You'll remember, I have been meaning to write this for a while, but I wasn't sure how to start it. And then something happened. So. This is not a rage post. This is not a Hannah post. This is a post on positive thinking. (Rages and Hannah are a feature of that. You'll see.)
Every once in a while, my day-to-day and my politics collide in a way where I am forced to acknowledge that the world is not really full of shiny happy people who want to do good. Not to say I'm not aware of assholes, their existence in my life, or the fact that they have far more bearing on my life than I have on theirs, and how horribly I despair when I sit and think about that for too long. But what I mean to say is, every once in a while I am forced to acknowledge that in many ways, the world is full of shiny happy people who just want you to get out of their way and leave them alone, kthanx!
I am hopeless, in the figurative sense. I have the worst luck, the worst timing, I am hopelessly clumsy, and I rehash the million ways any undertaking will go wrong. Weirdly, though, I am also painfully optimistic. I am a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of gal (hence the blog name) where the bad stuff goes down, and then you wake up the next morning, and more stuff happens. And always, always, I believe the answer is right around the next corner, even when I'm so far gone I don't even remember what the question was. I mean really, sick, stupid, masochistic, Michael J. Fox levels of optimism*. It's hardwired into me, where, despite neurosis born of years of the aforementioned crap, be it long drawn out recovery after surgery, the hellish nightmare of The College Thing, and the years of aftermath, despite all the random WTFery of stuff that could only happen to me, from bad-idea surgeries to a good decision two days too late, I remain always waiting for my next moment. It is both a gift and a curse. I keep getting hurt, purely because I don't believe it could possibly happen this time. I keep going because what else am I going to do? Because if anything can happen, it could happen to me, right?
I don't see myself as an activist. I am an optimist. I am a hopeful person, and I believe the world is generally decent, and if I talk enough, someone will get this someday. But the trouble is, a lot of people think, because I am a woman who fights, and therefore, feminist purely by default, because I am a person who wants the world to change, that I am unhappy, that I am negative. Some of this is purely sexism, but sometimes, it is genuine concern and fear of the ignorant. So let me please explain, to the friends and family who aren't as familiar with this idea as the feminists and anti-ablists I know. For those of you just learning this, I know you're not going to get it, and I'm going to get arguments, but here goes anyway.
Complacency is not happiness.
I am complacent about my disability. It is something I have to deal with. It is something that colours my decision making, though less than what most people think it does, still enough that it requires a cursory nod every time I make a plan. It is something that changes what I am capable of, and how I handle what I am not capable of. It does not make me happy. It has its good points, and there are things I am that I know come directly or indirectly from being a person with a disability, and some of those things are good things. It is not something I dwell on or waste time giving more credit than it is due, but it is still, by and large, one of the negative forces in my life. I am okay with it. We are not always friends, me and this label of mine, but we peacefully acknowledge each other's existence, and I make allowances and work around it. I did not cultivate and grow this disability. It does not give me a sense of pride or strength the way you might imagine that it does. It does not bring me joy or happiness. Just a different perspective, which I am sometimes grateful for. I am mostly okay with having a disability, and mostly, I do not think it sucks all the time. That is complacency. I am also complacent, sometimes, about my sexuality. I know there is nothing I can do about it. I know there are things in this wide world that I will never experience, or at the very least, never in the way that the rest of the world insists they experience things. I know, sometimes, that I am lonely, and that I cannot express that loneliness without people misunderstanding me. I know that I am different in some fundamental way to the rest of the world, that judgments are made on both sides, and sometimes I am at fault, and sometimes others are at fault. But I still like being asexual. I know I am often happy when I am alone. I am happy not to have to sacrifice my wants for someone else's. I am horrified when I see the emphasis placed on beauty and standards, and relieved that I have no such motivation, and don't cave to the pressures. I'm happy to be in the company of people like J. M. Barrie and Michael Jackson, who were brilliant at what they did in a way I can only dream, and seemed like decent human beings. (Someone told me Salvador Dali was too, but I've never been able to verify.) And I am also comforted that they faced similar accusations and judgments. I'm confident that my asexuality has not damaged me in any way, but the prejudice and peer pressure I have faced because of it certainly have. So the sexuality isn't necessarily a negative force in my life, but I'm not sure it's a positive one either. It just is what it is. I am comfortable with it.
