Heart of the Matter

After my sister’s death in May, I promised to devote this space to a discussion of the factors that contributed to her death. While I have to a limited extent, I have found that the words just will not come. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still in denial (while the facts are irrefutable, it still hasn’t sunk in) or if my grief is just causing me to have writer’s block. So, the most I can offer you at this time is my word to keep up the awareness on important health issues facing women, and particularly women of color.

The very most important thing we can do is realize we are responsible for our own health, and we need to make it a priority. As important as all the things we have to do on any given day for ourselves, our family, and others may seem, the best way to ensure we’ll be able to continue to do them is to remain healthy … and alive. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “It can’t happen to me.”  Heart attack is no respecter of class, gender, race, ethnicity, or age. Best to err on the side of caution and think, “It could happen to me if I don’t take care of myself.” That’s not to say that you should swathe yourself in bubble wrap and sit quietly on your sofa munching carrots and celery. Just remain aware and be proactive.

Be informed. There is a wealth of information right at your fingertips, free for the taking. The American Heart Association has a wealth of information on cardiac health. Go Red for Women has a wealth of information specifically related to cardiac disease in women. WomenHeart is a lesser known, but valuable resource, as is Heart Healthy Women.

Try to lead a balanced existence. Yes, exercise is important, but 30 minutes a day is generally regarded as at least a good starting point. Unless you are planning to enter a triathlon, there is no need to train as though you are. Find something you enjoy, as you’ll be more likely to continue to do it. Don’t underestimate the value of the at-home exercise routine, especially if you’re just starting out.  Try to get outside for at least 10 -20 minutes a day. Not only will the fresh air do you good, the sunshine (even on overcast days) can help stave off depression.  Communing with nature can also be a good stress reliever.  Watch your nutrition, but don’t go overboard. If you deny yourself those yummy french fries too long, you will end up gorging yourself.  Remember the 80/20 rule: eat healthy 80% of the time, and allow yourself some leeway 20% of the time. Take time to enjoy yourself. I know that may sound a little crazy, but in re-evaluating my situation, I found that I wasn’t doing much of that. By the time I finished all the things I had to do, I was so mentally and emotionally drained, all I did was sit on the sofa and vegetate. It’s been a difficult habit to break, but I notice a big difference in my outlook and attitude when I take the time to make myself happy. It doesn’t have to be anything big: a few hours spent wandering around Barnes and Noble is a real treat for me. Take up a new hobby. Pick back up and old one.

Pace yourself. A major lifestyle overhaul can be daunting and fraught with frustration and failure. Try the “Change One Thing” approach: identify one fitness and one nutritional goal and incorporate them into your life. When you feel you have mastered one goal, set a new one. These goals don’t have to be major: maybe you can resolve to park further away from the entrance of anywhere you go. Or – a big one for me – drinking more water.  Small successes lead to big gains!

We, as women, spend so much time selecting just the right shade of blush, or lipstick or foundation; in choosing the perfect shoe or coordinating the ultimate outfit. Now is the time to check our priorities and put our health first; like our life depends on it. Because it does.

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Getting your story straight: Mitt Romney edition

Mitt Romney is in the news again. Contain yourselves.

I encourage you to read the entirety of this fascinating article.

There are two things that stand out to me upon initial reading.

