Memory Lane at the Airport 

I am habitually early for many reasons. The most influential is that my dad’s side of the family is habitually and unapologetically late to a degree that I find disrespectful. I compensate by being everywhere I need to be well before I need to be there. 

The airport is no exception, even though I then find myself wasting my life looking at my phone or thumbing through magazines I know I’m not going to buy. Sometimes I people watch, but more often people are watching me because the airport, any airport, is always full of folks who’ve never seen a woman who is 5’10” and/or a person with albinism, let alone both. 

Sometimes I walk miles if several terminals are connected. I figure that is a good counterbalance to the time I will spend hunching into a seat that is too small for a child, let alone a large adult. Sometimes, like today, there isn’t anywhere to go. I’m in a terminal with only eight gates in a circle. Yes, I could read a book, but I’m not fully awake, so I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep. 
Instead I checked my Timehop. For those who aren’t familiar, Timehop is an app that links to your social media accounts and pictures in your phone to collate a history of your life as far back as those records go. Some days are more exciting than others, but it’s always kind of fun to see what I was thinking or doing on this day X years ago.

Today’s fantastic!

Last year I dreamt about The Americans actor Costa Ronin (he plays Oleg and I love him).

Two years ago I flew to Chicago to visit my brother where we watched a presidential debate with his girlfriend and turned it into a drinking game.

Three years ago I was in Colorado for a family reunion. We went ziplining in the morning and white water rafting in the afternoon. Me and my cousin were the only two people in our raft that didn’t fall out. I’d never seen my dad afraid of anything until that day, and he may or may not think I tried to drown him. I didn’t. 

Four years ago I was on my way to Austin to visit a friend. 

Five years ago I have nothing on record, but I assume I was doing something as amazing as the rest of this list. 

Six years ago I was in Vancouver. Apparently I had chocolate on my face and none of the lovely Canadians told me. There were also crazy riots in London that day, and I was thankful that my best English friend was with me in Van instead of at home.

Seven years ago I was in Edinburgh at a wedding. I had quite a bit of champagne but just one haggis ball. I tried some Scottish dancing, which I’m no good at, and generally had an amazing time. 

Eight years ago I was agonizing over making a decision about whether to take the job at the Tech school or stay at the Arts school even though they didn’t know if I would be teaching English or history or playing substitute whenever they needed. My mom, who is my sounding board, was in Mexico with her boyfriend, so I turned to my former boss and mentor. I decided to decline the Tech school even though I had no idea what I’d be teaching at the Arts school. I felt good about my choice, but it was negated a few weeks later in one of life’s surprise twists. 

That’s as far back as Timehop goes. That’s probably a good thing because I’m full up on memories! And today I’m off to Quebec, so add another fun memory for next year. 

Aromas of Pet Parenting

My current fur-faced baby, Rocky cat, has been thinning out lately. One of the cats I grew up with tipped the scales at 20 pounds, so I like ’em thick. Rocky has never been huge, but recently he’s just fur and bone. He hasn’t changed his eating or pooping habits, so I didn’t think much of it, but I finally took him to the vet today. He hates getting into the carrier. That was our first hurdle.

At the vet, he got good marks for his teeth and his rub down. They took some blood and a urine sample, both of which I should hear about next week. I have to collect a stool sample for him (fun) and bring it in. They said he may need an ultrasound of his tummy if nothing comes up in the various tests just to see what’s going on. We were cleared to go while we “wait and see” if anything is wrong or if he’s just getting old (he’s nearly 12).

On the way home, I walked a different route taking in some Brooklyn scenery. It was more suburban than I’m used to, and I was enjoying the front porches and how the morning sun was burning off the storms that had moved through earlier. I had the carrier on my right shoulder and my right hand stuck through a small unzipped portion so I could pet Rocky to calm him down. He mewed a bit, but I told him we were on our way home.

I don’t know if it was a plant I walked by or the fact that I am a spaz and don’t breathe right, but all of a sudden I was coughing like I had cotton in my throat. I couldn’t get any air. I was just around the corner from my apartment, and I have an inhaler (presumably for allergies, but I’m not totally sure why the doctor prescribed it). I kept walking and coughing. Rocky didn’t protest the odd movements because I kept my hand on him. Once home, I let him out, kept coughing, began sneezing, and started itching all over. I got some water, the inhaler, and some Benadryl. Once I got myself together, I got Rocky a treat.

