How To Be Healthier*


*Spoiler alert, it involves people having more resources.

Unless your mother was some kind of kitchen Goddess who didn’t work, if you are poor, chances are fairly good that you have pretty limited access to healthy food. Unless you somehow attended a really great school or maybe if you were lucky enough to live in a major city, chances are also fairly decent you didn’t have the ability to exercise either (those of you who think walking is “free” and “easy” have never been a young teen girl in the hood). The end result of these two conditions being that there is a high risk of obesity. Now, if on top of those two things you also had a physical disability like I do, it’d be pretty easy to understand how I gained so much weight after I got injured and was no longer teaching. And gain weight I did. I won’t be posting any numbers of how much I weighed and lost because 1) this isn’t about that and 2) I haven’t owned a scale but in the intervening time between this year and the last I went from a size 16 to a 6 bordering on a 4. Considering that a year and half ago, I was in a wheel-chair this is somewhat miraculous so I wanted to talk about how I did it because the context matters.

I’m physically healthier and in less pain, which was my goal but I’m not going to pretend I’m not vain and a saint and don’t appreciate the side benefit of how much better I’m treated when I’m thin. So how did I do it?

The answer all people will tell you is hard work, discipline and routine and those are all true in my case. I built an exercise routine that I am now in the habit of that was safe for me and I watched what, how much and where I was eating.

But this oversimplifies and obscures the discussion, making it easy to dismiss things like “food deserts” and “access to resources” with lectures about trying super hard.

What I did anyone could do with enough time and money, but I would never have been able to do it, if I didn’t get out of teaching and North Highlands.


1) I had to have access to good food and transportation. The nearest grocery store with lots of produce is several miles away and I was too sick to manage the shopping and cooking, making me reliant on others and what was available, which was mostly processed food.

2) I literally did not have anywhere to really maintain yoga or walk to in North Highlands

3) My stress levels needed to decrease for my pain to decrease for me to exercise, which wasn’t going to happen with the way I was living.

4) I didn’t have access to pain management and medical care that allowed me to exercise.

5) I now have access to medical marijuana, which allowed me to get off the opiates, which has allowed me to exercise and eat better as well as solving most of my stomach issues. 

Now that I’m able to actually “take a break” (thanks to the socialism of marriage) and have access to all the food and medical care I need, I’m able to be healthier, in less pain, and happier with myself. But we never talk about the context that is required to achieve that goal or the fact that it’s a collosal waste to have people like me suffering when they could be functional and healthy. And it’s also a very costly one, because so many of my catastrophic injuries and problems could have been avoided with access to resources, thereby decreasing the burden of my medical costs.

And here’s the fun secret: there’s really no reason we can’t all have these things. We just choose not to evaluate how we design out cities, provide medical care or distribute food. 

Or we can keep shaming people on the Internet. That seems to be working.


The Feminist Who Took His Name


Since entering my late twenties, my Facebook feed, and general social life has been inundated with a series of articles and questions shaming me for whatever it is that I am doing as a woman. And there is a difference between close friends asking about my life and random people I don’t know thinking my body and life is somehow public property. People keep asking me to justify my choices while I’m just trying to get some froyo and do my grocery shopping. And if it’s not enough that I have to justify to the people that don’t think my choices/ behavior/demeanor / attitude /intelligence are appropriately femininely, I have to justify them to the people who seem to think a gold star gets handed out every time you make some choice that defies gender stereotypes, authentically or no. So I’m a very bad feminist when I bake cookies, but if I do physics, I’m going to die alone or something. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So I was originally going to keep my mouth shut about one of the choices I didn’t want to have to talk about, but then articles telling me that I was letting my husband oppress me because I took his name kept popping up in my feed and being real seems to be the only way to ever to get people to stop asking prying questions.


So yes, I did take my husband’s last name when I got married. No it’s not because I don’t care about feminism.


The reason I took my husband’s last name is because I grew up in the kind of home where no one knows who your siblings are because you all have different last names, and the first day of school is always torturous because someone inevitably reveals that fact the minute your name is called, which is sort of like wearing a badge that says, “broken home” on it. The person whose name is listed on my birth certificate once held a gun to my head while I was an infant, so I could continue to bear the name of my very real oppressor or I could change it. So I did, at the end of college. But it never felt right, because it didn’t solve the problem of my feeling somehow separate from the people I called family because my last name happened to be different. So when I got a shot at a fresh start and a new name, I took it. I took it even though I read those articles and even though I’ve read a lot of feminist literature. Because for me, my last name has been a marker of oppression my entire life so I don’t have fond associations with it or a strong identity attached to it. It’s changed like six times in my life already because of re-marriages and such, whereas my husband feels extremely attached to his name.


The practical reality of the names is this: it actually really does make your life a lot more difficult to have a different name than the rest of your family, and when you marry you are creating a new family (and if you aren’t comfortable with that fact, know that the institution is not mandatory). Marriage itself has patriarchical roots, but most of us will do it anyway because we fall in love and because it has practical implications, like the fact that I can now visit my husband on his deathbed because I’m his wife and legally they can’t tell me no. Or the fact that we can’t be legally compelled to testify against each other when the inevitable purge happens.


You could just as easily take the women’s name, or if you are same sex, one side’s name, I don’t really care. Different cultures do it differently. And if hyphenating or making up a new name for your family works for you, that’s awesome, too, though I’ll ask you to consider what happens when two hyphens fall in love. This isn’t about my gender identity. My husband was attached to his name and I wanted to get rid of mine. So from the outside this looked like a very conventional and conservative choice, but it was rooted in several conscious decisions made between two free thinking people. We had long, thought out, adult conversations about it, like we do about all things because we are two smart and highly verbal people. If roles had been reversed, you’d talk about how progressive and cool my husband is (and believe me, he deserves it for a million other reasons).


Now some people keep their names for professional reasons and that’s cool, but I’ve already changed my names several times in life and I’ve found that people adjust. Plus that concern didn’t override the deep emotional concerns and practical concerns that have haunted me my whole life.


The point here is that institutions are fluid, relative and they mean whatever we decide they mean and in a pluralistic society, they will mean different things to different people at different times. My husband’s last name is not the symbol of oppression that my last name is because that’s how I’ve experienced the world. We should all come together and say, “sister, do you and I will back you to the end of hell and back” about literally every stupid thing we are going to get judged about. That would be true liberation and self actualization or at minimum it would cut down on the number of times people are rude and hurtful in social gatherings about things that are none of their business.


My name has changed. If for some reason, you don’t like using Mrs. Raffin, you may still call me Heather. Or the artist formally known as Ms. Charles. Oh Captain my captain is one I’ve always been fond of. Or Helessi which is obviously a combination of Khalessi and Heather. Whatever you are comfortable with.


I got married. I didn’t have a lobotomy.