Archive for October, 2011

Trick or Treat

Last week, Mom and I were shopping at Target when we saw Halloween candy on display and decided it was time to stock the big wooden salad bowl, just in case we get trick-or-treaters. But last year, we only had a couple trick-or-treaters and the year before, the pumpkin lit with a candle was outside the door, the porch lights on, “The Monster Mash” playing on a stereo we place outside and not a single trick-or-treater came.

     Since answering the door and being the one that got to say, “and who do we have here?” to the little witches and goblins that came to the door was the extent of my Halloween celebrating once I reached an age when it was no longer socially appropriate to be a little witch myself, this absence of trick-or-treaters was disheartening.

     I have tried to replace the tradition I outgrew with new traditions. Well, they cannot really be called traditions because they only lasted a year or two, but you know what I mean.

     The last two years, Dad and I celebrated by dressing up as burritos to win a free burrito at Chipolte Mexican Grill. This year however, my dad has a new job and will probably work too late to continue this tradition and well, I inherited my love of stupid silly fun from my dad! And anyway, it still wasn’t the same as trick-or-treating.

     Two years ago, Dad also took me to a haunted house, but I wasn’t that haunted by it. I’m not sure if it was because that particular haunted house was geared towards little kids or if it was because I am blind and the scariness of it was more visual. But whatever the reason, I left that house puzzled about why haunted houses draw such long lines.

     This year, I am starting what I hope will be a tradition that I can carry over to the office job after college. I am going to live vicariously through my guide dog Gilbert and put him in a costume for Halloween. It is no longer socially acceptable for me to dress up I suppose, but dogs never have to give up their cute innocence right? So along with the candy, Mom and I picked out an adorable $6 old man costume for Gilbert, complete with a purple hat and orange tie. This will be the most fun tradition yet I think, especially when it is time for my Creative Writing class, a very intimate, fun class with only five other students, all of whom love dogs, especially Gilbert and have been looking forward to seeing him dressed up for days. But even this tradition will never live up to the fun I had trick-or-treating.

     Of course, since our neighborhood hardly has any trick-or-treaters these days, my parents and I have been enjoying the candy all week and will have plenty left over, but somehow, this candy just doesn’t taste as good as it used to.

     To hear me rave about trick-or-treating this way, as if it was so much fun that nothing could ever live up to it, you might think trick-or-treating was something I looked forward to for months just like Christmas. Actually, trick-or-treating was met with a mixture of excitement and dread for me. I thought it was fun to dress up and I loved eating the candy of course, but earning that candy was hard work in my neighborhood.

     Now that I am an adult, I appreciate our neighborhood more. It is a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood with two-acre yards, spread out houses, long driveways and a paved country road that can go hours at a time without seeing a car. In the spring, you can smell lilacs and honeysuckle from the road, making it a wonderful neighborhood for taking walks. But for little short-legged children, this neighborhood is torture.

     I have vague memories of my older sister pulling me through the neighborhood in a little wagon with the candy bag in my lap when I was really small, but most years, I walked. Some neighbors would drive groups of trick-or-treaters from house to house, but my parents never did that. Though I wasn’t aware of the increase in childhood obesity then, perhaps that is the reason. They didn’t want to spoil our fun like other parents by rationing our candy, but we could at least walk to earn it.

     To add to the misery of trick-or-treating, many Halloweens were cold and windy. I remember trudging through snow one year. In kindergarten when I dressed as a princess, the wind blew my crown off my head and my mom had to run after it. I vividly remember several years of wearing my winter coat over my costume and coming home with a nose tip that I am told was red and which I could tell was cold to the touch. So when I arrived at each door, rang the doorbell and removed the scarf from my mouth to say “Trick-or-treat” I felt I had earned the pile of candy lovingly dumped in to my open bag by each neighbor.

     Being blind made the process of trick-or-treating annoying because every neighbor has a different configuration of steps that lead up to their door, which made getting up to the door even more tedious than it was for “normal kids”, but I thought it was fun not being able to see the kind of candy being put in my bag. This meant that in addition to every other kid’s eagerness to get home and eat the snickers bar they saw, walking home for me was like waiting through the night of Christmas eve. “What treasures did the neighbors put in my bag this year?”

