Archive for the 'Interview' Category

I’m Writing Again

Back before Gadget died, before Barnum was born, before I started blogging, before Lyme disease ravaged my life, I was a writer. And now I am becoming one again, thanks in part to you reading this blog and encouraging me. Thank you!

Back in the Day

Breath and Shadow logo. A circle in tones of brown, peach, and mustard. There is a silhouette of a face that looks like a woman's face breathing out and inside that as a shadow is a second face which seems more like a man's face. Below that are the words Breath & Shadow in white letters.

Disability Literature and Culture

Yes, Virginia, there was writing before blogs. I used to manage and edit Breath & Shadow, a literary journal of disability culture, and I wrote occasional essays and articles (some humor, some disability studies), short stories (usually erotica, though not always), and poems for a variety of paper and online magazines, newsletters, papers, journals, and anthologies. From 1992 through 2006, I slowly built up a writing career. It was a challenge because I was disabled by chronic illness very soon after I graduated from college, so there were many years where getting published at all was a big deal each time it happened.

In January of 2007, I moved house, which I spent months trying to recover from. That summer, I got Lyme disease, which picked up my world and shook it like a snow globe. A lot of the time, my world still whirls around me in chaos. From 2007 through 2010, I did almost no writing. I handed over the reigns of Breath & Shadow to another editor, to whom I’m very grateful. During my most extreme years of illness, I did manage to write a couple of essays — a grueling undertaking — and a very small number of short erotica pieces. I also conducted periodic interviews of activists with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) for Our Toxic Times,* the newsletter for the Chemical Injury Information Network. If you have MCS or want to keep abreast of issues relating to environment and health, I highly recommend joining. The newsletter is excellent, and you will be supporting a 501(c)3 nonprofit that puts every penny to good use.

Logo for CIIN -- a merry-go-round pony, blue on white.

MCS: Roller coaster or merry-go-round?

Aside from the interviews, most of the stuff that got published in that time period were pieces that had been written earlier. Some were reprints; others were pieces that were waiting for the right home. And, after Gadget died, in December 2009, I started this blog. Blogging, I discovered, did not require the extremes of care, editing, proofing, and other work I usually put into writing. It offered me some slack that enabled me to continue writing.

“Professional” — or something**

Slowly, in the past two years, I have begun to write professionally again. I’m still hampered by severe swings in my cognitive and physical functioning and by needing to spend so much energy on training Barnum, but I’m managing to pick up a slow, stuttering sort of momentum. I know many of you read this blog because you’re interested in the topic of service dogs, dog training, recovering from loss, and other topics I cover. Others of you have told me you subscribe because you like my writing. I’m preparing for a big writing undertaking (a book, actually), and it would be very helpful to have more readers “follow me” to some of my other writing sites when my book project devours my soul takes over my life becomes the focus of my passion.

I wanted to tell you where else you can read my writing and ask you to subscribe/follow me on those sites, because I don’t generally post here about my writing elsewhere. I have some big projects I’m working toward — I hope to unveil the details about The Book in upcoming months — but meanwhile I need to keep stretching and exercising my writing muscles that are a bit stiff and atrophied from disuse. I would love it if you’d join me in some of my new writing ventures!

Dykes, Dogs, Disability, and . . . Maine?

Here’s where you can find some of my work:

– My writing blog, Bed, Body & Beyond, focuses on life as a writer with disabilities. Although historically I haven’t posted there as often as here, I have been posting there more frequently lately. I also put a lot of care into the posts that appear there. Sometimes a great deal of research and thought goes into a single post, such as this one about the language of disability.

Sharon sits in her powerchair, which is backwards; both Sharon and the chair are facing away from the camera. The chair has a gray seat and wheels, with a cherry-red base. Sharon wears a tan trench-coat, and she is holding it open on both sides, as if she is flashing whoever is in front of her. All that can be seen of Sharon are her naked calves, her feet in four-inch-high patent-leather heels, her hands pulling open the trench-coat, and her head. She is turning her head toward the camera, so her face is in profile, smiling mischievously. Her facial expression is saucy, letting you know that she does not take herself too seriously.

The longest alt tag ever?

