Whole-body Elegy

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When fellow writer Chitra Divakaruni sent me an email saying their family dog had died & her son had made a dance video to honor Juno, and would I please watch & then share – I was expecting to get a little teary-eyed from viewing the tribute:  I was not expecting to see love & grief transformed to such a pure-deep-true level of art that my heart would be opened up utterly.

The way Abhay Divakaruni moves limbs, his articulations of hand & foot, spine, neck & head is whole-body elegy.  This choreography – that he has created & inhabited so fully, with such celebration & tender fury – is dance poetry.

Dear Abhay, I must thank you.  Your art has reached through our not-knowing-each-other and made me feel less alone, more understood, because we have all – in one way or another – been a boy who lost his beloved dog, who still (please) just wants our beloved to come back to us, to (please) (I miss you) come home.

If art is about connection, there can be no argument that your dance qualifies.   Juno was a lucky dog to have called your family her home.   Blessings & peace to you & yours, Abhay,

Denise Lanier

Abhay speaks eloquently about his relationship to dance in this TEDtalk:

This is the artistic expression version of what Phil Keoghan calls No Opportunity Wasted!  I believe it’s just as important to enact leaps of faith, great acts of daring, extraordinary reaches toward vulnerability & connection & grace with our art.  Even – especially? – from places of darkness, longing, loss & mourning.

 

Between Now & My Deathday

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Talk about timing and coincidences! I published a post 2 days ago on my other blog, WonkyBent, about Life Lists and Phil Keoghan’s “No Opportunity Wasted” philosophy, which inspired me to quit putting off a dream I’ve been wanting to realize: completing the Bike MS Coastal Challenge in Southern California. Since the unexpected deaths of two of my friends, both of whom were not much older than I am, I’ve been especially aware of the unpredictability of life and the foolhardiness of believing I have plenty of time to accomplish all that I hope and plan (which I go into much more fully in the previous post). Yesterday I received the weekly recommendations for TED Talks via email and as I attempted to scroll past that email to another I’d been waiting for, I inadvertently opened the TED email and, somehow, simultaneously started one of the videos within. All of a sudden the words Before I die I want to leaped at me with spine-straightening sound and bright colors dancing on my desktop monitor! I half-gasped/half-squealed and nearly fell out of my office chair. Seriously, I jumped so violently I scattered two cats off a nearby bookshelf and my service dog yelped from sleep and then came to my side ready to save me from whatever danger had caused me to act snake-bitten.

Sometimes the universe is downright unnerving and startling with its insistence and the unexpected means used to deliver messages you’re not supposed to miss or forget or take lightly. Via books and music and movies, the deaths of people I care about, an incredibly close-call driving on I-45 just the day before my birthday, and now, packaged inside of an email. I keep being told in one way after another, Life is fragile, life is short, make today count. The universe continues to reintroduce and reinforce the message, so I sat back and restarted the TED Talk video and as I watched I became, in turns, engaged, enchanted, excited, grief-stricken, grateful, inspired, convicted, and grateful all over again. So thank you, Universe, you may be acting rather stalkery and doomsdayish of late, you’ve leveled me with loss and you’ve managed to scare the bejesus out of me more than once, but this Talk is exactly the kind of thing I love.

A woman in New Orleans created a humongous blackboard out of the walls of an abandoned building near her home, then wrote out “Before I die I want to _____.” over and over again so that her friends and family, neighbors and tourists and total strangers could take pieces of chalk and fill in the blank lines with their wishes, goals, dreams and musings.

To my way of thinking, this is an innovative, interactive and empowering form of collaborative poetry! For some, it’s a hands-on-cooperative and athletic endeavor, as well :)

The speaker, a TED Fellow, is Candy Chang.

She’s passionate and humble, a seeker, a visionary and change-maker. In the delivery of her narrative, which includes sharing her grief over a lost loved one – and through the tears she cannot stem or conceal for a brief portion of the telling – she’s vulnerable and transparent, allowing us to connect with her in a profound way. Grief is universal, but our experience of it is unique. Sharing our individual journeys of universal experiences binds us closer together, I believe. That kind of “intimacy”can be transformative, the fertile ground from which compassion, admiration and appreciation – for ourselves and for each other – takes deep root and thrives.  I witness this repeatedly in creative writing workshops; that kind of connection is what I loved best about acting.

Chang’s motivation for creating this bigger-than-life-sized community art-story was born from one of the most personal and provocative experiences we, as humans, know: someone she loved died unexpectedly. (sound familiar?)

