Abortion rights: 5 minutes, 3 choices, 1 result

A 19-item bulleted list containing fun things Margot has to look forward to, such as the prom and a trip to Hawaii.

The list is what appears on the whiteboard in Margot’s room in the film “Five Minutes” by Darby Wilson.

Margot’s list of important things rapidly shrinks to the one result she’ll find out after making a trip to the drugstore for a test, waiting five minutes and mulling three options.

It’s difficult to discuss further without spoilers, so here’s the 13-minute film.

Do our own stories matter when discussing abortion rights?

I saw a meme in May after multiple states had passed the heartbeat bills mentioned in the credits of this film. I wish I could find it, but its point was “Don’t assume your personal experience gives you any more or less credibility when you are telling me your opinion about this.” It was said in a catchier way than that, and had some colorful graphics, but hopefully you get the point.

*self disclosure warning ahead*

I don’t disagree with that meme in theory. Someone would probably take my advice to hydrate well and use sunscreen if the weather was hitting this week’s heat wave temps whether I could sign an affidavit confirming I had been dehydrated or sunburnt before.

It’s different, though, when the topic is abortion rights. I have had sex with one person in my entire lifetime. I didn’t have sex at all until I was 25. We used protection every. single. time. until we were trying to conceive.

I guess that could lead you to ask what I could possibly know about the fear Margot expresses in this film. I suppose it could make you doubt my knowledge base about the array of relationships, choices, temptations, mistakes, options, dysfunctions and satisfactions in the world.

While I don’t expect my children (who are now in their 20s) to make the same choices I did, it matters to me that my personal choices were centered around my individual conviction (which is one person’s opinion, not what I would ever impose on anyone else) that intercourse is as much about our minds and hearts as it is about mechanics. (It’s also, in my case, about how much of myself I give away emotionally; I know I am incapable of separating emotions from my intimacy choices. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of breaking my own heart.)

I also believe life begins at conception. I am sure it did for the two children I lost. But that doesn’t change how I feel about every woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

While I believe the history I bring to any discussion I have about abortion rights matters, I also believe wholeheartedly that no woman’s life narrative takes away their right to make this legal choice, in a way that is affordable, safe and protective of their dignity.

The complex reasons behind abortion

First and foremost, abortion is still legal. If you are in a state that restricts abortion access, here are resources to help.

A study found “almost four” reasons, when the mean is calculated, leading women to decide to have abortions.

The top reasons include being unprepared financially, an unplanned pregnancy, relationship issues and the need to focus on existing children. The other reasons, and an analysis, are here.

In addition, reproductive coercion, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines as ” behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent,” is a thing. Women or adolescents who have need abortions for a pregnancy related to reproductive coercion should be able to get them. Here’s more information about reproductive coercion.

Why I advocate to keep abortion legal and accessible

A few months ago, the University of Alabama returned $26.5 million Hugh Culverhouse Jr. (who is not a Democrat or Republican) had donated. Alabama asserts the returned donation (and the removal of Culverhouse’s name from the law school’s facade) were related to inappropriate interference on his part in university matters. Culverhouse says it’s because of his stance on abortion and his objection to a bill passed in Alabama that makes it a criminal act to have an abortion.

I am not in a position to figure out why Alabama made its choice to remove Culverhouse’s name, but I agree with him that “taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body isn’t about politics … it’s an act of oppression.”

In closing

I don’t have to have chosen an abortion myself to support another woman. I don’t have to have experienced any of the four primary reasons women choose abortion. I explained by telephone how to use a condom to countless men over the first few years of the AIDS crisis without having any experience of sex between men (obviously) or how to use a condom. Hopefully, I helped them make choices that would keep them alive.

A wise Episcopalian priest once said to me (about an entirely different topic that was the most pressing issue in the national church at that time), “I am personally very conservative on this, but it’s my job to shepherd this flock through finding their way and making up their minds.” I wish I could convey his tone of voice, his intellect, his ability to separate the two things in a respectful manner at that moment.

In the case of abortion rights (and me), it all comes down to respect for the other individual, understanding that life is never one size fits all, empathy and respect for the law.

Abortion rights

A Few Notes about “Five Minutes”:

Becks Edelstein directed the film.

Megan Walsh was the cinematographer and editor.

Darby Wilson wrote it, in addition to playing Margot.

If the film inspires you to act, Darby suggests you donate (and/or volunteer) to Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

My week participating in the 2019 Ration Challenge has come to an end. Here’s a look at the experience overall:

To recap, I participated in the Church World Service Ration Challenge, where participants eat the equivalent rations to a Syrian refugee for a week. The goal is to raise funds to support refugees, to raise awareness and to have a more personal experience of what refugees’ lives are like.

The Ration Challenge Food

This is what I was provided to eat over the course of the week:

15 oz. of rice (and I was permitted to buy 3 lb., 3 oz. more)

6 oz. of lentils

3 oz. of dried chickpeas

a 15.5 oz. can of kidney beans

a 3.75 oz. tin of sardines

I was permitted to buy 14 oz. of plain flour

I “earned” the right to use salt by sponsoring myself

I “earned” the right to use one spice through my fundraising efforts (I used garlic powder on the lentils the last day)

I “earned” 6 oz. of vegetables through fundraising (I used baby carrots because they were easy to spread out)

I “earned” 4 oz. of protein through fundraising (I had an egg)

I “earned” 7 teabags by promoting the challenge through email and social media

This is slightly rough math, but the calorie count of this ration week added up to about 3235 calories, an average of 462.14 a day.

This is me unboxing the rations.

These are my observations, having done the challenge, then returned to “regular” eating.

The things you think you’ll miss most may not be the hardest to do without.

