Creating Disability Inclusive Spaces – The ADA turns 30!

I wrote a version of this for my workplace in celebration of the ADA turning 30 and thought others may be interested in my learning as a disability inclusion project officer within human resources…(all views are my own) 

When the pandemic hit the globe in early 2020, many organizations and educational institutions were forced to shift to remote work and learning within a matter of weeks. Some managed to do this quite smoothly, others are still figuring it out months later. This shift to flexible working is something disabled people know well. (I use the term “disabled people” intentionally to highlight the social model of disability. ”People with disabilities” is also widely used.) We often have to adjust and modify our work environments quickly, especially when workspaces are often not designed for us.

This year, we mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While this Act remains a vital piece of legislation that has paved the way for fair treatment of people with disabilities in the workplace, it is framed as a reactive law, one that is based in a bio-medical frame of assistance. It uses the language of impairment and limitation, and albeit extremely useful, it does not give us the whole story of what is necessary.

Here are four ways that I think are necessary to create dialogue around disability beyond legal definitions, allowing us to work towards more inclusive workspaces.

  1. Accept that mistakes happen and use them to create a space for open and honest dialogue.

Too many organizations make the assumption that disability inclusion is already embedded in their culture; they are not intentional about embracing people’s different and unique lived experiences. This belief can stifle real growth needed to create inclusion, preventing good dialogue from taking place since people are worried about saying the wrong thing. This is especially true when it comes to talking about disability. Disability is often seen as “wrong”—we must feel sorry for people with disabilities. This stops conversations from happening because of our fear of isolating and offending. When we instead invite open and honest dialogue, and give permission to fail, we focus on how to respond when mistakes are made. This is how culture change happens.

  1. Invite stories.

When we control own social narrative, we become empowered to take control of our own story. Through programming and events, virtual campaigns, and everyday sound bites from family and friends, we begin to see people with disabilities as whole beings. We can move away from a place of deficits, and instead see opportunities for growth and understanding. Yet, stories can only be shared when it feels comfortable to do so, when there is no fear of being treated differently or less than – and to do this we must first normalize disability in all its incarnations.

  1. Normalize.

Disability is one of the most flexible identities in the world. Any one of us could suddenly become disabled. I was born with several chronic health issues that will forever cause me discomfort – but I didn’t identify as disabled until about 15 years ago because I did not think the term applied to me. When I started to lose my hearing eight years ago, although I already felt aligned with a disability identity, I was becoming more disabled by my environment. The world was not set up to accommodate hard of hearing and d/Deaf people. I often challenge people to be uncomfortable when they think of disability. Disability is the most common, marginalized identity in the world, especially when you factor in mental health fluctuations. Since it affects such a large portion of our world, how is it that we find it difficult to normalize?

  1. It is about everyone.

While I would love to just wave a magic wand, this work cannot be achieved by one team or in a silo.  This work has to be embedded in every aspect of an organization, it cannot be housed solely in human resources but needs to be strategically implemented in every departmental plan and objective. Everyone should consider disability inclusion practices into their work – and only then will real change occur.


The road towards disability inclusion is long, and as the ADA turns thirty, we see how limited this law is. It has language that still portrays disabled people as limited beings, in need of charity. If we see this Act as the beginning, we look to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as the future. We can start to envision a world in which flexibility, and accessible policies, structures, and design become common practice.

The UN Convention, which was ratified in 2008, is one of the most progressive documents written on disability rights in the world. It shifts us away from charity models and towards a world that views people with disabilities as rights holders with the ability to make informed decisions about their lives. It allows us to normalize disability, and when we do this, we see all the possibilities. It opens up higher productivity and, most importantly, it creates the opportunity for all of us to bring our whole selves to the workplace.

We can be heroes

I have three days off this week from work – and I have serious plans to read, take baths, meditate, do yoga, some weight lifting – cooking and most likely some staring at the wall. I figured this was a great opportunity to do some writing. I struggled with what to write about – what could I offer that has not already been explored in this frustrating pandemic, quarantine life?

…should I talk about self care? God no, everyone is extremely fed up with tips on how to cope…getting up and putting clothes on is a victory for some.

…what about recipes, commentary on art and culture – a trip down memory lane – what will we do as soon as the quarantine ends? I have found that these thoughts are a bit depressing since we have no idea when it will end.

So, I was stumped – especially since I had not written in a long time – I had no idea what to say. I finally decided on three things…dealing with the concept of having no control, accepting joy in the darkest places, and resilience.

We have absolutely NO CONTROL 

March 13th, it was my second work from home day – the beginning of an original 2 week period, which has now been extended to July and most likely even further on…and into my second video call of the day, I began to feel hot and disoriented. My vision even got a little blurry and I thought, shit, I am getting a migraine. Luckily, we had purchased a thermometer a couple weeks previous when the youngest kiddo was sick with a very high fever (this was really before we thought Covid was so widespread) – I took my temp and it was 99 , which was high for me since I am normally 97.9. I took some advil and finished up my work day – which was difficult. My partner came home from his last day at the office and I told him I felt sick – he convinced me it was nothing, we were moving that weekend and we had to just get it done because in a couple weeks everything would be shut down. Over the next 3 days, I popped a lot of advil to help with body aches and took a lot of antacid to deal with persistent stomach issues – and on day 4-5, I started having intense chest pains and some shortness of breath, that is when I finally thought, SHIT – this is Covid. I switched to only Tylenol, which is now widely accepted as better than advil and had a virtual urgent care appointment. As a chronic sick person, many of my symptoms could be explained by other ailments – anxiety, IBS, migraines, joint pain, sinus issues, allergies, peri-menopause, but the doc suspected it was Covid and prescribed me nasal sprays and an inhaler. The worse of the symptoms was my inability to eat and stay awake – that lasted about 10 days, there were a few nights when I thought my breathing would become worse but I never got a high fever or a cough so technically I could not get tested. My partner, bless his heart, would not distance himself – but I did attempt to stay away from the kids – and so far (and now, its been 4 weeks) no one else has gotten sick. I had a follow up with my doc last week and she has said the chest pains may persist for a long while but I am back to full energy and appetite – basically I feel 100% besides some lingering chest pains – my allergies have been in overdrive and I am hoping I don’t have any relapses – or that I actually get it (if I didn’t have it) because I am a sick person – not necessarily more at risk for this particular illness but when I get the flu I get it worse than most people – one time I had a cough for 4 MONTHS. During the worse of the weeks, I would have these moments when I felt ok, one day in particular my dude and I went for a walk around the block, it was 75 degrees and gorgeous and I had a moment of clarity – I said, you know, I have had a remarkable life and if I die from this, I will be ok with it, I just want you to know this…he got extremely irritated by this (OBVIOUSLY) but I had to verbalize that in general: we are walking around as delicate, organic beings and I had to release the idea of control, dying is inevitable…and in New Jersey and NY, folks have been dying daily, I now know several folks who have lost friends and family, and I also know many people who have survived Covid- and I do believe the success stories will far out weight the sadness. My stress levels were in high gear in the week following our move. The situation got grim in the metro area and my thoughts were on my parents, who are both in extremely at risk categories in the Chicagoland area and the more I thought about it, the less I slept and the more I cried for no reason…bursting into tears at random moments. Being sick myself actually gave me perspective and an opportunity to reflect on this idea that it was ok to not be ok and to let go of any semblance of control. The idea of the present moment was all that mattered. This has greatly altered my perspective in the past couple weeks.

