BraVa! 2018 – Playtex 8267

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.

A woman wearing a red cape is seated in a wheelchair in front of a podium. She is reading into a microphone. There is an indoor circular clothesline with various color bras hanging on it on the other side of the podium.
Photo courtesy of Daquetta Jones

Playtex 8267

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?

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BraVa! 2017: What is Pretty?

Once again last year, I participated in BraVa! This event, a fundraiser for the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region, is described by creator Marion Roach Smith as “a night of memoir about the place of bras in our life.” Admission to the event includes a new bra. The bras are given to women who are in need.

I am honored to have participated in BraVa! for three years. When the call for submissions for the 2017 event came out last September, I wasn’t planning to write anything. Life was too busy. I was moving at the end of October, and I had no time to write. Plus, I didn’t know if I had another bra story in me. I had already written two (this one and this one) and couldn’t think of something new.

But, the day of the submission deadline I decided I had to at least try. I sat at my computer thinking of everything that had happened since the start of 2016 – the femur fracture, rehabilitation, moving out of my apartment, facing another imminent move into a new apartment, not being able to independently drive, trying to maintain full-time employment and volunteer activities. I reminded myself that I had set a goal to submit a piece of writing somewhere in 2017, and how I had not yet done so.

I started to write at 6:38 PM. At 10:03 PM I hit “submit” and uploaded my essay. I had no hope of being selected to read, but was proud that I sent it in. When I received the notice it had been chosen, I was honestly surprised and of course honored.

I never considered that I might be developing a local reputation as a woman who writes about bras until I attended TEDxAlbany in December. One of the speakers, Jené Luciani, spoke about how to find the perfect bra. (You can learn more about her talk here.) As we gathered back in the auditorium after lunch, a woman came up to me and told me she recognized me from BraVa! She then asked if I was going to be speaking about bras! We laughed as I explained I was just a member of the audience this time.

Since that encounter, three other strangers have approached me about my BraVa! readings. As someone who is routinely approached by strangers because of my disability, it is refreshing to have people stop me for a different reason. Perhaps, I’m OK with being known as the “bra lady” after all!

Here is the piece I read in November for BraVa! I hope the next time you are shopping for a new bra for yourself (or someone you love), you’ll consider buying an extra bra for a local women’s shelter. Everyone can use support now and then.

Umbrella clothesline full of bras in assorted sizes and colors.

What is Pretty?

I was two hours late for work on my first day back after an unexpected five day absence due to an intense sinus infection. An emergency wheelchair repair delayed my arrival, but I was determined to make it through the day now that I was finally at the office.

So when I began to get a strange sensation “down there” around noon I ignored it. I had been so wiped out by the sinus infection, I completely forgot my period was due.

I had to go home to change before the situation became even uglier. I called one of my Personal Assistants to help. We arrived home at the same time, and I urgently threw my cape aside as I rushed to the commode.

But, even when the need is great, one should not rush a transfer from wheelchair to commode. Particularly when the Personal Assistant who is working is incapable of following verbal directions. She didn’t listen to my commands. She dropped me.

SNAP! I heard the crack of the splintering bone as my butt crashed down on my ankle..

Imagine the scene – me, half naked on the floor by the commode, bleeding and still needing to pee, knee blown up the size of a basketball, a whimpering Personal Assistant trying too late to make things better. And now in walks the police officer, the first to respond to the 9-1-1 call.

It wasn’t pretty.

It definitely wasn’t pretty as the paramedics moved me to a backboard then lifted me to a stretcher. It turned downright ugly as I swore nonstop in agony while they secured me in the rig. We don’t need to talk about the ambulance ride to the hospital.

Two days later, the surgeon reassembled my fractured femur with, in his words, “a plate, screws, chicken wire and bubble gum.” I asked him to point out the bubble gum on the x-ray, and was told sometimes that dissolves before imaging. The thirteen screws and eight inch plate that I will carry for the rest of my life are clearly visible.

After two weeks in a hospital bed, it was time for me to get dressed and head to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital for intensive physical and occupational therapy. I was the least pretty I had ever felt in my life. I needed a shower, a razor, a manicure, and a good pair of tweezers.

My friend Sally brought some clothes, honoring my request for loose tops and comfortable pants. As she removed the items from a bag, I saw a flash of red.

I know you aren’t feeling like yourself, but I figured you’d want a pretty bra.

Sally, bless her heart, knows I don’t wear boring white bras even on the worst of days. She understands my need for color, the satisfaction I gain from knowing underneath my sensible, sexless fleece turtleneck is a scrap of satin that gives support to so much more than my breasts. Sally packed six colorful bras for me – and a tan one because she is practical after all.

I worked harder than I ever had at any physical task for those two weeks at Sunnyview. Three hours of exercise every day, enduring the most intense orthopedic pain I’ve ever experienced. It was not an attractive time for me. I was angry, bitter, and resentful. I have never been an exercise person, and now I was breaking a sweat – in the morning AND afternoon! Thank goodness I had all of those bras because there was no way I was wearing any of them for more than one day at a time.

I continued therapy for months at home and as an outpatient, learning new ways to perform all of my activities of daily living. I will never recover some of the function I had before the femur fracture. I now need more assistance to complete tasks I used to do independently. So much in life has changed because of that fall twenty months ago.

One thing has not changed. I still like, and wear, pretty bras. I don’t wear them for a man or a woman. I’m not trying to impress or attract anyone with my colorful lingerie.

I wear them to remind myself that even when life hands me the most repulsive challenges, causing me to grimace daily and feel unlovable and homely, I am beautiful on the inside, through it all. And I deserve every color of the rainbow.

