Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Editors, Words, and Being Present in the World

I have been surprised by some of the reaction to an essay of mine that appeared in the Sunday, November 29, 2009, issue of The New York Times.

The essay came out on the page at over 2500 words, and the Times keeps Modern Love essays to 1800 words. I worked with the column editor, and then the essay went through copy-editing. There the process came aground temporarily on a sandbar in the form of the word "crippled."

The New York Times does not use the word in relation to people's physical condition. I had used the word purposely, for the same reason I used words like "gimp" and "crip" in my memoir: to take possession of the person I am.

I recognize myself as being "crippled." I do mind being "disabled," which was the suggested substitute, because it seems to echo in its perception of limitation my father's constant admonition against using the word "can't."

I suppose my objection to "disabled" was somewhat hypocritical since I would rather term myself a "person with a disability" rather than be identified one of those ugly terms like "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair."

On the other hand, I think the word "disabled" seems infinite, applying all the time in every circumstance, while " ... with a disability" suggests possibilities remain.

Neither the copy editor nor I got exactly the word we preferred. I suggested "paralyzed," and he agreed.

You can read the essay here.

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