Wait, but why?

Why would I, a busy person with a demanding job in academia, spend my precious free time doing even more writing? It’s hard enough to summon the focus to write grants, articles, reports, even emails. So on top of that, I write not just one, but two blogs: Zabbylogica is my personal blog, and I also contribute to the American Heart Association Early Career Voice.  I don’t do it for money or fame, I’ll tell you that. I don’t get paid and my #1 fan is my mom (Hi mom! Love you!). So why?

  1. Consistency. I find that making breakthroughs calls for consistent work, not just hitting it hard when inspiration comes around. Blogging creates a platform for being consistent. Whether I set my own deadlines, or work on the calendar of an editor, the time structure is key. I keep notes for post ideas, knowing I’ll need to pull something together this month. I follow up on “wouldn’t that be interesting” leads, because I have something to do with the results. I spend time writing that I might otherwise waste on internet rabbit holes. This creates a discipline of thinking and writing that’s not attached to the academic system. Which leads to:
  2. Freedom. Academic writing requires structure, and specific language, and particular kinds of work are more highly valued than others. On a blog, I can choose what to write about and how to write it, and this opens up my interests and allows me to explore areas that aren’t in the narrow sphere of my so-called expertise. I find this to be intellectually and creatively stimulating, and the knowledge I gain carries over into the more formal parts of my intellectual life.
  3. Speed. The time from idea to published post can be an hour or maybe a few days or weeks, not six months. This means I can address things that are happening in real time, whether that’s in my personal life, in the scientific literature, or in the news. This creates momentum, and it keeps me interested in things that are happening around me. For example, I just read some interesting research about women’s heart health, and instead of sticking it in my digital filing cabinet, I wrote a post about it. The rapid iteration of ideas is also a fun brain exercise and a great way to get unstuck.
  4. Community. I know other bloggers, online and IRL, and this is fun. My fellow AHA Early Career bloggers can sit together at lunch at giant national meetings. I’ve gotten to know other nurses, cardiologists, and basic scientists this way and learned about their work in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. It also helps me keep in touch with friends even if we don’t talk much— we can see what each other is working on and thinking about.
  5. Professional advantage? I leave this as a question mark. Some people put blog posts on their CVs. I’ve written for the Arizona Health Sciences blog and an American Heart Association blog— my byline is associated with issues I care about in public places. That can’t be a bad thing!

Bloggers, why do you do it? 



Does the language of health care matter?

Disclaimer: Dammit Jim, I’m a nurse, not a linguist!
 
 
We’ve been arguing over the language of the healing professions for a long time. Providers. Midlevels. Doctors. Physicians. Physician Extenders. Do the semantics matter to the development of the roles? To the patient experience? To the politics and payment?
 

  In a 1951 article from the Medical Library Association, Thelma Charen took on the task of tracing the etymology of the word medicine. According to Charen, the latin roots of medicine are easy to follow, from medicina, to medeor or medicor: to heal or cure. Tracing the root back further to an ancient Indo-European root (MA, MAD —> MED), we land on “to think or reflect, to give care to”. This links medicine to meditate. Over time, language crystalized from the general idea of considered reflection to more specific applications, eventually to specifically caring for the sick. Interesting. Noble. Relatively free from baggage.  

What, then, about nurse or nursing? The line is less straight and narrow, and more fraught. Thomas Long takes us through it. Nutrice, latin for wet nurse (and also related to the word nourish), morphed into a more general term for caretaker of children— a female caretaker, specifically. In the medical context, Long notes, nurse first appears in Shakespeare. (I’ll leave aside the meaning as it relates to bees, though that might also be interesting to the sexual politics). So nursing, the profession, is linguistically linked to nursing, the act of feeding the child from the breast. And thus linked also to female-ness. Of course, just tracing the history of a word doesn’t capture its full meanings, but it’s not irrelevant. Not at all. Those of us who practice nursing will tell you that there are persistent biases related to power and gender that plague our profession. The health professions (notably medicine) have been slow to understand nursing as a mature, serious, and independent profession with its own ontology. Nursing’s metaparadigm includes the concepts of person, environment,health, and nursing— note the absence of “disease,” “orders,” “bedpans,” or “hospitals.”

The language isn’t neutral. It’s steeped in meaning and history. And it’s part of our cultural understandings of professional roles. These days, people like to say that health care is a team sport. Some organizations (you can guess) want to append that to say “and a physician is the team captain”. But that’s not always wise— physicians make great captains, in some contexts— but so do nurses, counselors, pharmacists, or physical therapists, in others. It doesn’t need to be a turf war or a hierarchy. Let’s all stick to the roots of our roles, evidenced in the language of medicine: Reflection. Caring. Let’s carry it forward into our professional practice, our praxis, and our teams. Let’s think about our unique bodies of knowledge and our relationships to our patients, and let that guide our teamwork. And let’s be careful, considered, and kind with our language. Do we all have to agree? Of course not! But let’s agree to be willing to listen and reflect.

