Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The "Subhuman" Perspective on Humanity

One thought has popped up in my head over and over again through various circumstances the last few weeks: What makes a human valuable?

Last week, I read "Of Mice and Men" and this week I'm reading "The Brothers Karamazov".

(**SPOILERS**)

In the former, a very autistic man named Lennie is disposed of much like an old dog or a lame horse. In the latter, there is one man who views his own son as a "monster" and refuses to allow him to be christened because his son was born with only six fingers. Another man declares the highly autistic village "idiot" to be "an animal" and rapes her.

Perhaps, I would not find these stories to be so disturbing if I did not also believe that very little has changed. These books were written over a hundred years ago. And yet, those with visible "disabilities" are still looked on as somehow subhuman.

(I'm going to sidestep the issue of aborting a child because of a discovered "defect", and concentrate on the injustices of the born.)

Only last week, I read of a mother whose two day old child was confiscated by CPS because they believed her learning disability would prevent her from properly caring for her child. (Disclaimer: as someone who has worked in foster care, I know that there is very nearly always more to the story than is told by journalists.) The reports of those with autism or Down Syndrome being bullied and threatened are all too frequent, but tales of fellow humans standing up for the same are sadly rare. Terms like "defect", "disabled", "handicapped", and "English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing" are used without a second thought by every one every day to remind us that we aren't as good as their paradigm of a human being.

Truth be told, I'm one of the lucky ones. My parents rarely treated me differently than my siblings and they encouraged me to strive for the best despite my hearing loss. Most people don't realize that I'm "handicapped" until after they've known me for awhile. Presumably, they think I'm fun and smart and my hearing loss is just another attribute of yours truly. I make hilarious "confessions", I am transparent about how it came about and how it makes me feel (on TV no less), we all make jokes, and we move on. I do not often come across a circumstance in which I am made to feel subhuman.

But unfortunately, even I'm not invincible.

Recently, I had a distressing phone call with an audiologist receptionist (who really should've known better) who refused to believe that I was making an appointment for myself and that my birth year is 1990. A few weeks later, I had to fill out government paperwork that would require the military to always station Allen where I can receive audiological care. This paperwork persisted in terming the family member who needed a specialist as "child". And only last night, I enjoyed the judgmental stares of other theatre patrons because I opted for a hearing device.

Only those whose mental and physical health fall into the perfect paragon of a human being have a life worth living. If we don't have all of our parts, we can't possibly have all of our heart. You can use us however you want because we don't have any feelings. If our mental intellect is not as strong as yours, we are less able than you to love and care for others. The prime of youth and having a disability are mutually exclusive. If we have what you term a "disability" we are burdens to society and can't hold our own.

And the sad part is, we often believe them.

In "Of Mice and Men", Lennie looks forward to having a homestead of his own where he can care for rabbits. In "The Brothers Karamozov", the "idiot" gives all that she is given to children younger and needier than her. Unfortunately, the baby did not live past 6 weeks. But I daresay, he would've become a pianist. Heather Whitestone was completely deaf, but she won the 1995 Miss America contest ... as a ballerina. (And it's beautiful!) I've been a musician for 15 years. And I am pursuing a career in the entertainment business where it's almost always about your looks.

The reality is, we value life more than most. Our hearts are 3 sizes bigger. Our range of emotion is broader, our love is stronger, and our compassion runs deeper. We have immeasurable youth, limitless determination, and sweet victories. We know that the value of a human is far more than our looks or our health.

And if the world out there wants the same, then they'd better start looking farther than skin deep.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You've Got a Friend in Me

In the last week, no less than seven people have commented to me that they struggle with making friends. I was quite surprised not only by the number of people, but by the specific people who feel this way. These people are intelligent, witty, and fun to be around. I'm not at all sure why they would lack friends.

Of course, I'm sure - that is, I hope - that people say the same thing about me when I admit to feeling lonely, too.

Truth be told, I think a lot of people feel lonely, but most people just don't want to admit it. Do I want  to believe that so I won't be the exception to the norm? Maybe so. I know a lot of people who seem to have perfect relationships. They're always hanging out, they have running gags, and they've practically prearranged their kids' marriages. Are these relationships as strong and as good as they seem? Maybe so.

But regardless, my scattered thoughts have been mulling ways to be a better friend - both to the current ones and to the new ones. And I've managed to collect them into another alliterated list.

F. Forsake FaceBook. (At least, partially.) I know social media gets a lot of flak for this, but let's be honest, there's a kernel of truth to the accusation. I LOVE that I can stay in contact with friends who are far away. Believe me, military wives appreciate this capability!! But while people are typing away on social media, their other relationships dwindle. It's time to focus more on the people in the immediate vicinity.

R. Relate. It's always good to be friends with those who have similar interests. It can be something as major as being a military spouse or something as little as a board game. My best friend and I initially bonded over the unlikely event that we both love the old game of cribbage. (Don't judge.)

I. Invite. On the flip side of the above point, never underestimate a potential friend because they seem too different. Did I mention that when my best friend and I met, I was 13 and she was 18? It would've been easy and justifiable to ignore me, but instead we've had the best of friendships for over 10 years. (Also, my goddaughter/"niece" is cuter than yours.)

E. Encourage. Lately, I've realized that when I get in the mood to gripe and rant about everything it isn't very pleasant for the people I call my friends. So not only am I trying to be more positive about my life in order to be less of a stressor on my friends, but I've also decided to be more encouraging to others in order to alleviate some of their stress.

N. Notice. People feel cared for when you remember things. The other day, I asked a friend how his grandmother was doing with chemo, and his face lit up. Making eye contact when you're listening to others not only helps you remember the important details, but it makes the current conversation more engaging. (Seriously, put the phone away ... and stop letting other people and things interrupt. It's rude.)

D. Dismiss. Sometimes, people don't reciprocate. Whether or not it was just a bad time for them or they don't really like you, is not really the point. So long as you did everything possible to be a good friend, you have nothing to regret. Let it go. (However, this doesn't excuse you from being a decent human being.)

"The only way to have a friend is to be one."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

6 Things Every New Actor Should Be Doing

Today is less about me giving advice and more about me compiling it and passing it on. I've been in the business 8 months, and I'm only just getting my act together. (Get it? Haha.) The entertainment world is complicated and sometimes counter intuitive. It took me a long time to figure it all out, and I'm still learning new things every day. So here's hoping that I can help someone behind me find their way a little quicker.

To be clear, this information was collected from successful professionals. The acronym is all me though.

A. Act! (Duh.) The best thing you can do to improve your trade and your desirability as an actor is through experience. Always, always work. Audition as often as possible. If the film/TV side of things is a little slow, try earning a little money in commercials (even if it's not your primary focus). Be an extra. Go for community theater or create your own Princess Diana impersonation or other self generated videos.

C. Collect materials. There's a lot of professional standards to achieve, but the bare minimum is this: demo reel, head shots, and resume. You can professionally put in for 99% of casting calls with those. Without them, well, let's just say no one's going to give you the time of day. Once you have those, step it up a little by adding business cards and postcards to the list.

T. Train constantly. Take acting classes, learn new skills, spend time improving and broadening your options. And when the time comes, you might have the step up on some other actor because you took the initiative to practice crying or to learn the guitar. It's also never a bad thing to branch out a little. Write a screenplay, be a boom op, or join the marketing team for a worthy project. Learn other aspects of the business, and it will help you be a better actor. (On that note, check out the amazing short film "Wanted"!)

I. Initiate. While a casting agent or a manager can be helpful, the most important person in your career is YOU. Take a daily initiative to advance your own career. Comb casting calls on websites like Actors Access or Backstage. Read entertainment news on IMDb or Variety. Make sure YOU are doing everything humanly possible to create opportunities for yourself.

N. Network. Like crazy. Get your name out there. Create a Facebook page or Twitter account, blog, get your own website. Maintain your IMDb page, join FB filmmaking groups, FB friend other actors. Directors like casting people they know - especially if you have a fanbase already. Social media is a fabulous place to do just that.

G. Give back. In amongst your networking, don't forget to give back. There will be people in your acting career without whom you never would have made it. Often they are life lines in the bewildering sea of entertainment. Be mindful of their time! And as you network consider how you can help others and not just how they can help you.

Add time and money, and wha-la, you're an actor. Break a leg!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How I Cured My Gluten Allergy

I wasn't looking for a cure. I swear. I had fully resigned myself to eating gluten free, inventing gluten free recipes, and getting that special look from the server whenever I ask for a gluten free menu. And after all, being forced to eat healthier wasn't a bad thing, really.

