Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of November

It's Road Trip Wednesday over at YA Highway and today's question is:

What was the best book you read in November?

I have two answers for this, but since one of them is scheduled to be my December giveaway (stay tuned) I'll have to give my second answer.

Dramarama by E. Lockhart

And not for the reasons you might think. This book hurt me with it's realism. It's simple. A girl and her best friend go to drama camp. There are no deaths, no lost siblings, no heavy-handed plots. But the very, very REAL way this loves-the-theater, maybe-not-a-star girl is portrayed just about killed me.

I was Sadye. I was the one who sang the showtunes in the back of the car, all too aware that the person next to me was going to be a Broadway star. Heck, I lost my best friend to Interlochen, in a far less painful way, after she did the summer program there, just like Sadye and her bff Demi. And E. Lockhart portrays all of this in a way that's so real, so honest that it took me back to being sixteen, standing on a stage and knowing I was a part of something better than the rest of the world. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dammit, Janet

A friend and I went to see the stage performance of The Rocky Horror Show at Club Oberon on Friday Night and it left me with a lot of questions. Like am I still a Rocky virgin since there was no "picture" involved? Is it bizarre to see The Muppets and Rocky Horror in one six-hour period? Why is it so difficult for media to exist in the world?

Wait, back up, you say. Muppets? You saw it?

Yes I did, and that's a whole 'nother awesome post. But not to be included in the post about disability and sexuality in Rocky Horror. Although The Muppets Rocky Horror would be FAWESOME in an Avenue Q way

Anywhodaha, while watching Rocky Horror, I started wondering about the true message of the show. Again, my first time, but I wondered what it said that the characters are punished for becoming sexualized. Dr. Frank N. Furter the "sweet transvestite" is a diabolical asshole, but also sympathized in a Long John Silver type way (promise I'm not just thinking Tim Curry). But SPOILER he doesn't make it to the end.

Brad and Janet, whose sexual awakenings are the main plot of the show, end up broken up, potentially freed but also potentially being punished for becoming sexual. And the alternate-villain Dr. Everett Scott--the one who is arguably anti-sexual--is in a wheelchair.

I assume the show purposefully uses these tropes to make a point about the way society sees things. But even now, and especially in the 70s or the 50s (the time the show Time Warps to), I don't think we were/are free enough for them that the opposing message isn't also affirmed. Sexuality is at once celebrated and punished, but no alternative to the anti-sexual, broken nature of disability is given unless we get meta-(In the original the actor who played Scott also played Eddie so did not spend the entire show in a chair).

I'm not criticizing the show, or even attempting to find an answer. I'm sure more aware people than I am have already done so. Thinking about this just made me aware that media in the world is inherently problematic. It's coated with biases, intentionally and unintentionally, and will always cause controversy and question. That's not a bad thing. In fact it's necessary.

So everyone who puts media out there can relax a bit. What you do will offend people. It's part of the game.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five!

1. Yesterday after Thanksgiving at my friends' apartment, I came home and watched ALL the Thanksgiving things. The Four-Thanksgivings episode of Gilmore Girls, the Native American Spirit episode of Buffy and the George Shoots a Turkey episode of Grey's Anatomy. 'Twas fabulous. And soon it will be time for all the Christmas things. There are so many! Muppet Family Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Love Actually, episodes of Grey's, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls... Probably not that one episode of Buffy, though, I still don't understand the snow...

2. I have made my Christmas playlist! I can't promise to be really in the mood until I'm home for the holiday and there's a tree and stuff, but I figured I'd go ahead and put together the music. Maybe I'll post some of my more obscure holiday songs as the month progresses.

3. Tonight is going to be awesome epicness. I'm going to The Muppets, dinner at one of my favorite Harvard Square restaurants then seeing Rocky Horror--which I've never done (I KNOW, Rocky virgin!). Should be a great start to an after-holiday weekend!