I should mention I take the autoimmune drug the dumb one has been touting as a cure for Covid and I do wonder if taking this everyday for the past 3 years allowed me to experience this illness more mildly…I don’t think it would protect me on it’s own but it does moderate your immune system and since this disease can create an overactive immuno reaction – I would hope it did some good. Of course, I am down to 10 pills with no refill in sight due to that dumbass.

It’s OK to have some JOY. 

My parents are huge proponents of celebrating holidays so I was raised with some interesting traditions. For example every Easter, we would watch ‘Easter Parade’ and/or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, we would color eggs and if we were good the Bunny would bring us baskets of the most random, but specific to our personal interests, baskets of goodness. Last year, I had my partner and the kids all over for egg coloring, baskets and a huge ham dinner. I had planned to do the same this year but of course Covid happened. I had originally hoped to do all my basket shopping on my work trips to Nepal and Kenya but all our travel had ceased early in the year with the looming pandemic and by mid March, I had nothing planned for the holiday. Towards the end of the month, I was sick and frustrated and also resigned that Easter would not happen this year and that considering the extraordinary circumstances that was ok. I had not been in a shop in almost a month and my partner had also stopped shopping considering we had no idea if we were contagious, and it could take 2 weeks to get a grocery delivery time. I also felt foolish for even thinking about the attempt to celebrate. By the beginning of April, I felt refreshed and had gained some new feelings about the whole idea – we are yet to see the worse of this epidemic, shit is gonna get harder, the kids have been coping well despite the situation but are still optimistic that they will get to go back to school soon – the least I could do (to soften the blow that school is most likely not happening this year) is give them some semblance of normalcy and make Easter happen.

Shockingly, I got my dinner order in and had it delivered about a week prior to Easter – I made lasagna, and garlic rolls, and a bourbon pecan pie (alcohol arrives within 2 hours here – go figure…) I was able to order some cinnamon rolls from a bakery (since I couldn’t secure any yeast to make hot cross buns) for Easter breakfast, and spent hours combing the Target website to secure enough random stuff for baskets…and since I had just moved I was able to re-gift some strange items from my own baskets, I was sure the Bunny wouldn’t mind…and the youngest seriously loved the ‘worse case scenario survival cards’ – I was even able to get white vinegar at the last minute to make sure egg coloring would happen without a hitch.

Good Friday, the youngest and I watched ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and to my surprise she loved it. On Saturday morning, I put ‘Easter Parade’ on and the middle kid joined the viewing. We colored eggs when the oldest kid made it over (all the kids rotate between our home and their Mom’s house) and the creativity was immense. I made my first lasagna and we ended the night with pie and watched ‘JoJo Rabbit’ – which I will come back to in a minute.

Easter morning, the dude and I woke up early and hid all the eggs and put the baskets out. They slowly awoke and they had an epic search for eggs and then we ate cinnamon rolls, chocolate and did baskets. Later we were able to go for a walk and enjoy some fresh, Spring air. At the end of the day, I reflected on all of this while in a bubble bath drinking a glass of wine. I spent too much money, the kids would have understood, was this a time to be careless? But for one glorious weekend in a time of a Covid – I felt extreme joy, admiration for my family and we laughed a lot, shared precious moments that we will always remember. It was all worth it – and ok to feel some joy in such a dark time.

The oldest made Radiohead eggs

This leads me to my final reflection – the idea of resilience.

It was my seizureversary on April 1st  (although that was later to be known as a neurological event that resulted in a seizure, but anyway…) – I survived that, I survived glandular fever (mono) when I was 19 – and had an infected pancreas that almost killed me, I survived two bike/car accidents, I survived an amoeba in my body that gave me a 103 fever for 5 days, I survived two bouts of extreme food poisoning that put me in the hospital, I survived a flu that lasted 4 months in 2017, I survived several mental health crisis’s – I live with PTSD – and with a benign tumor in my right cochlear that has left me deaf…and I may have had Covid…whatever the case, I know I will survive this shit – in some shape or form, even if I don’t end up surviving, I know my ideas, words, feelings, my life’s work will survive – my friend Catherine has said someone should write a dissertation on my resilience…and perhaps I am an anomaly but after watching the movie ‘JoJo Rabbit’, I was reminded that resilience is part of the human experience – this moment is a challenge presently and it will (I know not soon enough) eventually pass. The poem at the end of the film reminds of this:

“Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final.”

Rainer Marie Rilke


The film also answered the question of what I will do when this is all over, I will dance of course – to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ – even when you have no control, joy seems far fetched and almost silly but somehow we press on – even if it’s just for one day.

‘We can beat them, just for one day We can be heroes, just for one day’



A decade.

2020 is the end of a decade and the starting of another – I hadn’t really thought about this until someone tweeted – what have you done in the last ten years?

And while I can argue my 2000-2010 was just as poignant as my 2010-2020 – there is something unique that comes with age. 21-31 was filled with learning moments, my first MA, travel, lots of moves, blissful youth, of course mistakes, and a marriage – something that would forever define me, once as a spouse, than as a divorcee.

This decade was all about growth, reflection, and ultimately acceptance.