But, here, let me allow her to tell you what transpired.


I feel so blessed to have seen and heard this TED Talk by Candy Chang, to have had it land in my Inbox exactly when it did. If that’s not serendipity, seriously folks, I don’t know what is. I count myself privileged to know Chang’s story and I want to be a part of the next chapters, capitalize on the fertile ground of connection she created and nurtured – so I’m going to fill in that blank spot of white chalk line with my own words and wishes. From yesterday’s post, you already know some of the things I want to do and places I want to go, but I’m going to share with you two more entries from my Life List, two pretty humongous goals. So big, in fact, that I’m irrationally worried, actually afraid to put these wish-dreams out into the world (even though I know that’s the very action that’s called for to begin the process of realizing the goals). I think I’m trepidatious because these two dreams are so dear to me, so much about who I am and what I believe in. Some of my goals, like finishing a book, completing every mile of an MS 150 (via recumbent trike) and participating with Team Leary Firefighters Foundation in the New York City Marathon (in the handcycle division) every year I’m physically able – a lot of people have similar, if not identical goals on their lists (save the trike and handcycle part, I mean!). These two new wish-dreams feel private, even though I realize they can’t stay that way if I mean to make them happen. Perhaps I hold them close because, unlike the MS 150 or a marathon, they probably don’t appear on anybody else’s Life List, might, in fact, be utterly unique to me alone. If I fail to make them happen, I will absolutely have regrets. But then I guess being courageous with the entries on your Life List is to risk failure. The bigger you dare to dream, the more disappointment if you fail. Wishing and dreaming is easy, but investing in those wishes and dreams, owning them and giving everything you have within you to see them realized, that can be scary as hell. But then again, the things I’ve accomplished that mean the most to me are the experiences wherein I was terrified off and on the whole way through. And I don’t regret that risking in the least. Sometimes terror, when you funnel that white-hot nerve-jangling energy, can ferry you farther than desire and determination combined.

But first let me say, Candy Chang, I’m truly sorry for the loss of your friend, who was like a mother to you. I have lost my mother, and I have lost the woman who was more of a mother to me than my mother was able to be. That loss of unconditional motherly love is one of the gravest forms of loss I’ve known in my lifetime. Thank you for taking your grief and making of it something bright and fresh and compelling, something that wakes us up to the precious brevity of our lives and makes us put into words – like a declaration and a promise – what we want to do before it’s too late. Thank you for sharing your story on the TED stage, so that it could be sent to my computer screen (even if the way of it did almost maim me and give the cats cardiac arrest!). Thank you for being so brave, bold and generous with your art. Thank you for the gracious invitation and warm welcome, for encouraging all of us to be brave, bold and generous creators of dreams for the art-story of our lives. Thank you, again, for asking the question. Here’s my answer.

Before I die I want to produce a Public Service Announcement illustrating that the ADA provides & protects the rights of access & accommodation to persons with disabilities who are partnered with trained service dogs. People with intellectual, emotional & physical handicaps are routinely harassed & refused entry/service by shops, eateries, theme parks, places of lodging; because of their service dogs, people are denied transportation from buses, planes & taxis every day in our country. I believe a PSA would educate Americans, raise awareness & sensitivity, and stamp out this disgraceful form of discrimination against people with disabilities and the devoted animals who serve them.

Before I die I want to form a non-profit that inspires people with illness and/or disability to cycle, specifically via recumbent trikes, which can be foot or hand powered or a combination of both. I’ll have a stable of various trike models & transport them to hospitals, rehab facilities & VA centers to let people try them out. I’ll host regular group rides & hold training clinics. There’ll be a fund to help those in financial need purchase trikes, allow cyclists to travel to competitive/fundraising events and afford required equipment modifications. We’ll collect & share our stories in the hopes of inspiring others (schools, community centers, etc.); we’ll advocate for inclusion in events with able-bodied athletes (marathons, bike races) and for equal representation at the Paralympic Games. We’ll cheer one another on and go on adventures, exploring newly-discovered trails, taking charge of roads we never would’ve tackled up-close if we hadn’t claimed or reclaimed cycling. Instead of feeling sick or slow, damaged or less than, we’ll pedal our way to vibrant and vital, so capable, confident and exuberant that on-lookers will be dazzled by our obvious, complete beauty. Any illnesses or disabilities we may have will vanish into stealth-mode when we power our own versions of 3-wheeled flight.

