Old White Finn’s Homage to Black Disabled Lives Matter

Some of the most important intersectional human rights work being done in the United States comes from Black Disabled Lives Matter. This work doesn’t have analogies. Strictly speaking it’s not a slogan, only the meretricious and ill conceived parodies (Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter) are slogans, for DBLM is proleptic, it materializes objections to disabled black human rights by stating what should be true but isn’t. Blue lives already have the money and power; “all lives” means white able bodied life and we know it has the bacon.

I’m a 65 year old Finnish-American blind writer and activist. I don’t know what it’s like to be black and disabled. As a guide dog user I’ve been prevented from entering public accommodations. I’ve been denied cab rides. When I was unemployed a social worker told me I’d never find another job and I should be content to collect social security disability. I’ve been treated badly by airlines, academics, bus drivers, weirdos on the streets and even once in a church. But no one is generally out to shoot me. And because of my cheerful whiteness I’ve even been approached by cops who wanted to help me. (They thought I was lost. You know all blind people are permanently lost.)

If you’re disabled and black you’re pre-judged by systemic racism and ableism. Disability is cheating. Blackness is nascent criminality. Illness is a civic burden. Added together: the black disabled must be locked away. In public they can be tased, shot, whatever, and before you say, “why is this different from non-disabled people of color” let me add that it isn’t but disabled people of color are imagined by racist and ableist society as not ever belonging in public. They are rolling, tapping, ventilating reminders of all civil rights history. Hence they make even some black people uncomfortable. Kudos to Rev. Al Sharpton for mentioning black disabled lives at George Floyd’s funeral.

One of the best things happening is that Black Lives Matter means black disabled lives matter. BLM is amplifying the voices of black disability activists who have critically important stories to tell. Check out the Black Lives Matter page “Black, Disabled and Proud : College Students with Disabilities: https://www.blackdisabledandproud.org/black-lives-matter.html

There you can read Darnelle Moore’s excellent piece on racism as a mental health trigger. Moore writes about the horror and exhaustion of systemic racism.

Check out the Black Lives Matter Washington Disability Rights page: https://www.disabilityrightswa.org/2020/06/01/black-lives-matter/
Here you can read about BLM and disability rights where policing is concerned:

https://www.disabilityrightspa.org/newsroom/black-lives-matter-justice-in-policing/

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If you know your history you’ll remember that the Black Panther Party was a significant promoter of disability rights and inclusion. If you know your history you know that Brown vs. Board of Education opened the doors of public schools for disabled kids like me. The intersections are tight between civil rights movements. But if there’s a moment beyond history—whatever we mean by history in the making—black disabled activists are pushing for true universal rights. They speak for veterans, the elderly, those who steer their chairs with breathing tubes, the guide dog teams, the mentally ill, the homeless, the unemployed, the deaf and non-speaking.

Now being blind I’m terrible at posting videos and I even struggle with pasting links but please check out the work of Vilissa Thompson, LeRoy Moore, and this terrific article published just two days ago at The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/09/sandra-bland-eric-garner-freddie-gray-the-toll-of-police-violence-on-disabled-americans

In creative writing circles we’re asked, all of us, the old question, “who are you writing for?” I’ve never known how to answer this. I don’t think I write for blind people only. Certainly not cis gendered white men; not ableist or racist or homophobic types. I think though that today I’m writing for an old friend who is black and trans and has a guide dog.

And yes, nothing here is exhaustive, there’s so much more to be read and said. And yes I’m in total awe of disability activists everywhere.

The poetry will heal you school…

If you need a doctor you don’t want to go to a poet unless she or he has a medical degree. And yet it amazes me how many creative writers believe that poetry heals people. My contention has always been that poetry won’t hurt you overmuch and it can turn you from depression toward fascinations. But it won’t cure depression and it won’t make you whole. Moreover, some of the most vicious and dishonest academic creative writers are the loudest purveyors of the poetry will heal you movement. This is MFA as snake oil. AWP as therapeutic massage.

The flip side of this is the Robert Bly school of thought: you must live alone and suffer like St. John of the Cross in order to be an artist. This is also bullshit. Eschewing happiness won’t make you creative. The very idea is like putting on a scourge, stuffing stones in your shoes. Bly dined out on this idea for years. Picture the average poetry audience: half believing poetry would cure their hangnails; the other half believing they needed more hangnails.

The poetry will heal you school thinks that the body is a thing to be overcome. It views the head as a lifeboat from disablement. Poetry is supposed to fix you up, and damn, here comes one of those crippled poets to mess it all up!

