About Me

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Detroit, Michigan, United States
PhD candidate in the humanities with a passion for health, fitness, and overall wellness. I teach English, research composition, and blog about everything from teaching to triathlons.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Accepting empathy

Let me tell you a difficult story:

When I was 18 years old, my grandfather died. Not an uncommon story, I know. But, when I was 18 years old, the man who had a large part in raising me (as my own father was in prison throughout my childhood) woke up in his bed one morning and never made it out of it.

I sat there with him in his bed while he clung to life, not knowing in that moment that he was suffering a ruptured aneurysm and the massive stroke that would cause our family to remove him from life support that evening.

It was, hands down, the most difficult, horrible, life-altering moment of my life. At that moment and for many years after it, I was certain that if anything were going to change me at my core, that was it - nothing else could have a greater impact.

And in many ways, I was right. But what I didn't know then is that this moment would ripple throughout my life in so many ways and for so many years. You might be thinking that it's short-sighted to have not imagined that would be the case, but hey, we're talking about an 18 year old, remember?

All this is to say that my grandfather's death was one of the first times I truly knew what it meant to have empathy. When people lost someone, I knew the feeling. I didn't know what to do with that empathy (and to be honest, sometimes I still don't know what to do with it), but I felt it.

Despite the many other life experiences I had up to that point (living with an addicted parent; growing up poor/on welfare; being a step-child old enough to remember vividly the day the younger half-sibling was born; never knowing a father; being the fat kid and suffering effects of bullying; etc), this would be the quintessential moment that I could look into someone's eyes and say "I want to let you know, that I know."

And I never wanted to be able to feel that again. From that moment on, I wanted to distance myself from that connection - as far as humanly possible. I didn't embrace it; I ran from it. In many ways, I became a cold person - someone who did not want to hear about suffering. I did not want to hear about all the reasons and ways people felt defeated and unable or unwilling. I proclaimed that I did not understand it - I didn't get it - and that was that. I convinced myself that I was not the person for them. If they wanted a cheerleader, they could come find me. If they needed a shoulder, they could go find a therapist - because get up, that's why. Just be strong.

I was convinced that strong was who I was and that it would save me from sorrow. I had left empathy so far in the past, I forgot how to do it.

And then I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease of which there is no cure.

Still couldn't empathize.

And then I suffered a painful injury, sidelining me from my level of fitness and causing severe daily pain.

I still wished people would just deal with it.

And then I got married.

You might be thinking... wait, what? That's a happy thing! So far you've been equating empathy with terrible, even tragic, moments in life...

And you're right. But it was the day (and all the days following since) I married my husband that I felt the weight of my empathy avoidance fall heavy on my heart.

But before it all makes sense, I need to finish my story...

After my grandfather died, as you can imagine, my grandmother was lost. She was devastated. Her husband of 44 years passed away without warning. I was there the moment the doctors told her that he would not recover from the stroke. It was almost 13 years ago and it's still tough to even type those words. I remember her screams.

But in the days following his death, I urged her to be strong. I might've at times even asked her to acknowledge that we were *all* in pain. The memories aren't very clear, but I feared that I was not there for her in the way I should have been. This fear set in when for the first time in my life, I knew what that love was like. Holding hands with my husband, kissing him goodnight, when he calms my fears and I, his, I think of my grandparents' marriage. I think about what it would be like if I lost him.

And my empathy grows so fast that I cannot contain it. Despite everything that had happened in my life, I had finally accepted my empathy. I knew what it meant in that moment to empathize.

And, yes, I went to my grandmother and I told her I was sorry. I told her I was sorry for not understanding how she felt when grandpa died. I cried buckets of tears for thinking that I might've hurt her more then when all she needed was my support and understanding.

But in that moment she told me that I was not as awful as I remembered. In fact, she told me all she could remember was the love that surrounded her in that time and the calmness of my grandfather's spirit that she says was all around her then, letting her know he was ok.

And while I could not identify with her devout faith, I was happy that it was there for her when I might not have been. And more than that, I was happy that I finally accepted my capacity for empathy, understood it, and had the ability to share it with her and others.