My writing makes me happy. My spirituality make me happy. They are positive, driving forces which challenge and excite me and push me to change: who I am, how I think, what I want, and what I am willing to do to get it, and how much I am willing to let people in. Change is not a negative thing. Change is movement, movement is energy, and energy is used for the good of things. Sometimes, writing is hard. Sometimes, I can't get the words out right, or I can't get the words out at all, or there isn't enough story, and it dies off, or there's a question I haven't asked, a perspective I haven't considered, and everything hinges on this empty hole that I can't seem to spot, let alone fill. It's hard. But it is mine, writing, even though I do believe I was born with it, it is still mine, and when I get it right, I can take pride, not in having worked around a problem, but in having created something which changed, with the writing, which became something outside of what I know and what I think, and I can enjoy that and know that I have changed because of it. Sometimes, my chosen spiritual paths frighten me. Sometimes I am unsure. Sometimes I am weak or believe myself to be weak. But I know in my heart that I am learning. I know I've chosen right, for myself, and that I appreciate the learning, and that it changes me. And it makes me happy, and powerful, to be the force of my own change, to bear witness to my own growth, and to be more awake in the world the more I change. I have more value outside of myself, the happier I am. Pride and accomplishment, growth and change, and discovery and education changes you. And when you change and are happy, you pass on positive energy. Change is good.
Two stories. The first is what happened to kick my butt into writing this thing in the first place. I had a house guest, someone who knows me quite well, and has known me for years. We got to talking about a certain actor, and I mentioned that I was angry because he had played a blind person in a film I saw. My friend shook her head, and said she didn't understand why things like that bothered me, so I explained that of course it bothered me, blind people don't have the opportunities to play sighted. People who use wheelchairs don't get to play people who can walk. And on and on and on. So then she placates me with "Yeah, but _________ is famous, and they needed someone famous." This is a common argument which makes zero sense, and I said, "And why are there no famous blind actors again? Oh, right, because they don't get hired." (Incidentally, my favorite WTF excuse is the one that goes, 'well, we can't be sure that person can do everything the character needs to do.' Uh, writers? That means the character is badly written! That means you're being unrealistic!) So then she backpedals.
"Okay," she says, "I know. I know it's wrong and it's bad, but it's just how things are. It's not going to change. I don't understand why you let yourself get so upset about it."
Take a moment to think about that. Why would I, who have aspirations to write screenplays one day, and would like to write realistic portrayals of people with disabilities, get upset that if I do that, I will likely be the only person who has a disability working on said movie? The only person with any knowledge of my own intended audience, and a pretty unimportant person even so. I know, I'm so sensitive, aren't I?
When people say, "Why do you get so upset about...", what they really mean is, "Why do you expect people to care about..." Sometimes, people is a politically correct "me", as in, "Why should you make me care about things I don't want to. How dare you!" Sometimes, it's a more passive "me", as in, "I already know nothing I do will ever affect anything. I don't have to care about this because it won't matter if I do or not." Which, really, is a lot more negative than insisting on change. (Sometimes it's also, "I actually think you're totally wrong, and I don't want to tell you, so I'll just placate you until this goes away," but I'm not giving that one any credence here because in this instance, it's just flat out wrong. Like, one of those rare and beautiful black and white versions of wrong, where one side is right, and the other is nowhere near where right is.)
