Gratitude is an interesting thing. In an Oprah-ish way, we are told to practice gratitude, especially when life is being particularly shitty and rather than sitting with those feelings, we are encouraged to focus on the good things we have. Which is not an entirely bad idea, but everything in moderation, including looking on the bright side, eh?

Gratitude is something that I wrestle with in my own life in particular ways regarding having a disability. In my last job, I was heavily pushed to profess my gratitude that the company I was working for was taking on web and software accessibility. I was interviewed multiple times for the company newsletter and ended up, through not-so-subtle prompting, repeating several statements about how grateful I was to the company for taking up the cause. And, to be fair, I was grateful ish. At the same time, it seemed to me that perhaps it wasn’t necessarily my job to pat them on the back or massage their ego with constant thankfulness. Sometimes, I simply wanted to say, “Hey guys, just do the work, alright? Know that you’re doing something good in the lives of many, and stop pushing us to constantly tell you about how wonderful you are. Just trust your work.”

Truthfully, I resent the idea that I should automatically be grateful. I try to do the right thing by people, which means treating people with respect and equity, and I don’t expect a bunch of gratitude from those who are marginalized in society just because I might be kind to them or do something to remotely level the playing field. As a developer said on a podcast I heard the other day, “Blind people shouldn’t have to pay to access the world.” I believe that for all marginalized people, and I don’t just mean monetarily. I don’t believe people should have to pay by sacrificing the energy it takes to constantly be grateful, either.

A few nights ago, I was walking home late without Kiva and crossed an intersection a bit crookedly. A woman on the sidewalk started directing me when I got to the middle of the street. I normally hate this. It’s really disorienting to be yelled at (however helpfully) while you’re in the middle of the street trying to avoid getting run over. I knew I needed the direction, though, so I tried not to be too irritated and instead to accept the assistance with humility. When I got to the curb, I thanked her. She called after me, “Thank you for letting me help you.”

I marveled at her gratitude. I often wonder if people who try to help me do it because they are desperate to feel useful, to feel like they made a difference to someone. To be thanked for this seems to corroborate my theory. It made me think of all the times I’ve felt so cheered to help someone, to level that playing field. Sometimes, letting yourself be helped is just as much for the other person as it is for you. I am grateful for that opportunity, at least.

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Hi Internet! I promised a summer hiatus, and despite the fact that Seattle is in a “heat wave” right now with dry, warm days on end, everyone is starting to talk about fall, so here we are and here I am.

I said Seattle, and you may not be surprised to know that I moved back here at the beginning of August. My return to Minneapolis never really took. I struggled with unbelonging, unemployment, and an unease that I could stuff down for a little while but never left me in peace entirely. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I explained it to people as a feeling of being “haunted” by the past life I’d lived there. I came back in 2016 expecting everything to be like 2014. I was ready to pick up where I left, but everyone and everything had moved on, which is one of the most obvious things about this situation that I completely, willfully missed. It simply reached the point where there seemed to be no reason to stay. I’m definitely grateful for the friendships I rekindled and the new friends I made in my year back there, but feel I can still maintain them even if we are not in the same physical location.

So, at the end of July I trekked back West. I’m currently staying in a house with a lavender jungle in the front yard, shady trees and a hammock around back, a deck that gets full sun midmorning, and a nearly bottomless coffee pot gurgling in the kitchen. I have a lot to do this fall. I’m currently working on the first of two grad school theses, and I need to find a permanent place to live. There’s also still that unemployment thing. And there are self-care things to square away, like exercise and social time and time for jamming and pickling and music and walking.

It feels a bit overwhelming most days, to be honest. Still, sometimes I walk outside and run my hands through the lavender stretching towards me on my way down the stairs, and I have to stop and remind myself that this is mine again. This city that’s green all winter, whose steep hills and winding water make me feel inexplicably alive, I am here to stay now. Maybe not forever, maybe only for years, not decades. Who knows? I know that I am inherently restless, that my contentment now does not mean my contentment forever. But instead of that knowledge feeling scary, as it often does, I feel thankful to be here for now, right now. I am where I want to be.

I’m doing well. I hope you are, too.

One of my biggest struggles is with loneliness. Lacking a traditional job or traditional responsibilities, I don’t have that automatic, built-in structure that moves much of society along day by day. Stereotypically, “creative” types rail against structure, but I am finding, after months of unemployment and a very independent study grad program, that I crave it. Which means that any structure I want in my life must come from me. I must create it. Looked at one way, it’s extremely freeing to have so much seeming control over how structured you want your life to be. And, if I wasn’t constantly worrying about having enough money to live, I might enjoy it more. On the other side, providing structure is exhausting. It means I have to be constantly vigilant about making sure I have enough to do in my days so that I don’t melt into a teary puddle because I haven’t truly interacted with another human for a week. It means to maintain active friendships, I have to schedule hang-out time because people with a lot more going on have a tendency to forget about time with friends, in lieu of work, relationships, kids, etc. It means I spend a lot of time worrying I am being pushy or needy or annoying.

