Birthday.

April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of both my grandfather and my niece. While my grandfather is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday, we will have dinner and cake tonight in honour of my niece. 

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The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight.

Author’s note: I am disappointed that we no longer speak about our birthnight. I was born at 7pm on a Thursday, and I could really make a thing of saying “tonight is my birthnight!” all day, and “last night was my birthnight!” on the morrow.

By Shakespeare’s time, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace. Not only does Cleopatra acknowledge her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra, so does the Roman senator Cassius in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.”
In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” This shows that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

The tradition of birthday cake also came from Germany in early modern times: presumably as people started to observe their own birthdays, they started celebrating with special food as they had long done for kings’ and saints’ days. By the 1800s, the German tradition of Kinderfest was fully established. This involved presenting the birthday child with a cake topped with candles — one for each year of their life, plus one in the middle of the cake to represent life— which would be kept burning all day, and replaced as they burned down. This was done because they believed people were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays, and the burning candles would ward those spirits off. After dinner, the cake was presented again, with the candles still burning. The child would make a wish and blow out the candles, with the smoke rising to heaven to keep the evil spirits away once the candles had been extinguished. Then the cake would be shared among the family.

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This is very similar to what many people do today, albeit without the religious superstition and all-day candle burning.

Sources:
Etymonline
Etymologeek
Candles, Wishes, and the History Behind Our Birthday Cake Traditions
Why Do We Eat Birthday Cake?

Birthday.
#history #etymology #tradition

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term- And What To Say Instead

While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.

Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.

Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.

It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.

The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.

Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.

In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.

In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.

Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.

There are other things one can say instead:

  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • Students
  • The year level/name, such as Year 9 or Grade 4, according to the conventions of the school and/or locale.

* Not an exhaustive list.

  • People

This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now  they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.

  • Kids

I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention.  Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again.  The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.

In more relaxed situations, you could also use:

  • Peeps
  • Gang
  • Rockstars
  • Legends
  • Crew

* Also not an exhaustive list.

Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:

  • “Right, you rowdy lot!”  I might say this when they are working hard and being anything but rowdy.
  • “Hello, unique individuals!” Again, it’s an opportunity for affirmative language that includes everyone.
  • “Greetings, earthlings!”
  • “Whæt! Geats, Danes, Monsters and Dragons!” has been a favoured greeting while studying ‘Beowulf’, while “Aaaaarrgh me hearties!” Works when studying ‘Treasure Island’.

Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term
#ThingsToConsider #inclusion #vocabulary

The Man With A Walking Stick

It’s funny how one minute you can be having quite a good day, and then something happens that makes you stop and realise how much you really miss someone. 

This afternoon I was parked by the river, having some downtime before my theatre company rehearsals tonight, and enjoying the filtered sunlight through the trees and the breeze blowing off the river. 

Image by icsilviu from Pixabay

An older gentlemen with a cane walked past me. He was tall but a bit bent over, quite well dressed but too thin for his trousers, and he walked along the path almost shuffling gait of someone who is no longer quite confident about where to put his feet. Lots of things about that remind me of my father; what moved me most, though, was the way he swung his cane as he walked: just like Dad used to, not so much relying on the cane like he was supposed to, but rather using it as a fashion accessory. 

It was just a little thing, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I suddenly wanted more than anything else to be able to hug my dad and tell him I love him. In that turn of a moment, the sense of loss was so profound, and the tears are still flowing as I type.

My head tells me I am being silly, but my heart is telling me that it hasn’t healed yet. 

In a few minutes it will be time to dry my tears and head off down the highway. I’ll be fine by the time I am there, but I won’t forget the man with the cane. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he is as loved cherished, and well-cared-for as my dad was. 

Faking It.

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam.

Today I feel completely hungover. 

I haven’t had any alcohol at all in weeks.
I didn’t eat the bread or the fries that came with last night’s burger. 
I’m hydrated. 

This is just my fibromyalgia being a complete jerk. 

By the time I get to work, I will have drawn on every acting skill I have— and that’s quite a few— to present as ‘normal’. 
I will do my job with absolute professionalism: my students will never know how dreadful My body feels. 

After work, I will complete the errands on my to-do list. Those things don’t go away because I feel rotten. 

Only when I come home again can I give in to the pain, the sluggishness, and the desire to just go to bed and moan a bit. 

But they’re right. 
I don’t “look sick”.
That’s because I am 100% accomplished at making it look like I’m not.

Faking It.
#fibromyalgia #FibromyaliaAwareness

Kvetch.

As Victoria enters a five day lockdown designed to halt the spread of that dratted virus after its recent escape from a quarantine hotel, there’s a lot of kvetching going on.

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Yes, it’s our third lockdown. Yes, we all saw this coming when the Australian Open was allowed to go ahead. Naturally, we’d all rather not. We’d all like to be able to do whatever we want to do. I know it’s inconvenient. I had to cancel my plans, too. 

Still, there is nothing to be achieved by blaming anyone. Contrary to what some people like to say, our state government is not a dictatorship. They’re doing their best to manage a pandemic, balancing the health of the community with what millions of individuals perceive as their rights and needs.

