Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

Photo of Genta Sebastian
Genta Sebastian

Attitude is Ability’s strongest supporter.

I’ve always taken my health for granted. I’ve been blessed with sound bones, fairly well functioning internal organs, and muscles that do what I ask them to do, not that I ask very often. But I do enjoy a good walk, which is what I was doing when I found my foot flopping at the end of my leg.

My wife and I were visiting her family to enjoy the Carnival on Terceira Island. It was the middle of February and the weather was so much better than our usual Minnesota we walked a lot. We were strolling on the way into town to eat dinner when I tripped over my own feet a couple of times but didn’t think of it as we’d just spent two days traveling and I was still tired. On our way back after dinner, I noticed my gait was different. I usually glide along, my head barely rising and falling with each step, but that night my right foot slapped down jarringly.

I became careful, slowing my speed and experimenting with my foot. It wasn’t rising with each step and when I stood still and tried to flex it, nothing happened.

I searched my mind, wondering what I might have done to make my foot behave this way. Then I remembered a silly thing that happened during a visit to a friend’s store earlier in the day. We were chatting on a steep loading dock, facing uphill at an angle of 20-25 degrees. Since I speak limited Portuguese and family and friends were catching up with shotgun fire rapidity, I let my mind wander.

I’ve recently lost a lot of weight (nearing ninety pounds), which has made me more body conscious than I’ve ever been before. One part of me that is not nearly so rounded as it once was, is my tush. I used to have a round butt but after losing so much weight (not to mention the hours and hours of sitting required of authors) it has flattened considerably. I wondered if I could encourage a nice muscular flex of the booty by (get this) rising up on my toes on the incline. I know it makes no sense but I was still tired from traveling. So up on my toes, I went. My legs immediately cramped and I dropped back to my feet, massaged away a charlie horse, and continued on with my day until that walk down to dinner when I first noticed the foot drop.

The next day when things hadn’t improved, I phoned my sister the doctor. Nothing hurt, if anything my leg was numb from the knee down, but the toes and ball of the foot would not rise. She advised massage, ankle flexing exercises and to continue walking everywhere.

footdrop

Foot drop, that’s what it’s called because that’s what it is. I could flex my toes forward, but not raise them back up, so my foot hung loosely at the end of my leg whenever I took a step. To do the exercises prescribed by Dr. Sis I had to lift my right leg, position it over the ledge I was using to brace and let the foot drop from there.

It was a nightmare and I wasn’t pleased that there was no improvement. To make matters worse, the left leg also developed foot drop a day later. Both feet dragged now unless I marched like a marionette. My wife was solicitous and we both noticed I was also having difficulty with balance. Even standing still I could lose my equilibrium.

I didn’t get home to America for another three weeks, so I stretched every day, massaged numb legs like crazy and walked as much as I could, even though very tiring compared to how easy it was before this happened. To avoid stumbling over toes that dragged the ground I had to either step high (a kind of prancing move) or swing my leg in a half circle before setting down (think Festus from Gunsmoke). I walked slowly to minimize either movement.

Which was fine in a place that’s much slower paced than America. After landing at La Guardia and clearing Customs, I found myself jostled and hurried down long corridors to catch another flight. I have a suitcase with four wheels that always seems hard to push along and I stumbled over my feet and took a header on the carpet. Not fun. I learned to hug the wall, the apparent internationally agreed upon space for handicapped folks who dare to walk, and that people stared as I walked with my crazy, toe-pointed ballerina-type mincing step so I could hurry.

For reasons too personal to go into, I was away from my own medical care for another month. Dr. Sis suggested it might be neurological, sending me immediately to the internet. I found tale after tale of people who live with drop foot continuously, with no expectation of improvement or regaining full function of their feet. Most of these cases were neurological and several were pulmonary, symptoms following a stroke or heart-attack. I grew despondent. But then I found a single comment from someone who said yes, it was reversible. He did the same stretching exercises I did and commented about massage and orthopedic devices.

And there were signs of improvement. My right foot began to flex slightly again, sending me into a frenzy of renewed massage and stretching exercises. I used an adjustable boot I’d worn for a severe case of plantar fasciitis a few years back and tightened it so my toes flexed upward while I slept, alternating night and feet. I rigged my walking shoes with elastic around the farthest lace and an ankle strap to improve my gait. And I walked, slowly, it’s true, and not far. Nevertheless, I persevered.

