Category Archives: Speeches

Overcoming Adversity

Early in this blog’s history, we had a contributor who wrote exceedingly well and who was excited about life and his role in the world. His name is Aaron. Aaron was a reader and regular commentator in those early years.

This week, Dale Connelly, the founder of this blog, contacted me and Sherrilee about posting some writing by Aaron’s sister, Jessica. Dale commented:

“Aaron has multiple disabilities and gets around primarily in a powered wheelchair.  You may have seen him at some of the State Fair shows back in the day.  His family is organizing a Zoom event next Saturday, (August 7) to premiere a short (55 minute) documentary about Aaron and the difficult decisions his family faced when he was born.  The event is also a fundraiser to gather money to replace Aaron’s accessible van, his primary form of transportation.” 

We thought this was a great topic for a post. I have communicated with both Aaron and his sister, and this is how Aaron describes himself:

Aaron Westendorp is a musician, online variety music show host, and a self-advocate in Hopkins, Minnesota, who uses a communication device. Aaron has a brain stem lesion which causes spastic quadriparesis, a partial paralysis from the eyes down.  He still has a independent life and a fun personality.

The following is a heartfelt statement from his sister, Jessica Westendorp:

I could have written a different speech every day this year, that’s how many different feelings I have about Aaron and growing up with Aaron. I have humorous, light, jovial speeches, and dark, scary, cynical speeches that underscore Aaron’s evil side. Just kidding. Aaron doesn’t really have an evil side. That Aaron is a bright light, most of you already know. He has always been a calm being, open and waiting for whatever the next step might be. The only time I can remember Aaron loosing his cool was for a brief period in the 5th grade when math and after school studies pushed him to desperation and low lows. He got angry. In that time there was a moment when Aaron looked at me and sighed and it was if he said to me, “so…this is how it is”. And then, he was fine again, calm, collected, open and ready to keep going.

Aaron is disabled. I know this is news to you. It’s hard to see the disability when there is so much AARON to see. But, in case you didn’t get the memo, he is special, differently abled, challenged, a short bus super kid. Other words that were used on him were Duke, Duker, King of Kids, and because there is only so much wonder and excitement I can allow to follow him around, he is also a bratty kid brother.

Aaron’s disability was large. It was another person in the family always taking all of the resources and lightness out of anything. Trips to anywhere were filled with, “but are there curb cutouts? Can he fit through the door? Are there steps inside? Will we need to ask for special help maneuvering or accessing the bathroom?” And then, the weight of carrying all emergency equipment and healthcare needs with him. The backpack needed to be packed and repacked. He needed help with shoes and jacket. He needed to be loaded into the van and tied down. Then Jill and i would translate his finger spelling, “why don’t we go on more family outings?”

I feel heavy and angry re-living that. It was not glamorous. but, the humor helps. One time, when we were all tired and in a long stint of hard times, Mom and Aaron, and Jill went to Burlington Coat Factory. They got out of the van after parking in the handicapped spot. As my mom walked away from the van someone snarked about her use of the handicapped parking spot. Used to public perception often being askew there would usually be a kind reference to my brother or ignoring the problem. On this day my mom said, in her voice we all know as the “mom is not in a great place voice”, “WE ARE HANDICAPPED!”. “we”. “are”. “handicapped”. We are not, and yet, we are and the clashing perceptions combined with the fatigue of it all was the hilarity. And then, there were the helpers. The nurses and PCAs were there ALL THE TIME. Whether they wanted to be or not, they became part of the fabric of our family. They may remember us as a job. I remember them being in my home, sharing a space, and I remember processing my life in front of them. Like any family members some were super duper cool and others, we’ll say, clashed with our brand of special. But, they were there. They helped support the constant needs. Food prep. treatments, mobility, translation. My favorite of these people were those that understood the need to keep the light, the humor, and the irony alive, even and especially when I could not find these.

