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Relationships with parents remind me that their parents had dreams, goals, and expectations which they passed along, pressed into them like clay, and which affected… us, their progeny. From the other side, my mother’s experiences with me must have been somewhat terrifying. I wasn’t the first child – by far – but the one who was so different than the others, it must have been a little off-putting.


She told me, at birth
I was like a new gadget:
Boxed, with no handbook.
Just rows of shiny buttons.
Just so many ways to break.

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From the beginning of my life, my relationship with my Dad has been… fraught. This year began with health issues, and aging issues, and though I am trying to reframe that relationship, I am learning that I must first take the time to look at it… Have you ever wondered what went wrong in a relationship which was supposed to be easy? Family – you’re born with those people. Why aren’t they your easiest relationships?


In early memory I said, “No,”
His opposite in every light,
His preference for my sisters clear
He left me home rather than fight.

His opposite in every light,
My busy fingers matched a mind
He left me home rather than fight
Me, whimsy-filled more than with sense.

My busy fingers matched a mind,
Head-deep in books and story-blind.
Me, whimsical, not filled with sense,
My world a foreign one to him.

Head-deep in books, I, story-blind
There was no chance we’d meet as friends
My world wholly foreign to him
Two aliens, too alien.

Never a chance to live as friends
Since children reap what others sow –
Two aliens, too alien
We failed to thrive, too starved to grow.

{bc casual ableism sucks the joy out of everything}

I finished my Master Pass for GO FIGURE, woot woot for me! And now back to the story that I need to have finished by the end of the summer and I feel like I’m not even halfway through yet (I AM, but it still doesn’t feel that way because I started a third story because it was bugging me and I thought just writing one chapter or so would work to get it out of my system. It did not. ::sigh:: ).

And now for a rant – no, not that one. This is a new one:

We don’t often talk about accommodation in our family. My sister JC uses a wheelchair, and when she got her first chair, my father ripped up all the carpet in the downstairs of the house, and tiled it. The pantry is no longer a narrow closet under the stairs but a wide space next to the fridge, with sliding barn doors. Things are at varied heights, and my sister’s closet in her bedroom has been rebuilt lower. None of this is an out-of-the-box solution my parents bought at The Disabled Store (if there’s any such thing, it’s ridiculously, prohibitively, stunningly, SUPER expensive – like her wheelchairs). They just figured out some things, and made them work. It’s a constantly evolving process.

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We have learned, living with my sister, that casual ableism – subtle discrimination in favor of able-bodied people – is A Thing, really, an insidious thing, that exists. At her private, Christian elementary school, she was carried around like a piece of furniture – or, more realistically, like a fondly disregarded cat or a rag doll, even though she was a child too old to be carried – and honestly, how safe was it for the school to allow other children to carry her? Would they have allowed that with other children? No.

When she was older, she had to go up long inclines to even get to the wheelchair ramp for junior high and high school. The church our family attends was recently updated and modernized – and still lacks some basic ADA accommodation, including a ramp to the platform. Wheelchair users aren’t expected to actually, you know, be among the people giving the service, apparently. The family noted this, and basically accepted it in silence… because, what could we do? We’d asked a few questions to a few people, and gotten chagrined or blank-faced non-answers. Disabled people weren’t in the plans, and the plans would go forward as they were… because casual ableism Is A Thing. (NB: Some people feel we should have made more noise earlier. Probably. It’s hard to overcome conditioning when you’re in the minority twice over, though.)

We almost expect organizations to fail JC, because they do it so often. When she went to beauty school, they put off her enrollment for a solid month because they were working on getting her a special cart at her height, a special chair for her clients, and specialized seating in her classroom basically panicking, honestly. She did get to go to Disneyland, and she got to go first on all the rides, which was A Really Good Experience, but even though they had time and means to prepare, she had to buy her own specialized equipment. Her beauty school sent people to wash her client’s hair for her… because they couldn’t figure out how to make the world work for a disabled stylist, regardless of what they promised when she enrolled.

