The woman from the Polish talk radio TOK FM contacted me again sometime before Christmas. She explained that she was doing a holiday special, to explore if and how people who left the old country celebrated the season wherever life has thrown them. What they remembered and what they miss. I must say it is not a joy-filled couple of weeks for me and I doubt I was the best person to speak on the subject, but still I agreed to a Skype interview. I explained that back home Christmas was the time you always spent with family. The food, the tradition, the togetherness. It doesn't have to be religious. So much so, that during my first year here I did all I could to be with my cousin, his wife and son. Because he was family and Christmas is about family. Yes, Polish traditions, the Christmas Eve dinner, the food, the dishes that every child back home recognizes, the Christmas tree, the presents. Yes, it's something that you grow to miss. And it's probably one of the few days in a year when you wish you could physically be somewhere else. The suffocating and ever present Christmas decorations that pop up the week before Thanksgiving used to really get to me. Something about the carols and the snow, being home for Christmas and the plastic commercial holiday spirit would make me feel so isolated and alone. It's not that I was bored or looked for a way to kill time. Having nowhere to go and no one to see simply wasn't a good feeling. And yes, you can rationalize it. You're here, your family isn't and this feeling will pass. But then, Christmas should be something you sleep through. So I celebrated with my cousin a few times. But him living a few time zones away in the middle of a Nevada desert doesn't really help us being in touch or making any kind of plans. So, I answered quite truthfully, that when I was in school I'd make plans to go somewhere because I had a few weeks off. Now I just focus on where I need to be and what I need to do the day after Christmas. Focusing on my Foundation and where I want it to go is more important to me than jet setting off somewhere so I can kill the blues and feel like I belong somewhere for a day. Yes, when there was a Polish group in town I felt a part of I'd celebrate with them, but there isn't one at the moment. I'm sorry my life isn't glamorous enough, but I'm not too concerned. Ten years into this journey that is America and you learn to develop a thicker skin about these things. And when I was revisiting my inner Grinch or perhaps realist, another transplant from Poland was having her first Christmas in America, four hours plus of a car drive away, down in South Florida. Jazzy, as we came to call her became the creative Director for my foundation earlier this year when she responded to the volunteering ad we posted on Linked In. She didn't know I was Polish, she says she doesn't even usually look through opportunities yo give her services to a cause. But something clicked. I wasn't even the one who picked her, isn't it amazing how sometimes things have a way of working out? Though we met randomly we speak almost every day. And we have more in common that we ever imagined. So I told the radio journalist to speak to her next. She has that enthusiasm and determination a she was planning to have a traditional Polish Christmas Eve for all of her American friends. And I'd guess it be fun to see the hay under the table and the traditionally served carp and all the vegetables that she had to hunt for in specialty stores. And of course I was invited. But she lived four hours away. The journalist asked me if I was thinking of going. Yes, I was thinking and I wish I could have gone. But I knew it didn't really make much sense for me to attempt it. My life isn't some Christmas TV show special where the character makes it back home for the holiday dinner. There's a lot to do the day after, back home. And moving my causes further means more to me than eating herring or borscht sharing a few laughs or carols.
Monday, December 29, 2014
Monday, December 22, 2014
It was 2007. Just a few months prior UF students were rallying for me with signs in the middle of the law school courtyard. We were making a statement, raising awareness of the controversial practices of the LSAT administration that were not fair to individuals with disabilities. The message was clear- a person is not a number. I fought hard for my place in my second Florida law program. I've met with anyone and everyone who could have influenced law school decision to prove my worth. I campaigned hard for myself to have them that I want this, that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get there, that I'm ambitious and I'm skilled, that I have what they're looking for. That their decision before was wrong and I was just as good as everybody else. I was so focused fighting for my own cause that I didn't stop to think what would happen if I actually get it. So when it did I was left with doubt. It was probably just me working myself in my own mind, but for the first semester or two I put some extra pressure me. I felt there were people at the school who felt I didn't deserve to be there, that I was unworthy. I also wandered what some of the instructors thought of me being there. They had to had known who I was, it was in the papers. I also felt the need to prove myself to the people who accepted me that this time around they made the right decision. Just a few months before, the Dean made some pretty harsh remarks to the Gainesville Sun. Who knows who thought what? I could say if I got here, does it really matter how? But I wanted to prove to all that my cause was just, that it made sense for me to champion it, that for the lack of a better word, I arrive vindicated. And a thought crossed my mind, "What if I'm not a success here?", maybe I don't really "deserve" anything. Maybe I'm not as good as I think. I never thought what was probably true, that nobody really cared either way, that everybody had a story and all that mattered was where we would take this next. It made me work harder, but also second guess myself at times and it sucked plenty of fun out of the experience. It wasn't until my third semester that I fully came to my academic prominence. I was named to the Dean's List twice in a row and I got a couple of book awards- highest honors in a class. What it took was time and being able to relax and let go of any actual and imagined expectations. I remembered this, as I met with one of my younger friends- who just started last semester at one of Florida's law schools. He was frustrated. Some of his grades were not as he imagined, why could he have cracked it? He's a smart guy and he's used to being on top of the class. And I've had a few C's, well, C+'s on my record as well. Some of those were worth as much as B's or B+'s with some other professors. I appreciate them still for the learning experience. Just because you don't get a top (or second to top) grade doesn't mean that you're not good enough. Sometimes it means as little as performing worse than somebody else on a test on a given day, simple as that. On some other tests, on some other days, you'll perform better. You're in a class with some other bright, talented, hungry people who are just as good as you. And five, ten years from now it will not even matter what grade you got on some insignificant exam. You get good grades, you get worse grades. But all that matters is that you get through it, finish, pass the Bar (for which the law school doesn't really prepare you for either) and you try to have some fun while you're doing it. Being able to transfer in 24 credits from my other program saved me a lot of money, but meant that I would not have that first year bonding experience with others in my section. I wish it's something I've known at the time. I was eager to be done, that I let a lot of things pass me by. Don't push yourself too hard. Don't set impossible standards that nobody can ever meet, don't drive yourself insane. You're already here. You have nobody to impress and nothing to prove. Enjoy you're life, you have only one.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
A few weeks ago I posted a question on Facebook aimed at my attorney friends. What do you think about disability accommodations? Do you see them as reasonable modifications that allow people to function? Do you see them as something that is fair and just, that promotes inclusion or at its core do you see it as special treatment. One of my friends answered with one word, "Semantics". On one hand I can see his point. If disability legislation (ADA, IDEA, RA take your pick) is law, what difference does it make? It's now part of our system, a part of our toolbox, what is the benefit of asking "why". We don't question a lot of our other laws and how they came to be. They just are. And if I wasn't personally invested in the matter, I'd say : those are the standards that I look at, those are the criteria, you meet them or you don't or you can make this or that argument and those are the anticipated outcomes. And on a different note: Does it matter how you got here when you're already here. I however am not just an attorney. I strive to promote inclusion and understanding. Yes, it helps that if I choose to go that path, I don't have to care to think what people think. The law is the law, it objectively exists outside of what people do and do not get, feel is right and justified. That I don't have to explain myself to anyone or seek validation. That the question I ask is "Is there a ramp" and not "Do I deserve a ramp". And yet I think, as much as it pains me to say it- that what people think matters. For a number of reasons. Firstly, I believe that the reason people dread ADA compliance - that they treat it as something the just must do, hiding things and hoping to get away with as much as possible is because they don't see how it affects other people's lives (and in turn their own bottom line). Others are likely to include you if they understand your journey. If they're inspired by your struggle and form a connection on a human level. Secondly, I say it's a matter of respect. It's easy to dismiss someone if you think they've gotten an easy ride. I can't speak for other people, but I know I worked hard to be where I am today. I did have help along the way in places where my disability limited me beyond my control. If you think it was to give me more than just my fair shake you undermine not only how I got here, but where I am. And it's hurts, having to look at people who smile and nod and underneath it all still assume that some bit of it is undeserved, like there's some kind of a trick to it. Like it's not your place, like you shouldn't be here. And one person who you shouldn't explain yourself is your attorney. Someone who should be unequivocally on your side. And I know as attorneys it's our "job", but as I human being I like to know how you "feel," how much you identify with a particular position and how much you "know", because it relates back to a very human experience, understanding. I don't think it's semantics if I ask, do you believe me, because that's what it comes down to. One thing that could ruin the experience is that lingering doubt, deep, deep down underneath all the laws, all the cases and all the political correctness. And this is why it matters.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Maintenance in the winter.
