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?

Reaccepting the Unacceptable

I have posted before (a while ago) about the cycling stages of accepting my rheumatoid arthritis I go through when new things crop up. But this week I’ve thinking a bit about why it’s so hard to be okay with stuff getting worse when I’ve already gone through the process of trying to be okay numerous times in the past.

This week I went to see a nurse practitioner about my toenail (my doctor couldn’t fit me in for another few weeks). Because of my Raynaud’s Syndrome, the toenail had gotten weird and had to be removed about two years ago. It grew back more dragonish than before, and has recently started to hurt whenever any pressure (i.e. shoes) is applied. The nurse gave me a referral to see a foot specialist person, which is pretty much what I expected and wanted.

We had the standard exchange:
Nurse: It says here you have rheumatoid arthritis. How’s that going?
Me: Oh, well, fine.
Nurse: Wow, you’re so young…
Me: Mhmm.

Got in the car feeling pretty okay and started to drive. It took a few minutes before her words started ringing in my ears and the old pain and grief resurged in full force. I started having the panicky feeling that everything was spinning out of control again (not that it’s ever really controlled) and flashbacked to those worst health-related moments throughout the years. I was sad, sad, sad, and staring again into the abyss of what-if’s and why’s. All this a knee jerk reaction to a fairly uneventful appointment that went the way I expected.

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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.)

Dear Dr. Tolkien

Wrote this while I was abroad, but I didn’t get the chance to take it to Tolkien’s grave. Thought I’d share anyway.

Dear Dr. Tolkien,

I wanted to thank you for changing my life.

When I was a little girl, my dad would read your books to me and my siblings. He read them three times to us, when I was eight, and again when I was twelve, and again when I was fourteen. When I was twelve I prayed for Frodo after he was stabbed. Later I remember running to the book and turning to the passage in the Mines of Moria, gasping in relief when I saw it said that Gandalf was gone, not dead.

I think I learned to love fiction as I listened to your books.

I think your books are why I began to love to write.

One day when you were writing your manuscript, your eyes were tired and you didn’t want to be working, and the words came out muddled and wrong. You couldn’t have known what those words would become. You didn’t know that one day my mother would read your words in her second edition of Lord of the Rings. You didn’t know my father would study your words in his college class. And you couldn’t have imagined a bunch of little American kids hanging on those words every night.

You couldn’t have known what those words would come to mean to me. It isn’t just a story. It’s the sound of my dad’s voice when he’s exhausted from working three jobs. It’s the smell of my mother’s edition—musty old pages wrapped in decades of my family. It’s the comfort on that night when my bloodwork came back bad, and I opened the book and read, “I do not believe this darkness will endure.”

One day those words stopped being yours and they became mine.

And that, I think, is the beauty of fiction. It just keeps growing, gathering lives and memories and interweaving them in a text.

That’s why I want to write.

Thank you, Mr. Tolkien, for your words. They have taught me that joy is sometimes like swords, that darkness will not endure, that healing doesn’t always come in this world. They have been my Sam when I thought I was carrying the Ring alone. Thank you.

Thank you for changing my life.

Sincerely,

Alyssa Hollingsworth

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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