Sporadic update: Healthcare

Healthcare has been on my mind a lot lately. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had to get surgery. I will likely need another in the next year (then, hopefully, I will be cured knock on wood).  If it weren’t for Obamacare, I wouldn’t have been able to get that surgery. Right now I’d still be in so much pain I can’t walk. In fact, I’d probably need to move back to Taiwan just to have treatment. It would actually be cheaper for me to do that. Wild.

On the metro today, I went through my usual list of podcasts to entertain myself on the hour long commute to DC.  In between the news and the pop science, an interview with Naomi Klein came up. She’d be invited by W.  Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu to appear on their show “Politically Re-Active” which blends comedy, news and cultural analysis. Klein, who gained acclaim for her book “The Shock Doctrine” (though perhaps that’s disingenuous as I believe she was well known before), joined to speak about her new book:  No is Not Enough.

During the interview, she spoke at length about the new shocks we might endure, about how they signal systemic failings and about how we must respond. In the coming days, weeks, months even, god forbid, years we will need to mobilize and respond a lot. We will be saying “No” a lot, but “no” has less motivational power than “yes”, Klein says. No can exhaust you, especially when the red of Nos are drowned out by the stacks of green Yeses. Moreover, Klein says ‘No’ is not enough. We need to identify Yes policies; we need to prepare for them.

The Healthcare bill, which spread like a noxious gas through Capitol Hill, has inspired in me more than dread.  It’s made me curious about what a solution could look like. I feel inspired to better explore my own Yes, and others.

For the duration of my time in DC, I am being housed by a friend’s family.  This morning I heard his father, a doctor, lament what he referred to as changes in the medical system. When I asked him how he might design the ideal healthcare system he did not bring up single-payer or privatization or any of the typical words.  Instead, he said “Education”.

He had noticed a shift in culture within the medical world of his thirty years of practice. “I was trained to believe my duty was to the patient,” he said. “Younger people are trained to worship at the altar” of reducing costs regardless of how it affects the person they are helping. That means prescribing the cheapest medication, regardless of side effect. That means not questioning a CEO “pocketing 22 million” at the expense of broad healthcare coverage.

Not just that, but the average adult lacks basic knowledge of healthcare systems, according to the doctor. They cannot identify what constitutes an injury needing urgent care; they put off visiting and a problem which might have been inexpensive to treat weeks before now incurs high costs to the system and, more importantly, the patient.

After thirty years, this shift has been wearing him down. He’s considering a career change. “Do you know I have to give out dozens of denials a week?” he asked me. “It’s tiring.” Saying No to people who need care, but cannot access it so a wealthier tier can purchase another car, another watch, another thing weighs heavy on his mind.

He’s not sure what Yes looks like for him personally now, but he believes it starts with education and a fundamental shift in the culture. They’re good people, these new doctors, he added at the end. They’ve just been trained wrong.

Yes feels good when it’s identified, but can also be daunting. Klein spoke of how daunting, and a little scary, it was to speak aloud what she’d, and a group of other women, been formulating in their minds. Yes can be risky– not least because you can’t know the effects of a hypothetical completely, but also others might circumscribe your ideas or punish you for having them.

Klein has spent years thinking about and developing her Yeses, and I think she’s worth listening to. As for me, like the doctor, my Yes is guided by my ethics. I can identify pieces of a system which includes intersectionality,  but as for the specifics? Well, I have some work to do. Let’s hope some day I’m brave enough to articulate them aloud with the force of Naomi Klein.

My struggle with minimalist poetry…

Two weeks ago I participated in a readathon during which time I picked up a couple of books of poetry. I’ll admit I find it difficult to understand it completely as an art form, so please take the reviews that follow in the coming weeks with a grain of salt.Both minimalist.Minimalism as a form , I feel, is extremely difficult to pull off well. It requires precise language.

Unfortunately, The Princess Saves Herself in This One, a book of poetry by Amanda Lovelace, fell short.. A lot of people recommended it on the basis of its feminist themes, but I didn’t feel the author presented new ideas. Her method of delivery didn’t excite me either. I struggled to understand some of the choices she made– what did she edit and why? What was her creative process? What skill was involved? I understand the difficulty of expressing ideas concisely, but I’ve often found part of the artistry of poetry involves complexity of language (diction and syntax, rhythm and rhyme), presentation of new ideas or viewpoint.  Poetry should help me change my frame of reference or transport me in some way. The Princess Saves Herself in This One just…didn’t. I really wish it did.

