Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Apparently not giving up politics for Lent.

Although it might make a huge difference for my sanity. Some fights you don't choose, they choose you?

Rush Limbaugh on Sandra Fluke's testimony:

All I have to say is that if Ms. Fluke were my child, I'd be incredibly proud.I'd be That Mother...the one who sends her kid a ginormous bouquet of flowers, and won't let a single mail clerk, officemate, or grocery bagger escape an encounter without hearing about my offspring.  Heck, I imagine that if I did have a child, he or she would be much like  Sandra Fluke.

And just because:

If you find Rush Limbaugh's comments offensive, disgusting, or otherwise inappropriate,  there's a petition to have Speaker Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor denounce them . If you're not a Democrat, you'll probably want to be sure you get off DCCC's email list, but I wanted to put this here, since Rush Limbaugh resentment is a bipartisan issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Invalidated wedding reflections? Part 2

See part 1: We disappointed people.

Part 2: Our values were different (from the values of those around us).
I knew this from the moment my sister got misty-eyed as I was drowning in a pile of tulle. In many ways, I'm a placard-waving freak,while my husband sits in the background, commenting on the typography and grammar of my placard. And ultimately, I bought a dress with an emmotionless click on Ebay ("Ooh. Ivory vintage Harry Kaiser cocktail dress that one can actually move in! My measurements! $176 plus shipping! It wasn't made by abused seamstresses in China, and I can actually afford it!").
So, we started planning our wedding in a way that was frugal, respectful of others, and socially/environmentally conscious. This quickly turned into tiptoeing through a minefield. I'll also add that we were paying for this wedding out of savings, primarily funds left to me by my deceased grandmother, so it's not like we were taking other people's money and spending it in ways they disapproved of.

My stepmother latched on to the "informality" of our summer afternoon ceremony, and decided that we needed paper table clothes, plastic plates, plastic flatware,wedding dress cutouts, and goofy plastic bride and groom stick figure picture frames (something like this), all while I strategized about how avoid contributing to the growth of the Pacific Garbage Patch And she was insisting on making Swedish meatballs for the reception ( 1) I've been a vegetarian for 3 years now. 2) I haven't touched anything resembling a Swedish meatball since working at camp summer of 2001...the uneaten freezerburned Swedish meatballs were recycled, causing "Swedish meatball" night to become salad night for all staff). Not cool....not cool at all.
(After weeks of her ignoring my protests, one of my grad school girlfriends got fed up and called her for a "Come to Jesus" meeting. Grad school girlfriends are the bestest.)

Then....there was the Church Organist. I have a feeling he's still off somewhere complaining about how my husband and I ruined his wedding.  Well....we initially contacted him 8 weeks out from the wedding. Two weeks later, we still hadn't heard back from him, so with some frantic finagling, I came up with another organist. Church Organist was offended that another organist was playing a wedding at his church, so he called her to cancel (Note to anyone planning a wedding or other event: if you decide NOT to use a musician/vendor, etc, do NOT tell them who you are actually using). What then ensued was a three-week battle over a HYMN we had selected for our ceremony. Church Organist was grieved that our music choice was came from a "revivalist" tradition, and that our wedding would be ruined by including "a Wesleyan altar call." I wish I'd had the presence of mind to point out that the Wesleys were Anglican... Church Organist's passion for Pure Anglican Worship overflowed into everything. I got emails asking who was serving as acolyte, and whether we were going with the English order of attendants (I flew into a panic and told the Bishop "I didn't realize I needed to think about this stuff!" Bishop's response: "You don't").  Before putting together our program, we had a liturgical consult with the Bishop, to be sure everything was going in the appropriate places, and people were sitting/kneeling/standing at appropriate times.  After program was drafted, it was emailed to Bishop and Church Organist, so that Bishop could check liturgical elements and Church Organist could check music... Church Organist sent back several scathing critiques of program, including the order of the ceremony, and the explanatory notes. Church Organist prioritized his time and gas above our comfort and refused to come to wedding rehearsal. Which meant that ceremony did not go as expected, but hey! At least Church Organist got his Saturday evening off.

And then, there was communication.
I'm a graduate student, have been for three years now. Maybe it's the roles I've played (be it student/research assistant/instructor/whatever), maybe it's the departments and program I've worked with, but there are some pretty clear expectations around communication. There's some pretty simple rules:
1) Send clear messages
2) If you are confused, ask for clarification
3) Respond quickly
4) If you can't/won't/don't want to do something, say so honestly and as quickly as possible
5) When you take on a task, get it done quickly, and communicate that you have done so.