The lesson being: sometimes it takes people a while to get what it means to empathize - sometimes the lessons come when we least expect them - and most importantly, we should learn to forgive those who may not know how to say "I get it" and leave it at that. They'll figure it out soon enough. We hope.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Are you an athlete?

Some people call me an athlete.

I've never really known how to feel about that. You might say, "take it as a compliment, Amy," or, you might say "well, you're athletic and you do races and whatnot, so yeah, you are!" And you might be right.

I've also heard people say that being an athlete is all in your head - that it's about what you *feel* and how you *think* about your body and your athletic prowess - that it's somehow about always striving for something more in your athletic life.

Bubblegum and marshmallows.

Don't ask me what I think, though, because I haven't quite decided. What I do know is that 7 years ago I quit smoking because I wanted to be athletic. I'm not sure if I ever thought that, as an obese woman in my mid-20s with a history of obesity and disordered eating behaviors (disclosure: emotional and binge eating), that I *could* be an *athlete* in the sense of the term I had always understood it.

My entire life I understood athletes as people who were talented at athletics from an early age; those who were crafted, nurtured, and trained as athletes; those who ran around in gym class and on the courts and fields of my high school while I sat, out of breath from walking up the bleachers; thin girls with long legs and long ponytails that somehow looked even better when drenched in sweat; tall boys with broad shoulders who were strong... because they were tall boys with broad shoulders and of course they could lift and push things and people.

I was no athlete. I wasn't born to be an athlete.

My entire life I was tall but with weirdly short legs that strangely sort of... pointed slightly outward from the knees in a way that made me trip over my feet in gym class. I was broad shouldered but not in the svelte-basketball player kind of way; I wore glasses and had the kind of hair that never really fit into a ponytail without frizzy, stray strands poking out and tickling my face.

So, 7 years ago I just wanted to be fast, to move well, to be "in shape" - whatever that meant. I wanted to be athletic... I guess. But after a couple years of dedicated workouts and kinda sorta thinking about food and learning about nutrition, I noticed my body changing in ways that made me wonder what might happen if I kept going - if I worked harder.

So I did. I hired a trainer, I pushed my boundaries, I learned more about nutrition; I set higher goals. And then I hit those goals - one after the other. I got faster and stronger, and then I even began instructing others in fitness. I used to look in the mirror every day and want more - to be leaner, to be stronger, to be the picture of an athlete.

And just as I was rising to the apex of that person - just as I was stealing those images from my youth and making them my own - I was diagnosed with MS.

I'll spare you that story, but I will say this: the diagnostic process for MS is lengthy and it is exhausting: a barrage of tests scattered across the space of several weeks - blood tests, eye tests, hearing tests, walking and touching and poking-needles-in-your-muscles tests, and a lumbar puncture.

After all the results were tabulated and the score announced, as you might imagine, I was told a lot of things. But of all those things, there was only one that mattered: I was told I might never walk again one day.

In that moment (and since that moment), I stopped trying to be an athlete. No, I did not stop training hard in the gym or signing up for races or learning about nutrition. I stopped wanting to *be* and only wanted to *do.*

Strange, but wonderful things happen when you stare down the barrel of disability. You see life in the distance, pushing fast behind an unpredictable bullet. Initially you jolt, but eventually you steady yourself - and during that time, you stop noticing the periphery.

I know that might sound sort of terrifying, but trust me it's not. It's a gift in disguise. A fucked up, terrifying disguise, yes, but nevertheless...

Am I an athlete? I don't know. An athlete, I think, is something that you *are,* someone you want to *be.* All I focus on now is what I can *do* and how well I can *do* it despite that bullet in the barrel.

I can walk, and I can run, I can jump, I can cycle, I can climb stairs, and while those things are difficult, I. STILL. CAN.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Four Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to “like” a Status About MS!
This is me with a dose of Copaxone - the "disease-modifying therapy" I inject daily. It's really not a big deal. 

