Friday, December 23, 2011

Crohn's costs more than money

I'm sure it's not just Crohn's disease...most of the things I'm itemizing are probably things most people with a chronic disease have felt. In all fairness, it's only been four months since I've been diagnosed ("only"? It seems like a lifetime some days)and maybe some of these things will change or become easier, but I can't see that now. And some of the things you can't put a price tag on are the hardest.

1)I have less time with my husband.
Because he's been picking up odd jobs to pay for my meds, I see less of him. And he's more tired when I do see him.

2)I'm never going to feel pretty again.
Seriously, I spend three times as long as I used to getting ready in the morning, just to feel normal. It's not just how I feel-I was going through some photos my husband took from a recent day trip to Charleston and I look...colorless, dull...like a dead fish really. "Like butter spread out over too much toast" as our friend Bilbo Baggins would say. If I'd known this was how things were going to go, I would have just gone ahead and sold my soul for the dream wedding dress, because it would be really nice to at least have memories of feeling like a princess.

3)I'm never going to feel comfortable in my body again.
(Very closely related to #2) My body has both failed me and attacked me...I am living inside my worst enemy.

4)It's yet another reason not to have children.
Both because I'll automatically be considered a high risk pregnancy and because of the possibility of passing the disease on to another generation.I'd have to actually talk to medical providers, but it's likely that I wouldn't even be considered a candidate for a birth center or home birth. You shouldn't breastfeed on the meds I'm presently taking, other Crohn's meds can cause birth defects.

5)My possibilities are limited.
I went from "I can do anything with my life" to "I can do anything...as long as it includes really good group health insurance and there's a gastroenterologist nearby." I'm naively still planning to do my dissertation research in Belize....without thinking through how I'm going to make sure I have meds onhand for six months and what will happen if I have to be Medivaced out. We'll see how that goes...I'll have to have a long talk with a couple medical providers, at least.

6)I have to balance my health and my quality of life.
My doctor says I have to take two giant monster pills three times a day.
According to the books, I shouldn't have my caffeinated tea, my glass of wine, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries (my favorite!) or anything else with insoluble fiber. This doesn't work for me. Sometimes I choose to actually enjoy my life, and I wind up feeling crummy.

7)I'm less available to my friends and family.
A good chunk of my "free" time this past semester has been spent having blood drawn or in the doctor's office. Then, there's the amount of time and energy I've spent processing and dealing with this emotionally/physically/financially/whatever. Some days it takes a lot more work to make myself be a decent human being than it used to.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When everything changed.

Six years ago today...

It was a few days after I'd arrived at my parent's home from college. I carried with me a purple sticky note with Scott's phone number. I missed him, needed to talk to him, sensed that he needed to talk to me. But I had responsibilities- family and picking up my job at the wretched grocery store around the corner. I sold cigarettes and beer, was yelled at by customers and ignored by my managers, my breaks were skipped and I worked late.

Things were tense at home, to say the least. I found myself teary in the bathroom, a razorblade digging into my skin, searching for rest and quiet. Blood flowed, and with it a measure of calm as I cleaned it away and rejoined my hectic family. I tumbled into bed that night exhausted, certain that I was alone and failing at everything. Scott showed up in my dreams that night, and we talked. I don't remember much about that dream...just that we talked, I laughed, I cried, I tried to hold onto him and he faded away, and I woke, calmed, cheered, and with my pillow wet with tears.

Just a few days later I would learn that he had taken his own life that night. I cried until I found myself in that bathroom again, my head aching and at the verge of throwing up. That was only the beginning of feeling a loss that will follow me my whole life. How much difference would that phone call have made - to me, to him? I always understand how this could happen, I will never understand why. Through it all, I carry that dream,keeping it held close with the hope that it was more than a dream. That hope is what makes the rest bearable.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Schism

I am Anglican, and proud to put my roots down into this tradition. It is the branch of the Church where I belong, the heritage that shaped my thoughts and imagination before I knew its name. There are few things more precious to me than those things that are central Anglicanism- Worship focused on meeting Christ in the Eucharist, the via media, a willingness to admit that not all pious beliefs (e.g the Ascension of Mary) are necessary for salvation, and a resistance to splintering over theological nuances.

There are few things that hurt me more than watching Anglicans rage against each other. It is excruciating to me that I can't even use the term "Worldwide Anglican Communion" anymore because so many of us AREN'T in Communion with each other....that we have begun to split hairs in determining who we are willing to break bread with, that we have started attacking each other. I'm not sure where *I* fit in this dizzying landscape; I have friends who are a part of the Continuing Anglican movement, which broke off in the 1960s, friends who are Episcopalian, friends who have found their way to the ACNA, and AMiA friends. They are all good people, good Anglicans, and lovers of Christ, and honestly,once we start teasing out the concerns about hierarchies, tradition, authority, and social justice, I can't tell you which group I agree with more.

Right now, it's my AMiA friends I hurt for most. There's been some ugly news lately:
http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/sf/page/28164
http://treadinggrain.com/2011/mass-resignations-of-amia-bishops-from-rwanda/
http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=15284

Adding more confusion is that when these bishops left, they apparently didn't take their provinces with them - i.e. life continues on as before for these congregations, beyond the fact that they must make a decision about which Anglican province they're going to be a part of now. Which is a much better place than many congregations found themselves in upon choosing to leave ECUSA.

Even so, it's hard. Pray for your AMiA friends and clergy - that they will know peace, that they will have wisdom, that they will be led by the Holy Spirit during this time of decision. If you don't have AMiA friends, pray for mine.

In Christ there is no East or West,
In him no South or North,
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord
Closebinding all mankind.

Join hands ,then brothers of the faith,
Whate'er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In him meet South and North,
All Christly souls are one in him,
Throughout the whole wide earth.


- John Oxenham.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grad school doesn't sound so bad.

It's finals week, and I've just uploaded my second-to-last paper. I've spent the majority of my days just writing the past couple weeks and it hit me....

If some ambassador from the future had told ten-year-old me that "One day, when you grow up, you're still going to be in school. You're going to get paid to go to school, and you'll get to study whatever you want. You'll spend most of your time reading and writing about things you choose yourself and think are important" I probably would have thought this was a pretty great deal.

And it is...at least the part of the time when you're not completely malnourished (since you haven't had time to make it to the grocery store) exhausted (since you have bizarre nightmares every time you sleep) and crazy (due to the malnourishment, exhaustion, and stress).

I don't even know what to say about this semester. It's been hard. Starting a marriage, starting a a doctorate, and starting life as someone with an autoimmune disorder- that's too many new beginnings at once. The doctorate and the marriage have been much easier transitions than the autoimmune disorder. It's been hard...and by many standards I haven't performed as you would hope a first year doctoral student would(on the other hand, I have 3 out of 4 committee members lined up, and I've already had one "I don't know where my dissertation is going" meltdown). There have been outstanding moments, as I've rocked a midterm, written a stellar essay on disparities in infant mortality, delivered a dazzling presentation on public health leadership in an emergency, and hammered out the first draft of a manuscript. It's becoming apparent that being sick doesn't mean that I can't do good work. That's the biggest lesson I'm taking away from this semester - in spite of everything, I am still competent. I hate the demands Crohn's makes on me (I know, it's silly that taking medicine three times a day makes me angry,I get unreasonably perturbed every time I choose not to order my favorite sandwich on a whole grain bagel, and there are days I'm convinced that my GI's goal is to make my life miserable). But at the end of the day....I am still me, and I still have every ounce of skill and passion I've always had. This is very good news.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When healthcare reform becomes personal to you

...you start forgetting that for a lot of people, it's not personal. Or, at least I do. I catch glimpses of the Republican primary candidates campaigning on repealing health care reform and I wonder "Why do they hate sick people so much?" I see the occasional facebook post bashing "Obamacare" and screaming about being penalized by "having to pay for someone else's life choices" or all the rhetoric about "personal responsibility."

And then there's the conversations about drug companies- the "we want to encourage innovation" business.

It's become really hard not to be hurt by it. I've started wondering why this country hates sick people so much. Or, really, why it hates sick poor people. And why, since the US hates sick poor people so much, why it doesn't make it easier for poor people to have a medical home and access preventive services so they'll be less likely to get sick.

