An Anniversary I will not be celebrating, Nov. 27, 2015

One year ago, November 27, 2015, the now President-elect ridiculed a disabled reporter named Serge Kovaleski.  Kovaleski disputed Trump’s claims that hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9-11 attacks.  While Kovaleski spoke, Trump waved his arms around and held his hand in front of his chest in the position of a claw.  Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement.

I’ve written before of the pass that’s given to disabled people re: malevolent treatment.  Certainly disabled kids get teased and bullied.  But that ceases in adulthood.  Instead those of us with disability face benevolent discrimination—well-meaning able-bodied adults often react as if they know better what we should do and think.   Now I’m the first to admit to being “out of it” at times.  My blindness alone makes me goof, as when I asked a nun (in habit) if she were dating anyone.

But generally I can think for myself.  And most of the disabled people I know earn respect for the difficult challenges they face.  Insulting any of them, any of us, breaks a societal rule, if not a moral one.  It’s pretty pathetic.  But it seems that our future president is an equal opportunity derider.

Now there are many graver problems with our future President than his taking on the disabled  for humiliation.  And even if we had started our lives with $200 million from our fathers, our lives would still be harder than most.  But they are richer than Mr. Trump will ever know or understand.

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Gwen Ifill, superb journalist

 

 

One of my heroes died today.  Gwen Ifill, an astute, funny news reporter, host of PBS’ “Washington Week in Review” and cohost of the PBS “News Hour” died at 61.  I’m just sooo sad about this.  Bob and I together watch very little TV.  I need someone to narrate the visuals, so can’t do it independently, and Bob rarely watches anything regularly.  However, he’s been caught many times in random acts of watching, using with the sound muted, standing, planning to take a 10-minute break which turns into a half hour—all the time standing.

But “Washington Week in Review” was our show. We scheduled around it on Friday nights.  Recently I attended a conference that began on Friday night, ruining our mutual sharing of the show.  A friend offered Bob her hotel room while he waited for me, and uncharacteristically he accepted, because the bar he waited in didn’t have “Washington Week” on the TV.

We loved Gwen.  Without fail, at the end of the panel discussion, Bob and I stepped away, saying, “She is sooo great.”

She was insightful and incisive and energetic and wonderful at drawing out the four journalists asked to appear that week. She kept the discussion humming along and managed to add a point or clarify or correct, all with rare brevity.  And she was delightfully humorous and just so respectful.

In the past six months I’ve lost three dear friends, and today I’ve lost a hero. All who have appreciated the best possible fair, accurate news coverage must share my sadness.  RIP, beautiful soul, beautiful Gwen.

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Appropriation vs. Assimilation

Jodie Picoult just wrote a book that deals with racial issues.  She interviewed black women for over a  hundred hours, I understand, in order to write the book.  The book hit number one on the fiction best seller list.

In taking on this book, Jodie stepped into a  controversy that has been going on for years.  I remember meeting a new author in the early 80s who had published two books, one with a female Japanese protagonist, the other with a Black South African protagonist. Although the books were well-reviewed, she faced a lot of criticism for appropriating the stories of others.  The author was an American white woman.

Here is how I define these terms.  Appropriation is the taking over of something, and in the literary sense, it’s the taking over by the dominant group of the material of the less dominant.  Assimilation is the assuming of qualities in the majority.

As a newly blind person, I faced issues of appropriation and assimilation long before I became a writer.  I made a conscious effort to continue many of the nonverbal communication techniques of the sighted world.  I tried to remember to use facial expression.  I encouraged myself to keep gesturing, even though that often ended in contact with someone’s off-limits  body part.  But I bristled when people used my labels as emotional  negative ways, i.e., blind to her faults, deaf to our entreaties.  I criticized the icon, Helen Keller, for her adopting sighted language in her writing, even as I accidentally said, “See you later.”  I wanted to wear fashionable clothes and make-up to fit in to the sighted population. But I also wanted to express life as I experienced it.

So when I joined a writing group and met this particular author, I felt that she had every right to develop characters from cultures other than her own.  Not only should we write what we know, I thought, but we should write what we can truly learn about.  This woman did her research, so why shouldn’t she tell the stories she wants.

But then she told me, “I’ve been writing a book about a blind boy.”

“Now hold on,” I almost said.  Fortunately, I caught my hypocrisy and said, “I’d be happy to read it and offer suggestions.”

But I’m running into this problem as I try to market a biographical novel about a blind slave.  A month after sending it to a publisher, I received a rejection, saying that it would be difficult to publish a book about the exploitation of an African-american in this climate .  The book is multi-voiced in third person with very beefy research behind it.  And I think my window into the character is my blindness.

But I have a friend that I respect so fiercely who absolutely would not read or see “The Help,” because, as she put it, it was another White person telling our stories.”  This woman is a superb and successful writer.

So I still do dismay.

 

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Keeping my Edge

If I were to review my blogs, I’d probably find that I’ve spent a good amount of time saying how disability is good for me.  I remember talking about being out of one’s comfort zone as a positive.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned that blindness has made me a better listener, even as I sometimes strain to hear in noisy situations.  I’ve pointed out  the pluses in being in a minority group insofar as it can foster empathy and purpose and action.  Truth is that I really believe it all.  In my case disability has been redemptive.

Until last night’s conversation with my son, I’d thought about blogging about the flip side of disability, the falls I take, the bruises I self-inflict. I’ve taken to wearing a visor around the house so that the brim hits the tabletop or open door before my face does.  I’ve tried to find cushiony knee pads to protect my knees not only from falls, but from bumps into the piano bench or other annoying obstacle.