Lately I’ve focused more on being an erotica writer, but so far I haven’t actually published anything x-rated on my blog. However, there have been requests for excerpts, so I might start posting some teasers, perhaps focusing on stories with a disabled protagonist (hint for upcoming book project!). Rest assured, if I do post something explicit, I’ll put NSFW (“not safe for work”) in the subject line so people can make an informed decision about whether to read it. Most of the time, so far, material on that site is not remotely explicit.

Recent posts include interviews with editors of books in which my work has appeared in 2012, a discussion on the language associated with disability, some reviews of my work, and pages with blurbs and links to online and book publications. As my work gets published elsewhere (I have essays, fiction, and possibly poetry coming down the pipeline) I’ll post interviews, excerpts, and links. I’d love if you subscribe/follow my writing blog! (Note: This is a Blogger blog, which means that subscribing by RSS is easy for anyone, but subscribing by email requires doing a Captcha [“word verification”]. If Captcha is a barrier for you, please contact me and I will subscribe you. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

An oval with two clasped hands reaching above the words Ability Maine in white letters on a black background that suggests mountains and a green background above the hands.

I’m ba-ack…

– Ability Maine — the website of disability news, views, information, and literature, especially (but not exclusively) with a Maine focus. One example is an interview I did with Arnold Mann, the investigative reporter for Time and USA Weekend who published a fantastic book on corporate and government complicity and coverups of chemical injury.

I’ve also started a blog for Ability Maine — Ability Maine Blog. At the blog I post blurbs and links about new content at the main Ability Maine page as well as its literary journal, Breath & Shadow. I also have started posting short, time-sensitive posts relating to disability news, events, culture or other pieces of interest to the disability community in Maine or around the world. Subscribing to the Ability Maine blog is a great way to read my new writing and found out about information of interest to the disability community. Those are actually *short* blog posts, which is a rarity with me, you know. (Note: This is also a Blogger blog, which means that subscribing by email requires doing a Captcha [“word verification”]. If Captcha is a barrier for you, please contact me and I will subscribe you. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

Outline sketch, black on white, of a dog's head and neck with a leash or harness draped around his shoulders. The profile is of a flop-eared dog like a Lab or Golden.

IAADP logo

Partner’s Forum, the newsletter of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). I have written occasional articles for PF for many years, usually training tips or equipment ideas. Now I am also helping the editor, Joan Froling, with locating, editing, and writing work on what will hopefully be an ongoing basis! You need to be a member of IAADP — a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization — to get the most recent issues of PF. Anyone is welcome to join. It’s a great way to support and learn about what’s happening in the assistance dog world. Partner members (those partnered with a working assistance dog) also receive additional benefits with membership.

– Listmania — I now have two listmania lists at Amazon of most of my work that’s appeared in books. (Work from magazines and such is more difficult to make available.) One list of books are nonfiction pieces (essays or humor) and the other is lesbian erotic fiction.

– The Chronic Writer(??) — Way back in the day, I wrote a monthly humor column called Sick Humor for Ability Maine. It was an outgrowth of my comic strip by the same name. “A twisted look at life with disability.” When I was invited back to write for Ability Maine, I really wanted to start writing again about the life of a writer with chronic illness, although I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be purely humor/satire. I wanted to do interviews with other writers with disabilities or chronic illness, write about some of the complexities of writing with impaired cognition and limited energy, the politics, the unexpected gifts of writing. I planned to call it The Chronic Writer.

I haven’t yet written an official Chronic Writer piece, although I’ve written lots of partial pieces, and I’ve published pieces at Bed, Body & Beyond and at Ability Maine that could certainly fit under the “Chronic Writer” rubric. My current plan is to move both my blogs (After Gadget and Bed, Body & Beyond) to my domain (which is very, very old and outdated, so I am not linking to it) and launch The Chronic Writer there. That website would be the home for all things Sharon-the-writer-Wachslery and would also allow me more freedom than using Blogger or WordPress freeware (especially as I’ve recently been made aware of an issue with WP Terms of Service). But, it’s been my plan for years to update my domain, so let’s call this a work-in-progress in progress, shall we?