That’s when I noticed his entire hind half was wet. The vet said he had two patches on his hind legs that would be damp from the alcohol swabs to draw blood. But his tail and legs were soaking wet. I picked him up and sniffed. Yep. He had peed all over himself in the carrier. Which is fabric, not plastic. I hadn’t noticed because I was too busy having a weird allergy attack. I inspected the carrier and it’s trashed. That’s when the Benadryl started to hit, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I put the carrier in the bath tub, tried unsuccessfully to wipe Rocky dry, and passed out on the couch.

I woke up to find that the unmistakable odor of cat piss had permeated the bathroom door and spread throughout the apartment. I decided I’d try to clean Rocky a little more thoroughly, but before I found him, I slipped. On two piles of cat puke. Which also has a less-than-pleasing stench. I prioritized the puke because I didn’t want to slip again and land on my ass. My earlier allergy attack had cleared my nostrils so I got the full bouquet of barf as I cleaned it. Next it was on to the carrier. It’s not salvageable. Somehow, though, it has invaded the entire apartment. Rocky has NEVER peed outside of his litter box. Ever. I don’t have a lot of carpet to soak up the undying smell even if he did, but it’s new for me to be assaulted by the stink of cat piss. Fabreeze-scented garbage bags and “twilight woods” candles to the rescue.

Now I have to trick Rocky into letting me clean his hind half so the dried piss doesn’t cling to his fur. I’m not sure if you know about cats and water – they don’t mix. Needless to say, I’m not having a great day. It’ll be even worse if something IS wrong with him because I hate to put him through the ordeal of going back to the vet or, worse, having to force medicine down his throat.

The Hardest Question

There were A LOT of great quotes from season 7 episode 3 of Game of Thrones. Sam explaining HOW he figured out how to treat grey scale. Sansa trying to understand what the fuck Bran was talking about. And Tyrion pressing Jon Snow, only to hear, “I know it’s a good question. I’m looking for an answer!” (Side note: I want to live on Dragonstone.)

It’s perfect for what I was thinking about after the ophthalmologist today. I’m used to feeling like a freak most places I go, but the technicians today took it to new levels. In a practice of at least 15 eye doctors, I mistakenly assumed the techs and nurses had seem someone with Albinism before. Not so for the many technicians whose minds I blew when they tried to use any of the machines to get a read of my vision. I haven’t had a checkup in over a decade, so I know some technology has changed. There was more computerized stuff than I remember, but therein was the problem. Because my eyes move constantly (nystagmus) the readings probably aren’t accurate. I tried to explain that to two technicians at the first set of machines. They were too busy speaking Spanish to each other about how weird my results were. (NB: I speak enough Spanish to understand everything they said.)  I was then sent to a machine that was intended to take some sort of image of my eyes while I looked at a blue light and a red line. A third technician began the test and got frustrated. A fourth, this one an Asian dude with a rockin’ man bun, helped. He doesn’t even work there regularly I learned later in the appointment, so why is he the only one who didn’t seem to freak the fuck out that these fancy machines aren’t cutting the mustard when it comes to measuring my peepers? Ugh. One of the confused technicians then tried to have me read a vision chart. That was a laugh. Next came a peripheral vision test, which I failed and cheated on by moving my head. Short cuts! I told her before all of that that I’m legally blind, blowing her mind a second time.

“How you get around?”

Well, as I’ve mentioned, ma’am, I’ve been this way since birth and I’ve been adapting that long too. “You’re 35 now.” Yes, that’s what the chart says. “When your vision problems start?” When I was born. It hasn’t gotten any worse. I just need a checkup.

The doctor popped his head in at that point because I assume the other technicians had alerted him to the “alarming” results the machine tests spit out. Thank God he knew what he was doing. Tech One told him I couldn’t do the peripheral vision test and launched into something else. He cut her off, “no, she wouldn’t be able to do that. She has Oculocutaneous Albinism.” (Words the tech had a great deal of difficulty finding in the computer when she was trying to enter my info). So, my ocular muscles suck as does my peripheral vision. I knew that. Can we get on with it?