That was almost three months ago. I haven’t mentioned it online because why would it matter? Either I’d continue to walk with a noticeable limp, or I would heal. Either way, I had nothing to say until now. But along the way, I learned something important I’m sharing today.

Don’t take the act of walking for granted.

If you walk without a limp, bless your lucky stars. The ability to ambulate easily is an underappreciated miracle, pure and simple.

Appreciate your feet today. Walk around the block, varying your speed every time you turn a corner. Run a few steps, stop, twirl on your toes, and run back. Watch other people’s feet as they walk, flexing their feet with every step. Hop up on a curb and descend stairs quickly. Tiptoe somewhere, and dance. Dance like there’s no tomorrow because you never know when you’ll suddenly face a different reality. Enjoy the blessing of healthy feet and legs every minute that you have them.

And if your lower extremities are struggling to regain function or health, hang in there. Do the work, trust in change, and believe in yourself. Pat yourself on the back for every incremental improvement. Know that whatever you’re struggling with will get better, either because you change it or because you learn effective methods of adjustment. You can reach your goals, one stretch/massage/step/walk/run at a time.

I’m happy to report that my right foot is now almost back to normal, and my left foot is improving steadily. Although I’m not there yet, I expect to be able to forget my feet as I walk around the GCLS 2017 conference in Chicago come July 6th. If you see me, stop and say “Hi!”

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Book Review: The French Way by Mary M. Wright

The French WayThe French Way by Mary M. Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review for The French Way by Mary M. Wright

Like a first French kiss, this book awakens you to a new way of looking at things.

On the surface, The French Way is a charming new adult lesbian romance. Set at the end of the hippie era, charming Sophie, an innocent abroad, is aflame with a desire for adventure. She and her traveling companion take somewhat risky chances while traveling through Europe during summer vacation. A year of study in France, alone and independent of her family, will be the separation she feels is necessary to become truly adult.

One night in Paris Sophie sees Genevieve, an entrancing older woman, at the same time fate throws her a serious curve ball. Weeks later, the two women reconnect and discover a real attraction between them. Sophie realizes she’s attracted to women, but will the love that Genevieve offers be enough to conquer her new trepidation and fear of being tied to anyone and any place? Would that really be The French Way?

*spoiler alert*

Although a rape occurs, it is not the salacious, almost tantalizing type overused by so many authors. Rather, the character must wrestle with the memories of not struggling too hard, or protesting too loudly, and not having obvious outer wounds. Was what happened to her really rape, or should she hold herself responsible because she didn’t fight enough? This situation occurs to many women. It was a welcome experience to live through this very real struggle through the eyes of Mary Wright’s characters.

I received a free ARC copy of The French Way from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

She’s Proud to be an American

20161206_153526
Traf paying off the mortgage on the house.

America is a nation of immigrants, something people seem to be forgetting these days. I want to tell you about a woman who grew up on an enchanting island in the middles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Twentieth Century. In the interest of full disclosure, Traf is my wife. We will celebrate seventeen years together on April 2nd. This year we’ll have to spend our anniversary apart, but separated only by distance. Our future is secure, in more ways than one.

Although I’ve fictionalized her stories of growing up lesbian on Terceira and am now writing a sequel full of love stories and laughter from her roarin’ twenties, I thought today I’d take a moment to celebrate the true and authentic Trafulha, meu esposa.

One of the most fascinating things about Traf is her ability to dream big and make impossibilities happen. Born a girl on a Catholic island run by men, she dreamed of breaking the mold she was expected to fill and did so. She knew in her heart that she would one day live in America, and made that happen. In her thirties, she studied for, passed, and was sworn in as a naturalized American citizen. She’s been American more of her life than Portuguese and proudly claims that title.

Being a lesbian in the 20th Century was anything but easy, yet my Traf stands proudly today, having achieved the American Dream. She has earned the right to be a citizen of this country and to participate in all its privileges and responsibilities. She votes, she pays taxes, she worked long hours to provide for her two daughters as a single mom, and she did it all without compromising who she is for anyone.

And then late last year she did the impossible, again. My incredible, foreign-born wife paid the mortgage on our house in full. That is something most Americans never achieve or even fully imagine for themselves, we’ve become so conditioned to living in debt. But my woman dreamed it, took a chance, and made it happen!