Being diagnosed with my autoimmune disease gave me more understanding and compassion about casual ableism than I’d previously had. When some days your hands don’t work to open jars in the kitchen, or your wrists and arms can’t carry heavy platters or a cast iron skillet… you have to make adjustments. When you can’t sit comfortably in every chair… you sit in your cushy chairs at home. You wear your mask everywhere, even though you hate it and would like to burn it with the heat of a thousand suns. You re-learn your life in a way that makes you hate yourself less for your shortcomings, you make allowances for the people who make assumptions, and who don’t understand… but you resent it with the heat of those same thousand suns, and those suns go nuclear over your baby sister.

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So, when JC texted us six months ago, excited about attending her first concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater, we wished her eardrums luck, and didn’t think much of it… until she posted on Instagram that the venue was awful. “What happened?” asked. First, no one knew where the disabled parking lot was, and when they finally found it, they wouldn’t let her friends park there, even though they had a placard and a clear need. The parking lot was unpaved and difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. When they finally got in, finally found someone who knew where the ADA accommodating seats were, they discovered they had to go down a flight of eight stairs.

The woman on staff asked, “Can’t you walk down eight stairs?” and rolled her eyes when JC said she could not. And told her friends to “be quiet” when they interrupted to protest her being asked this.

I’m not the nice person in the family; that’s maybe reserved for …somebody else, maybe my parents? What I’d like to do is focus the light of those thousand suns at the Shoreline with a giant magnifying glass… but I’m instead just offering advice as asked, and quietly seething and ranting on blogs instead.

Some people just don’t get a break. They miss most of their senior year in high school because of surgery. They miss out on doing “normal” things with friends because they have to have friends whose cars are big enough for a wheelchair or who don’t mind breaking it down and putting it back together to get it in and out of a vehicle. They end up back on a kidney transplant list less than ten years after the first time. They’re in their twenties before they’re comfortable and confident enough to go to their first concert. It’s not fair, and while howling that into the stratosphere and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee, I just had to say it out loud. With EVERYTHING ELSE horribly wrong in this country and this state and this world this week, this is icing-on-the-top of a bitter casual-ableism muffin of Not Fair, and we are going to do something about it.

Yeah, yeah, something without the sun and a magnifying glass.


x-posted@Hobbits in Rivendell

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another birthday

Last night, and dreaming –
My brother, in a stairwell,
Paused, smiled, and hugged me,
Resumed his downstairs sprinting.
He’s out of reach, just like time.

(I don’t know why I dreamed of my brother when it was my nephew’s birthday yesterday, but my brain doesn’t make sense; ymmv. Also, I have worry dreams often; my brother works in a store, and I think about him, stocking shelves in a mask and gloves, and sigh.)

{thanksfully: 8}

Madea, my maternal grandmother, had a great love for… Chuck Norris. Clint Eastwood. Tough guy movies and violent Westerns. A bit unique for an elderly Black woman who only ever read the Bible and did the Jumbles crossword, but there you go – Madea spent a lot of time with the Old Testament God, I guess.

The only time the two of them were at ease in each other’s company was when my Dad would watch “cowboy pictures” with Madea. Sunday afternoons, it was black-and-white movies and 70’s adventure dramas, and once, memorably, Eastwood’s iconic Two Mules for Sister Sara,” starring the inimitable Shirley MacLaine.
Now I know the film to be some improbable tale of a nun falling in love with a violent cowboy who rescues her (unrealistic, with a heavy dose of Stockholm syndrome), but when I first saw the film, the most memorable thing to me was Sister Sara’s eyelashes. Boy, I COVETED Shirley MacLaine’s lashes, and it wasn’t until later that my naive little brain realized those were – duh! – falsies, probably the fancy ones made out of mink. (Boy, what a testament of different people having wildly, vastly different experiences! I wonder what my father and Madea saw in that film…) Sister Sara’s are to this day my peak aspirational lash goals. We don’t always get to chose our, um, fashion icons, but today I’m feeling affectionate gratitude for Miss Shirley – past lives or no – who is still one stylish dame.

the MacLaine effect on eleven-year-old me

a butterfly’s wings
meteorologists said,
could cause a windstorm.
someday, i’ll have that power
simply by batting my eyes.

