Remembering Dr. Tiller 4 Years Later

Four years ago today, I was teaching high school. I heard on the radio or read an article about a doctor being murdered.

I didn’t consider myself a religious person, not then. I was just starting out on my spiritual journey. But even then, I heard the news and thought: aren’t churches meant to be safe places?

Even The Wire, after all, depicts Sundays as a ceasefire day.

I heard about a doctor being murdered while volunteering at his church, among his community, before God. He was murdered. The story stuck with me. It started following me around, interrupting my tasks with questions and worries.

I emailed my feminist friends. Four of us  gathered for weeks to have Tiller Talks, conversations about what Dr. Tiller’s death meant, what role we could play in preventing future murders, what we as individuals – as young feminist women – could do.

We wrote long lists of ideas — hosting movie nights, supporting abortion funds, cultivating dialogues with “the other side”, signing petitions, training to be abortion providers or airplane pilots — and debated what our tiny contingent could do, all of us young and eager, just starting out in our adult lives.

We didn’t have money or clout, but we had passion and conviction.

In the intervening years, one of us volunteered for an abortion fund, one conducted research on abortion, another sent thank you cards to other late-term abortion providers. We all did the tiny and not so tiny things we could, in Dr. Tiller’s memory and honor. But for ourselves as well.

tillerThank you, 4000 Years for Choice.

It feels right, real and good to work under the light of our passions. The flame that ignites from learning of an injustice grows to a fire with time. We do not live in a world where we murder people whom we disagree with, and as a religious person, as a feminist, as a woman it is my duty to stand up and say “this is wrong.”

Today I also think about Beatriz in El Salvador, who has lupus and is 24 weeks pregnant with a fetus that has no chance of surviving after birth. I think of the Salvadoran Supreme Court, who is denying her a life-saving procedure.

I think of Savita. I think of the countless women whose names we do not know, who died because they had no access to a simple medical procedure, who self-induced abortions, got unsafe abortions, who had no one to stand up for them. History is filled with these women. They are our ancestors, our relatives, our neighbors.

I think of what it means to live in a world where we let women die.

I think of the accident of birth — here, in LA, I have a say over what happens to my body, have access to the medical care I need, can afford an abortion; but in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile — if I’m pregnant there and need an abortion, I have no say. I wouldn’t have control over my own body there, wouldn’t have a say about my own health. Someone else would get to decide what happens to me – a court, a president, a doctor, a husband – determining whether I live or die.

I think of the abortion providers I know and love. I think of their courage and conviction. I think of the legacy Dr. Tiller left us, how he trusted women.

If you don’t own your body, what do you really own?


Help Me Pick New Glasses: Crowd-Sourced Decision-Making

I’m getting new glasses. Warby Parker ones. I got a new prescription (lots of pupil dilation to get that fancy new paper!) and I want a new look. Plus all the cool kids are wearing them. They were even on NPR. (But I knew about them way before that, just so you know. For street cred purposes and all.)

At The Standard, this kinda posh kinda skeezy hotel in downtown LA, there’s a Warby Parker Readery which really has nothing to do with reading and everything to do with trying on the glasses. So here are the three I’m deciding between:


Option 1: Ainsworth (Chestnut color)


Option 2: Marshall (Sassafras color)


Option 3: Ainsworth (Tortoise color)

So what’s your take? Complaints about the lighting & my lack of smiling have already been lodged. Compliments on my Clark University inspired earrings are welcome. But ultimately, what about the glasses? Which ones?!

Notes on Citizen Who by Eric Liu: What If US Citizenship Was Earned?

Last night I walked down the street to the neighborhood theater (what up big city living), and saw the debut performance of Eric Liu’s Citizen Who.

As an immigrant myself, I loved Liu‘s mediation on what it means to be an American citizen. Like all good storytellers, he interspersed personal stories rich with detail and surprise turns with broad summarizes that brought together the disparate threads of theory and history. The same story – that of how his  mother came to the US, for example – was told multiple ways, and through that telling the audience saw the slippery category of citizenship, the way immigrants, or those who look like immigrants can suddenly become “foreign until proven otherwise” or exist in a perpetual in-between-ness of tenuous belonging (to paraphrase Liu).

Since we’re such a new country, and have little common history, customs or beliefs to bring us together (at most, the eldest of our lineages are only about 14 generations), belonging is the central tenet of the American dream. But belonging is both a legal status (Never give up your US passport!) but also a social status (Do you look American?). Liu points out that citizenship, while repeatedly mentioned in our beloved Constitution, is never once defined. In times of doubt, those who were once citizens can suddenly become a “non-alien” or “other”. So this “we” of “we the people” cuts both ways: we, as citizens, are responsible for what we have done and accomplished. Both the horrible and the great. We are one nation, indivisible, despite all that divides us. “In” and “out” are not the only categories here; because of our “color-coded legacy” (Liu’s spot-on word choice ), sometimes citizens and non-citizens not only look alike, but are sometimes the same person. We may have the right papers, but can still be treated as an outsider.