Sadness of the Eyes and Description of a Journey

I slept above my city and in the dream many chasms opened and expectant faces of the dead could be seen. The ordinary was wide and superfluous. Love was rising from hell. Broken hands, Dante’s missing jaw, the hoof on an ox…O dreams move fast. I rose higher and the dead-love was harder to see. Ah, said a voice not my own, this is when the soul works best.

What If No One Invented the Essay?

One morning you’re taller than usual though the circumstance is a feature of sleep—the last seconds of a dream. When you step from bed your slippers don’t fit right.

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I don’t think Montaigne invented the essay. There I’ve said it. No one invented the damned thing. It was old by the time of Plato.

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Don’t you tell me. Don’t you tell me. What did you do with my spoon?

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Protagoris, Pythagoris, the Goris Brothers Band….

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Thunka thunka, twang, Wallace Stevens caught in a clothes line.

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I envy Pentti Saarikoski his early education, reading all that Greek while outside snow fell in the impossible Helsinki darkness. It’s provincial culture and the adaptable intelligences I love.

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My mother learned to shoot a Colt revolver when she was 8. My grandfather left her alone at the farm and told her, “shoot first, ask questions later.” I come from an elaborately fucked up family.

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I still like Wallace Stevens caught in a clothesline.

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I still like silently mouthing Greek while snow falls in the far north.

Bald eagles! Bald eagles! Let us have wonders.

I was walking in my neighborhood when a woman called out, “there’s a bald eagle in my tree, there’s a bald eagle!” And I said: “wow!” Even the blind can say “wow!”

She was telling the truth. She didn’t know I was blind.

I thought what if no one in America knew the other’s identity? Wouldn’t this solve everything? I mean first appearances of course. I don’t want people to go back to the closet. And I’m not claiming there aren’t blind racists. But what if when first meeting someone you didn’t know where they came from? Maybe everyone should wear Oculus headsets that make strangers into angels. The headsets could double as coronavirus masks.

Bald eagles! Bald eagles! Let us have wonders.
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“I’ll never forget the first time I saw him, standing up on a hill, his hair blowing in the breeze — and he too proud to run and get it.”

—Jean Carroll

Great old joke….

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[Ed Ames throws a tomahawk, trying not to hit the chalk outline of a cowboy. He hits the cowboy right between his legs.] Carson: I didn’t even know you were Jewish.

Another great moment of wonder….

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Please, for the love of God, go out today and cultivate wonder.

On Being Experiential, Literary (ahem) and Blind

A nonfiction writer of some repute once told me my writing was “experiential” with a moue of disdain. (The man in question had staked his claim on the personal essay so what this presumably meant was I’m too too personal, hence honest.) Disability lived in public is the bequeathment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Us cripples, we used to live in the asylums or in sheds behind the family farm. So yes, triumph, inclusion, connection, make for celebrations of experience. You bet I’m experiential.

If you’ve a disability inspired imagination you may be discerning about analogies. That is, blind, I distrust the likening faculty. The inestimable Jacques Barzun wrote: the book, like the bicycle, is a perfect form which may be true but Jacques was guilty of comma spicing as a book and a bicycle are both perfect forms and not reducible to analogy.

Bill Clinton said (infamously) “it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is. We know what Clinton meant but we’re not as certain of Barzun. If a book, like a bicycle “is” a perfect form than we’re invited to be Platonic but vaguely so because Plato would not have acknowledged Barzun’s “is”. According to Plato common objects are inferior and mutable but each thing replicates perfect and immutable Forms. So there’s a book “form” in the hands of the Gods and a bicycle form but no analogy.

We are of course living in an age of analogy which is a beautiful thing. For poets it means sneaking back into the garden and eating a second apple and a third, even a fourth. Stuffed, they can write like Wallace Stevens in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”: “a man and a woman/are one./A man and a woman and a blackbird/are one.” Now we must ask is this sentiment beautiful because it is true or untrue? If it’s beautiful it’s because we can say it. When we’re reckless with analogy we make claims on eternity as Lord Byron tells us in Don Juan:

What is the end of Fame? ’tis but to fill
   A certain portion of uncertain paper:
Some liken it to climbing up a hill,
   Whose summit, like all hills’, is lost in vapour;
For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill,
   And bards burn what they call their ‘midnight taper,’
To have, when the original is dust,
A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.

Byron gets it right: after the 18th century analogy is the end of fame. Analogy “is” the striving.
Byron also gets it right: this is beautiful until it isn’t.