The imagery was underwhelming at best. Of course, Lovelace intended many of the images to be recognizable– women have often been referred to as princesses or damsels– to allow for easier digestion of the ideas she conveyed, and to make the poems more culturally relevant. Some have noted Lovelace’s poetry is reminiscent of Tumblr posts. As an active Tumblr user, I’d agree. Portraying women as mermaids and magical creatures and poems like this:

“the love
some girls
have for
other girls
is
so gentle
& so soft
& so fucking
beautiful…”

are very reminiscent of Tumblr language. I believe the author herself was a prodigious Tumblr  user prior to publishing this book, so it shouldn’t be surprising the community influenced her.

Too often the poems felt like a generic statement– they lacked voice.They lacked depth.

“repeat after me:
you owe
no one
your
forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

Okay? That might be true, but it’s also just platitude. These are littered throughout the book. I hope someone finds them empowering;it’s clear the author did but, again, I  really struggled. No doubt the author displayed vulnerability in this  book . I appreciate her bravery.  Issues like abuse, sexism and feminism should be discussed in art; but, sadly, I do not think this is enough to make art good.

There were a few moments where the poems were memorable. I particularly enjoyed the comparison of puberty with mermaids changing between legs to a tail. It fit with the overall theme of women being magical (one poem says women have “stardust” in their veins) and, though it was placed in the well-tread ground transformation during puberty, I liked it.

Opinions on this collection in terms of its artistry, execution, themes, have been extremely divided, so I’d encourage you to read a positive review before you write it off.
Personally, this book didn’t impress. If you are planning on picking up a minimalist poetry book and the themes of The Princess Saves Herself in This One intrigue you,  I’d recommend Milk and Honey.

The Warmth of Other Suns

I was leaving the South.. To fling myself into the unknown… To see if [I] could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.” – Richard Wright

During the 20th century, some of the most impactful moments in our history stemmed from World War I, the Great Depression, World War II,  and the Civil Rights Movement. All of us have at least some basic understanding of how these events shaped our lives today, but during that sixty year period another phenomenon happened that has shaped the North and the South, has outlined popular thought and has defined many of our biggest cities. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, is dedicated to studying this phenomenon, a movement now known as the Great Migration.

Through this sixty year period, hundred of thousands of black people fled the South in search of greater freedom, opportunity and stability. They left the south as fugitives, forced to become both emigrant and immigrant in their own country– orange pickers driving down back roads, sharecroppers concealing their plans from farmers, those condemned for activism smuggling themselves in coffins,  others still driving days without sleep. Now in the new world,  a world which Northerners had advertised and led them to, they could walk on the same street as white people, talk to them without honorific titles, and work for a wage, but the North erected its own set of obstacles. The racism of the north disguised itself in higher rent, and lower wages. It made itself evident in the white flight from a neighborhood as soon as a black family moved in. “The hierarchy in the North called for blacks to remain in their station…while immigrants [from other nations] were rewarded for their ability to leave their old world traits”.

The Warmth of Other Suns
not only inspects how migrants made their way from South to North, but how they navigated the injustices they faced once there, how they realized the North was not the oasis they dreamed of. Wilkerson is a masterful story teller, interweaving smaller vignettes into the longer arcs of three primary “characters”– each of whom followed a very different path North. Ida Mae Brandon Gladey, a sharcropper from Mississippi, leaves the South on the verge of the Great Depression. She settles in Chicago where her resilience and affectionate practicality helps her make a home in a swiftly changing city. George Starling Swanson, a passionate, willful orange picker from Flordia, flees the state  to Harlem, New York after the owner of the groves decides to kill him for organizing an ersatz union to fight for workers’ rights. Robert Pershing Foster, an ambitious surgeon hemmed in my limitations of Louisiana, drives to California where he hopes to prove himself to his family, his race and his oppressors.

