Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy World Polio Day!


Today is World Polio Day and to link it to Ebola: Nigeria is the African country that has had the best health infrastructure to stamp out Ebola immediately. Why? Because they used their anti-polio efforts on it. Why did they have such strong tools and all those skilled health workers ready to go? In part, because of ROTARY INTERNATIONAL's PolioPlus Program. Nigeria's Emergency Operation Center for Polio Eradication focused on the Ebola virus when it appeared within Nigeria's borders. Because Nigeria has been conducting national polio immunization drives for decades, including door-to-door visits, the Nigerian government was able to mobilize hundreds of health workers to perform thousands of home visits, looking for people with Ebola symptoms or exposure.

Nigeria's response to Ebola was a beautiful thing. Better than the U.S. was able to do.

Ironically, a couple of the countries suffering the most from polio (Afghanistan, Nigeria) have some of the best health infrastructure in place to fight outbreaks of other diseases like Ebola. Now Mali has found Ebola within its borders. Fortunately, Mali is another country that has been on alert against polio outbreaks for years. We'll see how they do.

Watch tonight's World Polio Day livestream program here. It broadcasts at 6:30 PM CDT (GMT-5) today, 24 October. Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will give an update on the status of global polio eradication.

See what you can do to support polio eradication (and, as a consequence, strong public health infrastructure in developing countries) here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

World Polio Day 2014


World Polio Day is recognized every year in October. The date is a bit uncertain: some countries put it on October 28th which was Jonas Salk's birthday, while others have it on October 24th (or 18th) for no reason we've been able to figure out. In the U.S. we do it on the 24th and that's tomorrow.

Rotary International initiated the global polio eradication effort in 1985 and they are way deep in it. They've sunk over US$1.3 billion into this fight since they started it and they're absolutely determined to finish the job. In fact, Rotary was working on immunizing children all over the world before the World Health Organization (WHO) was. WHO didn't join Rotary's battle against polio until 1988. That's when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established along with UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to start focusing on polio in 2007, but Rotary was in there at the very beginning and they'll be there at the end.

Rotary is hosting a livestream program that will broadcast on Friday, 24 October between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Chicago time (30.5 hours from when this post goes up). It will feature updates on the status of global polio eradication (only three countries haven't defeated it yet: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria), statements from Ziggy Marley and polio survivor Minda Dentler, and a song by Tessanne Chin (winner of the 5th season of The Voice). It will also offer suggestions for how your can support polio eradication. You can either watch it live as it happens or later as a recording at the same link. If you watch, know that I'm in the room somewhere behind the scenes, helping to put it all together.

You can help build awareness of the need for polio eradication by changing your Facebook photo to this avatar for the day. And here's a whole gallery of things you can post and tweet. Happy World Polio Day! It's a little hard to get the word "polio" out there when "Ebola" is being shouted so loudly, but polio is still a global health emergency (as declared by the WHO in May 2012) and we're on the way to taking care of it forever. Yes, polio still exists. No, nobody is completely safe from it until we wipe it out completely.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Do you use Wikipedia? I love Wikipedia

Yesterday I received an email from Wikipedia's founder that, in part, said this:

We are the small non-profit that runs the #5 website in the world. We have only 175 staff but serve 500 million users, and have costs like any other top site: servers, power, programs, and people.
Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind, a place we can all go to think and learn.
 

To protect our independence, we'll never run ads. We take no government funds. We survive on donations from our readers. Now is the time we ask.
https://donate.wikimedia.org 

Thanks,
Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder
I love Wikipedia. Reading is my favorite way to take in information, so even when I take a break from ebooks and watch a movie, I immediately go to Wikipedia to research the movie I just watched. I  want to find out how it was produced, received, distributed and what else the actors have been in. I can lose myself in Wikipedia by clicking on the link to the novel of the movie and from there on the link to the historical incident it was based on, etc. Or I'll get stuck looking up the terrible 1980s sitcom an actor did, which it takes me way too long to tear myself away from.

I rarely watch more than one movie in a day.

But if you use Wikipedia, you know the hundreds of ways it's been useful to you. Come on, cough up five bucks (US$5). I did.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dip

Two weeks into drastically reducing the sugary and starchy foods I eat, my pants fit better and my energy is good, but this past weekend my resolve took a dip and a big one. I have face blindness and no head at all for visuals, but my memory for dates is way too good. All last week I couldn't get it out of my head that the last time September 27th fell on a Saturday was in 2008, the day Bob and I celebrated our wedding.

