Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Spirituality isn't Your Tumblr Aesthetic

I've talked about my spirituality before, but very very long ago, so it bears a refresher before I get into this rant. I discovered Wicca when I was 15 as I prepared to put my beloved dog to sleep and realized that the Catholic faith of my mother (which which I had loosely associated myself) had no room in heaven for dogs. It appealed to my love of nature and my affinity for fantasy (I was particularly interested in herbal healing) and it provided solace to my broken heart as I worked through the grief of my dog dying. I read books, visited the local occult shop when I could, and when I had regular access to the Internet, joined a Wicca message board (and made and maintained friendships with some of those people, even though we have all taken differing spiritual paths over the years). But, as I entered my 20's, something about Wicca felt... off to me. I didn't believe in the Wiccan Rede, I hated how, although it was based on early nature-based religions, it was terribly one-sided in favor of the Divine Female, the Goddess, with little attention paid to the actual duality of nature or the recognition of a God within the structure. I hated the fluffy, feel-good, be nice to everyone and harm NOTHING vibe. I loathed the little girls who thought it was the movie The Craft (which is an awesome movie, don't get me wrong, but it's entertainment, not fact) and used it to rebel against their parents.

At around 23 years old, I reevaluated my spirituality, and decided to drop Wicca as a personal identifier. My spirituality is much more grounded in the world I live in, existing in nature, celebrating the primal energy that surrounds us. I have an animal guide (ravens and crows, which I have tattooed all over me). My own personality is much too grey-area to stick with something so love-and-light as Wicca (which is a modern religion, don't let anyone tell you it's ancient) so I prefer to refer to myself as an extremely solitary, shaman-ish dirt-worshipping tree hugger, because I don't particularly like the term "Pagan," even. Given all this, maybe my rant is going to sound a little salty-old-Pagan, but so be it.

Sooo ~aesthetic~

There is a trend currently of girls appropriating certain aspects of various Pagan religions and declaring themselves "Wiccan" or "witches," when really, they're in it for the aesthetic. It's all over Tumblr and Instagram: aesthetically arranged crystals and candles, all put through a millennial pink or cool, blue-toned filter, alongside pictures of mermaid/unicorn hair (as an aside, I am so over unicorn and mermaid fucking everything) and maybe some witchy-sounding text. As someone who actually worships nature and has spent a long time pondering and evolving her own spirituality, I am actually so offended by these Tumblr witches. Insta witches. Facebook witches.

Owning some pretty crystals and spouting bullshit about your chakras (I guess Wicca is East Asian now?) doesn't make you Wiccan. It doesn't make you Pagan. It certainly doesn't make you a witch. ~Faerie majik~ is bullshit. I'm all for people having religion if it helps them (although I do believe wholeheartedly that organized religion holds us back as a species) or some form of structured spirituality, but come on. My spirituality isn't a trend. My spirituality is primal. I, on occasion, cast curses, because nature is not kind and sweet. Other times, I commune with the world around me and talk to animals (I have always had an affinity for animals). I read the weather in the leaves on the trees, in the clouds, and behavior of animals. I feel the world around me with every fiber of my being. I am happiest near trees and with crows nearby. It is not enough to have some shiny rocks that you've "charged" in the moonlight to be any form of Pagan. It's a belief set. It's a faith. If you want to take aesthetically-pleasing pictures of crystals and candles, by all means, do so, but don't pretend to belong to an established religion or faith when you don't know a damn thing beyond what pop culture throws at you, and you don't actually believe in what it says. Religion and spirituality are personal things, and Tumblr witches discredit those of us who have taken the time to examine our faith and refine our practices.

I'm not the only one that gripes about this. I'm friends with all sorts of flavor of Pagan, and we collectively roll our eyes at newly-minted batches of pastel-haired "Wiccans" who fill their feeds with pictures of crystals and sparkles and faeries because it's so aesthetic. Yes, there are some pretty tools in the more modern practices, and some gorgeous things crafted by talented artists that can be used for rituals and such, but pretty things shouldn't be the basis for choosing a religious path.