  1. First, this:
    “At that Christmas gathering, the family took a vote on whether Romney should run. . . Even some of Romney’s closest political advisers might have been surprised. When the family members took a vote, 10 of the 12 said no. Mitt Romney was one of the 10 who opposed another campaign. The only “yes” votes were from Ann Romney and Tagg Romney.”What was going on in Mr. Romney’s mind here? He opposed his own campaign before it started?This, to me, is not so much a criticism but a curiosity of our human nature.Perhaps I’m being too charitable. So be it.It’s truly a mind-boggling vote.
  2. “When Romney had mentioned his “lousy September,” it was an evident reference to what may have been the low point of his campaign: the “47 percent” video. He was in California and said at first he couldn’t get a look at the video. His advisers were pushing him to respond as quickly as he could. “As I understood it, and as they described it to me, not having heard it, it was saying, ‘Look, the Democrats have 47 percent, we’ve got 45 percent, my job is to get the people in the middle, and I’ve got to get the people in the middle,’ ” he said. “And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a reasonable thing.’ . . . It’s not a topic I talk about in public, but there’s nothing wrong with it. They’ve got a bloc of voters, we’ve got a bloc of voters, I’ve got to get the ones in the middle. And I thought that that would be how it would be perceived — as a candidate talking about the process of focusing on the people in the middle who can either vote Republican or Democrat.As it turned out, down the road, it became perceived as being something very different.”You mean that you were insensitive to a whole group of people? I asked. “Right,” he responded. “And I think the president said he’s writing off 47 percent of Americans and so forth. And that wasn’t at all what was intended. That wasn’t what was meant by it. That is the way it was perceived.” I interjected, “But when you said there are 47 percent who won’t take personal responsibility — ” Before I finished, he jumped in. “Actually, I didn’t say that. . . .That’s how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality.””
    Emphasis mine. I truly have no response. This is the most mind-boggling comment from Romney since, oh, the hilarious and inane “Binders Full of Women” gaffe.This insistence of his also seems to be an out-right lie.We’ve all seen the notorious 47% video.  It lives forever.

 There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right—there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. …And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

And as charitable as I try to be, these opposing quotes by Romney indicate that he will not take “personal responsibility” for his own words or actions.

Excuse me, I need to get back to work so I can be “personally responsible” for not being able to afford health insurance STILL, but making sure my family is fed, housed, and maybe I’ll make phone calls to friends on my Obamaphone so I don’t bang my head on the desk thinking about how out of touch this man–and so many others in POWER–are.

“Excavation is Destruction”

372px-Map_Akrotiri_1600_BC-en

Map of the site where I worked and studied in the summer of 2001, more than 3000 years after it was destroyed in one of the most violent volcanic eruptions

During college, I spent three summers studying in Greece.

(Where else would a Classical language and Philosophy major study?)

I was fortunate to have scholarships all three times.

So. . . . to take a break from politics in this blog–I’m not going to explore how austerity in Greece has really hurt this and many other archeology sites–I thought I’d torture share a poem I wrote while working on an archeology dig in Santorini, during the summer of 2001.

Ancient Akrotiri is sometimes postulated as Atlantis, but better known as the Greek equivalent to Pompeii, is on the southern end of the crescent-shaped island, and we (students) would spend our breaks mesmerized by the Aegean, trying to make out Crete in the distance.

During one of the breaks, I sipped water, ate my τυρóπιτα, or tyropita, and scrawled this in my notebook,  quoting the kindly director of the project, who was also our professor:

Lost in Excavation

“Excavation is Destruction” –Archaeologist Cristos Doumas

Sunburned-dust covers animal bones,
golden beads from a necklace,
and shards of brightly colored tinted glass,
shells from a nourishing ocean feast

And the haunting human bones…

We will be nameless,
Unknown to our children.  Defined as
Merely bones and genetic codes,
males and females in
sickness and health.

Who will remember,
who will remind the children—
our children!—
that these human bones
once simultaneously bore
the beauty and  burden of living flesh?

that the remnants of bones
breathed in the heat, the intoxicating perfume of summer,
saw the clear waves of heat roll across the sandy beach
and the first frost of winter
glisten on the olive leaves?
heard the chiming crickets and squealing donkeys?

Who will remember,
who will remind them that these
dry, brittle, marrow-less bones
smelled the refreshing salt tang of the Mediterranean
and savored the first bites of
harvested grapes in autumn…?  and our
feelings—the vicissitudes of life—cannot be fully discovered,
fully appreciated,
through nucleic acids…

Forgotten loves, fears,
melancholia, euphoria—all are
buried and lost,
for the paper
the clay,
on which we attempt
to record these emotions
disintegrates in the harsh climate.

