Monday, April 20, 2015

The leaders of tomorrow

 Last weekend, I, along with a group of lovely people, was invited to  the 3rd biannual Stamps Scholars National Convention.  Don't worry, I had never heard of the Stamps Scholars either until that fateful day, February 26, 2011 while my parents were at Costco (yes, of course I remember the date!)  I got a phone call informing me that I had been selected to receive a full ride academic merit scholarship to the University of Washington, and I proceeded to sob for the next hour, no joke. That day, my life changed forever!

Roe Stamps,  founder of an investment firm called Summit Partners and his wife, Penny, had apparently decided they had everything they ever wanted in life, and decided to donate the rest of their net worth to helping kids from all across the country with diverse skills and talents go to college. The only thing they ask in return is to know what we're up to. And so, earlier on in the program, which was founded at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan, Roe's and Penny's alma maters, respectively, one of the students came up with the idea that every two years, scholars from all across the country should meet for and national conference to network, build the Stamps image, and solve the problems of our generation.

 So, it was with this in mind that we gathered at Georgia Tech last weekend. At the last conference I went to  two years ago, there were something like 200 scholars, this time, there were over 500! The program has since expanded to 44 schools, I believe, instead of the original three.

 It was a fun-packed weekend with specific interest activities, a business case study, fun outings in Atlanta, tours of some of the most famous landmarks,  wonderful keynote speakers including former Georgia Tech coach Bill Curry, who was such a gentleman and told me that he didn't want to miss the chance to shake my hand,  and a lot of fun with some awesome people, too! I got to meet Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Eric Sturgis, have a special access behind the scenes  tour of CNN world headquarters with national correspondent Tom Foreman, and I got to see the Civil and Human Rights Museum.

 I was definitely nervous going into a room of 700 people that I don't know and knowing that I would never have time to interact with everyone,  but actually, this time was a lot of fun and I think  the scholars got to work together a lot and get to know each other better. I'm sad that I won't be around for the next one, but I'm hoping that we can use the network to keep expanding on what we find when we all  meet each other.

 My thanks to the SSNC 15 planning committee at Georgia Tech, as I can't imagine how hard it was to plan for and feed 700 people. Congratulations, you did it!  Thank you!

My CNN face! (Image: Me looking excited. I am white with chin length brown hair. I am wearing a blue scarf. The CNN headquarters and a bunch of world flags are visible in the background.)

Oh yeah, baby! (Image: a delicious plate of chicken and waffles with a side of mac and cheese. Two containers of butter are on top of the plate)

Resistance is power! (Image: me in front of a mural at the Civil Rights museum. The mural features a yellow outstretched hand with  black stripes and many colorful messages forming wedges of a circle. I am sitting to the viewer's left, smiling and signing RESISTANCE/PROTEST.)

Dude, where's my wheel?!

Alright, folks, I remember saying after my London trip  that I was having trouble encapsulating the experiences I had. So, I guess now is as good a time as any to get started, almost a year later. I will pick up exactly where we left off. In order to help you find this from other posts that I might make in between, I created a London tag you can easily find all posts from the trip. And with that, here's the funny story you've been waiting for.

So, as I recall, it was the first Friday of the program in earnest, and I had already started panicking over the schedule. You see, apparently, having bad navigational skills is a CP thing, and I hate getting lost in foreign countries. As is the constant adventure of travel, there is a saying as part of a poster I have on my wall now that says “Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.” Oh, if only I could appreciate that at  the time! But alas, I was more worried about being on time, as I was never raised to run on my own time. If I had to be there, it meant getting up 2 hours early so I could be there. And if I had been planning the schedule, I wouldn't have chosen to leave at 7 AM, but, c'est la vie!

