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Background Cues in With the Light (Vol. 6)

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In Keiko Tobe manga series, With the Light, one of the major strengths of her narrative style is the perspective in which we see the autistic child, Hikaru.  We follow many characters and hear many thoughts, none of which truly come from Hikaru.  This leads to the question of how this can be an autistic text at all if it does not allow him to voice his thoughts and perceptions.  The answer lies in the medium with which Tobe has decided to tell this story, the graphic novel (in manga style, to be accurate).  Subtle additions to the various scenes and panels give readers a clear insight on what characters are thinking and experiencing, including Hikaru. What at first seems like a character with no voice is suddenly filled with life when analyzing the artwork that Tobe has provided.

As early as page 9, Tobe wants to make clear the way in which we will see the world when we are viewing it through Hikaru’s eyes.  When the spherical time capsule is revealed for the school, Hikaru is fascinated by it.  This is clear through the use of a different shading technique for Hikaru, giving him a sparkling look, and a background filled with stars. As the book continues, the trend for the background to indicate what Hikaru is interested in emerges, but the hatched shading style holds a broader meaning that simple interest.  While pages 9, 74, 390, and 410 express the profound attention that he is giving something, usually associated with something that he really likes, page 13 seems to be showing a more introspective attention than the other scenes.  Page 175 and 347 also have this cross-hatched style which could be considered part of his inner thoughts or happiness, but one could also make the case that these are perceptions that characters around Hikaru are viewing him, with their own fascination.  Other cues that Tobe has placed to draw attention to the same things that Hikaru is can be found on pages 46 and 66 (long hair), 74 (soft “shoulder pad”), 19 (snail bus), and 174 (bells). The most common cues used for this purpose are stars in the background (as earlier on page 9) and soft balls of light (best seen on 46 and 66), though there are a couple exceptions.  Flowers are used on pages 234, 212, and 214, mostly in the presence of food.  One particular subtle background is used on pages 274 and 275 when Hikaru has just gotten off the phone with Nobuaki, a child hood friend.  This soft “stream of stars” seems to indicated his excitement at seeing his friends again, and perhaps connects to the “tingling sensation” that he also just experienced, though it is worthy to note that the “stream of stars” is decidedly faded when Hikaru is trying to get rid of the phone.  Tobe also uses graphical cues to help readers catch when Hikaru is upset, usually by darkening the scene and his face.  Pages 235 and 454 are excellent examples of Hikaru’s distress regarding the situation, whether that be a blank calendar or a too-noisy station. Stepping away from Hikaru for a moment, an Tobe draws an interesting scene on page 230.  As his father, Masato reflects on disability, the background around him seems to be washed out and hard to see.  This is a clear connection to Masato’s detached retina and shows that Tobe is not only interested in other health and disability issues, but also how to portray them so the reader understands what is really happening.

The effort which Keiko Tobe put into this text is phenomenal.  The attention to detail not only in the character’s interactions with each other, but also the backgrounds which they are portrayed in and the dialogue which adds to the way we see the characters, gives readers an excellent experience in living with Hikaru, Sachiko (the mother), Masato, and younger sister Kanon.  Each of these family members have their own concerns and challenges, and Hikaru, despite being largely silent, still has an important role, and voice, in this graphic novel.  The challenge for readers is hearing that voice, as it isn’t necessarily easy to find on the page.  The other characters of the narrative are treated with the same background and facial cues, but these are Hikaru’s only means of communicating to us, and in a book about raising an autistic child, Hikaru is a character to study carefully.  Keiko Tobe’s effort in creating a text about disability is a huge success and should be considered when studying the autistic spectrum.

word count: 764

Written by Spyden

December 8th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Sarah S’s final: Neurotypicality in “Curious Incident”

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Because Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is so strongly linked with autism and disability studies, readers see Christopher, the main character, as having many of the responses or “quirks” generally attributed to autistic individuals. We consider many of his theories and fixations to be characteristic of autism, and write them off as being “symptoms” of a “disability.” In reality, many people considered “normal,” or neurotypical, by society possess many of the same characteristics, interests, and issues that Christopher does, making him relatable as a character because he reflects in his disability many traits we consider to be “normal.” (Though the idea of “neurotypical” or “normal” is rife with problems, using this generalization to highlight the social repercussions of Christopher’s behaviors is effective.)

One example is his interest in math. Christopher is very smart, taking advanced maths and even receiving a high score on his maths A-level, which had to be specially arranged because his school did not have the facilities. If you take out the fact that Christopher is autistic, this is impressive but not unusual. Many “normal” children perform far above their grade level, especially in specific subjects, as in Christopher’s case. Outside of the label of autism, this would be considered neurotypical behavior, but with the label, high brain function of this kind is seen as a trait of autistic individuals and not a personal interest, as it very well may be.

Another example is his fear of loud noises and/or hectic environments. Though he handles himself very well when he takes public transportation, he is very disturbed by all of the hustle and bustle, and several times has to retreat into himself and distract his mind to get through it. Many view this as a characteristic of autism, but many individuals who do not share this diagnosis share Christopher’s uncomfortability. Those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or other milder disorders would react the same way in a similar situation, but many even more “normal” people simply dislike crowds or crowded areas, and can feel edgy, nervous, or distracted for a variety of reasons. Again we see that Christopher’s “quirks” exist outside of the label of autism, though other autistic individuals may share this characteristic.

