Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beyond Frustration: Thoughts from Writer Rebecca Coleman

I've been internet-acquainted with novelist Rebecca Coleman through the Internet Writing Workshop and other venues for several years. She sent a long comment about yesterday's post, and I asked for her permission to publish it as a guest post here.

What I think is valuable about your memoir (which I am 2/3 through) is the way it doesn't couch the actual emotional experience of living with disability. How the typical person wants to view those with disabilities is not what you offer in your book. And so people are probably unnerved reading about frustration and anger and feelings of loss that don't get wrapped up in a bow at the end and have an epilogue in which you run a 5K race.

That's their problem, in my opinion.

A significant problem in any marginalized community is the struggle not to let the dominant group define them, and that includes the definitions of how they should feel about their experience in the world.

I'm biased by knowing you, but with that in mind, I think it's not helpful for able-bodied reviewers to project onto your book what they had hoped you would say. If the reviewer is living with a disability, then there is more value in it because it shows a diversity of opinion within that community.

But in this case I can't tell which it is, and of course there's a school of thought that says it shouldn't matter. I just don't subscribe to that school.

When s/he talks about "harsh language," is the reference to the word "crip"? I think it's a debatable point. Having been the president of the campus gay/lesbian/bi organization in college, I'm very familiar with the idea of reclaiming a word for the sake of identity-- I was perfectly comfortable using the word "queer," for example.

But it can be troubling because if you yourself use a word in reference to yourself, you can't very well complain if others use it toward you, whether or not they are members of your community. To use a word in a joking way in a private setting between members of the same community is one thing, but once people start using it in front of a general audience, I think you get into some murky waters.

The word can lose its sting and shame, but it doesn't change the intent of an angry or bigoted person saying it ... it just costs you the right to be righteously indignant about it. And that's a general "you," not a "Gary you."

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