The Thing About New Years’ Resolutions

DefaultUncroppedMegan Grammatico, ’15

Full disclosure: I spent the two weeks after New Years’ groaning about the amount of people at the gym. To be fair, it was always packed. Not college-kids-home-from break sort of packed, but the “every New Years Resolutioner that vowed to get healthy in the New Year descended on my tiny YMCA gym” kind of packed that ultimately convinced me to run (read: freeze and give up) outside rather than wait for a treadmill. As I was leaving, the woman working the desk said to me “just give it a week, and they’ll all be gone.” I laughed a little and left, but the comment made me think about New Years Resolutions in general, and how easy it is to get sucked into a mentality that is both unsustainable and unhealthy.

First of all, let me be entirely clear that if your resolution is to get healthy this New Year, good for you! Take up all the space at the gym that you need—a commitment, new or old, to fitness and health is something we should encourage and admire; not groan because there’s a tiny wait for a treadmill. With that said, if your anything like me, your list of New Years Resolutions can easily start to look like a “Things I’m Going to do in 2015 to Be The Perfect Person” list. When I went back on my computer to look at mine after leaving the gym, I actually laughed out loud. It was an entire page long, broken down into sections and sub-sections: academics, fitness, professional goals, and books to read. It was ridiculous, and it would have failed miserably. Despite my best efforts to resist, I had once again gotten sucked into the allure of doing everything perfectly. It’s a temptation that us first-born perfectionists have to be particularly on guard against—tying your identity to your achievements pretty much always ends badly.

So, rather than having a crazy list of resolutions that involve Doing All The Things and Being All The Things, I decided I would take a different approach this year. Rather than an obsessive list of goals and rules and obligations to meet, I decided to make a list of things I’m not going to try harder on in 2015. For me, this is about giving myself permission to be imperfect, permission to slow down, and permission to let some things just fall by the wayside. And so, I give you, Friarside readers, my 2015 anti-New Years Resolutions:

Things I am Not Going to Try Harder on in 2015:

  1. Being on time. Five minutes has never changed anything (except maybe brain surgery, and that’s not exactly on my list of daily activities). If the Dunkin line is going to make me 3 minutes late for class, so be it. One of my favorite things about living abroad was learning that an obsession with punctuality is more of an American cultural phenomenon than anything else. It’s just not something I’m going to worry about this year.
  1. Trying to make Not My People happy. There are important people in my life: family, close friends, roommates—they matter, and I will try as hard as I can to make their lives easier and happier. Everyone else? Not something I can control, so I refuse to worry about it.
  1. Counting carbs/calories/any number that has to do with food. If I can eat reasonably healthy, most of the time, that’s good enough for me. Brownies are good for your soul. And don’t dare try to tell me the amount of calories in Panera mac’n’cheese. Ignorance is cheesy, delicious, not-good-for-my-lactose-intolerance bliss.

That’s it. Those are my resolutions for 2015. Try it: go ahead and cross out any ridiculous resolution that you’ll abandon by mid-February. We don’t need to manufacture failure—real life does that well enough on its own.

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“Someday” is Right Now


DefaultUncroppedMegan Grammatico ’15

I had a very thought-provoking conversation with a sophomore that I was working with in the Writing Center a few days ago. She was stressing about her study abroad application, due in a few short weeks, and she asked me if I had gone abroad. When I told her that I had spent some of the best months of my junior year (and my life, if we’re being honest) in Copenhagen, Denmark, her face fell a little. “Everyone keeps SAYING that,” she said, almost exasperatedly. “But there’s so much to worry about here—I’ll just travel someday when I’m older. I have to plan my classes and make my double major work and study for the LSAT and and and…” I listened, and nodded empathetically, and told her I understood, because I did. That girl, the freaked out one that has her life planned for the next five years, that makes a schedule broken down by hour because it’s the only way she can be absolutely sure not to drop any of the million-and-one-balls she has in the air at any given time—she was me. She was me, and she was stressed out and unhappy and so worried about planning her life that she was forgetting to actually live it. I wish I had had time to explain to her what living abroad had meant for me, how much it changed me, but the appointment ended, and I mumbled some tired cliché about seizing opportunities that present themselves, and we both headed off to the next thing on our to-do lists.

