Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Riding Lessons, the Summary, the Finale

Once again, into the breech, with what I hope will be the final version of the summary for my upcoming memoir, tentatively titled Riding Lessons: Learning by the Seat of My Pants and scheduled to be published by the University of Iowa Press in Fall 2008. Too many writing friends helped me with this revision to credit here. I cling to the idea that the central elements of The Summary are mine.
Riding Lessons is an intimate story that begins with "a vaccine accident" and then evolves into wryly-told first-person history about disability in America.

At age 17, a week after receiving the final inoculation in the Salk series, the author woke up in an iron lung with both lumbar and bulbar poliomyelitis burning away his spinal cord. In 1959, there were no attorneys eager to sue the pharmaceutical companies, no government funds to allay the costs a severe permanent disability inflicts on a middle-class family, and no instruction manual for living as a disabled person in our society.

When he was freed from the iron lung and sent home to navigate a wheelchair through an inaccessible world, the author found a ramp leading to his front porch. His father had hammered it together in an afternoon from raw lumber and two-penny nails. That home-made ramp was built 42 years before the enactment of Americans with Disabilities Act to assure access and accommodations for people with disabilities. In the meantime, the writer survived self-pity, isolation, and the lack of disability resources in part because of his family's refusal to pamper him. The author read, wrote, and endured until his frustration turned to stoicism and his emotional pain to an existentialist perception of the world from his seat on the sidelines.

Riding Lessons relates the journey of a boy who became a cripple, an invalid in the perception of the world he then knew, but finally emerged, transformed, as a man who refuses to be defined by disability.

In this spare but powerful memoir, Gary Presley, a writer with an appreciation for whimsy, irony, and the mystery of coincidence and chaos, explores the idea that, whether we experience life in a wheelchair or on our feet, we must sometimes must be sad, angry, or hurt to recognize and appreciate that ethereal connection to life we call happiness.

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