CSU San Bernardino Ability Awareness Day, 2018, with Poets, Ona Gritz and Daniel Simpson

>> So, I want to say good afternoon to everybody and welcome to our third annual Ability Awareness event My name is Marci Daniels, and I’m the director of Services to Students with Disabilities and Workability IV I have the distinct honor of introducing one of CSUSB most notable scholars Dr. Jeremy Murray is an associate professor in the history department He is an expert on the history of modern China as viewed from the cultural, political and social margins His teaching includes themes of protest, identity and marginalization in modern Chinese and global history His latest research has focused on the southern island of Hainan He received his PhD in history from UC San Diego We won’t hold that against him here at CSU San Bernardino His Master of Arts in Eastern Asian languages and cultures from Columbia And his bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from the State University of New York Albany So, please everyone, give a warm welcome to professor Murray [ Applause ] >> Thank you very much Marci Thank you all for being here And thanks especially to our keynote speakers Ona Gritz and Daniel Simpson I’ll give a brief introduction and then get out of the way Ona Gritz is the author of the poetry collection “Geode,” a finalist for the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award And author of another poetry collection “Left Standing.” And also, author of “On the Whole; A Story of Mothering and Disability.” She is a best American Essays Notable Author And her work has appeared in “The New York Times,” “The Guardian,” “Plowshares,” “Beauty as a Verb,” “The New Poetry of Disability,” Literary Mama,” and elsewhere She has also written two children’s books, including “Tangerines and Tea, My Grandparents and Me,” which “Nick Junior Family Magazine named Best Alphabet Book of the Year And “Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine” named one of its six best books for 2005 Daniel Simpson’s collection of poems “School for the Blind” was published by Poets Wear Prada in 2014 His work has appeared in “Prairie Schooner,” “The Courtland Review,” “Passenger,” “The Atlanta Review,” “The Louisville Review,” and “The New York Times” among other outlets Cinco Puntos Press published his essay “Line Breaks The Way I See Them” and four of his poems in “Beauty as a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability And by the way, “Beauty as a Verb” will have a few copies of them available in the raffle as well He’s a recipient of the fellowship in literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and has been singing with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia A 140-voice choir for over 20 years He works as a technical support specialist for the Library of Congress And maintains a blog entitled “Inside the Invisible; A Blind Writers View of Living the Attentive Life Dan and Ona collaborated on a book entitled “Border Songs of Conversation and Poems.” They edited “More Challenges for the Delusional,” “Peter Murphy’s Prompts,” and the writing they inspired and also together they edited “Referential Magazine’ an online literary journal from 2013 to 2016 I first discovered our guests work in “The New York Times” like millions of others and invited them to our campus The University Diversity Committee, and especially Jan Moore, put the idea into motion and brought on board Marci Daniels and Christeena Johnson and the Services to Students with Disabilities Jessica Luck and David Carlson in the English department helped facilitate the visit, and there was also help from the Student Press Organization, as well as History Club and Phi Alpha Theta leaders Efrain Perez, Marmara Zakhar, and Ellvio Gonzalez [assumed spelling] Sara Alcocheck [assumed spelling], Elizabeth Perez, Pamela Cross, and others also helped to coordinate the event And I want to especially again, thank Jan Moore whose vision and leadership made this remarkable visit possible Both Gritz and Simpson beautifully combined humor and deep emotion Gritz titles a poem, one of my favorite poems of Ona’s, my favorite title “The Muse Gets Angry Before Leaving for School.” She’s writing about her teenage son And here, we not only get a touching and a funny scene,

but we also get a glimpse into how a poet, an artist postpones an important errand so that she can welcome an arriving poem We are grateful that she did She begins, “I’m ruining my son’s life by making him wear a jacket I’ll be hot all day, he yells tucking the collar It’s too tight anyway slamming the door He’s outgrowing everything; jackets, pants, my directives on what to wear Another mother would take this afternoon shop for clothes two sizes up But in this silence, I hear the start of something An image of stillness in the aftermath of my growing boy’s rage Back in the birth room, through a mirror I saw his face calm as milk in its cup He opened his eyes, paused, released his voice startling himself with its force.” In his poem, “A Few Things,” Daniel Simpson sits us down for a casual chat with lines that alternate between breezy diversion and overwhelming power “I don’t know what a rainbow looks like, or that my life would be better if I could see one I don’t know why I’m writing all this down I know all the vegetables in V8 Juice There are at least a dozen ways to say snow in Inuit I know vulnerability is related to hope But I can’t say how I don’t know who killed the groom’s in “Duncan’s Room.” I don’t know at what point you should retire a working dog They have three roller coasters at Nobles Grove My mother belly laughed when we got splashed on the flume, or maybe it’s four I can’t remember now I don’t know why some people give up and others don’t.” Great artists like Simpson and Gritz defy categorization or marginalization, even while they champion the marginalized They challenged norms we didn’t know we had internalized Norms we didn’t realize where obstructions to a full and honest encounter with the world And their voices ranged from the quiet to the ferocious Finally, they lift the reader with catharsis and wisdom But be warned, they may knock us off balance but today we are pushed off balance by wit, and beauty, and finally by grace We are off balance But we are in masterful hands With Gritz and Simpson if we care to listen and if we dare to hear we are guided to a new vantage and it is one that transcends what we thought we knew It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to welcome Ona Gritz and Daniel Simpson [ Applause ] >> Wow. Thank You, Jeremy I hope we can take you on the road with us That was a really wonderful introduction Well, good afternoon It’s an honor and a real pleasure to have been invited to come and spend this day with you Ona and I want to thank Jeremy Murray and the office of Services for Students with Disabilities, Jan Moore and everyone else who had a hand in bringing us here In the email exchanges leading up to our visit, we asked if those inviting us had thoughts about what they’d like us to talk about One suggestion is that we talk about our road to becoming professional writers, including its relationship to disability and any obstacles we may have encountered It’s funny though, the word that caught our attention first was professional Professional, we asked each other in stereo Technically I suppose we are We write books and we get paid when they sell We sometimes get paid for articles we’ve written If we stretch the net to include writing related teaching and occasional readings and speaking engagements, that ups our legitimacy I guess as professionals But I know I didn’t set out to be a professional writer Fifteen years before dedicating myself to writing I had learned a thing or two about setting out to be professional, and well, let me confess, famous Then, it had been as an organist Yes, I technically became a professional working in a thriving mainline church But it didn’t exactly lead to my dreams of a claimed recitalist coming true I hope that you will find something about dedication, passion, and persistence to take away from our talk But I also want to strike a tone of admonition

