Archives for category: from life

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. Part of that has been because of work: I’ve been helping to create a textbook! The work alternates between incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly tedious, and both aspects have taught me a lot. And while it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, from this day forward I will always judge a book by its bibliography. I’ve become quite the citation snob!

But this isn’t to say that I haven’t been doing any creative writing. It’s just taken on a bit of a change of format.

I’ve been speaking.

It’s odd, when I tell people about it. They want to know what my hobbies are, and my answer is one of the biggest fears many people have. Writing and giving speeches for fun? Heck no.

And yet, it makes sense to me. It’s a bit like writing. It’s a bit like performing. It’s a bit of poetry and logic and theater, all mashed up. And it’s social. The immediate connection between speaker and audience is addictive, and the friendships formed are genuine. We release our hearts into the world and find them welcomed, flawed and growing as they are.

And I’m improving! There’s nothing like seeing yourself get better at something that’s a little bit scary. New challenges, new adventures. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get really brave and post a video or two. 😉

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It’s funny, when I wrote that last post about ebola, it was something far-off. And now it’s here. I mean here.

When I first heard there was a patient with ebola in Dallas, I thought, “Huh, I wonder which hospital he’s at.” Then I found out he was at the hospital where I work.

Then they mentioned that children from four different schools might have been exposed. Someone remarked that it was unlikely that children attending four different schools could all be in one family, and I thought, “Not really. That’s very common in my neighborhood. I wonder if he lives here.” As it turns out, he does.

Now, I’m not afraid of contracting this virus. It’s not particularly easy to catch, and I follow standard precautions. I know that the hospital, and the health department, and the CDC are all doing excellent jobs.

The news crews who are swarming this gentleman’s apartment complex? I have less faith in them.

Lots of the kids I work with live there. They all came home from school today with an ebola fact-sheet. And the whole world wants a snapshot of the place where this virus lived for a few days before being isolated and hospitalized.

My neighborhood.

And I’m worried about what these news people are describing. Crowded instead of close-knit. Full of refugees instead of diverse. Dirty. Dangerous. Poor.

I see you looking at us through the lens of the news, and the combination of xenophobia and paranoia this lens promotes is a bit frightening. Much more so than a simple virus.

No, not every road here has sidewalks. No, not all of us speak English. No, we don’t look like any other neighborhood in Dallas.

But we’re not a throwaway neighborhood. We’re not a public health risk. We’re not the problem here.

We’re the solution that has yet to be called upon.

We speak 33 languages. We know our neighbors. We gather regularly to share information on the soccer field, in the laundromat, and on the street. You couldn’t ask for better participants in a campaign to ensure the safety of our friends and relatives.

But nobody’s asked us.

So we’ll try to mobilize as best we can, ducking between the cameras trying to sell a frightening story about immigration and public health. I hope that, when they start using that story as a reason to tear these old buildings down and build condos that none of us can afford, someone will remember our story too. That we aren’t just a ghetto full of scary people from scary places.

We’re the solution to problems that have yet to be understood.

And this is our home.

While I’ve been following the current ebola outbreak for quite a while now (my job requires me to visit the CDC website on an almost daily basis, so it’s constantly in my face), it’s only recently that I’ve seen Americans without ties to west or central Africa becoming actively afraid of the disease. And where fear goes, exploitation follows. Scammers are selling all kinds of products to “protect your family against ebola,” from essential oils to magical water to expensive dietary supplements. Never mind that the best way to avoid contracting ebola is to avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has ebola—not terribly difficult to manage here in the US.

But people quite naturally want to do something when horror strikes. As such, here’s my list of suggestions of things you can do, as an average person outside of an area where ebola is endemic, to help the situation.

1. Support science education of children, youth, and adults.

If we as a people do not understand science, we will not produce scientists. We will not be able to develop cures and methods of prevention. We will be easy prey for scams. We will not know where to donate money or time or energy in order to be of service. Supporting science education might mean tutoring a neighborhood youth. It might mean pitching in for science supplies for a local cash-strapped teacher. It might mean organizing a workshop at your local library, or calling your state legislators. It might even mean logging on to Khan Academy and educating yourself. Choose the path that makes the most sense for you.

