Coming out about my invisible disability

Last month, I had an article published in The Mightycalled “Why I’m Coming Out About My Invisible Disability.”

The Mighty is an online site, an online community, that publishes stories by people with disabilities, diseases, mental illnesses, and more. Its Who We Are Page states, “Having a disability or disease doesn’t have to be isolating. That’s why The Mighty exists.”

I’m coming out about my invisible disability because now it’s less invisible. Now, it’s very much apparent to others. So, really, this is a late announcement.

My skeletal dysplasia has always been with me, has always been visible to me. It’s not something I was consciously trying to hide from others. Since I’ve been dealing with more intense chronic pain in the last few years, it’s become more visible to others.

My bone disorder was easy to hide as a kid because I had less pain and only limped at the end of a long day of shopping at the mall with friends. I’m 4’6″, so it’s pretty hard to hide that something is different about me. Most people wouldn’t assume I’m a dwarf, but my bone disorder does fall under the vast and varied dwarfism umbrella.

In my article in The Mighty, I wrote about how it’s easy to pass as normal, as someone who doesn’t have daily pain, just like it can be easy to pass as straight if you’re actually LGBT/gay/queer.

Read the full article.


Earth’s future is uninhabitable

I feel like I’ve just come back from a long trip to the future, and returned, and I’m stricken. I finished reading “The Uninhabitable Earth: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think” by David Wallace-Wells in the New York Magazine.

This long-form essay on potential futures of climate change is a must-read. It’s difficult, not because of the language or length, but the scenarios Wallace-Wells describes in such vivid detail.

Readers, society: take note. This is our future.

If we don’t act now. Today.

“Several of the scientists I spoke with proposed global warming as the solution to Fermi’s famous paradox, which asks, ‘If the universe is so big, then why haven’t we encountered any other intelligent life in it?’”

Earth’s future

Wallace-Wells helps visualize potential futures where climate change devastate the Earth, our environment, our food, and our lives.

He doesn’t shy away from the terrifying scenarios, drilling into specific details and facts. He often compares future numbers to current ones, which helps me understand hard-to-relate to abstracts.

Here are some terrifying tidbits from the article.

  • “Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful.”
  • “The albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years.”
  • “At 11 or 12 degrees of warming, more than half the world’s population, as distributed today, would die of direct heat. Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat.”
  • “The basic rule for staple cereal crops grown at optimal temperature is that for every degree of warming, yields decline by 10 percent. Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, we may have as many as 50 percent more people to feed and 50 percent less grain to give them. And proteins are worse.”
  • “The fraction of carbon dioxide in the air is growing: It just crossed 400 parts per million, and high-end estimates extrapolating from current trends suggest it will hit 1,000 ppm by 2100. At that concentration, compared to the air we breathe now, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.”
  • “For every half-degree of warming, they say, societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict.”
  • “We will see at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly ten by the end of the century. At present, more than a third of the world’s carbon is sucked up by the oceans — but the result is what’s called ‘ocean acidification,’ which, on its own, may add a half a degree to warming this century.”

Climate fiction

We need more literature about climate change. More short stories, poems, novels. We need to use our incredible imaginations to show what we are dragging ourselves into, what we are leaving our children and grandchildren with.

This is what Emmalie Dropkin argues for in an article in Electric Lit, “We Need Stories of Dystopia Without Apocalypse: Climate change and the human imagination.” The abstract futures and numbers can confuse people and lull them into not caring. Stories, literature, have been inspiring humans for centuries. This is a tool we should use more to shock ourselves into action.

“In a six-degree-warmer world, the Earth’s ecosystem will boil with so many natural disasters that we will just start calling them ‘weather.’”

Already, genres are emerging from climate change and natural disaster events. I’m increasingly seeing climate fiction, solarpunk, eco-literature, eco-speculation. These relate to science fiction, technology, cyberpunk, and more.

Some books in these genres include:

  • Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction by ASU Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative
  • Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Last Hundred Years trilogy by Jane Smiley
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • TreeVolution by Tara Campbell
  • The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh
  • Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  • After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Browse Goodreads for climate fiction

“More than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades … In the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe.”

