Being other

A long, long, time ago, my Girl Scout troop worked on a badge with a requirement where we had to somehow experience some type of disability.

The normal response to this sort of thing would be to blindfold everyone and have them experience what it would be like to be blind. You have all probably either done this, or seen other people do it. The problem with this sort of exercise, of course, is that by virtue of the blindfold, it is very clear to everyone around them exactly what is going on. So while the person *wearing* the blindfold can’t see, anyone watching knows full well that they’re not really blind at all.

So in order for us to fulfill this particular requirement, our troop decided to do something a bit different. By some quirk of fate, the assistant leader had access to certain equipment, and so on the evening in question, she showed up with a whole bunch of wheelchairs.

These were manual-operated chairs, so we all had to practice for a bit to get the hang of how to maneuver them (it wasn’t easy). There were also only enough for half of us to use at a time, so it was decided we’d do it in two parts. We divided into pairs, and within each pairing, one girl was in the wheelchair when we all went out to dinner, while the second girl got the chair afterwards, during a trip to a shopping mall, with the walking half of the pair there to help maneuver, and to provide any assistance that the chair-occupying half would need. We were, of course, admonished to be very careful; that we were not to treat this as a joke and therefore offend people; that those who were in the chairs were to use them as if they truly could not move their legs. Once we’d all gotten the hang of how to use them, we loaded everything into a couple vans and set off.

I do not recall whether the troop leader had called ahead to let them know there’d be a lot of people in wheelchairs at the restaurant, although I’m sure she had to at least make a reservation and check to make sure the space was handicap accessible. This was, by the way, before the  Americans with Disabilities Act and all its related building requirements became law, which is possibly why we ended up having such a hard time in the bathroom – we couldn’t figure out how to maneuver the chairs into the handicap stall and eventually just had one half of the pair stand guard to make sure no one else was coming into the restroom while the other quickly used the facilities and then hopped back into the chair with no one the wiser.

Afterwards, we loaded everything back up into the vans and headed off to a shopping mall, where we swapped out who was the walker and who was the chair-bound person. I was in the chair in the mall, and I remember having fun, toodling around in the stores, checking out clothing, trying to figure out how to find the elevator in the department store, laughing and having a grand time in a group and generally just acting like normal teenage girls.

And then at the end of the evening, we all piled back into the vans and we drove back to wherever it was we’d first met up, and we turned in the chairs, and we went on with our lives,

I am not telling you this story in order to claim that, by virtue of having spent a couple hours in a wheelchair, I suddenly gained insight into what it is like to live with a physical disability, because clearly, no.

I am telling you this story because of the thing that I remember most about the whole experience. 

Not everyone treated us differently. Most of them just went about their business, or smiled hello, or just generally treated us like any other pack of giggling teenage girls out for an evening, having fun.

But I remember that in the restaurant, the wait staff, when they came to take our orders, never asked the girls in the chairs what they wanted to eat. Instead they asked the visibly ‘able-bodied’ person sitting next to them what the chair-bound person wanted.

And I remember that in the mall, that the general reactions were to either outright ignore us, or else to shy away from us,as if being in a wheelchair was somehow catching. I remember that when we tried to go buy some ice cream, that the clerk literally could not see us over the counter; that the ‘able-bodied’ girls were the ones who had to get their attention, and that they, too, didn’t seem to know how to address us directly.

I was pretty oblivious as a child. I have it on good authority that I was also pretty oblivious as a teenager. I am sure that even as an adult, I am still not as aware of everything around me as I really ought to be.

But I remember what it felt like, to be treated as ‘less than’, simply because I was sitting in a wheelchair. And to watch my friends being treated as ‘less than’ as well.

I bet that every single person who made a joke at our expense that night would be quick to defend that *they* don’t discriminate.

And I am sure that if you asked the wait staff – the ones who directed all their questions to the ‘able-bodied’ and not to the chair-bound girls – if they discriminated, they would insist that they didn’t.

But just because they didn’t mean to be hurtful, doesn’t make their behavior any less wrong.

We all have our own biases, against those who are ‘other’ to us. It might be color of skin, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religion, or culture, or any of a myriad of different reasons. And we can all claim as much as we want that *we’re* not racist; *we’re* not sexist; *we* don’t see color; *we* don’t discriminate.