Part of this is due to being social science/public health researchers/practitioners, I think....we're acutely aware that the "socially desirable" response is NOT the one we actually want. I don't want to know whether you know oral health is important and you really do mean to visit the dentist...I want to know whether you actually went to the dentist. When you tell me that you visited the dentist and you didn't, this is a major problem, so I spend my time trying to figure out ways to make you be honest with me and figure out when you're not.

It's also partly due to deadlines and interdependence. If it's my job to figure out effective ways to recruit participants, and it's not happening and I don't tell my boss about it...well,we won't get participants, data won't get collected, and the next time we try to do this, we probably won't get a grant (never mind the lack of publications craziness that defines academia).

Guess what? This is NOT how my family communicates. I'm not sure why...maybe it's just that they're not social scientists/academics...maybe it's that this blunt, straightforward approach to communication is taboo in the South, maybe it's something else. So "You committed to doing x, how is that coming?" emails/phone calls often received no response (and ended with me frantically trying to figure out how I was going to do x) or a response of "Oh, I don't care about x, but I'm doing y and z." I've learned that the facts that I can write well enough to pass my classes and lecture well enough that my students learn are apparently completely irrelevant to my ability to communicate messages and establish shared meaning outside of the classroom.

Symbols are a particularly challenging part of this "shared meaning" thing. Time and time again, when my husband and I did things our way, we confused others by failing to choose the "right" symbol. There's an emerald on my left hand, for instance....or my dramatic rebellion against "weddings are supposed to be formal and have tuxedos and long dresses." To everyone's credit, most of the time they chose the "if you can't be nice, don't say anything at all" approach. But not infrequently, someone would point out that I'd gotten the symbol wrong. "That's a Fall fabric, not summer", "You need to choose a Theme", "You can't have your siblings stand next to you, you have to have boys and girls separate." I pretended not to hear most of these statements, because I didn't understand (or care about!) these symbols.

That, I think, is the heart of the matter. Communication, and how we hold our symbols, in particular (and, like I often do, I've written myself to the limits of my understanding, and I'm fumbling for words here). I'm not willing to say that symbols are entirely neutral. And it's rare that something is "just" a symbol. But somehow...we all want to be right. Not just to be right, but to be Right in a way that stomps out opposition. It takes a great deal of strength and grace to balance our own thoughts in a way that gives others room for their own. I consider many of the gestures that made up our wedding our own small way of making the world a better place. Perhaps, in some ways they did, but realistically, seven thousand dollars isn't even a drop in the bucket of the wedding industry. I desperately want to live in a way that honors the world I live in and the other lives that are here...for me this meant absolutely not buying a brand new wedding dress off of a rack in a store, not wearing a diamond, choosing wedding party outfits that could be (and have been!) reworn, buying flowers from Ecuador and California (vs Colombia ) and a thousand other things were choices that reflect and display my values. When my father pulled me aside to whisper in horrified shock "One of the tablecloths has a spot on it" and I shrugged saying "Yeah, I expected that. I bought them used on Ebay from a catering company that was going out of business. Just put something on top of the spot" our lapse in communication was based in symbol: my father saw the spot as something sloppy, dirty & inappropriate while I saw it as a natural result of trying to have a responsible wedding. Likewise, when Church Organist fought with me over including a Protestant hymn, it was because my personal desire to acknowledge my spiritual journey and the religious tradition in which my husband and I were raised conflicted with his beliefs about worship that is beautiful, pleasing to God, and reflects Anglo-Catholic heritage. Are these conflicts inevitable? Perhaps. Do they have to become increasingly hostile and devastating? I hope not.

At the end of the day...I am married, to a man who has shared my heart and my journey and watches with enthusiasm as I work out my hopes and values in ways that include gardening, composting,refurbishing furniture, cooking,writing, studying, and more.

DanielKuykendall 988
(Photo by Daniel Kuykendall)

We're going to communicate poorly in the future- both with each other, and with others. I hope we'll learn to identify inadequate communication and fix it, quickly. I hope that we will learn to hold our symbols a little more loosely, and to give grace to others when they cling tightly to their own symbols.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Non-academic projects (AKA Hobbies): Decoupage bookshelf

I'm one of those lucky people who get to do what they love. This is why I stayed in grad school, honestly. People should think long and hard about their reasons for getting a doctorate...I'm not sure I thought enough, but I knew that there wouldn't be terribly many other opportunities to get paid to do what I love, get better at doing what I love, and live in the same city as my husband.