Some of Christopher’s ideas are harder to generalize—his dislike of yellow, or penchant for certain foods, or distrust of strangers, etc.—though even here, he applies such straightforward logic that it is hard to say that any of these are irrational. Many of these, in a different situation, are called “personal preference” or “superstition.” Neurotypical people are not usually required to defend even silliest of opinions, and though some might say his system of colors and numbers of cars determining the mood of the day is ridiculous, most people work the same way. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed makes no sense, but if someone believes in this adage, their entire day can be ruined—and the same goes for black cats and walking under ladders. And so we see that even Christopher’s greatest “quirks” could exist unfettered in the neurotypical world, unchallenged and undiagnosed as the fixations they may be.

Some might say that this kind of discussion is useless because autism is such an integral part of Christopher’s identity as Haddon writes it that taking his disability away destroys who he is. The point is not to ignore Christopher’s autism altogether, but merely to examine the traits which we might see as dependent on the disability, considering the possibility that some characteristics correlate, but are not caused by, disability. Rather than trapping someone into a small mold, this way of looking at things frees a disabled person to own their identity, instead of having to always fall back on their disability as a default identity. Now Christopher can say, “I love maths and hate loud noises, and I’m autistic,” instead of, “I’m autistic (and I love maths and hate loud noises).” his interests and characteristics are not made parenthetical by his diagnosis.

Word count:  691

Written by sarahsmile

December 8th, 2010 at 3:00 am

Finally, The Final Project of Sam, Kathleen, Allison, Sarah, and Katherine: “The Sound of Tomorrow”

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What started as a sequel to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, became a more informed, modernized tale inspired by the Compson family.  This project is an attempt to apply current disability theory to the stereotypically dysfunctional family. Within this piece, we ask  the question:  How does the Compson family complicate our ambiguous definition of disability?  Split into five narratives that all take place within a short period of time (no more than a couple weeks), we hope to provide a level of depth to these characters to at least provoke introspection about how we see disability and how it effects our everyday lives.

Finally, we hope you enjoy what has turned into a (very) short novella: “The Sound of Tomorrow”

Benjy Compson

Quentin Compson

Candace Compson

Jason Compson


Written by Katherine Sullivan

November 29th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Andrew, Helen, Matt, and Mairin’s Major Project

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Andrew Allingham, Helen Alston, Matt Blakley, & Mairin Martin
ENGL 375A2
Major Project Paper

Voices of Disability

“The Wedding of Tom to Tom” by Keith Banner presumes the limited capacity of the characters identified as “disabled” within the story. The main character, Anita, leads readers to view the residents of the home, and the disabled community in general, as incapable and dependent upon their caretakers. This story’s existence hinges upon the presence of an able-bodied narrator to tell the tale of these disabled individuals. By writing four different monologues utilizing four other voices from “The Wedding of Tom to Tom,” the understanding of disability is broadened, providing a more progressive view of disability.
Kate’s monologue reframes the story of the Toms into a narrative that is actually theirs, as opposed to Anita’s story that uses them as devices for her own epiphany. Through Anita, Kate is portrayed as a villain, but Kate’s monologue asserts that she does care about these two men. She is, however, a slave to the institution: she falls into the trap of assuming them to be without agency and acts in the interest of their physical safety. Kate’s monologue brings to light the problematic nature of the relationship between the caretaker and the disabled individual in disability narratives. The context of the group home forces her into the role of a parent.
These monologues predominantly take place within the context of the group home, but the character of Roland takes the role of disability outside the home to see it in the able-bodied community. Although Banner’s narrator mentions that Roland is on disability leave from work because of a back injury, Anita does not identify her father as being “disabled,” but rather “on disability” (pg 61). When Roland becomes the narrator in his own monologue, he is able to go into further detail about the pain he is in and how he is ostracized from his workplace as well as from his marriage. Roland’s psychic powers are also read as disabling within the monologue because his ex-wife states that she is leaving him because his abilities make him seem crazy. In the reality of the monologue, his wife’s real reason for leaving is because of his physical disability and her own pride. By vocalizing these problems, Roland becomes less of a tool for Anita within the scheme of the story.
Larry gives readers a perspective upon what being disabled means to a mentally disabled character. Within the actual story of “The Wedding of Tom to Tom,” Anita seems to have preconceived ideas about the normative behaviors of disabled people. These are not necessarily her ideas: Kate’s files and instructional videos have told her what to expect. Larry’s monologue shows both his internal process and his perception of normalcy, as well as how he understands the rest of the characters within the group home to function. Although Larry is a disabled character, he still grew up with the same socially constructed ideas of what it is to be normal. Because of this, he views the people he lives with through a similar lense to Anita. Larry utilizes Tom A.’s departure as a mode of explaining his own agoraphobia, as Anita uses the Toms to examine her relationship with her boyfriend.

Tom A.’s monologue gives a voice to a completely nonverbal person. Even though Tom A. is a significant character, he is not depicted within the story beyond his physical description and actions. By giving Tom A. an internal narrative, it legitimizes his relationship with Tom B. and disallows the argument that their relationship is only a symptom of their respective disabilities. As a nonverbal character, it is assumed in the story that Tom A. has no agency, except within the context of sexual situations. Even so, that agency is qualified by the fact that Kate and others believe him to be incapable of making his own decisions. The sensory details that he conjures up express that he has a higher level of intelligence than is attributed to him by his caretakers. When we see him functioning at more elevated cognitive level, readers begin to understand the complexities of interaction that are available to him through the intensity of his sensory experiences.

These four monologues in conjunction alter the limited perception of disability in the original version of “The Wedding of Tom to Tom.” If they were read in concert with one another, the reader would have a more rich understanding of the nuances of the disabled experience. The monologues take stock disabled characters, which are often the only representation of disability in literature, and humanize them.