I have multiple sclerosis & the real difference-makers in my life-with-MS are my mobility assistance dog & my recumbent trike. Before I die I will make a difference in the lives of others who have been impacted with illness and disability. I will share my story, my time and experience with the hope of giving people whatever motivation, information, tools and resources they need to empower themselves to live the healthiest, fullest, most fun-filled and independent lives possible. I want those whose lives would be bettered by partnering with service animals to know every option available to them for acquiring a service animal; I want to offer support filling out applications and facilitating connections with trainers and organizations. I would love to create a way for people with service dogs to be in touch with volunteers willing to walk their dogs and handle vet visits on those occasions when a person’s illness/disability prevents them from attending to the needs of their service dogs. I think we need a version of Amber Alerts for service dogs, a way to notify the public and all first responders to be vigilant to lost service dogs, because when someone is separated from her service dog, she is separated from her means of security and independence, and in the case of alert animals for diabetes and seizures, a person without her service dog is at greater risk of health crisis. People partnered with service animals should be welcomed & accommodated wherever they go, because the “going” is often a harrowing challenge already. Before I die I will do everything I can to eradicate ignorance of the ADA’s provision for the rights of people with disabilities and their service animals.  I want anyone who might be enabled to cycle with a recumbent trike to have access to one & the support needed to get out & ride – for exercise or to compete, to connect w/family & community, to know the freedom, independence & fierce joy cycling brings. Before I die I will do everything I can to make sure everyone knows that if you can push with one foot – even a prosthetic foot – and have one upper limb to control a combination steering/braking handle, more likely than not, you can ride a recumbent trike.

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So there, two more goals spoken “out loud.” Kind of like drawing the plans for your dream-house. Like registering for the Bike MS Coastal Challenge in Southern California – please support me if you’re able! – and booking the flight that will deliver you to the Starting Line; you haven’t left your own street yet, but you can imagine the Finish Line waiting for you with open arms. Less like bargain hunting; more like a shopping expedition for something that has no substitute. Less like a balloon let go into the heavens; more like a hunting dog set loose on a scent-trail. Less like a message in a glass bottle dropped in outbound ocean waves; more like a carrier pigeon sent with declarations of devotion, asking for a hand in matrimony.

Letters & Donations S. W. A. K.

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Poetry and letters have so much in common; if not twins, they are at the very least kissing cousins. Don’t you think?

In this drawing, just imagine  and LETTERS FOR KIDS!  printed right next to the word “poems.”

It’s hard to believe that Letters For Kids could get any better, but now The Rumpus has decided to make a donation to 826 National with every new subscription through the month of August. If you know me, you probably know why this arrangement tickles me hot pink with black and white polka-dots. In case you don’t know me, I’ll explain.

Dave Eggers, the founder of 826 Valencia & 826 National, is one of my heroes. He’s the awesome author/advocate dude who inspired me to create Word Play, a poetry in the schools project.  I happened upon this video of him accepting a TED Prize, wherein he talks about what motivated him to create a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering kids’ literacy and creativity. In his TED Talk, Dave extends an invitation for everyone to get involved in their local schools and communities, to invest in young people. Not so much with dollars, but with time.

Spending time doing what? you may ask. Sharing something you’re passionate about.

That’s what Dave did when he created 826 Valencia with a mission of mentoring young people & sharing with them his life-long love affair with reading and writing, learning and creating, journeying through worlds of make-believe. His wildfire passion ignited my own and set me on a path that changed my life immeasurably for the better. If you go back to the start of this blog, you’ll see lots of photosart and creative writing from all of my wicked-smart, uber-imaginative students.  We wrote letters to President Obama, which were hilarious and kind and, sometimes, quite sobering. Many of the kids gave advice, a kind of To-do list for the president. Some told about themselves and drew pictures, and many of them included poems they’d written. Like this one, written by a 3rd grader, that left me speechless with its beauty.

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Dear Mister President Obama, I made this in my poetry class. Tell me if you think it is okay:

I used to be a dog, but now I am the moon.

I used to be the moon, but now I’m a wolve.

I used to be a wolve, but now I’m a howling night wind.

I used to be a howling night wind, but now I’m a goodbye.

I used to be a goodbye, but now I’m a laughing ghost kid.

Love, me

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I often wonder if President Obama ever received those letters, if he read them, how the kids’ words and images made him feel. I wonder if he was tempted to write back, maybe even pen a poem or draw a picture.

