Let us eat cake.

Even in its most predictable form, a wedding cake is never just a cake. It's a symbol (and, might we add, a really old one) that's stuffed with centuries of well-wishes and superstitions for a newlywed couple. From the days of piling up sweet rolls for couples to kiss over for luck to the fruit cakes that were said to bring fertility, wedding cakes are as much a sign of the start of a life together as they are an ever-evolving treat to cap wedding festivities.

Last night, a senate bill sat on the desk of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that was, of course, not just a bill. Its contents contained an unprecedented opportunity for a state to write discrimination of LGBT people into public policy rather than alleviate it. If you've been watching this case unfold over the last few months, it's worth noting what has provoked these politicians to the point of drafting and ultimately clearing such a bill.

Wedding cakes -- that's what has gotten us here. Not just any wedding cakes, but "gay" wedding cakes (which is a weird, albeit accurate thing to write). For the past few months, those of us that follow the gay wedding industry closely have watched a mounting debate form with fervor over the right to deny LGBT couples wedding services based on religious freedom. Same-sex couples have sued (and won) against cake companies that have refused their business just for being gay. And this heat has not just stayed in the kitchen.

This has also been a contentious issue for wedding photographers, vendors and plenty of other wedding industry service providers. Ultimately, this confectionary chaos has trickled into our legal system, coinciding unsurprisingly in states left and right (most recently Texas) overturning constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which seems like an obvious move both politically and morally. But this is surely not the last public conversation of its kind. It doesn't actually even stop discrimination from occurring in Arizona since there is no statewide law protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation. Plus, there are others just like SB 1062 floating around senate chambers, with the same real threat to LGBT couples. And though the majority of the public seems to be opposed to such legislation, the rest should consider this:

Marriages evolve, and so do wedding cakes. Oftentimes, they evolve together. Anyone who's been to a wedding in the last five years can attest to this. Fast dwindling are the days of stuffy cakes topped with a static, formal couple. Some cakes now show off a couple sandwiched between Fido watching Netflix, while others display a wife in her dress -- and her husband's tuxedo pants. Some cakes aren't even cakes at all, but a cupcake display or a dressed-up cheese wheel.

The point is, stopping same-sex couples from ordering cake is not going to slow progress on marriage equality. Cakes are changing because marriage is changing.

And with that, we hope bakers keep serving up a slice of marriage for all couples, in their infinite flavors and colors. We say, let them eat cake.

Let's Take Women (And Their Health) Seriously

Despite working as a writer in New York City, I'm admittedly uninterested in television ads. Still, there was no way to avoid the fanfare of Always' Super Bowl commercial "Run like a Girl," which shows the pervasive cultural misgivings towards half the population as weak, whiny and wimpy (unbeknownst, of course, to pre-puberty girls who don't yet realize they aren't their brothers equals). 

If our aim is a world where those girls (and boys) can truly "run like a girl," they're going to need strong hearts for all of it. No -- this isn't impassioned code for emotional resilience and empathy (though these matter, too). I'm talking about those young girl's literal, not figurative hearts, with so much life still left in them. They deserve a shot at so many things: one of them is a life free of heart disease.

The "Run Like a Girl" commercial shows a disconnect between how we anticipate women will act and how they actually do. Similarly, there's an inconceivable gap between our perceptions of women's hearts and their reality. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. A future president, mother, wife, scientist, sister, and boss dies roughly every minute from it. More (dis)heartening still: most, if not all of these deaths are preventable, trailing a wake of modern preventative care, drugs and surgery.

Heart disease rates among men have been steadily declining, while women's rate of decline has been slower. A very important factor? Women's heart disease symptoms can look starkly different from men's. Contrary to the pervasive myth that you have to go down on a shag rug clutching your chest and wailing in pain to be having a heart attack, women frequently experience subtle and often dismissible symptoms they're trained to ignore, like problems breathing, fatigue, stomach aches, and a vague sense of uneasiness. Many women think they have the flu, acid reflux, or are just plain exhausted. I'm speaking partly through statistics, and partly through heuristics.

I'm one of those women. I'm also 25, and had open heart-surgery a little over a year ago. Oh, and that's another thing. Heart disease is a numbers game, but not so far as age is concerned. My own taxing and bewildering journey into uncovering aortic stenosis was different than anything I've ever heard a doctor explain it as.

I can't speak for the thousands of women around the world living with heart disease. I just know for myself that many of my most telling symptoms were the ones that I had the most push back on from doctors. When I felt a progressive and unshakeable feeling of impending doom, I was told that I had anxiety. When I battled to get out of bed after spending 13 hours a night sleeping, I was told that I was probably depressed. I called my cardiologist's office twice in the month before my surgery and told them I felt like I was dying, without feeling like I ever met a human on the other end of that line. Unsurprisingly, that's also around the time I learned I had an aneurysm.