Not Feeling the Need to Write

Today marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death. This is the fourth post I have started to write about him. Although there were probably nuggets of truth in each of them, none felt “right” to share. Some were funny, others were full of grief. Unfortunately, they didn’t express what I wanted to say in a manner which sounded authentic.

Just now I realized why that is the case. I was writing a post about Dad because I felt like it was something I “ought” to do. I was pressuring myself to come up with something new to say about him, to recognize and celebrate him on this day.

But, the reality is I have already written several good posts about him, if I may say so myself. I’ve told stories and shared lessons learned in these posts:

30 Days of Thanks Day 2 – Sam

Gratitude at the Kitchen Table

Seven Secrets of Success from Sam

30 Days of Thanks Day 24 – Sam and Dolly

Happy Father’s Day Sam!

30 Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Favorite Veteran (and Veterans Everywhere)

The Citrus Peeler

Being Number Six

And honestly, I really don’t want to write about Dad today. Sure, I will think about him all day. I’ll call Mom later. Most likely, I’ll get teary if the right song comes on my Spotify playlist.

I don’t want to write about him just because of the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to write today.

I want to write every day. I just don’t like being told what I need to write, or feeling like I “should” write something. It’s probably why I have never looked for or accepted a job where my only responsibility is to write.

I inherited that stubbornness from Dad. Maybe that is how I’ll honor him today. I’ll stomp my foot, cross my arms in defiance, and not do something “just because.” When I write about him next, it will be because I want to, because I have something new to say.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me that sometimes it’s OK to just do things my own way.

An older man sits in an old office chair. He is holding his hand next to his mouth, to project his voice as he yells an order. He is wearing a fishing hat an a white cooking apron over a plaid shirt and blue jeans.
Sam, barking orders at a family picnic. Photo – A. Conklin

 

 

30 Days of Thanks Day 3: BraVa!

Three years ago I submitted my first memoir essay for BraVa! BraVa!, a fundraiser for the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region, is a night of memoir about the place of bras in our lives.

Started by my friend and teacher Marion Roach Smith, BraVa! meets a need in our community. Women who escape domestic violence often do so with just the clothes on their back. More than 1000 bras have been gathered for women since BraVa! began in 2015. The next time you are shopping for a new bra, buy one for yourself and then buy one for a local charity.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my writing in such a supportive and welcoming community. I am honored and humbled to have been selected to read again this year.

Image of blank computer keyboard with the words "BIG DATA" resting on the keys.

I Still Don’t Like This

A year and a half ago, my friend Crystal and I wrote guest posts for our respective blogs about an experiment we conducted on social media. Both Crystal and I stopped using the “like” button on Facebook to see if we noticed a change in our news feed, or perhaps a change in how we interacted with social media. I have not gone back to using the “like” button since we began our experiment in August 2015. For a year and a half, if I have enjoyed, or disliked, or had a reaction to something in my news feed, I have taken the time to write a comment. Or, I have simply scrolled on by if I felt no real need to comment at all.

This change caused me to be more intentional with social media. Instead of my use of Facebook serving as a giant time suck, I now go to the site with the intent to catch up on what my friends and family are doing. I can’t stop using the site since my employment responsibilities include managing two Facebook pages, and I also help administer my Rotary Club’s Facebook page. Last year, I agreed to help serve as a volunteer moderator for the Disability Visibility Project Facebook page. Do I spend more time on Facebook than I probably should? Yes, but I view the site as a tool which can help me maintain connections to friends and family when I might not have time for a phone call and I am too much of an extrovert to give it up.

Then last week my friend Tonia shared an article about Big Data which I read with interest. The article, which was originally published in Das Magazin, described how political campaigns use psychometrics (sometimes called psychographics) for “innovative political marketing.” Now more than ever, it is easier for companies to use a person’s digital footprint to predict how that person will act in a given situation. I don’t claim to understand all the research, but it makes sense that data gleaned from a person’s social media feed or digital activity can be used to make predictions about that person.

For example, if you were to look at my “saved” files on Facebook (which I use to bookmark articles I want to read when I have time), you would find articles from the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, and several websites for media outlets such as PBS, NBC News, and ABC (Australia, not America). You would also see blog posts related to writing and crochet, and many disability blogs. A scan of my saved articles indicate about fifty percent of them relate to disability, twenty-five percent relate to writing, and the rest are a mix of articles about crochet, baking, musical theater and dealing with grief.

Based on just this information (remember, I have not provided any “likes” to analyze), one can fairly accurately predict I pursue writing, and that either I have a disability myself or am very active in disability circles. My hobbies (baking, crochet, and musical theater) are apparent. It’s no wonder that ads for Broadway HD show up with regularity in my news feed!

But, how are all those data points used by others? What else do I see because of assumptions made by analysis of my digital footprint? Which articles are placed in my view based on my social media activity? Would it change if my online behavior changed? I will admit, I never noticed a significant change in what I saw on Facebook once I stopped using the “like,” yet it’s possible there was a difference I just didn’t observe.

Do I think I have some semblance of privacy because I choose not to use the “like” button? Of course not. My smartphone acts as a transmitter, giving apps various information such as my location, how often I travel certain routes, what I search for on Google, and how often I win or lose at Words with Friends. Sure, I could opt out of using my phone as often or restrict certain apps to gain more privacy. But I use my phone to help me manage my personal assistant staff which limits my ability to disconnect.

For now, I will continue to steer free of the “like” button. I will also probably stop taking online quizzes – because how many times do I really need to prove I am an extroverted word geek who has a vast knowledge of show tunes? I think I’ve provided enough evidence of this to Big Data, especially since I just aced the “name the musical movie from one screen shot” quiz.