Sitting at the Table

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[Image description: empty white chairs gathered around a wooden table with a few green apples in the center and a laptop off to the left side.]

I am very tired of the mantra “just try harder and you’ll be successful!”

I am of the belief hard work does get you places in life. I attended a college with a grueling commute in order to be educated for my former career. I worked hard to be on the honor roll every quarter. I spent hours on my lunch break reviewing again and again for the licensing board exam. I took hours of practice tests until I was getting a 100% on all sections. I passed my exam on one try. I was good at my job and there was no reason I couldn’t have moved onto even bigger and better things because I worked hard.

And all it took was one distracted eighteen year old running a red light to take all that away from me.

I still work hard. I go to class even when I have awful back pain and it feels like I have a knife in my right hip. I go to class in a wheelchair because though I started the semester being able to walk with a cane my condition has deteriorated so much I can barely walk without hours of pain and exhaustion afterwards. I have been accepted to transfer into a university come Fall. My current class is a condition of my admission.

I missed my class for the first time because I am missing my handicap placard. I was in agony at class time and exhausted after a night of insomnia. The idea I may have to park far from my class and roll for half an hour (because trust me wheelchair use is actually slower than walking most of the time thanks to all sorts of obstacles from uneven ground to inaccessible sidewalks) to get there was just too much. I will however have no choice if I cannot relocate my placard as this class must be passed for my Fall admission.

I work very hard to function in a world not made for me.

I have a part-time job. I would be an instructor in an after-school tutoring program. As I prepare my lesson plans all I can wonder how I am going to be able to get through a three hour class without being in agony. All I can do is work hard, because my only other option is to not exist in this world at all.

I visited my grandmother’s grave, the first time I have seen her in three years, and I was in agony for two days afterwards because I spent an hour walking with a cane because, certainly, cemeteries are not wheelchair accessible.

My husband constantly asks me if I’m okay and all I can say is “no” because when I am suffering I have no space for anything else than my pain.

And all it took was one distracted eighteen year old running a red light to take all that away from me.

I have expressed frustration about the idea in publishing of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “If you get rejected just keep trying!” “All authors get rejected so many times!”

Recently J.K. Rowling released rejection letters that I almost wanted to laugh at. To me they were standard rejection letters that had nothing to do with the quality of the work. Publishing is as much marketing as art. When I receive letters like this I just shrug and bear the editors no ill will. These letters don’t hurt me. In fact I have received letters remarking the editor thoroughly enjoyed my work, they just thought they would be unable to market it. To me, these are encouraging, not disparaging.

The article is often touted as “JK Rowling was just like you aspiring author!” No, Rowling and I have vastly different circumstances and challenges. This needs to be acknowledged by the industry. Not all emerging authors are alike.

J.K. Rowling is a straight, cis, able-bodied, white woman. I know she was impoverished at the time of writing “Harry Potter”, but her entitlement still struck me. These were not vicious, discouraging letters. I know she remarked she had received at least one, but why include those two letters with such vitriol?

I grew up on “Harry Potter” too, but, really– how many times did she really get rejected? That was not simply a matter of business? How hard was it really for her to be published?

I suppose this is the difference between myself and privileged people (though I do have privilege in certain aspects of my life). I feel grateful I was even just considered for the guest list. I go outside and struggle to navigate a cityscape made for the able primarily, I grew up in schools made for neurotypical people, I am fearful to even speak aloud of all I can see; I am reminded everyday of how much I am not wanted in society. Not only am I physically disabled but my whole life I have known my mind doesn’t work like other people’s. Those who hallucinate and have delusions are always murderers, or tragic crazies. When I was younger I showed signs of being on the autism spectrum. When I was a teenager I had suicide idealization.

The idea of sitting at the table is beyond me. I fear I will always be at this edge I always have been.

Someone like me who has chronic pain every. single. day. Who has non-stop doctor’s appointments (I have three this week alone) who is seeing three doctors, and on top of medical issues is also having stress-related daytime and nighttime hallucinations and insomnia, just does not have the energy to “try and try again”. Why would anyone whose plate is spilling over say “well I guess I’ll go ahead and stack some self-imposed rejection on top of my serving!”

when I am suffering I have no space for anything else than my pain.

I had degenerative disc disease even before my accident and I had already been warned by my doctor I would have chronic pain for the rest of my life and I must never injure my spine again. At the time I was injured I was trying to get my novel published. This came to a halt after my accident. I had way too much going on and I had no idea what was going to happen to me. Six months later and I still have no great idea, but this is my new normal.

A friend linked me this article. It’s fantastic and certainly I can understand Ms. Moraine the sorrow of letting go of a story that consumed your life. That is my novel. My problem however is not a matter of what I “should” write. I have never had the idea I was writing something unneeded, something beneath me. I believe in my work. With all the suffering in my life I would have never tried so hard to bring it to life. I am convinced that plenty of people would enjoy my stories, but the main characters are often people like me. People society doesn’t care for. My works are riddled with themes and concerns I doubt many able people have ever even contemplated.

I often out myself as neurodivergent in my cover letters as it often relates to my stories. I wonder if any editor have pushed my work across their desk after reading my letter about sleep paralysis, subjective doubles, and depression. These are things, after all, usually only seen in horror movies, not from rational people who have careers, lives, and goals.

A lot of fuss is being made about diversity in publishing. I do support earnest efforts, however I wonder how many in this movement are aware of perhaps why disability is so severely under-represented in publishing, and are interested in exploring why.

Karrie Higgins has written a fantastic article on lack of accessibility at conventions. Nevertheless I have my own tangent. If you only have so many spoons a day, how many are you going to waste on submitting to magazines and publishers who believe in the bootstraps idea? “I can reject this work because they’ll get published somewhere else, but it’s not right for my publication/publishing house.” Except you are the fifth, tenth, or twentieth place to think so.

“well I guess I’ll go ahead and stack some self-imposed rejection on top of my serving!”

Our stories deserve to exist outside special anthologies, and in the main publications.

Like so many other institutions of the able, many disabled are likely to simply try to navigate around them. We are not disabled due to whatever makes us different from the standard model. We are disabled because we are trying to live in an abled world. If the person who designed “accessible routes” actually used a wheelchair they realize how hard uneven surfaces are to navigate as the chair lists to one side. If a blind person designed intersections they would all use verbal cues for crossing. If an autistic person designed a concert hall they would include “safe spaces” for decompressing.

However we are not so lucky as to live in such a world. Namely because, like publishing, we are largely shut out of job markets because of a lack of accessibility and accommodation. You don’t see us because we often don’t have the energy to force you to. Though we are 19% of the population we are perhaps the most invisible.

The idea of sitting at the table is beyond me. I fear I will always be at this edge I always have been.

I am never going to give up writing. It’s a vital part of my mental health for one thing. For another, I do actually have people who like my work. For how hard it is for me to write sometimes, I would never quit.

Nevertheless as a disabled person I often wonder if there is any space for me at the table. I don’t feel entitled to it because society has taught me if I succeed I am an exceptional example. I accept rejection as the cost of doing business.

However I, and so many other disabled people have only so much energy to give. Likely many minorities feel the same way. We don’t have that eternal reservoir of energy because society hasn’t taught us to think not only can we sit at the table, we’re entitled to the god damn seat.

Sometimes however, I fantasize about a second table, where anyone can sit.

 

 

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