Monday Mambo

A little bit of writing done tonight
A little bit of email sent, that’s right!
A little bit of nausea just set in
’cause I sent that big draft IN!

Yes, that’s right. I sent my committee chair a draft of my dissertation tonight… just in time to make it a Monday Mission.


Speaking of the Painted Maypole, we were able to see her LIVE! and IN PERSON! in PINKALICIOUS! this weekend. I promise, each of those words deserved both caps and excessive punctuation. The show was adorable and TPM is even more lovelier (and taller!) than her pictures. Bonus: the May Queen stopped by (on her birthday!) so we were able to get in a Girls Only photo.

can (1)

Since then, Kate has woken up “PINK!” each morning and picked out her daily outfits in accordance to how PINKALICIOUS! they are. Not that the show made an impact, or anything.


PS: Did I mention that I sent in a draft? Of my dissertation? To my committee chair? A draft? Sent? Draft? DRAFT?!?!?! My stomach is in knots.


Comments (6)


This Fall.

From now until the end of October:

— Three conference presentations: one in New Haven (this one is a poster/talk about my still un-finished dissertation); one in New Orleans (this is is a presentation about the PAR Photovoice project); one in Chicago (a presentation about health and health-related work in NOLA).

— Program director’s meeting in Chicago.

— One week plus one day of fall break for the kids in mid-October (cut short by the Chicago meeting and conference).  Will we take the kids to Disney as originally planned?

— School events.  Parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school picnic, nightly homework, open houses.

— NOLA Aids walk Sept. 20th (Schweitzer group is participating).

— Doctor visits for Will’s casting and re-casting and eventual cast-removal.

— Doctor visits for Paul and I (we’re trying to Be Good).

— Weekend workshop for Photovoice project in October.

— Continued work on Photovoice project and Schweitzer program.

Laying it all out seems to help me think through it.

All this is like constant background noise that floods out my ability to focus, think, and write.  I know what I have to do, I know what I want to say.  I have outlines and the starts of each chapter… I just need to flesh each one out in draft.  (And make a beautiful poster about it.  The poster doesn’t require the draft being done, but I’ve never made a poster for this kind of event before, and the attendants are my Academic Heros, so I’m way nervous about it.  I’m talking about the poster during a cocktail hour where all the speakers will be milling around talking and asking questions.  And did I mention that the conference organizer is one of my brilliant teachers/advisers from Michigan, whom I respect and adore?  Oh, and my committee chair?  Yeah, he’ll be there, too.)

I know I *can* do, each thing, and do them relatively well.  I mean, right?  But how?  I’m trying to figure it out.  Suggestions welcome.  *gulp*


Comments (4)


Work, Writing, and Wanderings.

— Since last weekend’s writing retreat, which took place in an out-of-town colleague’s apartment, I’ve been able to fall into a much more productive writing schedule.
— My dissertation is fleshed out into 10 Chapters. All currently have written sections… none of which are finished. I’m guessing 1/3-1/2 of it is written… and of that, the majority ranges from “okay” to “crap.” Somehow it all makes sense in my head but makes no sense on paper. Hmmmmm.
— I know what each needs to say and getting them to that point really scares me.
— How come I’m freaked out by my own visions for The Thing? I thought I’d feel better at this point in the game.

— We’re spending the first week of August in Scotland. One my best friends from college is getting married in Ayr… in a castle… on a cliff… by the sea. We’re going in a few days early to check out the Western Island(s) and Highland area before the wedding.
— When we get back from Scotland, we’re going to the beach with the kids. Paul will be working then, but we’re hoping to manage it all to get in some quality family time before the school year starts.

— My committee chair is back in town in a little over a week. We’re meeting on the 30th. YIKES.

— Work is still overwhelming, but I had a few learning moments and realized that I needed to let go a bit until the dissertation draft was done.

Seeking….? Advice on Scotland. And the post-Scotland beach. (Did I mention we’re flying direct in and out of ORLANDO?) Ideas on balancing. And strategies for sustained writing inspiration.


Comments (1)


Pondering Fate

Rounding out the triumvirate of part-time employment I have distracting me from writing That Damn Paper (the new official title of my dissertation) is a teaching position in the School of Social Work.  Last week I lectured alone for the first time, on material new to the course and to me.  I’m one of three with teaching responsibility for these classes, which is an absolutely fabulous set-up; low stress and interesting all at the same time.

On Tuesday, the students will have an in-class simulation of a UN Global Humanitarian Forum based on a variety of readings on Human Development.  To give them a primer of what is expected, one of my colleagues sent out links to videos from last year’s UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Bonn.