From fun to FOMO to frustrated

Watching friends, old acquaintances, and perfect strangers do epic things on social media can be super fun. Woah, people do all kinds of crazy cool stuff! Trips and ultramarathons and insane workouts and grad school and babies and, and, and. It’s fun to watch— but there can be an insidious kind of creep from fun into FOMO into frustration. There will always be someone more accomplished, more intense, stronger, faster, than you are. Don’t let this belittle your accomplishments! And don’t let it stop you from trying, either. It’s like pendulum between these two poles— can you balance challenging yourself with honoring yourself? Being inspired to excel with being proud of what you’ve already accomplished?
My long run last weekend was 7 miles. Whether that’s crazy intense, or borderline lazy, depends on who you ask.  An ultramarathoner might say “that’s cute,” whereas a non-athlete might say “that’s insane”. I don’t think it’s lazy or insane. I think it’s a little bit of a stretch beyond “easy” and it felt great. You don’t need to feel bad about yourself because other people do more. There’s always more. More isn’t always better. Sometimes more is injury and bad moods and burnout.
Then again, I was proud of myself for biking the six miles to work a few times recently. But the other day, it was pretty cold and possibly going to snow, so I took the bus instead. Students and coworkers of mine biked, though. I could have, I realized. Am I afraid of being cold? Wet? Am I worried about being unsafe, or uncomfortable? Or am I just making excuses? I need to have actual conversations with myself to tease this out. Lucky for me, circumstance forced it— the train I was going to take on a sleety morning was running super late. My choices were to also be super late, or to bike. I biked. And I lived to tell the tale. It wasn’t even all that hard. The worst things that happened to me was that my fingers were kind of cold for half an hour. So, I needed that kick in the pants from mother nature. More was, in fact, better, at least that day.
I recently read (listened to, actually) David Goggins’ book Can’t Hurt Me. He’s famously spoken about the way our minds trick us into thinking we’ve met our body’s limits. I can’t do more, you think, when you’re at about 40% of your potential. This is super cool to think about. It’s inspiring. It helps to challenge that voice that says “I can’t”, when another voice says “I wish I could”. And there’s the key, I think: do you wish you could? Or do you feel like you should because someone else does?

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I ran this 8-miler with killer hills slower than a lot of other people did. I don’t care!

The Badass Female Project: Notorious Edition

RBG. She’s a real-life figure, but now with her own documentary, biopic, workout book, fan-bio, and iconography, in addition to her legal scholarship, she’s a bona-fide phenomenon. What makes her stand out?

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bow the eff down, people.

In addition to her formidable intellect, she’s strategic, patient, and bold. And she is willing to fight for what she knows to be right— first and foremost, gender equality. She doesn’t care if she meets resistance— she knows the difference between might and right. Not content to be defeated, she also pioneered the dissenting opinion as an art form. “Dissents speak to a future age,” she once said, cementing her vision not only for her world, but for the generations following her.  She has fought the good fight for decades, with her voice and her pen as her weapons. RBG is the personification of speaking truth to power.

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you go, RBG.

Her life has also included roles as a parent, spouse, professor, and litigator. She famously instructed her son’s school to call his father, rather than her, since it was “his turn”. Before becoming a justice, she was also an incredibly influential legal strategist on women’s rights with a clear vision for equality when that was not the norm (says Amy Knight, a brilliant lawyer and badass female in her own right, as well as my twin sister).

Amy wearing a jean jacket with Ruth Bader Ginsburg emroidered on the back

I’d join this girl gang.

And now, add role model to her list of accomplishments. I mean, little girls (and big girls) dress up as her for halloween. She’s a living, breathing example of why we need the Badass Female project. That fills my heart with joy— we all want to be a little more like this fiercely passionate, intelligent, tenacious, and yes, badass, woman!

 

Addendum: I’d be remiss if I didn’t shoutout to my mom, who took me to see the RBG documentary last summer!

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we’re RBG fangirls in this family!

Is eating healthy hard?

People ask me about what I eat a lot, since I work in the health space. I don’t know that what I eat ultimately matters to anyone else’s health, but hey, it’s a conversation starter. I eat a vegetarian diet. I actually eat vegan probably 80% of the time, but I always hesitate to say I’m vegetarian, or to even talk about veganism, because there can be a lot of unfriendliness and absolutism in this space. Some folks get very worked up about it, and it can really be a flashpoint for drama. Some of this stems from the fact that people tend to associate diet with identity (I AM a vegetarian, rather than I EAT vegetarian food). Certainly, some people identify as vegan and they extend this to other aspects of their life including clothing, personal care products, etc. This is a choice with a lot of valid reasons to support it, but everyone who chooses to eat a certain way is not necessarily also doing this, and that’s OK. People make different choices for different reasons. Diet is complicated because it isn’t only about nutrition, it’s also about culture, socioeconomics, ethics. I want to talk about what I eat, though, so please recognize that there’s a lot of issues that I think about but am not going to get into right now (but if you want to, we can talk about it later).


