this is not a review: ‘falling for myself’, by dorothy ellen palmer

 

A few years ago on this site I told the story of watching a short man emerge from a large truck and how my mother, seeing the same thing, saw a handicapped man and how I just did NOT see the handicap. On the contrary, I saw resourcefulness in a world that was not built for his height. (And that if it were built to his height, well then, we’d be the ‘handicapped’ ones.)

I remember also a time when my sister, who had ALS, was confined to a wheelchair and the looks of outright peeved annoyance as I rolled her about some store or other, taking up, I guess, more room in the aisles than ‘normal’ people. I was shocked by these looks and later wondered if the people giving them were possibly the same people who, in a different situation, one that wasn’t inconveniencing them, looked at my sister with pity and prided themselves on their ‘compassion’, which probably more often than not translated into gratefulness for not being her.

My sister was also asked to please not attend the wedding of a close family friend (formerly close) because her wheelchair and generally emaciated and twisted appearance and inability to talk in anything more than grunts and slurs, was not the vibe the general wedding decor/party/event was going for.

Judgement.

All this, and more, comes to mind after reading Falling for Myself, by Dorothy Ellen Palmer, a memoir that addresses ableism and judgement and what Stella Young termed Inspiration Porn, (a reference to the way the disabled are treated differently, referred to as ‘inspiring’, and used to make the so-called ‘normal’ people feel better about themselves for a) not being disabled, and b) being ‘kind’ to those who are.

“In inspiration porn, the disabled person is reduced to the object, the silent prop. The heroic captain of the football team leans down and asks ‘a wheelchair girl’ to prom. A brave tech entrepreneur takes the ‘risk’ to hire a disabled programmer. A mega-millionaire basketball star drops by with cameras and has lunch, once, for ten minutes, with a  bullied, autistic child. In inspiration porn, the abled person is the hero; the disabled person is the second banana, the sidekick.”

Inside the cover (cleverly designed as an accessibility sign) Palmer writes from the place of someone who was born with the challenge of walking and staying upright. Her feet, as an adult, are size one and half, and two and half. She has given each foot a name. She also names her walking tools, her crutches, etc. She has done/continues to do much in her life as a teacher, activist, union executive, writer, and member of the Accessibility Advisory Committe of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). For starters. She is also a daughter and mother and citizen of a city and country that (like so many cities and countries) needs to take a look at how public spaces are built in order to accommodate both the disabled and able bodied equally.

Because the current tokenism that exists in the form of a designated parking space that is used by people who are not disabled and who justify that use since they’re only going to be a minute …. ditto that one wheelchair accessible stall in the loo… and a host of other issues knowable only to those who use chairs and walkers, who have impaired vision or hearing… isn’t going to cut it.

In a very conversational way, through frustration laced with humour, Palmer sheds light on an issue that shouldn’t exist but is, instead, sadly ubiquitous, and which stays hidden due to inspiration porn, ableism and much of the world patting itself on the back for NOT taking that parking spot.

Essentially, the book is about how she lives as a woman… also how she lives as a woman with a disability. The disability not being her body, she’s very content in her body… it’s the rest of the world that’s a bit of a challenge.

And if anyone reading this says well, heck, are we supposed to accommodate everybody??? The answer is a resounding YES. Because that would be the kind of progress that would actually benefit all of society, not just those who stand to make a profit from so-called ‘progress’.

“We all need to stop falling for the double lie that disabled people can be healed and should want to be healed.

Would love to see this as required reading in schools.

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday with words (the teachers matter edition)

Mr. Something Something, whose name I can’t remember but who I can still see so clearly standing in front of a grade nine English class in his flannel shirt and cords and the day he handed me back a paper I’d written and said that my work stood out, that I should continue writing. Or something to that effect. It’s possible I’ve overblown it in my mind over the centuries but the point is that’s what it felt like and I can’t begin to think how often this tiny sliver of a tenuously remembered moment has come to mind since then and still does, giving me a boost just when I need it because even though my parents also liked my writing and auntie wotsit too and a few people since it’s his comment that stays with me.  I remember only that he was gentle and soft-spoken, passionate about words, and I have the vague sense that he wasn’t a conformist and therefore not loved by the mainstream and possibly taken advantage of by some of the students. I recall hearing, years later, that he eventually left teaching to drive a cab.