I’ll admit, some of Wilkerson’s  reminders  of information in previous chapters felt repetitive,  and I do wish she had included some of the images on her website in the book itself, I still learned a great deal from this book, and appreciated the stories it told. In fact, I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down.  For anyone who wishes to understand how  false myths surrounding welfare, inner cities and crime first took root, or who for those just wishing for a good story pick up The Warmth of Other Suns.

Let’s jump on the bandwagon, shall we?

First of all, a quick shout out to Kevin Wada  for this  amazing piece of fan art. I hope they won’t mind my using it here. Click here for their blog.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is it about?
Set in the same world as Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows  turns to the underside of Ketterdam, a major trade nation, where gangs run the streets. Seventeen year-old Kaz Brekker has quickly become the unspoken leader of one of those gangs, the Dregs, which he spent his childhood transforming from pitiful to formidable. Kaz is tapped by an upstanding merchant to run a near-impossible heist in exchange for unimaginable wealth. Gathering a crew of misfits*, all with their own goals, Kaz sets out to complete a mission that might just change the world.

*A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

What did you think?

Continue reading Let’s jump on the bandwagon, shall we?

All by my shelf: Book Goals for 2017

Back in high school I had a pretty sweet gig  reading books. Publishers used to send them to me in exchange for a review. I know. I was pretty psyched about it too. As I got older, I dropped it. I won’t bore you with the reasons, but I will say I have been reflecting on my teen-self. I loved reading in a way I think has faded. I switched passion out for responsibilities and anxieties.

Oh, I never stopped reading. I will always love reading, but for the past several years, every time I picked up a book for me I felt a prick of guilt.The last several months I’ve been rekindling my love of reading– reading not for academic or intellectual advancement, but for personal enjoyment. If I learn something along the way, then great. If I don’t, well then it’s been great stress relief.
Still, just because it’s relaxing doesn’t mean I can’t use a challenge, so here are the challenges I’ll be participating in this year:

1. Flights of Fantasy Challenge: Ah, Fantasy, my first love. I’ve set a goal of 15 fantasy books this year, mainly because I’m planning on doing two other challenges, and I want to make sure I read a bit more diversely this year.

Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge 2016 banner Alexa Loves Books Hello Chelly

2. Around the World Challenge: In Arabic there is a saying “Language is the bowl of culture”. To look for the lessons different people value, it is useful to read the popular literature in the region they grew up in. Bonus: Often times, people whose second language is English think about differently. That means there might be fewer cliches or more refreshing choices in diction and syntax. This also applies to insightful translations.

3. The TBR or the #beatthebacklist challenge: Like so many of us, I have lists of books I haven’t read yet. I have a stack in the corner that, for some reason or another, is unopened. Time to remedy that. If you’d like to see some of my TBR’s, you can check out my Goodreads account. I think I have about 20 or so books on my TBR, and I’d like to get through all of them this year.

4. Finally, I’m participating in a challenge of my own making. That challenge is the non-fiction or Learn Something! challenge. Despite what I said above, I’d still like to learn something about our own world that isn’t nestled in fiction.

As a whole, I’d like to shoot for 52 books this year. Let’s see if I can pull it off!

There you have it. My 2017 reading challenge.

Is anyone else participating in a reading challenge this year?

Forbidden Love?!?!: How dating someone made question how I defined rights and culture

Dating in a city where dating is taboo is not thrilling. It’s not romantic.We don’t steal embraces and chaste kisses in alleyways. We don’t even hold hands.  Sure, we often go out together — which has greatly improved our neighbors’ gossip fortunes (you’re welcome)– but the traditionally romantic parts of our relationship were held in one of two rooms, until recently.

Perhaps I should break a rule here by rewinding and dumping some info. (sorry Stephen King, guess I’ll never be a great writer). For the past several months, I have unexpectedly found myself living in Nablus, a city in the West Bank.  When I’m not engaging in socially frowned upon behavior with my boyfriend, I’m studying Arabic at the University in the same city. I knew when I moved here that dating was a complicated social topic, but I had hoped to establish my home and his as a sort of private space–  one where we could be comfortable in who we are.

