Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Joys and Perils of Online Dating

After a...period of time without dating (you didn't honestly think I was going to say how pitifully long it's been since I dated someone, did you?), I recently decided to take the plunge and set up a profile on an online dating site. I think it might have been the Match.com commercial I saw at the gym (that and the lonely nights...the lonely, lonely nights...) that finally gave me the chutzpah to do it--1 in 5 couples meet online, it trumpeted. The subtext here, of course, reads something like this: "Sure, back in the 90's, or even the 00's, online dating was the province of irredeemably dorky Linux fanatics with industrial-grade acne and those with crippling agoraphobia. [PS--as a Linux dork with an anxiety disorder, I'm allowed to make that joke] But now, we at Match.com have ushered in a new Golden Age where normal, non-neck-bearded individuals can find each other online! 20% of couples meet online! The former stigma is no more!"

The most difficult part is writing the 'about me' section for your profile, of course, as well as coming up with your 'tagline' (the short phrase that appears, along with your photo and age, when people perform a search for potential partners). I had a lot of trouble with this. Fit and funny, for friends first? Too alliterative. Looking for love, are you the one? Might as well be a Nicholas Sparks novel. Young professional seeks same? What the hell is this, the Wall Street Journal? Needless to say, I did finally come up with a decent tagline, which I may patent at some point, as it managed to avoid the pitfalls of corniness, elitism, and Dr. Seussery.

Then I filled out a mini personality quiz, filled in an inventory about what I want in a partner, downloaded a few photos, and was on my way. Let's start with that inventory, as it would be beyond the scope of this blog to address all that is misguided about using a 5-minute 'personality quiz' to match people up. I was amazed by some of the things the inventory asked about. For instance: Would you be willing to date someone shorter than yourself? Huh? What astrological signs do you prefer? WTF? I can think of a number of reasons for automatically screening someone out of my potential dating pool--most involving personality disorders and/or fondness for the music of Nickelback--but size and date of birth are not among them. "Yeah, we both love running, and she has a great job, and she's incredibly thoughtful and giving, and we both want kids--but I just couldn't be with a Sagittarius." Sorry, but if that's your attitude, maybe you're alone for a reason.

And last, let's talk about pictures. It's both common courtesy and a favor to yourself to present current pictures--that  is, that are 1-2 years old at most and at a reasonable approximation of your current body weight. It may sound petty, but it's disarming to meet someone at a coffee shop for a first date and realize that the picture you saw online was taken 5 years and 50 pounds ago. And don't think that just because it's not a solo portrait it's not worth putting up: pictures of you engaging in hobbies or hanging with friends prove that you do in fact have both hobbies and friends (OK, OK, so maybe not ALL of the stigma of online dating is gone). Additionally, it's always better to put up SOME picture than to leave that part of your profile blank. It's not that without a picture I think you must look like the Phantom of the Opera, or have a vestigial tail, or wear socks with sandals; well, OK, maybe I do, a little. But it's human to want to connect a name with a face: to truly SEE our options.

Post coming later this week: "Why I didn't respond to your online personal."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No Mo' Homo: Missouri's latest right-wing craziness

Well, my 'things that piss me off' posts seem to be the most popular; that, combined with a week of petty annoyances, means it's time for yet another installment, this time focused entirely on House Bill 2051--a bill (just a bill, here on Capitol Hill) introduced into the Missouri State legislature that would serve to make any discussion of homosexuality in Missouri schools illegal. Well, other than during sex ed--you know, those courses that teach abstinence as the sole method of STI and pregnancy prevention. Ah, such an enlightened state. Then again, having been born and raised (and currently residing) in Missouri, I can't throw in the towel and let the right wing run roughshod over Missouri's kids. I was one of them, just a few years ago--and if it weren't for the support I got from teachers, counselors, and social workers at my school, I know I wouldn't be where I am today--and might not be here at all.

So what does the bill say? Well, it's short--and has the potential to be wide-reaching in ways that frequently only short pieces of legislation can be (for my fellow Harry Potter fans--remember Dolores Umbridge's endless decrees as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts?). In fact, the bill in its entirety is shorter than the last few sentences I've typed describing it:

170.370. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.