This is the sort of stuff that gets passed around my collegial circles all the time… climate change, gazillions impacted, always the lowest on the totem that get sunk… yeah, yeah.  It buzzes around back there as we focus on whatever tiny section of the Global Health pie we’re devouring.  It’s not that we’re not interested, it’s just that well… sometimes it feels like folks in this field tire of the gore and horrors. And sometimes you get so caught up in just doing a job and just getting ahead that the senses get dulled. Passion is not something easy to sustain. Then, sometimes, an ear picks up a few words and slowly lifts the head around to attention.

The discussion of the Himalayas, and the ONE BILLION people who live on either side, is what turned my head. Because that’s right, of course. One third of our roughly 6 billion earthlings call either India or China home, so it’s right to throw those numbers out there. At least a billion people live to the north and south of the Himalayan range and rely on it’s freshwater runoff.

I know. His tongue is a bit serpent-like. I hope it didn’t distract too much from his arguments. By the way, this guy, Yvo de Boer, is the Executive Secretary of the UFCCC. Like most folks at the UN, I feel like he’s caught in a battle of conscious and politics… wanting to get tough and present vision and do all those hard-line things that Greenpeace (et al) slam him on, but having to deal with arrogant leaders (ahem, GW) who aren’t having it and would simply shut it all out if he did go that route. I dunno. Maybe this is me dreaming? I always want to believe that people long to do more than they are able.

A statement made by 17-year old Rishika Das Roy, from Kolkata, India, was also sent to students. Here are some photographs of her community, the Sunderbans. I wonder what her statement would have been if she had attended the meeting as the Executive Director of the UNFCCC for the day, rather than a “witness”?

Watching the two speakers — their different roles, ages, positions, passions, intents, and approaches — the hierarchies in it all just stood out. This young woman is poised to be a leader in some capacity. Will 30 years of working with International organizations dull her passions, force her to recognize the compromises in politics, shake her down to broad numbers of impact? Is this fate for all go-gooders? That we become jaded, pessimistic, burnt out, fed up?


Comments (3)


On Boats and Big Boulders

The Celebration of Service for our Schweitzer Fellowship cohort was last Wednesday at New Orleans Yacht Club.

Paul and I got there too late for the boat trip.  So we were stuck enjoying the sunset from the pier.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the night.  We knew some program funders would be there, as well as some from the new group of Fellows.  As part of our fellowship requirements, we prepared posters for viewing during a cocktail hour.

When we sat down to dinner, our program director asked each of us to come up and talk to the crowd about our projects and memories about the Fellowship year.  Impromptu speaking!

Have you ever had one of those moments where you are up in front of a room of people and notice someone unexpected in the audience, maybe someone you’ve been sort of nervous about seeing, and have a total freak out mid-speech?


Oh, well, me neither.

That whole shuttering blinking thing I did last Wednesday when I saw one of my committee members smiling at me in the audience?  Yeah, that wasn’t me losing my train of thought or being distracted by the !!!OMG!!! running through my head.  Not a bit.

That was how Paul met my Committee Member Extraordinaire, whom I could call Dr. Comforting, Dr. Calming, Dr. Confirming, or Dr. Consoling and still not quite capture what this particular person brings to the table.  It had been a LONG TIME since I’d checked in.  My committee chair (the one who is suppose to guide everything I do) had strongly suggested I sort of keep the rest of the committee on the sidelines until I had a pre-defense draft ready for review… an appealing choice, but one that was freaking me out.  What if I alienate another member?  Or, what if I ignore my chair’s advice and get thrown off track by someone else’s comments?  Ack!  The confusion!

So far, my way of handling it was to ignore everyone.  A wonderful strategy if my goal is to never finish, or so it seems.

Bottom line is that Committee Member Extraordinaire was INCREDIBLE when we spoke after the speech.  I told her where I was and what I was doing and was honest about the advise from the chair.  “I think that is great,” she offered, “I love it when people can work that independently.”  It knocked the wind right out of me.  Then, she pleaded with me to speak with public health students about Schweitzer, congratulated me about taking over (temporarily) as program director, and just generally made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  (Note, this is distinctly different from how committee members usually make one feel.)  Paul turned to me afterward and said, “I love her.  She is fantastic.”

“I know,” I answered.  I forgot how supportive she is.  How could I forget?

Seeing her and getting all of that out in the open took a huge weight off my shoulders and I feel so much more prepared to finish this thing.  I am starting to see that it is something I truly can do…

Art & Photography

Comments (3)


Friday was Good to me

I finished an abstract today, ahead of schedule, thus completing one of my recently self-assigned dissertation milestones.  It was an incredible achievement on my part, right up there with my self-inflicted embargo of the Twilight series (I may not read until I’ve finished a draft).  My work ethic — it boggles the mind.

