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    Sunday
    Mar092014

    What's Happening in Ukraine?

    True story: Last night I was at a party when a shouting match began over the situation in Ukraine. I will admit to my part in this fiasco which is that I am the one who brought up Ukraine/Russia/Crimea after another disagreement was occurring on something that I deemed to be unimportant compared to the possibility of World War III. After mentioning how Russia would like to respond to sanctions, I walked out of the room with my glass of vino only to hear a once calm discussion escalate and the next thing I realized was that people are really quite passionate when it comes to international affairs.

    I have seen a few people ask about the details of what's happening in Russia. In lieu of my terrible explanation of this international crisis (I keep thinking of Russia coming in, upset over how the US was dealing with foreign policy, and taking Alaska but that's not quite right) I have put together a list of resources from people far smarter and globally aware than I will ever be. So, if you're interested in what's going on and/or you are preparing talking points for an upcoming dinner party, well, here you go:

    "The Hills" Explain Explains Vladimir Putin Invading Ukraine

    Gwen's Take: Five ways to understand Ukraine

    A 35 Step Guide to Understanding why Russia Decided to Follow the Olympics With a War

    Why is Crimea so Dangerous?

    What politicians said about Ukraine on the Sunday shows via The Fix


    What's Going on in Ukraine? An up to date guide

    Friday
    Feb282014

    A Few Resources for Special Education (and why we need more)

    I spent much of the week scouring the Internet for information on New York State's special education schools and programs. As well-versed as I am on both state and federal education policy, I am woefully lacking when it comes to how we address special education in this country. Federal law dictates that a free and appropriate education is provided for all students and yet how parents get to that 'appropriate' education seems rather complicated. Appropriate education comes with miles of paperwork to determine eligibility for special education, early intervention services, and individual education programs (IEPs). As I was only looking for funding methodologies - a disaster in it's own right, at least in New York - I couldn't imagine the life of the parent who must search for information on a diagnosis or a potential diagnosis. I mean, we all know the perils of Google (Pain in your arm? YOU'RE DYING. GOOD LUCK!) but as the education conversation has turned to how all students can be competitive and career/college ready, I have to wonder why there is no real investment for students with special needs.

    During my searching/analyzing/summarizing I had to appreciate the work of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD):

    The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) improves the lives of all people with learning difficulties and disabilities by empowering parents, enabling young adults, transforming schools, and creating policy and advocacy impact.

    Our Vision: We envision a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work and in life.


    Though NCLD deals exclusively with learning disabilities many can learn from their example of making the complicated far more manageable. I found that much of the information for students with disabilities and their educators led to detailed (Read: dry) statutes and funding structures thus leaving much to be desired for those who simply want basic answers. NCLD has a collection of e-books along with a myriad of resources to help parents as they work to educate their children. I always talk about the need for parents to feel empowered on behalf of their children and the resources that NCLD provides at least gets parents towards that first step of being their child's best advocate. I'll also be referring to these guides as I work my magic with legislators to present to them the need for real reform when it comes to special education:

    IDEA Parent Guide

    Determining Appropriate Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities 

    Preschool Services Under IDEA


    Budget Cuts and Special Education Funding

    Wednesday
    Jan292014

    It Happened to Me: I'm a fat, black woman who does yoga

    In a move that will come as a surprise to none, I did read and re-read the post about a skinny white woman who had the great misfortune of being in a yoga class with a "fairly heavy" black woman. You know what's right up there with poverty and famine? Being fat, black and in downward facing dog, that's what. Or so it would would seem based on the visceral reaction that Jen Caron had upon seeing a fat person doing yoga. Can you even imagine such horror?