This all must have been so different for my parents. They had a childhood, a million years before and now they had the weight of this adulthood that they finessed and juggled and braved with faces of intensity and love. But for Jill, Aaron, and I this was our childhood. The pieces of it leave deep impressions. The shiny medical equipment, the smells of medicine, the short quick pace of a nurse who is tasked all become your normal. I will always be a force of quiet, deep love, forever broken by the immensity of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly struggles that are inexplicable in this speech. I am full of gratitude and am privileged to have learned so much, but due to broken perceptions and realities faced and viewed often, I will also carry a force of anger, always, a deep understanding of disparity and injustice.

Thank you for showing up. Thank you for loving the little brother i worked hard to push and challenge. Thank you for loving this guy who I prayed for, who was surrounded by the light of many prayers. Thank you for knowing that there is no clear narrative here, only people with real needs, hopes, and aspirations all in real time. 

Here is the hyperlink to the video regarding Aaron.

Who do you know who has overcome adversity? How did they do it? How have you overcome adversity?

Alas…

It’s fairly well documented that William Shakespeare coined a lot of  words (sources go as high as 2000) that we use commonly today:

    • Auspicious
    • Bloody
    • Dwindle
    • Frugal
    • Gnarled
    • Majestic
    • Multitudinous
    • Premeditated
    • Sanctimonious

There are also scads of phrases that he was the first to use and that we still use today:

    • Seen better days
    • Too much of a good thing
    • Love is blind
    • Set your teeth on edge
    • The game is up

Unfortunately, having seemingly absorbed the rules of language and grammar in my youth, I am often (read “always”) torn when I come across a new word.  Part of me wants to send these new words to the trash can and part of me wants to embrace new words wholeheartedly.  After all, think how unimaginative English would be if we hadn’t embraced “gentlefolk” or “jaded” or “pendantical”?

This week, I heard the word “bleisure” (combination of business and leisure travel) and I was a little appalled.  If there is business, can there truly be leisure?  Even my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, which was devoid of clients and official business, still felt like a business trip to me as I was surrounded by travel professionals from other companies.  But I suppose there are plenty of people out there who can combine business and pleasure, making the word “bleisure” useful.  I just can’t see myself ever using it.

Anything new bugging you this week?

Inauguration Poetry

I’m not an inauguration kind of person.  I know they happen, but political speeches just don’t do it for me.  Even on a day when I was particularly glad that a certain inauguration was happening, I just didn’t want to watch.  Except for the poetry.  I can’t put the whole poem here (copyright issues) but I like this part quite a bit:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

I was surprised to discover that only four presidents have included poetry at their inaugurations: JFK, Clinton, Obama and now Biden (Carter had a poem but it was read at the gala not the swearing-in ceremony).   It will be interesting to see if the other party eventually decides to add poetry to their inauguration traditions.

While I’m happy about events this week, I admit I am still shaken by what the last four years has unearthed and disgorged in our nation.  So here is my haiku for the inauguration:

Breathing easier –

But still worried about us,

Too many crazies.

Any poetry speaking to you this week?  Yours or anybody else’s?

Weddings and Rice

As I was walking out of the co-op the other day, I looked down to see a large splotch of rice in the parking lot. The kind of splotch that can only be achieved by having your bag of rice break open while you’re carrying it to the car (you can guess why I know this).  My first thought was that the local birds would be happy but then I remembered that supposedly uncooked rice is bad for birds, which is why they throw birdseed now at weddings.

Then when I got home, I discovered that YA had received TWO “save-the-date” cards.

Wedding reminder #3 was when I was watching Cake Boss that night and one of the bakers (sorry I don’t watch this enough to know any of their names) was celebrating a milestone anniversary with a big party and a wedding cake. When the couple began to cut the cake and feed each other, I cringed, hoping they wouldn’t smash the cake into each other’s faces.  I detest that.

So all these wedding reminders in one day made me think about weddings how the traditions have changed over the years. My first wedding, which was completely orchestrated by my mother, was fairly traditional.  Church, gown, reception, cake (unsmashed), lots of people I didn’t know.  My second wedding was the exact opposite, we met the judge at  Good Earth restaurant and were married at the table with our server, Philip and the server from the next section, Sarah, as our witnesses.  Honeymoon at Day tons that afternoon.  I am much more fond of my Good Earth wedding memories than my traditional ones so it makes me wonder why so many brides and bridegrooms adhere so stickily to all the “musts” when getting married.  Why not do something different, stretch their boundaries, find things that are meaningful instead of just traditional. Those of you with psychology degrees, any ideas?

