Posts Tagged life

Now you see it, Now you Dont: Blindness and the Nostalgia of Visual Memory

Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and sipping my coffee, expertly avoiding work, and suddenly I paused on a friend’s tweet describing a perfect sunrise captured in a photo while jogging. I read and reread the tweet, closed my eyes, tried to mentally pull the image into focus, and as I did, I felt a twinge somewhere deep inside; I wanted to see it. I had that fleeting moment—one that comes far more often than I’m generally willing to admit—in which I wished I had a switch that would allow me to turn on my eyes for five minutes, even five seconds a day.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live without my sight, and at the risk of sounding complacent, I think I’ve adapted fairly well. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I’ve embraced my blindness like a quirky personality trait, and I’m generally the first one at a party to dust off the Stevie Wonder jokes. Yet I realized something in that moment the other day, trying to remember just what the sky looks like at sunrise. One of the questions I often get—the one that makes me far more uncomfortable than most—is usually along the lines of: “If you could see anything, anything at all, what would you want to see?” Having been born with partial sight, I find the answer to this question difficult to try to unpack. You would think, wouldn’t you, that I’d want to see all of the things that have come into being since I lost my sight, because I’m aware that the world looks different now: Facetime and webcams, touch screens and HD TV. The truth is, though, that the things I want to see aren’t necessarily the things I’ve never seen before. I’m curious to know how things look; I’d love to be able to appreciate the clarity of watching my favorite film in high definition rather than, as a friend once put it, “all weirdly pixelated”. Yet I don’t feel like my imagination is lacking in filling in the gaps.

What I want to see, what I sometimes wish I could see, are the things I remember seeing—the things in my memory that I haven’t quite forgotten, but that naturally, with time, fade around the edges: sunshine on the water, rainbows, autumn leaves. It’s a kind of…visual nostalgia, I suppose, and I think that as I grow older, and layer upon layer of dust obscures those memories, it’s a longing that is entirely natural. I think that, having had some minimally usable vision, I sometimes inhabit two worlds: the one in which I see, and the one in which I don’t. Sometimes I think I want to return to those memories, take them out, dust them off, look at them again (literally and figuratively) because I have some deep, unspoken longing to reaffirm my experiences as a (partially) sighted person, to confirm that that world I inhabited was real.

I’m no longer sure to what extent my imagination has colored in the blind spots in my visual memory, but maybe that doesn’t matter. We’re all guilty of revising the narratives our memories tell. No memory is entirely accurate. Our memories are a kind of image-text of a literary biography. The basic facts are verifiable, but we’ve colored in the gaps with details that might be true, or might just be stylistic flourishes intended to reinvigorate the memories for ourselves when we relive those moments.

Question: what is your most vivid visual memory?


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Give It Up: One Wayward Catholic’s Journey Across the Desert of Lent

“Attention all hard-core Catholics: note the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day and reconsider giving up chocolate for Lent.” such ran one of my pre-Lenten Facebook observations after realizing just how many Christians—most of them female—would be bemoaning the beginning of the sacrificial season of Lent the day before the biggest Hallmark/Hershey holiday of the year.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is the hot question on the playground of piety at the moment—and one that, I confess, I’ve looked forward to with increasing trepidation each year. I have very few recollections of the many treks across the desert of denial I’ve taken in my nearly 30 years as a Catholic; the ones I do recall involved some, shall we say, wayward wandering. First, there was the lent that I decided to give up peanut butter, which started out fairly well—well in the sense that I was completely miserable and probably half way to protein-deficient since I’d basically cut my major source of it out of my diet. Then I discovered Nutella. Hmm: maybe this whole giving up business wasn’t such a drag after all, though with every sinfully sweet spoonful, my conscience nagged: Wait just a moment. Nowhere in the catechism is there written anything to the effect that it’s acceptable during Lent to substitute the sacrificed item of choice with one of equal or greater value. IT remains open to question whether or not the five pounds I gained between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday can be attributed to the weight of guilt.

Then there was the time I decided to give up alcohol…during my first year of graduate school. There are about ten different reasons why this was a bad idea, all of which can be compounded in the fact that, well, it was my first year of graduate school. I know what you’re thinking: Wimp. Please. Wimp, shmimp, potato, vodka…call it whatever you like. The only Lenten sacrifice I’ve made in recent memory that was even remotely successful was the year I decided to cut off my hair for Locks of Love. For once in my life, I can honestly say I traded vanity for valor…at least until I stepped outside and a male friend of mine charmingly observed: “Your head. It looks so…small.” Goodbye gesture of self-sacrifice: Hello Louisa May Alcott, Little Women parallel universe.