2010 – I got married and was living in Minnesota. I had a cat named Bootsy. I was the director of civic engagement at a decent sized community college. I would, over the years 2009-2014 also act as the director of diversity and eventually inclusion and accessibility.

2011 – 2013 – I knew I was unhappy and threw myself into several moves around the twin cities as a way of searching for happiness. I was in a marriage I regretted. And I talked myself out of every life change because it would be too hard.

I’d travel back to the U.K., visit Paris and Rome with my ex and family and realise my wanderlust would come back with a vengeance.

2013 – I started going deaf. This would impact me greatly over the next 7 years, it would cause bouts of depression and a grief process that is ongoing. I slowly came to realise my happiness was paramount. I also knew I was destined to leave higher education and decided to start aligning dominoes in a way that would encourage a big change.

I would gain a yoga teaching certification and this step allowed me to quiet the negativity and breathe through my earlier decades trauma, the hearing loss (which came with vertigo and dizziness) and come to terms with what I needed to eventually do.

2014 – I left my full time job, my husband, and my cat, to move to York, England to attend the university of York to pursue a second MA in applied human rights. Not only would this give me immense perspective, it would give me tools to eventually leave my higher education career. I’d write my dissertation on human rights identity within the hip hop community.

I’d travel extensively in Europe over the next few years while living abroad while also visiting South Africa for the first time with my MA program.

2015 – After a year of limbo, I separated from my husband, which eventually ended in me asking for a divorce. This came shortly after I moved into my first home in the U.K. I had gotten a full time position at the Univerity of York. This seemed like a great time to be abroad, allowed me to spend more time with my European fam and opened up a world of opportunity. I would conduct global training and connect with the U.K. Hip Hop Ed community.

2016 – I would travel back to Minnesota to gather my personal possessions and begin the divorce process. I’d start to visit NYC more and more and this would eventually be the catalyst for a desire to live there.

The 2016 election happened. This coupled with homesickness led to an eventual decision to move back to the US. I wanted to be part of the US national dialogue. I felt helpless and removed from the struggle in the U.K. The Brexit debacle meant tensions were high in every corner I was in – but I longed for a crisis I had history with and thought I had the tools to cope.

2017 – I’d slowly start to fall apart. I had known higher education was not my path and I had embarked on a job there anyway – my strong desire to stay in the U.K. and run away from my previous life had caused me to make a decision that didn’t serve me. I would begin to make plans to leave the U.K. – I’d start applying for jobs in every major US city…with a strong eye on NYC.

I took mental health leave off work to get my shit together. During this time, I made a plan, I’d do summer work in Baltimore and Berkeley while I continued my search for a new full time job. I left in June and started an intense summer of youth work.

I got word in mid June that I had secured a job as the director of the Center for inclusion at a small private college outside of NYC. Once again, it was higher education, but I needed a job quickly and knew I could do it with my eyes closed.

In October of this year, I was officially divorced. I got my name back. I also got a part time job with a team writing a hip hop history curriculum for the NY Public libraries.

2018 – I tried and failed to appreciate living close enough to the city of NY – where I’d run away to on weekends, go dancing at all my friends gigs, and try to experience the city fully because I was once again miserable in my job.

Then in April, I’d pass out on Easter Sunday and bash my head so hard I’d have a seizure. This incident and the loneliness that followed would prove to be one of my darkest depressions – I’d continue to have pain from this trauma through present day. Thick Skull

I turned 40. This event was well documented 40 and Fabulous and I sent a wish into the universe that I’d find love again and…

Holy crap I did! 40 and Falling In Love

2019 – basking in new love helped this year kick off in a positive way – but the perpetual heartache of wanting more out of my career led me to continue my job search…and finally in May of this year, I was hired at a large global human rights philanthropy…also well documented My Farewell to Student Affairs…I’d travel extensively once again …and it appears I’ll forever be on a plane ✈️

In July I’d move in with the best human I’d ever meet – my dude and I are disgustingly, blissfully, happy 😃

The year has also had its share of crappy news for myself health wise and for folks close to me – but the good has out shone the bad…and I’m forever an optimist…it will close with a global event I’m organising at my new job – a perfect estimation of how far I’ve come in 10 years – it would appear I’ve waited my whole life for a moment like this!

2020 – My boyfriend and I will move to an upgraded apartment that will make for an easier commute. I will continue to love him more and more and his wonderful kids, my new job will take me on several new adventures in the world and bring new challenges, I will have my second MA research published in an academic text, I’ll travel Internationally 10 months out of the year and visit 8 new destinations I’ve never been before. I’m ridiculously blessed and honoured to enjoy this one life I get.


Stream of Consciousness from a weary traveler…


I wake up in a sterile bed…

(hotel sheets always feel too clean)

with a pillow that is too soft, my sinuses are acting up from the plane ride a few days prior…

being in the air for 8 hours tends to mess with my air flow, my rhythm, my stiffness, and I lay there trying not to pick up my phone to speak with my boyfriend who is 5-6-7 hours or more behind my current time zone…

I’ve actually got good at calculating the hours backwards and forwards and can predict when he is commuting home from Manhattan while I attempt to sleep yet again and fail miserably…

then my brain wanders to the youngest step kid’s latest run for class President, the oldest debating her career choices, the middle one conflicted on which college would be best, I wonder how my retired parents are and what trouble they have gotten into lately…I think of all the family  events I’ve missed as of late because my spare time is consumed by work travel…when my brain capacity is finished with those thoughts I turn to work…

did I phrase that email right? maybe I should check…maybe I should just get up and finish everything…NY just got off work anyway, I probably have more emails, there are always too many emails…

and when I finally decide that I should turn the light on again, I decide to read and this reading makes my eyes water with exhaustion and my mind wanders again with thoughts of sleep – I really should try and get at least 5-6 hours so I can exercise in the morning – I can’t justify all this time spent sitting on planes if I don’t get to the gym 50% of the time I am away…and then I try again…

and this time it works. I sleep.

The next morning is spent using way too much concealer to cover the dark (becoming more and more permanent) circles around my eyes as I prepare for meetings with a wide array of folks across cultures and hierarchy- I cram before each meeting refreshing myself on what we are discussing and much of the conversation is spent talking about how tired everyone is but they also want to hear about the stepkids, my boyfriend, about Chicago – because folks outside the US seem to be very interested in the second city…and then magically we get work done and I feel accomplished as I collapse into oblivion.

