Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Genetic Counseling: Brothers on Jeopardy! & Relaxation Techniques

I can honestly say that my older brother is a genius. He's always been a voracious reader since the ripe old age of 3. Brainiac, as I'll refer to him, used to get a sick joy from reading the World Book Encyclopedia, while I exercised my artistic muscle finger painting the walls. He once, to my mother's absolute dismay, gave a lecture to an entire New York City bus on where babies come from in painfully scientific detail, resulting in a roar of raucous applause from the passengers. Since then, he's fine focused his cerebral cravings to history (we're talking ALL histories, including world, American and ancient civilizations) and is now a history teacher in the New York City Public School system (go teaching fellows!). Additionally, he's been named a "Teacher Historian", who teaches history to other teachers and gets to go to museums, historical tours and receives tons of books for free, which is living the dream to Brainiac. He's always been a tough act to follow, academically speaking, but I couldn't be a prouder sister.

One could imagine the absolute joy I experienced when I received the news that Brainiac got accepted to be on Jeopardy!, the ultimate battle of wits to ever hit primetime television. I was screaming and laughing on the phone, while Brainiac, who always had a rather blunted emotional response to most things, chuckled. "Yep, it's finally happening." As I let the news sink in, I immediately wondered how I would feel to be in my brother's shoes, about to be on TV going up against other brains, with lights, and buzzers, and, worst of all, a live audience. "Are you nervous?" I asked, unsure of how Brainiac would respond. He's always been a cool cucumber, almost too cool. Seriously, the guy doesn't flinch to any emotional stimuli. It used to make my family worry, but then again, I made up for his lack of emotional expression with unadulterated emotive diarrhea. But this is Jeopardy!, perhaps it's a little scary? "Um, I dunno." Classic Brainiac response to a question about how he feels. "What do you mean? I could teach you some relaxation techniques?" Silence. Classic Brainiac response to what he thinks is an absolutely dumb comment--story of my life. "Okay. Jeopardy! Wow!" I continue emoting, what I do best.

For those of you who actually would benefit from relaxation techniques, check out these resources:
Overview of Relaxation Techniques (including how it's good for your physical health).
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Managment
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Coupling: A look at how the male mind works...

My wedding(s) was (were) not what you'd call typical. The first wedding was a small ceremony with only our closest of kin (translation: nuclear families with some close cousins and their significant others) across the country where we currently live. It was the happiest day of my life. Exhaustingly happy. But after much thought, we wanted to have a big party to celebrate our marriage so that our extended family and friends could join in on the merrymaking. So, almost a year later, we're planning this shin-dig (wedding #2). I hear this is happening more frequently, the multiple wedding trend.

So, hubby and I were chatting (not about the wedding party) and somehow I bring up a story from when I was dating someone in college...

Hubby: That's nice.
PhDini: Sorry. I did have a life pre-you.
Hubby: I know, I know. So, since we're having another wedding thing, why don't we just act single until then? It'll be fun. (laughing)
PhDini: Ha! Yeah, that'll be great. I can see my online dating ad now. "I'm married but I"m looking for a boyfriend.."
Hubby: Yeah, I need someone to watch TV with. Just make sure he likes playing Wii Tennis.
PhDini: Alright. I'll make sure to mention that in the ad.

They say the first year of marriage is the honeymoon year...and they are so right!

Identity Crisis: The +1 Movement

Last week, hubby and I attended the screening of What Happened?, the new De Niro, Penn, Keener, and (insert movie star, famous producer, and hollywood recluse here). It was exciting, at least for me, since I don't often get to tag along and I didn't have to work. After much wandering aimlessly through what appears to be a medical office building, we found the screening room, a small room filled with oversized movie seats that faced a red curtain. The woman who seemed to be running things, wearing an ill-fitting skirt suit and sad shoes (you'll get my bitterness in a minute) looked up and welcomed us. Well, she actually just welcomed hubby and said, "Is this your plus one?" while pointing to me, the "thing" that stood next to hubby. My smile, as you might imagine, melted off my face. "Um, this is my guest, yes." hubby responded. "Yep, that's me. Plus one." I followed, with a smirk. As we took our seats, I mumbled, "Hello, my name is Plus One. What's yours?" Hubby chuckled, anticipating my reaction. "I swear I'm going to start the Plus One Movement. Hey, hey, ho, ho, this plus one shit has got to go! Give us our identities back! We have names!" I mumbled so as to fly outside of Ms. No-class' ear shot.

Now, this may seem like a wee bit of an overreaction but this is sadly not the first time I've been referred to as a "+1". I prefer "guest" to +1 any day. From having gone to a number of press events, I have observed the gaggle of PR staff, who somehow believe that the earth stops revolving when they lay their empty little heads down to sleep, in full-throttle power mode. It is as if all those years of harboring resentment from having to deal with their own feelings of mediocrity come to a precipice and are converted into an all encompassing sense of entitlement. End result: I-am-more-important-and-better-than-you thinking. What happens thereafter is a consistently alternating rudeness (when encountered with someone they don't readily recognize as a worthy human being) and phoniness (when encountered with someone they perceive to either be more important than them or someone who may help them up the ladder--which is usually a pipe dream as very few people can tolerate PR brats). I have encountered both rudeness and phoniness as I guess I've been rather ambiguous at these events. Regardless of this, I have noticed that the most successful of PR brats are those who treat everyone respectfully, despite the instinct to be rude. You never know who you're talking to, especially in Hollywood. I could have been a movie executive for all that dumb women knew, not the +1 she assumed me to be. Maybe hubby was MY +1.