#1: Kate

by Helen Alston
[Lights up. Kate Anderson-Malloy, Group Home Manager, rifles through a filing cabinet, stage right. She finds the file folders that she was looking for and walks toward a desk, center stage. The desk is full of office clutter: a telephone, a stapler, a coffee mug, manila envelopes. KATE sits down in the desk chair. Looking out at the audience, she smiles, nods, opens the top folder.]

KATE: Yes. All of the paperwork should be going through tomorrow. We’re pretty excited about the prospect of Juanita moving in over here. Makes the home feel a little bit more diverse. Having another girl will be nice! We should have realized sooner that two Toms was a bad idea. Too much of a good thing, maybe.

[KATE laughs, but does not seem convincingly amused. She looks down at her paperwork and rifles through the stack.]

KATE: It isn’t just a matter of trading them up, Tom A. for Juanita. We’ve got to have records. Franklin Street wanted me to switch their folders when we switched their rooms and just change the name of the home in the margin, but I want this to be a professional transaction. This is a business, and we have to have some kind of record of this move. We’ve got some real medical reasons for having Tom A. placed over there. His brother, Mr. Allen, is very concerned by the recent… events, we’ll say, that have been witnessed over here. And that’s understandable. We are a business that Mr. Allen chose to invest something very personal in—his own brother!—and we are not able to provide the kind of facilities that Tom A. requires.

[She finds what she was looking for in the folder and holds her finger up to a spot on the page. She opens a desk drawer and pulls out her reading glasses.]

KATE: Yes—maybe that was part of the reason why the Orient home shut down. Other than the name, you know. [She laughs.] They were more… extreme, perhaps, in their preventative methods than we are over here. It says here that they started off by separating Tom A. and Tom B. during the day and seating them away from each other at mealtimes, but that wasn’t enough. The head caregiver over there wrote that they were “obsessed with each other’s presences,” which sounds like them, doesn’t it?

[KATE pauses, shakes her head, and shuts TOM A.’s folder.]

KATE: Toward the end of their stay at Orient, it seems like there may have been some, ah, shock therapy. Of course, you must understand that that was how things of that nature were dealt with back then. Behavior of a, ah, homosexual nature…

[She pulls out another file folder from the stack.]

KATE: …it just wasn’t acceptable back then. [She pauses.] I think we’ve been pretty tolerant. Certainly no ECT here, no sir. Much more homeopathic. We just give Tom A. and Tom B. their medicine and call it a day. We’ve got all sorts here.

[KATE pulls out a manila envelope and starts packaging the file folders.]

KATE: But yeah, maybe we’ve been a little too tolerant. Really, I should have seen it coming. After the way they were treated in the Orient home, we didn’t want to scare the poor dears. Tom A. is totally nonverbal, except for his screaming. We were worried that the shocks totally unhinged him. So for a while, we let some things happen. At first we would just catch them kissing in the living room on that love seat while everyone else was watching T.V. Larry would start pointing and gabbing on and on about Tom and Tom. My line was that they could kiss, but only on the cheek. People do that in public all the time in Europe. I figured that if we gave a little bit of ground, that little bit of affection might be enough for them.

[She licks the adhesive part of the envelope shut and closes the metal catch. With a thick marker, she begins to address the envelope.]

KATE: They couldn’t just leave it there, though. Like I said, totally obsessed with each other. First there was Tom B. putting his hand in Tom A.’s lap at dinner. They were always touching each other, but it wasn’t always totally inappropriate—do you know what I mean? That’s when we started doing the structured alone time. They were allowed to sit across from each other at the table, and they could do crafts together, but they couldn’t be on the love seat at the same time. The Toms seemed sad about it, of course. Those two sweethearts really are fond of each other.

[KATE pauses and takes a sip from a mug sitting on the desk.]

KATE: I think it was Raquel who was on duty when they locked themselves in the bathroom together. She beeped me, just like I tell all my staff members to do in an emergency, but we didn’t have the right tool to get the hinges off the door fast enough. They went through a whole bottle of lotion… [She shakes her head.] We’ve tried everything, you see. Just recently it’s come to my attention that Tom A. has been sneaking into Tom B.’s room after lights-out and performing dangerous sexual acts upon Tom B. I’m talking anal penetration. We just can’t have that kind of behavior here.

[She opens a desk drawer and pulls out a roll of stamps. She peels one off and sticks it to the envelope as she speaks.]

KATE: That was when I called their guardians. I never can seem to get in touch with Tom B.’s, but I left a message on the woman’s home phone saying there was a medical matter concerning her uncle, Tom Bennett, and hopefully she’ll call back. Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s brother, is very involved in his care. He seemed concerned that his brother’s, ah, actions, shall we say, might incur some legal ramifications for him if Tom B. were to be injured in any way. And you know, I think he’s right to worry. If these guys aren’t able to live on their own in society, how can they be making these choices for themselves? I understand getting attached, and I’m certainly not against two people loving, even if they are two men. I think it’s sweet that they want to be around each other so much, I truly do.

[KATE stands up, envelope in hand.]

KATE: But I am not okay with these sweet little men hurting each other like this. This is beyond love: they’re obsessed, and I think it’s time to wean them off of each other. It was cute when it was just holding hands and kissing cheeks, but this is not a healthy way for our residents to be relieving tension. They’re setting a bad example. What if Damon and Larry start going at it? What will we do?

[KATE moves as if to walk off stage, but stops and turns back toward the audience.]

KATE: I mean, the Toms can still see each other. We can have, like, play dates with the Franklin Street home, structured ones, so they can say hi every once in a while. I would really like that: we need to have more of a sense of community between the homes in the area, I think. It’ll be sad to see Tom A. go, but this is what’s best, Mr. Allen and I agreed. [She pauses.] And I really hope Tom A. will be okay. He’s a nice little guy.

