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Click the link above for some great photos of Steve and guide dog "Nira".  Photo credits go to Graham Buck of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  Graham, we’re delighted with the photos and again, thanks for the walk down memory lane!

~ Connie

Photo descriptions: The photo link above shows yellow Labrador, Nira, guiding Steve down the sidewalk.  Open the link and there are several photos of Steve and Nira doing obedience, as well as several photos of their working together "in harness".

My Theory Du Jour

These days in the United States there’s a backlash against complexity. I won’t trot out the "founding fathers" (Jefferson with his home made bible; Franklin’s personal library) but I think it’s safe to say that the contemporary disdain for complexity is not an 18th or 19th century American characteristic.

Ronald Reagan said famously, "facts are stupid things" and by saying it he was merely articulating what Americans had come to feel by the 1980’s—the facts may well be against us. Let them go.

I was put in mind of this today because I can’t help but wonder if Senator John McCain may have lost the Michigan primary because he strove to tell voters that there are jobs "that won’t be returning to Michigan".

Senator McCain likes to characterize himself as a straight talker and unfortunately for him post-factual America doesn’t like complexity.

During last evening’s democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas it became clear that there’s a substantial difference in management style between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a gatherer of facts; a sifter. Barack Obama doesn’t like to be inconvenienced by the details. He has suggested that if elected he will surround himself with good advisors because he sees his primary strength as being a motivator of people.

I can’t help it: I’m detecting the ghost of Reagan in this campaign. Complexity is to be eschewed or ignored.

We can assemble the usual suspects. TV and commercial culture; sound bytes and pixels; disposable conveniences; geographical illiteracy…

If this was simply a matter of complexity’s downfall I’d be okay. The problem lies with the red herring of post-factual politics, which is to say that Mike Huckabee tells America we need "the living God" in our Constitution and it seems to me you can only make a nonsensical proposal like that when people aren’t capable of telling the difference between logos, ethos, and pathos.

If John McCain and Hillary Clinton prevail then perhaps I’ll reconsider my anti-complexity reaction formation theory.

A guy can dream, can’t he?


Don't Sentimentalize Your Dog

Yesterday without warning I was laid low by a 24 hour intestinal virus. I will say no more. But lying there in my fever and chills I found, all of a sudden, my new guide dog Nira was halfway up on my bed and licking my face. "Hey Pal," she almost seemed to say , "Why are you so negligent? You could be going places with me."

I’m not one of those dog sentimentalists who believes his dog was checking to see if I had a pulse. Nira was bored and she was letting me know about it. I was the only game in town and the game wasn’t going so well.

Later, as the chills got worse and I lay quaking under several blankets I was deeply grateful for Nira’s top notch training. She lay on her bed and worked on her dog bone and stopped worrying about me.

That’s the point of course. Sometimes we need to be worried over and sometimes we don’t. The guide dogs at Guiding Eyes are self reliant and confident. Nira had been hoping I would get to my feet and go someplace with her. When she saw that this wasn’t in the works she was able to find her own place of contentment.

Of course today when we went out again she was moving like a rocket sled. It’s good to be back.



“Who’s Who”?

The next Disability Blog Carnival is scheduled for January 24th at Ryn Tale’s Book of Days.  There, Kathryn has indicated her theme will be "what professionals should know about disability".  Below is Steve’s response to that thought.

Who decides that one group is “professional” while another is “disabled”? The very question: “What professionals should know about disability” is discouraging since it replicates the cultural dissociation between the working class and the physically modified class. This disparity began with the first wave of the Industrial Revolution when factory work demanded a singular kind of human body and it’s of some interest that the term “disability” enters common English usage at that same time period. The economist Karl Marx used the word disability to denote people who were rendered unemployable by means of industrial accidents.

What’s in a word? Plenty. The term “disability” carries the early 19th century notion that a physically challenged person has no utility or worth. That the idea continues to linger well into the information age is of considerable interest.

Disability is a cultural construction. If architecture or technology is built for everyone to use “disability” disappears. IN this way disability differs from other historically marginalized social conditions.You will always be a Finn or an Apache, but you need not be disabled if you have the proper tools to get around with.
People who employ other people should be aware that there’s no such thing as disability. They should be aware that accommodations to make the work place accessible are inexpensive.

Employers who have figured this out have reliable and enthusiastic employees.

In any case, people who have disabilities are already “the professional class” and in my view the only “unprofessional” class would be any potential employer who would bar the door to a person with a physical or learning difference.


Shame at The New Yorker

The latest issue of The New Yorker magazine features a poem by Marie Howe entitled "The Star Market". In the poem the omniscient narrator sees numerous disabled people in a supermarket. The poem’s narrator is disgusted by these deformed shoppers and goes on to speculate about the forbearance that Jesus must have owned to live among such people.

You can check out the poem yourself.

I am not an advocate of censorship, and in general I tend to believe that the world isn’t harmed by bad poetry. Howe’s poem is trite, rendered without wit, and though it tries to offer a speculative nod to the trials of Christian compassion, in point of fact the poet misses the mark even with this slow pitch Judeo-Christian theme. In short: the poem is just plain bad.

I don’t know Marie Howe. I do know a good deal about poetry though. Therefore I understand implicitly that the narrator of the poem is not precisely the poet herself.

I "get it". The narrator is a cultural figure just as the lame and the deformed are culturally suggestive figures within the proscenium arch of the poem.