Statistically, women are significantly more likely than men to have their heart disease symptoms ignored by a health care provider or hospitalThey are also twice as likely to die in the first year after a heart attack. For so many, as opposed to being treated as a woman, we're treated like women, with symptoms standing in for a person. And like those girls in the commercial, I've had to fight really hard to be taken seriously.

So why does this all matter?

Because women matter, and public health is not just a feminist's cause. When half of our population isn't taken care of, we all pay, whether it's financially or in other ways. 

We've been given a false choice that to be treated equally means to be treated the same as far as our health goes. Let's move towards holistic health solutions that account for gender, but aren't prejudice against it. We are half of the workers and parents and people of this planet. We are your partners, and contemporaries, and family and friends. We're in your heart, and you're in ours. And we need to give those girls an excuse to run faster.

A Dangerous Rhetoric

"Rhetoric" is a term that many of us collectively harness when we smack into a political wall. Though I've studied this word enough to understand that phrase to be a simplistic reduction, I get why we use it this way. Rhetoric is, at its simplest, a river. It's the systematic shell that holds whatever we put into it and takes shape from collective pressure. So whether we get a waterfall or a still lake speaks more to the water than the river itself.

What I'm saying is, it's not the shell of a structure that offers a disingenuous, calculating voice in our political sphere that exercises forced logic. People do that.

Likewise, bills becoming laws isn't an inherently evil system. And acknowledging that the collision of rhetoric and laws as the space of public disruption is certainly healthy for a progressive society. It isn't about language systems, but how we use words. It isn't a signature on a bill, but what we're buying into.

And if you can't extract the individual drops of water from a river and still understand what the river looks like, then we also can't talk about a single discriminatory law without understanding our cultural vantage point. We might not have all held the pen as Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the "religious freedom act" into law, but we are all in the room.

I'm not going to talk about nihilistic business practices at play here that are going to seriously hurt the state. Nor the historical connection to other discriminatory laws hiding under the pretext of group protection, like the wave of immigration-focused voting policies purporting to protect against "voter fraud." There are, obviously, many examples to pool from. But I think what's more important is how we can break this conversation, or rhetorical cycle.

Our cultural vantage point above this dam that's about to break is the bifurcation of "freedom of conscience" as somehow at odds with our role as public citizens. Personal and collective conscience are not the same thing, but we've increasingly expected them to be. That's like asking one drop of water to tell the river where to go. Or one business owner to decide for thousands of people where they are and are not allowed to shop. We've siloed personal conscience so now it solely applies to anyone with a deeply held religious belief. That's not good for any of us -- including those people with deeply held religious beliefs.

What good have we done when we talk about "freedom of conscience" as if it's just in reference to our desire to experience everything we ever think and believe played out on a public stage? I'm not a psychiatrist, but that's a textbook definition of narcissism. Maybe it's time we all get our heads checked. Or maybe, more accurately, it's time to get our words in check.

In psychics, there's a law that says you can solve for all variables, but not at the same time. So, too, can people believe all things both in and out of their homes, but not necessarily at the same time.

We should always hope that the basic semblance of truth is situationally self-evident, whether it's in Indiana or Iran. But maybe, like rhetoric and laws, that's not enough. Let's not hope that the "right" answer is carried victorious without a current. We have to identify what motions we're making to signal to some transparent mechanism that we are indeed flowing the right way.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-hubbard/...

Twice Broken

Originally published on The Huffington Post

I had none of my signature red lipstick on, no hoop earrings or stacks of rings to identify me. I don't even think I bothered to bring my purse in. I looked quite barren, much like a canvas without paint. If not for the redemption of my white blonde pixie cut and blue eyes, a small reminder of my personality and frame for my naked skin, I might have disappeared into the hospital walls completely.

Most of us are willing to make allowances in our lives for small, mundane changes -- a new haircut, a tweak to mom's beloved dinner classic or an acknowledgment that those great jeans don't fit quite like they used to. We can also accept, with time and a little effort, the tonal shifts that make us more malleable, and dare I say better people, whether that means reevaluating a stagnant relationship or picking up and moving away for a promising career.

Change might be the current that carries us, but that doesn't mean its waters are always tepid. Or that it comes on our terms. The italics above came from my own shaky hand, scrawled on a scrap piece of hospital visitor paper. I had bandages and medical tape running the length of my sternum. I was also 24, and five days out from open-heart surgery. This, as you could imagine, was not change that I asked for. Nonetheless, this was the change that I got.

But this is not actually an essay about open heart surgery. Anyone who has spent time as a paper doll replica of a human, with machines contracting out the work of vital organs, knows there is no shortage of material to pool from. And my own roller coaster with my heart health started a few years before I saw the sterile, cold operating room. As heart disease often is, it was a bewildering and wildly exhausting ride.

But change, particularly when it comes in the form of a major operation, is not really about having the rug pulled out from under you. It's about the ensuing headache when you hit the floor.