It was a few days before Thanksgiving, when after a dinner with friends we decided to go back to my place and watch a movie on Netflix. "It's toasty in here"- and he was right. The thermostat was showing 83 Fahrenheit, about 28 Celsius, despite the system set to 76F. The air conditioning was turning on and off and appeared to do something or at least make a sound, but nothing was cooler. The next day my maintenance staff came back with a verdict. I've had a Freon leak somewhere and they couldn't touch it without a specialist handling it. Another twenty four hours later the news was even more dire. My system was so old that it couldn't simply be fixed- the whole thing needed to be replaced/ I knew they wouldn't get to it until the following week. That weekend was the most celebrated family holiday in the American calendar. Christmas here is just the one day, nobody does anything for Easter, but Thanksgiving, that starts Thursday and goes well into Saturday and Sunday. Luckily for me I read up on Freon and it wasn't poisonous. It could however suffocate me in the right concentration as it pushes out oxygen. 24 hours before the big holiday I was given a window unit. A small, yet incredibly loud machine with a pipe going through the open window. I'd serve me until Monday, only waking me five times a night. I felt like I lived in one of those older college dorms without a proper installation with boxes affixed to the outside wall. It wasn't a great week, but at least it kept me cool. And it really brought me back to my first apartment in Gainesville. Oddly enough it was managed by the same leasing company as where I am today, but that was their low end "affordable housing" segment. It only had AC in the living room and it seemed like a huge airport style unit. My new roommate who I've just met at the time had to sacrifice our privacy in order to keep cool. With all our fans on and doors open, which was a strange thing to do with a virtual stranger we were able to maintain some degree of cool. Of course we couldn't unpack as pest control was spraying all of our apartment every other day. The roaches seemed to have taken over and they were not about to be evicted. We had to gather our things in the middle of the room. The wheelchair ramp I was promised upon signing turned into be being able to get a ramp if I hired a contractor and pay for it. Needless to say that place was an experience and as close as I've ever gotten to living in a dump. It was an experience- and all that stress certainly didn't help the then-forming relationship with my roommate. The maintenance and management of where I live ten years later is of course much more helpful, but the place is far more expensive. But I have to say, what happened over the following week brought me back to those experiences from years before. Whoever was working on the replacement of the AC unit Monday and the unrelated but schedule inspection and replacement of my sprinkler system Tuesday seemed constantly surprised and baffled by what they found in the walls. There was a lot of drilling, plenty of saw action and a lot of frustration, that things either didn't fit, didn't go where they supposed to, that there wasn't enough room. The people dealing with the fire system- and again I think it was poor planning on my complex' part to schedule all that work in my apartment they after day, with strangers coming in and out, which of course had it me stay home and watch it. As they made holes in my ceiling not only was there a hole there until the following Monday, but they didn't cover or move anything from my oven or my floor. For days I wasn't to keen about getting into my kitchen to get to the refrigerator. The drywall dust was everywhere, I didn't want to track it on my walls and why should I have to clean it? After I complained - somebody came over and at least vacuumed the floor. I was less than impressed with how both issues were handled, that they were attempted one after the other and then left and disarray, that hardly anybody noticed that it was a struggle for me, that no one cared to properly apologize and make it up to me. Something I'd expect from the high end of the apartment portfolio.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
A show of support
Sunday, December 7, 2014
I can understand a lot. I know that sometimes you're just having a bad day or you're simply not in the mood. I can see how stopping your bus to load up a wheelchair can be pain. It takes time and you're on a schedule. And if you have one of the models with the lift in the back- forget it- the fun just begins. From struggling to line up yourself properly and close enough to the sidewalk and remembering to properly power it up in the front and in the back to make it work. Don't forget the key to open up the controls. And I thought I've seen it all. Drivers who rolled their eyes at me or told the person they were on the phone with that they need to "Load a goddamn wheelchair" as they saw me roll up or even never uttered a word while they were loading, unloading, strapping and unstrapping. I've seen unruly passengers. Some loud, others appearing unstable or threatening. I can understand a lot, but for the life of me I will never understand what happened Saturday night. I was waiting at regular spot for my night bus after a movie showing on campus. I've never ridden with this driver before, although I did recognize him. A few times he either never stopped for me or simply ignored my presence and drove off when other people got off. I should have known this may be not the best idea just by looking at his angry facial expression as he was coming up and how aggressively he was maneuvering to get close to the sidewalk. As he opened the door he started cursing, although not at me, just quietly to himself. And shook his head. He made sure it was clearly visible that he was not happy that he had to stop for me and load me up. Mumbling, making faces, As if I was some kind of punishment or flagged him out of spite. And with every minute, as he had to turn things on, get the key, get the controls for the lift opened, it was only getting worse. And I only wanted to gdt home. Preferably quick and in one piece, he just happened to be there. I've never seen a driver so enraged from the moment he saw me until he drop me off. He seemed furious. And as he was expecting trouble loading me up with the backloading lift which is complicated to power and sometimes gets stuck at that stage he got me in without a problem. In the passing he explained that he hates this bus and they always give it to him- but then all the other drivers are in the same boat. Just ask the driver that made me wait right before him as he couldn't power his. But this man was just very angry. Angry and loud. While it seemed that he was mad at his equipment, as he waving his arms I wasn't sure that this emotional behavior wouldn't get out of hand. He's cursing and yelling and I don't feel safe. I'm strapped down, couldn't get off the bus or wait this one out if I wanted to. As he had a hard time activating the lift at my stop, more emotional outburst followed. As it turned out it was his mistake because he forgot to do something, but at that point he started to slap the box that housed the lift controls. It wasn't at attempt to make it work. He felt blinded by range and wanted to blow off steam or punish the bus for not listening to him. It reminded me of how one of my friends when he was helping to carry me up the stairs lost his grip and felt so frustrated with himself he punched a tree. I wanted to just sit there and let the driver do his thing.. I wasn't sure at some point he wasn't going to turn around and slap me. He was at the point where I wasn't sure if he'd be able to stop himself before he took one step too far. Because everything up to this point only made it louder and physical. I was not only immobilized, but the only rider on the bus. I've never seen a driver so angry, walking back and forth, pacing, wiring himself up and in a way, I'm his prisoner. He doesn't know how to drop me off, so filled with anger decides to drive me to the end of his run, when some other driver shows him how to operate lift. He then drops me off on his way back. A lot of things happened to me on RTS buses but I've never felt this unsafe before. I felt I was locked in a tiny box with an unpredictable man that was flying off the handle. It was beyond the point of trying to talk to him or asking him something. He was not someone at that point you can reason with. Had he come at me, I'd have no way to stop him. And that's a feeling I wouldn't wish on anybody.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
This was a topic I was originally going to ignore. After all, I'm no longer a child and through the events that shape me how an adult experiences disability is far more interesting to me. But I kept getting links to articles and fundraisers involving "inclusive" toys and "inclusive" playgrounds and that made me think of what it was like for me when I was young and interacting with the world through playtime with able-bodied friends. Maybe there's a better way.. A lot of those stories share an old too familiar beginning- a parent of a child with a disability didn't like something they saw and it inspired them to do something about it. I have to say that I really like the word "inclusive". I prefer it over "accessible" though to some it may just be semantics. To me it suggests- at least in theory- something that all could enjoy rather than a thing that was designed or modified so a person with a disability could use it. I remember what it was like to not be "included" and I've written about it a number of times. Kids who walk and run get away from you, because you just sit there. And yes they say they'll be right back and most of the time they would be back at some point, but having experienced the fun and laughs you'd never be apart of. Sometimes it was as if a whole secret world existed I never had access to. My mom was smart enough to try to steer my friends and how we played to put m in the center for as long as I was little. But as kids grow older they do more and more "stuff". "Stuff" that involves running and biking and digging and swimming that you're less and less connected to. You're able to rationalize it. The'll be right back and you can't walk, what did you expect for happen. You know well that you have a disability, that there are things you can't do and it's not even that you're angry and you're telling yourself "why me". You just don't like it. You don't like how it excludes you and how it makes you feel about yourself as you wait for others to remember to find you again. Yes, you were born with it. Yes, you're used to it in almost every other way. And you grow to understand that you can't do certain things, be included in activities. You sit and wait, because there's no other way. And then you can't be angry because how can you be mad at something beyond anybody's control. So you sit and wait as other kids play and for the most part, you get used to it- you're fine. But maybe there can be more to life to settling. Just because you know and you understand doesn't make it fun Maybe there's a way a child can be included without being either made the center of attention or forgotten by the group. Maybe some creativity and yet again, parental determination can offer a better childhood experience. I tried to think of a time I felt like this for the last time, because it is a feeling that stays with you. Originally I was going to go with "I was 19, visiting America for the first time and we were exploring Disneyland for the first time. My family then got to experience some of the more physical rides and activities, marked on the map as wheelchair unfriendly. And I got to watch some of them." Would I really want to try the monkey bars or whatever it was? Not really. But you're left with a feeling that you can't do it while everybody else gets to. But in reality the last time I had this feeling I was 25. It was my first Spring Break and I went to Puerto Rico with a group of friends. They then decided to spend a day in the rain forest. Wheelchairs and the jungle? Forget it. I don't think I would even enjoy being around poisonous plants and venomous animals. It's not that I wanted them to stay either. But being alone on the terrace of our hotel, reading a book and playing solitaire gave me that old feeling like I'm missing out on something, like I'm missing out on life. This got my thinking. Maybe this feeling doesn't have to a part of a live with disability just because we accept it, just because we can explain it to ourselves and rationalize it. Maybe "You can do more" starts with your childhood? There's a few links that I'm trying to find to share with you, but why don't we start with this. This is from my native Poland http://teespring.com/GoBabyGo-Nation, while here's something from the Madison Claire Foundation about aa accessible playgrounds project. https://givemn.org/fundraiser/Give-to-the-Max-Day-Lock-Up-for-Madisons-Place---Team-Leading-Edge-54539b8ab2223 Please note that I know neither personally, so exercise caution when giving money to any cause.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
