Hey, The Blog is in The Terrible Twos!

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Well … that last month or so went really fast. I won’t waste time with apologies about being behind on blogging and projects, or make promises I probably won’t keep about knuckling down to post more frequently or finish a certain project. If you’ve known me for anything length of considerable time, you know that I tend to ignore deadlines and things get done when they get done. Besides, if you’ve followed other online content, you’ve heard apologies such as these a hundred times.

And personally, as both a creator and consumer, I’d rather jump right in than waste time with preamble. [She says, after writing over a hundred words of preamble.] But I will say, if you’ve managed to stick with me over these last few months … thank you.

Because on June 5th of this year – a day I promptly forgot to blog on – this website turned two years old. I find myself more than a little in awe, of how fast time has passed. I remember wondering if I could actually invest two or three years in a site, when I was setting everything up. Debating how much to sink into the hosting and url. Two years later and I still wanna grow the site, I still want to improve my blogging schedule and add more stories to the list.

It’s been a slow process, and I know it will continue to be that way. Unless I strike it super lucky with a viral post, I know the site won’t explode overnight. But I’m okay with that, I’m okay with continuing to cultivate a small following and improving the foundation underneath me. Thank you for sticking with me as I struggle to grow, for the likes, comments and other bits of encouragement.

Every little bit of engagement is a huge boon to me.

Categories: Life, Writing
Tags: ,

I Am Not Your Inspiration

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[No, this is not the picture in question. It’s also not Inspiration Porn.]

Earlier today an image crossed my Twitter feed featuring a young man with prosthetic legs, carrying a backpack and waiting at crosswalk for the light to change. Above it read [paraphrased]: “Whenever I feel shitty about my able-bodied life, I’m gonna think about that poor dude with no legs, and stop my bitching. Because if he can do it, what’s my excuse?” No, those weren’t the exact words, but that was the underlying sentiment that I – a disabled person – picked up on.

But What’s Wrong With That Picture, Jess? It’s Inspirational!

Yes, so long as you aren’t the man featured in it. Here’s the thing with pictures, articles, and memes such as these. They’re Inspirational Porn. They take an person with a disability and turn them into an object. It defines the person by their disability and only their disability. It’s something for able-bodied people to use either as “motivators” to get them off their ass [no, thanks] or a type of pitying gratitude. Where they can look at the person in question and feel better about themselves while thinking, “At least my life isn’t that bad.” Who wants to be legless, deaf or in a wheelchair, amiright?

Because nothing could possibly be worse than having a disability. I mean, according to a chunk of media currently afoot, disabled people might as well be dead [see: Me Before You]. Their lives will never be full, active or joyful again. Just pull the plug already!

Or it’s chock full of able-bodied people praising disabled people for existing. Seriously. Just for doing their thing. “Look at this [person who exists outside social norms], they’re so heroic and brave! They’re walking across the street! With a backpack! In daylight! With no shame! Breathing the same air! Like a real human! My Gods let’s give them a medal.”

Can you see how this becomes infuriatingly patronizing when you hear it day in and day out? I know the Tweeter was merely pointing out one disabled person, maybe even the only amputee they’ve ever come across, but it sensationalized an individual who’s simply trying to live their life. Imagine if you changed it to gay man, a black person or someone who is bipolar?

“That black person is walking across the street! That gay man is carrying a backpack! That bipolar person is going about their daily life, just as any other human would!”

It sounds bizarre and ridiculous, doesn’t it? It should. He could have been doing any number of things, heading to class, returning to work, enjoying the weather, or secretly storing his Furry costume in that backpack for all I care.

The Point Is, He’s Not There To Be Your Inspirational Exhibit.

If this happened to any other minority group, people would be losing their shit. Calling racism, discrimination and other such words all over the damn place. And rightfully so. Yet, if it’s wrong to patronize – or in other words, single someone out for [presumed] unwanted exposure – based on their skin color, sexuality or mental illness, why aren’t disabled people granted the same courtesy and respect?

I think it’s because, in general, people with disabilities are viewed as “less than”. Less than physically able, less than mentally competent, less than emotionally stable. And because disability is typically considered to be about loss. Case in point, people often ask how I function without the use of my legs. They also assume – particularly when I was a child – that because I use a chair I’m also automatically deaf, dumb, blind and asexual.