“Can I give her drops?” Because apparently my eyes are so out of the ordinary to this woman who works in an eye doctors’ office that she wasn’t sure if she could perform the basic exam requirement of dilating my pupils. Y’know what? I wish I had answered for her and escaped without the dreaded drops, but the doctor set her straight.

I got the drops and waited for the doctor. Like I said, thankfully he and his guest doctor (from Chile, so of course I mentioned Neruda) knew their shit. My eyes are great, exactly in the middle of the range of expectations for someone with OCA. The doctor is especially interested in it as a research topic and personally because he has a first cousin with albinism. He wanted to get some residents to look because it would’ve been a great teaching moment. They were all at lunch, which is where I wanted to be.

With a great report, I wanted to find a dark room and lay down until the drops wore off, but I had to get baseline images. A third machine. Three technicians trying to figure out the best way to make the machine work with the freak show, uh, I mean me. Again, Asian man bun was the only one who acted like he had any idea what he was doing. If I didn’t like the doctor so much, I might have had a hissy fit at that point.

With a massive headache and worse vision than usual thanks to the drops of death, I made my way home thinking about the question “how?”

In teaching, we talk about developing thought-provoking, open-ended questions and whatnot. We tend to say WHY questions are the most difficult. I’m not so convinced when it comes to life outside of teaching. Why is often completely inexplicable in life. Why does shit happen? Philosophers have been asking that forever. I get into that sometimes, and it’s fun. But HOW. How is a tricky sucker because people ask all the time and science tries to answer.

There are some HOW questions that I’m sure someone can answer but would be impossible for the layperson to understand, like how does wifi work?

More often people ask me HOW questions that I can’t begin to answer.

“How do you get around?” I don’t know, with my feet. To the best of my ability. The way every other human being “gets around” in that my brain sends a message to a certain part of my body to MOVE and my body does… It’s not like I was given a choice about my vision, so it never occurred to me to do anything differently than the way I perceived other people “get around.”

“How do you teach high school?” Like I was born to do it. I listen to my students. I give a shit about them as human beings. I know that they are probably smarter than I am in tons of ways, so I respect them for that while keeping my place of authority by being an expert in my subject area. How do YOU work in a cubicle? Oh right, you get your ass up and there on time and do what your boss asks because you want/need a paycheck. Next dumb question.

“How did you not have a nervous breakdown?” or “How do you deal with the stress?” or any other HOW questions about depression and anxiety…. It’s so hard to answer. But I think it’s like my vision… It’s not like I have a choice. Yeah, do I feel like it takes everything in me to get out of bed some days? YES YES YES. How do I do it? Because I know staying in bed more than one day isn’t an option. How do I keep it together when something horrible happens, how do I stay calm in crisis situations, how to I put up with this or that? Because it’s not an option to lay face down, pounding my fists into the ground and screaming, so that’s how. I know there’s no choice, so I do what I can.

“How do you know that?” When I know something about a friend’s life that s/he hasn’t told me directly. Intuition. Empathy. I pay attention. I might be a little psychic?

It’s funny because we think HOW can be broken down into steps that are transferable to anyone. But we all know that’s not true. If it were that simple, we could all do things that some people are clearly better at than others. HOW do you hit a home run? Science tells us about speed and force and angles and steroids, which is only part of the answer. Think about it. It’s a process question. That means you have to understand the process and be able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to someone else. That’s a lot harder than the three letters H-O-W lead you to believe.

So, HOW do I do anything? It’s the hardest question.

Measures of Friendship

I’ve been very social for my summer self this week. Dinner with a friend on Tuesday, another Friday, and a Jersey City double header today. That’s well above average for a non-travel summer week. It reminded me of some weird musings I put to paper last summer and other ideas about levels of friendship particular to me.

The core of any friendship has to be laughter, and this week’s hangouts were not disappointing in yielding and/or solidifying inside jokes. I’ll start there, in no particular order:

Girl party!

-You’re his favorite! -Does that title come with a cash prize?

Is that Kavanaugh with a K?