I cherish a quiet walk back to the hotel, I wander slowly looking for a good restaurant to close the day, I order food with my broken French, Spanish, German, I am grateful for waiters who are super kind and patient with me and help me understand the menu and fetch English versions when they are available, for recommending beers and wines, for making small talk because I am alone – often playing Harry Potter Pokemon on my phone…

I meander back to the hotel and often head to sleep early so I can do it all over again or perhaps I spend it packing, excited to return home on a Friday or a Saturday because when work is done, all I want is my family, even though perhaps I’ve never been to Barcelona or Amman or Cape Town, and then I spend yet another set of hours in taxis to the airport…


Roaming terminals that smell of too much duty free perfume, the dreaded security line, dragging the carry on to the bathroom so I can get a glimpse of my grey skin under fluorescent lights…

I think after each completed trip that the jet lag will get easier, that I will become a lighter packer, that my body will adjust to the ‘rough air’ but it’s not there yet – all I do know, is that coming back to the smell of home, to my bed and my pillow and my love – to the routine commute from the city to Jersey; to making dinner and driving kids to music lessons is much more appreciated with every hour spent away…

Let us raise a glass to those of us who have pinched ourselves during long meetings in order to keep our eyes open, who have blurred words together when we are operating on zero sleep, who have fallen asleep in our wine, who have managed to conquer time travel and live to tell the tale.

And this is the part when you say: Sarah. You have a kick ass job that pays for you to travel around the globe…yea, it’s pretty wicked but it can also be incredibly difficult and not as glam as one perceives – our bodies crave stability and serenity and I’m blessed to have that in (surprisingly) of all places – New jersey.


(Written in a note on a plane from Brussels to Barcelona as a way to distract myself from the dreaded middle seat)

Clubbing Like Adults (aka – Adulting isn’t that bad after all…)

1pm – on a Sunday – in Northern New Jersey…I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and proceed in assisting a 13 and 15 year old with their assigned summer homework. You read that right…I live in Jersey suburbia, commute to Manhattan for work, make snacks for kids – dinner most days, I get up at 5:45am to get to the gym, and have become a full on step mom within the span of a year.

A year ago, a Sunday may consist of traveling into the city from Westchester to have brunch, do a little shopping, sit among coffee shop crews updating social media. I was living in Westchester on a college campus, my day to day was exceptionally solitary. I exercised in my apartment, I ate dinner alone, I traveled to and from Manhattan alone, drank glasses of wine alone…and now there are 3 of us in one house, another kid in college in the city.

The universe manifests itself in mysterious ways – after my 40th I had wished for a partner, a life companion…I was ready for a change – it had been a few years of single life, a couple dates here and there but overall, I had become complacent in my situation…I blogged a lot about dating as an older person – especially a divorced older person…it was difficult, and everyone came to the table with their own complicated set of issues…so the solitude, the ache of loneliness was just how it was…and if I had been completely honest, I wasn’t suffering from it. I was able to enjoy Netflix without any argument, I could make my own schedule, travel, and stay out late without any protest…it was nice. Yet, there was always an ache for more connection, and my cooking for one never actually worked, and it was impossible to coax anyone to Westchester for a dinner party.

In May of this year – you can read about my big news here – I started a new career. It was a huge change for me professionally, one that would take me into Manhattan daily and the plan all along was to relocate to the city or Brooklyn with the understanding that I’d stay temporarily with my boyfriend and his girls in northern New Jersey. He also commuted into the city daily and it seemed like a doable option while I saved money for the expensive endeavor of securing a place in NYC. Just shy of our 1 year anniversary, I moved in with my dude – and within a few weeks, it became apparent that I would not be leaving New Jersey as soon as planned! This was for a few reasons – a big one involved the great amount of travel I would be doing as part of the new gig – I travel internationally at least once a month, sometimes more and then there are miracle months when I only travel domestically but without fail, I am away every couple weeks. Another huge reason was: we just worked, in ways that surprised us both. Both of us were wary of jumping into a living situation, we always had it in our minds that this move would happen after the girls moved on to college in the coming years and also giving us time to secure our foundation…but it just felt so good. The commute was easy, we would save A LOT on rent, I was able to provide and support the kids in ways I could not if I lived in the city and me and the bae could see each other more often – which really sums it up.


The truth of the matter is – I was clinging to an earlier idea of wanting to live ‘where the people are’ – I was living alone on a campus that was surrounded by giant mansions and a lot of trees…In my first two years living in NY, I was constantly coming into Brooklyn and Manhattan – looking for connection wherever I could find it. This usually consisted of going to gigs where my friends were playing, dinner/coffee/drink outings with my friends, or simply occupying my own time wandering my new home state. I’ve blogged a bit about one party in particular called Shake! – a brilliant and incredibly unique evening that my pals Monk and DJ Prestige host. It was rare to miss their monthly event and since starting my new job, moving to New Jersey, and getting adjusted to family life, it’s been really hard to attend. I managed to make it in August and my friend Jhani commented that we were ‘clubbing like adults’ because we left the party at 1am. We were both in bed before 2am on a Saturday and all the happier for it.


The minute you start commuting into Manhattan for work, your home becomes a sanctuary – and to have this little piece of heaven with my man and his kids where I can make pumpkin pie on the weekends and cook dinner for the fam frequently became more and more important. As I get older and start to really understand what I am meant to do with this ‘thing called life’, I have begun to value the beauty of a weekend where I can sit and read an actual book, or that magazine I picked up 2 months ago, or where I can enjoy lunch alone with the man while the kids are away with friends, and this idea of slowing down, and even (gasp) relaxing feels blissful – because my new job is hectic, I could easily work constantly without stopping and still not get it done, I could be traveling every other week if I wanted…so boundaries and embracing this new found family life are important and feel more natural than I ever expected it to.


A few years ago while living in York, England, my friend Simone and her family visited me for a few days. I was living in a 2 bedroom historic row home, very British – it was a lovely home and I did have roommates off and on but overall I spent almost 2 years living alone in that house – her son, who would have been around 5 at the time, exclaimed: this house is too big for one person but now that we are here, it feels like home…perhaps this little kid wisdom isn’t that profound, he may have simply thought it silly that my home was only for one person, but I like to think he sensed my desire for family, for a house filled with people, people I could come home to and feel warm and welcome – it’s pretty incredible to really start living your life at 40 but that is exactly what has happened.