2. Demonstrate and teach compassion.

Nothing gets better when nobody cares. (And caring is different from fear.) Does picking up litter in your neighborhood on your daily walk really have any effect on something like ebola halfway across the world? Not directly. But in a world where editorials make sarcastic cracks at those who dedicate their lives to curing disease and alleviating suffering, any attempt to eliminate cynicism is a step that brings us closer to being able to act in unity with our fellow human beings.

Vickery Meadow neighborhood cleanup

3. If it’s not about you, remember that.

If you live anywhere near a decently-sized city, there are people in your area who are affected by this crisis. You have neighbors or coworkers who are from central and west Africa, who have family there, who are worried sick in ways that probably don’t apply to you. A visit, some baked goods, a word of understanding can go a long way. Listen. Listen well, and do it more than you speak. Share the burden of those who are suffering, rather than adding a burden of your own.

4. Live in a learning mode.

Medicine is a tricky practice. It involves some science, some art, and a sizable chunk of engineering all thrown together. It requires a process of study, action, and reflection that doesn’t always run perfectly on an individual level, much less on a global scale. But when we allow ourselves to internalize this learning cycle, we stop being defensive about past mistakes, and instead upgrade our knowledge and habits without shame. While most of us aren’t going to develop a cure for ebola, we can bring to a halt the spread of misinformation, even misinformation we ourselves had a hand in promoting. We can encourage habits of creative thought and concerted action that might lead to a new scientific breakthrough, or just a better experience for the families on our street.

I know that these aren’t the kinds of advice most people are looking for. They don’t particularly alleviate fear. They aren’t direct. They aren’t immediate. They’re not simple. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But when we finally conquer this outbreak, there will be another crisis to capture our attention. Perhaps another virus. Or a war. Or a hurricane. Or a messenger from outer space—who knows? We can’t possibly hope to preemptively develop exactly what is needed to handle every possible contingency. But in all of these cases, there is a shared truth: that the best preparation is a community of people who strive towards acquiring and applying knowledge for the betterment of all.

If you want to make a difference, start there.

I love how the more I work in the community, the more it becomes a process of mutual sharing. Sharing a song with the youth in a study circle is so much lovelier when they teach me one in return. A gift of my time visiting a neighbor in her home is quite literally sweetened by the tea she serves me. A word in English traded for a word in Spanish, or in Nepali, or maybe just a loving smile.

It sounds so selfish, I know. We’re taught that we should give selflessly, without regard for reward. But I can’t help the feeling that what I’m experiencing isn’t something as petty as tit-for-tat, it’s an emerging environment of equality. We’re just neighbors. Collaborators. Friends. There are no martyrs here.

So I know a prayer in Sanskrit now. I’ve learned to make chatpate from a group of middle school girls and to make origami flowers from a talented boy who used to curse at me in the street. I hoard a collection of construction paper cards that say “I love u Mis Cat” and “Thank you for being a awesome friend.” I’ve been invited to saints’ days and birthdays and dinners and festivals. And I’ve come to understand, most people love the opportunity to share what they have. Knowledge. Art. Stories. Passion. Faith. It brings people joy the same way it does for me. Silly not to have known it all along, eh? But I’m so much richer for having discovered it now.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

It’s Vegan MoFo, the Vegan Month of Food. While I’m not participating because I just can’t get into the idea of being a food blogger, I figured I should be a good veg citizen and contribute something to the collective endeavor. On the other hand, I don’t feel like writing recipes and taking fancy pictures and all that. So instead, I’m going to share my nine favorite ways to eat toast.

  1. With butter* and zatar.
  2. With butter and nutritional yeast.
  3. With butter, honey**, and cinnamon.
  4. With butter, honey, and masala chai spice mix.
  5. With butter and marmalade.
  6. With butter and apple butter.
  7. With almond butter.
  8. With almond butter and banana slices.
  9. Surrounding a sandwich. The kind is unimportant, so long as it includes sauerkraut.

Of course, I’m all for new ideas. Tell me about your favorite ways to eat toast!

*By butter, I mean of course whatever your favorite buttery spread happens to be. I like Earth Balance, but I’m no snob. Eat what you like.

**Generic term for your favorite liquidy sweet stuff. I just like the texture better than sugar. But sugar works too.

I don’t usually talk much about my professional life here, because I have another blog for that. But there are times when certain aspects of my career push me into musings that are a bit too rambling and philosophical for that setting. This is one of them.

