Poke The Badger


Dear Abby


instead of getting advice from a nice lady, you’ll be getting it  from a remarkably blunt black and white and grey creature with claws and teeth and an attitude.  Badger is here to answer your burning questions about life, the universe, everything, and why you never seem to have an even number of socks.

March, 2019

Dear Badger,

How can the symbology of the sword help us in establishing our boundaries with others and within ourselves?

I wonder what Dear Abby would have done with this question…

A Word About Swords.

At its most basic, a physical sword is a flattened, sharpened piece of metal, tapering to a point at one end and to a narrow extension called a tang at the other. The tang provides an attachment point for the hilt. Swordsmanship training often involves the warrior understanding that in order to use a sword effectively it must become an extension of his arm: as he grips the hilt, the tang becomes the link between blade and hand and the mind which controls the sword’s movements.

Swords come in many forms, from the Roman short sword or gladius, to long, blade-heavy cavalry swords, elegant cutlasses, and enormous broadswords. Real, functional swords—the tools of offense and defense—are characterized by tangs that run the length of the hilt. The lack of this crucial feature renders many useful-looking shiny, jewel-encrusted swords into nothing other than very large pieces of costume jewelry.

The Symbolic Use of Swords

Certain swords have been given names, and convey power above and beyond ordinary swords. When young Arthur pulled Excalibur out of the Stone, he was declared King of England. Named swords are common in literature: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings features several named swords, including Narsil, the sword which, when reforged, made it possible for Aragorn to raise the Army of the Dead, solidifying his position as King of Gondor.

The king dubs a knight by tapping his shoulders with a sword: the knight then offers his sword to the king, thereby making a solemn promise to follow his commander’s every order, even if it means giving his life.

Stored with England’s Crown Jewels, the Sword of Mercy’s tip has been cut short and square, symbolizing the sovereign’s willingness to show mercy instead of making rash decisions.

Unsheathing a sword is a powerful statement: no one ever drew their sword and then started talking about how the crops were growing. When the swords come out, something—be it war in a foreign land or on the edge of town—is afoot.

The Sword in Victory

The conquering general holds his sword high over his defeated opponents. An excellent example of such imagery is this 278-foot statue, The Call of the Motherland, whose statement rings loud and clear: the Soviets defeated the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad. And just to be really clear, I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed the gigantic statue, the Soviets defeated the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad. So there.

Note the teeny tiny people at the base of the statue.

Another example of Really Big Swords Making Really Big Statements is this statue in Baghdad, whose name, translated into English becomes Hands of Victory or Crossed Swords. It commemorates another important regional clash: the Iran-Iraq war. And to sweeten the psychology of the statue even more, the victor, Saddam Hussein, had the sculptor use casts of his hands and arms as the models for those in the sculpture, so that this monument would clearly reflect his victory.

The Symbology of Swords and the Creation of Healthy Boundaries.

Our Reader has asked about using the symbology of swords in order to establish boundaries with others and within ourselves. Using material from the document “How to Create Healthy Boundaries”, published by the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center (link below), I want to give you a series of visualizations to use in order help you to effectively use the Sword.

Remember: keep your process as simple as you can. You do not need an arsenal of swords to set and maintain your boundaries. You don’t even have to go shopping for your Sword: it’s already within you. You have one Sword, and that one Sword is the best Sword for you.

Does it matter what your Sword looks like? No: when I ran through possible wording for a visualization I immediately defaulted to the episode of Star Wars: the Clone Wars where the Jedi children make their lightsabers. “Close your eyes, what do you see?…What will make you strong in battle and humble in defeat?”

Yep, nope.

If your Sword looks a certain way to you, that’s cool, but if it just looks like a generic sword like, for example, the ones on the tarot cards, don’t sweat it. My spirits tell me that this is a tiny detail that, if dwelt upon, would eclipse the purpose of this exercise.

The Sword is key, but not as a weapon.

The Sword is a reminder—an embodiment—of your personal power. If someone violates your personal boundaries, you use the strength that the Sword gives you, but not the Sword itself.

The Sword is your mirror.

