Prayers for Anissa

I spend a lot of time explaining to friends, family, and businesses what the point of Twitter is. It's not uncommon to hear the, "Why the hell do I want to know what people are having for lunch?" question in regards to the micro blogging platform. And while Twitter sometimes gets abused as a lightning fast way to spread negativity, there are other times when it serves as a means to disseminate information, issue a rally call, and evidence love and solidarity in a way that no phone tree could ever achieve.

Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Anissa Mayhew for the first time at the Aiming Low party in Boston. We had connected over Twitter a couple of weeks prior to the event and have since exchanged all sorts of humorous, snarky tweets. Simply put, she's a hilarious person. And of course we share that Korean bond.

Yesterday Anissa suffered a stroke and she is in the ICU. The Twitter community exploded with love and support for Anissa (you can follow the hashtag #prayersforanissa). I know I wasn't the only one hitting the refresh button last night, hoping and praying for good news. At one point there was word that Anissa squeezed her husband's hand and I could feel exhales and hope out there. I truly could.

It's so hard to feel helpless in situations such as this. My first reaction was to gear myself up to interface with my former postdoc supervisor (who I haven't spoken to since leaving academia); to implore for help via my old connections in neurology and at the stroke unit. But medical connections in Boston likely will do Anissa little help, and where I feel I can be more helpful is sending Anissa all of the positive and healing energy that my cells can muster. I truly believe in the power of universe energy; she's gotta be feeling the waves from around the world.

And meanwhile, IzzyMom has posted about ways to help, which I'll be tapping as soon as the PO box is set up.

Anissa, get well. So many are sending so much love your way. I know you can feel it. We are eagerly anticipating your snark and humor and light when you get out of the ICU.

UPDATE (11/18/09): Unfortunately the Aiming Low site has crashed; keep checking back, but otherwise, you can find updates about Anissa's condition via Heather at The Spohrs Are Multiplying.

I Don’t E-Sleep Around

Call me an idealist, but despite this being the digital age, I still believe in etiquette, and the fact that relationships matter. I don’t e-sleep around. I want to get to know a person or organization first. I receive a lot of pitches at Boston Mamas and many of them are straightforward to process (see here, here, and here on how not to pitch me). However, lately -- whether due to the economy, awareness about social media outreach, or both -- I have seen a rise in pitches asking me to donate money, time, and/or editorial/advertising space to a cause.

Now, I don't have a lump of coal for a heart. I understand that it’s a challenging time to raise money. And that there are scores of good-hearted organizations competing against one another for philanthropic dollars. But during a conversation with Jon this morning (regarding Example 3 below), I commented that it’s one thing to ask the general public for money; it’s a completely different thing to ask a blogger to leverage their site and voice and readers for your cause without bothering to engage in any kind of relationship first, and without offering some sort of karmic reciprocity.

When I mentioned the reciprocity component, Jon bristled. Following my recent NPR interview re: bloggers and corporations and ethics, he wondered whether it was ethical to expect something in return from an organization in exchange for supporting them. And I explained that in my opinion, working with an organization to help them raise money is very, very different than something like a product review (note: there is no pay for play whatsoever in my editorial space at Boston Mamas). And in these cases, I need for a relationship – gasp, a two-way relationship! – to be in place. Perhaps this is best explained by way of examples:

Example 1 (good karma):

Two years ago, the March of Dimes contacted me and said they would love to form a partnership in advance of their March for Babies walk. At that time, Boston Mamas was smaller; it was well before all of the press and accolades. But they weren’t concerned with metrics; they loved and believed in my site and thought it was a perfect fit, even if the reach at that time wasn't huge. And I was thrilled to connect with them, not only because it was an honor to be affiliated with a well-known organization, but because I believed in their work. My brother and his wife were pregnant with twins; one died in utero and one was born premature. And when I worked at Mass. General Hospital in Boston, I helped design and implement a research protocol to use music to help relieve infant stress responses during heel sticks in the NICU.

During an extended phone conversation with the March of Dimes, I shared these stories. I also discusses my metrics and the various ways I could help them (banners, editorial, forming a walk team), and they offered reciprocity in terms of web presence and a (surprisingly large) banner at the Hatch Shell for the walk. My relationship has continued with them; both through this past year’s walk and also by signing on as a March of Dimes Mom. I can truly say it has been a pleasure and honor to be partnered with them. And as Boston Mamas has grown and gained national recognition in the last two years, I believe their investing in our relationship paid off for them.