I’ve finally come home.




My Farewell to Student Affairs

In 2007 I started working at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Prior to that most of my ‘adult life work’ had been in non-profits, and all of it had been with youth, even teaching in Japan, and at an elementary school. It was work I had fallen into – I knew I could teach – you can read about my passion for education here: WHY I TEACH and I also found out I was pretty good at it.

When I started my first graduate program in Vermont, I ended up acting as the student government advisor once my on campus component ended…I was still in the area and figured why not…then I ended up as a TA for one of the courses the following year – so the transition to UW – Madison didn’t seem like a stretch and it was a full time gig – that paid me and gave me health insurance!! Plus, I would actually be using my Social Justice in Intercultural Relations MA – the job was in the multicultural center as a social justice education specialist…these kinds of jobs exist??

And that was how it started – many of my colleagues would have MAs in higher ed administration but for me it was not intentional – I always thought I’d return to the non-profit world and I would from time to time doing contract work and consulting gigs – and these opportunities always challenged and pushed me more than my full time work – which would become a series of bureaucratic hurdles, fighting over emails, long days worth of emotional labor because I did truly believe in the work I was doing – supporting students who may lack resources or support to be successful in college…because that was me! I was a first generation college student who barely made it through my first year – I ended strong but I had no support with the exception of a few caring professors and I did not want the young people I worked with to have that same struggle.

And I am not delusional – there is no job (even if you are your own boss) that will not exhaust you or have several layers of red tape that you need to unravel but feeling undervalued, under appreciated, micromanaged, while in a general environment of pressure, anxiety, unrest and confusion among staff will challenge the idea of why you chose this profession at all…and you always come back to the students. They are why I stayed as long as I did – they brought me a remarkable amount of joy and consistency. They were always there when I needed them – making me smile, laugh, think – they taught me a lot about what young folks were concerned about and I am seriously worried about how old I will become without their constant influence!

In 2014, I began my second MA in applied human rights and graduated at the top of 2016 – ready to pursue a new career in the NGO/ Non-profit world – but it wasn’t as easy as obtaining another degree. I needed someone to take a chance on me (sung as ABBA would approve) – and so far that continued to be higher ed…in 2015 before even finishing my degree, I was hired at the University of York in a role similar to a US residential director – overseeing a college community (much like a Harry Potter house) – it was a great opportunity but with it came the standard amount of emotional energy that is required when you are working with fragile young folks. I am good at working with young people so the task albeit difficult brought other rewards.

But I had a constant grating that I was not doing the work I was meant to do – that my schooling and life experience had prepared me for something different. This coupled with my separation and eventual divorce from my ex caused a series of mental break downs – I also needed to move home. I won’t rehash the reasoning behind settling in NYC – I have written about it many times already #ILoveNYC – reflections on the big apple – but I knew I wanted to be in the city. I furiously began looking for work and realized the only positions I was getting called back for were in higher ed…so I set my hopes on finding something in this field once again.

And I did. Manhattanville College was there for me – and I was able to create a center for inclusion from scratch. The students were incredible humans that guided my programming and how I designed the center. The first year was good – I brought in speakers from around the globe and I felt like the work I was doing mattered. My second year was harder as my job changed drastically and although I had protested the changes and asked to be working on projects where my skills would be best utilized, it was not heard or validated. My second year gave me a new supervisor, and she would help me focus, help me manage my time better and ultimately help me learn more about how to communicate my needs and work better. And of course the students.

The students.

The students are why I did the work. Constantly. For hours without breaks. Even after cracking my head and having days where I didn’t think I could get up in the morning, they were there, making sure I had enough to eat, making sure I was resting…they cared beautifully – and they were the reason I stayed as long as I did. It’s always been this way – since my first gig at UW-Madison, I was always motivated by students. I am still connected to many of them through social media – from SIT, CEP, UW, Inver Hills, York, and beyond – I have become a mentor to over 100 young folks from all walks of life and they will continue to be my inspiration and joy. They are why leaving the field breaks my heart.

But the work itself was not fulfilling and in March of this year I attended the ACPA student affairs conference in Boston. Normally this conference would energize me – I would come back feeling refreshed and ready to take new knowledge into practice…but this was different. There was an overall feeling of discontent. Student affairs across the board (not just at Manhattanville) was a place where folks felt undervalued, overworked, exhausted, frustrated…I can go on. There was a session called: Toxic Self Care Rhetoric – and the fall of student affairs…and the room was packed – I couldn’t even get in…there was a session on leaving student affairs – there was a session of Positivity Relentless- that was focused on inserting positivity into environments of negativity and defeat…and I left with a resounding – I need to get out.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum – rising student loan debt, low student enrollment, the move away from small liberal arts colleges, have affected certain colleges more than others – some colleges are thriving – some big universities are still booming…and some student affairs staff are still happy and content – but overall this feeling of toxicity was something I felt like I needed to escape. So I started applying again to jobs outside the sector – and I knew it was a long shot – I had consistently worked in higher ed for 15 years and even though I had non-profit/consulting experience before that and during that tenure – it would be difficult.

And on Wednesday May 22nd, the day before a long vacation in the UK and France, I got the news. I was hired at Open Society Foundations as a Project Officer in Diversity and Inclusion. The position is part of the HR team and I will be leading a project on disability inclusion for the entire global team…basically training, assisting in the rollout of a new accommodations policy, working across several different cultural contexts and guiding employees in understanding disability within a human rights framework. I start next month and will kick off my work with an inclusion retreat in Cape Town, South Africa. I will move into NYC – most likely Manhattan and after 41 years on this planet, I finally feel like I have kicked my imposter syndrome.

The hardest is to let go of my daily interactions with students. I love them dearly – and some of them are quite sad I am leaving after a short two years. I believe ultimately we guide by modeling behavior – and I would hope that these young folks see what following your dreams and aspirations can do. I worked through 3 degrees and 20 years of experiences to finally get a position where I am paid adequately, and will work to my fullest potential – it’s the stuff of fantasy…where my head is most days – Doctor Who, Marvel, and Gaiman novels…and it paid off. I wish the same for all of them.

My story is long and complicated – I have faced incredible adversity and I have my bad days but overall I have remained optimistic and hopeful. I have big dreams and I always felt like they were out of reach. I am moving into New York City, a city I have fallen in love with deeply (and where 5 strangers came to my aid last year when I was unconscious on 5th ave) I am in love with the most wonderful human who cultivates my passions and loves me in ways I did not know were possible 40 and Falling In Love…and I finally have a job where I can fuel my need for travel, connect with people from across the globe, advocate for people with disabilities (many of my blog posts are focused on disability awareness As Time Goes By… , Kintsugi Life ,!), and I feel valued, appreciated, and will be challenged in ways my current profession could not provide.

Climb that damn mountain.

Version 2.0

It’s been one year since my nap on the sidewalk. It’s my seizureversary.

It wasn’t an especially nice place to take a nap…collapse and hit my head, bust out my teeth, and have a seizure…it was Easter Sunday, hazy, a bit warm, and on 5th Ave…in New York City – I was walking to meet friends, have brunch with someone I hadn’t seen in 8 years and up until a few moments before it had happened – I was really excited about Spring having arrived.


I’ve been at a loss trying to figure out how to mark this day. I spent a few sessions in therapy trying to figure out what I needed to dissect and understand about my emotions.

I was contemplating taking the day off and walking the route where it happened (I believe I was somewhere on 45th and 5th, but I honestly don’t know, I just know I fell on 5th) – as an attempt to get over some of the intense emotional trauma of confusion, pain, loneliness, and fear associated with the incident itself but also of those early days in the hospital, and then weeks that followed and eventually months…of the chill that goes down my spine whenever I hear an ambulance (because I do recall the paramedic shouting – do you know where you are? Do you know what happened to you? and just saying no, in and out of consciousness) – a sense of overwhelm in the many follow up visits to New York Presbyterian hospital…and the continual feeling of what if it happens again…

But instead, I am treating today like any day – I will go to work. Because the reality is – I cannot conquer my fear, because it may happen again, and I will always wonder if my walk from my office to my apartment will result in waking up in a hospital, of falling in the subway, or in the shower, or while driving…maybe in my apartment, while cooking, or walking up a flight of stairs…and the myriad of other potentially more dangerous scenarios than collapsing on 5th Ave surrounded by strangers…and what I have discovered is that the loneliness I experienced has affected me a lot more than fear…

In the months that followed, I became obsessed with not being in my apartment by myself and this was remedied by walking on a busy NYC street, and I felt comforted being surrounded by strangers, someone would see me if something happened.

Because ultimately, 5 people, still unknown to me, came to my aid – one was able to use her nursing skills to tell the paramedics how many convulsions I had. And as my therapist has pointed out, I am forever altered by the events on April 1st – there will always be a pre-concussion and a post…that loneliness I felt was real.

And in my version 2.0 (which I thank my social media friend for calling our post concussion/head injury situation – check out her blog here: – I am forever thankful for humanity…I was already a fairly positive and happy person – and I still have terrible, bad days, but overall, in my new human upgrade and while the nerve endings in my head still repair themselves – my daily gratitude practice has tripled. Life still has its ups and downs and there are days when I am irritable and delighted that I am back in therapy but overall – I have been much happier than I was pre-head injury.

Since April 1, 2018…

I have only taken 4 baths. All at my parents house – the first was with my Mom checking in every few moments and the following were less supervised…but my love of baths and the glorious relaxation they provide have forever been altered by the fear that I can drown if I have a seizure. I took one this weekend at my parents house and I used a bath bomb that had a message in it that read – Create your own happiness – isn’t that the truth.

I was reminded that your true friends will show up in ways that you could never have imagined. For example, a group of women you went to grad school with and have not seen in 14 years will send you soup when you cannot cook or chew properly…or help you check out of the hospital…or give you their cats for 6 weeks…or hug you so hard you feel like for a moment you can’t breathe…or talk to you like you are a child but its for your own good…and that your students will end up being the most responsible group of young adults – bringing you food and coffee, and jokes, and kindness.

I danced. A lot.

I ate a lot of sugar. Especially cronuts.

Always need cronuts

I saw a U2 concert – VIP style – by myself and sang along to every song like a huge nerd and wept. I also saw Lyrics Born with my boyfriend and we danced like fools. And me and my pal Justin saw Janelle Monae and I squealed a lot.


I discovered how hot I look in a jumpsuit.


And this hotness revelation led me to more photoshoots with Boudoir Beauty Photoshoot Parties with the impeccable Jesi Kelly and her team…(If you are in the NYC metro and want to do a shoot – holler and I will connect you!)

I saw the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibit again, Version 2.0 me appreciated it even more. And then the Frida exhibit. Basically I learned the Brooklyn Museum is pretty dope.


My parents came to NYC and we walked the Brooklyn Bridge.


I sold my car – and didn’t drive again till about a month ago…I still don’t feel comfortable driving alone…and as of today, I am cleared to drive again in the state of NYC – good thing its like riding a bike.

I turned 40 and had an epic 2 week celebration with friends from all around the world – I was gifted with surprise front row tickets to see the Cubs, met Buddy Guy and my Napoli family are incredible. (my birthday had a post all its own: 40 and Fabulous)

I fell in love. And this intimacy with another human has created a comfort and security that has alleviated some of my loneliness. There is something about knowing that if it did happen again, I have someone who would hold my hand. We just came back from NW Indiana where he met my family. You can read about my musings of love at 40 here: 40 and Falling In Love


I’ve reconnected with lots of friends – in many ways…on short trips to DC and Boston and through social media – because apparently life is short – reach out to your peeps!

I was agent Scully for Halloween – and I still don’t know if the truth is out there…


I traveled back to the UK to be in the best wedding ever and conducted my first major International social justice training at a huge organization. BIG THINGS.


I was in excruitating pain for a really long time – I still live with a lot of chronic pain but the swelling in my head has finally receded…it took almost exactly 12 months like the doctor predicted. Head injuries are no fucking joke.

I got new hearing aids. First time I have had them in almost 14 months.

Speaking of hearing loss – it’s gotten worse. And the grief that comes with this loss is something I have not dealt with and am unsure when me and my ear will make peace.

My little center for inclusion has done so many incredible events over the past year – so many beautiful voices sharing their knowledge with my students.

and as the doctor has said: (Doctor Who that is)

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and… bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

(And the new Doctor is a woman – I want to think my version 2.0 had something to do with that but I am afraid I cannot take credit.)