"Are you breaking up with me?"

I wasn't dating anyone, but on the other line joking with my best friend and roommate, who wanted to come over and "talk." She had just returned home from a 10-day trip to Argentina, and I was three weeks out from surgery and at my parent's home for the foreseeable future, still largely unable to fend for myself in my day-to-day routine, be it driving a car or tackling a flight of stairs. I was also uncharacteristically and comically sunshine-y, thanks no doubt to a cocktail of opiads. My drug-induced optimism, though I hardly realized it at the time, was a potent tool for convincing family and friends that I was in better shape than what my many-month recovery would suggest.

Back to my friend. Her voyage abroad had come as a sort of mid-twenties soul search, a getaway to stretch through some growing pains. She had always been a wanderer, the kind of intensely creative, enigmatic character that needs to build things up just for the discovery that comes from tearing it down. This energy was oftentimes constructive and occasionally destructive. It meant never knowing if she was going to send me on a thoughtful, multi-day scavenger hunt for my birthday -- or hurl a cookie at our living room wall during an argument. I loved her in spite of, and perhaps because of, this.

We had both agreed that it would be best for her to travel immediately following my surgery, as I would likely be bombarded by visitors in the first few weeks and would spend much of my time napping anyway. She would be crucial in the coming months of my recovery, we thought, once the dust had settled and we picked up the pieces of our often inseparable lives that had previously been dominated by my poor health.

I never got to see out this plan, as the reader might have anticipated. We sat on my parent's deck on the edge of a suburban forest preserve, listening to the hum of August and drinking a glass of Cabernet (it's good for the heart). But as she told me about her adventure, politely and visibly nervous, I knew instinctively that there was a gap between us far broader than our folding chairs.

"You know, don't you?" she mouthed quietly, as if she was pleading to not have to say it outright. I didn't, at least not consciously. Though she had been increasingly distant in the months prior to my surgery, I was too sick to think much of it. My own ignorance and embarrassment for having missed some sort of cue was pressing against my face as a stain on my cheeks.

I couldn't quote what she said next directly if I wanted to, because whatever variation of "I'm moving to Argentina" came out of her mouth floated far above both of our heads, into the space where words are not semantic parts to be interpreted by ears, but symbolic messes to be misinterpreted by hearts. She already had a job lined up and was staying with a host family that she had met back in college. She had made new friends on her trip and they were eagerly awaiting her return. I, meanwhile, had a broken sternum and was effectively living in my parent's basement -- a dream come true, really. She sat quietly waiting for a reaction. I was fettered by wanting both to cry and to punch her in the face, but was too dumbfounded to choose either.

We had just entered into a new, and not entirely uncommon territory of adulthood: estrangement. In my mind, there were a few basic rules to friendship. 1) Don't hit on the same guy or girl at the bar; 2) Always order a large popcorn at the movies; 3) Don't move out of the country immediately following a life-changing operation.

We spent the better part of the next two months in a highly-charged silence, strung by the occasional game of telephone among our close-knit friends, who were disappointedly not interested in taking sides. With a timing befitting the dramedy gods, her uncouth exit collided with one of the most unsuspecting physiological side effects of heart surgery: depression. I dove headlong into an utterly terrifying and unexplained anguish, not caused by, though certainly not helped, by the profound void she left behind. There were many days when I could be found congealing alongside a bowl of cereal at the kitchen counter, still in my pjs at three in the afternoon. On others, I cried so hard that I could feel the stitches heave and pull away from my newly-minted incision.

I did what felt natural to dig myself out this menacing hole, which at the time meant turning on an escapist reflex by applying for jobs all over the country. I couldn't stomach the idea of retuning to our neighborhood, to what seemed now to be a shelf of a former life. We actually ended up moving in the same week, just shy of her 25th birthday. Me: to Boston. Her: to Buenos Aires. I was just approaching my three-month post-op mark, and in hindsight, still very green in my recovery.

One of the best parts about being in your twenties is that you don't owe yourself to anyone. One of the worst parts about being in your twenties is that no one owes themselves to you, either. It has taken a full year to begin to sketch the lines of my identity out again, though it's as if the tracing paper has moved. I staved off paralyzing memory loss, aphasia, vision problems and hot flashes. I've left friend's birthday parties early thinking I needed an ambulance, and pulled over on the side of rural Massachusetts roads when met with a firework display in my field of vision. I've called my mother sobbing at least a dozen times when I thought I might never get my brain back to make a career as a writer. I've seen more specialists than our healthcare system allots for.

I have learned only complicated lessons, and cast many judgments. But as best as I can tell, humans are still capable of remarkable generosity and empathy, even if the outpouring doesn't come from whom we ask. That is reason enough to stretch our heart muscles towards forgiveness. That is reason enough to tell this story.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-hubbard/...