Able-splaining 101

If you’re disabled you know all about it. The apparently “normal” person who tells you what you need to know is legion. BTW this figure can be anyone. Despite feminism, women can be able-splainers just as often as men. I recall distinctly the associate provost at my university who told me that a software package was “robust” when it comes to accessibility when in fact it was junk. Able-splainers have no shame. All they need is a cocksure belief that the disabled are deficient which means of course we’re dismissible and voila!

But did you know that silence is also a form of able-splaining? When the disabled say something is unusable silence is often the best able-splaining of all. And so economical!
Nothing says “that’s the way it is little dude” better than a good old fashioned round of silence.

The other day I got able-splained in a new way which trust me is a remarkable thing as I’ve pretty much heard or not heard it all. An elderly professor accused me of being antisocial because he saw me scoop my guide dog’s waste into a plastic bag and then gently place the bag in a snow drift.

I was carrying a harness, a briefcase, holding a leash, and having a conversation with another faculty member all at the same time.

And there I was. Busted. Imperfect. A hater of humanity.

What he was really saying was I don’t belong on his campus.

You know, us cripples with our animals, breathing tubes, mechanical devices galore, our irregular invisible needs—how polluting we are.

Ableism likes the world clean.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

1963

Another day, another mass shooting in America. Sometimes I think if I were the kind of poet who adopts classical rhetorical forms I might say, “I lived in the age of gun violence” as opposed to “the age of gold” or even “of plastic” and should there be a future civilization more refined than ours they will say “that must have been very painful—how did they manage?”

There’s prescience in childhood of course. I recall the first day of school after John Kennedy’s funeral. Our teacher asked us to share our feelings about the president’s assassination. I was in the third grade and barely 8 years old. Some of us cried of course. Some of us expressed fear.
And then a kid stood up and said “they killed him with dum dum bullets!” He was thrilled to share this information. “My brother is in the marines, he said they used dum dums!” “Yeah, his head really exploded!”

No one of course knew what to say. I think our teacher said “let’s move on….”

But I remember being repulsed by my classmate’s enthusiasm for bullets and heads exploding. And I also remember understanding that Americans may like violence. I was eight for god’s sake.

Nowadays I think of my 1963 classmate rather frequently for with every mass shooting there’s someone reveling in a testosterone soaked dance about the bullets and the guns used.

I disliked that classmate.

And yes, he beat me up one day just because I was blind.

And the Wind a Grain of Salt

I’m going to let the kitty out of the wrapper and admit I’ve never believed the teaching of creative writing is more than a pastime. Like baseball, academic discussions of poetry and fiction, nonfiction and playwriting tend toward exquisite minutiae and nostalgia but without regard for what’s happening outside the stadiums or sports bars. I’m employing nostalgia with irony of course—using it in the Greek sense meaning returning home in pain. Odysseus is nostalgic. In turn he’s single minded.

**

Odysseus is more than nostalgic. He’s religious in the worst way, Huck Finn praying for a fishing hook. Athena is his familiar and gets him “home” on rage. Most religious pastimes are about nothing more than this.

Justice is absent from Homer save for divine vengeance that good old Olympian smack down.

We better know what we mean about the effects of poetry, what we mean by justice, where the study of poetry or literature stands in relation to human rights.

At the poetry conferences save for very few, human rights are not discussed at all. It is assumed by the writing workshop crowd that just thinking about writing elevates.

**

I told a fine poet last evening that I’m running out of time. At 63 I need to turn my prow toward the far shore, away from time, to that place where coins are useless. That I’ve long been in the fight for disability rights (which are all human rights insofar as disability admits everyone) means I’ve had to sculpt and shape my anger into productivity. Just anger admits justice and eschews vengeance. Just anger is not nostalgic. It’s also a form of ambition. Pentti Saarikoski wrote: “I want to be the sort of poet whose words build houses for people….” Amen. Meanwhile, how to let go of anger, or just enough of it to die happy?

**

“Life is a hospital where all the patients want to change beds,” said Baudelaire. I want to pick up my bed and walk—not because I’m cured but because I learned (am learning) to make my burdens light and my rest easy. I want this for you and you.

**

So I gravitated away from the teaching of creative writing to work in the eddies of human rights. 80% of the disabled remain unemployed in the United States. Some will tell you its only 70%. Some will tell you they’re a drain on society. (Hitler: the disabled are useless eaters.)

If human rights mean anything they stand for the manifest opportunity to think, believe, examine, eat, sleep, all unencumbered. And as I think about the bow of my boat I’m remembering these lines by the Norwegian poet Olav Hauge:

“Don’t give me the whole truth,
don’t give me the sea for my thirst,
don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,
but give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote
as the birds bear water-drops from their bathing
and the wind a grain of salt.”

