on movie premieres & meeting kevin laue

I have a confession to make: I rarely get starstruck. Not when Paris Hilton asked me for a drink. Not when soon-to-be Glee star Blake Jenner called me on the phone. Not when I bumped into Nick Lachey at work. And certainly not when famed photographer Nigel Barker showed me how to properly use my iPhone camera. To put it in context, I work with famous people on a daily basis. So it takes a lot to faze me. But last night’s encounter had me shaking with excitement and nervousness and admiration for the movie (and later the person) I was about to see.

To be honest, I’ve been following Kevin Laue’s story for a while. I can’t remember when I first saw the video interview on the news, exactly, but I recall being intrigued by someone barely older than me (and with the same limb difference) accomplishing so much. So when I heard that the documentary would be playing at a theater 15 minutes from my office, I knew I had to go watch it. While I’m hardly a sports fan (seriously, I pick my Super Bowl team based on which uniform colors I like the best), I love documentaries and I do enjoy the classic underdog theme in sports movies. And Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story, which was directed by Franklin Martin, is a great example of both.

The film effortlessly transitions from the poignant moments when Kevin mourns his father’s untimely passing and resents their less-than-perfect relationship to the more lighthearted moments when Kevin showcases his dry and cheeky sense of humor. My typically stone-faced boyfriend Chris, who’d played basketball in high school and kindly gave me a play-by-play description of what Kevin’s moves on the court meant, shed the first tears I’ve ever seen him cry in the two years we’ve been together. (And this comes long after I’ve subjected him to tearjerkers like The Notebook and Titanic and Forrest Gump.) I’ll admit that I teared up every once in a while too, but then Kevin would crack a hilarious one-liner and it would make me laugh again. The documentary depicted him as such a cool, down-to-earth guy. He was funny, confident, smart, and humble. And he had EVERYTHING going for him but a left arm. Who wouldn’t root for him?

In rooting for him, though, I was afraid that the film (and that I) would fall into the trap that so many movies featuring disability plunge into. I’ve seen movies and shows and even news articles disappoint me with the nauseating and unrealistic trope of the person with a disability who is simultaneously heroic and pitiable. They’ll usually have some stock message about how it’s great that the person “overcame” his or her obstacles and triumphed but, at the end of the day, they’re still preachy and gushy and somehow manage to focus more on the disability. But this film wasn’t like that. Not at all.

Martin artfully and realistically shows Kevin both at his most vulnerable (moments when he’s crying over a missed free throw and even when he’s nearly nude in the shower) and at his most glorious (when he’s awarded a basketball scholarship to a Division I college). And through it all, Kevin remained steadfast in his hard work and focused on his goals. I couldn’t detect an ounce of self-pity in Kevin himself, and he didn’t seem the type to invite any sympathy either. So I cried along with him when he broke his leg during a game. And my heart went out to him when he spoke reverently of his father. But I did not pity him for his limb difference. And neither the film nor the subject of it allows you to feel bad about Kevin’s arm. He’s good. He deserves to play in the big leagues alongside some of the most skilled and talented basketball players in the world. And as justice has it, he does.

Walking out of the theater feeling inspired and completely in awe of the man whose story we’d just witnessed onscreen, Chris and I found a huge crowd in the lobby waiting for the next showing of the film. And in the middle of that throng of people was Kevin Laue, posing by a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself for the paparazzi. When people started filing into the theater, I managed to sneak up to the front and meet Kevin. He was super nice and posed for a photo with me (Chris was my personal paparazzo for the day). There were camera flashes and people surrounding us. And it felt very red carpet-esque, which I should be used to by now after several premieres at Oxygen. But there was just something really different about it this time. And as much as I love working in entertainment, nothing quite compares to meeting someone you admire and whose story really moves you.

 

Totally starstruck,

Caitlin Michelle

 

For more info on the documentary film and where/when it’s playing, check out http://www.thekevinlauestory.com/

(Image of me with Kevin Laue is my own; all other images found on http://www.thekevinlauestory.com/gallery)
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invisible

Warning: this post is about to get REALLY personal. But it needed to be written, so here it is.

A few days ago, my friend Alyssa (who has previously written in this blog) posted in her own blog about her fear that publicly revealing her struggle with Rheumatoid Arthritis would invite future employers’ (and any number of people’s) discrimination against her. “I’m tired of hiding who I am,” she wrote. “I’ve accepted who I am, and I just hope that there are enough good people in this world who can accept me too.” I must say, I’ve always admired Alyssa’s honesty and openness when it comes to her writing. Telling the world about her arthritis is certainly brave, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. And while I don’t believe that there should be a hierarchy of disabilities, I do think that invisible disabilities sit at a higher tier in terms of how hard it is to deal with them both physically and emotionally.