This preamble is all to say: welcome to the blog post where I try to excuse how completely I’ve dropped the ball on writing food posts this year.

Remember when I said this year was going to be my big kitchen year? I was going to get organized, to write about food, to post pics about food, to tell food stories. It was, in a way, my distraction strategy for the current landscape of political turmoil and social inequity. I was going to make tons of jam and pickles, maybe get a good sourdough bread recipe under my belt, tackle the chaos of my spice drawer, and share it all with you. I swear I was.

As you can tell, I’ve barely written about food at all since that post. Suddenly, in the last few months, my cooking has slowed and simplified. I’ve traveled to Seattle twice, visited my parents, and spent some time living with my friend Kyla in her community house. All chances to cook in others’ kitchens. I’ve started the tentative build of a once-a-month cookbook potluck. I’ve invited friends to dinner and breakfast and I’ve been fed in my friends’ cozy homes. What was about food is now about gathering. Food is the excuse: to connect, to ask for and receive care, to invite in and care for another.

The last few months, I’ve collaborated on less-than-stellar soup; eaten frozen pierogis and pickle chips on a friend’s couch with her cat hungry-hovering at my elbow; made and botched two batches of ice cream while listening to old school Mannheim Steamroller with a friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected. It hasn’t been pretty or glamorous or picture worthy. But it has begun chipping away at the sadness in my soul, and it has given me another structural element to build my days upon.

Thank you, to my friends, for feeding me. In all the ways that count. And know my kitchen is always open, any time.

For My Grandpa

It was an electric night, early summer, hazy heat in the sky already. My grandparents were in town for my first all-solo piano recital and my birthday, (and probably some things that had nothing to do with me, too, things that were far from my very me-centric mind.) I was eight, almost nine.  My parents took us all to a Sioux City Explorers game.

 

The Explorers were a minor league team and this was only their second season and probably, they were not very good. I don’t remember.  What I do remember is that my grandpa Marvin sat next to me, inning by inning, and described the intricacies of the game.  How many balls make a walk.  What an RBI is.  Fastballs, curveballs, sliders, how they were different and why it mattered.  Things I never knew I cared about until he told them to me as the beer-and-hot-dog haze hung around us and the organ drawled from the PA system overhead, sounding to me like a circus.

 

Around the fifth inning, the skies lit up, dazzling us with lightning and thunder rolled us from our seats. We scattered to our cars.  The game was over in a literal flash, but that night began a decade’s long love of baseball for me.  I followed the Explorers through years of losing seasons, breaking my heart over and over, though I still came back each year.  Then I added the Cubs, for more suffering.  Grandpa was a Cardinals fan, and we sustained a friendly rivalry.  I learned the rules of keeping score, and made myself score cards.  I became obsessed with Ila Borders, a pitcher who played for a different team in the same league as the Explorers.  I wanted desperately to meet her.  Her! In the “novels” I wrote on summer afternoons, my teenage-girl protagonists, more often than not, threw wicked sliders while scraping their long shiny hair from their eyes as all the boy ballplayers looked on in awe.

 

For those who know me, you know I am probably the most un-sportsy person ever, but I still feel excited about baseball. I don’t follow it much any more, but it does remind me of my grandpa, always.  He died last week; I last saw him in January.  I miss him.

 

I relate the baseball story because my Grandpa was a teacher and a good one. And I think that what made him such a good teacher was his curiosity.  He was always learning and open to knowledge, and was then able to pass that on as he acquired more.  Throughout my life, I’ve seen him diving and delving into all things: languages, music, theater, travel, genealogy, ham radio, computers, fixing things, hot air balloons, bird watching, on and on.  Every time he and my grandma traveled, he would be full of stories of everything they saw and all they learned.  I like to think, to hope, that my questioning and curiosity comes from him.

 

I’ve been writing a bit about my Grandpa’ his life and death, hoping to fashion something that captures our love for him and the lives he touched. What do we say at the end of a life so vigorous, the life of a person so stubborn, so full of stories and a laugh I will never forget, sometimes gruff on the surface and tender underneath? Until I think of something better, “I love you” is all I have.  “Thank you” and “I love you”, always.

