Special Needs

Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. ~ Wikipedia

I made the mistake of reading comments on an Instagram post in favor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They were mostly positive. But, there was one naysayer who stood out for his initial lack of vitriol. He was just mildly snarky. But, it was like he had committed some heinous sin, instead of posting a disagreement rooted in ignorance.

He was immediately under attack. Mostly the responses remained as snarky comebacks. However, one of them made me cringe.

It sounds like your boss is good at hiring people with special needs.

I couldn’t scroll past without addressing it.

Back in the day, the insult used was, “retard,” frequently accompanied by a physically mocking action. Much like 45’s mocking actions regarding a reporter who experiences a physical disability.

Another one is, “riding the short bus.”

However you frame it, it’s showing a prejudice toward people with disabilities, especially intellectual ones.

How about how mental health challenges are referred to?

What are you, crazy?

Man, that was INSANE!

She’s so bipolar.

That one’s not right in the head.

Or the fact that so many movies and TV shows portray mental health patients as dangerous killers and all the shootings being reported as someone with mental illness, before an evaluation can be done?

The stigma and prejudices against people with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities is real and insidious. Just as we need to recognize, call out, and address racism, in all its forms, sexism, genderism, and sizism, we need to call out ableism.

It isn’t about political correctness, it’s about human rights.

For more on my perspective on ableism, go here.


Melissa Bowersock: Author Interview

Melissa Bowersock found me through WANATribe. She was one of the first author bloggers who joined the Bloggers Unite! tribe I established over the Summer. Truthfully speaking, I have not had much interaction with her because I have not been as active with the tribe as I had originally intended, for a variety of reasons and excuses. Thankfully, after I did the interview with Athena Brady in December 2012, I had the presence of mind to check in with my tribe members and let them know I’m doing the interviews now, and Melissa reached out to me. Connecting with her has been a beautiful experience.

She is an experienced and published author with ten books already circulating in a variety of genres. Her most recent book is a biography based on her aunt’s experiences in Bataan during World War II. It is compelling reading and an historical perspective we don’t generally have an opportunity to learn about and understand.

Melissa and I had an opportunity to speak on the phone and she was gracious, patient, understanding, and easy-going. I wanted to make sure she and I were on the same page regarding the intent and style of the interview. Engaging in that conversation with her enabled me to clarify and create the submission guidelines and firm up the format for these interviews. I am immensely grateful to her for her openness and patience with me during the entire process. She is a treasure.

Once again, the interview is a bit long, but well worth the read! So, if you don’t have time at this moment, bookmark it and come back when you have time to sit take in all she has to offer here. In the meantime, please visit her blog, Wordlovers, and find out more about her books at New Moon Rising.

Q: What genres and authors do you like and what do you like about them?

I read almost all genres (not into horror or zombies), but my favorite author is John Irving. He can run hot and cold, but A Prayer for Owen Meany is, in my opinion, the best book on the planet. John Irving has created the most unique and memorable cast of characters ever assembled, and the interactions and sequences of events are almost surrealistic, yet in the context of the book they seem completely appropriate, even “normal” in a weirdly outlandish way. If you’ve seen the movie Simon Birch, that’s based on the first half of the book, but until you’ve read the entire book, you’ve missed out on a lot. My second favorite book on the planet is Six of One by Rita Mae Brown. Some of her later books have been less than inspired, but this book has to be her best. Again, her characters are vivid, 3-dimensional and bursting with life, and the situations are such that you just shake your head and wonder, how does she think of this stuff? I re-read both books periodically and I still laugh out loud, still cry over each. Some of the scenes in each are the funniest things ever written.

Q: Have you always been a writer or known you wanted to be an author? When did you realize you had a book to share with the rest of us?

Always. I was writing stories of bunny rabbits when I was 5. I remember my mother asking me how I knew to put quote marks around dialog, and I just said that that’s how I had seen it done, so I just copied that. I wrote my first novel at 12 (I had graduated from bunny rabbits to horses by then). Not writing was never even a consideration, although for many years it languished after I got married and concentrated on work and family. Once the kids were most of the way through school, I went back to it and wrote my first adult novel. The next book was my first historic (western) romance. I wrote in longhand then, and had sent the manuscript to my mother to type up for me. Unbeknownst to me, she floated it to an agent she knew who agreed to represent me and we were off to the races. There was a huge amount of serendipity to it all, and I feel very fortunate to now have 10 books out there, but it also feels very natural, as if it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Q: What inspires you and influences what and how you write?

