Blind Lady Gets Sh*t Done: Laying the Ground Work

Tags

, , ,

Life seems to have a way of changing us, and teaching us lessons along the way. Sometimes you’re forced to grow, sometimes you can choose to learn. Sometimes you start a thing and you realize along the way that you’re not the same person you were before you started.

I’ve been an adult for almost half as long as I’ve been alive. Over the years, I’ve rented apartments (alone, with a roommate, or with my husband), and have been a partial homeowner for nearly a decade. I’ve been out from under my parents’ roofs since I up and moved to Edmonton more than fifteen years ago. But if I’m completely honest with myself, I must acknowledge I can get by on my own… but I haven’t been as self-sufficient as I’ve told myself I am. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. It’s only been recently that I realized I spent a long time living in a house where – often times – things just didn’t get done. This is not a negative judgment, an assigning of blame, a falling on my sword. The reasons for this pattern are not important, it is simply a fact. Things just got let go.

And I’ve hit a point – and a stage in my life – where if I want something done, I do it myself. Because I’m the only one that can change how things are, so if I want things to be different, I’ve gotta make it happen.

I’ve been living on my own – for the first time in over a decade – for nearly six months, and I’m in a position to be able to make this house my home. I’ve always claimed it as my home, and it is, but I have felt I need to make the changes – big and small – to not just make it my home, but welcome others to it, too. It’s overwhelming – my place isn’t small, and needs a lot of work – but I have abdicated too much for too long. It’s time I take the bull by the horns and get sh*t done. It will be a work in progress – my house is not going to be a magical showplace. It will be imperfect – heaven knows I’m not the best housekeeper in the world (and, no, it’s not solely because I’m blind). I fully expect to fall on my face, to make mistakes, to just not wanna do this… but the time for changing of long-standing patterns is now.

My goal is to learn stuff, to be productive, to get to know the nooks and crannies of the home that I love. how I’ll get there is to tackle one non standard/maintenance project every week for 2020. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – in fact the big things usually are the strongest motivators – but it just has to be a thing that isn’t something that needs to be done on the regular, like laundry or dishes or whatever.

It’s taken months for this goal to take shape. This past fall, when I was cleaning eavestroughs (while my father held the ladder), washing the fridge, cleaning out the hall closet and the pantry (while my partner held open garbage bags and took them outside to the big garbage cans as I wiped down shelving)… I realized this place needs a ton of work. It felt so overwhelming, and like I didn’t know where or how to start. Between training, travel, racing, and life, I didn’t stay on top of things as much as I wanted to this past fall, but I was still maintaining some momentum on this front. A little momentum is better than stagnation. And I liked the feeling.

Then January hit, and with it came a burst of productivity. Call it a New Year’s resolution, or turning over a new leaf. It was happening, seemingly without my input. I was getting stuff done in January. Like just getting sick of how things were and quietly making changes. Why not continue? I like how it’s gone… so start a whole new pattern? Make the goal open enough to be flexible, but concrete enough to see measurable results? Doesn’t research say something about making goals/resolutions/whatever this way?

And as a way to chronicle my journey – the successes and setbacks, the motivation and the lack thereof – why not share my journey in a monthly series of blog posts… because this blind lady’s getting sh*t done! And she’s sure she’s not the only one who wants to be productive on her own terms. She could also use some tips, tricks, and encouragement along the way – no person is an island, and all that.

So, come with me… I’ll be getting dusty, buying stock in vinegar, “cross-training” by lifting things, conceptualizing space, and quite possibly growing up and learning unexpected lessons along the way.

2019: The Year of Blossoming

2019… What can I say about it?
I would have to say that 2019 was the year of blossoming. I grew in ways that I never knew that I could. I did things that I never thought I would. I’ve had experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life (and a couple that I don’t remember at all).
I chose to take a leap and run a marathon. Not only did I run one Marathon,
I ran two!
I decided to voice a dream that I’ve held quietly for the last five years, to run the Boston Marathon in 2021. And by my stating that goal out into the air, it means I now have to work at it. The work is not done, but I’m ready for 2020’s three scheduled marathons!