I suppose just by making these comments I'm asking for criticism- clearly, I'm biased as someone who has a chronic disorder and inadequate insurance, and why on earth should I demand that other people pay for my poor life choices and bad luck?

Maybe it's self-righteous, but I don't think my life choices were all that bad. I don't smoke, rarely drink, ate out once a month maybe (before this semester's craziness, anyway), walk almost a mile a day, ate whole grains and lots of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables (do I get extra points for growing my own kale and basil?). I went to graduate school because I wanted to make the world a better place through health education and disease prevention - which apparently was my major crime here. My graduate student stipend simply won't stretch to cover a decent health insurance policy, so I have the school policy. Since I went to graduate school in a poor state that only has a handful of major universities, our student insurance is basically just adequate for healthy people. And then, while in school, I had the audacity to develop a chronic autoimmune disorder (oh, and by the way, the medical community is still very unsure of what the causes of Crohn's disease are).

So I'm sitting here, getting ready to refill a prescription, which is going to have a couple hundred dollar copay. This refill will exhaust my prescription coverage for the year. So, thanks to my "lousy" life choices, and the fact that liberty is prized above all else, I'm sitting here debating my options. I can continue taking my prescribed dose of medication, in hopes that healthcare reform will roll out as promised and internal plan limits on coverage will go away in January, despite resistance from health insurance companies, US taxpayers, and the entire Republican party. I can disregard my doctor's instructions and reduce my dosage in hopes of making my medicine stretch out longer. More drastically, I could just quit taking my medicine altogether and see what happens. Obviously, my doctor would not be a fan of the last two options, and I could get very ill. "Very ill" is an understatement - the husband of one of my friends has a different variety of Crohn's. He quit taking some of his medications because insurance wouldn't cover them, and wound up having emergency surgery to have several feet of his small intestine removed.

Is this what "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is all about? Do I have to accept that following doctor's orders and being healthy are luxuries only available to those who can afford it? Is it just supposed to be okay that many people in this country (including my friends and family members) would rather see me physically and financially devastated by a treatable disease than contribute to my healthcare costs through their taxes?

I don't think so. But what would I know? After all, I'm just a sick, poor, bleeding heart public health doctoral student. Asking my opinion would send America straight to hell - or Socialism, which is apparently worse.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What if Christianity worked like public health?

In his homily today, the bishop said "Evangelism is one hungry man telling another where to find bread." This basic statement triggered a series of flashbacks to my Baptist church evangelism days (which merit their own post. Gosh,there are a lot of things I'm not proud of. But it made me wonder...what if churches(and other Christian organizations) went through the same steps and procedures outlined for public health interventions? I have a lot of ideas about how this might work, and I want to take some time to bounce some of them off a priest-friend of mine who is actively planting churches.

But the main point: in public health,our goal is to make communities places where it easy to be healthy. What if, in Christianity, we aimed to make churches places where it is easy to love Jesus? I don't mean haphazard trying, I mean systematically following an established process.

*Disclaimer*: Chaos reigns in plenty of public health ventures too- often due to having insufficient resources, time, and trained personnel. But the discipline acknowledges that's far from ideal.

*Additional Disclaimer*: I have not yet read The Purpose Driven Church, which delivers a formula for how churches should approach the future. It's entirely possible that everything I'm pondering has already been said. Depending on how serious I get about this project, I should probably do that. (However, I'll mention that I watched my father try to "do" The Purpose Driven Church in three different churches for a period of 10 years, and he was less than thrilled with the results. "Results" happened to include being run off from a church. So I have a generally negative view of the book.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The alternative to breaking noses

The alternative to breaking noses: a blog post about STUPID things people say (or publish!) about inflammatory bowel disease.

Counter to typical practice, I'm not citing these,because I don't think it's good manners to point fingers.

1)You might be gluten intolerant.
Do you want to SEE the photos of the ulcers in my colon? It's pretty disgusting. I get that food allergies are a big deal for many people, including some with IBD. I'm not one of them. Oh, and food sensitivities generally don't need surgery, or steroids, or immunosuppressants or....

2)Often, if Crohn's patients are not hungry, it's better for them not to eat, because it gives the intestine time to heal.
(In all fairness, I understand this one a bit better). I weigh 115 lbs on a good day. I'm always hovering right around the low cutoff point for normal BMI. If I don't get some sort of nourishment,particularly protein, my body is not going to be able to maintain normal functions, let alone repair itself.

3)A colon is not a necessary organ, just a highly convenient one.
I hope that's self-explanatory? I consider this Exhibit A of why people who do not have chronic diseases should be extremely cautious of writing books for people who do. NOBODY wants to lose body parts. ever. And you're not going to help anyone come to terms with losing a body part by telling her that it's not important. My colon doesn't work perfectly, but it's my colon, and I'd like to keep it. It's special to me in a way that a J-pouch or ostomy bag never could be. I'm hoping I'll never have to have that conversation, but no doctor will convince me to have surgery because my colon isn't important.

4)You need to look for good sources of calcium, like canned salmon with bones. If the bones bother you, you can smash them with a spoon, or put it through a blender. But you'll probably start just eating the salmon, bones and all, once you realize how much work crushing the bones is.
Why am I supposed to get excited about eating bones? And if whole grains, nuts, and seeds can irritate the ulcers in my colon, I have a feeling bones will do the same. It seems rather presumptuous to make judgments about my food preparation priorities, especially when I'M the one with the diseased colon.

Sigh. I have a feeling that I should title this "The alternative to breaking noses" part 1, since it's likely to become a regular feature.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Something.

Falling back on youtube videos, since I can't think clearly at the moment.

These both have something to do with my Belize work (which I seem to have committed the next four years of my life to. Pretty excited about that.) and something else to do with feelings about living in the U.S. at the present moment.






That is all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gratitude

Perhaps someday gratitude might become forgiveness.

My alma mater broke my heart over and over again during the four years I was there.On a bad day I might contemplate whether or not this was an abusive relationship, though most of the time I know that's an exaggeration. That place left me questioning my sanity and certain that I was failing horrendously at being a Christian, a student, and a woman (and I will never come near their ideal of that mystical intersection of scholarship, femininity and faith).

But I've been digging through reports lately (this one , for example). And I'm remembering that Christian college I resent so much has sent spring break mission teams to Belize. I don't remember what those teams did, and I'm fairly certain I don't actually know anyone who took those trips. But I'm hopeful they did something good. And it's possible that someone, somewhere, who works(worked?) for that institution or graduated from there loves Belize as much as I do.

Because I have a relationship with that country that is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I read numbers and I see and hear things. Statistics are situated by the unbelievable blue of the Carribean sea and the view from the top of Xunantunich. Survey results sound like a Creole woman singing along with the radio while she chops vegetables, the Garifuna boy who told me he'd fallen in love at first sight, a surgeon next to the fan in his office. And I will be going back soon, though not soon enough.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sigh.

I don't want this corner of the internet to be solely about my disease. But there's something safe about this little monologue, and it seems to be worthwhile to try to package my thoughts into a conversation, one-sided as it is.

Honestly, I don't want to admit that Crohn's disease is a big deal or that it changes my life. Enter Episcopalian Mom Former Boss telling me that "Denial is not just a river in Egypt." She's right- and she wouldn't be that blunt if she didn't love me. I have a chronic disorder that can be downright dangerous if not managed properly (my new favorite potential complication: sometimes in Crohn's patients, ulcers can burrow into blood vessels in their colon and cause hemorhages), and it's not going away. But at the same time...I don't think she's right. People with Crohn's disease have a life expectancy close to that of the general population. I'm fortunate to have one of the milder forms of Crohn's. When people are dying of cancer, starvation, HIV, war, violence...my whacked out immune system isn't that big of a deal. There's a part of me that feels that it's selfish to acknowledge (even to myself) that my disease matters, never mind that maybe, it matters a lot.

If I look inwards, even for a moment, I see fear. Fear of the things that could go wrong. Fear of potential treatments and their side effects (immune suppressors? During FLU SEASON ?!) and their cost. Fear of what I might have to give up (in spite of the ulcers, I'd very much like to keep my colon, thank you just the same, and I really don't want to have to live under a bridge). I'm afraid of not being able to do my best, not being able to attack life (and research and writing!) with the same fierceness. I'm afraid of needing to rest...and paradoxically, of not being able to rest. Now, any change in appetite or bit of nausea makes me panic over what might be happening.