In his essay “Effects of Analogy” Wallace Stevens spilled the neo-Platonic beans:

Another mode of analogy is to be found in the per-
sonality of the poet. But this mode is no more limited to
the poet than the mode of metaphor is so limited. This
mode proposes for study the poet’s sense of the world
as the source of poetry. The corporeal world exists as
the common denominator of the incorporeal worlds of its
inhabitants. If there are people who live only in the
corporeal world, enjoying the wind and the weather and
supplying standards of normality, there are other people
who are not so sure of the wind and the weather and
who supply standards of abnormality. It is the poet’s
sense of the world that is the poet’s world The corporeal
world, the familiar world of the commonplace, in short,
our world, is one sense of the analogy that develops be-
tween our world and the world of the poet The poet’s
sense of the world is the other sense. It is the analogy
between these two senses that concerns us.

Analogy is a beautiful thing but it’s untrue as all men and women are untrue. It also requires bravery—the recognition there are no perfect forms. Everyone gets to invent his or her own incorporeality. This is what’s meant by the world of the poet.

For Stevens the corporeal world is Byron’s “uncertain paper”.

A book and a bicycle are one/gods ride them singularly or in teams…

Analogy is in the driver’s seat. This is a melancholy world.

Of experience we can say much but whatever we may say circles around the sorrows.

Donald Trump and Roy Cohn in the Conservatory with a Lead Pipe

“Of course there are people who have become so practiced in evasion, euphemism, circumlocution, and all the forms of lying that they would not know how to tell the truth if an occasion favoring truth-telling should arise.”

—Mary McCarthy

One admires Mary McCarthy’s use of “practiced” in the passage above since it turns lying, habitual daily lying into the kind of thing one does at Juilliard. “Raise your elbow, tuck that chin, press harder on the A string!” Technique first, then virtuosity. Moreover the great ones make it look easy.

Donald Trump practices evasion and he first engaged in evasion studies with a private tutor named Roy Cohn. If your mentor is Roy Cohn you learn in lesson one there is no truth. Here’s lesson one:

“My scare value is high. My arena is controversy. My tough front is my biggest asset.” (Roy Cohn )

After lesson one Trump added conspiracy theory to controversy. Obama is a Kenyan terrorist. The “deep state” is preventing him from doing his best work.

Lesson Two: “I bring out the worst in my enemies and that’s how I get them to defeat themselves.” (Roy Cohn)

Think of Hillary Clinton who called Trump’s voters “deplorables” and you’ve got the picture. Trump studied with the master. I’ll argue that Hillary, by rising to the bait, lost Michigan. It turns out “when they go low we go high” is exactly the right approach when opposing Trump.

Lesson Three: “I don’t want to know what the law is, I want to know who the judge is.” (Roy Cohn)

No one works harder than Donald Trump to remove or sideline those who will likely find him guilty.

Trump’s critics think he willfully tells untruths but this isn’t the case. He simply has no truth, only the score bequeathed him by Maestro Cohn.

Ding Dong

Oh they’ll take the wind out of you eventually. “They” being the gods and/or the viruses. Wave your spoon. “Mama! The invisible ones are stealing my breeze of inspiration!”

Ding Dong.

“Who’s there?”

“The Baba Yaba!”

“What do you want?”

“I’m here to collect your breeze of inspiration.”

(Sound of chicken legs….)

As near as I can tell the meaning of life lies in protecting both figurative and literal inspiring.

Thoughts one has during a respiratory pandemic.

Lawrence’s Apples

The sense of adventure is strong on me as it is for all living things. Wasn’t it Auden who said the roses really want to grow?

Last night under the oaks I sensed it from the branches. The coming minutes are heady and unbounded. This is steepened by knowing no two people are alike, no two trees. As a boy I often lay face down in the grass. I didn’t have anyplace to go. Because of my blindness other children shunned me. But I got it: staying still was exploit.

Grasping this is luck. Keeping it alive is work throughout a life as the older poets know. I swear this luck-hoard successfully kept is why crows descend daily to the roof of Coleridge’s tomb.

Whatever you do, don’t be sentimental. The roses want to grow but even they have aphids. Nature knows how to stomp your adventure before you get started. You can be forgiven a dark joke. Why do orphans like playing tennis? Because it’s the only love they get. Basho: ah the pine tree, another thing that will never be my friend.

The decayed rowboat still seats laboring souls. Adventure stays if the poet discerns it.

What’s aspiration? Things are not what they seem. Lawrence’s apples are mystic. Eat one. I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.