Category Archives: Series of Sorts

Those “Repeat Features” that show up from time to time

Redefining Disability. Struggling with Understanding

Rose B. Fischer is hosting the Redefining Disability Awareness Challenge, and The Redefining Disability Project.  I find this whole project amazing.  There has been a lot of talk about diversity in writing (the We Need Diverse Books campaign being just one piece of this), but this is one of the few places where I have found talk about including diversity of “ability.”  As I can I want to participate in Rose’s Project — hopefully by actually responding to the questions posed, participating in the comment threads on her blog and, most certainly, sharing the original posts here on my blog.

There is a rough schedule of upcoming topics and posts which can be found on her site for those who want to read somewhat more coherent explorations of these topics!

A place to start with understanding “disability” is with the challenge of language itself.  This word can mean so many different things, to so many different people.   I like the way that Rose has set out her understanding of the term “disability” for use in this project, so I’ll go with that, even though I still struggle with the term “disabled.”

For the purposes of this project, a disability is anything that has a medical or biological origin and substantially complicates or impedes one or more major life activities….This project takes the view that “disability” itself is not a problem but  a natural part of human experience. All so-called disabilities are natural, even if their origins relate to physical or mental trauma. I don’t equate “disabilities” with problems or limitations on an individual level. The concept of disability is a cultural construct, and the problem is with the society that limits people, not with the individuals whose bodies function differently than the perceived norm.

Rose B. Fischer

The awareness challenge is 52 questions exploring disability, your own experiences, thoughts, and reflections.  I’ve been meaning to tackle these for a while, and when I sat down to start responding to the specific questions for this second post of the Redefining Disabilities project I found myself wanting to give some background before I jumped in.  So, I give you Question #1 of the Challenge:

  1. What is your experience with disability? — Do you have disabilities? Do you have loved ones who live with disabilities? Do you work with people who have disabilities?

I have had loved ones with disabilities, I have worked with individuals with disabilities, and I experience things that could be classified (by the definition we are using) as disabilities.  I started writing this whole long catalog, about my experiences, about what I have learned from others, and what I have learned from myself.  But, it is unnecessary.  Yes, the answer to these questions is yes.  I have experiences with disabilities, with my own, with loved ones, with people I have worked with.

A few snippets I will share:

Watching the wonder and awe of three-year-old children as they discover the world around them, not caring that one of their friends has a more challenging time in balancing, or can’t hear as well, or doesn’t quite comprehend the same concepts at the same levels as they do.  None of those things matter when you are watching a butterfly break free from a chrysalis, or seeing how big of a mess you can make with the paint before your poor teachers realize what you’ve done.

Realizing the very many different ways we can “hear” music, and what a comfort those varying vibrations can be.

Deciding that I kind of love the phrase “Special Needs,” but only when I can explain how I am using it, because in my mind we all have special needs.  Each of us are special and unique, different and diverse, and isn’t it wonderful when we get to work in a situation where all of those unique needs are cared for and paid attention to, regardless of what “labels” you may have been given?  (Because, believe me, there were times when the children labeled “special needs” needed far less attention and care and adaptation than the ones who were identified as “normal.”

The exploration of this particular moment of the Disability Awareness Project is around the matter of Disability as a Social Construct.  These were the questions presented:

What social definitions/labels have others applied to you? What definitions or labels have you chosen for yourself?  When you hear the word disability, what do you think of?  What do you think about current media portrayals of people with disabilities?

Here’s the thing.  I don’t have a diagnosis, and have never identified, personally, with the phrase “disabled.”  I have faced a lot of health challenges in the past decade (wow…it’s been a decade), and I am not ruling out the possibility that I have a chronic disease that could be classified as a disability.  But it is not a term that I have used, or even embrace.   Some of that may well because of my understanding of disability as it is portrayed around me.

There are plenty of other labels that I have been given, labels I claim and labels that I have been given: white, female, overweight, geek, nerd, straight, girly, ally, historian, writer, author, liberal, christian, non-christian, religious, spiritual, weird, reader, gamer, dancer, wannabe, dreamer, friend, daughter, sister, twin…. so many labels, sometimes accurate, sometimes not, occasionally contradictory, at times confining.  I’ll explore the whole concept of labels more at another time, though.

