On Sitting Alone at a Starbucks on a Sunday

 

 

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Let me preface this post by stating that I rarely eat alone. Or drink alone. Or think alone. In fact, I usually hate being alone. In any situation. More often than not, being “alone” to me, means listening to my Pandora stations or binge-watching videos on YouTube. Even reading by myself is difficult to do.

 

But, today I found myself drinking a latte at Starbucks. Alone. Don’t misinterpret me. I needed this “alone time,” badly. I needed time to think and feel and wallow and assess and reassess and analyze and reflect. The thing is, the longer I sat at that Starbucks alone, yet surrounded by strangers, the more I realized I have been doing this to myself in many ways for a very long time. A very long time. 

 

I’m not an introvert, and I’ve known all my life that I thrive when being surrounded by people who love and support me, and who enjoy working with me.
So, what happened? Well, what usually happens? Life situations change, or people change. Or in my case, it seemed like both. At some point, as fiercely as I loved the people in my life (and I have the innate capacity to love fiercely and loyally), I realized I have long outgrown the dire need of acting like a 21-year-old. Why? Well, for starters, I just turned 29. My interests, though much the same as before, have evolved. I have evolved. 
 
I have long prided myself on purposefully seeking out friends who share my somewhat sophisticated, even precocious interests. I have always enjoyed spending time with the “grown ups,” and even as an adult, it pains me to say that I am quite often afraid of seeking out my peers. Perhaps it’s just “only-child syndrome.” Or, perhaps not.
So, the invites would come, and I’d turn them down out of cowardice or pure lack of interest in said activity. But the more invites I turned down, the less the invites came, and pretty soon, I began to feel isolated and ostracized. My closest “friends” felt more like strangers, and it made every single one of my attempts to communicate with them feel more like a confrontation.

 

It was then that I began to see it. Weekend after weekend of events I was not invited to. Social activities in my social circle I was excluded from. Friends who had been like family turning their backs on me.

 

I started feeling like I was back in grade school, or in high school, during those incredibly painful and humiliating years of ostracism and exclusion. As much as I’d like to say that I’m older and wiser now, and that I know better than to get caught up in the petty toxicity of social media, I wasn’t above it. I’m still not.

 

No matter how many times I would reach out to my friends, they would not reciprocate. My own invitations, my own attempts at repairing a grossly misunderstood rift, went callously ignored. And it’s nothing I hadn’t experienced before in my life, since early childhood.

 

It hurt. It bled. And whenever I would think I was already numb, another weekend would pass and the tears would begin to flow all over again.

 

Now, with open eyes and a heavy heart, I truly realize what was so simply yet accurately expressed in the film “The Jane Austen Book Club”: High school’s never over. 
 
Just because I quickly grew tired of the partying and booming music of my twenty-something peers, doesn’t mean I grew tired of them. 

 

But to my chagrin, I guess I’m still that girl. That girl who is forgotten when the sleepovers are planned. That girl who isn’t invited on road trips or to house parties or even Sunday brunches. That girl who has all but given up and now spends her weekends praying and spending time with those who truly adore her– her parents.

 

That girl who wants to change the world but can’t seem to find anyone to have coffee with on a Friday afternoon.

 

That girl, I see, has been proverbially sitting alone at a Starbucks on a Sunday all her life. Waiting. Hoping. Crying. Grieving.

 

The irony of it all is, this girl is often the envy of others who follow her Facebook page and complain about what a fabulous life she has.

 

I suppose since we tend to post about what we do and not what we don’t do, it’s an all-too-simple mistake to make.

 

Yes, I know I have an amazingly encouraging extended network– family and friends that live in other cities, other states, other countries even. Some, I have only met on social media! Sadly, most of these people are too far away for me to invite to lunch (or coffee!), but I will never stop appreciating their unconditional support and love. And yet, I still feel alone. 

 

That girl who is sitting by herself at the Starbucks, staring at a nearly-empty, now cold cup of coffee, is tired of waiting. She picks it up, throws it in the trash, and walks on.

 

The numbness has closed in on her once more. For now. But it’ll be back.

It’s never over. It never stops hurting. I’m never immune.

 

 

Your Shoes are Killing Me

 

One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (can you say, “guilty pleasure”?).

Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all.

Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” from Mami evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl— the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless, or many a shoe store. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats

I can’t wear heels unless they are even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges— even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

 

Shoes

One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

 

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I am reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that is striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I am cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go. 

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

The entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.” 

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there is no such thing as rescue shoes, because I cannot wear the shoes you need so badly to be rescued from. 

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they are complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are KILLING me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of regret. A lifetime of envy, resentment, and anger, because I cannot wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I LOVE the shoes that every woman loves— the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too. 