Interrupted work flow.

Y’know that time I got wasted and snorted coke off that guy’s dick.

Grom!

Your hair is white and your legs are white!

I said, “I want,” and he said “no” (one) I said “I want,” he said “no” (two… up to five).

Comparable loss.

A forum… for stuff. And things.

I’m very lucky to have friends who are as weird as I am and/or forgive my weirdness. I know they’re all excited to see what I do with my “gap year,” “time out,” “walk about,” and that is contagious, especially when I remember they’re all cheering for me.

Now, again in no particular order, some measures of friendship – at least in my book.

You’ve invited me to your home (childhood, dorm, adulthood).
I showed up.
I slept there.

I’ve invited you to my home (childhood, dorm, adulthood).
You showed up.
You slept there.

We’ve road tripped together and you didn’t mind that I sang and/or tried to control the radio (car, van, bus).
We were going to a concert.

You steer me away from stepping in dog poop and/or tell me the ground is uneven up ahead and/or tell me how many stairs I have to go down.

You know to hold out a hand for me to hold when there is ice on the ground (whether it’s daylight or night, whether I’m drunk or sober).

You’ve met at least one of my siblings.

We have performed together (school, church, karaoke).

We have gotten shitfaced together.
You’ve been around the next morning/afternoon when we wake up hungover.

You’ve seen me sleeping and/or crying and/or puking.

We’ve played any board and/or card game.

We’ve watched a World and/or Euro Cup match together.

I’m not a very social creature, so you should feel accomplished and special if I’ve ever left my home and/or pajamas to spend time with you.

 

Works in Progress

Sometimes I can tell before getting out of bed that the day is going to be a disappointment. It’s not that my expectations for any given day are all that high, but there’s a sense that some are just duds and you shouldn’t even try.

Today is definitely a losing day. The water in my taps is leaving me thirsty – there’s a poem in the making if ever there was. The vet I usually take my cat to is permanently closed. I went to the grocery store thinking I’d be inspired to decide what I want to eat but walked out with a bagful of stuff I don’t really want. Nothing’s going to satisfy me, which is partially my fault because I don’t know for sure what I want.

There’s no predicting when this kind of day will strike, but it is predictable that everything is a bummer. The best course of action is to curl up with a book to escape into and go to bed as early as possible. Chances are good that the next day will be better, less blah.

But when I’m trying to make new habits, including writing every day and taking care of myself physically, days like this feel like failures. They aren’t. They’re just inevitable down days. They’re opportunities for me to figure out how to go easier on myself, to not beat myself up, to look at the progress I’m making.

I’ve only been at this “new routine” effort for two weeks. It takes at least a month to develop a habit, so trying to break several bad habits while I make better ones is bound to take longer, to have some road blocks along the way.

I’ll remind myself what I’ve been working on. I’m brewing something about invisibility and untouchability that might turn into a poem if I ever pour out the words from where they’re stewing. I’m working on Jeremy from the story about Hannah and Katie, which is proving very emotional because there’s love and loss there, and lots of history. I’m taking care of at least one piece of personal business a day, whether it’s making a doctor’s appointment or researching COBRA for when my leave insurance runs out. I’ve been thinking about a week’s worth of blogs about song lyrics and what I think of them – this might produce something concrete fastest because I realize that I haven’t written much about music yet, which isn’t me at all. Music is air; I have to have it around all the time.

Yeah, today’s a wash. But my iPad is almost charged so I can get back to another world soon. I got a bottle of water because I am literally and metaphorically thirsty, even after drinking the requisite 8 cups of tap water yesterday. The weather is perfect by my standards – cloudy, breezy, cool. I’m going to hang out on the couch by the open window, maybe the cat will come keep me company, and I can go back to bed before I try again tomorrow.

The O Doctor

Ladies, doesn’t “The O Doctor” sound like a great name of a sex toy that guarantees an orgasm? A quick Google search tells me no such product exists, so I’m going to claim the name and marketing rights while someone else develops the product.  I’ll be rich!

What I’m really talking about is optometrists and ophthalmologists, even opticians, because we’re all so confused. (Not OB/GYN, though I’ve also scheduled that appointment in my quest to catch up on being :::mumble::: years behind on making sure my body is working the way it’s supposed to.)

