A couple of weeks ago my friend Crystal sent me an email asking if I had plans for November 13th. She was going to be passing through my city. Would I be able to meet for dinner and/or breakfast?
Of course I said yes before I checked my calendar. Thankfully when I did check, I didn’t have anything else planned.
This is my second visit from Crystal in as many months – a real treat since we don’t live in the same country. Granted, the Canadian border is only about three hours away. But when you haven’t really driven in almost two years, even a three hour drive can seem like the other side of the world.
Tonight Crystal and I shared a pizza in my new apartment. We laughed, we expressed anger and frustration, we hugged. In other words, it was a fantastic visit.
Tonight I am grateful for good friends like Crystal who are willing to share pizza at my cluttered dining room table.
Regular readers may recognize my guest today from her prior post here on DeeScribes, Not Liking the Like. Crystal Thieringer, who shares her writing on her blog Muse and Meander, is a dear friend of mine and one of the classiest women I know. Her writing makes me think about ordinary matters in extraordinary ways, and challenges me to be more honest with myself and others. Plus, she’s one of my favorite Skype partners who always makes me feel better after a shared cup of tea via the Internet. I am honored she agreed to share a gratitude post for 30 Days of Thanks, especially considering Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving last month.
All About Me
I was in high school when I first fancied calling myself a “writer” and to be honest, it didn’t go well. The story I crafted was about a young deaf boy who felt lost and misunderstood until he discovered falconry. I was proud of my tale, and filled with youthful confidence that my name would soon be on the spines of books like those I shelved every day at the library. I gave my story to one of my librarian colleagues, and asked her to critique it.
She did so, freely and honestly, exactly as I’d requested. I hadn’t anticipated that my writing was horrible. I thought it was a great story, and to realize she didn’t read all the fantastic-ness that I did was devastating. The experience stifled my creative writing for decades.
Though I seldom struggled with papers I had to submit for school, there was one in university concerning the history of medieval instruments that I’d dashed off during an all-nighter. I discussed what these instruments sounded like—and, having never heard them, I had no clue. My research was insufficient, and the professor who read it was not fooled. He failed the paper. He bluntly criticized my lack of comprehension and appreciation for the subject. He thought my similes were ridiculous and suggested I have more respect for readers.
Perhaps others can relate to how I was feeling. There were moments when I said to my bedroom wall, “How dare she!”, to my cat, “How could he!” and to God, “What do I do now?” I self-righteously declared that I didn’t have to listen to them, that my brilliant ideas were clearly above their feeble-mindedness, and that my precious prose was positively perfect. Make no mistake, it was quite dramatically all about me.
It’s easy to laugh at myself now but it certainly wasn’t then.
What I could not see at the time was how much these two people respected me. They saw something in me I couldn’t see in myself. They saw potential for brilliance—if I was willing to work at my craft. Of course their critiques hurt, but only because I was bound by feelings rather than being freed by substance.
Today I’m grateful they invested the time to say more than “it’s good,” especially when it wasn’t. I’m grateful they felt I was worth more than a passing glance, more than a brushing off. Because they were both kind and honest, I learned to critique my own work before I submit it to someone else, and I learned how to be more supportive of other people’s efforts. Because they cared about me in such a tangible way, I grew as a creative and as a thinker. Most importantly, I grew as a person.
Today I’m thrilled to share words from my friend Crystal Thieringer. I met Crystal online when I joined the My 500 Words writing group. From the start, she has been one of the most supportive, generous and considerate writers I have encountered. I was honored when she asked me to offer feedback on her novel in regards to her character’s experience with disability. Our friendship continued to grow and in July we had the opportunity to meet in person when I traveled to Montreal. Our first meeting felt like reconnecting with a forever friend – someone I had known for all my life. When she suggested we do a blog swap about today’s topic, I jumped at the chance to feature her here. To see my take on this, visit her blog, Muse & Meander. Stay for awhile and read her insightful posts. You’ll be glad you did.