As I wrote here, the Ration Challenge captured my imagination so quickly when I read about it on social media that I signed up right away without reading the fine print. The “fine print” included the elimination of coffee, sugar and alcohol. WHOA. I also suspected that this may not end up being a bad thing for my health and my crazily fluctuating energy levels.

I never got the dreaded “no-coffee” headache. I’m sure the tea bag I started each day with (and reused since I only got one per day) helped. Pre RC, I usually had two cups of coffee by 9:30, at which point I started on Diet Cokes (in my defense, my day does start pretty early!). I also felt desperately tired by the time my deadlines ended each day and needed a midday nap. Oddly enough, my energy felt so much more even-keeled during this period. I haven’t returned to coffee or Diet Coke. Not that I won’t ever, but this was eye-opening in a way I didn’t anticipate.

Likewise for sugar and alcohol. I may have “missed” them in a “that would be nice” kind of way, but I wasn’t preoccupied by their absence.

Wasteful habits are so easy to slip into.

My wasteful habits (which probably reflect those of many in our US culture) were much more obvious to me throughout the week. Leveling off a cup of flour, it’s second nature to toss the little bit that ends up on the paper towel. Rice grains that skittered across the counter suddenly mattered.

Besides the food waste, other types of waste were more apparent. Tear off half a paper towel to rest my spoon on while cooking. Grab another half paper towel to have if I need to deal with a small spill while eating. Snacks in a paper bowl. Plastic zipper bags used for storage and then discarded although they are barely dirty.

Wasteful habits are about more than food. According to the Mother Nature Network, “Discarded paper accounts for whopping one-quarter of landfill waste and releases significant amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) as it rots.” I am sure this is an area where I’ll make progress rather than achieving perfection, but I am reminded to try.

Having plenty of clean water is its own kind of wealth.

The Ration Challenge week involved lots of clean water. Clean water to cook rice/lentils/chickpeas/flatbreads and brew tea. Clean water to wash my dishes and hands so I could have a sanitary cooking area. A clean place to deal with personal toileting needs so I didn’t get exposed to dirty water and its dangers. Gallons and gallons of clean water to drink to keep from being hungry. Refreshing ice to cool the water down and chew on to keep from being bored.

I don’t know much about the water situation in camps in Jordan, but I know there are tremendous challenges. This article notes:

Population growth in Jordan has reduced the average amount of fresh water available for each person to less than 150 cubic metres annually, much lower than the 500 cubic metres that mark water scarcity by United Nations estimates. The average water availability for United States citizens, in comparison, is more than 9,000 cubic metres a year.

Al Jazeera

Cooking is fun (but time consuming)!

I don’t mean this in a “Whee! Cooking is a blast” way. I am sure for the refugees in the camps in Jordan, “fun” is not the first word they would use. I had become disconnected, though, from the simple satisfaction of planning/measuring/cooking/tasting my food. Wayne, to his credit, does most of the cooking around here. He does it well, and I get to enjoy lots of delicious dishes. But I have always liked cooking, and this week reminded me of the enjoyment in the process.

The week reminded me how much I enjoy cooking, but it also reminded me how time consuming it is. Most nights, I would have to set aside a block of time to prepare rice for the next day and figure out what I could use from the limited rations to stretch out the next day’s food choices.

Many of us have a warped view of weight.

Think about this a second. I pay a company $45 a month to go to a place to help me figure out how to eat less (and move more) so I can weigh less.

Weight Watchers (which now technically calls itself “WW”) has proven itself to be an effective partner in achieving a healthy lifestyle for decades. I have participated on and off since I was 18. I was ecstatic to weigh in with a 5.2 pound loss for the week, but of course that was specific to the week.

What if the things our minds do to us about weight weren’t as bizarre as they are and I could spend that $45 on helping refugees (or some other worthy cause) instead?

Food scarcity is a danger on many levels.

I know it sounds obvious to say “food scarcity is dangerous.” But the value of trying to experience at least a bit of it myself made me think more deeply than I had before (and educate myself more).

I definitely became more aware of what a thin margin there is between subsistence and being on the brink of physical decline. I, of course, could have taken a break and consumed some electrolyte fluid or in some other way dealt with the effects of such a low-calorie life, but that’s not the case for refugees. Several participants chose to withdraw from the food part of the challenge and provide moral support instead, because the foods typical to refugee nutrition wrecked havoc with their blood sugar levels.

As Church World Service explained to us, the rations we got came as close as they could to approximating the same ration packages they distribute in the camps (with the obvious logistical challenges of dealing with a widespread group of individual volunteers).

The “real” CWS ration packs contain a month’s supply for a family of six, with the foods essentially the same as those we received. The difference, CWS explains, is “there isn’t enough money to give ration packs to everyone who needs them. Sometimes we can only provide 100 packs in a camp that needs thousands. Packs get shared, and many go without (committees of volunteer refugees help to identify the people in their community most in need, and priority is given to them).

This is what a “real” ration pack looks like:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

The most accurate chroniclers of the refugee experience are the refugees themselves.

Maybe I am sounding repetitive, but I totally *get* fully doing this challenge is only a glimpse into the hardships faced by refugees. There were several people in our Ration Challenge Facebook group who either are former refugees, or who have worked directly with refugees. And their experiences matter most. My fellow challenge participant, Tonia, shared a picture of her fiance, Khalid, a Syrian refugee. This is Khalid:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Khalid

And this is Tonia’s message relaying his sentiments/story:

This challenge is very personal for me. This is my fiance Khalid. This is a picture of him sending thanks to everyone doing the challenge. He is a Syrian refugee. His home was bombed in 2012 in Al Rastan, Syria in the providence of Homs. One of his brothers was killed. Another one is in prison and the family hasn’t heard or seen him six years. Khalid had to have his left arm and hand rebuilt after he was injured by the bombing. He was lucky though as he made it to Turkey. He faces issues there as a refugee not being able to find much work being disabled plus he is now a man without a country. He cannot leave Turkey with just his refugee status and he cannot return to Syria. He wanted me to tell all of you “Very Thank You” for all that you are doing to help his fellow Syrians. He is very grateful that there are so many of us willing to help.”