    Thanks to the misleading title I was curious because I thought this would be an insightful piece on why African American women are a rarity in yoga classes. I thought that this piece would speak to me especially because I live in Upstate NY where seeing black people anywhere is like seeing a unicorn. What followed was the most insulting, bigoted piece of writing written by a woman who I could only assume hails from Mars judging by her reaction to seeing a black person. I wanted to ask if this was her first time seeing someone who isn't perfectly white and thin. As Ms. Caron takes pity on the unfortunate souls like myself I wondered about the pathetic, sheltered existence this woman has lived in order to end up with such a myopic view of the world and people around her. So much so that after being ENRAGED I had to wonder if she doesn't realize how incredibly offensive she is.

    I mean, really:  

    "I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times My skinny white girl body Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me - or so I imagined"

    She's fucking with us, right?

    This is me prior to heading to yoga. Little did I know how distracting my squishy cheeks and brown skin are to those around me.


    I do yoga almost daily and for the most part I enjoy Bikram instead of Vinyasa. I appreciate the way Bikram is the same thing, every time - down to the dialogue - and I can see the incremental steps my body makes to change and shape as I move through a rather difficult practice. I am grateful to have yoga as it has saved me from myself. The practitioner is forced to turn inward in order to be better on the outside. Done correctly, it is a beautiful thing. I have also found that my awareness has shifted from watching the movements of others to only worrying about myself, my mat and my body. Which begs the question of whether or not Ms. Caron is actually an experienced yogi. I mean, any true person who practices regularly is very well aware that you should only be focusing on what's happening on YOUR mat. I am forced to question her authenticity because how is she all up in the business of the woman behind her when she needs to be focusing on herself?

    I have been the only black person in a class. I have/am the largest person in the room. I have been that very self-conscious person who goes straight to the back of the room. I have been in a position where it feels like everyone's eyes are burning a hole into my head as they watch me attempt to move between poses. I've been there, huffing and puffing, wanting to escape from the confines of that room. I have wanted to tell my yoga teacher to fuck off.  Even as recently as Saturday during a Baptiste yoga class where I sat next to a friend who could do a full split as I struggled to hoist up my (fat, meaty) thigh in a three-legged dog. I have been there and oh, God, does it hurt to feel like the whole class is watching. Having been in such a hole with my own practice I have only learned to pull myself from it and tell people that it does, in fact, get better. Which is why when I tell people who are both thinner and whiter than myself that they should try yoga, I do so knowing that the first time can SUCK. It can be difficult. Body parts that you didn't know you have can ache but you do it and you live. This reaction to belittle someone based on their race and size is the very opposite of what yoga should be and, Ms. Caron, it kind of makes you look like a bit of a racist.


    "I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible - I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me"

    Ms. Caron, I will tell you exactly how it must feel to be a "heavyset black woman" to have such a horrific first world problem as you have described.  First of all, thank you for noticing that I am both black and fat. I am also often the only person in a room and the largest. I've been in the lowest of lows before coming into a studio but I really don't need your pathetic looks and 10 paragraphs of pity. I can talk down to myself every time I look at my reflection, I don't need to be looked down upon by a teary-eyed, skinny, white chick. No ma'am.

    But thank you for worrying about me but I don't really need for you to save me from the plight of the Upward Facing Dog. I don't enter a yoga practice with you on my mind. I no longer enter wondering what others might be thinking of me as I position my mat directly in front of the mirror. I'm also not thinking of you as I move through the warm up but thank you for noticing my hips, thighs, and ass. If I caught you staring at me during utkatasana I would simply smirk because I know that you can see me balance and flex despite the extra weight around my mid-section. I could be offended by you and your constant eyeballing or I could do what I always do in yoga which is to focus on myself. Which - since we're doling out helpful advice - perhaps you want to try more of that next time you're on your mat. So, why I thank you for your concern over how my Body Mass Index might affect my ability to reverse my warrior. I an assure you that I will be OK.

    I can gain flexibility. I can lose weight. I can get stronger and train myself to move with my breath and find balance both on and off of my mat. But you, my dear Ms. Caron, will always be an ignorant asshole. Please tell me, as I am curious, how it feels to be void of self-awareness but full of such incredible stupidity.

    Namaste,
    Heather