Prompted

I used to be a writer. A paid writer. No, really. When I was a kid, I wrote short fairy tales. Illustrated them, too. And I sold them to friends for fifty cents. I could have bought most of a gallon of gas for that back then, if I had been driving. Little young for that; couldn’t have reached the pedals. Not if I wanted to be able to see, too.

The Last Matinee
I performed on that stage. It was a happy place.

I sold four or five of those back then. I wrote sequels by request. And at school, I wrote stories and poems, essays and articles. I had teachers challenge me, unwilling to believe an 8-year-old had the vocabulary I did. I stood at the teacher’s desk, explaining what each word she didn’t believe I knew meant, using them in context outside of the paper I’d written, and faced by repeated demands to tell her my mother had written it for me. She ignored the previous teachers who recognized me early on. She wasn’t the only one, either. Fortunately, though, they were few and far between. By the time I got to high school, though, the cat was out of the bag. I had to live up to something. Especially since I went to the first school in the country to marry an arts and an academic curriculum. Long school days. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Initially, I was focused on theater and writing. I was in a choir, too; I’d been in a choir of some sort since I was 8. But by then, I had several journals for random thoughts, books of poetry I wrote and illustrated, and a few I bound – with yarn, but still…

I’d written more stories, mostly short stories, and more poems. I wanted to branch out, to see what I could do with my time and a pen and paper. I wanted to get into journalism, write for a newspaper or television station. Given the way the investigative reporting and writing have gone, I’d probably have been out of work by now anyway, so I guess that worked out. Sorta.

Newport on the Levee
Wonder what I could write about this.

I miss my writing, though. I have arthritis in my lower back, and it affects my hands and arms to the point where I can only write with a pen for so long. I use almost exclusively gel pens because they write more smoothly. that’s hard for me, because even though I can use a QWERTY keyboard without anything but the home keys marked, there’s something about putting pen to paper that feels so much more satisfying.

Still, I tried. I have a journal I’ve been writing in for over a decade. I bought it shortly before the new millennium began. Oh, and I used it. It’s a large book, no lines or anything, but something like 200 pages in a spiral-bound book, thick, hard, cardboard covers on front and back protecting it. There are still several pages left, so I think actually it’s closer to 300, but that’s not important. It’s nearly full. That’s what’s important. Sketches and drawings, even some painting, stories, story starters, and just what came out of my head.

But I still don’t write as much as I’d like. That’s part of why I started keeping a blog in the first place. I didn’t do it for the followers; I did it for me. For those of you who read, I am grateful. Gives me the incentive to keep doing it. But I run out of ideas. So, I thought I’d try following writing prompts. This is prompt #162:

Bradford Pear
Early summer blooms

Use all of the following in a poem: “a culture of solitude,” “faithful blue sky,” and “where we still discover.”

Sticky, sweet, hot and loud
Junebugs bumble through the sky
Cicadas chirp loudly from the trees
Stand outside, listen, feel
the world where we
still
discover the beauty
of a sultry night
the return of the faithful blue sky
the smell of the rich, black earth
the joy of being with others,
or creating your own
*culture of solitude
Fleeting, flying, passing quickly,
Each day is longer, hotter, more.
Then fall arrives, and it begins to fade.

Yeah, off the top of my head. I don’t think Maya Angelou has anything to worry about.

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*It’s poetry. A little poetic license isn’t exactly out of character, y’know.

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Understanding

BreakfastThis one’s not gonna be all warm and fuzzy. It’s not even going to be middle-of-the-road, and is highly likely to not be diplomatic. I will work to keep my commentary – for that is what this is – coherent. It will be difficult; this is one of the most divisive subjects we face in this country. It does boil down to haves and have-nots, except the have-nots tend to have more melanin than the haves. If you wish to comment, you are welcome to do so. If you wish to provide your point of view, whether it agrees with mine or disagrees, you are fine to do so. If your comment is full of hate, full of anger, full of offensive language, it will be deleted. If you can’t play nice, then you need to leave the playground.

Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Walk into a restaurant. One with a hostess. Let her know how many in your party. She seats you and your group, and you view your menu. Your server all but ignores you, until you actually flag him down. You finally get your drink order taken. Your glasses sit with nothing but ice in them before you can get your server’s attention. Finally he takes your meal order. Eventually your food comes out, cold, wrong. He does not treat any of his other tables, whose occupants happen to all be White, that way. You leave a poor tip. Your server complains to his co-workers about how it’s true Black people are poor tippers.