The well-kept sword is clean and polished bright. Hold it up so that you can see yourself. Look into your own eyes, and allow yourself to see your own behavior: should you engage this troll, this toxic person, as you have done in the past, or step away from your anger? Dealing with a situation rationally is not something to be ashamed of; neither is ignoring the person altogether. Positive or negative, toxic people like attention: not giving the satisfaction of providing drama is reason to hold up your Sword and say, “I did this!”

The Sword is your reminder that you have self-determination.

If you need to communicate assertively, lay your Sword on the table or desk or ground in front of you. In this position it is a stable reminder of your inner strength.

Learning to use the Sword to set healthy boundaries takes time, practice, and determination.

Setting boundaries often generates anxiety, fear, and guilt, tempting you to drive your Sword into the ground and try to hide behind it by apologizing. You are doing nothing wrong or selfish in setting these boundaries. You have the right to care about yourself.

The Sword is not a rigid tool. Its blade flexes when it strikes another object. If it did not do this, it would shatter and be useless. Do not allow your vision of the Sword to be a rigid one. What if you realize you’ve made a mistake somewhere in your process? The flexibility of your Sword will allow you to correct your error and move on.

The Sword in toxic situations.

Learning how to use a physical sword takes years of practice and dogged determination. The same can be said for learning when and how to use your Sword in dealing with toxic people.

Count on the people accustomed to controlling, abusing, or manipulating you to regard your setting of boundaries as a challenge. Anger and resentment tempt you to raise the Sword, and those who stand to be pushed away by your boundaries are ready for that. It’s their ammunition: you are irrational and therefore must be controlled.

Raising the Sword against toxic people.

The Sword represents your inner strength: do not raise it unless it is absolutely necessary. You may think that raising the Sword is your only choice, but it should in fact be treated as your “nuclear option.” Saying “they left me no choice” –behaving like the victim they want you to be—does not hold up in court.

Screaming at the toxic person might feel good in the short term, but validates their assertion that you need controlling.

Physically attacking the toxic person also validates their assertion that you need controlling. Worse, it also turns them into the victim. You may end up in jail because you raised your Sword. They win.

Many times it is enough to stand with your Sword unsheathed, point down, between you and the toxic person. If the toxic person persists (and unfortunately they probably will—that behavior is in the definition of “toxic person”), raising the Sword only presents them with a challenge—can they beat you back? Can they turn your Sword against you?

Clarity through your Sword.

Although the toxic person may not think so, you have allies to help you overcome their influence. You have merely to hold up the Sword, as you did when you needed to see your true self, but this time, look beyond your own reflection to see your assembled relatives, friends, and professionals ready and willing to help you. They’ve got your back. The toxic person may have programmed you to think that requesting help represents an imposition to these people. Like I said, true friends want to help. Let them.

The symbology of the Sword must be used with great care, lest it drive friends away and transform the mind into a prison. Using the symbology of the Sword requires commitment: you cannot stop at visualizing your symbolic Sword and then expect it to automatically do what you want it to do, any more than you can lay a physical sword on the battlefield and expect it to fight.   

For the entire document I used for this article:


Photography of the Sword of Mercy


January 2019

Dear Badger… How do you combat Imposter Syndrome? I feel like I’m fooling myself more than I’m fooling others.. and my losing battle with food and my weight is affecting my confidence. Aside from exercise and healthy eating which I’m working on… how does one work thru their own insecurities to combat Imposter Syndrome?–The Camper Next Door

Dear Camper,

I’m going to start out with a mantra that might help to sum up the whole topic, and which I will repeat throughout this response:

We are taught that we should not judge others, but we are merciless with ourselves.

Self-doubt is normal.  It is through self-doubt that we internally monitor things like our performance at work, the quality of our artwork, or the way we’re
handling our ongoing conflict with the neighbors over who prunes the
tree straddling the property line. It is the little voice that makes
us strive to be better at everything we do.

But it’s easy for self-doubt to get hold of us; then, before long, our little voice
becomes a big one, and instead of encouraging us to be better at
everything we do, it shouts that we’re a fake, that we’re not nearly
as smart or talented as the people surrounding us. Although our
personnel file is stuffed full of evidence to the contrary, we feel
that we didn’t deserve those accolades; we got them not because we
were talented and put forward the effort to be the best, but because
we were really good at faking competence.

