Breaking the Cycle of Oppression

Anoushka Shankar’s Sister Susannah is sublime! She verbalizes male chauvinism as many women have experienced it. I don’t care if it makes men feel uncomfortable because it uncovers long-standing truths about how men control women in subtle ways. Give it a listen, which is the first step in breaking the cycle of oppression.

-devs

The Retreat of Feminism during the COVID-19 Pandemic

No one imagined living in a world of fear, dictated by a fascist virus. Yet here we are. 2020 marked a new age of human civilization: the start of a global pandemic and also a period when men espoused progressive values but behaved as if they lived in the 1800s. Women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women are raising children, doing chores, cooking meals, working full-time, and becoming homeschool teachers due to remote learning; they never imagined the temporary roles they volunteered for would continue for an entire year. There are some men who genuinely assist with household duties, but they haven’t impacted the mainstream culture of traditional gender roles.

My female friends with kids miss the peaceful escape of the office environment. They miss restful sleep. They miss bonding with friends outside of their homes. They complain how difficult it is to get three young kids to sit down and concentrate on assignments and Zoom calls for school. I see working moms on Teams calls, struggling to stay engaged in work meetings while teaching their children, with smiles covering the inner stress.

After leaving the White House, Michelle Obama spoke out about her previous experience raising young children when Barack worked long hours. She was horrified to find out that Barack prioritized going to the gym without guilt. He was able to fully concentrate on his work and carve out leisure time, while she struggled to prioritize her basic needs. What is it about our culture that prevents women from clearly verbalizing their needs and setting aside time and effort for those precious goals?

My sister and I are Indian-American women in our late thirties, unmarried and childless. My sister is successful in her career, owns her own home, and generously loves those around her; yet my parents’ Indian friends are shocked that she has chosen to be single. I think it’s a blessing. Tulsi and I love our lives. We love supporting our friends and family. We love our careers and creative pursuits. And we actually have the capacity to do those things fully without having to deal with micro- or macro-aggressions from male partners. Not every woman can live this type of lifestyle.

For women who want to be married and/or have children, how can our society support their needs, hobbies, and beautiful endeavors – raising loving, woke children while still thriving in the workplace? Women need to remind men this world was set up by men, for men. In its current state, the world does not embrace female success and happiness.

Action Items: Let’s start by voicing we can’t handle everything on our plates and we need help. Or better yet, let half the world’s population boycott their jobs, chores, purchases, smiles, childcare, cooking, and teaching for a single day! How will the world’s men react after a single day of women quitting their responsibilities? We can only find out if we try!

Sibling Bonding Weekend

the bond of cozy embrace

the same sigh of overwhelm

the matching trio of raven, unruly waves

the shelter-bubble of our individual rooms

the communal pleasure of Chuy’s gooey goodness

the tattered Dune book that was passed from one to the other

the childhood road trips, crowded in the back of the station wagon

the moments playing chess in the tiny library of the cruise ship

we fought each other with roundhouse kicks and nails and teeth

we revolted against the parental fiefdom, in trickles and storms

we giggled against the oppressive night with beers or hookah in hand

we found solace in each other’s shared defective DNA

maybe for us… it wasn’t defective

it was the rusty link between chained souls

waiting for liberation into a world

glowing with colors, formless forms, ideas, miniature words

glowing with ambient love, acceptance, understanding

sibling bonding weekend is no longer confined

to Beverly Hills restaurants or nauseating casinos of Vegas past

it spans over oceans and green hills and bejeweled skies

it spans light-years in unknown worlds

in all directions of time

5 Years of Grief

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It has been 5 years since my younger brother, Neil, passed away unexpectedly at the tender age of 26. To those who have never lost a loved one, it is crucial to know that grief is not a one-time event. It continues, lingers, ebbs and flows, diminishes yet persists.