[ANITA appears, stage left, and holds out her hand for the envelope. KATE hands it to her and they walk off stage together. The lights go out.]


#2: ROLAND SIMMONS, L.S.P. (Licensed Spiritualist Practitioner)

Matt Blakley

[Lights on. ROLAND is dressed casually, looking under the hood of Anita’s car. He seems perplexed as he pokes around the engine, hoping to find something loose or broken. After his last attempt, he steps backwards, lets out a big sigh, and faces the audience.]

ROLAND: I knew my wife was going to die. On Sundays she and Anita would sit on our couch, my wife leaning into its arm cushion, Anita anchored by her legs folded Indian style, and they would cross-stitch. The two would laugh about the boys in Anita’s middle school, or what Cathy, my wife’s divorced sister, said about her most recently failed date. I’d skim the shiny pages of Popular Mechanics and pretend to watch television, instead staring at my wife’s hand pierce the taut cloth with a steady, thin needle. She’d usually follow the pattern of some cheesy American slogan like, “Live, Laugh, Love,” or a bible verse, even. But one Sunday she sewed a bouquet of flowers. It had a pink ribbon tied around the base of the evenly cut stems, and each flower’s head rested together to create the perfect ode to the landscape they were plucked from. It was that day—that pattern—that swallowed me into the stomach of the future. Its flavor still clamps my tongue in the middle of the night while I dream. It was a place where I saw her death.

[ROLAND walks over to the car, takes one last glance at its intestines, and forcefully shuts the hood]

ROLAND: I told her while she was taking a shower the next morning before work. I have no clue what prompted me to do it then. Something about the sound and steam of the hot water hitting her pale skin, or the echo of her empty “Good Morning” while she washed her face. When I told her, she went ballistic. As if she knew it, too. She forcefully drew back the opaque shower curtain and stood there naked with the water pooling the dip of her right clavicle that would then slither down her body to find the drain. Her hair was still lathered with shampoo. After staring at one another for a couple seconds, she wiped her eyes and yelled at me like my mother. It was like every horrible thought in her mind regarding my life and the way I lived it came bursting out like the stream of the morning piss I took when I broke the news. When she was finished, she closed the curtain and cried for a good ten minutes. After I got home from dropping Anita off from school, she had left a note on the dining room table that said, “Get some help.” We divorced soon after, and she took Anita.

I used to just think I had an overactive imagination, or some sort of sensory overload or whatever. But I know I am psychic. For months I even attributed my visions to all of the different pain medicines I take for my back. It’s not my fault though. It is my damn doctor’s. It seems like every month I go in for a check-up he wants to syringe some of my spinal fluid out for more testing, or wants to shove another damn pill down my throat. My M/T/W/TH/F pill container refuses to fit anymore pills. Just like my bloodstream. A couple of weeks ago I was changing Anita’s oil and as I drained the old, diluted black liquid, my body began to shake like I was on one of those wooden roller coasters while my eyesight evaporated into the canals of my veins. The streams were translucent, revealing the morphine compounds trying to dissolve into my blood, whose sharp edges would part the protein tube of each vein like a dorsal fin.

I awoke still under Anita’s Toyota Corolla with used oil oozing down my face. While I hoisted myself atop our old dining room table that I now use as a workbench, I wiped my face with a rag and felt a rusty resistance penetrate every vein in my body. I figured it had to be the pills. The chemicals. How it fucks with my nervous system. How it fucked my life up—my job, my marriage. She claims she was unhappy, but I know my wife left me because she was too proud. She couldn’t bear to be with a man on disability. Especially a man on disability that claims he can see the future.

[ROLAND opens the driver door and sits down in the seat, still facing the audience. He smiles and angrily sounds the car horn for 10 seconds. Once finished, he remains sitting down, facing the audience.]

ROLAND: At least I have Anita, though. She moved in with me after her mother died in a taxicab accident. The driver fell asleep at the wheel. It was a blessing and a curse, Anita’s homecoming. I had no clue how to talk to her for the first few weeks because her mother had brainwashed her into thinking that I had gone mental—that and the fact that Anita was a teenager. What the hell do I know about teenagers? When I was a teenager I worked 2 jobs and went to school. “Never saw the daylight,” I would tell her when she would whine about something petty. About some dumbass she was dating, or about how she had no idea what to do after she graduated.

I won’t tell her this, but last week, while I was unloading the dishwasher, I saw her receiving an award. She was handed one of those golden awards that requires a speech. She was wearing a dress sculpted out of pink silk and her hair was all done up like a cheerleaders and she just looked happy. I was there in the audience, I think. I was watching her, until the respectful claps from the crowd faded into the cracks and clings of the plates and cups I broke when I fell limp into the spiky fingers of the dishwasher’s bottom drawer. I think the broken glass did more harm to me than I did to them, honestly. I had to get stitches. And subsequently more fucking pain medicine. But regardless of my small injuries, the point is, Anita will be famous one day. I saw it. When she graduates, I’ll tell her, too. At least then if she leaves me hopefully it will be for Hollywood. At least then I’ll know she will be happy.

[ROLAND stands up and shuts the door. Immediately after, Anita opens the garage door and ROLAND joins her in the house. Lights out.]


#3: Larry

by Andrew Allingham

[Interior: assisted living home. LARRY’S room – day.]

Larry rocks back and forth in his rocking chair, pictures of big breasted women surround him on the wall, held fast with strips of black electrical tape.

LARRY: I am not going out anywhere today. The sun is too bright and the air is too smoky. It’s just too unpredictable outside today. The thing is that I have asthma and if I go anywhere today, I could have an attack and would not have a chance. Really, it’s in my best interest to just stay right here just in case. Here I have pictures to look at and a rocking chair and I know everybody and there is no reason to leave. Anita said that she wouldn’t smoke around me. If there is smoke inside then it is no better than the outside. Anita is very nice, much nicer than Racquel. She smokes inside and I have to keep my distance from her. The air is too thick when she is around and I could choke at any moment.