{thanksfully: 7}

Today, I am grateful for my youngest sibs, my nieces and nephews, who, like my students, gave me a shadow of the experience of parenting: watching someone grow past the expectations everyone has had for them. My niece just received a richly-deserved promotion to a senior supervisory position. After the dysfunctional family-owned business, where her boss’s mother routinely screamed at her boss over design decisions, after the boss who asked her out, repeatedly, and hung over her desk and stared when she wouldn’t date him, her current job, where she’s seen, valued, and appreciated must be a relief. It’s been a long, grueling march – but her end goal is finally in sight.

the long game

moving the tassel
signals commencement. we cry,
the future is now!
more truthful: futures exist
endurance is the new “now”

{so shines a good deed in a weary world}

Even before she started beauty school, my sister could dye her hair a color that matched her hoodies and accessories perfectly. (You didn’t know you needed that skill, right? But, you do.)

She has frequently had the ability to make me snort-laugh, because she is ridiculous has a penchant for telling dramatic stories about herself. She started doing that as soon as she could talk – imagine two-year-old babbling, complete with gasps. Once, she dressed up as Jesus (?) and wrapped herself in bath towels and blankets, dragging them around the house. Despite her, um, extended bratty phase, she’s generally been the cause of a lot of smiles and laughter in our family.

This has not been a very smiley last few days for anyone. The world has… proven yet again that when someone fans the flames of hate, the inferno grows and would incinerate the whole world. But, as always, a single act of love can push back against the dark. My sister’s friends at beauty school have decided that she needs a standing wheelchair to be a successful stylist — and so they’ve started the incremental — grueling — long process of raising the money on GoFundMe. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.

Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to take a long while? Yes. But, knowing she’s got friends like that? Makes the struggle worth it. When she told me about it, she said, “My friends – I just started crying when they told me – they’re amazing. We’re going to do it. It’ll take as long as it takes, but we’re going to do it.”

My beautifully stubborn sister has had that attitude for a while. She has had to change her schedule, since starting beauty school. She can’t work as long as she thought she’d be able to – the work is exhausting (PEOPLE ARE TIRING) and sometimes, clients are unpleasant about her chair – people fear contagion from disease and disability, because they’re… small-minded and craven, basically. Everything in my sister’s life has come with compromises and work-arounds, but you know what? She never quits. We’re going to get this danged chair – even though insurance won’t pay for it. Things are falling apart, the center is not holding, and I cannot fix anything else in the world, but this small thing? Here, I can help.

Have you found your small thing to hang your heart on yet this week?

{the sisterhood of the cynical}

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I never expected to be an older sister.

I spent long years being the youngest, a position loathed but familiar, before finally getting two younger sibs in one go, but little did I know that they meant my own position would change to that of Big Sister. This meant explanation, exhortation and most often, commiseration. And so it was that when my phone rang on Friday and my younger sister said, “Something’s happened,” and her voice warbled up in that tearful fashion to which I have become accustomed. I got comfortable, expecting the usual – a spat between she and Dad, or our eldest sister. Not today.

It was, she told me, at school, where she, with her cohort, are learning the ins and outs of the world of hair. JC keeps me up to date on the restless world of the Young and the Black-Clad, as all good Paul Mitchell-ites must be, and there is always some drama – so-and-so up and walked away from a client of hers and just left her hanging, so-and-so did a bad cut that the teacher had to rescue; so-and-so is the best colorist in the whole group, and is a little too proud of that fact. JC is a deft hand with the color bowl, and moved beyond doing wash-and-sets on the disembodied head of Maria the Mannequin to real human clients a little less than a month ago. Friday’s client was in for a color… and then abruptly took over the discussion on hair with a personal question.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?”