I wish Letters For Kids existed when I was doing Word Play because I think it’s the perfect way to get kids reading and writing more, a lovely source of connection to and communication with other lovers of words, letters and story, as well as an utterly unique and inspiring source for writing prompts (Hint, hint, teachers!). And what a great way to make new friends, to learn fascinating things about other people, to learn and share things about yourself.

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My Best Friend

Is myself

I am a good person.

I am funny.

I am smart.

I am good at tracking severe weather.

–Samuel, 9

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The truth has a way of coming out in the act of writing. Sometimes in amusing ways, sometimes in ways that make you realize those truths have been waiting a long time to be given voice. All letters, regardless of the intended recipient, are also missives to our inner-most selves.
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My grandma reminds me of a song.

My brother reminds me of a monkey

and drums

and an electric guitar

all playing at the same time.

–Ahviana, 9

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Letters and poems, regardless of their level of intimacy, have this way of speaking with a”raised” confessional voice meant for a larger audience. A way of saying Hey, listen, I’m telling you something about myself and my experience of the world – something important, listen.

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An Exquisite Corpse Collaborative Poem

- by the 5th – 7th Graders of Word Play

I used to live in Georgia, but now I live in Miami.
I used to be a dog, but now I’m a monkey.
I used to be a nurd, but now I’m cool.
I used to never do my work, but now I do.
I used to write, but now I draw.
I used to have shoes, now I have paws.
I used to be a single child, but now I’m not.
I used to crawl, now they look how I walk.
I used to talk, but now I don’t.
I used to like someone secret, but now I won’t.
I used to be dead, but now I’m alive.
I used to sit, but now I fly.
I used to be nice, but now I’m mean.
I used to cry, now I let myself scream.
I used to watch TV, now I really play.
I used to be silly, but now I’m crazy.
I used to eat like a pig, but now I eat like a ant.
I used to have a piggy bank, now I help pay rent.
I used to be shy, but now I’m grave.
I used to be afraid, now I am brave.
I used to be a puppy, but now I’m a deer.
I used to be scared, now I’m No Fear.
I used to be a fish, but now I’m an alligator.
I used to be an Igloo, now I’m a refrigerator.
I used to be a cat, now I’m a police.
I used to be a daughter, now I’m just a niece.
I used to be hot, but now I’m hotter.
I used to be a janitor, now I’m a movie star.
I used to play the drums, now I play the piano.
I used to be alive, but now I’m mostly a ghost.

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Here’s what some of my students had to say about why they love writing.  And this is one of my favorites.

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Go Poetry Go!

I learned that poetry lets you yell out
and shout
all your feelings, your thoughts
your knots
and nots.

You get to put all your creation
and imagination
in a single poem!

Poems are just like life.
Without them
I would feel chopped
by a slicey knife.

Go poetry go!
Bring on your show!!!

–Joanna, 10

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Subscribers of Letters For Kids get to write back, to respond to whatever engages them in the letters they receive from middle-grade and YA authors, like Adam Rex and Rebecca Stead.  That just might be the neatest thing of all. Your donations – via your subscriptions to LETTERS FOR KIDS - give you the gift of being a part of all the tremendous tutoring, teaching, mentoring and artful adventuring that 826 National makes possible.  So don’t miss out, share the letter love!

LETTERS FOR KIDS  makes a fabulicious, story-packed, creativity-stoking gift for kiddos & young-at-hearts of any age (that means you)! It works like this. The wordy-good folks at  THE RUMPUS  arrange for actual paper-&-ink letters to be written by real, live authors – like Lemony Snicket! and & have them delivered – *gasp* – by real, live (well, mostly) postal carriers right to your very own mailbox. But whoa, hold on there narrative lovin’ cowboys & cowgirls.  If you act NOW (and by “now” I mean the month of August), a donation goes out to 826 National writing & tutoring centers with every subscription purchased.  Which means you get to be a hero twice-over.  Yo, how cool are you?!?

Get your very own sealed-with-a-kiss subscription on its way to you, today!  Get more details (& washing instructions for your new superhero cape) right here. Don’t forget, every subscription is, in effect, a “double gift ” subscription.  Because whether the subscription is a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re also giving the gift of helping to better the lives of all those lucky 826 National students with the donation The Rumpus sends on your behalf.  Really, folks, it’s hard to imagine a more pay-it-forward two-fer deal than this.