As I alluded to in my earlier response, I have worked (and currently do work) with people who have the “disability” label.  It’s really been a theme through my life, and perhaps part of the reason I can’t quite bring myself to claim the same.   Because I don’t see what I am dealing with on a day-to-day being on the same level.  Though I struggle to find the right balance to have enough energy to get through the day, and I have had to work very hard to, basically, re-learn how to learn, and I sometimes am unable to process things as well as I know I should, I don’t consider myself to have a disability.

There are multiple reasons behind this, but a large part is because I don’t see my challenges as part of what is generally portrayed as being a disability.  In the world around me, disabilities have labels, accommodation that need to be made, some sort of limitations, and restrictions.  I realize that this is exactly part of the social construct that is being talked about — but at the same time, it’s a part of my experience.

It is not something I want to identify with, even though I do have limitations, have to create my own accommodations, and have to listen with extra care to the signals my body sends me.  Not because I think that anyone who claims these labels, who seeks out accommodations, who needs help or faces “limitations” is somehow lesser — but because I feel like if I were to claim so would be a sort of cultural misappropriation.   That challenge that there are those whose lives really are defined by their disabilities, who have struggled far more than I have.

At the same time, that for me those things that could be defined as disabilities are things I am working to “fix” and overcome.  I have accepted that there are some things about my life that are different now, but they do have a great influence on the way I interact with the world.  I can’t pretend that they don’t.  I can’t pretend that they haven’t become an important part of who I am, of my identity, even if they are not things that I readily share with others — even if they are things that are quite nearly (or entirely) invisible to the everyday person I interact with.

This thought catches me up so much that, try as I might, I can’t answer the questions.  I can’t explore the ways that I see current media portraying disabilities because I start to struggle with grasping what the term even means.  Even using the earlier mentioned definitions, I struggle.  Which is, honestly, part of why I am so interested in this project.  The idea of further exploring not just what “disabled” may mean, and how it is portrayed, but also ways to write characters who are “disabled” in some way where such a thing does not define them.  I know that, all too often in modern storytelling a disability is treated as something to overcome.

Actually, there is an example that I can think of from modern storytelling that, to some extent, seems to show a character that would traditionally be considered disabled who is allowed to be a character, not defined by her disability but simply a part of who she is.  That’s Becky, from Glee.  A character with Downs Syndrome, it certainly does appear as part of the plot at times, but she is a person all her own.  Sometimes a challenging person, one you don’t even always like (at least, I don’t), as full a character as anyone else (honestly, sometimes a fuller character than anyone else).

Okay, so I’m not entirely sure where this post went.  Did I address the questions?  Have I furthered the conversation?  Am I simply running in circles?  Pretty sure I’m taking in circles, and probably even contradicting myself in the process.

I have struggled with this post so much that it’s become one of those ones I feel like I have to post.  Though the coherence may be iffy, and it may raise more questions than it even attempts to explore, it is where my thoughts currently run — and one of the reasons I find this entire project so interesting, and so important.


Young Minds And Books: A Dangerous Combination?

Another great post for Banned Book Week.
“I think the question surrounding Banned Books Week and what’s happening in the schools is the same: can young people handle the difficult, even sordid truths about the human condition? ”
And “I have a question for those adults: at what point is it okay for kids to learn how to think, not what to think?” are two points that especially stand out to me!

Allison Maruska

This week is Banned Books Week, a week to contemplate the various works of literature that for whatever reason have historically been deemed too dangerous for public consumption. Where the Wild Things Are, The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Old Man and The Sea are among them. The one that surprised me the most was A Light in the Attic. Many of these books were written for young readers and placed on banned lists by adults claiming to guard the interests of said young readers. Tuck that away for later because I’m coming back to it.

Something else has happened this week, and I’m trying to decide if its overlap with Banned Books Week was planned or coincidental. In the suburb of Denver where I grew up, teachers and students from several high schools, including the one from which I graduated, are striking and staging protests against a…

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Banned Books Week: Harry Potter and the Handwritten Warnings

Wow.. I’ve never seen one of these “here is what this book is actually about” sheets taped into a book! Interesting reflection… and as always, it’s interesting to learn the way that things can differ so greatly from region to region.

Hannah Reads Books

Doesn’t that sound like a Harry Potter title? 😉 Bear with me through the Harry Potter remembrances, I do have a point.

