Three Readings in 24 Hours

The last day of class also happened to be the launch party of my last edition of Ramifications—and by “my last edition” I mean the last copy of Ram I worked on as a staff member or editor. We opened the evening with a slam poetry competition that went surprisingly well (considering I didn’t even know if anyone was going to come for it). I don’t know much about slam poetry, I admit, but I really liked the poems that were performed. Afterwards we had an open mic for music and regular readings. I read one of my poems and one of my short stories, Thanksgiving in Philadelphia.

Dr. Watkins has always played old Appalachian/bluegrass ballads almost every launch party since I came to Berry. When he was singing this time was the closest I came to crying—not because it was a sad song (it wasn’t), but because for four years that’s been one of my favorite parts of the semester. So I teared up, but I didn’t cry.

Overall we had a great turnout and a lot of fun. After everyone left, my staff and volunteers presented me with a little chest filled with quill pens, inkwells and a journal. I nearly teared up again, but I held it together admirably.

The next day, “Reading Day,” I had two other readings. The first was a poetry reading celebrating the end of Poetry Month. People spread out blankets and set up folding chairs outside the library, and they had angel food cake and lemonade. Students and some faculty read their own poetry and a few favorite poems by famous authors. I read a couple of poems, including one called The Flare, which is about Rheumatoid Arthritis. After the reading, a woman I didn’t know approached me and said, “My daughter has Rheumatoid Arthritis, and your poem told me more about what that’s like than anything she’s shared, anything her doctors have told me, or anything I’ve read. Thank you.”

Right in the feels, guys. Right in the feels. It meant so much to me to hear that.

Later that night was my senior reading. The other creative writing majors and I went out for a pre-game to help people relax. (I relaxed over a big glass of tea—others chose different drinks.) It was interesting chatting with people who’d been my classmates for years but who I hadn’t really hung out with before.

After prep talking each other, we went to the reading. It was in the fancy Ford living room, which has a lot of Italian art and stuff. There wasn’t a huge turnout, but that was fine with me. Everyone did great. I read an excerpt from my 20 page short story, Bloodroot Blooming, and a little bit from Naan in the Afghan Village. We hung around afterwards eating the snacks and talking to professors and generally just goofing off. It was a lot of fun, and having so many readings this semester has helped me overcome some of my fear of reading in front of people. Perks of being a senior?

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Farewell, 2012

2012 started with me thinking my finger had collapsed and I would not be able to go abroad. I have to say, the rest of the year was filled with enormous blessings and healing.

This year, I:

  • Made my home in England.
  • Took an impromptu weekend trip to Barcelona, and saw a cathedral that left me gaping.
  • Flew the TARDIS.
  • Stood in front of the Book of Kells in an empty room. Had my jaw drop in Trinity Library.
  • Got a literary tour of Bath (England) with my obscure knowledge of a ha-ha wall.
  • Sat in a room full of Irishmen (and Scotsmen) on St. Patrick’s Day and felt the floor vibrate with our singing.
  • Discovered my dear love, electric bicycles, and biked Inishmore.
  • Spent long afternoons in an archive pouring over Ian Serriallier’s letters.
  • Managed to get my English professor to say (in his England accent), “Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!”
  • Saw hundreds of Medieval manuscripts, and later Tolkien, Jane Austen, and other manuscripts–separated only by glass.
  • Wrote in pubs, and went so frequently the staff knew I’d order tea before I got to the bar.
  • Walked the sandy duns of Wales, and later hiked along the cliffs.
  • Sprinted, laughing, from shelter to shelter to hide from stinging rain in Cornwall.
  • Ran up the medieval walls of Conwy and nearly fell down a tower in Conwy Castle.
  • Hiked to a stone circle with my mom, surrounded by peaks and lakes.
  • Walked along Hadrian’s Wall, making friends with other hikers and reveling in the continuous beauty.
  • Looked out my window at the Highlands, shrouded in mist and rain.
  • Attended the most welcoming church I have ever been to, where their prayer and worship humbled me.
  • Fell in love with my new home, and had to leave it.
  • Put my dear dog Rosey down.
  • Sat with my professor almost every Tuesday night being tutored in writing, and learned more than I’ve ever known about grammar and storytelling.
  • Attended Mountain Day with my family and my grandparents.
  • Went on a mad, wonderful trip with the [SOUP] staff to Chattanooga.
  • Wrestled a sheep.
  • Took Kyley to a pub.
  • Pulled off a fantastic launch party for Ramifications, with the help of an amazing staff.
  • Dressed up for the Hobbit midnight showing and brought the whole family along.
  • Didn’t have one single surgery.