Maybe I am a cranky, salty old witch. Lately, as I've been craving being primal raising up some energy (it really has been a while), I've been stewing on the topic. I've been stewing on it for a while but maybe it's the upcoming new moon, maybe it's some amazing ancient Northern European inspired music I've been listening to, but I've felt my spirituality particularly acutely these past few days and seeing fake Pagans makes me salty. Maybe I'll go send out energy for their Instagram accounts to be hacked. ;)

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Matriarchs of Public Health

I started thinking about entering the world of public health all the way back in 2009 when my amazing cousin Stephanie planted the seed in my head as I spiraled further and further into job dissatisfaction. Granted, I didn't act on that until 2015, and this past May, I graduated (I'm not technically finished, so I don't feel comfortable putting the credentials after my name yet since I'm not officially an MPH). In my 2 years of graduate school, I found myself inspired by our program director (who just retired from the position this month) who had, in her long career, done it all, but mostly in the realm of end of life care. But, because she had done it all, I learned some valuable skills from her, as much as they make me groan (work plans and budgets are not fun things to draft). She has stories and experience and has seen the field I'm interested in-- technology in healthcare-- literally evolve from paper charts to the sophisticated electronic medical records and health-related devices and mobile apps that we have now. She has written programming for early systems.

At my current job, I work with an amazing group of (mostly) women, and our department head is another seen-it-all-done-it-all bastion of public health. She has been doing what she does since I've been alive (seriously-- she's been in her position since 1980 and will be retiring to a per diem status in October). I started my job 3 weeks ago and probably since before I started she has been working on writing grants for future projects. Grant writing is a huge undertaking and as she explained her process to us, she said, without a shred of vaingloriousness, that she is granted nearly every grant she applies for (which is good news for my department and my job security). She knows everyone in the state, she has experiences and stories to share. She has shaped public health, disease prevention, and the spread of evidence-based health education in central Maine.

These two women remind me so much of each other, because they share so many of the same attributes: their calm demeanor, their shrewd, innovative thinking, and their soothing voices. These women that I look up to are the matriarchs of public health. When I think of leaders in public health, I don't think of men leading the way (although there have been amazing male contributors to the public health world and I've had the pleasure to learn from some very gifted scholars) I think of these wizened, caring women who have paved the way, who fight for the health and wellness of everyone in their communities, who put their nose to the grindstone to apply for grants to ensure that resources can be generated, studies performed, and health services delivered.

I'm 37, and I can't even imagine getting to that point, to that level of achievement. I admire these women so much and it saddens me that I am only now encountering them in the twilight of their careers as they prepare to retire and pass the torch to another generation. These are women who have been in public health for decades, have witnessed social change, policy change, changes in attitude toward health and healthcare delivery. These matriarchs of public health have been the backbone for people like me, entering the industry. They're grassroots people, people I can relate to, when so many of the women in my program I couldn't relate to at all. They have built the foundations of what I do, and I will forever admire and be grateful for them paving the way.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Year Alone

A year ago, I finally met the man that would steal my heart. After months of talking almost every day, he came to see me. I've been keeping busy all day, but just now, I looked at the clock and realized a year ago today, at 9pm, I got in my car and headed to New Hampshire to pick him up from the airport. We got back to my house around 2am and didn't fall asleep until after 6am. We spent 5 amazing days together. I tried to plan a trip to visit him in October, but those plans fell through due to his demanding work schedule and being in graduate school, that was the only viable time I could have gone. I start a new job Monday, and that leaves me once again with no option to travel.

It's been a year, and that realization has hit me hard.

I ask you, my friends and family, if you see me this weekend and I seem a little sad, don't pry. I don't like crying in front of people which is what I do whenever someone asks "so, when do you get to see him again?"

Distance is hard.

My "I think about him all the time and I miss him and I'm sad so I'm going to sit here and cry" song is Tove Lo's "Habits (Stay High) Hippie Sabotage Remix." Funny, when I first heard it I thought it was glorifying drug use (well... kinda. Inappropriate coping mechanisms) but listening to it more and more, it became my on-repeat song for missing him.


