Living With Disability

Disability (n): 1. a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities; 2. the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way : the condition of being disabled.

-Merriam Webster, 2016

It’s about time that we as a society re-evaluate how we think about disability. No able-bodied person expects to be judged on the same level as an Olympic athlete. Or to constantly prove just how able-bodied they are to the world around them. So why in the world should we thrust those same expectation in reverse upon the disabled?

And yet for those living with disability (invisible and otherwise), the social scrutiny is very real and almost unparalleled. “If you’re so disabled, why are you tagging along on your friends’ holiday?” or “If you’re so disabled, why are you at the supermarket? I thought you couldn’t move the other day.”

This happens because people generally think that their eyesight is the only qualification necessary to determine signs of able-bodiedness. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to have caught on to what magicians discovered a couple thousand years ago and that is that the human mind is surprisingly easy to trick for all it’s reasoning capabilities. That and a disability is not just an injury that results in complete inability to walk, it includes illness. There are also a number of apparatuses that can be hidden by clothes alone (i.e.: waist supporters). Relying heavily on visuals alone renders an incomplete portraiture of the disabled community.

And I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I’ve lived on three sides of the issue: as a fully functional individual who lived a good 24 years without disability, as a wheelchair-walker-cane wielding invalid, and as the kind of person who can pass as looking functional… until the nerves in my spine start acting up again.

When I was fully functional, it did not personally behoove me to think about the struggles of the disabled in any great depth. As in, until I was personally affected, I wasn’t particularly keen on counting the number of handicap spaces at the local grocery or if the hand rails were up to code. During the time I had to use the wheelchair and eventually a walker/cane to get around, most people could lump an apparatus to a body and not ask twice about the wherefores of my activities. There were no angry “Did you just see her push that automatic door button? Lazy-ass millennial!” following me around. More often than not they were religiously and awkwardly inclined to offer unhelpful advice about my condition. Also known as: If I hear another “God bless you, child, the Lord has plans for you” speech in my life I will scream. And finally, as someone who schleps about with back/nerve pain (plus a torn plantar fascia muscle), but who doesn’t “look” disabled, it still amazes me how people  who don’t know anything about my life and hold zero doctoral or medical degrees can still say things like, “You’re not actually hurt. Go see a therapist.” Seriously.

It seems as if every week that passes there’s some new story on the internet about some busy body writing out a letter shaming a seemingly non-disabled person for parking in a handicap spot. While I’m sure there are numerous politic or scientifically appropriate words available to describe the psychology behind the people who do this kind of thing, my personal view is that it’s rather telling of individuals lacking in critical thinking skills.

And if that sounds harsh, keep in mind that until you’ve had to live with an invisible disability (or ANY disability at all), you don’t know how awful or how good people can be… unless you’ve witnessed someone receiving this kind of treatment first hand. It’s that strange dichotomy you may have heard of before and it’s called “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

So, we do try (because we’ll be damned anyways). Trying leads to finding new ways to accomplish old tasks. Life doesn’t get easier, we just get better at it. As if that weren’t enough, we get to find out first hand who our real friends are, who was only there for the good times, and who wants to put us down simply for not fitting into a narrow box of stereotypes about the disabled. Living life to the fullest takes on a new urgency and meaning, especially in terms of trying to find joy and distraction from the pain/challenges. Simple day to day things for a disabled person can range anywhere from mildly daunting to feeling like an event straight out of the able-bodied Olympics. Gravity, we learn, is not just a force of physics but also a heartless bitch (to paraphrase one Sheldon Cooper).

Oh, and that humanity comes in two flavors: awesome forces of good and awesome forces of awful.

The simple fact of the matter is: If you don’t know whether that person is actually disabled or not, don’t assume. It’s one thing if you hear them boasting about how they use their grandmother’s car to defraud the public, it’s something completely different if you have an unsubstantiated opinion.

You don’t know what medication this person has had to swallow just to get out of bed. You don’t know the sacrifices they’ve made to get to the point where they can finally venture out from solely living between the doctor’s office and their own four walls. You don’t know how much energy it takes to smile even though the last thing they want to do is pretend to be happy. But we do it for our friends and family, more importantly we do it for ourselves because you gotta fake it till you make it.

When you tell someone that they can’t possibly in too much pain because they’re doing something painful but that makes them happy, what you’re essentially saying is that people living with disability have no right to find a reason to live. That they must shut themselves away in a world of depression, that it’s better for them not to try, and that their only worth to society is as a stereotypical confirmation of everything you think is true about disability.