And then there's blame. Why doesn't anyone else in my family have this condition? If it's a combination of genetics, environment, and some sort of bacterial trigger, like my GI says...then what did I do, where did I put myself, that made this happen?

I am ashamed of not being adult enough to control my emotions. I am ashamed of not being scientist enough to comprehend that life threatening complications are rare. I am terrified that someone else will be hurt by this- that I will be inconsiderate of others or neglect my responsibilities because of focusing on my symptoms and inner chaos.

Y'know....let's go back to Egypt. Denial seems to work better than acknowledgement. It's less scary, anyway.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thoughts

It's one of those days when I'm tossing thoughts around like darts at a target, wondering if the connections (commonalities?) I see in them are real.

And today it's this odd sense of things happening at the wrong time. The right things, sometimes the right things done the wrong way, but just the oddness in the timing.

Part of my thoughts are around this conversation : http://rachelheldevans.com/ask-a-gay-christian-response . It's remarkable how many of my facebook friends (from widely varying convictions and backgrounds!) have posted it. And it's a great conversation, and I think Justin and Rachel (and/or whoever is moderating her blog) have done an amazing job with it. But why now? Where was the grace at Bishop Robinson's ordination? Where was the willingness to listen and dialogue then? I'll out myself here- I'm a clergy kid, and I will ALWAYS side on giving grace and respect to pastors/shepherds/priests/overseers/ term of your choice. There are few things in this world that make me as profoundly sad as the fact that Gene Robinson's tenure as bishop was marked with threats and violent hate...to the extent that he battled dependence on alcohol (for which he received in-patient treatment) and chose to retire early. This hurts me more when I acknowledge that even though I don't closely follow his work, I am so often delighted by what I find in it- wisdom, grace and a love for God. (His book has a pretty high spot on my to-read list).

And then there's healthcare. I was responsible for showing this documentary to a class while their professor was away at a conference. And...I don't know what to say. Ted Kennedy's death was such a profound moment. That sounds stupid, but I can't think of any way to put it. Did health care reform cost Obama his chance for a second term? I hope not. Oh, good heavens, do I hope not. Was it the right thing to do, regardless? YES. Is the Affordable Care Act the reform I'd like to see? Are you kidding? There's funds for abstinence-only sex ed in there. And I want a public option- I think a public option ought to be the centerpiece of healthcare reform, actually. But it's a step... A step Ted Kennedy worked so hard for.

Then...there's me. I cried when President Bush vetoed the SCHIP expansion. I cared about health care for years before I was diagnosed with Crohn's. Not that long ago, I didn't know what it was like to be prescribed a medication for which a 30 day supply (without insurance coverage) costs as much as my rent. I've burned through over half of my prescription coverage for the policy year less than two months into it. (Now, I'm also on student health insurance, which is a conversation in itself). And, frankly, if it comes down to it, it's way better for my health to not be homeless than to not take my medicine. How did I care so much then, before I knew the fears that come with living in the United States as a person with a serious chronic disorder?

And I do feel a need to put a disclaimer out here...things aren't that bad for me. The medical profession knows what this disease is, and how to treat it. I likely will have as long a lifespan as someone without the disease, and I think I have reason to hope that I won't live many more years disabled than someone presently in good health.

But what makes things salient? Why am I lost in a slew of figures nearly as old as I am when I'm trying to find the context for my work in Belize? Why do we ask different questions at different times, and why do people yell so loudly I can't hear what they're saying? I have a priest friend who tells me "Don't waste your anger." I think I do an okay job most days... I manage to stay out of Facebook flamewars, and I know that sudden punch of urgency when you realize most people don't get it yet (latest openmouth shocked moment: 34% of women in the Toledo District of Belize believe that a man is justified in beating his partner, as of 2006). But it's whatever that "next thing" is that I'm struggling to find...and I think, in some way, my dissertation will be "that next thing."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Our new normal

Which is still rather abnormal to us.

I got married in July, started my doctorate in August, and was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in September. That's a lot of new beginnnings, I guess. And really, there's just something beautifully ironic about being diagnosed with a chronic disease that is aggravated by stress and causes fatigue at the start of a demanding doctoral program. Well done universe!

I'm adjusting....or not, depending on the day. First bit of  good news in a while came yesterday- the contrast CT I had to undergo Tuesday (when I learned to NEVER go in for unfamiliar medical procedures alone- ugh) came back clean, which means the disease is just in my colon (Crohn's colitis) .  It's hard to know what this means moving forward. In the words of one person I've talked to this week "We never manage to balance. Life is always a juggling act, and we have all these balls - our career, our relationship with our partner, our kids, everything. And occasionally, it's time to let one of them come down. But the ball you absolutely must keep in the air is your health- because that's the glass ball, and if you let it drop, you don't get it back."

That said, I'm grateful to be here. And it's when things are craziest and worst that I realize that there are people committed to fighting for me and for my wellbeing. Thank heaven my department is an example of academia at its best.

It is what it is. Yes, there are some pretty hideous possible complications. Yes, I could be in really big trouble if healthcare and insurance reform in this country is not implemented. No, it won't kill me, and if I can figure out how to manage this, it shouldn't slow me down too much (heck, Dwight Eisenhower had Crohn's disease and he managed to run a country). No, I'm not alone in this- thank heaven for my wonderful husband, and for mentors who care about *me* more than my work.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Horror

A recently tenured young professor at my university (not in the school of public health, but in a closely related area) was stabbed to death by her boyfriend this week. News reports indicate that she had confided to her friends that she was "worried" about him. In this state (or perhaps county, I'm not quite sure of the level of the regulation), you cannot get a restraining order unless there's been a previous incident...well, it's easy to see that sometimes, like in this case, you can be killed in that first incident. This state constantly ranks in the top 10 for most  murders of women.

What will it take for this to change? It's a widespread, heartbreaking problem. I have ached as my former students have told me about the violence and abuse they've experienced from their former partners. These young women inspire me in so many ways- as African-American women, as single parents, in having the courage to leave violent relationships and fight for their education, for a better life for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, the risk of being injured or killed by a violent partner increases when you leave that person - they've lost their control over you, and you've lost your ability to observe, and know what they're up to. "Just leave" is not the answer.

And yet...this is intensely personal. I didn't know this woman, and I can't begin to imagine the pain felt by her friends, family members, and students. I know the university intensely feels this loss- the loss of a scholar, mentor, friend, teacher. We are a community that works to prevent intimate partner violence- by trying to teach men and women a healthy perspective on what masculinity is, by trying to create a culture that refuses tolerate violence, by raising awareness of what happens on this university and in the state around us. To lose one of our own this way is devastating.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Admittedly....

it's a little scary. What started out as a normal visit at student health turned into a referral to a gastroenterologist, and perhaps a cardiologist, depending on how the nurse practitioner feels at my next followup visit. 3 appointments later, and all I know is that no one knows what's wrong with me. It's been a week of tests, and there are more to come. That first visit at student health I weighed in at under 110 lbs, for the first time since 8th or 9th grade. I've been sick for a long time, and it's probably been a month since I've slept through the night. I want to be well, but the simple approach of "rest, and let my body fight off whatever this is" is obviously not going to work.  And, y'know, when a doctor says that what I thought was just me aggravating a high school injury looks like rheumatoid arthritis to him, well, that's scary too. Particularly when he follows that statement up with a barrage of tests he wants run, including one that's normally done on people TWICE my age.

And then there are those other questions...questions that result from being a US citizen, in a time when healthcare reform is not yet completely realized. What if this turns out to be some chronic condition, requiring treatment for the rest of my life? What would that do to our ability to pay for health insurance? I've planned my entire education in a way that prepares me to work in the foundation/nonprofit/NGO world. A chronic, serious illness would make that impossible (Yes, I'm also a pretty darn capable social science researcher, but believe you me, academia is not some place I want to be if there are other options).

