Friday, January 24, 2020

Personal Responsibility and Mindset

Able-bodied person:  Just change your mindset.  Everything else will come.
Me:  It's not that easy for disabled artists.  There are real barriers.
Able-bodied person:  Let's talk about them!  I welcome discussion.

I begin to list the myriad of ways disabled artists are locked out of participating in their industries and how it's all ableism to varying degrees.  I follow it up by saying inspirational slogans and "mindset changes" only go so far when a lot of the resistance in an artist's career is external.  I attempt balance and clarity.  She (the able-bodied person) was already dismissive of a disabled artist speaking their truth before I became involved.

Able-bodied person:  Where is the personal responsibility?  Yes, "ableism" this and that.  It's a word I won't soon forget.  Where's the call to action?

Other people comment taking her side when no sides existed. Her friends and colleagues imply I was calling her an ableist (because she's pro-slogan, I guess).  I assuage everyone's feelings as much as possible before bowing out.  I didn't answer her questions, but I wanted to.
Where is my personal responsibility in what?  My career? Responsibility in changing things for disabled creatives?

Just because I talk about the bullshit disabled artists face, doesn't mean I try nothing with my career or for my community. I still write, edit, submit, run a mentor program, and promote my work on social media.  A person can hustle and still rage against injustice.  There are very few artists who do absolutely nothing but bitch about ableism.  Why do I feel like she was subtly asking me about being complicit in my own oppression?

I'm not sure I could help her with a "call to action".  People either decide exclusion and bigotry are wrong and people should be allowed equal chance and participation... or they don't.  After learning something, people either expand their knowledge and find a way to help... or they don't.  I didn't realize I needed a podium-ready speech to make someone care about injustice. Maybe I could've given her answers if she asked what allies can do, but the onus was pushed back onto me.  Perhaps she just wanted a happier conversation than ableism often requires.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Upcoming Changes

I often ponder this space.  What needs improving?  Is the blog even necessary?  What can I do to better serve our community?  No matter how much I kick it around, I have zero conclusions.

But, I believe indecision freezes a person.  If I thought about everything indefinitely, no progress would be made.  It's better to pick a direction than stagnate.  So, let's roll.


1.  I updated the "About/FAQ" and "Submissions" pages this week for clarity.  They reflect the choice to include disabled/neurodivergent creatives of all spots and stripes.  I also expanded the types of things I'll consider for the blog!  If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

2.  I will be altering the criteria for applicants in our mentor program in the coming weeks.  Mentees with advanced degrees will no longer be completely excluded.

3.  I, Jennifer Ruth Jackson, will only write two blog posts a month at most.  I'm hoping work and posts from contributors will fill the weeks I don't, but if it doesn't happen... it just doesn't.

4.  I'm going to be approaching certain artists this year.  There are so many creative people in our community doing incredible work, and I want to highlight it all.  Of course, I'm a chicken, so this makes me exceedingly nervous.  They can't all refuse, right?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Giveaway: Falling for Myself by Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Image description:  On a blue background (with all the text in white), it says "Falling for Myself" in big letters across the top half.  The "o" in "for" is a racing wheelchair symbol.  Under the title, it says "a memoir" in small, lowercase letters.  The author's name is written across the bottom.

We are giving away a copy of the memoir Falling for Myself by Dorothy Ellen Palmer. The entry window starts today (January 3rd) and ends on February 27th. Learn more about the book by clicking here (the link goes to Amazon).     


1.  Open to anyone in the world. If the winner is outside of the 48 contiguous United States, they will receive the Kindle edition. If the winner resides in one of the 48 states, they will have the option of  the Kindle edition or a physical copy.

2.  People may enter by leaving a comment on this post, emailing us at or getting in touch with us on Twitter @HandUnPen. Please make it clear what you are contacting us for.

3.  Only one entry per person.

4.  Drawing will be random, and the winner will be notified on February 28th (by 11:59 PM CST) via the method they entered with. So, if the person who won entered via email, they will receive an email... and so on.

5.  No substitutions. Void where prohibited.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Healing Myself by Venetia Sjogren (a Poem)

there was no need to wave wands
conjure spells or mix magic potions
I did not languish lupine under pale, full moons
nor speak in mystical tongues
no depressants were dispensed
late night drinking, crying and life-bashing
with friends, was avoided
I did not vacillate between telephoning doctors
and damning them to perdition
nor did I spend nights oscillating between a false bravado
and Ophelia-like vapors
I simply stopped
hating my broken body
with its plaque-laden nerves
one breath
one memory
one cell
at a time
and began
to love
Biography:  Venetia Sjogren is disabled grandmother, who lives with multiple sclerosis and end stage kidney disease, an Afro-Latina and humanist. Her brother was born deaf and her niece has cerebral palsy thus she is acutely aware of the challenges of being (dis)abled. She reads rather indiscriminately as her books range from Sci-Fi to Anthropology. She dislikes bigots, peas, anything hazelnut and okra. I know, I know - she is a flipping screwball.  Her publication credits include Poets Against the War and Howard University’s, The Amistad.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Hostile Take-over by Venetia Sjogren (a Poem)