The fact is, this virus is highly contagious, airborne and invisible. The pandemic is not yet over, and these things are going to happen from time to time. It may actually be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, even when we are careful about wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising everything. One of the fundamental truths of a pandemic disease is that it is not easily controlled: that’s how it became a pandemic in the first place. At best, it can be well managed.

At least it’s only five days this time, not months like the last one.

Even so, I have lost count of how many times I have felt the need to tell people to stop kvetching about it in the last 24 hours.

Kvetch is a wonderful word, donated to English from Yiddish in the mid-20th century. It is as satisfying to say as ‘bitch’ with far less possibility of offending anyone, and it is so much more expressive than other synonyms such as ‘whine’, ‘complain’ or ‘moan’.

Perhaps the only synonym that is as expressive is the one that my grandfather used when we were kids: “Stop your bellyaching,” I haven’t thought about that expression in decades, and it has just come back to me riding on a wave of memory and emotion. I think I’ll have to start saying that now, too.

Kvetch.
#wordsofwisdom #pandemic

Epidural Spinal Injection: One Week Progress Report

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A week ago I had an epidural spinal injection into my lower back to treat constant sciatic pain.

One week later, I have good things to report.
After a rough couple of days following the injection, things started to improve. I’m very happy to report that I’m doing much better now.

Because the weekend was difficult, I stayed home from work on Monday, which was the third day after the procedure. I returned to school on Tuesday, and after spending most of the day on my feet, I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it. An early dinner and spending the evening lying down was a good strategy, as it gave relief to both my lower back and everything else that was hurting.

The injection site was progressively less tender as the week wore on, so was able to lie down and sleep on my back. As the steroids started to do their thing, I began to experience a lot less sciatic pain. I continued to have the consistent pain related to my fibromyalgia, but at least my butt and legs were no longer on fire.

That I began to see improvement on Monday and Tuesday was right on schedule for the time frame the doctor gave me – the injections would start working in 2-3 days and build up effect over the next couple of weeks. So far so good. Now, we wait to see how long that lasts.

The ESI hasn’t made any difference to my lower back pain – that’s not what the treatment was meant to do – but having the sciatic pain diminished makes a huge difference. I know how to manage my lower back and fibromyalgia pain. I can lie down comfortably for rest and sleep – and what a blessing that is!

The one-week verdict is positive. Despite the initial pain and discomfort, the procedure appears to have done what it was intended to do. If the sciatic pain returns, I’ll definitely have the treatment again.

Epidural Spinal Injection: One Week Later
#spinalhealth #BackPain

Post-epidural.

I wrote yesterday about waiting to receive a CT guided epidural spinal injection to treat the constant lower lumbar and sciatic pain I have been suffering due to further degeneration of the disks on my spine.

Actually, I do try really hard not to walk like that …

I am sincerely touched and thankful for every message of support and encouragement that I have received since publishing that post.

In the light of the fact that there are some good medical sites available but relatively few “this is what it was like for me” posts to be found, this post is intended to address that imbalance.

When I got to the treatment room, I was provided a hospital gown and asked to change. I was able to leave my underwear on, so I wasn’t completely exposed.

I was then invited to lie face down/on my stomach on the Ct scanner table. The nurse and radiologist helped me to get as comfortable as I could, reminding me that I wouldn’t be able to move during the scans and injections.

Once I was settled, they did some test scans to give the doctor initial images to work with.

When the doctor came in and introductions were done, he proceeded to wash my lower back with iodine and prepare the injection site.

That was all completely fine until we got to the initial local anaesthetics. Knowing I couldn’t move, I gritted my teeth and made some indiscriminate grungy noises that communicated more than “ouch”.

Then came the insertion, at a precise location in my lower back, of the needle and cannula for the delivery of the rest of the injections.

“Just a scratch now,” said the doctor.

In response, I laid very still but made more ugly noises.

“How is that?” he asked me.

Showing significant restraint, I responded with “I’m not sure what scratches you, but it’s very different than anything that usually scratches me.”

He didn’t say anything, but the nurse and radiologist laughed at that, which I found rather satisfying: I may be lying prone and vulnerable while a very clever person with a tendency toward understatement sticks sharp, pointy things into my spine, but I’m still hilarious.

The radiologist scanned my back again to make sure the needle and cannula were in the right place, and the doctor proceeded to administer the prescribed anaesthetic and steroids.

In the course of the procedure, counting anaesthetics and steroids, the doctor made multiple injections .
It wasn’t unbearable but it definitely wasn’t painless. I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen without the local anaesthetics, but I could still feel the injections.

After the procedure, I had to lie down with my upper body elevated for about 90 minutes before being declared able to go home.

The advice given to me before being allowed to leave was as follows:

  • Do not lie flat for 12 hours as nobody wants the anaesthetic heading north instead of south, which could cause significant complications.
  • When the local anaesthetics wear off, I would probably not feel both my original pain and some pain around the injection site. .
  • The injection usually takes 2-3 days to start taking effect. Full effect is generally reached after 10 days to 2weeks.
  • Rest for a couple of days to give things the best chance of healing.
  • The injection deals with the symptoms, not the actual degeneration in my back. I will still have the same limitations as before, but hopefully with a lot less pain.