     As soon as I was in the warm cozy house and I had taken my coat off, my parents let me go wild and dig through it all! If I saw M&Ms or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I had struck gold, but I loved anything with chocolate. I wasn’t as fond of fruity candy like Smarties, so those I generously shared with my brother. (smile)

     It’s funny how when we are little, we cannot imagine being big. We don’t appreciate how special trick-or-treating is because life seems timeless and the notion that one day we will be too old to say “trick-or-treat” never crosses our mind. But all of a sudden, puberty sneaks up on us and says “boo!” and we realize we aren’t one of the little kids anymore.

     Now that I think about it, the onset of puberty was also when Halloween candy no longer seemed to taste as good as it used to. Sure, this could be due to the fact that with maturity came a greater consciousness of health, so guilt got in the way of my enjoyment when eating candy. But I think there is more to it than that. In the same way that I always felt a sweeter sense of victory and satisfaction when I did a difficult homework assignment or cooked a meal all by myself, working for my candy, walking for what seemed like an eternity to my short little legs, fighting my way through cold, wind and sometimes rain and snow, made the candy taste even sweeter.

     Thus it has occurred to me that my mourning about being too old to trick-or-treat is not about the costumes or candy, or even the void that was created when I outgrew this tradition. It is about the simple joy of earning my candy instead of having it handed to me, which brings me back to my disheartened mood in recent Halloweens when we hardly get any trick-or-treaters. Mom pointed out that many of the children in our neighborhood are now past trick-or-treating age. But on summer days, I hear a lot of little children’s voices shouting and laughing in yards all over the neighborhood. I hope that maybe I’m just a poor judge of age. Maybe you cannot judge a child’s age by their voice. I hope there really aren’t as many children as it sounds like there are. I hope that all the children I hear playing in the yards aren’t going to more compact neighborhoods where they don’t have to work as hard for their candy, because I have found that earning my candy on Halloween and in life is half the fun.

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When You Pray, Move Your Feet

This proverb reminded me of a joke I heard a long time ago. I don’t remember it word for word, but the premise was something like this:

     A woman is caught in a devastating flood. Eventually, the water is so high that she must escape to the roof of her house. While sitting on the roof, she decides to put her survival in God’s hands and starts praying to God to save her.

     After a time, a neighbor with a boat notices her on the roof and says, “I can rescue you,” but the woman says, “I appreciate it, but God will save me.”

     As she waits on the roof, the water gets higher and higher, but a little later, a rescue helicopter comes with an offer of help. Yet again the woman says, “no thanks. God will save me.”

     Eventually, the house is overcome with water and the woman drowns. When she gets to heaven, she asks God, “I prayed and prayed for you to save me on the roof! Why didn’t you save me?” to which God responds, “I tried to. I sent the helicopter and the neighbor with the boat.”

     I understand if some of you may have found this joke insulting, but allow me to argue that even if it is a little over-the-top and insulting, there is some seriousness to it. I think the point this joke was intended to make fun of was society’s oversimplification of religion.

     We have all heard of other extreme and not-so-funny examples of this oversimplification in real-life. In my local area a couple years ago, the parents of a little girl with juvenile diabetes were sentenced to prison because they prayed for God to save the child when she went in to diabetic shock instead of seeking medical care for her. She died as a result.

     But there are plenty of less extreme examples of times in which we have all been guilty of oversimplification. I am speaking here not as any kind of theologian or expert on religion by any means. I am just your average college student who happens to be blind, but I can speak as someone who was guilty of buying in to this oversimplification myself.

     One day as a teenager, I was flipping through channels when I came to a religion channel that sounded interesting. As I watched, I would find out the show I tuned in to was The 700 Club. For awhile, I was enjoying the show and found the testimonials of people who had come to Jesus inspiring. But then they had a segment where someone prayed over people who were afflicted with physical blindness from eye conditions and they supposedly got their sight back.

     “Anyone afflicted with blindness, close your eyes and pray with me,” someone said, “and your sight will be restored.

     The rational part of me knew that this was a sham. If it was that easy, every blind person would have done it already and there wouldn’t be any blind people in the world. And yet I am ashamed to admit I did it. Not surprisingly, when I opened my eyes, I was still blind. I never watched that show again.