As  it was, I didn't have my precious Beastmobile, so I needed assistance for locomotion from my lovely friend and travel companion, and I was less than happy about it. We had decided to try to go a different way to make the walk to the bus stop faster, knowing there was a two-hour commute on the other end. We were making good time and I was getting excited. As some of you may know, London is famous for its old and notoriously uneven cobblestone sidewalks. This sets the preface to our story. We were rolling along, talking about what we were going to do for the day, as we would be out exploring zone 1 (central London, West End) for the entire day. I heard a strange noise which I assumed to be a rock, or a break or something. I vaguely notice this long metal thing on the ground, but it's not mine, so we proceed as usual. About 10 minutes later, we are going over a bump in the sidewalk, and instead of tipping backward like it was asked to, my chair tips forward as the wheel axle catches the bricks and my friend and I exchange a few choice words with anyone who happened to be listening at that moment. I had my arm extended onto the sidewalk to make sure that it wasn't my head this time. It took a few seconds to realize how could that even happen? And then it came to us....

I had no front wheel!

As it turns out, the place where I hit the bricks was actually the axle of where my front wheel was supposed to be. So, after that we spent about 20 minutes marveling at how I could not notice. As we retraced our steps (rolls?), we  found my wheel and the long screw that went through the axle cane, covered in hair. Evidently, this was the noise I had heard when something fell. However, we were missing the bolt that went on the other side to hold this screw in place. So here we were, sitting on the pavement in the middle of a flyover next to the 24-hour McDonald's trying to find this thing. So much for the schedule, karma had come back to, well, bite me. After about 5 or 10 minutes, this guy on a bicycle asks if he can help. He says there is a construction site up the way and he rides over there to see if he can find a replacement for the missing bolt. Meanwhile, I'm struggling to use my Nokia phone from 1980 to call  the professor and tell him we are going to be late,  while I didn't even memorize my own phone number yet.  “Oh, right then, I expect you'll want to get that mended straight away, yeah?” he says. But we had absolutely no idea where to go. We were stuck pretty much as far away from the central city as you could get. The chap who helped us  recommended a cycle surgery shop  in the East End, but we decided to hop a bus and get as close as we could to where we were going. Clutching my wheel in hand with my friend standing right in front of me to make sure this does not happen again, people stared at us more than they usually did that morning. 

 As luck would have it, we were, ironically, the first ones to arrive outside Westminster station.  the professor thought I had already found a replacement, and was taken aback to see the still collecting spare parts upon my arrival. He informed us that there was, indeed, another cycle surgery shop about 5 minutes from there, and my friend was able to get the boltand they put it in for me  free of charge. For the record, I would never get wheelchair service like that here in America,  much less from a nonspecialized vendor. And with that, we were once again on our merry way!

 Until next time!

 (a huge thank you to Peter Buckroyd for being a wonderful and helpful human being! We all still miss you! Cheers!)

(Many thanks to my friend Sherry for the group photo! Image: Agroup of college students standing together in front of a beautiful iron fence. We are all smiling. I am seated in my chair in front. Big Ben is clearly visible on the viewer's left in the background.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

So, I never really was a poet.....until today.

This last week has probably been one of the most incredible weeks of my life. I never thought I'd say that! From being surrounded by 700 people that have received the same gift that I did, which I'll write about later, to coming back to sickness and sheer exhaustion, to being able to see some of the most loved and respected disability activists and scholars all in one week, and then, to become a poet.

 I had  always dabbled, you know, for English class or whatnot, but I never really saw myself as a performer, it was always awkward, never really that easy. But then last week,When I put pencil to paper (literally) the words just came with an ease  that I have never experienced nor understood. So, even though I'm terrified, I'd like to share both poems that I wrote with you, citizens  of the inter-webs. Here goes!

 This first poem was modeled after Laura Hershey's "Translating the Crip." I have been asked to perform it in American Sign Language at an event next week. Wish me luck!

When I say

When I say disabled, I mean mostly by the comments people say to me.
When I say choice, I mean you don't have to ask "are you sure?"
When I say accessible, I am learning it doesn't just mean "is there a flight of stairs?"
When I say responsibility, I mean you're here to help me, not protect or judge me.
When I say education, I mean I don't know if it will matter because of what people like me are supposed to do. I also can't help but  think of the enormous privilege I've been given.
When I say work, I hope that means one day not just for personal fulfillment. But it also means recognizing all the ways others can contribute.
When I say solidarity, it means no matter what.
When I say collaboration, it means virtual, in person, or in spirit whatever form that may take.
When I say inspiration, I mean all the badass people who must continue to exist even when we are told we are unfit to care for ourselves or another person. 