I get inspiration in a lot of very different ways, but I’m open to it in all its guises. I may see a homeless man on the street with a sign saying, “Homeless Vet,” and know there’s a story there that just needs to be teased out. Sometimes I am just struck by the bare kernel of a story—a half-breed woman trying to find her place in the west, a woman who tours a restored German work camp and has a spontaneous past-life regression, a man chasing horse thieves with a recalcitrant teenager for a partner. I got the idea to write my latest book, the biography of my aunt who was an Army nurse during World War II and a prisoner-of-war, just because I was thinking about her on Veteran’s Day. I actually dreamed the premise for my spiritual novel, Goddess Rising, and for days afterward, big chunks of full-fledged story and dialog would just drop into my brain. Because these ideas seem to flit through my head without warning, I’m always jotting notes on whatever scraps of paper I have at hand so as not to lose the essence. And, because I’m inspired by such varied thoughts and ideas, each story is markedly different than the last. I’ve written action/adventure, romance, fantasy, spiritual, satire and biography. I never want to tell the same story twice and I refuse to do sequels, even though kind readers have requested them.

Q: Is writing your only creative outlet or are there other creative endeavors or interests you pursue or practice?

I think creativity is a very plastic thing that tends to morph and grow as it’s exercised and validated. I love photography and get a huge sense of satisfaction from capturing that rare, really stunning shot. I found it great fun to create my own book trailers in PowerPoint using my photographs. My dad was an incredible artist and although I have done some drawing and painting, my work would never compare to his, nor do I seem to have his drive in those mediums. He also wrote, penning his autobiography over the last 20 years of his life, and my brother writes and does creative work in 3-D mediums and computer graphics, so it seems our family was blessed with a high degree of creativity in many different modes.

Q: How did the journey of writing and publishing this book grow or change you? Melissa Bowersock 1-Marciacover-front

My latest book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan, was a complete departure from my earlier novels. Because I was telling a true story, and a family story at that, I was intensely aware of being absolutely true to the story and not taking license with it as I might with a novel. I felt honor-bound to represent the story in the simplest, most honest way I could, neither downplaying aspects of it nor enhancing it. I fought with myself over parts of it, and had to make some tough decisions. At one point in her life, my aunt contemplated suicide, and I really wondered if it was necessary to include such an intimate low point in the book. I finally decided I had to tell the full story, regardless of how distasteful or upsetting it might be. This was her story, not a made-for-TV movie, and my greatest responsibility was to tell it honestly, warts and all. As I wrote, I imagined the ghosts of my aunt, my mother and my grandmother all peering over my shoulder, and I knew the book would not be done until I felt I could hand it to any of them without flinching. Luckily I did reach that point and I’m happy with the book, but for a novelist, it was a real challenge to be constrained by historical fact.

Q: How would you describe your life’s journey from a Healing and Recovery perspective?

I was the youngest of three children and four years younger than my sister, who was a bully. We shared a room, although I had no say in what furniture it contained, how it was arranged, what stuffed animals I could have on my bed, even what time the light went out at night. My parents were unequipped to deal with a bully and inadequate about protecting me. I learned early that if I told on my sister and my parents punished her, I’d get it worse next time we were alone, so I learned to keep silent and cope the best I could. It’s very possible that since I did not have a literal voice growing up, the words I wrote on paper became my true, authentic voice. When not writing fiction, keeping a journal was paramount to my understanding and coping with the world, and I would often tease out the solution to a problem by writing about it. In my 30’s, I was finally able to put a name to my self-denying coping behavior—co-dependency—and spent some time in therapy unlearning all the negative things I had been taught to believe in my childhood. In a couple of years, between therapy, going to AA and CODA meetings and reading every self-help book I could get my hands on, I emerged as a confident, grateful, fully-voiced human being. I can look back on my early life now and although it was difficult, I can be grateful for it because it made me the person that I am today, and I like the person that I am. I often say that although all the parts of my life are not perfect, my life is perfect.

Q: Where did you get your strength and encouragement from when going through the experiences that brought you to where you are today?

I am not entirely sure. I have always had a sense of the divine, although it’s always been very different and much more nebulous than mainstream religion. I don’t draw my strength from any community or any sense of perfection or salvation. For me, the connection to higher power has always been extremely personal and I have my own very individual and eclectic experience of god. My work as a hypnotherapist and past-life regressionist has helped me define that experience in a way that works for me. After reviewing over 20 of my past lives while under hypnosis, my sense is that we all carry the spark of god inside of us, we are all here to learn and grow through a multitude of lives and lessons. If we don’t learn all we need to in this life, we will come back and try again, so my thinking is why not do as much as we can to get it right this time? (But then, I’ve always been an over-achiever.) In my view, we’re here to learn and grow and to help those around us learn and grow as well. It’s as if we’re all in one big race, but no one wins unless and until everyone wins. While so many in our culture chase after money and power, I am content to live my life in my little corner, telling my stories and walking the path that brings me happiness and satisfaction.