Surprise! I have better vision than two-out-of-three of my able-bodied siblings, I graduated with a 3.4 in high school [math was always the killer, and senior year Spanish, Dios mío! I hated Spanish], I’ve been reading classical lit since I was preteen, I’ve done solo travels to Alaska and Nevada, written several novels, had a relationship that lasted nearly a decade [with sex!], and can outsmart the techies at your local Genius Bar.

Now, I know, this sounds like a massive humble brag – and it is – but it’s a humble brag with a point.  People assume based on what they see, that because I’m in a wheelchair I must be somehow lacking. They are making [bad] estimated guesses based on what they perceive as negative, without bothering to get to know me on an individual level.

This is where Inspiration Porn goes very, very wrong for me. Because rather than get to know me, and learn that I generally enjoy my life, it only sees the picture from the outside. Making the person secondary to their disability. Making them an exhibit for pity, pats on the head and empathetic “atta girl/boy”s from random strangers.

Now, I’m fully aware the the OP did not mean offense by the post, he’s just one person pointing to something he found uplifting. He conversed with me politely and [I believe] read the article on Inspiration Porn that I shared in the thread. The individual Tweeter is not the problem here.

The problem as I see it, is the way abled-bodied society views people with disabilities. We get extra points for going to college, learning to drive, having sex [did I mention I have sex and I like it? Because I do, just FYI], having social lives and even just being outdoors.

I wish I was being hyperbolic about that last one. I’m not.

While traveling solo to visit a dear friend in Nevada several years back, an older gentleman walked past and – I shit you not – said: “It’s good to see you out and about!” Now, the man had to be in his 70s, maybe older. Maybe he still thought all the cripples were hiding in the back bedroom of the Family Estate like it’s 19-bloody-12.


[The Back Bedroom: Like a speakeasy for those pesky crips you want to keep out of sight. So they don’t ruin your dinner parties and carefully coordinated family photos.]

I’m being sarcastic here, which I hope is obvious. Yes, you may laugh. I won’t be offended. But where the hell else should I have been? At home knitting? Painting watercolors? At the nearest sanitarium in a fancy white coat? [No offense intended towards knitters, water colorists or people who like fancy white coats.]

Now, I smiled and joyfully replied that it was an excellent day for travel [or something like that, this was in 2006ish]. I’m used to older generations not being aware of people like me leading active lives. Because back in their day, I probably wouldn’t have. Unless my family had money, and sometimes not even that could save you. To a degree, they are a product of their era, so I try to take any colorful remarks in stride. But I do not get an extra cookie for walking across the street. I do not want the participation ribbon of life. I want to earn what I get, and that includes your misplaced “inspirational” label.

I’m A Person. Not A Hero And Certainly Not A Saint.

I’m in a wheelchair. I have depression, anxiety and PMDD. Guess what I still do? Bitch. Whine. Moan and groan about life, just like everybody else. Because I’m a person and sharing our collective pity parties about the Human Condition is one of the best parts of being alive. Especially on social media. Ooh boy, is that some good times! Admit it, we all love a good vent, a long whinge, a therapeutic whine. Or a double scoop of Schadenfreude. [cue evil giggle]

I don’t tumble out of bed and float through my day on a cloud of Sparkling Saintliness. Everyone who’s ever known me for more than for a few hours can attest: I’m not an inspiration or a hero merely because I do the things that society already views as standard procedure for the able-bodied populace. I’m a pain in the ass, a night owl, a dork, a brat, a gamer, a weirdo and more.

Don’t believe me? Ask my sisters. I have two, I’m sure they’ll have a plethora of stories. 😉 Or better yet, my mother. She’ll gladly confirm I’ve been a stubborn little shit ever since that time I made my older brother bleed, and then played the “but Mommy I’m tiny and handicapped” card on her.

The man in that photo waiting at the crosswalk isn’t a hero because he’s a double amputee. He might be a hero for serving overseas, or a multitude of other challenges that life can throw at us. But he is not an inspiration for existing. For living his life the same way you do.

Going about my day and calling my base existence an “inspiration” means you are singling me out as “Other”. Different. Special. Less Than. In your attempt to include me by praising my actual normality, you might as well point and proclaim, “THIS PERSON IS LESS THAN THE NORM, BUT LOOK AT THEM GO! WOO! GOOD FEELS ALL AROUND!”

Please, don’t do that. It makes me feel awkward and it’s completely unnecessary. It’s even more unnecessary to tweet it, where hundreds [if not thousands] of able-bodied souls can share in the exceptional joy of my “specialness”.