I spent most of my time at his place, mainly because I could sleep over at his. Occasionally, I would invite him to mine when I had work to do in the evening, or an early class the next day. This also meant I could spend more time socializing with my roommates, whom I really enjoyed, without sacrificing too much time with my boyfriend.

Roughly two months ago, however, the dynamic shifted when a new Palestinian roommate join us. During the consideration period she insisted she felt comfortable with having men over, but another roommate, also Palestinian, though quite liberal, sensed discomfort. We let her move-in anyway; we needed the money and we believed her. Everything continued as normal at first.

My boyfriend visited maybe once a week. Each time I would check with each roommate before he came. Mostly I would take him into my room, out of the common area, so as not to bother the other roommates. The second month the new roommate started shutting herself in her room the moment he walked in. I knocked on her door and asked her if she was certain she was okay with having him there. I told her I didn’t want her to hate being in her own living space. She assured me everything was fine.

One day I walked out of my room to find the landlord sitting in the living room. Not just the landlord, but a girl from next door, whom the roommate had befriended. I had received no call, no warning. He asked me if I’d known that boys were forbidden in the apartment. I calmly informed him that he had not stipulated this when we had moved in. A number of foreigners lived in mixed apartments here, so I assumed it’d be the same in this one.

“Don’t you know about our traditions?” he sputtered. I spent the next five minutes, face burning, listening to him berate me for my choices.I told him I’d never do it again, rushed back into my room, packed up and left.

After the meeting I was enraged, humiliated and filled with self-doubt. I felt violated, like my privacy had been invaded. This was meant to be one of my safe spaces. I felt angry with the societal implication that women needed to be protected and, by extension, that they were incapable of making decisions about their own safety and well-being.  I questioned if this meant I couldn’t ‘cut it’ in the field of work I was most interested in. I struggled to discern where the line was between preserving what you believed to be your own rights and not infringing on others’. I wondered about how to be a good ally to feminists here and whether my own outrage was justified.

While we walked down the street to his house, my boyfriend listened to me puff my frustration into the cold air, before constructing a scenario which ended in this question: “Let’s say you lived here and you saw a boy entering the building. Could you stay silent?”

I snapped my mouth shut. In truth, I didn’t know. If I had been raised to believe boys and girls mingling in their living spaces was inappropriate; if  I felt that seeing a strange boy in my apartment building infringed upon my safety, would I be justified in making sure he left? Even if it affected others? Did my right to privacy supersede theirs? What is privacy and how do different cultures interpret it? Is a right innate?

As we continued walking down the empty streets, I descended deeper and deeper into this question: What makes a right? When do I choose to defend one and let it go? I realized more clearly then what I had known in some small part of my brain. A right is decided by the will of the majority. If others do not define what you believe to be a right as such, you must fight against them, often at great cost.  This becomes even more complex when considering an individual’s right in a country they aren’t a citizen or native of. Add on to this the concept of allyship and the long history of well-intentioned people interfering in the progress of another country and bungling it up.

I knew I shouldn’t extend the conflict by speaking with my landlord. It wasn’t worth the price of making others uneasy– even if they wouldn’t admit they were, even if it meant I was humiliated in front of a stranger, even if I disagreed with the method of communication. My grievance was a relatively small one compared to what others’ had to live with. I might be the subject of gossip for the year. I might be shamed or humiliated for five minutes. But I didn’t have to spend my life here. I didn’t have to conform long-term with a society I didn’t agree with, or be punished for diverging. No bravery is required of me.

Perhaps even the landlord, whose attitude I had found so disagreeable, was  struggling with society in some small way. Perhaps he faced loss of face because of my actions. In order to defend his reputation, he had to make a public show of berating me. Perhaps. Or perhaps I’m being too nice. Who knows. It’is hard to tell when you’ve spent so little time in a new culture. It’s hard to know when to push and where.

Probably the best choice I could make is to throw my support behind a group in Palestine whom I believe in, but even that carries friction.  One on hand, to be an ally I must support someone. On the other hand, how much of my own cultural upbringing informs who I decide to support? It reminds me of the divide I see within feminist groups about things like the hijaab. Some feminists, even  Muslims in Muslim majority countries, view it as a symbol of oppression; others view it as a symbol of expression. Both can be correct, both believe the choice should be up to the woman, but who do you support? And why? And how do you support them? Is there room for nuance and how do you separate cultural influence from individual choice?

