Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sleepy Cat

Stay up all night playing elaborate April Fools' Joke, she said.
It much better than posting history of April Fools' Day, she said.
You no be passed out in the middle of ur cubicle tomorrow, she said.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I'm Slacktastic

I learned a fun new word today: slactivism. According to, it's a pejorative term for the act of paying lip service to a cause without actually doing anything to further it. A much needed word and a portmanteau. What's not to love?
 The term was being applied to the deal on Facebook in which a bunch of sheeple changed their profile pictures to a modified version of the Human Rights Campaign symbol. To, you know, raise awareness and show solidarity as the Supreme Court hears arguments on allowing same sex marriage. I don't actually think these people are sheep, by the way, especially since I'm one of them. But I couldn't resist a second portmanteau. 

People on Facebook are always doing this sort of slactivism. Posting your bra color to raise awareness of breast cancer... somehow. Though I suspect everyone on Facebook is already pretty aware of the whole "cancer" thing; I think the awareness market is saturated. 
People always seem to be posting random crap to Facebook in the name of some cause. Changing your profile picture to a cartoon character raises awareness of child abuse. Because nobody knew that was going on. People post things like "repost this to show you hate cancer." "If you don't change your profile picture, you are a racist communist." Rarely do you see people posting things to Facebook about what we can actually do - where we can donate, how we can volunteer. It's just posted and reposted pictures of a rainbow's worth of ribbons. Slactivism. 
Now, I will point out that I also changed my profile pic to the HRC logo myself. It was just so heartening to see my whole friends list light up in red and pink. So hopeful to see democrats, republicans, preachers, teenaged kids all unified or something. Knowing how many people I care for support a cause important to me makes me feel good.
Know what the crazy part about this is? I don't technically believe in legalizing gay marriage - I don't believe that the government has any business legislating love. Marriage is a sacred compact between people their higher powers. Such a personal and holy thing can't be reduced to a notarized piece of paper. 
Let the government notarize papers for whoever wishes to enter the legal contract to whichever consenting adults have reason to enter such a contract.
Because here's the thing about the legal contract portion of the deal. There are no sacred texts that forbid a person from loving someone of her own gender, it's only the sex acts that are forbidden. So even if this were a theocracy in which religious folks got to decide what a person's allowed to do in their bedroom, there's not a thing in that contract about sex. And to think that marriage is a sin because gay sex is a sin is to reduce marriage to only one tiny fraction of what marriage is about. In fact, many people are of the opinion that marriage pretty much the antidote to sex. If you really wanted to prevent gay sex, you'd support gay marriage.
And one more thing. Marriage comes to us from the Latin maritatus, which also means marriage. So it was the heathens of Rome who gave the word marriage its definition. If the Romans created the foundation of modern-day Western marriage, and we wanted to be true to the word's definition, there would be animal sacrifices and livestock exchanges involved.
Side note: Jeremy and I may well have agreed to exchange livestock when we got married - neither of us has any memory of the actual ceremony. It's just sort of a blur of tears and hugging. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'm Rather a Horrible Person

