On Being a Cripple – The Work of Nancy Mairs

Nancy Mairs: A great writer on disability, physicality, sex, pain, meaning, and more has passed away:

Here’s the NYT obituary.

Ms. Mairs was a budding poet in her late 20s, suffering from agoraphobia and depression — she had once attempted suicide — when she was told that she had M.S. The inexorable progress of the disease provided her with her richest subject, as she wrote of her fears and hopes, her resolve to push against her limitations and her aversion to such euphemisms as “differently abled.”

“I refuse to participate in the degeneration of the language to the extent that I deny that I have lost anything in the course of this calamitous disease; I refuse to pretend that the only differences between you and me are the various ordinary ones that distinguish any one person from another,” she wrote in the introduction to “Plaintext: Deciphering a Woman’s Life” (1986), the essay collection that established her as a fierce, funny, feminist voice. Her essays “On Being a Cripple” and “Sex and the Gimpy Girl” made the point, defiantly.

“To view your life as blessed does not require you to deny your pain,” she wrote in the introduction to “Carnal Acts.” “It simply demands a more complicated vision, one in which a condition or event is not either good or bad but is, rather, both good and bad, not sequentially but simultaneously. In my experience, the more such ambivalences you can hold in your head, the better off you are, intellectually and emotionally.”

I’m most familiar with her essay “On Being a Cripple,” a version of which is hosted here:

First, the matter of semantics. I am a cripple. I choose this word to name me. I choose from among several possibilities, the most common of which are “handicapped” and “disabled.” I made the choice a number of years ago, without thinking, unaware of my motives for doing so. Even now, I’m not sure what those motives are, but I recognize that they are complex and not entirely flattering. People–crippled or not–wince at the word “cripple,” as they do not at “handicapped” or “disabled.” Perhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates /gods /viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger.

Go read it. It’s worth your time. And remember Nancy Mairs.

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