I’ve had opportunities to tell my story as a runner. Who knew that running a half marathon in an Edmonton February with my guide dog would lead to being dubbed the most badass woman with the most badass dog in Edmonton? That led to an explosion of texts and messages from my friends – “Call the reporters!” – so I did! Some interviews went better than others… but getting noticed in Canadian Running Magazine was pretty awesome!
I chose to open my heart to new love. It’s always a little scary, but it didn’t feel that way… And it feels like the most organic and powerful thing, making me realize my own strength, which brings more to the table and makes us stronger, which makes me realize my own strength and…
I chose to open my home, to make it a place of gathering and refuge and good conversation. And it has reminded me how much the house actually likes having people in it. Even if it’s just a couple of people sitting over a coffee and a chat, or a small group playing games, or a bunch of people coming and going and talking and eating and drinking and playing music.
I chose to be open about key parts of my identity. I chose to take power over raising awareness of it, because it’s my choice to do so. And in doing that I have made at least one person on this planet feel less alone. I became the person I wish I knew in the early part of 2018, when I was coming to terms with my identity myself. And I was met with so much love and support from all over, it still overwhelms me – nearly bringing me to tears – all these months later.
I chose to open up to friendships, restoring ones that have been dormant for a long time, meeting new people through different avenues, realizing that right now our lives are on the same journey. I’m so grateful to every single one of those people, whether I talk to you every day or just a few times a year. if you’re around and we’ve talked, you are important in my life.
I haven’t written as much as I would’ve liked on the Life Unscripted blog. My life has been jam-packed with races and community-building and flourishing and music and loving and asking myself some pretty deep questions. I hope to carve out some more time to dedicate to you, my faithful readers, in 2020.

But people still found my little corner of the world this year! Even in San Francisco just a few weeks ago, I ran in to someone who recognized me from this blog! I had intended to do some Christmas shopping that day, but I made a connection instead. I didn’t realize until I walked out the door that that connection was what I truly needed in that small slice of space and time.

Just for fun, here are the top 5 most visited posts of 2019!
5. This little sleeper of a book review.
4. The fact that this oldie is still getting this much interest shows me that there is a very serious service dog faker problem.
3. When you meet your people, it is so seamless. “You may not know what my life feels like, but you leave me plenty of open space so that I can fill in the gaps – not because I owe you an explanation, but because you know that so few people leave their agendas at the door.”
2. My little book review that could!
1. I wrote this post last year when I got tired of addressing the inspiration question. Instead of complaining, I figured I’d speak some truth into the air… and the fact it’s gotten more views than the rest of my blog combined… might tell you that it resonates with a lot of people

There’s been so much change and growth in me. I thought I grew in 2018, and I definitely did. But that growth spurred on this place of blossoming I find myself in today. 2019 has proven to be one of the best years of my life – bring on 2020!

If All you Have is “Good Intentions”, Keep them

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I’m a visibly disabled person, navigating my life the best way I know how. I have hobbies, a job, a partner, a home… I buy groceries and commute and sometimes overspend and meet friends for coffee and despair about things that are going on in the world. Some things make me laugh, others make me cry, I avoid some activities and concepts at all costs because they terrify me.
In many ways, my life isn’t that different from anyone else’s.
But what’s frequently the only thing most people – particularly strangers – address about me?
I’m a visibly disabled person…
And I’m tired.
SO VERY TIRED.
It’s like this switch flips in the brains of many people that says “DIFFERENT!” and all propriety gets thrown out the window.
And if someone’s called on it – being politely and then firmly asked to stop asking personal questions, to stop grabbing and manipulating my body, reminding them that a particular action wouldn’t be welcomed if directed at them – I hear the words “But I just meant well” or “I just care” or “I didn’t know…”. As if this gives an automatic free pass.
Because DISABILITY!
And the armchair quarterbacking I’ve experienced on this issue – from people who weren’t there – “They talked to your companion because they aren’t comfortable with you” or “Disability brings out the compassion in people” or “people just want to connect with you on some level…”
NO!
I want to think that people have good intentions, but the reality is that violence against disabled people is far more prevalent than that experienced by non-disabled people. If I just go along, not making waves, thinking that people have good intentions, I am literally putting myself at greater risk (like the time three strangers tried to badger me into taking an elevator instead of the stairs, because they “would feel better” if I did so).
So that idea on its face needs to die, and right now.
But that’s not why I’m writing this.
I’m writing because intentions alone aren’t free passes. “Good intentions” aren’t enough anymore.
Because the impact of “good intentions” is cumulative. At the end of the day, underneath “good intentions” generally lies discomfort with disability, and a complex of superiority – that the non-disabled person is more informed about the world, more entitled to invasion of personal boundaries, and more knowledgeable about the disability experience than a disabled person.
NO!
Someone else’s “good intentions” means that they can walk away from an experience with a disabled person and go about their day. They can pat themselves on the back for doing a “good deed” (which, for the record, is SUPER condescending, and that thought also needs to die); they can walk away annoyed or hurt because their offer of help was declined because the disabled person didn’t need help at all… or they can walk away defensive after being called out because their “offer” of help or interaction crossed physical or emotional boundaries that are generally accepted as universal (except DISABILITY, so rules don’t apply).
But they can walk away and tell their partner about that ungrateful person they reached out to and were told they weren’t needed – or weren’t needed in the way they thought they should be. They can lump all disabled people together because of one interaction with that wheelchair user who asked them to stop pushing their wheelchair, or that blind person who told them they really didn’t want to discuss what made them go blind… That interaction took 30 seconds out of their day and they can move on.
But I can’t.
Because ONE person’s “good intentions” affect that one person for 30 seconds, or maybe a bit longer if they’re self-aware enough to understand their impact and actually make an effort to do better (this is rare, but this does happen).
But I can’t move on from the impact of one person’s “good intentions” because there’s another person’s “good intentions” right around the corner. I struggle to accept true compliments anymore because I receive so many that are based on low expectations of me. I have to forcefully deflect personal questions about my disability itself because politeness rarely works. I have to make a choice between drawing more attention to myself or shutting up and getting along when I’m physically grabbed and directed, when the person doing the grabbing was never given consent to do so.
One person’s good intentions impact them and me. Another person’s good intentions impact them and me. A third person’s good intentions impact them and me.