We have to visualize these potential futures, because we are ensuring they become reality with each passing day. With each pound of beef we eat, each flight we take.

If we continue down our current path, we’re dooming ourselves to devastating effects of climate change. We’re fueling its fire.

“Every round-trip ticket on flights from New York to London, keep in mind, costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice.”

Articles like Wallace-Wells’ and Dropkin’s, and books that explore climate change, are necessary, now more than ever. Keep reading our future. Keep ignoring it, and welcome to your uninhabitable Earth.

The power of writers as activists

The incredible Taylor Lewis reflects on the power of writers as activists, her experiences teaching abroad in France, going to grad school in Hawaii, and the current political climate in a recent article in The Writers’ Bloc.

Back in 2011, at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland, Taylor had the great idea to start up a literary-arts newspaper on campus — what eventually became The Writers’ Bloc. The University of Maryland had niche newspapers, but nothing like this.

I was grateful to be included in starting the paper, becoming its Editor-in-Chief years later, and am so proud of what it has grown into.

“Since then, it has evolved in ways I could have never imagined,” Taylor writes. “From Writers’ to Writer’s; from a focus solely on arts and writing to music and blogs and activism. The staff has grown exponentially from the few of us who started it, and though I haven’t met many of them, every new generation carries on the legacy, making it bigger and better.”

Taylor is absolutely right when she says, “We do not take kindly to walls.” We as writers, we as creatives, we as thinkers, dreamers, artists, we as immigrants, we as people of color, we as LGBTQ/queer people, we as disabled people, we as indigenous people/Native Americans, we as people.

We don’t take kindly to being walled up, walled off, with borders or bans — everything happening now we are actively fighting and speaking up against. And The Writers’ Bloc has always and seems to continue to offer an important space for these writers and artists.

Taylor leaves us with insight into another language; apt since she is studying second-language acquisition.

Hawaiʻi Loa, kū like kākou
Kū paʻa me ka lōkahi e
Kū kala me ka wiwo ʻole
ʻOnipaʻa kākou, ‘onipaʻa kākou
A lanakila nā kini e
E ola, e ola e ola nā kini e

All Hawaiʻi stands together, it is now and forever
To raise your voices, and hold your banners high
We shall stand as a nation
To guide the destinies of our generations
To sing and praise the glories of our land

Thank you, The Writers’ Bloc staff, for continuing this legacy of sharing your voices. This is so necessary. And thank you, Taylor, for dreaming up that idea all those years ago in the midst of overflowing undergraduate schedules. What a dream — and what a newspaper it has become.

Gotta’ have that grit. Gotta’ have that hustle

If you’re trying to get your art or writing published in literary magazines, you should really read Lincoln Michel’s Ultimate Guide to getting published on BuzzFeed. Michel is the Editor of Electric Literature.

Some of you might be thinking … why BuzzFeed? What does BuzzFeed know about literature? Well, BuzzFeed has been incorporating a lot more literary coverage. Saeed Jones is their Literary Editor. He’s launching an Emerging Writers Fellowship and a lit mag sometime next March. And Michel’s guide is published in their Books section.

“The most important part of submitting is persistence,” says Lincoln Michel.

Keep writing! Keep submitting!

Just remember, persistence really is key.

My “This Year I Learned” Lesson

2014 is the year audio has proven it can go viral

The Washington Post’s project called This Year I Learned asks readers to submit a voicemail reflection of a lesson they’ve learned in 2014. The Post publishes the audio clip on SoundCloud and Tumblr. After reading and listening to amazing stories about struggle, fear and joy, I wanted to send my own.

This Year I Learned combines social media with the “old,” often thought of as outdated, media of voicemail. The Post put out several social calls asking readers to call 314-643-6152 and leave their lesson. And they’re receiving a lot of responses! They’ve already published over 40 posts on Tumblr and over 30 audio clips on SoundCloud. And people are listening, liking and sharing this audio. One voicemail has been played almost 350 times as of this blog post.

It’s interesting that a newspaper created this project. This is a very audio-driven project, and further proof that audio has the potential to — and is — going viral. The paper also publishes an image quote with each voicemail lesson, which helps readers quickly synthesize the audio. The brutally honest nature of these lessons, and the fact that voicemails are typically short, may be helping this project take off.