Trust me, the world can tell me that I don’t fit in without a single word. When I can’t get into the bathroom because the stall is too small, or there is no handicapped stall. Or some lady who doesn’t want to use the purse hook on the back of the damn door for her giant-ass hobo bag, takes the only handicapped stall instead. [Because the purse is disabled or she is? I think it’s a toss up …]

The dicksmacks that park in handicapped spaces without the sticker – or, even better – park their motorcycle in the ramp unloading section as though it’s not connected to the space. The people who – when you do your Disability Due Diligence – on a new venue will swear on their first born that they’re no steps into the building, and then you arrive and it’s like walking into an Escher painting. Because they don’t see the barrier or can’t be bothered to check.

It’s well meant, the inspiration label. I know. And I’m not mad, truly. Yet this is something I face daily when trying to find work, go to school, get a date. So if I can steer people in a better direction by writing a massive blog, that’s what I’m going to do. By pointing out my challenges, it only serves to reinforce the segregation that I – and other disabled people – face every day.

There’s A Lack Of Respect For The Person.

From what’s offered as evidence, I can only assume the photo was taken without the man’s permission. It’s shot from the back and his face is not visible. He might as well be a mannequin, for all the say he has in the image. He’s an object to be looked at, even praised [in a weird, roundabout way] but not interacted with.

Now, extrapolating from my own life in a wheelchair, there’s a strong chance this man gets stared at … a lot. Whether it’s little kids, adults, strangers, the elderly, that darling and well-intended person at the mall who – in all their uninformed wonder – is going to pray that “the good lord heals you”, doctors, physical therapists, insurance people, family, schoolmates, co-workers. In short, most people with disabilities are used to being looked at, questioned, poked and prodded. It’s a part of my life, and for the most part? I’m good with it.

Dare I say, I’m even proud to smile back at you, when you look at me in my chair. Cruising around with my best friend, carrying my nephew on my lap and being a badass aunt [yes, even you, lady who gave me a dirty look about it] and generally being a happy ambassador for Cerebral Palsy.

But to take a photo of a stranger, focus on their disability, and then use that as a springboard for your own self-improvement? It’s actually fairly gross, the more I think about it. If you want to improve your attitude, great! But do it for yourself, do it for the people that love you, don’t use my life – which you know nothing about – for your own motivational purposes.

That’s not okay.

Now, About That Top Picture …

That image I used above is not Inspiration Porn. You want to know why? He’s an active subject in the picture. He is front and center doing what he loves. It’s even captioned: “explosive start of athlete with handicap at the stadium.” Notice the word order there.

He’s not a “disabled athlete”, he is an athlete – first and foremost – and then disabled. It’s not “athlete heroically” – or – “inspirationally” explodes from the block. He just does because it’s about what he does not what he is or the disability he happens to have.

Secondly, because I purchased the picture from Dreamstime that athlete [as well as the photographer] is being compensated for his work as a model. It’s not some random dude taking a photo of him of the street without him knowing. He’s being treated as an individual, a professional, and rewarded accordingly for his work. He’s also had a say in how he is presented.

The man on the street had none of these courtesies given to him. Not respect, not compensation for his image, not even a chance to share his story. The Tweeter could have introduced himself to the man and asked him about his disability. He could have called out, “Hey Dude, nice legs!”, shared a chuckle and opened a discussion about what brought the man there. Instead? He took a photo of an already marginalized minority, slapped a feel good thought onto it, and then posted it on Twitter. All without this person’s permission.

For all the OP knows that man doesn’t see his amputee status as a challenge, something to be overcome, praised or glorified. For all any of us know, he could be happier now then he was before. Or maybe he’s like me, born with a disability and that is his normal. We don’t know anything about him, because no one bothered to ask him. A person. An individual. A human soul. Because “Inspiration Porn” isn’t about the individual. It’s about how the disabled object makes other people feel about themselves.

Categories: Disability, Life, Personal
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Situation Report: Lightrunners, Chapter Three

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I will finish this entry if it kills me. No, really, I’ve been attempting to write this for weeks, this is at least my third draft. But … [insert long-winded drumroll here] … I have news about The Lightrunners Series! Most of it’s great news, though there will be a bit of “not as great” news toward the end. Let’s get right into the good stuff, shall we?

And it only took eight months!