PS

I also highly recommend Letters In The Mail.  It is the single best thing I’ve done for myself and for my writing in –  I don’t even know how long.  It might just take the cake in recent history for most beloved and most beneficial thing I’ve given myself.

And Letters In The Mail, like Letters For Kids, is ridiculously affordable. Even for writers. Even for POETS. Which is really saying something :0)

Here’s a mini-interview with Stephen Elliott on Huff Po about why he created Letters In The Mail.  Stephen Elliott, founder of The Rumpus, also writes The Daily Rumpus, which I’m more-than-happily addicted to. You can subscribe for the free “overly-personal e-mails” on The Rumpus website.

PSS (or is it PPS?)  ((or is it PS-squared?))

The Rumpus has a rockin’ poetry contingency these days: reviews, interviews with poets, even original poetry.  There’s The Rumpus Poetry Club, and The Rumpus Book Club for fiction and nonfiction titles.  You get the books before they’re released and there’s a group chat and interview online with the authors and poets, as well.

Without a doubt, The Rumpus is my favorite literary website.  Okay, okay, it’s my favorite website, period.

Now go, buy your subscriptions for Letters In The Mail & Letters For Kids.  Buy a couple of gift subscriptions for kids you know, while you’re at it.  Like Letters In The Mail, a Letters For Kids subscription is the kind of present that keeps giving throughout the entire year.  Now that’s something worth kickin’ up your spurs to Woohoo! & Yeehaw! about.

Send some Letters. Get some kids excited about words on the page, using them to communicate ideas and emotions, to tell stories. Who knows? Maybe we’ll grow crops of letter writers, poets and storytellers in neighborhoods all over the globe. All you have to do is plant the seeds. Just ask Dave Eggers.

What I Like About Poetry Days

- a collaborative poem by the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Graders of Word Play

I can think of a place I want to be.

Writing about wishes & secrets.

It can be funny, silly, fun, fanassy, cerious.

I can stop thinking about school.

We talk about sounds a lot & I like sounds.

When she makes us think silly.

It’s much better than TV.

When we make it up or the truth.

Making a chatbook.

Writing about the ocean, beach & camping.

She says to make believe, make it up!

Luke is pretty funny & rilly rilly cool.

I can expreece my feelings.

I can think of peace full places.

I can be silly & it won’t matter.

I can see one of the sweetest dogs in the world.

Writing about what happens in my dreams, even bad dreams.

When we got to imagine being in a forest.

It is very fun when she reads poetry to us from other kids.

Getting to take out your amoshens.

I can lie and no one gets mad, because it’s funny & everyone laughs together.

I like seeing the dog & petting Luke, & I like righting!!!

When she & Luke comes and does poetry with us it’s like living at home.

When you get to umagun, because you can do anything when you umagun it.

She tells us to think about the woods at night with no one there & what do you smell

& taste & hear!

I get to see Luke.

I write what I feel.

I get to rime words.

Poetry makes me happy so much.

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Hey kids (young & “old” alike), poetry makes me “happy so much” too. And so do letters. I think because that kind of writing comes from a place of reflection, of openness and authenticity, that within us that seeks to reach out, to connect with others. I’m crazy about Letters For Kids, but if for whatever reason you’re not up to purchasing a subscription, there’s absolutely nothing keeping you from writing some letters of your own.
Write to your friends, young and young at heart; write to total strangers, all across the globe. Write to our soldiers. Write to family you may’ve lost touch with. Write to teachers and coaches and mentors who made a difference in your life. Write to your heroes and tell them why they inspire you; tell them what action you’ve taken – or have plans to carry out – to honor them. Write a letter to that special someone in your life – your best friend and/or your life partner – thanking them for unswerving, unconditional, above-and-beyond devotion. Write a letter to someone who once bullied you, to someone who discouraged you at a time when you needed uplifting; without judging or blame, share your feelings, your experience, tell them what you wish would’ve happened/been said to you, instead. Write to poets and authors, actors and dancers, singers and filmmakers, to the writers of stage and screen – all the artists who inspire you, entertain you, broaden your mind and touch your heart.  Write to folks in animal rescue who serve as superheroes to the underdogs; write to trainers of service, therapy, rescue/recovery dogs, tell those tireless folks how much you appreciate the work they do, transforming the lives of people in need. Write to child advocates and civil rights advocates, to the founders and leaders of nonprofit movements and organizations championing causes and people you care about. Write to the president or to the Queen of England or the Dali Lama. Write to firefighters and police officers in your community and say Thank You. Write to Elmo or to Luke the Poetry Dog. Write to the child you never had or to the child you lost. Write to the body you had before cancer or Parkinson’s, ALS or MS took up residence. Write to an Olympic athlete – or better yet, write to a Paralympic, Deaflympic or Special Olympic athlete. Write to the manufacturer of a product that makes you happy and/or makes a tremendous difference in your life, because some products are more than just something to be bought and sold, some products change your life – and the makers of those products? those makers are true innovators, who deserve recognition and gratitude. Write to a loved one who’s passed away. Write to your 6 yr-old, 12 yr-old, 18 yr-old self in the past; write to your 30 yr-old, 50 yr-old, 70 yr-old self in the future. Write to your neighbor and introduce yourself.
In poetry, there’s a class of poem we call an Ode, which is, at its very essence, a poem of praise. Letters are a great vehicle for odes of the slightly more “prose-y” variety. So go for it!
Write, write, write.
It’s all a letter. It’s all poetry.
Write.

