Volunteering for LGBT books to prisoners

A little while back I decided to give away all of my mass-market paperback books, because I can’t read small text anymore. My friend Karen suggested I donate them to LGBT Books to Prisoners, a local group. (https://lgbtbookstoprisoners.org/)

Today I took my three paper sacks down to their office. The office was buzzing! It’s in a basement of a community social-justice building. There are shelves full of books, a couple of desks with computers, a bathroom, and stacks of boxes. Four people sat at a table wrapping up packages in brown paper. Other people milled about filling requests and shelving books. I am acquainted with one of the coordinators of the project, and they showed me around.

It goes like this:
Grab a letter from the box. Read the letter, which may have specific requests for genre of book. Look on the form to see if there are any restrictions (such as no hard cover, no erotica, etc).
Fill the order by pulling books off the shelves. There are all kinds of sections, including classics, queer erotica, queer history, mystery, SF, African-American history, sports, etc.
Weigh your books
Write a short note to the person requesting books
Put rubber bands around the whole thing and put them in the pile to be wrapped.

They are aiming for 3000 packages sent by the end of the year.

I loved doing this. Donating my books to this group felt more personal than selling them or giving them to St. Vincent de Paul. I liked hanging around the other volunteers (one of whom is a friend of mine, one I vaguely recognized, and others were new faces). It made me think I should spend more time around queer folks in analog spaces. There is just something so comforting and relaxing about a space like this: social-justice focused, people working together and talking about books; and obviously queer. Plus, there were snacks.

The only hard part was standing on the concrete floor, which hurts my feet.

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On not working

Every day, I think about working and not working. It is a lot to process. My life would certainly be simpler if I were working; I’d fit in with other people and be able to have conversations with strangers around that annoying question, “What do you do?” I’d have income even though it’d be small from being a part-time state employee. Insurance would simpler. I would be a little more normal and therefore pleasing, or at least not confounding, to the rest of society in this one way.

In my early 20s, I developed facial pain that no one could explain or treat. I got an MRI of my brain to check that it wasn’t a tumor. I tried taking various anti-spasmodic drugs. I thought moving around might help, if only to distract me, so I left my desk job.

When I was in my late twenties I worked in a lab, at a job I didn’t realize was a toxic environment. I went to a podiatrist to get orthotics, because my feet were hurting so bad that I would sit at home with ice packs on each foot. I developed a constant headache.

I eventually got a job I liked, working on a research study. I had to walk about a mile from my car to my desk. I started getting sicker. One day after I parked my car, I took a short nap right there in the driver’s seat. Then I walked to the library, where I knew there was a sofa on the 3rd floor that I could nap on. I set a phone alarm and slept for half an hour. Then I walked the rest of the way to my desk.

At a later job, I closed the door and turned off the lights. I put my heavy winter coat on the floor and laid down on top of it, because I was feeling nauseous. I knew this wasn’t normal. I didn’t know what to do about it.

I was already getting treated for anxiety, something I’d failed to deal with in graduate school. All of my health problems made the anxiety worse. It was a problem, really a set of major problems, that few could help me deal with. The only people who seemed to offer wisdom were, and are, those in the disability community.

After that job ended, I started feeling a little better. I went to the dog park as usual and talked to my friend Mary, one of the best people I know. She told me that I looked significantly better, and that I should never work a day in my life again.

It was a relief to hear this. I don’t want to work, and yet I do. I grew up a farm kid and labor was satisfying, even fun. I’m smart, and felt from a young age that I should use my intelligence to help make the world a better place: I would do scientific research. I would add my pebbles to the mountain of knowledge, to borrow a metaphor from the book Lab Girl.

Capitalism makes many demands of us. I had reached a point where the demands were too dear. I refused.

I’m poor now, but: “There is no shame in a simple life of poverty,” Uncle Iroh assures Zuko in Avatar: the Last Airbender.

I don’t know what the future will hold. It’s hard to think about. But I’m sure that this is the best choice for me, even if I have to remind myself of that fact every day.

Nerve block #3

My nerve pain was pretty terrible this last week.  I had the attention span for playing candy crush and listening to podcasts.  I still ran errands and did essential tasks, but my mood was bad and I was exhausted.  I took a lot of naps.