1)      Talking about the daily challenges of MS actually helps me. Having been on social networking sites for over a decade, I have come to the conclusion that there are two distinct groups: those who love to share and those who are more conservative about life’s little details. I’m certainly the former. Sharing my daily life and reading about yours actually brings me a lot of joy most days – and joy makes the rough days a lot better. J

2)      Talking about MS spreads awareness about MS. I tell people all the time that the best way to learn about MS is to talk to people who have MS and learn just how varied each person’s life with MS really is. All too often we read about the sad stories and the tragic results of any disease – but we can share daily triumphs of the small struggles we battle through and overcome. And the more we learn, the more we can help those in our lives affected by the disease.

3)      I put a lot of thought into disclosure. Not only that, but it takes guts to talk about life with MS (or any disease for that matter). I decided to live a very open and transparent life in hopes that my path and my experiences might inspire others.

4)      You are a part of my healthy life! Your love and support enrich my life in a way that the most precise nutrition and training could never do. And even though you might think to yourself “Ugh, should I ‘like’ the fact that she had a shitty post-injection reaction even though she kinda wrote it in a positive way?” – the answer is yes! It’s ok if you want to! I won’t take it any other way than one way you’re just cheering me on. J

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

KWL and Promoting Student Self-Efficacy

Hello fellow Unconference-goers!

Adrienne Jankens and myself (Amy Metcalf) - both of Wayne State University - are using one blogspace to introduce to you our plans for a 30-minute MAKE (with  little bit of talk) presentation at this year's WIDE-EMU. Here's a little bit of background and some plans for the session. We hope you'll join us in generating (what we hope will be) an awesome knowledge-sharing half hour!

From Adrienne: 

My experience using Donna Ogle’s KWL strategy began with teaching literature to high school sophomores. The premise of this pre-reading strategy is to tap into students’ prior knowledge before reading, so they can make connections with the text more easily, and focus their attention on finding answers within the text. The KWL strategy highlights what students know, want to know, and have learned about a topic, and, when written down, articulates this knowledge in a way that holds more water than in class discussion that dissolves into the air when the bell rings. One day, in an improvisational move in an intro college writing class where students were having trouble coming up with specific topics for a researched argument essay, I wrote three questions on the board: 

·         What do I know about this topic?
·         What do I want to know about this topic?
·         What have I learned through my research?

One student offered up her topic (I think it was something broad like “animal rights”) and the class generated their prior knowledge and questions while I served as recording secretary, my blue marker chasing ideas all around the board. The discussion highlighted, for this student, what her interests were regarding the topic, and what some potential narrowed lines of inquiry might be for the project. The class’s compilation of prior knowledge and potential questions paved the way for a more confident start for this student as she began her project.

For my WIDE-EMU presentation, I’d like to “talk” my way through the following questions, exploring this idea of using the KWL to access prior knowledge about college writing and to promote students’ confidence in this knowledge in beginning the class as a whole and in beginning writing projects specifically:

·         What do I KNOW about why accessing prior knowledge is valuable?
·         [What do I WANT to know?] How does the KWL actually work as a class activity to activate this prior knowledge?
·         What have I LEARNED (through an anecdotal example from this semester) about how this activity promotes confidence in students and helps me teach writing?

From Amy:

Promoting student self-efficacy and motivation in the classroom is a must for the composition classroom, especially basic and first-year writing.  In this “Make” presentation, I will give a brief description of an assignment that I developed using the website Pinterest. In short, at the beginning of the semester I ask students to consider various questions that promote introspection about their identity as students and their goals and intentions within higher education. While this practice is by no means new or innovative,  I have found that incorporating the use of image collections enhances student engagement and this is evidenced in a reflection assignment coupled with the Pinterest activity. 

