Category Archives: Life

Coffee and Questions

When I began participating in the weekend coffee share blog prompt, the reason I found the exercise so appealing was the fact that it’s structured to challenge writers to visualize an audience, and who better to serve as your composite listener than your best coffee buddy—the confidant to whom you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets without fear of judgement? Yes, even the one about how you spent three days eating Oreos in bed after your boyfriend dumped you. Not that I did that. Whatever you heard, that wasn’t me. Moving on.

If writing is a dialogue, it follows that audiences must have questions—a fact that the lovely Lorna over at Gin and Lemonade recently reminded me. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s generally responsible for all of the brilliantly sparkling fairy dust with which I regularly sprinkle my readers. She recently posed a series of questions on her blog, and I’m going to attempt to answer them with the Oscar Wilde-inspired wit to which you have all become accustomed, or something.

What are you reading right now?

This is a dangerous question to ask an English teacher. The short answer: everything. The long answer: I generally have at least 3 books in progress, sometimes more, which explains why I never get through more than 30 books a year. This number makes me feel disgustingly lazy, but I always start what I finish, so, there’s that. Right now I’m working my way through the Jane Austen mystery series by Stephanie Barron and whatever guilty pleasure internet fanfiction I have bookmarked, including this gem—a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey that cannot but send me to my happy place.

How did you meet your best friends?

At school, or through work, because apparently my life lacks imagination. I like to add spice to this answer by telling people I met one of my best friends in an attic, because not only does it sound amusingly arbitrary, it’s literally true. When I was a graduate student, the office space for first-years was relegated to an attic even Bertha Mason would have admitted needed an interior decorator…or a demolition crew. It’s also the birthplace of a friendship that has enriched my life with more hilarity than I thought humanly possible.

What makes you laugh?

Snoopy dancing on top of a piano in the Charley Brown Christmas special. The word squirrel. Every word Helen Fielding has ever written. This scene from “The Big Bang Theory”:

What’s your favorite city?

My default answer would be London, but the London of my dreams probably doesn’t count. With a few exceptions, I’m embarrassingly untraveled, so I’m going to stick to my Florida roots here. I adore St. Augustine for its rich history. I fell in love with Key West during a cruise in which we docked there for a day; it has Hemingway House. And cats. Many, many cats. One of the cats granted me permission to approach for a 30-second cuddle. Also margaritas. You can get those anywhere, but they taste better in Key West. On a related note, if you’re willing and able to aid the restoration efforts following Hurricane Irma, especially in the Keys, where 25 % of homes have been destroyed, you can find more information about local organizations in South Florida here, among other places.

Who do you miss right now?

My long-distance besty—yes, the same one I met in an attic. The wine just doesn’t taste as sweet without her.

What’s your coffee order?

Grande Caramel Macchiato. I used to order it skinny until one day when I really focused while tasting it and decided that a skinny latte pretty much defeats the purpose of living. The same rule applies to the skinny midnight mocha Frappuccino, which was such an underwhelming experience that after the first few sips, I had a small meltdown because I was convinced I’d somehow damaged my taste buds.

What’s your favorite alcohol/cocktail?

The kind you drink, but I wouldn’t turn down a Brandy Alexander.

Do you think social media is still social?

I think you have to make an effort, as with any social interaction. Humans seek validation, and in the internet culture of “likes” and “reactions” and emojis of everything from clapping hands to eggplants, communication has become pretty low-maintenance. I mean, when you “like” my status update about the time my dog vomited all over the bedroom at 3 AM, an hour before I had to wake up for work, are you praising my ability to find the moment of comedic timing in my tragedy, or are you just passive-aggressively wishing me nothing but misery? Comment features exist so that we don’t feel like we’re shouting into the void; I’d like to see more people using them.

What do you do on the weekend?

Grade papers, drink wine, and question my life choices. Usually simultaneously, because multitasking is just how we roll in the Shire.

What’s your favorite quote?

A few times in my life, I’ve had moments of absolute clarity.
When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can think rather than feel…
And things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments.
They pull me back to the present and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.