JC was the only physically disabled kid in her entire school, so she’s well accustomed to discussing her disability, and not at all uncomfortable with a quick explanation. However, the client wasn’t… satisfied with quick. She asked probing questions, and kept turning the conversation from the general to the personal. When she was finally draped and settled in her chair, and JC went to get her color, the woman asked the room at large, “Why do I have to have her? Can’t someone else do my hair?”

I imagine the room was uncomfortably silent. Afterward, the woman became uncommunicative and surly in response to questions and overall was a difficult client. JC’s confidence wavered, and she called in her teacher to finish for her… then a friend told her what had been said.

I commiserated, of course. I said how sorry I was that something like this had happened. I expressed my disgust with the woman’s ignorance, and her apparent belief that disability is contagious; I wished aloud she had received some home training. But, none of that fixes anything; in the long run, nobody can fix people. And, because I am so very bad at commiseration, I said, “And what’s your plan for the next time this happens?”

“What?” she quavered.

“It’s going to happen again,” I said, trying to be gentle. “Humanity is consistently awful.”

To no one’s surprise, she hung up a few minutes later, saying she was going to call Mom.

It was… maybe? the wrong thing to say? My sister, who was born with such birth trauma and such horrific birth parents and who manages with physical disabilities is still a mostly sunny-side-up type of kid. While I assume that there are going to be people in the world who are just generally ugly about things, she is horrified to find them. While she rolls through life assuming that doors will open for her, I trudge around with an axe. If it came down to wondering which of us was right the greater majority of the time, I’d probably say me… and she’d probably say her. Some sisterhoods are all things sweet and comfortable. Some sisterhoods have traveling pants. Ours, unfortunately, seems to have a cynical wedgie.

I guess this explains why I’m not actually great at this gig.

Regardless, I still think she needs to make a plan for next time. Because, in my experience, people will try you. We all know some folk move through the world looking for power exchanges, those moments when they feel like they can level up from the ground-floor misery that they feel they are by clomping on the head and shoulders of someone else to rise, even briefly. Everyone with a minus in a world that counts only pluses needs to have the tools at hand to lay boundaries for the way they wish to be treated and with kindness, insist on it. The Golden Rule isn’t meant to be a yardstick with which we smack each others’ hands, but a yardstick by which we measure how much we, too, are worth, and look toward treating others in kind. I want JC to know she’s worth being treated better, worth more than someone who has to explain or defend her choices or her existence.

Until then, Sister Cynic is practicing her shin kicking, in case Little Sister might need her.


Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers and beams of yellow light
No flags of truce, no cries of pity
The siege guns have been pounding through the night
It took a day to build the city
We walked through its streets in the afternoon
As I returned across the fields I’d known
I recognized the walls that I’d once made
I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I’d laid

It’s Old School Friday! You know you remember this song from way back when. It was on autoplay when I was about sixteen, and my friend Molly was the world’s biggest Sting fan. She found him to be So Profound (insert eye roll), thus, she had a Sting song for every occasion. Funny how much our friends’ musical choices shape ours. I know many of the words to many of his songs by heart, even though I wasn’t the superfan. Ah, well. Sting’s largely disappeared from my world, except for a the albums left on Brainradio, one of which is Island of the Blue Turtles where this song, with its imagery of war and hearts, is found.

Anyone who has grown up with challenging parents feels the war thing a bit more keenly than most. If you grew up where voices were raised, objects were thrown or swung with astonishing accuracy – or lack of said – or if you could hear yourself breathe, from holding yourself so quiet and still, and felt like your room, in a closet, was your personal foxhole, you might know how confusing it is to wonder if …the war’s over.

