Monday, December 17, 2018


Season’s Greetings, 2018!

Hoping you’ve had a very good year in 2018.
Wishing you an even better one in 2019!

The Saturn in the snow
This year (2018) began with a great deal of snow – more snow that I’ve seen in Charleston since moving here in 1970 – almost half a century ago! It didn’t just snow half an inch and then disappear two hours later – as usually happens here when it snows –every five years or so. No, it was a real, two-day snow that piled up at least a foot, covering the ground, making the roads impassable for a day and then hanging around as ice and sleet for several days afterwards. Grandson Blake was visiting Charleston over the holidays, and he had helped me clear out the garage and sort through a lot of stuff while he was here. His plane back to Minnesota was cancelled because of the snow. I had to drive him to Myrtle Beach, at night, on icy roads, so that he could fly back. Good thing I learned to drive in Michigan!

With Dinah, a longtime friend (since 1956)

It’s been a busy year, and I’ve generally felt better and been able to do more than in recent years. I’m taking new medication that improves the breathing and have been able to do some traveling this year to visit family and friends. In March, I visited friends and family in Florida – Sue and Ray, friends from high-school; Dinah, a friend from college years; and cousin Larry and his family. Back in Charleston, I mostly hung out with longtime UU friends.

Briana and Jeremy's wedding. Blake officiated.

Daughter Briana married Jeremy Potter in Idaho in June, and I flew out there and rented a car to attend the festivities. I mostly hung out with Briana’s aunt and uncle, Judi and Danny Lane. It was a lovely, outdoor ceremony. Later that summer, I spent a couple of days with Elisabeth and her family, who were in Hilton Head for a week.

Reunion dinner, K-college friends, class of 1958

Our Kalamazoo College class “(’58) had its sixtieth reunion in October, and I drove up to Michigan for that, stopping on the way to visit an old friend, Fran Cameron, outside of Atlanta, and my daughter, Elizabeth, and her family near Nashville. It was a lovely, memorable trip, 

Writing has taken up a lot of my time at home – so I’m not doing as much clearing and sorting as I should. A collection of short stories, Laboratory Notebook, came out in May. 

And my magnum opus, TheBewildered Patient’s Whole-Body Health Guide, was published officially on December 10! Please visit the webpage for other books you might find of interest!

Hope all is well with you – or as well as can be expected. I’ve made my peace with aches and pains and coughs – and a lot of other stuff that comes with age. Still enjoying life, though. And I just put down a deposit on an apartment in a long-term care facility under construction in Nolensville, TN, near Elisabeth and her family. I should be there for Christmas next year!

Joy to the World – and Love to Friends and Family! 
Jo (Anne Valentine Simson)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Thankful

It's been a long time since I've submitted a blog post here! As often happens during the holiday season, I'm revisiting loose ends of my life and trying to catch up on activities I've allowed to languish.

This season, I'm particularly thankful that my breathing has improved with new medication, and I'm now able to travel and visit friends and family with much less fear of becoming sick, as has happened in the past few years.

Freshman class roommate, Sue Wixom (Nielson Coates) on right;
Ruth Sollitt Williamson, good friend and K-Gals organizer!
In October, I drove by car from Charleston, SC, to Kalamazoo, MI, for the 60th class reunion for students who started as freshmen at Kalamazoo College in 1954! It was a great get-together; about 40 of a graduating class of perhaps 120 were there, and we all had a wonderful time! In the motel, I even roomed with my freshman class roommate!

The campus had changed since we were there, with some buildings torn down and others added or remodeled. Still, it had the feel of the lovely quadrangle I remembered. And the "women's dorm" looked the same - on the outside, at least.

The old Mary Trowbridge Hall, where most women lived 
if they weren't married or townies. Now it's mixed, I think.

We spent the day on Saturday with friends: eating, chatting, exploring the campus. There were several activities arranged, but we spent a lot of time together just reminiscing.

At noon, we had a lovely lunch downstairs in the Hicks-Wells complex. We overflowed the table assigned to our class and populated several seats in other tables as well.

With Elizabeth Lindau, a K-College grad, who works in the 
alumni office. We had lunch once when she visited Charleston.

Afterwards, several of us browsed the college bookstore and then got together in the lobby for an informal memory fest.

