I Want To Be a Meteorologist Tomorrow, So Today, I Conquered Third Grade Math

Anyone who has spent time around me or who follows me on Snapchat knows I am fascinated with weather, natural disaster management, and science communication.  I have had a lifelong interest in meteorology, but I’ve taken quite an unusual path.

While the sixteen-year-old me who dedicated her science fair project to comparing folklore weather predictions to the forecast thought I’d *at least* be a local TV meteorologist by age 27, I’m still only a toe-deep into my journey towards mastering the atmospheric sciences (no longer dreaming of being the next Al Kaprielian, but perhaps a life serving my country with NOAA or researching clouds at a university). The last decade of my life has involved experiencing and recovering from mysterious/debilitating illnesses with physical and neurological symptoms, unhealthy relationships, sexual assaults, a head injury, and other difficulties that deeply rocked the core of who I am. These were not good life experiences to have while trying to learn chemistry and calculus, so I gave up on my science dreams and spent my late teens and early-to-mid twenties studying and working on gender, psychology, sexuality, and community health because I so wanted to understand the forces that kept me in pain.

While I was “good at” working in sexual health, I realized it was not sustainable for me to talk about the subject of my trauma all day, everyday. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still passionate about these issues, especially with respect to education and policy, but I’ve decided to limit my involvement to volunteering with the comprehensive sex ed program at church and connecting with lawmakers on important legislation rather than earning my bread and butter through topics that have been quite painful.

I am no longer living to understand the horrible things I have experienced but to make the most of the precious little time we have on Earth by protecting it from the human impact on climate change.

I am finding a mind once obsessed with figuring out where my life had gone wrong more interested in understanding greenhouse gases, learning about aerosol particles, and studying just why clouds form certain shapes in certain conditions. I decided last fall when a *cough* certain major political event scared me about the future of the planet that I’m going to chase that special interest in weather that comes back whenever I feel safe and comfortable.

Our planet’s pain is bigger than my own pain, and working on that doesn’t seem to flare up the emotional aspects of my own pain in the same way.

But how do you just pick up a career in sexual health, tech, and education and drop it into perhaps literal rocket science?

You head back to the basics and work up from there. 

If you had told me a decade ago that I’d be spending the summer of 2017 reviewing basic math to get ready for Calculus I, I’d laugh because I already had a year of high school Calculus under my belt and was scheduled to take Calc I at the college level as a high school senior that fall. But I didn’t do well that semester due to everything else happening in my life, and it’s been a decade since so here I am, working through all of Khan Academy’s math up to Calculus, and perhaps some math beyond it as well.

The best way to learn what math I need to learn is to demonstrate the mastery I know already. No matter how basic, no matter how simple, no matter how many milliseconds it takes me to do the problem in my head. I just need to show the computer that I know how to do it so it can find out what I don’t know and make sure I understand it before the fall. I’m patching all of my little knowledge holes before I resurface my mathematical skills for a successful semester.

So far, I have demonstrated my mastery in defining shapes, reading a clock, and taking a cube root. I’ve shown I can operate a number line, do prime factorization, and use the quadratic formula. When I do Khan Academy’s “Mastery Challenges” to show my strengths, I’ll get a subtraction problem you might see in third grade (which I’ll nail), followed by a polar graph question straight out of Calc II (which I haven’t even learned in a formal setting yet). Once I’ve done lots of general mastery challenges and it starts throwing me calculus beyond my understanding, I start working up from the lowest grade level that I have not yet achieved 100% mastery and see how many years I can master before I get bored and start writing a blogpost or something *cough*.

But today, I mastered the third grade, like kindergarten through second grade before, which involved demonstrating mastery on 104 skills. The only thing that tricked me up was the exact definition of a rhombus, but it’s a little third grade math skill I had forgotten that I’m glad I could patch up.

[Accessibility caption: a bunch of monsters partying. Text: “Congratulations! You’ve mastered 3rd grade.”]

Perhaps later today, or tomorrow, I’ll master fourth grade. Maybe, like the rhombus, there’s a little something I’ve forgotten, or I’ll learn some “New Math” shortcut that wasn’t presented to me in my first schooling days. Or perhaps that’s where the big math holes that stopped me from understanding Calculus actually are. I won’t know for sure until I master it.