Before This Year I Learned, the last upload to The Post’s SoundCloud account was a month ago. And before then, it was mostly active six months and a year ago. Now The Post has been sharing audio every few hours and days.

I’m interested to see what else The Post and other media will create with audio. Media other than radio have the potential to do really amazing things with audio — like this project shows.

You can share your own lesson by calling 314-643-6152.

Rereading “Fahrenheit 451”


Yesterday I reread “Fahrenheit 451.” It took me most of the afternoon, through the night. I read in the car, as my mom guided us through terrible traffic, while my stepdad watched a basketball game, and alone, in my room. It’s the first book I’ve reread.

Reading a book again is an interesting endeavor. Passing through each part of the novel triggered bits of the upcoming plot in my memory. I remembered branches, but not the whole tree, not the leaves of the ending.

I first read “Fahrenheit 451,” my introduction to Bradbury—as I’ve since been scooping up his short story collections at used bookstores—in 9th grade. I knew then that this book was very different. Books had stuck with me before, but this one seeped in and became a part of my internal organs. It was a necessary book.

Being older, and having studied more craft, I appreciated Bradbury’s descriptions more. I realized how much poetry makes up his prose. Some of the most memorable moments of the novel can be boiled down to a sentence, a line, an image, alliteration—poetry. As mainly a poet, and a journalist, I gained renewed admiration for his style.

And one of my favorite literary quotes, which I have hanging on a piece of paper on my bedroom wall, still made me pause, smile and nod along, and reread it again. Bradbury has that affect, no matter how many times you’ve read him.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

The book happens to be a special 50th edition, which includes an interview with the author and an update when Bradbury revisited the characters in 1953 for a play. In it, Bradbury describes how he wrote the book over a week in the basement of the UCLA library—yes, he wrote a book about burning books in none other than a library—on a typewriter that cost 10 cents for 30 minutes. The typewriter had a coin slot and then ticked away. What a completely changed world from today’s, where many of us have laptops or tablets that we type away at constantly.

An interesting thing happened yesterday to me and the novel. I placed the book on a doctor’s examining table when the doctor came in to see me, and when he saw it he picked it up, beaming, saying, “Bradbury! I haven’t seen this book in a long time. I love science fiction.”

I often get asked why I don’t own a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or any other electronic reading device (other than my smartphone). My mom recently suggested a Kindle for my birthday present. But staring too long at screens gives me headaches, or worse, migraines. And the recollection and connection I had with my doctor yesterday might never have happened if I was reading “Fahrenheit 451” on a Kindle, then shut the display off when he stepped in the door. And what a terrible second-death to Bradbury, to read his novel on a screen like the ‘parlor walls’!

I’ll stick to printed books for now. Ones I can stuff in my purse for a Metro ride, underline my favorite quotes, crease the pages to mark great descriptions, buy cheaply at used bookstores, lend to a friend, and allow my doctor to see and share a love for. I think Bradbury would like that.

Short Curve

Short Curve
Marlena Chertock

My sister and I stood back to back, raising our chins, and waiting while our friends walked around us, squinting their eyes, running a hand across our heads.

They said I was taller, and Hannah became angry, demanding a re-measure, insisting she was taller.

Sometimes I was afraid to press our backs together again and let my shoulders settle, in case our friends saw wrong.


I can’t see myself in most mirrors. They’re nailed into walls too high.

I could climb onto the sink and push myself up, balancing on the sink like a gymnast. But that’s not something I want people to catch me doing in a public bathroom.

The bottom dryers at school are always taken or broken. I place my foot on one of the bottom ledges, reach into the round opening, and heave myself up to peer into the top dryer to check if I got all of my socks and bras.

Sometimes I bring my stepstool with me to do laundry. I can easily throw my laundry into the dryer, take the lint out without several jumps, and check for my clothes.

I use my stepstool every night to get into bed. Freshman year, I tried to take a running start from the bathroom to jump into bed. I got halfway up, clung onto the sheets and mattress, and slowly slid off.