I have heard it said that love starts with one's self
my conundrum—what happens when even the most basic
component of one's body commences
a revolution
causing pain, blindness, confusion and paralysis
when bastard neurons hijack all the other better parts
causing mayhem, discontent and disorder
I tell you—it is bad enough to lose beauty, youth and grace,
as one ages
bad enough to lose family, friends and lovers
to accidents and other misfortunes
but when the body attempts its hostile take-over
when your bathroom has become a miniature pharmacopoeia
when neurons mis-fire like an epileptic, drunk
whilst doing ballet around an oak tree,
daubed in blue and howling at the moon, simultaneously
it becomes a battle I tire of fighting
one that I have decided to concede
let the neurons have their vainglorious victory
let them have the spoils—
my broken body
Biography:  Venetia Sjogren is disabled grandmother, who lives with multiple sclerosis and end stage kidney disease, an Afro-Latina and humanist. Her brother was born deaf and her niece has cerebral palsy thus she is acutely aware of the challenges of being (dis)abled. She reads rather indiscriminately as her books range from Sci-Fi to Anthropology. She dislikes bigots, peas, anything hazelnut and okra. I know, I know - she is a flipping screwball.  Her publication credits include Poets Against the War and Howard University’s, The Amistad.

Friday, December 6, 2019

4 Favorites from Breath & Shadow Fall 2019

Note:  You can click on each title to go.  Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I had a poem published in this magazine years ago.

The fall 2019 edition of Breath & Shadow is another great issue. There was a grandmother phoenix, a relationship brought to its knees by religion, a broken spice bottle as a symbol of something bigger, and more.  You should check it out, if you haven't already.

In no particular order, my four favorite pieces from the issue:

1.  "Drown" by Elizabeth Devine
This short poem is gorgeous... and dark.  It takes on what toxic relationships or the world can demand of us (just my interpretation).  Each image is crisp.

2. Content Warning:  Drug use/Overdose/Suicide
"The Ghosts Who Carry Us" by Elizabeth Devine
A sad and difficult prose piece on addiction, who we lose, and how we carry on.

3.  "You Ask Me Why I Wear Bright Colors" by Jennifer Bradpiece
A poem on the colors associated with different aspects of (chronic) pain.  The end of the poem has quite an impact.

4.  "Masquerading Stranger" by Karen Craig
Multiple sclerosis (referred to as Ms) stalks the narrator.  The personification of the disease and prescribed medications added a nice, compelling tension to the story.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Article in The Philadelphia Inquirer

*Please don't harass the author of the article.  I realize she may need education in matters of the cripverse, but she's just doing her job in a society that fed her the same inspo-shit we grew up on. 

"These businesses are taking special-needs employees from Disability to ThisAbility, one hire at a time" the title says in black across the page of a Philadelphia periodical.  I'm already rolling my eyes before I even read the rest (click here for the article).  The term "special-needs" needs to have a gruesome, unmourned death.  And I love the implication of employment erasing our disabilities, as though working makes us "normal".

"Employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities are having a moment," boldly proclaims the first line of the piece.  Why are they having a moment?  Because they're finally starting to be hired by companies!  Wow, what a moment!  I'm so glad the glorious, sparkly spotlight of arrival was being treated like every other fucking person on the planet.  We have reached our zenith, fellow cripples, we're getting scraps of attention and treatment slightly on par with the ableds.  Hallelujah.

The article then has four snapshots of employees at different businesses with quick descriptions.  After the photos, it says:  "I could name the 'conditions' of these men and women, but that would be antithesis to what the hiring wave is about for a new brand of progressive employers..."  No, it wouldn't be "antithesis" because what you're hawking is that these companies are so incredible for taking a chance on this previously-unhired minority with all their overlooked skills and prominent drawbacks.  You might as well put the third ring on the circus and name their spooky "other".  Note:  Near the bottom of the article there is another photo with the caption, "Tom Byrne, who is on the autism spectrum, is known to be a friendly and well-liked greeter/attendant at Eagles games played at Lincoln Financial Field."

"They’ve learned that these employees don’t bring disability to the workplace."  Yes, they do.  This sentence is disingenuous.  Our bosses often don't want to legally accommodate us, so telling people that gimps are "normal" at their jobs is harmful to us.  Plus, this feeds the "overcoming" narrative which causes many disabled people harm because we injure ourselves and our mental health trying to be "better" than our disabilities or neurodivergences.

"They bring this-ability — a unique set of talents and gifts — the way all individuals do, while enriching a company’s bottom line — and making fans of their bosses..."  If it's truly the way "all individuals do", why the inspoporn slant of the article?  Why are we worshipping at the feet of the saintly employers if we possess what others do?  Hmmm...

"The knee-jerk discrimination they experience is as wrong as any that’s based on race or gender."  Isn't it sad that someone still thinks this needs saying in 2019?  Then again, it could...

"My hope is that business leaders who read this special section will sign on to strengthen the momentum — one inspired hire at time." Why would the hires be inspiring?  Oh, right... cripples.  We're really appealing to feel-good ableists to persuade them to hire disabled and/or neurodivergent people.  But, I thought we had things every other employee has!
Other notes:  
Autism Speaks was mentioned for creating jobs for neurodivergent people.
The word "special" appears four times in this article.
The journalist mentions "neurodivergent" in regards to everyone with a developmental or intellectual disability and, while I'm not an expert, I believe this is false.