     But I fell in to the miracle trap again. I was watching a news report earlier this year about a church in my state that is believed to be the site of an apparition of the Blessed mother. The news story also said it was believed to be the site of miracles and specifically sited the story of a man who came in on crutches and left the church without them, a knee injury completely healed. Usually, I would have begged and pleaded to stay home when my family wants to tour a church, but ever since hearing that this church was the site of miracles, I was consumed with this weird mix of excitement and hope. After doing further investigating on the church’s web site the day before the trip and finding that other miracles included the restoration of sight to blind people after family members prayed a novena at the church, I felt like a child on Christmas Eve.

     Deep down, I knew that miracles by definition were rare and inexplicable. Also, I was always taught that God has a purpose for all adversity. Yet when I walked out of that church and playfully quoted a line I used to put a nurse practitioner at the eye doctor in her place a couple years ago when she asked me if I had noticed any changes in my eyes, (“I’m still blind!”), the truth was I did feel let down. My parents said prayers, but we were only there for one afternoon, not long enough for a novena which I learned was an intense form of prayer that spanned several days. I never told my parents, but for 48 hours after the trip, I abandoned rational thinking, researched novenas and longed to go back to the church and see if “we just didn’t do it right.” If only we had time to do a real novena, I could be running down our country road swinging both arms at my side in jubilation, untethered from the cane, dog harness or human elbow. As I wrote in an entry back in March called What Would Seeing Feel Like? it wasn’t that I was depressed about being blind, far from it. I have been blind my whole life, so being blind is normal for me and I am very happy and well-adjusted. But I have always secretly wondered what it would be like to run down a street hands free or stand on a hilltop and see for miles. Fortunately, that week I had an internship interview to prepare for which distracted me so the feeling wore off quickly, but it was sobering to realize that I was behaving no better than the woman in the joke that began this entry, or even the parents who didn’t seek medical help for their child. I had misconstrued the purpose of prayer, buying in to the myth that prayer is synonymous with magic.

     Alright, most of you probably cannot relate to my experience either, so let me ask you this. Have you ever had a job that you loathed for inadequate pay, long hours, no sense of fulfillment or all of the above? Did you ever pray to God for guidance, asking him to send you a sign that would make it clear whether you should stick it out or quit and find something that better suited you? When he sent signs that you should leave–depression, no appetite, an inability to sleep at night–did you still insist on sticking it out and not search for something better? I know of so many people in this situation.

     Have you ever continued practicing the faith you grew up with because it is familiar, but in reality you are just going through the motions with no passion? When you felt pulled by another faith that ignited a spark in you, were you unable to take a leap of faith (no pun intended) and let the spirit lead you to try something different on a long-term basis? I know of people in this situation too.

     All of these situations are very different, I realize. But I feel like the moral in all of them is the same: prayer is not synonymous with magic.

     It would be wonderful if a divine being could swoop down and save our lives, literally and metaphorically. It would be wonderful if all afflictions in this world could be erased through a simple prayer or if we could literally hear a voice telling us what we should do rather than having to settle with an ambiguous feeling that something “just isn’t right.”

     I admit I still struggle with the “prayer should equal magic” thinking, but I am slowly realizing that since God knew the purpose he had for us before we were even born, prayer is really about asking God to be with us for whatever life throws our way. I have also come to believe that God should not be thought of as a physical being but as a spiritual force that sends us the signs that a circumstance in our lives isn’t right for us, inspires the helicopter pilot to go rescue the lady from the flooded house or helps the blind person to recognize and accept that He has a purpose for their blindness and live out this purpose instead of fantisizing about what isn’t meant to be. It is up to us to recognize these signs and “move our feet” accordingly.

Students Suspect Preferential Treatment of Blind Student

Shepherdsville, WI. School administrators at Clifford University are investigating student complaints regarding perceived preferential treatment of a blind student by professors. The student, Allison Nastoff, is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a politics minor.

     Typically people at the center of serious investigations like this decline our interview requests, but Nastoff says she has nothing to hide.

     “An investigation isn’t necessary in all honesty,” Nastoff said, “the preferential treatment my peers speak of isn’t perceived. It’s real.”

     Nastoff, who has been blind almost her entire life, said some preferential treatment has always been a part of life.

