My medical story

I was born very flexible. The OBG who delivered me laughed when he examined me and saw how elastic I was. The first profession I ever said I wanted to have was “a ballerina of the stars”, because I loved dancing and I loved the universe and wanted to combine them somehow.

By the time I was 14, I had tried all sorts of things; artistic gymnastics, acrobatics, ballet, flamenco, and, eventually, I found myself in rhythmic gymnastics. I loved them all, but that couple of years I did rhythmics I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life. The problem was, we had a splits exercise called “double bench”, basically doing the splits with each leg on a foot-high bench to achieve more than 180 degrees flexibility. I’d always been quite patient with flexibility exercises, though they can be quite painful, so when I started complaining that my knee hurt, my instructor should have realized that I wasn’t just “whining”. Instead, she kept pushing me, telling me I was lazy. So, I kept going, enduring the pain.

After a few months, I had developed a permanent pain in both knees. After my instructor’s advice, I saw a sports doctor. He basically didn’t offer much. He just dismissed the problem as a passing one and gave me an analgesic pill, a thermal topical cream, and told me to wear braces while I practice. I followed his advice, but I didn’t really see any difference. I stopped doing anything that made my knees hurt, which meant I couldn’t really do anything in class.

The pain was getting worse and worse and, eventually, I couldn’t dance at all. In fact, I couldn’t do pretty much anything. I couldn’t climb stairs, couldn’t sit on the floor because I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t sit for too long, or walk for more than ten minutes without needing to stop because of the pain. I couldn’t find a position to sleep, and the pain was always bad when I woke up because my legs were stationary for too long.

A. Normal alignment B. Decreased Q angle (genu varum)
C. Increased Q angle (genu valgum)
We forgot the sports doctors and went to an orthopedics, instead. The verdict was chondropathy for both knees, a disease of the cartilage of the knee, following it’s grinding against the bone, due to a condition called genu valgum (more commonly known as "knock-knee"), in which the knees angle in and touch each other when the legs are straightened. The abnormal angle between the upper and the lower leg leads to the bone biting into the cartilage of the knee, causing the pain. Genu valgum is also often accompanied by pes planus, i.e. flat feet. At least we had a diagnosis. He proposed full rest and avoiding any movement that causes pain. He forbade me to bend the knee more than 90 degrees or straightening it, sitting cross-legged etc. Doing all these things, I stopped getting worse, which was very welcome, but I wasn’t getting better. After a few months we went back and he basically didn’t have anything else to propose. I went through a few different doctors after that, but nobody had anything to add.

Finally, someone proposed I went to a podiatrist to make me insoles to keep my arch elevated. It was very high tech, he made me walk on a pad and showed me the pressure footprint onscreen. Most of it was red, which meant the pressure was above normal and, also, the footprint had no curves since I didn’t have an arch, it was just amorphous. He made me the insoles, and they actually did make me feel better while I was walking. However, they only fit with trainers, so I could really only wear trainers for months. I got a bit better because of the insoles, at least I could move around a bit more, but I still wasn’t very functional.

They also proposed physical therapy. I went to a place recommended by a friend. I spent months doing several physical therapies, including ultrasounds and electrotherapy. Nothing was happening, and if nothing else electrotherapy was actually making my knees feel weirder, more unstable. I kept bugging them that I’m not feeling better, but they didn’t try anything else. I was becoming more and more depressed.

After a year and a half since the pain started, I had very little improvement, big bills, and little hope that something would actually help me. Additionally, I was suddenly stationary for too long which, in combination to my bad psychological state, lead to me taking on 45 pounds. The additional weight only made my medical condition and my mental state even worse. Being a gymnast all my life, I loathed my new body, I couldn’t recognize myself in it. I was only 15, my future in dancing was stolen from me, my self-image had suffered a huge blow, and I had little hope anything could happen to change that.

That’s when Maria came into my life. She had already helped my sister’s friend after a car accident had damaged her knee so much that she needed several surgeries to rebuild it. And, she was a dancer, too. She knew exactly how I felt and I promised me Maria would help. Maria was a Pilates instructor, one of the first in my country, Greece. She had traveled all over the world, trained by the best of the field. She was collaborating with orthopedic surgeons and specialized on injury rehabilitation. We went to see her and she made me walk around to see how I moved. She had trouble hiding her concern. She said we’d have a lot of work to do and that I’d have to work with her. She was quite expensive, but she told me to come in for ten half hour sessions, two per week, and that if she managed to help me, I’d be already better by then. We had a specific goal, not just an open-ended "keep coming and you'll feel better some day". She asked for my x-rays and told me she’d take a few days to think of the best exercises for my case.

This chair is a common Pilates apparatus.
This is one of the exercises I had on it.
It was the most intense, focused exercise I’ve ever had. Maria wasn’t about jumping up and down like a goat, or trying so hard you huff and puff and hurt. She was about very precise, contained movements that focused on specific muscles and protected the joints. I had to keep breathing steadily and be very mindful about where every part of my body was. She kept a steady commentary of corrections “tummy in, don’t relax the butt, you’re clenching your shoulders, don’t forget to breathe” and I followed her instructions as best as I could. She made me discover muscles I didn’t know I have, and the sessions, though short and seemingly simple, left my muscles trembling from the effort, and it was almost as challenging for my brain as it was for my body.

The difference was amazing. After only the first two sessions, my legs felt stronger. Forget about insoles, I was holding my arch with my own muscles, training my body to stand differently. My muscles were getting stronger and stronger, the pain was getting less and less, and my confidence raised its head timidly. After only a month the pain was practically gone. I could walk, I could climb stairs, I didn’t have to wear trainers all the time; I could even stay barefoot, which was impossible before. I thanked Maria from the bottom of my heart and she was very pleased we made it. It was truly a miracle for me. In only a month I got my future back. That future didn’t involve my being an athlete, but it was a future free of pain, and a future that didn’t exclude dancing completely. And that was more than I had dared hope.


Just another nightmare

Once upon a time, there was a family of fairies. They were living in a beautiful meadow overlooking a human city built on a set of hills. The princess fairy (a.k.a. me) was bored of the fairy ways and dreamed of mingling with the humans, but her kind was adamant: You must never, ever go through the fairy portal to the human city. So, she lived her days attaching glitter glue to the tops of the hills with her fairy magic from far away (seriously).

Until one day she did it. She went through the shiny, oval portal and wondered into the human city; and she loved it. She met a human boy there, and it was love at first sight. But soon she figured out that there was another, more sinister reason than just humans, why fairies never went to the human city. A clan of dark witches and warlocks had infiltrated the city and had been waiting for her. As the heir of the fairy throne, her magic was very potent. The girl and the boy barely escaped with her lives, thanks to her fairy powers, but that also blew her cover with the boy; he now knew what she was. They went through the portal, and it closed behind them just in time for the evil ones to be left behind. But they now knew where the portal was, and they’d be waiting.

Her father was unhappy she had disobeyed, bringing a human back on top of anything else, but he was an understanding king. He kept the boy safe, and thought for a few days what would be best for everyone. He finally sat both of them down and gave them their options. Once a year until she came of age the fairy had to go through the portal for her magic to remain, but at least he could create a place for them, hidden by magic, where nobody would be able to find them the rest of the time. They’d hide there, until she would come of age and would be able to take the throne, and after that moment the dark ones wouldn’t be able to harm anyone in the fairy land. But the boy was in danger, so he’d have to decide if he wanted to go with her, and the two sisters of the fairy would go with them as additional protect them, as well.

They all agreed quite enthusiastically, and they went into hiding. And that was how the following years passed, they lived happily together somewhere safe, and once a year they raced to the portal. The evil ones were always there, but never managed to get them in time, and the fairies would just laugh and stick their tongues out to them through the portal that was closing between them.

A little before the fairy came of age, sad news came to them. A good fairy friend had died, Cinderella (roll your eyes with me). The sisters had to pay their homage, so, as the fairy custom was, went outside her house and sat down in the garden, silently communicating with the remnants of the deceased fairy’s magic.

And, out of nowhere, a black diamond the size of a basketball came hurling in the air and hit the one sister, who was rooted to the spot, unable to move. I (yes, I have to change POV now, because it’s a dream and sometimes you watch from the outside and sometimes from the inside :P ) whirled around in time to dodge another black diamond that shuttered into millions pieces on the ground next to me. I saw the attacker, a witch dressed in a majestic black lace dress, walking towards us and speaking the language of magic while readying another diamond. I dodged that, too, but it hit my other sister and at that moment I heard a voice yell “Run to me!”

A white which was advancing behind the dark one, and I sprinted toward her. Black diamond after black diamond came flying my way, but one by one were met and crashed by white ones midair, white and black shreds of glass flying everywhere and cutting my arms and face. The dark witch roared with anger, but I was already out of her reach. As I levelled up with her, the white witch shouted at me: “Hide in the city, we’ll find you later!”

I nodded as I run past her, a panicked expression on my face and a retched fear gripping my insides. Would she be alright? Would my sisters, the fairy land be alright? But there was no time to think, so I just kept running, until I couldn’t breathe. I cowered behind a truck full of debris, thinking which way to go, but something felt terribly off.

And then I heard it; a deep rumble, the most horrifying groan, worse than any spell or monster. It was coming from deep beneath me feet. And before I could react, the ground started to shake violently. Stuck between a truck and an abandoned building, I looked up and saw to my terror parts of the building falling apart and flying towards me. I ran between the truck and the building, heart pounding frantically, evading bricks and rocks and glass, waiting for the inevitable impact. I made it round the end of the truck, only to be met with dust and bits of concrete dancing off its back, and as I finally made it to the open street, the sight made my heart clench painfully.

An avalanche of debris was coming down the street, taking cars and bits of the buildings with it, like a solid tsunami. I was trying to avoid things and find a safe passage to higher ground, when, inconceivably, something even more terrifying happened. With a loud groan, a huge piece of the ground behind me, ten yards in diameter, sank into the Earth. The chasm that it left behind was so deep I could not see a bottom. Terrified beyond words, I struggled towards the other direction, ignoring the things still flying at me. A blow to the head was far more welcome than getting sucked into the void.

Suddenly, the ground stopped moving and things settled down. Then I heard a narrator’s voice in my head: “And then the ground stopped shaking, but she kept running, wishing to get as far away as possible from that cursed place, not daring to hope she was finally safe”. And all of that was true; I could feel the hope, unwelcome, rise inside of me. Maybe it’s over! And as I tried to work my way up a pile of debris to get to the other side of the street, the narrator continued: “But then the ground opened up again”.

I tensed up and, sure enough, another big chunk of ground right next to me gave way and disappeared from sight. Waves of renewed panic arose in me, but I’ve barely made it a few strides before the narrator gave his final prophecy: “And , again, she thought she was spared, but…” And that comment froze me still. I gave up, my shoulders hunched, and I knew what was going to happen. It was pointless.

And the ground caved in beneath my feet and I was free falling into nothingness. The pit of my stomach dropped, like when you miss a step going downstairs, but it was ongoing and petrifying. I wished I would just lose consciousness, but I kept falling and falling, and surely I would die. From far away, I could hear the narrator: “She was scared, but didn’t realize that it was not the end, but only a test to take her to the next level of magic”.

But I didn’t care, I needed it to stop. I had to wake up, because the falling was torturous and terrifying. I tried to create a floor with my mind, something to crush onto, die, and wake up. But even though I made one, I went right through it. I started to cry and knew I’d lose my mind if I didn’t wake up soon. I closed my eyes and concentrated really hard. I wasn’t falling. I wasn’t there. The dream wasn't real; the dread was not real; I was asleep and about to wake up. I heard the narrator sigh in disappointed disapproval… and I woke up with a start, panting and sweating and positively freaked out.


Διαγωνισμός Κατάντιας

Ή η αυτοτιμωρία του να είσαι Έλληνας

Ένας υπέροχος διαγωνισμός ταλέντου διεξάγεται  αυτήν την περίοδο στην χώρα μας, στον οποίο η ανταγωνιστικότητά μας φαίνεται να είναι καλύτερη συγκριτικά με τις αναπτυγμένες χώρες που τόσο προσπαθούμε να μιμηθούμε.
Τις δύσκολες αυτές ώρες, τις περνάμε συγκρινόμενοι τα δράματά μας. Υπάρχει φαίνεται μια άγραφη κλίμακα που μοιραζόμαστε στο κοινωνικό ασυνείδητό μας, με την οποία μπορούμε επιτέλους να μπούμε σε μια σειρά αυξανόμενης δυσκολίας.

Με κριτήριο την ύπαρξη ή όχι δουλειάς
Αυτός που έχει δουλειά και πληρώνεται, ό, τι δουλειά και να έχει και όσο να πληρώνεται, δεν τολμάει να διαμαρτυρηθεί για κακές συνθήκες εργασίας, χαμηλό μισθό, πολλές και απλήρωτες υπερωρίες κλπ, γιατί αυτοί που εργάζονται, αλλά δεν πληρώνονται τον τελευταίο καιρό πέφτουν να τον φάνε: «Μην μιλάς, έχεις δουλειά και πληρώνεσαι!», «Σκάσε και δέξου ό, τι σου κάνει το αφεντικό και να λες και ευχαριστώ που σε πληρώνει!».
Κι αυτός, όμως, που έχει δουλειά και δεν πληρώνεται, δεν μπορεί να ανοίξει το στόμα του να διαμαρτυρηθεί γιατί οι άνεργοι θα πέσουν να τον φάνε: «Ναι, αλλά έχεις δουλειά! Εμείς που δεν έχουμε τι να πούμε;». «Σκάσε και δέξου ό, τι σου κάνει το αφεντικό και να λες και ευχαριστώ που έχεις δουλειά!»
Ο άνεργος που έχει κάποιο παραπάνω πτυχίο ή χαρτί, από την άλλη, ή παραπάνω εμπειρία δεν μπορεί να διαμαρτυρηθεί που δεν έχει δουλειά, γιατί θα πέσουν να τον φάνε όποιοι έχουν ένα χαρτί ή λίγη εμπειρία λιγότερα: «Ναι, αλλά εσύ έχεις προσόντα ή εμπειρία, εγώ που έχω λιγότερα είναι ακόμα πιο δύσκολο να βρω δουλειά!»
Με κριτήριο τις απολαβές και τις υποχρεώσεις
«Μα παίρνω 600€ κι εσύ 1000€!»
«Ναι, αλλά εγώ έχω δύο δάνεια κι εσύ κανένα!»
«Ναι, αλλά εσένα δουλεύει και η γυναίκα σου!»
«Ναι, αλλά εγώ έχω δύο παιδιά!»
«Ναι, αλλά εγώ δεν έχω ξεπληρώσει ακόμα το αυτοκίνητο!»
«Ναι, αλλά εγώ έχω άρρωστους και τους γονείς μου και τρέφω κι αυτούς εκτός απ'τα παιδιά μου!»

Και η λίστα ποτέ δεν τελειώνει. Σε ρυθμό και μελωδία «Η Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει». Δεν ξέρω αν δεν μπορεί να πεθάνει, πάντως σίγουρα μπορεί να υποφέρει.

Γιατί δεν με ενδιαφέρει τι λέει η προπαγάνδα, πρακτικά αυτό που βλέπω είναι ότι η κοινωνία υποφέρει. Δεν έχω εγώ γνωστούς και φίλους που χαλούσαν ποτέ τριχίλιαρα (ευρώ, γιατί για δραχμές λίγα είναι) στα μπουζούκια. Ούτε κανένας στον σχολείο μου είχε τρία σπίτια, κότερα και φεράρι. Είδα κάνα δυο «μέσα», αλλά για δουλειές το πολύ αξιοπρεπείς, όχι καμία από αυτές που βλέπουμε με τα πενήντα χιλιάρικα ευρώ το χρόνο.
Είχα επιχειρηματίες στη γειτονιά που πότε έκοβαν αποδείξεις πότε όχι, αλλά μαγαζάκια της γειτονιάς ήταν και κανείς από αυτούς δεν έκανε καμιά τρελή περιουσία. Αντιθέτως, έκλεισαν ο ένας μετά τον άλλον μέσα σε αυτά τα ρημαδιασμένα χρόνια κι όχι γιατί είχαν υπερχρεωθεί με τεράστια καταναλωτικά δάνεια που έφαγαν σε τζακούζια στη Μύκονο, αλλά γιατί δεν έβλεπαν πελάτη ούτε με το κιάλι.
Δεν ξέρω πού είναι αυτοί που «τρώνε», εγώ πάντως μόνο από την τηλεόραση τους βλέπω. Μικροαπάτες, μικροφοροδιαφυγές, μικρομίζες, μικρομέσα, μικρολαδώματα, ναι. Η τάξη μεγέθους των ποσών, όμως, δεν μπορεί να συγκριθεί. Η προσπάθεια θα ήταν αστεία, αν δεν ήταν τόσο επικίνδυνη.

Και συνεχίζουμε, λοιπόν, να τρώμε τα λυσσακά μας, λυσσόντας για κάποιου είδους λύτρωση μέσα από την «τιμωρία» κάποιου όχι και τόσο διαφορετικού. Σκλάβοι που η μόνη τους φιλοδοξία είναι να δουν τον διπλανό τους να μαστιγώνεται.

Τα στοιχήματα, όμως, ποιος τα βάζει; Ποιος κερδίζει από τον διαγωνισμό αυτό; Σίγουρα όχι οι συμμετέχοντες.

Η απόλυτη ρήξη της κοινωνικής συνοχής είναι και η τελευταία πράξη του μεταπολιτευτικού κωμικοδράματος.

Επειδή έχουμε αποδεχθεί την προπαγάνδα de facto και άρα το μόνο που μπορεί να γίνει για να βελτιωθεί η ζωή μας είναι να απολυθούν εργαζόμενοι και να κοπούν μισθοί, να ιδιωτικοποιηθούν όλα  με αποτέλεσμα δύο σε ένα, σαν σαμπουάν με μαλακτικό μαζί: Και την πίτα χορτάτη (να μειωθούν κατά πολύ οι «σπατάλες» του κράτους σε τρίβιαλ πραγματάκια, όπως παιδεία, υγεία και άλλα ανέκδοτα) και το σκύλο ολόκληρο (να δουλέψουν όλα ρολόι αφού γίνουν ιδιωτικά). Να ξεπουληθεί ό,τι δημόσια (μπλιαχ, μπλιαχ, βρώμικη λέξη) περιουσία υπάρχει (Λογικό δεν είναι; Εμείς πουλάμε τα χρυσαφικά μας, να πουλήσει και κάτι το κράτος!).

Επειδή έχουμε αποδεχθεί την προπαγάνδα de facto, δεν μπορούμε ούτε καν να διανοηθούμε ότι μπορεί να υπάρξει ένας κόσμος (όχι «μία οικονομία», ένας «κόσμος»), όπου όλοι έχουν μία δουλειά και ένα μισθό της προκοπής. Δεν χρειάζεται κανένας να είναι άνεργος, κανένας να είναι άστεγος. Αλλά αυτά είναι βαφτισμένα αναρχικά ή ρομαντικά ή ουτοπικά (Ως μέτρο σύγκρισης, αναφέρω ότι το να περιμένουμε από τη Γερμανία και το ΔΝΤ να μας σώσουν θεωρείται απόλυτη ένδειξη πνευματικής διαύγειας).

Και αντί να θέλουμε όλοι άνθρωποι να έχουν φαγητό, στέγη, παιδεία, υγεία, αγάπη και προδέρμ... ψάχνουμε από ποιον διπλανό να κόψουμε τι.


Time's Garden

“Now!” warned Later.
“No, Later!” Now stomped its foot on the ground.

They’d always been fighting. They were the kind of siblings that never saw eye to eye. They grew and they fought, they fought and they grew, and nothing their mother did could change that.

“I’m the only one that truly exists,” Now would complain.
“You’re just something that may or may not come. Why should I take you into consideration?”
“But I am your future self,” Later would counter. “If you ignore me now, you’ll be unhappy later.”
“And if I only think of you, I’ll never get to enjoy myself,” Now would cross its arms annoyed.
“How will you enjoy yourself if you know you have a million things to do?” Later would yell loudly, with its arms open wide. “How will you learn, or be, or do ANYTHING, if you just think of yourself?”

Alone in the corner, Before was rocking back and forth, its hands covering its ears. Before couldn’t stand the fights; it couldn’t stand the noise. The oldest of the siblings had seen all this way too many times before. It has been through all that before. It used to be a later that became a now, before becoming a before. As a later it had tried to reason with the then now. As a now it ignored the next later. And now it lived in disappointment and regret.

“Why should I do anything that I don’t like?” Now continued, after taking a moment to recover from the last blow. “Now is all I have, and I’m going to avoid all the discomfort I can, thank you very much.”
“A little discomfort NOW, could mean more comfort LATER,” Later said exaggeratedly slowly, as if he was talking to someone quite thick, indeed. The tone was not lost on Now, who was not impressed.

“It could also mean I’ve wasted my time being unhappy for no good reason,” Now responded, its voice dripping with sarcasm. “You can’t KNOW anything I do right now will pay off at some point. You can’t judge me for not wasting my time for a ‘maybe’!”

“But there’s NEVER absolute certainty! Would it hurt you to at least TRY from time to time?” Later exclaimed exasperated.
“And would it hurt you to stop bugging me for even a second and let me breathe?” challenged Now.

“OK, fine,” Later changed strategy abruptly. “You don’t want to do things you don’t like. What’s your excuse for not doing the things you do like? There are so many things you want to do and you always leave them for later, too. I wanna learn another language,” he said in mocking tone. “I wanna learn how to play an instrument, I wanna write a book, I wanna, I wanna, I WANNA!” Later’s voice was rising in pitch with every word, “Why don’t you do ANY of those things?” it screamed shrilly making Now cringe.

“I… I…” Now stuttered, finally at the verge of tears, “You’re asking too MUCH of me, I just want to… to… BE!” Its voice cracked and it hid its face in its hands. Later was thrown aback, but still too angry to let it go.

At that point, Time came into the room and within an instant she knew what was going on; her eyes fell on Before still rocking back and forth in the corner and Now crying defeated in its palms. Later had opened its mouth to say something, but she silenced her youngest kid with a look.
“Fighting isn’t helping anybody,” she said as she walked to the middle of the room. “Come sit with me”. She pointed to the couch. Nobody moved. She sighed and sat on the floor next to Before. It looked up at her touch, its eyes full of pain. She hugged it tight and then took it by the hand and guided it to the couch. It took a little longer to calm down Now and convince it to move, and Later, arms still crossed, was less than happy to sit next to them, but didn’t object.

Time knelt in front the three of them. “You’re all part of me. Please, be nice to each other,” she said kindly. Before looked at her lovingly, but Now and Later seemed not to care. “I know you all love each other. You just need to learn how to compromise! Later, don't bug Now all the time. Let it rest and have some fun and be a little lazy. But, also, you, Now, don't ignore Later! It's not such a big deal to get a little uncomfortable from time to time. As for you, Before, there's no reason for you to be so sad. You've had your moment and you did the best you could. Why don't you give yourself a break and give your insight to your siblings?” Time's kids were calmer now. They loved their mother and saw the wisdom in her words, after all.

“There will be a time when we’ll all be gone,” she continued. “There will be no Time; no Before, no Now, and no Later. What will your disagreements mean then? We have this one chance to make right by each other,” she smiled at them gently and they beamed back at her. “How does that sound?” she asked and they mumbled all together, “Sounds good, mom!”
“Run along and go out and play, then!” she encouraged them and so they did.

And that's how our story ends, with Before, Now, and Later laughing and playing in Time's garden...

Inspired by an upcoming med school exam, and the unwillingness of this individual to sit down and study, because her brain would much rather wander to a place far, far away; thankfully, in this galaxy, unfortunately, across an uninviting ocean.


Trivializing harassment

Sharing stories of sexual harassment makes everybody very uncomfortable. This is true for all kinds of abuse, but it’s especially so for sexual harassment. We have a history of treating victims of sexual abuse as dirty themselves, and humans have been known to shy away from discussing sexual abuse for that reason; it makes everybody feel dirty by association. This is incredibly sad and unfair, to say the least, and for the sake of our collective mental and physical well-being, we must overcome that obstacle.

As an owner of a body in a major city, I experience street harassment often. That includes cat calling, vulgar comments, whistling, attempts of toucherism, or frotteurism, and sometimes having someone follow me for a significant distance while exhibiting that behavior. I should say right off the bat tha there are many street harassment denialists out there, and this post isn’t for them.

Stop Street Harassment, commissioned a 2000-person US national survey.
The results aren't pretty. 

On a relatively recent event, I was walking on a major street in Athens, when a person started walking right next to me, trapping me between him and the buildings. I sped up automatically, and so did he to keep up and he asked if he could ask a question. I ignored him, but he asked anyway, if I’m doing sports, because I have nice body. I told him to go away and opened up my pace even more. He dropped back, but kept following me, mumbling away a stream of vulgar profanities. And so the puppy followed me for about fifteen minutes, until I reached my destination, a Starbucks.

I waited in line and ordered; all the while he was standing outside the glass doors, waiting for me to leave, but I was actually intending to sit there, anyway. He lost eye contact while I was getting my beverage, and, last I saw him, he was outside the other entrance, squinting against the sunlight and trying to find me. When I left couple of hours later, he was gone, probably having found his next target to harass.

I’m way past the point where I get surprised or upset by such incidents. I’ve been in public long enough that I have a lot worse stories to share from my and friends' experience. There is a discussion to be had about why street harassment is important, why people have the right to feel safe in public. If “civilization” means anything, it is that people should not have to be afraid for their mental and physical integrity all the time. You know, that’s what jungles are for. There is a lot of pointless obstructionism in accepting those simple facts, but, again, this is not what this post is for.

I happened to had shared that incident with some internet friends and after some time I happened to meet one of them in person. During the interaction, which was not a pleasant one for various reasons, that event was mentioned. We were discussing my habit of going to Starbucks; I explained that I relax very much there, and he said “Unless someone has followed you there”. I responded “Yeah, don’t remind me of that, it was a nightmare”. And he came back with something like “Well, the boy saw something pretty, don’t blame him for wanting it”. Taken aback, I just corrected the fact “He was no boy, more like in his late fifties”, to which he replied “So, that’s why you minded, because he was old, otherwise you would have liked it!”


I believe this person was just trying to be funny. Some people will agree with me that he failed (and exposed some deeply held stereotypical ideas in the process) while others will argue I can’t take a joke. However, that’s not the point of this post, either.

And, no, street harassment has little to do
with the amount of skin exposed
and the "provocativeness" of the outfit.
It's an act of power, control, and superiority.
As I said earlier, we generally have trouble dealing with harassment as a society. Many otherwise decent people, in their ignorance and awkwardness, can say the worst, most unempathetic comments imaginable. Two very common hurtful reactions are a) blaming the victim (It's your fault you failed to protect yourself, so don't expect us to have sympathy) and b) downplaying the significance of their experience (So, somebody grabbed your behind on the bus, big deal).

They are both quite disgusting tactics and, unfortunately, all too common. My "friend" trivialized my experience by asking me to "forgive" the harasser, because he was just a guy and I am a decent looking young female, so, of course, he can't control himself and has to harass me. You really can't get more stereotypical than that.

But there's also something else I've been thinking. I’ve spent some time trying to think the last time somebody got mugged and somebody joked “Oh come on; admit it, deep down you wanted to get mugged!” Maybe I have selective memory, but I don’t remember any such occasion. How about somebody getting beaten up for no reason by a gang? Does anybody joke “I’m sure you enjoyed it a little bit”?

I can’t think of another occasion where a person has been “attacked” in some way, reports it was against their will, reports it made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe… and it’s common for other people to casually assert that they must have liked it on some level. And yet this is so very common when it comes to sexual harassment.

That is also true, actually even more so, when it comes to men. If society has been for a long time resistant in accepting sexual harassment toward women, it’s even less open to the claims of sexual harassment that are made by men. They’re men. They always want sex. It’s only women who put the brakes on men’s lust. Men would literally put their organ anywhere. They could and would have sex with any female (remember, this is the stereotype of a cis,straight legacy). It logically follows, that it is literally impossible for a male to be sexually abused.

This view, casually sponsored by my male "friend", is not only disgusting and insulting, practically toward the whole of humanity, but it’s also simply dead wrong. Women want and enjoy sex just as much as men do, and men can very much not want to have sex on any occasion, for pretty much all the same reasons women can. This is not up to debate. It’s a biological fact.

So, there it is again; people being incapable of not enjoying a sexual interaction. If they report they didn’t enjoy it, or it was against their will, they will simply be brushed aside. “Of course you wanted it, dude. You’re a dude. Stop with the whining”. Or, in my case, if it was a "young" guy (therefore, automatically more attracting to me, according to my "friend"), I would enjoy being followed, stalked, and having vulgar comments thrown at me from a total stranger.

And so my question is…

And what is it about sexual harassment that makes so many people think the victim likes it?

I’m sure that the answer, whatever it is, will have a lot to do with a legacy of thousands of year’s worth of sexual oppression and ridiculous social beliefs, ideals, and taboos about sexuality. Well, not just about sexuality; also about how not to be a rude, unempathetic person.

So, here’s my little general piece of advice. When something hurtful happens to someone, you show sympathy and empathy, and tell them you’re sorry it happened to them. And just leave it at that. Assume the other person will not appreciate you trivializing their negative experience, unless you know them well enough to know they will.

And if you want to make jokes, make them at the expense of the perpetrators:

tea consent from Blue Seat Studios on Vimeo.


~*~ Ode to the universe ~*~

Our future might not be written in the celestial bodies
But our past certainly is

Every atom in our body, in air, water and earth,
Was forged in the hearts of old stars, long gone

And your body might only be made of those atoms
But it’s still so beautiful in its natural complexity

We might not be a special creation
But that makes everything more poetic
All life united by the same biochemistry
Painstakingly slowly changing to survive better

Your mind might only be the function of your brain
Just like all functions of our bodies arise from matter
But how does that change the richness of your emotions?
How powerful your love or hate can be for others?

And if art is not supernaturally inspired
Does that somehow negate how it touches other humans?

And while morality may not be coming from above
That only makes it so much greater
How wonderful it is, knowing it evolved,
Simply because cooperation makes life for everyone better

How does all that lessen our achievements?
In becoming more loving and more informed
In abandoning cruelty little by little
And embracing knowledge step by step

So what if we don’t have immortal souls?
Does it make this one life less wondrous or more?

The Earth might not be the center of the Universe
But it’s still as important to us as if it were

And the stars may not be telling me who you are
But they still look beautiful mirrored in your eyes.


Levels of Organization of Matter

I have tried to make this overview as precise, brief and simple as possible, but at the same time interesting to everybody, no matter your scientific and general knowledge background. It definitely wasn't an easy balance. Since we're passing over practically every science out there, making no mistakes was completely unrealistic, so I had to fight the austere perfectionist inside me to give this a shot. You might find some things difficult or some things not quite correct. If you belong to the former, don't get disappointed, the point is not to understand everything, but rather to get an idea about the structure of the Cosmos and get stimulated to learn more about it. Lots of links will redirect you to Wikipedia articles where you can read more about the various concepts discussed and at the end of the article you can find pictures for every level. If you belong to the latter, forgive my mistakes and send me some feedback about how I can make this even better, keeping in mind that the purpose of this article is not to be published in a scientific magazine. Enjoy!

1. Subatomic particle
2. Atom
3. Molecule
  3.1 Macromolecule
  3.2 Organelle
  3.3 Cell
  3.4 Tissue
  3.5 Organ
  3.6 Organ system
  3.7 Organism
  3.8 Population
  3.9 Community
  3.10 Ecosystem
  3.11 Biosphere
4. Cosmic dust
5. Accretion
6. Celestial body
7. Star system
8. Star cluster
9. Galaxy
10. Galaxy cluster
11. Universe

Matter has self-assembling properties. Here we’ll discuss the levels of its organization from the subatomic particles to the universe, even though more will probably be discovered as science progresses. Life, expressed by the levels between the macromolecules and the biosphere, is a branch of the organization of matter, since it is not necessary for the formation of the following levels. Also, this is only how life the way we know it on Earth is organized. We don't know that this is the only way "life" can be formed, as we haven't encountered any other type of life either on or off our planet. In any case, for the greater part of the universe, where there is no life, we pass from molecules directly to cosmic dust.

Elementary subatomic particles are unknown to have substructure, thus unknown to be composed of other particles. All elementary particles are, depending on their spin, either fermions or bosons. Fermions are the matter (quarks and leptons) and antimatter (antiquarks and antileptons) particles. The electron is a lepton. Bosons are “force particles”, i.e. they mediate interactions among fermions. So, fermions could be considered the structural unit of matter, while bosons are the mediators of the fundamental forces of nature (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear) that affect matter.

1a. Elementary subatomic particles included in the Standard Model.
Source: Wikipedia, Elementary particle

Combinations of elementary particles form the composite particlesProtons and neutrons are composite particles, each of them formed by three quarks, and together they form the nuclei of atoms.

1b. A proton is a composite particle
consisting of two up and one down quarks.
Source: Wikipedia, Proton
2. Atom
The atom is consisted of the nucleus and the electrons that are distributed around it. Depending upon the number of protons of the nucleus, the atom belongs to a different chemical element. Every element has its own chemical properties, which dictate the way it interacts with the other elements.

2. An illustration of the Helium atom, depicting the nucleus (pink)
and the electron cloud distribution (black).
Source: Wikipedia, Atom

The interactions of atoms lead to the formation of chemical bonds among them and the creation of a molecule. Every molecule has its own chemical properties, that result from the atoms that form it and the type of bond that connects them. This combination leads to “emergent” properties that the atoms themselves, when unbound, do not necessarily exhibit.
Molecules made of two or more different elements are called chemical compounds. Compounds that consist of any elements but carbon are called inorganic, while those that contain carbon are called organic.

3. A water molecule is made of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms.

On certain occasions, many similar or identical compounds, the monomers, form long chains, the polymers. Organic polymers are very big molecules that exhibit, in turn, new (bio)chemical properties, like storing of information and complex and highly selective catalytic function (enzymes). Being very big, they are vulnerable and quickly split to their components when they are free in the environment. However, when they are protected, say, by a double layer of lipids, such as a cell membrane, they can persist, interact and form life, they way we know it on our planet. The macromolecules on which life depends are carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids and lipids (lipids are not true macromolecules, but are basic to life and are often mentioned along with the others).

3.1. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a type a nucleic acid that encodes the genetic information for the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses. Here is depicted the structure of the double helix of the DNA. On the right, you can see the four monomers of the DNA, T, A, C, G.
Source: Wikipedia, DNA

The organelle is an organized collection of macromolecules and inorganic molecules within the cell that performs certain specific functions. For example, the mitochondrion is an organelle that contains macromolecules of all types, with the basic function of producing energy.

3.2 Electron microscopy of two mitochondria from mammalian lung tissue.
Source: Wikipedia, Mitochondrion

3.3 Cell
The cell is a collection of organelles and inorganic molecules (water, sodium, potassium etc) and it is the structural unit of life. It's the smallest possible entity that presents the characteristics of life and, therefore, that can be considered “alive”. Some cells constitute an organism themselves (unicellular organisms), while others live in groups (multicellular organisms).