One of my girlfriends who's been through something similar (and is doing GREAT now) remarked on how humbling this sort of thing is. "Humbling"- I wish I'd thought of that word. It's remarkable...that no matter how educated I am, no matter how educated and smart the healthcare professionals I'm seeing are...there's no way to know how long it will take for me to get better. I'm more or less confined to the couch these days when I'm home. I'm giving class my best shot, and trying to work on GA stuff, but it's different. I usually work at a furious pace, but right now I take a lot of naps. It's remarkable when you come face to face with your limitations.  I shouldn't be allowed to wax melancholy or insightful right now- I haven't been sick long enough, and I'm hopeful that in another 2-3 weeks, I'll be back to 100%.

But we do a fair amount of whistling in the dark here these days, and a whole lot of laughing at my decrepit duck waddle.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sickness

This is my momentary pity party.  I'm presently facing a rather unpleasant health challenge which has culminated in: two trips to student health this week, a round of antibiotics, 4 separate bloodwork orders (3 trips to the lab), and a trip to a specialist, who tentatively scheduled me for a colonoscopy next week (about 20 years early). I'm exhausted. I have 100s of pages to read, writing assignments to complete, and students to find service learning placements for.  It feels completely unfair to get hit with this at the start of a demanding program, when I need to be building momentum and making progress (and getting things out of the way before the semester becomes completely unmanageable).

If you know me in real life- please keep this bit of information to yourself. I've shared it with exactly: 2 classmates/colleagues, 1 friend, and 1 family member (in addition to my husband). I'm trying to not turn into "the sick girl," especially when new doctoral students are starting to get to know each other and are at their most competitive. I also don't think it's any of my professors or supervisor's business until it starts interfering with work.

Which is neverending, and I need to return to it, rather than wallowing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

decisions

In January of 2009 I moved here and enrolled in an MPH program, in Health Promotion, Education and Behavior. I didn't really have a clue what I was doing, except that I had to do something, and it had something to do with this. I was scared, unfunded, gutsy, terrified. Social science wasn't an easy transition. It's fascinating, and I love it now, and I think "heath decisionmaking" will ultimately be the one overarching theme through my body of work. But at the beginning....I would have told you there was no objective way to measure things like that, and people who thought they could describe/influence those processes were crazy and arrogant. I vaguely remember saying that "qualitative research" was an oxymoron - that qualitative work was the necessary, preliminary work people did as a precursor to real research, which is controlled and experimental. When I started, I didn't know what would happen, how long I'd stay, what degree I'd get (MPH, MPH/MSW, MSPH, Dr.PH or Phd. There's a lot of choices!). I knew I couldn't stay where I was, and I wanted to make the world a better place, and I had a sense that was what public health did- especially this university and this department, and good things happened here. That wasn't so vague. I did scour the school's publication and funding record and stared at faculty CVs for hours, looking for something to verify whatever force was pushing me here.

I landed. It was a disaster, in the worst way. An assistantship did not materialize (though my department did, slowly, take action to ensure that I was charged instate tuition) Schedule got deleted, loan funds got returned. I missed a week of my online class because I had been dropped from Blackboard and had to chase down all my professors in order to re-enroll in classes. It was exhausting. It was lonely. It was life.

Months passed. I got to know my cohort- the group of ten or so of us who started in January (not a common choice). Then those who had started ahead of us in August, and those who followed along afterwards. I made two amazing priest friends (sadly, one now lives on the other side of the country) and started hanging out at a student ministry. I went to Belize (and fell in love).

I came back, and took harder classes. Got the hang of looking for money here, and either had a whole bunch of crazy responsibilities dropped on my head, or some wonderful opportunities fall in my lap (TA, qualitative program evaluation, virtual women's center, PTSD research, helping an academic program through the institution-required self-study, instructor of record). I acquired a graduate certificate in Women's and Gender Studies, fell in love (with my now-husband!) and went back to Belize, to do my own beautifully planned (less beautifully executed) primarily qualitative study. And, y'know, got married.

So I'm here. Still. Beginning again. For more quantitative reasons this time- I have a husband with degree in progress, and the public health job market is hideous in this state. I can't guarantee that I'd find a job in commuting distance (or, that I'd find a job at all). With two graduate student stipends, things aren't great, but we won't be living under a bridge. There's a skill set I have and want to build on- program planning and evaluation, developing and carrying out interventions, working with community partners. And this program is the best way to do that. I want a terminal degree one day, and the "rights and privileges" that confers -expertise, authority,independence. There is no guarantee I'd be able to replicate the mentoring and community (and funding sources!) I have here at another institution at another point in time.

I'm here. Surrounded by new faces, when most of those (students) I care about most have left- for Texas, for Iowa, for a job at the Historic Black University on the other side of town. I love it, and this is my home. This lovely 210 year old campus, with its hideous parking and oppressive heat, and  most particularly a building with lead-soldered copper pipes, mold, peeling paint, asbestos insulation, and a freezing computer lab. I'm walking these halls surrounded by people who have not slaved, laughed, and cried in them the same way I have. It is familiar, and it is lonely, and it is where I need to be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Irony

I'm in the kitchen, spreading basil from the pots on the front porch onto paper towels to dry in the oven (my hope is that by starting to harvest + dry basil early, I'll encourage the plants to produce more, and there will be enough to share with my husband's mother and grandmother) and hovering over the washing machine, to dump vinegar (fabric softener) in as soon as it hits the rinse cycle, while my husband is assembling the particle board "organizers" we picked up at Target. After perusing thrift stores in the area, it became clear that our graduate student income wouldn't stretch far enough for secondhand furniture.

We do our best- cloth napkins and cleaning with vinegar and baking soda. I've successfully grown a couple herbs for cooking, and removed pretty much all phosphates and sulfates  from my daily hygiene routines. We don't cook with meat- not so much because I don't believe in eating it (though I do believe everyone should incorporate at least one meatless dinner into their week), but because we can't afford the meat I do believe in (local, SC farmed, or shrimped). And local, organic produce? I love our farmer's market, and we're lucky enough to have a small corner market that's sourced from local farms. But probably less than 10% of the produce we eat is local or organic. I get what mass production is doing to the world, but yet I've not figured out how to manage without it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reading

I've finally gotten around to starting a couple of the books on my to-read list.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life, by Barbara Kingsolver
"We're raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our  sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires."

Episcopal Women: Gender, spirituality and commitment in an American mainline denomination, edited by Catherine M. Prelinger.
"Religion, in every important respect, is a game for men, and men make the rules. Changes in perceived power have to do with power shifts among white men. What is suspect here is not simply the exclusion of white women, and minority women and men, but the conflation of leadership with the entirety of the church. Conclusions are drawn, which indeed may be accurately inferred from the leadership, but say very little about the power and preference of those in the pews. . . .
What is ...surprising are the many instances of vibrant denominational loyalty among women who either feel they do not recognize the church of their youth, or who feel abandoned by new directions in the contemporary church. They would neither join a different denomination,nor leave the church altogether.... Denominational loyalty has often been achieved through a kind of ironic accommodation on the part of women, a conscious willingness to shut their eyes and ears to certain aspects of church life that men dominate, and to develop their own forms of institutional expression, confident, rightly or wrongly that they represent the church in fact if not instrumentally."

I have a sneaking suspicion that what draws me to both books is the same thing, though I'm not quite sure what words to put on it.Unrest? Dissatisfaction? Ecofeminism? Justice (social or environmental?) Hope? Ambition? Audacity?Abundance? And, given the second excerpt, it seems worth pointing out that I am not (and doubt that I will ever) considering leaving the Church of England, either for Rome or Protestantism. The via media may be overgrown and filled with treacherous steppingstones, but I am still certain it is the best way. Though, given the large splinters in Anglicanism in the US,(and the surrounding hostility) perhaps the most confusing and dangerous path.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Our Wedding

It's hard to figure out what to say, or what even needs to be said. And somehow, it seems frivolous to spend so much effort, over the course of 7 months to plan JUST ONE DAY. And again, to spend that much money on JUST ONE DAY (that being said, I know we had a relatively short engagement and low wedding budget, and I'm very impressed with what we were able to accomplish with that. But still).

