#IWasMadeFor

September 10 is National Suicide Prevention Day, which begins National Suicide Prevention Week.  My legal birthday falls during this time; although it is an observance of my birth, it’s also a nod to life in so many other ways.

Recently I’ve been asking former professors for letters of recommendation.  Typically, I give them some information about myself to help fill out their personal experience with me, including documents such as my cv and transcript.  My transcript is usually followed a comment from me something along the lines of, “If you look closely, you’ll notice that my GPA appears to follow an absolute value function over time.  This is not because I turned into a slacker for two years; I was just really depressed when I was a sophomore and junior.”  Thus far this has been met with nothing but grace and concern.

“Are you okay?”  “Yeah, I’m fine, I just wanted to let you know.”  “Okay, I just had to make sure.”  “Really, I’m doing much better now.”

“How are you now?”  “I’m a lot better.  If you need more explanation, I can say more.”  “It’s okay.  My daughter has had issues with depression too, and I know it can be difficult.”

The genuine expressions of caring–a tone of surprise and concern, then kindness; a momentarily scrunched eyebrow; a lean forwards; words of compassion–has made it that much easier for me to face the challenge of explaining the situation.  More important, if/when I hit a rough patch again, I hope that I can cling to those expressions of care, knowing that people–even people I don’t know that well, who objectively should have no vested interest in me–want to make sure I’m okay.

If you have the opportunity to be that person, take it.  For those of you have have taken it, thank you.  And for those of you who have ever needed such care and compassion, please STAY.

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Things Googled While Watching Harry Potter

I cram-watched the Harry Potter movies for the first time this weekend.  I enjoyed them, and it was interesting to see them as an adult after hearing so much about them as I was growing up (not dissimilar to my experience listening to the audiobooks for the first time a few months ago).  I did like the books more, though, which is often but not always the case for me.  I think in this instance, I particularly missed the extensive character development J.K. Rowling builds in the books that can’t be easily portrayed in a movie of a decent length, since it would be unreasonable, say, to show every instance of Snape being an jerk to Harry, even though all those moments are important for providing context for the entire Snape plotline.  This stands in contrast to, for example, how I see the Lord of the Rings books and movies.  Although character development and relationships are important in LOTR, the series uses characters to fulfill a quest, rather than a (series of) quest(s) to explore characters.  This, in some ways, is more suited to a movie audience that doesn’t wish to camp in a theater for a 6 hour movie.

But anyways, I went back through my Google search history and called all my HP-related queries from the last three days:

  • harry potter and the philosophers stone vs sorcerers stone
  • lucius malfoy actor
  • durmstrang admits girls
  • emma watson speaks french
  • bone of the father unwillingly given
  • why does voldemort not have a nose
  • short professor at hogwarts
  • how do you get out of a pensieve
  • how did the sword of gryffindor get in the lake
  • why did jk rowling choose the name hermione

Linksgiving

Explicitly Poltical

Museum Condemns White Nationalist Conference Rhetoric (Press release, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 21 November 2016): “The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.”  (Sorry, Godwin).  The adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is nice but not always true.  And yes, although I’m a “model” minority, I’ve personally noticed an increase racially-tinged (or just blatantly racist) comments and insults both online and in public spaces.

Why We’re Saying ‘White Nationalism’ Instead of ‘Alt-Right’(Isolde Raferty, NPR/KUOW, 21 November 2016): Language and diction are important.  Words have meaning.  That is all.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: President-Elect Trump Already Broke Promise to “Drain the Swamp” (Elizabeth Warren, Senator Elizabeth Warren Youtube channel, 17 November 2016): This speech is perfect in so many ways.

If You Voted for Trump Because He’s ‘Anti-Establishment,’ Guess What: You Got Conned (Paul Waldman, The Washington Post, 11 November 2016): I want to say “I told you so,” but that also still seems enormously inappropriate and/or immature given the stakes.

Chris Christie’s Career Has Quietly Ended as Trump has Imploded (Alex Wagner, The Atlantic, 25 October 2016): Chris Christie’s jagged journey through the political world in the past few years has intrigued me, and I’d be interested to hear the author’s perspective post-election.