On Friday night I had pound cake and cookies for dinner. On Saturday I indulged in potatoes, breaded chicken and more cookies. On Sunday I ate frosted layer cake and potato chips with the last of a tub of onion dip left over from a get together I'd had the night before. The dip wasn't even very good, but I polished it off anyway.*

After some solid support from my friends and a lot of tapping and crying, I'm feeling much better today and I'm back on the wagon. Today is Bob's birthday and exactly six years ago, this was the day we left for a week-long honeymoon (which was great. I love Oregon), but today I'm remembering those things without as much grief and sadness. We had a marriage; it was good for a while, then it wasn't so good, and then Bob ended it. And that's okay.

*This is how someone who doesn't drink alcohol goes on a bender.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What is it like to have bipolar disorder?

Americans have a great fear of what we think bipolar disorder is. We imagine bipolar disorder means unpredictably violent, unreliable or irrational. We also misuse the term. I can't STAND it when someone calls going back and forth between strong opinions bipolar, as in "He was completely for the resolution last month, but now he's totally against it. What is he? Bipolar?" That reference to bipolar disorder is completely ignorant of the reality of the disease.

Bipolar disorder doesn't mean someone is dangerous or unable to make up their mind. It's a mood disorder that -- wait, don't read my words on this. Take a look at artist Ellen Forney's excellent graphic depiction of what it's like to live with bipolar disorder: What Bipolar Disorder Really Feels Like.

Graphic by Ellen Forney

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cutting carbs like my life depends on it

I recently had some blood work done. On September 11th, my doctor told me my blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides were high. I do NOT want diabetes, heart disease or any of the other health problems associated with high blood sugar, so this is my call to action. I've done a lot of reading on the causes of high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, so I'm putting a certain theory to the test. The theory is that the cause of these problems is excess consumption of carbohydrates, not fat.

On September 12th, I drastically cut down on starchy and sugary foods and sweetened drinks. I still allow myself crackers, juice, oatmeal and both fresh and dried fruit, but mostly I eat meat, seafood, vegetables, avocados, eggs, poultry and cottage cheese. Eating as much of these foods as I want, I never go hungry, but this isn't easy for me. I've been addicted to sugar since childhood. Fortunately, after cutting sugar out of my diet cold turkey a few times in my life, I've gotten better at it. This time I'm very relieved that cutting sweets and starches is going the most smoothly yet, with the fewest cravings ever. I'm relieved because I think I've pushed my body as far as it can safely go with all the sugary and starchy food I've eaten my whole life. At the age of 48, it's time to make a permanent change.

So I committed to this cleaner way of eating and experienced a big energy dip for a few days, but that's one of the side effects of a drastic reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Within a week I felt better. Today, on the 22nd, I'm doing very well. I'm eating better and improving my health with no hunger at all. Well, if this theory about starches and sugars is correct, then I'm good. If not, I guess I'll find out because I'm going to keep this up. My doctor said she'll run blood work again in December and we'll see how this experiment ends...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez

This is what I've been waiting and planning for. A woman named Gina Rodriguez is poised to become a household name. She's an actress from Chicago, born to Puerto Rican parents, who plays the character Jane Villanueva in the new series Jane the Virgin. I don't know how likely success is for a series in which a young Miami Latina becomes accidentally artificially inseminated during a pelvic exam (plus this series will air on the CW network), but I have faith that even if Jane the Virgin isn't a hit, this Gina Rodriguez will make her way into the mainstream.

"Gina Rodriguez" actually used to be my name when I was little. After I started blogging in the aughts, I realized "Regina Rodriguez' is a very common name, so when I married a Martin, I eagerly hyphenated. I've been waiting for a famous Regina Rodriguez to emerge (actor, politician, sportswoman, she could be anything). When she did, my hyphenated name would keep me from being confused with her when I became a published author (any year now).

"Gina Rodriguez" and "Regina Rodriguez" are very popular names in the U.S, so it's about time one of us finally emerged into the national spotlight. Go, Gina! Maybe I'll even watch your show.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pants*

*In the United States, pants refers to the garment others call trousers.

(A post in which I do nothing but whine.)

I haven't allowed myself to buy pants in quite a while. In 2012 I went from a size 10 to size 14 and in 2013 I went from size 14 to size 16/18. Why did I pile 40 extra pounds onto my 5'2" (57 cm) frame in just eight months? It was an attempt to free myself from my food obsessions and in large part, it worked. After giving myself months to eat whatever I wanted, guilt-free, I felt considerably less pull towards donuts, processed lunch meat and cookies. Certainly, allowing myself to eat them all day long cured me of the desire to eat them all day long. I came out of the experiment free of my worst food habits, but 40 (or was it 50?) pounds bigger.

