Game Face

Imagine a whole set of stone steps rising up to bite you in various places of your body as you slide down.  The whole time you keep thinking, while your jaw rattles, “This has to stop at some time!”

A week and a half ago I fell down a whole flight (15 steps) of stairs.  The results: injured right arm/hip/shoulder and my right foot feeling like I broke it in half.  The xrays say otherwise.

Needless to say, this avid walker and hiker is noticing all my favourite things: writing, sewing, walking, occasionally running or jumping through the occasional empty hallways of my school are at a standstill.

The simplest thing, like getting out of the bath, poses serious logistical hurdles.  My cats have not yet been trained to drag my laundry across the flat to my laundry room.  Damn them.  Or shame on me for not betting training them to do better tricks.

A new world of disability has opened up to me.  I already have endometriosis, which has posed significant challenges to my life in the last two years.  I won’t belabour the point there.  Needless to say, pain is my middle name.  I try to hum, sing, take motrin and keep sunny.

But this new injury has made me rethink mobility issues and people who suffer from them, and some who have their entire life.  When things in your body go wrong (like being unable to walk for more than a few steps without feeling like your right leg is on fire) your body is even more disappointed because its remembers how it used to be.  It likes to say awful things to you, like “ha ha, you loser, look what you can’t do now.”

Or, “Idiot, and you thought the endometriosis pain was bad, sucker this is worse!”

“Now you more easily resemble the hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Lovely, lovely, insidiously awful things to be thinking when you’re trying to navigate the parking lot of Edeka without having every Bavarian BMW not run you over in impatience.  I never realised how much able-bodied people hate the disabled.

I’ve been joslted in line, people trying to get me to move faster, individuals trying to stop me on a borrowed scooter, thinking it was a toy instead of a mobility tool.  I’ve had groans, huffs, people constantly ask me “What happened?” whilst I struggle to just walk, for Heaven’s sake.  I’ve picked a few savory comments that have come up, because they are both funny and insightful to human behavior toward the disabled:

“Oh, can I help you?  Oh wait, I’m in a hurry, but do you need help?” Said person rushes off after they see angry look on my face.

“Love your new gimpy walk.”

“You’re just trudging along there aren’t you?  Why’d you bring your purse to school if you knew you couldn’t walk?”

“Love the new shoe, very very trendy.” (I have an orthopaedic astronaut boot that feels like it weighs twenty pounds).

“I think you could definitely go faster, if you tried harder.”

“Do you really need a wheelchair today? I mean we have three here and we need all of them in case of an emergency with a student.”

“I put a twenty pound bag of rice in your car, on the passenger side seat.  I realised you probably won’t be able to get it out, but I didn’t think of that until you were gone.”

“How do you drive, with your left foot?”

The shame of having to listen to such questions is enough for me to feel like blowing up several times a day.  These are the only juicy tidbits I can remember.

However, the upside to all of this is that I’ve realised there is a certain humility that comes with having to rely on strangers, friends, coworkers and neighbors to help me out.  I simply cannot do what I could two weeks ago. The fortunate reality for me is that I will probably gain full mobility.  There are many who never will.

How do they cope with persistent impatience, people who are able-bodied parking in their handicapped spots, people staring at them when they park in a handicapped spot and re-adjust the straps on their orthopaedic devices?  What do they tell people when they stare, cast wayward glances, or tut in pity?  I can’t help believing that many who have mobility issues must fight daily to not blow up at people in general.

On a sleepless night (sadly induced by pain medicatins that are suppose to take pain away but instead sent my thoughts racing in a million directions) I decided to try and focus by finishing Matt Haig’s Reasons for Living. In it he details all the things people say about physical conditions, but cannot give the same allowances for psychological impairments.

Having worked with individuals suffering from a wide variety of psychiatric illnesses and having had a nervous breakdown myself, I cannot emphasize enough the compassion needed in our world.  I am thankful I have a good community of friends and wonderful students to help me navigate the ropes of this new impairment.

There are so many without a support group, or for whom their support group has failed them, or they are beyond reaching.  I feel this pressure to keep on my “game face” and I’m sure others do, when life just isn’t fully going our way.  Obstacles seem to abound, and there is little comfort. Thus, I’ve decided to dispense with the game face in my own personal call for greater transparence and love for my fellow men.

My favourite quotes of this week came from the mouths of thirteen year olds & good friends:

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.  I want to beat those mean people with a cane who keep asking you stupid questions.”

“Here’s some vanilla gelato, I think it will make you feel better.”

“Make a list of what you need from the store, I’ll go get it and put it in your car for you.”

“You need wide legged pants, here are two pairs I know will fit your long legs.” (I’m handed two perfectly pressed trousers, appropriate for work and very comfortable.)