“She’s on the smaller side,” my mom’s doctor friend told her after I was born. “We’ve been taking measurements and I think she may have SED.”

He told my mom that my dad had the rare genetic disorder that causes short stature, incomplete collagen, and oftentimes dwarfism.

“Her limbs are proportional. She’s taller than others.”

“Is she a dwarf?”

“Only technically.”

The doctors thought I wouldn’t grow past 4’2”. But now I stand 4’6” and have since I was 16.

I get most of my height from my long legs, an optical illusion of sorts. It’s when I sit down that my torso gets squashed and my neck bleeds into my shoulders. It seems like my organs don’t have much space, so my body compensates by sucking in at my back and pushing my stomach out farther.


I’ve been robbed of four inches or so.

“If we stretch you out, maybe you’d be taller,” my dad laughed. He was trying his pervasive humor on the curve within me, the curve that has angles protractors would be upset to measure, that lifts one of my shoulders higher, that squashes me at least a few inches shorter.

For scoliosis treatment, doctors used to lay patients down on a traction table, strap their hands and feet in, and stretch them. Now, scoliosis patients wear braces that push against their bending bones, begging them to stop curving. If the bones didn’t behave and their angles became triangular, doctors used to open patients up and break their bones, undo the angles, fuse them back into place.

I’ve had several molds of me, back braces, but my spine didn’t care for begging. It curved to 44 degrees, pushed me both ways the same angle and balanced out, so the doctors haven’t opened me up yet.


“Let me get a pencil,” my grandfather, Poppop, said, moving his tongue from the roof of his mouth to the bottom before and after the sentence. He always talks like that, with great thought put into every word, almost tsking before he speaks.

He came back and I held my breath as he carefully, slowly, drew a faint line over my head on the side of the basement door.

The tradition started before I was born. My mom and her sister and brother pressed their backs to the door, lifted their chins up, and waited excitedly as Poppop drew lines on top of their heads. The lines remain on the door, their increasing height followed over several years, from the late 1950s to the 70s.

We asked Poppop to trace our height for years. We liked to see for ourselves our growth, centimeter by centimeter, inch by inch. It seemed more real than the strange lines on a growth chart that the doctors plotted points on.

“This dot is you,” the doctor said. “Here you are in relation to other girls your age.”

But I didn’t understand all the lines, numbers, and curves. The dots of other girls were far above mine, on the thick line of a higher curve, the normal curve. My lonely dot was making its slow progression on a curve of its own.


“You’re really short,” one of my bullies, Naweed, told me in second grade. “You’re smaller than a crumb.”

You’re like a weed, I wanted to tease back, but couldn’t.

I went home and cried to my mom.

“Good things come in small packages,” she told me.

But when that wasn’t enough, she told me to talk back to my bullies.

So the next time Thomas Huff told me I was short in the lunchroom, I said, “Well, you’re fat.” He was.

He told a lunch aide and we were both sat down at an isolated table. “Think about what you did,” the aide said.

I stared down at the table and let my tears plop onto the Styrofoam lunch plate. Thomas ate his pizza happily.


I’ve never been called midget to my face. It’s always a hushed word, rolled around on tongues and said through cupped hands.

He was silhouetted in the outdoor hallway of a dorm when he said, “It’s the Elon midget,” to his friends.

I always think of what I should say afterwards.


Hannah’s and my endocrine systems don’t produce enough — our bodies needed to be persuaded to grow. When I was 11, a nurse came over my mom’s house to show me how to ready the injection pen, how to stick the needle in my leg. She came at night, when growth hormone normally flows through the body.

I was nervous as the nurse held a vial filled with white powder between her fingers with long fingernails. She screwed the vial into the pen and it turned to liquid as it mixed. She pushed a button and the pen top jutted out, ready to adjust to the right dosage.

I don’t remember my first or last dose, but I had 0.6, 1.4, and 1.8, the numbers increasing as my weight and height did, slowly for my height, quicker for my weight.

The nurse gave me my first shot. For the next two years, my mom did. Then I decided to inject myself.


The camp nurse came up to me during dinner and asked, “Can you help a younger girl with her medicine?”