But every single one of us has, at some point in the past, said or done things that made someone else feel ‘less than’, whether we actively meant to or not. And every single one of us will at some point in the future, do or say things that makes someone else feel ‘less than’, and whether we mean to do it or not doesn’t matter if the insult has been made.

But more importantly, every single one of us will see, or hear, someone around us say, or do something that demeans people for being ‘other’ – whether it is their weight, or their religion, or their sexual orientation, or their gender, or their race, or their culture, or their political party, and on and on. It might be said as a joke, even though it isn’t funny. It might be said in anger, even though that should never be a justification. It might be yet another report in the news, or a story shared online, of someone who, once again, has been pushed aside, or stopped by the police, or sexually assaulted, or killed, or even just pecked away at, over and over again, by the relentless racism and sexism and ableism that is so deeply, firmly ingrained in this society.

But when we do not speak up to say ‘hey, that’s not okay’, we are part of the problem.

When we insist ‘oh, it’ can’t be that bad, ‘ or ‘well she must have been asking for it,’ or ‘he must have done something to *deserve* being beaten or shot’, or ‘those radicals who enact terrible acts in the name of their religion *clearly* speak for all of them’, or ‘you’re just being too sensitive’, or ‘can’t you take a joke?’ or, or, or, then we are part of the problem.

When we get uncomfortable with being called on our complacency and splutter back with #NotAllMen, #NotAllChristians, #NotAllWhites instead of actually *listening* to the people who are telling us ‘look, these things are happening, they are real, they exist’ and doing our best to see things from their point of view, we are part of the problem.

We shouldn’t have to be the one to experience the racial profiling, or the sexism, or the nasty comments, or the discrimination, in order to recognize and accept that it exists.

We just have to be willing to listen. We have to look outside of our own insulated social bubbles and pay attention. And we have to speak up, even when it’s uncomfortable, or inconvenient (*especially* then) and keep speaking up, over and over, until things change.

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Clumsy

The sidewalks in front of the federal buildings in the section of DC I was in are made of square tiles, probably about a foot across. I am sure they were perfectly fine when they were first put down, but as is always the case with things laid on the ground, the tiles have started to come up a bit, here and there.

Over the past few days, I’ve watched other people catch their toes on the edges of some of the worst of the tiles, and stumble.

As I am a naturally clumsy person, it was only a matter of time before the tiles took me out. Today was that day. Except I didn’t just stumble, unfortunately. I pitched completely forward, landing hard on my hands and one knee. No one who knows me in real life is remotely surprised by this, I am sure.

So today’s been a bit of an interesting day. My shoulders ache from the force of catching myself before doing the full face-plant, and my knee has been throbbing pretty much non-stop. I suspect in a day or so I’m going to have some lovely bruises blooming on that one knee. But hey, at least this time I will know what caused them, unlike most of the times when I notice a bump or a scratch and can’t figure out what happened, which is normally the case.

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View

The view from my hotel window (Washington DC).

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Kids

The hotel in which I’m staying is surrounded by bakeries. Seriously, it seems as if you cannot go a block without passing at least two of them, on each side of the street. I can only assume that people in the government building district must eat a LOT of pastries. Perhaps this explains a lot of things.

Anyway. I’ve taken to lurking in the one nearest the hotel each morning, nursing the largest coffee I can get my hands on, while nibbling on a pastry of my own, and sometimes also knitting (the knitting takes place after the pastry is consumed, of course, as it would be unwise to mix the two of those activities). I’ve found the perfect place to lurk – in a tiny little alcove in the back that enables me to both eavesdrop on the other bakery customers, and also people-watch out the huge windows to the street outside.

This morning my favorite conversation was between a small curly-haired child and his father. I’m not sure what age the boy was, as I’m horrid at estimating that sort of thing, but I am going to guess less than 10. Anyway, it was clear that his class was going to be visiting the White House, because he was asking his dad a lot of questions. He had a lot of concerns, like whether or not they would actually get to see the President, and whether or not the President had boys or girls (girls, his dad told him. Are you sure? he asked, quite insistent that he’d seen a picture of the President with some little boys. Quite sure, the dad replied. The little boy seemed a be put out by this, which I found very amsuing). The most pressing question, however, was what if he had to go to the bathroom while he was there. They will let you use their bathroom, his dad reassured him. This seemed to get the little guy very excited – the possibility of getting to pee in the same place as the president.