4. It's also my annual Emily Dickinson reread time. It's always fascinating to me that I get such different things out of her oeuvre every time I read it.

5. It occurs to me that some of you may not have seen the Muppet Family Christmas, the amazing 80s Muppet Christmas special. I must therefore use this opportunity to educate you. Beware of the icy patch!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Gratitude

YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday topic today is gratitude.

What writing or publishing-related thing(s) are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful for the usual things--my writer friends and the possibilities open to me right now. I had a window open tomorrow that could lead to good things. Or not. But the hope is there.

My journey, though, very much involves my whole life because of where I am in life. I'm in an MFA program, so I treat EVERYTHING as the next step on my publication road. 

Tomorrow I'm having Thanksgiving with friends. I'm grateful how much better that is than last year, when I went to the Homeless Grad Students dinner done by the school and sat next to a guy who is BANANAS. 

I'm grateful for these friends for introducing me to Buffy (and more than that) because of how much I feel the show is teaching me about writing. 

I'm grateful for the AIM conversation I'm having now with a writer, because the advice I'm giving her will help me. 

I'm grateful for the friend who sent me a book today, because another book is always happy, and I like bonding with her over the things I love best. 

I'm grateful for my supportive family, even though they are insane and not really doing Thanksgiving, and I'm not going home anyway. 

I'm grateful for my teachers, who support my thoughts and are interested in what I have to say. 

And in a weird way, I'm grateful for the manuscripts that I'm working on, and  the stories I have to share because they are the catalyst for so much good in my life.

So, YA Highway, all the little things add up to the publication and writerly things I'm grateful for, because they're all part of my path. Also, the image on your page is one from notecards I used to own. Which is a little creepy. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Had a Spaz

In one of my lives today, researching headlines for the organization whose social networking I run, I came across the phrase "special needs mass." I didn't read the article, on purpose, so I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. A mass with special needs? A mass for a person with special needs? Who knows?

Not to mention the fact that the phrase "special needs" is not en vogue, at least not in the States. Disability and special healthcare needs is a phrase that gets bandied about, because often a kid with asthma or diabetes isn't considered as having a disability but has an IEP or 504 plan and needs to be discussed. But "special needs", not so much. Special snowflake, if you must.

But whenever I start considering language, I start thinking about my own. I often claim that I--and other people with disabilities--are allowed to use non-PC disabilit-related language. We're fighting the fight, we have the right. However, my favorite term lately has been "had a spaz." My computer "had a spaz," the scanner at work "had a spaz." Now, spas is colloquially  kind of an all-purpose word for people with physical disabilities--spastic limbs--but it most directly relates to people with epilepsy--spazzing--again in the slang. Can I say that because I had a seizure at the age of eighteen months that I'm allowed? Probably not. Constantly worrying about seizures, being on medication for them, losing control of bodily function because of them--none of that is something I've had to deal with.

So, I'm not a person with this disability. The word isn't mine. I could ignore that, but then would I be the reporter talking about a special needs mass? It's a thought.

In the mean time, I need something new to describe the freak-outs my computer has. Any ideas?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Musings: Become by Ali Cross

DISCLAIMER: Ali is one of my fav author friends. She is my querying cheerleader and gets me off a lot of ledges. But that will not color my review of her book, promise.

Gah. Such a gorgeous cover.

BECOME is the story of the devil's daughter. In an interesting mix of Norse and Christian mythology, Ali brings us Desolation (Desi), the daughter of Loki aka Lucifer aka Satan aka Hugh Jackman. (Okay, he just looks like HJ). She's, in effect, Lucifer's little minion, sent to collect teenage souls who are on the edge.

But after her last mission cost her someone she maybe-loved, she's not sure she's going to obey orders anymore. She might. She's not sure. Desi vacillates a lot, which makes sense with her character--the cover hints at why--but it can be a little frustrating for the reader who just wants her to pick a side already. Like I said, though, it makes sense. Desi's character is very well-written (she's a total badass!).