 

My Grandpa had music in his soul, and I want to end with a song for him from the Wailin’ Jennys. He and my grandma introduced me to A Prairie Home Companion when I was young, and although I don’t listen any more, I happened to learn of the Wailin’ Jennys from their appearance on the show about a decade ago.  I love their harmonies and the stark hopefulness in this song.  Safe travels, Grandpa, and a very peaceful rest.

It’s not even early morning, but I still want it. The minute my butt hits the thin-padded, plasticy airport seat, I’m itching to pop back up again and start prowling. The temptation that began as a wisp of an itch while I struggled out of my boots in the security line has bloomed into a siren call screeching through the most primitive fold of my brain: need coffee. Go get coffee.

Easier said than done, because I had just been deposited in this seat by an airline employee who had intercepted me while I was waiting for my boarding pass.

“You need help,” he said, close enough that I could feel the warmth of his arm against my shoulder. Too close. “I saw you, and I could tell.”

This is why I need coffee.

And this, also, after another employee had offered assistance before I boarded the tram, and when I accepted: “thank you”, he said, “I’ll give you my uninjured arm. Ha ha, I don’t know about this, I have an injury and you’re …” Here he trailed off, and I declined to fill the silence. Let him keep inserting his foot, we were stuck with each other. “… blind,” he finally said, then rushed ahead, “I’m not sure we can make it to the ticket counter.” Chortle chortle.

“I think we can,” I said dryly. “I have confidence in us.”

We did make it, but still, that is why I need coffee.

I should mention that the guy who could tell how much I needed his help tried what I can only assume was empathy. “I know what it’s like,” he said. I should also mention he spoke with a stutter. Blindness and stuttering aren’t the same, but I took his point.

After escorting me to my gate, he stood behind me, too close, again, breathing on the small hairs at the back of my neck. So, like, how long does he plan on staying? I wondered, as my itchy coffee-deprived brain started working through the possibilities. Could I ask him to go with me to a Starbucks? Could I endure more “empathy”, even for caffeine? No, there are some things I just can’t endure, even for my most beloved elixir.

“So, thanks a lot!” I said finally, too loud, too cheerful. “I think I’m good!”

“You’re in seat 24 F,” he reminded me, again, for the 17th time.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’ll come back in an hour to help you preboard.”

“Really that’s not necessary. The airline folks usually do that.”

“I’ll save them the hassle.”

I decided to say nothing, least of all how annoyed I was to hear the word “hassle” from his mouth, a word I have long wrestled with and worried over. That, and “burden.” “Hassle” and “burden” are two words I know well and worry over like a fingernail bitten to the quick.

As soon as he finally, finally, shuffles away, I slam the door definitively on “burden” and once again open the hopeful floodgates of “coffee.” Can I do it alone? Can I, by wanting it badly enough, make my way to an americano?

As usually happens, once I stand up and begin to move, my timidity and uncertainty become exhilaration. A cup of coffee, a perfectly routine task in the itinerary of a sighted person, is a quest for me if I have no idea where to procure one. And while that can be daunting, it’s also a little adventure, if only I choose to accept it as one.

Kiva and I hit the concourse, the traffic of people and carts and suitcases sweeping us along like a current. I prick my nose and ears into the dense, noisy air, just like Kiva on the first warm day of spring, hoping for a roasty hit from a nearby cafe or the sound of a steamer wand in hot milk. I pass bathrooms, (thank you, loud flushing toilets), a water fountain grumbling with fatigue, gates full of the agitated energy of boarding. No food court. No coffee.

I reverse direction, scootching into the other lane to flow with my foot traffic river. It amazes me how, in an airport, everyone is always moving. No stopping to check a text message or take pictures or chat obliviously in the middle of the concourse. Air travel forces us to give up a semblance of control over getting to our destination. Possibly, like me, others who could (or should) take the opportunity to relax and let go instead must keep moving, so we can pretend we have some say in getting from here to there.

Kiva weaves me through a maze of chairs, up a carpeted ramp, away from the narrow coffeeless aisle we’ve been cruising. I’m in a constant state of mentally marking our trajectory: here’s where the tile becomes carpet, here’s where the wall opens up to the right, remember this for the way back, Lauren. I hear the hopeful sound of someone stacking plates, the rush of water from a sink. I smell grease and a tickling waft of rewarmed pastry. Pastries, even lackluster ones, are a good sign.

As if linked by our barely-contained need, a woman materializes at my side like I’ve conjured her. “Are you looking for Starbucks?” she asks. Her voice is soft, probably in reverence.

“Yes!” By contrast, my excitement explodes out of me and echoes off the food court ceiling. I don’t bother asking how she knows, we are clearly kindred spirits.