I can't say the day went like I expected. I can't even say that I enjoyed most of it.Y'know, during the 7 months leading up to my wedding, I can't say that I pictured staying up til 1am the night before making flower arrangements, or driving to the church with 160 sunflowers and some greenery in tow at 8:30 the following morning, or all the frantic setup that happened. For probably about 3 days all I heard was my name being called incessantly , and boy, for it being "my day" A LOT of people had A LOT of opinions about things I needed to rearrange. Sometimes these were helpful, sometimes they weren't. About 11:30 the day of our wedding my husband's grandmother entered the church hall, saw me in the kitchen and proclaimed "You can't be working your own wedding! That's not allowed." She didn't have anything to say once I explained that things weren't going to get done if I didn't do them. The day's schedule (particularly the reception) went wildly offtrack, and I was completely horrified when I realized that the sunday school classroom we'd been storing things in DID have to be emptied before Sunday and all the mess would be coming back home with us (I ended up getting up at 4am the morning after the wedding to start cleaning because that mess was driving me crazy).

We wanted things to be simple, sustainable, affordable, and "God-honoring" (the quotation marks are there, not because I'm mocking, but because that's such a huge thing, I'm not sure anyone knows what it would really mean, or look like.) This meant that pretty much everything for our wedding (except the organ playing, which was the major fiasco of the day) was done by us or someone we love (this includes our wedding photographers- we hired friends of a friend, and made lifelong friends in the process). Which meant a lot more work, stress, and tricky situations for us. And so much thought went into every decision.

But it's hard to even start to describe the serendipitous things that happened. There was the fabulous green floral brocade fabric I found at Joann's on clearance -which became 3 bridesmaid dresses, my husband's tie, and a jacket for his mother, all at $5/yard, plus love and labor from one of his grandmothers (not the one complaining about me working too hard). My dress- an under $200 Ebay find. I'd determined that as far as dresses went, I only had 4 requirements: ivory (so I wouldn't look like a ghost), tea length or shorter (so I could actually MOVE on my wedding day), as close to $200 as possible (so I wouldn't be paying for it for the rest of my life) and not brand new (I would not have been able to enjoy my wedding thinking of women in Bangladesh paid $0.35 to work 20+ hour days, falling asleep by their sewing machines. I realize this is a very, very sticky set of dilemmas, but I just didn't want my dress to be a part of that). Enter Ebay, and a vintage Harry Keiser dress-1950s ivory lace tea length, and my exact measurements. It fit like a glove straight out of the shipping envelope. Absolutely unbelievable. One of my cousins wound up getting married in Nashville 2 weeks after our wedding date, so my grandmother was able to fly out from CO for my wedding, stay with my uncle and go to my cousin's wedding before going home. So wonderful. The bishop at the church we were married in (yes, stuffy Anglo-Catholic cathedral) gave us the key to the church, so we had the run of the place for setting up and tearing down.  Our couple photos morphed into a five hour adventure around our favorite places in Columbia, and involved climbing over fences and trees and jumping into a fountain (good thing I had a dress I could move in!) ending with cupcakes at our local cupcake shop.

I was more than a little nervous about how our Bible Belt Protestant family members would deal with our Anglo-Catholic wedding. But I introduced my dad to the bishop, and within 5 minutes they were swapping church planting adventures. Both the bishop and assisting priest (who's a chaplain at school, and a dear friend) came to the rehearsal picnic and laughed and feasted with our family, and while I won't say that "walls came down", everyone realized the other people there were human. And I didn't hear anyone accuse our wedding of being "an empty ritual." Communion was another thing that made me anxious (since this Idea of consubstantiation, i.e. feasting on Christ himself strikes many people as cannibalistic and/or idolatrous). We'd chosen for only the two of us to recieve (primarily because I wasn't about to try to explain Why We Have Wine in Church to our families), and it was probably one of the most profound moments in the day for me. The realization that we had made this incredible commitment...and the only way it can be kept is through perpetual, constant feeding on Christ.

And this is dragging on way too long....but. Some of the things I thought we did especially well:
- Choosing hymns. Come Thou Fount as the offertory (which got horribly mangled by the organist. Sigh. One of my highschool buddies played a lovely rendition of it on his guitar at the reception though) and Adoro Te Devote (Thomas Aquinas's realization that logic and reason weren't enough, and faith is what takes us past reason, into knowing God) for the Communion hymn. Perfect.
- Choosing disposable party goods. We went for corn-based, biodegradable products (with recycled paper napkins, printed with water based ink. May have cost us a few pennies more, but we minimized our wedding's contribution to the Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Choosing to buy preowned items and/or reusable items as much as possible. Best find: 6 square sheer yellow tableclothes for $3 each, thanks to a wedding catering company going out of business. (Thank you, again, ebay).
- My necklace, our sisters' and mothers' jewelry, and gifts for our dads were purchased through the Greater Good Network or Ten Thousand Villages - allowing us to contribute to huger relief, children's literacy, and/or support fair trade and skilled craftsman around the world, in addition to buying crap for our wedding.
-Finding things for people to do. This is partly my skill in managing my to-do list in such a way that when I had 20 people surrounding me looking for projects to do, I could pretty much immediately hand them tasks. And also things like the fact that both of our fathers are ordained ministers and neither performed our ceremony. But my father-in-law did the Epistle reading, and my father read a chunk of one of our favorite children's books (The Little Prince) at the reception. For my dad, this was one of the most meaningful things we could have done, because it reminded him of how much he read to me as a little girl.
-Splurging on wedding photos. This was close to half the cost of our entire wedding. But our photographer and his wife were everywhere...helping pin my veil, tying my husband's necktie, unloading wedding crap back at our apartment at 10pm, and bringing peace and happiness everywhere they went. We have beautiful, beautiful photos (better images than I've seen from weddings that were obviously much more expensive than ours).

Monday, July 11, 2011

It is good.

My husband is showering....I'm sitting here at the laptop, nibbling on lindt raspberry truffles and sipping a bit of sparkling white wine, trying to figure out how to manage our drive back to South Carolina, and plotting a half-day trip to Richmond. It's been a good week for us. Choosing to come to the Chesapeake Bay was brilliant- I don't have *one* home, I triangulate home from a number of places I need to go fairly often - the Pea Patch (my mother's family's farm in CO), Shawnee, OK (where my dad's parents, and my grandfather's parents are buried), Belize, and MD. It's an ever-changing list, but it works. And the sight, sound, and feel of the Bay is always greatly soothing to my soul. It's been a time of rest for us, so terribly needed (The morning after our wedding, I woke in the wee hours, and couldn't get back to sleep thanks to the mess moving and the wedding created in our apartment. At 4AM I crawled out of bed and started cleaning compulsively. By 8:30 AM I was crying from exhaustion). I'm not entirely sure how we'll manage to piece the chaos together at home, but it will be done.
There's more to be said...about the wedding, about family and expectations, perhaps about Crown Royal whiskey...but for now, we're going to collect our thoughts and things and head back towards our own little place, to move on quietly with our lives together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

news-ish

Had a productive meeting with adviser last week She found me money to finish up my Belize project well, and to provide support/make connections for service-learning projects both in a class that she's teaching and a course that's being taught by another professor, who I don't know personally, but would like to (she's brilliant, works on amazing topics, and is incredibly personable and confident/outspoken, particularly given that she's a young PhD and a minority. But I guess if you're brilliant, self-assurance eventually follows?). Adviser is also discouraging me from teaching until I'm done with classes, because it's such a timesink. Absolutely valid, though I have a feeling I'll find myself adjuncting summers when I'm not taking classes (and probably some when I am - need to eat).  Also good conversation about how the areas I focused my masters' work on are productive, growing, and there's interest in them (which is important for me graduating and being able to eat later). However, right now, my major reaction is "I'm going to get paid to work on my own projects! I might actually be able to make progress!"

Got an email from my adviser...she seems to get that I want to continue working with my master's adviser, and I'm not sure whether she's trying to hint that Brilliant Young Professor should be one of my other committee members....we'll see how we fit. Need to have this settled by the end of this year, so good to be thinking about.