A few weeks ago I had lunch with an attorney I admire a lot, an accomplishment man many years my senior. The way he carries himself and how he reacts to people around him is not something you see often. A quality I can't quite explain, but I call "old school". He has the type of practice I had always respected and dreamt of having one day. One where books are used for research and old furniture gives potential clients a sense of calmness and confidence. Where knowledgeable is not the same thing as cocky and effective doesn't mean loud or aggressive. A man who knows his profession, who spent his entire life developing and fine tuning his skilled. We've met to see if there's a way we could work together to have the Florida Bar educate lawyers on how to approach and deal with people with disabilities. That's the one thing- despite all of his life experiences and legal skills- that he knew nothing about. And there's a lot of other lawyers that don't know how to conduct themselves in that situation either. I don't even mean the legal standard, although the Americans with Disabilities Act is still very young, and ever changing. The recent amendments have pushed it more and more to the direction of the person with disability being the main source of information of disability and how it needs to be accommodated. But I'm talking about things even more basic, how to set up your office, how to approach your client/opposing counsel, what not to do, what to say and what not to say. You could tell, he wasn't very comfortable with the subject matter, wasn't sure what language was appropriate and kept calling disabilities "challenges". And yes, in the last 25 years tremendous progress has been made in how we look and relate to people with those needs both in the field of awareness and inclusion and it's hard to keep up. We then got to talk about issues involving accommodations. And yes again, I understand that historically it's a fairly new concept- back in the day if you couldn't do something, you couldn't do something, end of story. Nobody stopped to think how we could modify the testing circumstances (or your work place) for example in a way that would still be fair to you and to others but focus on your talent, skill or ability without modifying the substance. And while I know there's some people who adopted the "look at me, I have a disability, I deserve special treatment"- as somebody posted something on our Foundation's wall about Florida not giving enough to people with special needs- I believe it's a minority. And while it may be a thin line between "special treatment" and "reasonable accommodations" we have case law after case law of institutions shown that their not doing enough, that they're in fact discriminating. I want to make it clear that both UF and the Florida Bar have never had any problems with any of my accommodations request. As I have functional use of only one hand - I was always given a scribe and extra time, while it is the disability resource center that suggested I also got untimed bathroom breaks if I ever needed to use the restroom. It is not as clear cut and set as you might think. The LSAC- a private entity that administers a test that is the basis of admission to all American law schools, was only few investigated by the Department of Justice and put on probation, while I almost sued my city for the way their city bus handles wheelchair passengers a few years ago. And to think their ADA person is working with one of the big disability institutions- I think Center for Independent Living. Just because somebody sings off on something doesn't mean your out of the woods. As we had our lunch and he told me of the few particularly loud bar applicants unhappy with the accommodations they got or didn't get, I reserved my judgment. Years ago I was coming at the LSAC and nobody would listen. Those stories, yes they sound crazy. But if need be, the court will decide what is and what isn't reasonable. While every set of circumstances is unique I hope that he doesn't take away from it that disability accommodations are some form of special treatment. That you get it because you're loud and make demands- not because you absolutely need it. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that I worked hard for absolutely everything I accomplished. Nobody gave me anything and life threw at me plenty. Yes, there were situations that I received reasonable accommodations, did it affect the test in any other way than letting me finish it? I don't think so. It would be really hurtful if people I respected thought of those as something "I get" versus something "I need". Trust me, it's no ball. I didn't ask to be born this way. But still, even if they don't know, I can't hold it against them. It's just something that they were not educated on, not their experience, not their time.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Thoughts on Ferguson
I don't care who you are and what you're upset about. I will never understand how you can set things on fire or break windows and take home the TV's or the liquor that you see in the stores simply because you're angry. What do you expect to happen next? This is where you live. This your community. The store owners are your neighbors, they work hard to make a living. And you'll have to look them in the eye the next day. And the day after that. Do you not want them to run businesses in your area? Do you not want them to feel safe? Who'll pay for and do all the repairs and construction? Does the stolen liquor and equipment solve any problems? Does it help with the anger if you charge at a McDonald's. I was watching the TV yesterday and I saw a lot of a pointless destruction. The images from Ferguson felt like scenes from a war zone in a post-apocalyptic film. I was switching back and forth between the four new channels as they were showing the Ferguson riots, up close and live, from different angles. One of the networks was even showing us footage from two IPhones as their camera was smashed. Battlefield from the safety of my living room. A friend came by last night as we were about to pick something on Netflix and as the Ferguson coverage was still on he said, "We should just watch this, it looks like a movie". The video was horrifying. And all I could think of is what in the world can ever be accomplished through something like that. How will the city, the neighborhood, the business owners and the people ever recover. How can they just get up and wipe the dust off? Was the damage done so severe that they can never recover from it and nothing would be as it once once. The ruins and the destruction will serve as a silent reminder for days, weeks maybe months. Maybe shame some people into thinking. This is your town, this is where you live and now you also live with the end result and the consequences. We live in a nation of laws. We have a process. If we don't like the process or we don't think it's fair, we change it. But we all operate within a system. We have rules, procedures and protections that give us an alternative to what we saw on the street yesterday. Do we really want to live in a world where we battle it out for survival and we air our grievances and frustrations by simply doing and taking whatever we feel at the moment? Where the physical strength trumps any other consideration, where "I want", "I need" and "I feel" are enough of a justification to do whatever a person desires? The thing about a system is this. A lot of times there will be those unhappy with what the System does even if the System gets it right. And sometimes of course the System will get it wrong. I don't want to deal with the underlying issue to much. A Grand Jury was asked to look into the evidence of the shooting and it was within its right to return whatever decision it did. It was obvious that many people were only interested in having the policeman punished regardless of the strength of the evidence, they wanted a particular result, irrespective of the legal process behind it. I doubt that these individuals would be happy even if the case went to trial if the jury didn't return the verdict thy expected. And as criminal juries deal with a legal standard that is very difficult to overcome and work with evidence and not emotions or beliefs the case wouldn't have been very difficult to prosecute. I'm not a huge fan of instituting legal proceedings just to make some people happy or to create a particular impression or to get a message to the community out. This is not what the law should be doing. A lot of issues are fascinating about this case, but the legal aspect is the least interesting. It's amazing how some people became so strongly personally invested in this story about a boy they've never met and an event they could not have possibly witnessed to form strong convictions about something they see on TV. Many projected their own experiences with prejudice onto this, because truth be told, we can reasonably reconstruct the chain of events, but none of us were there, we don't "know" what happened. Knowing something is different from believing, rationalizing, speculating or explaining away. It was interesting to me to see Al Sharpton talk about it as if he saw it with his own two eyes. I know that there's a history of distrust between racial minorities and police, well founded and documented. But we got to believe in the strength of the evidence, in the forensic science, in the testimony that is credible and not excluded in the law of physics. A lot of people were not interested in the rationale. They only wanted to vent by charging at the nearest McDonald's. Isn't interesting how some internalized this story, a story of a stranger so much, that they feel they need to unleash their anger on other people and their property? As if somebody offended their relative or a best friend. But it's someone they only read about or saw on TV and based on understanding they formed based on the media. And it matters to them. Perhaps it's the sign of the digital age. News networks, internet flooding us with stories on a 24 hour cycle. Often playing on emotions when there are no new legitimate developments. You hear about them you talk about them, you watch them on your big screen TV. At one point they become more than stories, they become real people. And that bring up human emotions. Anger. Frustration. I guess it's not more out of the ordinary as people invested in the lives of One Direction, Taylor Swift or Katharine McPhee, where fans stand up for them, attack them, cry for them as if there was a chance to have them over for tea. I know I have my own life. People in it have enough problems without me looking for more across state lines. I volunteer in the community, I run a non profit and I try to do the right thing: by being kind considerate and helpful.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Immigration, Obama, Democrats and the GOP: We're all stuck in the process
It's simple: American immigration system is broken and has been for the longest while. I don't think I could be called a " liberal" by any stretch of imagination except for on social issues and still I say changes are long overdue. President Barack Obama made headlines over the last few days by deciding on an executive action that will suspend some deportations and alter in one way or another the position of some who are here without a lawful status. While I take an issue with how he has done it, the scale of the move and the Constitutional implications the one thing I feel it may accomplish is forcing us towards a real debate on who gets to stay and how. Yes, apparently they were working on it for nine months and yes, it seems political I hesitate when it comes to using the word "illegal" as it's both not a term found in the language of the statutes and also while I find that while what a person does and their position might be illegal, calling a human being that just sounds inappropriate. A status is something you acquire. You may go out of it sometimes, be out of status between fillings and it's even fine to be without one while still in the country if you had one before for a limited time.