– “A Single Man” (2009 film)

In similar news, I probably need to re-watch that movie, since I’ve been quoting it exhaustively of late, but during the academic year, a movie about a guy who teaches English, drinks a lot of gin, and questions his life choices hits a little too close to home for comfort (see above).

I guess somehow I’ve become a link in the chain of random questions, so here are mine:
1. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
2. If you had to be stuck in an elevator with anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you choose, and why?
3. Have you ever seriously wondered what dogs dream about?
4. Penguins: for or against?
5. What is your opinion of Pumpkin? (There is only one correct answer, so don’t bother unless your opinion includes the words pumpkin and tastegasm in the same sentence).

If you feel inclined, share your answers in the comments, or blog them and link me in your answers so I can read them, because inquiring minds want to know.

Of Dogs and Disasters and Death-Defying Actors

Happy Labor Day! I’ve spent my day creating PowerPoint presentations on comma splices and misplaced modifiers, which was labor-intensive and not at all happy. I’d like a refund, please.

School is back in session, so if we’re having coffee this week, I should tell you that I’ve swapped my usual two cups a day for a caffeine IV drip…I wish.

Last weekend everyone on the internet was celebrating National dog day. Somehow, that never registered on my radar, which probably makes me a terrible person. When you have a service animal though, every day is dog day. My dog is probably the reason why my blood pressure is still hovering somewhere in the range that we can medically call normal. Petting a dog for just a few minutes can apparently send calming signals to the brain, which is why I’ve made an executive decision to remove my dog’s harness when I’m in my office between classes. Students come to repair the cracks and comma splices in their essays, they get a five-minute shot of brain therapy, and my dog gets a free massage. 3 for the price of one.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. Some people just don’t like dogs, and some take being afraid of them to a disturbing level. I was reminded of this on my morning commute a few days ago when I attempted to board the paratransit van that arrived to take me to work only to have another passenger scream in my face because he was afraid of dogs. I sympathize, but when I’m late for work, this really isn’t my problem. Get over it or go home. The driver insisted that I couldn’t board the vehicle because he needed to accommodate the other client. Last time I checked, fear of dogs is not a legal disability, so I got to stand in the rain and explain why my rights were being violated. Did I mention I was undercaffeinated? My service animal was documented; the other client’s fear of animals wasn’t, so, again, not my problem.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how screaming in my face before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee won’t end well for you, but if you were the sort of person who’d scream in my face before I’ve had coffee, I’d be having coffee with someone else. Did I also mention that my apparently ferocious, I-will-eat-your-face guide dog was, throughout this entire confrontation, cowering behind me with his tail between his legs, doing a pretty accurate impression of not eating someone’s face?

In other news that falls in the category of happy-making things, if we were having coffee—or vodka—you’d get to listen to me squeal about the fact that we’re less than a month away from the release of Kingsman: the Golden Circle. At some point in the conversation, you’d wonder why and how this will work when we all saw Samuel L Jackson shoot Colin Firth in the head at point-blank range in the first film. My only response is that Hollywood knows when it’s made a mistake, and clearly a Firthless franchise would leave a gaping hole in the universe too large to contemplate. Now, however, we all get to sleep soundly at night because Colin Firth is decidedly not dead and is single-handedly going to save the world while sporting a cowboy hat and an eyepatch.

I don’t think Colin Firth is actually ever going to die. If he does, the world will just unite and synchronously chant his name until he resurrects like the 10th Doctor in “The Last of the time Lords.” I know, I know, but a girl can dream, right?

It’s International Friendship Day, and I needed blog fodder.

The exploding fortune cookie of internet wisdom informs me that today is International Day of Friendship. There seems, increasingly, to be a national or international day of everything—coffee, chocolate, margaritas, hotdogs—why not friendship? Without friends, whom would you share your hotdogs and margaritas with? (Notice I don’t mention coffee or chocolate. I typically don’t share precious commodities, the noted exception being an exchange in which I’m given alcohol to drown my sorrows over parting with my chocolate).

