Weekend Reading, 5.12.19
May 12, 2019

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Happy Sunday, all, and Happy Mother’s day to those who are celebrating it. I’m bringing my mom vegan cake, among other treats, and taking her to dinner. She was honored for her career in teaching this week, and I’m glad that she’s being appreciated on so many fronts.

Few family relationships are uncomplicated, at least in my experience, but I’m blessed to have a pretty special relationship with my mom. Still, a skill I’ve picked up as an only child with a small nuclear family is to create family in as many dimensions as possible. Today has me thinking about all of the women who’ve mentored and nurtured me outside of my relationship with my mom.

Many of these mother figures have been yoga teachers. They’ve taught me how to respect my body, how to communicate my needs, and how to let care in. One teacher, who’s still a good friend, demonstrated this to me with particularly poignancy a few months after a tough breakup two years ago. I’d been limping through her class, spending most of my time in child’s pose because it’s all I could do at that time.

One day, when she was instructing us on an inversion, she had us all gather along one part of the wall of the room. I inched myself as far away as I could from the other students, hoping that I could curl up on my mat and go unwitnessed. “Gena, please join us,” Christine said. When I dutifully joined the rest of the class, she placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered to me “you need to be around people right now.”

It was OK for her to say this because we were close and she knew what was going on. And she was right. I’d been hiding in my apartment for weeks by then, and I did need to be reminded that I could be suffering and held in a community at the same time.

Other mother figures have been professors who took the time to challenge me when I needed it most. I’m thinking of my genetics professor at Georgetown; after the first exam of the semester it looked as if I was at risk to flounder in the class, as I had in so many others. I visited her office hours with an air of defeat. She looked at me across her desk and said, “I don’t think this is about ability, Gena. Right now, your discouragement is your worst enemy.” I dug in my heels, worked harder than ever, and I’ve never been prouder for ending up in the center of the curve.

I’m thinking, too, of my undergraduate thesis advisor, who’s still a friend. I remember arriving at her office hours in the middle of my senior year and announcing that I wasn’t going to write a thesis at all. I was coasting by easily that year, suddenly a lot more interested in my social life than in school, exhausted of trying to exceed expectations.

Amanda paused and told me very directly that if I didn’t write a thesis, I’d wrap up my entire undergrad experience with yet another 8-10 page paper—one I could probably write in my sleep at that point. It was my choice to do that, she told me, but wouldn’t it be more interesting to tackle one more big puzzle before I graduated? She went on to explain how we could put it together in such a way that it wouldn’t be too much of a burden.

I didn’t love writing the thesis, and I’m not sure how good it actually was. But printing it five minutes before the deadline and sprinting across campus to turn it in on a spectacular spring afternoon is actually the most vivid and happy memory I have of my last few weeks at school. It felt like a culmination, something to commemorate my experience with, and I’ve never been sorry that I wrote it.

Before I started working in book publishing, I heard lots of stories about how women could be competitive and unkind to each other in the workplace. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but it’s not the experience that I had. I had two female colleagues at the publishing house where I worked. Both took the time to mentor me, support me, and share work with me. They taught me a lot about professional graciousness, among other things.

Nowadays, a lot of my relationships with women who are a little older and wiser than me take the form of camaraderie that also holds space for mentorship and the gentle passing along of wisdom. I have a few yoga friends who I can relate to in this way, and I’ve formed these kinds of bonds through blogging, too. It is such a gift, and it gives me a sense of how I might befriend and nurture women younger than me in the future.

Today I’m sending gratitude to all of the women who have taken time to be generous, loving, and supportive with me. I’ll pay it forward in good time. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

I’m drooling over Joy’s roasted cauliflower plantain tacos (and the lemony pesto that accompanies them).

I’ve never made a vegan calzone, and these tempeh calzones are the place I’d like to start!

Kate’s recipes are foolproof, and I can’t wait to try her version of mujaddara.

This creamy vegan sausage pasta skillet is most definitely my kinda comfort food.

For dessert—and as the temperatures rise—I can’t wait to try Jessica’s frozen peanut butter & jelly bars!

Reads

1. One of my coworkers is observing Ramadan, and she has taught me a lot about the month and her experiences each year. This article includes helpful information about how to communicate questions and curiosity about Ramadan or fasting in the workplace.

2. The Atlantic reports on new types of software that can measure brain volume. Coupled with MRIs, they may be able to help neurologists to better screen, diagnose, and formulate treatment plans.

3. An interesting look at what happens when good things become ruts—or rather, the whole life cycle of a good thing. (I liked the tie-in to “second acts” of relationships.)

4. I loved this article, which details how an art therapy project in an Alaska Native village helps teens talk about suicide in their community.

5. If I learned about anything in my long-term care and acute care rotations, it was dysphagia. Still, dysphagia—which is difficulty swallowing—receives relatively little mainstream attention in spite of how common it can be in clinical settings, and how significant its nutritional implications are. This Mosaic article isn’t new, but it’s detailed, and it explains more.

Have a wonderful Sunday, friends. A new recipe is on the way this week.

xo

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    4 Comments
  1. Dear Gena, I loved your tribute to other women who mother and mentor us, in addition to our relationship with our biological moms. It brought back loving memories of me finding refuge in my art teacher’s kitchen at age 13 or so. When I needed a break I knew I could always ride my bike over there and hang out, just sitting on a stool and visiting while she fixed dinner, mixed paint. whatever she happened to be doing, she always welcomed me. Later when I was closer to the age . you are now, it was my yoga teacher who mothered me, in that way, always opening her home to me and taking the time to listen and to bring me into deeper practice, whatever I was going through. (She was the one who first introduced me to astrogolical chart reading and encouraged me to keep going with it.) Given all this I was especially touched by your account of how your own yoga teacher, a trusted confidant, gently brought you closer in to the circle of human support in the class when she saw you most needed it. We are indeed blessed by the mothering that comes to us when we most need it, and often from someone who is not our actual mother. On another note, I haven’t read the article on dysphasia yet, but I was moved to see it. I have swallowing struggles from time to time due to the MS, which have improved with change in diet over the years, but which are something I always have to watch if I get too tired, have talked too long, etc. Thanks for another wonderful spectrum of awareness and delicious looking vegan food, too. Love you!

  2. Gena,

    I am all over that Mujadarra recipe! Thank you. And I read the article about what to say (and not to say) to Muslims during Ramadan. A little sensitivity never hurt anyone.

    Your commentary about others that serve as a kind of “mother/mentor” to us is wonderful and timely. (I just wrote a piece about my own Mom and the women in my life who have mothered me over the years.) I just recently too had a conversation with a friend who is older than me. She mentioned that over the years she has sought out older women for advice. She takes it or discards it as needed. She also echoed my own growing thoughts about listening to younger women. I have been trying to do this more and more, believing it to be helpful and that it will keep me connected and up to date:)

    Hope that your Sunday with your mom goes well and that the week ahead is a good one. Thank you for the post.
    Libby

  3. Thanks Gena for bringing attention to dysphagia! I recently had a six week bout of it (I am now very much improved) for a variety of reasons, some of which are really unknown and I can tell you how frightening and dreadful it is. I was embarrassed because I never really heard of such a thing. I did a lot of reading and reached out to other people (on FB) who had dysphagia, and it’s very difficult. Food is so much a part of our lives, and the sharing of food, all our holidays and social occasions center around food, even work meetings sometimes. I am thankful it was a relatively short time for me, but it really opened my eyes to how difficult it must be to live with that condition.

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