HOLY SH*T (You’ve Got To Vote) (Rachel Bloom et al., Funny Or Die Youtube channel, 4 November 2016): I’m a little late with this one, but I still like the concept and execution of the song enough to share.  It’s hilarious, but also very NSFW.  And although Godwin may be rolling over in the grave that he’s not yet in, “Look, obviously only Hitler’s Hitler…But break up Mein Kampf into tiny parts, and it reads like a Trump rant on Twitter.  And if you need a refresher on post-World War I Germany, they had an authoritarian political outsider stoking xenophobia in a nation where the poor felt marginalized and blaming complex problems on scapegoated minorities.” On a lighter note, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “syphilis” sung with that much vibrato (1:42).

First Lady Michelle Obama live in Manchester, New Hampshire | Hillary Clinton (Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton Youtube channel, 13 October 2016): Also too late to the game.  Still an extremely important message aside from the overtly election-related parts.  For example, “Let’s be very clear: strong men, strong men—men who are truly role models—don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.  People who are truly strong lift others up.  People who are truly powerful bring others together.”  As a woman, another thing I’ve noticed recently (in addition to racially-motivated insults) is an increase in sexually-motivated comments.  Hear something, say something.

The World is Complicated

Running While Female (Michelle Hamilton et al., Runner’s World, undated): This has always flummoxed (in addition to startling/frightening/irritating/angering) me.  Do men think they’re complimenting me?  Actually wanting a (positive) response?  Just teasing?  Being immature?  Trying to be dicks?  Are inherently pervy?  Worse?  Just, why?  (Also, a great counter from Randall Munroe of xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1763/)

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back to China (Michael Luo, New York Times, 9 October 2016): I’m as Wasian/banana/twinkie/whatever-other-jokingly-“derogatory”-term-you-can-think-of as it gets, and yet this is still so real.  Sometimes, it’s like I’m living in between worlds; like Arwen or Luthien in Middle Earth, but at least they had choice to embrace one existence or the other.  Even if I could choose, neither world would believe it.

My Muslim Father’s Faith in America (Mohammed Naseehu Ali, The New Yorker, 24 October 2016): “The reason [Allah continues to bestow his blessings on their country, my father] said, was very simple: Americans were the ones doing Allah’s work, by steadfastly upholding the Islamic tenet of zakat—a form of alms-giving that makes up one of the Five Pillars of Islam. ‘Their government welcomes people who are seeking a better life,’ my father said. ‘They shield and protect the weak, the poor, and the persecuted from all over the world, and, the most important of all, they support orphans and protect the rights of women, as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon.'”  We would do well to note this.

Here’s What Happened When I Challenged the PC Campus Culture at NYU (Michael Rectenwald, The Washington Post, 3 November 2016): *sigh*  Let’s just say I’m glad I’m done with the hypersensitivity that is undergrad.

Julie Rodgers Keynote: The Reformation Project in Los Angeles (Julie Rodgers, The Reformation Project Youtube channel, 27 October 2016): Julie Rodgers speaking on LGBT issues, the Church, and most important, Jesus.  I admire her because she’s not afraid of hard issues and has the courage to be honest–even when it meant publicly explaining why her belief about same-sex marriage in the church changed over time.  Some call it flip-flopping; regardless of the before/after positions, I say it’s critical use of intellect and a conviction in faith.

On a Lighter Note

US Mental-Health Chief: Psychiatry Must Get Serious About Mathematics (Alison Abbott, Nature, 26 October 2016): These are both things I care a lot about.  Math isn’t impractical and useless theory all drifting about in the stratosphere, and psychiatry neither a bunch of oogey-boogey BS made up by Freud et al. nor a branch of medicine for people who couldn’t get residencies in anything else (besides, Freud was a psychologist, not a psychiatrist.  Which isn’t to hate on psychology as a field–it’s important too!–just to point out that misconception).  And, finally, as we saw from the disaster that was pre-election polling, the significance of knowing how to collect, interpret, and use statistics cannot be overstated!

