2021 is almost over and yet I am not substantially closer to following my writing dream. The year has been difficult on many levels – the pandemic, personal health challenges, work changes. You know the drill.
Earlier this week I realized I had not listened to any Christmas music. If you have been following me since I started this blog, you may remember from this post, it’s hard to be sad when you’re singing. Sure enough, as soon as I started singing “Jingle Bells” in my car, my mood changed. Later today I will drive to my hometown for the holiday weekend. I plan to sing the entire 2 hour drive using this Christmas Road Trip playlist, which you can get to by clicking the link below.
Inspiration. What is it? According to Merriam -Webster, it is:
1. An inspiring agent or influence
2. The quality or state of being inspired
3. The act of drawing in – specifically the drawing of air into the lungs
4. The action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
People find inspiration or become inspired in many ways. For some, a sunrise can be inspiring. Others are inspired by observing an act of strength or sacrifice. Words inspire me. They have the power to move my emotions and influence my behavior.
This weekend I had the privilege to listen to several inspirational speakers as part of the Rotary Empire Multi-District President Elect Training Seminar (MD PETS). Social gathering restrictions meant this year’s seminar was held virtually rather than in-person. While this reduced the opportunity for spontaneous fellowship, it allowed the planning committee to invite amazing speakers from across the globe who would not have been able to attend if our event had not been virtual. At the end of the seminar yesterday, I made a list of the steps I can take to be a stronger leader in my Rotary club and professional life. I started to imagine how the words of inspiration could translate into new activities.
Whenever I feel inspired, I challenge myself to look deeper. I try to identify how I can convert my feelings into at least one new action. This activity was caused by my own emotional reaction to nondisabled strangers calling me inspirational. My automatic responses to what was intended to be a compliment were limiting my chances for meaningful discussions.
I am an open person, not shy about sharing my personal stories in my writing and public speaking. I want to be an accepting, humble, and grateful person. I am proud of my accomplishments but I don’t see myself as having done great things “in spite” of my disability. Rather, I have completed many tasks, activities and adventures as a woman who happens to be disabled, just like I happen to have brown hair. My disability has always just been a part of who I am, not something I have had to “overcome” in order to live.
But when nondisabled strangers labeled me as inspirational, I rushed to judgement without giving them the benefit of the doubt. I internally rolled my eyes, assuming they found me inspiring because of my disability rather than taking the time to question them about their statement. I closed myself off to a possible dialogue or the gift of connection because it was easier to group that stranger with people who gave compliments to make themselves feel better about themselves. After all, doesn’t everyone know disability is a fate worse than death? Instead of taking the time to learn why a stranger offered me what might be construed as praise, I would jump to cynicism.
Once I realized what I was doing, I began to examine the reasons why. If friends or family called me an inspiration, they often told me the reason. This meant I did not doubt their motive or intent. So, I started to ask a follow-up question whenever a stranger told me I was inspirational. Instead of automatically assuming intent, I began to smile and say, “What have I inspired you to do?” or “How have I inspired you?”
The responses to this question have been varied and revealing. Only a few people told me they were inspired because my own disability made them feel better about themselves. One brave person actually said, “If you can do everything you do being so disabled, I don’t have any excuse.” Some people are stunned, shocked at my response. A few people have felt challenged and become brusque, responding with comments such as, “Well, I was just trying to be nice!” or “Can’t take a compliment?”
Then there are the people who redeem my faith in others. They tell me they are going to advocate for inclusion. They are going to stop holding public events at venues that aren’t accessible for everyone. They are going to start captioning their YouTube videos. They are going to stop assuming all disabilities are visible.
When we rush to judgement, we lose the chance for meaningful discussion. If we act on our incorrect assumptions, we never have the opportunity to be blessed with insight about ourselves. My quick dismissal of the “inspirational” label applied to me by others robbed me of a gift. My own story could have an impact in meaningful ways, just like I am moved to action by the words of others. Some of these may be related to disability, but not always. Why did I continue to assume the worst for so long?
I continue to struggle when others call me inspirational. There are times I feel unworthy of the praise. But I am still doing my best to try not to rush to judgement and indignation. Asking questions has helped me understand I can be viewed as inspirational for non-disability related reasons, even by those who do not know me well. And when I offer the word to others as a compliment, I tell them why in case they are internally rolling their own eyes.
It has been months since I’ve written a blog post. Months since I sat and stared at the cursor and thought, “That’s worth sharing with my followers.” So much has happened – COVID, adapting to remote working, protests, theater shut downs – you know. LIFE. Maybe not life as we know or knew it, but life as it IS.
If I’m honest, I’ve not been consistently coping well. But I’ve been coping. Doing the best I can, like most everyone else I presume. I mastered Zoom. I hosted virtual happy hours. I called and Skyped with friends from around the world.
It’s not been easy. At a time when I want to be out in the streets, I am home because I know my chances of surviving another pneumonia-induced ICU hospitalization are poor. I should be out exploring the world in my new van. I have been to the gas station to fill it up four times since March 13.