Friends share secrets, rejoice in your successes, commiserate over your failures, and insist you eat the last chocolate chip cookie on the plate (unless, again, you’re me, in which case, you arm-wrestle for it). Literature, film, and television are all inundated with famous fictional friendships: Holmes and Watson, the Doctor and his (or her) companions, the great trifecta that is Harry Potter, Rom Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Here, then, are four of my favorite (and admittedly random) quotes to celebrate International Day of Friendship.

1. “So you’re saying that friendship contains within it an inherent obligation to maintain confidences? Interesting. One more question, and perhaps I should have led with this, when did we become friends?”- Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory”

Yes, Sheldon, that’s how it works, although it’s also wise to confirm that the friend in question in fact has the ability to keep a secret. Once, during high school, I confided to a friend that I had a crush on a certain guy; if this story ended well, I wouldn’t be telling it. Somehow, the guy in question discovered my feelings (probably because I don’t do subtlety very well). The resulting conversation with my friend went something like this:
Friend: so he pulls me aside and says, “I need to ask you something. Does Fran have a crush on me?”
Me (already contemplating changing my name and fleeing the country): And…what did you say?
Friend: I told him of course you didn’t, obviously.
Me: Oh, thank God. You’re the best.
Friend: Yeah, well, there’s something else. I should probably tell you I’m a terrible liar.

I don’t know what ever happened to that girl, but it’s probably safe to say she didn’t pursue a career in espionage.

2. “If we have friends, we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us.”- Anne of Green Gables
Spoken wisely, Anne girl, as always. We can’t expect others to look past our faults and love us anyway if we can’t be willing to do the same. (And, okay, I do agree with Anne; sharing chocolate does give it a sweeter taste, but if it’s chocolate and peanut butter, it’s all mine. Deal?)

3. “We’re with you whatever happens.”- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Simple yet profound, and not at all coincidental that Hermione makes this promise to Harry just after Dumbledore’s funeral. Hard times bring out the best in some and the worst in others, and we can all agree that Ron and Hermione fall into the former category. Battling three-headed dogs, breaking into the Ministry of Magic
, and camping all over England looking for bits of Voldemort’s soul that might or might not have been stashed God knows where aren’t jobs for the fair-weather friend. To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, friendship—real friendship—involves certain “inherent obligations,” but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a few friends who take these obligations way beyond the call of duty.

It takes a special friend to drive you to the emergency vet at 8:00 on a Sunday morning when your dog is displaying alarming symptoms of what could either be an intestinal infection or the result of accidentally swallowing nuclear weapons. (Not that I’m speaking from my own experience, but the less said about that the better). Sufficed to say, a friend who willingly takes crap from you—in more ways than one—deserves all the love and respect you can give, mixed with vodka. A lot of vodka.

4. “As Tom said, if Miss Havisham had had some jolly flatmates to take the piss out of her, she would never have stayed so long in her wedding dress.”- Bridget Jones: the Edge of reason
In other words, friends don’t let friends wallow in the pain of a broken heart—or, you know, spend 50 years in a wedding dress, wearing one shoe, counting cobwebs and waiting to die. Friends will allow you to shed the tears necessary to cleanse your soul of the emotional toxins that breakups cause. They’ll help you scoop up the shattered remnants of your relationship and let you sob over the pillow that still bears traces of your ex’s aftershave before wrestling it from your hands and tossing it into the trash where it belongs. It’s said that a friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words, and this involves knowing when to remind you that life, however challenging, does go on.

So, what are your favorite friendship quotes? Who are your favorite fictional friends?

I Can Do This With My Eyes Closed: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2017

Once again, it’s Blogging Against Disablism Day—a day when people all over the world take time to write about their experiences with disability to dispel stereotypes and challenge attitudes of ableism. Every year, this date creeps up on me like a stealthy shadow that tip-toes up behind me, suddenly grabbing me and yelling “Boo!” This has largely to do with the fact that BADD inevitably falls in the thick of end-of-semester grading for me, when I can’t tell if the headaches are the result of too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, washing down comma splices with shots of Peach Schnapps, or some combination of all of the above.

