Imagine that when you wake up in the morning you are handed a bunch of literal metal spoons and each of them represents an amount of energy you have at your disposal. Those are the spoons you are stuck with and, to complete tasks, you give them up. Hold them in your hand, okay. Now get dressed, give up a spoon. Make breakfast, lose a spoon. Hand me one of your spoons for each task. Soon, you will be holding no spoons, you will have no more energy. I will be holding all your spoons, but that’s not part of this. This is called spoon theory.
Here is a small experiment: this semester I wait until one of the very last weeks of class to tell my students I am disabled, and I only tell them because I worry they will think I am just lazy instead of a person with a disability slash illness who needs to cancel class more than other teachers might. The experiment is the next time one of their stories or poems or essays is ableist, the experiment is whether the next time they think my calling it ableist is a real academic thought or just the way I feel. The experiment is I don’t have an answer yet because this happened today, but I do have a kind of strong guess.
1. Which famous writer is secretly disabled?
a. You shouldn’t ask that.
2. Replace the word ‘deaf’ in the following sentence: Her warnings fell on deaf ears.
a. Different metaphor.
b. Literally deaf.
c. Maybe we need to talk about the difference between verbs, like what is hearing vs. what is listening vs. what is processing
vs. what is understanding.
Ableism as daily practice, I imagine, goes like this:
—You wake up with your legs, you think that you could not wake up without legs or live without legs and you might kill yourself without legs. You go to Starbucks with your legs and you don’t check to see if they have accessible bathrooms or automatic door buttons.
—You go to class. Your purse isn’t full of pill bottles because you’re not, like, a trainwreck who takes pills in the middle of class.
—In class, which is poetry workshop, someone reads their poem which includes a lover who is blind to the speaker of the poem, a lover who is spineless. You nod with your head that doesn’t get dizzy from nodding, you take notes in class with your hands that can hold pens or pencils all the time and not just sometimes with the right medication.
—Someone who is me says something about ableism, which the professor then asks me to explain and to provide a solution for, but you kind of tune me out, because this happens every week, and you don’t understand why I’m even there, don’t I write nonfiction, and do I read looking to find ableism in like every goddamn fucking poem, which you asked me about a few weeks ago because you were genuinely curious and—
I text my disabled poet friend, I am a mess (said out loud: I am MS.) She texts back, Idk how you made that into poetry but you did. Here is a tiny miniscule multiplied sclerosis of an experiment: I stop making disability jokes to my nondisabled friends. I start again by accident. I stop. I start.
If there are a limited number of spoons at my disposal and they represent the energy I have for a day or a week or a year, I might spend a lot of spoons trying to write two books at once or plan a wedding or bathe myself. If there are a limited number of spoons at my disposal, I might find myself unwilling to start projects just for fun, or to have arguments for the sake of arguing. Th