It’s spring break; college is out for a week. You’re not going to Cancun or the Bahamas or wherever like other classmates, you’re staying home. You meet up with other friends who are also staying home. You and your friends walk into a mall. The stores are a little more high-end, so you dress accordingly. One member of your group wants to get new shoes, so your group walks into a shoe store. Near the register, a cluster of sales people are standing or sitting around, talking. They see your group, they watched your group from the moment it walked in. There is no acknowledgement other than a mistrustful stare. Your friend starts picking up shoes she’s interested in, clearly and loudly showing her interest, giving the staff an opportunity to do their jobs. They do not.

You’re older, an office professional, wearing work clothes into the mall. You’d like to buy a few new dresses for work and for going out. You walk into a nice store that sells clothes in styles you like. You look around, wondering what you might try on. The salespeople are commissioned, and actively single out customers to encourage them to buy clothes. There are three sales people. Two of them are actively with customers. The third is idle, watching the door. She sees you, but writes you off as not a potential customer. She continues to watch the door, and approaches another customer who walked in after you. One of the other salespeople, a young one who hasn’t been there that long, approaches and helps you, just like she helped her previous customer. You return to that store a month later, after having spent a few hundred dollars, and the salesperson who first ignored you recognizes you and decides to help. You refuse her help and go to another salesperson who has not ignored you. She has decided you are an uppity n****r^, just like all the other ungrateful n****rs that come into her store.

These are not hypothetical situations; these have happened. I personally witnessed them, either as an observer, or an unwilling participant.

A professional sports team has various people singing the national anthem before games. Sometimes they’re famous public figures, sometimes they’re just local people. A little boy born in Texas, wearing the type of outfit you might see in a mariachi band comes out to sing, and the twitterverse explodes. Some tweet because he’s an adorable and talented little boy. Others because they decide he shouldn’t be allowed to sing our national anthem, calling it UnAmerican for this child, this American boy who’s father is a US Navy Veteran, to sing among Americans.

And in case you’re wondering, no, it wasn’t just the White folk jumping on that one. Everyone needs someone to hate, they say.

A month later, another professional sports team has someone singing “God Bless America.” This native-born New Yorker is mainstream, has had hit songs; his personal life was the object of scrutiny for a few years because of who he was married to. Two years prior, he actually sang the national anthem at Game 6 of the NBA finals, to rave reviews. Not this time. Once again, this Mexican is singing our song, destroying all this country stands for.

Just about every nation, every nationality, every culture, every religion is represented to some degree in this nation of immigrants. Both sides of my family have been here for centuries, some even before we were a country. Even if I were a naturalized citizen, though, how would that make me less American, and unworthy to praise the country I voluntarily became a part of?

Then there’s the Cheerios commercial featuring a family. A little girl is asking about the health benefits of Cheerios. Her mother tells her it’s good for the heart. She immediately runs off to help her father while he’s sleeping, by putting Cheerios on his chest where is heart is. The commercial is posted on YouTube, due to popular demand. Within hours, the video receives so many negative and outright racist comments, they have to disable the feature. The problem? A White woman and a Black man, married, with a child. A child who is obviously a combination of the two, or at least appears to be.

For some of these commenters, the marriage itself isn’t a problem; the problem is they dared to breed. No, that’s not just White people, either.

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

– Barack Hussein Obama

The president held a surprise press conference yesterday, in relation to the justice department’s look into the George Zimmerman case. He did not criticize the trial, the jury, the outcome. It went the way our justice system goes. What he did was try to explain the difference in perspective. The response? Oh, some of the things I saw friends linking to made me despair. I don’t mean disagreement, that’s fine. Well-reasoned arguments are always acceptable, whether I agree or not. Outright willful ignorance, that I have a problem with. Someone actually commented that Barack Obama couldn’t have had the same experiences, because he was raised by his White grandparents, and went to predominantly White schools, that he graduated from Harvard. How could he possibly know what he’s talking about?

I wasn’t aware that security guards and salespersons asked what school you went to before deciding whether to follow you or shun you. I had no idea that all I had to do was tell a server my mother was White, then my service would suddenly clear up. I didn’t know that you could tell the cops you were a well-regarded, world-renown college professor at a very prestigious Ivy-League school, and they wouldn’t arrest you for breaking into your own house, causing a ruckus for being arrested after showing your identification and proving you live there.

Oh, wait, that DOESN’T work.