Shall these heights and depths
of previous lives
remain unrevealed,

or will the child,
while gently scrubbing our bones,
removing  the caked soil and grit,
be a little more gentle, considerate—
perhaps even a little more contemplative—
while laying our long life-abandoned bones to dry
in the rays of the same sun

that was once dimmed by flesh…

Weekend Round-Up

What we’ve been reading:

Running Errands: Looking for Plan B

There is, to my knowledge, only one video on youtube that I’m in:

Watch it. You’ll see me. And a lot of my friends.

If you didn’t catch it, HHS Sebellius and the Obama Administration were ordered, by a Judge to make the Morning After Pill (“MAP” or “Plan B”) truly over the counter for people of all ages. No ID need be shown. Not hide the pills behind the counter, but in the “family planing section” where condoms are.

I wrote about Obama’s failure to comply in early May.

About a week or so after, participated in one of several flash mobs you can see in the video above.

The Obama administration decided to obey the Order from the Judge, and make Plan B OTC, no restrictions.

We were told it would take a month or so for the companies that make Plan B to change their packaging and also allot the stores time to make room on the shelves for Plan B.

Fair enough.

That month is over. And I’ve had to run errands that either require I stop at a pharmacy or pass by a pharmacy.

I decided I was going to start checking out a pharmacy a day to see if Plan B/MAP was, in fact, OTC as it’s legally supposed to be.

The first pharmacy I stopped at, I couldn’t find the MAP in the family planning aisle. I approached the pharmacy, noticed during my brief wait, I noted that there was no Plan B behind the counter. When it was my turn, I inquired where I could find Plan B.  A courteous pharmacy tech walked me to the family planning aisle, and seeing that they had apparently sold out, quickly asked that it be restocked. He then showed me–rather proudly–that this particular store also had it in the snack food aisle (I laughed. Milk Duds and MAP anyone?) as well as displayed very prominently in the beauty section, neatly stacked next to nail polish and mascara.

I thanked him for his help and began to leave. “Did you want to buy, um…anything?” He gestured to the box he was holding of emergency contraceptive.

“Oh no, but thank you. I’m okay, I was just checking to make sure it was available over the counter.”

He smiled, we wished each other a good day, and I left surprised that this one chain pharmacy had done such a great job complying with the law.

I stopped at another pharmacy, with my elementary-age daughter. It was actually in a grocery store, and we were getting juice. I saw the pharmacy and thought, “Let’s see what they have.”

In the family planning aisle, I noted not only the lack of MAP, but that there wasn’t even a space on the shelves. We went to the pharmacy.

A tech, who already looked annoyed, asked “What do you want?”

I asked, “Why don’t you have Plan B over the counter and out in the family planning section?”

He perked up (I can’t figure out why?), and asked me to wait a moment. He dug around the shelves in the back, and pulled out a box of emergency contraception.

“We haven’t gotten the right packaging for over-the-counter sales yet. It was supposed to come this week, but….” He quickly searched the computer. “…looks like it was delayed until next week.”

I thanked him for his help.

Most pharmacies in my totally unscientific survey are stocking the MAP properly–it’s near the condoms and tampons. I thought the pharmacy stocking EC in three places was rather impressive. The beauty aisle made sense–there’s a separate check-out there, and it’s almost always run by a woman. The snack aisle? I don’t know, I’m still laughing to myself over that. But kudos, Walgreens. You surprised me.

Also worth mentioning: the pharmacist on duty heard me ask where MAP was on several occasions. One woman put her right fist in the air. Every single pharmacist was supportive, non-judgmental, and helpful.

This is only reflective of a few places in a blue-city in a red-state. (Okay, we’re purple, but since Rick Scott (Republican) is governor, we’re red as far as I’m concerned.)

I wish everyone could have such good, non-judgmental experiences obtaining medications they may need.