But it’s a stupid poem. There’s an easy decadence about it. Contemporary American poetry is rife with this kind of thing these days. Wallace Stevens once wrote, famously, that "the world is ugly and the people are sad"—but he didn’t mean to suggest that he should earn "Brownie points" because he could see it.

And that’s the problem with Howe’s poem. The narrator thinks she’s smart. The reader is left to interpret that narrator’s degree of discernment and empathy.

At the end of the poem we’re told that Jesus, turning around to see one of these terrible unfortunates from the supermarket would likely have a problem himself.

And so the poem is execrable and it uses disability in all the clichéd ways that bad writing has always employed: these are the stigmatized and ostracized children, these cripples, who haunt the roads outside of Thebes.

Spare us.

I don’t read The New Yorker very often, and I seldom read the poetry there when I do pick it up. The magazine has never been famous for its capacities where poetry is concerned.

But now I will not read it at all.

Shame on them.


Stay Festive

The Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski wrote three books of poems toward the end of his life–books that he conceived of as a trilogy. In turn the poems in each of these three collections "talk to one another" much as the extended poetry of Ezra Pound is conversant from one of his "Cantos" to another.

The first of Saarikoski’s volumes was titled: "Dance Floor on the Mountain"–and the image this evokes is impossible to draw or paint in a simple representational way.

There is a mountain. Now there’s a dance floor. How does one build a dancing place on the sheer side of the mountain?

Perhaps it extends "out" with lots of jerry rigged four by four sections of lumber? It probably sags a bit if too many Bacchic celebrants climb on at once.

You can’t get to the dance floor by and ordinary path.

Here is a hint from the poet about the nature of the path:

Snakes with their small tongues

licked my ears clean

once again I can hear

the sounds of the world


the rowan-berries

I want to keep this peace

in which I have creatures sit on my shoulders

and a dance floor on the mountain

Translated from the Finnish by Anselm Hollo

Continue reading “Stay Festive”

My Dynamic Duo

Here they are, Steve and "Nira" –  stepping lively.

Once they’re home, I’ll be jogging behind just to keep up!   ~ Connie


P.S.  Thanks to Graham Buck, of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for the photos.

Photo description: yellow Labrador, Nira, is in harness and guiding Steve down the sidewalk.

Blind Date

Here she is.  "Nira".  Steve’s ultimate blind date.


Photo description: Nira, a yellow Labrador, is in a down position.  She and Steve are doing obedience.  Although we can’t see Steve, we can see the leash he’s holding attached to Nira’s collar.  She is looking up in his direction.  It’s a great head shot, compliments of Graham Buck of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Be Careful What You Call Yourself

I have been thinking a good deal lately about the psychological and, for lack of a better term, the spiritual cost of being a person with a disability. NO one needs or wants to hear the tiresome statistics about unemployment among PWDs or the discouraging lack of progress enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are narratives of abjection (to borrow a term from the French critic Julia Kristeva) and over time the mere act of talking about the conditions of marginalization becomes a secondary form of abjection. To paraphrase the old sixties maxim: "You are what you talk about."

No sensible person would advocate avoiding the use of civil rights language, whether we’re talking about women’s rights or Latina rights or African-American rights, or children’s rights. Yet it seems to me that I am increasingly uncomfortable as a representative of "the disabled community" or "the blind community"—not because I would eschew these political realities, but because the insistence that these are my subjects prevents me from being publicly a more reflective or complex person. I have a sensibility that’s different from what you might suppose.

I’ve been walking down the street during my guide dog training with a baseball cap on my head that says "NAVY" and veterans call out to me as I work with my guide dog. I am not a war veteran. I care however very deeply about the plight of our war veterans. I was never in the NAVY but I recognize that the Navy protects our freedoms. I am opposed to the war in Iraq but I support our troops and our sailors. I am patriotic but I don’t believe in imperialism. I am fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party but I think we need a tough foreign policy candidate in these difficult times which is why I was for Chris Dodd and am now for Hillary Clinton.

I am not a blind person when I listen to the opera or swim in the Baltic. I am not a knee-jerk Democrat. As I said some time ago in these pages, I sided with the GOP in their efforts to defend the life of Terry Schiavo.

My feeling is that we must go beyond identification based on race or disability or ethnic origin or gender or sexual orientation for only in so doing can we rebuild a progressive and thoughtful means of public engagement in our nation.

This is what civics used to teach. I want to live beyond our Balkanized era. The cultural critic Lennard Davis calls this idea "dis-modernism" by which he means that the idea of disability is essentially a cultural or social construction. If you build the right architectures and accommodations no one is disabled. Just so, if you assure genuine equal rights then marginalized identities should conceivably no longer exist.

Imagine the better conversations we all would be having.

This is my morning soapbox. Perhaps I’ve taken too much sinus medication. I’m a utopian Sudafed addict.

People don’t like it when you suggest that their Balkanized political identities are not entirely productive. I know. But if you need to have a social society you can join the Optimists Club. Or a good labor union.


Walking Swiftly

The Iowa folk singer Greg Brown has a line in one of his songs: "The world ain’t what you think it is/It’s just what it is."

How different I am when I remember to let the world open itself to me rather than trying to dominate experience with preconceptions.

There’s something about having a new guide dog that puts me in mind of this quiet lesson.

We walk together and trust that we will mutually take care of each other. We do this in the expectation that what’s ahead will be more interesting and viable than anything we might have supposed.

That’s poetry. If you were to write an equation it would be:

Experience minus expectation equals progress plus bliss

I know. It’s not the sixties anymore. No one is supposed to talk about bliss.

But I’m all for it.