs, nor consumed even so much as a whole can of beer. During my teens and college years, I preferred reading world almanacs and encyclopedias and poring over maps to going to rock concerts and parties.

No, I just never kept company with my generation's many iterations of weird. And though retirement would seem to represent the closing of the life stage marked by bold exploration, it seems to be opening up just such a time for me. 


Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, Ky. USA, where had careers as an independent journalist, statistical clerk for the U.S. Census Bureau, public relations person for social service and social justice organizations, and pizza delivery person.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Problem With Anti-Work

OK, but...
Discussion of the issues in this era largely lacks nuance and fails to account for consequences. 

Defund the police? Great hashtag that sums up the passions of the moment. But then what? Well, explaining the whole needed reconfiguring of our current criminal justice behemoth would take much more than we can fit into a hashtag, so we'll have to deal with that at some later stage. But the problem is, people reacting to the hashtag aren't prompted to wait for that stage. It's a bandwagon, so jump aboard!

Hashtags have their place, when used for a specific need -- I've known people who got quick action using one when a family member desperately needed to resolve a snag with a certain government service.

But using a hashtag to explain a cause that would reshape a whole national or world institution is woefully inadequate.

Like, what does "anti-work" mean? For some, it's ending the present capitalist arrangement through which our work results inordinately in billionaires becoming richer and the rest of us losing ground.


LINKAmazon's methods make the Anti-Work case


For others, the term means the esoteric reshaping of human purpose; no longer doing unfulfilling labor to achieve some truly fulfilling end. The labor of our lives should reflect our creative yearnings.

Yet others hear "anti-work" as a lure to take life easy -- with no structural change of the system that is causing the injustices. The open-ended term "work" being attacked in the movement's name leaves those who wish to see a better system replace capitalism vulnerable to their revolution sinking to a far lower level. It could bring a world where the average person despises the tilling of the soil as much as they do the agri-chemical and food corporations who control what's produced from that soil.

Even when workers as a group control their enterprises' earnings, they still have to work, as in do the toils that produce things they want to produce and that people need. Work would still be a job.

And that is not entirely a bad thing, as nice a sound as there is to the idea of replacing the job with creativity.

A job also means a commitment - and not necessarily to the corporate owner, their hedge fund, their PAC, or their dream of flying up to the Karmen Line. 

Having to adhere to a work schedule and to meet the workplace's standards can be the way to compel a worker to honor their commitment to the greater society.


LINK: A more measured approach. The end of 'Workism'


Restaurant customers waiting for their food certainly do not want to hear, "Sorry, the chef said they're just not feeling pasta today, so they're making you sandwiches instead of the lasagna you ordered."

Or, for that matter, that the chef suddenly decided that making memes is their real calling, so they just left permanently.

Is it that jobs crush our souls, or that
they don't bulge
our bank accounts?

Anti-work is so broadly defined that it could easily become anti-commitment, a way of thinking that promotes a selfish, callous existence.

Another hazard of launching movements with two or three catchy words is that any political principle or ideology is going to be understood on multiple levels. As a journalist in Louisville in the 1990s, I covered the forming of a new group in a suburban county opposed to what it said was overreaching by that county's zoning agency.

Most were small business owners and were upset  by receiving "Criminal Complaint" notices for such violations as storing pipes outside on their industrial property in sight of nearby homes. The chief founder of this group had wider horizons; his literature said it would also take on the EPA over its nationwide practices.

One year later, the zoning notices no longer said "criminal" and the county zoning agency was talking more with businesses to resolve these marginal violations short of filing complaints.

Satisfied with that, about 90 percent of this group's members had stopped being involved. The founder's hard charge against the EPA would have to wait.

The same pattern could deflate the anti-work realm, if reforms make a job once again a way in which people can afford a residence, receive health care and pensions, get out of college debt and get their weekends back.

The great bane of radical revolutions is the enactment of moderate reforms. Of course, the converse is that by resolutely blocking those reforms, the billionaire PACs make revolution inevitable -- if we give a revolution the beyond-hashtag depth it needs.

Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, where he opposes corporate greed, but also vague open-endedness in naming a movement.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Louisville coffeehouse workers tell owner they want the right to their union, not just their pronouns

The evident progressive values of this coffeeshop
stopped when a possible union was in the offing, as
the statement below by the workers pro-unionization
movement asserts.
Visitors to Heine Brothers Coffee shops are greeted by large photo displays assuring them the multi-national fair trade coffees sold in this Louisville-area chain are helping the world's poorest improve their lives.