Not Far Enough

This past weekend, my family made our umpteenth trek through the nation’s capital.

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We picked quite a day for it.  It was nearly 100 degrees.  And the humidity!  Let’s just say it was the type of heat that would make Satan knock on your door to ask for a glass of iced water!

Our plan was simple.  The children would see each and every thing they wanted to see.  If time allowed, I could do the same.  Which was a good thing, since the only thing I hadn’t seen a million times was the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

We spent many hours walking and talking.  We spoke of the American spirit and discussed inventions that changed the world.  We debated which famous American was best, in his/her respective field.  I had to referee the occasional brotherly skirmish.  In other words, it was your typical garden variety family day-trip.

It never dawned on me that I would learn anything .. from my children.

Let me remind you:  It. Was. Hot. My asthma was trying to take center stage.  I had four (somewhat spoiled and over-indulged) boys in tow.  By the time the kids were satisfied that they had seen all they wanted to see, I was exhausted.  And, sure, trying to ensure the satisfaction of four boys can make me a little cranky.  My overall mood was not great.

The more we walked, the less oxygen I seemed to take in.  I was stopping every ten feet to catch my breath.  I wanted to give up on the journey.  I was urged to give up and “just see it next time”.  But I have lived long enough to know that there may be no next time.  And to be perfectly honest, that stubborn Mommy part of me was determined that if I had been walking through an inferno for 7 hours, I would damn well see that exhibit.  Or pass out trying.

Not understanding, my oldest son remarked: “Mom, I know you want to see this thing, but it’s hot and you can’t breathe.  Maybe we should forget it.  Is it really worth all that?”

[Enter visions of cotton fields, torched houses, protests, jail cells]

To which, I responded: “That is why I must keep going.  Men and women, like King, got sick.  They kept going.  People told them it wasn’t worth it, but they kept going.  Heat wasn’t the only thing beating at them, but.. They. Kept. Going.”

So…we kept going.  I was dizzy, light-headed, and wheezing.  But I kept going.

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Finally!!  We were there!  At that moment, my fatigue vanished.  My initial joy was not in seeing the monument.  It was in pride that I made it without collapsing.  It was all about me.

Once I realized that, I took a step back.  I removed myself from the equation.  I remembered how grateful I am for those –  like Dr. King –  who removed themselves from the equation, daily, so that we all might have a better quality of life.  I read his words on the Inscription Wall, and I felt humbled.  And small and petty.  My small accomplishment of “making it” paled in comparison to the type of endurance he needed.  Every day of his life.

After having splashed my face and arms with water from the waterfall, I turned to the faces of my children.  Observing me.. and my humility.

Initially, I was a little embarrassed.  They, then, did something I will never forget.  They, too, splashed their faces and arms.

At that moment, a lesson was driven home.  Children need to observe humility.  They need to see adults continually fighting for what is right, fighting for a more perfect union.

Sadly, it isn’t  hard for me to imagine Dr. King’s America.

An America of fear, prejudice, and hatred.  An America where equality is privilege.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.     MLK 1963

An America of poverty.  An America that excuses bad behavior and ignorance.  An America where workers are treated poorly.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.     MLK 1964

An America at war.

It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.”  It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.  We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.     MLK 1967

I can imagine it, because that is MY America, to a lesser degree.  We, as a society, have become complacent and selfish.  We rationalize this by saying we have come pretty far from King’s America.  Well, I say we haven’t come far enough.  I say there is always work to be done.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Related articles:

Two Decades and Counting…

I recall quite well when the military first addressed sexual misconduct in the ranks: Tailhook, 1991. I recall because I was in the Navy, in an aviation squadron, located on then-Naval Air Station Miramar, home of the ever-popular Top Gun. Yes, the pilots on Miramar had a bit of extra swagger, so this unfortunate occurrence was more than a little annoying to them.