I wondered why the nurse was asking me to help with medicine. I wasn’t licensed.

Then she said, “She takes the same growth hormone as you.” I nodded, eager to help someone.

After dinner, I walked to the nurse’s office. There was a tiny eight-year-old girl sitting on the bed inside. Her limbs were so skinny I could wrap my hands around them three times.

She was scared. “I’ve done it before, but never in my stomach.”

“Why do you want to inject it there?”

She pulled her shorts up to show me purple and green spots on her thighs. Injecting her legs every night, even switching from left to right, left her thighs sore and perpetually healing.

I had never injected the medicine into my stomach, but thought I could still help her. At thirteen, I’d been doing this for three years, while she had for only one.

She readied the growth hormone pen, lifted her shirt up, and looked at me.

“You know what to do,” I said, wanting to give her confidence. I remembered teaching my sister how to give herself the shot for the first time. “It’s the same as in your leg. Just push it in, click the button, and count to thirty.”

She nodded, but said, “I sing a song when I do it.”

I told her she could sing it.

So she took a breath and pushed the needle into her stomach. She sang a few lyrics for thirty seconds and then took the pen out.

“It doesn’t even hurt there,” she said.


“I’m glad I’m short,” I told my mom when I was 14.

“You are?” she asked. She’s always worried that she made a mistake. She is short. She had kids with a short man.

I don’t know why it makes her so guilty. Height is a mere fact — it can’t be changed. I suppose she could have had kids with a tall man, but then I wouldn’t have had the experiences connected to my height, I wouldn’t be the same.

“It makes me different. If I was as tall as everyone else, I guess that’d be boring.”

She laughed. “It’d be easier,” she said.

“Yeah, but boring. I’d be like everyone else.”


There are first graders who are taller than me, there was a dwarf I passed by in Target and I caught people giving us weird glances, there is my friend’s dad who had to get metal plates in his head so he would stop knocking himself out by walking into the top of door frames.

I haven’t been plotted on a growth chart for a few years, but I assume my dot would still be making its way several lines under the normal curve. The curves don’t confuse me anymore. They’re not as rigid and demanding, the doctor’s pointing finger doesn’t seem to be asking me to adjust, to grow, to catch up to the other girls my age.

Height and I have an understanding: we acknowledge each other in passing, nod to each other, let the other go at a four-way stop, but won’t pay for each other’s dinners.
It’s kind of like when I had braces. When I was twelve I got my first back brace for scoliosis. I didn’t know how many years I would have to wear it, twenty-two hours every day, the plastic mold of me pushing against my spine, holding it in place. I knew if I felt sad about it that’s all I was ever going to be. So I changed my perspective. I viewed the back braces as a challenge. I laid down on my bed every night so my stomach would be flatter, slipped the brace on, pulled the Velcro straps tighter and tighter, and fastened them.


I crouched, waiting in the little space between dressers in my friend’s room. She crept into the room, opened the closet door, looked under the bed, even in the laundry hamper. She walked past me and I tensed my muscles, holding my position tighter.
But she didn’t see me.

Slowing my breathing, I concentrated on staying quiet or made up a story for myself while I waited. I was a witch running away from the town people who wanted to burn me.

My hiding places were the best. Whenever I played hide and seek with the neighborhood kids or at a birthday party, no one could find me. I’d wait until I heard them downstairs, starting to talk about cake. Then I’d come out grinning and tell them where I’d been.


“Come here, monkey,” my dad said.

I ran across the mulch and climbed up the plastic ladder. It was our game, and I had to get away before he tickled me. He walked closer. I made it to the monkey bars and grabbed the first one. I leaned all my weight on the bar, cool and smooth in my hands. I pushed off the playground floor and dangled from the bar.

“I’m going to tickle a monkey today,” he said.

“No, you’re not!”

I swung back and forth, gaining momentum, and once I had enough I thrust my feet up into the space between the bars. Squeezing through them, I sat upright and balanced on two bars and one side.

“Hey, no fair,” he whined.

I laughed and stayed up there. I liked the way the breeze felt different higher up, how I could see the whole playground and up to the trees and cattails we walked through to come there.