I’m not saying don’t aspire to be writers, artists or whatever your dreams are calling you to do If that’s what you really want to do I’m just saying be a little Zen about it Do it for the thing itself not the external trappings So, how did I get here? That’s the question we often ask ourselves I have the good fortune to be born to parents who read to me We read all of the “Bobbsey Twin” books, which were especially important to me and my identical twin brother Dave We read the usual fairy tales, classic children’s poems and later Jack London and retellings of Bible stories Story time with mom or dad made me a lot more interested in going to bed Regular home life ended for me, however, when I was four Back then, in the 1950s, nearly all children like me and my brother were sent to residential schools for the blind The lucky ones among us who lived close enough to the school could go home for the weekends Fortunately, all my teachers in the early grades did read to me and my classmates Ms. Stout who read to us at the end of every day in first grade, stands out for me I can remember how immediately that amazing opening sentence of “Charlotte’s Web.” “Where’s Papa gone with that ax?” Reeled me into a world far from Philadelphia and the high brick wall surrounding the Overbrook School for the Blind In a way, it felt like instantaneous travel every afternoon to some farm just down the road from where my grandparents lived Even on beautiful days, when I would have otherwise longed to go outside and play or even miserable ones, when I wouldn’t have minded sitting in the dorm playing records I hated the bell that ended classes And the way just when Templeton was about to do something bad, or right in the middle of something beautiful Wilbur was saying to Charlotte to make her feel better Ms. Stout would clap the book closed and tell us to gather our things and run along I hated that bell for ruining the magic Ms. Stout did something else, which had an equally significant effect on my life as a reader and eventually as a writer One Friday morning in spring after we had acquired more reading skills, Ms. Stout announced that she had a very special surprise for each of us She walked around to each person and handed him or her a thin packet of Braille paper held together with winged fasteners I found two lines of Braille in the middle of an otherwise blank front page “My Book of Poems” I read with Daniel Simpson directly below the title Oh mine. I thought My own book of poems Let’s open our booklets Ms. Stout said and see if we can read the first poem Carl Sandburg wrote it about fog I especially liked the part about fog being like a cat I liked that you could think of something as something else At first, I would have told you my parents didn’t do much thinking like that But then, I thought about all the times they would pick something I had already felt and use that to describe something I couldn’t see In fact, they did it quite often and very well The next poem was about sitting on a stone and singing to birds I liked something about the way it sounded The way alone and stone went together And birds and words Little sounds surprises And then there was a poem I thought my cousins on the farm would have liked best Something about going to a pasture when Ms. Stout read it, I loved the way she said you come too It made me feel like for just a moment I could leave Overbrook anytime I wanted One of the best things about the School for the Blind was its library These days I can’t just walk into a library, browse the stacks, pull out any volume that calls to me, sit down at a nearby table and try it out

Overbrook’s library remains one of the best microcosmic models of what a truly accessible world would look like for me Besides its extensive Braille collection, the library possessed a large collection of talking books Which we could listen to in soundproof booths My brother, our friend Bob, and I made a pact Whoever got there first after school should close booths for the other two of us so that anyone else would think they were already in use and give up That’s how fierce we were about reading I got in a lot of reading time in my last two years at Overbrook Our seventh and eighth grade teacher, Mr. Katten [assumed spelling] negotiated a special arrangement with our house mother, so we could use his classroom as a reading sanctuary after school, when we would otherwise just been killing time outside rain or shine Also, figuring that boys going through puberty shouldn’t be subjected any more to house mothers walking in on them as they dressed and undressed in an open dorm Overbrook provided cubicles with doors They allowed just enough privacy that you could sit on your bed with the lights out A real advantage to reading Braille and read all night if you wanted to without anyone but your roommate knowing I don’t know how I would have survived Overbrook were it not for reading It, along with listening to the radio and having an active imagination, provided me a way to escape the high brick wall and go out into the world Let me pause for a minute on Mr. Katten in order to tell you something about him that goes beyond any influence he had on me as a reader and future writer When I was in fourth grade, a third-grade student drowned in the school’s indoor pool Mr. Katten was the gym teacher on duty He quickly and quietly vanished for a couple of years, then returned to Overbrook to teach English Like everyone else, I never spoke to him about Chester’s death But on some level, I marveled at his willingness to return to the scene of such trauma in order to do so much good for us students He gave his lunch time to teach boys how to play the oboe He even talked the school into letting him take a couple of us boys home with him for dinner and an overnight A big deal for us who had lost most of our home lives I didn’t have the words for it then, but all of this gave me the idea that people can keep their hearts open and make it through trauma passed obstacles Without a word of preaching, he taught me an important lesson about character In ninth grade when my brother and I became two of the first blind people in our county to try public school, all of our teachers just seemed to know what to do They provided flexibility and accommodation without being protective or less demanding We were encouraged to try sculpting and abstract drawing in art class And, running the high hurdles in gym That one didn’t work out quite so well, but we tried And other sports did work a lot better; including football Like too many students, I did have an English teacher who could have killed my confidence as a writer with her snide red ink on my class essays But then Mrs. Onderdonk [assumed spelling] came along in my senior year A few of the really cool kids snickered behind her back because she didn’t mind being a little different But I’ll never forget how a bunch of dusty old ballads came to life the day she walked in dressed in medieval garb, turned out all the lights and accompanied herself on her guitar as if it were a lute I learned from her how to read a poem and I learned from the recording she played of TS Eliot reading, “The Love Song of Jay Alfred Prufrock” that I didn’t have to understand a poem to be drawn into it Soon after that experience, I was sitting in Latin class one hand on what I should have been reading