There was a time when I didn’t live here. I was a part of society and I had a job. Back when I used to have hair, I didn’t need anyone to look after me and I left the house when I felt like it. I didn’t have to ask about whether or not I had to go anywhere to prepare myself ahead of time. I went for walks in the park. I ate at restaurants. I saved room for dessert. I didn’t get anxious at the thought of being left vulnerable, open to the vultures flying circles overhead. I shopped for groceries. I was normal enough to fit in, to pass off as everyone else. It didn’t change all at once. It gradually seeped in. I stopped going out for drinks with friends. I called in sick to work. My asthma started acting up. I stopped getting the morning paper. I couldn’t breathe. I drew the curtains closed. I cut the cord to my phone and alarm clock. Locked up tight in a box and closed off is how they found me. They ran test after test and tried to find the right pill. I stopped belonging in the world, but at least I don’t have to keep pretending that I do.

Even here I don’t quite fit in, but not because I am the freak. I go to group meetings with the others, but I used to be normal and they didn’t. I just have asthma and it gets hard to breathe sometimes. Normal is using a rocking chair to rock back and forth. I used to go out to the movies and I’d buy a coca-cola and popcorn with extra butter and salt. Here I can sit in my rocking chair and nothing is expected of me, just like the others. I am able to pass as normal here. I am treated like everyone else. Normal is different here than it is outside. Normal isn’t an act and you don’t have to wear a mask. I can say more than “Mona Lisa” and I try to make a good first impression. I brush my teeth after I drink soda and not the other way around. Normal is being able to carry on a conversation on any topic at the drop of a hat. Normal is never letting the conversation lull. We built these walls to get away from the outside, so I don’t see why we’d want to leave them.

They are making Tom A. leave, but not me. So much could happen out there and you would have no way to protect yourself. You could get attacked by bees or robbed and you would have to run away without having the chance to stretch first or limber up. It could rain when you’ve forgotten to bring an umbrella. Why they would make anyone leave is a mystery to me. It is just so big outside that it is hard to breathe. There is so much pressure to live when there is very little living going on. Just thinking about it makes me feel a wheeze coming on. I can hear my lungs blow a quiet whistle tune. Sometimes I wake from a dream of the outside world in the middle of the night, and it’s like a choked rendition of some jazz song I can’t quite remember being played by an out of tune brass section. I have to cough to keep it from taking away my breath. Then I see the four walls and the roof over my head and I can be calm again. Everything is safe, and everything is in its place. There is just too much space that imprisons you out there. Here you know what happens and you can control it and be free to do as you please. You don’t have to worry anymore. If everything is familiar then there is no reason to panic and if there is no reason to panic, then everyone is calm.

Tom A. is a little slow, so maybe he does not know the dangers. Maybe not knowing the danger makes it easier to move around. I do not know how Tom B. will be able to live without his friend Tom A. Especially since Tom A. will be out there where anything could happen. They are always together, separable only by the nagging of the nurses. I try to tell Tom A. and Tom B. that they shouldn’t go anywhere alone, so that they don’t get caught with their guards down, but they don’t listen and they just sneak off without thinking about what might happen. Maybe Tom A. being around Tom B. is what keeps them from worrying. Tom B. speaks slow and with a slur and Tom A. doesn’t talk at all, but they are still friends and are able to talk to one another. Making Tom A. leave changes the surroundings. It will still be familiar, but not the same as before. If anyone has to leave, I suppose it’s better him than me. I am not going out anywhere today.

[ANITA enters and takes LARRY out of the room for breakfast.]


#4: Tom A.

by Mairin Martin

[TOM A is sitting in the living room on a dingy sofa somewhere between grey and light blue, almost covered in unidentifiable stains. The room is bare with the exception of a set of poorly made ply-wood bookshelves teetering under the weight of several plastic storage bins label things such as “floor cleaner”, “wash cloths”, “diapers”, and “crayons”. A small television set with bunny ears sits on a lop-sided microwave cart, a piece of folded cardboard stuck under the front-left leg in an attempt to steady it. The television plays a black and white Western. A woman sits on the floor attempting a jig-saw puzzle. When TOM A’s monologue comes over the speakers as a voice-over and the actor moves and follows the stage direction as if he were speaking. When his voice is heard and when he moves, no one listens or acknowledges him at all.]


I am sitting on the sofa and watching t.v. with Tom and everything is good. Do you know what I mean by good? Like really good. Like I can feel his hand and where every line on it leaves a tiny space for the air to get to my skin. But the air is hot so it’s not really like air, not like a breeze is flowing in onto my skin, but I just know, I can tell that his hand is a tiny bit away from me there. I wish his hand could cover all of me. It is so warm. I love his hand and I wish it were so big and that is didn’t have any little lines so that he could cover me and no air could touch me in between the cracks and every bit of me could be covered by his warm, warm hand. I can remember the first time Tom held my hand. We was sitting on the old sofa at our old home, just like we are now, and he just reached right over and grabbed it. Normally that would have scared me. But his hand was just so warm I couldn’t help it.

I let him hold my hand.

And then I loved him.

I didn’t used to like people to touch me before Tom.

[He lets go of TOM B’s hand and holds himself in a tight embrace, rocking slightly back and forth looking down towards the floor.]

When I was little my mom used to hold me but her hands were never clean and warm like Tom’s. Her hands were rough and her long finger nails frightened me. They would get caught on my knobby clothes and I was scared that maybe one day they would get caught on me- tear a little snag on my skin just like they did on my Batman pajamas.