     “I’ve always received a little bit of special treatment, simply because totally blind people like me are rare, and thus fascinating,” Nastoff said.

     But even she has noticed a sharp increase in preferential treatment since she started college. It just so happened that the start of college coincided with the acquisition of her first guide dog, a yellow lab named Gilbert.

     This issue was first brought to the attention of the administration by Thomas Truman, a student in Nastoff’s history class freshman year.

     “I had to stay up all night finishing a paper and I was exhausted. But being the motivated student that I am, I dragged myself out of bed and made it to the 8am history class. But I inadvertently dozed off and my head slumped onto the desk,” Truman said.

     According to Truman’s official complaint, Dr. Jefferson noticed and reprimanded him for being disrespectful, telling him he shouldn’t come to class if he is too tired to pay attention. But a couple days later when Gilbert snored loudly during a lecture on stagflation, Dr. Jefferson laughed and said affectionately, “I guess Gilbert isn’t interested in stagflation.”

     “How is that fair?” Truman would like to know.

     Since Truman first raised the issue, other students have started to come forward.

     “I sat next to her in an International Relations course last year,” said Hillary Palin.

     Palin recalled one assignment where they all had to write papers about whether or not the United States should send foreign aid to countries with corrupt dictators like Libya, and come up with our own ideas for how the United States could get aid to these impoverished countries without supporting corrupt dictators.

     “The day papers were handed back, I overheard Dr. Biden say to her “95 percent! Nice job!” as he gave Gilbert an affectionate pat. At first, I was impressed that she scored so high and was going to congratulate her, but couldn’t help glancing over her shoulder and noticing a comment Dr. Biden wrote on her paper,” Palin said.

     As Palin tells it, Nastoff proposed as one of her solutions to the issue that money should be sent to non-governmental organizations like the Peace Corps, to which Dr. Biden pointed out that the Peace Corps is part of the government.

     “I had no idea it was possible to even get in to college not knowing that. Would such a demonstration of stupidity have been so easily forgiven if I had written the paper, being that I am not allowed to bring my dog to class? I doubt it,” Palin said.

     Phillip Peepys is in an english class with Nastoff this semester.

     “Class had just begun, I mean JUST begun, when Allison and Lynda Dillard started giggling. Now if my friends and I had been giggling amongst ourselves during class Dr. Webster would have asked us to leave for being disruptive,” Peepys said, “but when Dr. Webster found out they had been laughing because Gilbert was already snoring loudly, she laughed herself and stopped class, not to reprimand her but to rub Gilbert’s belly! Now I don’t care what anyone says. Laughing while the professor is giving a lecture, even over a cute dog is rude and the fact that Allison was able to get by with it is so unfair!”

     Yet the administration has also gotten wind from a student who is in Nastoff’s senior capstone class this semester that this unfairness has gone beyond the campus boundaries as well.

     To graduate, all students in the communication program are required to have 150 hours of internship experience and are expected to seek out and apply for their internship independently.

     “I found an internship, but only after sending out over fifty applications and attending numerous interviews,” said Norah Rawls, “Allison used to be my best friend until I was chatting with her on the first day of school while waiting for Dr. Johari to start class and learned that she only sent out three applications, two of them resulting in interviews, both of these interviews resulting in internship offers!”

     One of these offers, and the one Nastoff ended up taking was an internship with the governor’s office. Rawls acknowledges that Nastoff is smart and an excellent writer but “come on! No one gets such an impressive internship with such little effort these days. I personally feel these offers had more to do with Gilbert’s cuteness than Allison’s intelligence.”

     We contacted the Dean of students who declined our request for an interview but sent a written statement.

     “Our investigation is still ongoing, but at this point we do not intend to discipline these professors, partly because the same students who filed complaints later asked that they be recanted because they love Gilbert too.” We were able to confirm that this is true.

     “I regretted filing that complaint as soon as I did it,” Truman said, “he’s a dog after all! He can get away with not paying attention to the professor.”

     “If I had a choice of either playing with an adorable dog in my dorm room or doing the research that would have shown the Peace Corps is part of the government, I cannot say I wouldn’t have chosen to play with the dog, so I realized I shouldn’t fault her,” Palin said.