At times when I think of Neil, I smile. The happy memories of his warm and slightly musty smell, his giant hugs, and his simplicity make me feel connected to him even though he no longer exists in this world. I will never forget Neil as a baby; his skin was milky white and radiant. As a teenager, Neil shared the Wheel of Times books with me and we escaped into the same fictional universe together. I remember when he was a freshman in college and had to be hospitalized for an acute deadly infection and diabetes. I spent the night in his hospital room on a bench next to his bed; I couldn’t sleep and was drenched with anxiety until his condition improved. During long car rides between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, we conversed about astronomy (black holes), physics (Schrodinger) and how to ask someone on a date. I fondly remember how he helped me through laptop crashes and car issues, always available as my personal tech support even when we lived thousands of miles apart. Memories of Neil’s disheveled apartment and bedroom still make me laugh. His piles of grimy clothes and trash always contrasted with my museum-like, sterile apartment. Neil’s handwritten message on my medical school graduation card is etched in my mind forever: “I am glad one of us finally broke free from the harsh grip of Texas. Have fun in California.” I remember the last weekend I hung out with him. Tulsi, Neil, and I went to Guru Burger late at night in Sugar Land Town Center. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the night with beers and much needed sibling bonding time. Those memories bring me unquestionable joy.

But other times when I think of Neil, I feel a pain so visceral that it suffocates my throat and crushes my heart with actual physical pressure. Joan Didion described grief as “the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself”. When the person you love the most dies, it is hard to continue with life unchanged. The meaninglessness felt after losing a loved one is haunting, it carves out your insides and leaves a void that can never be filled. The day Neil passed away, I felt like a small part of me died. My family unit acquired a phantom limb after an amputation and we still feel phantom pain to this day. If I ever get married, I know the wedding ceremony will feel incomplete, because Neil will not be there to bless me as I walk around the sacred fire. This side of grief is cruel.

For Neil’s 5th death anniversary, Tulsi and I traveled to Japan to celebrate our baby brother’s life. We explored all the things Neil loved since he was an avid Japanophile who never had the opportunity to visit “Nippon”. We forged our own Katana knives in a scorching fire with help from a traditional swordsmith who taught us about ancient Japanese swords. Tulsi and I visited the Studio Ghibli museum where beloved Japanese anime characters came to life in fanciful exhibits. We learned about Japanese history at a Samurai castle, grand, white, and gleaming with tradition, and we were awed by the futuristic architecture and technology of Tokyo. The heartbreaking aspect of the trip was realizing the 3rd spoke of our sibling wheel was not there and never would be.

The void following Neil’s absence indirectly forced me to make drastic changes in my career and personal life. Neil always complained that I never took time to chill, relax, and have fun because I always kept myself busy with an ambitious set of goals. He’ll be happy to know that I take time to chill every single day. Sometimes I relax too much, which is when my boyfriend calls me a sloth. 🙂 Neil would also be impressed that I prioritize vacations, festivals, hanging out with friends, and enjoying good food and drinks. After Neil’s death, I tried marijuana for the first time. If only he could’ve seen me get extremely high in Jamaica by eating a giant weed brownie in front of my whole family! He would’ve laughed a big belly laugh. Although checklists of tasks continue to occupy my mind, I am reminded daily by my loving boyfriend to savor the present moment. Neil would be so proud.

Grief continues and memories of Neil will continue…his ties, his hoodie sweatshirts, the treasure trove of artwork and words he left behind, his innocence as a toddler, his collection of marbles, his gaming and tech devices, his curly hair, his philosophical and scientific conversations, his entire life. But I am hoping the pain dampens as time goes by. All I can do is keep living…

-devs

What I Learned From a Brief Trip to LA:

Don’t plan to visit Venice, Mid-city, Fairfax, Silverlake, Echo Park, DTLA (including Little Tokyo and Arts District) all on the same day. It was a joyous high but I barely survived.

The smell of jasmine, as I wandered through the garden-like neighborhoods, was soothing to my soul. Find more things that soothe your soul.

An ounce of positivity goes a long way. From Venice to DTLA, I saw hope in every street crack and building wall. Captivating street art overflowing with messages persuaded me to believe in love, to believe in myself, and to believe in humanity.

Don’t drink a negroni at a nice restaurant (Bar Ama) on an empty stomach.

Close friends in LA never left my heart despite the distance. Sometimes they need me as much as I need them.

From hipster on one street to hood on another, the diversity of LA made the journey fun yet humbling.

