New Year, New Intention

I like the New Year. I know I’ve said so before, but I know resolutions are dumb and I would break mine in about two seconds, so I usually try to set an intention rather than a resolution. Something that is more qualitative than quantitative. Something that invites me to consider my behavior and reactions and try to improve them situation by situation. The idea being that incrementally progress is as valuable as, if not more so, tasks I can check off of a to-do list.
With that long preamble, this is my intention for 2020: I will show up like I have a right to be wherever I am.
I like learning interesting random skills. (Did you know that the saying is actually, “Jack of all trades, master of none; but oftentimes better than master of one.”?) Anyway, when I get the idea in my brain to learn something new, I try to game out what kinds of things I need to think about with regard to my disability. Will being blind affect my ability to do the thing? Or, will the task simply be to convince whoever is teaching my newly coveted skill that I can do the thing, even with my disability? Usually, the latter is the harder task.
In the past, I have gone about making teachers and instructors comfortable with my disability by demurring to their expertise. “I want to do this thing,” I’ll say to them, “but I’m blind. Do you think I can do it?” I depend on their knowledge of the thing to determine whether I’m allowed to try it. Never mind that in most of the new skills I’ve tried, the instructors have no context for blindness. They’ve never tried to teach their thing to a blind person. So often times, even if they’re game to try, they tend to have trepidations and be quick to attribute any struggles I have to my blindness instead of the learning curve of the skill. I often find that instructors do not push me or challenge me. Whatever it is I can manage is “impressive” enough because I’m doing it without sight, which they can’t imagine being able to do.
I’ve had generally ok experiences with most instructors. Unlike my struggles with potential employers, I’m usually paying them for the instruction and they don’t have to make any big commitments to me. Yet, I still feel like I can do better here, going forward. I can ask and insist on being challenged. Instead of saying, “Can I do this, Wise Instructor?”, I can say, “I think I can do this, and here’s some challenges I think I might face and some things we can try to work through them. Yay!”
These are a lot of words to get to the crux of what I want to attempt to do: I want to present my disability as an interesting feature, not a problem. Come to think of it, this could apply to many aspects in my life: my job, my relationships, etc. Over the years, solving the problem of my disability has become more tiresome and annoying. I have concluded that most of the time, my disability and I are not the problem. The structure of our framework is what’s flawed.
I’d like to spend less time being timid when I show up. I see people who walk through the world every day with the knowledge and confidence that they have the right to be where they are: learning and living and failing and succeeding. i’d like to show up like that, too: with the full knowledge that I belong, and have a right to belong, just as much as anyone else.
Happy January, all!

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this here, but in August of last year I quit Facebook. It’s been one of the best mental health decisions I’ve made, but it means that I am completely out of touch with social media trends. (I was never able to commit to Twitter, Instagram is way too visual, and at the end of the day, (every day, really), I feel fine about not having these distractions in my life.) As if proving my point, I’m apparently “missing” people posting “decade in review” videos and lists all over the socials.

It occurs to me, with this blog, I get to have it both ways: I can post my decade in review list without having to read anyone else’s. Score! No, I kid, in fact, I’d love to hear your decades in review in the comments, if you’re so moved!
The tens were a great decade for me. The tens were not a great decade for me. Both statements are true. One of the things that eventually drove me off Facebook was the curation of people’s lives: everything polished and-or adorably messy. With that in mind, here are some highlights from my decade, with as little sheen as possible, messy or otherwise:

• Apartments lived in: 4
• Cats petted: as many as I could, but always never enough
• student loans paid off: 0
• credit cards paid off: 1!
• 1st dates: a lot, like, a lot
• People I met on first dates who are now my friends: almost everyone I consider the best people I know
• recorders acquired: I swear this number was supposed to be four, two bought and two borrowed, but while digging through my music bag last week I found two altos and a soprano that I can only assume simply showed up on their own.
• people lost: 2 grandparents, 3 friends. I miss them every day.
• dogs: 1. Longest relationship I’ve had, human’s best friend, etc. Kiva to whom everything is food. My little spoon. Doggiest dog of my heart.
• number of times someone has asked me: “How does your dog know which bus is coming?”, “What’s your dog’s name?”, “How old is your dog?”, “How does your dog read traffic lights?”: To infinity and. Still worth it for the dog, but if I charged for these questions, I could pay off those loans in a month.
• Therapists: 4
• Times went to the dentist: 1, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared, and also I has healthcare now
• times I thought my apartment(s) were haunted: 3
• baby rabbits I held in my hand: 2
• Education: 1 degree and 3 professional certificates
• people I called 911 for and waited for help with: 1
• Restlessness, on a scale of 1 to 10: 8
• book clubs joined: Also 8. OK, that’s a weirdly large number.
• Saddest I was: the last four months of 2016
• Happiest I was: the last five months of 2017. And any time my work, life, exercise, hobbies, learning, and friends balance is right. It’s rare but worth it.

