Happy Christmas! Daisy the Gator cartoon #2

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Happy Snappy Christmas!

Daisy the Gator #2

Panel One: Two Weeks Before Christmas.

Elinor is sitting at a table writing a huge stack of Christmas cards. Gator sits on the floor beside her with her tablet. She’s on Snapchat.

Elinor says, “Aren’t you sending any Christmas cards, Gator?”

Gator says, “Nope.”

Panel Two: Christmas Morning.

Elinor sits in her armchair holding one Christmas card with one small present beside her. Gator dances about in front of the fireplace waving cards with another huge stack of Christmas cards behind her and a huge pile of presents at her feet.

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Book Review: Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Earth Girl (Earth Girl, #1)Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable book, both charming and compelling. It painted a fascinating picture of a far-future society and ruined New York.

Possibly I’d have given it 4.5 stars on Goodreads if I’d had the option as I found the beginning a little slow and occasionally Jarra’s seeming ability to do everything did become a little grating (although late in the book the other characters tease her about this which greatly offsets this issue). But in the end I had to give it 5 stars because it’s not only a great read but it’s a *really good* book about disability, which is a rare thing indeed. Jarra is by no means a stereotype. She’s neither a saintly waif nor a bitter and twisted sinner. She’s neither helpless and tragic nor superhuman. She’s just a fairly ordinary, capable and determined young woman. So the book handles the disability issue superbly well even though Jarra’s “disability” wouldn’t actually be a disability at all for anyone in 2016. But maybe that’s the whole point. Disability is a fluid term and is as much about a society’s definition of what is “normal” as a person’s own limitations. I only wish there were more books like this.

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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. How not to write disability.

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I decided quite a long while ago not to do negative reviews. I write fiction myself, I know how tricky it can be. But this book perpetuates a really unfortunate stereotype which needs to be highlighted–the idea that life with a disability is so terrible it isn’t worth living.

 

The book ends with the assisted suicide of the disabled character, Will Traynor. Now I’m not opposed to assisted suicide under any circumstances. On the contrary, I acknowledge some medical conditions are truly dreadful and I believe people should have the right to end their lives if they choose when their medical situation has become intolerable for them. But Will Traynor really isn’t badly off. On the contrary, his life looks full of promise. Yes, he’s now a wheelchair user, but he still has partial use of his hands. He has full use of his senses and his intelligence. He has no problems communicating. He’s wealthy. He’s an educated man and still an attractive one. An appealing woman loves him and wants to be with him. His life from a sitting position is surely full of possibilities. Indeed he could easily have continued being a lawyer. He has so much to live for (okay, being a lawyer isn’t what I’d choose, but whatever). He has absolutely no need to spend the rest of his days wallowing at home in self-pity.

Now I have a confession to make: I didn’t read the entire book. In fact I only read up to page 50, then glanced ahead. Reading is supposed to be a happy or at least enlightening experience, but reading this I found mentally draining, so I did myself a favour and gave up. But even reading just this far it was clear the main premise wasn’t the only problem. For instance, the viewpoint character, Lou, is initially portrayed as being terrified of meeting the disabled character, Will Traynor. From page 24:

“I pictured myself wiping the drool from the old man’s mouth, maybe asking loudly, “DID HE WANT A CUP OF TEA?””

And from page 35:

“What if he just stared at me, head lolling, all day? Would I be freaked out?”

Then the first time she actually meets him, Will Traynor does a mocking impression of someone with cerebral palsy in an attempt to scare her further, an impression worthy of the famous Donald Trump clip where the future president mocked a journalist by mimicking his disability.

But even worse than the mocking is Lou’s reaction. She describes what she sees as though what we are witnessing here is something out of a horror novel. For instance:

“… After a pause, he let out a bloodcurdling groan. Then his mouth twisted, and he let out another unearthly cry.”

Unearthly? Really?

And this:

“another prehistoric sound emerged from somewhere near his chest. It was a terrible, agonising noise.”