People are so generous.

The US version of the Ration Challenge has raised $356,401, enough to feed 1,827 refugees for a year. The Australian version raised $2,222,245 enough to feed 8,108 refugees for a year. In New Zealand, participants raised $348,541, enough to feed 1,169 refugees for a year. And in the UK, the amount raised was £819,489, enough to feed 5,321 refugees for a year.

I raised $634.14, and I am beyond grateful. I appreciate, too, the shares socially, the encouragement, the people who simply asked, “What is this about?” They all matter; they all add to a snowball of hope that is going to turn into an avalanche of compassion.

A look back.

My pictures are pretty one-dimensional (how do you feel about lots of rice photos?), but here are a few memories from the week.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Because I made tea rather than coffee over the course of the week, many of my cups now have permanent tea stains.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

I like the stain. It reminds me that an experience like this is meant to stay with me and not be rinsed away.

The Ration Challenge page stays open through sometime in August, so if you’re still interested in donating, here’s the link. If you think you may be interested in doing the challenge yourself next year, I highly encourage it and I’m happy to answer any questions you have. (You can also sign up here to get alerts from CWS to know when there are opportunities to call/email/text your government officials.)

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Treating Each Other Well, Always

A guest post by my incredible friend, Tara Reynolds, a Stage 3, Her2+ Cancer Fighter. Although it doesn’t overtly say the word “well,” it says volumes about the power of treating each other well, no matter what.

I was waiting for my next cancer scan, sitting in the Head and Neck Cancer waiting room.

Often I find conversations with other cancer patients more fascinating than normal conversations because crazy-deep views and reflections/fascinating stories of life get added in. It adds old-age value to my life.

Like this morning’s appointment when I sat next to an old alligator hunter and learned about Florida living in the mid 1900’s 😂. But sometimes it feels beyond heavy too, and I feel scared and sad, like now.

It’s the ups and downs of this journey. I feel like I’m wearing military gear that comes with ticking bombs and hundreds of pounds of metal shrapnel that weighs way too much for me. But I can see a reflection of myself, and that tells me I’m actually wearing a tank top. Can’t compute that. 😢

I’m surrounded by people who have entire chunks of their faces and neck missing, many have affected voice boxes and can only whisper. Someone’s missing a leg. My heart breaks in pieces for the ways our lives have been altered by this disease.

How I want a cure.

It got so heavy in my thoughts, that I stood up and went to the bathroom as I felt a full cry coming on. The old man coming out of our special cancer patient bathroom could barely move, and was unable to speak … yet he communicated with me. He put a finger up to me (saying “wait a minute”), turned back, shuffled in pain, and put the toilet seat down for me with a wink. In the absolute worst of times, chivalry lives!!!

I read Philippians 2 this morning.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2

I am shocked at how this man just lived out that verse in front of me. He wanted to make my weight today lighter. I flung my wimpy arms around him (in a non weight-bearing way) and gave him a huge hug. I want to absorb his love and strength. Cancer patients are allowed to get emotional with each other. I told him he is living the best life – with kindness. He pointed to me, to his heart, and then to his smile. We shared the fighting-cancer spirit look – strong smiling eyes twinkling with hope.

Always. Keep. Hope. No matter how much you cry.

Ed. Note: I appreciate what Tara shared here. (Non-diplomatic version — I commandeered her Facebook post and said, “I need that for my blog.”) She is working on getting back to swimming, something I have no doubt she will do. These are two resources that have been integral to Tara, and their donation links if you’re looking for a cause to support:

Casting for Recovery Florida Casting for Recovery Florida is a volunteer-run
breast cancer fly-fishing retreat that empowers participants to, as Tara puts it, “get back out there.”
Donation Link.

American Cancer Society Hope Lodge The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge is where Tara stayed during her treatment. Patients and their caregivers are not charged. Donation Link.

Although I have shared donation links here, I think Tara and I both agree. The best thing to give is to treat someone else well. It is as easy as putting the toilet seat down. pk

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Although I suspended the usual rules today because I felt Tara’s message was so important, it usually works this way: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” It’s the creation of Kate Motaung.

Did I Really Promise to Go Without Coffee?

Five Minute Friday Promise

PROMISE

Have you ever made a hasty promise, thinking “how hard could that be?”

THEN, upon learning what you had gotten yourself into, did you second-guess yourself? Did you wonder how you could get out of it and if doing so would matter to anyone?

Welcome to my life.

If you’re my Facebook friend, you may have seen my May 1 post about joining the Ration Challenge.

I made the decision to join the Ration Challenge in roughly 2.5 minutes MAX.

There’s no financial commitment (although the organizers hope we use the activity to raise much-needed funds for refugees by eating the same rations as a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan for one week during the week of World Refugee Day (June 16-23 — the actual day is June 20) ).

It’s not as though a restricted diet will cause me undue health issues, since the activity only lasts a week (and yes I will plan to weigh in at Weight Watchers at the end of my week of restricted eating!).

I didn’t read the fine print. I didn’t really read the “print.” I know I care about refugees. I know this will give me a fantastic experience to share on social media to help other people care about refugees.

BUT THERE IS NO COFFEE IN THE CHALLENGE! (There is, if you raise a ton of money.)

I can earn teabags by emailing people, so is it OK if I ask your forgiveness in advance for a few fundraising emails? I don’t even know if it’s caffeinated tea, but maybe I can trick my brain into thinking it is.

I honestly did think about withdrawing.