So, I'd like to invite all of the +1's in this world to unite. Let's take back our identities and teach the world to never assume that you don't have a name! I'll be making rubber bracelets soon, as I know that is the proof of a legitimate social movement.

PS: You need to be careful when referring to yourself as +1! I, a self-proclaimed slave of Facebook, recently changed my status to: "(insert PhDini's name here) is +1". I got so many happy emails from friends and family...who assumed I was pregnant. Cool those heels folks!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Exestential Ruminations: How I'd like to go...Panda-style

While watching tourists holding pandas in their laps at $50 per minute, PhDini and hubby have a deep discussion...

Hubby: Would you ever want to do that?
PhDini: Of course. I definitely would.
Hubby: What if it hurts you?
PhDini: That's how I'd want to die...getting mauled by a panda.

Be the change you want to see in the world...Or something like that.

As a scientist/practitioner, I get to go to conferences all over the country, sometimes the world, to share my work and learn about other research. As much as these meetings are intellectually stimulating and good for my career (network, network, network!), they are more often than not, completely hilarious. Think: Psychologists gone wild. We get to make all of those corny therapist jokes and people actually get them! We can compete for who "gets" the other person first.

Well, I had the honor of presenting my research at a different kind of conference, a national summit focusing exclusively on Latino cancer issues--the first of it's kind. The summit was fantastic, both fun and inspiring. Since the aim of the meeting was to bridge science with the community, it wasn't just researchers trying to tear each other apart at the statistical seams. It had members of community organizations, geneticists, physicians, cancer survivors, folk healers, and reps from companies (like Livestrong) sponsoring the event. It was kind of like going to a conference with my Ecuadorian mom and a bunch of her wacky friends--along with some academic and social work types, wooden tribal jewelery and all. At the reception held on the first night, there was an open bar and a conga line! The best part: free food all day long! That's because, to Latinos (and many other non-American mainstream cultures), la comida is love. A good Latina host never, ever, let's her guests go hungry. Wine also flowed like water. Gracias, Latinas Contra Cancer.

So, I attended some fabulous workshops while sipping on white wine and discreetly chomping down empanadas. My favorite was the panel on complementary/alternative medicine and cancer. During the nutrition portion, which emphasized eating low fat and anti-inflammatory foods, I furiously wrote down all of the "dos and don'ts" while balancing my glass of wine on the notepad on my lap and holding onto half of the empanada, which dangled from my mouth. Real classy. My notes say: Vitamin D good, fried food bad, go on diet tomorrow! Just as I started to make a list of everything I ate that day, a habit I fall back on when feeling either a little out of control of things or a little "fluffy"--usually both, a women who looks like a Mexican version of Barbara Streisand floats up to the podium, bowing her head while holding her hands up,, palm-to-palm, in response to the applause. You would think she actually was Babs given the enthusiasm in the room. Dressed in gray, soft, flowing fabric, a wooden bead necklace, and simple Christ-like leather sandals, the woman went up to the microphone and said "Hermanas, hermanos...let's talk about healing. Not chemical healing of the West...but spiritual healing." Her voice was as smooth as the Lycra/cotton blend dress she was wearing. It felt like I was listening to an easy listening station my aunt used to torture me with on Sunday afternoons after our Mc Donald's lunch dates. She went on and on about getting back to our traditions, to the behaviors of our ancestors. She had Aztec ancestry, which I guess I could understand wanting to get in touch with. My ancestry is a little less sexy. Half of my people ate pasta and worked the Italian countryside, while my other people ate caldos (stews) with fried cheese and danced merengue...a lot. What was I supposed to do with that? As she discussed how surviving cancer isn't up to us, but to "you know who, mother earth and father sky, I had to quiet my inner voice which was screaming "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!". My face ached from the expressions of skepticism I displayed during her whole talk. She picked up on it, too, targeting me with her wack-a-doo theories, her eyes bulging with spirits or what-have-you. At the end of it all, she asked us to stay and participate in a healing circle. I opted out and got me and my spirit out of there for more free wine. Research shows wine is good for you. It does. I caught up with a woman I had become friendly with throughout the summit and asked her how the "healing" went. She said they just stood in a circle while Babs, the great, babbled something in strange tongues then made everyone hug each other. I'm glad I opted for the booze. To each their own.

Now, I'm back home...coming up with lots of ideas to save the world, or at the very least, make it a little less scary for someone out there. A PhDini's work is never done...

What the...?

I love you this much. Thoughts?