What Do Professional Apple Farmers Think of People Who Pick Apples for Fun? (Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, 5 November 2016): The craze for apple picking has befuddled me since moving to the midwest, kind of like people who buy blackberry plants for their gardens (you’re intentionally introducing a weed?), the alleged “dumplings” in chicken and dumplings, and the game of cornhole (it’s beanbag toss, you freaks: “cornhole” sounds disturbingly euphemistic.)  Apples are the state fruit of Washington; in fact, Washington produces about 60% of the apples consumed in the US and exports enough that they’ve become a status symbol of sorts overseas (while visiting India, I did in fact observe Washington apples for sale at several open-air markets in New Dehli).  But I digress.  While you can go various types of berry picking in Washington, and I’m sure there are places one can u-pick apples somewhere in the state, there is nothing near the cult-like obsession with apple picking I’ve seen here in Missouri.  Berries at least kind of make sense to me: the bushes/plants are small enough that you usually don’t need a ladder or picking gadget, it usually takes a decent amount of time to get an amount of fruit worth the trouble, and most people do it for the sake of canning/preserving cheaply.  But apples?  Even small trees warrant a stepladder by the time they reach fruit-bearing age, it’s much faster to pick 5 pounds of apples than it is to pick 5 pounds of blueberries (or, God forbid, blackberries) so the 45 minute drive and from the orchard makes a lot less sense, and most people apparently go…just for fun?  Which is valid, but still weird to me.

Elite Runners Ryan and Sara Hall Add Parenting to Their Workouts (Lindsay Crouse, The New York Times, 3 November 2016): I look up to these folks so much as runners, parents, and people of faith.  The writing in this article is tons better than the article in Runner’s World by Amby Burfoot, so even though it “costs” you one of your free articles, I’d go for it.

My Mother’s 10-Year Quest To Feed Me From 5,500 Miles Away (Alina Selyukh, NPR, 21 November 2016): As the cultural heritage of food wasn’t a particularly strong part of my upbringing, I’ve surprised myself in the past few years by becoming more and more interested in learning how to cook the food of my country of birth, even if neither myself nor my family or close friends speak the language or eat foods familiar to the region.  But something about this article spoke true–perhaps I superimposed the author’s Russian mother onto the doting Chinese mothers I’ve encountered throughout the years, “Are you done already?  Eat more!  You’re too skinny!  Don’t waste food!  Here, take some with you!”

Trump Make America Great Again Red Cap Collectible Ornament (Amazon): The comments!  Go to the comments!

Link Farming

Here is a compilation of blog posts, news stories, videos, podcasts, etc. that I’ve encountered over the past few months and found compelling.  Note that this does not necessarily that I agree with all or even any of what they say (although I have noted at least some cases where I do), just that thinking is good and these made me do that.  Take it or leave it.

Olympics

“Mara Abbott: My Ride in Rio” (Mara Abbott, WSJ, 19 August 2016): Beautiful grace–and beautiful writing–in the face of heartbreak that only a true athlete and competitor can experience.  (For the interview she references, see http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/mara-abbott-her-fourth-place-finish).

“Kristin Armstrong: Gold ‘the result I want to end with'” (Kristin Armstrong, NBC, 10 August 2016): On a happier note from women’s Olympic cycling, Kristin Armstrong is an incredible athlete. Also, for all the haters who argued about her place on the women’s road race team, let up on it.

“One Month Later, Abbey D’Agostino Reflects on Rio, Her Olympic Fall and Her Rehab From a Torn ACL” (Jonathan Gault, Letsrun.com, 16 September 2016): Let there be no doubt, I am still not a fan of letsrun.com as a whole (that’s a topic for another post…), but the followup on one of the biggest character stories of the Olympics is nothing less than I’d expect from all I’ve heard through the running (and Dartmouth, indirectly) grapevines. (For an interview by Julia Hanlon of Running on Om with D’Agostino, see http://runningonom.com/2015/11/18/roo-161-abbey-dagostino-on-integrating-faith-into-life/)

Culture and (Unfortunately or Not) Politics

“Why Abby Wambach Doesn’t Want To Be Known ‘Just As A Soccer Player'” (Terry Gross, NPR/Fresh Air, 14 September 2016): Listen to the podcast if you can, but the transcript isn’t bad either.  Honesty and badassery.

