Sunday, January 30, 2011

Growing pains

My heart hurts a lot after a really wonderful, yet intense, weekend. A friend came to visit, which allowed for fun times in the city I don't normally make time to enjoy. There was adventure and laughter. There was a lot of conversing too. I feel a little bit like I've been broken into hundreds of tiny pieces. She challenged me on a lot of my personal self views. She also forced me to think critically about what I want from the next few years of my life and how I might want to prioritize my experiences. I just dropped her off at the airport, and cried the whole way home.

As disheartening and frustrating as these conversations are, I recognize it as a golden opportunity for personal growth. In order to be the leader that I hope to become, I need to learn how to take criticism. This opportunity for reflection is a rare jewel which should be embraced. Just as long bones hurt when they are stretched too fast, no significant personal growth can happen without a bit of struggle.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

High school flashback

A friend shared this YouTube video with me today. While I deeply wish that we lived in a world where these types of speeches didn't have to happen, I'm am so inspired to know that there are youth out there like her. This young woman, Kayla, is articulate, passionate, and heart-breaking to watch. I have no doubt that (if she chooses to) she will help to change the world. Her struggle with self-realization, discovering of community, fear of future, and desire to love freely is something that strongly resonates with me. I went through a similar process in high school before ending up in a position much like her: being an outspoken advocate to my peers and the larger community through sharing my personal story. Even still, as much as I've grown into my self over the past 8 years, I still struggle with some of these factors.

Watching the video inspired me to pull out my old high school journal. While there are many pieces of writing touching on my evolving sense of sexual identity, there is one particular piece that strikes a nerve for me. It so strongly reminds me of who I was at 16 along with my fears at the time. It gives perspective on how far I've come, and also kind of excites me to see what changes the future bring.

Written at 16 (in Fall 2000):
"To be scared of the truth, that is only normal right? But what if the truth can change things? What if it changes the way people see you? The words that people use to describe you? What if it changes how people look at you? Or how they touch you? And does it really change things this much, or something you just fear. What if your initial instinct is wrong, and after all the trouble you are only 'normal'?

You see, it has been a big summer for me. A summer of self discovery and of experimenting. A summer of pushing the limits I had already set up for myself and of testing new unguided territories. But the summer has quickly ended leaving me uncertain and in new worlds. For the first time in my life I have a girlfriend when all I have ever imagined were boys. I'm now explaining to trusting friends that I am Gay, something that I'm not even sure of for myself. They all react the same way though; they all told me that they already knew, which only leads me to question myself more.

But summer has ended, and to go back to my old ways of life isn't as easy as I had hoped. What if people know? Will it change the way they see me? I'm used to hugging my friends and kissing them on the cheeks, will that stop? Would the people I'm used to cuddling with at [youth group] events be scared away if they knew the truth? It scares me, why wouldn't it scare them?

I know [youth group] is supposed to be a safe and accepting environment but when people use terminology like 'oh, that is so gay' and when they address people as 'fags' for being outcasts, how am I supposed to know what affect it would have on the way I am treated. And what happens when everyone is either hooking up or talking about their relationships at home, am I supposed to say 'yeah, I have a girlfriend' and well, come out of the closet to people I don't know so well when I'm not even sure if I'm in the closet?

But like everything else time will tell. The event will come and go and people will probably never find out. I'll hug and cuddle and just wonder what they would think if they knew the truth, and I will wrestle with the thought of being Gay in my own mind. In the end I will fall in love with the person I fall in love with, not with the sex of the person, and feel foolish because I pus so much time into trying to put labels to feelings that shouldn't always be defined."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Modern love

Quoted from Nicole Hardy in the article "Single, Female, Mormon, Alone" (The New York Times, Modern Love, Jan 7, 2011):
"Perhaps the failure was mine — I’m sure many church members see it that way. I was too weak to endure. They’ll say I should have waited another decade, or spent my whole life alone if that’s what God required.

I’m just unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone, and was unwilling to continue spiraling further into a disconnected life, feeling abandoned, being discounted."