“If you walk forward a few more steps and turn left, you’ll be in line.”

I thank her and follow her directions, emerging 5 minutes later with a paper cup of bitter holiness with just the right lash of cream. I begin making my way back to the concourse, checking off my landmarks: open to the left, carpet leading to tile. I’m grateful for my independence, and also for my recognition that I can’t do it all on my own.
That interdependence is where we truly begin to achieve our goals.

I remember the first time I heard of text messaging. I was in Spain, it was fall 2006 and I missed a required meeting for my study abroad program because, apparently, someone had texted that the meeting was happening. There was no assistive technology then for cell phones, or none that I had any awareness of, so I never knew about the text.

For years, I avoided texting and mocked it for its “impersonal” nature. Finally, in 2010, when I had the money and was tired of being the one at the table with no phone in their hand, I bought a phone that was compatible with a screenreader whose name I cannot even recall now. I remember the screenreader being around 300 dollars, on top of the phone cost. (Have I mentioned lately how egregious it is that blind people, who statistically bring in way less income than sighted people, are required to pay for assistive technology on top of regular technology?) Anyway, with that particular phone model, (hey hey, HTC Dash!), I could text. It wasn’t always pretty or without ridiculous typos, but it was something.

In 2013, I finally transitioned to a smart phone, some kind of Android thing because I couldn’t afford an Iphone. The screenreader was built in, but flaky. I had literally bought the very last smart phone in the T Mobile store with a physical keyboard that pulled out beneath the touch screen.

Finally, in 2015, I got an Iphone. I could no longer ignore every other blind person saying how amazing the accessibility was. I was skeptical because I couldn’t picture using a phone without buttons and a keyboard. But, I found the accessibility on my Ipods to be pretty good, more or less, so I finally went for it.

This is NOT an advertisement for Apple. In fact, they used to be terribly inaccessible until they got sued for it by a blind advocacy organization. But I will say that I prefer Apple accessibility to everything else I’ve tried. It is fairly simple and streamlined across most apps. So, when I got my Iphone, I installed all the apps: Facebook, Twitter, Meetup. I set up my Gmail. I was all in, constantly checking my notifications and trying to dictate texts. (Results varied greatly there.)

Gradually, I’ve started to see the toll this has taken on me mentally. If I didn’t check my phone a few times an hour, or more, I felt stressed. When I did check my phone, I’d feel better for a minute, because I got some kind of emotional validation from someone “liking” something I posted on Facebook, or I received an instant message, or a new comment or retweet. And then I’d feel anxious until I could check my phone again. When I was out in the world, I’d walk blocks looking at my phone, not paying attention to anything else. Or I’d at least listen to a podcast or music. I fell into a trap of needing constant distraction, validation, proof that people loved me, or that they at least took a half second to click “like” on something I said. That was love now, apparently.

I only started to really realize this after I deleted Facebook and Facebook messenger off my phone. Suddenly, I was on a bus and had no idea what was going on on Facebook. I felt panicky for a while, and then not, and then relief. Facebook messages could wait.

There’s more to it, though. The energy I had put into checking Facebook now went into me checking email, constantly refreshing, refreshing, as I went about errands and life. I recently read an article that said that checking your email more often led to more stress. (Well, duh.) This past week, I’ve deleted all of my email off my phone. All that’s left is text messaging (still full of typos, still bad at dictating), and calling. Those are the only things I can do to contact others when I’m not tied to my laptop.

I know people have described the way we constantly look at our phones as obsessive, even addictive. I’m not authorized to diagnose myself, but I know that I have obsessive tendencies and my constant phone checking got stifling. I’m really hoping I can stick to just texts and calls. I’m hoping it will reduce my anxiety and increase the awareness of my immediate world.

What about you all? Do you do anything to reduce phone gazing? Or, does the constant gazing not affect you? Or, do you think the whole screen addiction thing is ridic? Tell me in the comments, and if you have the time and bossiness level, feel free to check in to see if I’m keeping myself accountable!

I don’t want to write.
I want coziness and conversations that matter.
I want touch and cuddles and kisses.
I want coffee and tea and warm bread with butter.
I want sun on my face.
I want litheness in my body.
I want connection and figuring shit out together.
I don’t want to write.
I don’t want days of solitude
hunched in a chair, computer staring back.
I don’t want companions of just my thoughts and my demons.
I don’t want silence
Moving words around just feels like throwing myself in the same river.
I’m pretty sure you can step in twice.
We’ve all been telling ourselves our creativity matters.
This is the time for our voices.
We can’t rest now.
I don’t want to rest, but I don’t want to write.
I want to engage
I want to feel
I want to listen
to all the voices that are not mine.