• Politically Inclined

    It’s day 30 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    It doesn’t take much right now to recognize that by simply being a person of difference, be it an immigrant, person of color, queer, trans, woman, or otherwise different, one’s humanity can be removed from them for the sake of politics. I know this because I came of age during a time in which my very identity was declared to be a choice. Rights for gay people were contested first for so-called “moral” reasons, then because we had the same rights as everyone else and being able to be treated equally under the law would be a “special” right (as in, queer people had the right to marry someone, so long as they were of the opposite sex).

    What happens to one’s sense of self when society places such limits on a fundamental aspect of their humanity? We are forced to live in the closet, hiding in fear that should we let ourselves shine, we may be hurt, or hurt the ones we love. Having grown up in a religious tradition which did not embrace gay people, it compounded what I perceived from the culture at large. I came of age when queer people first could not serve their country, then could only do so if they swore never to tell a soul.

    It took years for me to accept myself, then even longer to have the courage and the strength to live my truth. The result? I’ve been able to live with integrity and serve my community. I give back in as many ways as I can, and I strive to use the gains from my own life as a means to help lift up others.

    The world I envision is one which embraces everyone, no matter their national origin, their language spoken, their sexuality, gender identity, or their religion. I advocate for a world which supports those who are ill and does not bankrupt them. One which offers food and shelter for all, not only those who can afford to pay for it. I work, and vote, for causes which protect this earth we live on so that we can enjoy it for generations to come, and I reject the notion that its resources should be used for gain.

    It can seem an insurmountable goal, but I hope that be keeping these lofty visions, and continuing to talk about them, we can keep that hope alive no matter what.

  • Dogma For Days

    It’s day 29 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    If you follow the world of tech, it’s easy to find instances of dogma. Mark Zuckerberg would rather the world collapse into fascism than have his company be regulated. Adam Newman founded WeWork, an office rental company, and insisted it was actually a way of life.

    In both instances, these men have elevated their relative businesses into their own forms of religion: they alone know the one true way, and they alone are the only ones to be trusted to lead this.

    I suspect, on some level, that this is a result of what economists are finding to be more and more extreme capitalism in this country. The common theme flowing through everything in tech right now is money: from investors hoping for insatiable growth so they can line their pockets with extreme returns on their investments, to cash grabs in the form of initial public offerings for companies, such as Uber and Lyft, which are not actually profitable and used venture capital to undercut their competition and boost use of their services.

    This addiction to capitalism is itself cause for the war and strife, in the same way that religion has for centuries done the same. It’s up to us to recognize it, and in this case, literally use the power of our own resources to cultivate change.

  • Hoping For Hope

    It’s day 28 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    We’re living in challenging times, and it’s hard to feel hopeful about the world as we see so much of it arguing and fighting over power, control, status, money. I’ve alluded to this before, that something I find incredibly comforting when facing significant personal challenge is to gaze at the sky and marvel at the stars. It is with this in mind that I want to offer this poem:

    I hope you look to the stars
    And marvel at their splendor
    Light traveled millions of years
    To show you something beautiful

    I hope you look to the ocean
    Feel the waves wash your spirit clean
    Find solace in the irregular rhythm
    And lose yourself in its wisdom

    I hope you look to the trees
    See the life they so generously sustain
    They rise in all their splendor
    And speak through the rustling of leaves

    I hope you look to the earth

    And see not profit to be made

    But wonders to embrace and love

    To share with others now and forever

  • At a Loss

    It’s day 27 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    There’s a danger as we get older to tie our identity to what we do, or where we work. I fell into the this trip a few years ago, becoming very tied to a specific position and the associated role and title I held there. This lead me to hold onto this job much longer than I should have, and the toxic environment it spiraled into left me feeling broken. I had up that point not experienced anxiety in an acute way, and had no framework of recognizing that anxiety and depression can result from seemingly “external” factors. Burnout, and hostile work environment, can certainly do that.

    My decision to leave was in large part a decision of self-preservation, and it remains to this day one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made. The aftermath left me reeling, and struggling with a complete sense of loss of my own identity. How would I move forward? How had this thing I had worked so hard for come crashing down so swiftly? How was it that I had built skills, and yet had suddenly lost them?

    It turns out, much of what I experienced was directly related to burnout and a hostile work environment. My recovery from this has had an interesting trajectory: once I began to re-establish my own identity to myself, I became more committed to a sense of self and less committed to a sense of place. I am what I do, not where I do it, as it were.