I'm not as personally involved in this issue as you may think- My path to citizenship ends early next year after 5 years on a green card - with the filing of the form N-400. I've been to hell and back to get where I am, it was not a quick and stress free process. And for the longest time we didn't know that we'd be successful, although I've never broken the law or entered the country without authorization. I came in on a student visa for law school. There's two points that I wanted to make. The media seem to frame immigration as an issue of migrant Mexican workers facing deportation. I think those who came in like me, always following the rules, subject to a lot of restrictions, have it much worse. Until I become an American, if I move I have to report it to DHS within ten days. They need to know where I live at all times. And it's been so long, I can hardly remember what port of entry I came through last time. I must carry my green card on my person at all times. And talk to any international student center official at any school. The amounts on restrictions, paperwork and requirements on those who came in to study only increased in the last ten years. My friends who deal with foreign students often vent to me with frustration about how the government is forcing some limiting interpretations of rules that never existed before. If you study here, you work hard, you're in the system, you're in the plain sight, you're transparent- it only gets harder on you. I'm sorry- but I keep hearing that you can come here or be here already, get in the back of the line and file for something- as an argument that pops up on a lot of the debate shows. And I want to know- who do they think can file for and what? In order to be eligible for a green card you need to qualify for a set of unique conditions like- you got married to an American, or somebody offered you a job and the quota for an H1B visa wasn't yet filled and your employer got in, or your skills are so high end, rare and unique and your workplace is so determined on having you that they are willing to go through 9 months of the labor certification process to show that isn't anybody else they could hire in your place. When I say the system is broken I'm less concerned about people who have low skills and jumped the border, because you could make an argument that they know what they're signing up for (although I understand humanitarian considerations, that everyone wants to make a living and offer its family security. I say that the system is broken because it doesn't offer a lot of reasonable paths to citizenship to people regardless of whether you're here legally or not. The system is geared towards not letting them stay - even if they are educated in high end professions and lived here for 10 years. Commentators seem to think that there's a lot of readily available waivers that you can go in and just pick one. That is not the case. And I chuckle quite a bit when I see a person who migrated with their parents decades ago under a different law and in a limited circumstance sounding off on an opinion show as if everyone could do the same today. Well they can't. And as with any fillings you have officers hidden behind their numbers deciding whether someone meets some other restrictive criteria, often in very arbitrary fashion. For the most part, from what I've seen unless you're the best of the best you don't get to be here and the Government has no interest in keeping you although American schools gave you skills that the could use here. For the waivers that we do have there's not that many that apply, and famously the one that we've attempted to try on me evolved from an obscure case about a New York Department of Transportation looking to hire someone for its system. This is what they work with to decide people's future. Their needs to be comprehensive reform that accomplishes two things: Attracts people with advanced degrees to stay in the country instead of forcing them out. And in the age of global economy, electronic media and ever present outsourcing companies should be allowed more leeway in hiring whoever they wish and be able to bring workers here. Employees may be more interchangeable when it comes to purely physical labor like picking tomatoes, but when it comes to jobs based on creativity, communication, thinking and interaction, a business owner should be able to decide who can forward his mission best without being bogged down by a paper intensive process with the odds stacked against him. For example: if I'd like to hire a Creative Director from France I want to be able to do so on the strength of his or hers portfolio even though he or she while good hasn't been featured in the Louvre or was peer reviewed in 17 publications. I definitely wouldn't want to wait a year to be able to offer an accomplished European marketer a job and be in turn forced to get a graphic designer from Interlachen. Another thing: H1b Visas: the work visas that most employers (unlike say universities that are exempt from quotas) that are hard to get because there's only so many of them, tie the workers to their jobs for many years. They don't have an option to look for better positions or ask for better compensation and in fact keep the wages down, because the companies know that workers hoping to become permanent residents are in a bit of a bind.
The problem with immigration is simple: it's growing bigger and bigger, more and more complex with more and more regulation. It's hardly user friendly, people, lives and corporations are stuck in the process and many immigration lawyers (and lawyers in general, but it's even less clear cut here) offer you their best "theory of the case" based on their understanding which may or may not be successful. The anonymous officers have a lot of power interpreting the facts and the rules as a daily routine without giving you as little as a name, it's harder more painful and longer than it needs to be. There needs to be a clear process that allows businesses get access to a pool of the world's elite. Otherwise they can just outsource or even move elsewhere. People need to know their fate so they can focus on their futures and settle on a life somewhere. Being afraid to open the mailbox for many years is probably not the lifestyle that anyone imagined especially if they've done nothing wrong. And there needs to be more understanding- of why this system doesn't keep up with the times and the needs and that being a Democrat or with the GOP has nothing to do with it.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The cold front.
My mother must be psychic. A month ago she insisted she'd sent me a winter coat. I wasn't sold on it, since-you know- I live in Florida. We don't get Winters, we don't get seasons. Most of the time it's moderately warm too hot, either raining or humid. Thinking of a proper thicker jacket is a bit of an abstract for me. It's something that is probably nice to have but in the back of my closet. And then you need a place to store it. The extent that I buy warmer clothing usually comes down to grabbing a random sweatshirt at whatever store I'm at if I happen to leave the house without a sweater. My mom however remembered how chill it was that December when she visited for m my graduation. And it's the strangest thong- if it gets cooler, it does so for a day or two and then it's hot as if nothing ever happened. But last week it got cold at night and not that pleasant during the day. This week isn't much better. To those familiar with centigrade, it's -4 tonight, up to +10 during the day. Not very warm at all. Not very Florida. It doesn't make you get out and do anything either. I had to go into my closet for one of my age old Gators sweatshirts and still I could put on more stuff At home my air conditioning is off as I hold off on turning on the heating. That was one of the things I loved as a kid. Getting into a warm bed with the bedroom window open. No matter how cold it was out, I couldn't sleep with the window closed and quite enjoyed being comfy under the covers with a bit of a cool breeze on my face. During the long months at the rehabilitation ward at a hospital in Warsaw I would do this routine, practically every night, when I would slide off the bed, crawl to climb up the chair, to then get on the table and open the door. Sometimes I would miss and land of the floor. Or I would get caught by one of the nurses while climbing up. I was afraid they would yell at me for acting up, being disobedient instead of trying to sleep, so I'd lie that I fell out of the bed. It usually ended all discussions and left me alone. But it didn't go unnoticed. At some point they started to put the bed railings up for me. For some reason I needed that little bit of a window, however small opened, so I could feel the cooler air. Otherwise I couldn't breathe. The air felt stale and it was almost like I was suffocating. Funny thing- since I moved to America, with the fans and A/C on I can't remember the last time I opened a window here. So now it's a bit cooler outside. And I don't mind. It's a change. It gives a bit more of that Holiday feeling in the air and I have a legitimate excuse to want a cup of warm mocha or latte Sure, it's a bit of hassle for me getting ready, having to put the extra layers, but it's temporary. And back home I've done it for years. Floridians on the other hand are not used to cool weather and a lot of people panic with the slightest freeze warning especially if they have plants of animals. I overheard a conversation this week, I can't remember if it was on a bus or at Starbucks, the two places at which you can recently find me, when one of two friends complained to the other that he owns only two sweatshirts as he moved here from Miami. And I thought to myself, they should see my closet.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Kim Kardashian or how to break the internet
Kim Kardashian, a celebrity that is famous for something, but nobody really knows what it is, decided to break the internet with her naked pictures and an appropriate hashtag. Some were outraged, I just rolled my eyes. She then received plenty of ridicule for the move and her photos were transformed into what seems like an infinite number of memes (another overused word). I haven't seen such an out-pour of creative use of Photoshop online since Miley Cyrus was twerking on the MTV stage. Others were in turn outraged st the outrage saying that poking fun at Kardashian is anything from sexism, misogyny to a violation of the First Amendment (and "freedom of speech" is the most overused and misunderstood legal term- yet a lot of people like to throw it in, relevant or not). Kardashian was then compared to some male musicians being shirtless, most notably Nick Jonas who don't appear to get that much backlash. And to clarify- I'm not a fan of neither. But it's obvious to me that somebody who is a musician, an actor, has some body of work whether I enjoy it or not, some other claim to fame besides being notoriously naked is allowed to even do something classless from time to time, because he or she has something else to fall back on. Ms Kardashian career, my friends tell me, stems from a sex tape that as some rumors have it her mother may have or haven't been instrumental in production and distribution of. Her body, her looks, her image being her main commodity. And there's nothing really wrong with that- although if you ask me I like my celebrities to have at ounce of a talent, interests and something to say. Antics are fine as long as they are in addition to something not the main focus. I hear the word "classless" tossed around in the Kardashian/Jonas comparison and while I think class is in the eye of the beholder, I think context is crucial here. Is the image artistic? Does it serve any other purpose but say "Look at me, I'm naked"? I have to say I do feel a bit odd seeing Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton in the same space and generating the same kind of interest as my beloved actors and musicians. (But then I would like to see people cherished for their intellect and spirit and the content of their character). Although I do hear that Ms /Hilton is now a DJ and has a career to focus on. Make no mistake- it's Kim Kardashian who built a name for herself on her looks and body and she's very smart maintaining the interest. She took a gamble marketing herself in a certain way and for the most part it has paid off. The backlash is a natural outcome of what you put out there, especially if you intend to push buttons and provoke. Yes, there are historically different stereotypes associated with male and female nudity in popular culture. Many male musicians take their shirts off to perpetuate the image of a "badass rocker" while some female artist have deliberately used sexuality to both stir up controversy and make people think. While some of Madonna's material may have been explicit as she literally took her clothes off for "Erotica" and the "Sex" book she had a purpose, a message and an agenda behind it, and she talked about it extensively. She wanted to bring attention to the perception of women that can be either smart and creative or sensual and sexual but never both. She did it in addition to her popularity in music. She didn't need to make a name for herself and if anything, she hurt her sales with her antics. At the same time, Red Hot Chili Peppers or Steven Tyler perform shirtless all the time but it's not intended to have a sexual context or arouse anybody. If anything the male equivalent of the female nude breasts in media is full frontal nudity. And you don't see that, not from Nick Jonas, not from Adam Levine.