Not Liking the Like
I’m guessing my friend Tonia Hurst found the article that started it because she’s fond of algorithms and the things they seem to say. Tonia is also the friend who loves research, and has the kind of brain which can synthesize what it all means to our lives today. This is reflected in the historical novel she’s writing reflecting life in 1915. I’ll be thrilled to read such a novel, but the research to get there? My eyes pretty much glaze over and the words become the cartoon “mwah wah wah wah”s bouncing off the inside of my skull, echoing relentlessly until I’m certain I’d like to die.
Unless the story is brilliant. Then I’m in. My friend Denise, on the other hand, read the same article and got the point of it being an experiment and said, “We should try it.” We laughed on the chat feed, and all of a sudden the challenge was on: no capricious use of the “like” button on Facebook. In fact, no use of it at all. We also couldn’t simply apply “favorite” on Twitter without also commenting. We would adhere to this one simple rule for two weeks. Simple.
I lasted one day.
I confessed my failure. Began again.
And lasted two days.
In my defense, both failures occurred in the middle of the night when I didn’t heed the often-heard advice to avoid looking at the computer screen. I’ve corrected that by making it harder to get to my laptop. Since laziness wins over curiosity, not surprisingly I’m getting more sleep. Independently, both Denise and I chose to continue not liking the like (for the most part). It’s been just over three months now, and I’ve no intention of changing back to my old ways.
The article focused on how the writer’s newsfeed changed. Truthfully, I haven’t noticed that. For me, the surprise came in the realization of how my conversations changed. The plain fact is I’m accomplishing as much, and possibly more, on social media than I did before and I am doing so with greater return on my time investment. What a win!
The notification feed showed me who was noticing what I posted. I replied to those who commented. Sometimes an honest discussion ensued—either in the post as part of a larger group conversation, or in a one-to-one chat. I also took the time to comment on what others had posted instead of the much quicker click to like or favorite. Many times, I became part of a discussion there too. After a month of not letting myself click, I realized there were some responses that I simply could not reply to, but I wanted to let the commenter know I’d seen it. This only happened during round-about conversations such as “so nice to see you last week” that were replied to even though I thought I’d managed to finish the conversation. Perhaps this person was taking the same challenge of leaving no comment un-responded to, I don’t know, but it did seem ridiculous to keep going.
There were other times though, where friends and acquaintances merely liked what I posted. Of course, I’m grateful they did, but I found myself longing as I so often do, for interaction instead. Sometimes, social media is–well–quite anti-social, an opinion that has been the subject for several blog posts. I’ve also reposted or linked to similar opinions from others. Truthfully, such posts from me tend to come when I’m feeling particularly lonely or vulnerable. I’m an introvert. I write, and my best work is done without distraction. I don’t drive. I’ve spent a fair amount of time being ill and while I’ve enjoyed tremendous support, the thing people say to me most often is, “I didn’t want to call because I was afraid of waking you up.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how much I like my own company or that of my two cats and my very handsome and articulate husband. There are days when I long for other real people to talk to me, even if it’s on the other end of a computer screen. My biggest lament about social media is the cheapening of the word “friend”. Although social media sites suggest I have many, the fact remains that few of these people know when my birthday is, how many children I have, what current challenges I face, or what my hopes and dreams are. Frankly, without interaction—something a click cannot provide—these acquaintances will never find out. My true friends, however, will.
In high school, I never felt as though I belonged at the cool kid table, and often on social media, I feel exactly the same way. Social media has a culture in which I doubt I’ll ever be truly comfortable. “Conversations” with my teenage niece provide the perfect example. She will text me, I’ll answer the minute it arrives at my phone, and her response may come a minute, an hour or weeks later. The rules regarding personal interactions have changed, and it isn’t just in conversations with teenagers but with younger children who now have smart phones (I stopped my grand-niece from walking into a post recently, because her attention was focused on her new phone). It is, unfortunately, often true amongst adults who regularly talk with them and have adopted the culture.
Shortcuts are valuable. I use them myself. Still, I’ve yet to find a microwaved roast that tastes as fine as a slowly braised one.
The lesson for me is about intentionality. I slowed down, read more carefully so I could comment thoughtfully. I deleted a few responses where my flippancy got in the way. I tweeted responses with more care. I refused to respond to some posts where I couldn’t answer kindly.
