Improbable Phrases

Who says that?


Keeping Tabs

This morning as I was administering a fairly rowdy session of word games, I realized that I was standing in front of a student’s desk without a cane. Where was it? How had I gotten over here?

It’s uncommon for me to lose track of my cane. Despite a year and a half of physical therapy, I simply cannot do without it. When I started physical therapy I was sure that it would simply be a matter of time. After a while in physical therapy it became clear to me that my center of balance was different. I didn’t look different, but everything had shifted slightly.

I can’t really put full weight on my left leg. I would have to brace myself against a table to do that. I don’t know if it was always that way. Until I had lost function, it didn’t occur to me to have a baseline. My left hip occasionally pops in and out when I walk up significant hills. Again, I don’t know whether it was always that way.

This bothers me, the not knowing. There’s nothing I can do to fix or change it and it rankles. Shouldn’t I know my own body, my own limits? I know it now but it isn’t the same as knowing what the shift was. Where was the change?

Time was when I would have seen the ability to accidentally misplace my cane as a proof that I need it less. Twelve years after the surgery, it’s just an annoyance. I know I will need it, why can’t I keep track of it? I don’t know if this is the same as acceptance of my disability, but today that’s what it felt like. A sure knowledge that leaving my cane at another student’s desk wasn’t a sign that everything was changing and I’d walk normally again, but just that I was distracted.


I Am Free and My Word is Free

I am not very well versed on politics, and so up until last week I knew very little about what I am about to tell you. Thank goodness for the internet that knows and sees all.

Back in December of 2010, a revolution began in the Arab world. Between now and then, rulers of four countries have been ousted: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

We’re going to talk for a minute about Tunisia. Tunisia is a country in the northern part of Africa. It had a repressive regime led by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for 23 years. Ben Ali stepped down in January of 2011, after the uprising in the country known as the Jasmine Revolution. It started when a Tunisian,  Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on the 17th of December in 2010. He did this in protest of a government official who confiscated the fruits and vegetables from his street cart, claiming he did not have proper permits. This unleashed public fury over the government’s lack of interest in the needs of the individual. The ensuing riots ended Ben Ali’s political career. He currently lives in Saudi Arabia, which has granted him asylum.

Tunisia has set up a new government, with free elections. At the end of this January, they signed a new constitution that recognizes Islam as the official state religion, but protects freedom of religion. It specifically addresses gender equality as a priority for the country and demands the government take a strong stance in fighting corruption. What Tunisia has done is taken an unjust and oppressive country and turned it into a place that is poised to lead the region in human rights and freedoms. While borne out of violence, what Tunisia has done is amazing.

In an article discussing the revolutions in Arab countries all across the Middle East and Northern Africa. It mentioned a woman who wrote two songs that became anthems for the uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt. Her name is Emel Mathlouthi. Mathlouthi wrote Ya Tounes Ya Meskina (Poor Tunisia) and Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free). She has a gorgeous voice.

This is Kelmti Horra.

I am part of the free and unafraid
I am the secrets that never die
I am the voice of those who do not give up
I am free and my word is free

A full English translation was provided as a digital booklet with my iTunes download. I don’t speak any more Arabic than I ever have.

Mathlouthi uses her talents to speak for the people. Some of the videos I looked at, but did not include here, show her singing at the Tunisian protests. She is a true revolutionary and an amazing woman.

I don’t pretend to know much about politics, but I know a good thing when I see it. May the changes in Tunisia sweep across the world and influence other countries to change. To offer their citizens freedom and equality. To give them hope, and a future.


Do Something Spontaneous.*

This morning when I was waiting for my email to open, one of the teachers came over with a bag of Dove dark chocolate hazelnut. I haven’t had Dove chocolate in over a year. She knew it was an American chocolate, and so she brought it over so I could have one.

“Do you miss it?” she asked.

I told her that I hadn’t had Dove in a long time, and that I do miss American chocolate sometimes. She gave me two of them and told me that she would bring me a different American chocolate next week.

I tell this story not because I got free chocolate, but because it illustrates how kind and thoughtful my coworkers have been in the time that I have worked here. It puts my last job in stark contrast, where no one liked or respected each other, and we only did nice things for each other at Christmas. Even that was a competition, with people trying to show off by giving bigger and better things.

I knew before I left that I was unhappy in a job that didn’t value me or my skills, but also that I didn’t think my department was very nice. It turns out I was right. I have loved working at a job where my skills are valued and people are kind and giving. It has made a difference not only in my professional life, but in my personal life as well.

* The title of the post comes from the inside of one of the Dove chocolates that she gave me. The other chocolate told me that I was worth it. I guess I am.


This is a poem that I read to myself sometimes when I feel myself losing my nerve. I know that the words don’t fix anything, but it reminds me to take action. Things will work out.