When I’m not brushing up on my math, I’m keeping my eye on my goals by studying through JetStream, the Cloud Appreciation Society, the many meteorologists and local NWS offices I follow on Twitter, and borrowing resources from my local library. I’m keeping track of local forest fires and storms as they present here or in places with people I love. I can’t stop looking at the clouds. I try to keep my eyes to the sky and my feet grounded in the basics so once I get to the hard stuff, I can give it my best shot.

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 13.28.27

[Accessibility caption: screenshot of World of Math progress. Shows I mastered 396 skills, achieved Level Two understanding for 4 skills, and have yet to start 822 skills]

According to Khan Academy so far this summer, I have demonstrated a 32% mastery on the “World of Math”, and of the 400 skills from kindergarten to calculus I I have attempted, I have mastered 396 of them. I still have 822 concepts to try, and just over two months until fall classes start on August 28th. Let’s see how much I can demonstrate my mastery before then.

In excitement,

Althea

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Because I Can(e)- A Declaration of Independence

LOCATION: Columbia Heights, DC.

Hello, loved ones.

We are staying at our fabulous group house until May 17th. It’s been fantastic to be around some church friends and in an exciting neighborhood for our DC Swan Song.

In the midst of this big moving process, I had some big health changes, so I figured I’d use this space to talk about that. This is not the last you will be hearing about this from me.

CONTENT NOTE: It’s long, personal, and talks a bit about health/exercise/bodies, abusive doctors and self-doubt.Check your spoons before you wreck your spoons. 
Continue reading

Our Summer of Transience

 

Last night, Kelsey and I left our “Van Nest”, our one-bedroom apartment in the Van Ness neighborhood of Washington, DC.

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Evidence of Moving [Photo: luggage cart with several labeled/stickered cardboard boxes].

It’s the first and only home so far we’ve shared between just the two of us. We moved in just weeks after our engagement, and since have added a therapy-dog-in-training to our family, got married, and had tremendous career and personal growth. But it’s time for us to move on from not only this apartment, but DC itself. “The Rent is Too Damn High”, the humidity is exacerbating my chronic illness, and Congress controls our city’s  budget. Albuquerque, New Mexico is our eventual destination, but we’re taking the scenic route.

We are in a rare position where Kelsey just needs the internet to work and I finished a semester-long contract in February and I have been slowly tying my loose ends in DC. We will miss our friends and church, but our only real anchor is this little darling, Stella.

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Stella the Dog.  Photo Credit:  Carolyn Sellars [a beautiful dog laying on a rug in front of a wood stove]

So we decided to meander to New Mexico. We will get there late summer. Here’s a rough idea of how:

Our Itinerary: 

4-27: Stay with Kelsey’s cousins in Arlington, VA.

4-29: Move in with some friends in Columbia Heights, DC.

5-17: Leave DC for Massachusetts (itinerary pending), where we will stay with my parents.

7-3: Depart on a 2-3 week Pacific Northwest trip: Fly to Seattle (where we will stay with some of my family), and then head down to Oregon (where we will see a lot of Kelsey’s family for Wylie and Hayley’s wedding!). Exact itinerary TBD

Some time after 7-16 (DATE TBA): Fly back to Massachusetts

Some time after 8-13 (DATE TBA): Start driving to Albuquerque, NM, tentatively planned along a Southern route to hit Atlanta, New Orleans, and College Station, TX.

Dog Note: Stella has jumped a few stops on our journey to stay with my parents in MA, who have graciously offered to take care of her during the more transient parts of our summer so she can go to “camp” with their amazing dogs until she joins us for our big road trip in August. While she meets the legal requirements as a therapy dog to travel with me, she is still less than 2, so she’s not fully in her supportive role yet and the moving process is stressful for dogs. I am going to tough out the next few weeks by following her closely on Twitter (isn’t the future delightful?), sending my mom too many helicopter-dog-mom texts, and getting some stress out by snuggling with other dogs I encounter in my travels. Though no dog is the same as Stella, the first two are the dogs that tipped off my psychologist to “prescribe” me Stella in the first place- Keagan and Xuxa, with their cat friend, Miel.

Here’s some pics from this morning.

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Keagan the Dog. Photo Credit: Cliff Rader [a beautiful dog licks the face of the author on the floor]

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From Left to Right: Alymay (human), Miel (cat), Xuxa (dog), Keagan (dog). Photo Credit: Kelsey Atherton [a woman sits on a chair with a cat in her lap, a dog leaning on her leg, and another dog leaning on that dog]

This adventure comes on the heels of a career shift and a diagnosis that I received just this month that drastically changed the lens through which I view my health history (another story for another day). I need to learn how to work within my new normal, so I’m going to try to make this summer of exploration as restorative as possible. I am going to make crafts. I am going to read books. I joined the Cloud Appreciation Society. I am going to journal like it’s my job.