***end of five minutes***

But it’s not like refugees have a choice either.

Although I am among the biggest coffee fans around (even though I’m technically not supposed to have it due to health reasons), I’m a bigger fan of helping refugee children (and refugees in general) survive.

For all the jokes I’ve made in my life about not being able to survive without coffee, it’s time to keep my promise and do something for the people whose survival is truly at stake.

Note: If you’re interested in joining the challenge (I need company!) or contributing, here is the link.

Five Minute Friday Promise

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Remembering Mia

When my daughter was in middle school, her dance teachers carried far more weight with her than I — a mere mom — did. Jelina Gonzalez was one of those teachers for my daughter. Now that my own daughter teaches dance and fulfills that role for a new generation of middle schoolers, I see the legacy that evolved from how Jelina and others taught her, not just to dance, but to become a young woman.

Jelina and I have stayed in touch, even though she moved hundreds of miles away. She began teaching (her experience of teaching was an integral part of a Toastmasters speech I gave about the power of a pencil). She got married. She shared her excitement as she became pregnant and planned to be Mia Sofia’s mom, with Erik to be Mia Sofia’s dad.

Mia Sofia died in utero at eight months’ gestation on March 21.

Jelina and Erik are working to raise money for Cuddle Cots so other families in similar situations can spend more time with their babies.  

As you can see in this video, Mia Sofia is loved beyond measure. (Note: The video’s privacy settings may or may not allow you to see it.)

Why a Cuddle Cot

To honor Mia Sofia, Jelina and Erik are raising money for Cuddle Cots. A Cuddle Cot is a specially-designed cooling system that prolongs the time a family can spend with their infant. Learn more about how Cuddle Cots work by visiting this link.

Comments in italics from Erik and Jelina:

Losing a little one is tough. Bereaved families are given the opportunity to spend some time with their baby after they’re born before being transported to the morgue. Unfortunately, this time is fleeting and doesn’t allow the parents to properly bond with their little angel. That time meant everything to our family.

A CuddleCot gives the family time to bond and grieve by keeping the baby cool. We wish we had one during our time of need, but we feel that we can honor our baby girl by donating one to Wellington Regional and help other families.

If you’d like to make a donation, please send your gift via Venmo to
@MiaSofia2019. (Here’s a link, but I think you have to be on the app for it to work.) Erik and Jelina ask that you include your name and email so they can keep you updated.

One image in my head throughout this period has been the sign Erik and Jelina had prepared for Mia’s room.

In that spirit, suggestions for three ways to help this family that is so dear to us.

M … for memories. Erik and Jelina will always have memories, and they created as many as they could in the time they had with Mia. They are trying to get Cuddle Cots for the hospital where Mia was born so other families faced with the death of their infant will have time for more memories.

I … for inform. Inform people about Cuddle Cots and — beyond telling them about a particular product — help them understand why families need this time with their babies.

A … for act. When there is a loss like this, everyone wants to do something to make a difference. In this situation you can act by donating or by simply providing support if a family you know finds themselves in this situation.

Seeking Space for Hope

Quite a few times after Hurricane Michael came ashore, mostly sparing Tallahassee  and leaving us mainly with the annoyance of darkened homes during lengthy power outages as our neighbors to the west had their houses, businesses, and properties destroyed, I said, “We dodged a bullet.” (Many projected storm paths had Michael making a direct hit on our town).

Little did we know that 23 days later, literal bullets at the hands of a murderer would not spare us as a community, as a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee resulted in the deaths of Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley and the injuries of several others (the gunman also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound).

My Relationship With Hot Yoga Tallahassee

Although I never went to HYT’s first location, I remember several friends raving about it. If I recall correctly, it was on the west side of town, in what was probably a more out-of-the way location.

The clientele and the reputation of the studio grew, and it relocated to Betton Place, a more centrally located, upscale complex. That’s where I first took yoga at HYT and met Brittani, the owner. Although I didn’t go to HYT exclusively, it still played a unique role in my yoga life.

I did glow yoga and sacred music yoga there. I participated in the December Instagram challenge with HYT one year, posting a picture a day for a month. Most recently, I took part in the outdoor community yoga at their newer location off of Bannerman Road.

The entire time, I watched Brittani grow as a business owner. I saw her become a mom and work through the difficult period of her baby’s severe health problems when he was first born. I remember well a time this summer when he was with her at outdoor yoga; he brings her so much joy.

I’ve always thought it must be a difficult balance to strike to own a yoga studio: an activity that is supposed to help all of its participants eradicate worry juxtaposed against the difficulties of running a business. How do you collect unpaid fees from someone who was seeking respite from the stresses of debt? How do you gently and compassionately intercede with the space hog, the yogi wearing the off-putting fragrance, the late arrival who had promised to arrive 10 minutes early to avoid disrupting everyone else?

I admire Brittani for being a business owner, but I love her more for the mother and human she is.

The Door

Hot Yoga Tallahassee offered more types of yoga than “hot,” despite its name. However, it does do hot yoga well. I always found its heating system and temps to be relatively hotter than other places, especially with their previous system.

Although the actual helpfulness of this was probably all in my head, I liked getting the spot closest to the door. I had the idea that an infinitesimal wisp of air could get in between the floor and the door to keep me from passing out. The temperature probably wasn’t any different by the door than at the farthest corner of the studio, but the thought gave me some relief (it would also be easier to leave and take a respite from the heat without disrupting other people if I was already by the door).

The Grief

I am struggling to write about this situation. It is as hard to find words that even come faintly close to being adequate as it was to get air through an imperceptible space between the door and the floor at HYT.