I couldn't agree more. While I don't really believe in a G!d that is so intertwined in our daily lives, if G!d is actually involved in our match making, I can not fathom s/he would want anyone to be single (who doesn't want to be). As much as I accomplish in my life, I can't help but feel my life is still completely unfulfilled because I haven't found my basherit. I'm nearing 27 and am seeming to be eternally single. I'm trying to make the most out of my life: being a family member, a friend, an activist, a community member, a (future) healer; trying my hardest to be content with my lot. But, I can not help but wonder if I'm destined to spend my life single... and if I do spend my life single, what will that mean for my standing in the religious community? A community that is totally built on family life and procreation. I need to put these thoughts on hold for now though as I go back to studying for tomorrow morning's exam!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Passing of the tourch

Since coming back from winter break, we second years have been working hard to hand off our extra curricular responsibilities to the first year medical students. The theory is that by starting so early we are allowing for a bit of transition before we fully disappear into step 1/clinical rotation land. The reality is that most of us just want to play a game of "ding dong ditch" with some of these things. Yes, they are causes that I'm passionate about, and leadership roles that I really appreciated having this year; but my current priorities have shifted to 1) staying sane, 2) doing well on step 1, 3) staying sane. Staying sane, which involves eating health, sleep, exercise, and a bit of socializing, doesn't leave much time for running 2 student groups, doing research, and involvement with major amounts of grassroots organizing.

The problem is finding first years who are idealistic and naive enough to take on these responsibilities. Just as we are trying to hand them off, their work load has increased... scaring them out of taking on too much. Last year, I hated hearing my class referred to as "slackers" for not wanting to take on leadership roles. So I am trying my hardest not to be frustrated with the current first year class for their lack of eagerness to take over all of these wonderful opportunities. I do get it. But PLEASE, take my positions! I want to be done with them already! I want to disappear to step 1 land foot-loose and fancy-free!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cool as a cucumber

Yesterday, my preceptor (a 3rd year resident and really wonderful teacher) was telling us stories about his med school psych rotation. He explained how he was at an inpatient hospital and saw the crazy-of-the-crazies. He gave us a few patient vignettes, each one crazier than the one before. We were wide eyed listening, with growing excitement about the possibilities of our future psych rotations.

And then, "There was this one woman who thought she was a man!" Crash! Back to reality. Back to remembering that I am a medical student in the conservative South. He went on explaining the case, and when he got to a natural break, I spoke up. "You know they're in the process of removing gender identity disorder from the DSM?" I did my best to stay calm. To engage in a rational discussion about shifting understanding of gender identity. He tried to justify his comment and then quickly moved on to "And then there are narcissists! I had this one patient..."

It isn't his fault. It wasn't malicious. Even though he is a young doctor, he had never learned otherwise and so he was just passing on what he knows. This was a perfect case study in why medicine is a slowly evolving profession. But regardless, it is also a little heartbreaking. A sharp reminder that there is so much work to be done in this world. That the most effective way to do this work is to stay calm. To be cool as a cucumber. Slowly, I will rationally and politely educate my professors and peers one person at a time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

April 14, 2011, er wait, now April 18, 2011

After much heming-and-hawing and instinctively feeling uneasy about my STEP 1 date, I just gave in and rescheduled. Rescheduling is majorly (MAJORLY) not recommended; I am confident that this was the right decision for me. Plus I only pushed it back 4 days. Just enough time to have a few "catch-up" days scheduled in, which my original schedule didn't allow for. I was also able to get a seat at a better testing site! One closer to my parent's house that starts earlier in the morning, 7am instead of 8:30am, which will allow me to be home with my family for seder! Score! Sometimes you just have to go with your gut over everyone's advice...

And on the theme of going with your gut over everyone's advice, I have decided to move to the capital city for my clinical years. The academic set up and ability for leadership training was totally made for my learning style and my interests. Basically, the liberal arts alternative to medical school! I'm not looking forward to moving (who likes packing?) but am totally at peace with the decision. I've been getting pretty excellent responses when I tell people that I'm moving. So far, the best is: "I recommend only moving there until residency and not for residency, as that would ruin your grand plan of finding someone smart to date. As much as raising hell in [capitol city] is tempting, it turns out that pro-choice hell can be raised anywhere!"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The revolution will not be televised

I'm beyond frustrated with politics in our country. While we are a very diverse country with very diverse views/morals/ethics, violence is NEVER the answer. Hopefully we can all agree on this. Hopefully we can use the tragedy that happened yesterday as a spring-board for anti-violence campaigns. Rather than simply saying "it's a pity" and then returning to our normally scheduled lives, let us not stand idly by in the face of the unacceptable. Let us teach our children about the power of hate and evil speak, and then through our own actions we can teach them that they too have the power to stand up against this type of behavior.