I have a very full docket ahead of me.

But I’m going to take some time out for blogging. I’ve re-discovered from exploring journals of my past as I’ve been packing them is that I do the most personal writing when I travel, so after a year of hiatus (“I have nothing worth adding to the conversation of the internet!”), I am challenging myself to blog more of my experiences for the world…so I’m going to document my summer of transience. Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for me in a city near you this summer. ❤

-Alymay

 

Learning Until You Realize You Know Nothing: My Buyer’s Remorse For That Gender Studies Degree

[Content note: reflections on oppression in higher education, ableism, racism].

My last semester of college, I got drunk with a few of my music major friends and told them that I wish I could start over and major in something real like music because I believed gender, like Santa Claus, was a socially-constructed concept, and I didn’t want to have a degree in Santa Claus Studies. While I once again find value talking about gender and oppression, I can describe more about what I didn’t learn in school than what I did. The feelings of fantasy about my Gender Studies degree are returning.

If you had asked me just a few years ago, I would have said that I totally understood oppression and intersectionality. Allow me to caricature a former version of myself…[problematic thinking over-sampled for emphasis]

I have a degree in Gender Studies and Psychology. This means I literally have a piece of paper somewhere in a box at my parents’ house that says that I know stuff about Gender that I can put on a resume so I can show my authority on the subject. I can also tell you my relevant coursework- Psychology and Women, Human Sexuality, Women in American History, Philosophy of Sex and Love, Literature and Disability…the list goes on! Now…I work at a clinic that specializes in women’s health! That’s like…doing gender stuff for money!  And that’s how we measure worth, right? If someone pays you to do something, AND you have the piece of paper from an ACCREDITED INSTITUTION, it means you really understand it, and my gender is oppressed so I get oppression.” 

I (thank goodness) have grown in my understanding of oppression and intersectionality.

While reading some Peggy McIntosh here or some Frye there at school (in every freaking class) changed the way I think about a lot, I learn new limitations of my degree and why I don’t know things all of the time. All I had to do was read the walls of text between the cute cat gifs and the fandom art on my Tumblr feed to get a good idea of the vast world that my Gender Studies degree completely missed.

It’s not that I went to a bad university- in fact, on the scale of universities in Massachusetts (a state with a diversity problem), I went to a fairly diverse one. But there are certain limitations that any higher education institution will face when talking about oppression. We could not have been taught about a huge subset of people because we did not get access to material outside of our professors’ view. College content is curated by people who often get called “doctor” or “professor”, who not only also went to college but also went to grad school, and then engaged in a super-competitive process to gain a spot as a professor somewhere. Our colleges themselves are “accredited” by systems designed by people in power to make sure that anyone who calls themselves a college is “legitimate”. And in the academic world, we have always been taught to back everything we say up with peer-reviewed sources because the only way to know it was okay to use is if it “checks out” by other academics, while academia is littered with exclusionary behavior and plagiarizing people who are not even invited to the table.

My degree didn’t teach me about oppression really. It taught me a narrow view of oppression, but I was almost trained to oppress people as part of the course of study because so much of academia is a lab of hegemony (don’t believe me? Here’s an academic paper on why academia is hegemonic), and I was so immersed. Gender Studies grads are told that we are now experts on gender-based oppression because we got a piece of paper that says we are, and thus can demand respect on the subject of oppression (and often are taught that we should, because a high percentage of Gender Studies scholars are women, and we all learned all about how women don’t assert themselves in the workforce/academia. Lean in, ladies!).

I don’t mean to discount my Gender Studies professors or people who study gender/oppression in university settings at all. There are so many amazing people who look at the big, intersectional picture and do really great work. But it was very easy for me to come out of school thinking I was an expert on oppression unchecked, because I hadn’t been made aware of my blind spots (we had a whole DAY in Gender Studies 101 dedicated to Women of Color!). But as I listened more, I realized that I haven’t always been the perfect, intersectional, anti-racist feminist I thought. The more I read and heard, the more blindspots I encountered, until I had encountered enough blind spots that I knew there were things that I could never be the expert on because I had not lived them, and even if a system of oppression applied to me, I could be accidentally oppressing others at the table by speaking over them or for them. This is the exact problematic behavior that social justice advocates are talking about when they say “White Feminism”.

