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.

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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. You can read her original post on my blog here, and my post can be found on her blog here.

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.

The Will to Write

Two years ago, when I started this blog, I felt guilty calling myself a writer. I worried people would laugh at me, not take me seriously. I had to talk myself up each and every time I hit “publish” and put my work out into the world.

Fast forward two years to this September. I started a new memoir writing class with my friend and mentor Marion Roach Smith. I committed to finally working, really working, on the book – the book I promised my late sister Mary Jane I would write. I wrote daily, sharing my work each month with the others in my class. Finally I felt comfortable saying the words, “I am a writer!”

Confession time: I haven’t written in two weeks. Life has a way of changing the best laid plans. At least, it always seems to happen to me.

My beloved father passed away on December 14th, giving me a healthy dose of perspective just as I was starting to get mired in pre-holiday stress. In an instant, I went from “How will I ever get the rest of my cookies done?” to “How will I get home to Mom and my sisters?”

After the funeral, the family gatherings, the tears and the laughter, there was still Christmas. And work. And life. And a book still waiting to be written.

That is how it happens. We gather with loved ones to offer comfort and share memories. Then, we return to our new normal and try to make our grieving selves fit back into our prior routines.

Somehow, I never manage to fit.

When my sister Mary Jane passed away five years ago today, I learned how easy it was for me to cultivate a relationship with grief. At the time, I wasn’t aware it was what I was doing. Now, I recognize the listlessness and lack of focus.

I am on vacation this week. Once again, my sister Caroline has agreed to let me crash at her house for the week. It was supposed to be a week of writing, crochet and relaxation.

Every day this week I have sat to write, and nothing has come. Well-meaning friends have offered me encouragement. Just journal. Write to a prompt. Set a timer and write for just ten minutes.

I started this post two days ago. Today, because I made Mary Jane a promise and I always try to keep my promises, I am finishing something – anything – just to say I am writing.

I know enough to know that I need to listen to myself when I don’t have the will to write. It is fine to take a break, to grieve, to allow myself to retreat and take a respite.

The trick is to not encourage myself to stay in that dark place, to not allow my voice to dwell in the grief and sadness in my heart. Even though I may want to sit and mourn, I know how easy it is to become mired in the sorrow and not move forward towards the goal.

I am a writer. It is what I do to help process the world around me. I think in words, stringing thoughts together in my head whenever I have moments to myself. When I don’t write, I feel like part of me is not fully functioning.

My goal today was to write a post and get it up – no matter how long, even if I think it’s crap. My goal tomorrow is to write 750 words about my experiences as a former poster child.

Goals are good. They provide focus when you feel lost. They can be modified when life throws you curves. Sharing goals helps me remain accountable. Hence, I state them here so I know someone else is aware of my plan.

I’m not thinking beyond this week. I’ll spend the next few days playing with my sister’s dogs and crocheting in front of the fireplace.

But come next week, I’ll write again. Because I am a writer. And writers write.