Last week’s Brevity Nonfiction Blog article by Sarah Einstein, Weighing Disability and Writing—a blog post about a blog post, which is what I’m doing here—got me thinking about honesty in writing. The original post by Jason B. Dutton on the River Teeth Journal, is about how he worked through questions regarding whether or not to write about his disability (cerebral palsy) when writing personal nonfiction. He writes,
For a while I entertained the idea that I didn’t need to mention cerebral palsy unless the reader needed clarification. But I couldn’t write about a birthday party without mentioning why it took a lot of effort to climb a set of stone steps in front of the birthday girl’s house. I couldn’t write about my longing to be a stage performer without revealing why I can’t perform. Before too long, I realized that cerebral palsy had affected nearly all of my existence in some way or another.
Dutton realized that he couldn’t write about his life without writing about how his disability affects him every day; his challenges and achievements are all related. Dutton’s post struck me as honest and vulnerable in ways I always want my own writing to be. And that made me consider whether we are all handicapped in one way or another. This is not to minimize the challenges that a physically or mentally disabled writer deals with every day—it just made me think about all the invisible emotional injuries we have—the ones that don’t heal correctly, and the ones that affect us in every aspect of our lives.
Acknowledging and writing about these emotional less-than-abilities in clear, factual, vulnerable, and honest ways brings more depth and resonance to our work.
Einstein’s final comments:
Writing about disability isn’t any less significant than writing about anything that is real and true. Dutton’s insightful look at his own process can help all of us think about what we put on the page when we write ourselves.
Yes, that’s exactly what I meant to say.
What do you think?