Dear Daily Beast, Sexual Assault Is Not Entertainment

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The author of  “13 Naughtiest Bits From the Masseur Lawsuit Against John Travolta” has used words to describe sexual assault that are defined as mischievous, impish, racy, spicy, juicy, sexy, lustful, appealing to or stimulating of sexual desire, playful.  How is that okay with you?

This is who you say you are: “The Daily Beast provides expert insight & opinion on the day’s most important news stories in the world of politics, int’l affairs, finance, science, culture & more.”  So I have to ask you, since when is making light of sexual assault appropriate?  And why is such a thing being condoned and promoted by you?

The author of this article describes the reported details of an alleged sexual assault as “naughty bits” & “salacious.”  Words both preposterous & reprehensible in the context of a conversation about sexual assault. Which, in case you’ve somehow forgotten, is a heinous crime of violence.

When you call the particulars of sexual assault “salacious” you are deeming them as tittilating, lusty, gossip-worthy, which I find stomach-turning-offensive.

Use of the adjective “naughty” when describing the various acts that comprised a sexual assault is unconscionable.  Let’s say for a moment that your sister or mother were a massage therapist and had her breast grabbed by a client. Would you call the client’s action naughty? Please tell me how, in both the judgement of this author & you, the publisher, equating sexual assault with “misbehaving” takes place.

Perhaps the author of this article is under the impression that if a sexual assault victim is male, it is somehow less of a crime, not as shattering or shame-inducing.  Perhaps she imagines that in the cases of sexual assault where no visible marks or abrasions have been inflicted, that there is no scarring, that the crime is somehow less of an assault, not-quite violent.  Perhaps she thinks that the allegations of this particular sexual assault are likely false and that allows her lee-way with the language she employs.  Perhaps, because the body of the article is largely comprised of quotes lifted, she says, directly from legal documents, she believes she was avoiding taking sides and not expressing a personal bias. When the headline and intro you craft bandy about words that insult and demean every victim of sexual assault and diminish the crime of it to unsavory conduct, that’s blatant bias, and it doesn’t get any more personal, trust me.

Falsely accusing someone of a crime is a crime. This author’s use of language is all but laughing at the suffering of a victim of slander. Which is all the more egregious when the nature of that slander is perhaps the most horrific sort. John Travolta isn’t being accused of stealing, buying drugs or punching a photographer; he’s being accused of sexual assault. When you make light of the crime he’s being accused of, you cannot avoid making light of the consequences of being falsely accused of that crime.

Now imagine that your brother or your father, your husband, has been accused of sexual assault.  Would it be fair or accurate to say that your husband is being accused of being naughty?  If your best friend asked you what, exactly, the alleged victim is saying that your loved one did, how would you feel if your friend phrased her request, “Give me all the naughtiest bits.”

This author hand-picked details from an account of alleged sexual assault and held them up with sensational glee – as sport, as entertainment.  Veracity of the allegations aside, the language and tone of this entire article make light of the crime of sexual assault, which in turn belies the gravity of being accused of sexual assault.  Most disturbing of all, this author has basically said that perpetrators of sexual assault are being “naughty.”  You know, just misbehaving.

I believe language matters, that words have power.  I’m trying to understand why someone would make a point of talking about sexual assault in a way that makes it sound like a case of poor conduct or simply not minding one’s manners.  I’m trying to understand why someone would treat the legal document containing details of sexual assault (alleged or not) as if it were a Where’s Waldo of juicy, gossip-worthy tidbits (Oh, look, there’s another one!).  I’m trying to understand how all of this fits with your claim, Daily Beast, of providing “expert insight and opinion.”