Amazon Amazon

Over the weekend, while Banned Books Week was getting under way, I saw various blog posts listing popular and well-respected books that have been challenged. Harry Potter is usually on the list, and there have been SO many comments saying “Harry Potter? Really? Why?” and things of that nature.

If you missed the Harry Potter controversy, I envy you. (Not only) in Alabama, it was a huge deal. Parents had meetings. There were ban attempts. People wrote and read books about whether or not it was demonic or would entice children into witchcraft. (Thankfully they seem to have fallen off the radar — I can’t find the one I remember most or I would link it.) It was common to broach the subject in a deeply apologetic…

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Banned Book Week: A Few Favorites

I wanted (want?) to read tons of books this week.  Seeing lists of books that have been banned and challenged  I’ve been doing a lot of: “Oh!  I remember that book!  I should read that again!” or “Oh! I’ve been meaning to read that one!”  If I had all the time in the world I would read them all (yes, every single one… I’ve got all the time, right?) But, I don’t… I have rather limited time honestly, so instead I will settle with reading one of them (To Kill a Mockingbird) and explore some memories and thoughts about a handful of favorites that made it to the 2000-2009 top 100 list of banned books.  These books spoke to me, for one reason or another, and have stuck with me (even though some of them I haven’t read for over 20 years).

Harry Potter (Series), by J.K. Rowling (occult/Satanism and anti-family themes)

10I came to these books a bit late, the first few were already out when I started reading them sometime late in college.  I love this series, fun stories, and I really appreciate how seed were planted in the early books that become important and relevant books later.  I very much admire the books from a writing perspective.  But even more than that — I remember Harry Potter being the first books that I saw everywhere.  Kids that I knew normally hated reading were burying themselves in these stories.  Addictive tales that introduced so many to the magic of reading.
As for the reasons for it’s challenge… I am always challenged by the idea of “occult/Satanism” behind a ban, and know that those who present this reason are generally coming from a religious understanding that I just can’t wrap my head around.   As a lover of, and writer of, fantasy stories, where I create magic systems and gods, I don’t think I need to say much about how I feel about that argument.  But the anti-family themes kind of surprises me.  Yes, there are certainly some challenging families in the stories, but the series can also, very much, be read as being about the power of family — and the power of created families.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group)

13214I read this in 8th Grade, as part of an after-school Honors English program.  It was powerful.  I don’t even remember what it was we were focusing on within the text, but I know a few things still stand out to me, foremost among them the beauty of Maya Angelou’s language.  Her writing drew me in, and even through parts of her life experience were very hard to read, the language had a beauty and power to it.

And one of the reasons for this book being challenged is one of the ones that often makes me want to stand up and shake people.  HAve you notice how books that talk about race, and a great many books written by people who happen to not be white get on the list for “racism”?  Is this a case of “if we pretend it doesn’t exist it doesn’t exist?” because, that’s certainly how it seems to me.   No, you can’t talk about racial inequality… you can’t have characters that face racism… that is inappropriate.  How does this make sense?

Be sure to check out Hannah Given’s Banned Book Blog Party, and Book Journey’s Banned Book Week Features!

Tomorrow... More of my book-reflections, and an exploration of that stubborn “unsuited to age group” reason.

Banned Book Blog Party

 Banned Book week is here!

I dislike that such a thing needs to exist… but I welcome the chance to celebrate some of those books that I love, which have made their way to the Banned and Challenged books lists.  The freedom to read the books which call to you is important to me.  So I love the chance to participate in the Banned Book Blog Party, hosted by Hannah Givens.

No books have ever been “off-limits” to me.  I’ve spoken before about how one of our regular forms of entertainment was to go to the library.  Mom would let us run loose through the building, the only limitation on the books we checked out being, “will you really read them all before we come back?”  I would enter that place like someone stepping up to an oasis, thirsty to get as many books as I could.  And I would leave like someone departing for a long journey, arms loaded with books of all sorts.

When I began to develop an interest in Holocaust Literature (at a ridiculously young age), Mom did nothing to stop me.  She did, I would much later find out, read many of the books that I checked out, but never once told me I couldn’t check them out.  When I began to express interest in writing Mom let me read the romance novels my aunt had written, because here was a published author that I knew.  Perhaps some would have said the material was a little advanced for a middle-schooler, but that was no reason for me to not try — and it helped me immensely to be able to read something and say “My Aunt wrote this!”  Taking the author off the pedestal and making me realize they are real person, that it wasn’t an impossible dream.