I went in today for Nerve Block #3.  It went well.  I’m planning to get these every 3 months.  The doctor said she’d do it more often if need be.  I told her the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that I’m able to read again.  I went from reading only comics and articles in 2016 to reading seven novels so far in 2017.  (I still read comics and articles, but now can read novels again too. I just checked my Goodreads account; and I’ve read 9 novels as of today).

The doctor had a resident with her again, and she explained everything she was doing. I think the combination of listening to her explain the details, and the fact that I had a vasovagal reaction last time, made me a little nervous. But I did OK and only had to lay there for a couple of minutes before I could get up and go. The whole thing was fast and pretty easy. I felt sort of euphoric; my pain lowered dramatically and it was easier to breathe.  Since my pain is often in my nose and mouth, it can be hard to take a full breath, and albuterol doesn’t always help.

The resident said that my case was the most interesting one of the day.

I am waiting for the headache to come, the one that follows after the nerve block and lasts all night. My mouth hurts but so far, no terrible headache. I think it’s just on the edge though. I bought a bunch of popsicles and plan to keep eating them.

Solstice Goose

Yesterday as I was driving to the Humane Society for my volunteer shift, I saw a cop car pulled over on the bridge over the highway. I glanced over to see two officers with their arms spread wide, making that classic herding gesture. In between them was a goose. Not a common Canada goose, but a light brown and white, beautiful goose. I laughed aloud and figured they’d be going to the same place as me. When animal control or the police pick up strays, they bring them to the humane society.

A few minutes after I’d started my shift, I saw one of the officers walk in. I was the only person sitting up front at that moment so I asked if I could help him.

“Yeah, I have a… duck? Goose?” he said. “It’s in the back of my vehicle.”  I imagine this was one of the stranger things this officer had done.

I went and got someone and it turns out the goose was a domestic, barnyard goose that had gone astray. She seemed quite calm. How she ended up on the bridge over the highway is a complete mystery. Now she is safely ensconced in the barn at the humane society. After a stray hold period she will be up for adoption.

 

 

 

 

Valuing chronically ill graduate students

Tenure, She Wrote

nsf_disability_removal

Many states issue “special wage certificates that allow employers to pay disabled workers according to productivity rather than hours worked.” Working under these rules, a disabled person can expect to make less than $4/hour. Some people think paying disabled people less is a good thing, as shown by this response when Maryland ended sub-minimum wages for disabled people:

If a worker is less productive, should they be paid less? This is not an abstract question for me.

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Publicly available Slide show and notes on disability

I created a slide show and notes for and introduction to social model of disability.  This is suitable for tweens, teens, and up.  It is creative commons licensed.  Please feel free to provide feedback and to use these slides and ideas for your group (with attribution).  The slides and notes are on Google Drive.  My brother gave this talk (with some coaching from me) for his kids’ Boy Scout Troop, and it took about 20 minutes.

Slides:

Disability Intro Slide Show

Notes:

Notes on the Slide Show

Are You Well Read in SF/F?

Have you read the following core science fiction and fantasy books? The year listed is the year published and includes YA books.

  1. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey, 1968
  2. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969
  3. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1973
  4. Kindred, Octavia Butler, 1979
  5. Psion, Joan Vinge, 1982
  6. Alanna: The first adventure (The Song of the Lionness series), Tamora Pierce, 1983
  7. Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold, 1986
  8. The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kerstein, 1989
  9. China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F. McHugh, 1992
  10. Ammonite, Nicola Griffith, 1993
  11. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell, 1996
  12. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner, 1996
  13. Bellwether, Connie Willis, 1996
  14. Crown Duel, Sherwood Smith, 1997
  15. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, 1997
  16. Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb, 1998
  17. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey, 2001
  18. The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer, 2002
  19. Fire Logic, Laurie Marks, 2003
  20. Princess Academy, Shannon Hale, 2005
  21. Zarah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor, 2005
  22. The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner, 2006
  23. Graceling, Kristin Cashore, 2008
  24. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 2008
  25. Liar, Justine Larbalestier, 2009
  26. Half World, Hiromi Goto, 2009
  27. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin, 2010
  28. Among Others, Jo Walton, 2011
  29. Adaptation, Malida Lo, 2012
  30. The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson, 2013