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Open letter to Ursula K Le Guin

Dear Ursula,

I'm hesitant to say this, but thank you... I think.
There is every chance this will take you by surprise; it's what, ten years or more since you published the idea? (In 'The Wave in the Mind') But, you see, up until a few seconds ago I had no way of seeing, thank you.

Thank you for the concept of 'old woman'. I have been getting a bit anxious about the big black hole that looms on the horizon and feeling a bit out of control. I have spent time with my own collection of rejected semi-colons, pondering my abject failure as a man and also considering, as a writer, my total rejection of the short, manly sentence; and the shotgun. And this despite my being wheelborne and, in some eyes, a prime candidate for even the shortest of sentences or Hemingway-style conclusions. 

Unlike yourself, I was faced with abandoning 'us men', some years ago with the onset of wheels. As you are well aware, 'us men' not only stay young and lean, but also fit and active.

I had actually considered coming out around about the same time; refusing the five-bar gate; dislodging the nazi on my back, because my collection of rejected semi-colons had began to haunt my creative processes, but the consideration didn't make things any easier.

Subconsciously I was still a man. And worth the same as a man, even though I was so pathetic at it. I had bowed to the editing process; accepted my feeble manliness and my rejected semi-colons and tried to ignore the strange growth of wheels; manifesting itself somewhere in the area I had previously rather enjoyed the unmanly activity of swinging a skirt.

Like you, I'm one of those fake men who have actually given birth to children; I own a bra or two and several pots of unused nail polish. However, I've not totally ignored the issue of age; please don't blame yourself for neglect here; I've dabbled with a few of those 'somewhere between the shotgun and Oil of Olay' solutions, but don't believe they work at all; not even superficially.

Nothing seems capable of preventing my mother's face from suddenly emerging through what used to be my skin. So, I've come to the conclusion that it really is time to exercise my options; to put the brakes on before that five-bar gate and toss the nazi onto its head.

I've had to accept that I've been fooling myself, but no one else; the wheels are a total giveaway. Wheels disqualify even the leanest, fittest, youngest of us men. Wheels don't even admit anyone to the relatively recently conceived we women status; wheels, together with various other a-listed identifiers, tend to cancel out gender altogether; wheels possibly even default specimens (and particularly those audacious enough to get older), from the human race, or a least from Homo Sapiens Choreomaniens (a prevalent branch of the genus).

Like you, I'm young; well I was five minutes ago. And Ok, I should try harder with the age thing... and the wheels... and this embarrassing lack of genuine man-ness and actual monetary worth (as posited by one of us men in a recent Freudian £lip - there are still so many real and fake men show-jumping mindlessly over that five-bar gate).

But it really sounds as if you are doing a fantastic job inventing old women; that must be something worth celebrating. I could be doing my bit, or does one have to be famous? Having shaken off the nazi, indeed shaken off the whole show jumping metaphor, I'd welcome something amazing to be working at; somewhere positive to be seen to be heading for...

Unless of course I'm still completely invisible?
Hello? Hello...

The brilliant Ursula K Le Guin is the author of amazing work (including a favourite of mine, 'Always Coming Home'), and recipient of this year's  Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Posted by Gini, 24 October 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 October 2014

Real people...

Organising the conversations necessary for creating the Con.Text piece supporting the Arts and Health presentation Sue, Trish and I (with our LinkUpArts (LUA), hats on), made for Wilts. Council, was not the easiest task. Due to the timing, many of the relevant people were away on summer holidays.

My connections to people who had themselves been educated in a special needs program, or to their parents and families was limited and mostly negative. Some of these people were now adults and I knew them through LUA or LUA related projects; most of the disabled people were reluctant to be identified. Some people felt so strongly they didn't care, some hoped that perhaps it might help: 'it couldn't make life any worse'.

Part of the Health in Con.Text piece contains individual voices, and even individual poems, but the majority of verses are amalgamations of similar thoughts expressed by people who have grown up to become wary. People for whom the Chinese curse: 'May you come to the attention of those in authority' feels like a very real threat; people who have come to terms with the poverty of their existence and fear further hardship.

One particular voice echoed through many individual and unrelated people. I'd first heard it many years ago when it was tentative and small. It had grown louder and now, with the shocking behaviour of central government since 2012, it had grown angry. The words reflect several voices, the tone is that of one young man whose voice is still in my head.

I'd asked Philippa and Faith of the Wilts. Special Educational Needs and Disabilities team how they felt about strong language. They'd both nodded. It was part of the job. So I used his words.