In this case of Imposter Syndrome, the “person” you feel you’re fooling is you,
not others. My daughter calls this her “crippling self-doubt,” and I suspect that, like me, she will combat some form of self-doubt for a long time.

So what to do?

You took your first step towards divesting yourself of this condition when you figured out what you were doing. This is HUGE. Self-awareness is sadly lacking in today’s society, but you have it in spades. Be proud of this! IMPORTANT: even if it was a friend, relative, or doctor who suggested that this condition might be responsible for how you’re feeling, give yourself a bunch of credit for
actually listening to them!

The following suggestions and further information can be found at the two links listed at the bottom of this article:

1.  Start a Conversation

The only surefire way to quiet your inner critic is to talk about what’s going on in your mind. While this may sound simple, Cox explains that many people
hesitate to share how they feel as they fear the feedback they receive from others will only confirm their concerns.

However, often when people discuss their experience of feeling like they don’t belong, they learn others around them have felt the same way in the past.
Often, learning a mentor or trusted friend has also gone through the same thing can provide clarity and relief to those with imposter

2.  Collect Your Positive Experiences

Many of us toss off the compliments we receive for our work, and only remember the criticism. The next time someone starts to sing your praises, allow yourself to truly appreciate what is being said.

“Once you’re aware of the phenomenon, you can combat your own imposter syndrome by collecting and revisiting positive feedback,” Cox says.

Making a concentrated effort to listen to and reflect on words of encouragement can help soothe anxieties the next time self-doubt pops up.

3. Realize You’re Not Alone

Cox suggests having open conversations about challenges as another way we can undercut feelings of imposterism — which may never entirely fade — because those common experiences can help us realize we’re not as alone in
our insecurities as we feel.

For instance, developing awareness around academic and professional challenges —where mistakes can come from equipment failure as opposed to
competence — is essential for thriving and building confidence.

Repeat after me: We are taught that we should not judge others, but we are merciless with ourselves.

Camper, it seems to me that in sharing your concerns with me you have already taken a huge step towards conquering your self-doubts!

For the Rest of Us:
What is Imposter Syndrome, or:

Holy cow, they’re
talking about me!

Imposter syndrome was first studied by psychologist Pauline
Rose Clance
in 1978. Despite the name, it isn’t a disease or
abnormality, and is not tied to depression, anxiety or self-esteem.
It is a feeling, an experience, a belief that can be hard to shake.

Dear Readers, if you are like me and had no idea what Imposter Syndrome is, I recommend reading and taking the quiz here:
https://www.mindful.org/how-to-overcome-impostor-syndrome/  Ways to address
Imposter Syndrome can be found here:

Badger Has a Rant About Weight Loss

Our family doesn’t have cable anymore. There were many reasons for this decision: the station selection seemed comprised of something in the vicinity of 500 religious channels and as many shopping channels. The channels we did watch (usually for reruns of some incarnation of Law and Order) were packed to capacity with commercials, and every other commercial seemed to be for exercise equipment I couldn’t afford (and even if I could I would have been required to build an addition onto the house in order to have a place to put it), or equally expensive food programs—often strategically aired in ironic (and probably intentional) juxtaposition with…you guessed it, commercials for fast food.

It is the Great American Obsession.

Our society’s hyper-focus on weight and weight loss has resulted in a collective neurosis that has been so deeply etched into our psyches that it’s extremely difficult for even the self-aware to avoid falling prey to it. I believe that the intent behind all of those commercials is not merely to sell product to those interested in losing weight: it is to continuously trigger the neurosis in people like myself, who have fought with weight and body image issues almost all of their lives in the hopes that we will break down and “get with the program.”

Then there’s your friendly neighborhood doctor. I’ve had some real, um, special experiences with doctors, and particularly with female doctors. My favorite story involves my first prenatal visit to the obstetrician, a very petite woman. I told the doctor that Emily (who was at the time nicknamed “Junior”) would only allow me to eat fish and chicken and fruits and vegetables. Sweets were right out, and the very image of a burger in a commercial would make me nauseous. I had lost weight. So what does she say?

I’m really concerned about you gaining a lot of weight during this pregnancy.”



Ask me if I’ve thought about this topic a lot.