Some people are concerned that Kardashian is a mother. While I'd certainly be in shock having discovered my mother posed for Playboy, it's silly to assume that celebrity kids are raised like the rest of us. That they are not brought up to be smart about the media and manipulate popular culture in an effortless way. If the celebrities have their own way of life, what they value, how they act and what they pursue, why should we assume that it tones down when they become parents? And maybe, just maybe the kids are better off having the skillset more fitted for their world.
As soon as you start criticizing this actor or that starlet you hear about their "Freedom of speech". What people don't understand is that the First Amendment is sole about the government, what it can and cannot regulate or simply can they shut you up. It doesn't mean that you have the absolute right to say everything everywhere and even if you can- that you should. It doesn't mean that you're immune to criticism, that people have to listen to you and if they do that they must agree. And I'm a big supporter of the idea of sometimes keeping my mouth shot before I say something I cannot take back and will regret.
Kim Kardashian is interesting to me from one aspect- because my initial reaction was that she was back to her old tricks- I want to see what happens when she gets older. Will she still be pushing her brand of sexuality on us when Photoshop can no longer help her. Madonna said that when she ages she'll just use her mind. I'm curious to see if Kim Kardashian will do something entirely different, use her mind or maybe she'll open a very important debate on the perception of aging and human sexuality. For that I hope she can push the envelope where many others before her gave up.
Friday, November 14, 2014
A guy walked into me.
Picture this: I was coming home from a meeting this Tuesday when I decided to stop by Starbucks. They were doing some kind of Two-for-1 Christmas drink promotion so the line was really long. A lot of people in a crowded room, everyone on their phones hardly seeing what's in front of them. I was just presenting our new Foundation materials and I thought it went pretty well. I decided I can wait and reward myself with a pumpkin spice latte. I was focusing on finding something in my manpurse when a man headed for the door with a cup of coffee in his hand walked right into me, Physically tried to get through me, never looking at me. I can't say that ever happened to me before, I've had people tripping over my lap when they were on their phones but never anything quite like this. It was as if he tried to body slam me, then he tripped and hit me on the head with his body weight. I couldn't tell if he was drunk or just in shock. I know I was. I wanted to air my frustration, yell some profanities at him, how dare he invade my private space, how dare he not look down. Invading my private space like I wasn't there. He asked me if I was OK but I was mad. And I wasn't quite sure if I wasn't injured. He just fell on me and I felt like I walked into a wall. It took me a second to figure out that nothing was broken. And I really wanted to tell him what an a-hole he was. I'm a person! But then through all the anger, frustration and shifting emotions all I could get out was "You should really watch where you're going!" when all I wanted to do is say something intelligent and poignant something to make him think about what happened, what he's done, how I felt, and how he doesn't even have a clue. "You're right, I should"- he responded and that I was not expecting. I was anticipating some cocky dismissive reaction that would allow me to vent further. And I think I could have easily yelled at him for five minutes and he would have just taken it. Instead that was all of it and we just parted our ways. I wasn't happy with my reaction. Nothing that I could say could have undone this anyway and it's not like I wanted him to be haunted by this experience. I also didn't want him to take the heat from all the other instances that the world ignored me or something happened and I could have let them have it and didn't say anything. Although I will say I was mostly frustrated with him and no one else. It's painful when a heavy man falls on your head and I don't want to make excuses for him. It it is tiring to always take the high road and be the understanding one. But that's not what this was about. Yes, my chair was pretty low was he wasn't looking where he was going. He saw an opening. And then he ruined my day. But by letting him get to me I made it even worse not for him, but for me.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Bad Judge and the legal profession
A few days ago a link to a blog on the American Bar Association website made it to my mailbox. Female lawyer organizations were rejoicing and taking credit for cancellation of NBC's dramedy, "Bad Judge". As I read it, I thought it spoke volumes- not about the show itself, but about the legal profession. I've seen the show a few times. It's on my DVR on "I get to it when I get to it" basis and I will not particularly miss it when it's gone and neither will the American public. If a freshman show continues to perform under 1.00 share in the 18-49 demographic you know it's in trouble. "Bad Judge" continued to redefine what is the new acceptable low for a network as forgiving and desperate for a hit as NBC. I'm surprised that it wasn't not only cancelled but yanked off the air weeks ago. The network kept it on, not because it hoped it would recover, but primarily because there wasn't any suitable replacement. Every single ratings website I know of announced it as certain to be cancelled. It's all about ratings, not about how offensive someone might find the content. So, what about the content? Yes, the show was titled "Bad Judge". Yes, she was rude and crude, had a fake handicapped parking pass, gave the finger to the press in the pilot. And I know that judges in particular need to conduct themselves in a certain manner in and out of courtroom, but this was a comedy not a documentary. The point was to show her as a flawed character. In the same vein there was "Bad Santa", "Bad Grandpa", "Bad Teacher" (both a cancelled TV show and a movie). And despite the title, if the protesters bothered to watch a little beyond the opening titles they'd see that while the main character is a disaster when it comes to her private life and how she conducts herself she is anything but a bad judge. She's unorthodox and creative, she cuts through the red tape to give people in her courtroom a fair shake. And I really wonder if the same groups protesting "Bad Judge" were as outspoken about "Ally McBeal" that portrayed a young semi-successful female attorney as a person forever frustrated by her single status, pinning for a married colleague, clumsy, having delusional visions of her injuring opposing attorneys and dancing babies who only finds fulfillment in motherhood as she leaves her firm and moves away. While "Bad Judge" is no "Ally"- her antics humanize the legal profession. She is more approachable than other judges on the show (and some judges I know). She spends most of her time with her bailiff and never once lets him feel like she's better than him because their differences in power. I've always perceived the legal community as a bit elitist to say the least, as if taking an oath makes us better people.
And I don't know about flawed judges- but I've met attorneys and law students with some pretty significant flaws. Quite frankly, in America your general education ends with your college degree. Law school isn't something that will give you plenty of opportunities to learn about the world. What you know coming in about history, geography, sociology is pretty much what you have to build on on the flipside. Law school teaches you a unique set of skills, but it doesn't widen your horizons. I've seen plenty of now former classmates make often narrow minded or bigoted comments with conviction in class because they were never exposed to a different perspective. A lack of experience, a lack of education. I highly doubt that three years of legal training and a multiple choice test has the potential of transforming them into different people. What's the harm in presenting lawyers on TV as living, breathing human beings as anybody else down the street? Of course the network is to blame. When will the stations learn that launching a show with quasi-controversial title like "Cougar Town" or the show based on the book "Good Christian Bitches" just gives the debuting series one more problem to overcome, especially if content compared to the title is tame? Bottom line: As I met with one of my former professors who had been practicing law for decades longer than I had I realized how different what we do today must be to what being a lawyer meant thirty, twenty, even 15 years ago. Today professional rules in a state where I practice still put more and more restriction and regulation on lawyers. I guess the thought behind it is we are still the chosen profession and people look up to us. And I feel that's a little self involved. Especially since we live in the times of internet, when an unhappy client can target and go after an attorney with all his might. When people ask me if I recommend going to law school I point to all my friends that do anything but law. I think the nature of the profession is changing. I doubt it will ever have as much prestige as it used to. When you ask around, you hear that the job market is bad, but then that's what I was told on my graduation day in 2009. It's hard to predict where it's going, but I don't think there's any going back. I don't think the community is ready for any change. I for one don't think that I'm in any way, shape and form better as a person because I practice law.
Yes, I try to be responsible and build a reputation for myself, but it has more to do with wanting to be a good person and the way I was raised than what I do. In a way we are all flawed, "Bad Judge" has them more than most people, but if you ask me having no sense of humor is one of the biggest flaws there is.