If you look at Alyssa and me side by side, you’d be quick to notice my limb difference before you detect the slightest limp in her gait during the worst of flare-ups. Because it’s so visible, I’d been forced to come to terms with my disability long before I was even thinking about pursuing my dream career (or any job, really). To me, my arm proved to be more of a self esteem issue than a functionality one; I never had any real limitations (Granted, I’ve never been able to master the monkey bars. But that’s not exactly a skill I would list in my resume anyway). With my perceived handicap in the spotlight, though, I’ve managed to show that I am capable and that my arm is really no big deal. But when someone has a problem or challenge that’s not readily apparent, said issue becomes a whole lot bigger.

While I stand in pretty good physical shape, I know what it’s like to try to hide something too scary and shameful for other people to know. A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I suffer from occasional panic attacks, and I worry constantly and excessively over things that A) are almost always irrational and B) I can’t control anyway. This anxiety, in addition to bouts of depression and an eating disorder that has followed me around for the past 8 years, reached its worst during my junior year of college. I was taking honors classes, working a part-time job as a writing tutor, and interning at the Oxygen Network when it felt like my world was falling apart. I was so afraid that someone would consider me less than capable because of the panic attacks, which only motivated me to work harder. I finished that year off with straight-A’s and I now work at Oxygen, so I guess you can see how I wouldn’t necessarily consider my anxiety a “disability” (though I take issue with the vague term “disability” for a variety of reasons, but let’s save that for another time). In any case, I’ve never been one to let obstacles become a deterrent to my dreams. And I’m not the only one who has felt this way, being that several celebrities have revealed their own struggles with mental illness in recent months.

Renoir’s Self-Portrait (1910)

Disney star Demi Lovato bravely opened up a while back about her battle with an eating disorder, a cutting problem, and bipolar disorder. In a recent magazine interview, actress Emma Stone admitted to having frequent panic attacks. And Amanda Seyfried has even taken medication for her anxiety during an interview. What these three young women have in common is success. They have each turned their trials into triumphs, and they continue to land great jobs in television and film. Of course, success is not exclusive to those who have overcome mental health issues. Rheumatoid arthritis didn’t stop Lucille Ball from becoming a beloved actress and comedienne, nor did it deter Pierre-Auguste Renoir from painting masterpieces even when he could barely hold his paintbrush.

My point is this: disability, whether obvious or invisible, should not be a source of shame and fear. Rather, your success and accomplishments should be a testament to your strength and adaptability. And those two qualities are pretty impressive in anyone, regardless of specific ability or lack thereof.

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 (All images in this post were found on Google and are not my own.)
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media monday – “begin again” from taylor swift’s new album

“If you’re lucky enough to have something that makes you different from everybody else, don’t ever change.” – Taylor Swift

Happy Monday, everyone! And it most definitely will be if you’re a Taylor Swift fan – her new album hits stores today! I’ve been a fan of hers since I heard her first CD when I was 15. So for me, there’s a certain nostalgia in getting all excited for her latest songs. Taylor saw me through my country music phase, during which I only wore cowboy boots and listened to Toby Keith on repeat (I will admit that this particular time was much better than my punk rocker phase, when I thought I was the next Avril Lavigne and abused the pink hair extensions trend – let’s not get into that now.) Taylor’s music also saw me through boy troubles, bouts of unrequited love, and all the not-so-fun stuff that comes along with growing up and discovering who you are and how life works.

I know I’ve blogged about playing my guitar here, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about what inspired me to take up the instrument in the first place. All throughout high school and college, I could barely make it through the day without someone telling me I looked like a brunette version of Taylor Swift. And while I remember being completely flattered by the compliment (especially when I believed I was a borderline-ugly Plain Jane), I also felt a tinge of resentment that I would never be able to strum a guitar like Swift because of my arm. I’ve always loved writing, and back then I used to pen a lot of (what I thought were good, at the time) songs about what was going through my mind and what I felt needed to be written down. So after a while, I got the crazy idea that I would buy a guitar and teach myself how to play it so that I could accompany the songs I wrote with music. I was set on playing guitar, so I knew I would find a way.

And so it began. Countless hours watching YouTube tutorials and reading guitar books (read: avoiding my homework) paid off and now, 2 years later, I still turn to my trusty 6-string whenever I need to sing away whatever I’m thinking or feeling. Times may have changed and some of Taylor’s songs might just be a little immature for me now, but I still consider teaching myself guitar to be one of the most validating and empowering feats I’ve accomplished in my life because I showed myself that I was capable of something everyone assured me was impossible.