I thought about this girl all day, and all of the things that I wished I had said to her. I wish I had told her about the jumble of excitement and terror you feel when you wave goodbye to your sobbing mom and cheerfully waving dad at the airport gate. I wish I had told her about the feeling on that first morning, when you wake up confused because it’s five a.m and you’ve never woken up so early on your own and the snow is swirling outside and you’re so out of your element, out of your comfort zone, that you want to crawl back in bed for the day but the excited part of you insists on waking up, on getting started. I wish I had told her about buying a bike from a random Swiss graduate student, and learning to ride said bike in downtown Copenhagen traffic. I wish I had told her about the incredible friends you make; the visiting family parents that start to feel like your own parents, only better because they always seem to be refilling your wine glass. I wish so much that I had told her how empowering it is to plan a trip to a place you’ve only read about in books, to budget and figure out details and logistics and landmarks, only to wind up winging it, asking strangers for directions in badly accented French that you sort of remember from middle school, and sleeping on the floor of a one room flat with some of the best friends you’ll ever have. I wish I could have told her that map-reading is actually a pretty valuable life skill, that Wi-Fi is never to be taken for granted, that you absolutely can wear the exact same thing you wore yesterday, just as long as you change your scarf. I wish I had told her that you should do one thing every single day that terrifies you, even if it is jumping in the frozen ocean in the middle of February because that’s what the local people do.

On the plane ride home from Copenhagen, I read a quote that stuck with me. Terry Pratchett, the author of A Hat Full of Sky, says:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving”

Pratchett is right. Though I don’t live in Copenhagen anymore, and I don’t spend my weekends and exploring Europe, I try, everyday, to live the way that I did when I was all of those places. I think that you should try it too. Stop planning every second of everyday. Stop to notice sunsets, and resist the urge to Instagram them. Linger over meals to talk a little bit longer with people that love you. Do something scary, or do something brave, or do something you’ve always wanted to do but could never quite find the time. I can’t tell you what those things are. They’re different for everyone.

Most of all, most importantly, stop living for someday. We all do it; the conversation in our heads usually goes a little something like this “I’ll be happy once finals are over, or I finish this paper, or once I find a job for next year, or get accepted to graduate school or finally meet someone I really like—then I’ll have time to be happy”. Though I could have told the girl in the Writing Center hours of stories about the joys of living abroad, what I really wish I had told her is this: “someday” is right now. “Someday” is happening this very minute, not tomorrow or next week or next year. “Someday” is very quickly going to become yesterday, and what you can do right now is make sure it’s worth remembering.

In Defense of Good Science

Megan Grammatico ’15

I have to preface this: the whole making waves and writing blog posts thing? Not me. I’ve always been a keep-your-opinion-to-yourself kind of girl, and I’m usually of the mind that there are plenty of people out there that know a lot more than me. But yesterday I checked my email, and I was horrified. Horrified enough to need to say something, and not just by texting my dad to vent. So here goes: 

By now, you’ve heard. PC is once again buzzing about a speaker invited to campus by the philosophy department—talking about what else? Homosexuality, of course. This speaker is Dr. Michelle Cretella, M.D.  Her talk has been billed as being “attentive to science and to faith,” but a quick googling of her name and credentials reveals a pretty big problem with the “science” part. I am not going to go into the academic freedom thing. I am also going to stay away from the fundamental lack of regard this shows for PC’s LGBTQ population, since others have already done that far more succinctly and eloquently that I could. But there is another angle here, and it is one worth considering.

Dr. Cretella is a board-certified pediatrician, as well as the vice president of the American College of Pediatricians. The American College of Pediatricians is a socially conservative organization that formed in 2002 as part of a protest regarding the American Academy of Pediatrics support of adoption by gay and lesbian couples. Among other things, it advocates support for selective parental use of corporal punishment in child discipline, support for abstinence-based sex education, and discouraging the adoption of children by same-sex couples or single parents. Many of the views it holds are in direct contradiction with the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is

a professional membership organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults”.

For comparison purposes, the American College of Pediatricians does not disclose its membership statistics (trust me, I looked everywhere) but Wikipedia estimates its membership to be between 60 and 200 members. So herein lies the first problem. Dr. Cretella is already biased. She is the vice president of an organization that was formed originally to oppose adoption by gay and lesbian couples, and relies on bad science to do so. See the heavily criticized research of Mark Regnerus here.

I might be going out on a limb, but it seems to me that an organization founded to protest a sociopolitical issue cannot be very scientifically objective.

Dr. Cretella’s talk poster also advertises her position on the Board of Directors of that National Association for Research of Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). NARTH’s stated mission is to provide service to those with “unwanted same-sex attraction”—a fancy way of saying that they support “conversion therapy,” a practice that has been denounced by the American Psychiatric Association as most certainly not beneficial and quite possibly harmful. The APA says this:

Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.”