    Further, I think often about this pivotal experience of my life, and use it as a bit of a North Star to guide me and keep me grounded. By processing what went wrong, it’s less of a scar now and more of a guide. Contrary to conventional pop wisdom, it didn’t happen for a reason. But I have learned a great deal from it, and for that, it feels like less a loss to me now than it did to me then.

  • Shoes to Fill

    It’s day 26 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    Over the course of my life, I’ve been filled with aspirations to be like others I admire. This changes from one day, week, or year to another. When working with patients with swallowing disorders, I wish I could be like the mentors I’ve identified (most often, unbeknownst to them). Perhaps it’s the many women who helped me understand the fundamentals of speech and swallowing anatomy and physiology. Perhaps it’s the man who pioneered much of the research into the role of oral health to swallowing function.

    When interpreting, I wish to be like the Deaf mentors and Deaf interpreters who are always teaching me when they don’t realize it. Their vision, and their perception, make me challenge what I see and make me strive to improve.

    When training on Ninja obstacles, I watch my peers and coaches and wish I could do what they do. But I don’t have their strength, or their body; I have my own, and my body has been teaching me what it can do right now, and what it can’t yet do. It has taught me to go at my own pace, and that with patience and consistency, I can develop my own skills.

    In so many areas of my life, I want to fill the shoes of the people I admire in whatever it is I do. But I am me, and the only ones whose shoes I can fill are my own. Try as I might, I can’t become those I admire, but I can use their wisdom and generosity to inform who I am and what I do. Lately, I have realized just how many people, from all walks of life, influence me. A mortician helps me learn how to think about death, and in turn, life. Graphic designers have helped me think about design in ways beyond nice imagery and graphics. A fabulous hair stylist has taught me the value of taking pride in the work I do, not to mention a surprising amount about business. A tidying expert has changed how I, a sentimentalist at heart, relate to my possessions.

    My shoes are one of a kind, because they are made up of influences seemingly at odds with one another, and yet working in harmony because they are all influencing the same person: me. And while I will no doubt catch myself wishing otherwise at some point, I am grateful that these are the shoes I get to wear each day.

  • Money Talks

    It’s day 25 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    I am among the many in this country who have student loan debt. I count myself lucky ones in some respects: I went to a state school and only had one year of out-of-state tuition, plus I worked part-time throughout graduate school and lucked into a number of grants along the way. Still, I landed up in more debt than I would have liked, and have spent the last nine years slowly working my way out.

    Early on, a wise clinic instructor pointed out that my monthly payments were the cost of working in the field I wanted to. That’s a fair point, but just as fair a point is that I’ve been repaying that price for three times longer than I spent getting my degree.

    There’s no question that tuition costs are rising, and were I to seek the same degree now that I did ten years ago, it would cost significantly more.

    The loan “counseling” that’s required to take out loans for school is a joke (basically, it emphasizes that there’s a six-month deferment period, and you need to pay on time every month). Very little time is spent explaining how loans incur interest, and how interest must always be paid before principal. What should be explained is how to quickly and easily calculate the percentage of your payment which goes towards principal (hint: it’s much, much higher than the annual interest rate you’re quoted; as in, a minimum payment on my biggest loan, before refinancing, had 68-70% of each payment going toward principal, so I was lucky to pay down just $1,000 in principal per year at that rate).

    There’s plenty of places to point to in terms of just how poorly educated we are about money and finances, but it comes down to just that: for a country as preoccupied as it is with capitalism, there’s scant attention paid to this most fundamental aspect of math and economics: the ability to navigate the world of money in a functional way.

  • Infrastructure

    It’s day 24 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    It’s become apparent that our infrastructure In this country is not something to take for granted, and it is also something which is too easily taken advantage of. I can think of two examples, off the top of my head, which demonstrate how insistence on infrastructure can be used for ill purposes.

    The first is in Albuquerque: years ago, a vote was requested of residents about removing ancient historical artifacts from Native communities in order to extend a road to a part of town with development interests. The people of the city did the right thing and roundly rejected this measure. The following year, those same developers took that defeat and moved it into the roads portion of the vote, signaling the following: if you want to preserve history and respective Native communities and their land, you’ll do so at the expense of the roads you drive on, because we’ll no longer maintain them. Unfortunately, the people without a sacred history seem to have won, which alas is not all that surprising in this country.

    The second is in Houston, Texas: in order to address considerable traffic congestion, the city is proposing building even more highways. To do so, hundreds of residents will lose their homes, children will lose their schools, and businesses would be forced to close. Unsurprisingly, this advancement in the name of improved infrastructure would affect mostly “people of color in low-income neighborhoods”.

    As I’ve noted previously, I’ve lived through an expansion of a highway that did virtually nothing to actually improve traffic; rather, it increased the traffic demands further.