I’m making great progress on the third chapter – currently titled Before the Night Fell – it’s the longest chapter I’ve written yet. At the moment the draft is on the verge of tipping into 4000 words, and there’s still two scenes to complete. Plus much editing to do, but – even with heavy editing – this will be a very meaty chapter once it’s done.

I hope it’s worth the wait!

When I started the chapter all the way back in August 2015 – lords, that’s sad to think about – I’d planned to jump right into the mystery of The Darkness. Cutting to Hughie’s aunt Frankie and uncle Graham discovering that their nephew is missing, and heading out to find him. But it just wasn’t working. No matter how hard I tried to push the scene forward, I struggled again and again to keep the story flowing across the page. I was trying too hard, and it showed.

I had a similar issue with my sci-fi magnum opus Open Season, thinking that I needed to get down to the nitty-gritty military stuff to “hook” the readers* before I truly knew the characters. When what I wanted to focus on, was how this group of misfits had become a family all their own. So, taking my experiences with OS to heart, I scrapped what I had of chapter three and decided to start fresh.

And I’m so glad I did. Because I’m getting to know the Jones-Davenport clan before all the tragedy befalls them, which makes the suffering they’ll soon endure all the more poignant for me. It’s very hard to connect and empathize with characters you know little about, and the same goes for trying to write them.

So it took eight months and several restarts to find my footing with this chapter, but I’m flying now and I couldn’t be happier with the progress. I’ve written more in May alone than I’ve written all year. And the greatest part? I’m loving what I’m doing! While there’s typically one day a week that i need a rest, I’ve been writing every day – six days a week, for the last two! – that I’m jazzed to write every day. I’m not getting burnt out or exhausted, but truly enjoying the process.

So When’s It Gonna Be Out?

Ah, the dreaded question. 😀 I can promise it’ll be out by the end of 2016. Okay, I’m kidding … mostly. My current goal is by the end of June. It was going to be the end of May, but then the chapter exploded on me and all the adults got really talkative – in a good way.

This coming month I’ve got a bunch on my plate: I’m visiting Lake Forest College and putting some markers in place for staring college in the Fall, I’m working on improving my physical strength and getting my driver’s license, continuing [my awesome] therapy [more on that later], juggling three other short stories – two of which I’d like to have finished by the end of summer, and possibly planning and organizing a family vacation to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Plus – you know – sleeping, eating, self-care, family obligations and making sure my home doesn’t devolve into a cesspit of dirty coffee mugs, cat litter and “in progress” books I’m multi-tasking. Mind you, these are all great things and I offer none of them as an excuse for missing [even a self-imposed] deadline, but I want to keep you updated on where I’m at.

So! Keep an eye for Lightrunners: Before the Night Fell by the end of June. And if I miss the deadline, feel free to yell at me via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Until June or the next blog post, whichever comes first.

❤️ – Jessie

a most beautiful blessing in disguise

Categories: The Lightrunners Series, Writing

How Fallout 4 Helped Me Vote

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I know. it’s weird, but hear me out …

If you weren’t already up to your ears in political debate [read: future Presidents bickering like YouTube commenters] I have more for you! Today was the 2016 Electoral Primaries for my home state of Illinois, and with all the bat-shit-craziness going on, I felt I couldn’t just leave my vote until November. Election years are always difficult. Being the INFJ that I am, I always want to have the most information possible. Preferably lined up lined up in color-coded spreadsheets. That’s not always an option though, and parsing truth from lie on the campaign trail can be quite difficult.

It’s a heavy choice, having even a small say in who our next leader will be, and everyone has an opinion on which way to vote. Leaving many opinions and a struggle for personal clarity. Until last night I was on the fence as to whether I wanted to vote at all. And the polling place is exactly 9 minutes from my house [according to Google]. So it’s not like I’m Sisyphus here, having to fight to preform my civic duties.

I’ve been voting since 2001 and one each has been a challenge; I don’t fit neatly into either the Democrat or Republican camp. I never have, even when I was keeping my more liberal beliefs hidden from my conservative [or completely apathetic] family and friends. Which means I can’t look at a candidate’s affiliations and assume they’ll stand up for my needs and values. I have to view both sides as unbiasedly as I can, and then choose based on my priorities.

It’s not an easy way to vote. There is no blindly falling in rank with a mascot, or following the age old tradition of voting the way my parents did. At least not if I want it to mean something. Because if I’m just going to blankly fill in dots down the party line, I can think of more productive things to do with my time.

Enter Fallout 4.