and the other hand on “The Hollow Men,” so I could memorize it just because I loved how it sounded I have a problem But it’s a great one to have I love too many things in this world I blossomed as an English major in college, but I also picked up a second major in music and continued studying organ, which I had begun during high school By my senior year I had invested so much into both majors and gotten so much back from them that I couldn’t decide which path to take for graduate school With about as much logic as a coin flip, I chose music Oh, the proverbial road not taken Still, had I not followed this music path, I would never have sung so many awe-inspiring works with choir and orchestra and never have studied organ in Paris It didn’t all work out the way I dreamed, however, maybe even fewer people can make a full-time living out of playing the organ than writing poems I sure know how to pick them On top of that, I had to recognize my limitations While my blind organ teacher from Paris could memorize the complete works of Bach and the whole of French organ music from the Renaissance to the present I simply couldn’t I can say with pride that I brought wonderful musicianship to whatever I played But I was not a prolific memorizer For financial reasons, I left Church work and became a computer programmer At first, I liked it, but while programming did require creativity, it didn’t satisfy something inside me the way the arts had I also got very tired of the corporate life So I started taking creative writing courses and soon I was finagling to get myself laid off so I could go to grad school with a severance package I went to Penn studying poetry with an under sung poet named Gregory Janickian [assumed spelling], whom I highly recommend that you seek out But the question of what to do afterward hung over me As I immersed myself in reading and writing I got excited and curious about how one could communicate this love of literature to inner-city high school students So, I studied to become a teacher soon after graduating, I had my own classroom at the Philadelphia High School for Girls I have never had more contact with people of color and teenagers than during my four years of teaching high school I loved the challenges and rewards of trying to connect students with literature, and through writing, with themselves Math problem If you have 160 students and you spend 15 minutes on each one in a week, be it through reading their work, writing back to them or tutoring them You’ve already worked a 40-hour week And you haven’t even planned one lesson or taught one Needless to say, I got none of my own writing done during the school year In Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artists’ Way” I first encountered the maxim, leap and a net will open That’s just nuts, I thought I fought with her every inch of the way And yet leaping is exactly what I ended up doing I figured I had saved enough that if I lived very simply and perhaps found some small source of income, I could make it financially for a year I took that year as leave of absence to write 17 years ago, and I never went back I couldn’t give up the reading writing time again These days I do part-time work as a technical support specialists for the Library of Congress I have the mornings for reading and writing, then I work afternoons from home for the Library It’s funny how if you live long enough, different parts of your life can blend skills in ways you would never have predicted Who knew when I left church music for computer programming

that I’d be gaining the skills that would fund me when I left teaching English to become a writer After living alone for 25 years, I went to a poetry conference, met an amazing woman who turned her rich creative life upside down for me And now here we are Married, living together, working on separate floors by day And sharing a life full of music, theater, books, and most of all a fabulous ongoing conversation In addition, we get to live our lives a second time through writing Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means What I want and what I fear.” That gift of a second life through writing belongs to all of us, whether we’re professional or not I encourage all of you to take it Even if that’s just setting aside 15 minutes a couple of times a week to see what comes out The poet Mary Oliver once told me at a conference that writing is like making friends with a shy person If you keep your appointments, even the 15-minute ones, that shy person will start trusting you Start talking Start doing some thinking behind the scenes Make friends with that shy person Keep showing up and see what happens It could change your life I find it interesting that I’ve spoken more about reading and writing than about disability and overcoming obstacles That may be because reading and writing have been integral ways of dealing with obstacles and processing the unknown And in so doing, of helping to point the way forward It’s also because disability is only part of the story as you will hear in the poems Ona and I read back and forth later I am much more than blind I struggle with religious questions that have nothing to do with my being born blind I’m puzzled and intrigued by the unspoken words and the smallest gestures that mark the spaces between people just as you might be The poet Pat Parker once said something that has stayed with me She said, the first thing you must do is forget that I’m black Second, you must never forget that I’m black Yes, I think that’s the ideal relationship for me too I want you to forget that I’m blind And I don’t want you to ever forget that I’m blind That said, I don’t want you to walk on eggshells around me If I can tell that you’re trying to build a connection with me, not just pet my dog or pump me with questions about blindness before you’ve even said hello I’m pretty forgiving In fact, I want that same kind of forgiveness from people different from me So, go ahead make some mistakes around me Just be willing to be corrected and try not to keep making the same mistake I used to lead workshops on disability awareness for librarians And I’d say to them, think about responding to a patron with a disability as you would any patron with a reference question The first thing you ask is, can I help you? If the person says no, you have to trust them You let them go about their business unless they ask for help If they say yes, then all you need to do is ask the second question, how can I best help you? You don’t have to memorize a list of do’s and don’ts You don’t have to know everything The content of everyone’s life affects their writing Mine happens to be not only the blindness itself, but also the effects of society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities If I hadn’t been blind, my parents would never have sent me, or been strongly urged

