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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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July 2012

Slumdog Opening

You can count on one hand the number of things that impressed me about London’s opening ceremony of the Olympics. The rings that rained gold were pretty. The Queen parachuted Bond-style into the arena. That was definitely cool. And who doesn’t like a bit of Beckham on a boat? The rest (that I stayed up for) left me feeling back in school, without the answer and about to be called on.

I had one overwhelming thought as I watched Friday night’s display: What on earth is going on? My confusion began shortly after the madcap, dizzying montage opening and lasted all the way through to the start of the Parade of Countries. (I gave up and went to bed with a headache after Australia.)

I loved Slumdog Millionaire, but personally, I’d call this a miss for British director, Danny Boyle. Unless the point was to entertain Brits only (even though the whole world was watching.) There were lots of inside jokes and cultural references that only a local audience would understand. But I have to wonder how much of all that history even the English knew. In a performance that was supposed to represent England’s Industrial Revolution, but looked more like a scene from Les Miserables, dirty, ragamuffin actors  were miming some kind of manual labor (shoveling?) while hoards of other actors with top hats and beards joined them. I still haven’t figured out who the bearded men were supposed to be.

And I know I risk standing alone on this one and outing myself as a real stick-in-the-mud, but I don’t think Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is that funny. I would’ve rather watched the musicians play “Chariots of Fire” than him make fun of it.

There were some brief moments of clarity for me when classic children’s characters created by British authors took center stage. Everyone could recognize Mary Poppins, Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil. It was less clear, however, why the Mary Poppins were tucking a giant baby (think Toy Story 3) into bed. I’m with the announcer who said, “I’m not sure if that’s cute or just creepy.” Oh, it’s creepy all right.

All this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Boyle is known for being complex and often dark. My mother probably loved it. As did most of England. As for me, I’ll be looking to the Games themselves for my dramatic storytelling. No Cliff’s Notes needed.

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Same as it Ever Was

Watching the Suns (sort of)

Lots of things have changed for me these days. Instead of walking along the water, Frankie and I sit at the handicapped ramp and watch the waves. I avoid Publix at 5:00 on weekdays, festivals and flea markets, and crowds in general, but I used to like going into a packed bar on a Friday night. I wake up rested and alert at the crack of dawn with nowhere to be. When I was employed, I’d hit snooze 15 times after 7:00 and still struggle to stay awake. Most everything is different: my friends, how I get ready and where I go. But not too long ago I experienced something that was almost exactly as I remember it. Baseball.

Call me slow, but when we entered there seemed to be an inordinate number of walkers, wheelchairs and canes.

I am slow. It was the Jacksonville Suns Disability Night. Admission was free to a Duval County resident with a disability. I wondered briefly if you had to prove this. Then I decided there weren’t many people trying to escape the cost of admission by pretending to be part of this crowd.

It was wonderful. Handicapped people (and socially sensitive able-bodies) were everywhere. If someone wasn’t disabled themselves, they were with a friend or family member who was. Or they were a caretaker. (Each disabled person could bring a guest for free.) Here was a crowd I could be part of. Instead of feeling like a side show act at the circus, I could be part of the audience again. It felt… normal.

Friends and I sat in the handicapped seating back by the food, which was also free. Those that could do so without much trouble brought snacks back for the rest of us. Popcorn, peanuts and big, soft pretzels. It was all terrible, but it didn’t matter. I laughed at myself as popcorn missed my mouth and at a friend who spilled her beer. I can’t tell you what the score was (or even who was playing!) but as far as I’m concerned baseball has never been the point of going to baseball games.

So, I’m revising my opinion. Crowds aren’t so bad … if you’re part of the right one.

The Secret to Happy

If you’ve ever watched a child on a swing or running in the sand at the beach, you know. That simple, wild abandon. The sheer joy. How are they so able to enjoy life and the little things? To be so … happy? “Well,” you grumble, “…they don’t have to work 9-5, …they don’t have a horrible boss, …they don’t have bills to pay.” But the answer is easier. They live in the present.

You know how it goes. “Five more minutes!” you holler. Then, when five minutes are up and you announce it’s time to go, they are shocked and hurt. As if you’d never warned them at all. They didn’t spend their last five minutes being miserable. They happily resumed playing.

Now, you may have some adult-like child who’s different, but in general they forget the bad news that it’s all drawing to a close and soak up the remaining fun.

I have a friend who ruins the last half-hour of her massage thinking how it’s about to be over. “Oh, he’s on my legs. Then it’ll be my arms and then it’s over. Oh, he’s on my left arm. Then it’ll be my right arm and then it’s over.” And so on.

The secret to being happy is being positive in the present. The way we think, the way all of society operates, is that if x happens (we get the promotion, buy the new house, make the bonus,) then we’ll be happy. We delay our own gratification, always changing the goal, thereby putting happiness out of reach. It should work in reverse. A brain that is happy performs at a higher level, making all those other things possible. Listen to this TED talk on the subject. (Make sure you’ve got your thinking cap on. This guy talks at warp speed.)

To train your brain to be more positive, try the following. (It’s suggested for 21 days in a row, but that’s a little daunting to me. I say anything’s better than nothing.)