If you do think you know everything about all forms of oppression, you need to do a little more listening.

I have spent the last few months listening more to conversations about autism. April has been dubbed “Autism Awareness Month” by several organizations, including the problematic Autism Speaks, which has a long history of doing more hurting than helping people with autism. I used to think their “Light It Up Blue” campaign was really cool because it raised “awareness” of “how bad” autism is, and that’s embarrassing to me now. The message wasn’t “people with autism are cool people!”, it was really about “we need to cure autism! Or at least make those people more ‘normal’ like us!”  Though I am neurodivergent, I was supporting an organization that is oppressive towards people with other types of neurodivergencies.

It’s #LIUB season again for “Autism Awareness Month”, and as autistic people have asked other allistic (not-autistic) people to do is to wear red for Autism Acceptance Month with #WalkInRed2015.

{Photo: the author, a woman with curly hair and a red sweatshirt on symbolizing autism acceptance, in her home)

{Photo: the author, a woman with curly red hair and a red sweatshirt on symbolizing autism acceptance, in her home)

I have listened enough now that I have learned that having autism isn’t at all like having a deadly cancer, so it doesn’t need to be fixed. Unlike the awareness campaigns of some illnesses that teach us of a health behavior that can protect our health (like getting a colon screening or vaccinating your kids), autism doesn’t need preventing.  What needs to be fixed is the problem amongst allistic people systematically not giving space for autistic people to be themselves if they don’t fit between the narrow lines allistic people put forth.

I am grateful that people helped me check my biases about autism. There are great organizations you may want to research that do that work well. Organizations run by people who are in that group should be the authority on their own communities, because they know what their community really needs, not what outsiders think the community needs. Though I know I had the best of intentions as someone who cared when I helped out with #LIUB in college, it took until I really listened to realize that “awareness campaigns” aren’t always inherently about helping. I could make a list of some bad awareness campaigns I helped spread while I was in college. I thought I knew oppression, but I now know I knew nothing at all.

We also may find as we do more listening that we have been oppressors of ourselves. Like my naive caricature of myself above, I also had (and still have!) blind spots about having a disability that doesn’t have much visibility. Around the same era, I could have thought something along the lines of this:

“I have the piece of paper from an accredited academic institution and a full-time job- how can I *really* have a disability? I do okay because look! Job and independent living! My seizures only happen at night now- no biggie! Remember- my piece of paper!!!!

So like. Yeah I shouldn’t put that disability honor society on my resume- it’ll cause more trouble than good. It wasn’t that hard to go to school having a few seizures a day. I mean I don’t need to scare future employers over it. They say it’s in my head anyways so whatever, I’m just being dramatic and being a *slew of ableist slurs*.”

I didn’t always have a disability, but I always “cared about” people with disabilities, so I thought I got it, yet it took me so long to accept that my illness fell in the “disability” category because I had a lot of ableist views that were dissonant with my achievements. Even though I have a neuropsychological disorder that affects the way my brain and my body communicates and is under-recognized and treated poorly by the medical community, I was so ashamed of the disability letters I’d have to give my professors on the first day of class. Years later, I hadn’t haven’t fully accepted that I am a person with a disability because I had internalized some very ableist messages about disabilities (especially the ones you can’t see outwardly) and the “kinds of people” who have them. I am *just* starting to talk about my disability with a wider group of people, despite 6 years of having very disruptive symptoms (and 25 years of having an outgoing, erring-on-the-side-of-TMI personality).

And having a disability doesn’t mean that I now have become an expert on having all disabilities, it means that I know a lot about what my life is like with my disability, and I can reflect on that experience. And when people say “Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us“, I understand it more than I used to on a personal level because I have felt silenced in so many ways by doctors, but I know that these experiences aren’t enough- I still have listening to do. The difference is I can see that being a person who cares a lot with a baseline knowledge of a disability is not the same as “getting it” now.

I still have this piece of paper that says that I get gender oppression, but I’m not banking my future on it anymore. I have learned enough after my initial period of exploring that I am no expert on oppression and have too much to learn and I have learned that I am not the right voice for every intersection of oppression. I learned enough to finally realize that I know almost nothing at all. 