I was talking with a therapist recently about a situation that had formed an emotional knot in my psyche, one that I couldn’t untangle or resolve. Lo and behold, as she walked me through how the knot got there in the first place, it became apparent that the tension keeping the knot so tightly bound wasn’t solely generated from the situation that was presenting itself as the problem, but from the tectonic shift set off when my mom passed away in February.

And for all the grief I feel for this most recent situation, I have had to tell it to “take a number” as if my heart were the DMV and that the various situations needing to be processed were so many expiring license plate decals.

Other People’s Words

Fortunately, as I work through my emotional knot, other people have risen to the challenge with the perfect words.

From Food Glorious Food, a business in the same complex as Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

From David Harshada Wagner:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo credit: David Harshada Wagner

From John C. Thomas IV, father of Maura Binkley’s roommate:

I don’t have any answers, but I know now the firsthand agony of what no one should have to deal with with such numbing frequency.

My heart goes out to Maura’s family and all other victims of this senseless act, and to all those who live silently with pain in the aftermath of this type of violence.

It [mental health issues and gun violence] cannot be marginalized. It must be our biggest priority, for the sake of our children and future generations.

From Gary Taylor, Ph.D., Florida State University English Department Chair. (Maura Binkley was an FSU English major.)

What we can do, as English majors, is write about the particulars of her beautiful promise. What we can do, as Americans, is dedicate ourselves to erasing the ugliness that erased her.

From Nancy Van Vessem’s daughter, Molly Johnson:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

I read that Dr. Van Vessem’s favorite spot was by the door too. I’m guessing she just wanted to be able to leave efficiently to get to work. Maybe, like me, she needed the reassurance that she was close to cooler air if the temperature got too warm.

I don’t know, and can’t fathom, why she and Maura Binkley are gone.

Thank you, Food Glorious Food and David Harshada Wagner, for trying to find the tiniest sliver of hope and a path forward at a time when I’m not there yet.

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Benefits:

There are several GoFundMe accounts set up to benefit Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

From the Director of the Florida Yoga Teachers Association

From Lauren Cordy, a friend of Brittani’s

From Becca Berry

From M&M Monogramming, designed by The Moore Agency:

All proceeds from the sale of this sweatshirt go to Hot Yoga Tallahassee.

From Advanced Metal Art:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo Credit: Advanced Metal Art

(As other benefits appear, I’ll add them here.)

I also recommend Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety and Sandy Hook Promise to learn more about advocacy for a solution to gun-related problems in our country.

I am linking this post up with the Kat Bouska prompt, “Write a blog post [based on] the word: dark.”

Tallahassee Gun Safety

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day Events in Tallahassee

I made some new friends for a cause I’ve long supported when I went to Neighborhood Medical Center’s STD Prevention 101 Healthy Happy Hour last week. I was there partially because I wanted to get a picture I could share on the Sept. 21 #ADayWithHIV. I got my picture:

 

And I got so much more…

I got a reminder that there are people in our community of all ages, races, genders and walks of life who face decisions every day about their sexual partners and practices. Especially among young people, some of these decisions are poorly informed (or downright misinformed). It takes candid talk, acceptance and easy access to testing and treatment options to help them make the best decisions for their health.

As I alluded to in this post, helping people be aware of the risks they face, the options from which to choose and the resources available to them takes explicit discussions (i.e., naming body parts correctly, not being shocked by the array of ways people interact with each other sexually and throwing away assumptions). It also, however, requires the intuition and empathy to understand how self-esteem plays in. A 15-year-old young woman, for example, said “I’m not going to get tested; I know my [18-year-old] partner is positive, so I’ll just get reinfected.”

It has been a long time since I was on the front lines of this particular kind of work (and even when I was, it was on the phone as a counselor/supervisor for the Florida AIDS Hotline, so my “front line” was a telephone receiver). I have so much appreciation and respect for what these people do. Additionally, I am grateful for the federal, state and local funding (Leon County Board of Commissioners, United Way of the Big Bend)  that makes it possible. The links I have shared aren’t comprehensive: my point is that it takes funding from a variety of sources and those are, in my opinion, jeopardized by our current political environment. We should advocate for them to be continued.)

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day is coming up on September 27, and my new friends asked me to share information about the events that will be held throughout the week to observe it. I am happy to do so; here’s what they said:

Our community knows how important it is to maintain an active role in our own health. Starting Friday, September 28, 2018 through Sunday, September 30, 2018 Neighborhood Medical Center will be hosting our 4th Annual Health Extravaganza for National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day. All events will take place at Hotel Duval (415 N. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL. 32301) and will be free of charge to the general public. Below is a detailed list of the events that will take place during the 4th Annual Health Extravaganza:

Friday, September 28, 2018 Live Couch Talk
An interactive conversation with a health care team about HIV prevention and treatment options for people living with HIV/AIDS. Come hear the personal life story of one person’s HIV diagnosis and their journey to living a healthy lifestyle.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Saturday, September 29, 2018 PrEP First Drag Show
An informational health event about PrEP {Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis} with a Drag Exposé. This FREE event will provide educational components, speakers, drag shows and lots of fun with a twist.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Sunday, September 30, 2018 Gospel Drag Brunch
An event to close out the Health Extravaganza weekend. We will fellowship through food and song as we commemorate the precious lives lost in the LGBTQ community and individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.Gay Men HIV Testing

No one will leave this event empty handed or uninformed as we will have booths presented by our partner agencies: Big Bend Cares, FAMU Health, FSU CHAW, and Florida Health, amongst others. Please come out to help Neighborhood Medical Center and our partners spread the word to patients, family, friends, and community members about PrEP and HIV/AIDS.

Each of these three events is free. However, the organizers ask that you register through this link, which has a separate registration for each event.