Again, I ask you:  how is any of this okay with you?  It sure as hell isn’t okay with me.

In proofreading what I have written here, I have just realized that never once did I type the name of the author of the article in question.  At first this astonished me.  My profound disgust and righteous fury are such that it seems perfectly reasonable I would’ve used her name at every opportunity, thrown it, over and over again, like plates against a wall.  But I get it now, that being unwilling (unable?) to name her is the cyber-space equivalent of when the awfulness of something is too monumental (big enough to knock you down, sweep you away), too overwhelming in its ugliness and stench (if you get too close it will get on you, infect you, never wash out). When anger, disbelief and revulsion flood our brains, that toxic recipe is often translated into fear.  Which in turn communicates to our bodies the same adrenaline-rush neuro-message that it sends, say, when we’re in the wild, cornered and threatened by something feral, potentially life-threatening.  Not looking directly at a dangerous, powerful creature–not meeting its eyes–is a primal instinct, a brain/body self-defense mechanism.  It is the source and heart of the phrase, I can’t even look at you right now.

I cannot spell out that woman’s name.   And even if I could write it, I refuse to.

Denise Lanier, whose mother and grandmother, an aunt and a cousin, were victims of sexual assault; who has many sisters-friends who have been victims of sexual assault; who has been the victim of sexual assault,

Houston, TX

Alligators Dislike Trikes

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*a non-literary entry, though the experience of the day was pure poetry

Sometimes I can’t help myself from cross-posting entries on my other blog, Wonky Woman On A Bent Trike.  Especially when the posts regard something I’m passion about.  And while I’ll grant you that this post is, in “surface” subject matter, about a ride on a recumbent trike, some alligators and snakes–those things are just a part of the story.  A story about “sorry” not being the only alternative to “safe.”  A story where “safe” and “sorry” are more siamese twins than strangers.

I took my first trip to Brazos Bend State Park in Brazoria County yesterday.  My OH my!  The colors were like something that Pixar had engineered.  The wildlife was verdant, abundant, and so font-row I almost squealed like a little girl several times.

I saw countless birds; a black snake & a copperhead, barely avoiding the former with a front trike wheel and almost stepping upon the latter while maneuvering for a better photo of this alligator.

Turns out, alligators don’t like trikes.  Or at least not the sound they make crunching gravel.  So even if I’d had my camera at the ready, all you’d see in the photos of the other six gators I came upon would be the swish of giant reptilian tails and the over-excited plumes of high-flying plop-splashes back into the depths of the lakes.

(Which, btw, reminds me that I really, really want one of these thing-a-ma-jigs.)  ((One might argue that I actually need one.))

I sighted a red shouldered hawk before I even left the parking area, perched on the amphitheater’s stage as if awaiting his big monologue.  There was a doe with three fawns munching in a wildflowered meadow–much too close to the alligator-and-lilly-pad-filled edges of waterways, if you ask me.  I had that sensation, like when you’re watching a horror movie, and you want to scream out “What are you thinking?  No, NO, NOOO . . . Don’t go into the attic/basement/field/forest/darkened hospital wing . . . For the love of pete, R-U-N!!!”

The great thing about this park on a sunny and hot day is the over thirty miles of trails with great tree cover.  Which is to say, sweet, blessed, heaven-sent shade.  There are well-spaced water fountains and restrooms, with outhouse-style port-o-lets at the far reaches of the more rural trails.  I didn’t see very many people, which was nice.  There were a few couples hiking, two very sweaty (and surprised to encounter a recumbent trike) runners, three family groups; no other cyclists, which surprised me, because these trails are frackin’ gorgeous.  There’re gravel and crushed limestone trails, firmly packed dirt trails, paved wheelchair, scooter & stroller-friendly trails, wooden boardwalks, rutted & muddy root-filled trails for the rough & tumble-seeking mountain bikers.  All of which the Greenspeed Magnum conquered without even batting an eyelash.

And though I didn’t actually encounter the horse & rider, I did notice evidence of them on the trail paralleling the Brazos River.  I would’ve loved to have been on a horse out there yesterday–I miss horseback riding with a grief that tastes more like a loved one missed than a thing I’m not able to do anymore–but I’m grateful to be able to be out on trails at all, and I felt that effusive, delicious, heart-dancing brand of thanksgiving in a keen-bright manner.