It goes on in this manner for half a page or so.

The point is, if Will Traynor’s impression was sufficiently accurate that Lou believed he really did have cerebral palsy or a similar disability, why was she seeing it in such dramatic terms? Why was it scaring her this much? What’s the matter with the woman? I’ve known lots of people with cerebral palsy and they really aren’t scary people. A certain amount of nervousness would have been understandable in particular because it was her first day in a new job, but this much made it sound like she thought Will was a monster.

Of course Lou’s terror was surely set up as a straw dog, ie. deliberately established early in order to knock her prejudice down later when she came to love Will as a person rather than as a scary disability. But this kind of trick places in the reader’s mind the idea that it’s “okay” and “normal” to be scared of someone with a disability, when really we need to get society past that.

But this book exists, and it’s popular, and I and other people with disabilities will have to live with it. Although how we’ll ever teach people to understand what it’s really like to have a disability when people with disabilities are portrayed like this in fiction I’ll never know. And how can we ever allow assisted suicide to become legal for those who really need it when people are being told mere wheelchair use is enough to make a life not worth living?

As long as books like this are published and continue to be popular, society’s understand of disability will surely remain poor. So shame on you Penguin Random House for publishing it. And let’s hope, in time, the publishing industry will get better at portraying disability in their volumes.

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Posted in disability, paralympics, personal, reviews, Uncategorized, writing

Daisy the Gator #1

I’ve started a new comic strip. Here it is!

daisy-the-gator-1-us-election-nov-2016

Daisy the Gator #1

 

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Panel 1: Picture of Daisy the Gator lying on the ground, with a thought bubble over her head reading: “They should let me vote in the US election.”

Panel 2: Picture of Daisy with a ballot paper. Hillary, Trump and Green Party on the ballot paper. Gator has voted Green because she is a very vivid green.

Panel 3: Picture of human Elinor in wheelchair with speech bubble: “What are you doing, Gator? You can’t vote. You’re not American. You’re the only known example of Alligator Britannia, not Alligator Mississippiensis.”

Panel 4: Happy looking Gator with envelope.

Panel 5: Gator walking along with envelope, thinking. With thought bubble: “All gators are American. Unless they Chinese. Me not Chinese. Must be American.”

At the bottom: message to Join Gator’s Gang (aka E. Caiman Sands’ free mailing list) for more cartoons and free fiction. Sign up at: ecaimansands.com/newsletter/

 

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Book Review

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a powerful book about the oppression of women by men in a future fundamentalist Christian America. The theme is one that stays with you. I’m sure this is a book I won’t forget too quickly.
Women have lost all rights and independence in this society. Certain women including the protagonist are passed around amongst the male elite and are treated as mere objects designed for producing babies. Women themselves, especially older women, are instrumental in enforcing this situation.
I gave this book four stars not five stars for a couple of reasons. First I didn’t think it was quite as well-written as Atwood’s later book, Oryx and Crake, which I read a few years ago. And also because I found certain parts a little bit hard to believe, vague and lacking in detail. For example, the apparent ease with which the president and Congress were swept away; and the rather vague explanations for why there was a fertility crisis. In this respect I’m not sure the book is exactly good science fiction, although it certainly is science fiction despite what Margaret Atwood has occasionally claimed. But I enjoyed it and most of all am pleased I read it. I will surely remember it.

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Paralympics: Should it be merged with the Olympics?

So the Paralympics is drawing to a close and the big question is, was it all worth it? The games certainly didn’t get off to a good start. The entire Russian team was banned and there were huge questions over whether Brazil was going to be able to fund it. Once it got started, though, all these problems seemed to die away. The African states who were threatened with not receiving their travel money received their funds; the banned Russian team were quietly forgotten. Even the empty seats were filled when the Brazilians wisely reduced the ticket price so that citizens could actually afford to get in.

