My Go-To Tunes: Musical Memories

Sometimes, I’m going through life doing something completely mundane when all of a sudden my brain becomes aware of a song and I’m instantly transported to a different place and time. This happened yesterday as I was completing an overdue monthly expense report for my employer. I heard the high hat and the keyboards and started bopping in my chair. In came the bass, and I turned up the volume on my headphones without even realizing what I was doing. I started singing the first chorus before I became aware of the sound coming out of my mouth.

Sidebar – this happens all the time, much to the annoyance of my former cubicle neighbors when I used to work in the cube farm. “I’m sure you think you have a lovely voice, but it’s very distracting when you sing at your desk.” Um, well, I actually do have a good voice, but most of the time when I’m singing at my desk at work, I really don’t notice that I’m doing it. I’ll try not to listen to music but you screaming into  your phone is a distraction too! Is it any wonder I didn’t last there?

Back to the story…

When this happened yesterday, I was transported from my home office in Waterford, New York, USA, to the house on Mirramar Park in Blackmans Bay, Tasmania, Australia. I was sixteen years old in September 1990 when my host brother, Mike, blared the song at 6:45 AM and yelled at me to get out of bed. I remember the moment because it was one of the few mornings I did not get up before Mike to get ready for school.

This memory sparked another memory – February 15 is Mike’s birthday! A glance at the clock and some quick calculations and I realized it was already February 15 in Australia. I left a quick note on Mike’s Facebook page, sharing my musical memories and birthday wishes. He replied this morning (well, morning for me but I’m guessing he’s heading to bed).

Denise – You are AWESOME! I still absolutely love that song!!! i will play it tomorrow to my 3 daughters in your honour! I love how the bass line kicks in half way through the bar on the off beat…gold!

I love that music can be a universal language, connecting me to friends and family who happen to be on the other side of the world. Some people associate memories with food or scents. I know someone whose memories are triggered by clothes. But my memories have always been sparked by music.

The song that served as my memory spark this time was Modern Times by Daryl Braithwaite. Included on his album Rise, it is a staple on my “Aussie Tunes” playlist. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but yesterday I was struck by the second verse. Though the song was released twenty-seven years ago, the lyrics are still relevant.

Somebody pulls the trigger, while somebody waits to get hit

Somebody freezes in the winter, and I’m complaining about the heat

Nobody listens these days, though they’ve all got something to say

I’m singing songs about waiting, and you’ll come back some day

Now I need to go listen to the song again. You can listen to it too, in honor of Mike’s birthday.

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Remote Viewing

Tonight I will be the keynote speaker at the North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference. It is an honor to be asked to share my unique youth exchange story with the 400 conference attendees. I am excited and hope my words will inspire the audience.

Wait Denise – I thought you were still stuck at home because of your broken leg?

Yes, I am still home bound. Thanks to the wonders of technology I will be delivering my speech live from my dining room, via Skype.

This will be the first time I have addressed a large audience from the other end of a webcam. I have conducted meetings and interviewed using Skype, I have held webinar training sessions, but I have never presented to a large group in my slippers. (Trust me – I will be wearing slippers because shoes are still uncomfortable on my broken leg.)

I was initially invited to speak at the 2015 NAYEN conference. I would have accepted the offer, but I was already committed to making my Australia trip a reality. The chance to speak at the Rotary District Conference in Tasmania was an opportunity I could not refuse. Would NAYEN be willing to consider me for the 2016 conference?

Thankfully, they were. I eagerly prepared to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, site of this year’s NAYEN conference. I recruited my friend Melissa to be my travel companion and Personal Assistant. We agreed on, and booked, flights which would get us to and from Ohio with the least amount of transfers.

Then I broke my leg on January 13. With the snap of a bone, plans had to change.

