Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Commuting while crippled

Minnesota MS 150 bike ride, June 2007
Photo description:  This photo was taken in 2007 at the MS 150 bike ride in Minnesota.  It was taken on a paved bike trail with grass and trees in the background.  I'm on a seafoam green road bike (skinny tires and curved handlebars).  I am visibly fat wearing spandex black cycling shorts and a jersey that says "Erik's Bike Shop" along with a white and teal helmet with a blonde ponytail visible.  I have dark sunglasses and a smile (although I didn't see the photographer...I was just having fun!).

The past few years as a graduate student, I've had a pretty constant gripe about the difficulties I've had with transportation to and from the campus.  I live within what would normally be considered "walking distance" from campus, which means that I live about 0.75 miles away from campus (which I could wheel if the hills wouldn't flip me backwards out of my chair).  As a kinesiologist (someone that studies human physical activity), I deal with ableism, both internalized and from a sociocultural standpoint.  It's compounded by being fat, with the standard response to being both fat and gimpy is "just get off your ass and you wouldn't be fat OR gimpy."  Yeah, right. *sarcasm*

Non-walking options are also prohibitive.  Handicap parking lot passes run about $325 for the school year (and does not guarantee a spot that is actually walking distance for me, or safe when I'm wheeling).  The city bus system doesn't have a spot nearby (as my home is considered close to campus).  The "special needs" bus requires a one hour window for a ride, which is not feasible with my schedule or my actual health care needs (and that's when it actually is notorious for losing appointments).  I've asked my partner to drive me to campus, but it costs more gas (as he works from home usually) and it grates on my fierce need to be independent whenever possible.

I've been toying with options.  I've wanted a moped for about a decade now ever since I saw a Vespa scooter, but I would need a three-wheeled scooter because of my balance and my shortness.  I would also need money that I just don't have right now (the cheapest trike scooter I've seen is about $2,000 and the one I've been drooling at from Auto Moto with a roof is about $4,000).

Another option that I've wanted to pursue but can't afford is a recumbent trike.  They aren't that common, although recumbent exercise bikes in gyms and rehab facilities are.  This style of bike would allow me to bike without worrying about tipping over or dealing with legs that randomly give out on me.  Just like the moped, they are way out of my price range with most of them above $1,000 (and the good quality ones like the Catrike are at least $2,000).

My bronze crutch rigged to my red commuter
On Monday, I gave my old commuter bike a try.  It's a youth Giant brand mountain bike that I bought when I first moved to North Carolina (I nicknamed it the Red Dwarf Giant because of the small size).  I had a bike shop in 2008 swap the tires from trail tires (which are thick and nubby and make road riding more difficult) to commuter tires (that are thicker than road racing tires but smooth).  I tied my forearm crutch to the handlebars, which doesn't help with my balance and proprioception issues, but at least I have it to help me dismount and walk around campus.

Photo description:  Photo taken outdoors at a bike rack with a bush in the background.  It shows a bronze forearm crutch attached to the handlebars of a red commuter bike (hard to see because of the bright sunlight and bush in background).

How did it go?  Well, it was rough.  My partner helped me get the bike ready for me and we had to do some on-the-fly adjustments.  The seat had to be lowered significantly because I have to be able to reach the ground with my legs while on the seat....which means that I can't pedal in an efficient manner (and makes it much more difficult to pedal, especially up hills).  I'm also unable to stand up and pedal to tackle hills.  I was a sweaty mess for my meeting with my faculty adviser (thankfully my adviser is also a kinesiologist, so the "freshly exercised" look is pretty normal in our departmental offices).

Since the ride to and from campus wasn't too bad, I tried it again on Tuesday.  My rear end was sore because I wasn't wearing padded shorts and my seat is an original factory issued barely padded beast.  The seat position, while rectifies part of the problem with my balance, makes any incline hell on my body and my spine.  Being able to get to campus without using gas is great, but it hurts and burns energy that I still don't have.

This morning, I had to ask my partner to drive me to school.  Not only has biking blown through spoons that I sometimes don't have, it seems to have eaten the energy I need to get to work and to do my scholarly activities.  Just crawling out of bed, getting into the shower, getting dressed, and grabbing the easiest breakfast option left me feeling like I needed to go back to sleep because of extreme pain and fatigue.  I managed to get through my four hour shift, but I'm not sure if I can manage to get my reading done for class tomorrow, or if I'm going to be able to go to the intermediate tribaret bellydance class tonight.