My Version 2.0 (aka post nap on the sidewalk, aka post seizure, post concussion, post head injury, aka everything that happened since April 1st 2018) has been a series of wonderful events and some annoying, frustrating events. Just like any other year…so today is like any other day…I cannot allow this day to have a power over me, a day marked in perpetual fear…because its also April Fools Day (which made for a hilarious series of messages a year ago – seriously? This isn’t a funny joke!) and marking 7 months with my gorgeous man…if anything this day marks a date that reminded me that I am grateful to be alive – I get another shot at this thing called life – my pain is worth it – I am not done yet – and you better believe that I will never fall down that easy – I will always get back up and fight like hell.

If you need a recap…you can read about the initial incident here: Thick Skull

You can read about how I coped in the those early days: Gloria Gaynoring It (with a little help from my friends)


To the things I have lost

A long, long time ago, before the days of social media hysteria (who remembers that!), I was hiking throughout the southwest and outside of Lake Mead while wandering towards a hot spring, the car we were driving was broken into and everything I owned and that I was moving to Seattle with was stolen. All my clothes (and I was wearing a swimsuit at the time, so ALL my underwear), all my jewelry (including a pair of silver Tiffany studs that I eventually gifted myself again this past year), all my CDs (remember those!?)…it was ALL taken. I was moving to Seattle to take part in an unpaid internship as part of my first MA course from Vermont (where I had left a few items but wouldn’t see for several months later)…the shock of losing everything would take quite a long time to recover from but eventually I came to terms with the possibility that someone needed those clothes and I always wondered if I would come across any of my things again – one item in particular was a dress that I had bought from a random shop in Chicago on Belmont Ave, around where I used to live before I had started my MA program in Vermont – I loved that damn dress – it fit me perfect and I have always tried to find its replacement and nothing has come close.

Earlier this weekend, my boyfriend and I were digging through some old photos of me from long ago and I saw that great dress…and I realized I have lost so many things over the last 40 years.

So here is an ode to the things I have lost.

I raise a glass to all the earrings that have held on for dear life and then been torn away by wind swept hair, tossed into oblivion, down sewer drains, captured in green earth, stomped on by many feet on concrete blocks, that have been whipped away while pulling off a scarf only to be deposited into a toilet, a drain, a bin…I keep a little jewelry box filled with these mismatched memories, a reminder of what could have been…you were once whole my little earrings…may you find peace with your orphaned cousins. (My people who have lost earrings will feel this pain 🙂 )

I have already attempted a eulogy for my right ear in this blog: As Time Goes By… but as my therapist said recently, grief creeps into our reality when we least expect it and with the arrival of new hearing aids – I am reminded of just how deaf I have become – how much I rely on reading lips, how much I was missing for the past 14 months (since the last hearing aid died) – in that 14 months, my hearing has deteriorated in such a way that my old hearing aid wouldn’t even work anymore – now I need two hearing aids and although I appreciate my new hearing aids, I love how loud and robust my world has become again – hearing aids mean you hear in a completely artificial way, the tinny sounds of certain pitches, the loud rustle when I pull my hair behind my right ear, it’s an improvement but still a constant reminder that my hearing betrayed me. I want to make peace with it…I tried and will try again but I think this loss, this grief may never find a happy solace.

Here is a toast to all the incredible people I have known in my life who are no longer with us. Looking through those photos I saw Sue, Drew, Andrew, and remembered Father Peter, my Grandmother Ann, Grandpa Fuller, the Napoli grandparents and all the other family and loved ones who are watching us from a different plane. And then there are those who have not departed but for a multitude of reasons we have parted ways. Sometimes distance and time changes you and this can cause friction or just loss of shared interest. I am a product of all the lessons I have learned from these individuals. Whenever my depression creeps in, when I feel lost and desperate for change, I remember Father Peter’s words of compassion and patience. I remember my Grandmother’s cackle of laughter, her unending love for her family.

In those photos were also an array of former flames, partners, and lovers. I have the strange tendency of being friends with many of my exes. Perhaps this is a testament to the people I surround myself with, that we can move on after a romantic encounter and remain connected after (in some cases) years and years – that folks still reach out and ask me about my family, that they are happy to see me doing well and I the same for them…and then there are those who I can care less to see, that sting me with painful memories, visceral reactions of poor judgement, regretful choices, and unanswered questions…I’ll pour one out for them too – for the learning that surely happened, and the gratitude of future relationships…for the hope is we continue to improve and learn from previous missteps.

And my final farewell goes to lost memories – to the blurry, faded moments that are not remembered clearly, to storytelling that expands the actual truths when we recall one particular outline of a thought – that we had at 6 years old, or 11, or 18, or 25, hell, even 36 is lost on me…my memory may be more diluted than most – my short term memory far exceeds long term events – I can see a disco ball, and loud music beating out of boom box on the floor of my kindergarten classroom at Jefferson Elementary in Hammond, IN – scores of tiny children attempting the next b-boy stance – I must have been around 5 – perhaps it was 1983 but the rest of that story is lost, forever, as I no longer know anyone from that time of my life….and then there are the running of laps among rows, and rows of records, playing with the dragons on a glass counter (it would be a few years ago that I realized these were pipes at my Dad’s record/ head shop in Hammond) – but I only recall this vividly when I walk into a record store, the smell of used vinyl fills my senses and I am transported to a moment…how I wish I knew the whole story…years of closing away feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration have resulted in losing some essential memories…so I close this ode with a special shout to those emotions…

May we continue to be all the pieces of who were before (even if we don’t remember what it felt like to hear with two ears) we are better because of who we have known, even if these connections were not pleasant, it is all on our journey to enlightenment…we are loved, we are broken and glued together with gold (Kintsugi Life), we are beautiful, and somewhere those lost earrings have found a new home – because nothing is ever truly lost…if we continue to rediscover and reinvent.


The Case for No New Year’s Resolutions

It’s January. The month of new beginnings, of post holiday weariness, of jet lag and bloated bellies, of exhaustion and usually cold for certain regions of the world…the month of being broke, of new semesters and teacher stress…and of course New Year’s resolutions.

Now let me begin with…for years and years and years, I made New Years resolutions and I do not expect you to read this and never make them again…you do you blog readers, especially if it works for you – because maybe it does! I am just offering a different perspective.