Then too, this year, I haven’t written a single blog post in…a while—I don’t know precisely how long it’s been since my last post. Periods between blogging for me have become like the periods between going to confession; bless me readers, for I have sinned. I don’t know how long I’ve been away, but my conscience tells me it’s time to return. In past years, I’ve hastened to cobble together deeply philosophical reflections laced with humor about what I’ve learned from my life as a person with a disability; I’ve written about how my disability has made me a better teacher; I’ve written about the dos and don’ts of interacting with a blind person. This year, however, I dipped into my bag of writing tricks and came up empty, my excuse being simply—and albeit lamely—life.

What, you may ask, have I been doing? I’ve been teaching my classes; I’ve been advocating for the improvement of local public transportation for people with disabilities in my community; I’ve been playing fetch with my dog; I’ve been sharing laughs and bottles of wine with friends; I’ve been watching my nephew grow, marveling at how quickly, how eagerly he’s grasping with tiny hands at this big, big world. In short, I’ve been living, and this, quite simply, is the story that we tell every year on this day.

All day, every day, people with disabilities find themselves the recipients of some form of pity. “Life must be so hard for you,” someone will say. “I don’t know how you do that,” a passer-by will declare when we unlock a door, bend down to pick up a book we’ve dropped, or tie a shoe. All the while, we live; we go about our daily routines, performing these and many other tasks, large and small, in various ways. I don’t mean to minimize the challenges that we do face—difficulty accessing buildings, getting disoriented in unfamiliar places, or depending on the kindness of those around us when our adaptive equipment fails or our service animals are sick, just to name a few. Yet our life experiences are not altogether different than anyone else’s. I teach; I write; I make spaghetti sauce while dancing in my kitchen to the “Mama Mia!” soundtrack. I take long walks with my dog; I bake cake from scratch; I go on dates; I cook dinner for friends; I flirt with the cute bbarista at Starbucks; I drink cheap wine and cry during Colin Firth movies. I live a relatively healthy, relatively happy life, with the added twist of doing it all without looking. All of these rituals and routines, so seemingly mundane, testify to the fact that every day, everywhere, people are barreling through the barriers of ableism simply by living. Can you beat that? No, I didn’t think so either.

“But You Don’t Look Blind”: a Reflection on Blogging Against Disablism Day 2016

Several weeks ago, a friend and fellow blogger, Blindbeader, responded to and encouraged her readers to participate in a blogging challenge, entitled “But you don’t look blind.” The challenge asked bloggers to reflect on the statement, whether or not they had found themselves on the receiving end of it, and their thoughts about the statement’s intent and broader implications. As we celebrate Blogging Against Disablism Day, I thought today would offer a useful opportunity to examine this question and the nuances of ableist language.

Who Gets the Comment?

Mostly, sighted people will direct this observation to a blind or visually impaired person whose eye condition is genetic or whose eyes don’t bear the marks of surgery or illness. Someone might also make this observation to a visually impaired person who doesn’t travel with a white cane or a guide dog and appears able to see, read print, and navigate independently using proscription glasses. Many people don’t recognize that blindness, like other illnesses and disabilities, exists on a spectrum; some of us are totally blind, some have peripheral vision, vision in only one eye, or have only light perception (the ability to detect light and shadow). Some of us, like me, have conditions that don’t affect our eyes cosmetically, except for occasional muscle spasms. Since I can only detect light and shadow, my eyes have lost the ability to focus, so I often, especially when tired or in a room with bright light, have difficulty controlling my eye muscles. While it’s often visible if you look closely, someone might not immediately recognize my blindness since I generally try to make eye contact with whomever I’m speaking to, or at least look in the direction of the person’s voice.

Is it a compliment?

