Category Archives: Life

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?

A Love Letter to my Future Husband

Dear future husband,
I don’t know your name or where you live; I don’t know how or where we’ll meet, or if the sound of your laughter will send the butterflies in my stomach into an Olympic gymnastics routine. I don’t know your favorite food, if you prefer coffee or tea, if you’re an early bird or a night owl. I don’t know if you leave socks on the floor or compulsively fold your underpants at night. I don’t know how your skin smells straight from the shower or if you like the way my hair tickles your face when I tuck my head beneath your chin. But I do know one thing. I know you probably have a lot of questions, because you probably never imagined you’d spend the rest of your life with someone who can’t see. Life has a funny way of blind-siding us like that.

Picture of a couple holding hands (image credit Ed Gregory via Stokpic)

You’re probably wondering how I can hold down a job or cook a meal, or how I’m going to bathe our children and change their diapers. You’re probably wondering how, in the early stages of our relationship, your family and friends will accept me—if they’ll accept me. They will, because together we will help them to see beyond the blindness to the strong, confident, woman of substance who loves you. I can promise you that answers to all of these questions will present themselves in time if you allow yourself to search for them. A relationship is a process of discovery, and when we fear discovery, we go through life in ignorance.

Let these questions be some of the many you will ask in your process of discovering the woman you love, along with discovering how I like my eggs cooked or if I think the toilet paper roll should flip up or down. Don’t let the fear of the answers prevent you asking the question. Don’t let the fear of discovery prevent you from welcoming someone into your life and into your heart who is ready to love you unconditionally.

I can’t promise you that life will always be easy, but of course, no one can promise you that. I hope, however, that during our life together, you will learn to see my blindness not as a burden, but as a gift. You will see it when you tell me that everything is okay and I can hear in your voice, without seeing your face or your body language, that you just need me to hold you for a little while; when the power goes out in the middle of the night and I can find the flashlights and batteries more quickly than you can; when you find yourself pausing to notice how a sunset tinges the clouds with pink just so you can describe it to me; when your hand guides me through our new home, painting a picture of the dreams that will fill the rooms with color and light. I hope that you will learn that we both have tools and talents, strengths and weaknesses to bring to the life we build with each other, but until then, I will cultivate my love for others—my love for my family, my friends, and most importantly, for myself, because the fact that you haven’t walked into my life yet doesn’t mean that you won’t or that I’m not worthy of your love. It simply means our paths have yet to cross, and when they’re meant to, we will both be ready.

Like what you see here?

Making a New Start: or, How I Discovered the Wisdom of Bridget Jones in a Fortune Cookie

Several weeks ago, I met a few friends for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and as usual, at the end of the meal, each of us broke open our fortune cookies to read aloud, between crunches, the nuggets of wisdom tucked inside. I generally put about as much faith in fortune cookies as I do in my weekly horoscope; neither have ever contained phrases like “A million dollars,” “You’ve won an all-expenses paid trip to England,” or “full time employment.” They’re slips of paper baked into a hard pastry shell, after all, not the Amazing Kreskin. This time turned out much the same. “Welcome the good change coming into your life soon,” my cookie prophesied.
“How suitably vague,” I mused. “That could involve anything from winning the lottery to ‘The Big Bang Theory’ returning to Thursday nights and thus restoring order in my universe.”

On the drive home, I found myself chatting with my friends teenage daughter about relationships. In a mojito-inspired burst of Bridget Jonseian wisdom, I suddenly heard myself declaring, “Never settle for someone who makes you want to do everything they want to do. Don’t sacrifice your identity for anyone. (unless he’s 6’1 and English. Then maybe you can negotiate, but just a bit). Nobody makes you whole. You’re an individual with or without anyone else. You don’t need anyone to make you a whole person.”

“Why,” I wondered as I got ready for bed, “is it so easy to give advice to others and not follow it ourselves?” Everything I told my friend’s daughter I’ve learned from my own experiences. My bruised, battle-scarred heart tells a story of resilience. I’m proud of those bruises. They remind me that I’m brave enough to fall in love and strong enough to survive and climb out from beneath the rubble of crushed dreams. I thought again of my flimsy fortune and suddenly recalled that this month, I will celebrate what I’ve affectionately termed my “Bridget Birthday.”

Anyone who’s seen the 2001 film adaptation of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary knows that it all began for her in her 32nd year, and by “it,” she means everything. Between losing and gaining a job, losing and gaining a boyfriend, and learning how not to climb a fireman’s pole, Bridget learns that being a woman of substance doesn’t mean getting it right all the time; rather, it means learning how to fall, and how to brush yourself off when you do so you can try again and maybe, or maybe not, land on your feet the next time.

Bridget Jones writing in her diary
“It is a universally acknowledged truth that when one area of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”- Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

As I thought about Bridget’s story and how much I’ve learned from her about how to be a woman in a world that seems full of wrong turns and roadblocks, I made a resolution to make this year, my 32nd, the year of Bridget. So, to start things off right, I’ve made a list—not exhaustively long because I’m nothing if not practical—of my Bridget year resolutions.

1. Stop obsessing about your job

You have one. Many people don’t. It will lead to bigger and better opportunities in its own time. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

When you set other peoples’ lives up as the gold standard for your own, you set yourself up for disappointment. Tell your own story. Live your own life.

3. Stop obsessing about being single

Just because you haven’t gotten married, bought a house, or had a baby, you’re no less of an adult than anyone who has. (Re: stop comparing).

4. Stop thinking of your heart as broken

Your heart may be bruised, but it beats, and it feels, and it remembers how to love, if you’ll let it. You’ve been hurt, yes—badly. So have a lot of other people. Your heart is whole, beautiful, and full of love. Your love is a gift; give it where you know it will be treasured.

Before you offer your heart to someone, check to see if he’s holding out his hand, ready to take it. If he’s not, it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy; it just means he’s not ready to hold something that precious and cherish it the way it deserves to be cherished. Don’t stand there thinking one day he’ll decide to hold out his hand and take it. When and if he’s ready, he will come to you and ask you to share it with him. If he never does, someone else will, because you’re worth it. Your heart is a one-of-a-kind, limitted edition jewel. It deserves to be treated as such.

5. At least once a day, tell yourself that you’re a strong, confident, woman of substance, comfortable with who you are, just as you are

Tell yourself this as many times as you need to until you believe it, and even when you do believe it.

Question

Do you make birthday resolutions? What have you resolved to do this year?