Dinner at The Park Club. Sally Hunter, Gail Mullen

In the evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at The Park Club in downtown Kalamazoo. Ours was the largest 60th reunion group the college had ever had. At dinner, Jorge Gonzales spoke with us about his pathway to the presidency of Kalamazoo College. The following morning, we were all a bit sad to leave and go our separate ways, but glad to have been together, however briefly. It was a wonderful reunion and brought back memories of a wonderful few years in our lives!

Sunday morning, many of us gathered in the breakfast room at the motel, where we continued to share memories and info and promises to keep in touch. I passed out copies of some of the books I have written since retirement. The latest is The Bewildered Patient's Whole-Body Health Guide. It will be available to purchase on Amazon on December 10. The link is below:

The Bewildered Patient's Whole-Body Health Guide.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

My #MeToo Memories, Part 3

This is the final installment of "My #MeToo Memories." If you would like to read the whole sequence, you can begin here.

In the past three decades, I’ve traveled extensively, often alone, and I’ve had very little trouble or harassment from men. Part of the trick is simply not to seem helpless or vulnerable. Don’t dress provocatively. Don’t wear jewelry—with the possible exception of a wedding band. I often wore a simple wedding ring during my travels, even when I wasn’t married. Don’t go places by yourself at night. Don’t make eye contact with unknown men when you’re out and about. Men in many cultures consider that an invitation. Don’t get bogged down with excessive luggage.[1] Keep most of your money hidden in a pouch under your clothing, and don’t try to access your hidden stash in public.
Most of all, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid dark alleys. Avoid heavy crowds as well as deserted streets. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for anything that suggests danger. And find safety as quickly as possible if you feel threatened.
Although I haven’t had any serious harassment during solo travels—other than a couple of pick-pockets that I wasn’t even aware of until later—I've had a couple of experiences that could have turned out badly. Both happened during a trip to Russia in 1992 while traveling solo.
The first was in the town of Irkutsk, where our Sierra Club Service Trip group went after nearly three weeks of trying to do clean-up on the western shore of Lake Baikal. The previous night, I had stayed at the home of a Russian woman. The following day, I planned to take a train from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk, to meet a colleague, Tatyana Korolenko, who was working at the Siberian Academy of Medical Sciences.
One of the Russians, Sergei, who had translated for the Sierra Club group, was the son of Russian author and environmentalist, Valentin Rasputin. He had invited several of us to tea at his parents’ home. I went to a museum before the tea party and then walked to Sergei’s house from the museum, guided by a map of the town.
At one point, I became aware that someone behind me was pacing me—that is, walking behind me and going neither faster nor slower, usually a sign that the person is deliberately following. I did a quick glance behind me, noticing the person and his outfit, and then stopped at the next corner and crossed the street. I then crossed at the next corner, heading back in the opposite direction. The follower continued his pace behind me. I then crossed again, and once again at the next corner, ultimately heading back in the original direction. The follower apparently realized that I was aware of him tracking me, because he didn’t cross the final time to head in the direction that I (and he) had initially been walking.
The final experience that generated some anxiety during the Russia trip was on a train from Novosibirsk to Moscow. Tatyana, the fellow scientist I visited in Novosibirsk, helped me to buy the train ticket. Tatyana wasn’t savvy enough to ask for two tickets so that I could have the whole compartment. The tickets were not very expensive for Russians. Thus, I had one ticket for a two-person sleeper compartment, which I ended up sharing with another passenger during the three-day train ride from Novosibirsk to Moscow. My compartment mate was a young man in his early to mid-twenties. This felt problematical as I was in my early fifties and didn’t speak the language very well. Nor was I familiar with the customs or culture in this country where everything had become a social and economic free-for-all since the collapse of communism.
Two of my hostesses in Russia had warned me to avoid the Russian “Mafia,” lawless opportunists who were taking advantage of the political turmoil of the early 1990s. These men often referred to themselves as “entrepreneurs.” Ex-party apparatchiks fell naturally into this line of work, as did ambitious young men without jobs, when the former state and its bureaucratic structures crumbled. My compartment-mate was just such an entrepreneur.
I had thought I was going to have the compartment to myself and was surprised when he walked in and tossed his bag on the overhead rack opposite my seat. We nodded to each other when he entered, and we exchanged a few words of acknowledgement in Russian. Russians are naturally suspicious of strangers. And I was wary about sharing a train compartment with an unknown young man for a few days and nights.
Tatyana had been very anxious about the possibility of my sharing a compartment on the Trans-Siberian railroad with “one of our Russian tiefs” (thieves). So I was psychologically prepared for that possibility. When my compartment mate turned out to be a young man who said he was a “broker,” I went into yellow alert. That is, I didn’t leave the compartment without taking my valuables (passport, money, cameras) with me – most of which I wore strapped to my body, anyway. I did not change clothes during the entire trip, wearing the same jeans and sweatshirt for two and a half days and two nights, even while asleep.
In fact, I slept quite well on the train because I had enough covers. I had brought the sleeping bag from the back-packing trip. My money and documents were strapped in a hidden pouch beneath layered clothing, so I didn’t need to worry about that. 
I imagined a worst-case scenario and was prepared for that. I had brought an unopened bottle of vodka from Siberia, and I slept with it beside me, tucked into my sleeping bag. The scenario I imagined was that, if I were disturbed at night by the young man, I could bop him over the head with the bottle hard enough to break it. The alcohol would sting his eyes and nose and the jagged glass could serve as a weapon. Something about the vibes of a determined person may help to keep predators away.
Luckily, I didn’t need to implement my worst-case strategy. The young man was pleasant and kept his distance, and we offered food to one another from time to time. Near the end of the journey, I gave him my inflatable sleeping pad—partly because I didn’t need it anymore. Moreover, it would have been just one more thing to carry. Perhaps I also wanted to win his good will so that he wouldn’t feel like taking anything that really mattered.
He asked me how much the sleeping pad was worth in dollars (it had “made in USA” on the tag, which seemed to please him), and I told him about thirty or thirty-five dollars. He said he was going to keep it for his own use, which meant, perhaps, that he wasn’t going to sell it. It didn’t matter either way; we both came through a potentially difficult experience without harm.
So, this is a litany of sexually or physically threatening interactions I’ve had with males throughout my life, most of which did not end badly, and from which I do not feel any lasting damage. Several of the encounters could have gone otherwise. I know women who have been raped against their will, and it’s foolish to say it was their fault. Perhaps they weren’t as feisty or self-protective as I have been in my life. Perhaps they didn’t have the sorts of forewarnings I received from my mother. Perhaps they were just overwhelmed.
We certainly need to teach our children, and especially our girl children, how to protect themselves from predators. Boys can also be victims of sexual predation, although that is not as frequent, but it is still emotionally damaging. Moreover, boys and men suffer physical abuse in fights and wars and other forms of aggression by bullies, perpetrated on others who show any signs of weakness. Anyone can be a victim of abuse—physical, financial, or cultural. Bullies are everywhere. Abuse is what bullies do.
In the long run, it’s easier to respect yourself if you can protect yourself.

