fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

the shrinks were in on it? we need to talk about torture again. and again. and again.

by caitlin meredith

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.01.54 PMI am disgusted. A few months ago, my mom wrote a post about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, imploring us all to not let our outrage with the government-sponsored (ineffective) “intelligence-seeking” barbarities fade with the news cycle. A new bombshell released last month makes her call to action even more salient. The American Psychological Association not only participated in this program, they changed the wording of their ethics code in order to do so.

It’s one thing for our government to commit these atrocities – governments are no strangers to using lethal force to achieve their goals – it’s quite another for the governing body of a “helping profession” to collaborate in any way with a program that seeks to debase the human body and soul for any purpose. This scares the shit out of me. (If you want to see how the APA is dealing with this, click here.)

I’ve lived in many places where the government’s use of torture wouldn’t even make headline news. Not because it doesn’t exist – because it’s not news. Spending time in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo and other places where human rights abuses are justified in the name of protecting the State, it’s easy to feel a little smug as an American. We have the rule of law. We have certain ethical lines we do not cross. We have a transparent government where leaders are elected and defeated according to the will of the people. And of course all of these things are mostly true when compared to most of these countries. But the line that separates “us” from “them” gets thinner and thinner until it vanishes with the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »


can we please talk about torture? please?

by nikki meredith

ladies out to dinnerIn mid-December, a few days after Diane Feinstein released the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture, I was dining out with friends. About an hour into dinner, after we’d talked about grandchildren, books, work, movies, our growing list of age-related maladies, there was a pause in the conversation and I blurted: “Can we talk about torture?”

I knew it was abrupt. I knew it was inconsistent with what’s expected in a congenial dining experience but I was desperate to talk about the report. My husband had been away when it was released and I’d been in a self-imposed period of isolation to get some writing done. The report was upsetting to me, not because of any bombshells but because the graphic detail it contained made the monstrous suffering of those men palpable. (Twenty-six of whom, by the way, were later found to be innocent.) The report also revived my anger at Obama. While it’s true that he ordered torture discontinued when he took office, he’s done nothing to promote accountability for what happened or instituted safeguards to prevent it from ever happening again. (I like and respect Obama and agree with him in many other areas…that’s why his failing in this one is heartbreaking to me.)

The answer to my request at dinner that night, as we picked over our pasta and creamy hummus on seared salmon, was a resounding “no.” No one wanted to talk about torture. Read the rest of this entry »

we’ve come a long way, baby. or have we?: is women’s sexuality a substitute for women’s equality?

by nikki meredith

vintage pornI’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately and it all started when I read an account of an all girls circle jerk in a Manhattan Upper East side apartment.  Okay, to be fair, as far as I know, no one but me is calling it a circle jerk.  Jenny Block, a columnist for The Huffington Post, attended a masturbation party…or, more precisely an orgasm party — after all, the former without the latter wouldn’t make much of a party. Again, to be fair, and I’m trying to be, sort of, it wasn’t a party it was a workshop though it had many aspects of a party, or a kind of party. All of the participants were naked and there was lots of sex, and booze.  Okay, actually, I don’t know about the booze.  I can’t seem to stop myself from trying to make the event sound ridiculous as though I don’t trust that the participants can get there on their own. And, speaking of getting there on their own, or, rather, not getting there on their own, a traditional young boy’s circle jerk, as far as I know, doesn’t involve a teacher. (If it did, someone would call the authorities.) The teacher of this, uh, class, was 85-year-old artist Betty Dodson who, in the buff, pranced — okay, maybe she didn’t prance –  she floated from woman to woman administering hands-on instruction.

It may not sound like it, but my purpose here is not to ridicule the workshop but rather to sort what it is that offends me about the whole enterprise.

Does the visual of Dodson’s hands-on work trigger my heretofore undiagnosed homophobia?   Or, does the mere mention of sex and nudity in the same sentence as an 85-year-old woman elicit from me the same bias against old people and sex as expressed by the likes of Chris Rock and Bill Maher?  (I’m just guessing about Bill Maher, but Chris Rock, in a riff about Sex in the City, once declared that the actresses on that show were way too old to be showing their “titties” on camera.) Or is my problem even more primitive?  Does my discomfort put me in the same category as, say, Rick Santorum, who, I’m quite sure would stroke-out if he found himself in the room with all of those masturbating women.  God knows, there are areas of my mind that are more narrow than wide. But, because I find my judgmental self so distasteful, an alarm goes off when it surfaces.  If I find myself rejecting something simply because it wasn’t done in my time or, if it was done, it wasn’t acceptable, I want to know if I’m just lagging behind culturally or if there are reasonable grounds to object. Read the rest of this entry »

Ebola is real. Our risk is not. Protect front line health-workers.

by caitlin meredith

PPE removal.1.1As a field epidemiologist, I have responded to disease outbreaks all over Africa during the past 10 years, from cholera to meningitis to Hepatitis E. Any other year, I’d be in Liberia right now, in gumboots with a map and a spreadsheet, trying to track and contain Ebola’s spread alongside my colleagues. Because of a new baby, however, I’m watching from the sidelines.