So, that’s my big news. It’s a bit scary to make this announcement as if it’s some done deal, as if I can be relied upon to keep producing. Because if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I’m doing better. I’m starting to write again,” and then discovered that I couldn’t even finish a piece of flash fiction or a blog post . . . I would have made a lot more money than I ever have on anything I’ve published! But that is, after all, the way of the Chronic Writer.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

*I’m still doing OTT interviews when time and energy permit, so if you are chemically injured, and you are involved in any form of activism, very broadly interpreted, please drop me a line, and we’ll see if you’re a good fit for my series. My goal is to profile one activist from each US state (and then perhaps I’ll move on to US territories and other countries after that).

**My definition of professional writing: getting paid occasional paltry*** sums for huge amounts of work OR getting paid nothing to have your work appear in academic or literary venues. This definition is slightly different if your name is J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.

***I recently got a royalty check for $1.36. That was $1.36 more than I had expected to earn in royalties for the year for that piece!

Seeking Auction Donations

I’ve written occasionally here and at my other blogs about my study of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) for the last year-and-a-half. I’ve written here about NVC being the major factor in being able to grieve Gadget, and spending the Jewish New Year with my NVC friends, and on how NVC has changed how I communicate about grief. I’ve blogged about it much less than I have wanted to, however. Partly, this is for the usual reasons I blog less about everything than I want or expect to — I’m sick, I’m training my own service dog, I trying to write when able.

But there are other reasons. One is that since that life-changing international NVC phone call at the beginning of October, I am trying to attend as many NVC practice groups and classes as I can. (Note: Whenever I refer to attending NVC classes, they are always by telephone — conference calls.) Although this has absorbed energy — the time spent on the calls and then the time recovering — they give me so much. I feel a new sense of peace, calm, and happiness and an ability to have compassion for myself and others that I didn’t have before.

I actually had wanted to take NVC classes several years ago, but they were offered in a space that was up a flight of stairs and not MCS-accessible. Then I found an NVC teacher who has created an option for NVC classes that are financially and physically, mentally, and emotionally accessible to people with disabilities.

Meet Marlena

The person most responsible for this change in my life is my NVC teacher, Marlena Willis. Marlena lives with both mental health disabilities and physical disabilities, including MCS. A couple of years ago, she decided to offer NVC teleclasses to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. We became a tight-knit community, most of us living with multiple disabilities, often homebound, and struggling with very difficult situations.

Read what Marlena’s students say about how her classes have changed our lives.

Because she wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to learn could attend, Marlena offered the classes on a sliding scale and said that nobody would be turned away for lack of funds. Most of us have been able to pay little — much, much less than what Marlena’s time and skill are worth to us — and some have been unable to spare anything for tuition.

Marlena laying on her back in bed. A black-and-tan short-haired large-breed older puppy -- maybe part Doberman or Rottweiler -- wearing a pink collar is licking her from her chin to her eyebrow. Marlena's eyes are closed and her hand rests on the dog's chest.

Marlena's dog loves her as much as her students do!

In the last few months, Marlena has entered financial crisis. This was the result of several unexpected medical expenses not covered by Medicare or MediCal, plus the unexpected expenses of her rescued dog and cat, who are very important to her mental health. For this reason, Marlena’s students are doing a fundraiser for her, which I’m organizing. We are doing it as an online auction. I would so much appreciate your help in making Marlena’s Teaching Fund auction a success so that Marlena can get the dental work done that she needs and continue to teach the NVC classes that mean so much to me and my dear friends.

Find out more about Marlena (my interview with her) here.

If you would enjoy contributing to the success of the auction, here are some ways to help!

  • Donate an item to auction. This is the most useful and important thing we need right now. It can be any item, product, or service that someone else would enjoy. Even if you think you don’t have much to offer, you probably do! I have more notes about this below. Please keep reading!
  • Spread the word! Follow me on Twitter at @aftergadget and retweet my auction-related tweets, or share my posts on your Facebook page.
  • Ask friends, family, social or business networks to donate an item. Do you know someone who has a business, either online, like an etsy shop, or anything else, who would appreciate some publicity while giving something small that will make a big difference in someone’s life? Ask them to donate a service or item.
  • “Like” the Marlena’s Teaching Fund Facebook page! Before the auction starts, we can use it to organize and gather info on items to be auctioned. When the fundraiser is underway, we’ll use it to post updates or feature certain items or list quotes from how Marlena has changed lives.
  • Link to this post. Offer a signal boost. You also have my permission to cross-post this post as long as you attribute it to me and link back here. And you’ll probably want to write some sort of introduction so people know you’re not me!