Everyone who terrifies you is sixty-five percent water.
And everyone you love is made of stardust, and I know sometimes
you cannot even breathe deeply, and
the night sky is no home, and
you have cried yourself to sleep enough times
that you are down to your last two percent, but

nothing is infinite,
not even loss.

You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day
you are going to find yourself again.

(F. Butler)

F. Butler, it turns out, is an 19 year old English kid named Finn, but I like to imagine that these words are being spoken to me by a wise and kindly old lady who has been around the block and knows that things will turn out.


Doing the Right Thing

Poverty is by no means the domain solely of the third world, but it is more glaringly obvious in places where there is little infrastructure to assist the poor, or any of the citizens, for that matter.

There is a general misconception that I have heard well-meaning, charity-minded people say: that the world is already too full of people, how can we think saving people in over-populated Asia is the right thing to do? Living in over-populated Asia, I can tell you: these are people. They are worth your generosity and support. They deserve lives that are filled with as much joy and comfort as yours.

Bill and Melinda Gates have a foundation that they run, and every year they release a letter where they let people know what the foundation will be doing that year. Where is the money going? What is important to them? Melinda Gates wrote a short piece in that letter that details this myth that measures taken to save people in over-populated areas is bad stewardship of the Earth. She says quite a few things that I thought were insightful, but this particular quote stayed with me:

We make the future sustainable when we invest in the poor, not when we insist on their suffering.

It raises a basic question that is easy to understand, but hard to answer. How can we invest in the lives of the poor to relieve their suffering?


Reinventing Rescuing by theappleppielifestyle

Imagine this:
Instead of waiting in her tower, Rapunzel slices off her long, golden hair with a carving knife, and then uses it to climb down to freedom.
Just as she’s about to take the poison apple, Snow White sees the familiar wicked glow in the old lady’s eyes, and slashes the evil queen’s throat with a pair of sewing scissors.
Cinderella refuses everything but the glass slippers from her fairy godmother, crushes her stepmother’s windpipe under her heel, and the Prince falls madly in love with the mysterious girl who dons rags and blood-stained slippers.

Imagine this:
Persephone goes adventuring with weapons hidden under her dress.
Persephone climbs into the gaping chasm.
Or, Persephone uses her hands to carve a hole down to hell.
In none of these versions is Persephone’s body violated unless she asks Hades to hold her down with his horse-whips.
Not once does she hold out on eating the pomegranate, instead biting into it eagerly and relishing the juice running down her chin, staining it red.
In some of the stories, Hades never appears and Persephone rules the underworld with a crown of her own making.
In all of them, it is widely known that the name Persephone means Bringer of Destruction.

Imagine this:
Red Riding Hood marches from her grandmother’s house with a bloody wolf pelt.
Medusa rights the wrongs that have been done to her.
Eurydice breaks every muscle in her arms climbing out of the land of the dead.

Imagine this:
Girls are allowed to think dark thoughts, and be dark things.

Imagine this:
Instead of the dragon, it’s the princess with claws and fiery breath
who smashes her way from the confines of her castle
and swallows men whole.

Source here.


Proprioception

Here’s the word for the day. Proprioception is a sense that Aristotle clearly knew nothing about. Smell, sight, taste, touch, sound, but not the body’s natural ability to know where its parts are in relation to one another. Proprioception is the reason you can close your eyes and still find your nose with your hand. Proprioception is the reason I can usually put a necklace on with the clasp behind me. My hands, obviously assisted by the brain, can pretty easily find one another. The brain’s ability to take in stimuli and provide appropriate feedback is amazing.

I find, with no specific medical or scientific knowledge to back it up, that my proprioception on very simple but also very small and delicate tasks is enhanced when I close my eyes. I close my eyes to do earring backs, necklace clasps, bra hooks, etc. I fumble around a lot less when I am solely focused on getting one hand by another to put a thing together.

Focus, I think, is key. Not just with post earrings, but with daily life. If I allow it, my mind wanders everywhere. I start things and don’t finish them, I half-watch shows while I play games, I only give my students a fraction of my attention, the list goes on. Giving something primary focus, closing the mind’s wandering eye to everything else, creates a better product. It doesn’t make everything you do easier, but it improves the result.

This past November I decided to focus on writing. Not with the intent of making writing easier for me, but as an exercise in focus itself. What would happen if I really focused on the blog and wrote every day? In taking the time to do something that I love and give it the time and attention it needs, I’ve found a routine that allows me creativity and an avenue for expression. It’s a lesson that I am trying to figure out how to apply to other parts of my life. Thus far, though, I’m pleased at what a little bit of applied focus has gotten me. I have a pretty accurate journal of my trip to Yogya and Sumatra, and a general sense otherwise of my life here in Indonesia. It’s a record that I know I will be glad that I have in the future.

Here’s to a new year of newfound focus.