Mr. Bradley who introduced us to Dylan (Bob, not Thomas) by bringing in a couple of albums and a turntable and telling us to just listen. That was the whole class. At the time we were all….  huh????  But we listened. I can still time travel to that moment….

The art teacher who had Parkinson’s (I realize now) and walked the aisles of the class, head shaking, commenting, applauding, encouraging, suggesting.

Ms. Mackie, who was three hundred years old and looked like Santa’s wife, who seemed to live and breathe HomeEc and who shouted instructions like middle it, middle it!!! which had something to do with a gathering stitch and in whose class I made two aprons worthy of any runway. One, light purple with dark purple rick rack, the other paisley. My mother wore them until the end of time.

Mr. Vangeloff, the typing  teacher, who was short and stout and wore tweed suits and always a tie and white shirt and what little hair he had was wiry and long and combed over his bald pate, which, when he was annoyed (which was every day) would rise in a wiry matt to a 30 degree angle like a draw bridge and stay like that as he wandered about the room telling us to stop flapping our ruby red lips in the breeze.

His wife was an art teacher. I wasn’t in her class but she was loved for her grooviness, her long black hair and geometric print dresses and the way she turned a blind eye if she stumbled upon anyone smoking in the loo.

Unlike the French teacher, Ms. Whatever, who would stalk the loos in order to engage in her hobby of handing out detentions for smoking, lunch eating, or Euchre playing. Like wild animals we soon learned how to survive by recognizing the sound of her approaching footsteps, the click of her heel, and flush away any detention worthy evidence. Smoke? What smoke???

Mr. Merrick the gloriously mad science teacher. I hated science but adored him and so quite by accident I learned some science.

Ms. Thingy the gym teacher. Blech blech blech to gym. Made not better by her enthusiasm and muscley legs and assumption that everyone liked climbing rope ladders and what were we supposed to do with the parallel bars because are you kidding me?? She wore culottes and sneakers and drove a flashy green sports car. I saw her once in the real world and heard someone refer to her as Barbara and COULD NOT BELIEVE IT.

Because teachers, whether we adore them or not, seem, especially to our small selves, a little god-like, not only for the power they wield, though there’s that (though that’s less and less), but their influence on us, which I wonder how often we even realize the power of… then, and now.

Hats off to their memory.

And to those who continue to influence the future.

We are grateful.

 

 

 

say the word

 

I just read this wonderful piece about seventh graders asking for tampons in their school and the powers that be who denied the request because of worries that the girls would “abuse the privilege”.

Because tampons are so useful for things other than menstruation. (Actually, I happen to know from an episode of Sex and the City that they can be used to staunch a nosebleed when cut in half lengthwise).

So the kids, instead of whinging and wailing

and crying about the unfairness of everything,

decided to bake cookies. Tampon cookies.

Which is lovely in its own self-evident way, but what got me even more than the cookies and the chutzpah is what someone in the article said about how things have changed, how once upon a time no one would have dared even SAY the word ‘tampon’. And when you think about that… I mean really think about it… it’s entirely mad. The silencing of what is so utterly normal.

Menstrual trivia: Not until 1985 did the word ‘period’ even appear in advertising, although, of course, many products were advertised (for ‘female conditions’ and ‘time of the month’ and other euphemisms. It was Courtney Cox who had the honours of finally outing the word in a TV ad for Tampax.

But for all the distance we’ve covered, we are STILL in this place where girls and women are made to feel a warped sense of taboo about their own bodies.

**

Two summers ago, in order to promote Gush, a book of essays, poetry, and stories about menstruation,  I sat at a little table on the sidewalk in downtown Uxbridge, outside the Blue Heron Book Shop, and chatted with passersby about menstrual memories. What were their stories? Etc.

It actually went brilliantly, as in PEOPLE (women mostly, but some men too, god bless them) WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.

They just need to know it’s okay.

All that’s required is to normalize it. By saying the words. By asking the questions. By sharing stories that make us laugh and cry and want to change the world in tiny ways that are freeing. All of which toward the goal of changing things in bigger ways, as in, oh I don’t know… research into women’s health issues? which remain sadly underfunded and/or overlooked.

For starters.

Because we’re far from done with this subject.

(Slovenian graffiti in Ljubljana; courtesy of WikiCommons)

 

 

 

welcome!

 

It’s official.

We now live in Honey Boo Boo Ville.

All we need is a quick change of signage and some new stationery.

 

Greed. Just greed. Lest we wonder how this happened.