I Don’t Always Have Spina Bifida

 

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Photo courtesy Macbeth Photography: MacbethPhoto.com
 My life consists of many awesome events…and many funny photos! 

 

 

Yes, I know. That’s quite the inflammatory title.

This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for a long time. I’ve read many articles and posts on both sides of this argument. I’ve read posts from adults with spina bifida, and parents of children with spina bifida, who say that spina bifida doesn’t define them. 

I’ve also seen the other side of the coin, from parents who say that, indeed, spina bifida defines their children. 

One of the most interesting arguments I’ve heard for the latter point of view is from my friend, Mary Evelyn. Even when I don’t agree with her perspective 100 percent, she always manages to make a very sound, introspective and rational case. I can’t help but agree with her on this– to a certain degree. 

To be sure, even now, in writing this, I am on the fence on this subject.

Mary Evelyn, and all of those who agree with her, is right. To a certain extent, spina bifida will always define me and my life. It’s an integral part of who and what I am. I will never be able to shrug off the years, nay, decades, of how spina bifida has molded me into the person I am. The adult I am. 

But there is another side of this coin, I ardently believe, that deserves equal inspection. There are moments, even days, when I don’t feel like I have spina bifida. 

Do you know what I’m talking about? Whether you have spina bifida or not, perhaps you can relate.

I’m talking about those moments when I’m getting ready to go out, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my outfit– my earrings, my eyeliner, etc. I glance at myself in the full-length mirror, and I see…a beautiful woman. Not “a woman with spina bifida.” Not “a woman who has had several brain surgeries.” Not “a woman who is now struggling with lower back pain on a daily basis.” Not “a woman who has to self-cath every three hours in order to live.”

Just…a beautiful woman. 

When I’m out with my closest girlfriends, and having a glass of sangria or a cup of coffee, it’s not the woman with spina bifida they are out with. It’s the blogger, the social media consultant, the coffeeholic (more often than not), the grammar nazi who is constantly editing other people’s words as well as her own (I seriously can’t help it!).

 

Grammar

 

Other times, it’s the flirt (sometimes) who wants to get that cute server’s attention, or the wise counselor, when a girlfriend is struggling with a problem (I’m really obsessed with analyzing everyone’s problems, including my own!), or the goofball.

 

Goats*That awkward moment* at Disney when you can’t figure out why the goats love you so much…and later on you find the bag of edamame in your purse. -_-

 

 

 

In fact, when I’m among my closest friends, spina bifida is a topic that is introduced very rarely. I think, by this point, most of them acknowledge it in passing, the way you would acknowledge a person’s eye or hair color, or stature.

I’m also just as protective of my friends as they are of me…sometimes I’m the “older sister,” and sometimes they are. It just depends on the situation.

That isn’t to say that I feel ashamed of having spina bifida…but it does make me uncomfortable to be around people who barely know me and already feel the need to pepper me with a dozen questions I might not feel like answering at a networking event. Sometimes, I’ve made an unconscious decision to remove that particular hat for the evening…and that’s okay. I feel entitled to that. 

I’ll always be an advocate for the spina bifida cause. That won’t change anytime soon, I’m pretty sure. I’m committed to it, because I understand it. 

But if I paused to dwell on spina bifida every day, every moment, every second when I’m getting dressed or putting on makeup, or picking out my earrings…well, then, I’d never make it out the door on time.

Keeping Perspective: ‘Hero’ Spencer Day Twitter Chat a Success!

When you’re going through life, struggling to keep up with everything that’s going on with you, around you, it can be a real challenge sometimes to remember why you “do what you do.”
Three years and eight months ago, I had the opportunity to meet my new musical “idol,” contemporary jazz singer and songwriter, Spencer Day. I was simply overjoyed to meet him, and I honestly never thought much would happen after that.

 

DSC01390Spencer and me, enjoying a cup of coffee in NYC in August 2010. 

 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since our initial encounter in Clearwater for a jazz festival, after which we talked at length and I briefed him on my campaign for raising awareness of spina bifida, we have remained connected. He knows I’m moving forward, deciding what the next step will be for this cause, and he wants to be there to support it, in any way he can.

Several months ago, the opportunity arose for me to be involved in helping his career, by collaborating with his fan club and promoting events, music, and Spencer’s latest projects on different social media channels.

Out of all the work I’ve done thus far in my life– including past jobs– few things have been as rewarding for me as the experience of being a part of Spencer’s Fan Club Social Media Team. We started as a motley crew, an assortment of people who clearly share a common interest– an enthusiasm for Spencer Day’s music.