Ali's writing is incredibly lyrical and gorgeous, which did make some of the pop culture references seemed off to me. Before I knew Desi went to the human world, especially, I was like....where did she get an iPod? And even once she's in the human world she is so aloof from humans that the references--specifically to Buffy--irked me. And made me smile, too, because let's face it, I've done nothing but watch/read Buffy since May.

The secondary characters are INCREDIBLY well-drawn. Miri, who becomes Desi's best friend. Lucy, her sister/Mom figure. James, the bad boy who loves Miri. They were all fabulous.

I can't comment much on the plot. I have trouble following actiony/fantasy plots, and angel stories aren't my thing, but the book is worth reading for the writing and characters. Ali pulls them off without a hitch.

Ali Cross is the sensei of the Writer's Dojo where she holds a black belt in awesome. She lives in Utah with her kickin' husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, two sumo dogs and four zen turtles.

You can reach her:

On her blog.
At the Writer's Dojo.
On Facebook.
Or Twitter.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The winner of the signed copy of Anna Staniszewski's book is....


Yay Matt!!!

Email me your address at chelseyblair (at)gmail (dot) com and I'll send it out ASAP!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Walking (or Shobbling) The Advocacy Walk

In one of my lives, I run the social networking for the Federation for Children with Special Needs, a Massachusetts organization that's been fighting for inclusion and awareness for children with disability since before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (enacted in 1975). For their newsletter this month, I wrote a "Voices of Self-Advocacy" article, which I'm reposting here.

The original can be found at Go check out the FCSN out if you've interest, they're a fabulous organization that I love being a part of.

There are two types of advocacy. First, is the type where you talk the talk. Second is the type where you walk, limp, crutch, or my own specialty, a gait my former roommate and I like to call "shobble", the walk. I could always talk the talk. I went to my IEP meetings. I spoke on panels about the power of mainstream education and the importance of accommodation. I believed in adaptive devices, modifications and bending the rules. . . for other people.

I went to a university with gorgeous stair-filled buildings, and all of them on the historic registry in Georgia. Meaning: ADA waving accommodation freaks need not apply. Or so it seemed to me the day I met with admissions. But I fell in love with that University, so off I trekked. While my friends went head-to-head with their university disability coordinators, I supported them whole-heartedly-while dragging myself and my books up three flights of stairs every other day because I didn't want to ask that a class be moved. I never once asked my caring, inspirational professors to meet outside of their third-floor offices. Never thought about demanding the service-elevator key given to broken-legged athletes. I arranged rides to class from my sorority house-a mile down the single road in my small, liberal arts school-rather than ask campus security to help me out.

 In my defense, I am terrified of golf carts.

I made it through four years on a historical, inaccessible, gorgeous campus, with a one-semester stint in Oxford where there were, incredibly, more stairs. I had friends who would have paved a road with starlight if I needed it, but I'd never asked the administration for anything. During my senior year, I volunteered for the same scholarship selection weekend where three years before I had rambled about my advocacy skills and won the grand prize. As I wandered around the hors d'oeurves being served in the library (poor books!), I saw a young girl being helped out of a wheelchair by her mother.

Drawn by the magnetic field that draws all people with disabilities to each other, I joined their picnic on the floor. As it turned out, the girl's brother was applying to the school. She was sixteen and just along for the ride. "Has it been hard?" I asked, thinking of the winding paths around our academic quad.Her face lit up. "Not at all! Everyone has been so nice! But...okay, yeah the service elevator is creepy." I was flabbergasted. And I was proud. Somehow my little school had gone from a "you're on your own" attitude toward people with disabilities, to the welcoming acceptance they gave everyone else.