Since 2013, I've wondered what I'm supposed to do with my new bigger body. I'm not about to trigger my food issues with a diet, but after being roughly size 8 for most of my adult life, I can't shake the desire to lose this weight. I suspect this is similar to a woman who puts on 40 pounds with a pregnancy and then feels dismay/disappointment/disgust when the weight is still all there a year after having the baby.

After outgrowing my entire wardrobe in 2013, I allowed myself enough pieces to get me through the work week at my office job, but I've been really stingy about it. I can't accept that this is the size my body will be from now on, so my closet has been the emptiest that it's been since I was in college. For over a year I've gotten by with two pairs of pants (elastic waists), three skirts (elastic waists), some sleeveless tops and that's about it. After outgrowing my winter coat, I took over my then-husband's raincoat that he never wore and layered sweaters underneath it. Since my ex-husband is 5'10", that means when the weather is cold, I sweep along like Cousin It. I look like I have no pride and can't afford a new coat.

It's a very common story: woman gains weight and punishes herself with an inadequate wardrobe in anticipation of getting back into the slim clothes any month now. But this fall I've decided enough is enough. I'm tired of wearing the same few clothes every week, so yesterday I went out to buy pants that aren't elastic-waist and that have pockets. I have so missed having pants with pockets. My shopping started at Macy's where I found a bargain on three pairs of slacks (with pockets) and ended at Lane Bryant.

To look at me, you might not guess that I wear a size 16. I'm a short person with small hands and a narrow frame, but here's why my 170 pounds have to go into a size 16 pair of pants: I have an apple shape. While the rest of the garment drapes over my hips and legs, my belly fills every millimeter of a size 16 pant waist. If this same mass were distributed in an hourglass or even a pear shape, I could comfortably fit it into a size 14 or maybe 12. But we can't change our shape, only how big it is. My biology packs on the weight right through the gut, so it's the gut I have to accommodate. The largest circumference of my body is about 3 cm. below my belly button and that means size 16 pants.

It makes me feel unfeminine. I've learned that women are (supposed to be) hourglass- or pear-shaped while men are apple-shaped. But how can that be true when I'm related to so many apple-women and I see so many of us on the street, especially with Chicago's large Mexican population? Apple-women seem to be everywhere, yet women's clothing is often tailored for a form that becomes narrower in exactly the place where I spread out the most. Am I a man-woman? Is my X-chromosome defective because it didn't give me a pear-shape?

And, of course as we all know, carrying extra weight in the abdomen is the most dangerous. Women with sizable hips, butts and thighs might bemoan their shapes, but at least they're carrying their fat in the right places, the healthy places. They have real waists. They have real hips. They're real women.

All of this contributes to my hatred of my body. In Macy's on Chicago's State Street, the largest size in the petite section was 16 and that's what fit comfortably. In those slacks, my butt disappeared and my legs were lost in the fabric, but the pregnant-looking mass of fat in my abdomen FILLED THE WAIST FULLY, like a scrawny, no-ass guy with a beer gut. It didn't help that two of the pairs were on sale. That should have been a score (fifty percent off!), but instead it struck me as proof that no one else wanted these pants. These were no treasure.

Dejected, I walked across the street to Lane Bryant on Wabash. Lane Bryant made me feel better because in their sizing, 14/16 is the smallest. Hey, how 'bout it! Maybe it's all relative, I thought. Maybe I shouldn't shop anywhere ever again besides Lane Bryant. But since their pants were considerably more expensive than the bargains I'd found, I didn't get any more. I constantly hope my bigger-than-the-rest-of-my-body gut will start to reduce, so I'm willing to dress my belly in pants that fit, but I'm not spending real money on it.

Lane Bryant didn't have a lot of tops to choose from, but the jackets caught my eye. I thought about how the only outerwear of mine that fit was a men's hoodie and that huge men's raincoat. I had fully expected to be at least one size smaller by this winter, but I decided it was time to stop the denial. Part of me grumbled with resignation while another part went slack with relief as I bought myself a fall jacket that should get me through a couple of months.