The bike commuting experiment may continue, but we'll see what happens.  Money really has me stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cyborg Dance Project Week 8: Gettin' busy

The sign on my front door of my home
Photo description: A white door with a framed sign hanging on the front of it.  It has a black frame with white background and says "Life isn't about waiting for the Storm to pass, It's about learning to Dance in The Storm."

This is the week that the Projekt and scholarly life collide.  Since I got back from Gen Con and literally went from airplane to classroom, I haven't had much time to breathe, relax, and get caught up on sleep.  On top of it, my partner's car needed repairs and I got a parking ticket warning despite my handicap placard at a parking meter.  By the time I got to the studio, my dance options at the non-beginner level were limited to just the ATS 2 class.  Forced moderation!

I'm finding that I'm still having a lot of trouble staying in proper dance posture and having trouble standing in one place at all without bending my knees backward or letting my back arch.  I'm slowly getting better about being able to zill and stay vertical, which feels like a minor miracle sometimes when I have to expend a lot of energy making sure my feet are where I think they are (my proprioception problems aren't going away, and I probably won't be getting any more feeling back in my lower body since I'm 7 months post-op).

At the end of the class, a couple of the other dance instructors joined us in some group improv....and ended up teaching the other level 2 students my favorite move (Egyptian half-turn) along with the Egyptian full-turn.  I've been worried that I'll toss those moves in when we do class improv, so now I know I can toss these in when I lead (probably not the full-turn because I have trouble staying upright with any full turn move at speed).

After class I chatted with Xavier (who I've mentioned in other dance posts) and told him about Different Drummer Belly Dance at Gen Con.  We chatted about geek belly dance and we started conspiring about doing our own geek choreo...I'm thrilled, especially since the Arabian Spices performance opportunity fell through.

Week 9 of the Projekt will probably involve three classes at Twisted Dance: Xavier's Sunday Intermediate cabaret class,  Tuesday ATS 2, and Wednesday Intermediate Tribaret (Melissa's class moved from Tuesday to Wednesday, so that'll help with being more gentle to my body).  While life is going to be busy between scholarly classes, time at the studio, paid work, wedding planning, and dealing with life in general, I usually thrive while busy...I'll find out pretty quickly if my body is up for this schedule! *fingers crossed*

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back from Gen Con into the Fall semester fryer

On Sunday, we found a giant gnome!  (He's from Gnome Games)
Photo description: this is the exhibition hall at Gen Con with booths & lots of people in the background. I'm seated in my chair next to a very tall gnome (mascot-type costume).
Yesterday I got back from Gen Con (a huge gaming convention).  My fiance, my good friend, and I  got off a plane, got our luggage, got the car, then had my fiance drop me off at my first class of the semester (Physical Activity and Health)!  I'll put together a post about the trip in the next few days, but I have to say that US Airways is officially my favorite airline.  I'm always treated with respect and kindness, they never mangle my wheels or my luggage, and they try to reseat me closer to the front of the plane whenever possible (along with my companions!).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cyborg Dance Projekt Week 7: Trying moderation

Photo 2009 by Dave Stagner Photography
Photo on the left is from 2009 when I danced at CONvergence.  It was taken by Dave Stagner Photography.  It's black and white and shows me standing in a layback pose with one arm above my head with the other at my chest.  I'm wearing a black cropped dance top with long sleeves, black flared pants, and a hip scarf with a tiger on it.

Note:  I probably need more photos of me dancing some day for this blog!  If any photographer types want to get their name up here, hit me up....I've done a little amateur modeling for other local photogs, and I love it.

After last week's troubles, I'm making a more conscious effort to be gentle in this project.  People that know me know that I tend to have two modes of operation: on or off.  I first had it blatantly pointed out to me from my old kickboxing instructor, although I remember being praised for my "balls to the wall" type effort in most of my physical pursuits from triathlon training to Crossfit to dance (with doing 8-10 hour dance days in San Francisco in 2005).  I have a lot of trouble with moderation in physical activity, which probably isn't a surprise with blog posts about hating gentle physical activity or the 5k race I did untrained in my wheelchair.

I think some of this comes from dueling internalized ableism (from my birth defect-related experiences, like special ed gym classes in elementary school) and internalized sizeism (I've never been a thin person and have been bullied and harassed for being fat).  Some of it is just the sense of wonder that I get from learning a new task, pushing my body to its limits, or achieving various physical goals....I love the memories of the triathlons, the 150 miles of biking in a weekend, the polar plunge, the 40mph ride down a steep hill on my racing bike, the marathon dance classes....