    We are in significant need of reframing what infrastructure means. First and foremost, I believe that means we need to start recognizing that we need to reduce our dependence on cars as a means of transportation, and focus on truly alternative methods of transit (and no, electric cars are not the solution here, because they’re still cars). We also need to emphasize a cultural shift away from consumerism and extreme capitalism; we instead need to focus on quality of life, and finding ensuring that people of many walks of life are able to enjoy it, rather than those with the most resources and privilege. This is a concept called eudaimonia, which I learned from Umair Haque (his writing on the topic is well worth reading, and his writing on economics and history are similarly worthwhile; sadly, right now he also has to write considerably about fascism, the world being what it is right now).

    I hope that as we continue to learn and have these conversations, we can focus on eudaimonia and work together towards a better future with a better infrastructure for all.

  • Toasty

    It’s day 23 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    With the state of the world being what it is, I find myself looking wherever I can to find good. Things worth recognizing, celebrating, even toasting (a ritual that is too confined to formal ceremony and therefore a bit cliche, but something I think we could use more of on an ongoing basis).

    Here’s a small sample of toasts worth recognizing for my own past week:

    • Spending time at the Ninja gym working out with friends
    • Reaching out to a couple of friends who live out of state, who I hope to visit next year
    • Neighbors I can reach out to when something goes awry (like this morning, when our garage was broken into; WTF to the dude who did that, though)
    • My patients, who challenge me and make me motivated to learn and find creative ways to help them through their respective challenges. Their resilience and determination in the face of uncertainty is humbling.
    • Taking some time to read a book about traveling the world in search of the good death, learn from it and gaining new insights about myself and the world around me.
  • Write Your Own Rules

    It’s day 22 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    I am not what some would consider to be in any way athletic. Though I’m often asked if I used to play American football (due mostly to my build), I’ve never been interested in it, and for the most part am not a fan. (The reasons are many, but to sum it up quickly: (1) I work with many people with head injuries, some resulting from sports, and I find the NFL’s continued efforts to downplay chronic head injury among players to be irresponsible; (2) I’m simply not a fan of the way the game is played; (3) I support players who continue to highlight racial inequality and injustice.)

    Perhaps in part due to not much enjoying organized sports, I’ve never considered myself athletic or taken much time to focus on health and fitness. That first changed a few years ago, when I became enthralled by Zumba, so much so that I became an instructor. This year, that energy has transformed into a love for obstacle gyms and the body weight training that accompanies it. While it can be a competitive sport, to me it’s been a delightful way to relearn how to play. The side effects of fitness are of course welcome, and the even greater side effect of improved mental health has been an unexpected bonus.

    At this stage in my life, I like to refer to my fitness philosophy as “Team Technique”. That is, while the younger folks (and the more competitive folks of any age) like to push for time, I’m much more interested in whether I can simply do something, and care little about the time it takes to do it. This has the benefit of learning to control my movement while also hopefully mitigating risk of injury.

    In this current sport of my life, the only one I’m competing with is me. Every week, I try to improve my skill or strength in some way. It’s the most fun I’ve had with any sort of physical fitness or training in years, and I hope to continue this journey for years to come.

  • One Way Streets

    It’s day 21 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

    I have learned lately that some things in life will take from you far more than they ever return. Sometimes, it’s up to us find meaning in things after the fact. For example, the last full-time position I held was one I absolutely loved. But there was a coworker who made it, over time, become a dreadful environment for me to work in. Try as I might, I was unable to work through the proper channels to improve my situation. As one might think of an unrequited love, I was faced with a decision: I could hold on for something that clearly was not a healthy place for me, or I could move on.

    After a lot of deliberation, I chose to move on.

    While the immediate aftermath was filled with confusion, I eventually was able to establish some footing and worked my way into more independent environments. And while there’s some sadness for having left behind what I did, there’s far more I took away from it than appeared at first glance.

    I’ve learned a great deal about management, both good and bad, from that experience. I’ve learned how to recognize a hostile work environment, and how I respond to it. I’ve learned the necessity of advocating for myself, because if I don’t, not only do I face consequences of burnout and emotional distress, I’m less able to do the best I can for the patients who trust me with their care.

    There are, without question, times in our life when we face choices we’d much rather not make. But if we make them with care, and learn from them no matter how distasteful the outcome originally, we can go far.

    I detest the sentiment that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ It’s utter bullshit, and bullshit I heard all the time when in the thick of this experience from well-meaning people who wanted to help me feel better. What happened to me shouldn’t have happened at all, but it did. It was up to me to learn from it and use that pain as a chance to grow.

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