The people who feel most threatened by this are those who want to maintain the status quo. Some just think things are working fine and you shouldn’t rock the boat. Those are the same people who millenia ago though it was a bad idea to use fire for heating and cooking. The more vocal ones realize that if everyone is finally treated equally, their lives of privilege will be over. And yes, having White skin is a privilege in this country, no matter your socio-economic status.

I am angry. It looked like things were going the right way. Then the current president was elected, and the fear and hate bubbled to the surface. Reviled by Blacks for being an ‘Uncle Tom,’ and by Whites for being, well, Black, some decided he was the most divisive president we’ve had. That’s just not true. His presence only shows the rot that has been eating away at the fragile peace we had in racial relations.

I know the world isn’t fair; it never will be. The playing field will never be level. There will always be haves and have nots, brilliant people stuck at the bottom because of their skin color, gender, religious preference, accent (that includes all the southern varieties). There will always be people who have no idea how lucky they are, who believe anyone can do what they did. There will always be people who have to be right, and people who will not listen to any other point of view. We’re all that person from time to time. Just recognize when you’re in denial, when the evidence clearly shows you are wrong, you have been misled. It’s not easy, no. The world will be the better for it, though.

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^ edited so this doesn’t trigger a nanny-meter about inflammatory language.

Invisible

Starbucks drip First-World-Problems
Well, okay, this is sad.

I have friends who will occasionally complain about something, then quip “first-world problem,” or offer that as a reply on someone else’s conversation thread. Well sure, we live in the US, which is considered part of the first world (a bit bass-ackward, but that’s another post). We’re going to have first-world problems. People used to throw up the poor in India and southeast Asia, south America, to show just what poor looks like. Our homeless have better lives than those unfortunates, absolutely true. I live here. My problems are different. Maybe sometimes they do seem insignificant, but they’re mine, and they’re the ones closest to me.

I have Polycystic Kidney Disease. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me; I’m not interested in your pity, any more than you would be in mine. I’m only telling because this one isn’t obvious. I don’t look sick. I don’t sound sick. I get funny looks when I sit down to rest, people thinking “well, if she’d just lose a little weight,” and that’s true, to an extent. At least 30 pounds I can only lose by nephrectomy, and that won’t happen unless my quality of life is so severely impacted, removal will make it better. Or, if/when I reach a point of needing a transplant, and there’s not enough room for the replacement.

Wow, how horrible, you may be thinking. Well, yeah, it sucks. It’s what I have to deal with. Other people have other things to deal with. No, maybe they don’t have a future of dialysis looming over their heads, but maybe they have an uncertain future of possible institutionalization, or a known family history of cancer, making them high-risk, or their children or other family members have something major in their lives. These can be invisible, too, and can affect someone’s quality of life. Or maybe the worst thing someone has to deal with is deciding whether they can afford the used-gearhead-special Mustang, or if they should probably stick with the Sonata in working order. Everyone has something they’re dealing with, and that something is a big deal in that person’s life. As I say, one man’s hangnail is another man’s trauma. I don’t compare myself to other people, simply because I don’t know what they have going on.

Kidney Healthy PKD SketchSo anyway, this PKD – what is it? It is a genetic disease that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow on your kidneys. Depending on where those cysts grow, they will affect the function of your kidneys. My function is impaired by these cysts. As an added bonus, I have cysts on other organs, too. Some have cysts on their skin – also an organ. Because of that, because of how commonly that happens, some (myself included) are considering this more systemic than just related to the kidneys. Liver cysts aren’t at all uncommon. They don’t often impair function of the liver, but they can be really uncomfortable. Generally, this genetic disease is inherited from parents. If it’s Autosomal Dominant – the one I have – only one parent needs to be affected. For Autosomal Recessive, both parents need to be carrying the gene. Typically. There are exceptions; it spontaneously appears in about 10 percent of the cases. I am one. To the best of our knowledge, neither parent has/had this.

By the time I was diagnosed, fitting within the expected time table, I’d already been dealing with other invisible issues, things I could not then, and will not now, share publicly. There are some things whose impact is more greatly felt in the response of others than from the disorder/disease/dysfunction itself. It was upsetting, and shocking, but I couldn’t afford to spend much time thinking about it, yet. I was planning a major move across the country. I learned from my mother to do what I can, while I can. Save money for a rainy day, yes, but spend some of it on a sunny one, too. I’d been anxious to move for over a decade by then, long before I could drive, and I finally had the opportunity. I wasn’t going to let something like this hold me back. I spent a wonderful ten years in my new home. There were things I learned about myself. My PKD also progressed. By the end of that first year, my blood pressure had spiked considerably. I don’t know how much was the disease itself, and how much was the dramatic change in altitude (higher than a mile), but what was just on the high side of normal in April was dangerously high in November. something had to be done about that.