Anyhow, I went to my friend Xavier's intermediate cabaret-style class on Sunday evening.  My bellydance background started with cab style, so I was pretty excited.  When I got there, he let me know that we were doing a Bozenka choreography that he learned at a master class.  When he said that, I knew that I would have to be careful to not overdo it...I knew that my brain would default to "learn the choreo at all costs!!"

My spine was being a little persnickety that night.  When we were warming up, I kept losing my balance (when you have spinal cord damage, sometimes standing is a balance pose).  I was a little concerned, but stood near the wall while bits of the intro were shown.  I decided to not do most of the fast spins in the choreography because it felt like a recipe for gimp-disaster (plus there's still useful muscle memory that can be gained by fudging movement!).

The one thing that I really learned is that it's hard to be careful when I'm being told to do something specific with my body (aka choreography).  My tendency is to force my body to do things it doesn't want to do (or shouldn't do biomechanically).  I have something to seriously work on if I intend to ever do choreographed dance performances.

For the other part of my attempt at moderation, I went back to classes on Tuesday but told myself (and my partner for accountability) that I would only go to two classes.  I would either do ATS 1 and 2, or do ATS 2 plus the intermediate tribaret class.  Since Melissa had a sub for her class, I stuck with ATS 1 & 2 (with the mental note that if my spine felt bad, I could stop...I was under no obligation to take 2 classes).

I did an OK job of being careful in the classes, and would crouch to watch movement explanations instead of following along (the value of mental rehearsal).  My spine was pissy that night, so I focused on trying to "fudge" movements in a way that was still readable to the other dancers as American Tribal Style is a group improv style that relies on visual cues to signal the next move.  I also tried to avoid leading as much as possible because of very similar issues I'm having with brain is already focusing on not falling, keeping spine-safe dance posture, dancing, watching for cues, etc.

Finally, while not related to actual dancing but related to dance community, I'm using my Quickbooks knowledge in exchange for dance classes to help fund this project.  Not only will this help keep me in dance classes (at least 2 a week), but it means that I'll benefit from being at the studio more even when my body is being non-compliant.  These are people that I've known for most of my time in Greensboro, and these are people that have been awesome and caring when my spine got bad (including the wheelchair dance experiment).

The plan is to continue with the intermediate cabaret class on Sunday evenings along with two classes on Tuesdays.  I would love to add another day of classes, but between my academic classes (on Monday and Thursday evenings), my bookkeeping duties, and desire to spend time with my fiance and friends....we'll see what happens.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cyborg Dance Projekt week 6: Four zills forward, a couple steps back

New elastic on old zills

Photo shows pale fingers with plain brass finger cymbals (zills) strapped on with white elastic.

I was feeling pretty ok yesterday, which for me means that my pain level was around a 5 or 6 according to the pain tracker I use on my iPhone.  My brain was a bit squirrely,  so I figured a good trio of dance classes would be pretty ok based on how I was doing (I was still in enough pain that trying to read or write was going to be difficult, but dancing....that I felt like I could do).  So I headed for the studio for the ATS levels 1 & 2 classes, with the possibility of my usual 8:15pm class to round it out.

The first class went fine.  I knew that doing bodywaves would be hard on my spine, so I did less of them.  I stood back sometimes and watched (because mental rehearsal is still part of rehearsing!) and sometimes I would hold the wall for support.  I felt ok (thanks in part to pain medication taken before class), so I decided to stay for the next class.

 ATS level 2 went really well, but I didn't have the chance to stand back to rest and take in information like I did in the first class.  I was having fun with a pair of zills that a classmate let me use (these beautiful Saroyan Afghani zills that I didn't think I would be able to play because of the size...but I used them the whole time!  She also showed me an awesome zill elastic trick using hair ties).  I was sweaty and happy, but trying to ignore that my spine was getting tired.

I stayed for the last class just because I wanted to...I knew my spine was getting tired, but Melissa is cool with me modifying anything I need to modify.  Instead of drilling, we've been working on musicality in fusion bellydance (shared vocabulary between cabaret and tribal styles using different accents or register).  It didn't take long for me to need to use the wall for support, or to squat while listening.  Towards the end of the class, my cyborg bits were just done and I sat on the floor for the last bit (but still danced).

When I got home, my body just started shutting me down.  First with wicked exhaustion, then with my right glute squeezing the nerve so hard that I couldn't put weight on it.  My partner had to help me get to and from the bathroom because it felt like I was being stabbed with a screwdriver in my rear.

It's taken me a few days to get that irritated nerve calmed down to the point that I'm not limping and wincing as badly.  I think the lesson is that three classes back-to-back, no matter how well I feel that day, is just too much for this aging gimpy body, at least for the foreseeable future.