Friday, February 7, 2020

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (Review)

Image:  Illustrated, green leaves with black lines cover the picture.  In the leaves, there are other images, the largest is a black and green house with white windows.  There is also a foot, a hand, an eye, an ear, and a crutch, which are all white with black outlines.  On the bottom left corner, there are three small purple squares. A big purple square on the bottom right says the title and author of the book in white letters.

Note:  I received an ARC in order to write a review.  The launch date was the fourth, but some places are having delays.

Content Warnings for the book:  Rape (in Sleeping Beauty), murder, ableism, and suicidal ideation.
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Once upon a time, a disabled woman wrote a book about disability representation in western fairy-tales...

Part author origin story, part fairy-tale history, and part disability activism—this book does a lot in 235 pages.

Quote:  "Fairy tales and fables are never only stories: they are the scaffolding by which we understand crucial things."

Each chapter weaves tropes found in fairy-tales around something in real life, whether it's stereotypes enforced in modern media, filicide, an event in the author's life, or the history surrounding certain countries as fairy-tales came to be. The chapters are broken into chunks to make then easily digestible.  The pace of the book is sprightly, though the author's research seems extensive.  It's balanced well.

Quote:  "Why, in all of these stories about someone who wants to be something or someone else, was it always the individual who needed to change, and never the world?"

The fairy-tales discussed in this book aren't just the cheerful, Disney versions but the dark originals as well (with some being summarized in-depth).  There were tales I never heard of before like The Maiden Without Hands, Hans My Hedgehog, and Riquet With the Tuft mixed in with stories including Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty.  And, it isn't just historical fairy-tales looked at—the author looks at modern tales like Shrek and adjacent stories like Marvel's superheroes.

Quote:  "It isn’t a stretch to draw a line from the Grimms’ treatment of stories and storytelling as a nationalistic device through to Nazi Germany and the depiction of the disabled, othered body as something that needs to be extinguished."

This book taught me many things.  One of the most interesting/shocking to me was how Nazis glommed on to Grimm fairy-tales as an ultimate ideal because they erase so much diversity. Another fascinating tidbit was that ancient Greeks thought things (or humans) could only have true beauty if they were "useful"—excluding most disabled folks in (I'm sure) many abled people's minds.

The only issue I have with the book is that the writing can be a bit repetitive in spots.  Something I read once in chapter two will appear twice more by the time I finish the book.  Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often.

Quote:  "How much time does the disabled person spend trying to conform to society’s expectation of what it means to be a body in the world, when it would be so much easier to move through life without conforming?"

Disability activists are quoted throughout the text and/or thanked at the end.  The names belong to some of the most influential members of our community:  Inani Barbarin, Andrew Gurza, Grace Lapointe, Alice Wong, and more.  It made the book feel quite inclusive to me.

Current-day narratives are also talked about in the form of our hashtags/movements, projects, and articles.  We are shaping the world, and our stories, from the cold clay of the past.  Amanda Leduc honors both our past and future in this engrossing read.
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Author biography:  Amanda Leduc’s essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada, the US, and the UK. She is the author of the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Men and the forthcoming The Centaur’s Wife. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.

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.
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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.

Changes:

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).     

Rules: 

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 handyuncappedpen@gmail.com 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.