The type of Albinism I have impacts my vision as well as my pigmentation. People can only see the pale, but the bigger problem is my low vision. As I’ve explained before, it’s congenital, so I don’t know any other way to see. I have tried to explain, and I will again for the benefit of people reading who haven’t heard me talk about it. But please keep in mind that I have no accurate point of comparison because I’ve never had “normal” vision. I’ve had my eyes my whole life. The vision problems that come with Albinism are not degenerative, so I can’t even compare to something in my own history. My visual acuity has been the same as long as I’ve been able to say which letters and numbers I can see on the chart.

A few ways I can explain it:

  1. If you woke up tomorrow with my vision, everything in your world would be smaller, appear further away than it ever has, and be fuzzier around the edges. If I woke up with your vision tomorrow, I would be thoroughly disoriented because the opposite would be true – I would be able to see finer detail in things from farther away, the edges of things would be crisper, more defined, everything would probably appear bigger.
  2. Visual acuity is measured as 20 over a number. I don’t know what genius decided that’s the way we’d do it, but anyway, it’s 20 over x. The x is how far away the object appears to your eyes. 20/20 means your eyes see the object as if it is 20 feet away. 20/100 means that the object, though only 20 feet away, appears 100 feet away to a person with that visual acuity. (Seriously, who came up with this? And what amazing science that we can measure it with a stupid piece of paper with random letters). My visual acuity in my right eye is 20/200 – meaning with my left eye closed, an object 20 feet away from my open right eye appears to be 200 feet away. I don’t know that because I’ve always seen like that, so I’m horrible at guestimating distances and seeing things that are far away. My left eye is a little better at 20/160, but most charts don’t measure that closely, so on record I’m 20/200 and, at least in the state of Virginia, that means I’m “legally blind.” Some places call it functionally blind instead.
  3. If you are standing across the street from me anywhere in NYC, I probably can’t see that it’s you, even on the smaller one-way streets. I once startled my best friend because I DID recognize her from that distance, but her big purse gave her away, not any detail of her face. She’s my seeing eye human and was my college roommate all four years, so besides my mom and big brother, she has the most experiencing living with me and observing what I can and cannot see.
  4. Take that same distance – across a major cross street like 14th in NYC – I don’t know how far that is. Look it up of you’re super interested. At that distance, I can see clothing colors, general body shape and size, hair color. I can tell if you are facing me or not, but I cannot tell any distinguishing facial features. I can’t tell the shape of your eye brows, nose, mouth, whether or not you are smiling, your eye color, whether your eyes are open or closed.
  5. From a car, if we’re on a road that’s lined with trees or farms – grass is textured green to me whereas you might be able to see individual blades. The same with corn stalks. Depending on how fast we’re going, trees I can individualize, but I couldn’t tell you if there were squirrels or birds in the branches. I can see and count the farm fence posts, but unless the animals are very close to the fence, I only know it’s a farm animal of a certain color whereas you see for sure that it’s a cow, horse, sheep, something else. The flowers we pass are colors with nebulous shapes, not specific species with petals and other identifying features.

People who spend enough time with me know that they’ll have to steer me away from stepping in dog poop, read overhead menus to me at fast food joints I’m not familiar with, whisper subtitles to me in the movie theater, tell me if someone is waving at me from across a room, alert me to someone staring at me (that’s mostly my mom’s job because then she glares at them with an evil mama bear protective thing going on), read street signs to me, give me directions with landmarks and number of blocks rather than street names, and point out ice on the ground in the winter. Some friends also make it a point to tell me how many steps there are and how big they are.

The tricky thing about my vision is correcting it. I don’t wear glasses or contacts because in addition to all the stuff that goes along with Albinism, I also have astigmatism, which means my eyes are shaped more like footballs than softballs. They’re a little pointy, so the focal point is slightly different. This makes it more difficult to prescribe a lens that can both enlarge and sharpen what I see. The compromises for everyday glasses is bigger objects with fuzzier edges or smaller objects with sharper edges. No thanks. So I have reading glasses for holding things close.