And when I look at the lists of books that have been banned and challenges… so many of them are books that held such important places in my life.  I remember once, when I was in High School, writing a letter to the editor, which got printed in the Oregonian (the first time I saw my name in print, next to something I had written, in a non-school-related publication), in response to an article about a group trying to remove The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum.  The argument they made (as seems to be made often) was the use of “The N word.”  But I had just finished reading this in school, and the conversations we had around the book, the language used in the book, and what Mark Twain was saying with this book had been powerful conversations.

I perused the ALA list of the top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009, and these ones especially stood out at me:

  1. Harry Potter (Series), by J.K. Rowling
  2. And Tango Makes Three, by Justic Richardson/Peter Parnell
  3. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  4. His Dark Materials (series), by Phillip Pullman
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  6. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  8. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  9. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  11. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
  12. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
  13. Blubber, by Judy Blume
  14. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  15. The Great GIlly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
  16. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
  17. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
  18. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  19. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  20. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
  21. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
  22. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
  23. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
  24. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  25. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
  26. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  27. Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume.

These books I list, not because I am surprised that they have all been banned or challenged… I knew that many of them were on that list (though there were a few surprised for me Junie B?  The Upstairs Room? The Things They Carried? What?!) but I am somewhat surprised that over 1/4 of the list of frequently challenged books in those years are ones that I have read — many of them ones I really love and that helped me in some way.  A few of these spark such memories for me, many I own, may even made the Big Move, and survived the purge of psychical-copy books because they were so important.  It makes me sad, downright sad, and more than a little upset, that someone, somewhere, believed that they were doing right by trying to keep others from reading these books.

Bit by bit through the rest of this week I’ll take some time to visit the ones that spoke most to me — why I think they’re good books, important books.


For now, here are some other places that are exploring the issue of Banned Books today:

Cindy Grigg, “These 19 Frequently Challenged Books might Surprise You – Banned Books Week 2014

Protecting “The Books That Will Never Be Written”: Judy Blume’s Fight Against Censorship.

Banned Book Week: And Tango Makes Three. Hannah Givens

Banning Books, Banning Voices: A Banned Book Week Post, Part Time Monster.

Powell’s Books list of Banned Books

Banned Book Week

ALA Banned Books Page

For a collection of many Banned Book Week Posts that were published during the week, check out the pinterest board!

If We Were Having Coffee (6)

Coffee time.  I’m a bit bedraggled this morning, don’t mind the blurry eyes and yawning.  Last night I made some frustrating discoveries, but nothing can be done about them until Monday.  Monday lunch-break on the phone trying to iron things out is not what I want to do, and though I can’t do anything about it until Monday, I wasn’t able to sleep well last night.  Well, once I got to sleep… decided to push through some editing first, and got to remember how much I love one of the upcoming characters in Disparate Threads.  I know parents aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but are authors allowed to have favorite characters… because I certainly do.

It wasn’t really a bad week, other than a few “eyebrow-raised” moments at some people who passed through the office.  The school year is starting up soon, so we are seeing a lot of lost people looking for admissions or advising.  How they find their way to our office when the people who are supposed to be there can’t seem to ever discover where we are is beyond me.

Outside of work, I decided to host a social “Season” on the blogs — you should take a look at it and host an event!  The more people who participate, the more fun it will be!

I got to go out on Friday night Continue reading If We Were Having Coffee (6)

If We Were Having Coffee (5)

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy this feature?’s supposed to be a beautiful day here today, so let’s grab our coffee outside.  Enjoy the sun before it gets too hot today, and before it starts spending its days tucked behind the clouds.

I’m actually looking forward to a somewhat laid-back week and weekend coming up.  Today I feel kind of like I’ve been running a marathon, it seems like there’s just been so much happening.

This week I spent much of my time wrangling HTML, fonts, and wording.  At work I’m working on a manual about my job, and also helping revamp our webpage so… lots of word-crafting, and playing with HTML to get pages how I want them.  On top of that, I’ve been coming home and finding myself wrangling more layout and HTML over on Disparate Threads – I have a vision for how I want things to work, and realized that I have enough content now that I can start creating the bones for that vision… and hopefully Continue reading If We Were Having Coffee (5)