“I’ll run you to do your errands, just let me know what time and I’ll be there.”

“I love you, you just call me and I’ll help you out.”

“I like your pigtails.  They look cute.”

“Here’s a book you liked, I ordered it for you from Amazon.”

“Kennen Ich helfen sie?” (Can I help you?)

It’s amazing that these kind words, some entirely unrelated to what’s going on externally and internally kept me from the depths of despair.

The greatest light in the tunnel (as Matt Haig says, there is one, you might just have to wait for it) comes from those keeping it going as they pass the flame onto those who need it.

Bless all those who care.  May we all try to contribute to such compassion and concern.  Thank you to you all.

The Body Public

“I am what I eat: especially if I am a woman.”
“To be thin is to be divine.”
“It’s okay to be called a skinny b—-h.”

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was diagnosed with cancer in her early sixties she is quoted to have said, “If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have done all those sit-ups.”

Why are woman judged so harshly by how they appear in the public? From tabloids to respected news syndicates a female’s worth and wisdom are appraised by appearance first and substance second. In our centuries of evolution the value of female beauty still reigns supreme over her other qualities.

This surprises me in a post-modern age where we have concentrated a lot of political and societal effort on closing the gender gap. More women are working in fields such as medicine, law, and government than a century before. However, women are still largely under-represented in political office, as leaders of companies and in the fields of research science and other male dominated fields. Several women who choose to take time off to rear children are often unable to regain their previous traction in both academic and career tracks. The statistics are staggering, as listed in the documentary Miss Representation.

When I asked my students to read aloud a few of their New Year’s Resolutions most of the females (85%) listed “losing weight, eating better, and transitioning from a couch potato to a french fry” as their main resolutions.

On the other hand, most males mentioned wanting to make more money, save-up for a gaming console of some sort, or doing better in school.

Both genders listed wanting to spend more time with family, being nicer to siblings and making more time to do schoolwork.

Not a single male voiced the desire to become more athletic, lose weight or eat better.

Having volunteered in clinics for individuals with eating disorders (which comprised 98% of female clients) and witnessed first hand how debilitating such a disorder is, it is shocking when I hear both adolescent and adult women alike boasting their goal of “having the endurance of an anorexic”.

The public often equates being thin with being healthy.  When a person loses weight we often assume that they are “doing something right.”  In the past year, I lost approximately 9kg (or 20 lbs).  Far too many people commented on how “good” I looked.  My closest friends knew I was either not getting enough to eat, due to financial issues, or that I had lost my appetite due to stress and health problems.  It was not a conscious effort, at all, to lose weight.  My weight loss did not bring about better health, if anything I had less energy because food simply did not taste good.  Having to force myself to eat was a stressful experience.

Thus, my outlook on individuals who wish to become “like an anorexic” or morph from a “potato to a french fry” scares me.  We weren’t meant to look like stick figures.

Most developing nations find our body trends rather alarming because they know what it is like to live without food.  To have a little extra roundness in one’s face (I’m not talking about obesity) and a little something spare around the middle is actually a good thing.  It means you have enough to eat.

I would like to understand why women are held to such a high standard of beauty that is both expensive, often harmful, and doesn’t add to their psychological well-being, whilst men feel no such compunction to do the same?  Are women their own worst enemy or is the pressure of society so large that we cave in?

Why do people believe that women’s bodies belong to the public and are open to discussion?  Is there a systemic belief that we are the property of the public at large because we can bear children?  Or, have the rise of violent crimes against women and the depiction of them in T.V. and film dramas led us to believe that one gender’s body is less important than another?

What surprises me most is that most individuals don’t give their criticism of female public figures a second thought.  Whereas the bodies of balding, aging and overweight men on television are rarely the subjects of satire.  Instead, men tend to be criticized because of their way of handling a subject or their verbal goofs on television.

I am curious what others think about taking the pledge to help balance public portrayals of women less as objects and more as people who have feelings and as much dimension as males.  I’m not saying that women and men have to be the same.  I just wish we were treated the same in media and public portrayals.

A New Year’s Resolution for Children’s Education

Malala Yousafzai stated it best in her CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour: “I do not understand how governments can find more money for guns and tanks than for children’s education.  World leaders claim they care about children’s education and rights, but they are not living up to their promises.”

As a teacher for over fifteen years, and my continued tenure as a teacher in public schools for the last ten years, I cannot stand by and let statements about the lack of education for either females or child slaves fall on deaf ears.

It makes me wonder if all people who live above the poverty level took the money they spend on the latest gadgets (me: dresses, books), most luxurious cars, etc… and put that money toward coalitions to end child slavery, to fund schools, books, etc… to show that the world cares more about these issues and we, not the government, hold the power to affect change.