Well, ok, so that means they'll have to get rid of drama club--but what else does this bill accomplish? (OK, ok, I shouldn't have singled out the drama kids. They'll have to eliminate girls' softball, too.)

No more Gay-Straight Alliances (which have been shown, in some studies, to reduce the risk of suicide for LGBT youth at schools where they are present). Teachers (and principals, and counselors) wouldn't be able to discipline kids for bullying based on sexual orientation--or even reprimand a student for using orientation-based slurs. They also wouldn't be able to provide support to LGBT youth struggling with their identity, or to aid them in the coming out process. No out-and-proud teachers. No mentioning that, in addition to their pivotal roles in history, Alexander the Great, Alvin Ailey, Jane Addams and W.H. Auden (just to stick to the As) also had same-sex relationships. Because if you pretend hard enough that something doesn't exist, it just goes away--right? RIGHT? 


Actually, no. Unless by 'go away' you're referencing the fact that 30% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth attempt suicide at some point--and that a bill like this which further decreases their already limited social supports will make things worse, not better. In that case, the problems of gay youth won't go away--just the kids themselves.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anne's Tips and Tricks for the Long-Distance Runner...

Sure, sure--you could get tips from the literally thousands of sites focused on running. If you'd prefer something to prop on the treadmill at the gym, there are dozens of magazines running--ha!--the gamut from my personal fave Runner's World to Competitor to the somewhat disturbing UltraRunning Magazine (covered in the most recent issue: the Umstead 100, a race in which human beings run continuously for, yes, 100 miles). But here I am, and here you are, so here we go: 10 tips, tricks and observations I used/made/formulated during my last long-distance race.

1. Shoes are important. Like, really important: think, this is THE piece of equipment for your sport. You don't have to blow hundreds of dollars on them, but don't skimp on the features you need (adequate cushioning, a sole that suits your running style, good support) just to save a few bucks. Your thrift will be rewarded with injury, and that sucks.
2. Don't break the shoes out of the box the day of the race. Wear those puppies in for a while (though not TOO much--you don't want the cushioning to be shot), lest blisters be your reward.
3. So, blisters. In a long race (half-marathon or more) they're probably going to happen. Wear good shoes and good socks and you can minimize them. Strategically placed bandages can help too. What doesn't help: running in stilettos. But you probably knew that already.
4. Remember what I said about shoes being THE equipment for your sport? If you're a person of the female persuasion, add a good sports bra to the list. There are roughly as many kinds as there are currently calculated decimal points of pi. Some lift and separate while others still have the distressing 'uniboob' effect; some are best for members of the IBTC while others have the engineering and material to harness twin zeppelins. Pick one suited for you and your girls--it's hard enough to run 26.2 miles without portions of your own anatomy trying to punch you in the face the whole time.
5. And while we're talking about breasts--gentlemen (and women who are, for whatever reason, running without bras): if you're running more than a 15-K or so, you're going to want to preemptively Band-Aid your nipples. I'm not kidding (sweet suffering Jesus, I wish I were). Because otherwise you're going to look down at your shirt around mile 10, and a phrase will register in your mind that you will never be able to un-think, try as you might: chafed, bleeding nipples. You're welcome.
6.Hydrate--but don't overdo it. If you're running in average (ie not hellishly hot or humid) weather and you're well conditioned, making sure you're drinking the equivalent of what you're sweating out actually isn't that hard. Feel thirsty? Have a drink. Or tell yourself you'll have a drink every x miles (or every x minutes). It's important to avoid dehydration, but 'water intoxication' is a real thing, too--not to mention that too much water sloshing around in your stomach can make you feel nauseated.
7. Put your name on your placard. It's much more motivating to hear people shouting "Go Anne!" than to hear "Yay, go number 347!"
8. Eat something before the race. No, not a huge breakfast--that way lies madness (and vomiting). Have toast with a banana and peanut butter, or a smoothie made with low-fat yogurt. You'll have more energy and be less likely to get the heaves than people running on completely empty stomachs. That said, sometimes puke happens--to us and to others. Just try to avoid hitting other runners or spectators.
 9. Wear sunscreen. It's easy to get carried away with all the other preparations and totally forget the fact that, unless you're expecting to turn in a 2-hour marathon, you're going to be outside for a while. You should be wearing sunscreen anyway, of course, but...yeah. It's disconcerting when you start to salivate, thinking someone near the race course must be having a barbeque--then realize it's the back of your own neck.
10. This is the part where I say--'and last of all, Have Fun!' But yeah, it's true, and it's important. After all, you probably signed up for this race because you enjoy running (that or you're just a masochist, in which case--hey, I don't judge). Get out there and have a good time.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Anniversary: Six Years is a Long Time