~AMS

EDIT 12:36 PM EDT: I changed a verb disagreement and added a link to the Autism Acceptance Month hashtag- #WalkInRed2015. 

What A Year For A(nother) New Year…

(Content Note: I mention struggles with PTSD/nonepileptic seizures, controlling messages from a abusive relationship I had in high school, and medical power and control).

Just around New Year’s Eve last year, I wrote the first blog post at this URL.

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink beer during a selfie}

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink some mead during a selfie. Selfie. 2013 or 2014- right on the line.}

I was so excited to be settling down in a new city with an amazing person, but this year itself started in a painful way. My cousin Craig lost his battle to brain cancer during the first few days of 2014. Right after I returned from his memorial services, I got news that a cousin from the other side, Nate, lost his life in a horrible car accident. Just one of these losses would be almost impossible to bear on its own, but the two together made it very hard for me to enjoy my first few months in DC. The stress of moving and the losses of my cousins caused my seizure disorder to relapse after a year seizure free, causing me to lose my driver’s license.

We lived in a somewhat cramped apartment with some wonderful people. Kelsey worked (and still works) mostly from home, while I sat around the house applying for any job that interested me remotely. When I needed a break, I would go on a “Date With DC“, to try to rekindle the spark that brought me to DC in the first place.

Things started to look up in April. I started a job that I really wanted. Kelsey and I decided to spend forever together, and with our respective parents’ blessings (Note: we didn’t ask the other’s parents, but our own), we got engaged.

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman's hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman’s hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

This was so, so exciting for us both!

Though I was in good spirits, my health problems caused by PTSD were getting worse and worse.  This summer was one of the roughest times of my life. I no longer found meaning in the work I decided to do when I was 15, so getting out of bed, eating, and all of the necessary “go be a human” tasks like dressing myself and taking a shower felt like asking me to hike Mt. Everest. I started almost every morning with a seizure. I had doctors treat me abusively in ways that my (awesome) primary care doctor would say that would be funny if it weren’t my health on the line.

My “saving grace” (get it?) during this time was getting more involved with church. Teaching youth group, protesting alongside other people of faith for racial justice, and volunteering when I can with the Reeb Project (<-guys I’m on Youtube!), which is working to restore voting rights after Shelby. It’s hard to explain to people outside my faith how one can find more in common with atheists than not and still self-identify as “incredibly religious” sometimes, but being a Unitarian Universalist is great.

Even with the amazing support of my church family, my situation got to the point where I didn’t have a choice- I couldn’t keep running on empty while confronting PTSD concerns that had been on the back-burner for years. Even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood couldn’t help me remember to take care of myself, so I took some time off to focus on mental health and started a day program in Baltimore to get me back on my feet. While I was in this program, I also attended the first ever US conference on Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, and met Dr. Lorna Myers and so many wonderful people who also suffer from these seizures and their caregivers. I learned that this disease is as common as Multiple Sclerosis, yet I regularly have to explain the basic mechanisms to doctors, and they usually don’t believe me until Kelsey (the Man!) gets there with a copy of Dr. Myers’ book. Our community adopted teal and purple as awareness colors, and my almost-mother-in-law knit me teal and purple socks for Christmas.

During this time, I thought a lot about the opportunities that could have been. I wished I had studied harder in math and science growing up. I blamed myself for the fact that the college calculus and A&P classes I took in high school were so daunting to balance while dealing with an abusive relationship with someone who often said I wasn’t smart enough or emotionally mature enough for my med school plans. I felt lazy for dropping chemistry and biology when my seizures were completely out of control in early college. After a few weeks months of self-hatred, I stopped blaming myself and started thinking constructively.

I thought about the things that I type into Google Scholar when I can’t sleep that don’t actually put me to sleep because I want to keep learning. I started de-stressing by running diagnostics on my computer and the WiFi network to make sure we had optimal performance on my aging computer and iffy connection. I signed up for those Girls Who Code MeetUp groups. Maybe in 2015, I’ll go. I decided that Kelsey needed to know more trigonometry and precalculus, so I impulse-purchased my favorite textbook.

{Photo: Textbook. "Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure" by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it's really good!!}

{Photo: Textbook. “Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure” by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it’s really good!! Oh and there is a woman on there in the corner. Feminism!}

Maybe in 2015, we’ll actually use it.