I recognize the significance of “giving up” during lent—a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for us, but if Lent is about sacrifice and repentance, it’s also about reminding ourselves that, for Christians, every step we take on this journey of life should bring us closer to Him. With the possible exception of trading my tresses for 6 months of freaky frizz—because I truly did offer that from the heart—I can’t honestly say that any of my Lenten sacrifices have had the intended spiritual effect. So what, I ask myself as each Ash Wednesday approaches, can I possibly sacrifice that will strengthen my relationship with Jesus? Coffee? Only if I’m guaranteed a fast-pass into the glorious kingdom that cuts through the line in Purgatory, because I’ll probably die somewhere into week one. Chocolate? Well, as my brother likes to put it, “Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to.” Amen, bro. Sex? Well, I could, but technically according to the catechism, I’m not even supposed to be engaging in that particular pastime at the moment given my current marital status. Working on the theory that we can’t sacrifice what we don’t have (and we’ll just assume, for the sake of my soul, that I don’t in fact “have” the thing under discussion), I think we can cross this one off the list.

During this past advent season, I decided to start praying the Rosary daily—not just for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but in the hope of strengthening my prayerful communication with Jesus. During those four weeks, and in the months since, I’ve experienced prayer in the way I think it was meant—not as my way of “talking to God,” but rather as a quiet conversation with Him in my heart. Of late, however, I realized that I haven’t been the best at keeping up my end of the bargain; I’m saying the prayers every day, but something is missing. Then, the other day, while praying about something that was troubling me, I recalled what Jesus tells us in scripture: to pray as if we’ve already received what we’re asking for—not with the assumption that we will “get what we want”; Jesus isn’t Santaclause. Rather, to pray as if we’ve already received what we’ve asked is to pray with the understanding that we will be given an answer. I am slowly coming to find, as I take the time to meditate on this idea, that I have actually received answers; not booming voice, clap-of-thunder, sky-splitting-open answers, but my heart has become a space for a quiet conversation with God—a place I can retreat to at any point in the day when I feel the need, because that door is always open. It always has been, actually, but I don’t think I ever bothered to pass through it until now. I’ve stuck my head in, sure; said Hi at the end of the day, but I don’t think I’ve ever really lingered long enough to have a decent chat. Now that I’ve actually taken that step and walked all the way in, I might find the time to stay.

Question: Where is your Lenten journey taking you this year?

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Some are Born Great, Some Achieve Greatness, and Some, like Me, Have Great Blogger Awards Thrust upon Them.

A few weeks ago, I was morosely and systematically working my way through a pile of Yodels and Oreos while contemplating my dissertation-related distress and the possibility of my career in academia sinking in a quagmire of calorie-laden despair. How drastically my outlook has altered in such a short time; today I am seriously thinking of changing my career title to professional blogger extraordinaire, because the wonderful and fantastic Breezy K over at The Camel Life has seen fit to bestow upon me the One Lovely Blogger Award. Since she’s been single-handedly responsible for my increased blog traffic, I feel compelled to forgive her for outing my Sunday morning wine-drinking habit. (Not, of course, that she was referring to me…she’s confusing me with Bridget Jones, obviously).

As Colin Firth once put it, I don’t know if this qualifies as gentle reassurance, but right now this is the only thing standing between me and a Harley-Davidson (or, in my case, a pack of Yodels and a bottle of pinot grigio)