And as a sidenote: A funny story: I stuck with law at least in part thanks to Ally McBeal. In my first year studying it back in Warsaw I've met plenty of people who were humorless and focused on getting an early start at having a career of their dream that it was that they could see. Despite being very young they already felt burnt out to me. I think it was my third semester when "Ally" premiered on Polish TV. She was funny, impulsive, motivated and smart. Although a fictional character and miles and miles away- something about her life and how she carried herself, although I'd laugh off her crazy antics today back then was really appealing to me. The ways of an American lawyer showed me that I can have interests and hobbies and be eccentric, that I don't have to be just one think or another but whatever I choose and however I make it work. Back then I wanted to do a lot of things in life and I felt I didn't need to compromise and have a profession define me. I didn't know it yet, but seven years later I would move to America, get my LLM and then my JD and get admitted to law practice in Florida and DC. And I give some credit to American TV shows that shaped my teenage mind. Series that featured strong, commanding lawyers that knew how to move, structure a case and deliver strong closing arguments, but at the same time were very, very human.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Just one of these days
Today I woke up with an all too familiar stomach ache. A food poisoning? A flu? Whatever the answer was I could tell it was not going to be a good day. And the week was going so well. I've had a few meetings with potential sponsors and partners for my nonprofit, fleshed out new projects that I want to focused on. Always dressed up and always on time. And then Thursday came. You know that feeling when it's not only your stomach, but you have no energy, your eyes feel puffy and something comes over you that makes you feel tired. A nap would be nice, but you figured no amount of sleep can take it away. It's not that kind of "tired". It's giving in to disease that wants you stuck at home tired. On Friday I have two meetings and I might pick up a potential client for my occasional law practice. It keeps me sharp to do what I was actually trained in and I'm excited. I have to say, that Linked In has given us a lot of offers from volunteers from their respective professional fields that want to work with us. Lately I get about three submissions a day. And that's good- after taking out those who in fact want to get paid right away despite what the ads say, those that never respond period, those who have a change of heart and those who outright decline, those who never really read it and those that simply don't qualify, we have a good group to choose from. That's what we'll be doing Saturday and that's when my work week ends. But today it's Thursday. The feeling of being so sleepy that if I just closed my eyes I'd doze off in the most awkward position to wake up not a bit more rested was with me all day. That's the one thing I miss about being a kid. How your life gets put on hold when you're sick or not feel well. I'd love nothing more than slide under a blanket, couch and remote optional and sleep till the next morning. But I have those things called commitments. My life is not waiting for me and if I don't do the things I aim for I miss out and hurt myself. Nobody's making me chicken soup- don't know if I'd be able to hold it down anyway- and I've tried not to eat most of the day. Being an adult is a balancing act between can I miss it/reschedule it and "is it too ridiculous for me to even try to be outside. I waited an hour and with no further symptoms I went on with the rest of the day as schedule. Towards the evening I decided to eat a sandwich with fries and when everything appeared to be fine I decided to reward myself with a free screening of an upcoming movie on campus. I'm still tired, my eyes look swollen and I'm not really in the mood for anything, even getting to type up this post feels like a challenge. But I did take some chicken nuggets home, I might watch an episode or two of Friends before taking a good well deserved 12 hour nap. I'm really excited about Friday.
Monday, November 3, 2014
"Talking to strangers in Gainesville for 30 minutes on a bus"
There's a video going viral with a woman walking around Manhattan for ten hours that reports on the male reactions she gets as she passes. All of them are perceived as harassment, although I'd say that some are simply rude, not more than that- which is not the same thing while a few such as wishing her good morning or walking closely saying hello are borderline polite. I guess the reasoning is that a stranger shouldn't try to start a conversation if she doesn't want to be engaged and don't look for eye contact in New York unless you have bad intentions. You don't walk closely to someone, compliment their attire and truth be told most, but not all of the scenes had an obvious underlining context. I thought of this video as I boarded the bus today. A middle aged man, slightly deaf and supplementing himself with sign language was engaging every single person that boarded the bus. "Good morning", "Are you having a good day?" "How was your Halloween?"- some of his lines felt like they came out of a conversations book for people learning English. "How are you, Batman?"- he said to a man wearing the superhero shirt. Some people didn't want to be engaged or just didn't noticed that he was talking to them listening to music in their headphones, but he didn't get discouraged. He wanted to talk about the weather (it was sunny but we had a cold front), the weekend, the plans, he was asking about their names and where everybody lived. "How's the family?" he queried a young man he just met and we heard all about his relatives in Ohio and how he's torn between transferring to a college in Central Florida and an University in Texas. Most people, although a little puzzled at first to hear all those questions from a stranger, moved a conversation along. Some had a hard time understanding him but he was patient yet persistent. And he pointed to his ears showing us which one is bad and which one was better. And I couldn't help thinking, that if we were in New York, LA, or one of those other high-pate high-population, don't-look-at-me places he would have been pepper sprayed by someone who felt he was too close, to loud or too persistent. I guess we do have a different mentality here in North Central Florida. We nod, we say hi to people we've never met. We comment on people's wardrobe, not in a rude, objectifying way, but if there's something funny or unusual or eyecatching about someone's attire we say it- respectfully but we do. I always like to tell the story of how my mom, her first week in Florida, had an encounter with a few young girls that stopped to compliment her dress. She turned to me thinking it was her English or something she didn't get, because who does a thing like that. I always start a conversation on buses, bunches, in waiting lines and the more someone's detached and uncomfortable, the bigger the challenge to turn the mood around. Sex (or objectifying anyone) is the last thing on my mind and I guess people don't see it like that because that's not what I put out there. I guess it's a matter of perspective- where you live, what you're used to and how you react to people. I choose not to be constantly suspicious of everyone's anterior motives and be constantly offended, locked and mentally distant in my own little zone. Yes, some people are stupid, but it's not good to only see or expect the worse from everyone. Besides, 10 hours of walking is what? Two months of everyday commuting's worth in real life? I'd say I'm surprised there isn't much more material for a city this big
Saturday, November 1, 2014
For the last two or three weeks I was mostly stuck in my apartment. Days went by as I sat down and got plenty of work out of the way. There were days that I didn't get to go outside. There are only twenty four hours in the day. And I don't mind eating hot pockets a few days in the row as long as it's leading somewhere. My microwave was put to work over the last few days than in the last twelve years (and I had developed quite a liking for the frozen phili stake). I'm excited and I'm motivated. It's weird, because I've been trying hard to get m Foundation off the ground and so far failed to make a dent. But we were making a lot of business planning lately. Putting together pages and pages of presentations in a way that really sets apart and clarifies our mission. We've developed new project ideas. Instead of stopping, developed smaller steps, attainable goals, but a part of a bigger perspective. And instead of everybody looking on to me, as to what I want to do and how I have creative people by my side now that tell me what we should do instead and how to get there. No disrespect to people that have been with us before, came and went- their contributions are extremely appreciated, but I feel now we are kicking into a higher gear. And I learn new things- I do a lot more from all those different and strange areas and I'm more excited now about the possibilities that arise. We're developing a new strategy, new exciting materials. I was in meetings last week, I'm in meetings tomorrow, next week and the week after. My Creative team is really making me think outside the box and come up with proposals giving me courage to do things I never realistically considered before. The creative juices are flowing and I've been feeling liberated and unstuck. You know that feeling when you pour a lot of energy into something and you get to cross it off the list? I feel we are all on the same page now and we know what we're doing. We've been recruiting a recruiter and a few project managers, because we have actual projects for them to manage. I'd say I'm pumped, because for the first time in a while I feel like instead of just talking about all the things we'll do we are actually doing them. The biggest casualty of this is of course this blog. I didn't have the time, I didn't have the energy and I didn't really have the inspiration. As I don't go out and I don't interact, things don't really happen to me as much and I doubt anyone would be interested in my thoughts on microwaving a pastry. For the last few days the most interactions I had was with my DVR and espresso maker. But it's just calm before the storm. I assure you, we're going places.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Of buses and men
Gainesville might call itself a city, but in many respects it feels like a small town. I used to know all my bus drivers by name and I'm on first name basis with a lot of them. Now there's many new routes and many more new faces- and I haven't really been ridding the bus as much since I settled Downtown. Plenty of new people extend the ramp or lift for be to board, having no idea who I am, but what's more important- if I had to guess- having little to no experience being around wheelchairs. It's needless to say that I interact with a driver to a much greater degree than somebody who just walks on and off at the press of the button. The bus has to stop for me (which sometimes in the past didn't happen and then align itself just right to get the boarding mechanism out for me. Then the driver helps me (or not) to get on when I struggle and gets into really close proximity as he or she puts the straps and hooks at various spots on my wheelchair. You may even call it personal space and they're in it for a good minute. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I prefer it when the driver doesn't openly dislike me, as so much about me getting to my destination depends on them. Over the last ten years I've dealt of course with various displays of attitude. I struggle quite a bit on the new bus models with the steep folding ramps but I get it done. But the last thing I need as I focus and I pull myself up fighting for balance is a bad reaction or a nervous look, because things like that can really throw me off. And have the power to ruin my good mood. And then, when you come to some sort of good understanding with the drivers you do have, they switch them out. And you never know who you're going to get, how they're trained and how they'll react to you. If there was ever a driver I felt like calling the supervisor about and complimenting it was the young man that drove my Sunday bus. Always courteous and helpful, making sure I was safe and comfortable. I never did it, but then I rarely if ever call to complain either. Earlier in the week I decided to get coffee when one of the transit supervisor vans pulled up. I recognized the man it it, he wanted to say hello. He also wanted to tell me to let them know if I had any problems with any of the drivers, especially after the horrific story when I was stranded between two routes for a good two hours. And I was very happy. Finally someone acknowledged an issue that I struggled with and wanted to put my mind at is. That night a backloading lift bus failed to come close enough to load me up, both times that I was on it. It's been a while since somebody decided to pull me off the sidewalk backwards to a lift that extended on the street, but I didn't mind. They're learning. They're new. Next time they'll do better. And for me, getting loaded up in the street definitely was.. different.
