Some.Body.

I have a confession. I’m a complete hypocrite. Ok, not so much a confession as a baseline assumption for most humans, but still.

I realized it at an Italian restaurant. I was eating a capriccio pizza in the most offensive way. Avoiding the crust, peeling away most of the cheese, picking around the puddles of drizzled oil. Basically I was mastering the art of pretending to eat pizza and doing it in the least appetizing way possible. My younger sister looked at me with her face contorted into a blend of anger, disgust and pity. “She doesn’t even eat. It’s like she has an eating disorder or something.” I immediately felt guilty. Being five years older, I was supposed to be her role model. The strong, independent, confident, brilliant, understated yet fabulous older sister. And here I was, a cliché. Part of an “n” in some vague college survey statistic stating that 35% of the 95% of women dieting end up dieting pathologically.

It would take me another year to notice that maybe I did actually have a problem.
I grew up being slim. “So pretty. Just like a Barbie doll.” Relatives mashallah-ed my figure, my face, my grades. It became an identity. A valuation. I was pretty and I was smart. This was my truth.

Then I went to college.

What I gained in pounds, I lost in GPA points. My report cards and dorm room mirror reflected a person I didn’t know how to be. A person who soon became the roommate I never wanted. I dragged her weight around from early morning class to half-assed gym sessions, still uncomfortable with the association. Four years later, we graduated together, still at odds.

My post-grad experience was filled with external validation. I came out of the shadows and basked in the glow of professional praise and romantic interest. But it wasn’t enough. Every photo seemed to capture a person I still didn’t see as being me.

“Beauty comes from within.”

Sure, but my “within” was without solace from the torment of stretch marks crawling under my skin. I felt that the vessel that carried me was betraying me. So I started to betray it right back. Food was the villain. Running shoes the hero. It became a positive feedback loop where the more weight I lost, the less I was willing to eat “bad” foods. At the time, it felt like I was finally regaining control over who I wanted to be. What I didn’t notice was that the confidence I was building was paper-thin – entirely reliant on a few numbers that I had set as benchmarks for my worth. I should mention. We’re talking 20 lbs here. I was tormented over basically nothing. Embarrassingly silly.

At work, I’d write about empowering women to stand against external pressures that undermine their worth, to overcome unhealthy behaviours triggered by commercial quest for profit. Then I’d go home to work out and eat four pieces of rice. At the bar, I’d be enthusiastically discussing body positivity and being confident women who don’t shrink away but rather refuse to apologize for existing. Then I’d go home feeling guilty about the 164 calories worth of wine I’d just had.

I warned you. Hypocrite.

That day, over the oily carcass of the innocent capriccio pizza, my sister’s uncomfortable face shamed me into re-examining my own hypocrisy. The process took a year, but by the end of it, I ate pizza like a normal human being. My workouts became about being stronger, not smaller. As my focus shifted away from shrinking, my strength grew. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

The process is far from complete. Sometimes I still look at food and see calories where there should be joy. Or I drag my tired body onto a yoga mat and sweat the small stuff. But I’ve also finally started to be grateful to my body.

It. Is. Amazing. All bodies are. They’re a collection of bone and tendon and flesh that magically come together to do the most incredible things. They help us show our strength, our grace. And where necessary, they also help us weather storms or clouded judgment.

I’m determined not to forget that.

I’m taking off the “for display only” sign. My body is so much more.

Takes Two To Tango.

Zika. Sounds more like a videogame character than a mosquito-borne (and maybe sexually transmissible…) disease that may be causing microcephaly in infants, leaving devastating downstream consequences. Amidst echoes of criticisms it faced not too long ago in its (admittedly not-so-speedy) response to Ebola, the WHO has declared Zika a public health emergency.

The virus is spreading across the Americas and governments are taking interesting measures to control its spread and its consequences. Here is an example of governmental responses as voiced by the Economist:

“It started after a handful of governments advised women to delay getting pregnant. Colombia, which has the second-highest number of infections after Brazil, advised women to wait six to eight months. Jamaica issued a similar recommendation, even though no cases of Zika have yet been reported there. El Salvador’s government suggested that women should delay pregnancy until 2018. Panama warned women from indigenous communities, in which infection rates are high, not to conceive.”

Ok so the bold formatting is mine, but I’m making a point here.

Reading that, you’d think that women are the sole pro-creators of the species. I mean really… count the number of times the word women is used vs. men, or public or other non-gender-specific terms. We may need a retelling of the birds-and-the-bees story so that officials are reminded of how reproduction works (nevermind that unwanted sex and sexual violence run rampant).

Accountability for the repercussions of lust and desire traditionally, and well… biologically (thanks mother nature), fall on women. It’s sexist, ineffective and limits our collective capacity to handle something like this outbreak. Gender-neutral public health messages are necessary to put the onus on more than just one half of the affected population to help mitigate the long-term consequences of this virus (of which there will be many given that we’re going to end up with pockets of rural areas with high levels of need for complex interventions that can support the surge in developmental disabilities).