We signed a lease on a new place yesterday. Plan is for me to move in on the 1st (yep. That's next week). Apparently there was a lot of interest in this place, and I think the main reason the property management company went with us was because we'll be in and paying rent before anyone else interested would be. And J. has rented from them for 3+ years. It's a great place...close to campus, nice windows, GREAT neighborhood (we'll be less than two blocks from a stunning stone Presbyterian church), close enough to where we live now that we'll still go to the same grocery store, enough space for us to have a combination study/guest bedroom, and there's a washer&dryer, so we'll actually be able to do laundry in our own home. Amazing. (And rent is going to be noticeably less than our current combined rents on separate apartments).

Meeting with church organist tonight, hopefully to finish hashing out wedding ceremony music. He's been decidedly difficult. Or maybe we're being decidedly difficult, because we have Protestant Evangelical Bible Belt families and backgrounds, and because we're really not interested in having a mini- Royal Wedding, much as that's every Anglican church organist's dream, I'm sure. I probably should not say too much else about the wedding til it's over...would hate to jinx my current faint optimism.

Source for current faint wedding optimism, oddly enough, is the Orthodox wedding we attended Sunday. It was a couple of friends of ours, who attend the Anglican student ministry on campus. And it was adorable. Like, the wedding party wasn't quite ready, so a priest jumped in to give a homily while the guests waited. It was a relatively small building for the number of guests, so it was hot and crowded, and the standing for nearly 1.5 hours (remember: wedding was running 15 minutes late) was a little tough, but it was great. Lovely, and meaningful, and it was obvious that in spite of the fact that the bride's father is an Orthodox priest, many of the guests didn't have an Orthodox background (the priest who gave the last-minute homily offered to give explanations to anyone who might need one. He said his 2nd language was Southern Baptist). And even given the relatively large difference in marriage theology between the East and West, there was a lot that was familiar, and lovely, and the obviously non-Orthodox guests seemed to appreciate it. So maybe...that's just  how weddings are?

Or, on the other hand, I could be completely wrong, and one of our guests, upon entering the church might announce quite loudly "Why is their Jesus still on the cross? Don't they know He rose from the dead?" We shall see.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Little Gidding

Maybe the thing that keeps me Anglo-Catholic is that T.S. Eliot is so ingrained in my soul that I hear his words cascading through my thoughts as they begin to converge into something that starts to make sense (Note: that's not the thing that keeps me Anglican- that has more to do with simply being unable to breathe when I step outside of the bounds of the Church of England, as odd and Provincial and Uppermiddleclass and White as that sounds).

And in  the end of Little Gidding (itself the ending of his magnificent Four Quartets), Eliot somehow manages to hit one of his most bewildering, obscure, truthful moments:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.


There have been a few moments to pause in the past week, and much to reflect over. My father delivered my diploma (it had been mailed to his house) last week, I was hooded, inducted into the honor society for my discipline, my students took their final exam, I graded it, and picked up their course evaluations (not in that order, necessarily). We're looking for a new apartment- our first home together. I'm preparing (bracing?) to start my Dr.P.H. (and constantly having to explain the choice *not* to do a Ph.D. to people - somehow "this program is more applicable to what I do and the  skill set I want to build" doesn't seem to get across), finishing jobs, trying to find time to finish old projects...and getting married, and adding a name to mine (yep. Hyphenating: it seems the best of both worlds). Many, many things to call forth Eliot's words from the scattered corners of my brain.

But they're most connected to my teaching right now. I recycled some essay questions from the first exam on my final, and I was SO thrilled to see the growth over the course of the semester. They LEARNED. Somehow or other, through all of my stumbling naivety and clumsiness, they realized that our lives and health are shaped by the places we live and work and who we interact with, and that it matters what people's rights are, because we have the responsibility to defend the rights of others. These were the core principles of my class (and my professional work, really), so it's pretty great to see that.

Their evaluations- well, one student was rather critical of my teaching (just criticisms, though unhelpfully vague). Several of them ranked the class roughly average, and some of them raved about my teaching, intelligence, and how much I cared about them. General observations- they all hated the text, some of them remarked on how softspoken I am (not meek&mild, it's just hard to hear me if you're sitting in the back of a room of 40 people) and inexperience (and some observed growth throughout the semester). One complained about the depressing nature of the course, and that's something that needs to be addressed (Oddly enough, I think I can start to remedy this with a change of textbook). But it's prompted a lot of thinking about what I brought to the classroom, what they brought to the classroom, and what all of us took away.

A book one of my mentors loaned me when I started teaching was Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach . I've had time to pick it up again, and it's been encouraging (in the true "strength-giving" sense of the word) and reminescent of the handful of good things I picked up in my undergraduate education, and Eliot too.

At the moment I'm soaking in one quotation:

"As a young teacher, I yearned for the day when I would know my craft so well, be so competent, so experienced, and so powerful, that I could walk into any classroom without feeling afraid. But now, in my late fifties, I know that day will never come. I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears - for there are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and act.  Each time I walk into a classroom, I can choose the place within myself from which my teaching will come, just as I can choose the place within my students toward which my teaching will be aimed. I need not teach from a fearful place: I can teach from curiosity or hope or empathy or honesty, places that are as real within me as are my fears. I can have fear, but I need not be fear- if I am willing to stand someplace else in my inner landscape."

Teaching, because of the subject matter I taught and the different students in my classroom, made me more aware of my inner landscape than I had ever been before in my life. And that  daily choice- to position myself, to select what to give them- has hopefully made me more deliberate and conscious of everything I do. That inner landscape will change. It is my responsibility to both explore and craft that landscape, in a way that is honest, humble, fierce, wise,compassionate - in order to bring those qualities to my students and to everything I do when I'm not teaching.

This series of thoughts can only be laid aside (half closed, ready to be picked up again) with another few lines from Eliot:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
     Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Beauty, Epilogue

This article fits somewhere in my musings about beauty, body image, food, and what religious traditions that espouse fasting teach young devotees. It doesn't really provide any answers, just a picture of people living with these issues. And maybe that's enough for now.

Monday, April 25, 2011

and still...

I don't yet know what (or how) to think about Greg Mortenson. Nick Kristof's column was thoughtful, at least. And I love his title..."Three cups of tea spilled" sums the whole thing up remarkably well.

There are a host of voices out there- those who are wholeheartedly on Mortenson's side, claiming he's been unjustly framed by accusers who should be using their time to focus on corrupt politicians. Those who claim to have known he was a phony the entire time, and that the rest of us are hopelessly naive. These two groups are the loudest, and the people in the middle, except for Kristof, who's voice is powerful enough to be heard (aside: Nick Kristof is possibly the best example I can think of of a privileged individual who uses privilege to empower others) are drowned out, likely because of that uncertainty.

And honestly....all the fury in the media and blogosphere makes me more lost and confused. And dumb- how come everyone else is always so convinced about everything? Am I the only person in the universe living in a hopelessly grey muddle?
Did ALL the smart people really know Mortenson was a fake? I kind of doubt it. Vultures come out at the smell of weakness...and international confusion/outrage/disillusionment at someone who supposedly helped thousands of people? That's a lot of weakness.

And those who insists that Mortenson is still a hero, and everyone else is out to get him? Given allegations this serious, that seems delusional to me.

What does CAI and Mortenson mean? As I briefly pointed out to my students, he's changed how we think about Afghanistan, and Pakistan, he's shed light on the critical importance of education. Will potential donors write off everyone building schools in remote corners of the world now? Will people ignore Pakistan even more (remember the remarkably absent charitable donations after the devastating floods last summer?)? I don't know. I hope not. I'm afraid so.

Mortenson was doing work he wasn't trained to do - as someone who's spent roughly a gazillion hours working on program planning, evaluation, community organizing coursework and projects , do I think that could have made a difference? Maybe. Yes...if you don't know what you're doing, hire someone who does.  But do I think anyone else would have done a better job, or would they just have screwed up differently? I don't know. I'm not sure it matters. Maybe it's the only thing that matters.

Do I think we're all doomed to mediocrity? I don't know. Do I think we're all doomed to being misunderstood and misrepresented? Absolutely. Do I think there's some truth in those misrepresentations? I don't know.