[1] I’ve frequently broken that rule and have been robbed a couple of times because of it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

My #MeToo Memories - Part 2

(Continued from the previous post.)

In high school and college, although I dated quite a bit, I managed to maintain my “chastity,” perhaps because I had an impossible crush on someone other than the person I was dating most of the time. I wouldn’t even kiss a guy good-night unless I really liked him. This was back in the 1950s, and the fellows I dated were all “honorable” sorts. Most didn’t take umbrage at my behavior, although a couple did. One date in college complained that he had paid all that money for a date to a dance, and I wouldn’t even kiss him goodnight. We never dated again after that. Needless to say, I didn’t date many guys for more than a few months.

During my junior college year in France, I dated a few Americans—a couple of fellow students and one American soldier who was stationed in Paris. However, for the last three or four months in Paris, I had a French boyfriend, Marcel, whom I liked very much. We were both virgins. He was eager to lose his virginity, but I was less eager to lose mine. Like most men, he was a decent person and didn’t try to force himself on me. 

One time, when I was walking home on a dark evening after classes, a man began to follow me from the train station. I kept walking as quickly as I could, but I could tell that the follower was gaining on me. He came up beside me, said “Madmoiselle, vous etes seule?[1] and put a hand on my arm, which I quickly withdrew. I was trying to figure out what to do next, when Marcel emerged from the shadow of a doorway and chased the man off. I was very glad to see him!

I didn’t even engage in heavy petting until my junior year in college, while I was dating a man I’d been in love with for almost four years. Just before he graduated, he finally persuaded me to “go all the way,” as it was called then. 