Example 2 (bad karma):

I was invited to visit a local organization that helps women and children. Though it wasn’t convenient for my schedule, I squeezed in a visit because: a) I believed in their mission; and b) partnership for an interesting upcoming event was suggested. When I arrived, the director of development gave me her schpiel and it soon became very clear that she invited me not in the context of being a media partner, but to pitch me as a major donor -- and one who would also leverage my readership to gain additional donors. I explained that I was not in the position to make a large direct donation, but would be happy to discuss a media partnership similar to what I had done with the March of Dimes, assuming there weren't time conflicts (I'm loyal...the March of Dimes is my first philanthropic priority). Her expression changed markedly; she said she would think about it and follow up with me, and I haven’t heard from her since.

Example 3 (possibly worse karma):

I was invited to a blogger luncheon for a local children’s charity. At first I felt compelled to go because it’s a well-known charity that does good work, but when I read the agenda (lunch, facility tour, meeting the mom of a really sick kid) I had a sinking feeling; it was a transparent effort to jerk the heartstrings. I didn’t like that -- I’d rather they just engaged with the bloggers directly instead of using the mom of a sick kid to appeal to other moms.

Then logistics made my attendance more challenging and I canceled. I felt some relief actually, and then received an email saying:

I have another request for you – would you consider donating ad space on your site for an ad for ___________? Your readers would be a great audience for us to reach.

In a world replete with puppy dogs and unicorns, I'd like to believe that people mean well, even despite one-way approaches such as Examples 2 and 3 above. But I'm a realist and I've seen enough pitches to know when an organization simply wants to take advantage of bloggers to their own gain, with not even the vaguest consideration of reciprocity (I mean, really, it’s not hard for an organization to toss a logo on their web or print materials; I design this sort of material all the time...). And in my opinion, what makes matters worse is that ultimately, this kind of behavior stinks of greed hiding behind the covers of organizations meant to help people.

Relationships matter. And contrary to what many people apparently think, they’re two-way. So just bear in mind that if you approach me with a pick up line that is all about you without even acknowledging that I’m here, I’m going to turn you down.

Grateful

Between work, the flurry of recent travel and events, and the general demands of parenting and life, I’ve been feeling a tad undone lately -- cascading piles of paper everywhere, the relentless tide of e-mails, creative projects left hanging, and a house that feels untidy pretty much all of the time. I can't identify the turning point, but some time in the last year I went from being busy but relatively on top of things to busy to the point of absurdly absentminded; I’m now the person who forgets to RSVP for Laurel’s friend’s birthday parties, loses bill statements, and can’t remember anything Jon asks verbally (I need him to send me an email to get it on my radar...pathetic, I know). Part of the problem is that ever since trading academia for freelancing, I have had more than a full-time work load (via Boston Mamas, Posh Peacock, and my freelance writing and editing gigs) but only part-time child care (my choice… just felt right for me and Laurel). However, when the universe tested me this past week and I received several last minute e-mails from friends about getting together (following back to back business trips), I went against the logical path and opted for personal connection over work.

And I’m so grateful I did.

Over the course of the last week I was able to:

Meet up with my friends Paige, Mark, and Carrie - people I have known since elementary and middle school (25 year old friendships!).

Host my girlfriend Braden and her son for a couple of days. I lived with Braden as a subletter in an apartment right after I graduated from college. That apartment is where I met Jon. It was Braden’s first visit to Boston since Jon and my wedding nine years ago.

See my dear friend Anne and her girls. Anne and her family now live in Dubai, which makes getting together, well, less frequent.

Enjoy a breezy lunch in Boston with my friend Lea from Chicago. Lea was my roommate while I was dating Jon, and just before Jon and I set off on our 'round-North-America graduate school adventures. It was one of those situations where I lucked out and decided to share an apartment with a complete stranger (after living with someone I knew who turned out to be crazy), and she ended up being an awesome person and becoming a dear friend.

Needless to say, my papers are still cascading everywhere, my e-mail inbox overflows, and my house remains a disaster. But I wouldn't trade all of the lovely moments I experienced this week for work time. Particularly on the heels of the in real life awesomeness I experienced at BlogHer, I’m feeling so grateful. To have friends. To have so many memories with all of these wonderful people. To have flexibility in my work life that allows me to call the shots with my schedule so I can see friends when they drop into this fair city.

And to have friends who continue to call me despite my spotty correspondence.

Day 9: Reality Check and Alternative Workout

Day #9 of the 30-Day Shredhead Challenge. Today was a day of reality checks: 1. I’m someone who does best when I follow my instincts, and after the palpable depression that set in with Boston’s slushy, snowy, and gray day yesterday (after a Sunday in the 60’s), as soon as I saw the sun shining this morning, I knew I had to alter my shred plan.