My husband went out to get Bioshock 3, the sequel to a couple of really awesome X-Box games that he loves. He was so excited to play it that he left the house to buy it as soon as he found out it had come out. When he got home, I was half an hour into watching Les Miserables with tears streaming down my face.
That's right. I'd been making myself weep for half an hour just to mess with him.
He saw the tears and told me to go ahead. He wasn't even bluffing. He is a far better husband than I deserve. Sucker.
Did I plan that whole scene out just to use it as a segue into this blog post? It's possible. As we've seen, I'm kind of a calculating bitch. 
In honor of the fairly recent DVD release of Les Mis, I have something to say about singing over one's head.
When I talked about Hugh Jackman's musical/mutton chops, I failed to mention one fairly insignificant detail - the fact that Jean Valjean is a very high tenor role and Hugh Jackman is not a tenor at all. And it shows. There are times when you can almost feel him straining for the high notes, and the suspense of not knowing how in the hell he was going to hit the high F at the end of Bring Him Home had me on the edge of my seat. 
So WTF? Why didn't they just have him do it in a lower key? They moved Stars down for Russel Crowe and Master of the House down for Sasha Baron Cohen. Hell, why not just lower the key for everything Jackman sings?
How does a guy who sings like this:
My mom used to sing this to me.
She and her voice are even prettier than Jackman.
turn in such a strained performance?
A film professor once told a class that every second of a major motion picture costs thousands of dollars to make (although this film had a surprisingly modest budget at $61 million - were all the actors working pro-bono?). Nothing is an accident. When an Oscar-winning director and a Tony winning actor collaborate, they don't just decide that a sub-par performance is good enough and walk away. The stretch and strain in Jackman's voice was deliberate. Especially when you consider the fact that my Janice pointed out, which is that Jackman almost never used his falsetto, singing all of those high notes in full voice. 
The thing is that Jean Valjean lives his life in a constant state of uncertainty, always a moment away from being discovered and losing everything. During Bring Him Home, Valjean is trying to protect the man his daughter loves in a nearly hopeless fight, knowing that if he saves the man, he will give up his daughter to him. Fail to save him and his daughter's heart breaks. Win or lose, life as he knows it is over forever. His singing is the sound of a tired heart breaking. 
I've heard a million golden-voiced performances of this song, and never one that brought me to tears (although at that point, I'd been crying so long, who can really say whether it was the song or inertia).
Does anybody else think that Colm Wilkinson kind of 
looks like a mule eating an apple when he sings?

Julie Taymore used this strategy to great effect in Across the Universe. In this scene, Lucy's life has been thrown into chaos. She lost her first boyfriend in the war, another has been deported, and her brother comes home from the war so depressed that he has to stare at water all day. The pitch of the song is at the very tippy top of Evan Rachel Wood's vocal range. When you listen to the high note a minute in, you can practically hear all the hours she spent with her vocal coach working to hit it.
Look at him just staring at the water. Just staring. Tragic. 
Also, sorry mom, this gentleman is prettier than you.

Jackman wasn't the only one accused of a weak performance. Oddly enough, Russel Crowe does have a decent singing voice - I think his performance was meant to serve his interpretation of the character he played (granted, I think his interpretation of the character was completely wrong, but it was cool he played Javert as something other than the comic book super-villain that every other Javert has gone with). Or it's possible, as one of my coworkers has suggested, that Russel Crowe can't sing and act at the same time. Long story short, I didn't like his performance, but I don't think it was a bad performance, if that makes any sense.
I can offer no excuses for Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Why was Cohen's Thenardier (spelled right on the first try) the only character who sang with a French accent? I mean, other than the fact that Cohen's only acting skill is talking with a funny accent. I'm not even sure Helena Bonham Carter was fully conscious for most of her scenes. She seemed to be in the throes of terminal boredom. She even seemed bored when she performed at the Oscars. 
So has  anybody actually read this far? Because there are a whole lot of words up there...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kids Can Be So Cruel

That's the thing people always say. Parents take the cruelty of other kids into account when they name their babies. Kids say things to each other that your boss would get fired for saying. Kids do things to each other that, if adults did them, they'd be arrested and charged with assault. 
Why do we say it with such resignation? We can all agree it's bad, but we all accept it's inevitable. 
I'm curious if this is universal across cultures. I wonder if there's something more that can be done about it besides some YouTube videos and an occasional school assembly. 
But you know what? I remember this once in grade schools I flipped the hell out on some kids who were picking on me. I just snapped. I can't remember which bullies or what they were doing that resulted in my flipping, but you know, occasionally other kids spit in my hair. Made games of bull-rushing me and knocking me down as soon as the recess lady was otherwise occupied. 
Someone took me (and not the bullies, by the way) to the office and sat me down with the principal. I can still remember how I was sobbing so hard I couldn't breathe. My hands were shaking so hard I couldn't wipe my nose with the Kleenex the secretary gave me.
The principal honestly thought she was being helpful when she sat me down and explained to me how I needed to grow a thicker skin. How my life would be much easier if I wasn't always trying to be different (as if this was something I had a say in). She told me it was okay to lie a little and pretend to like the bands the other kids did. The other kids wouldn't change, she said, so if I wanted them to leave me alone, I would have to.
This isn't a sob story so much as a hopeful one. They've finally started caring about bullying, stopped being so resigned to its existence. If that woman is still a principal, I highly doubt she's as tone deaf as she was then. And I suspect it's more common for the bullies to get the talkings-to. 
Know what's funny? I know all that bullying made me stronger. Made me more empathetic; made me care less about what other people think.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'll be Back when the Day is New