Meanwhile, in a similar vein, the CDC’s messaging around alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age who are not on birth control has gotten a lot of flak for, as this article so poignantly puts it, “slut shaming boozy women.” Amused. Thanks internet. I’d almost argue that the female-directed messaging around Zika control is more inappropriate in terms of gender equity than the CDC’s poorly worded yet well meaning headlines. Mostly because while the CDC could’ve been more sensitive in putting out its message, as far as Zika and pregnancies go… seriously, it takes two to tango.

Comic Sans

Restlessness is something I’m familiar with. I’ve moved 10 times in 5 years… But this time, it’s hitting me a bit differently. Partly because every time I glance at the news, I have to double check that it’s not an Onion article (eg. US issues Worldwide travel alerts??). I mean, these are some headlines over the last couple of days…

“Sweden slams shut its open-door policy towards refugees.” –The Guardian

“Food prices rise sharply after fighting disrupts Afghan harvest.” –Irin

“Standoff over government climate study provokes national uproar by scientists.” –Reuters

Awesome. It’s like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

When a Scandinavian country is slamming anything other than poetry you just know something is seriously wrong. I’m not even going to get into some of the headlines that happened after the Paris Attacks. It’s all just completely counterproductive to the way we need to be approaching this absurd global threat that’s completely fuelled by hatred of the “other.”

Anyway, I digress. Restlessness. It’s also partly attributed to the fact that I’m having so much trouble integrating myself into my current “community.” At work I’m meant to be contributing to some sort of global “good” but mostly I feel like I’m watching a slow-motion reel of the world falling apart as antibiotic resistance becomes terrifying enough to deserve a horror movie trailer, climate change and the kindle of greed work together to literally burn down entire forests (thanks palm oil), and there’s just no food ever- for more reasons than I can list off without making this a systematic review. Meanwhile I write papers. And reports. And make presentations that nicely tell the story of papers and reports that have set goals and targets to mitigate our collective descent into disaster.

My usual solution to feeling this level of futility at work is to start volunteering. I was raised by a woman who can’t stand still. Ever since I can remember she’s been desperate to do something-anything- to make someone else’s life suck just a little less. My subconscious is her voice telling me that my reach doesn’t end at my hands and feet and that there’s always more I could do. In most of the places I’ve lived, I’ve been able to channel this into some level of mildly productive activity. But now… now, I’m stuck and feel like a high school chemistry experiment gone wrong. It’s as if half of my energy doesn’t know where to go and ends up tuning into the recesses of my mind where the bizarre thrive. And no, I’m not artistic enough to wrangle out a Picasso from whatever those nooks and crannies hold.

On the plus side, this dip in the peaks and troughs of my past few months has shed some light on a misconception I’d had about community. I’ve generally discounted the whole idea, being mostly annoyed at small communities and preferring the ability to melt into the backdrop of anonymity whenever I wanted to, only to pop out in Technicolor as needed and on my own terms. What I hadn’t fully appreciated was that at every stage, I had still been connecting to elements of a “place” without realizing it and creating a custom community if you will. This time around, the process is taking longer than usual and I feel desperate to fix something- anything for someone- anyone. Altruism is “selfless” by definition… does it count if it’s for selfish reasons. Is that the altruist’s paradox? IS THAT WHAT’S WRONG WITH EVERYTHING.

Hopefully there’s a part 2 to this post that makes a bit more sense and sounds less… lost. Unless I get completely disheartened by the world falling apart again -_-

I’ll just leave this here:

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Razor Blades

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Yes. It boggles my mind. It boggles my mind that an entire industry can be created and designed and financed and consumed based on a socially constructed desire. Seemingly inconsequential, these 1- or 3- or 4- or…5-(?!?!)bladed configurations presumably do not save lives or better humanity (except for apparently, in the realm of a larger social construct, increasing the potential for copulation among its subscribers – but then, depending on how you look at it, this could also be argued not to better mankind’s existence in any sense – but I digress).

Yet, as I stand in Walgreens, I am forced to make a resolute selection between number of curve-hugging blades, pre-determined “feminine” colors, ribbons of moisture and conditioning strips, titanium coats, and micro-fine combs, between the Embrace and the Swirl, Slim, Hydro, and Xtreme. And it occurs to me, as these things often do – so…this is someone’s job, possibly life’s work, to design this simple device, and offer all of this choice diversity in the product, for my consumption? Made to cut the little hairs and peel the skin from my legs. To make it acceptable for me to walk about in society barelegged. To make me desirable to touch and feel. And are they…satisfied? Did they grow up dreaming of coming to work everyday pouring over design tables, plastic parts, sketches to design and manufacture…razors? This is significant to this person…?