3.3. The basic components of an animal cell.
Source: Wikipedia, Cell (biology)

3.4 Tissue
In multicellular organisms, cells can differ from each other. A group of similar cells that execute the same functions constitutes a tissue. For example, muscle tissue comprises many similar cells, the muscle cells (or muscle fibres), which have the same characteristics, including the ability to contract. The other three basic tissue types are the nerve, the epithelial and the connective tissue.

3.4. The different types of the muscle tissue.
Source: Wikipedia, Muscle tissue

3.5 Organ
The organ is consisted of cells of different tissues organized so that they can perform a complex, higher biological function. The heart, for example, contains a connective tissue “skeleton” in the shape of four rings that the heart muscle fibers attach to. The latter form four cavities that are covered internally by epithelial tissue, the endocardium. Externally, the entire heart muscle is covered by a double-walled epithelial sac, the pericardium. Within the walls of the heart there is its electrical conduction system, consisted of specialized cells that behave as both muscle and nervous tissue, which regulates the contraction of the muscle fibers. Thus, the heart functions as a pump, propelling forward the blood that enters it.

3.5. The human heart.
Source: Wikipedia, Heart

It is a group of organs that performs an even more complex biological function. The heart, a network of arterial, venous and capillary vessels, and the blood compose the cardiovascular system, which aims at the exchange of substances between every part of the body and the environment.

3.6. The human circulatory system.
Source: Wikipedia, Circulatory system

The organism is an individual, contiguous living system. It can be either uni- or multicellular. On the occasion of complex life forms, the organism is a set of organ systems that cooperate for the formation of an autonomous life form.

3.7. All organisms are classified in groups (from domains to species) based on their evolutionary relationships. Here is a speculative phylogenetic tree of life of all existent organisms based on genetic analysis.  Bacteria and archea are all unicellular, while the eukaryotes range from unicellular (such as the protozoan amoebas) to multicellular (such as all the plants and animals, including humans).
Source: Wikipedia, Organism

A group of organisms that belong to the same species.

3.8. Map of population trends of jellyfish. Red: increase (high certainty),
yellow: increase (low certainty), green: stable/variable, blue: decrease, gray: no data.
Source: Wikipedia, Population dynamics

A group of interacting organisms of different species that share the same environment.

3.9. Predation is an interspecific interaction basic to community ecology.
Source: Wikipedia, Community (ecology)

3.10 Ecosystem
A community along with the inorganic matter (soil, water, air etc) of its environment.

3.10. Nitrogen cycling in an ecosystem, containing bacteria, fungi, plants,
plant eating animals, along with inorganic materials, such as air and soil.
Source: Wikipedia, Ecosystem

3.11 Biosphere
It’s the set of all the ecosystems of the Earth (or another populated planet). Therefore, it also represents the zone of life on Earth.

3.11. This composite image gives an indication of the magnitude and distribution
of global primary production (the production of organic matter
from inorganic carbon sources) both oceanic and terrestrial.
Source: Wikipedia, Biosphere

It is a small collection of molecules that floats into space.

4. An interplanetary dust particle.
Source: Wikipedia, Cosmic dust

Dust particles, under the influence of gravity, attract each other and accumulate forming accretions.

5. Artist's conception of a black hole drawing matter
from a nearby star , forming an accretion disc.
Source: Wikipedia, Accretion disk

An accretion can be organized in a well formed celestial body. Stars are big spherical luminous celestial bodies, which produce their own light and heat. Planets are bodies that orbit a star and have enough mass so that they can obtain a spherical shape. They do not emit their own light and heat but receive these from their star. The planet we inhabit is the Earth and the star it orbits is the Sun. There are other celestial bodies, as well, such as asteroids and satellites.

6. Celestial bodies of our Solar System, including the Sun, the planets, asteroids etc.
Source: Wikipedia, Solar System model

It is consisted of a star along with the planets and the rest of the celestial bodies that are under the influence of its gravitational field. The star system of our Sun is called Solar system.

7. The orbits of the bodies in the Solar System to scale
(clockwise from top left)
Source: Wikipedia, Solarsystem

It is a group of stars, from tens to several millions, that are held together by the mutual gravitational forces. All the stars of a star cluster were born around the same period of time from the same cosmic dust.

8. The star cluster of Pleiades.
Source: Wikipedia, Star cluster

9. Galaxy
A system of millions or billions of star systems and clusters that are held together by gravitational forces forms a galaxy. The galaxy in which our solar system is found is the Milky way.

9. A fish-eye mosaic of the Milky Way arching at a high inclination across the night sky,
shot from a dark sky location in Chile.
Source: Wikipedia, Milky Way

A group of galaxies (from a few to a few thousands) that are held together by gravity comprise a galaxy cluster.

10. The Abell S740 galaxy cluster.
Source: Wikipedia, Abell_S740

All of the existent spacetime, along with all of the matter and energy that it contains, constitute the Universe.

11. Illustration of the Big bang theory, the prevailing cosmological model. In this diagram time increases from left to right, and one dimension of space is suppressed, so at any given time the Universe is represented by a disk-shaped "slice" of the diagram.
Source: Wikipedia, Universe

Explore the various levels in this wonderful interactive animation: The Scale of the Universe