I did not want to back out of the conference again. I mean, I could have, and I’m sure people would have understood. But I already felt bad for not attending the conference in 2015, and I did not want to get a reputation as the speaker who never actually speaks when she is invited. Especially when it comes to a topic I am passionate about – the benefits of youth exchange, and how my exchange year positively changed my life. I felt so strongly about making it to NAYEN that it was one of the first things I mentioned after waking up from the surgery to fix my broken leg. My sister Sandy told me time and again not to worry about NAYEN, however I was determined to find a way to honor my commitment.

I am grateful to John, Ed, Kevin and the other conference planners who have worked to make it possible for me to fulfill my obligation tonight. After a successful test run yesterday, I am hopeful there will not be any technical glitches today. If there are, I know we will get through them. Twenty-five years ago, my exchange experience taught me how important it is to be flexible and creative (among many other lessons).

While I will miss being able to socialize with the conference attendees after my speech, I have to be honest and admit how relieved I am not flying to and from Ohio this weekend. My knee is certainly better than it was, but being lifted in and out of plane seats and aisle chairs would require high doses of pain medications. Speaking from the comfort of home, I can keep my leg elevated if I need to without needing mind-dulling narcotics. And I get to sleep in my own bed instead of struggling to get up on a high hotel mattress. In theory, this should result in me offering a more polished speech. All from the comforts of home.

Have you successfully used technology to solve an access problem? Share your story in the comments!

30 Days of Thanks Day 27 – Andrew

I met my friend Andrew in Miss Moyes’ music class at The Hobart College. It was my first day of school as an exchange student in Tasmania. I was overwhelmed and feeling lost on the campus. At home in New York, I was one of sixty-four students in my grade. Now I was one of 1,400 students – and the only one using a wheelchair. Andrew walked into class, smiled at me and sat down in the desk next to mine.

G’day. You’re new!

I quickly learned Andrew had a dry wit, and usually got a stern look from Miss Moyes when he made me laugh with his comments during class. Over the next two months, Andrew and I got to know more about each other. He was someone I could trust to tell me the truth when other students tried to teach me slang words which meant something completely different in Australian English than American English.

On our last day of school, we had a party in class. Andrew asked if he could sit in my empty wheelchair as someone had taken his seat. I have a few photos from that party. Andrew is seated in my chair in all of them, smiling broadly.

Andrew and I saw each other again when I returned to Australia in 1996. As a graduation present to myself upon completing graduate school, I spent three weeks in Tasmania visiting my friends and host families. Andrew was living in Sydney and offered to host me for a few days before I flew back to the United States. I jumped at the opportunity.

I was no longer able to walk in 1996, but Andrew quickly adjusted to my new “normal.” Sometimes when extended amounts of time pass between visits with friends, my changing abilities take some friends by surprise. Andrew asked me questions about my disability, which we had never really discussed during my exchange year. For the first time, I honesty acknowledged my anger and disappoinment with a body which did not cooperate with all my mind wanted it to do. He listened with an empathetic ear over tea in his living room.

You need a night on the town! We’ll go out tomorrow.

I have so many fun memories from those days and nights in June 1996, but the one which makes me laugh the most involves my night out with Andrew. I can’t remember the names of all the bars and pubs we visited on Oxford Street. What I do remember is being slightly more than tipsy as I was carried in my manual wheelchair up a flight of stairs by two drag queens while Andrew climbed a few steps below us.

No worries – I won’t let you fall all the way to the bottom if they drop you!

As soon as I knew I would be returning to Australia, I contacted Andrew to see if he would be available for a visit if I spent some time in Sydney. My friend Ulla was also planning to come to Sydney. The three of us, along with my cousin Kelly and Ulla’s boyfriend Carlos, spent two fun evenings together. We talked nonstop, laughing over wine and food. The hours passed quickly and all too soon we were saying farewell as I prepared to fly home again.