A lot has changed since September 2003: I've graduated from Cornell, started medical school, had a job in the interim, had several relationships.
Since then I've become fluent in German, lost 60 pounds, competed in road races, had essays published in several anthologies.
Since then I've become an Anglican, become an activist, marched in a gay pride parade, have grown more comfortable being 'out' about both my spirituality and my sexual orientation. Yes, a lot has changed.

Six years ago today I was raped by a stranger. It was violent. It was terrifying. It was painful. I was injured both physically and emotionally. "Why talk about it?" I can hear people asking. "Keep that stuff to yourself. It's too dark, too personal. No one wants to know. It makes us uncomfortable." Even the word itself--rape--makes people wince; its single syllable falls like a blow. 'Sexual assault' is gentler; it spreads the impact over multiple words. It is less explosive, less primal. This is precisely why I make the effort (though it is still difficult for me) to call what happened to me rape.

It makes me uncomfortable too, but I don't have the luxury of expunging it from my memory and living free of any consequences. I cannot forget. And as long as women are being victimized--as long as I know my sisters are being hurt and humiliated and then, on top of that, shamed into silence--it is my intent to prevent anyone from forgetting it. I don't think people ignore issues like rape out of callousness (though perhaps some do); it is rather a need to protect their delicate human hearts. It is frightening to witness another person's pain, especially a pain of this intensity. It is uncomfortable to face injustice and violence--to know, not at a superficial level but to acknowledge in a way that can only produce horror, that there are human beings who intentionally hurt other human beings to gratify their own drives.

Tonight I went for a run in the park. I misjudged the sunset and ended up halfway through my run with almost no daylight left. The rape happened under similar circumstances. I was freaking slightly. It felt like a fairy tale, where someone is always warned at the beginning, "Don't touch the pumpkin," or "Stay away from this room at midnight," and at the end of the story finds themselves doing precisely what they were told not to, and thus bringing disaster upon themselves. I peered through the darkness, checking every tree for figures, running along the road (where the lights are). By the time I crossed Kingshighway, though, a peculiar joy was running through my veins. The moon was a waxing gibbous; waxing moons are auspicious, and I could practically feel her beaming down at me as I ran the last few blocks home, my footfalls and heartbeat synchronized with my breathing and the drone of cicadas, like a symphony of flesh. I have made it through six years. Not without pain or injury; not without bouts of choking sadness or ragged anxiety, but also not without hope.
Tonight is also the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. As autumn descends, as the days shorten, everyone gets caught up in the universal drama of dark vs. light. It's a constant struggle. That's the point. Who will win is not a foregone conclusion. But then that's what hope is about.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Any word nerds out there?

Yes, I'm a word nerd. I love words. I always have. From the time I was old enough to read (and I started early...I got the complete Chronicles of Narnia for my birthday the year I turned six), I was amazed by words' ability to bridge the gap between people, to intoxicate, to create new worlds. I spent a lot of childhood and adolescence escaping into books--'escaping' in the most desperate, harried sense. The works of Roald Dahl made third grade survivable. Amy Tan sufficed for seventh grade. But it's not just whole works of fiction (or essays, or poetry) that I adore. The smaller bits--indeed, the smallest chunks, the individual words--delight as well. Most of the words that truly amaze are of necessity obscure, and what makes them special is some combination of how they look, how they sound and what they mean. Coming across a new word and incorporating it into my vocabulary gives me the same thrill I imagine other collectors get, sans the need for amassing stockpiles of butterfly carcasses or books of stamps. For instance, some of my all-time favorites:

Syzygy: Just look at it. All those y's. That sexy little z. The way it sizzles off the tongue. In Jungian psychoanalysis (which is where I first encountered it) it means a union of opposites; in astronomy, it's when three celestial bodies form a straight line.This is the word that gets pulled out in the last round of the spelling bee.