That being said...when I watch movies, when I read the news, when I eat, when I walk across campus, I'm in public health mode. It doesn't turn off- it's a part of me. This is why I'm good at what I do- because it's who I am. It's also what makes me crazy sometimes. So projects and conversations that *aren't* directly public health related, while often challenging, are often deeply restorative. 

Last week, we decided to move a bookshelf that was taking up room in a narrow hallway into an empty spot in the living room. When we made that decision, the bookshelf looked like this:


I'd found it out on the side of the road a couple days after moving to this city. I pulled it into my then- apartment, cleaned it up and unloaded a box of books on it. It was the most flimsy, ugly piece of furniture imaginable, and could NOT go into our living room.

I started digging around for things to do, and realized we had a stash of scrapbook paper that had been intended for cupcake wrappers for our wedding. My stepmom ended up buying cupcake wrappers (some battles you don't fight. Particularly when they mean more work for you). So we made a trip to Hobby Lobby with a giftcard we'd gotten for our wedding to grab a container of Mod Podge and a couple spongey brushes, and a couple more sheets of scrapbook paper (to change up the color scheme a bit). I spent every evening for a week cutting paper, wetting paper, covering it with Elmer's glue and/or Mod Podge and smoothing out wrinkles.


Eventually, this was what I ended up with:


We rearranged the books, so our "serious" (mostly academic) books are on our big bookshelf, and the fun books on this one. Now we've got a not-hideous bookshelf, and a cozy reading nook in our living room, and two fewer boxes of books sitting on the floor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two things

1) NOTHING sets my blood boiling like people who state in passing that emergency contraceptives and IUDs are abortifaceants. Medically, biologically, a pregnancy is defined as beginning when a fertilized egg has attached to the uterine lining. If you're going to disagree with the medical community's working definition, the burden is on you to explain why. And if your explanation is "fertilized eggs have souls" my next question will be whether you think all women of reproductive age should have their menstrual cycles monitored, to be sure that all fertilized eggs have the absolute best chance of implanting, because that seems like the next reasonable step to me. Followed by causing women to take pregnancy tests daily, so we can monitor and investigate extremely early miscarriages. Because otherwise, I'm not so sure that you're serious about sticking up for fertilized eggs.

2) I'm officially off my maintenance meds. Took the last pill Sunday (Feb 12) According to the dosage my doctor wants me to take, I should have run out on January 12th....I figured my better bet was to keep some Asacol in my system as long as possible. And now I'm out...(and, at $660 a refill, I'm going to be out until my new coverage year starts in August). It's been two days. So far- it's wonderful. I feel like a balloon that's just escaped from a child's hand, a kite that's been loosed from its string.  There are no reminders that I have a serious condition. I have this irrational desire to claim that my doctor doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. I suppose they call this denial.

My joints are aching a little more than they have been. It's probably just the cold weather. I'm nervous, but here we go.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My right to (sexual and reproductive) health.

(Every time I log into Facebook, one of my friends has posted something infuriating. I need my blood pressure down, and I need to not engage in pointless flame wars. So I'm going to say quite a bit here, both today and probably later)

A few weeks ago, a blog post on the right to decide when and how to start a family caught my eye. This is something my husband and I are pretty serious about. Between two doctoral programs, the assortment of jobs we juggle between the two of us (I think we might be down to just two jobs each now. Maybe), and a newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, now is not the time to get pregnant. (When you have a whacked-out immune system that likes to attack your own tissues, there's a definite possibility it will recognize a fetus as foreign and just try to get rid of it). If you walked through our house, you'd find my pack of birth control pills in the kitchen, condoms in the nightstand by our bed, and emergency contraception in a drawer in the bathroom. I'm grateful to be at a university that takes family planning seriously and is top-rated when it comes to providing sexual and reproductive health services to students. Each month when I refill my birth control prescription, I'm handed a $15 clinic pack, and this makes our lives a lot easier.

But that $15 prescription does a lot more than make sure a pregnancy doesn't happen before it's time. While my periods started out light and irregular, sometime in my early 20s things changed. Thanks to my handy Diva cup (which was the only feminine product that could stand up to my heavy periods) I know that between the first two days of my period, I generally lost around 120 mls of blood. Your period is considered normal if you lose between 10 and 80mls during the ENTIRE time. This meant that I essentially lost a week of my life each month to menstrual exhaustion, for lack of a better term. I was hesitant to go on the pill because of concerns about artificial hormones...two months later, I was shocked at what a difference it made in terms of my quality of life. I'm trying not to waste time kicking myself for not going on the pill years earlier. Oh, and bonus: my birth control also includes iron, something I tend to be low on, thanks to being a vegetarian and having Crohn's. You want me to give up these pills? You'll have pry them  from my cold, dead fingers.