I brought my purchases home without my usual joy of new clothes because everything felt like a sign of capitulation to my fattened state. But if I'm honest with myself, I remember that I also didn't like my body when I was thin. The problem isn't that I'm fat. The problem is that I don't like myself. I was dissatisfied with my body at size 8, too. The truth is that I've never liked my body, never felt like it was the right size or shape, never felt comfortable in it. It's not really about what I look like or how much I've gained, it's just my old habit of hating myself. The self-loathing always comes back. So, this is a post of whining and self-hatred. So it goes. I'm trying to be open to a new way of thinking about myself, but it's slow going.

Jacket might look black, but it's navy blue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

National Suicide Prevention Day



Have you ever thought it would better if your life just ended now? If so, you know what I'm talking about. Does it absolutely baffle you that anyone would rather be dead than alive? If so, then please read one of the best things I've read about why people kill themselves. This is National Suicide Prevention Week and today is National Suicide Prevention Day. National Suicide Prevention Day is one of those things that seems like a good idea, but what are you supposed to do about it? Do this: read this post.

When I read Therese Borchard's "What Suicidal Depression Feels Like," I felt relieved to find that she thinks similarly to how I do about death. Borchard, like me, envies dead people for being finished with life and all its pain. My favorite part of her piece is her quotation of American novelist David Foster Wallace on suicidal depression:

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e., the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

When life becomes endless pain, no matter how unknown and intimidating death is, death starts to seem like the better option. And life becomes endless pain to people whose brains just don't function the way the majority do, no matter how hard we try. I maintain that people should be allowed the right to decide when our lives end, but if we can be given a little longer to receive the help we need and think about if we really want to die, that's probably worth a suicide prevention or two. If this whole suicide thing perplexes and/or irritates you, please read Borchard's post.

Blogging, not perfection

I went through the titles of all my blog posts (yes, every one) to tag the ones that are about my music, and realized that I've been taking my blog way too seriously. I used to post a few times a day, not a few times a month. And lately I've been posting mostly when I have some big opinion about a national issue. So my Jewish New Year's resolution is to post more often about whatever is in my head, whether it feels important or not. Here I go.

I never heard from the literary agent about my book manuscript, which I take as a good sign. It means that I'm doing this, plus even the best authors started out getting rejected a lot. It also gives me another chance to make it better. From talking to a friend in the publishing world, I've realized that a manuscript of 49,000 words is short for a real book, so I'm going to put some more work into it before I submit it again. But how do I add another 10 or 20 thousand words to a manuscript that feels complete to me?

This is probably a good time to get a professional writing coach/editor's help, so that's my next step. A fresh set of eyes with years of experience helping people polish book manuscripts should get me where I want to go. Where to I want to go? I've decided to really try to get this thing published by an actual publisher. If I do that instead of self-publish, they'll do the work of cover graphics and marketing, etc. I'll see if I can get there. If not, then self-publishing is still an option.

And that's where I am on the dog ebook, for anyone who was wondering.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

What do they do if you're in a coma?


No one who's in perfectly good health ever thinks they need to worry about ending up in the hospital tomorrow, but things happen. I'm sure you can think of people who were fine one day and then, in a moment, it all changed. They didn't think they needed to make known their desires about what do if they were seriously ill and incapable of communicating, but suddenly their family had to make those decisions when those family members were in the worst condition to do that. Terrible accidents happen. Give your loved ones a break and make as many of those tough decisions ahead of time as possible.

Aging With Dignity offers a document you can easily fill out and make copies of so that the critical people know what you'd like to have done if you're ever incapacitated. Give it to the people you want making those decisions, your doctor(s), your close family. You can order a copy of their publication Five Wishes, which allows you to make the following things clear:
  • The person I want to make care decisions for me when I can't
  • The kind of medical treatment I want or don't want
  • How comfortable I want to be
  • How I want people to treat me
  • What I want my loved ones to know
I filled one of these out when I was 40. I asked three friends to help make my wishes clear if I'm ever in a coma or otherwise unable to make decisions for myself. I gave one friend the power to make those decisions. The other two will support him against anyone who wants their will done instead of mine, and they'll help my family with final arrangements if I should die. I like to call the three of them my death panel. I then gave copies of this document to my primary care doctor, my family and my therapist.

Some might expect me to have chosen my spouse (when I had one) or a close family member to be the one who decides, but that would probably be too hard for them. The people I've chosen love me enough to hate the idea of me dying while at the same time prioritizing what I want, even if that means me dying. It's a tough request to make of anyone and I'm very grateful to the friends who have agreed to it. (I actually plan on outliving them, but this is all about "just in case.")