And another, shorter one.....

This was in the style of Stacey Millbern's "No one ever sat me down and said."

No one ever told me

No one ever told me I can't do anything I want. 
No one ever told me that I wouldn't have to "get used to it."
No one ever told me that I would want to be the way I am.
No one ever told me what it feels like to hear someone say "People like you have children?"
No one ever tod me about the amazing community I would find from claiming crip.

Many thanks to the  D Center for hosting this event and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha for being a revolutionary badass. It was an honor to share space with you and a pleasure to see you again. Thank you!

Conversations with the Guitar Man

Hi all!

I wanted to share with you today some other work I've done that I have not yet found a place for, but I believe it is too good not to share! This first one is a piece that I wrote over a year ago, while trying to find my voice. Enjoy.

Conversations with the Guitar Man

It is near 6 o'clock on a Tuesday evening, and I am clutching my phone and my purse for dear life. After being sent on a wild goose chase around the U District for interesting characters, I headed downtown unsure what I would find. I had been there many times, but on that day, I could not bring myself to talk to the many eyes that I constantly felt upon me. There are many places I'm comfortable going alone, but, today, this wasn't one of them.
            Despondent, I decided to try again 24 hours later. I headed into Pike Place Market just before closing to find the usually packed walkways practically empty. It was kind of an eerie feeling, but it was nice. Maybe I should come here at night more often.
            “What do you listen to?” asks a guy who is “just messing around” on his guitar.
            “A bit of everything, really. Right now, I'm really into Allen Stone and Jack Johnson, the whole folk thing.”
            With that, he busts into a medley including Johnson’s “Bubble Toes,” to which I lip-sync and drum on my table unashamedly.
            What strikes me about Josh is his willingness to be candid. I can tell he is adventurous.
            Originally from Guam, Joshua Catahay started touring the music circuit early, having been in a band for the better part of 20 years, both on guitar and vocals. He said he fell in love with Seattle early on, and just recently sold everything and moved back in October 2012. He has been “busking” at the market since April 2013. He plays everything from his own original work to many cover songs, including those of his idol, Seattle-based Clinton Fearon. He has also previously been featured with well-known reggae band Kore Ionz.  Although music sustains him between jobs, he says his favorite part of this experience is interacting with people.
            “People start up conversations that would never normally happen if you didn't have a guitar,” Catahay said. “It has really enriched me.”
But he said some of his favorite experiences come from the camaraderie of the street music community itself, as well as the greater Seattle community. For example, as we were talking, somebody from the donut shop across the path offered us two huge bags of mini donut holes out of the blue, which I, of course, politely declined. And then I listened to him tell this story:
“Just last week, I came up from Fifth, I stopped by, and you know, his name is Bob, he plays the steel drums, reggae music.” So he goes on about how he became friends with him and others: “And then, the next block, on Fourth Avenue, I stopped and I met this guy, his name is George. He's a veteran, and he suffered a stroke, but he's an awesome guitarist. I played a few songs with him, and later on that day, then he gifted me an amp,” said Catahay. “That's so awesome, you know, I'll treasure that because it comes from a musician here.”
            And so, I'm sitting here wondering to myself the whole time: Why the hell are you at Pike Place Market on Wednesday night when there are only 10 people around?
“I sometimes am the first one here, and sometimes I'm the last one here,” he said. “I like to sing in the new day, and I like to sing out the night, say goodbye to the sun.”
            But whatever time of day it is, Josh always has time to talk, no matter who his audience may be. He shared with me four things that a man named Mike, an elderly musician who plays the djembe, a type of African drum, once told him about playing music.
·      Relax
·      Use your body as part of the rhythm
·      Play with your heart and soul. Own what you play.
·      Never let anybody stop you from playing music, no matter what.

Whether it is the true embodiment of soul through that guitar, or the ease with which he talks to anyone on a street corner, you can tell it's experience that changes people.
“People you least expect are the ones with the most heart, the most giving, sometimes… I'll stop for anybody and have conversation with them if they want to, no matter who you are.”
And perhaps that is worth all that, and a bag of donuts.