When they make their purchases, signs by the counter tell customers each employee's name - and their pronouns.

Heine Brothers shops have satisfied the political leanings as well as taste buds of left-of-center Boomers, X-ers and Millennials since opening in 1994 in Louisville's eclectic Highlands district. And any nearby BLM rally, jazz festival, or Reiki practitioner is sure to be promoted by fliers inside one or more of the 17 Heine Brothers shops in greater Louisville.

Heine Brothers owners are glad to open their shops as gathering places, discussion spots,
and organizing hubs for advocates in 
struggles for justice everywhere --
except at Heine Brothers, apparently.

On June 30, the Heine shop in a historic neighborhood called Douglass Loop was closed permanently by order of company owner and co-founder Mike Mays -- in the middle of the afternoon with not even one minute of advanced notice.

Mays then instructed workers to ask all customers in the store to leave immediately.

Heine Brothers workers involved in a unionization group called HB Workers Union said the stunningly swift closure at Douglass Loop wasn't by chance. They said that shop's employees were among the prime movers in that union drive, which was being made in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union.

Mays told public radio station WFPL the company's reasons for closing that store were not anti-union. He said that while every other Heine Brothers location outside of downtown had drive-through service, the design of the Douglass Loop store -- a tight triangle based on an early 1900s street car turnaround -- precluded drive-through.

An online statement by HB Workers Union members, however, called that explanation for the sudden closing, "outrageous and highly suspicious, considering this location has some of the most outspoken and visible union supporters who have been leading our organizing campaign.”

Douglass Loop Heine worker Gami Ray told online news source Spectrum News 1, "Our store was the first store to show up completely to the [union organizing] meetings; as well as the first store to complete our petition signings. We’ve been the most vocal about it online.”

Pro-union activists also have cited this statement in April 2022 by a Heine Brothers spokesperson on Louisville television station WHAS as indicating that stopping a union was a concern of the business, and consequently a prime motive for the Douglass Loop closure:

“While we respect our employees’ right to organize, we believe that, as a locally owned and operated company, Heine Brothers is well positioned to address the ideas and concerns of our employees without the involvement of a union."

Strategic battles at Heine Brothers'
Douglass Loop coffeehouse
once were a game, but now
are a human rights struggle. 
The Douglass Loop Heine Brothers conflict typifies the duality of businesses leaning left on social egalitarianism while sharply opposing economic egalitarianism.
The train of locally owned progressiveism classically slams to a stop when going left means threatening corporate assets, instead of just taking ethical stances which also help create new markets. Those can include the LGBT+, immigrant and refugee, and neuro-diverse people who made up much the the Douglass Loop store's customers, and its workers.

In the historically pro-union city of Louisville, the national trend of coffeehouse baristas unionizing is alive: a Starbucks in Louisville's eastern suburbia has unionized. Moreover, the recently formed Old Louisville Coffee Co-op in that historic central city neighborhood is worker owned.

The Douglass Loop former Heine Brothers location will soon get a new tenant; a craft brewery will move in, and will sell Heine Brothers coffee.

Workers at Heine Brothers throughout the Louisville area will continue their unionization drive, which began in early 2022 after workers got no action from their request that the owners reinstate a customer mask mandate they felt was needed to protect their heath from Covid.

Inside and out, a conspicuous
inactivity at Douglass Loop.
 Is that meant as a chilling message
to union activist baristas?

Organizers said increasing wages to livable levels from the basic $9.25 Heine Brothers pays is a central purpose of the effort to unionize. They also said the immediacy of the Douglass Loop closing underscored the need for a union, as being unionized would have required advance notification which would give workers time to negotiate better closing terms and look for new jobs.

A statement posted by the Heine Brothers owners inside the window of the closed Douglass Loop store, however, said that store's manager and employees had all been offered positions at other Heine Brothers locations. (Mays told media that offer also includes stipends to help with the transition, or severance benefits.)

On the window's outside a printout of an HB Workers Union twitter statement was recently posted. While noting that the Heine Brothers company projects a progressive image via Fair Trade coffee and the embracing of gender fluidity, the statement asked: "What's progressive about abandoning the workers who have run your store for years? What's progressive about abandoning the workers who learned the names of your regular customers?... We, the Heine Brothers organizing committee will not be intimidated or silenced by threats of store closures or other anti-union activity. Organizing is a right."


Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, where he supports struggles for just wages and benefits. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Saving democracy without succumbing to panic -- controlling those e-mail pleas that it's all up to me

The most important election of our time is coming -- again.