So am I going to join all those squealing 10-year-old girls lining up to buy Taylor’s album today? Hell yeah. Just as soon as I get out of work, where I’m trying (and failing) to hide my excitement, kind of like this:

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

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media monday – josh sundquist’s “amputees for math nerds”

And here’s yet another Josh Sundquist video for Media Monday! I know, I know – I post a LOT of Josh Sundquist videos. But he’s just sooooo funny! And this video shows off his pretty twisted sense of humor. I love it!

Happy Monday <3

Peace,
Caitlin

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culture collision

There are quite a few things you can learn about me just by looking at me. You can easily tell that I’m pretty tall, that I care about what I’m wearing and how I present myself, and that I have one hand. But something that always seems to take people by surprise is when they find out that I’m Hispanic. Granted, it’s not the most important fact about me and I’m probably not going to introduce myself as “Hi, I’m Caitlin and I’m Hispanic”, but it’s so funny to me how people instantly assume I’m either Irish or Italian or any number of different European nationalities. (And they’d be right on some level, since my entire family has roots in Spain.) But it usually takes listening in on me conducting a phone call or conversation entirely in Spanish for most people to realize that they had it all wrong.

La Caridad del Cobre

I was born here in the U.S. to Cuban parents, years after they’d left their beloved homeland and established themselves in the land of the free. Just to be clear, they met and married here (well, in Miami), so I’ve lived my whole life in Jersey. I grew up listening to Celia Cruz, dancing to salsa, and eating arroz con pollo and lechon. I learned to speak and read English and Spanish together, and I celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve (aka Nochebuena). As much as my family has assimilated into standard American culture, they have not given up the traditions of their motherland. And that’s something that I want to explore because one thing that definitely plays into how people view disabilities and limb differences is culture.

Although I’m not an expert sociologist and can’t tell you exactly how Cuban or Hispanic cultures as a whole see disability, I will say that everyone around me was pretty supportive while I was growing up. My parents encouraged me to try and fail and try and succeed with everything in life. They didn’t really treat me all that differently, and they expected the same straight-A report cards and model behavior from both me and my three-years-younger and physically normal sister. But as much as I’d love to think so, I can’t say that there was no pain or drama tied to my family’s sentiment towards my limb difference. My hand is not something I openly discuss with them because it just brings back too many hurts. Still, the worst of it was from my maternal grandparents, who once desperately attempted to hide me (and my lack of a hand, specifically) from their neighbors when I was just a kid. (I still haven’t forgiven them for that, but it’s not like they ever apologized anyway.) I know they didn’t do it out of cruelty, but it wasn’t exactly the message of acceptance and unconditional love most would agree you should show a 9-year-old. And of course, I do think that their years of living in a very rural area in Cuba added to their naivety.

Painting of Cuban patriot Jose Marti

Anyway, I expected the same sort of hushed and self-conscious behavior from my boyfriend Chris’s family. He’s half-Irish and grew up very close to his Irish roots. I thought that they would treat my limb difference as something very unfortunate and sad, but that’s not the case at all. I asked Chris if they’d ever commented on my hand or said anything negative about it, but he answered that they hadn’t. About a year into our relationship, he casually mentioned that one of his cousins wore a prosthetic leg. “Wait…what?” was my response, as I stopped him mid-sentence. He seemed perplexed a second before he realized why I’d stopped him. “Oh,” I remember him saying. “I never told you?” No, he hadn’t. He had completely forgotten by complete accident. To Chris (and to his family), something like a limb difference wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know if that sentiment is an Irish thing or just a Chris’s-family thing, but I have noticed (based on my own experience) that people from European cultures are much more likely to overlook a disability and to separate it from the person’s personality in general. Hispanics, though many usually do get over the disability, tend to be initially filled with (always unnecessary but typically well-meaning) sympathy and pity for what I (or whoever it may be) have “lost” or lack. This is especially common in older people, particularly those who grew up thinking that disability is caused by an “evil eye” or as punishment by God. This is not always the case, though. There are exceptions in all cultures. And while I don’t know in exact detail how culture affects or defines the way people look at disability and limb difference, I do think it’s a very interesting topic to look into.

Let me know what you think about the connection between culture and attitude toward disability in the comments below.

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

Photo of Cuban flag found on Google Image search, rest taken by me at Cuba Nostalgia event
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