Annihilation: To me, this word just SOUNDS threatening, designed to be growled by aggressors and villains. This isn't just 'damaged,' or 'effed up.' Etymologically it's related to the Latin "nihil," nothing (as in Ovid's Omnia mutantur, nihil interit, or 'Everything changes, nothing perishes,' which is what I would get tattooed on my shoulderblade if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to get a tattoo--and probably paid for it, too, 'cause I'm not made of money). It means literally that: to be reduced to nothing, utterly undone. As if nothing had ever been there at all.

Foofaraw: This word sounds exactly like what it is, which is part of why I love it. It's also a new addition to my collection, added only a few weeks ago. What "gilding the lily" conveys in a phrase, "foofaraw" says in a word. Extra little foofy, unnecessary frills and contrivances. It makes me think of feathers, too, for some reason.

Susurrus: Speaking of words that sound like their definitions (with a little onomatopoeia to boot), isn't this a lovely little gem? Put a seashell to your ear and hear the gentle susurrus of the sea. Walk in the woods and hear the susurrus of the wind through the leaves overhead. This is one you just HAVE to say aloud. Once you do, you've got it: whispering, murmuring or rustling.

Of course, in the past few years--what with medical school and all--my vocabulary has exploded (but gotten kind of medical-term-heavy). Perhaps favorite medical terms will be a subject for another post...

Friday, April 06, 2012

Oh, Biblical Literalism...

Evangelicals often cite Leviticus 18:23 as the basis for their homophobia, reasoning that if God demands the death penalty for 'a man lying with a man,' it must be pretty bad stuff, and thus they too are justified in their homo-hating (as an out and proud lesbian, I'm allowed to use that word...I have a license in my wallet if you want to see it). Women apparently get a free pass, as they're not mentioned--possibly because even the authors of Leviticus thought lesbian stuff was kind of hot. 
What a lot of conservatives overlook in their parade-protesting, rainbow-flag burning fervor is that there are numerous other ‘crimes’ mentioned in the Bible that demand at least as stern a punishment--and which we would all probably agree are laughable in the twenty-first century. Behold, the consequences of 'reductio ad absurdum': 

Being a 'stubborn and rebellious son,' back in the day, was a capital offense. Mouthing off or slacking on  chores? On the Playstation when there's homework to be done? Forget the comparatively light penalties of a week without car keys or a few whacks with Dad's belt--Leviticus says the offender should be dragged to the outskirts of the city and stoned. Not the fun kind of stoned, either; this is the kind where you get crushed with rocks. In case you were wondering, cursing one's parents is also deserving of an old-fashioned stone-session. Remember, kids: the wages of back-sass are death.


Adultery is also on the list; both participants are put to death. Imagine a world in which this injunction was assiduously followed. No more JFK, no more Clinton...in fact, it seems fair to say that male politicians as a species would be wiped out entirely, leaving us with a President Hillary Clinton or a President Nancy Pelosi. And now that I think about it, men's professional sports would probably disappear as well. I hope you really like the WNBA (I do, but that's not the point). 


Using 'magic,' including astrology, spiritualists or mediums: Imagine a world with no more Wiccans; the hit to the Renaissance Faire economy alone would be catastrophic, to say nothing of the pentagram-jewelry market. And you Methodists and Presbyterians who check your horoscopes every morning? Sorry, it's stoning for you too. On the other hand, this would mean the end of John Edwards, which is something I can get behind. 

There are numerous other infractions that, according to the Bible, mean it's time to get your stone on: breaking the Sabbath and lying about your virginity among them. Perhaps the right answer, rather than getting all kill-happy, is to acknowledge that we're living in a society that is dramatically different from that of a semi-nomadic Semitic people thousands of years ago.