When it's time to make healthcare decisions, the conversations that matter are between me, my husband, and  my doctor  (Except when it's about Crohn's. Then we have to factor in my lousy prescription coverage, which is another post in itself). This right has been under attack at both the state and national levels lately. My state senate is still considering a bill that would allow healthcare providers to deny any services for any reason they feel like it. Yes, as this bill is written, your phlebotomist could say "I don't like to draw blood on Monday, it ruins my week. Go somewhere else." Nationally, there's this uproar about the contraceptive mandate, and what it means for those poor little hospitals and universities, which receive millions of dollars in federal funding.  Usually, this is tied up with angst about emergency contraception (for a good overview, go here). Which I don't understand AT ALL. We have no data estimating how often fertilized eggs fail to implant, and really, if people are so concerned about emergency contraception, are they going to start trying to prosecute women with short luteal phases? Because that's what would seem consistent to me. Catholic universities have a history of making decisions that do not have the best interests of female faculty and students at heart (If a student has to have her ovary removed because you obstructed her access to birth control, you have failed her. To put it lightly.)
Respecting religious freedom is when you allow women to work out their convictions with their doctors and partners and choose medical care which fits their beliefs. It's unethical for a hospital or university to refuse to allow a student or employee to act in accordance with his or her individual conscience. It's been clearly outlined that institutions will not have to pay for services they object to . Now shut up. It's time to quit endangering women's health (and lives) to make a point.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On image and constructing identity

I'm starting my third year in grad school, and this has prompted a number of reflections, about things both serious and frivolous. Things are different now, and one of the fastest ways to know things are different is to look in the mirror or open my closet door.

I was a biology major in college, and school and work were my life. My standard uniform was a beaten up pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt, or a green button-down with sulfuric acid holes from TA-ing chem lab. I also didn't shower all that much (because, if showers take ten minutes, and you go a week without showering, you've just saved yourself an hour, and those hours add up.). It's also fair to say that especially my last two years, I was carrying a pretty big chip on my shoulder, and the yuck probably resulted in fewer verbal "screw you"s being dealt out.

My first job after graduation was interning in a molecular tox lab. So I added showers into my routine and phased out the cruddiest of the jeans. But frozen tissue samples don't really care what you look like, so there were many, many days of burrowing under my lab coat.

Then, there was grad school. And I swear, cardigans, skirts, colorful flats and heels have been breeding in my closet. Part of that is the influence of colleagues and mentors - I didn't know a single woman who actually wore pencil skirts or pointy-toed shoes before I started my masters, and all of a sudden, I was spending every day with three of them. Everything about this is filled with tension- well described here. The tension of not wanting to buy into gender, as it's constructed in this country. Like many American girls, I had thoroughly absorbed the notion that you have to choose between being Smart and being Pretty. Somewhere, I learned that Smart girls could fend for themselves, and therefore, no one wanted to be around them, and they generally wound up successful, but alone. Pretty girls on the other hand, were always surrounded by friends and admirers. While they were helpless, their visual appeal and dazzling conversation skills ensured them the admiration and assistance of everyone they encountered. However, as a Pretty girl, you were forever at risk of losing your looks with age, or, heaven forbid, that someone prettier come along and steal the partner on whom you were dependent. Faced with this dichotomy, I chose, quite reasonably, to be a Smart girl.

Then, I wound up in grad school, surrounded by professors and classmates who were both Smart and Pretty. To borrow from Judith Butler, I learned that there were more than just these two separate ways of doing femininity. I saw something admirable in how my Smart and Pretty friends and mentors did gender- they were beautiful, bright, comfortable in their own skin. They managed to signal that they were competent and approachable. Occasionally, I tried out their approach, and eventually it changed something about me. Not so much my inner self, but the signals I send to others. In this vein, I choose to select the messages I send with my appearance.

I choose to look like someone who puts effort into how she presents herself, who considers others (e.g. showering!). When I teach, I don't dress in a way that I'll be mistaken for a student, and I will not look like someone who is currently debating about whether to go off their maintenance meds or start buying them from Canada. It is my choice how the world sees me, and when I put on my lipstick each morning, I tell the world that I will not be seen as a sick, pitiful, graduate student.