[He shifts his arms in and out of the sleeves of his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, pulling his elbows towards his waist then slipping his arms back into the sleeves.]

Once, when I was at my old home, before Tom came, one of the ladies tried to wash my face. She was trying to scrape my skin off. The washcloth looked fluffy but I knew better. It was made of steel wool. It bit me and scratched me and tried to get rid of white skin and make me walk around pink like a raw baby bird. So I screamed and ran away to the safety of my cot. The blanket on my bed is so soft. It is water. It is warm cotton air coming through the Magnolia and Mamosa trees to wrap my prickling, burning skin in comfort. Breeze. It is breeze and it is water and it is perfect. Tom’s skin is like this too. His skin against mine is water. It is the perfect amount of hot. It is the air coming from a fire of oak and cedar on a night in mid May when the mosquitos aren’t out yet. The air carries nothing but the oak and cedar. Thick air. Wood air. Spice air. Soft, worked leather air. It rolls through the night, unfurling from the sticky flames to wrap my bubbling, bursting skin in comfort.

[TOM A slowly moves back to an upright position and takes TOM B’s hand once more, stares at him for a moment then goes into a whisper delivering his next lines]

There was a time when I once didn’t love Tom. When I couldn’t. They sent me into a room…

[TOM A shudders and lets go of TOM B’s hand, bolting up onto his feet and standing at attention.]

When I left the room my skin was running away from me. There were bright pink and yellow pipe cleaners shooting through my veins. They were boring out of my armpits and kneecaps and tunneling from my temples. They crawled from under my finger nails and spelled out messages on my arms in the lose parts that left, the collapsed tunnels under my skins: NO NO NO NO NO NO TOUCH TOUCH TOUCH NO NO NO TOM TOM TOM NO NO TOUCH NO NO TOM

[He presses down with his pointer finger on his forearm with a brutality, tracing the images of the words he repeats, slowly and poignantly.]

I couldn’t touch Tom anymore for a long time. A really long time. When he tried to hold my hand I screamed. I could feel the pipe cleaners resurfacing and the malicious furry ends sticking to my blood and sucking it from my cells so that they started to deflate. I could feel them dying and I could feel the emptiness. And the emptiness was pain. The deep wood air had disappeared from Tom. I thought that if it could come back, then it could fill re-inflate my cells and fix them. Tom could make me full again; I knew it. But I didn’t know how it could happen because those pipe cleaners terrified me. I couldn’t move when they were in me. All I could do was scream. The places that they especially loved to poke and seep from were the charred circles from cigars twisted and ground into my back. They were another reason that I ran from my mother’s touch…

That smoggy, rotting scent of cigar smoke…They looked like slugs and they smelled like mud and bowling allies. When that scent snuck under the door of my room and seeped into my pores I could smell the pain, the death, my skin would cry for me to run away. It knew what was coming. But I couldn’t run. So I would scream. And then I would be punished. The glowing, seething slug-like roll crept towards me through the darkness and emptiness of the room. It latched onto my back and spit fire into my muscles. My skin cried out so I cried out but this only made the slug burrow deeper. My screams peopled the darkness and I was left alone with them and with my throbbing scars and with the residue of the embers from the cigar as it slithered away.

[TOM A stares ahead blankly as he sinks back onto the sofa and reaches for TOM B’s hand, resting his head on TOM B’s shoulder.]


Written by Helen

November 21st, 2010 at 11:44 pm

social media meets disability!

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Hey all! I’ve seen a few of these on my friends statuses today (on a social networking site called “Facebook”) :

“Children with a disability just want what we all want, to be accepted. Can I make a request? Is anyone willing to post this and leave it in your Status for at least an hour? It is Special Education Week and it is in honor of children made in a unique way :)”

It’s the standard sort of copy and paste as a status update type deal, but apparently this time with a point. Thoughts on the effectiveness of this tool in changing attitudes towards disability? Thoughts on what this says about neurodiversity? Thoughts at all?

Written by sarahsmile

November 16th, 2010 at 1:32 am

Gregory Corso’s “In Praise of Neanderthal Man”

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This is the poem of which the Flying Words Project video is meant to be a loose translation. Scroll down to pg. 194 on Google Books to read it!

Written by Helen

November 5th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Helen’s formal blog post on Banner’s “The Wedding of Tom to Tom”

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“I mean, I’m not against love. I’m not against human sexuality. I’m against obsession. Those two are obsessed. I mean. I talked to Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s guardian last night on the phone, and he told me they’ve been like that since Orient, since they were boys, and it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t. So we’re just gonna move Tom A. over to Franklin Street… I mean, what I’m afraid of is that they are gonna end up hurting each other. Physically…when I walked in on them the other morning, Tom A., excuse me, but Tom A. was anally penetrating Tom B.”
The way she said “penetrating,” I had to laugh.

Kate Anderson-Malloy, the head caretaker in Keith Banner’s The Wedding of Tom to Tom, draws a line between what she perceives as the difference between “love” and “obsession” when she decides to have Tom A. and Tom B. separated. She cites no institutional regulation that states that the two cannot be allowed to be together, nor does Tom A.’s guardian imply that he requires of Kate that the behavior be stopped. Kate’s assumption—that these two “retarded” people cannot make decisions for themselves despite their seeming lucidity and competence—is complicated by the fact that Tom and Tom are in a homosexual relationship. The implied judgment behind Kate’s decision is that Tom A. and Tom B. are only together because their mental illnesses impair their ability to choose “appropriate” partners. Kate categorizes the two Tom’s “deviant” sexual behavior as symptoms of their greater instability.