I love you, my Trafulha. Happy anniversary, honey, and may we have many more.

 

 

Truth is Crueler than Fiction

 boat-55173_960_720I’m on a small Portuguese island right now visiting family and doing research for the sequel to When Butches Cry. My wife and I have an extraordinary friend here. Poverty stricken and born deaf, a woman in her 40s I will call Joba for this post, is a hell of a fisherwoman, making her living by selling bait she gathers endlessly day after day while feeding her mother, daughter, and grand-daughter with fish she catches herself. She has only four or five teeth left and her face is weather-beaten from salt water and sun. She is tall for a Portuguese woman and whipcord thin from walking many miles to find good fishing.
 
Although nearly everyone on the small island of Terceira knows her, very few use her real name. Everyone refers to her as the Mute. I have watched people cheat her of the few euros she charges for the crabs and biting sea worms she gathers at night to sell for bait, and too often she has to dodge rocks thrown at her by vicious young men. Joba learned to fight dirty, striking low and hard without let up, after being raped as a teen (which resulted in her daughter’s birth). She’s earned a formidable reputation as a fighter, instilling fear if not respect in her enemies.
 
The cruelty of her situation is beyond my ken. She is deaf, but most certainly not mute. Somehow or other, with absolutely no education (she went to public school for a few days as a child but the other kids laughed and tormented her so badly she refused to go back), Joba has watched lips enough to simulate words and with broad gestures and facial expressions is quite good at making herself understood by those who take the time to watch and listen. But besides her immediate family, almost no one does.
 
Traf and I always bring her a present of new jeans, shirts, or jackets when we visit because she spends what little extra money she makes on batteries for the flashlight she uses to work at night, fishing gear, and little pleasantries for her family. While Joba appreciates the gifts, they are a pale second to seeing and recognizing Traf, apparently her only friend in the world who enjoys sitting and hearing her stories. Although I speak almost no Portuguese, she always includes me in her conversations, never leaving me out and pausing as Traf translates the parts I don’t understand. To my utter amazement she seems to understand my English (meaning if not words), supplying extra information to make herself understood. She tries to hide her tears when we leave but through mine, I’ve witnessed hers.
 

Her loneliness is deeper, wider, and more intense than any human being’s should ever be. She lives with her guard always up, expecting to be treated as sub-human, or worse, no better than an abandoned animal. Although clearly gifted with an amazing intellect, no one understands just how smart this young woman is to have self-taught herself to speak, fish, swim, and even rescue foolish fishermen who fall into deep water.

About ten years back, she earned enough money to buy herself a small rowboat. That expanded her ability to catch bigger fish for sale to local restaurants and gave her some mobility. She proudly hand-lettered her own name on the small vessel, but within the year someone(s) destroyed the boat, hacking it to pieces unable to be repaired.

I could never have written this type of cruelty into a book if I hadn’t seen it for myself in Joba’s life. Yes, part of her story will be in my sequel to When Butches Cry, but most readers will assume I’ve invented the very real torment of this woman’s everyday existence.

I only wish I had.

The Question Is:

logoWhy do you think the many, many lesbian writers out there aren’t recognized? Is it simply because they haven’t made it to the ‘mainstream’? Is it because they aren’t generally with the big corporate presses? Or is it a genre vs literary thing? Or is it something else altogether?

Ah, c’mon. It’s sexism. Men will read books written by men and almost never read a book by a woman (unless it’s about male domination as in 50 Shades). How do I know? I travel a lot and always look at the cover of books people are reading around me. Women will read women’s books and men’s books, but they look for women to provide soft, comforting romance stories and men to provide action/sci-fi/horror/paranormal/et.al ad nauseum. Oh sure, I’m generalizing and there are a lot of exceptions on both sides, but that’s it in a nutshell.
 
I’m a lesbian who writes YA literature about kids in rainbow families (with one or more members of the family LGBT). Right away, my audience is narrow, and then narrowed again. I want my books read by EVERYONE, because they touch on shared human themes. However, realistically speaking, only a handful of lesbian women raising kids buy them. Marginalized, much?
 