Then he left for a job in Chicago. I missed my next period. It finally came, about a week late, but that was one of the most terrifying weeks of my life. I vowed I wouldn’t have sex again until I was married. But his idea was that, since I had lost my virginity to him, he had the right to sex when we were together. He did use a condom after that. This was the late fifties, and other forms of birth control were not yet common, especially not for women who weren’t married.

Fortunately, we were apart most of that summer because we worked in different cities. Then he went off to graduate school in the fall, and I stayed in college for another year. So we didn’t see each other frequently. However, that year was stressful, and my fear of pregnancy began to erode my affection for him

The following summer, I met the man who became my first husband while I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan. We did become sexually active before we married, but he used a condom, and I also eventually managed to get a diaphragm from my gynecologist. Despite using birth control most of the time (except right around my period), I became pregnant shortly after we were married. But there was no coercion involved, and our daughter has always been a gift for which I’m grateful.

However, my husband did become more controlling in many ways, and I had problems with that. We eventually divorced, and I went back to graduate school in the mid-sixties, at a time when social mores were changing, and women were becoming sexually liberated. I took part in that sexual revolution and had “casual sex" with a few men I dated.
I certainly didn’t want to have sex with someone I didn’t really like and trust, though, so I was pretty selective about sexual partners. Probably the experience I had that was closest to rape was with a fellow I had only dated once or twice before. I probably had a glass or two of wine, and I let him get too close. He came on strong, but I told him I didn’t want to have sex with him, I tried to resist, but he was physically stronger than I was. I told him that, if he went through with it, I would never see him again. But he persisted and declared that I would really enjoy it. Subsequently, he called several times, wanting to get together again, but I refused to see him. He seemed surprised.
Perhaps the closest I ever came to physical danger from a man was an experience in a parking lot behind the Medical Sciences Building, while I was an anatomy graduate student in Syracuse, NY. Graduate students—at least in the sciences—work long hours, often into the night. Experiments may take hours and you need to be there to time experiments, process results, make sure all the equipment is working correctly, and record everything.

           One evening, after I emerged from the back of the science building into the parking lot and was walking toward my car, I realized that someone was following me. I turned around and noticed it was a man, and he was coming straight toward me. I ran to my car, managed to unlock the door, and, as I got in to sit behind the wheel, he reached his arm through the open door. I grabbed the door handle and pulled it closed with all the force I could muster, fully intending to crush his arm in the door if he left it there. A look of surprise came over his face.

He quickly pulled his arm away from the door as it slammed shut. Then I locked the door from the inside, turned on the ignition, backed out of my spot, and aimed the car directly at the potential perpetrator. Another look of surprise—and then fear—crossed his face as he backed up. He turned and ran as I drove after him down the parking lot. He jumped over the edge of the paved area and disappeared down the hill behind the lot. Then I backed up and drove home. I hope he never tried that on another woman.

          During my two years as a post-doctoral research fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia, I lived in a ghetto. I had no trouble with sleazy males the entire time I lived there. The closest I came was one evening, when I was walking alone along the sidewalk, not far from home, I could tell that someone was following me. I picked up my pace. It was late fall at the time, I believe, and I was wearing boots with short, hard, leather or rubber heels. I started clomping the heels heavily on the sidewalk as in a military walk, and whoever was following me turned aside. I don’t know if that was even a real threat, but I treated it as one. And I was prepared to confront the person if he caught up with me.

As an anatomist, I know the vulnerable parts of the human body. The easiest one, and probably the deadliest, is the part of the skull just above the nose. It’s called the cribriform plate, and this is where sensory nerve fibers for smell pass from the nose through the skull into the brain. A way to disable—and potentially kill—an attacker is to ram the heel of your hand upwards against the bottom part of his nose. Besides being extremely painful, the force can drive the main nasal bone (the vomer) up through the cribriform plate and into the brain. 

Another debilitating action is to drive the side of a stiffened hand in a “karate chop” against the larynx, which, in men, often protrudes at the front of the neck. This will seriously interfere with breathing and can also cause damage to major blood vessels in the neck. If the attacker has grabbed your hands and neither of these is an option, a swift knee to the groin is usually painful enough to stop a molester.

To be continued...

[1] “Young lady, are you alone?”