I came home feeling quite tender and a bit jelly-legs, which I am told is normal.

I spent the afternoon and evening in my recliner with my feet up, changing the angle of the chair every now and then. I made sure I drank plenty of water, and that I got up regularly for necessary short walks.

I have experienced an increase in my fibromyalgia pain — which is a different kind of pain altogether from my back and sciatic pain, so it is easily distinguishable. Such pain flares are totally standard whenever my body experience stress or trauma. It’s fair to say that’s not helpful in the sleep department m, either.

Twelve hours later, the injection site is fairly painful , so lying on my back and trying to sleep isn’t much of an option right now. Some bruising is coming out, but I haven’t had any bleeding from the injection site. There is no significant swelling, redness or heat in the area, so I am assuming this is just par for the course and not anything I need to follow up.

It was a great relief to get into bed and lie down, albeit with an extra pillow, but even with my usual pain medication, sleep seems unlikely at this point. Not only am I a rubbish sleeper at the best of times, I have to lie on my back to sleep — I can’t ever sleep on my side or stomach because it’s just too uncomfortable for my back. So, 2.43am seemed like an opportune time to write an update post.

I am really hoping that I do see some improvement over the next couple of days, and that some consistent relief from pain is imminent,

Stay tuned.

Epidural.

I am writing this while waiting for today’s instalment of treatment on my problematic lower back and spine.

An accurate representation of my life.

I’ve been having increasingly constant and aggressive pain in my back and sciatic pain in both my legs over recent months. I cannot sit, stand, or lie down without pain, which is both affecting everything I do and depriving me of sleep.

My neurosurgeon has prescribed an epidural injection of steroids into my back, done under CT scan guidance.

I know it is a treatment a lot of people have, but that doesn’t stop me feeling anxious about it. I am looking forward to the respite from constant pain, but it’s not a process I am looking forward to.

So, I am filling in the time by wondering about the meaning and origin of the word ‘epidural’. It’s a frequently used word in relation to one of the kinds of anaesthetic used during childbirth, and people generally understand that is blocks pain from the waist down, but that is not my circumstance. I’m definitely not giving birth today!

The Macquarie Dictionary definition, while accurate, was not entirely helpful.

Having looked up ’epidural’, I then had to look up ‘dura’.
Just like that, I’m already learning things I didn’t know.

So, I can deduce that I am having an injection through the tough outer lining of my spinal cord.

To be honest, this research isn’t really reassuring me about the procedure at all.

According to Etymonline, the prefix epi- means on or above, and came into English from Greek.
The term dura mater dates back to about 1400 AD, coming from the Medieval Latin ‘dura mater cerebri’ which translates to “hard mother of the brain,” a term which was borrowed from the Arabic ‘umm al-dimagh as-safiqa’, which means “thick mother of the brain.”

And so I wait, informed and still apprehensive of what is to come.

All I can say is I really, really hope this works.

Signing the Uluru Statement Of The Heart

Today, I signed the Uluru Statement Of The Heart.

I make this public declaration in addition to signing my name on the signature wall:

I stand with the First Nations people of Australia as an ally and an advocate for voice, for Treaty, and for truth.

I will continue to teach Australian history with honesty and with empathy for the experiences of the Indigenous people. I will encourage others to listen and understand .

I will continue to seek an end to racism, division and inequality.

I will continue to work for reconciliation, friendship, and harmony. I will continue to speak for increased representation and constitutional recognition.

This is my commitment as an Australian.



Not Ready To Make Nice

Forgiveness does not mean being a doormat. Far from it.

Today, for reasons of my own that do not need to be shared publicly, this song is playing in my head.

Screenshot: The Chicks — Not Ready To Make Nice

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe in forgiveness. Even if the other person never knows I have forgiven them, it’s important for myself spiritually and emotionally to move on from carrying that burden.

That does not always mean I can trust them again.

Contrary to what the platitudes say, time does not heal all wounds and forgiveness does not erase the memory.

It is also important, both spiritually and emotionally, that I protect myself and those I love from harm. If that means not giving someone the means to damage me or my family again, then that is what I must do.

I can be civil without letting a toxic person into my life or my home. Those barriers are not coming down.

I can let others have a friendship or relationship with that person if they are determined to do so, but if I see that they are in danger of experiencing significant harm, I will speak up or stand between them if I must.

I know that many of my Christian friends and family would say that my forgiveness is incomplete. They might suggest I am not showing love.

I would argue that sometimes the kindest and forgiving thing you can do for a person is to stay right away from them. I would also argue that neither God nor the nature of forgiveness itself demands that one must become a doormat or a willing receptor of someone else’s malignity.

There are a handful of people about whom I have made that decision over the course of my life, and I am confident that in each situation, slamming that door firmly and permanently shut is the best thing I could have chosen to do about it.

Sometimes, you just have to leave certain people behind and move on.

Not Ready To Make Nice #forgiveness #selfcare #Boundaries