I make choices for myself, and I also give advice as part of my professional life, about diet. And while I eschew hard and fast rules, I do have some general principles that I believe are healthiest. I base this on a combination of evidence, common sense, and experience. Scientific study abut diets is plagued with challenges, which is part of why there’s so much confusion. So I say, keep it simple. I like to eat mostly whole foods, mostly plant-based, and mostly easy-to-make stuff– so I mostly cook my own food.  The more I stick to simple patterns, the easier it is.

What I eat: fairly accurate.

So what are my go-tos, my day-to-days, what I like to eat when I have the time and flexibility to do it my way?

  1. Coffee. Whether you buy the health hype or not, it’s a ritual that makes me happy. I brew french press and add steamed/frothed unsweetened soymilk (sometimes Oatly, or almond milk) to make an au lait (or a faux-lait, if you prefer). This is usually before I work out or do anything else, really. I think there’s value in having comforting habits and rituals.
  2. Breakfast is usually one of two things:
    1. A smoothie. I mix it up, but a common combination is kale/spinach, mixed berries, half a frozen banana, peanut or almond butter, hemp or chia or flaxseeds, sometimes cacao nibs, and unsweetened almond milk.
    2. Steel-cut oats with fresh fruit (berries, bananas, stone fruit, apples. . . whatever’s good), nuts, and almond milk.
  3. Lunch. I don’t usually have a morning snack, but if I do, it might be nuts or a Larabar. I eat lunch on the early side. I like to have either:
    1. A grain-based salad. These hold up well in the fridge and travel well. I take a whole grain (farro, quinoa, millet, wheat berries, sorghum, barley), add some combination of vegetables, nuts, or dried fruit, and a flavorful dressing (often citrus is a good fit).
    2. Leftovers from dinner. Especially things like curries and chili tend to get even better when they sit in the fridge.
  4. Snack. I usually have one in the afternoon, especially if I was active or am going to the gym or eating late. This could be an apple with nut butter, or whole-grain crackers or carrots with hummus.
  5. Dinner: My favorite is a big bowl with a grain (brown rice or quinoa), a green (kale, or broccoli rabe is a favorite), a bean or other protein-rich item (tempeh, tofu, homemade vegan sausage, pinto beans, black-eyed peas), with a flavorful and creamy sauce (a cashew-cream with tomato and red pepper, a peanut-soy sauce, red-hot tahini). Often with a glass of wine.
  6. Chocolate. 70% is a good starting place for me, and I might like it with sea salt, or ginger, or chili, or something else simple.
  7. Beverages— you’ve already met my friends coffee and wine. I also regularly drink green and herbal tea, kombucha (I make it at home), plain old water, and bubbly water.

 

Obviously it isn’t like this every single day. Some days there’s work lunch. Sometimes there’s the airport. Sometimes there’s takeout, or meeting friends. And sometimes there’s pizza (and it’s often vegan pizza!) But the closer I stick to this basic plan, the better I feel.

Do you have a regular routine around food choices?

Books about running that aren’t about running

I’m not a fast runner. I’ll never win a major race, and I’m not particularly interested in going after a big marathon. I just like to run. Similarly, I’m  kind of a lousy reader— slow, prone to mixing up letters and words, easily distracted. Yet, I love to read, and I love to run. I also love to read about running. And I’m in luck: there is lots of great writing on the subject, from technical manuals to memoirs to novels to philosophy. While I love a good geek-out, it’s these latter categories that really grab me. Maybe because running can be so solitary and long miles give us time to think, writing on running is often perceptive and introspective. In fact, much of this writing is really more about living in the world than it is about putting on foot in front of the other. 


I certainly haven’t read every book about running (yet). But I find myself coming back to some favorites. The books I return to share a theme of running not just as a sport, but as a conduit for humanity. The first one that pulled me in was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Fans of Murakami’s fiction will recognize his voice: keen observation, simple description, slightly magical air. He writes about the routines of running, the suffering, the odd sense of comfort, and how these mirror the writing life. Reading it was meditative for me. Another classic, Running & Being, from the so-called “philosopher king” of running George Sheehan, delighted me in a different way. The chapters are titled things like “Living”, “Discovering”, “Learning”, “Racing”, and “Meditating”. Sheehan, like Murakami, is preoccupied with the suffering of running. Is this the secret sauce? Suffering? I don’t know, but there’s something about it that compels runners and writers alike.

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