I forgot how gorgeous Pasadena is: pristine streets with a backdrop of majestic mountains.  🙂

The ocean’s constant foamy waves reminded me that everlasting love exists.

Do not reverse uphill and slightly crash into a stone wall with a rental car. Who knew touching the gas pedal on a RAV-4 would speed you into a wall?

And finally:  I am not the woman I was 10 years ago when I arrived in LA with youthful enthusiasm. I have evolved and moved on to the less flashy pastures of NorCal. The wrinkles on my face prove that everyone grows old, but the mystical spirit of LA lives on, unaltered.

 

 

 

Freedom of Choice

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I’m always shocked by how much freedom I have in my life. I can eat whatever I desire, whenever I choose to, such as breakfast food for dinner. Pasture-raised eggs, organic spinach, aged cheddar from Ireland, and Texan salsa comprise the best dinner ever! I can also take the train to San Francisco on a whim and explore museums while burning off the heavenly honey cake I indulged in at a charming Parisian cafe. I can drive to Lake Tahoe early in the morning when the birds and sun are still in a slumber and begin a refreshing hike by meeting the sun on the reflection of the giant blue-green lake. I can choose any coffee shop in Sacramento, occupy a seat steadfastly, and devour a novel while people enter and leave in a blur around me.

The problem with freedom is having too many choices.

I have the freedom to decide who I want to be in a relationship with. Similar to the dizzying amount of profiles on dating apps, there are too many options of men I could date or marry or ignore. So when a compatible man comes along, how will I recognize it’s time to make a big commitment?

Life was drastically different for my parents’ generation. My parents and their peers, who grew up in India, mostly had arranged marriages. My mom was presented with very few options of men before she agreed to marry my dad after meeting him once. She did have the right to reject a proposal, but she encountered extensive societal pressure to get married early without fully knowing the person she would spend the rest of her days with. It was a huge leap of faith, a leap I’ve been unwilling to take so far.

I have the freedom to form as many goals as I want:  I hope to learn as much as I can, evolve in my personal development, find a fulfilling career (and then change careers every 10 years lol), give back to the world, explore a variety of books/places/foods/activities/experiences, enjoy time with friends, settle down only when I meet someone who’s on my wavelength, and try to find meaning in my everyday existence. In contrast, my parents had fairly simple goals when they first immigrated to the U.S.: raise a family and earn money through engaging work. Maybe my attention is diverted in too many directions?

I have the freedom to live away from my family and close friends because of financial independence, career aspirations, and personal preferences. This means I can live nearly anywhere on the planet! Maybe I’m living in Northern California simply to savor the scenic wilderness of the Sierra mountains. 🙂

Sometimes I yearn for simple paths instead of a maze of hundreds of trails. Sometimes I crave one choice for dinner instead of ten. And sometimes, I wish I didn’t have the financial freedom and family support which allowed me to quit a career just to explore my authentic self. These things would have led to a simpler life.

Nothing has come easy for me, and it’s because I sought out the complicated maze of trails and got lost in the thick forest. This foray into freedom started when I left my parents’ home at the innocent age of 17. Upon reflection, I am grateful for the zigzag labyrinth of adventures encountered along the journey. That freedom of choice is the most precious treasure I have, even if it is transient!

-devs

 

Love in the Time of Trump

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Does the existence of a self-centered, dishonest, and uncouth President bring me clarity?

Yes!

During the past 18 months of daily emotional upheaval and moral decay, I’ve slowly become numb to gross violations of human rights and international agreements. Child separation seems to be the norm, and I display a defeated sense of apathy.

How can we change a mad man? How can we overpower an entire federal agency that is trying to gut its own purpose? (Yes EPA, I’m talkin about you. The exile of Scott Pruitt has not stopped you from destroying the home of America’s original inhabitants – animals, plants, and American Indian natives.) How can I explain to my black friend’s baby that he lives in a time where people hate him for the color of his skin, in an age where Stephon Clark was murdered by police right here in Sacramento for no apparent reason except for being a black man?

The outrageousness of this time is exhausting. Yet it is also cathartic.

