Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

On the Courage of Living with a Disability: a Reflection (Living Blind Blog Post)

This week, I’m once again over at the Living Blind Blog, where I’m discussing the challenges associated with using words like courageous and inspirational when describing someone with a disability and how such descriptions at once acknowledge and call unwanted attention to a person’s disability. Head over here to check out the post!

As always, thanks for reading.

In Defense of English: or, the Day I Sherlocked the Internet

When you teach English, you learn a great deal about the colorful palette of poetic language people resort to when expressing their ideas. In the seven-and-a-half years since I began teaching, I’ve learned, for instance, that Martin Luther King Jr. preached passive-aggressive resistance, that he and Malcolm X were assignated, that nuns live in a covenant, and that our continual depletion of the Earth’s resources is part of a viscus cycle of human destruction.

I’ve written in the past about the fact that these errors result from human laziness due to the reliance on spell-checker, autocorrect, and predictive text. All of the above words (with the exception of assignated) are Standard English words, so a spell-checker won’t register their incorrect usage within the context of a sentence in which they clearly don’t belong. The Urban Dictionary, however, does define assignate as follows: “To take off someone’s $3000 designer glasses, wipe your butt with them, and put them back on their face.” Ya know, because you were wondering. You’re welcome.

Over at You Knew What I Meant, a fellow English teacher posits that students might also be mishearing certain words, an opinion that, if more willing to give students the benefit of the doubt, is nonetheless entirely plausible. (If you call yourself a grammar geek, and you aren’t following this blog, why aren’t you? But I digress.) I know I’ve certainly misheard expressions over the years, and had I not bothered to check the spelling and pronunciation, I might never have been any the wiser. In the popular Christmas carol, “Here we Come a’Wassailing,” for instance, I could have sworn as a child that the lyric actually went “Here we come a’Waffling.” Wassailing. Waffling. Perfectly understandable. Sort of mistake anyone might make.

I don’t offer the above examples of carelessness as anecdotal evidence of my own self-righteous adherence to perfect grammar. On the contrary, just this past week, a friend of mine was kind enough to point out several hilariously ridiculous errors in my own work that, because we both recognized how an incorrect homonym can completely change the meaning of a sentence, proved both a lesson in proofreading and an entertaining diversion in my day. We’ve affectionately termed our typo-spotting game “Sherlocking,” after a scene in the BBC television series “Sherlock,” when the great detective takes the time to correct a criminal’s grammar before sending him to the gallows.

You are all charity and benevolence, Mr. Holmes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Friday morning was off to a snickering start when I read the following Tweet from the BBC:

While the actual article headline assured readers that Lee wasn’t “pressured” into releasing her second novel, the damage had already been done. Merriam-Webster defines pressurize as “to press (something) tightly into a container.” No one can ever erase the images my mind conjured of Lee being forced into an enormous pressure cooker. In my score-keeping, this ties for first place with the time that Kristen Stewart told a reporter that she’d “literally implode” if she couldn’t act. OK, now, I know that Bella Swan tends toward the melodramatic, but I find it hard to believe that not having one’s dream job would result in collapsing inward in a very sudden and violent way.

Last Sunday, I dared to Sherlock the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” on a post written in honor of International Women’s Day, discussing what makes the main female characters such amazing role models. I tried to restrain myself. Truly. You must know this. I did everything I could to keep my hands otherwise occupied. I played fetch with my dog. I ate a cookie. I sat on my thumbs until they lost all sensation. Nothing helped. I just had to point out that, given the subject matter of the article, describing Bernadette as “the dependent character who has her life in line” doesn’t quite carry the intended meaning. Did they mean independent? Dependable? Either possibility would make far more sense in the context of the sentence. The writers of the show have since expressed their undying gratitude to me with a pair of tickets to the next taping. Bazinga! No one ever actually responded to my tweet. I don’t expect to be thanked for doing my duty as I see fit, but I ask you, in my position, what would Sheldon Cooper have done?

Challenge

If you spot any errors in this post, I give you leave to shamelessly Sherlock me. It is your duty as a devoted reader.

From Feminism to Fuckwittage: 20 Reasons Why we Love Bridget Jones

On February 28 1995, across the pond in the UK, the following column appeared in the Independent:

Sunday 26th February

8st 13; Alcohol units 2 (excellent); Cigarettes 7; Calories 3,100 (poor).

2pm. Oh why hasn’t Daniel rung? Hideous, wasted weekend glaring psychopathically at the phone, and eating things. I cannot believe I convinced myself I was keeping the entire weekend free to work, when in fact I was on permanent date-with-Daniel standby…Right: work. Beginning on Ash Wednesday: “I will not fantasize about or behave ridiculously regarding Daniel Cleaver, boss of my publishing house” is to be relaunched along with the other New Year Resolutions: I will not smoke, I will get down to 8st 7, I will not recycle items from the laundry basket, I will not bitch about Perpetua but work positively with her.

8pm. Phone call alert, which turned out just to be Tom asking if there was any progress. Tom, who has taken, unflatteringly, to calling himself a Hag-Fag, has been sweetly supportive about the Daniel crisis. (He has a theory that homosexuals and single women in their thirties have natural bonding; both being used to disappointing their parents and being treated as freaks by society.)

When the Independent relaunched the columns in 2005, Helen Fielding wrote candidly and, it should come as no surprise, self-deprecatingly, of the Bridget Jones project: “Back in the winter of 1995 I was trying to write an earnest and frankly unreadable novel about cultural divides in the Caribbean, and was rather short of cash. The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.” Yet twenty years, three sets of columns, three books, and two films later, Bridget Jones remains a prevailing pop culture icon.

Photo of author Helen Fielding, seated at a cluttered table, surrounded by scraps of paper. Image credit: Pal Hansen
Author Helen Fielding (2013)

Bridget Jones’s Diary, first published as a novel in 1996, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, has appeared on the BBC’s “Big Read” list of 100 books everyone should read, and readers of the Guardian voted it amongst the 10 books that best defined the 20th century. The 2001 film adaptation, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth, grossed a worldwide total of $281,929,795, and the 2004 sequel, “Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason,” adapted from the second novel (1999), grossed $262,520,724 worldwide. Most recently, on June 18th of last year, Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy (2013), the latest installment in the series, celebrated selling 1 million copies. From dieting to dating, starting a new job to single parenting, Bridget tells, with brutal honesty and self-deprecating humor, of the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heart-breaking truth of being a woman. For twenty years, readers have laughed, cried, and loved with Bridget, following every step of her life journey from her first date with Daniel Cleaver, to (SPOILER ALERT!) mourning the death of her husband, Mark Darcy (always remember…), and every cigarette, calorie, and croissant in between. So, in honor of one of the most beloved characters of Contemporary British Fiction, I give you: 20 reasons why we love Bridget Jones.

1. For making women everywhere feel less ashamed about harboring a secret fear of dying alone and being eaten by an Alsatian.

2. For the fact that, if you swap Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” for, appropriately, Renee Zellweger in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” my Saturday nights pretty much look like this.

3. For introducing the term “emotional fuckwittage” into popular discourse, because it so eloquently and accurately encapsulates the post-breakup feeling of oscillating between heartbroken and hurling empty wine glasses at the wall. (Plus, unlike many words in the English language, the ease of pronouncing it increases with the number of alcohol units consumed).

4. For the time she actually *gasps* walked out on Mark Darcy.

It takes tremendous courage and a strong sense of self to stand up to someone you love the way Bridget does to Mark. From amidst spouting self-help platitudes and objections to obsessive-compulsive underpants folding, we can extrapolate a fundamental truth about all relationships here—that to love someone “just as you are” is far easier said than done. It involves recognizing that, however ashamed we might be to admit, we need validation. We need to be told and shown that we’re loved, if not exhaustively, at least often enough to feel emotionally secure. This is where Mark falls short until Bridget elucidates that for him.

5. For the time she didn’t beat Daniel Cleaver’s lousy, cheating arse to a bloody pulp when she discovered his infidelity.

Sometimes it takes more strength to walk away than it does to throw a punch (not that we will ever fault Mark Darcy for valiantly, albeit ineffectually, taking matters into his own fists).

6. On the other hand: sometimes, a good tongue-thrashing is the only way to get a point across.

Preach it, sista!

7. For the time she survived a horrifying experience in Thai prison with only a Wonderbra, a Madonna song, and a scrap of paper containing a Kipling poem as her tools of survival.

8. For the time she inadvertently stumbled upon the secret to gourmet cooking that Marco Pierre White certainly never shared with us: the way to a man’s heart is through a mess of blue soup and congealed green gunge.

9. For the time she had the courage to ask Colin Firth the question that has been torturing Pride and Prejudice fans for the past two centuries: “Do you think Darcy and Elizabeth would have had sex before the wedding?” (He thinks they would have, by the way. Obviously. Ya know, because you were wondering).

10. And speaking of Colin Firth, this interview just makes all of my fantasies look like the diverting daydreams of a perfectly sane, well-adjusted woman.

I no longer feel ashamed. Thank you, Bridget.

11. For educating us about the mystical properties of terracotta oil-burners, which do, in fact, take in milk. Ask Mark Darcy; he swears he saw it with his own eyes, and a barrister would never lie under oath.

12. For volunteering herself as the comic poster child for basic ski safety, such as, rule number 1: when skiing, always wear skis. Neglecting this usually doesn’t end well.

13. For believing that certain skills, i.e. the ability to ski, the ability to write eloquent Christmas cards, and developing inner poise, improve in direct proportion to number of alcohol units consumed while endeavoring to perfect said skills.

14. For reminding us that women of substance don’t pine over ex-boyfriends and sit waiting for the phone to ring in manner of Pavlov’s dog.

15. And then for making us feel better when we do engage in Pavlovian dog-like behavior and promptly indulge in breakup sex with said ex when he does decide to ring. Because people are human.

16. For the time she succeeded in getting Mark Darcy to defend the postmodernist merits of “Blind Date.” Because let’s face it, there’s something deeply satisfying about the knowledge that even hoity-toity top human rights barristers who drive fancy cars and live in wedding cake-shaped houses in Holland Park are still human enough to occasionally be slaves to mainstream popular culture.

17. (SPOILER ALERT!) For the time she helped Billy and Mabel to mail Father’s Day cards to Mark under the address “Daddy, Heaven, the sky.” Because sometimes being a single parent means accepting that, whatever you do, there is still a gap in your children’s hearts, and the only thing you can fill it with is extra love.

18. For her saint-like show of restraint at the smug married dinner party during which she was forced to endure Woney asking why she wasn’t married yet in a simpering voice while stroking her own visibly pregnant belly. Here’s the thing, all you Woneys of the world: when you ask a singleton that question, this is what we’re really thinking: “Because if I had to cook Cosmo’s dinner then get into the same bed as him just once, let alone every night, I’d tear off my own head and eat it.” But thanks to Bridget, we know that sometimes inner poise is nothing more than biting one’s tongue to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, and this is what makes us superior creatures and women of substance.

19. For educating readers about the pitfalls of tweeting under the influence of alcohol. Exhibit A:

11.07 p.m. @JoneseyBJ ‘They toil not, neither do they tweet.’ Hmm. No, they do tweet though. Thasu point with birds.

11.08 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Anyway f*** em. Stupid birds flapping around tweeting all over s place. Oh oh look at me! I’m a bird!

11.15 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Hate birds. Look at that movie ‘The Birds’! Birds can turn MAN-EATING.

11.16 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Pecking people’s eyes out with 60s hairdos. Vicious nasty birds.

11.30 p.m. @JoneseyBJ 85 followess gone waway. Why? Why’wasi hwohave I don? Comeback!

@JoneseyBJ Noo! Follwers draining away as if through sieve.

@JoneseyBJ Nooo! Hate bireds Hatetweetings Hate drainqine away follwoers. An goingsoto bed!

I’m now going to keep that on my desktop as a caveat against “Twunking.”

20. For reminding women everywhere that sometimes feminism is not about political movements, or defying marriage statistics, or plotting ways to lock men in kennels until they’ve learned to wash their own socks and do the washing up, but about living honestly, being true to yourself, and listening to the quiet voice in your heart that tells you to love yourself, just as you are.

So, here’s to you, Bridget Jones, just as you are!