Impact is more important than intent. One can intend well and still have a harmful impact. And I’m impacted over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
It’s never one person’s action alone, but the cumulative impact that has me – and others – so tired.
And every single person tells me they have “good intentions.”
Those aren’t enough. If that’s all you’ve got, skip them. Good intentions mean nothing when they come from a place of entitlement and superiority.
Do you really mean well, or is it that you want to feel better about yourself?
If you really mean well, take a split second and actually think about the impact of your comments or actions. Would you appreciate the comment or question if directed at you? Would you like to be physically grabbed, or would you prefer to have autonomy over your body? Would you like to spend the rest of your life talking about one personal topic, or would you prefer to talk about sports or the weather or local politics or…? I truly believe that a split second of reflection could have immeasurable positive impact on my experience and – by extension – yours.
And if you just want the warm fuzzies?
Move along… You don’t mean well at all.

Reclamation – A Poem

I stand in a doorway

Waiting to be invited in.

But the invitation doesn’t come.

You tell me you’re too busy

Or I’m asking too much.

Or you would rather I just go away.

You don’t say these things, of course,

But in every breath and movement

I feel your annoyance at my presence.

But that’s not what you meant?

How else am I supposed to take

Your heavy sighs and simple words?

You talk over me,

Telling me that my perceptions of your (in)action

Are all in my head.

But how can that be?

Impact trumps intent.

And I am being told in word and deed that I am not welcome here.

I take a deep breath and push through the door.

I’m making space here for myself

Since you don’t see fit to.

I rearrange boxes, pull up a chair.
Finding – or carving – a place at the table.

Because I belong here.

I say it out loud:

“I belong here!”

And even if I don’t feel it, it is still true.

I feel like I’ve worked my fingers raw

Moved around furniture and set up shop.

Because the truth is I have.

And I do this too often,

Either standing uninvited on the outside

Or muscling my way in to too many spaces.

But today, I claim this space mine.

I have every right to be here.

And I just need to remember

I always have

The right to exist

To be here

Just as I am.

An Open Letter to Those who Get it

Tags

, , , ,

If you’re reading this and think you might recognize yourself, you probably know who you are. If you’re reading this and wonder why I’m writing this about you because this should be common sense, you probably know who you are. If you’re reading this and know I’m writing about you… I’m probably not.

 

I’m a person with a visible disability. You are somehow part of my life. You could be a colleague, a teacher, a friend, a stranger in line at a coffee shop… less commonly, you could be a family member or a romantic partner. Your life could’ve intersected mine in a hundred different ways. Before meeting me, you’ve usually had little to no experience with the day to day realities of living with a disability.

 

And yet… you get it.

 

You get it in ways I can never put into words until I fumble and falter and try and thank you for just understanding so I don’t have to explain at all. When I stammer out the words of joy and gratitude I feel from deep in my soul, more often than not, you remain still for a moment, eyebrows raised, and ask me with all seriousness what the big deal is. Because more people should understand. You think that more people should stop asking intrusive questions. You believe that nobody should grab my body when “trying to help”. You think I belong at the table just like everyone else, and you’ll quietly move heaven and earth to level the playing field so I’m part of your group and not just a token participant. You understand why some ideas are so harmful. You may not know what my life feels like, but you leave me plenty of open space so that I can fill in the gaps – not because I owe you an explanation, but because you know that so few people leave their agendas at the door.