Now seriously, tell me things about your decade. They don’t have to be inspiring or grand. In fact, it’s better if they’re not.

I miss my parents this summer. I’ve been out of the state where I grew up for over a decade, and even though I am occasionally homesick, I am feeling it harder this past month. I don’t know why. We usually see each other about twice a year, usually once around June or July, but their visit to Seattle is a bit later this year. Maybe that is why I feel the missing more.

I miss their Sioux City house, the house in which I spent my teenage years. It’s an old house. I wrote a poem last summer that I recently rediscovered, and in it I mention the trees in the sloping yard of that house. And now I am missing those trees again, and the swing where I played out fantasies in my mind of how great I was going to be during the upcoming schoolyear. I miss the prickly bushes that scratched my arms on the way up to the wooden porch in the front. I miss being so bored on a summer afternoon that I thought the day would never end and I would die seeking entertainment and never being fulfilled.

I miss being hot, like Midwest summer hot, and walking into an air-conditioned room. (For anyone keeping score, please note that I do not miss Midwest cold.)

I miss a best friend I used to have. We both had summer birthdays. I never felt I had the amount of time with her I craved. I remember the power I felt being someone’s “one and only” best friend, and how I loved that she was mine. We certainly tested our intimacy. I believe she was the first person I said “I love you” to who was not part of my family. That, in itself, felt potent and rebellious.

Perhaps I am thinking about missing because tomorrow will be my second Seattle anniversary. I moved back on August 1, 2017. I got in around dinner time, and ate a pizza at Arlie’s house and fell asleep not having any idea if I’d done the right thing. Two years on, I think I did. Here is where I want to be, at least for now.

August 1 is also my grandfather’s birthday. My family would travel to Indianola, Iowa, where my grandparents lived and my grandmother still lives, to a hot-air balloon festival every summer in late July. I remember my grandpa’s birthday celebration being a big part of those festivities. Not because it was grandiose, but because there was cake, and he was the oldest person I knew. I deeply miss him, too.

The thing about missing. Sometimes, certainly, it is painful and unhelpful. And other times it feels reverent to spend time missing the people and memories that shape the years we get to be alive. Right now, missing feels like honoring. It’s why I write memoir. It is such a bone-deep privilege to miss.

This summer I’ve been rowing on Lake Union. It’s been about two months now, and for about the first month, my biggest desire and concern was not tipping over the boat. I committed huge amounts of brain space to making sure my boat would not tip. I imagine most of my techniques were merely psychologically soothing. Until recently, when it started to occur to me that it might be nice to just tip the damn thing and get it over with, so I know what it will feel like falling from a boat and won’t have to wonder about it so much. I had even been considering asking a coach if I could purposely tip a boat, just to get that first time out of my system, under somewhat controlled circumstances.

As it happened, I didn’t have to voluntarily flip my boat. I flipped it this morning, involuntarily, along with my three crewmates, just off the dock. One minute I was in the boat, the next, slow motion, I understood that I was going into the water, and I let myself fall.

My feet didn’t touch bottom, but treading water is the one thing I mastered from years of swimming lessons as a kid. It occurred to me that it’s been ages since I’ve been swimming, and the urge to flip over and backstroke like a lazy otter while the sun blazed my cheeks was hard to fight.

Instead of leaving everyone in the dust and swimming until my arms ached, I let myself be summoned to the opposite dock and paddled my body out of the lake. “Woo-hoo, we fell in the water! Hell yeah!” I yelled, before I could remember I’m an adult and beatific displays make other adults feel awkward.