All the work work work please don’t talk to me I’m writing work work laundry laundry make dinner work has made it very difficult to procrastinate, which means that I was unable to plan for a last-minute trip out of town.  We were close to picking up and heading out to a tax-deductible, in-support-of-the-company weekend trip to Houston to go to the Ikea (356 miles away) to binge on cheap Scandavian furniture for the office.  When Paul found out that they had BOTH a supervised children’s play area AND cooked ham with mashed potatoes for $6.99, he was ready to take off this afternoon.  Unfortunately, responsibility found out and came knocking and finger-wagging.  Sure, it’d be NICE to have books up off the floor and all, but the next year’s school fees and summer camp deposits are BOTH due at the end of the month.  And the kids need shoes.

In the spirit of looking for creative ways to pay tuition… I’m I too old to sell my unused lady eggs?  They are very effective.

Family Photos

Comments (2)


So, what is it that you do? Part One.

It’s dense, y’all.  So here’s the first dose.

It’s about race and health in public health research.

The U.S. is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society, so we use race as a variable in all of our research.  We do this partially because of the fact that racial differences persist in virtually every area of health interest, and partially because of convention – we publish statistics stratified by race, we control for race in research models, and we exclude individuals from analysis on the basis of race.  What we (‘we,’ meaning me and my colleagues of health researchers… if I might take that presumptuous leap of status) don’t do is stop to question whether race is really an appropriate construct – what it means, what it really differentiates, and what it ultimately suggests.

This is really important because the use of race in public health research is very problematic.  The idea is that using race categories controls for some sort of undisclosed differences in population genetics… or in fancier talk, the epidemiologic assumption is that there is a genotypic difference that is being controlled.  But in reality, researchers aren’t in the practice of, say, taking gene frequency measures in their participants.  And more to the point: they aren’t even in the practice of defining the criteria for assigning a person in one racial category to another.

Well, if you’re still with me, you might be asking about the standard.  Because, surely, our medical researchers have come up with some hard and fast rule about the biologic concept of race in medicine.


And as much as population geneticists will jump up and down screaming about things like ‘continental racial categories’ and the higher incidence of genetically-related disease in certain groups (say, sickle cell) – the bottom line?  All our genome work has us coming back again and again to say that genetically, we’re all pretty much the same.

Richard Cooper (an MD and Epidemiologist at Loyola Med School in Chicago) is sort of the Master and Commander of this discourse and I’d be remiss to try and restate what he says so darn clearly:

Racial differences reflect different social environments, not different genes, even where two groups live side by side, as do blacks and whites in the United States.  Race does not mark in any important way for genetic traits; rather, it demonstrates beyond question the paramount role of the social causes.  We have much more to learn from that paradigm, rather than the one offered by ethnogenetics.

In short, when we’re studying race, we’re really not studying genotypic differences – we’re studying phenotypic differences.  (e.g.: the differences that result in our environments, not our genetics.)
Okay then, but public health uses race all the time and finds all sorts of interesting results.  What does all that mean??

For one, it means that the results might be screwy.  The majority of public health research occurs statistically: where a model full of complex and overwhelming Greek letters spell out a variety of things (the independent variables) that predict what happens to an outcome (the dependent variable).  Race is most often used as a dummy, or binary, variable – meaning that you are either black or white – so the lack of conceptual clarity about what in the world each of those categories means leaves a great deal of room for error… if you aren’t controlling for something very clearly within your model, it means that your variable is open to error.  It could be measuring the effects of other things in your model, including things in the error term.  This means it could be “endogenous,” which, in public health research, is a Really. Bad. Thing.  Suggesting that using race as a binary variable presents a problem of endogeneity to statistical models is sort of like saying that that ‘vegetarian’ gravy your Mom has been feeding you for all your 20 years of vegetarianism is actually made from 6 different animals.  It ruins everything you’ve ever done with it and colors your ability to use it in the future.  It’s better to just not know.  Or to ignore the reality.  Or!  To reinvent it!

Like, for example, saying that race doesn’t really mean what we think it means.  Let’s get real, you say, we know that race is all messy!  So when we’re talking about race disparities in health, we’re actually measuring other things… you know, like socioeconomic status, discrimination, cultural factors, stuff like this that we know have a racial component.

That’s all fine and good, I answer, but public health models shouldn’t be proxy for anything not clearly defined.  That’s not good science.  It’s more logic to argue that if race is a proxy for other factors, then we need to find better ways of measuring those other factors.  If we’re going to intervene effectively, we need to clearly understand what is going on.

Let me give an example.  Let’s say that you are a health researcher and you’re studying prenatal care utilization.  You’ve got a great regression model controlling for a variety of factors and your results show a statistically significant coefficient for the race binary variable (that the mean number of visits is higher for whites than for blacks, even when you’re controlling for things like income, age, insurance status, etc.)  You might fall into the trap of reporting (as is embarrassingly common in published research) that “race is a significant determinant of prenatal care utilization.”  Think about that for a minute.  The color of one’s skin has nothing to do with how many times someone sees the doctor.  How the world around someone reacts to them due to the color of their skin (or other individual factors) may very well impact how many times they attend a prenatal visit… but that is not what the model is measuring, nor what the data is suggesting!