For additional information, feel free to contact:
Mathias Sweet at (850) 688-0914 or msweet@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org
Joseph Ward (850) 577-1562 or Jward@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org

Gay Men HIV Testing

Banned Books Week 2018

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23 through 29, 2018.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from And Tango Makes Three . The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded challenges to/bans of 416 books in 2017.

Banned Books Week 2018

Of the top ten, this book was number nine. The ALA says, “Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.”

Here’s my readout:

How I Chose This Year’s Book

This year’s process wasn’t especially formal. I ruled out books I had read before, and solicited opinions on Facebook (scientific, right?). I ended up choosing “And Tango Makes Three” because my friend Rebecca said her little boy likes it. The end.

After reading it, I can say I like it too. It’s about New York City, first of all, and evokes my memories of going to the Toy Boat Pond with Tenley years ago (I’ve never been to the Central Park Zoo, oddly enough!).

I like how Roy and Silo (Tango’s Parents) were much like me as a parent-to-be and then a parent. They hoped fervently to have a child of their own to raise and prepared as well as they could. When she finally arrived, she hung the moon in their eyes. Universal parenting aspirations.

About To Kill a Mockingbird

Most people in my informal poll wanted me to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read it before, but it has been so long. I’m not sure why it intrigued so many people in the discussion, but for the record, here is why it was challenged, according to the ALA:

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.

I need to revisit TKaM anyway. It’s on my list.

Why Book Challenges and Bans Matter

This year’s Banned Books Week theme is “banning books silences stories.” I believe wholeheartedly in the power of stories (even (especially?) stories that make us uncomfortable, introduce an idea or concept that is new to us or in some other way expand our worlds.

Banned Books Week 2018

In Why do we ban books, anyway? Chelsea Condren writes, “The power and danger in book banning lies in someone’s ability to think their opinion is the only one that matters, and, thereby, the only one that is allowed. I think a lot of us want what’s best for children. But being able to decide for oneself the quality of someone else’s thoughts, and being able to use those skills to form your own opinions, is a skill best learned by reading. The ability to think critically is important, and books are the tools with which we whittle that ability.” I agree.

I also am reminded, by an author who has had his share of challenges (Mark Haddon), that it’s short-sighted to be even a hair smug or self-righteous about being an advocate against challenges/bans, because “…both sides, paradoxically, are to be thanked for getting more people reading and talking about books.”

Banned Books Week 2018

Here’s to letting all stories see the light of day. Banned Books Week 2018

 

 

Kleine-Levin Syndrome: A Family Ascends the Mountain

It is particularly significant to me that my friend, Jonathan Lyons, allowed me to share this reflection he wrote in advance of Rosh Hashanah this year. He, his wife Barbara Forbes-Lyons and their son, Avner, are navigating a changed life due to Avner’s diagnosis with Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). My goals in sharing Jon’s story are a) to support him and his family b) to expand awareness of KLS c) to help other families coping with the chronic and severe illness of a child know they are not alone and d) to celebrate the fact that this family is not defined by KLS. 

Yom Kippur. a time of atonement and repentance, is approaching. This quote (attributed to Maya Angelou but I can’t completely confirm) said something about forgiveness that pertains to Jon’s piece:

Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.

Jon’s post touches two complementary ideas:

As parents, he and Barb have been weighed down by the heaviness that comes from trying to define (and resolve) the rare condition that became apparent as their son’s physical condition and behavior changed drastically. 

Related, as Jon mentions in the post, he and Barb were told that perhaps they should move on emotionally. Why do we as human beings presume to know what a family going through something so intricately difficult and chronic needs to do? It must be hard to forgive these people for “what they didn’t know before they learned it” but perhaps this post can put a tiny dent into helping others learn.

~ Paula

Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Jon, Barb and Avner

Yom Kippur is nearly upon us. The cycle of the new year has begun for Jews around the world and part of this will include reading of the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s favorite son, born of his wife Sarah. None of that was on my mind until just recently.

It struck me, seemingly from nowhere. For the past couple years, nearly the only thing on my mind was the health of my only child. My son, Avner has a very rare, devastating neurological illness called Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). KLS is a form of ideopathic hypersomnia. That means that people with KLS, sleep a lot. Some of them sleep for days at a time.

When they are not asleep, but “in an episode” their waking moments are marked by mood changes, memory deficits, and many strange behaviors. Parents like myself, flock to the online support group and frequently rant when our children are gone again. We hope it will not be for long and that this might be the last such episode.

Often this disease takes years to be properly diagnosed. Patients frequently collect incorrect diagnoses of severe mental illnesses until a doctor or a desperate parent finds the KLS diagnosis and the search begins to find a qualified medical team that can test and evaluate the patient for KLS. I say parent, because the mean age of onset for KLS is 16 years old, but my son had his first episode at 12. Some aren’t diagnosed or experience symptoms until well into adulthood.

My son’s prognosis is tentatively good. He responds well to a course of medical treatment. Only 30% to 40% of patients see relief from lithium. No other drug currently performs as well. Though we also rely on a second medication which is custom compounded for hypersomnia patients, as an off-label prescription.

I tell this tale frequently. I tell it too frequently. As a parent of a healthy child, until this disease, I was ill prepared for such a radical change in lifestyle and perspective. Parenting is difficult and we all struggle at times, but without much doubt, my wife, Barbara and I have struggled more than many because of the great uncertainty created by KLS. Even now, we do not know if our child will wake tomorrow or if we will return to the painful cycle we lived before the medication seemed to be working.

So, someone who heard me tell the tale too much, told me so and suggested it’s time to move forward again. It woke me up and made me more self aware, which is certainly a theme of Rosh Hashanah.

After sleeping on it, a little like Jacob, wrestling his own angel, I had my own insight. We all read biblical stories through the lens of our own experiences. The Binding of Isaac certainly invites such opportunities.