The thing that astonished me was how often I used to click because I was bored. If I didn’t like it enough to comment, it was at best, not memorable enough. Was that the best I could do for myself?
Now, I spend less time on social media. During the first two weeks, I (finally) submitted a manuscript I’d been procrastinating and fretting over. I completed and planned more blog posts, and I also responded to an increased number of acquaintances’ posts and tweets. I had more meaningful interaction with a larger number of people. Best of all? I have a better idea of who my friends are—the ones I recognize, not the ones social media labels for me.
In other words, by refusing to like or favorite, I was more social. It’s enough reason for me to keep at it. For me, I’m going to continue not liking the like. Anyone care to join me?
Crystal Thieringer lives in Ottawa, Ontario where many people think she spends her time writing stories. The truth is she studies the habits of hairy woodpeckers, cardinals and chickadees as they freeload from the feeders hanging from the tree outside her window. She is also one of Two-LIPs (live-in-persons) at the beck and call of Lynxy and Sydney, resident cats. Three times each week, she blogs at Muse & Meander. She is currently working on a contemporary YA series.
Surely, there is a punch line waiting for a story with that introduction. My story about a Canadian, a Norwegian and an American meeting in Montreal includes crepes, a hotel evacuation with six fire trucks loaded with Montreal’s finest firemen, and a train evacuation just fifteen miles away from my final destination. Please – someone work all that into a joke!
After my trip to Australia in March, I decided all my future travel must revolve around people, not places. If meeting up with people takes me to wonderful places, it is an added bonus. But it is more important for me to see people I care about rather than new places. So, when I saw a friend’s Facebook post with photos of her visit to Montreal, I quickly asked how long she would be there. Yes, she would still be there the following weekend. Yes, if I came to Montreal, she would have time to meet up for a reunion.
Because of my disability, it is not always easy for me to travel at short notice. I have to find an assistant, this time one with a passport, locate accessible lodging and arrange for accessible transportation. These logistics take time. Sometimes I get lucky though and things just fall into place. Within a few hours, I found a Personal Assistant, booked train tickets and reserved an accessible hotel room within walking distance of the train station. While it’s easy to drive to Montreal from where I live, it is the same price to take the train and this allows me to be productive (read: write and crochet) for hours at a time thanks to wi-fi. I requested Monday off from work and started studying street maps, using French for the first time since high school.
The next day, a friend from Ottawa (she’s the Canadian) asked if I would have time to see her if she came to Montreal during my whirlwind visit. Yes! I have been eager to meet Crystalin person since we “met” in an online writing group. But I didn’t want to ask her to sacrifice her weekend to travel only to see me for a few short hours. Since she offered, I happily agreed it would be wonderful to meet up.
My thirty eight hours in Montreal were brilliant! If you plan to go and require an accessible hotel, the Courtyard Marriott Centre-Ville has very good access. Our room, 509, had a roll in shower with a height adjustable bench. The water pressure in the hand-held shower was not wonderful, but there was plenty of space to maneuver. The toilet was a bit low for me, but since I had help this wasn’t an obstacle. The king size bed is high, as is the disappointing trend in most hotels these days, but there was a sofa bed in the room at a good height for transfers. The concierge was helpful, identifying accessible restaurants and advising us which sidewalks should be avoided due to construction barriers. I am not receiving any compensation from Marriott for my praise. I just believe it is important to highlight businesses which do a good job so other people thinking of travel have a “real world” recommendation.
I met Crystal for a lovely brunch on Sunday. We talked non-stop. We laughed. We gushed over Montreal street art. We took photos in parks. It was an amazing morning. We both felt as if we were spending time catching up with a lifelong friend, not meeting each other for the first time.
Crystal – you have been a mentor, a cheerleader, and sounding board for me since September. Thank you for making the sacrifice to come meet me. I treasure our all-to-brief visit and look forward to the next chance when we can meet up. There will be a next time!
After brunch, I met my friend Astrid (the Norwegian if you are keeping track). Astrid and I were exchange students at the same time, hosted by the same Rotary District in Tasmania. We traveled together throughout Tasmania and mainland Australia. Prior to last weekend, I had not seen her since our farewells in 1991.