     “Even professors admit lectures can get boring,” Peepys said, “it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be complaining about a momentary diversion from a lecture, a glimpse of pure innocence from a dog who can do what we all wish we could do without any consequences.”

     “If I were a hiring coordinator, I suppose I would have hired someone who can bring a dog every day to lighten the mood of the office,” Rawls said.

     “I do sincerely apologize for any bitter feelings Gilbert and I may have caused for my peers, especially regarding the prestigious internship. But the reality is that in a society where the unemployment rate for blind people is 70 percent, I’ll take any advantage I can get,” Nastoff said, “and frankly, given how much Gilbert has made life easier for me by charming professors and employers, I don’t understand why only five percent of blind people choose to have a guide dog.”

     So while most of her peers are already fretting about how they will find a job after college, Nastoff is confident that Gilbert’s charm will land her any job and any promotion she wants. Her ultimate dream is to get a job that pays enough that she can spend two weeks a year in the Gilbert Islands.

Let Season 8 Begin!

Well readers, it’s the second most wonderful time of the year, the first being Christmas of course! This second most wonderful time of the year though is the beginning of a new season of LJ Idol! Yes Idol contestants, I’m coming back!

     For readers of this blog who may be new, LJ Idol is an amazingly fun spin-off of reality shows like American Idol where each week, you are given a topic to write about. People vote for their favorite entries and whoever has the fewest votes for that week is eliminated, or should I say, “sent home.”

     Last year, Season 7 was my first experience as a contestant on LJ Idol. I had a wonderful time, but unfortunately was sent home on week 10. But this season, I can officially call myself a veteran. In other words, things are going to be different this year.

     I would like to say with confidence that I will win, but I won’t be that arrogant. I hate how every contestant on shows like American Idol introduce themselves by saying they are confident they will win. While it is great to project confidence and think positively, the reality is there are a lot of excellent, and for that matter much more experienced writers in this community and only one person can win. If I win, that would be so amazing, but if I don’t I am alright with that too. However, it is my goal to at least make it further than week 10 this year.

     Finally, I should apologize to my fellow contestants for not being able to read everyone’s entries or respond to all the comments regarding my own entry. I know that when I signed up to be a contestant last year, I mentioned wanting to meet other writers and make new friends. I genuinely would love to do this, but unfortunately, I quickly discovered last season that being a full-time college student doesn’t allow me to be as social as I would like to be. I could catch up on entries on semester breaks, but it feels kind of awkward to comment on entries after everyone has moved on to the next topic. So what I ended up doing last year was reading the entries of contestants on my friend list and then go to the polls and read a couple of the entries receiving a lot of votes in my tribe. If I don’t read your entry, it is not because I don’t care about your writing. I simply cannot read them all, and I don’t think my parents would be pleased if I failed college classes over LJ Idol! No offense.

     The same is true for responding to comments on my own entries. The braille computer I use is kind of slow, so even replying to one comment takes forever. I could reply to one or two of them but don’t want it to appear that I appreciate some people’s comments more than others. So since I cannot reply to all of the comments and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I typically won’t reply to anyone’s comments. But please know that I do read and appreciate them all. I will graduate college in May, so by season 9, I should be a college graduate with a job and no more homework and therefore a lot more time for an online social life.

     With that being said, some of you readers are probably understandably asking, “if you don’t have time to read everyone’s entries or respond to comments, why compete?” My simple answer is that life can be pretty dreary this time of year where I live. It is midway through the semester, right when classes are at the height of boringness. My trek to class often involves cold damp wind or rain and since I am too old to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating and our neighborhood is so spread out that trick-or-treating is no fun anyway, there is nothing to look forward to until Thanksgiving. But reading comments about my writing, having the opportunity to read as many entries as I can from other amazing writers and the thrill of watching the polls is just enough to put a spring in my step and give me something to look forward to amidst the monotony of school life, and although I have no way of scientifically proving it, I feel like when I have something to look forward to, I have an easier time staying motivated to get my school work done.

     So I understand the reasoning that “if you may not be able to read my work, why should I read yours?” If you don’t read my writing, that is fine, especially since I would really have no way of knowing. But if you would like to motivate a student to keep writing and study hard in school, I sure would appreciate it and I promise that next year I will pull my weight and more actively support you. On that note, let the games begin!