I can’t imagine what kind of misery these people are living that they feel they must leave notes on stranger’s cars or to be enraged by the fact that someone doesn’t want to be alone and trapped in a house for three days when instead they could spend it with friends one last time.

In any case, it’s not our job to prove just how awful a disability is by shutting ourselves in. We shouldn’t be shamed into constantly looking as ill as we feel or to become depressed to prove that we are in fact struggling with everyday life. And it’s time we shed light on this, because even though the able-bodied may outnumber the disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the able-bodied will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad. The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…

1. WE DO NOT QUIT!!!

“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous 😉

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though 😀

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Happy 2016 And The Great Disappearance Act

Spent a blissful two and a half weeks with my family in California and close friend in Texas (shout out to Kimmy dearest for taking me to NASA and feeding me brisket!) for the first time since moving to Japan. In the spirit of the holidays, my technology was turned off in order to properly revel in family and friend time. Needless to say, I ate EVERYTHING (the trespass of which I was already admonished for during Wednesday’s ballet class #YOLO #ITWASWORTHEVERYCALORIE #MYTUTUSTILLFITSIFISUCKITIN), but even better than food was the quality time I spent among the people who love and support me most in the world: my parents.

My dad took a significant amount of time off of work to take me to all manner of doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, drive me around, play games well past both our bedtimes, and watch all the movies and TV shows that we needed to catch up on. Mum’s schedule, being what it was, allowed for mostly afternoon jaunts but I’m grateful for every precious second I spent in their company. Oh, yes, and my sister 😉 She and I put up with each other marvelously well, all things considered.

So that brings me to the month before I was in the States, when the internet pulled a great disappearing act. What happens when you’ve been paying your bills on time, when your router set isn’t broken, and the only problem showing up is “Check with your provider”?

Something I learned about Japanese internet: you will be dealing with three separate companies (Finance, Internet Provider’s Provider, and said Internet Provider) none of which have any helpful English lines in place (NTT claims it does; does not; and only NTT Finance had anyone remotely fluent enough to provide the assistance I needed via the Finance side).

I dedicate this post to Mari from NTT Finance, who not only bullied NTT into releasing my information to me (thus saving me an extra seven business days per interaction, a total of 21 once totaled), but generally got S*** done. I have never met anyone with such a go-getter attitude this side of the Pacific. Where everyone else was like, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that and I’m not going to ask my superior because this is the one way things have always been done”, Mari’s response was very Disney “Let’s see what we CAN do about this problem”. Sadly this only got me as far as: Well, it’s not NTT’s fault. It’s your provider’s.

To which my brilliant response was: I thought NTT was my provider.

And a witty repartee ensued.

NTT: No. We take care of the finance side and NTT East provides the service to a provider who then has you pay for the glory of signing a contract with them.

ME: So you haven’t choked my internet and it’s not a financial issue?

NTT: That’s about right, Ms. Customer.

ME: So who’s my provider?! I only ever received information from NTT!

NTT: Uh, we can’t disclose that information.

ME: Whaaaaa…. How am I supposed to solve anything?

NTT: …

So while I keep receiving bills for internet I’m theoretically supposed to be able to use… I don’t actually have internet and I am now currently leaching off my workplace.

I hope to update with all manner of Foreign Film Friday posts that never got published and photos from the holidays and travel information I amassed over said holidays… all of which are stuck on my American phone, but I can’t until my WIFI is back. Work doesn’t have WIFI, we just have the LAN connection chord of doom.

Hopefully this is resolved. Soon. >.>”

Resolved as of 11:40 am. Three cheers for being taught how to hack into your router and resetting the damn thing. YAY! \O/

DIY 03: Do you want to make a snow globe?

 
::MATERIALS::

1 jar

Christmas decoration that can be submerged in water

Glitter

Glycerine

Distilled water

Hot glue gun

Miscellaneous outer decorative stickers/fabric/ribbons/etc (optional)

::DIRECTIONS::

1. Center your Christmas decoration on the inner side of the lid and mark the spot with a marker. You want to make sure that the jar will be able to go around it without problems.

2. Take your hot glue gun and coat the bottom of your decorative piece of choice. Set aside.

3. Pour distilled water into the jar, leaving a bit empty at the top.

4. Add a couple drops of glycerine. Keep in mind that more glycerine creates viscosity (resistance to flow); the glitter will swirl and fall slower with more glycerine. Too much glycerine and the glitter will clump.