Being an ally, and choosing whom to ally with, is a difficult decision. Knowing when to stand up for your individual rights against the greater society can be difficult, too. I’m not sure if I have the right answers, but in some strange way I’m glad I’ve been forced to ask the questions.

*I should note that this should not be taken as a blanket statement on Palestinian culture, and shouldn’t be a comment on daily life here. This is intended to be interpreted largely as a personal experience which made me question my belief system.

The suddenness of religiosity

There’s something to be said about the theory that we become more religious as we near death, or as a friend nears death, or death becomes a greater statistical probability (even if that probability is still very small).
Suddenly, you’re grappling with the metaphysical and philosophical questions you try to avoid in your daily life because you know very well that you don’t have the answers to any of them and hope that you’ll some how absorb them over the course of trying to live.

It starts when you start focusing on them– on those questions– that religion slips in. “Is he okay?” is one of those questions. Inevitably, especially if you’re imaginative (and aren’t all of us really when we are anxious), you come up with scenario. What so many portrayals of this process don’t get is it’s never linear. It’s never bad to worse. It’s bad, better, worse, worst, okay. At some points you focus on just keeping it level at “okay”, even while your heart clenches and burns.

Periodically, as your heart oscillates between hammering and painful twisting, you start making deals.  You don’t even have to name a deity or a creator. You just hope for some temporary influence over the world. You give up things; you sacrifice the hypothetical.

I don’t need my dream job, you say to the universe. I don’t need him to be with me.
I can give up this plan I had for myself, or this treat. I promise I’ll do something to return the price to you.

This is when you are less than okay. When you’re okay, you can tell yourself he must be too.
He must be okay because he’d make the safe choice, because he’d get lucky, because it couldn’t possibly be as bad as you imagine. Then a small voice in the back of your head says “What if he’s not?”

And you say, he is. He probably just doesn’t want to talk to you.

“That’s highly irregular,” the voice retorts.

Then you begin to wonder: What could he do that would lead to radio silence?

Drink too much and fall asleep? Decide that, actually, he wanted to break up with you? Cheat on you?

That’s when you realize, you’d rather he just cheated. That’s when you deals start taking on another form. You say to yourself, I can take that. I can take him cheating as long as he’s alive. I can take him breaking up with me. I can take never seeing him again, as long as he’s alive.

You keep checking your phone. It’s obsessive. Your heart leaps and sinks like a sine graph every time you do, and every time you do you pray that this otherworldly force has taken your deal, no matter which one.

 

Eight Year Old Fears of Cliffsides

“I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here– me included — will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust…I spread my hands out in front of me and take a good hard look at them. What am I always so tense about? Why this desperate struggle just to survive? I shake my head, turn from the window, clear my mind of thoughts a hundred years away. I’ll just think about now.”- Kafka  on the shore, Haruki Murakami (56)

I was sitting  on the deep raspberry seats of our Lumina looking back at the decorative knit balls that hung neatly in a row along the edge of the rear-window when I decided to ask my dad what he was most afraid of. I can’t remember what he said; I just remember him turning to look at those little ornaments and the crunching sound as the tires spun against the pebbles in our driveway. Or actually maybe he wasn’t looking back, maybe we had just arrived and he had just parked the car.

The sun washed everything in light, bleaching the green grass and the paint on our garage door, which was actually just created from a variety of abandoned doors from rooms in houses long since renovated. I seem to recall it being summer because of the way the heat permeated from the faux velvet seats. I must have been 7, maybe 8, because we sold the gold Lumina before I enrolled in the Catholic school near my house.  I remember him laughing out of surprise, the strange “hyuk” sound emanating from his throat only manifested when he was either dumbfounded or derisive.

“What are you afraid of Leah?” he asked, grinning at me with red apple cheeks.