to send me, to a residential school when I was just four years of age But, they never would have moved to Philadelphia either Which opened an array of opportunities, especially cultural ones Schools for the blind tended toward exceptional music education So, who knows if I would ever have become an organist and lived in Paris if I hadn’t been exposed to chapel and organ music almost every day for six years I am white, male, Protestant, and heterosexual If you think of oppression in terms of who’s up and who’s down, I am definitely in the up position on all four counts But blindness and disability put me in the down position As one of very few students with a disability in a public school, I definitely got to experience being an outsider Of course, the trick is noticing that you’re on the outside without letting victimhood take you over Of course, no one enjoys being oppressed But you can learn to enjoy being you different as you are People often ask me if I would ever undergo an operation to give me sight, even if in doing so I’d risk the light perception I do have, and the possible medical and emotional complications At one time I would have said yes, that we only go around once, and I would want to experience everything I could, including seeing people’s faces and bodies Seeing sunrises and sunsets and all the stuff of beauty poets write about Now however, I think I’d say no I love my life I’m really happy I’ve spent 66 years developing this very identity Do I really want to mess around with that now? The Israelites had a name for God, Yahweh, which translates loosely is I am Who I am There’s a real integrity in that I am Who I am Even in my writing I’ve stopped trying to describe visual things I don’t fully understand, relying instead on the senses I know No. I don’t think you’ll see me heading for the operating room anytime soon I still have too many plans hopes and dreams for the life I’m currently living with the identity I currently have I am Who I am I figure if it’s good enough for Yahweh, it’s good enough for me Thank you [ Applause ] >> Hi. The summer after my freshman year of college, when I was 18 years old, I had the privilege of going to Boulder Colorado to take poetry workshops at a school called Naropa Institute That was my first experience of being around, not just published authors, but very famous ones This of course, was terribly exciting But what I was really interested in that summer was finding a boyfriend I had someone in mind, in fact My cute classmate, Rich He was very friendly, but I couldn’t tell at first whether my feelings for him were mutual Then one night at a party, he kissed me And it was a great kiss Slow and thoughtful like a good conversation The next morning, he showed up at my door and invited my roommates and me to go pick apricots at a tree he’d discovered behind the public library Four of us grabbed paper grocery bags and trooped over and when we got there, Rich climbed to the top of the tree and started tossing down fruit, which I caught in my skirt I thought this was the most romantic thing ever So, while it was happening I knew I’d go home and write up poem about it To my mind, it had everything a good poem needed It had a cute guy, a hope, a kiss, and even some nature thrown in

I looked for that poem recently but apparently, I didn’t keep it I’m sure it was a typical love poem written by a typical teenager, since that’s what I was for the most part An aspiring poet, but otherwise a pretty ordinary girl Or maybe, the real truth is that I was aspiring to be both a poet and ordinary, or at least to be seen as ordinary by cute guys and by the millions of people I imagined one day reading my poems I’m tempted to say here that I had a secret, but that’s not really accurate I had something that people who knew me, knew about And people who didn’t could see but it wasn’t something I made a habit of talking about I have a mild form of cerebral palsy And like many people who have relatively minor disabilities, I put a lot of energy into pretending it wasn’t there Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls motor function This usually happens at or around birth The way I understand it is this, my brain sends messages to the left side of my body and the muscles read them loud and clear But when it sends them to the right side, the muscles somehow get garbled or mistranslated, and the muscles only partially understand Cerebral palsy affects each person differently Mine compromises my balance and coordination and the fine motor skills on my right side All of this is to say that before I was that young woman collecting apricots in my skirt and flirting with my crush, I was the kid on the block who couldn’t climb fences, or roller skate, or jump rope, or even shuffle a deck of cards For a brief time, I was made to wear a leg brace But even without it, my walk was stiff, and awkward, and slow And when I tried to run all I could manage was a combination gallop and skip I was fortunate to grow up on a block that was rich with girls my own age and at a time when we were pretty much left to our own devices whenever we weren’t in school And this was true even when we were just 5 and 6 years old On long summer afternoons we would push our doll carriages over to each other’s houses Or bring our Coliforms and Lite-Brite sets over to each other stoops When someone suggested a more physical activity, like tag which of course requires running, or hopscotch, which requires first standing on one foot, then jumping, and then jumping on the other foot My go-to response was to say, boring And to suggest my own favorite games like doctor, or house, or later Rockstar Wives If this sounds like a poor little crippled girl’s story, I don’t mean it to Sure, I might have felt a twinge when my friends would choose to play double-dutch or to race one another down the block literally leaving me in the dust But I was telling the truth when I said those activities didn’t interest me They were a reminder that I was slower and clumsier than the other kids But that, otherwise, I didn’t think about that all that much My attention was on the stories I was continually acting out in my mind Whether or not my friends joined me where I was a medical professional, or a wife and mother, or maybe a teenage supermodel Arguably, it was a coping mechanism this day dreaming my way out of my disabled body with its awkward moves and underdeveloped muscles But meanwhile, I was developing another kind of muscle that of my imagination In seventh grade, I acquired a floral covered notebook with lavender pages There’s a term you may have heard purple prose, Wikipedia defines it as text that is too extravagant ornate or flowery so that it breaks the flow and draws excessive attention to itself I don’t know the origins of the phrase, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from the unfortunate pairing of floral covered notebooks with lavender pages and 12-year-old girls True to form, I filled mine with florid overly sentimental poems

This, together with reading was actually the perfect activity for me It allowed me to continue to flex and strengthen that muscle of my imagination as I slowly outgrew my passion for make-believe Meanwhile, my relationship to my disability was starting to change As high school neared, my friends began to spend less time jumping rope, and playing tag, and climbing fences And more time listening to records, and flipping through magazines, and sizing up boys A part of me began to relax I could do those things as well as anybody But at the same time, we were all also growing more concerned with appearances So, as we fussed over our hair, and clothes, and experimented with makeup my cerebral palsy became less about whether or not I could keep up and more about how people saw me Did my limp make me less pretty? Probably. But then I didn’t have to look at it, so I mostly continued to just press it to the back of my mind It helped that I was still really into reading and writing because when I was involved with either of those things, I was hardly in my body at all Now, just as I was lucky to grow up on a block that provided an instant community of friends I was also lucky to have wonderful English teachers who taught me that reading there wasn’t only a means of escape, it was also a way to stretch my thinking When I went away to college at SUNY Purchase, a small liberal arts school in New York, my professors push this further And it was there, rather than with the famous poets at Naropa, that I met my first real writing mentor Harry Stessel was a shy, unassuming and undiscovered poet who also happened to be a fabulous teacher Early in our working together, Harry told me good poems aren’t written, they’re carved What he meant by this was that the true work of shaping a poem and of discovering what’s in it, rarely happens when you’re writing a first draft Rather, it happens later when you’re editing He taught me this by using my own rough drafts, which while no longer on lavender paper still had plenty of purple prose to shave away In my first months of my independent study with Harry, I’d leave his office with pages covered in X’s You don’t need this line, he’d tell me Or this whole stanza for that matter XXX. Until finally, he’d circle the few lines he thought were worth keeping I imagine a lot of students would come away from such a meeting feeling discouraged But I found the process thrilling As I watched Harry find the small artful thing in the rough slabs I showed him, I learned to see what he saw My poetry notebook may have been mostly x’d out, but inside those small ovals Harry drew were lines that were original, and musical, and somehow true More of this, he was telling me Look what you did here, do it again As a young woman with a limp, I’d given up on the idea that I’d ever be a great beauty, but I was learning to make something beautiful And of course, while I wrote I could train my attention wherever I wanted, and I could portray the speaker, the eye of the poem however I chose A few years after I placed her at the base of an apricot tree staring up through the branches at a young man named Rich, I met another Richard who was handsome, and athletic, and much to my surprise crazy about me Richard loved biking, and soccer, and skiing, and he was really good at these things, which of course meant we had very little in common But though I never said so aloud I thought it meant something else too In my experience, handsome athletic guys didn’t tend to go for disabled girls And yet, Richard had chosen me So, using that if a equals b kind of logic that I was never very good at, I deduced that our relationship meant that I was pretty much done with my disability You thought I was done with make-believe too, right? So did I. Richard and I married, and I stayed in that world of pretend long enough that we had a child together Throughout my pregnancy I felt sure that I was ready