Here’s another one that you should probably get all the facts on, first. PKD causes high blood pressure. I’ll say that again – PKD causes high blood pressure. Severity varies from case to case, but the very simple answer is our bodies are producing renin at a higher rate, and because function is impaired, it’s not getting flushed out. Renin is a hormone that is involved in controlling blood pressure and sodium and water in the body. Too much renin in the system will lead to hypertension. Untreated, mine is stroke-risk high. The only thing I can do about it is take medication. Changing diet will not make it go away. It can help reduce it, as can losing weight, but when my pressure first spiked, again, I was in the best shape of my life, and had been for years. That would be another thing to consider when talking to someone about a disease. Unless you’re a physician, or at least very up-to-date on research, maybe keep your healthy-living suggestions to a minimum, or even to yourself. Living a vegan life will not heal my kidneys, and my quality of life will drop, ‘cuz I *really* love bacon. Once in a while, of course – even low-sodium has too much sodium, and never mind the fact it’s almost nothing but fat – but I really do.

Water Plus Boy
Here, something a little lighter to make your day better.

Well shoot, that just sucks. Yeah, it does. It’s what I have to deal with. You have something you keep to yourself, something that is making you miserable. Maybe you’re not saying anything because you don’t think anyone is interested, or because it might cost  you your job, or at least a promotion. Putting this out here, so blatantly, I’m taking a terrific risk. I have friends on my Facebook page that are also co-workers. I choose co-worker friends carefully, picking people I feel I can trust. There are a lot of things that this can cause, a lot of complications and difficulties. Being held back, being pitied, well, that’s a couple of them right there. Everyone is dealing with something; this happens to be mine.

If you’re not particularly squeamish, and you’re really, really curious, I have a picture of polycystic kidneys that have been removed, with a combined weight of 16 lbs. Mine are estimated to be about twice that weight. But then, I’m not built to be a dancer – I’m built to be a weight-lifter. Or, to put it more colorfully, to pull the plow when the horse dies. But I digress…so unlike me.

Day Off

Yes, it’s Thursday. Been a while since I wrote, so I figured I owed one or two. The last few weeks at work have been a bit of a nightmare, so by the time Saturday rolls around, I don’t want to do anything. Actually, I had a whole post about that a while back.

Cincinnati Zoo
Seriously, leave me alone

Basically, I’m an introvert. Doesn’t mean I hate people, doesn’t mean I don’t want to go out, doesn’t mean I’m shy (although in this case, I actually am). What it does mean is hanging out with my friends, spending all day at work talking to people, spending time in the mall or at the laundromat or a restaurant, where I could be called on to speak to anyone at any moment (not actually a problem for me), is exhausting. I recharge when I’m alone, not talking to anyone, not seeing anyone, not even hanging out on Facebook, which, as we all know, is full of crack or chocolate or something. After a long, painful, week, when I’ve had to spend the entire day on the phone or in meetings, I need my time. Saturdays are my day off. I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t go anywhere, I don’t leave the house, for as long as I can get away with.

Doesn’t always work out that way, and I often wind up making Sunday the rest of my day off. I tend not to go to church – which I like – when my choir isn’t singing. Always bothered me. Until I gave it some thought, anyway. I realized there were a few things going on: when the choir is singing, I only have to interact directly with them, a small group of people. Even if we are standing in front of the congregation, I don’t have to talk to them, just stand in front of them and be part of an anonymous crowd. Well, not that anonymous…I stick out a little bit. But when the choir is not singing, and I’m in with the rest of the congregation, I have to talk to strangers, triggering anxiety. Because, as I mentioned, I’m not just introverted, but I’m also shy. No, that is not redundant. Introvert does NOT automatically mean shy. Hello, hi, how are you, fine. I’m good with that. But then we have the hymns. I love to sing. And apparently, I’m not to bad at it. So we sing a hymn or two. What happens then is I know people are listening to me. The first hymn, everyone around me who would sing is singing. Second hymn, the people right around me tend to stop singing. By the fourth hymn, there’s a large circle of people who will not sing, and between each one, I have to endure people turning and telling me I should be in the choir, or, more commonly now, asking when the choir will be singing again. It’s quite stressful for me.