At stake is -- everything, just like in 2020, and the midterms of 2018, and so on back in the timeline of our 365-day-a-year election cycles.

The iPad has become an anxiety device.
And there is a lot at stake in the results of Nov. 8's general elections. They will determine whether the Democrats hold or lose their de facto majority in the U.S. Senate, or even gain a seat to go up 51-49. And that means the difference between Federal Court and any Supreme Court openings in the next two years being filled by Biden nominees, or blocked by boss Koch and his sock-puppet Senate Republican leader.

The outcome of these midterms also will show whether Republican jitteriness over the end of Roe v. Wade proves justified or just a bump in the road on their strategy of igniting their far right base by taking extremist positions.

So, yes, we should all be involved and stay informed -- even if that means lying awake a few nights until November.

But do I, a resident of Louisville, Ky., need to be made to feel personally responsible for who wins in Wisconsin, a state I've only been to one time?

"BREAKING POLL -- Barnes is up on Johnson in Wisc!" an email headline imposed on me as I was quietly scrolling the other night. I didn't know who either Barnes or Johnson were, but five minutes later, I certainly did.

Democrat Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes had expanded his lead to 7 points on Republican U.S. Senate incumbent Ron Johnson, according to a Marquette University Law School poll.

Other equally impassioned emails tell me Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock is statistically tied with Republican Herschel Walker, the former football star who has written that he has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Walker was described in a 2001 police report as "volatile" and having "violent tendencies," and he has fathered three out-of-wedlock children, along with one with his then-wife, who told police Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to pull the trigger. The candidate has not denied that allegation.

Unqualified, unstable and dishonest -- the perfect
GOP credentials of Herschel Walker

Walker is being treated for his mental illness by a theologically but not medically trained counselor who believes in demonic possession and touts methods debunked as pseudo-therapy.

The patient insists his DID is under control, but he has recently falsely claimed he had been a member of Georgia law enforcement, and said he graduated from the college he actually left after his junior year.

It gets worse: Walker, a critic of black men who are absentee fathers, also at first said he had just one out of wedlock child, but later was found to have three. When asked about this, he insisted he somehow had not failed to disclose their existence.

And this person is tied with Senator Raphael Warnock, a recognized scholar, theologian, and family man who has stood in the shoes of Martin Luther King Jr. by serving as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

MSNBC explains exactly who has McConnell fretting over "candidate quality."

Back to the nightly e-mails, Georgia democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is one of my favorite Americans today, isn't behind right wing incumbent Brian Kemp. No, no, let us say she is within the polling margin of striking distance and solidifying her hold on key voter groups, which is something like the kind of chin-up e-mail headlines I see on her race.

I love what Abrams is doing for voter access and fervently hope she wins, but when I see all these emails at once, it's like the internet is holding me personally responsible for Georgia's outcome as well as Wisconsin's -- oh, and Pennsylvania's, where populist liberal John Fetterman has an 8-point lead over TV doctor/huckster Mehmet Oz in a race to replace retiring Republican Pat Toomey. Still, lots of negativity by pro-Oz groups are ripping at Fetterman on many fronts, so I'll have to check nightly to see how that lead holds up.

As the U.S. leans Blue,
the GOP leader feels blue.
I want to be kept up on these races, but I'd rather not be kept up by them as I learn via nightly scrolling that the future of the U.S. will be either progressive or fascist, depending on the whim of people I will never know in states 500 miles away.

So I'm going to give another round of support to my candidates (note: as a federal employee, I need to make clear I am not urging anyone to give money) and shift those nightly grabber alarmist e-mails into the - as misnamed as this term is - junk bin.

I still love the progressives Raphael, Stacey, and John, but I'll enjoy a proper amount of sleep not having to drop off to fears that our democracy depends on precisely how many voters in places three states away from my home fall for a football star who can't seem to keep it straight how many children he has.


Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, Ky. USA, just a few blocks from - would you believe it, Mitch McConnell's house.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Beer, girlfriends, guppies, and baby clothes -- in space?

The International Space Station has been good for humankind, as has space exploration overall. They've returned benefits far greater than the costs. But NASA and the other nations supporting the ISS might not be getting their money's worth on the closed captioning of online live space walk coverage. So, while watching this EVA on March 23, 2022, Houston, we've had a chuckle.

OOOPS, trouble with the law...

Well, that was one wild ride! 

Longtime space exploration supporter Brian Arbenz, who lives in Louisville USA, invites you to link to the NASA Live coverage of this March 23 space walk: