I had a jarring experience in my discussion session for a gen ed psychology class I am taking. The topic was gender differences in happiness levels, and the question the TA posed to the class was: “Why are women unhappy?”

What I got out of the class, Part I:

Discourse on difficult topics is truly almost dead.
The TA asked why more students weren’t participating in the discussion and one guy raised his hand to explain that he was scared. Scared that he had the wrong ideas, scared that he would offend someone, scared about speaking. The TA jokingly asked why he isn’t acting on his First Amendment, but it really got me thinking in a sad way. I mostly live in a bubble with my books and my homework and roller derby so, before this discussion, I hadn’t realized that we are genuinely a society of bullies. In addition, people hold their opinions and ideas so close to themselves that they mistake opinions for their identity so disagreeing with someone is now akin to a personal attack.

No wonder I get in trouble with people so much!

Instead of contributing to a discussion and working towards a better end, people just shut up and say they don’t want to be bullied. Or, at least, that’s one part of it. The other part of it is that people don’t want to risk being wrong. But, if you don’t participate and your opinions are never challenged, then you never develop your intellect.  And, why wouldn’t someone want to develop their intellect?

It’s, like, the saddest thing ever to me. I love when people disagree with me in a friendly argument. I want my ideas to be challenged. I want to be forced to reach higher levels of understanding and compassion. I want someone to stand up to me and say, “Haley, that is wrong and here is the data/proof/logic/reasoning/history behind it.” And then I can say, “O Rly? Well, here is my research and insights.”

Isn’t that what being a human is about?

Issues with economics

This has been frustrating me for awhile.

Disclaimers: I am simplifying a complex situation (and fertility in economics is indeed complex).

In 1973, Becker and Lewis purported that there exists a “child quantity/quality trade off.” That is, a household with one child invests all its resources into that one child. In a house with multiple children, each child is given less resources/is less well-off than if the household had just ONE child.

This theory expanded in developmental economics to explain fertility patterns in developing nations. So many babies! Such high mortality! In laymen’s terms, households have lots of children because the risk of losing a child is too high (or “without the resources to invest in quality, we’ll take quantity”).

So women in developing nations, where child birth is dangerous and costly, are apparently putting themselves at risk…because in lieu of resources to to take care of them, they’ll just pop out another baby.

And that is how women in developing nations were labeled as broodmares by a bunch of economists.

If you were to ask a sociologist about gender relations in Sub-Saharan Africa, they would point out the vast social inequalities and women’s subservient roles. A behavioral economist (a far more rational breed of economist) might even show you a study from Tanzania showing that women who went to family planning clinics by themselves were far more likely to take home birth control than women who visited with their partners.

So, if women are socially being denied womb agency, and if studies show that women choose contraceptives when made available/affordable/secret, how the hell are women rationally making any quality/ quantity trade offs in developing nations? How can a disenfranchised person honestly make fertility decisions? Why are women in economics still just add-ons to the male instead of independent agents? “The household” in economics equals “What the dude does,” even if economists themselves are claiming otherwise.

Studies came out regarding intra-household allocation. Classic econ theory states that everyone in the household will pretty much act the same, because everyone will act rationally. So studies started coming out of sub-Saharan Africa showing that when mothers received cash aid, more was spent on the household, AND there were SIGNIFICANT increases in a daughter’s health and education. Economists were like WAT IS GOING ON? Why aren’t they different?! There was no change in health or education for sons based on the cash aid recipient. This is important, right? This affects how foreign aid should be distributed!

After the initial shock, economists said, “Well, women are valued less in this society therefore less resources are spent on them.” (Side note: that’s not the whole story either, because mothers obviously value their daughters, and they are still a part of society – even if disenfranchised.)

I genuinely feel that, at its heart, economics tries to erase biases and preconceptions in search of a explaining how interactions work. I genuinely do not believe that economists are a bunch of deluded white dudes who don’t know anything. But, it does sadden me that so much theory IS based around a very limited set of world views. For example, it took 40 years for economists to even correct their erroneous belief that African farmers were irrational. Like, a bunch of economists looked at behavior in Africa, thought, “That’s not like us at all. They must be irrational,” and then proceeded to force those farmers to change their practices.

The study of economics is important. Knowledge and information helps people make better decisions. But economics, as an institution, is hella sexist. I reckon it’s wouldn’t take much to say it’s a little bit racist, too. I just feel like the way economics almost universally ignores other disciplines’ findings is just … ignorant.