Also, it’s a sign we need to seriously look at our values as a society… and maybe talk to each other occasionally, not merely at each other. The divide will simply become greater and greater until we learn to really see and hear The Other. Whether or not we agree is irrelevant. Respect is more important than agreement.

And less anger. More conversation, more questions, more listening, and maybe one day we can meet in the middle somewhere, or close to it.

There has to be something worthwhile that comes of this. It’s a yin yang world after all.

 
 
 

whoa nellie!

 

I’m not a joiner of things, not a clubbish person generally. This has always been the case, although when I was about ten I invented The Boogie Woogie Club and invited friends to join. Amazingly, on opening day, a few showed up in my parents’ basement where we sat around until someone… Kathleen Erickson possibly… said so what’s this club about… I mean what do we do?

Good question, Kathleen, I thought. But I didn’t have an answer. To this day I have no idea what the Boogie Woogie club was supposed to be or why I’d thought of starting it. I do remember seeing the words boogie woogie  in a song title in one of my lesson books for accordion and, knowing me,
I probably just wanted to incorporate it… somewhere. A club with no purpose would have seemed as good as anything.

The club disbanded shortly after Kathleen’s unanswered question and we headed over to the school to do long jumps in the sand pits. Or similar.

Which more or less brings me to 2018.

Where I find myself part of another group, only this time I’m not the inventor (which bodes well for the group’s future).

Also, this group has that essential ingredient: a purpose.

The Wild Nellies is the result of two women having coffee one day and wondering what they could do to benefit the lives of other women, specifically women moving on from abusive relationships. What they landed on was the idea of women celebrating women through various disciplines — visual art, music, literature, sharing their own work or the work of someone that’s inspired or influenced them in some way. The event would be free, they decided, and held in one of the area’s most wonderful spaces, and all of it would be done to bring attention to the needs of a local women’s shelter.

That they take their name from Nellie McClung — writer, legislator, suffragist, activist, public speaker, one of Canada’s original feminists, and a member of The Famous Five, who met over tea to change the political shape of this country by having it declared (after extraordinary campaigning) that women were indeed ‘people’ — is most fitting and wonderful (not the least of which wonderfulness being the coffee/tea origins).

Women have always found ways around being invisible, of having no voice, of being ‘talked over’ and told to be quiet, that their passion and their interest in fairness is too ‘shrill’—

(A woman who knows what she wants and gets it, is often seen as headstrong, difficult, a force of nature, while a man who knows what he wants and gets it, is a man who knows what he wants and gets it.)

—Yet despite not having their voices listened to, and the sometimes even greater obstacles of being isolated, unable to speak the language, being penniless, afraid for their lives, or tied down with childcare, women continue to find ways to meet, to gather, to band together and bring about change for the betterment of not just themselves, but for all women, for community, the benefits of which ultimately reach beyond gender.

Which brings us to 2018 again.

And the announcement today of new legislation that requires employers in Ontario to pay all workers equal wages for equal work. While it has, for some time, been technically illegal to base wages on gender… until now it’s been okay to pay part-time workers less than full-time for the exact same job. And those part-time workers are often women.

It seems there’s no end of bits to take care of and so the tradition of women gathering continues.

Put the kettle on!

One of the the things I love best about Nellie McClung is that she used her fiction, her writing, as a springboard to discuss relevant issues of the day. This was unusual for a woman at the time. Women were meant to write about fluff and leave it at that.

And it’s what I love best about her namesakes, The Wild Nellies, who propose to do the same thing… use their art to bring attention to important issues.

I’m so happy to be a small part of their first ‘performance’ at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery on April 8th, along with eleven other women who will use their artistic voices to honour and celebrate the power of female creators in sculpture, film, theatre, illustration, literature, music and more, and in the process hopefully be part of that women’s domino effect that continues to try and make this pale blue dot a fairer, safer, and better place for us all.

Note: I have no problem at all making an exception to my otherwise anti-clubbishness ways for these chaps. Also, I think long-jumping  might actually kill me at this point.

 

 

the war on litter: notes from the front line

 

Actually, not so much notes as questions.