So far, what I’ve seen from the bench makes me concerned – not about Ebola’s threat to the United States, but about the mixed messages our leaders are sending and the mob mentality that results when fear overtakes facts.

Though my professional career in international health has been primarily with Doctors Without Borders, I am not speaking on behalf of the organization or my colleagues. I don’t know Dr. Craig Spencer personally, though he worked in Guinea with some of my good friends. I’ve never met nurse Kaci Hickox in person (that I know of) but we corresponded about project data a few years ago. I have e-mailed both of these colleagues messages of support in the past few days, but haven’t been in touch – i.e. I have no insider or personal information about either.  The facts I’m writing about here all come from mainstream news coverage.

Based on my experience as an epidemiologist and aid worker, I offer four main areas of improvement for the U.S. to start getting Ebola management right. Read the rest of this entry »

top ten ways pregnancy and childbirth will drive you crazy: #2 – your personality goes down the toilet

by caitlin meredith

pregnancy symptomsWhen she was pregnant, my friend Carolyn announced that her personality turned off at 8pm. When not pregnant, the usual shut off time trends towards 10pm so the difference is considerable for those spending an evening with her. As it happened, we were pregnant at the same time. While I was impressed with her precision, and felt similarly wilted by day’s end, I had one major question: What personality?

Carolyn is lovely – she has a sharp wit and a daunting intellect so this question was no reflection on who she was, just a mere observation from the pregnancy trenches. As much as I tried to fight it and show my non-pregnant friends just how unlike all the other pregnant women out there I was, constantly talking about weird food stuff and swollen body parts, I failed miserably. Read the rest of this entry »

the mother of my grandaughter’s mother: a grandmother’s quest to find the right name

by nikki meredith

old russian grandmotherWhen my older sister announced her pregnancy, my mother announced, shortly thereafter, that she didn’t want to be called grandma, granny, gran or any variation of grandmother.  I assumed it was because grandmother meant old and my mother, who had always shrouded her age in secrecy, didn’t want any clues to her age. She’d been grappling with the age thing since she became a mother herself at the age of 16.  Her solution as a teenager was to tell people, at least people who didn’t know better, that the baby was her sister not her daughter.   (The implications of this lie are vast and, possibly, the subject of a future blog or two, or two thousand. Fierce attachments indeed!)

After my sister learned to talk, the jig was up. My mother was forced to come out of the mother closet. She may have been willing to lie to strangers but she was not, thank God, willing to lie to her daughter.

When, at the age of 47, she became a grandmother, she didn’t try to claim that her grandson was her little brother but she still saw no reason to advertise her demographic. At least I assumed that was her aversion to being called grandmother. I never actually asked her about it. (There were some topics one did not raise with my mother. My attachment to her also had its share of fierceness.) Read the rest of this entry »

top ten ways pregnancy and childbirth will drive you crazy: #1- trying to use the internet to find out if you’re pregnant or not

by caitlin meredith

woman googling2Ladies and Gentlemen, do me a favor. Do a web search for “signs of pregnancy.” Pretend your period is approaching a late arrival and you don’t happen to be able to think about anything else other than whether or not life is about to get really weird. “Concentrate on something else,” you tell yourself, so you try to get engaged with a New York Times article on the mysterious case of the disappearing bees, you try to lose yourself in the organic gardening tutorial you’ve meant to sit through for a year, you even try to organize your inbox by learning how to use the Gmail filter function. All to no avail. Finally, after the 47th trip to the bathroom to see if there are any new developments, you turn to the internet to determine your fate. Come on – do the search.