I'm probably going to listen to it a few times this weekend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bi Erasure, Biphobia, and Treating People Like a Fetish

Pride month is wrapping up, and I've had a few thoughts that have been stewing at a rolling boil just below the surface, and it started with The Babadook. I am not "babashook" about people elevating a horror movie character (from a fairly good movie, mind you) to the New Gay Icon(tm) and proclaiming that the B in LGBTQIA+ stood for Babadook. I am not here for that at all. And neither are other bisexuals.

Other? Yeah, about that. I'm bisexual.

Apologies to my family who find out via my blog. I never felt a "coming out" was important or necessary, because all of my relationships have been with men and let's face it, we all know I'm too huge of a catty bitch to have a functional relationship with a woman. It's not a big deal. I don't even particularly care about labels, but if you want to put one on it, there you go.

Back to the Babadook and why it's a big deal. Bi erasure is a huge problem not only in mainstream media but within the LGBTQIA+ community. Bisexuals are faced with stigma, exclusion, and treated like they're too gay to be in straight spaces but too straight to be in gay spaces. At the best, bisexual people are ignored. At the worst, they're either treated like a fetish for straight-identifying people or instantly categorized as inherently unfaithful and untrustworthy partners.

Let me tell you why the way bisexuals are treated is bullshit:

1. A bisexual person is perfectly capable of being in a committed, loving relationship with someone without being "tempted" to cheat, without feeling like they're "missing out" on the other sex. I am a ridiculously faithful person, even with a partner 1,200 miles away that I haven't seen in a year. Don't tell me I'm a cheater because I'm bi!

2. If someone tells you they're bisexual, your instant response shouldn't be "wanna have a threesome?" Please. That gets old really quick, and I can tell you, threesomes are kind of overrated, awkward, and boring. I'm not here to be your unrequited fetish fantasy.

3. It's not that I can't choose. I am attracted to both. It's how I am. Penises are awesome. Vulvas are awesome. It's not a phase. If it is, it's a 20 year one.

4. Bi people aren't bi for attention. If I was bi for attention, I would have... come out?

I'm sure so many others have written about the topic of bi erasure and biphobia much, much more eloquently than I have. But the whole point of this blog was to work through my feeling and thoughts as I wandered through my day-to-day life. So to sum up: I'm bi. No I don't cheat. I'm not attracted to you, don't worry. No I don't want a threesome. Yes I belong in queer spaces. No it's not a phase/for attention/because I can't choose. Yes I am valid. Yes I am visible. Yes I belong.


Oh and P.S., stop being shitty to asexual, intersex, gender noncomforming, nonbinary, trans, and other erased members of the community. They're just as valid.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dear People in Customer Service

I'm taking a break from the last two weeks of hectic grad school wrap up to rant a little (did you miss me?). I am going to preface this with my work experience: about 3 years in a retail, face-to-face setting, and almost 9 years in a call center. That's a long time in customer service. I've trained customer service representatives. I did that for 2.5 years. I know what I'm talking about.

Getting my hair done is a treat. On average, a hair appointment for me, for a cut and color, can go anywhere from $50 - $70, depending on how complex I want my dye job to be. I haven't worked, aside from a 10 hour a week graduate assistantship, for 2 years, so I hoarded gift certificates from Christmas and my birthday so that I could get my hair done today, two weeks before I graduate, 5 days before a job interview for a job I really want. My life right now is busy and stressful, and getting my hair done is relaxing. I know my hairdresser, she's family, and the only person I want to touch my hair. She owns her salon and booth rents to other hairdressers. Today, as she was doing my hair, she was nearly going out of her mind as one of the girls that booth rents from her chattered at her client nonstop about her personal life. It was obnoxious. I offered to get rude.

Another preface, that's relevant to me: I am a weird combination of A-type personality and huge introvert. I get annoyed easily, I don't look outwardly approachable, and when I'm in a situation where I am receiving service from someone, I usually want it done as soon as possible. This is why I love the nail salon I go to. Their English is limited so they don't feel obligated to carry on a conversation, they're busy so they're working as quickly as possible. I'm in and out on a good day in about an hour with a fresh fill and polish. It's a win-win for me.