I started this blog post fully meaning to say no, it’s not worth it and that the Paralympics should be merged with the Olympics. Although disability sport isn’t a topic I’ve ever given a lot of thought to, for a long time I’ve supported an inclusive rather than a segregated approach as I do with all (or most) aspects of disability. At a fundamental level, segregation of disabled people is little different than segregation on grounds of race or gender. If women’s events are included in the Olympics, why not disabled people’s? People with disabilities are being marked out as inferior by their very separation. If we’re going to have commercialised disability sport at all it ought to be part of the main Olympics.

The Paralympics began in post-war Britain and at that time institutionalised segregation was the norm. But unlike other parts of British life it hasn’t been undone.

In the course of writing this blog post, though, and more particularly watching the enthusiasm of Brazil for its own games, I’m no longer so sure a segregated games isn’t for the best. It does seem likely that as a standalone event the Paralympics has a greater social impact. That’s likely to be particularly true in host cities where the necessity of staging a large event and welcoming lots of elite international disabled athletes can hardly fail to have some kind of positive effect. Also, in those countries like Britain that do choose to televise the games, the media coverage is surely greater than it would otherwise be.

In the ideal society I still believe the Paralympics and Olympics would be merged, but I’m not convinced that ideal point will ever be reached. Disabled people will never really be understood by most people. I’ll write more about why I think that is the case in future blog posts. But for now the best we can do is put aside the ideals and opt for what works best in the real world.

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Comparison of countries’ performance in the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games


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Paralympics: Marcia and the Fall

The Paralympics opening ceremony took place last night and I began this morning by tweeting my favourite part: Amy Purdy’s interesting, elegant and thought-provoking dancing with a robot routine. Forget my novel-in-progress. The cyborgs are already here!

But then I started looking through everyone else’s tweets and honestly, I wish I hadn’t bothered. The most tweeted part certainly wasn’t the robot dance; indeed I didn’t spot one tweet about that. It wasn’t the dances by the blind couple or the hair raising flying-wheelchair-through-flaming-ring stunt either. It wasn’t the lighting of the torch. It wasn’t even the booing of the Brazilian President. No, it was the part where torch bearer Marcia Malsar fell on her ass.

The excuse given for endlessly retweeting Marcia’s mishap is that it illustrates “courage” and “determination.” But to my mind celebrating a disabled person for falling on her ass, even if she did climb back to her feet and eventually complete  a short walk–something most people can do easily (though not me I might add)–is merely patronizing. There’s even a word for it: “inspiration porn.” Worse, these kinds of attitudes are potentially damaging as they place unreasonable demands on disabled people. Overly celebrating ordinary daily functions like walking not only infantilize adult disabled people but are even more dangerous for children. Kids are already liable to lose much of their childhoods in physiotherapy rooms or being surgically altered because over-eager parents and medical staff want to “fix” them to fit some kind of imaginary norm; when you add the emotional element of “inspirational child overcoming their disability” to the mix, the poor kid is doomed. So when they should be sitting in classrooms getting an education or out playing with other kids getting socialized with the rest of humanity, they’re shut away being encouraged to take one more agonizing step than they managed yesterday.

I suspect Marcia falls on her ass a lot. Get used to it! That’s just how she gets around, nothing inspirational about it. It’s also notable that all those tweets omit why Marcia was chosen as a torch bearer in the first place. According to a couple of British newspapers she was the first Brazilian paralympian to win a gold medal. She won it in 1984 in the 200m when clearly she was a lot younger and presumably didn’t fall down. Although I’m the first to admit I’m something of an agnostic when it comes to many competitive disability sports, in fact that I’m an agnostic towards the idea of all commercialized competitive sports, I’d still be a lot less dismayed by the human race’s attitude to disability if Marcia was simply recognized for her wobbly sprint back then rather than for falling down and dropping the torch yesterday.


I’ll likely be posting more disability-related posts during Paralympics season. If you liked this post please do follow the blog, or join my new Gator’s Gang mailing list to make sure you don’t miss them.

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