Q: What do you want readers to take away with them from reading your words?

I would hope readers would come away from my books feeling entertained, perhaps enlightened and thoughtful about the adventure. Most of my books are about growth, and many of my protagonists travel a hero’s (or heroine’s) journey, leaving “home,” traveling into the unknown and returning home again, altered by the experience. I believe these journeys, whether traveling literally through space or metaphorically through time or emotion, are the basis for all human growth, and the more we stretch and experience, the more we grow toward our highest potential.

Q: What other projects can we expect to see from you in the future or are already out there?

Aside from the 10 books that have already been published, I’m always working on more. I’ve got three in the works presently, and I tend to jump back and forth between them. One is a contemporary ghost story, the second is about a past-life regression to a lifetime during the Holocaust, and one is a western action/adventure with a strong romance. As you can see, I never intend to get stuck in the rut of writing the same story over and over!

Now that you know a little bit about Melissa, watch this to find more about her Aunt, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan.

What’s your damage?

I don’t feel like writing today.

That is a major clue that I’m heading back into a deeper part of my depression cycle. I’ve been cranky, irritable and not sleeping well. My pain tolerance has diminished and the only time I’m even close to comfortable or pain free is if I’m in a prone position, knees and head supported by pillows.

These are the times when the self-disgust rise and voices from the past taunt me again. The voices from my childhood that called out in sing-song ridicule at the local pool, “Fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t fit through the kitchen door!” followed by gales of boyish laughter. The duet of my middle school crush and his mean girl friend serenading me with the Jell-O theme, “watch that wiggle, see that jiggle,” followed by their laughter as I rushed to the nearest bathroom to hide the tears.

Memories that I wish would stay as inaccessible as the fading memories of my children as babies replay themselves. Lunchtime at a new school in the urban ghetto of Houston in 1980, trying to find a place to eat. Shunned and turned away by the Hispanic girls for being too white, but not accepted by any other group either. Having my given name distorted and being called lesbian at another new school just because it sounded like my name.

My God, I am 43 years old. these things happened when I was 8 – 13 years old. Why do these things still hold such power over me? I feel ridiculous, ashamed of myself.

I realized a long time ago that some of what I went through was racial, although I’ve never felt or considered myself as anything other than, “white.” Growing up without any cultural connections to half of who I am has had significantly more impact than I ever realized or understood. Intellectually I knew I was half Mexican, but in my minds eye I was just a darker shade of white who tanned easily.

I came to believe all the teasing and taunting that told me I was fat. I wasn’t fat, I was half-Mexican and had a different physical structure than the other girls. They didn’t understand that and I didn’t understand it, either. So, I bought the lie. It became a foundational part of my self identity. It became my self-fulfilling prophecy, and now I really am fat. To the point that it makes all the physical pain worse.

Over the past few years I have also learned some of the stories about things some of my peers and tormentors were going through. It surprised me to discover that their picture perfect lives were filled with trauma and drama as bad and sometimes worse than what I had been going through.

I know there came a point where I couldn’t take anymore and I would strike back or presumptively lash out. I became physically violent toward those who would verbally abuse me. As I got older I learned how to become a verbal warrior and cut people down with my intellect and language skills. I guess in self-defense, I turned into a bully. The unfortunate thing was I took it out on those who had never done me harm.

I’ve really tried to move beyond all of this. I don’t want to keep letting my past constrain my present and define my future. I’ve forgiven my tormentors, at least I’ve tried to let go of the resentment and bitterness from what happened. It seems as though I’m stuck, though and am not able to pull myself out. I think I’m getting unstuck, bit by bit.

Yesterday I read this post on The Maniac’s Path. It highlights one young lady’s courage in confronting her bullies and society at large in how we treat those who are different and attack them for going through the things they don’t choose for themselves.

In the post there is a link to a half hour special broadcast that talks about her story, however it also highlights what one school and its students are doing to combat bullying by making inclusion the focus and priority. It gives me hope for what Luna may encounter as she grows up and enters the social shark tank that is the school system.

Gratitude Day 18
I am grateful that there are people who understand that changing the social structure that bullying has grown and thrived in isn’t about shaming or ostracizing those who bully, but is about finding ways to honor and include everyone in on the conversation. We can’t tolerate bullying behavior and attitudes. However, it is important to realize that those who bully are often wounded and damaged people trying to protect themselves from additional pain.