and that I’d be a great mom After all I’d had all that practice years ago with my baby dolls and games of house But then my son was born, and I very quickly realized just how different actual infants are from the dolls I used to play with They’re bigger, and squirmier, and they’re slippery when they’re wet And even though they scream, and cry, and keep you up at night, they matter Not just more than those dolls ever did, they matter more than anything they’re these fragile, helpless, complete human beings who trust you They trust that you won’t drop them Or squeeze them too tightly Or fall down the stairs while you’re carrying them Taking care of a baby was the hardest physical activity I’d ever taken on And while I figured out what I could do and couldn’t do, and where I needed to ask for help, I finally realized my disability was real It was a hard lesson But it also came as a relief As a make-believe abled body person, being clumsy and having an odd-looking walk were things to be embarrassed about, which is why I tried not to think about them all that much But as a person with a disability, I had specific limitations, but overall, I did quite well My son taught me that He’s been one of my great teachers So, what does any of this have to do with writing? Not much at first, except that it was deepening me as a person I was beginning to understand who I was in the world, which could only deepen who I was on the page I found another of my great teachers when my son was 8 years old His father and I had been divorced for several years by then, and I met and fell in love with a fellow poet who also had a disability As you’ll soon hear, Dan writes openly and beautifully about his experiences as a blind man When I first encountered him and his poems this struck me as a really radical Rather than write to escape his limitations, he explored them in his work Slowly, it occurred to me that I could do that too One day, shortly after Dan and I met, I woke up thinking about that long-ago July morning with the first Rich and the apricots I remembered how when Rich showed up at my door my first thought was that there was no way I could climb a tree But there was also no way that I wanted to say that out loud Thinking fast, I decided to stay in my impractical wraparound skirt, so I could use it as an excuse while the others climb the tree in their shorts and sneakers When we got there, and everybody was in the tree except for me, Rich called down catch and I had to make another split-second decision I either had to admit that I couldn’t catch anything more challenging than a balloon in my clumsy hands or let him and my other new friends see that because of my cerebral palsy, one of my legs was thinner than the other That’s when I was lifting the skirt to catch the apricots Finally, after almost 25 years, I sat down and wrote a second draft of that poem This time I put in all those details And what I discovered was that it was actually freeing to allow my disability into the poem And I also saw that the reason I didn’t wind up with a poem worth keeping the first time around was that by leaving out the limitations of my body and how I felt about it at the time, kept the poem floating on the surface It may have been shapely and even lyrical because those were skills I developed early But that’s not enough A writer needs to have something to say So, while writing had once been a way to escape my disability, it became the thing that actually brought me back to my body For the first time, I wrote about what it was like to be a child with cerebral palsy To be an adolescent with a disability And a struggling new mother Some of the stories grew to layered and complex for those finely carved poems I knew how to write So, I branched out and began writing essays and memoir

Now, what drives me as a writer is the desire to take the stuff of life and shape it into something not just beautiful, but meaningful To find both the lyricism and the deeper truth And to learn from the writing and the crafting what I might not otherwise come to understand I don’t only write about disability, far from it But finally inviting it into my work broke me open It helped me realize that if you write from lived experience, as I do, what’s most interesting for the reader, what makes the story human and relatable aren’t the ways that you fit in Nor is it your triumphs and successes Your imperfections are actually where your stories live Where you struggle and falter Where you make mistakes and then change and grow because of them Where you’re most uniquely and specifically, you Thank you [ Applause ] >> Well the next section is reading poems back and forth This is a swath of poems that eventually morphed into with some additions and alterations, into our book, “Border Songs.” I’m aware we’re a little tight on time, but should we just go ahead and do this? Yeah >> Okay >> All day; these poems were not written to talk to each other, they just happen to be the things that we were talking about separately and put together All day new friends, Massachusetts, youth hostel, summer of ’99 We three rode in the backseat of Larry’s ’88 Impala You on my left, Karen on my right naked except for our bathing suits and sandals Larry driving, it being his car And singing with Paul to an REM tape on tiny speakers While we three talked about who smoked grass, and when, and what it was like, and marijuana brownies And the difference between them and smoking All the while our warm knees and thighs, hips and arms rearranging themselves against each other as we jangled over ruts and potholes Jangling memories and wishes loose so that I, knowing we were one day old together, and tomorrow this would end said, my breathing feeling thick Where were you all You, and Karen, and Paul, and Larry when I was in high school The first blind kid trying to hear a few friends in the pep club Thanksgiving Eve bonfire crowd Trying to find his way to a party of the coolest classmates Where were you? Which prompted Karen to say, yeah it would have been great And you, you on my left to say hey, what about playing basketball? Can we do that? I mean there must be a way we can figure that out >> Eighteen We never spoke of what my body couldn’t do So, when Jen and Kay left to pick apricots from the spindly tree behind the library, I hesitated But Rich would be there I showed up in a wraparound skirt My excuse to stand at the base, pluck from the bottom branch The fruit was concentrated at the top While the others climbed, of course it was Rich I watched, squinting up at him, as I had all summer The night before, he’d finally kissed me His tongue tentatively grazing my own Catch, he called now and I lifted my skirt to form a net No thought to palsy, to exposing my uneven legs When the first tangy oval dropped into the foil I had already begun to taste it How it felt to be chosen and whole >> Acts of faith Friends describe colors to me Trumpets are red they say Clarinets, purple And oranges tastes like orange