While this was all going on, we were, as a nation, really trying to process Michael Brown’s murder (this was before the not-indictment), and all of these horrific stories of violence police have shown, especially towards the black community. I thought about who should be the leaders of the feminist movement, and the fact that there’s a lot of white, cis, college-educated women running feminist organizations, and I present able-bodied. I thought that I would affect more positive feminist change as a woman in tech who carries a gender studies lens with her than I would in a so-called feminist job.

I thought about good ways to get my feet wet in tech, and decided to apply for my current job. It was the right call and also came at a time where I could no longer balance my allyship to other oppressed groups and the job I had at the time. So I left that job, had a week off, and started at my new gig, part-time, leaving lots of room for getting back on my feet.

I am much happier learning exciting things and adapting at my new work place. Today marks 2 months since my first day, and I can’t decide if that’s way longer or shorter than it feels. And this workplace seems to treat workers with dignity in ways I never dreamed. All I could hear in my head for weeks was Jerry Garcia’s voice singing, “every once in a while you get shown in the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right,” which was a nice change from the usual, “I was walking round Grosvenor Square” every time a Red Line-Grosvenor train would come. Fun fact: DC says it wrong if you were raised by Deadheads (here’s a nice 25-min, live version of “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” from New Year’s Eve, 1978. Figured it’s nice and festive). Though the holidays were very hectic, once I found a comfortable work place, everything else fell into place and I didn’t really notice that much.

Though I wouldn’t say that I am without medical challenges, my seizures are (finally!) in control again. I found medications that work well for me as I process through the PTSD (and newly diagnosed ADHD) that has reeked havoc on my body for years- but most of the positive change has been environmental.

And I feel like I’ve grown so, so much.

Next year, I want to grow even more. I’ll go to those “learn to code” free/affordable events you see around DC all of the time. I’ll cruise Coursera and local classes to do math for school for the first time in (yikes!) eight years. I got a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas, and after I finish the owl snuggie I promised Kelsey (his idea!), I want to make lots of comfy dresses with pockets. For feminism. Also because they’re cute. I want to keep staying involved in my faith community. While I want to live in the moment, I need to respect that things from my past will find their way out if I don’t address them.

Also I want to marry this guy in 2015. July sounds nice.

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs}

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs. Selfie. 2014.}

Shout out- Kelsey has been the most supportive human in the universe, and I am so, so grateful for every minute I get to spend with him. Which is a lot, because he works at home and I work part time, and we go most places together.

He even takes me along when he goes on international TV.

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he's skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he’s skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

Getting out of this year on top was also made possible by support from both of our families and our dear friends far and near. Special shout-out to Liz because she moved here and it was the best thing.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

Anyways. Thanks, 2014. You had so many ups and downs, and really made me grow in ways that I hadn’t imagined. Let’s see what 2015 will bring, but I will just focus on today.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie}.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie. Selfie. 2014}.

Date With DC: Virtual Reality Edition.

Yesterday, my dear Twitter friend StarlightGeek and I met up for the first time since she moved to DC. As a fellow former Bostonian, we had met once before, but it was so nice to be exploring our new city together. Though I’ve been here for about 9 months now, I still feel very, very new here. And lately, I’ll be honest- DC had lost some of its luster. I was frustrated with the lack of medical support, and that trickled down to other aspects of DC life. I am going to be here for at least another 18 months by lease alone, so I might as well fall in love with DC again. It was one of my treatment goals for my last two days of medical leave (more on that in another blog post later).

Our original plan involved seeing if we could get Washington Monument tickets and then hitting a museum, but they were sold out and the weather was perfect for walking, so we thought we’d do monuments. Stopping for our obligatory coffee, StarlightGeek asked, “hey, do you play Ingress?” I look over at her phone. “Oh, Kelsey plays that sometimes, but not really. Why, is it fun?” She explained that you join a faction (either blue or green) and try to gain control of “portals”, which are really important sites in real life (monuments, cool art, local institutions of culture, community meeting places, etc). The thing is that you have to be within 40 meters of this important site in order to interact with it (“hacking” it allows you to find supplies, deploying resonators helped defend the portal if it is in your color, and you can also “Fire” at an enemy portal to try to make it your faction’s). StarlightGeek is a proud member of the Green faction (“The Enlightenment”), so I joined hers, only to find out later that Kelsey is a member of the Blue faction (“The Resistance”). “A House Divided” was joked by all involved.