All of the caretakers, including Anita and Kate in the quoted passage, seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of Tom A. and Tom B. having sex. It is impossible, here, to separate their discomfort of seeing two “retarded” people having sex from their discomfort with homosexuality generally. Anita laughs at the idea of the two men having anal sex, as do her coworkers. None of them speak out against the move, but neither have they separated Tom and Tom with much decisiveness in the past: the two men’s desire for each other seems to be accepted as a kind of eccentricity that is indulged in the context of the institution, but widely acknowledged to be socially unacceptable. The two Toms are treated like children, as if they were five and had been caught kissing chastely on the playground: it is cute, but ultimately inappropriate. Tom and Tom are not allowed to make this decision for themselves not because they are too young, but presumably because they are “too retarded” to choose an “appropriate” partner.

Because the two Tom’s sexuality does not manifest in more “normal” heterosexual ways, Tom and Tom wanting to be together is regarded as “obsession” rather than “love.”  “Obsessive” behavior is something quantifiable, a commodity that Kate can legitimately seek to control or eradicate in her patients because it is a sign of mental instability. Kate talks of being afraid of the two men “hurting each other,” but she also mentions that Tom A.’s guardian said Tom and Tom had been together for years without much incident. Anita never mentions either of the Tom’s guardians speaking out about having the Toms separated. Kate’s decision to move them apart, then, becomes a matter of her own discomfort.

Although Kate admits that “it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t,” she endeavors to end it regardless because there is some unspoken difference between what the Toms are doing and what two people in love would do. Their love is, to the caretakers, adorable up to a point, but it is only taken seriously inasmuch as Kate believes they are capable of hurting each other. Their homosexual relationship is labeled as “obsession,” a term which, for Kate, changes their relationship into a symptom of mental illness, a quantifiable thing which she has control over and plans to eradicate.

Written by Helen

November 3rd, 2010 at 9:27 am

Robert’s Formal Blog Post on William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” – April 8, 1928

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The gown fell gauntly from her shoulders, across her fallen breasts, then tightened upon her paunch and fell again, ballooning a little above the nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in color regal and moribund. She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts, and above that the collapsed face that gave the impression of the bones themselves being outside the flesh, lifted into the driving day with an expression at once fatalistic and of a child’s astonished disappointment, until she turned and entered the house again and closed the door.

– April 8, 1928

“I aint gwine let him,” Dilsey says. “Don’t you worry, honey.” She held to my arm. Then the belt came out and I jerked loose and flung her away. She stumbled into the table. She was so old she couldn’t do any more than move hardly. But that’s all right: we need somebody in the kitchen to eat up the grub the young ones can’t tote off. She came hobbling between us, trying to hold me again. “Hit me, den,” she says, “ef nothin else but hittin somebody won’t do you. Hit me,” she says.  “You think I won’t?” I says. “I don’t put no devilment beyond you,” she says. Then I heard Mother on the stairs. I might have known she wasn’t going to keep out of it. I let go. She stumbled back against the wall, holding her kimono shut.  “All right,” I says. “We’ll just put this off a while. But don’t think you can run it over me. I’m not an old woman, nor an old half dead nigger, either. You dam little slut,” I says.

-April 6, 1928

Dilsey, matriarch of the Gibson family and caretaker of the Compson family, provides an interesting opportunity to analyze age, race, and disability in The Sound and the Fury. In the work’s final section, April 8, 1928, we read Dilsey’s perspective of the Compson family’s final disintegration. Unlike the previous three sections, though, Dilsey does not narrate directly to us in first person. The section is in third person; this indirect focus on Dilsey accomplishes several things. For one, it disempowers her; the previous three narrators were white and were given the opportunity to narrate, even though the first, Benjy, was mentally disabled. Dilsey is black, old, poor, and a woman; these three things combine to create a pseudo-disability for her. This indirect narration also creates a mystique around Dilsey. As a black woman and servant, her opinions have little social value; however, Dilsey’s opinions are somewhat prophetic, at least to readers.

Working for the Compsons, caring for Benjy, putting up with Caroline’s hypochondriacally inspired “spells,” and keeping up the Compson home have all taken their toll on Dilsey. She “had been a big woman once” but time has consumed her muscles, which were also her “courage and fortitude.” Here is an interesting association between physical strength and inner fortitude. The Compson family’s problems have devoured both Dilsey’s physical and inner power. Faulkner is implying here that the strength of a person’s character is related to their physical strength.

Jason, in the previous April 6 section, dismisses Dilsey as an “old half dead nigger” who “couldn’t do any more than move hardly.” To Jason and most of the family, Dilsey is simply a tool, a prosthetic device used to oil their squeaky wheels (Benjy, Caroline, and Miss Quentin), to soothe Benjy’s tantrums, and maintain the shrinking house’s beauty and power. Already disempowered, maybe even disabled, by her race and gender, Dilsey’s increasing age and decreasing physical strength are further disempowering her. For Dilsey, now “only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts.”

These guts, however, do give Dilsey some power. This power is primarily literary and not literal; instead of influencing the other characters, Dilsey influences us, the readers, with her opinions. As an “other” many times over – in race, gender, class, age, etc. – Dilsey is somewhat odd. In the opening of the April 8 section, Faulkner describes her wearing “nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in color regal and moribund.”  Because she is such a unique other, when Dilsey speaks up, we find prophetic power in her words. For example, when Jason threatens Quentin with a whipping, Dilsey intervenes. Though Quentin has done wrong, Jason’s punishment is entirely out of line. Dilsey, powerless and feeble and disempowered as she is, comes to Quentin’s defense and tries to stop Jason. She tells Jason to hit her instead. Jason says, “You think I won’t?” Dilsey replies, “I don’t put no devilment beyond you.” Here is a good example of how Faulkner’s uses Dilsey’s disempowered status as a multiple “other” as a prophetic literary device. Dilsey condemns Jason’s character early on in this section; upon further reading, we find that Dilsey’s statement if quite justified.