But last night our son talked about his work in corporate America, and I realized again the degree of stress involved. I heard myself saying that 60-hour  plus weeks constitute too  much stress.  But his response was that getting too  comfortable would make him “lose his edge.”  And that clicked with me.  Challenges keep us mentally sharp, and so again, I slip into the optimist about the overall good of my situation.  My minister last Sunday spoke of our suffering mattering—that our stress and our difficulties, we hope, should be meaningful.

And that’s where my personal experience doesn’t translate to so so much of the suffering in the world, past and present.

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Sunglasses

 

You probably think that most people without sight wear sunglasses for appearance reasons.  Whether blind from birth or through accident or illness, many of us with impaired vision consider our God-given eyes more liability than asset.  Of course some people without sight can see enough that the sun’s glare also hurts their eyes.  Others wear them for protection.  Although my eyes don’t work, for instance, they still feel pain.  So when I smash into a low-hanging tree branch, I wince and probably swear.

But now there’s another reason yu might see us in sunglasses, and it’s all thanks to Snapchat. Our sunglasses just may contain built-in cameras.  So beware, because we just may be recording your every embarrassing move.

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Uber

 

 

I’m very excited.  I’m now aspiring to a second career, well, third, actually.  Wait, even fourth, third grade teacher, Teen therapist, writer, and now:  drum rool….Uber driver.  I can picture myself, driverless car, possibly a little red convertible, Dave in the front seat in harness, sitting tall, ears erect.   I’d be so conversational and cheerful, the way I was as a summer waitress at beach resorts like Nantucket Island.  Cconversational and cheerful cover bundles of missing skill sets, so touch your Uber app in a few months after Pittsburgh nails this down, of course, you know when the cars can change lanes by themselves.  Just tap Sally and Dave, red convertible, four minutes.

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Comfort zone In the last ten years, our son has lived in six different cities and taken six different jobs, all with the same company, all promotions. He is a very quick study, so gets to know the highlights of Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Boston, Irvine/Newport Beach, and San Francisco rapidly, as well as getting to know his new bosses and his employees. “But,” I asked him recently, “at what toll?” To be sure, the changes create a lot of stress, he says. One of the advantages of growing up is that each of us often has a choice about how much stress we’re forced to undergo. We don’t have to do calculus again or another class amounting to mental or emotional struggle. We can limit the activities that make us feel like a fool. Unless we develop a disability. As a person who is deaf and blind, I am often not in my comfort zone. No matter how beautifully I keep up my guide dog’s training, he drags me to an irresistibly fragrant pole or pedestrian. No matter how graceful I want to be, I still gesture and knock over a wine glass. I step off the sidewalk and fall on a divot in a broken concrete driveway. My disabilities launch me often into a discomfort zone. And then I’ve chosen to be a writer, which means rejection and then perseverance, perspiration. I’ve elected to be a teacher, which offers the possibility of mutiny, or at least challenge, so I prepare madly and constantly. I often feel too busy and don’t luxuriate enough. But in my conversation with our son about the pressure he has been under for a decade, I heard myself saying, “But what would happen if you live most of the time in your comfort zone? What if you hadn’t been challenged and lived always in the same town, with the same job, seeing only people like yourself, doing only the things you were good at? How much would you grow?” “I hear you,” my son said. And my words struck me, too. Too much discomfort, and life could become unbearable. But there’s definitely a trap living too much in the comfort zone. How can we keep learning? How can we develop empathy, something that seems in short supply today? With that said, I’ll step from the comfort of my laptop, a.k.a. pulpit, and head up to the busy shopping area of our neighborhood. I won’t face the discomfort of physical injury, but of embarrassment from my own or Dave’s mistakes. Ah, isn’t there a statute of limitations on this emotion?

In the last ten years, our son has lived in six different cities and taken six different jobs, all with the same company, all promotions.  He is a very quick study, so gets to know the highlights of Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Boston, Irvine/Newport Beach, and San Francisco rapidly, as well as getting to know his new bosses and his employees.  “But,” I asked him recently, “at what toll?”

To be sure, the changes create a lot of stress, he says.

One of the advantages of growing up is that each of us often has a choice about how much stress we’re forced to undergo.  We don’t have to do calculus again or another class amounting to mental or emotional struggle.  We can limit the activities that make us feel like a fool.

Unless we develop a disability.  As a person who is deaf and blind, I am often not in my comfort zone.  No matter how beautifully I keep up my guide dog’s training, he drags me to an irresistibly fragrant pole or pedestrian.  No matter how graceful I want to be, I still gesture and knock over a wine glass.  I step off the sidewalk and fall on a divot in a broken concrete driveway.  My disabilities launch me often into a discomfort zone.

And then I’ve chosen to be a writer, which means rejection and then perseverance, perspiration. I’ve elected to be a teacher, which offers the possibility of mutiny, or at least challenge, so I prepare madly and constantly.  I often feel too busy and don’t luxuriate enough.

But in my conversation with our son about the pressure he has been under for a decade, I heard myself saying, “But what would happen if you live most of the time in your comfort zone? What if you hadn’t been challenged and lived always in the same town, with the same job, seeing only people like yourself, doing only the things you were good at?  How much would you grow?”

“I hear you,” my son said.

And my words struck me, too. Too much discomfort, and life could become unbearable.  But there’s definitely a trap living too much in the comfort zone.  How can we keep learning?  How can we develop empathy, something that seems in short supply today?

With that said, I’ll step from the comfort of my laptop, a.k.a. pulpit, and head up to the busy shopping area of our neighborhood. I won’t face the discomfort of physical injury, but of embarrassment from my own or Dave’s mistakes.  Ah, isn’t there a statute of limitations on this emotion?

 

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