Somewhere, somehow, the service industry interpreted excessive chattiness as good customer service. That this loquaciousness was somehow endearing to a customer and built loyalty (and in addendum to this, calling every customer "hun" "sweetie" or, to my horror getting coffee the other day, "darlin'"). It's actually not. I wasn't even her client and I was getting annoyed by her constant stream of excessive, personal information. Yes, in an industry where you have regular customers, it's okay to get to know them, it's nice to chat. But, if you're going to do that, let the conversation be two-way, know your client's personality, and remember you're in a busy public place, and keep the conversation professional. I've overheard many, many conversations in the salon over the years that I never wanted to, and I'm sure clients didn't care to hear, either. Hell, when monitoring calls in the call center, I overheard agents sharing way too much with customers they didn't know, and you could hear in the customer's voice how awkward they felt, and how much they didn't want to have to hear it, but didn't want to be rude and interrupt (except one guy who told a coworker of mine ages ago "will you just stop talking?" which still makes me laugh to this day, because she had one of those horrible, saccharine voices that makes you want to stab out your ear drums with a hot poker).

Save the personal conversations for your friends and family, not your clients, whatever service industry you're in. No one wants it. It's awkward and your coworkers secretly hate you.

In addition, I think this sounds like a fabulous idea.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Letter to my Youngest Niece on the Second Day of Trump's Presidency

Dear Rachel,

You probably won't see this unless someone directly links it to you, since you don't use Facebook, but this is something that's been composing itself in the back of my mind now for years. Composing itself, ever since that Easter a couple years ago when you, barely 15, started expressing an interest in politics and a desire to see a woman in the highest elected office in this country. That Easter, when I saw you visibly withdraw your passion when your grandfather (not my Dad, mind you) stated "the worst thing we ever did was give women the vote." With that utterance I felt rage well up inside of me, and I am truly sorry I didn't speak up, but instead buried myself in the glass of wine in my hand and worked on getting drunk.

With that single utterance, he reduced your thoughts, ideals, and hopes into an insignificance he ground under the heel of patriarchy, and I should have spoken up. I was so happy to see your burgeoning feminism at the table, and so incredibly sad to see someone in your life who is supposed to love and support you quash it. I'm sorry I didn't let my anger manifest into words. On this day where so many women around the world are voicing their anger and fear by demonstrating political dissent, reminding the patriarchy that our voices will be heard, I offer my humblest and sincerest apology. I have been dwelling on that day for years, and you have no idea how much that one harmful phrase has stuck with me. I will no longer remain silent. I may not be marching for us today, but I will no longer remain silent in the face of a regime that wants to subjugate women and commodify them.

You are an incredibly intelligent, articulate, generous, gentle, and kind person, Rachel, and don't let this cruel world strip that from you and turn you cynical. Seize hold of that burgeoning feminism I saw manifest years ago, and speak up for yourself, your friends, your loved ones. Get involved, be active. Get to know victims, marginalized people, vulnerable people. Use your incredible capacity for caring and compassion to make change in this world. Whatever career you embrace, use it as a platform for good, but please, I implore you, never lose your values, your ideals, your autonomy. Stand up for what is right and never allow someone to drown out your voice.

I'm sorry I didn't stand up for you then, but I will and am now. I have your back, and the backs of all women whose voices have been drowned out.

You are not property.

You are not a commodity.

You have agency.

You are strong, whether you realize it yet or not.

I'm proud to call you my niece.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thanks, Obama

I posted briefly on Facebook this morning, as the Inauguration proceedings were underway in Washington D.C., that I would not be participating in the Women's March locally, not because I don't support the cause (I wholeheartedly do. Dissent is political. Dissent makes change) but because I know, as a person living with bipolar disorder, that the sheer crowd would trigger a negative reaction in me. I am, however, incredibly proud of the friends and family that will be marching tomorrow, locally and in the nation's capital. It is incredibly important that we use our voices, that we stand up for ourselves, loved ones, marginalized populations, at-risk populations, humanity.

I will admit, watching footage of Barack and Michelle Obama waving farewell and stepping onto Marine One made me tear up a bit. There went one of the biggest champions of human rights, women's rights, gay and transgender rights, health, and public health. So, without a shred of irony I say, "thanks, Obama."