“Making Sense of Modern Pornography” (Katrina Forrester, The New Yorker, 26 September 2016): This is a good example of a piece that demonstrates balance in perspective and yet still has an actual argument.  Worth one of your free articles in my opinion.

“Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?” (Tania Lombrozo, NPR, 22 August 2016): Sociology, psychology, R/C parents, and helicopter parents.  *cue whirring vocal sound effects and spinny hand gestures above my head*

“When Katie Couric Became a Single Mom” (Hillary Frank, The Longest Shortest Time, 20 July 2016): Yes, I listen to a parenting podcast even though I have no desire to have mini-me’s of my own.  Katie Couric is one of the few mainstream celebrities (mainly my “heroes”/”role models”/whatever are athletes and scientists…surprise surprise) about whom I think to myself, I hope I could do half as much as she has/be half of who she is when I grow up.

“Commentary: An Iranian Refugee on Becoming American – Legally, Then in Spirit” (Roya Hakakian, Reuters, 24 August 2016): My favorite lines–“The oath of allegiance, however significant, is often only a ceremonious hour, not one of reckoning. But watershed events and crises offer shortcuts through that journey to belonging. September 11 for instance. By 10 a.m. on that day, my 75-year-old father who until then had been composing poem after poem about his yearning for Tehran had hung an American flag from the railings of the fourth-floor balcony of my parents’ Queens apartment. It remains the only illicit act he has ever committed here, for he knew well the co-op board did not approve of exterior displays.”

“The Coddling of the American Mind” (Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic, September 2015): I recently graduated from college.  I think that’s probably enough to say before someone on a side (or someones from both/multiple sides) of this argument comes after me with a hatchet.

“The Scarlet A” (Hillary Frank, The Longest Shortest Time, 17 February 2016): Think you’ve heard everything about the abortion debate (regardless of which “side” you’re on)?  Think again.  This helped me think about lots of things I’d never considered, or if I had, in different ways.

“This Christian Community Opened Its Heart to New Muslim Neighbors” (Upworthy, 9 September 2016): I am skeptical of how Upworthy presents its stories (and don’t get me started on their clickbaity titles…), but that doesn’t make the stories bad.

“An Armistice for the Culture War” (Ezekiel Kweku, MTV, 15 September 2016): I’m not sure if I’ve ever read something from MTV so seriously before.

Explicitly Election (yuck)-Related Politics

“Fear of a Female President” (Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, October 2016): Independent of my views of Clinton herself, this is a thing I have actually been concerned about.

“Hillary Clinton and the Resurrection of Old-School Hysteria” (Nora Kelly, The Atlantic, 26 September 2016): This was fascinating and not a thing I ever would have thought of on my own.

“Why Voting for Hillary is Not Voting for Abortion” (Gungor, Facebook post, 8 October 2016): Thank you for constructing an actual argument, for respectfully and thoughtfully engaging people including those who disagree in ways that are not always respectful or thoughtful (comment section = bravery), and most of all for wrestling with nuance and tension and all the tough parts of being a being endowed with reason.

In a Tense Election Year, Laura Bush Picks an Interesting Ally: Michelle Obama” (Krissah Thompson, The Washington Post, 16 September 2016): Might be a feel-good story (though I suppose this might depend on your opinion of Trump, and possibly to an extent the Bushes and the Obamas…but mainly Drumpf), but hey, I think we need it.

 

Keeping the Blog, Changing the Title

Well, after hiding and un-hiding the blog and then making a few changes, I’ve decided to keep it (for now).  However, I am thinking about changing the title/URL, so if anyone has suggestions that would be dandy.  I was hoping for “Sleeping in Seattle” since that’s been my handle for a few other things on the interwebs, but unfortunately the URL is already occupied.

“You Didn’t Have to Go”

An acquaintance from high school took his own life last weekend.  I can’t claim to have known him well, but when you go to a small school, you kind of know everybody.  I don’t really have words to understand what happened, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d share them here: it’s not mine to tell.

But there are a few things I can say.  In a society where “I’m so depressed” is tossed around as loosely as Peyton Manning’s passes this season, it’s easy to forget that depression can be a life-threatening illness: its estimated mortality rate is as high as 15%, though likely somewhat lower depending on what definition of “depression” is used.  Statistics aside, think about that again: Depression can be fatal.