Friday, October 24, 2014
A change of perspectiive
I know what it's like to have parents who would have done anything to get me to walk. There's nothing that we wouldn't try, nowhere we wouldn't have done. It seemed like Cerebral Palsy couldn't possibly had been a match to the passion and determination of my parents. Never giving up, never standing back. I recognize match of the same drive in some of the parents of the younger kids I interact with. The "we can beat this" and "all hands on deck" approach. But then, not to discourage anyone- I think they're fairly new to this. Not to say their enthusiasm will fade, but it may change and gravitate toward other things over time. My perspective is different of course, because I'm not a parent determined to help a child. To me Cerebral Palsy is not the worst thing that could happen. It's something that I got used to, for the lack of a better word- something that is a part of me to the extent that I wouldn't be able to imagine my life otherwise. I don't want to "get it out of me" so to say at all cost. It's not out of despair, or resignation or laziness. I think it may be part of a natural process that many CP parents go through. We were fighting it till I was about 16. Conductive Education in Warsaw, Bobbath concept, bouncy balls and mattresses, exercising and physiotherapy in Warsaw. Biking, horse riding, walking in braces every day, all week long, every week pushing myself physically in one way or another. But then, I went to high school- and all of a sudden we became more and more interested in things like how do I get around and where can I go. My father, the same person that had me stretching, kicking, doing sit ups in every spare moment was now pouring concrete all over our apartment complex so I could get on and off the sidewalk and building ramps. Because fighting the good fight is good, but then you need to go and live in the real world. Don't get me wrong- hats off to the parents of seven year olds who are on the forefront of every research bit, every medical theory and every ounce of hope- I just think the most difficult transitions are still ahead of them. I'd say many things were easier when I was seven. My parents could have just grabbed and pull me up with my arm. Of course, when people ask me about my disability, my history, my life story I gladly speak. And if I can give hope and inspire change I will always do so, but I notice the same kind of issues I've had when the Peto community was trying to get me involved. They were seeing me as one of them, but I really wasn't. I'm not a therapist, I'm not a parent, I'm not an educator (on things other than my life). In some respects it feels like it's not my fight- not anymore, not like it used to. It's something I was involved with or something that I happened to experience a lifetime ago. My perspective is different. Rather than the limiting perspective of CP or "beating it" through CE I'm more interested in disability in general. In what people know, what they do, how active they are, how the public sees them. Issues that are common to many of the mobility impairing conditions. I care about also partially because it concerns me, but it concerns all of us. That's why I started the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation- because I care about the image of the disability community as a whole. When I'm faced with a flight of stairs it doesn't matter what my diagnosis is, nor does the guy who tries to give a dollar to me for being in a wheelchair. The bus driver if he rolls his eyes and passes me by doesn't give me props for being a well adjusted with my spastic quadriplegia. That's why I'm doing this now. I guess your priorities depend on who you are and where you are in life But I do think that we are on the brink of something great. FDAAF has three new projects in the pipeline and I'm incredibly excited. Go ahead, feel free to ask how you can join.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Recently I have reached out to a friend of mine who now lives in Hawaii. Funny how time flies- last time we spent time together was seven years ago, when we loaded my wheelchair up on somebody's pick up truck and decided to watch a movie in a group at his house, an impromptu gathering after the bars have closed. Of course I remember that night for a completely different reason. It was when my sit cushion from my chair went missing right after we gave a couple of homeless people a ride to the Burger King on the way. As I told the police officer the next day, no I didn't see them taking it, but they were sitting right next to my wheelchair, the cushion was in fact missing and it would take some really strong wind to blow it off the back of a pick up, although- I suppose- anything is possible. What was really shocking to him is the price for a replacement I got my wheelchair's distributor. A sponge in a cover with an anti-slip rubber cover, how much can that be? 20 dollars? Try 120 if I remember correctly. The problem with having a 4400 dollar wheelchair (in 2005) was always that fixing it and replacing parts was always so expensive. The chair was of course bought by the city of Gainesville as part of a settlement after an accident in which a bus run over my old one from the same manufacturer. I had an older model that was a show piece, so for that reason it was slightly used and marked down. The one they replaced it with was the latest it-thing Kuschall had to offer and it even came with a $300 clock mounted above the front wheel that kept popping out. This was the one element the kind wheelchair makers in Switzerland were willing to replace for free. Guess what- the original sideguards- the plastic things that go over the wheel to protect my sleeves but don't really lock into anything- between all the loading and unloading I lost them within the first six months. This was something we were able to reproduce in Poland. And that's a good thing. Because I didn't feel comfortable riding around with a part worth $160. And every time you board a taxi or a plane you're afraid you will leave it behind. And guess what- I did when we flew to Munich. My chair has non-standard screw and bolts. For the longest time I had a screw sticking out of my antitipper, just so I would have anything there. A lot of times bike shops couldn't help me and I've had replacements that were too big, too awkward or barely held. To make it really work I'd have to order the original parts from Switzerland. And when I went back to Poland a year ago my dad felt that some parts were on the brink of breaking and needed to be changed. A custom order from Kuschall, the new set found me after I went back to America. I guess people don't really think of wheelchairs as things that are custom built, expensive and even more pricey to maintain. Many people when they imagine one, they think of those big bulky standard hospital units that you fold and put away. It's weird to think of a wheelchair as investment, like a car or a motorcycle, maybe because of the stigma of sickness and poverty that is often attached to it. But wheelchairs can be nice, just like anything else in life, and the better yours is the better is the quality of life in it. I just wish it was easier to fix.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Those darn knees
"If only you could fully extend your legs, if it wasn't for those darn knees"- my mom sighed a few times when massaging my legs.. And she's right - contractures in my legs have always made it difficult to walk, stand or even take go up a flight of stairs. My legs would just get tired quickly with gravity almost pinning me down to the ground, making me exhausted. Try as I might, I could never get my knee to go beyond the 100 degree angle, it's as if they're physically blocked. Through the years , my parents had hoped to physically loosen them and give me more movement. The added benefit of being in a cast waste down- your legs are forced straight for a few months and after a while everything lets go. I've even seen kids put in a cast without a surgery to recover from for that very reason. After a while the body gets used to the new position and stops fighting it. A boy I shared a room at the Children's Health Center in Warsaw for a few weeks had it done and I'd be lying if I said that my parents never considered it, however briefly. It was an effect similar to wearing leg braces every day. After a (longer) while all the tension every day. When you released the lock that held the brace locked straight, my legs would go numb, and I'd literally feel weak in the knees. For a few weeks we even tried "nighttime braces"- a lighter construction covered in fabric. I found it very difficult to sleep in thee things given that I was side sleeper. Try getting to school in the morning after a thing like that. My mom was always envious of kids who had hyperextention. Their knees locked straight, if not a little over. A bit of an opposite of my condition they had some problems kneeling, crawling and sitting down. But it was very easy assisting them to walk up the stairs or even go a larger distance. You could just have them stand against something and they would never get tired. When I was a child, there wasn't a whole lot of things you could say were "wrong" with me or different, but my right hand and knees were dead giveaways. I'd would have been easier if we just had it fixed somehow. I thought about all the things you can do if you can properly stand when I saw this girl at the store last Sunday. She was walking with a set of Peto style sticks, her legs straight, never bending, wobbling from side to side, drawing the step from the hip. She wasn't wearing a brace of any kind, her legs were just naturally locked in that position. I don't want to speculate as to whether she was in fact a pupil of the Conductive Education method and I could tell she had some type of neuromuscular disability- you often see it in the eyes or the tension in the face- but I would not venture a guess on whether or not that was actually CP. (My dad would often assume that a lot of the kids with disabilities had it, when in fact they've struggled with different types of brain injury. Her walk wasn't fast nor particularly majestic. Although she was making her steps slowly but surely I was a bit surprised. She didn't have the added weight of a metal braces nor the discomfort of metal rods going into the shoe. I always thought that if my legs could get that straight I'd move with more ease. But I guess moving your entire leg by transferring your body balance from left to right is difficult regardless.