 

You may be a new friend, or a colleague who got to know me on that project one time. You may be a stranger who offered assistance when I was standing in line at a coffee shop and just knew how to help and let me be when it was no longer required. You may be a random group of people who regularly play board games. You may be a part of a group of musicians. You may be a member of a sports team or other club. You could literally be anybody. Often times, you intrinsically understand me – and my life with disability – better than many of my family members, partners, or friends. As much as we love them, there’s always been a growing experience, an adjustment period, a drawing of boundaries. With you… that’s never once been there. You’ve always just… known. You’ve never called attention to my disability, but you’ve never neglected its presence either. You’ve never asked questions unless they directly flowed out of a conversation we’ve been having. You’ve understood – with no input from me – why little things that many people say shouldn’t “get to me”… get to me. You’re furious on my behalf at intrusions into my privacy, and yet you’ve given me space to fight the battles myself. You’ve presumed me competent when I’ve spent so much time trying to convince people that I’m not just a child in an adult body. For all of this, you have my undying gratitude.

 

You get it.

 

All of it.

 

And you’re right, more people should. But maybe, just maybe, if more people did… I wouldn’t be so aware of the rare and precious mystical belonging places. It’s more than the absence of negatives; you’ve given me something that so few people have… the gift of true acceptance. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Go ahead, raise those eyebrows. If you think I might be talking about you – if you remember some stammered, incoherent conversation about thankfulness and gratitude toward you – I probably am. If you don’t remember this conversation… that’s OK. I’m probably not writing about you directly right now. But I could be… or someone else could be down the line. Read this post again. And again. And again. And let it sink in. It’s not hard to “get” disability; it’s a leaving behind of preconceptions, a listening to what’s being said, an opening to a change in script. I’m eternally thankful for people who intuitively “get it”, and also for those who want to get it, own their missteps, and don’t lay all the emotional labour on me. It’s never too late to move forward, to be that person that doesn’t understand how something so simple can be so profound.

 

And yet, it is profound.

 

You get it.

 

And these fumbling, faltering words are the only ones I can come up with to adequately express myself. But maybe, just maybe, they are enough.

Ask me to Dance… better yet, Play my Music

Let’s get this out of the way.

I have the physical capability to dance. But I can not dance. My rhythm is off and my body doesn’t cooperate, so I have the coordination of the Tin man from the Wizard of Oz. I am in no way asking to be invited to a real dance party, largely because… well… I cannot dance.

And I play music. I sing a lot (now that I realize it’s in my blood). But I don’t literally want you to play anything I’ve recorded in my presence. I hate how I sound; two days ago I found recordings of songs I wrote and recorded in my teens… and while I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, they sound objectively bad. And I still have nightmares about recording sessions that produce phantom neck pain from staying in one position for long periods trying to get perfect vocals.

So why am I contradicting myself now?

I’ve heard a saying over the past couple of years: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” I’ve always liked that phrase, but felt it went further. In fact, research for this post brought me to a continuation: “Belonging is playing my music.” I could not agree more.

Most of us crave relationships. We want to feel like we’ve met people who “get” us on a bunch of different levels, particularly the deep ones. But even casual, low-key environments can be powerful in the relationships, because of the “music playing” in the background. Finding that acceptance can prove difficult; yet when you do it’s both so powerful and so quiet that you don’t want to draw attention to it. As my friend Meagan wrote in her brilliant post on this subject:

But when I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon an inclusive environment—my current workplace is an ideal example—it’s never been joyless or contrived. A lucky convergence of factors makes me perfectly comfortable, long before I realize it’s happening. By the time I become aware that I have found that rare sense of belonging, it’s too late to pinpoint precisely why it happened that way. All I can do is sit back and enjoy it, hoping I find it again elsewhere, and knowing there’s little I can do to reawaken the magic.

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve stumbled into belonging. My workplace believes in my skills and experience, and trusts me to advocate for myself if I need it. My running crew treats me like a runner who’s blind (not a blind runner) with a seriously badass guide dog; I don’t get cheers for just showing up in the first place, but I’m encouraged as a runner, full stop… and yet I’ve been told more than once that Ed’s and my showing up for runs and coffee most weeks brings more runners out for post-run coffee. Are we, by our presence, creating an inclusive place, a place to belong, building our own magical “safe space”?

 

Maybe we are.