It's no surprise that Fred Rogers is among my heroes. I think we all know I still live in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. But I do find it kind of surprising how ubiquitous my generation's love for him is. Yesterday, I couldn't open Facebook without reading another birthday tribute to the late PBS star. My generation was once defined by how jaded we were, how cynical. We're way too cool for syrupy sentiments like "you're special just the way you are."
And yet we'll spend half an afternoon watching and weeping over YouTube clips of his speaking with childish sagacity when there's a whole Internet full of pr0n and cat videos out there. 
And among the chest thumping and political opportunism that followed the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary, people my age posted, re-posted, read and re-read the words of Fred Rogers with tears in their eyes: 
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world.
And you know, I think maybe the reason we love him so much is the same reason that we're so jaded. We love him because he's one of the few heroes we've had who never let us down. While politicians lied to our faces, kids' show hosts got arrested for jerking off in a movie theater, sports stars killed people, and wave after wave of our favorite entertainers drugged themselves into oblivion, one of our idols was exactly what he appeared to be.

But this post is meant to be more than just oddly ardent hero worship. This post is about one of those quotations a friend posted yesterday. An article in Esquire revealed that Fred Rogers swam every day, ate a healthy vegetarian diet, and maintained the same weight his entire adult life. He said that this was his way of saying "I love you" to himself.
I've been having the damnedest time keeping my plates spinning lately. Eating terribly, coming up with every excuse to avoid exercise, not writing, even though I know those things only make me feel more crappy and exhausted. So maybe instead of pushing and punishing and all of that, I'll try and look at getting my act together as a way to say 'I love you' to myself. And that's a horribly cheesy thing to think and even cheesier to say, but Mister Rogers said it, so that's okay.
Remember when I used to post pictures I took?

Monday, March 18, 2013


Hey all. I'm sorry I've been such a bum. Truth be told, I've been exhausted lately, and I don't even know why. It's been all I can do just to get to work, church, and physical therapy lately. I'm running with the theory that it's the changing of the season. Either that, or my rigorous schedule of sitting down all day has finally taken its toll, making me unable to do tasks that involve further sitting down.
Speaking of weak segues, yesterday while being exhausted, I was watching an episode of My Cat from Hell, a show on Animal Planet wherein a gentleman named Jackson Galaxy makes poor choices with regard to his facial hair and fixes crazy cats. Generally by giving cat owners a feather on a string and telling them to take the lids off their cat boxes.
If he looks like a cross between King Tut and
a white supremacist, no one will notice that
his answer to everything is a $2 cat toy.
In one episode, Galaxy meets one cat who can't be cured by a cat toy or by taking the lid off the litter box. This cat's issues went beyond simple behavioral or environmental triggers - he felt the cat was mentally ill and needed to be medicated. Galaxy says hates to give the advice, since he's in favor of holistic health, but in some cases it's needed.
Interesting thing, though, holistic, which apparently comes from South African English, actually doesn't necessarily mean "non-medical," although some wheat-germers (as we'll call them) insist otherwise. Holistic therapy is actually the practice of using multiple approaches to a person's wellness. For instance, if I were to go to a holistic health provider with back pain, that provider might try a combination of physical therapy, chiropractic, meditation, medication, and diet. It doesn't eschew Western medicine, but sees it as only one component of treatment. The holistic philosophy is widely accepted in the medical community in the US, although some of the components, such as homeopathy and acupuncture generally aren't.
And speaking of homeopathy, that's another thing that people often use incorrectly. Lots of people think that homeopathic is another term for alternative therapy, and that stuff like acupuncture,  vitamin therapy, and magnets and crap fall under its umbrella. Totally untrue. The term homeopathic only refers to the totally debunked belief that poison and other random crap, highly diluted, can magically cure diseases. In fact, these substances are often so diluted with plain water that there's maybe a molecule of the snake oil in a bottle of "medicine". But it's cool, because water "has a memory." If you detect a tiny note of contempt here, it's because I'm not a fan of snake oil salesmen actively discouraging seriously sick people from getting actual medical help, while making absurd claims about actual effective treatments. These hucksters are freaking killing people.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Last year when she turned 30, my friend Janice's husband commissioned this birthday cake:

That's Janice's brain (I mean, well, it's a picture of her brain, obviously, real brains taste terrible. And also if they had used her real brain for the cake, she wouldn't have made it to 30). The white spots that look like they don't belong there aren't icing, they're the lesions that accompany multiple sclerosis. 
And if this cake seems more appalling to you than funny, then you don't know Janice. Janice wears blatant eff-me pumps when she goes out in her wheelchair because, if her feet are going to be purely decorative, then she's going all out. She insists that she'd be safe in a zombie attack because zombies would turn up their noses at her brains (I'm dubious, but who am I to argue with the crippled lady?).
Through medication, determination, and a hell of a lot of work, Janice is in remission; she's doing so well, in fact, that she's participating in Walk MS Akron this year. You might think it's greedy of her to demand more donations, what with her having raised over $1,300 already. But come on man. Throw the crippled lady a bone.

She's been posting chapters from her story on her Facebook wall in honor of National MS month, and it turns out it's not all rock star parking and stripper shoes. 

Here is one chapter from May 2, 2007. I cannot imagine ever being this brave.
"It always seemed as though I lived in a state of cognitive dissonance. There were times I would lose track of where I was or what I was doing. I would look over my notes for class and see a jumbled replica of English. I learned how to translate what people were saying to me, I didn't interpret things the way everyone else did. People thought it was because I was lazy, or less intelligent, or incapable; in some aspects they were right. And I agreed with them. I remember times when I would ask Lucius to "remind me where my leg" was. He would lift it and we'd laugh and think 'gee that was strange!' 
Last year I spent the majority of it numb from the armpits down. People don't think of how much that affects. That's not just your legs but the armpits, breasts, stomach, hips, buttocks, thighs, calves, knees, ankles, heels, soles, toes... It started slow. I had a numb patch of skin on my right arm above the elbow underneath the armpit. It itched like crazy... and it started to spread through my chest. It was a few says before my toes started to go. It took a week from the first loss of feeling in my toes to spread through my legs. In the meantime I was taken ill with nausea. I was so incredibly weak, it was frightening at first. Then I was too weak to be scared. I spent a month eating next to nothing. For the longest time I couldn't feel if I needed to go to the bathroom. I purposely made myself get up and go 'just in case'. And even when I went... I couldn't be entirely sure when I was done. So I just had to wait. Even after that I can't feel if I'm clean... so I used babywipes to make sure. I couldn't even feel the moisture from that or the cold. I could just barely get in the shower and once there I had to rest before I picked up the soap. I could never remember what I had just washed. I could have washed my hair five times in one sitting... I had no idea. Once I finished showering I went to the bedroom and waited for Lucius to come in to help me. I couldn't bend over to put on my underwear. Once Lucius had dressed me I needed to rest for about 20 minutes. I hadn't dressed myself and yet I had no energy. After awhile Lucius would help me down to the living room. I don't even remember what I would do. It's amazing how time can pass without your noticing. If Lucius kissed me I could just barely feel it... I had to be careful how I moved my head because the vertigo was enough to make me fall over. I couldn't lie down for the dizziness and nausea. I couldn't lift my legs into the bed anyways. I slept in our recliner in the living room. I had been doing that awhile due to nausea. Now I know why. Funny. Newlyweds that can't even sleep in the same bed in the first year of marriage. And I thought it was all my fault. Guilt doesn't have to be rational. My diaphragm was shot, I was too weak to use it. I couldn't sing most of last year, and that pained me. I would get too dizzy from lack of air and effort. I would sit in church and sing inwardly the hymns. I would cry because I couldn't use my voice for something I loved and had always taken comfort in. 
Nowadays I fight psychological symptoms the most. During Alumni weekend that I had fought off dozens of panic attacks that day alone. Having to start conversation, keep conversations flowing, decisions of ANY kind... it all starts a panic. My mind shuts down and everything goes away. Decisions as simple as "should I use a pencil or pen?" can cripple me. It saddens me when i can't do things. I want to cry when I see my glass of water but know that at that moment I can not lift it. I feel defeated when I haven't the strength to open a packet of Tylenol.
I wish more people knew about this disease."