About a month ago, a crazy, random idea popped into my head: Hey, guys, why don’t we host a Twitter party for Spencer? 

It seemed like a harebrained project to take on, considering I’m always on the go, and everyone is busy during the holidays. But we decided to do it.

Yesterday evening, I hosted, along with Spencer as our guest of honor, a Twitter chat with many of Spencer’s biggest fans, in addition to quite a few people who are new to Spencer’s music. The conversation was lively, informal, and very funny at times! Attendees were encouraged to ask Spencer anything– and they did, and he responded. 😉 

As I sipped on my coffee (in my pajamas!) while trying to keep up with the conversation thread, I marveled that such an awesome cyber event could be pulled off in such a short window of time. I also couldn’t help but feel gratitude toward all of the people who participated– even if only for a few minutes during their busy evening.

As a social media consultant, the number of “impressions” or “pageviews” matters. It’s a measurement of quantifiable success, and it’s the most “tangible” evidence of whether or not an online event was a success.

As a person, however, I realized that shouldn’t matter to me. 

What mattered is that everywhere I looked in my Twitter feed, I could see familiar “faces,” avatars and usernames of my friends, some bloggers, some non-bloggers, who showed up in support of me– and in support of Spencer. 

We also got to reward some of Spencer’s fans and followers! We gave away 5 copies of Spencer’s latest album, “The Mystery of You,” as well as 6 digital copies of Spencer’s holiday album, “If Christmas Doesn’t Kill Me.” It was so rewarding to make people happy by sharing his music!

The report I generated afterwards showed that, in the past week, the hashtag #SpencerDay has had over 1.8 million impressions.  That’s not bad at all, considering how many holiday/Christmas parties, family gatherings, business events, and other commitments everyone has going on during this season, that make it difficult to participate in online events.

 

SpencerDayTwitterResults

 

For a social media consultant, those 1.8 million impressions are the definition of success. 

For me, however, it’s those familiar faces, the “avatars” I know so well, that made me feel like a winner. 

I’m truly blessed to have so many people who genuinely support and “get” what I do. Even my parents, who years ago found the words “blog” and “Tweet” intimidating, pitched in by Tweeting and making sure I had a hot mug of coffee to help me stay alert. 😉

Yes, it’s true– there are people who might measure success in different ways– by monetary earnings, job promotions, or how many conference speaking gigs they landed in a year.

That’s all good and enticing. (Hey, who wouldn’t want all that?!)

But sitting at my laptop, Tweeting furiously and watching as the stream flowed constantly with new comments, questions, and retweets from people both familiar and unfamiliar, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my grateful heart, to all of you who joined, shared, Tweeted, promoted, and encouraged. Thanks to all of you who had the most awesome things to say about Spencer’s music, whether it was the first song you’d heard or if you’ve been a longtime listener. 

Thanks for being there anytime I’ve wondered if I could do something. Thanks for lifting me up.

 

Thanks, above all, for helping me to keep my perspective.

 

If you aren’t already following Spencer, please do so here:

 

Spencer Day on Twitter 

Spencer Day on Facebook 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Twitter 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Facebook

 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

Hispanicize 2012 Recap Part 2 – Cruisin’, Cubans, Cronies & Croquetas with #ChevyHispz!

As my body and mind seeks to recover from all the fun and excitement of Hispanicize 2012, and I work to keep up with the connections I’ve made, I’m finding a lot of merit in my idea of compartmentalizing my experiences into separate posts. The truth is, I honestly couldn’t consolidate it all into one blog post if I tried.

So alas, here’s the second installment of my Hispanicize 2012 series!

On the first official day of the conference, Tuesday, April 10th, it was very exciting to begin seeing friends from all over the country pouring into the JW Marriott Marquis. I reconnected with many old friends from LATISM, NAHJ, and also from many local organizations I’m familiar with.

 

I started off the day at the Non-Profit Case Study: Using Social Media to Deliver Health Messages to Engage Latina Moms and Families" presentation, with Carla Briceño of Bixal and Lilliam Acosta-Sánchez of March of Dimes' nacersano.org.

 

One especially interesting session I started the day off with was with Carla Briceño of Bixal and Lillam Acosta Sánchez of nacersano.org, the Latino outreach branch of March of Dimes. I had the honor of being a co-panelist with Lilliam at LATISM 2011 in November. The information they gave during the session really highlighted key ways that organizations, whether non-profit or not, can engage with the Latino community and get their message across effectively using online channels.

During the panel, Lilliam actually called on me to explain folic acid’s role in helping to prevent spina bifida! It caught me completely off-guard. Fortunately for me, I can talk about this, even in my sleep. 😉

 

An amazing, Caprese-style appetizer at lunch!