And if I built this fortress around your heart
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire
Then let me build a bridge
For I cannot fill the chasm
And let me set the battlements on fire

I used to laugh at how on Crash Course, John Green would occasionally address commentary to Me From the Past, the younger, undeniably dumber John Green who was the hapless soul who made non-logical conclusions, dork moves with girls, and in general was a git. My “Me From the Past” has never been quite so clearly identifiable a character, but she exists in my head when I think of my childhood. Especially when I think of my childhood as compared to now. Sometimes – and we all do this – we let Me From the Past be the narrator in our heads that tells Me in the Present how things are going to go down. Occasionally – frequently – my Me From the Past is just as full of dork moves and non-logical conclusions as John’s. She believes that nothing ever changes.

And, sometimes she’s right.

Negotiating a relationship with someone who consistently hurt you, consistently disappointed you, consistently told you that you weren’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough is tricky as hell. Now, smart money’s on people like my friend, A., who can just …not do that. She opts to have NO relationship with those family members. But, I … I have, quite frankly, guilt complexes, questions of “am I being a good person” and an inability to let go. Also, I don’t want to hurt anyone. The thought horrifies me.

(This is not, by the way, proof that I’m a good person. This is proof that I have a whisper of Machiavelli in my personality and want to retain the moral high ground at all times.)

Me From the Past stands ready, in the back of my mind, at all times. Me From the Past believes her job is to remind me of things – to supply dates and details, if necessary – so that I don’t make the same dork moves I did back then. That’s okay; I accept that she feels that’s her job. Me in the Present, however, likes to reserve the right to overrule her. And, that’s where the problem lies. How much do you overrule your past? How much do you ignore what you know as truth from situations you’ve already been in?

Then I went off to fight some battle
That I’d invented inside my head
Away so long for years and years
You probably thought or even wished that I was dead
While the armies are all sleeping
Beneath the tattered flag we’d made
I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I’d laid

It bothers me to be in my well-past-thirties, and still resentful about parts of my childhood. Our older relatives age; mine are nearing seventy. Some of those problematic people can show themselves to be lovely and affable now; storytellers, bakers of special treats, complimentary and, frankly, changelings that cause me tremendous guilt. Me in the Present wonders who these people are. Me From the Past reminds me that I know this version of these people, too. And that I’ve watched the rebounds happen over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Me From the Past reminds me, as always, that it is best to feed these people with a long spoon. Me in the Present feels guilty and wishes she could shorten that spoon, get back within arm’s reach. This is troubling to both versions of my self.

Part of maintaining sanity is honoring Me From the Past enough to accept that her experiences are valid enough for Me in the Present to make decisions from. Me From the Past isn’t delusional. Me From the Past is young and goofy, yeah, but she is real and didn’t make overblown statements about what was, simply on a whim. But, sometimes, it’s not about questioning Me From the Past’s judgment entirely, though. Sometimes, it’s just wondering if Me in the Present can ever make the choice that Now is safe. If Me in the Present can ever say to Me From the Past “You can come out now. It’s safe to put your full weight down on your heels, and to not be prepared to run, because the land mines have all been collected.”

This prison has now become your home
A sentence you seem prepared to pay
It took a day to build the city
We walked through its streets in the afternoon
As I returned across the lands I’d known
I recognized the fields where I’d once played
I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I’d laid

And if I built this fortress around your heart
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire
Then let me build a bridge
For I cannot fill the chasm
And let me set the battlements on fire

The one thing Me From the Past and Me in the Present agrees on is that, so far, not even the UN has managed to collect all the landmines after wars from sixty years ago. Nobody ever collects all the landmines after a war. And, you’ll NEVER KNOW ‘TIL THEY EXPLODE.

Is it discounting Me From the Past’s experiences to want so badly to believe in change? Me in the Present is always afraid of being looked on as a cynic… but sometimes, you are what you are.

I’m pretty sure someone wrote a YA novel about this…

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