      While I am still engaged in research to determine if this practice remains impactful longitudinally, I offer anecdotal and preliminary data to suggest that students who are given several opportunities of self-expression early in a semester prove to maintain and increase confidence in their writing and their acquisition and transfer of new knowledge from the composition classroom to simultaneous outside contexts.  The Pinterest activity as I have designed it also doubles for the practice of summarizing as students are asked to create captions of a limited number of characters as well as a written synopsis of their entire presentation of images. I will ask attendees to either share their own practices or to think of what they might create/develop/implement in their own classrooms to promote student self-efficacy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In defense of Franzen

I originally wanted this blog post to focus on this idea: First the book battled other media, and now it battles itself.

But to be honest, I've not much else to say about that at this very moment - it's just something that popped into my head while thinking about all of the readings for this week and their relationship with the scholarship on new media/Remediation/digital literacy/etc that I've delighted in for the past few years.

What I'd rather write about at the present moment is how proud I am of Franzen's personal admissions in "Why Bother?"  At first, my knee-jerk reaction to the essay was akin to Shandi's very justifiable and understandable rant. But then I read on and thought to myself "Holy shit, this guy is flat out admitting that he's depressed and that it sucks and that he wishes he could do something about it."  I read further and thought "Holy shit, this guy is admitting that he has disregarded history in favor or a selfish, self-serving perspective that feeds his depression and justifies the awful relationships he has with other people."  And at that moment, I applauded Jonathan Franzen. I applauded him because it takes a lot of guts to "out" yourself in such a way.  Even as a published author - with a modicum or a great deal of notoriety - one is not necessarily reflective, let alone to everyone.  I found Franzen's essay almost as refreshing as any of Anne Lamott's writing.  There's a raw honesty that indeed begins as a tale of woe that is enough to make you want to slap the man - but it progresses into a beautiful moment of self-actualization and a sense of placement in the world no matter what the world is perceived to be.

I see in Franzen's essay the very notion that "I am one person in a world of competing values" and instead of crumbling underneath that daunting reality (realism), he finds a place/a wedge/a foot-in-the-door.  Ultimately, I think Franzen says it best when he asserts "there is no bubble that can stay unburst" (96).  That right there is all the realization any human being may ever need - whether an author, an iron worker, a barista, a college professor, or the guy that sells newspapers by the freeway on-ramp on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Money and morality

I begin with one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films (which was also my favorite play prior to reading anything by Harold Pinter - but I digress): In My Fair Lady, Colonel Pickering asks Alfred Doolittle, "Have you no morals, man?!" and Alfred replies, "Nah, gov'ner. Can't afford 'em." 

The scene from Pygmallion is the first thing that entered my brain while reading "Scott, Hogg, and the Gift-Book Editors."  And it is precisely that scene which encompasses, I think, the intersection of idealism and capital that so affected Scott, Hogg, and other authors.

Although I admit that I do not have much to say about Keepsake books, my ears and eyes are tuned to the conversation about the evolution of copyright and I am always excited to read accounts of the persona of popular/notable authors in history.  Coincidentally, but appropriately enough, my students debated author ethos this morning.  A few students noted that, when it comes to ethos, they are never concerned about "who" is writing a fictional text and that they only find it necessary to know ethos for someone who is making a clear (in this case written) argument.  Whether or not we think this is a "correct" approach to authorship, it made me think (and still does) about how perspectives change when we do know something about a person's ideologies/character regardless of whether or not we went searching for that information.

This makes me think of Scott and Hogg and their resistance to the Keepsake and increasingly consumable/"generic literary production." Hill ultimately describes the "author in the face of industrial production" as having a compromised status - but as we know from the accounts of both Scott and Hogg, this is based on their perceptions of themselves (as in the case of Wordsworth, too) and not necessarily the perceptions of those enjoying the literature (be it an illustrated Keepsake or not).  And so, in the spirit of raw undergraduate freshmen critique of ethos, should we as readers even care what opinion the authors have of themselves? Amidst the larger issue of copyright, intellectual property, and "divine inspiration," this may be a basic query glossed over. Yes, economics and consumption matters - as the audience dictated the demand for Keepsake novels, but I wonder to what degree the readership knew about such severe distaste from the authors themselves and what impact that might have had.*

*Disclaimer: If this was covered in either essay and I just missed it/forgot it, please feel free to point it out to me! :)