Then one day, a friend of mine over at the Navy Mom blog recommended that I try seeing this allergy doctor. I'm not gonna lie, I kinda thought she was a little cuckoo, because when I looked up the doctor's website their methods sounded hokey. But she swore that they had cured her of a lifelong seafood allergy - and the initial consultation was free! 

I think it took 2.3 seconds of imagining her eating fried shrimp before I had convinced myself that it was worth a shot.

I was incredibly apprehensive when I went in for my free consultation. There hadn't been a whole lot of information online, and what I did find was quite odd. I made my husband accompany me because somehow I thought he might help. Instead, he barely kept a straight face throughout the whole consultation. To be fair, the consulting doctor was the least scientific sounding doctor I have ever known. And it didn't help that he kept assuring my husband that he was a very scientific man whilst simultaneously referring to the imbalance in my "life energy". 

My husband and I talked a long time afterwards. There is evidence to support the idea that this doctor's methods works, but no one has done enough research or experimenting to figure out exactly how or why. My husband was skeptical, but I pointed out that many scientific truths were belittled for being unscientific in the beginning. What attracted me most was the idea that the doctor very clearly stated that he would never merely suppress the symptoms, but rather he would actually treat the problem. (How different from my nightmare of a last doctor!) 

Call me crazy, but I tried it.

They use what's called Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) which is a combination of acupuncture, acupressure, allopathy, chiropractic, nutritional, kinesiological, and ... "energy balancing" methods. Amazingly, Nambudripad made the initial discovery more than 30 years ago - there should be more research on this already! (Seriously, we need a better term than "energy balancing".)

In my case, the doctor theorized that my stomach wasn't producing enough acid to digest my food well. Since gluten and lactose are both hard to digest, my indigestion problems were masking itself as allergies. So I went through a series of chiropractic and acupressure treatments to get my body back in line with itself and the food I eat. And I am currently under a nutritional treatment to get my stomach back to where it can maintain itself once again.

In the meantime, I'm a happier me, I enjoy an increased amount of energy, and I have the ability to eat whatever the heck I want. My first glutenous meal was the Lord's Supper. (I cried. A lot.)

I wouldn't call myself an all natural person. Sure, I have a few natural remedies here and there handed down to me from my mother. But I don't believe those oils are essential, and you will never find kale in my house. (If you like kale, I don't mean to insult you. It's just that I've always been a meat and potatoes kind of girl.) I probably never would've tried NAET on my own - especially since there are apparently a large number of NAET frauds out there. (Legitimate NAET doctors are listed here). 

But all I can say is, it worked. And I'm forever grateful. I CAN eat bread if I want. And I do. But after two years, I've learned my lesson: there is intrinsic value to eating a healthy and well balanced meal. And I can guarantee you that I always will.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections and Resolutions

The month of December was a silent one for my blog. In the midst of all the busy, I made myself stop. I didn't scour casting calls, I didn't blog, I didn't keep my social media sites active. Instead, I spent the holidays in much needed reflection.

In my mind, my biggest achievement this year was the decision to pursue acting. I'm an extremely practical and pessimistic person, and so actually following an unlikely dream was a big step for me. It's also proof that I have hands down the best husband on the planet. Emotional and financial support doesn't grow on trees, people.

However, when my acting career went nowhere I got discouraged pretty fast. I excused a ridiculous amount of complaining and bad attitudes as mere venting. Only lately, did I realize that I was letting my acting career change me into a person I don't want to be.

So as the New Year approaches, I've decided to make the person I want to be change my acting career instead. I've resolved to have a more positive attitude about my acting career and my life in general. (See? I didn't say "or lack thereof" after referring to my acting career!) Because I'm pretty sure that God doesn't need or want a wet blanket. Or anyone else for that matter.

I've never really been one for New Year's resolutions. I suppose because I, like most people, don't have a stellar track record. But this year, perhaps because of my late reflections I've decided on a few more resolutions to boot:

In 2014, I wrote more than I ever have before. Not only did I manage to blog almost weekly beginning in May, but I also wrote 2 feature length screenplays and the first 2 episodes to my very own sci fi show. This coming year I plan to get these copyrighted - and continue creating more stories!