One non sequitur in my notes that I have been mulling over: Freedom is made up of simple pleasures. No matter the context of the suffering, people dream of escaping to experience the same things: mouth-watering meals, the sensation of soft touch, light and airy gatherings with laughter.

One particularly riveting question Liu posed was: When is loyalty dissent, and when is dissent loyalty? What is the threshold for us to participate? As equal parts patriotic and dissatisfied citizen, I appreciated Liu’s call to participate in our democracy, to contribute to our community as a way of rekindling, reviewing, reigniting our citizenship vows. What if we earned our citizenship, rather than were given it by birthright? What if it were renewable, based on whether one participated, served the common good? We are, after all, responsible for our own country.

There are photos here, and you can even watch the whole video of last night’s performance here. And they say there’s no good live theater in LA! Ha.

Placebo Effect: The Wonder (Non-)Drug

I love the placebo effect. It’s like Real Life magic, where something happens that makes no sense, but in a good way, and you can’t explain why or how very well but it’s awesome.

To give a simplified example for the uninitiated: let’s say you have two picky twin cousins who drink only filtered water when clearly tap water is just as good (and often better). Both cousins are thirsty. You’re bring one twin tap water, and the other twin filtered water (because you’re an evil scientist with no regard for ethical considerations). They both think that their water is filtered. The drink it up and say thanks. Ding! Doesn’t matter if the water actually was filtered or not – as long as they think it was, it tastes just as good.

Now there are problems with this small example and it can’t be applied across the board (the difference between a brand name and generic drink might taste different, for example), but it’s a starting point.

Now when doing research with lots of people, we see the placebo effect in groups. We’re trying to figure out whether taking a new medicine is better than not taking it, for a certain group of people. For example, whether taking a new medication will help people feel better more quickly. Let’s say we convince 20 people with headaches to participate in our research experiment. Of the 20 total participants who so graciously are giving us their time, 10 people get the treatment (the new medication) and 10 people get something that looks and tastes like the treatment (the placebo). Maybe we check in with them an hour after taking their pill, and 7 out of 10 people in each group feel better. Those that got the new treatment (the new medication), we might think they feel better because of taking it, but those who got the placebo and feel better…what’s their deal? As a researcher, you might get a little diddly-ish.

It’s brain magic. And um, feeeelings.

There’s some new research showing that different personality traits may be associated with higher likelihood for experiencing the placebo effect, and that sometimes even placebo surgery can be just as good as real surgery.

It’s also a big surprise because it messes with, subverts, troubles our understanding of how things work. You have a headache, so if this pill makes headaches better, and you take the pill, your headache should go away. Real simple, right? But what if you just think the pill works, and you take what you think is the pill, and your headache goes away. Then what? Then placebo, yo. Your brain and body conspired to make your headache go away. You thought it would, and it did. Go, brain, go body, it’s your birthday. (In the sense that every day is your body’s birthday because it’s producing new cells and stuff alllll the time.)

TL;DR: The brain and the brain-body connection is all kinds of awesome. Doing something to try to improve your health may work, even if it’s not clear why that particular something works. As long as you believe in the treatment (and it’s harmless), it might be enough.

Turkey Time & Helping Others Get Blogging

Every Thanksgiving, I get the same song stuck in my head:

Maybe it’ll be stuck in your head too now. Thanks a lot to my sister, who likes to sing this song as loudly as possible.

After helping make sweet potato pie, and eating a lot, and talking, I spent the rest of my Thanksgiving evening helping a fabulous 62-year-old I met tonight create a blog. She has a lot of opinions and learned how to use Skype recently, so I wrote out a step-by-step guide and we practiced posting a couple times.

Spreading the writing love, y’all! What’d you do this Turkey Time? Do your grandparents blog or tweet or facebook?

Los Angeles to the Bay Area: Traffic, Cars Riddled With Bullets, Fog

Reporting live after a 9 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, including sitting on the freeway due to disabled cars (crashed, stalled, and towed) 10 different times, narrowly missing witnessing a high speed shootout, and driving through fog. Highlights of the trip: seeing dogs in other people’s backseats. Lowlight: Realizing I’d been walking around the grocery store with my pants unbuttoned, and worse still: no one told me. Here’s hoping the drive back is less exciting!

Post-Gastroenterology Observations: New Reasons to Be Thankful

It’s funny how spending a couple of hours observing how other people live, — hearing about their experiences of living in and with their body –, how that insight can radically change my own perspective. After spending some time around people with gastroenterology issues, I have several new items to add to my list of things I’m thankful for:

– the ability to produce saliva, which allows me to consume food without it getting stuck in my throat and allows me to speak without pain

– not having h. pylori

– working in a field where I can wear fashionable shoes to work instead of clogs

– not being constipated for 3 days or going to the bathroom 20 times a day

– not having to resist the persuasive enthusiasm and at times moral concerns inherent in interactions with drug reps

– that every pain I’ve experienced has been temporary and treatable

– that I didn’t spend my birthday or holiday hours away from my home in a waiting room

– that there really are compassionate and clear providers, with good bedside manner who can communicate well with people who are hurting

– that not every doctor has bad handwriting (some are not only legible but even pleasant to the eye!)