 

People who are part of someone’s “tribe” – the individuals and groups in which they feel most safe and accepted – don’t seem to think twice that they are creating and building something beautiful and mystical. Anytime I’ve brought it up to my tribe – or “my people”, as I call them – they shrug and think it’s nothing. And I don’t have the words to adequately describe the magic, the music, the dancing… because it just… is. There’s a regular board game meetup I’ve attended for the past six months, and I’ve literally had to explain nothing about blindness, never had to push the point that Pictionary isn’t an inclusive game, never had to enforce rules about interacting with Jenny, or find ways to include myself. Even when I hit a glitch with AiRa one night when it was my turn to read Taboo clues, my people refused to take the cards I tried to pass to them. One even thought of texting me the clues and the Taboo words, and I was able to continue being clue-giver – and no one complained about the length of time it was taking, because we were all just sitting around and joking and laughing anyway. They were playing my music, and I didn’t dare pinch myself in case it was all a dream.

 

Falling into belonging is unexpected, and beautiful, and life-giving. Rick, my running instructor, calls it the “absence of negatives”. I like the phrase, but I don’t think it entirely fits here; The absence of negatives is filled with something I can’t quite describe, and trying to do so seems to cheapen it. Having been met with such understated and seamless acceptance has freed me up to offer the same in return. It’s as simple as inviting someone to a party, as joyous as an enthusiastic dancer with two left feet, and as beautiful as your favourite soundtrack on the speakers. And more magic in the world brings more parties, more dancing, and more and varied music… and I think we all could use a little more of that.

“You’re doing WHAT in this weather?”: Digging Deep for the Hypo Half

Tags

, , , , ,

Five months ago, I ran my first half-marathon. On a whim, I decided to see what races were going on while I was traveling on a journey that would change my life. I paid for my race fees, then crossed my fingers that I would have a guide runner on race day and a bus ticket to get there. My guide runner materialized months before I bought my ticket.
That race had perfect weather, with sunny skies and a light breeze and not too much heat. Even though my training program went completely sideways due to my guide dog’s emergency surgery – and later the thick smoke from wildfires that blanketed Edmonton for weeks – I’ll never forget it, and never regret it.
No sooner did I write the words “I’m never doing this again” than I started looking for my next half-marathon. Less than a week after arriving home, I signed up for what Edmonton Runners call the Hypo Half. It’s a half-marathon, run in February, in Edmonton – where temperatures can range from -40 to something above freezing… and you never know what you’re going to get.

I had no idea.

Spring and summer running are relatively easy. You get motivated by the opportunity to spend time outside, enjoying the neighborhood or trails or wherever brings you running zen. I knew winter running would challenge me in the motivation department – it’s cold and dark and sometimes snowy and gross. So I signed up with a training program through the Running Room, and started running with them three times a week. Over the course of the next four months, magical things happened. I found my space with a group of people who never once made me have to adapt to how they did things. There was always someone running with me, because you always run in pairs in the winter. Rick, our instructor, was always up to provide fascinating information (who needs Google with a Rick around?) or trying to talk all the runners into sticking around for a post-run coffee. Ed, who would later guide me and Jenny on race day, often joined me for coffee and was generous with his time, fuel, and date bites on long runs. I don’t think I had a single inappropriate question asked of me (the first person who asked anything about my vision promptly ran into a pole). The super fast runners still cheered for those of us who brought up the rear. Anyone who’s rarely had to insert their way into a given space may not understand what it feels like, this instant knowing you belong somewhere. And I was lucky enough to just fall into it.

Over the next four months, training was HARD. We ran on icy sidewalks, down hills that required traction devices on our shoes, in the cold and snow and wind, through three inches of snow that felt like running through sand. More than once I wondered why I was doing this – sometimes, the shocked response to my running in winter was enough to make me smile and keep going. We ran fast, or we plodded along. I mixed and matched my winter clothes, and had more than one fellow runner leave gloves in his car for me because I finished most of my runs without them. I learned more than the importance of good form or nutrition, I learned a few things about life and about myself. At low emotional moments, I discovered the somewhat magical healing properties of running the 109th Street bridge. And I had to really learn that staying upright and uninjured was better than logging the speed and mileage (because kilometerage isn’t a word) that my training plan demanded. This was a whole season of my life where the universe was trying to tell me to just be OK with just being.