My friend David turned to me one year during holiday services and said to me “Isaac was an idiot.” We ducked out of services so he could grab a quick bite and he laid before me his literary criticism of Isaac and made a compelling case for some kind of developmental deficit. It absolutely fascinated me and probably established my deep interest in this passage as an insight into late Stone Age or early Bronze Age cultures.

In our sanitized modern culture, the story still horrifies us. No doubt, some kids must come home from services wondering if their parents are going to tie them down and offer them up as a holy sacrifice. Post Holocaust, a common criticism of Abraham is that he failed G-d’s test because he argued for the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah, but not for the life of his own son.

Now I’ve gained yet another perspective on the tale. We read this story from different key perspectives through our lives. Upon our introduction to the story, usually at a young age, we see the story as Abraham’s servants saw it play out before them. They brought the wood and their master and Isaac. They saw the plot played out before them with keen interest but without personal investment. On those initial readings, we learn the sequence of events and we know that they have great importance.

We become familiar with the story and we try on the role of Isaac. At first we wonder at the journey and we put our trust into Abraham, when he tells us that G-d will provide the ram. We experience the fear of the raised knife. Like young adults, we may feel indignity at being the passive object of everyone else’s designs. Where is Abraham’s chutzpah, willing to raise his objection to his G-d in the name of the unverified good souls in Sodom and Gomorrah, but not for his own flesh?

Perhaps, like my friend David, you seek an explanation by way of some defect in Isaac. Was he a simpleton, unable to speak intelligently for himself? The narrative makes quite the point of the simple childlike questions that Isaac asks, yet the chronology of the story tells us that he is a grown man by this time. Could this have been a Stoneage rite, to rid the tribe of members who could not contribute? Could the importance of the tale be that Abraham broke the tradition to give us a new modern morality? Did Abraham pass the holy test by sparing his son or following the command of his deity? Did he fail for following an immoral order without question? These questions have long been debated between Jewish scholars.

Yet there is another reading. Parents who enjoyed the growth of healthy children and suddenly struggle with their own infirmities while caring for an ailing child know this reading. Abraham has grown old in the service of his Lord. He has profited and grown his wealth and that of his people. All has gone well for this servant of G-d. Abraham has G-d’s ear and great influence in his known world. Then his life which moved from strength to strength changes course abruptly.

My own child was strong, energetic and brilliant with an insatiable curiosity. We used to run together when I trained for triathlons. Then he disappeared inside himself for more than two years and we were living with a walking husk of the child we once knew.

It occurs to me, that maybe we have been reading the story of the binding of Isaac all wrong. It’s not a test of Abraham’s will, or devotion or even his ultimate morality. It’s not a test at all. Through Abraham’s eyes it’s a journey of a father who faces an impossible task regarding a child he loves. He has no choice in the matter. His only option is to move forward through the horror ahead.

In the next part of Abraham’s tale, he loses his wife. He does not speak directly to G-d again, as far as we know. He seems broken by the experience as far as we can see. His demise follows closely enough, and the great wealth and the land holdings he gathered will not pass to the next generation. Isaac was a dweller of tents, we are told. He was a nomad.

It doesn’t make for a tidy reading. There’s no tightly knit resolution, except to say that everyone continued to live their lives and that struggle would ensue.

Those of us who have watched a healthy child fade before our eyes, walk in similar paths. We watch the graduation announcements and the triumphant first day of school photos in social media. Instead,we celebrate when our child is well enough to continue school, or the school is willing to amend accommodations that help our child stay enrolled, if we are very lucky.

We are ascending the mountain, because we must. We have the blade in our hands. Our beautiful children walk beside us, struggling under the load of the wood they bear to the altar. We are both hoping and praying that this will work out in some other way than what it seems. We continue through the day. Then we gather our loads, and we do it again.Kleine-Levin Syndrome

How You Can Help

To educate yourself, visit this link.

To donate, click here.

To learn more about how to speak with a family dealing with a rare illness, click here.

 

The Great Divide(r)

Recognizing Microaggressions

Are you on Twitter?

If so, put “grocery divider” in the search bar and take a scroll through the results.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (But if you want to save keystrokes, click here.)

The thread appears to have begun here:

Recognizing microaggressions

It may have been a joke, but the 1,700 comments and 48,000 retweets, not to mention the 261,000 “favorites” show the staying power this idea has.

Although the thread has some laughs (this tweet is from 2011 but it seems appropriate for the “humor” part of my post) …:

Recognizing microaggressions

…it mostly has references to the idea that the use of a grocery divider (especially the rush to get the thing down as quickly as possible) is a microaggression.

Microaggression 101

I’m not qualified to give a microaggression primer, but here’s a bit of background.

Merriam Webster defines a microaggression this way:

a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)

There are some evocative examples here (chosen by me partially so I could give a shout out to my former employer, Fordham University!).

And Psychology Today breaks microaggressions down into three categories: microassaults (read more about those from Sailing Rough Waters), microinsults (more on those here, also from Sailing Rough Waters)  and microinvalidations (more on those in this Teen Vogue op-ed).

Why I Use The Grocery Divider

Perhaps I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth by saying what I am about to say. Maybe it’s hypocritical to argue that it’s silly for one Tweet to “stick” so deeply with so many people yet spend an entire blog post writing about it. But writing is how I sort things out (and try to encourage others to think critically), so here goes.

The use of a grocery divider on my part is just that … a lifelong habit grounded in an attempt to be courteous, informed by my high school experience as a grocery cashier and driven by the fact that I am ready to get out of the store. 

That’s it. End of story. Not intended to be a microaggression.

But I Can’t Stop Thinking About This and Neither Can Many Others

Here’s how things have gone since I first saw a tweet about The Great Divide(r):

First, I think about this every time I am at the store.