I can’t help but wonder about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai (whom I am sure will soon be called Malala), some of my favourite activists, Sven Volkmuth & Jacynthe Omglin who run their own NGO, chance for growth and how much time is dedicated to making sacrifices for the better living conditions of others.

What if all of the above decided it was more important to buy luxury goods instead of helping save lives, protect the innocent and invest in a better future where education is no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity to all human life?

I want to be a part of that future, thus I am pledging this year (and hopefully forever) to spend not a dime on anything that:

  1. was made by child slaves, or in a country that abuses its workers or allows children to legally work in factories
  2. I do not desperately need (i.e. will cause starvation)
  3. I cannot make myself
  4. make an negative impact on our environment because I am promoting world pollution through buying something I could get second-hand or live without
  5. makes it less possible for me to get out of debt in the next four years

I bring up debt because a lot of people in industrialised countries have easy access to debt, something that I know I can live without and will give me the freedom to give more of my excess to helping people worldwide.

I hope to contribute by being able to teach during my summer recess and give my time to organisations which want to improve the quality or set-up schools for all children who are in need, especially in countries where girls are forbidden any education or an equal education.

I may be only making a drop in the bucket, but I am making a purposeful drop that millions of others can join in to make our world a better place.

Happy Channukah

Happy Christmas

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

The NaNo Experiment & the result

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Halfway through writing my 50,000 required words, I wanted to quit. Not because it was too hard, or I didn’t know what to write, or anything that included writer’s block.

I wanted to edit.

The whole reason I started NaNoWriMo this year was to get myself writing without editing so I could get into a proper creative flow that was unlike the process I had adopted halfway through 2013.  I made a goal this year to try to aim for at least 70,000 (I made it to 55,537).  I generally start a little early so I have a proper structure to work within.

Like magic, my characters wanted different things.  Leanora and Dex made choices I hadn’t planned, their futuristic world turned in a way I hadn’t thought of ahead of time.  And I was excited.  I wanted to make the words describing them beautiful also.  But, there was NO TIME!

I discovered, into the third week, I had to make the decision to speed up my WPM or continue half editing as I went along.  It was a painful choice, but I was still lagging in the 30,000 word territory in week 3.  Thanksgiving was calling and I know how my body doesn’t want to do anything once the holidays hit, and who wants to be stressed during a holiday?

NaNoWriMo is an exercise, a vehicle to learning to get your creative flow going.  To putting the structure to paper, screen, etc…without letting your censor take over before it needs to.  In addition, people who hate editing (Me!) learn that editing can actually be a lot of fun.

Breaks are important also with a new manuscript. Like a  fine red wine, you have to let it breathe.  You have to distance yourself from something you’re going to edit so you can see it with fresh and more objective eyes.

At least that’s my plan.  Onward with Book #2 editing and Leaning the Wrong Way shall stay on the shelf until novels # 1 & # 2 are fully edited to my satisfaction.

Meanwhile, will I do NaNo next year? Absolutely! It’s good to flex your non-censor writing muscles once a year.  And maybe, in 2015, right around the end of the school year, I might just do another NaNo project, just to keep those muscles strong and limbered up for the real thing!!!

There are just too many possibilities.

LWWB_NaNoBookCover

A MANIFESTATION OF LOVE

A recent article http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/3-things-i-wish-i-knew-we-got-married by Tyler Ward emphasises making one’s marriage a priority in a meaningful way.  A fellow friend, who is also single, asked me to comment on this article.

I want to expand the broader implications of this article to include a daily manifestation of love, because I am single, not married, not engaged or even in any sort of “significant” relationship.  I live far from family, rarely hear from anyone in my family other than my parents, even after experiencing emergency surgery.  I’m not complaining, just giving the scope to my life.  My safety net tends to be a web of friends on both sides of the English Channel.  More often than not, I hear from friends in England and Ireland faster than my own friends here in Germany.  I don’t think it’s because friends in Germany care less about me, it’s just a fact of how the cards are laid and who had chosen to make a major investment in my life.

Likewise, I try to embrace as many people as possible, and seek out ways in which I can cheer others up. Often I fail, sometimes I succeed.

Life is hard.  I am keenly aware of this as my body continues to be annoying, taxing, and has required more surgery and medical attention than I considered necessary this year.  (In fact, it has made it hard for me to think straight at times, in the face of how I can ever accomplish everything that I need to).

Friends and coworkers often ask, “How Can I Help?” and I’ll say “Pray for me to get a new body”, “Pray for a miracle” or more often than not, I’ll come up with more concrete ways I need help: meals, assistance with laundry, company (I live alone, with two animals, after awhile, even they are lacking in proper conversation).