I believe them No reason not to I buy books to read with equipment for the blind And is an act of faith In the bookstore all the pages are blank At the checkout counter I pay with a bill that earlier the grocer said was a 20, or I sign a blank slip wherever the cashier tells me No big deal, I say to myself walking out the door Nobody knows everything I smell the city Oil and brown The yellow Sun shines lemonade, which means the sky must be blue >> Left, I’m sorry hemiplegia Left, my bright half gets all of it Soft, sharp, prickly, wet, mind But press your head against my right shoulder, I sense weight, but no warmth Your cheek to my right touch, stubble free Whether or not you shave Under my right fingers your silver hair holds no silk, nor can I feel it part into single strands I’ll tell you how I know you in the dark Left whispers the details Right listens and believes >> Vigilance and assembling Since I don’t see and have no visual cues, I’m fascinated by how sighted people dissemble I bet they keep their faces unflustered while behind their stationary eyes another set of eyes checks you out I say this because in conversation I try to act undivided, while in fact I’m on alert for any glitch in composure Any revelation of an actor playing a part It’s often a matter of tone of voice Most people don’t realize it goes even further That I’m listening to them breathe I hear body language Someone talking with her right hand while I hold her left doesn’t know how much I know from the way her body moves, as if she never touched a tie line to a dock and guessed the boat was bobbing up and down >> When the man you love is a blind man You can stop shaving your legs when the temperature drops and he’ll say he likes the change in texture with the seasons You can leave that bit of silver in your bangs Your fashion advice will be gospel When he tells you you’re beautiful, you’ll know he’s talking about something in you that’s timeless Something about you that’s true If teasing, he says smearing color on your cheeks is what a clown does, explain how a touch of blush can change the feel of entering a room and he’ll listen He’ll always listen Like the wide world is a raft with only two people on it and he finds you the more interesting of the two Imagine going with him to the Rockies He hears you sigh and asks what the mountains look like All you have are words Awesome, grandeur But when you describe that feeling of seeing your one life for the flicker it is, he knows Oh, he says, oh It’s like hearing music in a Cathedral >> Listening to New York radio in the middle of the night There in insomniac city, where the dial can easily hold five languages beyond English and stations bleed into each other, Emily Dickinson satisfied she could no longer see to see spoke through a piano while a Spanish man, half crying, half singing declared he too would die if the one he most desired did not give him her undying love Between Emily and the Spanish man, the sitar spoke harmoniously about rock steady faith while picking its way along a path of dissonant doubt Commercial life finally put to bed

Lennon woke up from a good dream His imagination intact He sang with the sitar calling the chutney and right a leftover from last night’s dinner to put on spiritual livery They, in turn inspired the beans in my cabinet to take on a holy presence And the cabinet’s themselves, dazed at first recalled the distant spirits of trees And when the whole house became tuned like this to the radio, my father kindly caught a coach from that other Kingdom to sit in my living room If only for a moment, and casually talk with me of ordinary life >> Donner Lake I chose the still mirror of this lake Clean sky, preening above it Redwoods Dublin green The hungry named ancient history and sudden winter This was August From the radio, John Lennon asked us imagine no heaven We let your heavy ashes go First smoke then silt If you had some other place in mind, you never said, or I wasn’t listening just then >> Some holy Saturday you will rise from your bed at 4:30 in the morning to find bitter weeping outside your window and your yard filled with trees that were not there the night before Large leaves everywhere soaking your hair with dew The thick smell of olives heavy in the air It is Peter, still crying up through the crust of the earth And though no cocks of crowed yet, and there is no farm for hours you are poised for the marking of betrayal What will you do if following leopard road or route 13 You should be drawn by a congregation of curious crows to a scariette hanging from a tree The neck groove lapping over the rope His toga tented at the crotch And what if from the moon come strains of Hollywood’s fourth cousin to Gregorian chant with celluloid clicks and pops to let you know this is old and serious And what if the man who made the cross sleep walks beside the road in the underbrush and your father now remembers that yesterday between 12 and 3, the sky grew dark over your neighborhood Will you kneel down in the road and pray? Run to your home to take from your kitchen cinnamon and nutmeg, the only spices appropriate for the Savior’s tomb Call the police? Or walk to your church in silence hoping that the sun upon your back is really the large hand of the fisherman reconciled >> Exodus There’s one line of Hebrew which is [foreign word] which means God is one, or there is only one God A woman has painted her doorpost with blood so that now in grey half-light she shakes a small shoulder, pat’s a curved back, and her children startled awake allow themselves to be rushed into clothes Trusting the hush, they quietly follow as she walks with their father As they join a river of families coursing from home They walk and walk, a block of bread dough on her back She is used to waking early, used to hefting, carrying, hurrying tasks Such is the life they steal away from And she could almost feel light listening to the sound of her children’s feet beside her Breathing the baby’s sour milk head resting on her chest But she hears the cries of those other mothers The ones waking now to the stiff unblinking bodies of their boys Joined by a thousand voices, the wail rises thicker than the dust they kick up as they walk Can we let ourselves be loved by such a God? She’d ask this of her husband but she knows what he would say