The wildlife and flora, the bliss of solitude in the close embrace of mother nature, the anticipatory vigilance of all that the next curve of trail will hold–it’s a giddy, humbling, wide-awake, oxygenated, full-of-awe feeling.  I couldn’t help but think of Phil Keoghan’s motto: No Opportunity Wasted.  I think Phil should come to the great state of Texas and ride some of these opportunity-drenched trails with me.  I bet I could smoke him and his two-wheeler on these twisting treed byways and really give those alligators something to talk about :0)

No Opportunity Wasted was the perfect theme of the day.  Because the truth is that I didn’t want to get out and ride yesterday; I was still pretty sore & fatigued from the weekend’s rides.  But I needed to take my husband to his job in Lake Jackson because he was leaving his vehicle with me while he goes on a work-related road trip.  I’ve been meaning to go check out Brazos Bend State Park, but my ICE Qnt isn’t really outfitted with the proper tires for those kinds of trails.  In spite of how my body felt, I refused to throw away the opportunity of being in close proximity to the park while being in possession of the Greenspeed Magnum (the SUV of recumbent trikes, on loan to me for review).

It would’ve been so easy to settle into the idea that I’d ridden hard and well over the weekend and deserved to rest my aching muscles and joints.  When you have an illness and/or disability, others are quick to tell you to take care of yourself, take it easy, take a break.  You even give yourself the same advice, you know, with that rationalizing, maybe-we-should-play-it-safe part of your brain.   Sometimes it’s good advice, the “better safe than sorry” adage.  As long as you’re not using “safe” as a code word for “easy,” as a way of opting for what’s more comfortable and convenient.   As long as you keep in mind–smack-dab in the front of your mind, hot spotlight shining upon it–this principle of not wasting opportunities.  Whenever you can dang well help it!

Yo, Phil, you know that life list of yours?   Add this amazing Tejas adventure; you won’t regret it.  What could be more fun than out-riding alligators and dodging snakes?

And don’t forget, good readers, sometimes “safe” and “sorry” are more like two faces of a coin that’s worth the same amount no matter which way it lands in the toss; more like interchangeable thesaurus-versions of themselves than cause-and-effect or good advice, much less good medicine ;)  Now go, get out there.  Ride, run, write, explore, create, LIVE.

My Service Dog Is Famous

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Hey everybody, here’s the interview Don Teague did with my service dog Luke – in which I make a cameo appearance and talk a little bit about poetry and how the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis diverted my career from acting and theaters to creative writing and classrooms.

The interview aired Wednesday on local (Houston) Fox News and my hope is that anybody who might be looking for a way to become or stay active – in spite of illness, injury or any other challenges – would see this interview and give a recumbent trike a try. I’m also hoping that anyone watching who may’ve had a life-altering event similar to mine – one that blocks the pathway of the course you’ve spent decades charting – might gain some encouragement from my story. I whole-heartedly believe that many of the obstacles we face are tremendous opportunities on their flipsides.  Here’s the interview withLuke, the trike, a little bit of poetry, and me.

I’ll be in the Dallas area for the Friedreich’s Ataxia fundraising ride with Kyle Bryant on March 24th. Come out and say Howdy if you’re around. And please donate to the cause if you’re able :0)

Kyle happens to be one of my heroes and also one of the chief encouragers of getting me going on three wheels which has majorly influenced – in fact, outright transformed – my health, head-space and heart-space these last couple of years. In case you don’t already know, my other blog WonkyBent is all about life with MS, a service dog and a recumbent trike.

I’ve never actually met Kyle in person so I’m really looking forward to that; there’s something about looking someone in the eye and voicing your gratitude to them that is a truly exceptional, grace-filled experience. If you ever have that kind of opportunity with someone who’s inspired you and made a remarkable difference in your life, don’t let the chance pass you by. You can read more about Kyle and my other heroes (including the time I got to thank Michael J. Fox on The Oprah Winfrey Show) in this WonkyBent post.

I need to post updates on the feral cat rescue and domestication efforts going on over her in Casa Lanier, especially in regard to this week’s unexpected developments.

I also have updates on the found/rescued horse-of-a-dog, who still needs a loving home!

And I have a whole passel of klepto-collaborative poems from TEDxAustin that I need to get up here, too.

So stay tuned, you lovely readers out there. And if you’re trying to keep up with all that I do, you might consider subscribing to both blogs; sometimes I cross-post, but not very often.