What I'm currently fixated on though is the House's desire to repeal the health care reform bill. How is this productive? Effective? Are we seriously going to waste time tying up the legislator with silly political games instead of getting shit done? Oh, and waste tax payer's money in the process too. It is not like the repeal will get by the Senate, or even if it does, that Obama will approve it. Fine, I admit, I'm a STRONG believer in health care reform. I DO believe that health care is a right (not a privilege) and that our pre-reform system of health care was on a crash course towards crashing. Not only was it doomed to eventually fail, it was accelerating on it's trajectory in the process. Way too much of our GDP was going towards health care and the money being spent did not reflect the quality of care being offered. Why do we spend far more than any other developed country and yet have some of the worse health care available? So yes, I will not deny that I am biased and I am pro-health care reform.

In short, I'm angry. I want to know what I, as a medical student and as a concerned citizen of The United States of America, can do to take a stand? How can I do my part to make people realize how important health care reform really is? What kind of national movement can I, along with other concerned citizens, start to ensure that our voices are collectively heard? That we want politicians to stop playing childish games and start actually fixing the problem!

Earlier this year Dan Savage had an idea to take a stand. Out of his inspiration the "It Gets Better Project" was born. Why can't we do the same? Why can't we create a national movement to support health care reform? Any ideas on how we can start our own grassroots movement would be greatly appreciated. If someone else out there is bouncing around some idea in your head about how to do this, stop thinking and start doing! If you do, I promise to be standing proudly beside you!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Debbie Friedman

Jewish youth group and summer camp are majorly responsible for my strong Jewish identity. I was a NFTY kid, spent a semester of high school studying in Israel, and went to Reform Jewish summer camp. One recurrent theme in all of these experiences was music; music that was created or influenced by Debbie Friedman.

I've met Debbie a few different times in my life. Being present for many of her concerts, interacting with her at youth group events and camp, and singing her songs late into the night. I last saw her a few weeks ago. She was also at the conference in the UK: performing, speaking about the power of healing, and participating. One night I sat next to her until 4am, as she and a group of others (mostly in their 20s) held an informal song circle with an eccentric mix of music. We sang many of the classic "Rise up Singing" type of songs along with some of her's and other Jewish songs. In conversation she surprised me by knowing where I was from, and who I was friends with.

Due to the power of facebook, this morning I learned that she's in the hospital. From multiple different articles, it seems that she's in the hospital in a medically induced coma as her body is struggling to fight pneumonia. There is a request that people sing her MiSeberiach tomorrow night at 6:12pm PST, right after the close of shabbos. If you are inclined to pray there is also a request that you pray for her healing, for a woman who has taught so many around the world how to ask for healing. Her hebrew name is Dina Lea bat Freidl ve-Gavriel.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Abortion Takes Flight" by Linda Greenhouse is another article on the current status of abortion in the US. Thoughts? What can we do to change this scary trend?

And thank you New York Times for continuing to bring this issue to press.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

define "Queer*", in haiku

A friend called me yesterday to ask if I knew of a straight forward definition for the word "queer". While both of us have a working understanding of the word, have studied some queer theory, and often use the term colloquially, she was in need of a short written explanation that could be used as part of an assignment. Google was disappointingly helpless. Searching "what is queer?" led to many a political commentary, in depth article on queer theory, or sarcastic rambling. While she finally found an article to use, I still felt that the void merited a blog post. Without further ado, here are my attempts to define queer in haiku:

please sir, define queer
seems like a strange word to choose
for self-expression

not a gay uncle
nor a boxed stereotype
I am a queer youth

part of a movement
located on a spectrum

no definition
not heternormative
Kinsey scale for me

queer encompasses
gender, sex, and politics
beyond expression

reclaiming the word
creating some momentum
less isolating

Please feel free to add your definition!