{Screenshot: a map of portals in an area. There is a long stretch of blue (read: enemy) portals  around the bottom and a few green (read: correct) portals in the top left corner}.

{Screenshot: a map of portals in an area near the Dept. of Agriculture. There is a long stretch of blue (read: enemy) portals around the bottom and a few green (read: correct) portals in the top left corner}.

We played Ingress as we walked down the mall, to the Jefferson Memorial, to the FDR memorial, and then in Adams Morgan later that evening. You know all of those little place-markers that are all over the place in a city like DC? They’re all portals in Ingress. DC has so many historical landmarks all around us that we sometimes tone them out. Ingress allowed us to embrace them all, like this beautiful Dogwood tree.

{photo: an historical marker}

{photo: an historical marker for a Flowering Dogwood }

{Photo: A Flowering Dogwood tree}

{Photo: A Flowering Dogwood tree}

{Photo: a selfie with StarlightGeek and our newfound Flowering Dogwood}

{Photo: a selfie with StarlightGeek and our newfound Flowering Dogwood}

This game facilitated a way for us to explore so many different landmarks, monuments, and cool art that we never knew existed, and as we found them and put resources into them, we now have an interest to go back and up our defenses (or attack further). The best part about this game is you can look at it, find the next portal you want to go to, and then turn it off and enjoy the walk and take out your phone again when you get to the portal you’re looking for. It allowed me to see a beauty in DC I hadn’t felt in a really long time.

For instance, we knew that there was a George Mason memorial, but we had never found this place before. But, we saw there were a lot of portals to tap into nearby, so we made our way towards it.

{Photo: a statue of George Mason with a book in his hand, looking off into the distance contemplatively, and me next to him, imitating his pose}

{Photo: a statue of George Mason with a book in his hand, looking off into the distance contemplatively, and me next to him, imitating his pose}

We then ran into a lot of “enemy territory” by the FDR Memorial (which just so happens to be my favorite part of the Tidal Basin walk):

{Screenshot: A map with a lot of blue  (enemy) portals in one area}

{Screenshot: A map with a lot of blue (enemy) portals in one area}

But, this gave us a chance to take a look at every aspect of that intricate memorial (and even added artwork by Baskin that was previously unaccounted for in the game!). Now that we are expecting foliage soon, and have portals we care about around the Tidal Basin, we hope to do another walk later in the fall.

We ended up going to AdMo after our Tidal Basin walk (we had taken a lot of steps, we needed some diner food!). We didn’t have time to get to every interesting portal we saw, so I took screenshots of their page so I can find them later. This mural is uncaptured still, so I might need to claim it soon.

{Screenshot: a portal page for a mural of President Obama walking dogs, near the main stretch of AdMo}

{Screenshot: a portal page for a mural of President Obama walking dogs, near the main stretch of AdMo}

When I got home, I explored the many (at the time…) uncaptured portals in my neighborhood and planned an evening competitive walk with Kelsey. We were pretty civil this time (I let him capture the embassies of countries he cared about, he let me capture the cool art), but I can imagine these evening walks getting competitive as we nurture our portals and attack each other. Seeing we also recently added Mario Kart to our home, it sounds like we are going to be playing lots of competitive games together.

Overall yesterday, between my long walk with StarlightGeek and my neighborhood walk with Kelsey, I took about 19,000 steps, nearly twice my daily wellness goal. Though I won’t have time to take long walks like that every day as I return to work, I can imagine spending some lunch breaks wandering my work neighborhood, capturing portals, and some “romantic” evening walks exploring the portals in every direction of our apartment.

I also noticed when I got home and did more research that there are portals in so many places- even the tiny New England town where I grew up. It kind of reminded me of geocaching in that way- more portals existed than you would ever know until you looked it up. It’s a great way to explore the landmarks in your neighborhood, strengthen your connection to the community, and get some exercise. I can tell you that I feel much more connected to the rich history of this city, and my legs hurt this morning in the good way. Yesterday was a great date with DC.

What Kim Kardashian: Hollywood Teaches Me About Self-Care

I have recently started to come out of silence about the stress-related seizure disorder that I have battled for five years. People who suffer from conversion disorders like PNES require more self-care than many- the stress levels that cause most people’s skin to break out can cause my body to go into seizure. Plus, there’s a ton of shame around the condition, which makes it harder to explain to people and receive adequate treatment. Self-care has to always be my number one priority.