Had I been a part of that? Had they seen my success and realized it could be done? Maybe. But maybe the attitude change possibility had been there all along. Maybe if I'd just walked the advocacy walk and asked instead of assuming that because nothing was offered, nothing could be had.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blind--Er--Visually Challenged Pew

Saturday in lieu of in conjunction with rereading Treasure Island for Victorian Children's Literature, I watched Muppet Treasure Island, arguably the last decent muppet movie--hopefully until Thanksgiving.

Please keep in mind: I love this movie. I saw it for my seventh birthday party. I eBayed the older DVD for the commentary with Rizzo and Gonzo. I know Sailing for Adventure by heart. But maybe because of the fact that I should have been reading the book, I watched the movie with a critical eye this weekend.

It's a fairly faithful adaptation with several notable alterations. First, let's talk about what's not changed: The first "dark" pirate in the movie is Blind Pew:

And Long John Silver is still the one-legged man.

Moreover, among the pirates there is "One-Eyed Jack" (who has an eyepatch, with no other eye) and Short Stack Stevens, a Little Person. There are no characters with disabilities on the "good" side. There are a couple of muppets with glasses (though if you're familiar enough with the muppets you know the rat with glasses is Chester, who is a pathetic, allergic mess), and in crowd scenes one or two walking sticks that could be canes. No explicit disabilities (though I suppose all muppets are differently-abled).

Blind Pew is a laughing-stock. He walks into walls and cats. He mistakes Jim Hawkins for a girl because he feels long hair (or maybe it's the kid's singing-voice). He walks out of a fire saying "I think I smell something burning!" In one of the commentaries Brian Henson justifies their choice to use two actors to perform the muppet because "He doesn't know what his hands are doing because he's blind." (REALLY?)

Now, the movie specifically forbids against applying modern concepts to it. "I think they prefer visually-challenged fiend," Gonzo says, and the absurdity of this statement reminds you that this negative-portrayal of a blind man comes from 1883, when the mindset was different.

But this is underscored by several things:

1. The innkeeper is changed from Jim's parents to Mrs. Bluveridge, who is a badass. Granted, Jim's mom is the main innkeeper for a good deal of the book, but she faints. Mrs. Bluveridge takes out muppets bodily. Clear winner.

2. Benjamin Gunn becomes Benjamina Gunn, played by Miss Piggy. Aside from giving away the location of the treasure so no one kills "her frog" and being a bit promiscuous with the pirates, she's also a butt-kicking badass.

Meaning the novel has been altered to be less paternalistic. Yet, it's still painfully ableist.

The other major biases in the novel are underscored too. The "manly men are we" is canceled out by the falsetto it's sung in. The natives being afraid of the boom-boom sticks is canceled out by the way they stand up to Long John in the end--and Kermit's joke "We mean no harm to your culture. We embrace all creatures of different nationalities." (although their presence on the ship bound for England does bring up more questions) but there is very little to make up for the ableist subtext.

Except perhaps him.

(What does it say that I can't find an image showing him with the crutch?)

I know. Long John Silver is the bad guy. He's necessarily a negative mark. He's even punished more in the movie than the novel. There's a scene with Jim having stolen his crutch, and Long John laughs about it. He uses his crutch to manipulate Jim later (payback, perhaps, but implies that people with adaptive equipment aren't trustworthy).

The movie ends with him bailing out in a sinking lifeboat. The book ends: "Of Silver we have heard no more. That formidable seafaring man with one leg has at last gone clean out of my life; but I dare say he met his old Negress, and perhaps still lives in comfort with her and Captain Flint. It is to be hoped so, I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small."

Except.... aside from being the fabulously awesome Tim Curry, .he's the most complex character in the movie. His one-leggedness, in spite of being the way he's identified, doesn't hinder him, nor is it what Jim fears in the way of the book. He's untrustworthy, which shouldn't be good for a character with a disability, but he manipulates his way out of every jam this gets him into. He also has an honestly positive connection with the main character of the movie, meaning you can't entirely hate him.

And what kid doesn't want to be the pirate every once in a while?