[Foreign word] what choice do we have? >> Providence I met my girlfriend in yoga I was there on a whim Her class across town had been canceled Meant to be, she laughed, six months later Dumb luck, I said When the tsunami struck, Thomas good penny crossed himself and thanked God for his charmed life The deal he was supposed to close in Sri Lanka had already fallen through Finally, when pushed to the wall, my mother admitted no I don’t absolutely know there’s a heaven Nobody does But I don’t want to take the chance by not believing I just shuffle the options Take my dog in the car and hope there’s no accident or leave her at home and pray for no fire Yet, last week at a writer’s workshop, the leader dumped a pile of cookie fortunes in front of my girlfriend Take one, he said, and see if it doesn’t somehow surprise your poem Wait till you hear this Mr Dumb Luck, she whispered to me tucking it into her pocket Back in her room, she unfolded it Stop searching forever, happiness is right next to you I thought she meant it for me She thought it was meant for her >> First anniversary Once, as a child I had my father close his eyes for a surprise, then distractedly walked him into a wall Now guiding you, I know to mention each curb, each puddle to be stepped over To place your palm on the chipped rail beside the subway stair before I follow you down All the while the tip of your folded white cane peeks from the side pocket of your pack like something inner and exposed We’ve spent this year learning one another One night you asked the color of my hair, then repeated the word brown an abstract fact to be memorized The dark strands were splayed on your chest as I listened to the beat beneath skin and rib and thought about trust Your life in your hand given over to mine >> Why I’m so mixed up about rhyme Because I’m just as mixed up about home Whether I want dinner every night with the same people who might be kind to me or just as easily start a fight And it’s not just rhyme, but rhythm The way the two combined control and shape a line Soon lines make stanzas as walls make rooms and houses that keep horses from coming in to dine But isn’t it good sometimes to force things to go where they wouldn’t otherwise? In the apparent safety of a partner in a home isn’t there always a surprise? Oh, I am a wild pony galloping across Chincoteague Governed only by my desires, unencumbered by familial ties And simultaneously, a man with the same woman every night My domesticated hand resting between her thighs >> Six roller coasters Ethan pulls Dan almost at a run toward those massive structures that rise and dip like the outlines of distant hills Their plan, to conquer all of them despite pounding rain I read Hemingway in the shelter of the food court where they appear occasionally, flushed and dripping in their ponchos to describe the fastest, the longest drop, the one that whips like the tail of the guide dog we left at home thumb keeping place in my book, I think about what men build through shared bravery and fear And marvel at my 12yearold, willing to hold Dan’s hand in public for this greater good There are moments on the Storm Runner, the Fahrenheit,

when I know he closes his eyes to see how it feels to Dan This man, who might have been his father had I a better time of it early in my own wild ride >> Questions It was you, darling Oh, it was most definitely you Even in a dream I know the exact angle of our noses in kissing I know the fragrant mélange of fish and flower that is your olfactory fingerprint in the nakedness of love So, it was strange then, that you were my sister in this dream This dream where we giggled and worried that our father might innocently imprudently peek in Not my sister, to be precise But in the role of sister I’ve been asking myself all day why? Why, with all the wanting, no reduction in our usual desire would you be made a sister? To send me back to my real sister with better than I’ve given her before? To show me what long time lived-in love looks like? And what if we all had sisters who would fall asleep with us? Would we learn earlier to love? Come my love, isn’t it time we were family? >> Last poem There among the haves, a girl with one prosthetic leg dances at a club in short skirt and heel on the cover of “Sunday Styles.” Her silver thigh textured like sequins Hair over her face not to hide, but she’s lost in that song I tape her photo next to my desk Remember the morning I had you touch my calves The right, thin with palsy The other full and strong That same day we kissed like teens in a New York café Your guide dog curled like a throw rug at our feet Anyone else making out? You asked Just us, I said eyeing an indifferent crowd And there, among the haves; those with sight, with matching limbs you whispered that my breasts spell a perfect sea in Braille So, this is how it feels I thought to inherit the earth How it feels loving one of my own Thank you >> Thank you [ Applause ] Well, I don’t think we left too much time for questions Although we’d be happy to stick around for a few minutes But maybe we have time for a couple before we hit the deadline And by the way don’t take personally what I said about asking questions This is a different situation We actually like nosey So, and if you can top questions that the girls asked me when I was teaching, well I’ll be very surprised So, go for it >> What was the nosiest question you were asked by a high school girl? >> Well, Mr. Simpson, so you’re a guy and guys stand up when they pee How do you do that? How do you make sure you hit the toilet? So, that was the question >> Can anyone top that? >> Yeah, really anything’s fair game And I know we’re going to be breaking up here soon, but >> Yeah? [ Inaudible Audience Question ] >> Not very much Were you able to hear the question? I most, a microphone is coming So, we’ll repeat the question and then I’ll answer >> When you were younger, were you able to discuss your disability with your friends?

>> I mostly didn’t I think I maybe gave a vibe that it wasn’t okay to ask And if I had it to do over I would do it differently But the few times that it would come up, mostly what they would say is oh it’s barely noticeable Which was kind of a way of dismissing it and maybe playing along with my own way of let’s just pretend it’s not there I will tell you that I actually didn’t know it was visible until I was playing with one of the less tactful girls on the block And one day she said let’s walk around like people who limp And she got up off the fence where we were sitting and started limping and I just tried to imitate her And then she said, oh well just walk like you usually do >> Nice >> In the back there >> Hi. This question is for, I didn’t catch their names because I came in late, yeah but my question was about the editing process for your poetry How do you engage that process? >> I’m sorry was it for both of us? >> I’m sorry it was for Mr.? >> Dan, yeah >> Yeah, sorry >> The editing process Well what I find is I use the device I was reading from at the lectern, it’s called a Braille note And it’s basically sort of like a Braille laptop with a laptop that has synthesized speech and a Braille display And I’d like to write my first drafts on that because I can keep looking at what I just wrote and somehow it helps to have it right beneath my fingers I could type it on a computer and listen to it with speech or the Braille display on that, but it’s a little clunkier, and So, what I tend to do is first drafts on the Braille note And then I type or transfer the file to a computer and edit it more using speech That sometimes helps me actually hear what it’s going to sound like But it’s also a little faster in some ways >> Thank you >> Is that where you? >> That’s exactly what I was asking, thank you >> Sure. Anybody else? Sure >> When you taught at the girl’s high school in Philadelphia, were you like a trendsetter, or had they hired other teachers with disabilities prior to that? >> Oh, I wouldn’t say, I wasn’t a trendsetter because nobody that I know of did it after, I was a one-off But I got a lot of help I actually had met the superintendent of schools who I found to be a really forward-thinking guy and told him of my interest in teaching in public school And he really welcomed me and actually put me in touch with his administrative assistant, who happened to, she could see quite a lot But she was technically, legally blind And so, she had a real understanding of what kind of support I would need And so, the school district hired a classroom assistant to help me with writing on the board and keeping track of classroom management, that kind of stuff And they also gave me my own set of print books for whatever, I was teaching English, for whatever novels, or memoirs, or poetry I wanted my class to do Because I couldn’t always guarantee that I could get my Braille copies from a library at the same time that nobody else was using the print sets of books So, they were really terrifically supportive Yeah, there you go >> I’m curious if you were ever very angry or very depressed about your fate at any given point