The Cage We’re Forced to Watch

My neighbor is eating good ham. He drives a nice car. He voted for Trump. He’s a stand up guy. Just ask him. He’ll tell you he loves America. In fact he loves it more than you do. You describe problems with the USA. He only sees timeless verities: cowboys and Indians; slaughter on behalf of the railroads; local jobs based on environmental destruction. While the Colorado River basin runs out of water he says global warming is a hoax.

Sleeping he dreams of a wide cushiony bed where no one has sex, it’s a white, protestant cloud if you will.

When he wakes he turns on Fox News and tells himself America is great again because “those people” are getting their comeuppance.

**

Yesterday I hosted film maker Federico Muchnik and poets Doug Anderson and Preston Hood at the 15th annual Syracuse International Film Festival.

Federico’s film “Hunter in the Blackness: Veterans, Hope, and Recovery” details the experiences of American soldiers—veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other poly-traumas. Doug Anderson and Preston Hood, both veterans of the Viet Nam War are featured in the movie alongside vets from America’s involvement in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is a haunting film. The lack of awareness of civilians is a recurring theme. We send boys and girls to wars while America shops at the mall. When troops return with grievous conditions many Americans don’t want to know.

22 veterans commit suicide daily in these United States.

Last evening, after I bid farewell to my new found friends, I took an Uber home. My driver was a veteran of the war in Iraq. He has PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He told me how his best friend from his time in the military recently committed suicide.

And there we were, riding in a Dodge pickup, through the gritty nighttime rainy streets of Syracuse, NY, and it was impossible for me to blink away the machinations of my country. My driver told me about his TBI, his facial disfigurement, his stress condition, and the ongoing difficulties he has had with the VA to get the help he needs.

Rain spattered the windshield.

**

Swedish poet Lars Gustafson writes: “And a cage/which never held a bird can easily give/a feeling of disorder.”

I’ve not been to war. But I know the cage we’re forced to stare at.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Stop With Your Ableist Lazy Rage

Over the course of the last two years (post election and the year prior) I’ve watched people throw ableist insults. From the right the favored term is “libtard” and from the left one hears “moron” “idiot” and “imbecile” all echoing eugenics both in Germany and the United States when the disabled were marked for elimination.

When disability must be employed to register rage then its nothing more than lazy rage. Rather than call a Trump supporter an imbecile why not say: “there’s a person who doesn’t understand his shadow.” Not so much fun as ableizing him or calling him a pig or weasel.

Lazy rage is fun rage. Even in their discontent Americans like to have fun. Trump knows this. Its perhaps the only thing he knows.

We’re got rape culture to worry about; children in cages; wholesale destruction of the environment at hand; black men in the school to prison pipeline; eroding medical services for veterans and the poor; unending American involvement in ruinous wars; the collapse of public education; big Pharma slinging opioids in every corner of the nation; religious extremism attacking science; an outright war on the Americans with Disabilities Act—I’m just getting started.

And all I see on facebook is callow name calling with an especially able bodied smugness.

As John Lennon might say: here’s another clue for you all. You are as much the problem as the problem.

Read Carl Jung on “the shadow” and know your own deep despairs before saying someone else is “lame” and for god’s sake join a volunteer organization of some kind.

More About Hating Smokey the Bear

I don’t like Smokey the Bear. I’ve already written about it. He’s a slick defier of logic. Children are powerless to prevent forest fires and telling kids they’ve a singular moral responsibility fo forestall contagion is the kind of cartoon horse shit Americans are forced to grow up with.

Meanwhile the forests are being systematically cut down by Weyerhaeuser and fried by acid rain from “clean coal”—a phrase I’m sure Smokey the Bear would approve.

Now you will say: “But Kuusisto, is it Smokey the Bear you don’t like, or is it the fatuous, bloated, running dogs of the bourgeoisie who created him who you dislike?”

Of course I dislike Madison Avenue. But it’s the cartoon Bear I hate. He’s the kind of anthropomorphic dungaree wearing shovel toting ranger hat wearing dingus who will pick your pockets if you’re not careful. He’s out to mess with your conscience. He wants you to feel responsible when bad things happen in nature.

Only you can prevent hurricanes.

Only you can prevent global warming.

He’s anti-democratic and the purveyor of superstition.

Thomas Jefferson would have despised Smokey the Bear.

Why am I “on” about this?

Because when you make a woman who’s survived sexual abuse stand alone before a room fool of smug, pink, hostile men on Capitol Hill, you’re saying, “only you can prevent sexual assault”—the American social lie…the idea that the culture isn’t responsible, only you, only you.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

This is the Smokey the Bear Social Lie Complex.

The corridors of power depend on this.