When you can’t lift anything over 7kg and driving for 10 minutes winds you (as well as walking for longer than 20 minutes without a companion), you begin to look at things very differently.  I will explain my situation to people and they continue to ask, “Well, what can I do?” And I’m surprised by some of the responses to my very simple pleas:

“Oh, sure, I’d love to help…oh wait…where do you live?  Oh that’s so far away…” (I live forty minutes away by car, the average American commute anywhere).  I drive this distance twice every day to go to work, and most of my coworkers do three times this drive once a month to go on various vacations.

“Meals, oh yeah, love to help…oh wait…you’re gluten free aren’t you…and vegetarian too I heard…” (Correction: painfully allergic to gluten, not to anything else).

“I’d love to help, just been so busy, you know, all these classes, work and then all these dinners with friends and stuff…I really wanted to visit you, the time just got away with me” (Why mention it?  Just leave it alone and don’t admit to me that you were having fun while I was marooned at home trying not to feel miserable when the pain medications aren’t working).

I am beginning to realise why people who suffer from far more debilitating diseases than me stop asking, get depressed, and sometimes become withdrawn.  They get tired of trying to express that without the help of others (even visits or simple cards in the mail) hope starts to recede and you feel all alone within the confines of your own house.  Your home stops being a haven and starts resembling a prison.  And you wonder if you really can ever interact normally with humanity again if and when “normal” life ever resumes?

I have friends confined to wheelchairs, my father has cancer, one of my close friends is recovering from breast cancer, and the list goes on.  Their voices are generally silent on this subject, because they are so tired of fighting to get people to understand and be empathetic to their situation.  When you are ill, your world becomes small and while your brain continues to create wonderful new stories, philosophies and insights, the lack of human stimulation makes you wonder if you have suddenly become a spectator in your previous life.  I asked myself, when I wandered the halls at work a few days ago (before being grounded at home for the rest of the week), “Am I a ghost, a sliver of what I used to be?”

People pat me on the back, congratulating me for losing weight and looking great.  I try to swallow their insensitivity to my situation.  Food has lost its flavour altogether and I’ve lost the ability to be hungry.  It is no longer a novelty, it is a scary reality that sometimes reduces me to tears that are shed in the silence and stillness of my cavernous apartment.

When articles address marriage or unions of some sort and the priority one must place on ones spouse, in essence I feel they are addressing a growing lack of concern for our fellow human beings.  If we can’t reach out to our spouse, how can we also, help others less close to us?

I paste my comments below:

“The idea of marriage (for those of us not blessed with this union, yet) could be symbolic of the overall regard we have for vested relationships in our lives (friendships, families, coworkers). I find the most valuable and long-lasting relationships come from taking time to reach out to those closest to me, regardless of distance, on a regular basis and enacting a lot of the main tenets of the above article. If my closest relationships feel valued, and a priority, it makes for a stronger bond between us in general. Love flourishes the best when it is attended to and nurtured in a daily, empathetic and deliberate manner.”

I think I’m going to dial a friend and find out how they’re doing!

Best teen read of the summer

The-Manifesto-on-How-to-Be-Interesting-by-Holly-Bourne-UK-cover-230x360

When I visited the newly updated Foyles on Charing Cross Road I came across dozens of titles that I would have never discovered on amazon.co.uk alone. (Yes, I am shamelessly pitching for bookstores to remain open).  Since I live in Germany, the opportunity to come across new young-adult and middle-grade titles is limited to what amazon posts as trending, or other websites and twitter.  However, when I was able to feel and thumb through the pages of this book, it immediately captured my interest.

I highly recommend this book to anyone 14+ (yes, even adults) because it follows the life of Bree, who unfortunately in some blurbs is labeled as a “loser”.  I’ll leave that up to you, but I disagree.  She is a free-thinking, lonely young-woman who takes on a writing challenge in order to improve her prose, and her life.  Her desire for change is fueled, at first, by her longing for her writing work to become something more than suicidal drivel.

The strength of Bourne’s prose, Bree’s voice and the various adventures that Bree encounters rival that of similarly themed films such as “Mean Girls” and “Easy A”.   Instead of being a morality tale, I felt a kinship with Bree’s life (though fictional) and the true-lives of the adolescents I teach.

Though there are some mature themes and actions, The Manifesto will not fail to uplift and enlighten you.  I look forward to reading more of Bourne’s books, once I’ve finished with the rest of the lovely titles I acquired whilst being in London.  Please post your comments about The Manifesto and how you feel it depicts modern teenage life.