Last winter when I was working on my costuming scrapbook. I looked at several photos of myself and realized that at the time the photos were taken I thought I was fat.


Weight loss is something that—if you’re not careful—can and will consume (pun intended) your life. We try to support our friends on Facebook, but often that’s all that they talk about: pounds and inches lost, workouts completed, and food. Food food food food food because they have to make sure they are eating the right food…I end up asking myself, “Does this person have a life?”

Weight loss is like a cult, and doctors with their BMI charts and mantras like “watch what you eat” or “get more exercise” are the high priests, spouting directives like “I want you to lose 20 pounds” in the same tone they use when they tell you to “say aaaah”. And when the doctors say “I want you to lose 20 pounds” like it’s nothing and then don’t have any concrete solution to help you, you find yourself turning to the cabal of Get Rich Quick Con Artists pushing fad diets, baryatric surgeons pushing lap bands or other, more invasive procedures, or worse, the pharmaceutical companies.

If you don’t succeed according to the standards of doctors and the media you are a failure, to be pitied or scorned by others for “not having the will power.”

One of the stories I have sadly heard most often is from folks needing hip or knee replacements. These people eat reasonably but are overweight because their pain makes it impossible to move around, and now look out, here comes Doctor Obvious Orthopedist telling them they have to lose weight before they can have surgery. Does Doc have any sort of suggestion as to how they are supposed to accomplish this feat?


Age doesn’t help this process. It’s harder to lose weight when you’re over 30, plain and simple. There’s a greater level of frustration when, for example, I reached the point where I could walk up steep hills without being winded, only to blow out my left knee—well, there went that.

Even succeeding in losing the weight comes with baggage: that lingering worry about what will happen if I slip and start gaining weight again?

Well, that’s good for your blood pressure.

Repeat after me: We are taught that we should not judge others, but we are merciless with ourselves.

Be kind to yourself. Show compassion, not only to others, but to yourself. Avoid the long-term goal of 20 pounds or 50 pound or 75 pounds: feel good about what you’re doing for yourself right now. The long-term goal is there: acknowledge it, and then just “keep doing what you’re doing.” If you were asked to walk 500 miles and then scale Mount Everest, you would make a plan, and then proceed to the first step. Standing at mile 200 thinking about the 300 miles and a mountain ahead of you, you’d probably be thinking, “Yup, nope, heading home.” Standing at mile 200 realizing what an accomplishment it was to get that far is much more productive.

You are taking care of yourself, no doubt of that!


December 2018

Dear Badger,

Why are some people so mean?

–Gnome without a Home

Dear Gnome,

It can be quite shocking to be on the receiving end of a person’s mean side.  But don’t deny it, we all have a mean side. It’s what we do with it that matters.  

When I was in high school there was this girl who rode the same bus as I did.  Every afternoon as we got onto the bus she would cuss me out under her breath, and I could not for the life of me figure out why.  One day I got fed up: I turned around and said to her, “Can I ask you a question?” and she said, “What?”

“Why do you hate me?” I asked.  

Silence.  And she never bothered me again.  Later, at the Senior Art Show, I happened to see some of her artwork, which was really good.  I didn’t know she was an artist, probably only her close friends knew about her talents. I was “out there” (in more ways than one), voted “Most Artistic” in the class:  she probably thought I was a jerk because everyone knew me.  Even if they were true, these theories don’t doesn’t excuse her bad behavior, but I was closer to knowing the truth, and, as G.I. Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

That said, this is a hard question to answer because “why” demands “because,” and “because” often becomes a justification for bad behavior.  Let’s look at some practical reasons for why people could be so mean, without trying to justify their behavior.

Pain:  Having spent a year trying to convince myself that even though I had bone-on-bone arthritis in my knee, I could power through without surgery, I can vouch for the effects of pain on one’s psyche.  A couple of times I caught myself being really mean (the situations called for “stern” or “mild abuse” but I went WAY over the top.) Likewise people with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis often have a low pitch, persistent “GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR” in their demeanor.  While I said above that I was going to try to avoid justifications, there are going to be days when these people simply cannot find it in themselves to be nice.