Last year, I was able to be relatively consistent about staying fit. I plan to step it up and exercise at least 5 times a week every week this year - no matter what. I am also revamping my recipe book and eating habits for a more nutritionally balanced diet. Hopefully, these reformations together will transform into a healthier lifestyle over all.

Sadly, I only read about a dozen books in the last 12 months. I have, in the past, read as many as 75 books in a year. However, I'm going easy on myself and setting a goal of reading 52 books in 2015 - one for each week.

That's pretty much it - bring it, 2015!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ham Bone Soup Recipe

Allen had duty on Thanksgiving Day so we had our dinner on Wednesday. Since we couldn't be with our families, we invited some friends who couldn't be with their families either.

I served ham. 

I know, I know. That's a cryin' shame. Traditionally, my family has always had turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas. But I only like dark turkey meat, and Allen doesn't care for turkey at all.

Guess who does most of the eating around here?

Ham it is.

Another new aspect: the sheer amount of leftover ham. When you grow up in a medium sized family, it doesn't take long for the leftovers to be consumed. With the two of us, it takes quite a bit longer. And straight ham and ham sandwiches gets pretty old. Even if it is made with marmalade and amaretto.

The solution? Ham bone soup.

I've never made any type of ham soup before, but I made this recipe up on the spot (don't be too impressed, I did a little Googling first) and Allen loved it! He says it's a keeper, so here it is:

Ham Bone Soup:

ham bone
3 cups cubed ham
3 cups frozen mixed veggies
1 chopped onion
4 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of water
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp thyme

Throw it all together in crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours OR on high for 2 hours and then low for 4 hours. 

The best part?

Since I broke tradition and made ham for Thanksgiving, you already have this recipe ready to use after Christmas!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Least of These

His long dreads were tied back neatly, his dark clothes hung on his lean body, and his backpack was limp with hollowness. He trudged along the roadside bearing a sign that read "Anything helps".

I didn't get a very good look at him.

I stopped at his intersection on my way home from my pre-Thanksgiving grocery trip, and I suddenly became fascinated by the driver to my right. Normally, I keep granola bars in the glove box for such a time - I never carry cash - but I had devoured them a few months prior and never bothered to replace them. I hid my face in shame, and then I remembered: I had plenty of groceries in the trunk - more than I needed! But I feared the light would turn green, and so I moved on.

Burdened with guilt I asked my husband to look for the man on the way home from work. Allen took him to the store to buy groceries.

He was from Miami. His parents had been killed in gang wars, and he made the mistake of joining in the fray. He is an ex-con now. At first, he was just unemployed. Then he was homeless. Three years he traveled, but no one would hire him. So he begged. He selected filling foods high in nutrients like peanuts and Gatorade spending less than forty bucks of our money. He hoped to get a job at a local Christmas tree lot, so he had Allen drop him off there.

He broke every stereotype I've ever harbored about the homeless.

He wasn't at all scary. Nor was he on drugs. He was well groomed and motivated. He shrimped and chopped Christmas trees and when the season was over, he struggled to find other jobs that would hire felons. He was humble and smart. He went to food banks and churches to acquire food when he couldn't find work, and he didn't complain when he was offered mac'n'cheese and other items he could not use. He wanted to help himself, but society was set against him.

His name was Greg.

I never met Greg in person, but he haunts me. He represents an entire demographic that I believe is neglected by everyone. Including the Church. Throughout my father's military career we visited hundreds of churches. Not one of them had a program for ministering to the homeless. Food pantries, missions abroad, and even sometimes orphans' ministry. But I've never seen a church with a ministry for the homeless. Or ex-cons for that matter.

And I find that disturbing.

"And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.' " - Matthew 25:40

If the Church does not care for these human beings, who will? The government? If Christian business owners do not hire felons, who will? The nearest Walmart? Is it any wonder that local governments have recently forbidden feeding the homeless? If the body of Christ does not tell these outcasts that they are loved and they are valuable, who will?

I will.

I have not formulated a plan yet, but I have ideas. I foresee more trips to the store. I envision extra blankets and brown bags containing peanuts and Gatorade stored in my trunk. Guess who is coming for dinner? A warm shower, a fresh haircut, laundered clothes. Scratch that: NEW clothes. A job. The message that they are not forgotten, they are loved, and someone cares.

Who will? Will you?