I'm not saying the character makes up for the ableism of the movie. But it is an adaptation of a Victorian novel. There are only a few ways in which characters with disabilities are generally shown in Victorian lit, and a complex character like Long John potentially does more for the cause than say, this adorable yet stereotypical character:

Maybe they did the best they could with Long John. Cutting the one-legged fact may have been more ableist, if you really think about it. And, fine, Short Stack Stewart isn't shown at a disadvantage, except for being a pirate. But Blind Pew I have major problems with, because he's nothing more than a character with a disability being used to comic purposes. He could have been cut without altering the validity of the adaptation any more than BenjaminA Gunn, or the man who lives in Fozzie Trelawney's finger.

This has been your critical analysis of a movie that otherwise makes me clap my hands in glee.

Here, have some happy:

Muppet Treasure Island Quotes here

Treasure Island Quotes here

Win a signed copy of My Very Un-Fairy Tale Life here

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Five!

1. Celebrate, you guys! My awesome friend Jessica Love just signed with agent Jill Corcoran of Hermance Literary! And she's giving away two prize packages of books. One has a signed copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and the other includes a pre-order of The Fault in Our Stars. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?

Plus she uses a flaily-Kermit GIF. And we know how much I love flaily-Kermit

2. Speaking of signed books, don't forget to go here to enter to win a copy of Anna Staniszewski's My Very Un-Fairy Tale Life! I'll pick a winner on Wednesday (How's that alliteration?)

3. I just spent half an hour or loner trying to find away around the fact hat Overdrive WMA audiobooks can't be downloaded onto Macs. They can be downloaded onto Windows and put on an iPod, but not onto Mac. How ridiculous is that??? And I was so excited about getting audiobooks from the library too!

Of course, none of the books I want are available as mp3s. OF COURSE.

4. Grey's Anatomy 'bout killed me last night. I won't bore you non-Grey's freaks with specifics, but I will tell you they did not NECESSARILY do the One Thing that could make me stop watching, but they almost did. If it doesn't right itself real quick or real clever, we're gonna have problems.

5. How awesome is this? A guy who can charge his cell phone with his prosthetic arm! We are IN THE FUTURE!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Very (Un)Fairy Tale Life (WIN A SIGNED BOOK!)

Last Sunday my writing professor Anna Staniszewski had her book launch at The Children's Book Shop in Brookline. My former writing classmates and I went, along with several people from this year's class, other Simmons-people, Boston Kidlit-peeps and more! (Even actual children!)

Here's Anna reading from the book:

Anna read from the book, took questions (one of the wonderful children asked if she'd "made any other books") and then signed. My classmates and I took pictures like total groupies.


Well. One of you.

Comment and follow the blog if you want to win!

My Very (Un) Fairy Tale life is the story of Jenny the Adventurer, a twelve-year-old girl whose calling is to rescue the people of the fairy tale world from various shenanigans and to teach them things with cheesy sayings. But, not unlike Buffy in every other episode, there comes a time when she no longer wants to be an adventurer.

Hijinks ensure. There are talking frogs.

N.B. My class is Anna's official fan club, everyone else is a charter member. Honorary, maybe. But we're the founding members.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Passing and Coming Out--No Homo

That clever and perhaps slightly a little offensive title is meant to remind us that there are other traits people can hide, particularly behind the wall of The Internet.

Kody Keplinger's post yesterday--part confession, part pronouncement--has made me think a lot. I'll be completely ones, the accolades she received for "coming out of the disability closet"and the many comments and tweets calling her "brave" made me a little bitter.

I admire Kody, but mostly because I've been there. I have low vision, and I know how frightening it can be to navigate the world when things are blurry. I didn't leave my bedroom two weeks ago when I lost my contacts, and I dreaded having to navigate to class without them (spoilers: found them)

But here's the thing--by applauding her decision to admit to her disability, we're saying it's okay to hide it. Her reasons for doing so are heartbreaking and true--an article about her book made a fuss about her being blind and very little about her book--and i truly, truly am glad she decided to stop. However, now she has the "post about disability." The thing everyone's retweeting, saying We Had No Idea! and Talent > than disability!