People think caring about things, being passionate about social justice, as I am, makes me negative, because I am constantly examining my own behavior, and educating others about theirs, when I can. People think finding fault with large chunks of 'how the world works' makes me perpetually nasty and bitter and angry. Certainly, a large amount of things in the world make me angry, as a woman, a person with a disability, an asexual, a pagan. Certainly, I am frustrated (not bitter, just not happy) that there are less ways the world works for me than for others. But. I am an optimist first. Passion is a good thing. I do not use this fire or frustration inside me to hurt the people I love. I do not use it to hurt other people in similar situations, furthering my own cause, and setting others back. I use it to speak. I use it to write. Blog posts and stories both, to show people that I am part of the real world. That there is a world that exists, within "the world". Where holes still need to be filled in some places, and in others, space needs to be made. Where there is a need for a different kind of "normal", a new version of "acceptable". Being an activist isn't about pointing out the flaws in the system. That's just the first part. The rest is about fixing them. You can't be an activist, without being an optimist. You cannot work every day towards change you don't believe is coming. You cannot live a happy life, believing your perspective is invalid, and just existing is enough to hope for. I am learning one of the most fundamental beliefs belonging to many Pagan groups is that life itself gives you power, and you use that power, ideally, to make the world a better place. I exist, and in recognition and gratitude of the fact that I exist, in this world full of amazing things, to my own mind, I am honor-bound to do good in it. If that means certain things must change, then certain things must change, and I must do my best to see that change. Less than a generation ago, I would have been put in an institution, and see my family on weekends if I was lucky, and never be educated. In some parts of the world, a child like me would be put in a cage, fed just enough, and never talked to or stimulated. That changed, here. Here, now, someone fought for our right to be treated as people. That I am grateful and happy and proud of that change, however it came about, does not mean we're done. And I would certainly feel like an ungrateful little brat, for resting on someone else's laurels, and saying, "Okay, we have enough now." Because I want to be there when they start treating us like people who matter. Somebody could make things better, and it's not conceit to think it might be me, it's self-preservation. I don't do this to prove to you that my life is hard, or that people don't play fair. I do this to remind you it doesn't have to be this way. We are capable of more and better, as we have been through history. That you don't believe it, well. Just shows who's the negative one, doesn't it?
The other story: When I was a kid, I saw Peter Pan. Then I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Then I heard David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. And I began to wonder what went into the water in London, and decided I must go there and see for myself. At around ten years old, I said to my mother, "One day, I am going to live in London, England," and she said, "Okay." And after the disastrous College Thing happened, and after I had woken myself out of my shell shock, I said, "Now. I am going to London now." And I did. I got a passport and what was left of my student loan, and I went to London, for a week. I had a ball, fell in love with the city, and came home, and warned my mother, "Next time I go, it's permanent," and began to plan. It took two years of working part time and living like a monk and carefully planning, and arguing with my mother/sister/therapist/various people that I was serious, and getting my visa, and a mix up with my passport, before getting the go-ahead. Along the way, the biggest snag I hit was that the people who said, "Oh, sure," when I was ten or fifteen had a lot more to say when I was twenty-four. Much of it along the lines of, "It's well and good to have dreams, but you need to have a real life, and be serious. This isn't going to happen. People don't just do this. Get a job, settle in, focus on building your life." And for the first time, it wasn't, "you can't do this." It was, "I can't do this, so how could you?"
It wasn't permanent. I had a two year visa, and I lasted three months. Couldn't find work. But it was three months. Three months living in London. And for the first time in my life, I had done something important, not to someone else, but to me. I had done something that wasn't amazing because I had done it, but because it had been done. I am going back in the summer, for a week and a half. Because I can. Because I am careful with money, and more importantly, because it is something I knew all along I would have. You can't have one without the other. Belief doesn't mean you can sit back and things will come to you, and there's no point in working for something you don't believe you're ever going to have, because even if, by some strange twist of fate, you get what you want, you'll waste it. I advocate for change because change is coming, and I want to make sure it's change I need to see, to keep going, to keep making gains in my life and the world, for myself when I need to, for others when I can. I may not make a difference, but I gain another drop of power each time I open my mouth when someone wants me to keep quiet. And that means something to me, whether it means anything to anyone else.
I have been in writing classes where I was the only person not writing a tragedy or drama. I have been in writing classes where, if I was not writing a tragedy or drama, I was mocked. If I wrote a happy ending, it was seen as 'taking the easy way out.' I don't know where we got this idea that being unhappy meant something more than being happy, but next to The Dreaded Mary Sue, it is my least-favorite myth about writing, and art in general. I hate the glorification of Misery and Dissatisfaction almost as much as I hate the glorification of Home and Family. I suffered, for much of my formative years, from what was quite literally a crippling form of depression and social anxiety, from the time I was eleven. It was so bad, I quite honestly saw my CP as the more manageable of the two conditions. When I woke up, went on meds and into therapy at the age of seventeen, my mother stared at me, after two weeks in treatment, and said, "Where have you been?" And that was enough to keep going. I'm off meds now, but still in counseling. My happiness is hard fought and hard won, and I will not let anyone tell me it means less or is less real, just because we suffer from a peculiar sense of ourselves, where we imagine that our lives aren't supposed to be really great and we should settle for "not lousy" whenever we manage to find it. I have had a life that is not lousy. It's not enough.