Popular culture would have us believe depression is constant sadness, never-ending crying, or just a persistent case of the Eeyores.  This is true for some people, some times. Earlier this week, a friend from high school wrote a beautifully conceived and executed Facebook post reflecting on this loss and on depression and mental illness in general.  He described depression as when “you stop participating in your life”–that’s probably as accurate a description as I’ve ever heard.  But depression is a shape-shifter.  It has many presentations, even for one person, within one episode–and that can make it hard to catch.

My boss told me one time that if I ever started to feel excessively guilty or worthless, or if I started to wonder what it would be like to be dead, to see a psychiatrist immediately.  I would add to that if you start doubting yourself (not just your judgment or choices–yourself) in ways you wouldn’t normally, or if you find yourself mysteriously unable to do anything, seek help.  Recognizing depression is important in its own right–self-awareness is a beautiful thing–but it’s also a necessary step in getting help, which I would argue is the greater value in the path to getting better.  It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist or psychologist, at least not right away.  A friend, a family member, a teacher, a clergyperson if you’re religious, even a coworker or boss.  Someone cares and someone will care.  As my mother would remind me, it’s safer not to travel alone.

For those who are called upon to help: first and foremost, listen.  It can be uncomfortable.  It can be confusing.  It can be scary, especially if the person is actively suicidal.  But listen.  Don’t try to fix: leave that to the psychiatrist or psychologist later on.  Seek help yourself, in the stead of the other person, if you need to.  Be present.  Stay present.  Love.  And listen.

“Contemplation, normally regarded as a private pursuit, needs communal support.  We are most likely to risk its vulnerabilities and be faithful to its implications when we are embedded in a community that both evokes and witnesses our truth—a rare form of community in which we learn to ‘be alone together,’ to support one another on a solitary journey.  We practice being present to others without being invasive or evasive—neither trying to ‘fix’ them with advice nor turning away when they share something distressing.” (Parker Palmer)

“You can flip the switch by standing at a safe distance, on the threshold, and simply reaching in the door, but to enter the dark you actually have to step inside.  That may be real love, right there.  The willingness to be present, knowing there isn’t a damn thing you can do to fix anything.” (Kristin Richard Armstrong)

“Because our lives are hidden with Christ in God, we do not know the effects of even the smallest acts of love.” (Aaron Kheriaty)

Finally, a couple years ago, I put the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in my phone.  You never know when someone might need it, and you don’t want to be fumbling around on the internet in a moment of crisis.  You also don’t know if that someone might be you.  My friend who wrote the post I referenced above also recommended this, so I will do the same.  It only takes a moment–a moment now could be invaluable at some moment in the future.  Here’s the number: 1-800-273-8255.

I don’t mean to overdramatize this.  Drama aside, I don’t think I can overemphasize how important these things are.  The title of this post also came from my friend’s Facebook post.  And so I will close:

Please don’t go.

Spring 2015 Reading List

These have been fun for me to compile, so here you go again:

  • The Suicidal Mind (Edwin Shneidman): Readable approach of a difficult topic.
  • Women in Science: Then and Now (Vivian Gornick): Realistic, interview-based discussion of the difficulties women faced (and still face) in academia and science.
  • The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry (Mario Livio): Felt a mile wide and an inch deep.
  • We (Yevgeny Zamyatin): Picked by popular vote to read for a class…needless to say, I did not vote for it.  Dystopian fiction is not my thing.
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World (Steven Johnson): This was a lot of fun to read.  It walked through the process of how society created a breeding ground for, learned to understand, and subsequently combated cholera epidemics.  The author makes a decent, albeit slightly forced, attempt at the end of the book to connect these historical events to modern-day epidemics and public health threats.
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (Johann Hari): Easily the best book I have read this semester.  This is one of the books that forced me to think about why I think the way I do.  It explores the historical and social underpinnings of the war on drugs, its effects on users and society as a whole, and possible better solutions.  Obviously, the text is an argument and the author has a bias, but even laying that aside, there’s a lot to learn about aspects of drugs and addiction that are less frequently discussed.