Astrid is a kind, intelligent, funny, and articulate woman. As exchange students, we shared laughs about “those crazy Australians” and had many late night conversations about the meaning of life. It was terrific to talk about our respective travels and adventures. Astrid is a biologist and had many fun stories to share about her time spent working in national parks in Western Canada and Alaska. We reminisced about our exchange student experiences and played “have you heard from so and so?” while we walked through the city.
As we listened to a fantastic jazz quartet and ate a delicious dinner at Jardin Nelson (try the Diva crepe if you go), we talked about our unique experiences with exchange brought about due to my disability. I learned so much from the others during that year, and sometimes forget they were all learning from me as well. Astrid and I laughed over shared memories, and I was reminded of how invincible we all were as teenagers. Adults with good intentions would caution us or express doubts in my ability to participate in an activity. But as a group we had already figured out an accommodation or means for me to be included. To hear Astrid’s take-away was humbling and I am grateful to her and all of my exchange student peers who “got it” and worked to include me not out of a sense of obligation but just because it was the sensible thing to do. That sense of “mate-ship” is a very Australian trait, and we embraced it even though we all came from other cultures.
All too soon, it was time to walk back to our hotel. Astrid and I hugged and said goodbye in the lobby, promising to email photos. As I sat waiting for the elevators, I noticed them all opening one by one and then heard the alarm. I have stayed in enough hotels to know this means somewhere in the building a fire alarm has been activated. Sure enough, ten seconds later the concierge was asking everyone to evacuate the lobby, telling us this was not a drill.
Six fire trucks, three police vehicles and an ambulance quickly surrounded the building. I sat on the corner, performing a mental inventory of what personal belongings were up in my room. I had my passport, phone and money with me so I knew I had everything important. The couple next to me had been in the pool and had only their bathing suits and a towel. I counted my blessings and watched the firemen enter the building to conduct their search.
Thankfully, there was not a real fire and we were allowed back inside an hour later. I crashed in bed and made a joking remark to my Personal Assistant along the lines of, “Well at least we got the evacuation out of the way before we were asleep.”
Whether or not you have a disability, you should ALWAYS take the time to look up your hotel’s evacuation plan and emergency procedures when you check in to your room. Some new hotels have an “area of refuge” near a stairwell or elevator. In the event of an alarm, guests who are unable to evacuate without assistance gather in these areas to await help. Sometimes, guests are asked to remain in their hotel rooms with the door closed until help can arrive. Emergencies happen everywhere, not just at home. I have been a guest in at least twenty hotels where the alarms have been activated. Advanced preparation is crucial, especially when traveling.
I thought our encounters with the unexpected would be over, but of course I was wrong. Monday morning we arrived at the train station to find the mechanical lift to our platform did not work. I did not worry, as I have been through the bowels of several train stations when elevators have not worked and I know there is a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels between platforms. Sure enough, Stephanie (the kind VIARail Canada employee) took me through a maze of corridors and ramps to get to the train.
The trip home was uneventful until we approached the station in Saratoga, New York – the final stop before our destination in Schenectady. The train stopped on the track and a few passengers exited but nobody boarded. Then, my Personal Assistant’s phone began to ding with incoming messages at the same time the Conductor began talking earnestly to an Amtrak employee outside the train. The track south of Saratoga was closed because of a freight train accident. Amtrak was calling for buses and all passengers would be transported to Albany to make connections.
I know other people with disabilities who have not had good experiences with Amtrak, but I have always had good, if not great experiences with them and this was no exception. Usually, I am the last passenger taken off planes, trains and buses. This time, I got to be first because there was an accessible cab at the train station available to take us to Schenectady. The station has a wheelchair lift, and it was in working order. Bobbi and John, the Conductor and Assistant Conductor, had me off the train and across the tracks in just over a minute. Amtrak doesn’t endorse me to say nice things about them, but given the chance I take the train almost any chance I can. I always get good customer service, and being able to remain in my chair for the entire journey is much less stressful than worrying about airport baggage handlers damaging it.
I arrived home exhausted several hours later than expected, my head spinning with thoughts and ideas for future writing. Who says you can’t pack a week’s worth of adventure into three days? Certainly not anyone who has been traveling with me!