I had a conversation with a cashier about this at Publix the other day. This is how it went down:

Me to cashier — as I am putting the divider down (see “lifelong habit” above) even though there wasn’t anyone in line behind me — “I guess it was pretty silly to do that since no one is behind me.”

Cashier: No comment, neutral reaction.

Me: There’s all kinds of talk on Twitter about how ridiculous it is to put the grocery divider down.

Him: It’s just what people do to separate their groceries. No big deal.

(Cue angels singing. I am white, the cashier was black, context that I find important for this post.)

Second, isn’t it crazy how the grocery store is the microcosm that puts our behavior in perspective?

It’s insane (and possibly a sign that I could organize my life better) how much time I spend at Publix. I’m there multiple times per week.

(I imagine, somewhat related to these stories, that anyone who shops at Vineyard Publix would agree it’s an overly courteous place — shoppers and workers alike — we fall all over ourselves apologizing if we almost collide while turning into a new aisle. We are a collectively polite group for the most part. This includes the divider question.)

I was buying six shrimp at the seafood counter at Publix the other day and the associate jokingly said, “There’s a seven-shrimp minimum.” I told him that would be fine. He said, “I’ve only had one person in my entire time here be offended by that ‘minimum’ joke.” At the same time I said, “who could be offended by that?” I also said, “But years ago I had a sobbing breakdown in the cold cut section because of something another shopper said to me, so grocery stores really do bring out something emotional in us.”

Third, the divider is a practical matter.

Here’s an homage to the power of the stupid divider. At my former employer, we had an auditor require us to make our corporate credit card procedures more stringent. (There had been some overreach, a story that won’t get told here.)

When I was buying supplies for a business-related occasion while using my corporate American Express card, my daughter put a fountain drink she had gotten at the deli on the belt, and it was accidentally with the business items vs. our personal items.

When it was discovered that I had spent $1.75 (or whatever) on a personal soda, I had to repay the $1.75 (fair enough) but the card was also locked up in the CFO’s office and I had to check it out every time I traveled on business (which at the time occurred frequently). The only solace is that the same thing happened to one of our most senior leaders, because he accidentally paid for his Firehouse Subs lunch with this corporate card, which was located next to his personal card in his wallet. Side note: neither of us works there anymore.

Fourth, it isn’t just Twitter.

I found a blog that started off discussing Pet Peeves (not the grocery divider) that ended up in The Great Divide(r) land in the comments. One person said they wouldn’t put the divider down because they don’t work at the store (this “don’t work at the store” idea applied to at least one justification for leaving the cart in the parking lot instead of returning it too). And this may have been in the Twitter thread vs these comments, but there is also a “use self checkout if you have an issue with the divider” camp too. (I personally feel like self checkout is REALLY a way to do the store’s work for them, but that’s for a different day I guess.)

Fifth, it’s hard to talk about these types of things productively.

I thought I could ask a question about this topic (of the idea that using the divider is a microaggression) in a private group I’m in that contains an amazing, diverse assortment of people committed to discussing race, how white people can be aware of white privilege (and address it), and many other things.

As the thread progressed, most responses were in the “it’s common sense” camp, but I was asked/told:

a) why I hadn’t only asked black people because doing otherwise just gave the white people in the group the opportunity to justify themselves

b) why I hadn’t asked the tweeter (my response: because many of the responses to him had been attacks and I didn’t want to join the chorus/I also said I thought the group was a safe place for this type of thing and hoped to take advantage of it to feel out this topic)

c) told I was making the problem worse

I deleted the entire thread and spent the rest of the evening wondering about the set of interactions and wishing we could have finished the discussion. I DM’d the person who challenged me, explaining why I had taken the thread down (basically, that I didn’t want to alienate anyone) and have not heard back from them.

Ultimately, Respect for Each Other Matters

In writing this post, I worry I will undo any good I did (if there was any) by writing We Have to Talk About White Privilege.

If you are someone for whom use of the grocery divider feels like a microaggression, I respect that.

I have read someone I respect a great deal, Shay Stewart-Bouley of Black Girl In Maine, say that the work of coming to terms with racism is both internal and external. I wholeheartedly agree.

I like what Cheryl Strayed had to say about the internal work:

You don’t have to relinquish your heritage to be an ally to people of color, Whitey. You have to relinquish your privilege. And part of learning how to do that is accepting that feelings of shame, anger and the sense that people are perceiving you in ways that you believe aren’t accurate or fair are part of the process that you and I and all white people must endure in order to dismantle a toxic system that has perpetuated white supremacy for centuries. That, in fact, those painful and uncomfortable feelings are not the problems to be solved or the wounds to be tended to. Racism is. – Cheryl Strayed

And although this piece isn’t technically a guide to doing internal work, this one line by Morgan Jerkins in How I Overcome My Anger as a Black Writer Online somehow seems connected to the importance of internal work, while it is also a bit of a segue to the external:

My therapist taught me that before I spoke to an audience of thousands or millions, my first audience should be myself. – Morgan Jerkins

And about the external work, again I am no expert here but I think it begins with ceasing our silence when we see racism. Michael Harriot wrote “…silence in the presence of injustice is as bad as injustice itself. White people who are quiet about racism might not plant the seed, but their silence is sunlight.”

In Closing

When I rush to put the divider down at the grocery store, my intent is straightforward: I don’t want to accidentally pay for someone else’s items (the budget is tight) and I don’t want to add stress to the cashier’s job.

Why eat up extra minutes having a transaction voided when I could better spend my time and efforts trying to do something that really makes a difference?

Recognizing microaggressions

 

I am linking up with Kat Bouska, for the prompt “Share something that entertained you this week, can be an article you read, video you watched, someone’s FB share…whatever!” Although, to be clear, “entertained” isn’t exactly what this topic did for me this week.Recognizing microaggressions