The outcomes of low-income people are just as, if not more, important than my own. I desire to build partnerships with people who are willing to fight for equality in access to education, employment opportunities, healthcare, housing….and equal access to serenity and a life of peace. I want to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who can recognize the immorality of our current politics and can offer help in making a change.

Change needs to occur internally first. What I think affects what I believe which affects my actions. Sometimes compassion needs to be factored into those initial thoughts. I have received compassion on countless occasions and it’s my duty to pay that forward. The Dalai Lama once said, “Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.” 

These realizations flood me as a wave of enlightening thoughts. Now more than ever I want to be closer to my family – sister, parents and dog – and my Indian culture, like those chewy, slightly spicy thikhi bhakri that comfort the soul. In this horrible age of public policy upheaval and racism, I want to avoid Trump supporters and surround myself with loved ones and friends. Maybe loving-kindness meditation is necessary to show compassion to people who have turned fear into hate.

I used to believe my purpose was to lead a feminist lifestyle with complete financial independence. A life in which career trumps love, where I could make a difference for millions through my work in health care policy. I thought my stubborn protests and arguments against my father would change his traditional, at times backward, outlook. The Time of Trump has taught me that no single person can create positive changes overnight, and wasting energy on hostile arguments isn’t a solution. Real, everlasting change occurs when one builds loving sustainable relationships over an extended period of time. According to John Lewis, a politician with firsthand experience from the Civil Rights movement, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”

National policies can drastically differ with each administration but the real work begins on the ground at the grassroots level. And those who don’t understand the dirt beneath the grass can never truly create informed public policies. (Yes Betsy DeVos, I am specifically referring to you here!)

In the Era of Trump, I recognize I need a partner who shares similar values to me. Someone who has led a life of serving others with compassion, whether in the dirt or through small everyday exchanges. Someone I respect because of his thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

In the Time of Trump, I reflect on past relationships as if looking at the red-orange sun from a sky blackened by wildfire smoke. Each love taught me new lessons. Each love shaped who I am. Those experiences were crucial to my journey and indirectly nudged me to find a love where I feel at peace.

The Age of Trump has unearthed my expansive heart and my infinite capacity of loving others. It’s time I actually emphasize love, being loved, providing love to those around me, and being of service to family and friends without focusing solely on my career path. Maybe this love can create a tiny ripple of compassion that slightly dampens the extremely polarized mindsets of our nation’s people.

I have discovered Love in the Time of Trump. Love for my life and everything in it. Thank you to the current President for somehow providing me with this enlightenment. 🙂

-devs

 

Friendspeak

The words that flow directly into the other’s neuronal circuits,

Instant understanding,

Instant empathy,

Regardless of the infinite space in between.

There is solace in friendspeaking with familiar souls:

Those who intimately know about

your resilience – you are the Queen of Failures after all,

your sun-induced grimacing migraines,

and the chalky taste of your vegan peanut butter cookies.

Those who go to The Last Bookstore with you and smile the whole time,

watch liberal documentaries leading to intense philosophical discussions,

hike in the Sierra foothills with you to breath in the serene view,

and walk by the privileged rose garden at McKinley Park.

Those who love you after being apart for 10 years.

Those who remember your braces and skeletal figure in 7th grade.

Those who offer you a place to live.

And those who learn from your mistakes.

Friendspeak:

Reassuring you that your diabetes diagnosis is not a death sentence.

Exchanging relationship stories and life’s irritations.

Commiserating on the devastating effects of current politics.

Interspersed with schoolgirl giggles of remembrance (dancing in DTLA!).

Sent among the unseen digital spies on your phone,

Those words of friendspeak

boost you to face another day,

knowing with confidence that you are

not

alone.

The Roseto Effect

Yesterday at work I was discussing ways of reducing health disparities (differences in health outcomes between groups) in the Medicaid population. A brilliant colleague brought up Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers” which describes the Roseto effect.