If you were planning your wedding today, how would you like it to go? (Like all good fantasies, money is no object.)

Some Truthiness

Friday during Sherrilee’s “Destructo Kitty” post, I referenced one of those scroll-through-25-pictures articles, which wasn’t a very grown-up thing to do – who (besides a retired person) has time for that? The list (of truths to accept if you’re a real adult) was clearly compiled by a much younger person, but I did find some of the “truths” that resonated with me.

I also found one or two that made me snort tea. Here’s the link if you want to read the commentary, but the “truths” are listed below.

You’ll know you’re a real adult when you accept these 25 truths:

  1. Life’s tough. Get a helmet.
  2. If you want to play hard, you really do have to work hard.
  3. If you mess up, it’s your responsibility to fix it.
  4. Your driver’s license photo will never, ever be flattering.
  5. Sometimes you have to give people the benefit of the doubt.
  6. You have control over your life.
  7. Making compromises is a good thing. Compromising yourself is NOT.
  8. Success is just about perception.
  9. Some people are just big jerks.
  10. School doesn’t come close to teaching you everything you need to know.
  11. Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s a choice you make.
  12. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
  13. Money won’t solve your problems.
  14. You are not the center of the universe.
  15. Things are rarely as cool as they seem.
  16. You can’t make everybody happy.
  17. Sometimes you have to put yourself first.
  18. Jealousy is a huge waste of time.
  19. Change is good. Sometimes.
  20. You’re not getting any younger.
  21. Sometimes you just don’t have the answers.
  22. It’s never too late to change.
  23. Even if you have “more important” things to do, you NEED to get a good night’s sleep.
  24. You can’t have it all.
  25. The only time you should look back is to see just how far you’ve come.

Which one (or two, or more) of the above resonates with you?

My Favorite Maverick

, I don’t usually watch the Oscars, but decided to tune in Sunday night about 8:00. It’s fun to see all the gorgeous gowns (or non-gowns) and the antics of the host, et al. – like Jodie Foster blaming her crutches on Meryl Streep (they were reportedly due to a skiing accident). And this year I was curious to see what would transpire as a result of the “Time’s Up” movement.

But for me Frances McDormand, who won Best Actor for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, stole the show. She played the glamour game to a point, wearing a long dress and little if any make-up or jewelry. And Sunday night she was all business: “So I’m hyperventilating a little bit. So if I fall over, pick me up ‘cause I’ve got some things to say…”

After setting down Oscar on the floor beside her, she continued:  “And now I want to get some perspective. If I may be so honored, to have all the female nominees nominated in every category stand with me in this room tonight. Meryl, if you do, everyone else will… Ok, look around… ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell, and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.”

From Variety.com: “She finished her speech by calling for contractually mandated inclusion across films: ‘I have two words to leave with you tonight: inclusion rider.’ Specifically, an inclusion rider is a clause in the contract of the top line talent on a film that requires a diverse crew to be hired around them.”  The article  continues with McDormand’s comments about how “trending” differs from what is really happening in Hollywood.

Frances McDormand has become my role model, and I plan to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, plus any of her other films I haven’t yet seen. She is my new favorite maverick. (Try and forget the Sarah Palin image that just entered your mind. I was going to call F.M. my favorite “renegade”, till I checked my definitions.)

Who is your favorite maverick, renegade, or iconoclast? 

Choosing Your Revolution

Today’s post comes from Chris, Reneeinnd’s husband.

Listening to late-night radio as a student at the University of Wisconsin- Madison,   I heard Gil Scott-Heron’s  “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”:

If you were to create a revolution, how would you go  about doing it?

The Allure of Radicalism, Take 2

The following is the first guest post I wrote, back in the days when Trial Balloon blog was just a fledgling. I’ve updated slightly and given it a different question – only a handful of our usual readership has seen it before (I think).