So let’s get this straight. The philosophy department invited a speaker who belongs to two organizations that expressly contradict the viewpoints of major, established, well-respected groups (the APA and the AAP). Furthermore, the groups that Dr. Cretella belongs to rely on misuse and misrepresentation of the work that other scientists have done. At Providence College, we have a name for misusing or misrepresenting the work of another author: we call that plagiarism.  For example, in 2010, the work of Dr. Gary Remafedi, a pediatrician at the University of Minnesota, was used by the organization in a pamphlet mailed out to superintendents across the country to advocate not supporting gay and lesbian students that come out in high school. This was most certainly not what the body of Remafedi’s research as a whole was saying. In fact, Dr. Remafedi wrote a letter to the American College of Pediatricians that reads in part:

“Dear colleagues,

I am deeply concerned about misstatements attributed to our research on the “Facts about Youth” website of the American College of Pediatricians (http://factsaboutyouth.com/ [accessed on April 12, 2010]), as they appear in the “Letter to School Officials” and “What You Should Know as a School Official.”

The first reference to our research in these documents deceptively states: “Rigorous studies demonstrate that most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25. In one study, as many as 26% of 12-year-olds reported being uncertain of their sexual orientation1…”

Although the finding (“26% of 12-year-olds…”) is accurately reported, the sentence preceding it invites misinterpretation. Our original interpretation, as presented in the discussion section of the paper, is: “Taken together, these data suggest that uncertainty about sexual orientation and perceptions of bisexuality gradually give way to heterosexual or homosexual identification with passage of time and/or with increasing sexual experience.” 

The letter goes on to ask that all reference to his work be removed from the website, a request with which the American College of Pediatricians did not comply. On top of totally misrepresenting his work by taking several statements completely out of context, in all the citations of Remafedi’s work by the American College of Pediatricians, his name was spelled wrong. That makes me doubtful those at the American College of Pediatricians even read Remafedi’s work in its totality; it certainly does not increase my confidence in the scientific accuracy of what ACP claims.

I came to Providence College to get an education. I have spent the last almost-three years studying biology and neuroscience at PC, and I have been lucky to have incredible professors. But my professors are not just good teachers—they are excellent scientists. And through my biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology classes and lab work, I have learned a lot about the way good science is done. It relies on a special methodology, a certain “way of knowing” that insists that hypotheses must be made, tested, challenged, supported, challenged again, tested again, and only “accepted” until evidence to the contrary presents itself. So, if Dr. Cretella is going to bill her talk as being “attentive to science,” I would hope that she was going to discuss the myriad of studies done by the APA, the AAP, the American Sociological Association (ASA) and other reputable pediatric scientists—but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case at all. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem for the reputation of the school, particularly in a year when negative publicity by the New York Times was discussed ad nauseum. In a very short time, myself and many other science students will apply to graduate school or medical school. When institutions we apply to see the name of our school, we need it to be synonymous with the well-respected, Catholic institution that provided an excellent education in both liberal arts and biology that it is. We just don’t need any media claims that Providence College cannot distinguish between science and pseudoscience—it does the reputation of our students, faculty, and institution great harm.

Let’s be clear: I have absolutely no problem with Dr. Cretella coming to talk about her moral, religious, and philosophical convictions regarding homosexuality. In keeping with academic freedom and my belief that good people, people of faith, can respectfully disagree about this while still upholding human dignity, she absolutely should come to campus and present her viewpoint—no respondent necessary. My issue lies solely with the way the talk has been advertised. It is not going to be “attentive to science” because the positions of the organizations Dr. Cretella is a part of are not attentive to science.

If she is going to put the fancy letters after her name, and call herself a doctor and scientist, she should probably keep in mind the first and most important part of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” Inviting a speaker to campus, and advertising her as a scientist, while she advocates for the “curing” of homosexuality, does great harm. I trust my doctor. I do not thoroughly vet every piece of advice that she gives me with my own research, because I truly believe she will live up to the highest standards of her profession, and give me only the most up to date, well-researched, evidence-based advice that she can. I do not think this is uncommon among most patients, and I shudder to think of the harm that might be caused if her position is taken as medically sound by LGBT students (because, well, she’s a DOCTOR). Furthermore, though I in no way downplay the message this sends to the LGBTQ students and faculty at PC, this false advertising is harmful to the college as whole. And you know what? That’s worth a totally-out-of-character, opinionated blog post about. 

CITATIONS: (Because good authors, like good scientists, cite their work)