What Items Can Be Auctioned?

All sorts of things! They can be tangible goods or they can be services. Below are some categories of things we can really use.

  • Unique or beautiful things: Jewelry, photos, artwork, hand-crafted items, specialty or homemade foods (that travel well), films, music, or books donated and signed by the artist/author, tickets to sports/theater/exhibits.
  • Useful things: Dog or cat toys or products, clothing, housewares (kitchen, bath, bed, etc.), hair combs or sticks, hobby/recreation stuff (knitting, crocheting, photography, games, gardening), posters, cards, gift certificates for anything/anywhere! (Did you get something for your birthday or the holidays that’s perfectly good, but that you just can’t use?)
  • Items of interest to ill or disabled people: Unopened supplement bottles, books on living with chronic illness, disability culture or humor, massage or body work, meditation or yoga instruction (live or on CD or DVD), assistance dog gear or lifestyle stuff, videos educating others about your illness or disability rights.
  • Items of interest to NVC people: NVC books, CDs, or DVDs; BayNVC merchandise; giraffe things (puppets, ears, jewelry, prints, bags, decor); empathy session; coupon/gift certificate for a free workshop or class.
  • Services: The sky is the limit! If you have a skill or passion, chances are someone is interested in learning from you or taking you up on your talents. Editing/proofreading; writing; graphic design; cupcake decoration; astrology; Tarot reading; NVC empathy session; dog training (in person or by Skype); photographing your pet or food styling; bicycle, wheelchair, or car repair or maintenance skills; counseling; gluten-free cooking; life coaching; blogging; how to write a synopsis or query letter or create a portfolio; animal communicating; a or presentation on creating access or what it’s like to live with your illness or to be partnered with a guide dog. You can specify if this is something that can be done by phone, internet, or in person. If you have an idea, bring it, and I bet we can make it happen!

Things to Keep in Mind

  • The purpose of this auction is to help Marlena and allow her to continue teaching NVC to people who really benefit from it and would otherwise not to be able to access it. However, if you have any sort of business — an online store, a consulting business, teaching, etc. — this is also a way to let more people know about you, your services, or your products. All listings of donated items will link to the donor’s website and include their logo or image and a blurb about what they offer. It’s part of our way of saying, “Thank you.”
  • Unless they are antiques or collectibles, tangible items (products, goods) must be in new or like-new condition.
  • Tangible items will be shipped. Whoever donates the item will also be donating the shipping. So, if you’re choosing between sending something heavy or bulky (like a big, hardcover book) or something lightweight (like a silver necklace), you probably want to choose the small, lightweight thing. You’re free to choosing the easiest, most inexpensive shipping option you like; we are not FedEx!
  • Services have many advantages: 1. There is no shipping cost involved. 2. If it’s something you can offer by phone or internet, this usually means it can be bid on internationally. 3. If it’s something you can offer to a group (a workshop or class), we can take several winning bids on one item.
  • If your service or product can only be offered to those in your local area, please indicate the area (e.g., open to bidders in the SF Bay area only, or open to those in NYC only, etc.).

If you would like to donate an item (product or service) to Marlena’s Teaching Fund, here’s what to do:

Contact me as soon as possible to let me know you’re donating something. Please include as much of the following information as possible:
1. A description, which can include things such as materials, size, weight, number, handmade, etc. (Unless I can lift this from your website or a mass-market site, like Amazon.)

2. Any background on you or your product that makes it more appealing (or, again, if this is on your website, let me know, and I’ll get it from there).

3. Your website, shop, blog, Facebook page that is associated with your donated service or product.

4. An image to accompany the description (unless it’s something I can lift from your website or from Amazon, etc.). If it’s a product, send a picture. If it’s a service, your logo or a picture of yourself or something is great. If you are willing to include a text description of your image, that will save me a lot of energy on adding alt tags, but it’s fine if you don’t.

5. The retail value of the item (unless I can find that online). If it’s a one-of-a-kind that doesn’t have a retail value, just take a guess.