*Having developed my identity in a very liberal community, queer is the term I use to self identity and therefore what I tend to use interchangeably with LGBTQ in conversation/in my writing/on this blog. I recognize that it may make people from different backgrounds uncomfortable, and want to make it clear that this is not my intention. I see it to be the most inclusive term of identification for those of us that fall at various points on the sexuality and gender identity spectrums.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Here is a little secret: we're all going to die

I don't think that by stating this inevitable fact I'm bringing on the grim reaper or evil eye, but just in case: poo poo poo. I don't mean to be morbid. I also don't mean that we're all going to die NOW. What I mean is quiet simple: sooner or later, each in our own time, our lives will end in death. After all, did we not learn anything from Disney's "The Lion King" about the circle of life?

My week in London was surrounded by Jews and learning. I was at a 6 day conference with over 2200 people and >400 sessions to choose from. It was kind of like summer camp for grown-ups, expect on steroids. We woke up early to pray and learn, kept our noses in text all day, and then chatted, sung, and danced late into the night.

Many of the sessions I attended related to medical ethics. I went to one on Talmudic tips for breast feeding (one should breast feed up until age 2, tsniout is not an issue), another on sexuality outside of marriage (the realization that humans are inherently sexual), another on what the torah has to say on resource allocation in socialist health care (we are obligated to save lives), another on whose life are you obligated to save (2 people, 1 water bottle...), etc...

However, the sessions on halakhic organ donation, on brain death vs. heart death, and on assisted dying are the ones I feel compelled to talk about here. The common theme in these sessions, and something that I see often in medical school, is that our culture is afraid of death. We're afraid to think about it and talk about; as if doing so will make it happen to us. Doctors seem to be the worst at this: often scared to admit that we can't save all our patients from their inevitable death. However, this fear isn't helping anyone. It means that rumors and superstition are allowed to spread rampant, loved ones are left to make choices without guidance, and that end of life care is much more invasive and costly than is necessary.

I believe this all can be changed with a few simple steps. I urge you to consider doing 1 or all of the following:
1) Think about becoming an organ donor. Get the truth on Judaism and organ donation. We don't want to think about dying young or about someone taking out parts of us; but remember that saving a life is the BIGGEST mitzvah one could do. Also, that livers have been donated from people in their 90s! Signing up to be a donor doesn't mean your destined to become one; if this were the case, there wouldn't be an organ shortage.
2) Talk to your family and friends. Let them know how you feel about end of life care and about what you decisions you hope they would make for you. Have these conversations often and under the auspice that our choices will evolve as our lives evolve. By having these conversations, you'll save your loved lots of grief and confusion; allowing them to know their living out your will.
3) Create a living will. Assign a medical power of aterny/health proxy. Use the legal framework in your favor to know that your wishes will be upheld in the event that you are unable to make the decisions yourself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Having New Year's Eve fall on shabbat seemed like a blessed start of 2011. While it was the 3rd year in a row spent with the same group of friends, it was much more relaxed and satiating. It allowed me to be surrounded by community, relaxation, prayer, and a lot of laughter. I gathered together with old friends for lovely shabbos meals, had a full night of sleep, received an alliyah in shul, played with a very cute child, and was reminded that I still very much have a home in the Northeast. I am hoping that these themes continue to carry out in the year to come. May we all be blessed with a year full of good conversations, reminders that we are loved, soothing laughter, fulfilling learning (& torah), places to call home, satisfaction with our current lot, and maybe even a few pleasant surprises.

photo review: winter break

Gluten free in the UK: fish in chips in Leicester Square! Another amazing find was gluten free fair trade brownies at the Heathrow airport Starbucks. It is really amazing how happy good gluten free surprises can make me.

Old friends in the Northeast. Prawn salad (pictured above) was one of my my housemates for 3 years. In the background is my lucky bamboo that was purchased before my first o-chem exam... we're both (me & the bamboo) going strong!

Snow! Need I say more?