Newport on the Levee
Great American Insurance building from Newport, Kentucky

The last few weekends have been a bit busy. On the 21st, for instance, I was in Oxford, visiting a friend. She’s in the home stretch, nearing her due date. The idea was to take some pictures, but it got dark, so I didn’t get to shoot anywhere near as much as I’d have liked. Some of my favorite pictures of her – ones showing her beautiful smile, for instance – are too dark to lighten without a lot of noise. It can be a neat effect, but not in these portraits. After that, I spent my weekend at home, resting and relaxing. It was getting a little hectic at work by that point, and it was all I could do to leave the house and go shopping.

The next weekend was even busier. Friday after work, I went to visit my friend who is expecting, then headed down to Newport, Kentucky, to meet other friends for the evening. The McGing Irish Dancers were performing, but it was postponed when the heavens opened. Got a bit damp out there, although the rain was a bit of a relief. I just wish I wasn’t wearing a white t-shirt. I felt for the dancers – the original performance was going to take place on a wooden stage. A flexible wooden stage, that bounces and gives with every step. Instead, they had to perform on a poured concrete floor in the mall. My lower joints ached in sympathy. Know how you feel after standing on concrete or cement for a long time? Multiply that by about a thousand. After the performance, after ten, I walked out and realized it was dark, the city across the river was alight, and I had my camera. I had to take a few shots.

Cincinnati Gay Pride Festival and Parade
Because schools should be for learning, not for fearing…

Cincinnati Pride weekend. I volunteered to work a booth for my employer – one of the corporate sponsors – that Saturday. My time at the booth was during the parade, so I went to the staging area to see what shots I could get, and who I might recognize. And to figure out where, exactly, I was supposed to go. It got a bit damp, and my folding chair broke, but it was fun. I ran into a number of friends. There were even a few protesters, but not nearly as many as I expected. We’re all going to Hell for supporting human equality. I’ll tell you right now, if you plan to post anything hateful, malicious, or even just show concern that people think about what they’re doing to the children, your comment will not see the light of day. Discussion and disagreement is fine; malice, even disguised as concern, is not.

Later that evening, I introduced a co-worker to opera. That was pretty cool. She enjoyed it. We saw Cincinnati Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier, by Richard Strauss. I’d never seen it. I remarked that I’d only performed in a Strauss opera, and that was mostly accurate; the Strauss opera I performed in was Die Fledermaus, by Johann Strauss II. Oh well. It was fun, great evening. I didn’t get home until nearly midnight. Popped on to Facebook to mention I’d just come back, and I enjoyed it. and found that, once again, a number of my friends happened to be at the opera, too. Same thing happened with Don Giovanni. I’m going to make sure they know which performance of Aida I’ll be attending, so maybe we can connect during intermission. That’s in a couple weeks. I’m really looking forward to it. This time, I’ll know at least two people in the chorus, not just one.

2013 LaRosa's Balloon Glow
Watching fireworks from Kellogg Avenue

This weekend is going to be a long one, both in time, and in events. Last night began with a trip to Coney Island, Cincinnati, for LaRosa’s annual Balloon Glow. I went last year, when it was about 100 degrees, and my blood pressure was wildly out of control. Meant I couldn’t cool off no matter what I did. I was able to buy an air conditioner shortly after that. Nothing like a few bouts with heat exhaustion to make you decide that, even if you have to eat ramen for the next month or two, you’re getting an AC. It was *very* crowded last night. Really too crowded to get any decent shots of the balloons, so I didn’t. I was a bit distracted, anyway. I’d lost my phone between parking and walking out of the parking lot. I just found out this morning someone did turn it in at the security office, so I’ll be picking that up later today. Whew. It’s an old flip-phone, but I like it. I’ll be transferring phone numbers to a spreadsheet or something once I get it back.

At the end of the evening, we were treated to a fireworks display by our own Rozzi family. Everyone knows the Rozzis. They created the “waterfall” from one of the bridges spanning the Ohio one year, for the annual WEBN Labor Day fireworks (roughly half a million people along the river, alone). Now, even though the rest of the show is amazing, that remains the one thing most people wait for, and are excited to see.

Well, that’s really about it. I don’t much care for shooting fireworks – with my camera, that is. It’s a little too hard to convey the majesty, the excitement, the fun of the event in a still picture. So, I will leave you with this, instead:

Fleeting, flaring, flashing, flaming
Sky breaks out in glitter
Screaming, clapping, jumping, laughing
Crowd breaks out in joy

Watch the children cheering happily
Standing on their cars
See the parents watching closely
Feeling like a kid

Happy birthday, America.