And what doctor do I go to for treatment and glasses? All those Os, but what’s the difference? I haven’t been to any eye doctor in longer than it’s been since going to the dentist, and I wasn’t willing to admit that here, so you can just imagine. The last doctor I went to was an optometrist who specialized in low vision. He was amazing. He helped my big brother force the state of Virginia to create a pathway to drivers’ licenses for people with low vision. Growing up, mom took me to an ophthalmologist though, so who am I supposed to go to now? And what’s the difference? And what’s an optician? Thank God for Google, right?

Opticians are basically the lens grinders. They aren’t doctors, I don’t think. They are like the pharmacists of glasses and contact lenses. They fill the prescription written by either of the other O doctors. They can make sure your frames fit on your face right so you aren’t the kid with crooked glasses. I don’t think they perform full eye exams. They can probably tell you what shape frames look best on you, but they might be trying to up-sell you to the Kate Spade frames that make them a bigger commission. (I don’t have anything against opticians. I’m guessing at some of this.)

Then there’s the optometrist. That IS a doctor who CAN perform full eye exams, and give you those damn drops that dilate your pupils and make the rest of your day horrible even if you do wear sunglasses out of the office. They prescribe the lenses that the opticians then make for you. They can help you with any number of vision problems, but their treatment stops at medicine and low vision aides.

The ophthalmologist (which I still cannot spell right) can perform surgeries in addition to doing all the stuff the optometrist does. These guys do LASIK and re-attach your retina. They can remove cataracts.  So they’re more comprehensive.

My mom was probably right to start my brother and me at the top because she had no way of knowing if our vision could be corrected surgically or if we would develop conditions that would require surgery. Science moves quickly, and my eyes are a great example of that. When I was little, there was no possibility of correcting my vision using any type of surgery because of my nystagmus, a lovely symptom of Albinism. Nystagmus is an involuntary nerve movement of the eye. My eyes shake side to side unless I am in physical shock or I am sleep walking (both fun stories for a later time). I do not see the world shaking because the movement is so fast. Nystagmus made surgery impossible because the slight movement was too difficult to navigate with the precision required when doing laser surgery. About 10 years ago, I heard about a surgery created to stop the nystagmus. The results were improved peripheral vision, but it also opened the possibility of other surgeries. Of course, I’ve also heard that surgeries like LASIK, even after a surgery to stop the nystagmus, wouldn’t help my vision because of other factors related to Albinism. It doesn’t matter though because I don’t think I’d ever get surgery on my eyes for fear that I’d go completely blind.

So why go to the ophthalmologist now? One reason is I can do it through NYU Langone, where all my adult medical records are centralized and where I’ve received stellar care in the past. Another reason is because I don’t know where science is now – it’s been THAT long since I’ve been to an eye doctor of any kind. Also, as we age, our eyes change. What if I’m developing baby cataracts? I WOULD have eye surgery to remove cataracts. Plus, there are a few people at the NYU practice who specialize in neurology as well as ophthalmology (still have not spelled it right on my own) who might be able to explain more about my optic nerves and how they are connected to my brain, something I’ve heard about but don’t totally understand. (Left brain controls right eye? Right brain controls left eye? Except not me because I’m not normal?) And neurology also covers nerve movements like nystagmus. But mostly because mommy knows best and she told me I should be going to an ophthalmologist (GOT IT RIGHT ON MY OWN THAT TIME!)

I’m seeing the O doctor on August 1st. I might have more to say after that. Or sooner as I develop that sex toy.

Inspiration On Screen

I haven’t watched the season 7 premier of Game of Thrones yet. I needed to remind myself of what happened in seasons 5 and 6, so I’m still playing catch up. I’d watched all six seasons before going to Ireland last summer, but I didn’t realize how much of it is filmed in Northern Ireland, where I was for two days. Looking out at the sea, I wrote, “Northern Ireland’s rugged coast line owns a piece of my soul.” Now I drool at scenes and say “That’s Northern Ireland.” Because he’s just too pretty, Jon Snow is less of a draw than the scenery.