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act. Is it a perfect piece of legislature? No. Is it huge and incredibly complex and in need of reform? Yes. As we face a vague plan of "repeal and replace," I worry that the good work Obama has done will be undone by the incoming administration. Many people focus on the high premiums on the plans offered in the Marketplace, and the struggles to navigate the website. Consider, however, that the ACA removed the ability for insurance companies to deny you coverage based on preexisting conditions. Looking at things through the lens of public health, the ACA has been monumental in healthcare reform. The ACA introduced value-based purchasing and improved quality measures that have improved healthcare delivery and health outcomes. While the HITECH Act was implemented prior to the ACA, it has flourished and expanded within the last several years, opening up health exchanges that collect, examine, and report on population health data. Thanks, Obama, for trying to resolve healthcare disparities and gaps in coverage.

I won't lie. As someone in her last semester in a Master of Public Health program facing an administration that has already demonstrated it doesn't care about the health and welfare of Americans, I'm scared. I'm scared but this degree puts me in a position to advocate for the health needs and rights of all people.

This post isn't nearly as coherent and cohesive as I would like it to be. I am sure, in the near future, there will be plenty to write about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Harmful Ways We Think

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said that "the most dangerous phrase... is 'we've always done it that way.'" A collective resistance to change exists in this world, and I used to embrace it with open arms. I found change scary and harmful-- after all, if ain't broke don't fix it, right? But I've realized this is a harmful way of thinking. As part of dealing with my bipolar disorder, I've had to become incredibly introspective and self-aware, which includes examining the way I think about things and react to things. Change makes me panic, but I realize it's necessary for growth. On January 1st, I wrote on my Facebook "I've realized over the past few weeks that some of my ways of thinking seriously limit my personal and professional development, and I'm going to work hard at changing my own mind, no matter how scary it might be." 

One of the biggest changes I've made was my decision to go to graduate school, and as I enter my last semester, I face new changes: transitioning back into the workforce. I've already dipped my toe in the water, and have already been rejected for one job (I was quiet about the application and rejection, I've processed it, and while I'm bummed, I'm okay with it). I regularly search for public health/health information technology jobs to get a feel for what is available. When I entered my program, I did it under the auspices that I was doing a duty to my state, to Maine, that needed my help so much. I was going to champion my fellow rural poor, I was going to champion reproductive justice and mental health. And I was going to absolutely, unwaveringly do this in Maine because I was born here, and dammit, I'm going to die here. 

Why, my fellow Mainers, do we get into this mindset? Why do we view the outside world as scary and not worthy of even visiting? I'm in the bad habit of reading the comments on articles online (I know, I know, never read the comments) and I've seen salt-of-the-earth Mainers say things like "I went to [state] once. I didn't take to it. Didn't see the appeal, I'll stay right where I am." We are ingrained to have this horrible world view of anything outside of the state, and to look at people From Away with disdain (I am guilty of this), and even treat our largest city, Portland, as not part of the state. We are formed of the earth of the state and will not be moved. I love my state, and I love my people, but the resistance to change, the unwillingness to be open minded to new ideas, new people, and new experiences is suffocating. 

I was never one of those kids who said at high school graduation "I can't wait to get out of this state." I was one of the "I will never leave" kids. But as I reach the end of my career, and I look at job opportunities and median salaries (because while job satisfaction and knowing I'm helping others is important, so too, is salary) I realize I need to be open to new experiences and opportunities. I have never lived outside of Central Maine. While I am more traveled than probably the average Mainer, I've never fully experienced life in a more urbanized area, I've never been in a culturally diverse area. My resistance to change has narrowed my worldview and that is a hurdle to overcome, in and of itself. When I look at the careers of people I admire in my life, I see movement, I see change. I can help people in Maine, and elsewhere, but I can't remain static doing it. I can't remain in this holding pattern of resistance to change. I can't, and I won't. 

Maine is a special place. Escaping to the forests makes me feel refreshed and healed. But I can't put up a wall of resistance to change if opportunity arises. That way of thinking is harmful, and I can't limit myself.