And this is the awesome thing about little kids. They can always find a way to get excited about the most mundane of things.

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Year

One year ago today we went to a friend’s house to pick up some temporary house guests: a very dainty momma cat and her six one-week-old kittens.

It was a crazy, adorable, energetic few months as the babies transitioned from teeny little fuzzlumps to busy, bright-eyed kittens, and as the momma transitioned from a nervous, scared little stray to a sweet little thing who discovered that laps are good, and people are nice, and scritches are the best thing ever.

Ruby is still pretty dainty, although she has filled out a little, without kittens sucking her dry. Rupert is her very best friend (whether he knows it or not), and it has been interesting to watch her gradually mimic him. She talks now, quietly, but the same squawk as Rupert. She is still wary – of us and of strangers – but if he is there, she is markedly braver and more social.

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She gets along with everyone but Ingrid (but then Ingrid has issues with everyone). It has been so fun to see her settle in.

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Raw

I know I’ve mentioned before how much I really, really like The Great British Bake Off. So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered that there’s other versions out there – including one for Australia. Consequently, Richard and I have been making our way through the old seasons (all whopping two of them).

Tonight we were watching an episode while eating dinner (leftover curry chicken from the crockpot in case you were wondering), and one of the challenges was brownies. Mmm. Brownies, I thought. A bunch of Richard’s writer friends were supposed to be coming over for a meeting, so I figured I’d whip up a batch.

I poked around on the internet (where I normally go any time I get a yen to bake something) and found a recipe for brownies swirled with a peanut butter filling that seemed quite promising, and headed off to the kitchen to whip them up. Everything seemed to go fine during the mixing phase – nothing about the recipe sounded ‘off’ and the better certainly looked fine – but alas, it all went down hill after that.

The recipe said to bake them for 20 minutes. I checked after 20 minutes. The edges were firming up but the center was a big wobbly mess. I put them back in for another 5 minutes. And then another. And then another 10. Nope. Still wobbly. Still not cooking.

After about an hour and a half of checking them, popping them back in, and so on, I finally gave up. No brownies for the meeting. Later on Richard and I tried them. The edges were baked, and had that perfect crackle top you want from a brownie, atop a nice chewy middle, but roughly two inches from the edge, it all just went wrong. There’s moist, chewy brownies, and then there’s just raw dough, and these teetered far too close to the latter for me. Raw cookie dough can be tasty, but raw brownie batter – no. Just, no.

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Lurking

This is how Ingrid spends a majority of her day.

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Cats are so weird.

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Distance

The round trip distance to and from the campus for today’s facilities walk through: 240 miles.

The portion of the trip that went through the eternal construction zone that is highway 99: 95%.

The number of steps my Fitbit says I took today, what with hiking from the parking lot to the campus, walking through every single corridor possible in several of the classroom and research buildings, and hiking all the way *back* to the parking lot: over 12,000.

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Bag

A year or so ago, I got a bag. It is one of those canvas bags, of the type you get as swag at a convention. The thing that made this bag stand out, however, is the fact that it had a zipper. And in a house full of yarn-eating cats, the ability to keep yarn in a cat-safe zone is important. So I turned it into a knitting bag, and kept it in a cubby in the coffee table, so I could keep my project-in-progress protected.

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The problem, however, is that I am not the only one who loved this bag. I noticed it had a distressing tendency to ‘fall’ off the table, and get dragged around on the floor.

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It also, somehow, acquired a disturbingly large amount of cat hair.

So eventually, I gave up. Clearly this was not meant to be my bag. I took all my knitting stuff out, and replaced it with some old paper and a wadded up towel.

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It is a very popular bag. It’s just not mine any more.

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Petrichor

The rain came again, finally, in fits and starts, barely more than a drizzle. I’m not sure it is even worth calling it rain, instead of, perhaps, a light misting. But it was moisture, nonetheless and the air was heavy with the smell of it’s coming all day on Friday, and the skies were grey and dreary. Yesterday the air was damp and drizzly and today the streets are wet and the trees still dripping, and when I opened the windows this morning I could close my eyes and smell the aftermath.

It will be summer soon enough. For now, it is nice to still get a little taste, here and there, that it is not always hot and dry in California.

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