2. I’ll admit it, I’ve been checking myself out in the mirror every morning and the reality is that if I’m really going to get at my thigh and waist problem areas, I need more than 6 minutes of cardio.

3. As much as I’d love to run, I’m just not built for it. But walking is a great form of cardio, especially if you push it at a good clip.

4. Sadly, I'm not great at just walking for the sake of walking; I need to be going somewhere for a reason.

So here’s what I did today:

1. Three-mile loop walk, with pit stops at the bank and post office. I walked at a fast pace (I was drenched by the time I got home!), being mindful to walk with long strides and good posture (i.e., engaging abs). The sun felt FANTASTIC. Yippee!

2. As soon as I got home, to address the arms/upper body, I opted for the fastest (and most painful) route: push ups. I did two sets of 8 repetitions, book ended around abs (next). Incredibly painful, but incredibly effective.

3. I finished up with a quick set of abs: 12 repetitions x 5 targets (basic crunches for upper abs, double crunches for upper and lower, oblique crunches with a leg raise on right then left side, leg extension lifts for lower abs). I really concentrated on form and going as far as I could with each repetition to get the most out of the short sets.

I still have more work to do with Jillian, but there's something to be said for following your instincts and opting for an alternative workout.

Live Blogging the US Figure Skating Championships

A lot has happened since blogging last week about the lack of media attention regarding the US Figure Skating Championships. Some cool opportunities cropped up for me (details to be revealed later!), Kimmie Meissner and Emily Hughes both withdrew due to injury, and the media finally sat up and paid attention when Alissa Czisny rose to the challenge as the veteran skater and delivered unbelievable grace and skill in her short program. Tonight I’m going to give live blogging a try; focusing on my top skating picks from my previous post; all are in the top 10.

Ashley Wagner: So sad she’s in 12th after the short – she’s so much better than that placement. Hope she pulls out the stops here - she’s definitely got power and intensity.

Very solid program; a couple of step outs on landings and I wasn’t wild about the frenetic music but a good comeback for her. And she's only 17 - she could definitely get into the mix for the 2010 Olympics.

* * * * * Final group is warming up * * * * *

OK, so I've always loved Scott Hamilton, but super fun to hear his voice knowing that he received these cards I designed.

* * * * *

Katrina Hacker: So interested to see her skate. She represents the Skating Club of Boston.

Very pretty music choice (makes me think of Michelle Kwan of course though). Very light on her feet. Commentators say this is it for national level skating as she's going to Princeton next year. I'm not mesmerized but this chick has skills and delivered a solid program; good for her!

Mirai Nagasu: Last year's champ has struggled and in the short she crashed into the boards. Poor girl. Wishing her a rocking free skate.

Uh oh. Just showed a shot of her and she's crying before even getting on the ice. My heart aches for her.

She just landed her last triple. Good for her. Audience is getting behind her with the can-can music. She's on her final spin and she's pulling it off! So thrilled for her. I think she's going to make me cry.

She's currently sitting second, with Ashley Wagner in first.

Brittney Rizo: Rock it Brittney from Braintree, Massachusetts! Have never seen her skate before.

Doubled opening triple. Just got back in with a solid jump combo. She definitely seems to feel the music - very nice.

Not a top contender here but pleasing and I'm really proud to see skaters representing Boston.

Rachael Flatt: The model of consistency is up.

She's a jumping machine. Insane. I don't feel the musicality as much, but she's doing really well.

Another clean program under the belt. She's earned it, but no doubt they'll send her to World's - they need her consistency to help the US secure its 2010 Olympic spots.

She's now in first with two to go.

Caroline Zhang: Fifteen years old. Mon dieu.

Opens with a clean triple-triple. Just popped off another clean combo jump. She's so petite and elegant. Ave Maria is perfect for her.

All jumps done. She's like one of those ballerinas on top of a music box. Did I already say this music is absolutely perfect for her? And she expresses the music too.

Those spins are madness. Absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful for her. So elegant; regarding the whole package I prefer her to Flatt (as solid as Flatt is). I swear it's not an Asian bias.

Alissa Czisny: This will be interesting. She’s so prone to meltdown but she deserves a great night. And hey, she’s got Brian Boitano on her side!

Yay, clean opening jump combo for her. Just knocked off another jump. She looks gorgeous and so light on her feet.

Damn. She just fell. Just doubled next jump. Sad.

Hung onto her double axel. Good for her. Such a bummer though; she looked terrific up to the fall.

Her spins are gorgeous. Such speed and position.