There’s a bit of a schism in the massage therapy profession. Really, in the complementary care community as a whole, but what I know best is the massage world. It has different names: materialists vs. spiritualists. Science vs. Woo. Whatever. And I find myself oddly placed in it.

On one hand, I’m solidly on the science side. My massage education emphasized basic science education. Our instructors had PhDs in Anatomy. I do not perform energy work or other techniques for which there is no evidence. I’m not a “healer.” I don’t “detoxify” my clients. My bosses have been physicians and physical therapists, not yoga teachers or New Age gurus.

But I am also a person of deep religious convictions. I pray daily. I believe in God, and an afterlife, and nonphysical reality. So why don’t I incorporate these things into my work? Is it not hypocritical of me to compartmentalize my life and seal off a huge part of me daily experience from my faith? Am I wronging my clients by failing to offer them all of the tools for health and wellbeing at my disposal? Is it dishonesty to offer clients exclusively materialist assistance when I am not myself a materialist by belief?

I don’t believe so.

In fact, I don’t believe that I have removed my faith from my practice. Do I pray for my clients? Of course I do. In private. Just as I pray for all the people I care about. I choose to work in a way that exemplifies the teachings of my faith: with compassion, trustworthiness, and a profound sense of gratitude. Another tenet of my faith is truthfulness, which is why I cannot claim to offer spirit-based healing. I cannot in good conscience claim to understand or control such things. Accepting payment for them would be akin to accepting money for making the weather pleasant, or for a meteor shower. It isn’t right.

Beautiful, isn't it? That'll be $20.

Basic lovely weather package is $50, but only $10 extra gets you blooming flowers too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sense of control science offers us. If I let the ball go, I can make it fall to the ground! If I angle this glass correctly, I can bend light! If I split an atom, I can create an explosion! Truly, it’s a lot of fun. Babies adore it. So do adults. We’re wired to control things like this in order to survive.

But if you believe in the Divine, you can’t approach it with a microscope or telescope. Revelation in one form or another might give you guidelines for how all this spiritual stuff works, but the thing about being the creation is that you don’t get to order the Creator around. Making up rules about what God must or must not do based on your personal desires is ridiculous. It’s effing the ineffable. And it makes you look foolish not only to people of science, but people of faith.

I’m not saying there are no services that faith can offer to others. I would be an awful hypocrite if I thought that. Absolutely pray for people. Lay your hands on them if that’s your thing. Anoint them with oils or chant or draw symbols on their skin or just hold them in your heart and love them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking spiritual aid on a suffering person’s behalf. But don’t take money for it. That’s like being baptized in a church and then next week receiving a water bill. 

Do I think people have things to gain spiritually from massage therapy? Sure. Being cared for with respect and compassion by another human being touches far more than skin and muscle. But it’s not my place to tell my clients that, and it’s not my job to try and make it happen. The ineffable doesn’t need my chatter to do its work. I wouldn’t believe in it otherwise.

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

Daisy and I walk down the road together. There aren’t any sidewalks here, but people drive slowly, knowing there are always children playing in or near the street.

“Where are you from?” Daisy asks.

“You mean where was I born?”

“Yes.”

It’s a logical question, in a neighborhood like Vickery Meadow. Many of the residents are refugees and immigrants from all over the world. There are 28 languages spoken in just one square mile. It’s an amazing little microcosm of the world.

“I was born in America. My father and his parents were born in Canada, and their parents were born in Romania. Where are you from?”

“Africa.”

“How wonderful. What country in Africa?”

“I don’t remember.”

We walk a bit further. It’s 95 degrees outside, and both of us are sweating.

Daisy asks, “Do you have a religion?”

“Yes, I’m a Baha’i.”

“Does that mean you pray to many Gods?”

“No, it means I believe people of all different religions pray to the same God.”

Her brother jumps in from behind us: “Do you believe in Muhammad?”

“I believe in Moses, and Jesus, and Muhammad, and also Baha’u’llah. That’s what makes me a Baha’i. I believe that people who pray different ways can still love one another. Like my family. My mother is Christian, and my father is Jewish, and I’m a Baha’i. We’re different religions, but they are still my family. Just like you and me. We’re different religions, but we’re part of the human family, so we still need to love each other and take care of each other.”