A few weeks ago life felt way too hard for me and I found myself gazing into Lake Michigan, wondering what drowning feels like. After a few minutes, I tried to steer my mind away from that question and managed to get as far as "But what would happen after I drowned?" That got me thinking about another document I created several years ago about how I'd like my remains handled and how I'd like to be remembered. I went home, got on my laptop and began updating my "In Case of My Death" instructions. Then I pulled out my seven-year-old copy of Five Wishes and decided to revise that, too. In this way, I took my death-focus and made it productive, and by the time I was done, my fantasies about dying were gone. (For me that's called a good day.)

It's a horrible thing to have someone close to you end up on life support or die, but it's made worse when people who are emotionally devastated have to make decisions about feeding tubes and treatment options and Do Not Resuscitate orders. It's a godsend when the person herself has spelled out what she wants ahead of time. That way the family has to spend a lot less energy agonizing over, "What would she have wanted?" as they consider organ donation and other end-of-life questions.

American hate death and we hate considering our own mortality, but this is really a favor to those who care about you. When you make clear what you want ahead of time, you give people the peace of mind of knowing they're making the right decisions. Clearing the way for your friends and family to focus on what's really important in the event of your death is a true gift. No matter how healthy and strong you are right now, please do it.



Saturday, September 06, 2014

My music

You might notice that on the right side of this webpage is a link to my digital album. Click here to sample my 14 songs (only available digitally). I wrote them between 1997 and 2007, although I didn't put this album together until 2013 (with the mastering help of New York jazz pianist Robert Cowie). Each year that I get farther away from those songs, the better they sound (I get less judgmental about my creativity), so I'd like to write about them now. Consider these "liner notes."

On this album I sing and play electric bass. Wonderful Chicago jazz musician Neal Alger is on guitar. A guy named Jean Leroy did the percussion, but he's only on a few tracks. 

"Going of Age" - This is one of my favorites because it's so relevant to my life. It's about facing the reality that you're not a young woman any more and you're only going to get older from here, but that's okay because there's a power and grace to being older. I loved this song when I wrote it at age 37 and still do at age 48. The same link gets you to all the songs (99 cents American each or US$9.99 for the whole album).

"Moving Through Madness" - One of my songs about depression, although it's so upbeat, the music sounds pretty cheerful. It means a lot to me that a friend who also lives with chronic depression says she's played this song over and over again at certain times in her life. In real liner notes, I'd dedicate this song to her. It's been a powerful song for me too and contains one of my favorite lyrics: "I am everything you could ever want in a woman, plus the nightmare." I'm sure my ex-husband would agree (I wrote it years before I met him).

"Not So Bad" - another song about depression that sounds happy and upbeat (I don't know why that happens). But this song has a little story in it with a good ending and it actually happened to me in 2003.

"An Atheist's Prayer" - This song expresses how I feel about my atheism and if it gives the Christians ammunition against atheism, so be it.

"The Baker's Prayer" - you optimistic, religious/spiritual people might like this one. Twenty years ago, I read the story of a baker who prays in a unique way to God, but I failed to make note of the name or title of the book. It was a collection of stories for children and this tale stayed with me. Years after reading it (when I still believed in a mechanistic universe), I turned it into a song in the hope that someone would recognize it and tell me how to find that book. Now I don't care so much.

"Solterona" - this is my only song with a chorus that's half in English and half in Spanish (the Spanish is a translation of the English) and I got help with it from my mother. My mother had strong language skills and I never could have written a chorus like this without the help of a bilingual with some poetry in her. She received my gratitude when she first heard the recording back in 2004. "Solterona" means "spinster" (as in Spinster Power!).

"The Penguin Song" - This was a favorite of people who came to see me back when I used to perform in Chicago (my audiences were probably mostly friends and ex-lovers, ha!). I used to introduce it by saying, "And now a song about the lesser sung animals." Other verses are about a hedgehog and a cicada.

"Song for Valentine's Day" - This was one of the first songs I ever wrote, but I changed the lyrics a few times before I recorded it. Now it's pretty much about sex.

"Before a Dream Is Realized" - I was totally into the woo-woo when I wrote this one. After I pitched my spiritual beliefs out the window, I couldn't stand this song. The lyrics actually refer to "the Universe." Euw!

"Stay" - another one of my favorites. These are the only lyrics I wrote with my ex-husband in mind (near the beginning of our relationship).

So check them out if you need an uplifting or introspective tune. I'm happy to provide lyrics if anyone wants to know exactly what I'm singing. One day when I get my reginarodriguezmartin website up (I've bought the domain, but there's nothing there now), maybe I'll publish the words. And if you're interested in the story of why I started singing and songwriting, and why I stopped, that's here.