5. Sprinkle some glitter. Seal the lid to the jar and voila! You now have a snow globe!

Great craft for kids and holiday lessons.

Destination X

Wednesday’s are always a fun day. Everything from three-second rule gaffes during home economics to messy self portraits in art and, of course, English lessons. If there’s an opportunity for me to attend a workshop with the kids, I know within five minutes of entering the office. As far as JET experiences go, I wish more schools were like this. Especially since all the down time with the kids makes for greater trust once they graduate to the middle school, where I teach all levels.

So it was with a mixture of anticipation and amusement that I stood before my favorite sixth years. I’ve come to trust them in many ways: asking them to help me research local dialects spoken by their grandparents, taste testing food they’ve prepared solo, water balloon fights, recommendations for places to visit within the prefecture. Now, I was about to integrate a lesson with real world application…

“So we’ve learned a lot about other countries in this unit.”

A couple of shy yeses pop up like groundhogs in the spring. Mostly it’s quiet. I take a deep breath.

“Where should I go on my next vacation?”

“Eh?”

“Nani?”

Their teacher translates. They look back at me, half-amused and half shocked.

“I’ll go anywhere – except war zones – I’ll take pictures to show you and I’ll bring something back for everyone to see.”

Everyone reacts. “MAJI DE!”

This is the equivalent of NO WAY. Also sometimes translated as YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME and YOU’RE CRAZY.

“No, I’m 100% majiME (serious).” Luckily my lousy attempt at a pun goes unnoticed…

“France!”

“Egypt!”

“Brazil!”

“ISLAM!”

We do a 7 minute review on why Islam is not a country. And yet they’re still too enthusiastic, excited even, to pay attention.

“Okay, okay! How about next week we write down suggestions on a slip of paper and I’ll draw one from a box.”

“Maji.”

That seems to be the theme of this semester: crazy English, crazy adventures ;D

We’ll see how it goes but at the moment all we’ve decided is that this trip must take place by Silver Week 2016 and I must take many pictures with myself in front of famous places and bring something back.

紅葉 – Kouyou

A wildfire of scarlet leaves has spread across Touhoku and the three day weekend offered the perfect opportunity to chase them across the beautiful, scenic landscape. We stayed at free campsites and accessible road stop stations along the way, paying only for toll roads, gas, onsen, and food. Total it cost about $200-300 between the two of us (approximately $150-200 per person for all three days). It’s a cheap and back roads method of travel for the more adventurous, although hotels and hostels are easy to find at each prefecture.

Towada-Hachimantai National Park is the remains of a shield volcano (the kind that forms over millennia of oozing lava) and has many lovely look out posts as you drive up and around it. It borders Aomori and Iwate, making it the perfect bridge between the two prefectures. For the shortest and easiest climb, drive the car to the last rest stop on the mountain and take a lovely hour and a half hike through trees and marshlands. The peak is dotted with curiously named marshes (Megane-numa, for example, is a duet of two very round ponds that supposedly look like glasses when viewed from above). The paths are paved for the most part, rendering proper hiking shoes with grips unnecessary.

You’re going to meet entire families or groups of friends/tourists hiking with you or passing you on their way down. Best thing to do is offer a friendly ‘Hello’ or if you can muster up the courage to do it in Japanese it will make them even happier. Advanced speakers can even through in a good old ‘Otsukare-sama desu’ for good measure; watch their eyes light up and laughter slip from their lips. Most of the time they’re going to want to strike up some conversation, to practice their English, and to ask where you’re from. It can take a couple minutes from your hike but worth the cultural exchange.

Our next stop took us to Mt. Kurikoma, a stratovolcano located between Akita and Yamagata. In its history, the volcano erupted twice, violently leaving two caldera scars as parting gifts for the amateur geologist to marvel over. The climb up and down lasts about three hours, if you have a set of good working knees, and features a gorgeous variety of volcanic activity : sulfur lakes and streams (harnessed by mankind for the popular mineral onsen), steaming fumaroles, fertile flat lands, and basalt deposits. Pro tip: pack Hokkairou (heat patches), check weather reports in advance, and don’t start your hike after 1pm if you have bad knees. We eventually made it out of the mountain with our quick wits and a cell phone flashlight but there were more than a couple times that we thought it would be a close call as the battery levels dropped ever lower and the storm grew from sprinkle to pelting rain to wind lashes and rain combined.