Throughout the past six months, the relationship I have relied upon and leaned on the most is the sisterhood I have with my bestest best friend, Stephanie. Together we have laughed, cried, hosted a Hamilton watch-party, consumed tubs of popcorn while on opposite ends of the phone, and kept each other as positive as possible.
This week we’re both struggling. I have an injury. She has a multi-day migraine. I’m suffering Zoom fatigue. She’s managing an empty nest and caregiving for family. It’s difficult to maintain optimism and positivity when you are in pain and feeling overwhelmed.
This afternoon, she sent me the following words. I told her it captured a great deal of what I’m feeling and would make a great blog post. Actually, what I really said was, “I think your rant makes for a great blog post. It makes me wish I wrote it first. But I don’t have the energy to write, or a shoulder that would let me type that long.”
She gave me permission to share it, as long as I gave her credit. So, here are her words, unedited and raw. Today they describe where we are at. Tomorrow we’ll be better. Tomorrow we’ll go back to being optimistic. Or we’ll need another day.
But we’ll have each other. And for that, I am blessed beyond words.
I’m Over It
by Stephanie Canfield
I’m over people.
I’m over the ones that work at a job for a short time, maybe a couple months to a couple years, always looking for something better, and call those jobs a “career”. I have a career in banking…I’ve been doing it for 24 years. Not two years, until the next best thing came along, but for more than half of my life.
I am over the ungrateful ones that get a job and then complain about that job from day one. And when they finally do leave, are ungrateful that the institution even gave them a chance to begin with. I’m tired of the ones that are 25 years old, working for a 79 year old boss, that refuse to understand the generation gap and that your ideas about how a business should run and how you treat people might be a little different. And that not all of those practices are bad just because they may seem outdated.
I’m over people blaming their job for all of their problems, including “inflaming my tennis elbow so I wake up in pain and have to go to the chiropractor and get acupuncture”. Pick a profession…I’ll show you that doing the same motion over and over will eventually cause problems with any given part of your body.
I’m also over the people that don’t realize that just because they live their life a certain way that it isn’t the same for everyone else. Just because you have a great relationship with your parents doesn’t mean you’ll have one with your kids. Or that anyone else will. Or has.
That just because a person isn’t Black doesn’t mean that they can’t stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement, or that just because they ARE Black it means they have to. I’m tired of people’s opinions about masks, COVID, politics…and the fact that sometimes when people ask “how do you feel about this mask stuff” that maybe they’re just trying to start a conversation with you, or engage in small talk, not have you judge them because they don’t agree with you.
I’m over political ads. I’m over everyone’s feelings being hurt because they don’t feel included in whatever the hot topic is at the time, or the conversation at work, or the dinner table, or whatever. I’m over people fighting one another about kids going back to school, or not, or homeschooling, or remote learning. I’m over the debates about there being no jobs but seeing “help wanted” signs everywhere, and stimulus checks, and not getting charged taxes for now but paying them back later, about who should get bonus unemployment money, the definition of essential workers, and disgruntled workers that have jobs not getting paid as much as those on unemployment simply because they’re still going to work every day.
I’m tired of people forgetting how to be kind. I’m tired of people that are selfish but think they’re acting on behalf of the majority, when in reality they’re only self serving. I’m tired of people that think educational institutions have to take only their child and their child alone in to consideration instead of looking at what is best for that educational community.
I’m tired of people that are lazy and don’t take care of themselves or hold themselves accountable for their own well being. I’m over well meaning people pissing me off because they think I can’t handle simple tasks, like getting myself up on time, so they feel the need to “wake” me up, even when I’m awake. How the hell have I managed to get up and to work on time this many years without their help???
I’m over so many things, dude, and I’m ready to yell FUCK OFF to the entire world. To tell them all to get over themselves, take accountability for their own actions, quit blaming others, do what you feel is really and truly right and all the freeking rest will PROBABLY fall in to place. Do what you need to to get yourself to survive, and along the way if you have the opportunity to help someone else then you damn well better step up and take it! If you are able to hold yourself accountable DO IT, and then help those that TRULY aren’t capable, not the ones that are just too damn lazy to do it.
And for fuck’s sake, BE NICE TO OTHER HUMAN BEINGS. And animals. Be nice to them, too.
OK. Maybe I’m done.
And I probably have opposite opinions on everything I just said, since I can hardly ever pick a side, because of my damn ability to see more than one side to most situations.
It is fall again in northeast New York. It has been almost a year since I’ve posted anything on this blog. During those eleven months, I have been coming to terms with my diagnosis of depression and what it means in my life; learning how to drive my new van with high tech hand controls (FINALLY!); working and advocating to save the home care program that keeps me independent in my home; having and recuperating from major surgery; and trying to figure out what happens next.
Did you notice there was hardly any mention of writing in there? I have not written as much as I hoped to this year. In fact, other than the pieces I have written for my monthly memoir writer’s group and the essay I’m working on for this year’s Brava!, I have not written anything outside of work other than social media posts and grocery lists.