Dilsey is used by the Compson family and Faulkner as a prosthetic crutch. The Compsons use her physical strength to care for their disabled family members, their crumbling power, and their shrinking estate. They give Dilsey little credit, especially when her disempowered status as a black woman is furthered by her increasing age and frailty. Faulkner capitalizes on this, too. Dilsey is an “other” in many different categories many times over; her numerous “other” labels almost outnumber her numerous undergarments. These multiple categories of “otherness,” combined with Dilsey’s appearance, give Dilsey’s words, at least, a little power.

Written by Robert

October 20th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Nervousness in the media

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Drivers Abusing Laws on Disabled parking

Listen to this short clip about the upsetting rise in the number of people abusing the use of handicap passes that are not registered to them. What I found far more compelling than even this awful crime, was what the police had to say about the issue. They would rather let citizens commit these crimes than ask for identification or proof of issue for this tags because they are too scared of offending someone who might actually be disabled with a less readily apparent disability. This is a very concrete example of that idea of “nervousness” coming into play in real life.

What do you think about this? I think that maybe if I were disabled I would rather have an officer ask to see identification than be kept from parking in a handicap parking spot by someone who is not disabled but whom the police were to afraid to question. Do you think you would feel the same? What would you do in the position of the police?

Written by Mairin Martin

September 29th, 2010 at 12:32 am

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Allison Miller’s Formal Post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Part 2)

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 My father was enraptured on finding me freed from the vexations of a criminal charge, that I was again allowed to breathe the fresh atmosphere and permitted to return to my native country. I did not participate in these feelings, for to me the walls of a dungeon or a palace were alike hateful. The cup of life was poisoned forever, and although the sun shone upon me, as upon the happy and gay of heart, I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me. Sometimes they were the expressive eyes of Henry, languishing in death, the dark orbs nearly covered by the lids and the long black lashes that fringed them; sometimes it was the watery, clouded eyes of the monster, as I first saw, them in my chamber at Ingolstadt. (Shelley, 162-163)

What is interesting about this passage is Victor’s perception of the world after Henry’s death. Notice how he said life was now poisoned. Before his creation, his life was happy, content, ambitious. To him, the world (especially Geneva, his home) was pure. After Henry’s death, everything, including the good memories, blended into the same thing; hate. Everything becomes tainted because of the Monster’s crimes, which represents disability as a disease spreading everywhere, that for Victor, the world could never be the same. Victor hated the world because he could not escape his creation, and the disease. When he realized that nothing could be the same, Victor slowly degraded himself by creating  a mental prison and suffered when each person he loves died. He always confined himself  to think which for him is quite dangerous because thinking too much is the factor that degraded him.

What’s really interesting are the pairs of eyes he saw sometimes in his mind, either of Henry’s corpse, or the Monster himself.  The eyes are a powerful tool because they are used to stare or gaze. Once a person gazes at someone else, that person being gazed at becomes the object of speculation. In this case, Victor becomes the object of speculation. When he thought Henry looked at him from his “mental prison,” Victor felt guilt and horror. He believed that he killed his friends by the Monster’s hands, and when he didn’t tell anyone of his crime, his sanity faded, therefore creating a mental prison. The other way in which Victor becames mad is the Monster’s eyes. He hated those eyes, but at the same time, the monster switched roles, becoming the master, while Victor was his slave. To me, Victor was more like a mental patient in his “mental prison” while the Monster had the power to torture him, and degrade him even more.

When one noticed  the Monster’s disability, they noticed that the Monster killed people because of his environment (society excluded him because of his deformity). What he can’t have (love from society), he can take away from others, and that is what he did to Victor. I’d like to think of it as a mental institution torture that Victor endured, because he had friends and families he loved. His family comforted him, which helped him hold on to hope as well as sanity. However, once the Monster murdered his friends and family, he proved that he had to power to take away hope and sanity. Victor was then left alone in isolation where his thoughts were his only comfort. When Victor thought the Monster looked at him, he got angry, but fearful. During this time, he couldn’t do anything except wait in fear for what the Monster might do next. The Monster had the power to gaze upon Victor, while Victor became the victim of circumstance. The roles changed between the disabled and non-disabled. The Monster gained power over Victor, while Victor broke down. If one thinks about it, Victor, at first, was the spectator of  the “freak show.” However, when he degraded, he became the “freak” in the freak show. It is just like normalizing judgment, where an institution watches for something abnormal, and tries reforming the person, but backwards. Instead of reforming the disabled, Shelley represented the disabled in control, while the non-disabled transgressed into the disabled. 

I think this is very important because one could spend all their time explaining about how the Monster portrays physical disability and how people may sympathize with him as the victim, but no one would ever imagine Victor as the victim of the Monster. Shelley reversed the roles of the disabled and the nondisabled in order to warn readers that anyone can degrade into what they fear most, and anyone can break the normalizing judgment power by becoming the one in power. There is no such thing as the ideal person, which Shelley metaphorically describes (such as Walton’s quest to the Northern part of the world). Even if one tries to find the ideal idea, the ideal idea consumes them little by little, and making one become the very thing they swore never to be.  I also would like to believe that Shelley used Victor’s degradation as a way of representing a little aspect of madness, which could considered a part of cognitive disability. If Victor did have madness, it means Shelley portrayed two types of disabilities; cognitive and physical. The question is which one would society fear more?

Written by library1288

September 27th, 2010 at 10:08 am