For instance…

All those festively coloured bags of doggie doo-doo you see on boulevards, sidewalks, parks, woodlands. Are dog walkers notoriously butter-fingered, i.e. are all those bags unknowingly dropped? Or have they been set down with the idea of being retrieved on the return trip (after all, who wants to carry crud AND a Timmy’s while strolling) and then forgotten when a different route home is decided upon? Or just forgotten. And those baggies all chubby with doo doo tied to fences or hanging from trees. What is that??  The result of someone coming along, finding a dropped bag and thinking: hmmm… let’s see what could be the best possible move here… oh, I know!  Or do the dog walkers themselves use the baggies as a sort of code among themselves? (If so, please let me in on it, because I’m an occasional dog walker myself.)

Also… people who enjoy a walk (with or without furry friends), who choose to ramble in the pristine beauty of a forest, conservation area or field of buttercups, the beach or any shoreline… and yet somehow find it normal to drop their drinking cups, cans, bottles and chip bags like breadcrumbs as they go. Why are you walking in pristine beauty when you obviously don’t like pristine beauty? Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to stretch your legs at the dump? Wouldn’t you feel more at home there??  Serious question.

And speaking of cups, cans and bottles. (And bags of doo doo for that matter.) Please don’t chuck them under trees. It just makes it harder for me to ferret them out. (FYI — they don’t magically become invisible under there)

Oh, and to the black Honda with tinted windows in front of me as I left the Bulk Barn the other day, whose passenger threw a plastic cup out the window while I watched, stunned:  I’m sorry I didn’t gather my moxie in time to put my car in Park, get out, knock on your tint and ask you in my best inquiring-minds-want-to-know voice, what the [redacted] is wrong with you. Again, serious question:  How messed up is your life that you have so little regard for the planet and what can we do to help you?

And here’s something I learned recently… cigarette butts take forever to decompose. In the meantime they clog and poison land and waterways and are often found inside fish. Yum!  But even if they didn’t do all that harm, chucking your smokes is very Honey Boo Boo.  Seriously, people who empty ashtrays on parking lots or throw butts out car windows or onto the street… please go live on another planet. Because, wouldn’t you like that, to be among all your like-minded friends, each of you knee deep in schmutz??**

Serious question.

** Of course more garbage cans and public ashtrays wouldn’t go amiss either.

Write letters, people! Ask for what’s needed.

Read the story that goes with this pic, here.

From The Litter I See Project.

dear heather: quick question

 
 
Heather Stefanson
Minister of Justice and Attorney General
104 Legislative Building
450 Broadway
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0V8

 
 
Dear Ms. Stefanson:

Given the strong assumption going in that Raymond Cormier was Tina Fontaine’s murderer, and the wisdom of our infallible judicial system determining that he is not, I’m wondering what happens next. How does the case proceed from here, what steps will be taken to find Tina’s murderer?

I’m assuming efforts will be ramped up asap, yes?

Because there is a killer. (As far as I know it’s not possible for a person to wrap themselves in a duvet, then cover themselves with rocks in a river. Especially with an alcohol level ‘slightly higher than is legal for driving’ and ‘traces of marijuana’. Even for a First Nations girl.)

Because she was a girl.

And I’ll be blunt— please ask yourself… just imagine for a moment that she was a white girl, let’s even give her blonde hair and blue eyes, let’s make her pageant quality in perfection of all those things that don’t actually matter (but somehow do), including pedigree. And there she is, in the river, in a duvet, covered in rocks. And let’s imagine some low life happens to have been hanging around her, has threatened some unsavoury actions, even admitted to killing her in off-handed ways. But… his DNA wasn’t found on the Costco duvet. And so the low life is innocent and the blonde girl is… what? What happens next? Do you see what I’m asking?

That’s it really. A simple question.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN ORDER TO FIND TINA FONTAINE’S KILLER?

Because surely this isn’t an insignificant case. Surely it will be a precedent of some kind, if only to illustrate how easily a wrongful arrest can be made. (How did that even happen??)

After all, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, teenager of excellent pedigree, a citizen of Manitoba, was murdered in Winnipeg. Her family are distraught. Lives beyond hers are shattered. Oh, wait.

Well, same thing, right? Justice will not be served until the killer has been found!  Right? Right??

On the bright side, justice has  been served for Raymond Cormier. Thank god an innocent like him was spared from undue punishment. Glory be to the Canadian justice system as it serves white men and blonde girls.

Thanking you in advance for what I have no doubt is your deepest and most pressing attention to this… what shall we call it… this ‘matter’?

Sincerely,

 

carin makuz.

p.s. If you aren’t the best qualified to answer this question, feel free to pass it along to someone who is. There must be someone who is…