**Thank you to all the Capital Region advocates who fought to have accessible cabs available at all times at the Albany airport and regional train stations! Our cab was clean, the driver was polite and followed my directions when I told him how to properly restrain my wheelchair in the safety straps. We shared the cab with a delightful woman from Montreal. For the first time in my life, I introduced myself as a writer only to learn she is also a writer and illustrator of children’s books. We had been on the same train for hours but chance, fate, the Universe – whatever you want to call it – threw us together for the end of our journey.
Do you like to ask for help? Do you do it as often as you should? Do you accept assistance from others willingly or as a last resort?
I ask for assistance daily, and have for as long as I can remember, because of my progressive neuromuscular disease. This doesn’t mean I enjoy doing it. It also doesn’t mean I do it as often as I should. I am stubborn, and if there is a way I can do something on my own, I will. Even if it takes longer and wastes precious energy I could better spend on another task.
It can be difficult to admit we are dependent, but the truth is none of us can survive without assistance from others. Everyone relies on other people to get through life. However, knowing we all rely on outside assistance to varying degrees doesn’t make it any easier to ask for help when we need it.
As is often the case for many seniors or people with disabilities, my decision to let others help me with my daily tasks was made when I fell. I lay on my bathroom floor on November 15, 2007, at 1:14 AM, waiting for the paramedics, sobbing not due to my injuries but because I knew an era of my life was coming to an end. I recognized that moving forward, I would have no choice but to allow others to assist me with daily living.
Can you pinpoint the exact time and date you realized it was time to ask for help with something? Do you know the precise instant you decided to stop worrying about making the ask and allowed yourself to expose your vulnerability?
A year ago, I received an invitation to speak at a conference in Tasmania, Australia. I jumped at the opportunity without thinking it through completely. Once the euphoria settled, I realized the only way I would be able to afford to bring a personal assistant with me was to ask those in my circle of support to help me financially. For months, I agonized and worried about how to make this request, what method of communication would be best, the message to convey.
Eventually, I bit the bullet and created a crowdfunding page. I spent a few hours writing my message and then sent it out to the world. Within four weeks, I had achieved my goal. The messages of support from family, friends and complete strangers were overwhelming, causing me to cry with gratitude almost daily. People had been waiting for me to ask and were glad I finally let them help.
It never occurred to me that others could anticipate and see my needs before I was ready to ask. Instead, I put myself through months of fits of anxiety and useless worry. I could have saved myself so much wasted energy if I had just had faith that when I asked, those around me would answer my request.
Last weekend, I received a message from my friend Crystal. Crystal has been a generous mentor to me on my writing journey, offering encouragement and support on days I have had questions and doubt. I grow and learn by reading her work on a regular basis. As can happen, she is feeling overwhelmed by life events. Crystal bravely reached out to her circle of support to explain her situation and make her requests, hoping we would help alleviate her stress. We all responded positively and by the end of the weekend, most of her requests were met. As friends, we can’t take away all of her concerns, but knowing we can help with some is gratifying to those who care about her (at least, it is to me).
Crystal wrote about her thoughts on “the ask” in a lovely post you should go read. She ends the post by describing the joy which can be found in giving, summing it up with this apt thought:
When we can’t fix what’s wrong, but we can help to ease a burden, it brings a particular joy which can neither be measured nor duplicated. It’s one of the mysteries for which logic is useless.
I hope we have all felt that joy. I know it is one of the reasons I find it rewarding to help others when I am able. I strive to express my gratitude and joy to others when they respond positively to my requests for assistance.
Asking for help is difficult because it requires us to expose our vulnerabilities. But in asking for help, we allow those who care about us the opportunity to experience the joy of giving. Why would we deny those who care about us the gift of that joy which can be found in selfless giving?
Maybe we can remember that joy the next time we find ourselves anxious to make the ask. Yes, asking can be scary, but allowing others the gift of giving brings blessings to both parties involved. Thank you Crystal for giving me the opportunity to create and feel the joy this week.
Has anxiety prevented you from making an ask? How have you felt when you have helped fulfill someone else’s ask?