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  • a happy, ordinary, middle-aged, suburban woman who paints odd pictures, gardens in a straw hat, lives with the love of her life, is owned by one cat and the ghosts of several others, and walks a little funny 'cause she has a fake leg. She started this website because there's more to life than what we lose, and we need to let each other know what's possible, even if it's only a happy, ordinary life.

November 2011

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Good reads, grownups only

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Ron Sullivan

I'd wondered if you were seeing that Doonesbury set, but by the time I'd lurched from the breakfast table to the computer with my second cup of coffee, I invariably forgot it.

I'm that way about the N word.My parents raised me right, I guess. If we cussed (swore flippantly, took the name of the lordthygod in vain) we got pepper on our tongues. (This meant more to whitebread kids being raised in central Pennsylvania in the '50s than it would to, say, me now. It was an owie.) However, if we used the N word, there was that bar of Fels Naphtha soap on the windowsill over the sink by way of consequences. Getting your mouth washed out with soap is pretty much a universal Yeucch, much worse than pepper.

It was never explained to us in so many words, but the idea behind that was the "unto the least of these my children" thing: You're hurting Jesus AND your brothers and sisters simultaneously. I wouldn't have characterized my parents as liberal, particularly; it was just one of those principles.


I was thinking about your "disabled" post and the power of words today when I read a piece in the New York Times about some health research on older adults. It said that they (or "we" because it's all a continuum) do better on memory and skill tests if they haven't recently heard any negative words or
statements directed at their age group. As such, all those "cute" birthday cards that make fun of senior moments, etc., and the pervasive attitudes they reflect are really an abomination.

Since most of us experience our own humanity as something unique and undefinable, why do we find it acceptable to label others in ways that diminish their confidence?

Thanks for continuing to hammer away at this, and for all the times you remind people that emotional blindness is not okay. It takes a very real toll.


Ron, I don't know if Jesus objects to the "G" word (we were never close; there's been some bad blood between our families, I'm afraid), but I'm glad the "N" word is thought -- by some at least -- to offend him.

I've had my mouth washed out with soap, too, but at our house it was Ivory. I can still taste it. Nevertheless, one of the first traits I acquired upon attaining putative adulthood was a vicious potty mouth. (I can swear in several languages, including, thanks to a good friend, Arabic.) Not wishing to live my entire life as someone with no class, I have striven to repair this folly of youth, but I must confess that even now I often find it a strain not to drop F-bombs in polite company.

And yet...I cannot use the "G" word. I guess the difference is that the F-bombs aren't mean-spirited.

And thank you, Patry. That is a very interesting piece of research indeed.

I like what you say about emotional blindness, even though I am certainly capable of plenty of it myself. Another blogger I've been reading while I've been thinking about all these things is Wheelchair Dancer . In taking the Times to task constantly for consistently sensationalistic and narrow reporting on issues relating to disability -- a particular flavor of bias the degree of which I was not even aware until I started reading her and also Blue Lily -- she challenges our institutionalized prejudices and cracks the whole discussion wide open. How should we speak of ourselves and each other? What is acceptable? What is unacceptable to say, even though it may accurately reflect many people's truths, and how do we say it instead?

When I say "us" and "we," I hope it is clear that I mean all of us, regardless of body type.

I have far from the last word to offer on any of this. But since thinking (and feeling, carefully) before we speak, even in writing, is a worthwhile practice, it's good to know people whose words I respect feel it's a conversation worth keeping alive.

The Goldfish

The "G" word was shocking to me when I first heard disabled folks refer to themselves in that way, because here in Britain, the use is purely a kinky S&M thing. I can't get rid of that association in my mind.

We tend to use "crip" which again, a lot of people are uncomfortable about. But I suppose I have never heard anyone use cripple in a really malicious way - in fact it's used all the time in other contexts like "Rising interest rates will cripple the housing market" and so on.

On a related note, I have put you in the disability section of my blogroll, but it's a roll of folks who write about this sort of subject matter.


Goldfish, I tried replying to this yesterday, but we had power issues at my house (electricity, not megalomania -- for once) and my computer kept crashing, which I found demoralizing. So sorry for the delay, and here I go again:

Thank you for educating me re that special British meaning for the "G" word. That is soooooo funny -- and yet another reason for me to keep it off my keyboard and out of my mouth. Ha!

As for "crip," it's as you say: I've never heard anyone hurl that word at another person or seen anyone wrinkle his or her nose distastefully while uttering it. Perhaps it happened more in Dickensian London, but, you know, we just aren't there, another mote of progress for which to be grateful. I haven't even heard people in the U.S. use the word "crippled" to apply to humans at all for years and years. A person who limps, walks with crutches/cane(s) or uses a wheelchair is more likely, at least as far as my experience goes, to be described as simply that: a person who limps, walks with crutches/cane(s) or uses a wheelchair. Maybe other people have other stories to tell.

Also, since you mentioned that special British meaning of the "G" word, I have to tell you that every time I hear "crip," because I was raised in a suburb of L.A. (but not a tough neighborhood, not by any stretch of the imagination; we had freely roaming peacocks for goodness' sake), the first thing I always think of is the gang, as in the "Crips" vs. the "Bloods." And that always makes people who call themselves "crips" seem rather tough to me, even after I blow by that meaning in my mind and on to what the people using it are talking about.

Heh -- funny old world. Thanks for stopping by for this moment of cultural exchange. :)

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