Later during the trip I was sitting in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. I wrote two pieces while sitting across from Joyce’s bust. I don’t know if they are poems or not. Prose poems? Are they complete? Are they terrible? I don’t know. One of them, the one I’m not sharing, is something that I’ve gone back to often because it begs to be better, for me to express the idea better because the idea is so important, so pure. I don’t think I can do it justice, so I keep picking at it, knowing that it’s something I could be very proud of.

This piece, written moments before the one I’m not sharing, doesn’t demand perfection from me but is no less true. And every time I see Northern Ireland on Game of Thrones, I think of it.


No Title Yet ~ LJD August 28, 2016

I have words but not the power to use them. I set them down, examine them, feel how they roll around in my mouth, how they might echo in your brain, which way they may twist your heart. I combine them, trying to convey the brimming energy in my veins when I see something glorious and ache so badly to share it with others. I shuffle the phrases and re-deal them, still falling short of the song in my soul that swells with each blade of grass, every rocky coastline, the shale faces announcing mountains that rise to the ever-changing sky. 


Not surprising that the next thing I wrote is something that I’m still shuffling because I can’t get the words right. If you’ve never been to any part of Ireland, you should go. It’s more beautiful than my words and the GoT cameras can capture.

Process & Product

I’ve been reading a lot the last two days. A character struck me, so I’ve been following her instead of doing much else. But the editing is so bad that I’m angry now. I think the book was only e-published, but that shouldn’t mean there are wild inconsistencies. I’m not talking about typos because I have my fair share of typos even when I proof read. Though I do get uppity when I find typos in professionally published material – and I am a firm supporter of the Oxford comma.

It got me thinking about the whole process of writing. I should say thinking MORE about that because, as my creative writing students would tell you, I already think about process a lot. Sometimes with teens’ writing the “how’d you come up with this?” is more interesting to me than the content.

Many years ago I went to a Random House teacher appreciation day in the summer. One of the guest authors explained how she was inspired to write her novel. It started with a tiny stone she found in New England. What spun out of that had very little to do with the stone, though it did feature in one scene of her novel. It was fascinating to hear how she built many worlds out of that one initial thought. It reminded me that you can start with anything and end up anywhere.

I create stories all the time. My problem has always been transferring them from inside my head to any medium that someone else could experience. That’s why I’m working on disciplining myself to write every day, whether it’s personal, fictional, poetry, response to news. Doing it in a blog forces me to be a little more accountable because if I get a wide enough readership, people will notice if I miss a day, and I’ll be outed as the lazy-ass that I am.

But some stories shouldn’t be public as they’re going through the process. That leaves me open for hypocrisy – if I complain about the inconsistencies in this series I’m reading right now and later end up e-publishing any of my own stuff directly from this blog, then I could be as guilty of not revising and editing my product because I was letting everyone see the process. Of course, I’m a little too much of a control freak not to go over my writing with a fine tooth comb if I think it’s going to be used to judge me in any way. That could be a hurdle down the line.

Then there is the conundrum of falling in love with what I write as/is. God help the person who tries to change a line of poetry or a turn of phrase I’ve committed to spending the rest of eternity with. Revising, as opposed to editing, has to include some letting go. Editing can be deletion too, but I see it as something that happens with less discussion, hemming and hawing, re-shaping of an idea.

All of it is dependent on the muse, the inspiration. Sometimes that’s the hardest part to come by, but I return to that author’s tiny stone that built universes. I don’t know if something so small has ever been such a great impetus for me. Sometimes I’m inspired by things I hear, things I dream, things that have happened in my life.

In the pages I’ve worked on this week in the story I’m unfolding publicly about Hannah and Katie, I realized the inspiration for a very small detail came from my college Shakespeare professor. I didn’t know what I wanted the little joke to be, but it came to me laying in bed and made me chuckle. In the same pages, I could not tell you where a moment of genius came from, but it fit perfectly and charmed me. It’s probably the type of thing a professional editor would tell me to cut because the section is too long. But for now, I’m uncovering and creating the characters in more depth than they had when the idea first occurred to me.

Now that I’ve taken some time to be less angry about the shoddy work of another author, I’m ready to get back to work myself.

Hodgepodge

I was going to write a dream report because last night was… interesting. (99% of the time “interesting” is a euphemism).

But I’ve also been thinking about sex and gender since that baby in Canada whose parents wouldn’t fill in the paperwork for it.