Probably not. I’d venture to guess that more often then not, it’s a job. It pays bills and provides. Or if it is passion, it’s not for the final product of the hailed razor. It is difficult for me to imagine for various reasons: One, the inconsequence of the product. Again, presumably. In the grand scheme of life – I would hope – for all of our sakes. Two, how this feeds into individuals’ satisfaction with their work and life. After all, so much of our lives have become defined by our work, i.e. what is your legacy? And that is their LIFE’S WORK, or some part of it. I hope they find it thrilling. I truly do. Three, you’re telling me that this industry creates and sways its own market based on the insecurities promulgated by a strategic narrative of what is pleasing and what should be, a fabricated ideal. Interesting.

And, of course, the questions amass. How many other products out there would encourage the same thoughts? What does it mean to be consequential in the convoluted, awkward, hypercritical realm of social constructs that we’ve created for ourselves? When do people settle? Where do they find their satisfaction instead, accepting that they will spend 40 or more hours a week doing just this? In a society and alleged social structure where we are told that we always have a choice, do we really? In job, career, impact? Especially when time is only shorter. Really, I only have questions. No answers for this one.

Standing awkwardly in the aisle for these two full minutes, I finally press the button to call the attendant to open the case – because yes, in this city, they lock up the razors. And yes, this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“That one,” I point.

She hands it to me – green, four blades, all the gadgets and gizmos.

“Thanks.”

Evict the Yuppies

IMG_1977Evict Google.

From this, it’s very apparent from where I’m writing. There’s no point in trying to hide it. My neighborhood, or perhaps this city, is notorious for their campaigns to “evict the yuppies” or stated in plainer, more targeted terms, “evict Google.” Their campaign is characterized by the familiar tags over abandoned buildings and empty spaces. I am not Google, or even close to a software engineer. But it always occurs to me, are they referring to me too? I have never identified as a yuppie. This is mostly because I have never been in the world of business or banking, toiling for profit margins or to catch the attention of those higher in the food chain. Still, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who openly identifies him or herself as a yuppie (or maybe you do – I can hear the condescending pretension already…).

Anyways, what do they, referring to those who feel the need to share their thoughts on the matter on city streets, mean by yuppie? Well, there’s the book definition: “short for ‘young urban professional’ or ‘young upwardly-mobile professional’ defined as a young college-educated adult who has a job that pays a lot of money and who lives and works in or near a large city.” (Thanks, Wikipedia) But when they write on the walls of abandoned, boarded up corner stores and in a city where transplants are coming and going all the time, it can mean so much more. Are they referring to a certain social class, level of education, degree of wealth, or particular unsavory attitude? And do you have to convey only one of these qualities, or all of the above?

Obviously, at the macro level, they’re saying not-so-wonderful things about the gentrification of this neighborhood and the city at-large. But on the micro level, are they telling me to get out? I am a transplant. What right do I have to be here? Am I part of the problem that’s hiking housing prices up because I can get a job that will allow me to afford it? The thought is not particularly welcoming. And I can see the tensions it has created in my short time here.

In the first two weeks of my moving here, I emerged from my cave in search of some nice succulents to brighten up my office. I found a nice neighborhood shop. It was plain to the shopkeeper that I had just moved to the city and I told her I was just looking for something to make my office space a little happier. She asked where I work. “Oh, wonderful. You’re one of the good ones. At least there are still a few around here,” she responds to my answer. My friend, who had come with me on my mission that day, ironically, worked at Google. We both smiled and nodded, looking at each other and down at the register.

With this question in mind, I start with the most natural case study: myself. I wouldn’t consider my upbringing wealthy by any means, raised by a proud immigrant parent. But I did grow up with many privileges of the mid- to upper-middle class because that’s where my mother chose to put me. I am a product of higher education and unequivocally, generation Y. My daily attire is spotted with designer pieces and I regular indulge in a Saturday morning manicure. Yoga and spinning are mainstays in my weekly routine. I do not make a six-figure salary, engage in any pronounced start-up or tech culture, or sport the notorious Bay Area “lumbersexual” or “hipster” fashions. So, am I a yuppie? I don’t deny that I am part of the sweeping gentrification happening. However, it is difficult to accept that you are a part of an injustice characterized by involuntary migration, that is eviction.

So every time I read it on the walls, the thought bubbles to the surface – am I part of the problem? I’m trying to live my life as well as possible, and have a career too. That’s what brought me here. I’m also struggling with the skyrocketing housing prices and food, etc. etc. These are not, by any means, excuses. But, if I am part of the problem, is there anything I can do to address the issue? The solution, like the problem, is complex and multifaceted.