Daisy again: “Is everybody here a Ba-who?”

I glance back at the pack of boys and girls following at some distance behind. “Nope, just me and Nabil. There are lots of different religions here. Isn’t that nice?”

We keep walking, past neighbors speaking Spanish, Nepali, French. Children chase each other and play basketball. Babies are fed, laundry is hung, the sun beats down. Daisy and I keep moving forward in the heat and the light. What else is there to do?

It’s funny, when you ask an expert, “What science fiction should I read?” you get straight answers back. Maybe a list with lots of “if you’re more into dystopia than I’d try these three” kinds of qualifiers, but an answer, at least.

When you ask an expert, “What should I listen to in order to get a feel for big band music?” you get answers. Enthusiastic ones, with suggestions cross-referenced by song, band, and year.

When you ask an expert, “What should I do in order to be educated in my field, to the same degree that others are regularly educated in theirs?” you get a few answers. Science! Math! But you get more talk about why people don’t want to be educated, why you should lobby for a school to provide you with an education, why you should raise money to hire some people to educate you, why it’s not financially helpful to be educated, why teachers won’t find it financially feasible to educate you, why you need accreditation to be educated, why other people should be educated first.

Folks who teach know what educated people read. They know what educated people practice. They know what educated people do to prove they know what they know. It’s in their syllabi. It’s their job. But for some reason, they don’t hand you a syllabus. They talk around you while you try and explain, “I wasn’t asking for your bureaucracy, I was asking for your advice. What should I read? What should I listen to? What should I do?” They’re wonderful people, friendly, intelligent, and polite. But the answers I crave aren’t forthcoming. I’m left with the same general list of subjects I had before the conversation.

I feel like I could save a lot of time, knowing what they know I should know. I could move forward with new things with more confidence. I could build a better plan. They seem to think I can’t learn it without their help. Or that, in the absence of outside validation, it won’t matter if I do. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. I’m glad they want a meaningful education for everyone, and someday they might get it. But in the meantime, I’m left here where I started, selfishly wanting it for me.

 

I’ve got a chemistry test in a week. I wrote it for myself. I’ve been at this, all on my own, for years. And it seems like that’s the way it’s going to stay for a while.

Everywhere I go, a path of service has already been prepared for me. Junior youth empowerment is a process that is evolving in every corner of the world.

Junior Youth Group

11- to 14-year-olds have many of the same needs everywhere. The need for a safe environment. The need to explore their identities and their dreams. The need for an encouraging voice and a listening ear. This is true for everyone, whether born in a swanky American suburb or a refugee camp in Nepal.

Junior Youth Group

Everywhere there is this tension between wanting to play like children, and wanting to be heard like adults. Luckily, there’s plenty of space for both.

Junior Youth Group

All photos taken by Kat, who is clearly not a photographer.

I received a card in the mail the other day. It was from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

For the first time since I was 22, I have comprehensive health coverage.

And suddenly I can breathe.

It’s like that muscle you didn’t know you’d been clenching until the moment you’re receiving a massage. A chronic fearful itch, just below consciousness. Don’t get sick. Don’t get hurt. For the love of God, don’t get pregnant. Don’t feel worse. Don’t get tired. Don’t give in. 

I don’t have a primary care physician. I haven’t seen a physician in ages. Except for a $30 trip to the Nurse Practitioner for antibiotics and steroids (bronchitis and an inflamed lung), and a scary but uneventful colposcopy and biopsy at Planned Parenthood, I haven’t needed any kind of medicine in my life. I’ve been very lucky. But also very afraid.

Yes, I eat well. I exercise. I try to get enough sleep. All the alternative health folks tell me this is the best health plan the earth can provide. But all the broccoli in the world wouldn’t help me avoid bankruptcy if I were end up in a coma after a drunk driver smashes into me on the side of the road.

It happened at a party I attended. It wasn’t me who was hit, but it could have been.

I didn’t know how stressful it really was until it was over. Now I get the amazing chance to think about my health instead of worry about it.

The card I got in the mail wasn’t a birthday card or a thank you card. I’ll be paying thousands of dollars a year for it. But my chest is full of air and I can let it all flow out and then in again. It turns out that money can buy a slice of happiness and peace. Who knew?