I find the New Year’s hubbub to be quite tiresome and played out…its the after thought of December and unlikely to be anyone’s favorite holiday – the best part is a potential consensual kiss at midnight from someone you like. I had to explain to my boyfriend that I actually really enjoy this (likely romantic comedy induced) tradition and was quite sad we were in different cities this year.

And don’t get me wrong, I have for the past few years written an annual reflection in this blog of my year, I find it therapeutic. It’s a great milestone to mark all you have learned and accomplished. Yet, this is different from the dreaded resolution making. I just read that 80% of folks making resolutions will not keep them by February…and therein lies my rub with them. Everyday is a new day to focus on self love and improvement – Jan 1 wasn’t even the start of the new year until the Romans decided it would be, so why wait till this day to begin a new practice? The main issue with resolutions is that they can be difficult, they can be too extreme, impossible to maintain and achieve…many folks have no idea how to create good goals and making sustainable plans to accomplish them. Folks also have a huge issue in beginning a new practice – so the idea of ‘I will do this from New Year’s Day!’ – is just another way to procrastinate. Why wait what you can do today? Because why begin what was already difficult to begin?

And here in no particular order are my personal hang ups with popular New Years resolutions…

1.Fresh Start

There is this idea that Jan 1st is some mystical day that you get to begin anew…like some magical being has granted you sainthood for all your previous misgivings, traumas, failures, or bad behavior. Now as nice as this sounds, it doesn’t acknowledge that we are in fact all the things we have done before – unfortunately nothing can take the place of reflection, coming to terms with our faults, and a great therapy session. If you decide one day to wake up and change your life and become a different person, make sure you do the work so you learn from your experiences, accepting that change has to occur is step one, but authentic change takes time…if you skip these steps you may find yourself in the same situation again, in an endless cycle of misfortune.

2.Weight Loss – Getting in Shape – Eating Healthy

Tis the season for a million and one weight loss ads invading our TVs, magazine covers, social media ads, and group challenges at work and beyond. This one in particular makes my skin crawl. The science has been proven, weight loss is no measurement of overall wellness, the Body Mass Index was never designed to be used as a tool for ideal weight, folks can look all kinds of different at various weights YET folks still create weight loss goals. When people say they are going to ‘get in shape’ they are usually comparing their body to warped images of beauty, which are usually unattainable and unrealistic, and lastly eating healthy – WTAF does that mean? Because if you think not eating fat, or sugar, or salt will save your soul, you are wrong, you need all of that.

This new years resolution has the lowest success rate – WHY?? Because folks are obsessed with creating unachievable goals that are housed in unhealthy places, places defined by mainstream media and fuelled by big companies, who are not interested in your wellness but your money…

It’s been reassuring that so many campaigns have urged folks to embrace all sizes and shapes, and there has been a wave of good work aimed at helping us find a balance of nutrition and fitness – its not that I am against eating healthy and being fit (quite the opposite) but how we eat, and what is considered healthy should be questioned…and we DEFINITELY need to question our obsession with New Years resolutions that say ridiculous things like: I WILL LOSE 20 POUNDS! First off, why 20? What will happen when you lose 20? Have you consulted with a doctor? What does your annual blood work say? Is sugar and salt an issue for you and your body chemistry??

May 2019 be the year of finding a balance that works for you and you alone and isn’t measured by arbitrary numbers.

3.Finding Yourself

Ok, so Jan 1, 2019 was not the day you found yourself. To be completely honest, finding yourself is a lifelong journey, perhaps even one of enlightenment and if you are unhappy with the direction of your life…maybe instead make a commitment to journal, to find a life coach, a mentor, start doing more of what brings you joy, and then do that again and again and again – make everyday about the journey and less about the end game.

4.Climb that Mountain!

There is that thing you have always wanted to do. The clock strikes midnight, gosh darn this is the year it will happen! If it didn’t happen on Nov 30th, or Feb 12th, or May 4th…what makes New Years so special? A lot of times we don’t do the things we always have wanted because the things we have always dreamed of doing are HARD. Things cost money, or they take time, or they are beyond are ability. Folks become so disillusioned and overwhelmed with these impossible dreams that they become depressed, resigned to live a life of disappointment.

Have you seen ‘It’s a wonderful life’?? How can we not recall George Bailey, who never did or saw the things he wanted to see and do…yet as we know, George’s life was indeed one of great importance, his impact affected so many and allowed for so many fantastic things to happen. The moral of the story is: If you have a great ambition, create small attainable goals that may lead up to this, and on the way there, don’t forget to enjoy the mundane, the everyday, don’t forget to laugh and to find joy in the smallest of places.

5.Career Changes

December 31st, you still hate your job. Jan 1, you decide you need a career change. A lot of hating our jobs are tied up in points 1, 3, and 4. We often choose professions for the wrong reasons, because we don’t know our passions, or we are focused on money, and then we wonder why we are unfulfilled. That mountain you want to climb may even be very achievable but you have convinced yourself that it isn’t for you…that you may not deserve it.

If you commit yourself to overall self improvement everyday, you may begin to surprise yourself. Perhaps you can explore another degree or certificate program, a resume revamp, networking opportunities…maybe confidence is lacking, so investing in some life coaching, and therapy, start to unpack what is holding you back…but the heart of the matter is this: it doesn’t happen on its own – career changes take work and they take time. Do not set yourself up for failure by making a resolution to make that change without a solid plan of attack.


No resolution is big enough for me to finally learn how to save money. I actually made peace with the fact that this is not the life choice for me. I am comfortable in my financial distress. I try and make wiser decisions, I actually have a savings account now…huge step for me…but to make a resolution to finally save money would be a waste of air time – see the above points…these are not resolutions…these are life goals, goals you can work on everyday, a more reasonable approach would be: this month I will not let my account go into the red…maybe I will take an online financial planning course but let’s face it in the grand scheme of my/your life – did you save for a retirement you may not see or did you climb that damn mountain?!

So, here is my challenge to you. What about this year, make a resolution to make no resolutions – instead, use each day as a day to make mistakes, to try something new, to set new goals, to do that thing you have been meaning to do since forever ago, to start small and see it grow, because every day poses an opportunity to say and do something that has never been done before, tomorrow is too late, just make it count now and continue that practice with each passing morning.

Happy New Year.