At the last minute it was suggested that the audience should be given the opportunity to leave the room before the offensive words were uttered; that the f-word should be bleeped out, but 'arse' and 'bloody' could, with 'appropriate' warning, remain.

Anticipating the possible sensitivity of local government employees, I had taken the precaution of converting the f-word to 'effing' when reading for the film.

It is this voice that brought into sharp focus my thoughts on the need to educate children, all children, on how to create and be active participants in the kinds of integrated, resilient, healthy communities we would almost all like to be part of.

I had come to the conclusion that teaching everyone comprehensively integrated community building skills would be beneficial - that the onus of integrating into a community should not be on the shoulders of the people who might struggle the most. That teaching all children about equality and diversity, raising their awareness of diverse role-models, inspiring them with community building skills from an early age ( fx. through integrated theatre and dance performances and workshops) would, in the long run, be money well spent.

I just want to be normal.
Not your normal, my normal
Not some social worker idea
of normal. My normal.
If the new deal sees that, well
good on it. It wasn't there
for me. Ok if they've got their heads
halfway out of their arses,
but we will never be normal
until everyone and I mean
everyone gets an education
in disability and diversity
equality and awareness.
People need to know,
to see other real people.
Start with the teachers; the whole country
needs to fucking know, so that
central government has to stop
spreading lies. People could be decent
given half a bloody chance.

Posted by Gini, 11 October 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 October 2014

Missing Arts and Health in Wiltshire.

The day dawned; Conference day and I was unable to be there. Before I headed off to Japan, Sue Austin and I had worked together on a LinkUpArts presentation piece for Wiltshire Council. We had held conversations with Philippa and Faith of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) team in Trowbridge. And Sue had filmed.

I researched, wrote, planned and held supporting conversations, designed artwork and edited the whole thing down to around fifteen minutes. I felt a sense of clarity about what needed to be said.
LinkUpArts brought in Trish Wheatley who recorded me reading it because the brief had specified something ready to post online. And I headed off to Tokyo leaving Sue with the task of editing introductions, of including fabulous shots of herself underwater in the famous wheelchair and also of editing the final cut.

My brutal, but necessary edit had resulted in a plan to produce a handout for Conference delegates which would restore those voices that had been excluded from the presentation; voices that had entrusted opinions, emotions and facts to me. Voices that convinced me of the need to educate children, all children, in how to build resilient, fair and kind communities.
I would work on the printout when I got back.

One month later I returned from Japan planning to get together with Sue and Trish to polish the result, discuss presentation and prepare for possible Q&A. And of course, the handout.

Except that I had a virus. Initially it felt like a joke. My tongue was so swollen it didn't fit between my teeth. And my teeth, like a bed of polished knives, were just waiting to shred the offending tongue which was already covered in sores.
Swallowing was certainly no joke, actually it was scary. And I hauled in air with an open mouth, feeling constantly breathless.
Virus don't respond to antibiotics. Bed rest, stress-free bed rest, painkillers and drinking lots were to be the answer. You can probably imagine the nightmare of a painfully slow recovery - well you probably don't want to imagine too much, certainly not the rest of my symptoms.

Conference day and the tongue was still swollen; it still looked disgusting. It still hurt. But I had some degree of taste, I could swallow without too much fear; breath through my nose without the sensation of running out of air, and had a strangely powerless voice that didn't sound anything like mine.
The bouts of extreme giddiness were still taking me unawares, there was no way I could travel to the Conference. I still flagged miserably around midday, and painkillers were just not up to the task.

Sue and Trish worked hard on the finished presentation. The Conference, our presentation, happened without me: I'm confident they did a good job, but I feel gutted.
Unhappy; disappointed for the silent voices.

Please don't close your eyes to me.
One day your young person, the one
you nurtured and facilitated, will be
me - living in a world of ignorance
battling for human rights. Don't fob
us off with 'things are different now'.
Look at disability history. Look at the
current levels of persecution among adults.
Nothing changes, nothing will change
without vision, effort and commitment.
Don't let the person centred approach
die aged twenty-five, give your children
hope of a decent future. 

Some time ago when I came here
I was shocked to see this harassed
young mum scream at a weeping child:
if you don't shut up I'll give you
something to cry about. The child
wept louder. Years later I'm now
drawing parallels with the state.
Punishment of people unable
to cope is counterproductive
but this government is bankrupt
of ideas. Blind to options
that promote healthy, resilient
people, seeking only to groom
their victims into submission.

Start here, with education, start
now in the hearts and minds of youth;
give young people the information
they will need to create the kinds
of communities we all want
to be a meaningful part of.

Posted by Gini, 4 October 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 October 2014