Don't forget to donate, kids. I don't know if science is anywhere near a cure, because I read the Wikipedia article and there were a lot of big science words. But I do know that any steps science can take to help more people with MS participate in more Walk MS events are worth it. 

As are you, J. and K. My thoughts and love are with you now as always.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Life Sentence

I've had fibromyalgia since I was 19, and it's been flaring up lately. Fibro, for those not in the know, is a disease that causes widespread pain throughout the muscles and connective tissues and it is wrong. The first half of the word, fibro, comes from the Latin word for fibrous tissues. The latter half, myalgia, comes from the Greek words for muscle and pain. Latin and Greek can't live alongside each other like that. It would be anarchy. 
The symptoms I live with are pain throughout my neck, shoulders, and arms. On a good day it feels like you might feel after spending an afternoon playing tackle football. On an average day, it feels like the aches you get with the flu. On a bad day, it feels like you've been run over by a car (this I have on good authority seeing as I have fibromyalgia and was once hit by a car). There are a bunch of other symptoms that can go along with it, the worst - for me - being fatigue and insomnia. 
The first doctor who diagnosed me gave me the verdict, then handed me a sheet printed up from the Internet that essentially called my disorder a highly-specialized form of hypochondria.  Rather than being angry at being told my problems were all in my head, I threw myself into believing it was true. If the disorder was psychological in nature, after all, it wasn't really there, and it would go away if I could stop believing it was. It didn't; it got worse. 
The fact is that the majority of the medical community now accepts that the disorder exists and is medically treatable; though the efficacy of various treatments varies from person to person. I've found a combo of meds, exercise, good sleep, and mindfulness meditation that gets me through the day most of the time. However, with pain flaring and Jeremy and my trip to Europe looming, I went to the doctor to ask him to put me back in physical therapy. He suggested aquatic therapy and it's amazing. The therapy pool is so toasty warm and the exercise so low-impact, that it's literally less painful to me than lying in bed. Which is why I find it funny how so many of the other patients seem to hate it. I had the same experience in the physical therapy sessions I did several years back. Folks would complain that their doctors wouldn't "do anything," for the pain or didn't take their pain seriously. Many seem to be of the opinion that prescribing PT is the doctor's way of blowing them off. In physical therapy, every time the therapist left the room, half the room would start cheating - lowering resistance on machines, doing fewer reps, or just stop work altogether.
Back when I did regular PT, I thought this was just laziness - people wanting the easy way out, wanting to take a pill and feel all better. But this time around, I'm starting to wonder if I'm selling everybody short.
Maybe the reason folks resist therapy is that the treatment forces people to face the fact that this thing isn't going to go away on its own, that there's no magic pill that will fix things. Maybe therapy seems distasteful because it means accepting an illness or injury as a part of your life - something you'll have to work on and manage; that you'll have to learn to live with and make peace with the pain or else keep on suffering.