And if your poetry reflected that at any point in your lives Because the poems that you read and the stories that you recounted seemed like you’ve done a lot of work thinking about your lives And coming to terms with your with your disabilities But I’m curious if in that process there was deep depression and anger, or any other feelings that came out in your poems >> You can go first >> Sorry? >> You can go first >> Sure. I never did feel angry about disability Anger is probably and emotion that’s not the easiest one for me to access And I think that’s probably true for a lot of women It was more insecure or less than Those were the kinds of feelings that I had to work towards thinking differently about Dan? >> Yeah, I would say I didn’t have a lot of; I certainly didn’t have deep depression Some flashes of anger But I think for one thing, it helped that I was born blind I had an identical twin brother who was also blind, and terrific parents I think I would say in retrospect, if I had to point to some place where I can get angry, it’s about the society which insisted to our parents that they would not be very well suited, not as capable of bringing up a blind person and teaching them, you know, simple things like how to make a bed How to do various daily living skills Of course, they couldn’t have taught us Braille But I did find out later that a few people, mostly middle class or above, who had parents with some sense of agency, or resources, or a way of thinking outside the box were able to find a way for their children to get a public-school education early on in the fifties and early sixties So, I wish that people had been more advanced and society had been more advanced And that’s probably where I would be most upset You heard a lot of the good things that came from being at the School for the Blind, but I actually; there are a lot of things, you know being separated from my family There was a certain amount of inhuman treatment by some of the house parents So, there were there were things that we were subjected to that might not have been entirely necessary >> I’ll add that as I was mainstreamed my whole life, which overall was a wonderful thing But what I lacked was having any friends or role models who looked and walked like me And I think that that’s where any negative feelings I had around it really came from, was that I didn’t see myself out in the world very much >> I have a question I have a question >> We hear you >> Yes, we can hear you fine >> Were often being teased and tormented because of your condition? >> Can you say that again? >> Were you often being bullied, tormented >> Oh, okay Were you often bullied or teased because of disability? >> Were you been bullied, or? >> Not as, not terribly much I mean there was the girl walk you know, walk like people who limp But there was, you know, a couple of kids in junior high But, no. I feel very lucky that I was overall treated really well >> You know, when I was in junior high, middle school I was been bullied, tormented, teased because of my disability >> I think your mic is off again >> Hello? >> Yes >> Oh, okay I remember when I was in junior high I was been bullied, tormented, teased because of my disability And a lot of people don’t know that I have autism spectrum, as when I reached the high school base, it started when I was transferring to another high school, Sharpstown, which I graduated

in 2004 for a special program Because my previous high school, Westbury High School in Houston doesn’t offer that And I was telling the special ed chairperson, the reason why don’t want [inaudible] because some people were talking about me Including the classmates, saying that I was [inaudible] and then she said, if someone talks about you just ignore them You’re smart, you make better grades than that And the receptionist say, that Ms. Evans, who’s now deceased And she said, people talk about me all the time She doesn’t care, just ignore and walk away I was carrying the guilt that I was being bullied, teased And my friends say, you’re in high school let it go Don’t worry about them, you know they somewhere else, you here >> Was that helpful to you? >> Yes. Because what I found your story is inspiring to me >> Thank you Thanks for sharing >> All right so We have a question from our Palm Desert Campus because we’re live streaming down there This will be our last question We’ll do closing remarks so we can go ahead and get started with the activity portion So, the question from the Palm Desert Campus is, can you mention the name of a book about ABC? >> Oh >> My alphabet book? >> Yes >> It’s called “Tangerines and Tea My Grandparents and Me.” And it was published by Harry N. Abrams in 2005, and it’s illustrated Yumi Heo Well, thank you all so much for being here and for being such a great listening audience It was really lovely >> And thank you very much for your questions It was really lovely to be here with you And we will be at a station in the activities area So, if you didn’t get to ask a question, or you think of another one, or you’re too polite to be nosy in public we’ll hope that you’ll come up [beeping] That’s to remind me to collect my stuff Hope you’ll come up and please spend some time with us We’d welcome that >> Excellent So, we did want to go ahead and thank our speakers for being here today so if we can give them a round of applause [ Applause ] Also, we would like to present both Mr. Simpson and Ms. Gritz with a certificate of appreciation So, I’ll go ahead and hand them to them now Here’s for Ona, if you want to pass it on down And then also I want to squeeze in with you I want to read it real quick In recognition of your outstanding support shown for CSUSBs’ ability awareness event, the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities would like to offer their sincerest gratitude This event would not have happened without your dedication and service And it has your name, today’s date and then a couple of the logos of the people who helped us put this event together So, again thank you so much for being here One more round of applause >> Thank you >> Thank you >> Thank you [applause] >> And then, we would invite everyone to head over to our activity portion We’re going we’re going to have interactive stations There’s different departments and campus entities who are here to help support the event And there will also be free pizza Your little raffle ticket, if you haven’t submitted it yet, that gives you a chance for a raffle prize We have a raffle box that’s there where you can put it in for the prize that you’d like to attend Thank you everyone