Rather than be upset about my lack of writing, I have chosen to cut myself some slack. This is not my normal reaction to failing to meet a goal, and some might say it is a positive step for me.
Now, things are starting to come together. I am healed from surgery and have been cleared to return to work next week. I feel the best physically and mentally that I have felt in four years. I am driving again and embracing the privilege of independent mobility and the extra time it gives me.
I do plan to return to writing and blogging. In fact, I am excited to give DeeScribes an overdue update. When I started sharing my words here in 2014, I lacked a direction and was just trying to get practice at pressing “publish.” I have given considerable thought to what I want from my writing, and where I hope to take things.
Thank you for your patience as I took the time to work on my mental and physical health. I hope you will stick around to see what is next.
I was honored once again to have a piece selected for the 4th Annual BraVa! This event benefits the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region. It is a fundraiser that seeks to provide new bras to women and girls that live at YWCA-GCR and those in need in the Greater Capital Region of New York. As described on the YWCA website, the event features writers from around the region and beyond who read jury-selected poems and essays or perform songs and monologues on the subject of brassieres in their lives.
Once again, it was an inspiring and uplifting (pun intended) evening. The audience laughed and some of us cried. The poems and memoirs were poignant and truthful. I left the event grateful for the opportunity to witness these stories, ready to write more of my own.
I haven’t written much at all these days. I wasn’t even sure I would write something for BraVa! this year. I spent three days in the hospital in mid-October and was released just 10 hours before the submission deadline for the event. At 7:10 pm, four hours and fifty minutes before the deadline, I decided to write this piece. I read it to my mother on the phone before I hit “submit.” On Friday, I read it for the audience at BraVa!
If you are shopping this holiday season, consider buying a new bra for your local women’s shelter. Everyone needs support now and then.
Whenever I am shopping in the lingerie section of a store selling Playtex bras – the ones sold in the plastic containers with the blue or pink cardboard – I always look for model number 8267, the 18 Hour Original Comfort Strap Wirefree Bra. 34 C is apparently a popular size because rarely do the stores have it in stock. If I am lucky enough to stumble upon the coveted size and model, I whip out my phone and call my mother.
“Mom – you still wearing a 34C? It’s the 18 Hour one, right? I’m in Boscov’s shopping for bras and I looked at the Playtex ones for you. They only have it in white, is that alright?”
The call is really just to let her know to expect a new bra in the mail. Of course my mother, Caroline or Dolly as she is known to everyone, is still wearing the iconic Playtex 18 Hour Bra! It’s the only style of bra I have ever seen her wear in my 45 years of life. At 91 years old, Dolly is not about to change something as critical as her trademark bra.
Dolly’s bra, like her, is no nonsense and genuine. It is functional without needless frills. It gets the job done in a superior manner without calling attention to its work and craftsmanship. No excess lace or color is necessary for her brassieres. Although the model now comes in a variety of colors, you won’t see Dolly wearing any colors other than white or natural beige.
As a child, I noticed the other neighbors only put sheets and towels on their backyard clotheslines. However, Dolly’s underwear and lingerie were displayed for all to see as they dried in the breeze. Of course, so were mine when I lived at home since I was physically unable to do my own laundry. This didn’t seem odd to me because Dolly never used her clothes dryer then and only rarely uses it now. Two days before I left home to be an exchange student to Australia at age 16, I posed for a photo in the backyard with my parents. Dolly sent the photo halfway around the world to me and I promptly put it on the dresser in my borrowed room, in a borrowed frame my host brother gave me. Not until he asked me why we had posed before laundry did I realize Dolly’s five bras were waving in the wind behind our smiling heads. The photo spent the entire year with me, on display in each host family house – me, my parents and Dolly’s bras. Today it is on the first page of my 4 photo albums from that magical year Down Under.
A few weeks ago, I told my mother I might write this essay about her and her bras. I wanted to know if she would be comfortable with me sharing what some would consider personal information with strangers.
“Well, I suppose if anyone can find a way to make my dull white bras interesting, you could. Remember, I wear the 18 Hour – not the Cross Your Heart.”
Was she telling me I was shirking in my bra shopping? Had I made a mistake and accidentally purchased the wrong style? I went online to verify I had purchased the right bra and made a shocking discovery. In 2015, Playtex had a rebranding and changed the model number and name of their iconic bra. It is now model number 4693B, known as the 18 Hour Ultimate Shoulder Comfort Wirefree Bra. I called her again, wanting to make sure she had this important update and also to verify she had sufficient quantity. Apparently I had been neglectful in my duties.
“I’ll still wear it! I have 4 right now so I’m good. I rotate them in my drawer after I do the laundry so I don’t keep wearing the same one all the time. That way they last longer.”
Even though it has been years since I’ve sent a new bra to my mother, she is still treasuring the past gifts I’ve given her; taking care to keep them in good condition for a little longer until life permits me the time and energy to resume my regular lingerie shopping.
Simple life lessons from Dolly. Who knew so much could come from a bra?