~ 3 Gratitudes

~Journaling

~Exercise

~Meditation

~Random Acts of Kindness

Personally, I think I’ve got this positive brain stuff down. I’m happier than most. Particularly, given my situation. You know, the wheelchair and all. That’s why I tend to get annoyed when someone starts positive thinking me to death. “Keep working hard! Never give up! Never say never and you’ll walk again.” The problem with this thinking is that it makes my happiness dependent on a particular outcome (walking again) that may never happen. I need to be happy today. With what I’ve got right now. Right this second. If I never walk again.

And you know what? I am.

Fear of the Fourth

Thank goodness it’s over.

Last night was the first night I dared leave Frankie’s crate in the living room where it belongs instead of in my bedroom. He only slept in it once all last week, preferring instead to wedge himself under the bed between unused framed art and boxes of old yearbooks. If he were playing hide-and-go-seek, he’d have lost. His hind legs and tail poked out from under the bed frame. I’m sure he thought he’d made himself as small and invisible as possible. I let him take whatever comfort he could. He’d been traumatized.

Frankie’s a little unorthodox in his other flight-taking routines, though. Instead of getting under something, he prefers to go up. Much like a cat. My mother left him alone inside on the Fourth while she lit sparklers in the driveway. When she went inside to check on him he was on top of the fish tank, scanning the walls to go higher.

Dog owners know this is their companion’s least favorite holiday, New Year’s Eve taking a distant second. My neighbors and I nodded to each other as we walked our dogs in the mornings after and exchanged comments like, “I see you two survived,” along with advice about doggy valium and something called the “thundershirt” which guarantees to reduce anxiety by creating gentle pressure. I abandoned evening walks altogether as the booming began in my neighborhood right after lunch. My mother insists this is ridiculous since you can’t even see fireworks when it’s bright out, but I guess that’s not the point. The noise is.

So, although it’s too late to help out this year, I’ve learned some important pointers for next year (and New Year’s.)

  • Resist the urge to take your pet to any fireworks displays.
  • Keep your pet indoors at home in a sheltered, quiet area. Some animals can become destructive when frightened, so remove any items that your pet could destroy or that would be harmful to your pet if chewed. Leave a television or radio playing at normal volume to keep him company while you’re out celebrating.
  • Don’t coddle or reassure your pet. The dog sees your reassurance as confirmation that there’s something to be afraid of. Talk to your dog calmly during these times and try to engage the pet in distracting activities such as playing with a ball or performing obedience commands.
  • Try accupressure points. The points that can be gently massaged to promote relaxation are the neck from behind the ears and down, the tips of the ears and the front of the paws just below the wrist joint.
  • Explore natural remedies. A bit of peppermint oil on a dog’s paw pads has a calming effect. A few drops of Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a flower essence, in the dog’s water bowl will also help calm your pet during times of stress. (We tried rubbing Rescue Remedy on the tips of Frankie’s ears and he fell asleep!)

Pushing the Envelope

There’s just no competing with California. Better weather, healthier lifestyle, prettier people. Even the girls in wheelchairs are glamorous in L.A.  Case in point: “The Push Girls,” a new reality show featuring four beautiful, brave women — all disabled.

Hooray! Finally, a reality show I can admit to watching. And a show I can relate to. Not that I have much in common with these women aside from height, or lack of it. No, next to this bunch with their stylish clothes, high heels and blinged-out wheels, I look ready for the nursing home in my stretchy pants and granny wheelchair. But I applaud them. They refuse to be typecast. They’re pushing boundaries and breaking molds. Their new series on the Sundance Channel (Mondays at 10) is dispelling any preconceived notions of what it means to be handicapped.

I’ve watched all episodes to date (not an easy feat since getting rid of cable) and I have to say — I’m a huge fan. I’m intensely curious as to how they do things. (This must go double for the average, in-the-dark, able-bodied viewer.) But producer Gay Rosenthal, who also produced TLC’s “Little People, Big World,” maintains the show is not exploitative or voyeuristic. I think people just like looking into a world that’s different from their own. Like the world of sports agents in Jerry Maguire, groupies in Almost Famous or doctors in “E.R.”

The show follows the women as they juggle relationships, careers, family and friendships. It’s interesting because they’re handicapped (and dealing with the natural obstacles that entails,) but also because they’re young, attractive, fun and seemingly fearless. So far, I’ve watched open-mouthed as they bounce down all kinds of stairs, perfect their chair dancing moves and even go out speed dating. I mean, these are some gutsy girls! One of the four was (and still is) a professional dancer who, on one episode, enters a packed ballroom dance competition to compete against able-bodied dancers! Granted, I can’t have been the only one to consider it might have been a pity-win when she and her partner took first place in the Show Dance category. But you can’t argue, she deserved a trophy just for having the hutzpuh to get out there. People say I inspire them. Well, these girls inspire me.

That doesn’t mean you’ll find me in heels anytime soon (I’m still a Florida flip-flop girl,) but it’s nice to see people in wheelchairs feeling good about themselves and life. I’ve been cautioned against calling high heels in wheelchairs ridiculous by a friend in a chair who used to wear them too. She moved here last year from (where else?) California — so make of that what you will.

Not everyone is sold. A critic for The New York Times worries that the show may give the mistaken impression that these women are representative. That the majority of disabled Americans are not in poor physical health and financial straits, unable to obtain jobs or even interviews, but young and independent like these women. Really? Since “Real Housewives,” do people think all housewives have personal chefs and wear $25,000 sunglasses? It’s Hollywood! Literally! I say capture the public’s attention with the pretty version, then work on social change. Maybe this media milestone will bring about real change for people living with disabilities. I’m hopeful — so goes California, so goes the nation.

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