Are you finding it a challenge to rejoin the outside world? I am. After all, the pandemic is not over, not really, though we act like it is. Even while variants crop up that can circumvent vaccines, mask mandates disappear. I don’t know about your gym, but at mine, I’m the only one in a mask. So instead of thinking of others on the weight machines as potential friends, I see them as disease vectors. I keep my distance from those hard-breathing naked faces.
Then I go to the drug store, where four self-checkout counters are lined up next to one counter designed for a real clerk, but with no clerk in sight. Automation cuts us off from one another just like our lingering fears of COVID. What a bizarre three years it has been.
None of this is good; on top of which, writing is solitary work. As it should be: When I was a tech writer I hated going to meetings that interrupted the flow. But even a confirmed introvert has her limits. After too long, lockdown just feels like being locked up.
You know you’re too isolated when a medical appointment feels like a party. I’ve written about my journey back from AFIB, thanks to going back on systemic estrogen. At a follow-up visit this month I had an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to monitor the beating heart. I closed my eyes and listened to the amplified sound of blood whooshing through my heart. There were different sounds depending on the placement of the wand on my ribs, as blood surged through various valves and blood vessels. Impossible to take that for granted after the odd few months I’ve had. I enjoyed chatting with the echo technician about this amazing living pump, our steady companion, beating, decade after decade.
Then I got to talk with a doctor about what happened when I resumed HRT: the disappearance of both AFIB and the late onset eczema that began at the same time. It’s clear from medical literature that there is an association between these conditions and low estrogen, but why? She and I pondered how estrogen mediates the signal from the atrium that tells the ventricle to contract. No one knows. We agreed that if men had AFIB as a result of low testosterone, research dollars would pour into figuring out exactly how that worked.
Those conversations reminded me of the one thing (other than the money) that I miss about my biotech career: random lunchroom chats about the human body, about animals and fungi and the foibles of research. I miss talking about biology, but I don’t miss my actual career. Better to gather with other nerds at our local Maker Space, as I did one day this month, to play with DNA in a funky, do-it-yourself lab. We should follow all the flavors of our bliss, and I’m resolved to bring more sociable nerdiness into my life.
Writing is marvelous but there has to be a balance with more interactive passions. That’s one reason I enjoy teaching for Secure Senior Connections. I’ll lead a series of workshops for them on Publishing and Marketing in February, and hope to bring this and other material to you later this year.
Please take seriously the full range of your interests and continue to explore them all. They say that life is short and art is long, yet surely, life is long enough to do all kinds of living. Enjoy, say hello, and in between, keep the pen moving (or the keys clicking).
I typically publish two blog articles (published online on the 10th and the 20th) and this newsletter every month, so you hear from me (or a guest blogger) a couple of times a month. Below is a brief extract from last month's blog - click the links for the whole enchilada! If you've ever considered getting your voice out there, I welcome suggestions for topics, or a fully written guest piece in line with my philosophy for the site. Drop me a line......
In 2022 we featured guest essays by several women memoirists. These blogs are windows onto lives lived in parallel with ours.
Our first guest essay for 2023 is by Patricia Grayhall, a retired physician whose new memoir takes us back to the days when almost all doctors and medical students were male. Dr. Grayhall is also a lesbian writing about a time in our lives when being gay was far more stigmatized than it is now. Making the Rounds reminds us how far we have come, and how important it is to protect those gains.
While downsizing three years ago, I came across a box of journals and letters I hadn’t looked at in forty years.Who knows what you might find when you delve into the past? Perhaps some answers to questions that were unresolved or too painful to contemplate at the time. The past isn’t dead; it lives on inside of us and influences us in the present whether we are aware of it or not. As I contemplated my personal journey in the late 1960s and ‘70s—coming out as a lesbian, a woman training to become a doctor, having an illegal abortion—none approved by society—I realized that my story has relevance beyond the personal.
My friend Nancy is in her eighties and obsessed with her weight. A small woman, Nancy is intent on becoming even smaller. She meets with a nutritionist and restricts her calorie intake, believing that this will improve her health and prolong her life. At lunch she judges her own food choices and what others are eating. Although she is ambulatory, Nancy moves very little. The idea of lifting weights to strengthen her bones and muscles is completely foreign. Yet the research shows that growing stronger, not smaller, is the best thing we can do for our health as we age.
We are bombarded with messages that growing old is a terrible fate, and that body fat is harmful and shameful. Like ageism, weight bias is a pervasive part of our culture that many accept without question. In their 2022 study, Moving Toward Antibigotry, the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University identified ageism and anti-fat bigotry as the two forms of bias with the lowest recognition in the United States. Thus it can seem perfectly natural to judge ourselves and others harshly based on age or body size. Organizations such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and AARP push back on these biases, yet they remain pervasive even among research scientists. Anti-fat bias generated a “firestorm” when one veteran researcher published her findings.