As you can see from the pictures below, there are very few truly bright red/orange trees left. There was a terribly strong wind in the days leading up to our departure. By the time we arrived we were only able to enjoy the remnants of what I’m sure had been a gloriously vibrant kouyou experience only days before. Still, even the burnished gold leaves made for a captivating climb. Also, the photos below were taken with an iPhone camera and no filters. I probably didn’t do the colors justice, but I tried my best!

October 01: World Ballet Day

Misty-Copland

Misty Copeland. Third African-American soloist for American Ballet Theater. Misty details the challenges of finding work and recognition as a minority dancer with a different body type in her biography.


Across time zones and across cultures, it’s World Ballet Day and the tutus and pointe shoes are out of the closet for a full 24 hours on BBC’s live stream of the event… And I’m two days late posting this  (^-^)” My schedule being what it is at the moment, I was absolutely exhausted. I didn’t even give it a go at the home made barre.

Perhaps my favorite BBC footage:

My own journey with ballet came late in life, just a little over two years ago. I can’t say exactly what prompted me to take up the barre as my mistress. For twelve long years I’d slaved away for Euterpe at the altar of music and composition. At 17, I chose my confirmation name as Cecilia solely for the fact that she was the patron saint of music. To chair as first flute in my high school orchestra was the single most defining point of my life.

And as a young gymnast and student of karate, I’d scoffed at the dainty little girls in the studio next door all lined up in a row, decked out in girly pink leotards and slippers, practicing their tame plie and tendu combinations while I was learning how to fly in the air or how to disarm a potential assailant. The sexism ran deep in those days of my younger self. I know better now not only because I have been educated and have become the wiser for it but also because I now have first hand experience on how bitchy a plie can be to execute properly, let alone a properly turned out tendu.

For those who have never taken up ballet, not even in their younger years, let me tell you: the struggle is real. Fine motor skills and incredibly muscle control are necessary to attain even a modicum of grace. The impact on the knees and insoles is unbelievable. Ballerinas will be some of the strongest people you will meet, psychologically and physically.

Somehow or other, twelve years after my first music lesson, I found myself trading up Euterpe’s golden stand for Terpsichore’s wood-floored studio one balmy summer night at the university. It could’ve been anything: yoga, hip hop, coding classes. For whatever reason, it became ballet.

tanaquil

Tanaquil Le Clercq. Her career ended tragically when she contracted polio at the height of her artistry at age 27. She became a prolific teacher in her later years.

Early the week of my first lesson, I’d gone to the local dance store with clammy hands and a sudden fear of judgment. When you think about ballet, about beginner ballerinas, the image is almost always of a mommy & me class or of a preteen or adolescent. It’s almost never of the 20-60 year old woman who has seen the world and wants to continue discovering new things about herself.

There were girls nearly half my age being fitted for their first pointes, a moment as defining of a ballerina’s life as it had been for me to attain first chair-ship in high school wind ensemble. It took me an hour of pretend browsing through racks of clothes, peeking over at the veteran employees, before I could pluck up the courage to ask for help. In the end, I purchased a simple, black leotard and skin colored tights (even as I was embarking on the greatest self-experiment of my life, I still had misgivings about the color pink) but there would be no avoiding it for the shoes; amazingly, my worn out leather Bloch slippers are now my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. 

From day one of abdomen ass-kicking at the hands of ballet and the perfectionist Madame Darcy, I fell madly in love with feeling so incredibly vulnerable and yet so alive. I’d never moved my body as a dancer. Still, that first night’s experience was an enlightenment. I felt human again.

The glittering world of ballet is quite possibly one of the most feminist dance forms around, which sounds crazy to say considering how little girls are groomed from a young age to attain a near impossible physical ideal. But comparatively, in ballet, it is the woman and not the man who is the centerpiece and leader in the dance. The scene of stardom is dominated by a slew of incredible prima ballerinas across history while only a handful of male dancers have been able to push past to the ranks of single name status world-renown. And not for a want of talent or grace or strength, either, as the male body is comprised of more muscle than its female counterpart. Still, while every generation or so produces a single male dancer who achieves the same level of worldwide stardom as their female counter part, it seems as if there are easily five or ten times as many women on the international scene who achieve that same level of recognition or higher. There are prima ballerinas (cream of the crop) and then there are prima ballerina assoluta (a title for only the most exceptional of the cream of the crop), one which applies only to women. As far as I know there is no male equivalent. Perhaps it’s the ephemeral pointe work, the selling point of ballet, which applies only to women that produces this fame effect.