In a little over two months, I'm getting married in a gorgeous Anglo-Catholic church. A couple weeks ago, the bishop who pastors this church sent out a church newsletter/calendar, with a senseless rant against the "feminization of politics" (a few gems:
" The more men turn away from their God-given responsibilities, the more women take over.  “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.  “Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women:  the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies:  the fire shall devour thy bars.”  (Nahum 3: 13, prophesying the fall of Nineveh)  Over two generations of all-pervasive gnostic feminism in the West mean that the culture now tends to:  *Modify the English language to remove or neutralize masculine references, for a “unisex” modality, thus depersonalizing society.  Steward – stewardess become flight attendant.  The Biblical understanding of all life subsumed under the masculine is eliminated in language and life. *Avoid hard, tough, costly decisions and emphasize “therapy.”  *  Downplay sacrifice and heroism.  “Feelings” are what matter.  * Downplay, and soften, the military.  Emphasize domestic spending and safety nets at home.  Urge a soft foreign policy of appeasement with enemies.  * Legalize death for all unwanted life, so that men can shirk their responsibilities, and women can pursue careers and power, unfettered by children and the aged.  *Watch as marriages disintegrate, boys fall behind in school, prisons burst at the seams and more women become impoverished.

(That last is particularly infuriating- all the feminists I know are actively working against those things)
  I read this as being  angry, prejudiced, ill-informed. I don't know whether he personally wrote it, or if was copied+pasted from some parachurch organization. What I do know is someone who I like and deeply respect claims that I (and people like me) are destroying the world. Is there truth to these allegations? Maybe it depends on what you want the world to look like.

Maybe another example could help....my academic adviser has worked all over the world for women's reproductive rights. This means improving access to family planning knowledge and services (including hormonal contraceptives, and beads for women in villages to track their cycles) and  access to safe and legal abortion, access to quality post-abortion care. Some see this as work that's seen as good, important, life-saving.  Others (the circles I grew up in) would label her an assistant to murder, someone who destroys life,  who has launched war on human sexuality and  good and beauty everywhere.

Who is she? Who is the bishop? Who am I? Who is Greg Mortenson?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

humanity - depravity or frailty?

Two degrees ago I started blogging - as a place to throw half-formed emotional musings I wasn't sure how to process otherwise. Putting things out into a world where you're dying to know you're not crazy, but don't trust the people you know in real life to come to that conclusion. I try not to do that anymore. But right now, this is how it is.

Because of the odd mix of devastation,betrayal,suspicion, hope, sympathy, and fear swirling around my head and heart thanks to Greg Mortenson. Or- more accurately, the media storm around Greg Mortenson.

Monday AM I logged into Facebook to see Nick Kristof linking to a NYTimes piece. And then there was CBS, and finally, offering some faint hope for redemption, Outsider Online.

And maybe it's just a mark of how young I am that I've never been devastated by a public figure before...I was a middleschooler who was raised to despise the Clintons, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammie Faye Bakker were well before my time also. But Mortenson....is one of my clan. He's an MK, and was a nurse. Three Cups of Tea isn't just a book about him, it's a book about me. What drew me to the book wasn't so much the story as it was the goal- to change society by empowering and educating women. And I was pulled in by his humanity- how Mortenson freely admitted his failures and struggles, and the toll this work took, the damage it did to his health (mental and physical) and his family.This confession of frailty was married to a fierce belief that the dream Mortenson had taken on was worth the sacrifices and struggles.

I copied a sentence into my journal in July 2008: "Together, the two began the kind of conversation that flows seamlessly, unstoppably, each fork begetting another branch of common interest, a conversation that continues until this day." It's a description of Mortenson's first interaction with his wife, and for me, was one of those thoughts that made me pause and say "If I ever choose to be partnered with another human being again, this is what it's going to have to be like" (Nearly 3 years later, it's possibly the perfect description of myself and my fiance').

Memoir is a strange genre- it's somewhere between biography and fiction, and can't possibly be objectively true. (Much like research can't ever be unbiased, because there are people doing the research...we all bring our own prejudices and preconceptions to our work, be it science or storytelling). I'm okay with the events being "compressed" or some degree of literary license taken (however, this accusation that Mortenson claimed to be kidnapped by gracious hosts- that goes FAR beyond making the story easier to follow).

The far more serious aspect of this is Mortenson's alleged mismanagement of funds and misrepresentation of the work of his charity- the possibility (probability?) that the man got too caught up in his own celebrity status to actually see and serve the people he was supposed to be helping. That in spite of his early devotion and enthusiasm he became materialistic and self-serving, narcissistic, dishonest. Because if Mortenson isn't who he claimed to be, who he thought he was, who he once was...what does that mean for who I am?

If Greg Mortenson, through stress, selfishness, mental illness, workaholism, poor judgement, (whatever mechanism you want to propose) did this great damage to himself, his family, and the cause he was working for - what does that mean for me? Does the "mechanism" even really matter? Regardless of the truth of this matter, Mortenson's reputation is going to be deeply damaged, and this is going to have a devastating impact on charitable giving and people's interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What am I capable of, and will I someday sabotage (deliberately or not) everything I'm working for right now? What if the real lesson of the story is that there are no heros, and no one ever wins?

A dear grad school friend and colleague who's religious background is similar enough to mine (rather conservative religiously/liberal socially Church of Latter Day Saints), with my same research interests and ethics is having some of these same issues right now. We were musing on these a bit during class yesterday evening, and instead of offering anything helpful, the professor tried to take another hero (Nicholas Kristof) away (while simultaneously stating the importance of having these heroes and role models).

Part of me wants to shake this off, and say it doesn't matter so much in the big scheme of things...my usual response to questions, challenges, melancholy brooding. But this is bigger....it's wondering whether human beings are EVER capable of doing more good than harm. Because from where I'm sitting right now, I can't see a single person or institution who is NOT open to the charge that the inadvertent (or deliberate) damage they are doing to society/individual people is far greater than any good they may be doing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beauty, Part II

I'm hesitant to share much about my students in a public forum- mainly out of respect for them. But it seems worth noting that eating disorders and beauty were one of the things they couldn't leave alone. I can't even count the number of response journals I read saying "I never felt beautiful, because I was too thick/skinny/whatever," even from the stereotypically beautiful girls in my class. Which makes me so incredibly sad, because my students? Not only are these girls gorgeous, they're tenacious, insightful, smart. Maybe I'm a little biased because they show up in class on a cold, rainy Monday for a lecture on cancer- but maybe that's precisely my point. I've taken them tough places with this class, and they've been more than willing to go, and to look at how their lives play out surrounded by the tough issues- including how they look at themselves.

And...I'm realizing now how responsible we can be for how other people perceive beauty, how they perceive themselves...and how devastating the merger of those things can be when it leads so simply to eating disorders with long term, potentially fatal consequences. The way we talk about food, the way we talk about how great women look when they lose weight, how we would like to lose weight, how we shouldn't eat X...And I've started to wonder what children learn when we give up favorite foods for Lent. I don't have my own children yet, so I'm less directly involved with this...but we associate food with sacrifice and celebration so easily. It takes kids so long to understand church, tradition, etc, and they imitate so much unconsciously and unquestioningly (I'm remembering an episode when I was about 9 when my friends and my parents flew into a fit because we were baptizing each other in a swimming pool).

When I was a senior in high school, we had to read a Sylvia Plath poem, titled "Mirror":
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.


The teacher...who, I suppose, was in her mid-late 40s told us, with disgust, that she'd learned to empathize with that last line that year, as she'd watched new wrinkles creep in. And she asked us to let her know when we started seeing our faces change daily...something about acknowledging mortality and the shortness of our life, I think?

I remembered that statement somewhere mid-2009, because after that first grad school semester, my face did start changing. Partly because I've lost ~15lbs since starting school (mostly due to lousy graduate student parking),the crinkles at the corner of my eyes and mouth when I smile have become a bit more pronounced, and the angles of my face have taken on a different character. But it's a change that I love - because I'm not the same person I was two years ago. I've met new people, seen new places, taken on more challenges, worked harder and been more wildly successful and happy than I could have imagined (and, honestly, it's a lot easier to teach undergrads when you don't look quite so much like one yourself).

And I think maybe that's what gets missed somewhere....that what we see in the mirror reflects the choices we've made and the things we've experienced in our bodies. And if we'd focus on the real things rather than the reflections, maybe we could learn to love them both.I believe that young woman in Plath's poem drowned herself in the mirror- by choosing to stare at it rather than go live her life. So...how do we teach *that* to college students, highschoolers, children?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beauty: Part 1

So, it's taken some time to manage some quiet moments when I can write about this, and I'm not sure I can pull my thoughts together completely, but still.
One of my friends and mentors guest lectured in my class about eating disorders.
She showed this video which is pretty terrific, btw.
I has response journals due that week, and I got overwhelming responses from students. An athlete who had been pressured by his coach to lose weight. Students who had watched family members struggle with eating disorders, students who always considered themselves too thick or thin to be beautiful.

We later watched Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (since the school's copy of Becoming Barbie was too damaged to use). The book was published in the late '90s, and Wolf's thesis is that whenever women achieve major gains in society, the ideal of beauty becomes something almost unattainable, in order to undermine the power of women. Her examples: The right to vote, followed by the Flapper ideal, the birth control pill shortly followed by Twiggy, and today's women...educated, liberated, and paralyzed by the images on magazine covers. She posits that three major industries perpetuate women's insecurities in order to profit: dieting,plastic surgery, and cosmetics.

Almost immediately following these discussions, Rush Limbaugh hit the news for some incredibly disparaging comments about Michelle Obama. In particular:
"What is it - no, I'm trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or of a woman [professional baseball player] Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you. I mean, women are under constant pressure to look lithe, and Michelle My Belle is out there saying if you eat the roots and tree bark and the berries and all this cardboard stuff you will live longer, be healthier and you won't be obese. Okay, fine, show us."

So...Michelle Obama looks unhealthy and overweight to him? And he's saying that a 47 year old lawyer should look like a surgically enhanced, airbrushed, quite possibly eating-disordered 20 year old? Sheesh. Two kids and a career as an attorney mean a couple things: 1)you have a few crow's feet and stretch marks, and 2) you have better things to do with your time than spend 4 hours a day at the gymn (and better things to do with your money than plastic surgery). I happen to find something incredibly beautiful and powerful in both of those observations.

I think my favorite Barack Obama quote ever is his musings about his wife in The Audacity of Hope: "Most people who meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are right about this--she is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. She is also very beautiful, although not in a way that men find intimidating, or women find off-putting; it is the lived-in beauty of the mother and busy professional rather than the touched up image we see on the cover of glossy magazines. Often, after hearing her speak at some function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something to the effect of "You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife...wow!" I nod, knowing that if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without much difficulty."

The first time I read those words, I was in my early twenties, and not terribly long out of a disastrous relationship. I latched on to that quotation- as an indicator of the person I wanted to be, and the respect I wanted from any future partner. Four years later, I think it's becoming my reality.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts on teaching

I'm a third of the way through the semester, and teaching is starting to feel a little less like being on heroin. Seriously...I think about it ALL the time,and there is NOTHING like the high when things go well in that classroom. Or the crash when they don't.
We're settling...we've made it through the first exam. They laugh when I say nerdy things in class. I've learned many of their names, and some of their personalities. And this group of 38 young women and men...they light up the room, with their passions, their insecurities, their trust, vulnerability, laughter.

Today we talked about HIV/AIDS. I was tired, they were tired, but we thought and learned together...and talked about female condoms and dental dams, and some of them got a little squeamish.

I can't even start to explain how much I've learned about myself, and how I feel about undergraduate education. Lately I've been appalled remembering literature from small liberal arts colleges "If you come here, your classes will be taught by someone with a terminal degree, and you'll learn so much more than you would from a graduate student." Yeah, well....I'm a graduate student, and I'm a pretty decent instructor. I'll be better after a few more years in the field and a few more courses. But I've taken classes from faculty (some tenured!) which were taught more poorly than mine. I believe firmly in the power of constructive criticism, and the importance of trying to find something good in every (nonplagarized!!) assignment I grade. I have better things to do with my time than to make their lives miserable, and my class WILL NOT cause anyone to drop out of college (or consider it). (There are a handful of at-risk students in my class, making this last observation especially poignant.)My classroom is to be a safe place for my students.

One of my college professors once told me that the main point of teaching was to catch students as they're running through their lives and to hand them the tools they'll need to finish the race. It's an analogy I appreciate so much more, realizing how infinitely valuable, talented, amazing, my students are, how busy they are, and what a short time I have them for. And this is what I want for them- to give them a way to identify the effects of injustice, to see the complexity of the world we live in and how it shapes our health and bodies, to be able to start to think about how to make the world a better place.

And I'm grateful for the freedom I have to teach this class in my own way. Yes, there are SO many challenges with developing a curriculum as I go. Lots of important stuff has gotten left out, and I still have to acknowledge that in terms of content, this is a 500 level course, not a 100 level. I'm absolutely not telling my students that, and I try to adjust for this in grading. I've also realized that if I taught at an institution like the one I graduated from, I could probably be fired, or at least severely disciplined for some of the things that have happened in my classroom - e.g.watching a film about reproductive rights in Ethiopia, telling my students buying condoms is admirable, and they should feel pride rather than shame, and, oh, yeah, the conversation about female condoms and dental dams. But at the end of the day...my students know how to protect themselves and their partners. They know South Carolina ranks in the top 10 states in the US in rates of HIV patients, that rape has been used as a war tactic in Africa and 70% of the women who survived the Rwandan genocide are HIV positive. They know that when breastfeeding is considered a "choice" rather than a right, it means it's not an option for many women. And some of them are wrestling heavily with the balance between community and individual responsibility (one student told me she was having some moral issues with my class). All in all, I'm giving them something I never received as an undergrad and that I would have desperately wanted, had I even known it could exist.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Keep your students...I love mine.

After a bit of agonizing, I chose to bring this piece to a lecture on Maternal Morbidity. I wasn't sure whether it was the most appropriate choice, given that I teach at a large state university, and in general, I don't think my students have the same issues I do with trying to reconcile God, Justice, and the Church (let alone the apostolic succession). At one point I said "If I were teaching this class at [institution I have a B.S. from] I would absolutely use this, because I think it's something relevant, that needs to be discussed there.

Which suddenly made me realize, again, how awesome my students are and how much I love them. A realization that was accompanied by a flashback from a postaccredidation chapel, in which the college president said "All these visitors raved about our students, and asked what they could do to get you guys at their schools. And I said 'We're not giving our students away. Sorry."

I'd imagine that the typical student at said institution would be rather uncomfortable in my class. I started a lecture on sexual health with a blatantly misogynistic quotation from a Focus on the Family publication: "Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply. Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one’s partner than for one’s mother....Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates. For it is a woman’s refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man’s lust into love.”-Leon Kass, 2006

In a matter of minutes they pinned down that beyond endorsing a double standard for men and women's behavior, and validating gender stereotypes, this quote objectifies women and reduces the value of women to their sexual status. I was well out of college before I sorted that out.

In the same lecture I had students mention their single mothers, and how these women who had become pregnant in their teens went to great lengths to ensure that their daughters did not. My kids told me how uncomfortable they feel buying condoms, and how they frequently feel judged by people who witness this...And I encouraged them to take pride in the fact that they were choosing to protect themselves and their partners.

A friend of mine who works for a nonprofit focused on preventing teen pregnancy guest lectured...a part of her job includes helping make clinicians' offices more friendly to youth. My students told her about awkward first gynecologist visits and how some medical professionals assume that they have STIs just because they're college students.

I spent a healthy chunk of this weekend grading response journals, and I'm so impressed with how they put things together, how they can put things together and describe why a topic covered in class matters, and what should be done about it. They're amazing.

And I can't help being rather awed and proud that somehow, I've managed to help give them an environment in which they can both think critically and feel safe.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany

My new discovery: there are few things that will teach you as much about yourself and what you value as teaching and planning a wedding.
There's something about limited resources (time,money,students' attention spans in my cases) that forces you to realize you can't have everything. Which leads to pondering about why you want those things.

And you wonder...why you care about the things you do. And lots of times, there are really good reasons. You wonder why those things aren't important to everyone and if you're crazy.

Then you see the light at the end of the tunnel and take off over the desert. Not sure how it's all going to play out, but you've got a couple friends with you and you're smart enough to ask for directions.

Which is how the Magi did it. So maybe you're going to be okay too.