I would venture to say that gentrification is natural in many ways as urban areas develop. However, it is an anomaly that this form of gentrification is happening with alarming rapidity, and only adding to San Francisco’s history of evictions rooted in poverty, race, and culture. Newcomers need to become a part of and embrace the history and culture that is here, not overtake it. We must not replace it, but learn to grow within it. Get to know your neighborhood. Volunteer to work with the community right outside. (Okay, you might have to venture a bit further if you live in the Marina, but you get what I’m saying.) It will not solve everything or maybe not anything at all, but it will at least give perspective on what people are dealing with when you’re world is consumed by everything that goes into climbing that ladder, and connect you to a new (and perhaps truer) reality.

Now finally, all of these intentions, they can’t come out of guilt. Guilt only seems to accentuate the sense of privilege and otherness. This must come from love, empathy, and respect for what came before and striving to be part of what it will become.

The Social (in)Significance of (Interesting) Hobbies

“So, what do you do for fun?” It is THE hated question of first-meeting-at-a-bar-small-talk questions. What do you mean, what do I do for fun?

It’s been a year since graduation. Everyone needs to have hobbies now – something that I spend my free time doing that’s different from everyone else and makes me interesting.

I begin crossing them off in my head – [Reading, lame. Puzzles, sad. Writing, “oh! What do you write about?” – uh no. Shopping, high maintenance. British crime dramas (yes, specifically British), embarrassing. Yoga, along with everyone else in San Francisco, Seattle, New York. Volunteer, self-righteous. I drink, semi-alcoholic? I can’t talk intelligently about cooking or baking. Politics is not typically appropriate to talk about in any setting let alone a bar, and neither is religion (and I’ve broken both those rules before), so nope. Making something up may make this conversation more interesting, but then I could probably never talk to you again because we know how badly I’d fail at maintaining anything I made up in the long-term. And now I’m starting to think that that may not be such a bad thing.]

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“Oh, you know. I just hang around, explore the city.”

Decidedly boring. But what did you expect me to say? That I farm tulips and socialize with my pet chicken on the weekends?? Or perhaps I happen to also be an amazing artist, so I spend my free time in studio? Or I can magically afford to travel regularly to exotic locales to work on perfecting my already perfect tan?

I have no more excuses in the form of – “oh, well, I’ve been busy studying this and that. I like to do this, but haven’t done it in awhile because school.” Somehow working towards the worthwhile personal goal of academic achievement lends itself to judgment less severe.

The fact of the matter is that I love my work. I spend a lot of time doing it. I also greatly enjoy spending my free time alone, probably more than the next person. I like being productive, and so spend my time (again, usually alone) working on pet projects that may or may not result in anything in particular. I like to read articles and take classes on nearly everything, but no, that does not somehow mean I could intelligently discuss Chinese art with you.

What could this someone in a bar do differently? Don’t require me to present my likes and dislikes on a silver platter, awaiting your judgment. There are plenty of other questions to answer and things to talk about that don’t require me to outline my Facebook profile of exceptional life events and ‘hobbies.’ You’re objective is to get to know me? It shouldn’t be so easy for that would only serve to relinquish the complexities that make each person intriguing. And where would the fun be in that?

So, if you want to ask me what I do for fun, don’t forget to bring me another drink.

To Baltimore with Love

It’s been a rough couple of days for Baltimore… Wait. No. It’s always been rough for Baltimore. A city divided. By race. By socioeconomic status. By level of education. By even life expectancy (you can see up to 20 years of difference between neighbourhoods in the city). All these things are inextricably connected anyway, but hey I’m trying to make a statement.

Baltimore boasts a world-class hospital that often outranks every other hospital in the country. And yet many of the city’s health outcomes fare worse than the national average, especially for its african american and hispanic populations.

The city is home to the nation’s first research university, a pioneer in the modern university model adopted from Germany; it remains one of the leading institutions for knowledge and discovery in the world and yet, the city has the lowest rate of high-school graduation (56%) in the state of Maryland. Not to mention the food deserts. And substandard housing. And well… general racial tension.

It’s no surprise then that things got out of hand in Charm City. With entire subpopulations systemically marginalized for decades, the more recent instances of policy brutality created the perfect storm for imperfect protest. (Policy brutality was originally a typo but I actually think it might be more appropriate here than “police brutality” so I’m leaving it).

I spent a year and a bit in Charm City and I grew to love it. Its weird little quirks. And fabulous characters. Its crazy amphibious races, pirate ships, seafood/hot dog combos- all of these made it charming. I ignored the less charming bits for the most part. Now we can’t ignore it. Watching the news from the Canadian version of Baltimore (I swear it’s Baltimore-light over here) was heart-breaking. It was clear that the city’s destruction didn’t happen Monday night- it’s been a systems-based work-in-progress for much longer than that. It’s time to fight back with equally systemic healing policies. And hugs. Always hugs.

With love,

D

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