THEN, let’s talk about the all important number of reviews needed to be seen by potential buyers as worthy of their hard-earned money. I need reviews, but the people who buy my books (parents) don’t often read them but instead are purchasing for their kids. Kids don’t have Amazon and Goodreads accounts.
 
And as for sex, what’s up with straight women and their passion for reading/writing gay male erotica, but NOT crossing over to read lesbian erotica? They read cozy straight romances, but not lesbian cozy romances where the exact same emotions/frustrations/trust issues abound? Sexism, plain and simple. Starting in school with the literature used to teach, we’re taught that men authors are worthy and talented and their male characters significant changers of society. Women authors aren’t introduced until you take a special Women’s Lit course in college and those are almost always filled with women while the men are taking courses in Western Lit, or Classic Lit, or World Lit where the booklists are heavily slanted with men. When questioned, professors who make up these lists always say, “Well, there just aren’t that many significant women’s authors.” They never seem to realize they’re part of that very problem.
 
And lesbians have been sent to the back of the bus by both two significant social movements in recent history:
 
1) Right from the start, gay men tried to reject our participation in the whole movement (until AIDS devastated them and only their lesbian sisters stepped up, but that’s another story). For instance, did you know that the very first stone thrown at police during the Stonewall riots was hurled by a butch lesbian? A true, but obscure fact.
 
2) The women’s movement, during the 70’s, came right out and told us to step away from the whole cause because our participation somehow lessened their arguments for equality. We were visually distracting, our sexuality driving away male and Christian supporters. Huh, what, how?!?
 
Everyone seems to want us to be invisible, and since lesbians are the ultimate symbols of women resisting male domination I once again call SEXISM.

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Being Sick Totally Sucks, but not in a Good Way

17d7e-get-a-sick-day-off-from-school-without-going-to-the-doctor-step-4It’s flu season, but you probably already know that. If you’re in the first few days, you’re probably bed-ridden, spreading germs like crazy, and feeling really icky. So, put the laptop/tablet/phone away, get the sleep you need, try to alleviate your symptoms, and keep hydrated.

I’m a huge believer in reducing symptoms, so I’m totally open to over the counter medicines as long as they don’t do me more harm than good (always check the list of active ingredients). I also believe there are a lot of common sense things I can do, involving no specific drugs, or vitamins, or even foods, that still make me feel better enough to think about resuming life as normal.

So, this list of recommendations is for the 3rd, 4th, or 5th day of being sick, the ones I call ‘Could I?’ Days; when I feel significantly better and start wondering if I should get back to work, run errands, and clean up. Then, after trying to do just that, I realize that although I’m clearly on the mend, I am not well enough to resume my life, yet. If that is you, try some of my home remedies to feel better:

1) Take a nice hot shower/bath to help break up the phlegm, taking in deep breaths of steam. Being clean automatically makes you feel better.

2) Put on clean PJs/Nightie/ T-shirt and sit up in a chair for a while with a blankie tight around your chest for warmth.

3) Have a cuppa your favorite hot drink (with lemon and honey, if possible), inhaling the steam between sips.

4) Light a scented candle if you have one, or bring something that smells good near you. It’s entirely possible I’m crazy, but I find it opens my sinus passages for my nose to have something to search for.

5) If you have them, get each one of your furkids to purr or wave their tails – I have three cats and on those days I can please every one of them I win the trifecta. When you stimulate love and pleasure for them, they return it to you. Love heals.

6) Laugh out loud. Scientists have discovered that the act of laughing creates endorphins that help in healing, so watch comedy: a favorite film, TV show, even cartoons if that’s what gets you to giggle. I like witty dialogue, so I often end up rewatching The Philadelphia Story, or Harvey.

I’m recommending watching something over reading something because what I do involves so much writing. If you spend more time using your eyes watching videos all the time, or always on a small screen, pick up a good book to get lost in. (I recommend my new release, When Butches Cry, to carry you away for a few hours.) Give those neural pathways a day off.

7) Take frequent naps. Doctors (my sister and father) have told me that the majority of healing happens during sleep. The body is on ‘light duty’, as it were, and that gives it the time to repair damage and fight enemy germs.

You’ll feel better soon, I hope! Remember, you are in charge of keeping basic necessities going so the body can heal optimally. In other words: Take care of you, You.

Words and Works of Award Winning Author Genta Sebastian

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