You’ll find that there are a gazillion web health “articles” on every site from WebMD to the Mayo Clinic with identical lists of early pregnancy signs and symptoms. Their purported intent is to help women figure out whether or not the most important event in their reproductive lives is in fact happening. In reality, they exist only to drive women bat shit crazy. Read the rest of this entry »

i will never understand men: hard-wired attraction and the quest for companionship

by nikki meredith

group of men2My last memory of Jacob was on a bright, February day. The air had a crisp, astringent quality. We had just finished our monthly hike in the woods behind my house and we were having lunch at a local café. My dog, Alice, still panting from the hike, was tethered to his chair. He leaned down to stroke her ears and she swooned. He loved her and loving a dog was a new experience for him. I was urging him to get a dog of his own. He was lonely. At times, howlingly lonely.

“No,” he said, “I’ll wait until I meet someone.”

“So you want a dog to alleviate your loneliness but you want to wait until you meet someone at which point you won’t need a dog to alleviate your loneliness.”

He laughed.

We argued a lot. We argued about many things but one particular argument we’d been having off and on for more than 25 years. He would only date women who were younger, quite a bit younger. I didn’t like it.

If I had known he would be dead in another two weeks, would I have fought with him at all that day? Or would I have fought more fiercely? Would I have been more insistent that he do what he had to do to open his mind and heart to other possibilities? Read the rest of this entry »

knocking on doors while black: my neighborhood, my neighbors, my confusion

by nikki meredith

front doorLast week, around noon on a weekday, a young African-American man knocked on my front door. He was there to talk me into signing up for AT&T high speed internet.  As most people know AT&T and Comcast are fiercely competing for subscribers. He said he could save me a lot of money if I switched. I told him we had actually scheduled a switch a couple of weeks before but after interviewing neighbors who had made the change and didn’t like it, we decided to stick with Comcast.   I added that all of my doubts about AT&T were confirmed when I was on hold for 45 minutes while I waited to cancel the installation appointment. He laughed. “Yes,” he said, “there’s been a problem with the way customers have been treated. We’re trying to improve the situation.” He works for a company that contracts with AT&T. Their mandate is to improve customer relations.

There was something about this young man I liked. For one thing there was no hard sell. For another, he had dimples. I’ve always been a sucker for dimples and he was boyishly handsome in a way that reminded me of my son when he was in his early 20’s. Also, there was something endearing about his enthusiasm for the new and improved AT&T. I never thought I would find enthusiasm for AT&T endearing, which gives you some idea of the man’s appeal. I told him to come back in a year and maybe I’d reconsider.

He was nicely dressed in a navy blue blazer, khaki pants, a crisp white shirt and a tie. There was not a single thing about him that signaled danger. These facts will later become relevant. Read the rest of this entry »

can david hockney save my marriage?: one overly opinionated wife and her quieter husband

by nikki meredith

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

When I first discovered David Hockney a couple of decades ago, his paintings thrilled me. I found the cobalt cerulean hues of his swimming pools irresistible and his particular rendering of the southern California light evoked a longing in me for my childhood. He once called that light extravagant and said it was one of the lures that drew him to Los Angeles in the first place. It’s a light that owes some of its magic to air pollution and the skies under which I grew up were much smoggier than they are now. Often it was difficult to catch my breath without it hurting but those violet particulates permeated more than my lungs; when I left L.A. my heart missed that lambent glow.

This is not to say I considered Hockney a great artist. His images were so tinged with nostalgia for me, I couldn’t judge.

I recently attended a block-buster Hockney show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco – an exhibit The New York Times called a “sprawling romp.”  It featured room after room of eye-popping color and included portraits of friends and family, still lifes of fruit and flowers and dazzling, giant images of the East Yorkshire landscape where Hockney grew up and returned to a decade ago.   I went to see it with a friend who is an artist. I don’t usually go to art museums with friends who are artists. I don’t have anything against doing that it simply doesn’t come up very often. It came up this time when we discovered over dinner that neither of us had been to the exhibit and it was soon closing. A week later we were standing at the entrance.

“How long do you need?” I asked, looking at my watch. “Should we meet in the café?”

She shook her head. “No, no, let’s stay together.”

I’m not the kind of person who “stays together” in art museums. Actually I don’t “stay together” in any museum. I wander solo, lingering over some items, but speeding past quite a few.  I’m the kind of person who meets in the café post-experience. But I’m also not the kind of person who is able to say, “I’d really rather go it alone.”

One painting in, I realized it was going to be a little more complicated than two friends sharing an art experience. She was to be the teacher. I was to be the student.  I felt a migraine coming on. When I was an official student I did okay with official teachers but I’ve never been too enthusiastic about self-appointed ones.  But, Wait, I said to myself. She’s an artist. A good artist.  This is an opportunity to transcend my usual, I love it,  like it, admire it, hate it routine. Maybe I’ll learn something. And I did. Read the rest of this entry »

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