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A few years ago when Husband and I were on a Minnesota stay-cation, we were honored to attend a memorial service for a man who had been a real “mover and shaker”, someone who was active in many arenas and really got things done. In addition to this, he was considered a “radical.” On a hilltop overlooking the gorgeous green valleys of Southeastern Minnesota in August, people told stories about this man for three solid hours – how he kept to his principles, questioned and at times defied authority, blazed trails, and worked incessantly for environmental and community-building causes.

I grew up in a household of mixed messages: Be Different (but not So Different That You’d Embarrass Us). In the late 60s and the 70s, there were so many ways to Be Different! You could blaze a little trail by trying out vegetarianism or marching in protest to the Vietnam War. Some of us left for the East or West coasts, or abroad, hoping to find something radically different, and of course we did. When ready to settle down in the late seventies, I came to the Twin Cities, hoping what I’d heard was true – there were Radicals in Minnesota. I’ve never been disappointed – the coastal hot spots had nothing on this state!

Most of us are now more subtle in our radicalism – there are hundreds of ways to be a little bit radical. I still enjoy getting people to raise an eyebrow by telling them, say, that I participate in a blog peopled by listeners to a former public radio Morning Show.

What would you like to do that’s a bit radical? (Or have you already done it?)

Fancy a Game?

I discovered Tom Stoppard when I was in junior high. I was involved in a youth theater program and one of my pals showed up with a copy of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” I was immediately hooked. I was giddy with the word play Mr. Stoppard employs. She and I would spend hours sitting on the steps between rehearsals or during breaks reading that script – she as Guildenstern, me as Rosencrantz. (Decades on, we still address each other with those names and can recite parts of the play from memory.)

The best part of the whole script is the scant few pages that encompass the Questions Game. Rules are simple: keep asking questions. A point is scored if the opponent returns with a statement, repeats a question, hesitates, or uses rhetoric. Check out how Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play the game in the movie version here:

I was reminded of this when my buddy Guildenstern posted a video from the Old Vic with Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing a non-scripted version of the game as a promo for their upcoming production. Check out their version here:

An online game of questions quickly ensued with friends from different parts of my life chiming in. A portion of the exchange:

Was it your intent to score?
Did you start the game?
Ooo, can I play?
Is it good if I am already down one point?
Would you prefer it to be good?
Would I be a fool to prefer it so?
Are fools the only ones who can play?
Are you foolish?
Could any answer truly stop us from playing?

I couldn’t help but think to our conversations here that always start with a question.

A brief recap of the rules: only speak in questions. Statements, pauses, repeats or rhetoric will give a point to…someone. How much of the day can we spend only speaking to each other using only the interrogatory?

Would you like to play at Questions?

 

Macy’s Doth Murder Sleep!

Thanks to Linda, who gave us all a lovely gift in the comments section of yesterday’s post with a link to Clyde’s excellent Thanksgiving Day essay from 2011. Sometimes the oldies are golden indeed!

I’m going to take a cue from Linda and do the same for Black Friday, in part because the newest B.F. trend seems to be finding a way to make it easy on yourself – witness the uptick in people who hire surrogates to stand in line for them.

In this post from 2010, we explored the Shakespearian potential of the annual Black Friday drama.

MACBETH
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! 
 Macys does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of Ladies Charter Club Cashmere Crew-Neck Sweaters, only $39.99 before 10 am on Friday alone!

LADY MACBETH
What do you mean? Who was it that thus cried?

MACBETH
It was the owl that shriek’d, or some Tribune. The Star, perhaps, or the News of Duluth, formerly the Herald. It was a sorry sight.

LADY MACBETH
A foolish thought to say a sorry sight. Such sales will make us mad! Summon again the page!

MACBETH
All great Neptune’s ocean will not wash this ink clean from my hand. I am afraid to think what I have seen. Look on’t again I dare not.

LADY MACBETH
Infirm of purpose! 
 Methinks the doors are already open and the surfeited clerks do mock their charge with snores. Give me the plastic daggers. I’ll gild the aisles of Macy’s withal; 
 That which hath made them drowsy hath made be bold; what hath pinched them hath given me fire. Hark!

What is your greatest shopping drama?