With all privileges come responsibilities, and I am now tasked with the challenge of revealing seven facts about myself and nominating seven magnificent blogs for this award. So, without further ado:
1- I have an irrational fear of sitting on the end-most seat on theme park boat rides. After years of struggling to trace the source of this fear, all that floats to the surface of my mind is a story my paternal grandmother told me about a girl who fell out of one of the boats on the Small World ride at Disney World and was caught beneath it. I’ve still not gotten over this fear despite the fact that the story of boat-girl was probably made up by my grandmother as a cautionary tale about not heeding the warning to keep all body parts inside the vehicle at all times. Stand up while the boat is in motion, dangle a hand over the side, and you’ll wind up a tragic story in the local paper…or else be devoured by the alligators that hide in the waters of Disney boat rides to snatch misbehaving children. (Sometimes I’m still amazed that I don’t need therapy…or that I choose not to seek it. Whatever).
2- I secretly (or, not-so-secretly since I’ve decided to broadcast it publicly on my blog) sometimes enjoy watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Don’t judge me. Yes, I’m talking to you in the back there…I know you spend every Monday evening parked in front of the television watching back-to-back episodes of “The Golden Girls” on Women’s Entertainment (not that “The Golden Girls” runs on Women’s Entertainment on Monday or any other evening from 8.00PM-midnight. I haven’t any clue if it does. I don’t watch it…or own it on DVD).
3- One day when I was in the sixth grade, my computer teacher told our class a funny story about a blind date he’d apparently been on the previous weekend. IN the middle of the story, I raised my hand to ask whether she had a dog or if she used a cane. The entire class burst into laughter and pointed at me. Apparently going on a blind date doesn’t refer to dating a blind person. Who knew?
4- I perform a cryptic Catholic ritual for alleviating mosquito-bite irritation. Once, when I was about five years-old, I was complaining in church about an exceptionally itchy mosquito bite that was interfering with my already minimal ability to sit still through the homily. My grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, leaned over and made the sign of the cross with her finger on the spot. The effect was instantaneous. Occasionally, in a moment of insect-bitten, skin-crawling, temporary insanity, I still find myself performing this gesture. I can offer no scientific evidence that it actually works, but if you should try it and achieve satisfactory results, remember you heard it here first. Note: Please be advised that this blog is not responsible for any accident or injury resulting from misguided use.
5- When I was a junior in college, my roommate and I discovered that part of an episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was being filmed at a local salon. Because we were both in denial about Carson Kressley’s sexual orientation, we spent a Friday afternoon visiting every salon in the area in the hope of seeing him…after we drew straws to determine which of us would propose marriage. We refused to come to blows over a man—even one as beautiful as Carson Kressley.
6- I once had a nightmare about being beheaded…by my parents. I’ve never really taken the time to delve deeply into my repressed memories for the psychological trauma in my childhood that obviously triggered this dream, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I had this dream the night I completed my first year of graduate school.
7- My secret superhero power is the ability to turn any liquid into vodka. I thought I’d end with the truth—just to anchor the rest.

So now I’ve done you all the great service of unraveling the intricacies of my life. You’re welcome.

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…and the nominees for the One Lovely Blogger Award are:
1. You Knew What I Meant because anyone who’s felt like stabbing themselves with pointy objects after grading a stack of English essays will suddenly feel less alone in the world. Seriously, the urge to drink while grading has decreased significantly since I discovered this blog.
2. Year-Struck because her blog is like the perfect cup of coffee—full of flavor, and I twitch if I don’t get a dose of her every day. Also: I’m totally living vicariously through her travel posts, and I secretly want to ask her if she took a picture of Mark Darcy’s house when she visited Holland Park.
3. Kvetch Mom because her refreshing candor makes her the Bridget Jones of mommy bloggers, and that is quite possibly the best praise I can offer. There seriously ought to be a Bridget Jones Blogger award—it would be the Oscar of blog awards.
4. Tinkerbell because the pesto-crusted fish recipe she shared on her kitchen blog made me an instant family celebrity last Christmas, and because her posts are little sprinklings of fairy-dust in my day.
5. Gin and Lemonade because she reminds me to laugh at myself…and she likes watching The Big Bang Theory.
6. Whatimeant2say because she obviously doesn’t have enough awards, and because she’s far more dedicated than I am and actually finds the time to blog every day. I salute you.
7. Chicks with Ticks because they’re a breath of fresh air, quite literally. You’ll find yourself longing to smell the roses and dance barefoot in the rain.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to release these stirrings in the upper abdominal regions that are threatening to transform into dance moves. Thank you to all my loyal readers. I shall endeavor to continue to entertain you in the style to which you have become accustom.

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One for my Baby: Should Stillborn Infants be issued Birth Certificates?

Scrolling through the news the other morning, I chanced upon this article about an Australian couple seeking a birth certificate for their stillborn son delivered at five months. Since my research—more specifically my dissertation—considers in part the ways we define motherhood and the personal, political, and cultural constructions of maternal narratives, I was naturally intrigued by the ensuing debate.

According to the article, Tarlia Bartsch was five-months pregnant when her baby died in utero. After eight hours of induced labor, Tarlia and her husband, who named their stillborn son Jayden, insisted that they wanted a birth certificate issued because, as Tarlia put it, “without a birth certificate, he didn’t exist.”