And then, the first Hypo Halfers ran their race in early February. It was -30 Celsius, with the windchill making it 10 degrees colder. One of them gave us late Hypo halfers a pep talk – what worked, what didn’t – and I thought I was ready…

And then, February 17, 2019. It was just like any other Sunday morning. My alarm went off at the same time it does every Sunday. I drank my coffee, ate my bagel and eggs (after spending the previous five days eating more than two teenage boys could pack away), and got myself ready to run. Ed, my guide and friend, picked me up at the same time he has every Sunday morning for months. It could’ve been any other Sunday… except that day I held a race bib and a couple of obnoxious safety pins. The temperature was a relatively balmy -18 Celsius. “Not too bad,” as Ed wrote on Facebook before we went outside to wait by the start line.

Ed, Jenny and I found a few of our other runners, we wished each other well, and we started running. There’s something magical about the cadence of multiple pairs of feet – the rhythm in the light dusting of snow – that I can’t adequately put in to words. it finally felt real – we were really running! After several kilometers, it just felt like Ed and Jenny and I were alone on the course. And still runners – some we knew and some we didn’t – and volunteers cheered us on. Our speed was flawless, and I felt like I could take on the whole race… until 12 kilometers in. I didn’t wanna do this any more. I slogged through four kilometers of mental mud, swore at Ed when he “tried to be encouraging” by helpfully reminding me we’re 17 weeks out from a full marathon, and pushed… and pushed… and PUSHED. Finally, I got a second wind, and found my motivation – two of our runners were running with injuries; they wanted to run this race so much that they didn’t care if they had to crawl that finish line. I ran those last three kilometers for them, thinking of their grit and determination, and finding some of my own. When we crossed the finish line – 2:28:22 after crossing the start – I felt proud and tired and ready to eat! Jenny just felt tired, but looked REALLY cute with her own finisher’s medal.

 

The brunch is one of the biggest draws of the Hypo Half in Edmonton – that and winter running badass points – and it didn’t disappoint. I stuffed myself on bacon and fruit and potatoes while Jenny snoozed contentedly under the table. Many of our running crew came by to congratulate and commiserate, to high-5 and to compare notes, to laugh at the error in my chipped time, to ask the question we’ve been asking for weeks – “What’s next for you?” Some of us are training for another Half, others are preparing for a full, and some – like Ed and I – are straddling both worlds because of the dates of our next races. But I couldn’t think about a full marathon – I just had to soak in the successes of that morning, and all the people who helped to get me there.

 

It’s been four days since that race. I’m a little stiff and sore, but ready to get back onto the road to log the distances that will lead me to another goal: my first full marathon! This journey will be unlike anything I’ve done before, and yet I know some familiar faces – some of my people – will still be with me, training and cheering and dreaming their own dreams, and helping to make my own possible.

The Day the Music Died

Tags

, ,

I used to say that music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.

 

I used to sing. A lot. All the time. In the car, at home, with friends… I’d literally get together with people – those I knew and those I didn’t – to do nothing but sing. I practiced singing – I had to work at it – when I was alone, just so I could perform better. Whether or not I could hit the notes, I’d try and try and try again – probably to the dismay of my long-suffering parents, particularly when I couldn’t quite reach the high notes. I fronted bands, sang karaoke, provided background vocals. From the time I was about twelve, you’d find me gathered around the piano at summer camp with my friends, or walking down whatever hallway singing songs I liked – and every now and then songs I couldn’t stand but couldn’t get out of my head. During free periods in high school – when I didn’t have homework to do – I’d sit on a bench in the hallways and play my guitar, because of course it came with me to school even on days I didn’t have guitar class. I wrote music, for those times when merely speaking words wasn’t enough and I had to express my fear, faith, anger, pain, hope, or what I thought was love. When I was sixteen, I taught myself the guitar, scraping raw the fingers on my left hand and making it impossible to read braille for months. I fell back in love with the piano in Bible college because there were too many guitarists and no one else would play the piano. Between classes at that Bible college, I’d sneak into the chapel for a few moments of solace, where the music from that old out-of-tune upright would mingle with my voice, echoing slightly in the empty room. I’m glad I didn’t know until years later that people would sometimes sneak in and listen. I would have stopped playing if I’d known.

 

I used to say music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.

 

I remember the exact moment when I made the decision to step back from performing – even though I didn’t realize that decision would remain steadfast for over a decade. I was standing in a church in La Crete, Alberta, singing a song while combating a terrible cold. My voice was hoarse, and I was thrilled that no one I knew – beyond my Bible school classmates – could hear me like this (and maybe not even them). I remember thinking “No one knows me beyond the fact that I can sing and play… I can’t do this anymore.”