When I went to London, the common question, for some reason, was not "How?" but "Why?" and my answer was, "I want to, and I can." It's as simple as that. If you're able, do it. If you're not able, find a way. If there's no way, find another way. Again, I realize I'm luckier than most. I have a nice part time job I really like, I have goals, and, as I am not hindered by many visible signs of disability, I am, sometimes, afforded more humanity than others I know. But then again, I have able-bodied friends with full time jobs who were able to get their education, and who have dreams that go unfulfilled because those dreams are for other people. I have this theory that, since I am a person with a disability, I was spared all the awful socialization that taught us that there are Things which constitute a Real Life (since it was never expected that I would have any of them anyway.) so now, I go around foolishly believing that a Real Life is what I am doing, as I am living. This is why it's so important to me that people understand that a person with a disability does not want to be treated like an "ordinary" person. Because one thing I've learned is that "ordinary people" the way that you mean it, with Jobs and Spouses and Responsibilities, can be really really unhappy. They feel ripped off, because they were told what would make them happy, and they went out and did that, and it didn't make them happy, and now what? Who wants that? I am complacent as a person with a disability, but as a person with a life, it's pretty decent, and I'm pretty happy. I'm not flat broke anymore, I belong to a group of people who listen when I talk, I tell stories about people I will never be, when I have the time and energy, I have two precious furbabies who love me. Sometimes I do cool stuff like go to Europe in the summer, or set about self-publishing a book. Those things are possible, and for the things that aren't? Yeah, that hurts. That really sucks, actually, but there's always another direction to move in. I'm not stupid, I'm not naive, and I'm not trying to be completely unaware of whatever narrow grasp of privilege I have. It's not the life I wanted at ten, it's not the life I want at twenty-five, but I'm getting there. And I will get there, at thirty, forty, or fifty, maybe, but I will. And because I know that, I can share my happiness. I can spare a drop or two of my energy telling the people in my life that if things were different, I might be capable of more, if things were different, the fact that I am capable of anything would not be such a shock. I can spare my time and energy to tell people that one day, things will be different, things will be easier, for me, and others like me, and still, we will keep working, and moving forward. Because it's not about what is or what should be. It's about what is possible. And the answer to that is always, always anything.
People spend a lot of time telling me the things I should be grateful for, because they are grateful they are not me, or they are grateful they do not have to deal with anything worse than me. The truth is, I am more grateful than I could ever appropriately express. That doesn't mean I don't deserve more. There, I think, is the crux of the matter. There's a certain level of narcissism in advocating for change, in your own life, or the world at large. There is a point at which you demand it be acknowledged that you're important, and because of that, you are owed, in that you have the right to expect the amount of effort you put into something should match the value of the result. And I have reached that point, and the people who haven't are angry because how could I possibly think I should have more than they should?
One day, I will have more, and because I do, someone will start where I finish, and have more than that. I believe it is important that that happens, and I believe that it will not happen unless I make it happen, and certainly, it will not happen in a vacuum. So I do what I can every day, paying in advance, fighting for a better life for me, and a better world for everyone else, for the same reason I fought to go to London, and the same reason I fight for this book, now. Because it's important and it will make things better, and it will make me happy. But mostly because I want to. And I can. That should be enough reason for anything.
So. I do wholeheartedly apologize to the people who feel I am negative. Clearly, nobody has convinced you what you're worth, and you have no idea what the world is capable of. My condolences to you, and the people who have to put up with you, while you are putting up with life.
*Read it. I'm not kidding. One day, my little optimist heart tells me I will be given the opportunity to thank that man, for his awesome work, his awesome writing, and his general all-round awesome. I even forgive him for converting to American, because he is made of that much awesome. In case this is that chance, thank you sir, you are appreciated.