For those dancers or aspiring dancers who are not completely convinced about ballet, the evolution of this dance form is still in process. Many fear that ballet is too rigid an art form to be popular in the new age of spontaneity and fluidity. Also, the main repertoire revolves around The Classics (classics that were classics even during you great grandmother’s time): Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, etc. Very few living ballerinas have had choreography created solely for them. But this changing.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2f-AvMve1N

I hope that more and more people discover the arts, in all its forms, and take a moment to truly appreciate them. It almost feels as if every year, more and more programs are cut simply on the premise of being unrelated to business or generating money and there useless.

Foreign Film Fridays 01: Mostly Martha

Because what’s not to love about watching films on Fridays about foreign worlds? A weekly series of posts to follow on all sorts of films: thriller, romance, action, mystery, and just down right quirky from all countries and languages. If you have any suggestions, by all means leave a comment! I would love to receive suggestions for more foreign films. Opening this weekly series we have…

mostlymartha

Original Title: Bella Martha
Year: 2001
Country: Germany
Language: German
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 45 minutes
Availability: Netflix

The film begins with a mouth-watering, epicurean description of food as the eponymous protagonist details to her therapist how she would go about preparing the perfect full course meal. DISCLAIMER: DO NOT WATCH ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. I did and regretted it within the first two minutes.

The plot is deceptively simple: Martha is a single, German woman with a passion for cuisine who must learn to reorient her life around a new Italian coworker and to care for her orphan niece after the untimely death of her sister.  For those who have seen the American version, No Reservations (2007) with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, the German original will breathe new life and understanding into its American counterpart.

But while similar in the main plot, No Reservations features an all Caucasian main cast, which in turn renders Mostly Martha‘s original secondary plots useless in the remaking. Other differences include the pacing of the film. American films tend to be fast-paced, segue easily and fluidly from one scene to the next, and stitch themselves together into a false sense of artistic perfection.  I say false because in the seamless move from main scene to main scene you miss the little scenes, the imperfect little fillers that give a film its realistic essence. By comparison, Mostly Martha is shot to give the viewer as much background context as possible about who Martha is and life around her. There are main scenes, not so main scenes, and fillers shots of the characters at their most candid. None of the romance or her flaws are romanticized or glossed over; the story reveals itself gradually at a natural pace. When Martha and Mario kiss, they don’t go at it calmly or at just-the-right angle, they simply have a go at kissing like most of us do, however awkward it may be to watch.

Also of note, our alliterative culinary artiste duo have all the tension and chemistry that two people from vastly different background can possess. From language and culture to the way in which they run their kitchens and the food the make – everything, except their shared love for the art of cooking, is different. As they learn how to bridge their differences through their commonalities and how to accept each other as they are, Martha’s and Mario’s characters grow. The secondary plot issues, palpable between German-born Martha and Italian Mario, revolve around race and who is an insider versus an outsider.This in turn makes his food that much more exotic to Martha, who has never once been to Italy and can only experience it through Mario’s cooking. Indeed, this film feels as much a discovery of culture and intercultural interactions as it is about the food and the romance.

Unfortunately, No Reservations also has no underlying current of bridging cultures and worlds through food. It’s feels more like two people who have a different administrative approach and can’t seem to see eye to eye on the running of a kitchen. While Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character prefers French cuisine and Aaron Eckhart’s cooks Italian, different culinary tastes do not an intrinsic cultural battle make. Also her descriptions of the food fall flat with her calm and quiet demeanor, where Martina Gedeck’s take flight through use of sensual intonation and passionate  verbal caresses. While I love and prefer the modern cinematography of No Reservations (and Catherine and Aaron do have chemistry), I would rate Mostly Martha as the better of the two films for its diversity and for being more than just a romantic caper between two chefs.

Both films are wonderful (yes, I went there) and worth watching… just not on an empty stomach! Bon appetit!

Cuore Hachinohe

This sweet little cafe has no official website, though it should! It’s not close to city center, in fact just getting there feels like a drive through the backwoods of the countryside if you’re going via Gonohe, and the parking lot can hold only three cars at a time.

But if you can make it and you don’t have to hunt down parking away from the cafe, it’s more than worth your time. The atmosphere is adorably organic: everywhere there are handmade crafts decorating the window sills, the tables are made of wood, and even the pasta is made fresh. Because it’s family run operation the opening hours should be checked in advance (most Tuesdays seemed to be closed according to their calendar). Another quirk, if the menu is read correctly, coffee (without a food set) is only served after 2pm.

On the upside: all coffee comes with GORGEOUS art! ❤

Uriba-18-2 Kawaragi, Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture