self-care and staying in your own lane

Normally, when we hear the phrase “stay in your own lane,” it’s a chastisement that you’re swimming outside the waters you know, and you need to get back into your area of expertise and let experts be experts without your meddling. It’s a phrase I’m guilty of using quite a bit when talking about the anti-bioethics sort that inhabit the harder sciences, and it’s in general a bit of a hard push back on folks who want to opine about everything regardless of pesky details like, I dunno, knowledge.

So Chris Geidner’s tweet about voluntarily staying in his lane of expertise is one worth highlighting, underscoring, and otherwise supporting:

Sometimes, staying in your own lane, your own area of expertise, isn’t one of “getting back” but knowing where to place your priorities and energies. And right now, in the current political climate, resistance fatigue, where people just roll their eyes at another protest, where you feel the weight of the world pressing heavier and harder because every day, hell, every hour, there’s another thing to resist and protest and pitch a fit against…. well, it’s a serious concern. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to conserve your energy as much as you can – and one way to do that is staying in your own areas of expertise.

This doesn’t mean you don’t support everyone else, it just might mean you don’t have to organize every single act of resistance. Let other people stand up and take over, let them write the posts on topics they know best, let them be the speakers whose voices you amplify.

Take at least a day off, every week – yes, it’s hard to put everything away and be out of touch when you know bad shit is happening while your back is turned. Trust that other people will catch it while you’re gone, and be willing to hand off the protests when you come back, refreshed.

Your own self-care is now an act of resistance, especially as they seek to wear us all down. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your own lane, and utilizing the best skills, expertise, and resources you have, to make the most difference – especially if you’re high-fiving the folks in the lane next to you as you do it.

Trump’s Telling Lies – Again. This Time, About Terrorists

On Friday, Trump signed an immoral (and almost certainly illegal) executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Section 1 states the purpose of this act:

The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.

While signing the executive order, Trump said, “We only want to admit those who will support our country and love deeply our people…We will never forget the lessons of 9/11, nor the heroes who lost their lives at the Pentagon.”

Sadly for Trump, actions speak louder than words, and in this case, his actions show that in fact, he has already forgotten an origin lesson from 9/11: while the order is expected to freeze travel from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen,1 the 9/11 hijackers came from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

None of those countries are expected to be subjected to Trump’s “extreme vetting measures.”

They are also the same Muslim-majority countries where Trump’s businesses either have interests or are pursuing them. Coincidental, I’m sure. Completely coincidental.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Trump should extend his already-illegal, immoral, inhumane executive order to include Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. I am merely pointing out that the justification given for the ban is completely false – the seven countries banned are not responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or any sort of massive terrorist export center. In fact, and again, as the FBI has been warning for years now, most terrorism in the United States is domestic terrorism, committed by Americans.

Yes, there is a terrorism threat in America – it’s coming from inside our borders, not out.

Edited at 8:55pm ET to add: Yes, I know that I included South Sudan in this image. At the time I made it, multiple news organizations were questioning whether they intended to ban South Sudan when discussing “Sudan.” The original list of seven – created by Obama – only included Sudan. But at least at 3am last night, when I was working on this map because I couldn’t sleep, multiple people thought Trump meant to include both Sudan and South Sudan, largely because he didn’t realize there WAS a South Sudan. As soon as anything official comes up, I’ll update accordingly.

Latkes and a Bit of Light

It’s been a rough week. I have been able to type that almost every day this year, and have it be accurate – more on that in another post – but nonetheless it’s true. Migraines, swollen hands, skin fitting not right, irritations to the touch, lack of sleep; it’s been the entire gauntlet of everything. So on Thursday night, pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was go to a latke party. I didn’t feel well, it was going to weather, there would be not only people but strangers. I finally ended up dragging myself out of the house, naturally compounding everything by guaranteeing we’d be late.

Not the most perfect set-up in the world for an introvert, but it was and I’d committed.

One of the weirder things about my current life is just how much time I spend around people in bioethics – either because I’ve gone to a conference or I’m judging something or I’m at a meeting or, yes, even just because I’m at a latke party. I’ve been struggling to deal with that now, for years. Who am I? How do I introduce myself? Do I share The Story? How do I explain what I know and why I know it, but also why I’m not “using it” in any way most folks would consider measurable or meaningful?

For the last few years, I’ve stuck with enigma – the sort of half smile and promise to tell the details later, over a drink, bribe me with chocolate – or taking a deep breath and dumping it all out and making sure it’s clear I don’t want to talk about it, thanks. A few people have gotten the full measured story over a conversation, but not many.

It’s weird. It’s so defining. It was almost a decade ago, but it still looms large over life. It always will, as long as I’m tangental to the field, working in or near it, married to a rising star.

For whatever reason, Thursday’s latke party was different. When it came up – who am I again, why do I know all this? I was able to address the situation conversationally, even cheekily. It ended up creating a lot of laughter, a lot of sympathy, and I think at least a small measure of respect. And it got me thinking about how we define ourselves, for ourself and for others.

I read an interview today with Mara Wilson; it was published back in April but for some reason landed in front of my eyes today. It might have been the best day, because I was already mulling similar things – how do you define yourself when it feels like everyone knows who you were, even if it’s not who you are? 2 Mara left acting for writing, and she talks a bit in this interviews (and others) about her long effort at distancing herself from acting, of asserting herself, not wanting to be associated with that image.

Well. I can relate to that.

I can also relate to this:

I’m always going to be associated with that image, and I might not want to be reduced to that image, but I’m always going to be associated with it. So I’m working on embracing it.


Ends of years are arbitrary times, picked out on calendars for reasons that don’t have a lot of meaning any more. I don’t tend to place much faith in them, or superstition, but it’s hard not to think that those words landed in front of me now, just when I needed to contemplate them in front of the blank slate of a new year.

I don’t know much, and the path isn’t terribly clear – on days when one foot in front of the other is hard physically, that doesn’t make things any easier – but I do know that I can embrace the things that define me, I can be witty and charming, I can catalogue beneficial things I learned. I can laugh. And that’s a start.

A Quick Note to Senator Markey

I’m cranky. The water has been out at the house for almost 24 hours now; a water main broke just outside our apartment yesterday afternoon, and appears to be spreading through multiple city blocks, now. An historical building undergoing renovations has turned into a swimming pool, there are reports of streets buckling under the now-gushing water geysers, and my joking, yesterday, about a Hellmouth opening here suddenly seems a little more on the nose.

So I wasn’t in the best headspace to read that one of my Senators, Ed Markey, is not only supporting the 21st Century Cures Act, but is pushing for the additional “opioid crisis” addiction funding – with no thought to the harm that causes chronic pain patients, and the utterly asinine blindness to funding research into pain and other pain treatment modalities. So I jotted off a quick email, and wanted to share it here:

I am deeply disappointed that, with the 21st Century Cures Act, not only have you proudly pushed funding that supports the opioid panic (and publicized it), Senator – you are contributing to the stigma and difficulty in accessing health care patients with chronic pain face. Nowhere in any of this “omg opioid crisis” panic funding do we see what REALLY needs to happen: funding for research into chronic pain and other treatment modalities. You focus on addiction at the expense of patients in genuine pain, and you’re doing that because addiction makes a better media story than pain. While I have been surprised to learn of you – you are frequently overshadowed by Elizabeth Warren in the national media – I am now sad to say I’m disappointed in you, and beyond losing respect for your work, I question your ability to accurately and adequately represent constituents like me.

There are many other problems with the 21st Century Cures Act, which you can read about at Health Affairs (among other places, including Stat News, if you need a more local read), but in this measure, you are alienating constituents with chronic pain who, research shows, are both at low risk for addiction and are the most harmed by pushes like these. MA already has restrictive and difficult limitations to access that constrain and minimize the quality of life of disabled people. Additional funding and penalties towards abuse of illicit drugs (and conflating those with prescription drugs) harms everyone and helps no one.

I am disappointed, today, to call you my senator.

Socializing Girls Away from STEM

Sometimes, I wonder if the problem with STEM and girls and their interest isn’t that we devalue STEM to girls, but that we devalue girls and their interests.

Image via EDF.

Image via EDF.

In October 2015, EDF’s Pretty Curious campaign drew a lot of ire from scientists (mostly women), both for the name and for the content of the promotional material. You see, one of the people involved was a cosmetics scientist.

I found the outrage over the name to be a bit baffling, because while I admit I really wished to be called pretty when I was a kid, I was called pretty curious all the time (and I suspect those who’ve worked with me can attest this much is still true; I’m insatiably curious about the world). I don’t hear a slur or a gendered put-down in that; instead, I actually hear the kind of language people are encouraged to use when discussing young girls: talk about their minds, not their bodies. And “pretty curious” is definitely addressing the mind!

It almost seemed like bigger outrage came around the fact that the campaign includes cosmetics scientist Florence Adepoju. Rather than focusing on diversity, as Adepoju is a woman of color, critics focused on the fact that she’s a cosmetics scientist. Because, you know. Girls and makeup and stereotypes–nevermind that you actually need science to make makeup, and that’s part of the point of including Adepoju in the first place: she used science to study how to make makeup (her dissertation was on getting lipstick to stay on lips), and built that into a successful smallbatch makeup business for women of color.

Not bad for 24, eh? Certainly the sort of women I’d like the girls in my life to look up to, anyhow.

But she does makeup, you see. And so people jump on it for being too girly, and the message that’s sent? Well, whether it’s intentional or not, it’s telling girls (and women) that it’s bad to be interested in makeup, in “girly” things.

My cousin wanted to start up summer jewelry-making classes in an income and resource-poor area of the country; she’d provide the tools and materials and teach anyone who was interested how to make jewelry–and sneak in geology lessons via gemstones. After all, to understand the quality of what you’re working with, you need to know how it’s made. She was specific in saying that anyone would be welcome, but also that she wanted to target younger girls in her community who might feel alienated from more boisterous physical sciences summer-camp-esque classes, which are largely populated by boys in her area.

I floated the idea by some scicomm people, who were horrified. Jewelry-making? It’s too stereotypical! We need girls to go into STEM! Not be girls! Another friend is getting the similar pushback over a science-y fitness class.

It’s a very weird sort of mental holding to have, isn’t it? We can’t use science to talk about things that girls are interested in, are targeted to via advertising, will likely spend lots of money on for themselves over the course of their lives, and have the potential to be skills useful for real-life, adult, science jobs.

The examples, though, seem to me to indicate not a problem with STEM, but a problem with girls. In particular, a problem with the way society can socialize girls to be “girly,” to like makeup and jewelry, to want to stay fit, to be interested in clothing design. But instead of working to open those areas up to boys while simultaneously encouraging girls, it seems like we’ve kneejerked so far away that any attempts to frame these “girly” areas as science-and-okay-for-girls is rejected.

But I have a feeling that when we do that? We’re rejecting the girls who are interested in these areas, and not the socializing behind the girls.

4:46pm, edited to add: After I posted this, Bethany pointed out that this was a discussion going on in early January that I probably missed because I was still recovering from emergency hospitalization/surgery/death-flu stuff. So here is Jamie Bernstein’s post In Defense of Pink Science, and Shannon Palus’s post that Bernstein was responding to.