Again, I can’t quite recall my exact phrasing, but I can recollect– more than recollect, feel–my fear. This fear had been metastasizing since I’d first really understood death, since I’d learned to question Heaven and Hell. What I said was: Nothing. I’m afraid of nothing or, rather, nothingness. I am terrified that when I die there will be no me, no consciousness. No memories of bleached doors or dangling ornaments or pebbles pulled from my rock collection and thrown in a driveway.

My father laughed and said “Well, don’t worry, if you don’t exist then you won’t be there to know it.”

As I’ve aged, though I’m still quite young, I’ve wrestled with this question, and my father’s response, many times. I can never quite figure out if his response is comforting or disturbing. When he said it, I felt this strange twist in my gut, as if he had confirmed everything I felt afraid of. I didn’t sleep well that night because sleep without remembered dreams seemed a lot like death. Not even convincing myself I was the Red King, who created entire worlds as he gave up his own, could persuade me to turn off my light and sleep willingly.

Later, in high school, I truly confronted what the consequences of my fear’s solution would be. In class we read a short story on the types of people in an immortal world. There were two types, the story asserted: those who did everything because they had all the time in the world, and those who did nothing for the same reason. I wonder what eternity as the same soul would be like. How many decades, centuries, millennia would I enjoy everything or nothing? If life is eternity, and we can do everything or nothing,  will it be what I know now?
Should I give up my life for immortality?

At the end of the story, the author reveals a third group, which siphons off the population of doers and non-doers, who leaves for a mysterious cliff-side. Not much is explained, but the implication could be that they choose to die.

After decades, centuries, millennia of looking at the same hands, they chose dust.

Maybe, at some point, we’ll all want to choose dust; but, since dust comes a little sooner than we’d all like, maybe it’d be better to try doing  what we like, if we can, now.
That way, even if we disappear into a great nothing with no hot summer air or surprised laughs, our great life will have made going to the cliffs a little less terrifying.

 

 

Getting personal

I’ve always been an anxious person; I think it might stem from my sensitivity. I take failure really hard. So hard that sometimes the thought of it stops me from even trying.
So, when I spend hours convincing myself to complete a task and the response is negative?  I often surrender too much of my time to obsessive thoughts on how my failure reflects qualities of my character, my intelligence, my likeability, continue ad nauseum.

The more I think about these things, the less I do. They less I do, the more I feel like I am all of these things and they just fester and form a big, self-hating pile of sludge.

As you may have gathered, this is not a pleasant process. My heart clenches and burns and the nervous ticks I sustained throughout my childhood resurface. In elementary, after years of social exclusion and bullying, I started to make small sounds or rub my hands together when I became nervous or stressed. I was embarrassed by this, but I couldn’t stop myself. My throat felt constricted and ticklish at the same time and I felt compelled to make the sounds to stop it. It gave me a small illusion of control.

My family would always tell me to “stop that!” whenever they noticed it. They didn’t know what else to do, or how to help. It didn’t have the intended effect. Instead, the thought of making the noises made me so stressed out that I began picking at my eyelashes. I’d pull at them, twist them and tug them and, for a little while, that’d help. Even so, I knew it wasn’t healthy and soon my new habit began causing stress.

I won’t go into all the reasons I felt stress and anxiety throughout my childhood, that would take too long and I’ve become sick of rehashing all the things that are wrong with me. I really want to make it through this anxiety, and I think I’m at a point where  I can admit I need help.

To this day I feel like a fraud. If something goes successfully it’s because I got lucky or because no one scrutinized my work enough. Any moment, they’ll discover what I really am. I’m not afraid of social situations, at least not initially, because it’s easy to pretend you’re confident when the other person has no way to verify the veracity of your claims, having never seen you react to stress or hardship. It’s later that makes me concerned, because I fear they’ll discover I’m an impostor. I’m not as creative or kind or  interesting as I pretend to be during that first few days, and when they compliment me for being any of those three I feel my heart sink because I’ve mislead them.

Sometimes I manage my anxiety really well and all those self-hating thoughts sink deeper and I forget about them for a time, but they inevitably come back. Today they’ve been really hard to manage and I can’t seem to bite back the vicious idea that I’m a failure.
For now, the simplest thing I can do is take a walk and remind myself that I have a right to happiness and a right to mistakes as a human being.
And like so many out there like me, I’ll work on managing my worries step by step.