“Wow,” someone said, “you’re apparently the happiest person about this.”

And ok, ideally, we wouldn’t have tipped our boat. But if we were going to tip, which was sure to happen eventually, let it be near the dock, in the July sun, where the water, if not exactly warm, is indeed fine.

Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning, I was riding in a Lyft to work with a driver from Somalia. Because I can’t have any conversation with someone without blindness coming up, (truly, the thing I find least interesting about myself is apparently the most interesting to everyone else), we got into it. He asked me if something happened to my eyes. I explained that I was just “born this way.” He asked about my job. I told him tech, just like everyone else in Seattle. (Except for all the egregiously underpaid folks who make tech workers’ coffee and serve us quiche. But that’s another post.)

Then he started in about how god was good to me for giving me a good job. I always get a sinking feeling at this point. I am not religious and even though I respect other’s right to religion, I don’t like when someone brings up god like they think we are on the same page about it. It tends to happen to me weirdly often in Lyfts and cabs, where I am trapped for the duration of the ride and don’t feel like I can say anything particularly controversial. So I usually just sit and feel awkward and try to steer the conversation elsewhere.

This guy though. He said, “Sometimes god gives someone everything, everything, except they don’t have a job.” His voice started to pitch erratically, and I thought, omg, he seems like he’s going to cry! Then I thought, he can’t be about to cry, right? But he was, crying openly as he drove and tried to speak.

“If you were born in Africa, you would not have this. You are so lucky. When I heard you have a job, I thought, thank god, how lucky. People in Africa, if you have a disability, they beat you up. Your parents might throw you out.”

He was weeping now, and my own eyes started welling because I often teeter on the verge of crying when I see someone else cry. And because, well, he would know. I only have small experiences of living abroad. Living in South America for a summer was indeed revealing; people seemed startled by me and, though most were extremely kind, they were also incredulous that I was there. In Spain, people said, “You’re so brave” at every turn. I vaguely know that comparatively, the U.S. is a good place to be if you have a disability, but good god, I spend so much time swimming through the muck of ignorance and ableism on a daily basis that I am challenged constantly to remember that.

It’s worth remembering though. It’s just luck that I was born here and given opportunities here. It’s luck that my parents were unendingly supportive of me.

And of course, on the other hand, perhaps a Lyft ride wasn’t the place for this guy to unload his grief. It’s not the first time someone has cried about blind people’s suffering in my vicinity, though, so I tried to take it in stride.

I don’t really know how to end this story. I started writing it shortly after it happened, and have been sitting on it trying to figure out what I have to say about it. Perhaps this story is not for analysis and tidy endings. It was just a thing that happened to me, and I’m trying to honor its lessons, whenever they present themselves.

“There are so many answers to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive,
closer I am to fine.”
“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls

Last weekend I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time, as part of an outside concert series at the Woodland Park Zoo. Emily and Amy have been a part of my musical life for well over a decade, though I haven’t kept up with their new music as much. I hoped they would play the old shit, which, in the interest of creative progress, I realize is probably not what they’re most excited about. Still, they did play some of the old shit, and I let myself succumb to nostalgia.

The Indigo Girls are part of a cozy, well-worn story, a story about me as a queer 18-year-old at a tiny liberal arts college in southern Iowa. I spent my freshman year there. I stretched my activism wings as a member of LGBTQA, (literally, that is what our organization was called, all those uncoordinated letters in a row; this was the first time I heard the term “alphabet soup” used to describe the queer community and queer activism). I was somewhere on the “lesbian” and “questioning” spectrum at the time. I also participated in the Progressive Action Coalition, and because of that group, I was able to attend the March for Women’s Lives in D.C. that spring.

We drove from Iowa to D.C. in a van. I didn’t know any of the people I was traveling with at first, except for someone who was in LGBTQA with me, but I didn’t know her well. We left in the morning with Muncie, Indiana as our destination for the evening.