Most of the time, when someone observes “you don’t look blind,” she intends it as a compliment. She’s saying—or thinks she’s saying—that the blind person has risen above a disability and refused to let it interfere with the day-to-day rhythms of a fulfilling life. Yet the implicit ableism of this supposed compliment sometimes does more to perpetuate than to dispel myths about disability. To say that we “don’t look” disabled in effect congratulates us for assimilating into able society, concealing our disabilities (as much as we can, if we can) because they make people uncomfortable, or hostile, or can even cost us a job or access to adequate housing. Rather than simply allowing us to comfortably inhabit the bodies we’re born with or have had to learn to fit into, the comment applauds us for performing a “normal,” ableist narrative.

Broader Implications

Ironically, the compliment that applauds us for essentially performing an ableist narrative lends a certain performativity to disability, particularly when we require accommodation; if we don’t appear disabled, very often businesses or individuals will attempt to deny us appropriate accommodation because we don’t appear to need it. As a result, we either have to produce documentation (which can be an inconvenience at best and invasive at worst) or reduce ourselves to performing disability, adopting the perceived traits that you’ve just commended us for overcoming.

Case-in-point: when I moved back to my hometown last summer, I had to apply to ride paratransit because I cannot easily access the stop on the bus route nearest my neighborhood. Paratransit, for those unfamiliar, provides door-to-door service for people unable to drive or to use fixed bus routes because of a disability. You would think, wouldn’t you, that being legally blind and thus not permitted to hold a driver’s license would automatically qualify one for such services, given appropriate medical proof of disability. You would be sadly mistaken.

After submitting my application, I found myself engaging in a strategy session with two friends who use the service to determine how to pass the physical evaluation; in other words, how could I make sure that I appeared disabled enough to qualify for the accommodation I was requesting?
“You’re legally blind,” one friend said. “You’ll qualify. I’m sure they won’t give you a problem.”
“Well, here’s the thing though,” chimed in the other friend. “I don’t know if you realize how independent you are, and in a case like this one, that’s going to count against you.”
“so basically,” I concluded, “You’re telling me that I have to appear helpless?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”

In short, I was expected to perform disability, conform to the mold of what the system expected of a blind person to prove my blindness, because any sign of independence would count as evidence against my case. Blind people don’t have PhDs, or live alone, or hold down steady jobs, or essentially do anything independently, according to that logic. My independence, for which I had labored so long and hard, was now, in an irritating twist of irony, holding me back.

I ultimately refused to bow to this logic, because when we do, we just perpetuate the myth. Living independently doesn’t make me Wonderwoman, and it doesn’t deny me rights to reasonable accommodation. At the other end of the spectrum, reasonable accommodations don’t make people with disabilities helpless; on the contrary, they enrich our quality of life and increase our independence. To assume me somehow less capable because I have a disability, and then to believe me somehow unqualified for reasonable accommodations because I don’t appear to need them assumes false knowledge about my life with a disability. That cliché about walking a mile in my shoes before you criticize? Yeah, that applies here.

Why Can’t We Just Accept the Compliment?

I have tried, over the years, to accept this “compliment” gracefully, but unfortunately, ableist thinking has conditioned us to bristle at these comments—to react with suspicion to any observation that could potentially be an accusation that we are not, in fact, legitimately disabled. Do we want you to ultimately see past our disabilities and respect us as diverse, unique, talented individuals who can contribute to society just as productively as you can? Certainly we do, but are our disabilities also an inescapable reality of the narratives we live every day? Unfortunately yes. The implication that we are faking disability implies that we’re simply trying to manipulate the system so that we can receive services and accommodations that make our lives easier, and it’s this mindset that has actually created increasingly annoying roadblocks for legitimately, legally disabled people to receive those services, whether related to transportation, employment, education, housing, or government financial assistance, the last of which has become so convoluted that many people simply abandon the process because fighting the red tape takes more hours in a day than any human has. When you tell us that we don’t “Look blind,” you imply that we look “normal,” according to your ableist definition of normal, but did you ever consider that for us, our lived experiences in our disabled bodies are our concept of “normal?” Today, as we consider how to break down the stigmas of disability, I challenge you to step back and reexamine the ways that your words and actions can disable us just as much as, if not more than the disabilities we live with.

Question

Has anyone ever told you that you “don’t look disabled” or “sick”? How do you handle this comment?