As is the tradition in the military, copious training ensued; most of it directed at the Enlisted sailors, none of whom were present at Tailhook. A military-style investigation was launched, which resulted in the ominous conclusion that the entire incident was caused by junior pilots who were not adequately supervised. That’s right: men who were regularly “given the keys” to multi-million dollar weapons platforms could not be trusted to behave themselves standing in the corridors of a hotel. There were also aspersions cast upon the whistle-blowing victim: she knew The Gauntlet was being staged there: she did not have to go that way. Never mind that she was the Admiral’s aide, and The Gauntlet lay on the only path from the elevators to the Admiral’s suite. Even more disappointing was the investigation’s finding that the Admiral knew absolutely nothing about The Gauntlet, though he had traversed that corridor not much in advance of the aide. And even giving him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps this Gauntlet had sprung up spontaneously in his wake, the investigation clearly showed that The Gauntlet was a long-standing tradition of the Tailhook Association‘s Symposia, and this was most assuredly not the Admiral’s first time at this particular rodeo. Once again, it became all about women making trouble in “This Man’s Navy.”

While this type of behavior was originally termed “Sexual Harassment,” there was evidence – however guarded – of sexual assault at least as early as 1996. The first official recognition of the occurrence of sexual violence in the military came in the form of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response Policy, issued in the wake of the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal, but the giant was not fully awakened until OEF/OIF and the increased presence of women across the full spectrum of combat operations. And while we now know that sexual assault is far more prevalent in the armed services than we ever imagined, we also know that too much of what is being done to address this violent and criminal behavior has been PR efforts and Norman Rockwell programs. Because now we know 80% – 90% of all military sexual assaults go unreported, and 62% of those who have reported the assault have been victimized a second time through retaliation.

I – among many others – was hopeful, if not skeptical that this situation had hit critical mass and something truly constructive would finally be done. However, this rather disappointing NPR interview with the new Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response director, Major General Margaret Woodward, shows that the prevailing attitudes are so ingrained in military culture that even this female Major General defends the status quo of leaving the adjudication of sexual assault allegations in the hands of Commanders – exactly where it does not need to be. Commanders are human. Some do not want a scandal to mar the reputation of their organization, or fear such a scandal will put their career in jeopardy.  And some Commanders are just loathe to ruin the career of a fellow warrior. The one important reality these attitudes fail to address is that these predators choose to commit these offenses. Year after year, the message is drilled home. By this time, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that some people will never grasp the concepts of “No means no” and “Keep your hands to yourself.”  In these cases, more training is not better; it is futile.  But it affords the painfully traditional and out-of-touch military leadership an excuse to continue to fool themselves that they are actually doing something.

Following the most recent rash of events, the Department of Defense announced a Sexual Assault Stand-down. During a stand-down, all operations cease and intensive training and re-training occurs. The agency for which I presently work decided to take a rather curious angle: instead of addressing the issue of sexual assault head-on, they chose to frame the entire day’s discussion in terms of “equal opportunity.” Once again, DoD opted out of an opportunity to “man up” and make its mess its message.

Luckily, there is hope on the horizon in the form of The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), and backed by a bi-partisan group of 33 Senators provides some hope for change, but in an historically do-nothing Congress, chances of any meaningful legislation being passed remain slim. This act would remove the chain of command from the adjudication process and place it in the hands of specially trained, impartial personnel. Is it a perfect solution? No. Military leaders are loathe to yield any of their dominion to civilians, many of whom have no military “cred,”  and if the system is set up so that the civilians adjudicating the cases are former military, there is the distinct possibility outcomes will be no different. However, at this point, it seems to be the best we have. I highly encourage you contact your Senators and Representatives and encourage them to support this bill and ensure its passage. Our men and women in uniform deserve the chance to serve honorably. One way to ensure this is to maintain a Military Justice system that provides equal protection to all servicemembers in all cases. This may well be the next big National Security threat, as it significantly and adversely affects the morale of our military. It’s not just their problem. It’s our problem. And the time to act is now.