I remember so many little things about that trip which added up to some big, beautiful picture of what I wanted in my life. I crossed at an audible crosswalk for the first time in Muncie. I rode a public transit train for the first time in D.C. On the car ride I was reading Curious Wine for the first time, one of the first lesbian romances I could find in Braille. Cori, the professor who accompanied us, was a queer vegetarian who brought a huge vat of hummus which I tasted for the first time and couldn’t get enough of. We brought protest signs and a video camera. Someone gave me a button that said “I heart pro-choice girls”, which I have to this day. I remember dozing off while listening to Queen and in the midst of half-sleep a voice from the radio told us about the traffic on 66 and mentioned that it was “77 degrees in the nation’s capitol.” The nation’s capitol! Sometimes you experience something and you don’t have any idea that it will be such a profound piece of your history, and sometimes you know while you’re experiencing it exactly how prominent that fabric will be for the rest of your life. This trip was the latter for me; as I was living it, I willed myself to not ever forget.

Oh, and the Indigo Girls. They sang us to D.C. and back. I had heard of them but never listened to them before, and I was amazed at how many of the words everyone knew. When I listened to “Galileo” and “Land of Canaan” and “Closer to Fine”, I felt the words resonate so deeply for me in a way I hadn’t yet experienced. These were queer musicians, grappling with so much of what I was grappling with, struggling against society and yet longing to belong to it. They were songs of loneliness, fear, struggle, revelation, and hope. I relived all of it seeing them onstage last Sunday, and I thought about how these women had enriched my life as a queer person beyond anything I could have understood when I first heard their songs. Reflecting on their influence invites me to consider my role as an activist in my 30’s. What experience can I offer younger queers, if not worldwide, then in my family and community? How can I make their teen years easier? How can I be a source of constancy throughout their 20’s? What small legacy can I offer, even if only a kind word or a gesture of acknowledgement, some clear light so they know they are not alone?

Happy pride to all of you! May we rejoice in the absence of definitives and revel in all our shades of love.

“It was only my art that held me back: it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me.” — Beethoven

Last weekend I played in two student recitals for my recorder studio: one for solo and duet pieces and one for ensembles. This was my first solo performance in over a decade, and my first time playing with a harpsichord instead of a piano. This was the first time I invited friends to listen to the performances, even though I’ve been playing in this ensemble for almost two years now.

Oh, I had forgotten so many things about why I play music! It’s been so long since I have devoted this much time to music, since I was in college over a decade ago. Back then I played furiously: I sat in several ensembles and doggedly learned solos. In my adult life, I’ve often looked back at my younger self and thought: god, what was I thinking? I was exhausted. I practiced nearly every free minute I had. I still fondly remember which practice room I favored in the music building on my college campus: where I placed my recorders and flute and in what order, which keys on the piano were worn ragged, how the sound in the room changed depending on whether I sat or stood.

I wasn’t a performance major. Or an anything music related major. But I wanted music surrounding me and living within me, from the heady beginnings of learning a new piece to the fragile polish of performance.

And I remember why now. This weekend reminded me. It’s certainly not for fame: if I wanted that I definitely would have picked a different instrument. Recorder’s a niche hobby, and people aren’t exactly breaking down the door to hear a recorder concert, particularly not an amateur one. All told, we probably had an audience of 20 both days combined.

But the size of the audience matters less than its energy, and both days I felt so much warmth, conviviality, and celebration in that space. I couldn’t give a compliment without getting a higher one in return. It was like all of us, audience and players, set an intension of openness and generosity from the outset. I felt that none of it was insincere or patronizing. We just appreciated each other. I often think that people are a bit stingy with their generosity when it comes to art, writing, and music. It’s cool to be bored and unenthused, I guess. I’m glad my recorder community chooses to be generous and to leave world-weariness at home for a few hours.

The act of performing Telemann and Bach and Sieg and Leonarda felt reverent. It’s humbling to play music dreamed and created by another human soul. It feels like being offered a gift. You accept, and offer a gift back. You feel the notes in your own body: in the rhythm of your pulse, the plant of your feet, the gathering of your breath. You feel it in your own soul: as a resonant ache, as a tremulous joy, as a singular certainty that everything you experience in this moment has been felt and understood time and time again, as humans have made music through the centuries.

This may all seem very lofty and precious. And I suppose it is, to an extent. But it also just brings me peace. To know that there is so much music, to play and to create, and that I hunger to rest in this knowledge as often as I can, before I quit this earth.