**If you disagree and you have studies or interesting things to help further my understanding of what seem to be inherently flawed models, feel free to share.**


The end of 2013 was such a shit show that my only resolution for 2014 was to be able to hockey stop. It was simple, accessible, difficult, and mastering it meant I had “leveled up” to a new skating experience.

So now I can hockey stop. And like most other individual personal goals, the acquisition of such a coveted skill just leaves one hungry for more. It’s a cold, empty technical skill.

In 2014, I was a pretty terrible friend. Or, I feel like I was a pretty terrible friend. So many people I loved dearly had so many milestones this year that I barely remember experiencing. In an effort to escape my own grief, I fixated on incredibly tiny mistakes in others (when not focused on myself.). I became (what I considered) petty and focused on the insignificant. More importantly maybe, I never really reached out to anyone to just say, holy crap you guys, my guts feel like they’re hanging out and being stomped on every day, how do I even deal with life? And then the add-on thing about depression and grief (at least for me) is I know I’m not being very considerate of anyone else and then a feeling of guilt and shame starts to gnaw at me. Distances start to grow between people. The distances aren’t real. In fact, the distances are probably all in my head, or a result of just feeling sorry for myself.

I guess I felt that at no point in my life was I ever allowed to just feel sorry for myself and, man, the person who I thought was my best friend, the person I really cried to when boys broke up with me, the person who had always shown me so much kindness in so many terrible moments. That person I grew up with and cherished and loved. That person became a drug addict who told me I ruined his life and that he hated me and just like that he was gone and I didn’t know where he was and the days turned into weeks into months and I felt really sorry for myself.


(Because, also, survivor’s guilt is a thing.)

However, feeling sorry for yourself is the worst. It’s also boring. So many times I wanted to have all these awesome adventures except that I felt too sorry for myself.  But, then my dad died.

My dad’s death did not affect me much emotionally. At least in the way that most people experience their parents’ death. My parents weren’t real parents so the experience is a bit different. I mourned the loss of something ambiguously defined as father, but I had already resolved to never see my father as long as I live. I meant it, too. I have zero guilt about it. He was abusive and horrible and charming to everyone he met, and I knew that any reconciliation would only bring untold catastrophes into my life. But my older brother – who my father had left homeless when he was 19 with a wife and a baby, who had to painfully abandon his baby sister and baby brother in order to forge a new life from scratch, who never once attempted to contact my father – he was so disheartened to realize he would never get an apology.

My grandmother seemed so saddened that he never tried to make amends.

And my mother – well, I can’t really imagine.

Everyone in his life just seemed to feel such deep sadness over finally realizing that, yes, people like Old Man Marcus do exist and they do die and they never make amends and they never apologize for the pain. It’s the kind of knowledge that changes one’s outlook on relationships. Surely, at some point, my father was going to realize that he rampaged through his life burning and destroying everyone he contacted and he was going to apologize. Nope.

But then I thought about my dad at the end of his life also. I imagine that he must have been truly terrified. He spent 30 years writing and rewriting a Faustian adaptation of Melmoth, the Wanderer. He drank his own urine in the 1960s after reading a book claiming longevity. He opened one of the first health food stores and restaurants in Southern California – predating Follow Your Heart by 10 or 15 years. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t condone smoking. He drank exactly 1.5 glasses of wine per night and ate home cooked meals from scratch every day. He believed that the mind was an instrument that constantly needed tuning and you are never too old to do anything. And if they tell you you’re too old, just change your birth certificate, lie, or get a doctor to lie for you. Have bold ideas, borrow other people’s money, and then make them a reality and run away with the money. His first language was Yiddish, but he converted to Christianity, became a minister, became a Jew for Jesus, and then just decided to celebrate every religion that celebrated God. One of them would give him eternal life, he reckoned.

In the end, he died. Mostly by himself. Grateful, no doubt, for the few family members who only cared for him at his most neutered and vulnerable. I can imagine the confusion he felt wondering why I wasn’t there. Why Nat wasn’t there? Where were all his children?  Or even a sense of bewilderment about death itself. Death was never going to come for him. He was always so vibrant. So young. Didn’t he even drink he own urine in the 1960s? In those last moments, I don’t think he ever thought, “I wish I had been kinder.”

People matter. They really, really do. And I have been hit in the past few years by a few experiences that have made me feel like I don’t matter and it has turned me into the shell of a person I used to be.

So my resolution for 2015 is to learn to be a good friend again. Because, in the end, people and the relationships you cultivate and the experiences you share are the only things you can take with you anywhere and everywhere.

And thank you (y’all know who you are) for putting up with me this year and still loving me anyways. I can’t even think about how to “even life” without you.

Try again.

I shake back and forth between being a woman with something to say and being a person who does not want to be seen. Between being a leader pushing forward and a little kid who doesn’t want anyone to notice her. Between feeling empowered by my accomplishments and realizing how tiny they are.

In Chinese, it’s considered rude to go straight to the point of something. Getting information or expressing disapproval is like a politely vicious dance between parties. It’s probably why I like it so much – because Chinese and I have dancing in common. I can never get straight to the point when I write.

In fact, everything above this sentence is just me trying to justify why I have a blog/website/domain. Who do I think I am?

So here is me getting straight to the point: I just want to write again. I want to write about myself and the things I like to do. I want to write about what it felt like letting my brother go and grieving every day to the day of that anniversary. I want to write about what it feels like finishing college and being an adult in college. I want to share passages out of books I read and write about current affairs and roller derby. I turn 30 in 2015. And I know that I cannot go another decade feeling like I have to prove my legitimacy as a human being to everyone I know.

Allow me to share a passage from Joan Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook”:

We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. (“You’re the least important person in the room and don’t forget it,” Jessica Mitford’s governess would hiss into her ear)…Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self…

It makes me wonder if thoughtfulness would now be considered subversive. But there’s something to that, right? Because thoughtfulness and reflection mean you are an agent of action, and not just an agent of consumption. It means the personal is the political, and that we all have some sort of duty to communicate and share and listen and write.


They’re alright

I have met some pretty interesting students in the Beijing program. They’re worldly and well-traveled, and are the children of doctors and diplomats and businessmen. I feel a little bit like an outlier – I am almost 10 years older than most of the students and I am the only female. My background is definitely different.

At first, it was pretty alienating and I felt fairly lonely, but I think we’ve all warmed up to each other and I am genuinely fond of my classmates. I am constantly forced to challenge my opinions and preconceived judgments of others – which is always a fantastic experience. Learning how to talk to people from all different backgrounds with respect and understanding is a wonderful skill to cultivate. Last night, a classmate even told me I “changed [his] life” after a discussion we had. I realized if I had argued with him over something he said 5 minutes earlier, we would have never been able to reach that point. Another student said when he first saw me, he thought I was “thug”, because he had never really talked to anyone tattooed before.

Mostly though, I am thankful for the Beijing program students for making me feel like a “real” college student for a little while. From the midnight knocks on the door asking if I want to have a smoke to drinking beer and listening to Kendrick Lamar on an overnight train ride to just hearing what young college students think and dream about – these are the things I will take home with me.

I’ve read too many articles dissing Millennials while calling them out of touch and narcissistic. The ones I have gotten to know are really optimistic and imaginative. I find myself almost interviewing them regularly, because I was never taught to be so fearless and, man, do I want to learn. We are all in pretty privileged positions in this program, but I feel particularly privileged.

Even more than learning Chinese, even more than living in a different country, being surrounded by the optimistic and life-loving, globe-trotting future is what I am going to really remember.

I said it before, but the kids really are alright.

The Great Panda Adventure

Travel brings power and love back into your life.


I lost someone really important to me this year. I have written that sentence so many times, and nothing ever follows. Reciting the stages of grief to myself helps sort the feelings into manageable clumps so the rest of my life can keep going. Ok, something finally followed that.

I lost someone very important to me this year. The last time I saw him was December 26, 2013, and in the throes of a nasty, mean drug addiction. The pain he brought home with him sent shock waves through everyone’s lives, in addition to deep, painful disappointment.

Someone very important to me this year told me I ruined his life after he stuffed illegal mailed-from-China chemicals up his nose and spent every dime he had on other lascivious vices. And I lost him. December 26, 2013 was the last time I saw him. No, I realize that the last time I really saw him was long before that. When I saw the boy I had lovingly tried to raise and support despite his only being two years younger, foaming at the mouth and rolling his eyes, I knew I had to go to China.

When I saw who my little brother had become – with all the cruelty and selfishness addictions nurture – I knew I had to go to China. When I had cried for the 99th straight day, curled up in the bathroom, figuring out what I could have done/what I should have done/ knowing I could do nothing, I knew I had to go to China. When I heard little tidbits about the trouble he has been engaging in during the past few months, I knew I had to go to China. I had to do something just for me. Something selfish and crazy and life-affirming.

So now, I am in China.