 

Over the next few months – that eventually turned into nearly twelve years – I jammed a few times with classmates, played alone on that old upright in the chapel, but I don’t remember singing and playing publicly much after that. I did karaoke with friends once or twice over the years, but that felt awkward to me. I jammed a handful of times with friends on the piano I insisted Ben and I buy when we bought our house, but the house was never filled with music the way we hoped it would be. I played a piano here and there, wrote a song a couple people I trusted heard and liked (eight years after that church service in La Crete), and made some noncommittal noises about joining a friend any time he asked or cajoled or badgered me to go for a jam (he always asked again)… But I was done, burned out, had nothing… Music had let me down. It had taken me in and spit me out and I wasn’t ready for the merry-go-round again.

 

I used to say that music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.

 

I haven’t written a complete song in over three years. And before that, I hadn’t written one in seven. It’s not that I had nothing to say – in fact, I’ve had a lot to say – but I feared what I would say, what I would have to acknowledge to myself if no one else. And I felt that I could never find the time and space to explore new musical frontiers without feeling the unintentional pressure to perform by those around me. That’s another reason I have been extremely reluctant to sing publicly. My vocal “gift” is not raw talent. I literally had to teach myself to sing. When I was young, I loved to sing but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. When I started buying tapes and CDs, I’d play them for hours, pitching my voice to match the artists – first country, then pop/rock – and somehow, magically, I could sort of sing. And people responded to that. I soaked up the attention, and in many ways it was a great thing.

 

Until it wasn’t.

 

Until I became known as the girl who sang with conviction and passion (if not technical perfection) and could maybe accompany you or front your band. And then it was an obligation, not a joy. I’ve silenced my voice for over a decade, because I knew on some intrinsic level that if I didn’t, I’d spend years playing and singing songs I didn’t feel, or writing songs I could perform for no one but myself, or writing “performable” songs that would steal a piece of my soul. And I’d hate it. That’s why I have been extremely reluctant to sing in churches or karaoke bars, to play at functions, or even to write. Because one such event always always leads to another.

 

Over Christmas, I visited my parents. There’s an annual tradition my Dad attends – a Christmas morning brunch with a bunch of folks who may or may not have somewhere to go for the holiday. After we’d had our fill of food and coffee, we all headed in to the living room for some caroling. My Dad performs a solo every year – Six White Boomers – and his friend with the guitar didn’t know the song. I offered to get her a key to play in, and somehow – with shaking hands and an unpracticed ear – ended up accompanying Dad on the whole song. No one made a big deal when I handed the guitar back, leaned back on the couch, and sang along with the others on the next song.

 

I loved it.

 

Because it wasn’t about me.

 

I was part of a collective, not a show monkey being paraded in front of a group of people. And that one experience told me that it was time to steady my hands and hold the music again. It paved the way for a solo New Year’s Eve – just me and a guitar and a seriously out-of-tune upright – opened the door to bleeding fingertips and aching wrists and a voice I didn’t realize I had.

 

Even so, after so much reflection and work and a few tears, I started to wonder
if music was really in my blood, or if I was just kidding myself. Of course my skills are rusty. Of course I need to practice. It’s been so long since I sat down and wrote that I forgot the process (for the record, there is no “process” beyond sitting and writing). Of course I have things I want to say… But does music coarse through my veins? Do I need it like my morning coffee, or a hard run, or a good night’s sleep?

 

Absolutely, yes!

 

I used to say that music was in my blood…

 

And I’ll start saying it again.

 

Because it is.

The Intrepid Journey 2018: Retrospection

Four months ago today, a plane from Denver touched down in Edmonton. I grabbed my backpack and started walking between the rows of seats, Jenny restless at my side. A member of the cabin crew welcomed me home, and I stopped for a moment and cried tears of joy and relief and exhaustion, realizing that I was really and truly home.

My friend Keith picked me up from the airport and listened to me yammer on and on about the places I’d been and the people I’d met and the good, the bad, and the ugly of my trip. When he dropped me off at my front door, I soaked in the silence of the place I call home. When Ben arrived a little while later, we compared notes about our trips, swapped souvenirs, and hung art and mementos on the walls.

Over the next few months, my life shifted in some unexpected ways. I joined a support group that also sometimes played board games. I signed up for my second half-marathon (in Edmonton… in February… what was I thinking?), and started training for it. I did a couple of craft shows with my jewelry business, with mixed success. As my social world blossomed and grew, Ben and I came to terms with the truth that our marriage was over. We have always been great friends, and we have set ourselves up to continue to be so in the future. We wish each other nothing but joy and peace and happiness; and, no, I’m not just saying that.