A great turkey wrap. Because ALL good food deserves to be photographed!

 

Right after lunch, I ran into one of my good friends, who until that moment, had been online-only– Eva Smith, legendary co-founder of Latina Mom Bloggers!

With Eva Smith of Latina Mom Bloggers. What an awesome moment! :)

 

Then I was distracted by coming across even more of my cronies– Cristy Clavijo-KishLibby Juliá-Vázquez, Lynn Ponder, Fernando Rodríguez, Andy Checo, and a new acquaintance, Albert Collazo (Albert and I became fast friends, though!).

 

(From L to R): Me, Cristy, Libby, Albert, Lynn, Fernando and Andy. Priceless pic! :)

 

Getting my badge always makes it more official!! :D

 

Perhaps one of the most invaluable things for me was being able to personally thank the people who made it possible for me to attend Hispanicize. I loved meeting Katherine Johnson!

With Katherine Johnson, one of Hispanicize 2012's organizers. She's so awesome!!

 

Ever since we met during BlogHer ’10 in New York City, Blanca Stella Mejía and I have been like blogger besties! To say that she has been an inspiration, a mentor and like a sister to me would be a vast understatement. She has been one of the most supportive people for me in the social media world, and offline, she’s the best!

Blanca was one of the first blogueras to interview me for her own blog, MiCaminar.com. She, Jeannette Kaplun of Todobebé, and Maria De Los Angeles of Sex and the Beach are no doubt my best friends in South Florida!

 

With Blanca. I can't imagine what my life would be like without knowing her! :)

 

The next part of my day was spent cruisin’ around in a Chevy Volt, which is an electric-powered car. It will use electric power for the first 40 miles, then the battery takes over. The Chevy Landmark Tour was one of the most clever features of Hispanicize 2012, as it took attendees on not only a scenic tour of Downtown Miami, but it also engaged all the senses.

 

With Arturo Villar, Publisher of Hispanic Market Weekly, just before we each loaded into vehicles for the Chevy Landmark Tour!

 

From the moment my parents and I jumped into the Chevy Volt, it was a pretty smooth ride!

The Car. A brand-new Chevy Volt.

Juan, our driver/tour guide, was great! He's from Colombia-- I love that Latin America really represented.

 

I was quite fascinated by some of the Chevy Volt’s high-tech features.

 

This. Is. Awesome.

 

The tour took us to the Little Havana area to see the Cuban Memorial Plaza, where cubanos who had been exiled from Cuba and who fought in the Bay of Pigs invasion are remembered with reverence.

In Cuban Memorial Plaza. :)

 

During my excursion in Little Havana, I got to meet a group of Cubans who are protesting the the incarceration of political prisoners in their native land.

Even if my interaction with them was very brief, I felt the energy of their cause, and it certainly ignited a fire in my activist’s heart. :)

 

My new amigos. May God keep them safe and guide their efforts in the name of justice.

 

But visiting Little Havana wasn’t all politics and patriotism. I saw a few more great sights and grabbed a bite at the famous Café Versailles.

 

At a very famous intersection: Tamiami Trail ("Calle Ocho") with Cuban Memorial Boulevard.

 

They really roll out the welcome mat for visitors!
Love this architecture!

 

I really identified with Miami's rich heritage of revolutionaries and activists.

 

No visit to the most famous Cuban neighborhood in Miami would be complete without a little Latino flavor! The tour stopped at Café Versailles– where tour participants were treated to coladas (tiny shots of espresso) and croquetas– both staples in the Miami diet!

 

:)

 

How exciting!!

 

I'm oh-so-excited about trying one of these croquetas!

 

Okay, maybe MORE than one...try five or six!?

 

I need something to wash down the fried food explosion in my mouth...how about a coladita?

 

Okay, I'm sold! Can I get something dulce to go?

 

Too. Many. Choices. But I went with my usual, a quesito, a sweet, creamy cheese-filled pastry. Never fails!

 

I had sooo much fun cruisin' in this Chevy Volt. Here I am, between Juans-- the one on the left dropped our Chevy Traverse off at home to use for the week, and the one on the right was our tour driver!

 

Still need to explore more of this beautiful, diverse city!

 

Thanks so much, Chevy, for the awesome! memories!

 

There’s much, much more to come soon on Holdin’ Out for a Hero about Hispanicize, including a review of my panel discussion, Blogging for a Cause, with Lisa Quiñones Fontánez, Eliana Tardío Hurtado, and Chantilly Patiño. Keep checking back for updates, and don’t forget to also visit Espresso con Leche for bilingual content and more photos!

 

–Laurita 😉