6. Whether there are geographical restrictions on who can bid (in USA only, in Canada only, in North America only, in your city only, anywhere in the world, etc.).

7. If this is a tangible item, if you know whether it’s coming from an environment that is smoke-free, or fragrance-free, or pet-free, please indicate this (it doesn’t have to be all three, e.g., if it’s coming from your smoke-free, pet-free home, say so; if it’s coming from your fragrance-free home, say that. If you don’t know what it’s been exposed to, leave this out).

NOTE: If you know you want to donate something, please contact me as soon as possible so I can start a listing — even if you don’t have all the information yet. You can get the rest to me as you are able.

The auction is scheduled to go up Friday, MARCH 9, so I’ll need all item listings by Sunday, MARCH 4 at the latest.

How to get your information to me:

Thank you so much for your support!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. If you use email to contact me and don’t hear back within 24 hours, it probably means your message went into my spam folder. Please try again, preferably using one of the other contact methods.

Day of Visibility: Homeless & Hidden MCSers

A conceptual image. Along the top, in white, caligraphy or script-style lettering, "Day of Visibility." In the bottom right corner, "June 6th." The image is of smoky or cloudy colors, red on the left, blue on the right, white in the center, yellow/orange where the red and blue meet in the top center, and purple/black where they meet in the bottom center. It's as if there's a bright light shining in the center, trying to break through many different shades of obfuscation.

Today, June 6, is Day of Visibility, when people all over the world are trying to raise awareness about hidden disabilities.

While my disabilities — MCS, CFS/ME, and Lyme disease — are often categorized as invisible disabilities, it has been a very long time since I’ve gone out in public without “looking disabled.”

I have experienced the suffering of having my disabilities denied (because I “look great!”) especially in the early years of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). However, I wanted to devote this post to a particular form of truly devastating invisibility.

The idea for today’s post came from the responses I got to my recent posts on MCS. I was surprised, pleased, and confused by the comments I got.

Surprised because I somehow thought my readers already knew most of what I was saying. Pleased because the response was so generous and kind, and frequently included requests for more information. And confused because I really don’t know how to represent my MCS to the public anymore. It used to be quite severe, and now, it is still severe outside of the MCS world; but inside the MCS world, I’d consider it more moderate, or maybe on the mild end of severe?

It left me wanting to tell you how it is for the people who really are suffering bad reactions to exposures every day (which was true for me at times — for many years, actually), and who are homeless or confined to one room (which I also have been) — sometimes unable to use phone or internet due to electromagnet field sensitivities (EMFs).

The most important aspect of this story is how very, very common it is.

If you have severe MCS, it’s not a question of if you will be homeless, displaced, or living in unsafe, inaccessible, or unaffordable housing. It is only a question of when.

For example, several years ago, I wrote a press release about the results of a housing survey of MCSers in Western Massachusetts. I helped create the survey and disseminate it, and I compiled and interpreted the data. (Please note: None of the contact information on that document is correct — not my contact info, nor the info about EHCWM.)

Even as a part of this community, and knowing that housing is a crisis issue for all MCSers, I was still shocked by the results. I hadn’t realized so many of my friends and community members with MCS were homeless at the time of the survey (10-20 percent), or had previously been homeless (57 percent).

Can you think of any other group of people in the United States where homelessness is typical? Where it happens to the majority?

Everyone with MCS is — to varying degrees — at risk for homelessness all the time.

Even me. I have my own stories of displacement, frantic housing searches, and staying in traumatic or illness-inducing situations, but I’d rather tell others’ stories today, the stories of deeper invisibility than mine.

A couple of days ago, I put out a request for pictures of people with MCS who have been homeless or in conditions of extreme isolation. I wanted to put faces on the situation, to remove the invisibility, and have people provide their own pictures and words.

However, because of time constraints, I was only able to gather a couple of photos and stories, even though I personally know dozens of people who have been homeless or locked away. So I’m weaving together these strangers’ photos and stories — in their words — with a few stories of people I have known, in my words.

(Several people wanted to send me photos and stories, but some weren’t sure how much they wanted to share “of that horror,” as one person told me, and others probably haven’t been able because they are too sick or don’t have reliable internet access. If anyone still wants to participate, please get in touch; I will add your story.)