And I also saw the most adorable child at the coffee shop that reminded me of Katie from the story I’m piecing together.

Lastly, I saw a Trae Crowder clip about net neutrality, a subject I know nothing about, so I had to consult with two authorities on the issue to get their perspectives. One works in policy, the other in tech, and they were both helpful, but I still don’t get it. Mark me down as “undecided” on the issue and move on.  Except please don’t make me watch crying dwarf porn!

The little girl at the coffee shop… probably four years old, almost a perfect personality template for Katie in the story I’m writing (more of that tomorrow or Saturday). She was with her mom and her little brother. Little brother was Leo, a name I like very much for a boy. The girl was Eleanor, Ellie for short, and the full name got whipped out when she wasn’t listening very well to her mom’s instructions. She was only getting water while mom got her morning Joe, but there were square inch samples of some kind of loaf by the cash register. Ellie asked if she could have one and mom said no. She grudgingly took her water and seemed to let go of the pursuit. Mom went to get Leo’s bike helmet on (pretty impression that a kid as little as he is has a bike.)  Ellie hung by the register keeping a close watch on her mom and eyeing the samples. When mom bent down to clip Leo’s helmet on, Ellie sneaked a piece off the plate and directly into her mouth, while turning toward me and away from her mom in a quick circle, the sample swallowed before she turns 360 to face mom again, who was demanding that she come get her own bike and exit. It took all my will power not to tell her, “I saw that!” and blow up her spot with her mother. I held the door for all three as they left.

Gender and sex – where to begin? I had a transgender student this year, so I became more sensitized than ever. I had to apologize so many times for my own habits. He was cool about it, probably because he felt weird that I was so attentive to him when I think he just wanted to disappear most of the time.

Here’s the thing that I want to open with whenever I have a conversation about gender identity. As I understand it, sex is biological, anatomical, genetic. It ONLY dictates equipment. Gender is the societal construct we’ve built about how that equipment impacts language, behavior, thoughts, feelings, careers, potential, physical ability… Gender is all the nonsense we have added to the biology. While the biology is naturally binary, the gender binary is not innate and restricts everyone. That couple in Canada not identifying the sex of their baby doesn’t make sense to me, unless the forms specifically asked for gender instead of sex. Sex is pretty clear to determine in most cases, right? Parents can choose not to enforce gender on their child of either sex by not buying into the color schemes for boys and girls, the clothes, the “reveal” parties, the linguistic practice of “boy” and “girl.” It’s a baby either way, so just call it a baby. But pronouns are another thing altogether. They are what tripped me up this year with my student because everything about him said “feminine” to me and my biases. By birth, he was a female. Even without knowing that, I would have thought his mannerisms and characteristics were female based on my 35 year indoctrination in gendered culture.

I hope this perspective isn’t offensive.  I know it’s limited by my own experiences and knowledge. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since that news story though. I also talked a little about differences between men and women with my sister-in-law. Just the idea of women feeling like we need to take up less space on public transit when men don’t give a shit how much space they take up. For her, it was specific to bringing my niece with her when she goes somewhere. She opts to wear the baby instead of bringing the stroller because she doesn’t want to be in the way with all the extra stuff. I see that as characteristic of women instead of characteristic of a person worried about his/her surroundings, but I could be wrong. How do you undo centuries of conditioning though?

Dreams! I remember my dreams often. I can also usually trace where the dream came from in my conscious mind. Rarely do I have a dream that I can’t, with a little thought, trace to something concrete in my life. I woke up at 4am today because a dream was becoming too emotional. The plus side was that there was a pair of awesome-fitting jeans in it. We’re talking Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants awesome fit. And I was putting them on before a date, so that wasn’t so bad. The reason I had to change into them in the first place was troubling, along with how nervous I was about the date given who I was going out with. I fell back asleep and had a dream about furniture and laundry. It was equally emotional, but the overriding emotion was frustration. Who isn’t frustrated when they don’t have in-home laundry? None of it confused me when I woke up. I can point directly to where each piece came from. It’s why I wrote the poem “Siren Song” last week. My dreams always tell on me, even if I don’t want to know.