This is where compassion comes in.  Should you encounter someone with this demeanor, asking others if there’s some underlying reason for their behavior is a good idea.  Simple questions like “What did I do to deserve that?” will suffice, where comments like, “Gods, he/she is a real ______” can lead to you feeling REALLY embarrassed when your friend or co-worker tells you that the person has the early stages of MS or suffers from frequent migraines.  I recommend that you show compassion to that person whenever you can. Don’t be smarmy about it, but kindness counts. They may not seem to notice, but I’ll bet you they do.

I am a Teenager, I am God/Goddess:  There are plenty of articles (and no doubt whole books) about how the human brain doesn’t develop to keep up with the body, leaving teenagers thinking they haven’t a care in the world, that they’re indestructible, and that the world is their oyster—they can screw up whatever they want, because it doesn’t matter, someone else will fix it.  Often enabled by their parents (no kidding, one bully’s mother told me that her son was an angel,) teens commit destructive acts like spray painting obscenities on newly-installed playground equipment, forcing the closure of the playground. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than hearing that kids have desecrated graveyards with spray cans or by knocking over tombstones.  It’s disrespectful—and just plain mean. In these cases, though, you may have to step back and wait for parents and/or law enforcement—to do their work.

Lack of Power:  We’ve all heard that bullies do what they do because they are cowards.  Okay, that’s a start, but truth to tell, bullies do what they do because they lack power somewhere else in their lives, and their situation (i.e., social status or physical size) makes it possible for them to take control by terrorizing those in a group with which he is associated (say, a school or church.)  This necessarily leads into:

Because They Can:  Mean people get a real charge out of watching others scatter when they enter a room or playground.  There’s power in making people think that they should be walking on eggshells when you’re around. There’s power in lashing out over random things like, oh, I don’t know, dirty dishes or the fact that the laundry isn’t folded.  There’s power in watching people try to avoid being the target of one of your outbursts, and there’s power in the satisfaction of knowing that it’s unlikely that you will be challenged by anyone.

This is made a hundred times worse when this person occupies a position of authority.  Your ability to find someone of equal or higher rank to whom you can take your complaint diminishes exponentially when the bully has surrounded him/herself with ranking people who would pretty much defend him to the death.  Then he or she can be as mean as they want, and often there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, unless you get creative…

I hope that this helps!


Dear Badger,

The mice and squirrels are starting to nibble my nuggets in our camp kitchen. Whatever shall we do? Can you talk to them??

–Frustrated Fairy

Dear Frustrated,

Well, they never listen to me, and I’m a Badger!  It might be easier to relate my history with critters to you so that you will know what NOT to do:

  1.  Keep your food in the tent.  Yeah, that was stupid, made evidently so when I returned to my tent to find a squirrel bouncing like a pinball around the enclosed tent-porch.  He’d gotten in and hadn’t been able to get out. Okay, yeah, no food in the tent.
  2.  Keep your food in one of those banks of plastic drawers.  Not as stupid as keeping your food in your tent but still stupid.  However:

    I’m a creative person, so I decided that since I didn’t have another way to store my food that weekend, I wrapped bungee cords around the drawers and hung every single metal utensil I had from the bungees, hoping that the noise and frustration would drive the squirrels away.  I left my campsite for a while, and when I returned, I found one of the bungees on the ground, chewed straight through.

    I wish I’d been there when the squirrel, who was no doubt holding the bungee in his cute little paws, took the last bite and was probably propelled several feet into the air.  I like to picture him, his arms outstretched…WAAAAAAAAAAAAH! As he flew off into the underbrush. Most satisfying.

  1.  Keep your food in plastic totes, no matter how sturdy they seem.  These things didn’t happen to me, but wow…just wow:

One person kept their chocolate in a hard-sided cooler.  The squirrels, who are apparently chocoholics, were undeterred.

Another person kept their food in plastic bins, and was awakened by the sounds of a creature IN the bin.  As they looked out to see what was happening, the squirrel popped up, looked at them, and then ran away.

So really, unless you are willing to spend the Big Bucks on one of those coolers that’s designed to withstand a hungry bear’s persuasive teeth and paws, your best bet is to NOT store your food in the kitchen tent.  I store my food in the car.

For the mice, just invite a black snake in for a spell.  If you have camp mates who are terrified of snakes, make sure that they are provided with a safe space, which may be in your car next to the food.

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