I want so bad for her lead from the short program to hold up but those two mistakes will be costly.

HOLY CRAP - she had enough to pull it out! She’s the national champion! I’m so thrilled for her! I love that she’s the “old lady” of the competition at 21. And she's a college student. Just love it all.

Final thoughts: If the ladies can keep up this momentum, this is a good sign for World's. They'll have home field advantage (LA) and assuming Czisny and Flatt stay on top of their game (I believe they can only send 2 to World's) they'll make a strong showing. I think they need something like 2 women to place with a combined finish of 13 or better at World's in order to get 3 spots for the Olympics (otherwise, they send 2) so it matters a lot that Flatt stay consistent and Czisny use her victory to stay confident and relaxed.

The push to the 2010 Olympics is going to fun. From this evening, Czisny, Flatt, Zhang, and Wagner no doubt all are itchy to go, plus there's Kimmie Meissner and Emily Hughes. And uber veterans Sasha Cohen and maybe even Michelle Kwan. There's plenty of storyline here.

No Skating Buzz, In Boston or Beyond

The US Figure Skating Championships start this weekend and I find myself utterly depressed. I’ve written before on the currently flat nature of women’s figure skating and this event has zero buzz. Short of USFSA’s post about ice dancers Belbin & Agosto withdrawing due to injury, and a couple of Ohio-based blogs that have announced the event (which takes place in Cleveland), a quick Google news search shows that there’s been no advance mainstream coverage.

Admittedly, I pay little attention to the men’s side (other than the fact that Evan Lysacek stands out as talented, classy, and kinda sexy), but there certainly seems enough fodder for storylines on the women’s side. Here - for the national and Boston media - are some easy, off the top of the head story launch points:

Alissa Czisny: She’s dazzling when she’s on, which unfortunately is not most of the time. Can she conquer her stage fright and pull out a great performance? If she hasn’t already, shouldn't she get herself to a sports psychologist? (Apparently this has been working great for Canadian Joannie Rochette.)

Rachael Flatt: Ever the underdog, could she make a quiet run for the gold this year?

Emily Hughes: Obviously, she’s been busy hitting the books at Harvard. Will she falter for lack of training or pull off a stunner of Olympic (sisterly) proportions?

Kimmie Meissner: It’s been a disappointing couple of years for Kimmie; wouldn’t it be great for her to make a massive comeback and regain her title? And per above note re: Czisny, is she seeing a sports shrink?

Mirai Nagasu: She’s struggled with growth since winning her national championship last year. Will she quiet her critics and defend her title?

Ashley Wagner: She impressed at nationals last year and seems to have a lot of poise and grace. Perhaps she’ll be a dark horse contender this year.

Caroline Zhang: Petite and elegant, she conjures (desperate?) visions of Michelle Kwan. Can she deliver this weekend and reignite figure skating's flame?

And locally, the Skating Club of Boston is represented twice - by Katrina Hacker and Brittney Rizo. I barely know who these people are despite the fact that they made it to the top 25 for the event and are representing Boston. This seems like easy material for the likes of the Boston Globe. They could even cheat and use Emily Hughes’ Boston presence (though she still represents the Skating Club of New York) to grab readers’ interest.

Hmm… Dear Boston media outlets, would you like to hire me as your figure skating and gymnastics correspondent? I’d do you proud.

Image credit: USFSA

Ivy Envy

I completely blame my Dad (may he rest in peace) for my interest in the Ivy League (most recently piqued by this New Yorker column on Ivy League percentages in presidential administrations). A classic Korean immigrant, my Dad was obsessed with Harvard. In fact, my parents settled in Belmont (a suburb next to Cambridge) so that all 7 of their kids could live at home and be but a short bus ride to Harvard (unfortunately, he went 0 for 7 on that dream). I wasn’t a good enough high school student to consider the Ivy’s for college, but by the time I finished my Master’s I was, and was accepted to several schools – including Cornell – for my Ph.D.

But then I was faced with a problem. Should I follow my (or rather, my father’s?) Ivy envy to Cornell, even though I was warned by multiple faculty members and students that my potential advisor was crazy, had an intellectual property lawsuit waged against her (by a former disgruntled graduate student), and that I should be prepared to change advisors (and fields entirely) if I came to Cornell? Was I tempting fate to walk into that situation with those famous suicide gorges nearby? Was it worth suffering 4-6 years of academic torture to attempt to validate my intellect with an Ivy League pedigree?