Andrew – thank you for all the many laughs you have given me during the past twenty-five years. Through our friendship I have learned important lessons about tolerance and diversity. The many laughs we have shared are some of my best memories from my times in Australia. I promise to return the favor when you come visit here. I can’t promise to find drag queens willing to carry a wheelchair up a flight of stairs at 3:00 AM, but I’ll do my best!Photo of a man and woman. He is seated on a couch, wearing a black t-shirt. She is seated in a wheelchair, wearing a black sweater and orange skirt.

30 Days of Thanks Day 24 – Sam and Dolly

I wrote about my amazing parents last year to start my 30 Days of Thanks. My mom, known as Dolly, and my dad, Sam, deserve recognition once again this year.

I am the person I am today because of the lessons, gifts and blessings bestowed upon me by my parents. Their belief in my abilities and encouragement helped me set and achieve goals.

Back in 1990, when I told them I wanted to be an exchange student, I never considered the fact they might have said no. I was sixteen, and needed their permission to pursue this dream. But since they had never said no to any dream of mine before, I did not really think about what I was asking them to approve.

Who lets their sixteen year old disabled daughter go live on the other side of the world for a year? Sam and Dolly, that’s who.

Granted, they didn’t make it easy by saying yes right away. The agreement we made was they would consider it, but I had to find a way to pay for the trip without touching the money in my college savings account. I was working a couple of afternoons at a local dressmaker’s shop. I spoke to my boss about my intent to travel and took on an extra shift to help earn additional money.

After a few months, when I started to attend the outbound exchange student orientations, they told they would sign the permission paperwork. In my teenage naivete, I questioned why it took so long for them to decide. It wasn’t like I was going to be completely on my own. I was going to stay with Rotarians – what could go wrong?!

Now that I am an adult, I have a better understanding of their fears and apprehension. I was (still am) their baby, the youngest of their six daughters, and I had a disability. Of course they were nervous! I wasn’t going to be two hours away at college. I was flying 14,000 miles away, quite literally half way around the world.

But they let me go.

Both of my parents shed tears when we said goodbye at the airport. Mom was full on crying, hankie pressed to her face, shaking as she gave me a hug. Dad was silent, a single tear escaping down his face. Cheeky me, all full of anticipation and excitement, told them not to worry. I would be alright. I would write every week. I knew right from wrong and would follow the rules. I promised not to do anything which would get me sent home early.

Eventually, they stopped hugging me. Dad put his arm around Mom, pulling her into his shoulder. I remember what he told her.

We didn’t raise her to keep her home Doll. We have to let her go.

Mom and Dad, I appreciate you giving me the confidence to go, to live, to say yes to life. You have given me so much love and taught me the value of working to fulfill a dream. Twenty-five years ago you said yes when I had this absurd idea that living in another country would be a great adventure, even though you were worried about me. You continue to offer me support when I try new things and pursue new goals. Thank you for encouraging me to advocate for myself and for trusting me to succeed. I love you.An older woman is sitting on the knee of an older gentleman. Both are smiling. She has brown hair and is wearing a pink shirt. He is balding, with white hair, and is wearing a red and green plaid shirt.

30 Days of Thanks Day 13 – Ulla

I started my 30 Days of Thanks this month intending to not repeat any posts about friends I wrote about last year. But, events today made it difficult for me to finish my intended post, so I am taking a shortcut.

I wrote about my friend Ulla last year during 30 Days of Thanks. I also wrote about her when I described my time in Sydney.

Ulla is one of the friends who made this trip to Australia a reality. She supported my financially, and she also made it possible for Kelly and I to stay in Sydney for two days before returning to the USA.

If you didn’t read about my friendship with Ulla before, please read about what a great person she is. And know that our time together was brilliant, fun and full of laughter.

Thank you again Ulla for always remembering to make me enjoy the moment, for sacrificing time and money to spend time with me, and for so many memories.Two women are posed in front of the Sydney Opera House. One woman has brown hair and is wearing glasses and a green shirt, seated in a red wheelchair. The other woman has blond hair and is wearing glasses and a blue sweater.