A story of one of my friends:

A friend with one of the worst cases of MCS I’ve ever known lived nearby in Western Massachusetts, in a ceramic trailer, with no electricity or running water, year-round, in the woods. She could smell fragrances and other chemicals miles away, literally. The only people she saw were her dog, and her helper, who came weekly and also had MCS, who helped her haul water to her trailer.

Someone who responded to my request for pictures:

This is Dr. Ralph Wilson, of Washington, DC.

A white man who looks to be in his early thirties, with straight brown hair parted on teh side, wearing a blue windbreaker. He is smiling and appears to be standing in front of or next to his car.

Dr. Ralph Wilson, 1983

Here is a little of what he told me:

The picture [above] is from a time when I had to move from three rental rooms within a short period of time. That was around 1983. I had to use the homeless people’s procedure to manage my voter registration. This picture is not spectacular to an outside observer I am sure, but to me that highlights what MCS people can look like on the outside. Many people with MCS will struggle to look okay but are pushing forward against crushing factors that other people seem oblivious to.

Ralph in 2011. His hair is shorter and mostly gray. He is much thinner and is wearing a sport coat with a kerchief around his neck. He is standing in front of a bookcase. His smile and eyes look much more alive than in the earlier picture.

Dr. Ralph Wilson, today

The picture above is from my website. I now have a lot of hope and look okay on the outside. However, I still am very much affected by fumes, and am financially very challenged and sometimes feel that I am only a few weeks away from homelessness.

In 1998, E Magazine published a photo essay by Rhonda Zwillinger of homeless people with MCS. It’s entitled, “No Safe Haven: People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Are Becoming the New Homeless.” The photos and stories are utterly compelling. I hope you will read the article and uncover these additional stories of invisibility.

A story of someone I know:

Peggy Munson, who also has MCS, CFIDS, and Lyme, and lives in my area, wrote a powerful blog post about the isolation of people with MCS, and how it is often combined with life-threatening hatred and an attempt to drive us out of our safe housing. She describes the type of isolation she lives in in this 2010 post: “I spen[t] most of 2009 lying ten hours a day on a bathroom floor as far as I could drag myself from bed, unable to speak and in respiratory failure dying a horrible death.”

Ever since I got MCS and “went public,” people have emailed or called me, asking for help. I have also had close friends in dire situations. I always feel incredibly helpless, because the need is so great, and there is so often nowhere to turn. Everyone else is in the same boat.

For example . . .

An elderly woman in the Midwest called me for help after reading something I wrote in an MCS newsletter. Her neighbor was on a campaign against her. Why? He didn’t like her, she didn’t know why, probably because her MCS made her “strange.”

He started by spraying his own lawn with pesticide, because he knew it would make her sick. He escalated to coming onto her property (at night or when she was out) and spraying pesticide on her lawn, then her porch, and finally into her dryer vent — thereby poisoning her entire home.

She had owned this home and lived there 30 years. Her belongings were all contaminated as well. The last time I heard from her, she was living in her car and praying that someone would buy her house so she could find a new place to live.

This is Michelle H., who responded to my request for pictures/stories. She was chemically injured at work.

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair stands outside wearing a large white cotton mask that covers her nose and the bottom half of her face.

Michelle H., current photo

I was bedridden for over a year, unable to even feed or bathe myself much of the time. My [then-]fiance [now husband] took on three jobs to support me, and stopped by home between them to take care of me. [We] relocated to rural Arizona from Northern California with plans to build a solar-electric, straw-bale house. We lived in a tiny travel trailer without electricity or running water for almost four years but ended up giving up that dream before the house was completed.

The environment in rural Arizona has NOT been ideal for me: Instead of neighbors’ dryer vents, car exhaust, and other city situations like landscaping (pesticides and leaf-blowers), rural Arizona has substituted neighbors burning trash (including plastics), burning sickening cedar-smelling wood for heating, and “controlled” burning of the forests to reduce wildfires.

There are tons of diesel trucks and tractors, and with no smog controls, the car exhaust can be bad too. Especially, it is very difficult, expensive, and frequently impossible getting the fragrance-free products and organic foods I need.