I find this issue so fraught with technicalities that it makes my head spin, and I’m not entirely sure where I stand. I also feel compelled to preface any further remarks with the statement that I am not a mother, and I cannot begin to fathom the depth of the Bartsch’s’ loss, particularly the futile eight hours of induced labor to “give birth” to their lifeless son. From an emotional perspective, Tarlia’s desire to reaffirm her son’s existence is the natural reaction of a grief-stricken mother. Objectively, however, the claim that “without a birth certificate, [Jayden] didn’t exist” is highly problematic, not least because according to law, any stillborn delivery prior to twenty weeks is regarded as a miscarriage. Jayden had been nineteen weeks in utero when his heart stopped. This is such a marginal difference that it naturally gives rise to hair-splitting technicalities, but as far as his parents are concerned, Jayden did exist, and they want confirmation of that.

This begs the question, however, do they *need* confirmation? For one thing, Tarlia is already a mother—she has another son with whom to share her maternal love. (I don’t mean to suggest that in her grief and her desire to keep Jayden alive, that she is showing parental neglect toward her other son, nor am I implying that because she has a responsibility to this son, that she has no right to mourn the loss of her miscarried child). What intrigues me is the need to make Jayden’s existence “official” in the legal sense. Having carried and ultimately delivered a stillborn child, Tarlia has nothing and no one to legitimate her experience as an expectant mother. From an academic standpoint, her anxiety about Jayden’s nonexistence seems less about her son and more about reaffirming her maternity. To whom does she need to prove that she was pregnant? Who is doubting that she underwent the physical and emotional transformation of carrying a child? If Jayden’s spirit was so alive to her, if he lives in her heart as he once did in her womb, then that alone makes her as much a mother and him as much her son as if he’d been born healthy—at least, in my opinion.

Then, of course, we come to the problem of legality; if Jayden is going to be issued a birth certificate to prove that he lived, he also would, in all technicality, need to be issued a death certificate to prove that he died. NO where does the article address the additional consideration of this point.

Finally, and not surprisingly, there’s the fact that pro-life and abortion activists have appropriated this issue to service their own political agendas. In short, altering the law to issue birth certificates to stillborn infants who die in utero calls for a reexamination of the definition of the moment at which life begins. This is fertile ground for the pro-life and pro-choice activists—ground that they’ve been tearing up for decades. I’m not interested here in expanding in detail on my own views about the pro-life or pro-choice debate because, quite frankly, there is too much polarity attached to these labels. It seems, however, that such a change in the law concerning the issuing of birth certificates necessitates standardizing the definition of life—acknowledging that it does, in fact, begin at the moment of conception. Tarlia and her husband obviously believe as much; the naming ritual itself gives their stillborn son something of the identity he might have forged for himself had he lived a full and healthy life.

Though not a mother, I cannot deny that every expectant mother’s report of that first kick bears witness to the budding life that is forming unseen inside her. I cannot disagree with Tarlia in believing that her son lived—in some form. What I remain uncertain about is whether or not there is justification for the legal legitimation of his existence beyond that of assuaging their grief. (And perhaps, some might argue, that is reason enough). Whether this debate simply serves to add wood to the ongoing flame wars between the pro-life and pro-choice extremists, or if it challenges us to reevaluate what we as a society hold to be true about the way we define life, I hope that these parents can find peace in the memory of Jayden and comfort in their remaining son.

Question: should stillborn infants like Jayden be issued birth certificates?

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Here Comes the Bride’s Maid (or, reflections on growing up)

After a typical hither-and-thither Sunday afternoon of church and errand-running, I leaned against my kitchen counter and idly scrolled through my cell phone to check for any missed calls or texts, expecting the usual ‘0’. To my surprise, I had not one, but two missed calls from my oldest and dearest friend: two missed calls, but no voicemail or text. With the mind-reading efficiency that comes only as the result of a friendship spanning two decades, I deduced that my Siamese twin (hereafter referred to as S.T) had something to tell me that she deemed of too great importance to communicate in a voicemail or text.

With best-buddy antennae tingling, I settled on the sofa to return her call, with a very clear suspicion of what I was about to hear. After greetings and small-talk were exchanged, I waited in breathless anticipation for what I knew was coming.
“I’m engaged!” (Ha! Girl Sherlock wins again! Seriously, if I could high-five myself in admiration of my kick-ass deductive reasoning powers, I’d be doing that right now.).
“And I wanted to ask you if you’d be one of my Bride’s maids?” Um, hello? Does Colin Firth look hot in a wet shirt?
“Honey, we only planned this about, what, 20 years ago?”
“I know, but I had to ask. Make it official.”