I ended up heading to Queen’s University in Canada, where the advisor seemed (and ended up being) the perfect fit, the tuition was a pittance, and my Master’s would actually count for something (at Cornell, they would have made me start over again). When I told my Dad about my decision, he hung up the phone on me and didn’t talk to me for 3 weeks. It wasn’t until sometime told him that Queen’s was considered the “Harvard of the North” (disputable, what with McGill and University of Toronto, but whatever…) that he perked up and started talking to me again.

Ivy envy apparently runs deep.

Giving Science A Bad Name

As a former psychologist who fastidiously dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s during my NIH-sponsored Ph.D. and postdoctoral research, and as a parent disturbed by our culture’s tendency to overmedicate, this story in the New York Times totally got my knickers in a twist. According to the Times, an inquiry led by Iowa Republican Charles Grassley has revealed troubling practices by Massachusetts General Hospital child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman. Biederman is a major player in the movement to increase the use of risky antipsychotic medicines in children. Among other drug makers, he has close ties to Johnson & Johnson, maker of the antipsychotic medication Risperdal.

Here’s a summary of what’s been uncovered so far:

1. Conflict of interest. Biederman leaned heavily on Johnson & Johnson to fund a research center at MGH, with one of the primary goals being “to move forward the commercial goals of J & J.”

2. Financial (non)disclosure. Biederman has pocketed and not disclosed vast sums of money from the drug industry, to the tune of “at least $1.4 million in outside income from Johnson & Johnson and other makers of antipsychotic medicines.”

3. Data suppression. In 2002, Biederman and Johnson & Johnson presented data to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, but suppressed the numbers that didn’t fit their story. Specifically, placebos improved just as well as kids given Risperdal (the dependent measures weren’t indicated), but only the improvement following use of Risperdal was reported.

The relationship between for-profit companies and the medical community has long been complex, particularly related to issue #1 above. However, assuming all of this evidence holds, Biederman’s professional and financial greed are deplorable. From a research perspective, it’s behavior such as this that makes grant processes more complicated for applicants (by eventually adding layers of red tape to attempt to safeguard against such practices), and also makes the general public wary of researchers (I’m speaking from experience, as someone who worked with clinical populations during my postdoctoral fellowship at MGH).

And as a parent, I can't help but feel even more skeptical about pharmaceutical research, which I realize – in blanket terms – is not fair to those working (I hope) for the greater good. One thing is for sure though; if my child was treated or included in a study by Biederman's team, I'd sure as hell be knocking on his door for answers right now.

Image credit: Massachusetts General Hospital

New Day, New Blog

I find that inspiration – and an intense, irrepressible need to act – often comes when I’m at-the-end-of-my-rope-busy. Like this week when - eyeballs deep in projects and deadlines - I decided to start this blog.

My history is this: I’m a lifelong Bostonian, first generation Korean, and the sixth of seven (intentionally conceived) children. I used to be a semi-professional violinist, but I knew that I wasn’t good enough to be fully professional, so I forged a related career in music psychology. (I later learned that this field was a gathering place for other former semi-professional musicians.) I spent 10 years honing my expertise in music and brain processes, won prestigious grants from the NIH, and made it to the hallowed halls of Harvard and MIT for my postdoctoral fellowship.

Then in 2006, I decided to jump academic ship in pursuit of more creative pastures. I founded Boston Mamas (a stylish resource portal for families in Boston and beyond) and, shortly thereafter, gave my design work an official place in the world by launching Posh Peacock. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, serving as the managing editor for a music psychology journal, and writing on kiddo issues for Care.com and Shoestring Magazine.

Last but not least, I’m mother to an amazing 4-year-old daughter and have a really spectacular husband. But I won’t bore you with those happy details.

So now you’re wondering, why Pop Discourse? Why now, when I already grumble about being short on hours, sleep, and time to enjoy cocktails with my girlfriends?

Well, I’ve always been a person who relies heavily on gut instinct, from the trivial (should I buy that pair of black pumps even though I already have 5 pairs in the closet?) to the maternal (is my baby really sick or is this just run of the mill daycare-inspired boogers?) to the major (should I flush my Ph.D. down the toilet?). And as I’ve become more immersed in social media, I’ve strangely found that there’s been no space for my personal discourse on pop culture, either contextually (given that Boston Mamas is resource driven and the Posh Peacock blog is for my design work) or literally (the personal voice I share on Twitter is limited to 140 characters per thought).

So here I arrived at Pop Discourse. A place where I can give voice to my fascination with the intersecting streams of pop culture, the intellectually interesting or absurd, motherhood, and trying to “make it work” (I heart you, Tim Gunn) as a modern woman. I hope you’ll stop by, tell your friends, and share in the discourse.