Alyssa vs. Rheum., Round 756

Today I was walking to the library, which is about five minutes from my townhouse, and I couldn’t make it. I had to stop and rest.

After about ten steps from my townhouse, that autoimmune fatigue started settling over me like a boulder. The best way I can describe this sort of fatigue is that I can feel every heartbeat sluggish and heavy. I have to concentrate on taking deep breaths, and every one is like breathing through a straw. If I close my eyes, I become dizzy. The pressure on the back of my head makes a migraine buzz behind my eyes.

I think I feel it today because I have the leisure to feel it. All week I’ve been exhausted, wearing out faster than I used to, needing more sleep than normal but waking up unrefreshed. On Wednesday I was waiting for the elevator, and I closed my eyes and let myself fall against the wall just to get the weight off me for a second. I was playing my Afghan flute yesterday, and had to stop after about fifteen minutes because it hurt my fingers so badly. It’s like my tolerance for everything has plummeted.

I don’t know if this is what it’s going to be like off steroids. I hope it’s just a phase–just me getting used to living without that cushion. But I don’t know.

In some ways, I’m glad I stopped at that bench. Last year, I would have screwed up my face and forced myself to make it. I would have arrived in the library aching, exhausted, likely having injured my ankles or shoulders with my stubbornness, and probably almost crying with frustration. Today I fixed my eyes on the bench and allowed myself to admit a small defeat. Today it was okay to stop.

(It’s funny that I still think of this as a battle. Maybe that’s not the healthiest way to see things–me vs. it. But I think it helps me feel a small measure of control, at least.)

Today I Wrestled a Sheep (And Other Thoughts on Disability)

One thing that fascinates me, perhaps in a morbid way, is how disability and disease effects every part of a person’s life–especially when it’s not an physically obvious diseases.

Today I read Nancy Mairs’s essay Disability, which I’d highly recommend. One of my favorite quotes comes at the end:

But it will be a good bit easier psychologically if you are accustomed to seeing disability as a normal characteristic, one that complicates but does not ruin human existence. Achieving this integration, for disabled and able-bodied people alike, requires that we insert disability daily into our field of vision: quietly, naturally, in the small and common scenes of our ordinary lives.

Here is a bit of disability in my daily field of vision:

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21 Pictures of 21

I generally like to be sentimental about my birthday, so this year I thought I’d show off the highlights in 21 pictures.

21 was filled with the recovery from three surgeries on my hands.

Thanksgiving in wine country in CA. Being greeted by my siblings and nieces wearing mustaches.

Christmas is always exciting with my family.

Studying abroad and making fantastic friends!

The first pub visit, with Hilary!

The beginnings of a new story.

A spontaneous trip to Barcelona and the wonder of that cathedral.

The literary tour of Bath!

The Doctor Who Experience in London!

A visit to Germany with my sister.

Biking Inishmore in Ireland with some awesome people.

Wales and wind and walking.

Anna and our adventures!

Horseback riding in the Burren.

Mom and I in Scotland.

Hiking Hadrian’s Wall.

These shoes were new when I left.

Back at work at Berry.

Great Gatsby Gala.

My last Mountain Day–holding hands with a boy!

Friends at Mountain Day after our last march.

21 was a year of healing, of discovery, and of friendships. It wasn’t easy… but it was good.

The Meaning of Okay

I’ve been thinking for a while about the meaning of the word “okay.” It’s odd, because that word is fairly nonchalant, but in my experience can be the most comforting and appropriate thing to say to someone when they’re in pain.

When I was seeing a therapist last fall, one of the things she had to tell me almost every week was this: “Just take a deep breath and tell yourself, ‘It’s okay.'” I started walking around with that in my head like a playlist on repeat. It’s okay, it’s okay.

Of course, it wasn’t really (nonchalantly) okay. I was trying to cope with my Rheumatoid Arthritis, with surgeries and with some pretty serious depression. But saying that to myself seemed to help. Those times when someone would put their arms around me and say the most comforting things had the word “okay” in their gestures or in their speech.

Normally when I am trying to comfort someone going through something–diagnosed with RA or something else–my go-to phrase is, “You’re going to be okay.” When I say this, I mean: Everything will be okay. Maybe not today, but eventually.

But today I couldn’t say that to someone.

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