Roseto, Pennsylvania, originally a small town of Italian immigrants, shed light on external influences that impact health. Dr. Stewart Wolf noticed that the town’s incidence of heart attacks was much lower than the national average. So began a long-term study on the residents of Roseto! They were known for smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, obesity, and eating copious amounts of animal fats and sweets, all of which contribute to heart disease. Yet Roseto residents were healthier than most Americans! Why? After obtaining lab tests and histories from town residents, Dr. Stewart Wolf hypothesized that their close social connections had a protective effect on heart disease. Before the 1970s, the town residents maintained a unique culture of a close-knit community with high levels of civic engagement, community support, multigenerational homes, and social gatherings. In fact, Dr. Stewart ruled out other causes such as genetic effect by proving that Roseto residents who moved to other communities had a higher incidence of heart disease. Not only did Roseto residents have better health, they had low rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, and welfare assistance. The Roseto effect theory strengthened after the 1970s when the town became more Americanized and close-knit social ties broke down, contributing to increased heart attacks.

I sometimes wonder why billions of dollars are spent by modern medicine to treat symptoms of chronic diseases. Studies like the Roseto effect offer a root cause analysis approach. Go after the causes, not the effects!

Stress, loneliness, and helplessness are HUGE factors that contribute to poor health. Being able to trust and confide in other people and receive support during difficult times are crucial to human survival. We are emotional beings! In my opinion, love and spirituality are just as important as a statin or antidepressant medication in improving our wellbeing.

Public health and governmental agencies are finally accepting that other factors besides medical care contribute to good health. Social determinants of health (stable housing, access to healthy food, access to nature), cultural influences, adverse childhood experiences, and social connectedness are hot topics in government right now. In Medicaid, there are many pilot projects that focus on improving a person’s mental health, housing issues and social support in addition to physical health.

My colleague wanted to use the Roseto model to look at health disparities:  analyze why certain groups are healthier than others and share this knowledge to promote changes in groups who are not as healthy. Understandably genetic factors are hard to change, but changing one’s lifestyle or social support is an achievable goal. Or is it?

We live in the time of Millennials, constant screen time, multiple Facebook checks, and decreasing in-person socialization. How can we maintain close-knit social ties when technology is forcing us to do otherwise? I don’t know the answer to this question. As a pseudo-nomad ─ having lived in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Sacramento ─ with few close friends, I myself have not been able to maintain social connectedness where I currently live.

My dream? Live in one city for an extended period of time and cultivate a close community of friends and family who spend time with each other on a regular basis and help each other out.

A girl can dream, right?  🙂

Check out the video below that explains the Roseto effect.

 

Toni Morrison’s Views on Work

The New Yorker Magazine can go to extremes to appease its well-educated and slightly stuffy audience.  In depth articles on plant behavior, lingerie in the Middle East, and Bob Marley’s life can get overly complicated. But sometimes they publish pieces that are generous in their simplicity and authenticity, allowing one’s heartstrings to be pulled as if a harp is being strummed for a Celtic tune.

The following New Yorker excerpt by Toni Morrison, which describes her father’s advice about her childhood job, is one of those moving bodies of words that washes away built-up grime.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/the-work-you-do-the-person-you-are

Advice that Toni Morrison received from her father:

  1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
  2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
  3. Your real life is with us, your family.
  4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

In the words of Toni Morrison herself:

“I have worked for all sorts of people since then, geniuses and morons, quick-witted and dull, bighearted and narrow. I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.”

A big thank you to Toni Morrison’s father for arguing against the career-driven, individualistic American way of life. He stressed the importance of family and home and core identity which are unrelated to one’s work. When I left a career in medicine and was jobless, I had no clue who I was outside of my identity as a doctor. What did I value? What hobbies did I have? Who did I enjoy hanging out with?

To be honest, it was that value of home that saved me from losing my sense of self. It was my friends and family members (and dog!) who lifted me up to try harder,  be better, and smile brighter. My family accepted me despite setbacks with my career because they knew all along that my core would never change. I learned that jobs can come and go but your support system never leaves you.

I am extremely grateful to my family for their unconditional love, and I must also thank myself for discovering who I was at my barest moment.

This New Yorker piece also applies to those entering retirement as they will be challenged to create a meaningful life without a career. I hope you can learn from Toni Morrison’s experience and spread this simple yet powerful wisdom!

-devs-