My parents were entertaining the possibility of me having a knee surgery but then decided against it. I was revisiting this idea upon my planned arrival in Warsaw in 2008, but fate (and immigration) intervened. What can I say, the older I get the more I can appreciate the idea of having more movement.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Between A and B
I must say it. Some of the new bus drives are lost when it comes to getting a wheelchair on board. Either they don't know how to come close enough to the sidewalk for the lift to reach it, or don't know how to power and operate the ones that are by the back door. Both things happened to me Friday, as I was trying to get home from a campus movie. First, with Later Gator A (Later Gators are night buses that go through UF connecting different parts of the city with downtown to make sure that often drunk students get home safely)- that was the bus that I needed. The driver saw me sitting by the stop but didn't pull any closer. He asked me what bus I wanted, and after I said the name of his route, he nodded but drove away without a word. Even if he started to unload his lift right there, I would have to jump off the sidewalk to get to him through the bike lane. OK, I thought- I guess I have to wait for the next one. But for a good twenty minutes, nothing was happening. A concerned driver on the regular daytime bus saw me, opened his door and told me that all the "A"'s are held up downtown for some reason and I'd be better off if I caught the B. It also went downtown, although it took a different route and was less frequent. It stopped round the corner (and then across the street) so I decided to give it a go. After all it was supposed to be here sooner. A lady who just got off work and just wanted to get home as soon as possible joined me in the move. We tried to figure out where the buses were on the GPS, but not all of them were showing and we kept getting something ridiculous like 28 and 38 minutes away. As we were sitting waiting for the B as instructed by the other driver, We saw two "A"'s going by from behind the corner. "It figures"- I thought- "that they would come as soon as we left. The lady tried to make a run for it and she made the bus wait, but I can't roll that fast so I just told them to go. Still, she decided to stay a bit and wait for the "B" with me. We waited quite a bit, but nothing was coming. If it doesn't come in the next few minutes, we're going back, we agreed. I have a feeling it will come now- I said. We waited a little longer and the "B" finally came. But the driver didn't know how to get the lift powered. He told me it was broken and he called it in as such, but it's not that it was stuck, he just didn't know how to turn it on and there's a thing that he should have done in the front. But I guess it's easier to say, that something is broken. "There's the A now, go catch it" he said and he was apparently very surprised that I was rolling down the siidewalk instead of going straight at it. Well, I'm sorry I have have to get to an actual ramp at the end and not just jump the curb. I didn't get to the "A" in time of course, but I decided to wait for the next one. I guess we were waiting for a really long time, because the city route driver pulled up again. "What are you doing here?"- he said- "I told you to go wait over there". Go here, go there, wait, move, a good hour was lost following tall he good advice how to get home sooner. This time I decided to stay put and just wait for the bus. And guess what. It came not long after. And to think I left the film early to beat the traffic and do some work. As I was getting home, my driver told me that two people were hit by a car earlier that night causing detours and delays as they were running in the street.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
A few weeks ago my Foundation has its regular board meeting in the back of one Gainesville's most popular cafes. Most of the time we choose to meet informally to strategize and catch up over a warm beverage. The bathroom area is locked and shared by all the businesses in the building. Every establishment has a number of keys to give to its patron, and they're often attached to large spoons or things like a french press, so the customers wouldn't lose it. When I saw one of my directors returning with appeared to be the restroom key dangling from the end of a long metal instrument I noted that I don't like having to use it here. The cabin is small, the door opens inwards, it's hard for me to get situated- I explained. That can't be true- my director insisted- they wouldn't be allowed to do that. - Go ahead check it- I challenged him while taking a sip of my large drip with cream- Tell me how it goes!. It's been many years since I was there last, I thought, maybe I'm wrong now, maybe something changed. I used to struggle there quite a bit over the years and I knew what I remembered. But yet, I was curious. As he returned he said- You were right- I really don't know how they can get away with this! Well, that's one of the reasons why we have this disability nonprofit. To raise awareness and promote change. And we have our work cut out for us. As much as I like Maude's, adore people who work there and I strongly believe they have what quite possibly is the best coffee in town, here's where the problem is. If the door opens inwards and the cabin is not very deep, there's not enough room for me to get inside with my wheelchair and close it. If I could only get behind the door I'd be a different story, but there's not enough space between the toilet and the edge when it's open. I'm left with two options and I tried them both. The door remind open and the wheelchair faces me sticking out. People walking by can easily see me, and even though there isn't a whole lot of traffic, just the thought that they could, that I have no privacy makes the experience much worse. Those are the moments when you really don't need to have or think about the possibility of having an audience. Alternatively I tried grabbing my wheelchair as I sat on the toilet seat, flipping it at an angle and pull it with my armsso that I could fit it in like an oversized suitcase. I would then push the door to close, but with no way of locking I didn't feel I had any privacy either. You just now that able-bodied or not, people always tend to check the wheelchair cabin first. I also remember a few years ago, when I was at the cafe on a Saturday or Sunday- I may have been studying for the Bar or some other exam- I had a pretty unfortunate experience in that very bathroom- if getting in and out wasn't problematic enough. I remember trying to go in and discovering a pretty foul smell. As if something came in there and died. There were newspapers on the floor, I didn't want to investigate any further. As I complained to the person at the counter I've heard that yes, they were aware of the problem and how bad it is, but there was nothing they could do. The property owner cleans the premises on the weekdays. I felt their pain but I needed the restroom. It was upsetting that nobody realized that with only one wheelchair cabin available they should have done whatever was in their power to make it functional. After all they were fine selling me coffee, but couldn't be bothered to deal with me later. I felt at that very moment that we are years away from understanding and wheelchair inclusion. And it hurts when nobody cares. I ended up crossing over to Starbucks, thankfully they had a restroom I could use. But hey, did I tell you about that coffee?
Sunday, October 5, 2014
You can't eat paper
Originally I was about to write on a completely different topic, but I felt so inspired as I left my bus with a bag full of groceries today, that I couldn't wait to tell this story, It's funny how often bus drivers, strangers on the street, the extravagant and the homeless push me to take a second look. To think about things I would have never thought about by myself and to see and appreciate their perspective. It's those random exchanges that make me appreciate who I am, where I am and what I'm given even more. And I can't help but shed layers and layers of sarcasm and thick skin every time I'm faced with a deeply moving true story. And as I was unloading my groceries from my wheelchair and stocking my fridge I couldn't wait to get to my computer and tell this story, thinking of words and structure I would use as I was putting my milk, bagels and cold cuts away. Because it made me feel good. And it made me smile. And me think about how I've been stressing and pushing myself to succeed lately as I saw in a new light. "Do you know if there is a good steak in this city? That gives you a really big piece of meat? I've been to Outback but their portions are tiny"- he said. It was close to six pm, his last run, dinner time and he was hungry. "I heard Mark's Prime [ a locally owned restaurant] is pretty good, I've never been but my friends were going on and on about how big and juicy their steaks are, but my understanding is they are pretty expensive". "I don't care"- the driver said- "I'm really hungry. He then told me the grew up poor, often starving, so today he always makes sure that he treats himself to a good meal and he spares no expense. It reminded me a bit about how my mother always reminds to go and eat something good and in that way my family makes sure that I'm well taken care of. But it's what he said next that moved me. "You can't eat paper" he said and few words ever rung so true. It's not about the money, but what we do with it. And I know we all know that, but sometimes we just get so caught up to have more, to have something that we often forget what it's all for. Pushing harder only leads to frustration and a feeling of isolation if we don't see forest for the trees. Have perspective. Have balance. And have a good meal.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Just one of those days....
On Friday I decided to go to the Post Office, only to discover that it wasn't accepting credit cards that day and I never carry cash. I had to send out an package for my brother, something I have completely forgotten about, although my mother was getting on my case about it for the last few weeks so I would remember. The downtown location in my area has closed a few years ago, so getting things shipped or picked up these days is always a bus ride away. I get there and I see a sign that says "Cash Only", but I still go in as if there was a chance that it was a joke or there was something we could do to send it off. I guess I should have gone to another post office? Nope. The lady assures me that it's a system wide problem and no location takes credit cards today. Well, I better find an ATM. Apparently there's one down the block. I see a small grocery store with an ATM sign made out of paper in the window. I go in. At this time I have about 15 minutes to come back with money and send it off, I'm good, right? No. As I open the narrow door that the clerk helps me through and I ask for him to point me to the ATM I hear that they haven't had one in there in months. Why is there a sign? Apparently it wasn't lit up. Not something you could really see at four in the afternoon. But then if I was able to get to a teller machine it wouldn't have done much difference. When I finally find one, I discovered that Friday was also the day that my bank decided to shut down my student ID that I have been using as an ATM card for as long as I lived in Gainesville. A quick conversation with a Wells Fargo agent revealed that nobody knows who and why has done it, but it couldn't be undone. I had no access to my account, because although I also have a Wells Fargo credit card, unlike pretty much every other card I have I can't change my PIN either online or by phone without visiting my bank. And my bank closes at 4 and is in a different part of town. As I crossing University Avenue, which is about the busiest street in Gainesville and I saw all the cars waiting for me I've gotten incredibly tense and shaky and I had a bit of a panic attack. But then I decided I didn't have time for this, to give into this fear, I needed to work through it and get to the other side of the street. But I spoke too soon. As I was rolling on my merry way, I saw a car blocking my sidewalk access. I didn't know if it was parked or waiting to merge into traffic, as it was put in front of an intersection. I waited a minute or two, no motion, so I decided it was safe to go behind it. Big mistake. As soon as I did, a golf cart started approaching from the side of the sidewalk I wanted to get onto. To give it enough room to use the ramp, the car started to back up, right towards me. The lady in the golf cart and I both started to scream, because the driver clearly didn't see me. And as she apologized, that's what she said. I was behind and she didn't see. Another close call and I started to shake for a minute. I decided I didn't have time to contemplate my near death experience. Yes, something could have happened, but thankfully it didn't. And I don't want to play it down. But sometimes, things just happen and I'm overjoyed when I get through them in one piece. With my day pretty much upset, I decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts. If everything today is going not according to plan I might as well get a meal I didn't plan either. Once again, it's pumpkin season, and a pumpkin iced coffee can sooth my mood. It's that time of the year again. Halloween and Thanksgiving are coming and I stopped for a minute to appreciate the change of seasons, that you really don't see in Florida. With a warm sandwich and cool, sweet coffee, all the troubles of the day seemed to melt away. I was regrouping, rethinking taking a minute and soon I was ready to face the world again. And that's what life is about.