Disability isn't something to be overcome. It isn't something less than talent. It isn't something that makes talent better or less, that should be hidden or screamed about, that makes anyone better or worse. Note: Kody isn't claiming to be any of those things, but the explosion about the post--which is intelligent and eloquent--makes me a bit bitter, because I live my life as writer-with-disability every day without the major accolades--but then I don't want them.

And I know it affects thing. I made the choice, I chose to put that I have a physical disability on my online dating profiles, and I've had guys flat out tell me that's why they don't want to go out with me. They "want something they can do outdoor activities with." But that's not on me. It's on them.

And in having these thoughts I realized what a hypocrite I am.

I used to mention my disability at the bottom of my query, because my book features the point-of-view of a character with a disability and also it's a huge part of who I am. But I took it out, because I didn't want it to be assumed I wanted it to get me attention---positive or negative. Since my blog address isn't the name of my blog, all hints were taken out.

I am just as guilty, in my own way, of hiding my disability.

Or maybe not, because in that area it doesn't have to matter.

And no one else can make that choice for me, or say whether or not i should make it. So I can't judge Kody, even though i've been there.

I can just be glad she decided to be real about her disability, and glad that people are realizing that anyone could have a disability, there are no universal signs, and people with just as capable. That's what I care about, and that's what matters.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Disability is Everywhere

Hi guys.

Most of you, I'm sure, have encountered YA writer Kody Keplinger around. She wrote The DUFF last year, and Shut Out this year. She's known for being awesomely funny, really intelligent and adventuresome.

And she's legally blind.

Today on her blog she wrote about the reason she'd come to hide her disability, and why she's "coming out" about it once more.

Please go read and show your support.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five!

1. I've made it through my first week of work!!! Well, mostly. I still have to report to my volunteer position this afternoon, but actual, paid by the hour work, I made it! Things are going well there, and I'm definitely learning.

2. The lovely Ali Cross who is pretty much one of my favorite people ever reviewed a book today she says is a must-read for people who work with/live with/love people with disabilities. Go check it out! (Yeah, I know I haven't posted book musings in ages. I'll work on it....)

3. Sarah Rees Brennan reviews awesome books in this post. You'll probably recognize the top three as the books I've been raving about all season.

4. Taylor Swift named her cat after Meredith Grey from Grey's Anatomy. I KNEW I loved that girl.

5. A bunch of awesome agents (and Doctor Who fans!) on Twitter were posted this the other day. It's glorious:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Today in Gimp World: Get the Chuck Over Yourself!

Note to the urban-gimp. Keep Chucks in your bag (or sneaker of choice).

It's just wise. Particularly when you cannot walk long distances in the boots you wore to work. (Mostly because you wore them to the Halloween party and over did it)

That way, when your friend random invites you to her birthday dinner and you don't check Facebook at your lunch break your choices won't be:

A. Hobble to the T with friends after class, then take a cab home on top of paying for pricey dinner


B. Go back to your room in the hour between work and class to get your chucks. (And her birthday present) (And end up changing your entire outfit)

I sucked it up and got the Chucks. And didn't complain, because it definitely wasn't Birthday Girl's fault. And as a result, I could gleefully trek along to the T, eat an amazing meal and not worry about how to get home. I just got back on the T with everyone and that was the end of that.

Plus, any excuse for the pink Chucks, really.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November Begins

Good luck to all you beginning NaNoWriMo.

I'm sending out a query today in response to a contest.

And I'm starting a job. My first "real" job. (I worked writing center in Undergrad--essentially they paid me to do my homework) I'm going to be an office assistant at Disability Services.

*fidgets nervously*