Further, if you go along that route, you may filter that finding down to medical and public health practice.  It may be unintentional or even unrealized, but your intervention could be focused on race, trying to address whatever it is about being black that means you go to the doctor less.  You may not even think to see what is going on with the doctor, or the clinic, or the system because you’re so focused on intervening in on that race factor… and you’d be missing the point.

Public health science needs better conceptual precision about the measurement of race, period.  At the very least, the lesson here is that we need to be clear on what we’re measuring and how we’re interpreting it.


Comments (6)


The post where Holly says, yes, actually there IS this dissertation thingy…

Possible reader comment:

“Are you really working on a PhD, because honestly, I read your blog and uh… you’re just totally a Mom with a camera and a sometimes nice way of writing.”

No, really, I am working on a PhD.  And while I don’t necessarily feel like I need to say anything to prove that fact, I am starting to turn a corner with my work.  No, no, I’m way too entrenched in academic aloofness to claim some sort of importance in what I find interesting (we get kicked out of the ivory tower club for that kind of uppity behavior) – but I do feel GOOD about it.  In the sense that there could, maybe, be some sort of usefulness in something, somewhere.  Was that stated aloof enough?  Phew.

Unsure of where to start, I’m just going to start at the beginning.  I figure, too, if I can just talk about this in normal language to explain to a regular person, than I do really ‘get’ the big picture here.  So think of this as an exercise.  Oh, and as something that will come in parts… because these blog posts need to be taken in steps before we reach full stride.  I’m telling you: I get winded easily.

So I study health inequalities.  I’m interested in where the best interventions can be made to improve  lives and health statuses.  In particular, I like health research because of how health reflects on social and political histories: there is a story, a reason, why certain people are healthy and others are not.  War, racism, segregation, climate – these all help paint health.  How this happens and how we should work as a nation and as a global community to mitigate those effects are of endless interest to me.

My current research is with Latin American immigrants to the United States.  Because I am working in New Orleans, the majority of these immigrants are Honduran – not Mexican — which is against the norm in many other areas of the United States that can correctly characterize their Latin American immigrant population as largely Mexican.  In short then, what I am studying encompasses both what it means to be an immigrant from Latin America living in the United States and what it means to be a racial minority within the United States.

So the first place to start is with race and health.  Stay tuned.


Comments (1)


The Mommy and the Study

(Writ in the style of “The Piggy in the Puddle” — my favorite children’s story to read out loud.)

See the Mommy.
See her study.
See the Mommy in the middle of her silly little study.
See her cruddy, see her bloody
in the fuddy, duddy, study.
See her muddy, down and ruddy, in the silly little study.

See the Daddy,
chummy-tummy, chummy-tummy, chummy-tummy.
“Don’t you get all crummy, dummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!
You are much to smart and sassy to be in the down and ruddies.
Research is oofy, research is poofy, research is oh-so oofy-poofy!
What you need is lots of HOPE.
But the Mommy answered, “oofy-poofy, oofy-poofy, NOPE!”

See her Babies.
Cutey-tooty, cutey-tooty, cutey-tooty.
“Just stop that writing – lighting, nighting, fighting, miting, citing!
You are much too Mommy Dearest not to be so often near us.
Research is willy, research is nilly, research is oh-so willy-nilly.
What you need is lots of HOPE.”
But the Mommy answered, “willy-nilly, willy-nilly, NOPE.”

Now they all stood by her research,
Right beside the murky research.
And they looked into the ‘search,
What a messy, murky, murch!

There was Mommy, cruddy and bloody,
getting beat up by her study.
She was reading, she was writing,
she was drinking to be wired.
She was listening, she was talking,
she was very very tired.

Said the Daddy,
Mummy-Mommy, you have made me very proud.

Said the Babies,
Mommy-Mummy, you are a sun behind a cloud.

Said the Mommy,
I thank you, but for this I am avowed.

See the Mommy and her study
with her family in a huddy.
They are loving, they are listening,
to the very daunting study.

Said the Mommy,
“Oofy-poofy, willy-nilly, oofy-poofy…
Indeed,” said tired Mommy,
“I think we lack in hope.”

But Daddy and the Babies answered,
“Oofy-poofy — NOPE!”

This post is a Monday Mission, to write a post in the style of a children’s story, as inspired by The Painted Maypole.

I’ve been feeling uninspired lately and needed to remind myself of a few things.

Family Stories

Comments (4)


Progress Report, First Week of November

One week into the month of November and how much I have gotten done?

I’ve translated one set of interview notes from Spanish… BUT have not gone back to listen to the original notes to put back in the parts of the notes that are in English. It equates to about 1/7th of the translation I have to complete. *sigh*


Comments (0)