Over the past four months, I’ve heard from a few folks from my journey. Jeff, my guide runner from Great Falls, pops up occasionally with a smile in his messages. Leesa, my guardian angel from Bozeman, messages me regularly; I’ve also stayed in sporadic touch with my Bozeman host. I hear from Jay and Emily, my guides for my first half-marathon in Billings, from time to time; last I heard, Jay has a new puppy that’s keeping him busy. Aziza (from Denver) and I stay in touch online, as do Robin (from Seattle) and I. Ken, my guide through Yellowstone, loved the blog post I wrote (he’s biased; he took the pics). James, from the Governor’s Mansion in Cheyenne, popped by my blog to say hello. And Ray, my pottery instructor from Whitefish, is on to some new adventures of his own; and (even though I can’t prove it) I think he’s the one who sent me the pieces we made together, all glazed and pretty… they arrived after one of the darkest nights of my life, just before Christmas.

The Intrepid Journey 2018 prepared me for this current place of peace I find myself. Those pianos I played in Billings and Cheyenne helped me fall in love with my own piano – for the first time since we bought it. Accepting rides from random strangers in Butte, Helena, and Bozeman helped me remember that we are given intuition about people, and I should use it in other life interactions. I rediscovered how to dust myself off when everything hits the skids, and keep on going. I learned to push myself when I’ve got a little more in the tank, to smile more, to listen to stories, to take a deep breath and tell my own. I don’t know that I would be who I am today if I hadn’t decided, riding in a Nissan down a Montana highway, to take a risk and travel alone, on my terms, in places where I didn’t know a soul. Before I left, before Jenny went for emergency surgery, before I had any true idea what I was in for, I bought a display for my race bib to commemorate my first half-marathon. It hangs on a wall in my house, where you can see it as you walk in the front door, or as you enter and leave the kitchen. I chose, after thoughtful consideration, to customize it with these words that proved to be prophetic:
The Intrepid Journey 2018
Stronger than You Think

2018: The Year of Growth

2018 was… complicated.
I haven’t been around much on this blog since returning from The Intrepid Journey 2018 for quite a few personal reasons. I have not shared the details here, and I won’t share more than broad strokes, but needless to say that my life has gone in a direction that I never expected it to go. For those who read my original Intrepid Journey posts written on a bluetooth keyboard with 80 million spelling mistakes, I love you all… take a read back through them; they’re now much tidier… and have pictures!

 

If I had to pick two words that would adequately summarize this year, they would be “growth” and “Truth.” They’ve fed off each other. I’ve spoken a truth – or more – into the air, and gone through a prolonged growth process. I went through a long solo trip (a growth process of its own) and discovered some more truths. And the cycle continued.
Even earlier this year, at the same moments I didn’t realize I was laying some personal emotional groundwork, I was speaking more truths. From a blog post that has become one of my site’s most popular (apparently to the surprise of no one but me), to opening up to some personal struggles, to acknowledging and voicing my needs in life, friends, and relationships… this year has been full of standing up – sometimes shakily with trembling knees, sometimes strongly with head up and shoulders back – and speaking my truth.

 

Top Viewed Blog Posts of 2018

5. To the Parents of Blind Children, Part 1: You have SO much Power
4. You Inspire Me! No… REALLY!
3. An Open Letter to Service Dog Fakers
2. Book Review: “Carry On” by Lisa Fenn
1. Is this OK with You?

Speaking Truth

This year, probably more than any other, has been a year I’ve been more outspoken than usual (yes, apparently, this is possible). I’ve continued to self-advocate in disability spaces, outlined specific expectations related to running a first race, and taken pride in the person I am, refusing to apologize for things I cannot change or control (still working on that last one). I’ve also found myself more careful, more cautious, of the words I put out into the world. From a blog post I wrote and published in the span of an hour to the one that sat in draft form for over a year (and which three people I respect had to talk me in to publishing), I’ve gained a whole new respect and appreciation for the power of words.

Growth

And I’ve grown – am growing – in ways I never expected. From examining why I respond to compliments in the way I do, to expanding my social and emotional worlds, to putting into words why music – something once as much a part of me as my hands or my lungs – was silenced for years. Some of these stories are still being written – some of them here – and I can see only good things moving forward. Even though 2018 saw the end of my marriage, it has also given me the tools to be able to move in to 2019 with grace, with strength, and with confidence.
And I cannot conclude this post without mentioning the friends and family cheering me on. There have been many friends new and old – some from truly unexpected places – who, in ways big and small, have held me up and kept me going, reminding me of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.
Bring on 2019!