As many of the people close to me know, I rely on Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory to keep me on my self-care track- knowing that my inner resources are absolutely scarce, I have to be incredibly careful to make sure that no spoon goes wasted. I have upcoming plans for a spoon theory tattoo to remind me to self advocate and take care of myself, but in the meantime, I have found those helpful reminders in my newfound Kim Kardashian: Hollywood obsession. I originally downloaded Kim Kardashian: Hollywood because I thought that the EPA’s tweet snafu was kind of hilarious.

{Screenshot:

{Screenshot: Tweet from US EPA Water’s Twitter account, “I’m now a C-List Celebrity in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Come join me and become famous too by playing on iPhone!”}

Aside: the best reaction to these tweets came from Congressman John Dingell.

At the prompting of a friend who I am sure would like to remain anonymous, I solidarity-downloaded Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. I also was curious how impressive of a feat becoming a C-List celebrity is (spoiler: it’s actually super impressive- I’m not quite there yet). Kim Kardashian: Hollywood works by giving you a certain amount of energy per game and different tasks cost energy to complete.

{Game screenshot:

{Game screenshot, demonstrating that it takes several lightning bolt energy points to “focus” during a photoshoot.}

Once you run out of energy, you need to either pay real-people money (not something I am willing to do) or wait for your energy to replenish.

{Screenshot: Message box, "You're too tired! You don't have enough energy to do that. Would you like to get more?"}

{Screenshot: Message box, “You’re too tired! You don’t have enough energy to do that. Would you like to get more?”}

I have not spent a dime on Kim Kardashian: Hollywood but I have been able to play with success because I am good at waiting to complete tasks for my energy to replenish. You also know how long different parties or photo-shoots are before you start them, so you can know if you can handle these tasks yet with your real-life responsibilities (I’m not going to start a three hour photo-shoot as I’m about to start a nine-hour work day). I spend my points wisely to rack up the most points (be it dollars or stars, depending on my motives), but when I run out of energy, I’m done until my character can replenish her energy.

photo 2

{Screenshot: it costs 4 lightning bolt symbols to ‘take a break’}

The best part of this game for me is that it actually takes a serious amount of energy (4 whole thunderbolt thingies!) to take breaks during photo-shoots. Though some snark on this game for that, I think it is an incredibly powerful symbol. Self advocating for self-care takes a lot of work and can be incredibly daunting. Taking a break for yourself when so much else is going on can be emotionally difficult as well.

Is this game perfect? No, absolutely not, far from it. While you can choose to be a guy or a girl, and you can choose to be straight or lesbian (though when you select lesbian, as I did, it encourages you to flirt with professional contacts who are men but not women), you have one body type and one body type option only: thin. You cannot be the plus-size model friend of Kim Kardashian. Also the concept of money is totally off, as Cosmopolitan recently pointed out. Here is how much this punk-inspired shirt costs in the clothing store:

{Screenshot: a shirt with a skull on it costs $950 in this game}

{Screenshot: a shirt with a skull on it costs $950 in this game}

Joey Ramone is rolling over in his grave! And this is how much a bus ticket costs:

{Screenshot: tickets are as follows:

{Screenshot: tickets are as follows: Downtown LA: $2, Hollywood: $6, LAX: $8, Calabasas: $20}

I have never been to LA so I cannot comment on whether these are realistic. But this is how much plane tickets cost:

{Screenshot: plane tickets are as follows:

{Screenshot: plane tickets are as follows: Miami- $15, Las Vegas: $20, JFK: New York: $35}

If only. I also think it’s hilarious that you can take a flight across the entire country for less than a bus to another part of town. I have accidentally gone to the wrong city dozens of times without it having too much impact on my financial situation, but I don’t think I should buy that t-shirt right now- I’m saving up for a $6,000 beach house. No seriously, property is dirt-cheap in this game- that would be home number three for my celeb that has about $2,000 in the bank right now.

Speaking of homes, I also noticed that these celebrities do not sleep. They must go home to one of her two apartments I never go to when the game is shut off. Maybe that’s how they replenish their energy thunderbolt things. Regardless of how realistic Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is, I am grateful that it serves as a reminder that energy is a finite resource and it must be spent wisely. When battling a chronic illness, that can sometimes be the difference between being able to go about your daily life or being bedridden for days.

Until Christine Miserandino comes out with Spoon Theory: The Game, I’ll be Keeping up with the Kardashians to remind myself about self-care.