Lastly, I can’t go outside in the intense Arizona sun. I get migraines from the brightness, I can’t breathe in the dry heat, I have rosacea and have been warned that I am developing skin cancer. (I haven’t found any sunscreen I can tolerate.)

My health has improved since 2008: This has been due mostly to having a fairly “safe” home now and staying inside it most of the time, with no visitors.

Here is the story of an activist I knew:

A woman in her 30s, living in the Pacific Northwest, was severely disabled by MCS. Everyone in her community knew it, but as is usually the case with MCS, most didn’t believe she was really sick; they thought she was “crazy.” So, one of her neighbors sprayed the vacant lot he owned, next to her house, with pesticide to prove she wasn’t sick — over the pleas of her husband and her best friend, another neighbor. She died of organ failure the next day.

What makes these stories horrific is that they are so very common. Talk to anyone with MCS, and they will tell you of something similar happening to them or to someone they are very close to.

Homelessness is normal in the MCS world.

Severe isolation is beyond normal — it’s assumed.

Attacks by coworkers, neighbors, schools, local governments, are always a fear we harbor, wherever we are. To be disliked by a neighbor could result in death.

My MCS is not nearly as severe as it used to be. And I am much more able to be connected to others via the internet than people whose EMF sensitivities are too severe. I also have reliable access to phones, electricity, water, and safe food, living in my safe home, which is not true of so many with MCS. I try to keep on my neighbors’ good sides.

Thank you for reading. And thanks very, very much to those who sent their stories or considered it.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT?

Entering Photographer Whitney Williams’s Magical, Ethereal World (Interview)

[Image description: Abstract black and white image of a woman’s torso, from mid-upper arm to top of neck. She is clutching something, maybe pearls, to her, and long, very curly tendrils of hair fly around her, as does a white gauzy shawl. The image is overlaid with irregular-shaped circles.]

One of the forms of writing I enjoy most is interviewing. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone’s life is fascinating if they unravel the details of what they’re passionate about.

As my blog has grown, I’ve found myself wanting to interview dog trainers, other assistance dog handlers, people with experience of grief, as well as artists and activists with disabilities.

Some of these topics fit perfectly with the main themes of After Gadget, while others are related but slight departures. Thus, I’ve slowly been creating my “spin-off blog,”, where I feel a bit more “artistic freedom.”

Today I have a new post up at that I’m really excited about, and I hope you will be, too. It’s an interview with Whitney Williams, a photographer who has found ways to make amazing art while living with multiple disabilities/chronic illnesses.

As I’ve been mentioning all month, May is awareness month for both multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and Lyme disease, both of which Whitney (and I) have, so interviewing Whitney now was particularly timely.

Click here to read the interview of Whitney, maker of magical, ethereal, spring-inspired art!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who let me make water-color paw prints with him before he died), and Barnum (star of many mundane but adorable photographs)

Carol, Lily, and ? . . .

Today’s post is not about me. I apologize for interrupting the discussion of what’s happening with Barnum, but this is important and time-sensitive. I will get back to Barnum and me shortly.

Today’s post is a conversation I had with Carol, whose service dog, Lily, a twelve-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier, died of lymphoma four months ago. This is not just the story of Carol and Lily, but of Carol’s resilience, and the lengths she has gone to to overcome Lily’s death and work toward regaining her sense of safety and independence.

Lily, a striking black-and-white pit bull, with a very shiny, glossy coat and a long, skinny tail, stands with her head turned, looking alert, on red steps outdoors, apparently on a red-painted wood porch.

Angel Lily

Carol and I found each other on the Lymphoma HeartDog Angels list, which is a listserv for people whose dogs were battling lymphoma and have since died. Carol and I are the only two that I know of whose heartdogs were also our service dogs (SDs). Carol’s disabilities are depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and agoraphobia.

To read today’s post, please visit my new blog, While that blog is not yet fully set up with all its features, it does have today’s post on it, with photos, captions, and Carol’s moving story.

We are having problems with our internet connection that often prevents me from getting to, so if you post a comment, and it takes a while to show up, it’s likely because I haven’t been able to access the site to approve comments. Thank you!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, Barnum (SDiT?), Carol, and Angel Lily

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