I rented Fallout 4 from the library, and have been playing it exclusively for almost a week. Not in love with it enough to fork over nearly $60, but it’s been a decent break from my normal go-to-game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I enjoy the crafting and the design aesthetic, but story-wise it’s a straight snorefest. And the dialogue … oh gods the dialogueIt burns! It burns, Precious!

Now, before you get upset, I enjoy a shoot em and loot em [see: my love of Borderlands] game. But BL had the good grace (and savvy) to be funny as hell, fast paced and genuinely entertaining. Fallout 4 is skating by on it’s novelty design, as far as I can tell.

But I digress.

While gaming last night, I was stuck in a quest that could – frankly – only end in bloodshed. Not to spoil too much, but there’s conflict involving two parties at Drumlin Diner over the purchasing of drugs. Now, neither side was looking too shiny in my book. I abhor drug trafficking and I’m very anti-drug in my day to day life. All of my morals and beliefs typically influence my play-style with my primary characters. If I want to be a renegade, or different race, that’s what alts are for.

So my character, Hannah, generally tries to aim for the most positive – or at least the most neutral – outcome. Obviously, in a game centered around shooting, this isn’t always possible. But I’d been hoping that with enough persuasion skill points (heretofore known as: Charisma), I might be able to work some magic between the two parties where everyone was appeased and nobody got shot.

Unfortunately, due to triggering the beginning of the quest before I had enough points to woo both sides into submission, I was stuck in a spot where one of them was going to die. No matter what I did. Now I could have gone back to a previous quick-save, thereby losing a chunk of playtime, in an attempt to end in perfect peace. Or I could play the conflict as it stood.

Which got me thinking about the election and life in general.

There are no quick-saves in this life, no previous loads to roll back to when we make a mistake. If there were I guarantee you, I’d roll right back to high-school to take more Math classes, learn German instead of Spanish and ask every single one of my crushes out. I’d also totally kissed that sweet nerdy Freshmen who danced with at me at the prom. Lastly, I’d skip the heartbreak that was Westwood college, getting back together with my ex, and online dating …

giphy-2[My “I Should’ve Ended This Metaphor Earlier” Face]

In fact, if quick-saves existed in life, that entire last paragraph would be obsolete because I would have changed things already. But I have a point, and it’s this: we can’t engineer ourselves the “perfect” candidate. There is no perfect President, or perfect vote. We have to play the conflict as it stands.

No backups, no previous saves. In this time and place, with the options at hand, we have to look at the possible solutions in front of us and make an imperfect choice. There is no magical answer, no one single candidate or political party that’s going to be the cure-all for our entire nation. There’s only each and every one of us making the best choice we can. For ourselves and our country.

The only other option I can see is apathy, which was a track I just couldn’t risk this time. My candidate may not make it to the top, but at least I can comfortably say I went out and made the strongest choice I could. That I fought, even nominally, to make my country better today. No matter who you voted for, I hope you did too.

Now all we have to do is survive until November … 😉

Categories: Entertainment, Gaming, Politics
Tags: , ,

Don’t Mind the Dust

Welcome Back!

First and foremost, I ask that you don’t mind the dust that still lingers. I’d originally just planned to revamp the header, but that turned into reorganizing the whole site. I’m really proud of how it’s turned out so far, but – as you can see – there’s a still some finishing touches that need to be completed. So in short, step carefully and if you find a broke link or other issue that I’ve missed, please don’t hesitate to comment or otherwise get in touch.

Secondly, thank you for all the support you’ve offered so far. Whether you leave comments here or on Facebook, like a post or subscribe to the newsletter. Every little bit of feedback and support means the world to me. I know the site only has a small following so far, and I plan to expand it this year, but I’m grateful for each and every one of you.

The Plan for 2016

In the next few weeks and months I plan to post more regularly, expanding the topics that I focus on to include other passions like: video games, psychology, pop culture and slowly sharing a bit more on my day to day life.

If you have anything you’d like to see here, leave a comment and let me know. I do have a question I’d appreciate some feedback for. The perfectionist INFJ in me doesn’t want to break from my usual habit of posting on Thursdays, but I’d also like more freedom with my posting style. Which leaves me with the following question:

Would you rather that I continue to post regularly on Thursdays? Or that I post randomly, whenever the mood strikes?

Let me know what you think! My goal is to have at least one chapter added to The Lightrunners series by the end of the month. Until then, thank you for the continued support and I’ll see you in the next post. ❤️

Categories: Site Updates, Writing