Congratulations were given, dates were discussed, and the call ended far sooner than either of us would have liked, but adult responsibilities called. Gone were the days of spending hours on the phone inventing elaborate contraptions that did everything from math homework to unenjoyable chores. Speaking of being an adult: holy shit, batman, my best friend is getting married! And I’m not talking about Game-of-Life-add-a-little-blue-plastic-dude-in-a-car getting married. I’m talking about an actual wedding, with an actual bride and groom. This is the same girl who split granola bars with me at lunch; who read my teeny-bopper fanfiction (not that I wrote teeny-bopper fanfiction); who dutifully remembered the secret code name of every single boy I had a crush on; who inadvertently saved the life of a classmate while impersonating the “lice lady” and finding a tick in her hair. If you want to put our friendship in quantifiable terms, between the two of us, we’ve held about 8 million conversations, shed nine thousand buckets of tears, and consumed a rough estimate of 84 million calories in brownies and ice-cream. Most of the sleep debt I accrued before graduate school is probably the collective result of every single Siamese twin slumber party we ever held.

Still cradling my phone in my hand, I sat on the sofa and gazed out the window as a slideshow of memories rolled in my brain, amazed, and feeling supremely blessed, to have kept that solemn oath of friendship made with clasped hands on a school playground long ago: “One for all and all for one…and a partridge in a pear tree!”

Considering the fact that I fell asleep that night and had a very strange dream involving Livia Firth designing me a sustainable bride’s maid dress woven out of something resembling palm-tree branches and a pair of shoes made of recycled Coke cans, this whole experience is going to offer significant amounts of blog fodder.

Question: Have you ever been in a wedding party?

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Here’s an Eye-Opener

A friend of mine posted this story to an e-mail list I participate in, and while the story itself is fictional, it’s moral is a powerful one.

There was a blind girl who hated herself because she was blind. She hated
everyone, except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her. She told
her boyfriend, ‘If I could only see the world, I would marry you.’ One day,
someone donated a pair of eyes to her. When the bandages came off, she was
able to see everything, including her boyfriend. He asked her,’Now that you
can see the world, will you marry me?’ The girl looked at her boyfriend and
saw that he was blind. The sight of his closed eyelids shocked her. She
hadn’t expected that. The thought of looking at them the rest of her life
led her to refuse to marry him. Her boyfriend left in tears and days later
wrote a note to her saying: ‘Take good care of your eyes, my dear, for
before they were yours, they were mine.’

Even reading this at 6:30 AM, as I did, bleary-eyed and undercaffeinated, I sat drumming my fingers against my desk, thinking about why it was that the
story gave me pause. I felt, somehow, that God was tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to take a moment–just one–to take a good look inside myself.
I might credit myself with being nothing like the blind girl in this fictional story, but as someone who’s lived with that particular “disability” since
birth, I’ve been on what I sometimes feel is more than my share of the receiving end of help. For one thing, I never want to inconvenience anyone; for
another, the independent streak in me flairs up in resentment at being hindered. I don’t know what–or who–I resent most; myself for having to be beholden
to someone else? The helpful person–be she friend or stranger–for standing in my way? God for burdening me with this cross? Rationally, I know it isn’t
any or all of these, though in moments of frustration I find myself thinking along such lines.

There have been, the truth forces me to admit, times when I’ve accepted help reluctantly, even ungraciously, from those who’ve offered it. At other times
I’ve taken, even embraced the hand that reaches out. Yet whether I accept or refuse the help, I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to consider
what it costs the person who’s come to my aid. I talk about not wanting to inconvenience others, but there’s quite a difference between inconvenience and
sacrifice. It’s an inconvenience when someone drives ten miles out of his way to offer me transportation; it’s a sacrifice when he does so even though
he doesn’t have enough money to put gas in his car. (I feel compelled to say, perhaps defensively, that I almost always do offer to reimburse people for
the cost of gas, but that is neither here nor there). The point is, I think, that all too often, we accept help from others without truly feeling the gratitude
due them for their service, however seemingly small and insignificant. A truly kind person would never call someone’s attention to how greatly he’s being
inconvenienced, or what he’s sacrificing, to offer help, and it’s for this very reason that we ought to be more conscious of what others might be sacrificing
to help us.

For those of us who face the challenge of living with a so-called disability, the balancing act between independence and accepting assistance
is all too familiar, and unfortunitley it doesn’t get any easier with time. There are moments when it’s best to accept help, and others when we would profit
more by finding our own way. Still, whether we accept or refuse help, we should pause to consider how far out of the way someone has gone to offer it.
I know the next time someone offers to help me, I’ll think of the boy in this story, and whether I choose to take the offered helping hand, or merely press
it in polite decline, be sure that I don’t let that hand be withdrawn feeling more empty for having given something to me.

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