Right off, let me acknowledge that “handicap” is an archaic and politically incorrect term unless you’re talking golf or horse racing. But I wanted to talk about my character, Liz Gearhart, who is a person with a disability. And I already did “D.”
I used to think disabilities happened to “them” until I woke up in a hospital bed with a brain injury after a brief encounter with death. While most folks would never notice the disability now, almost 10 years out, it’s still very much there. Just ask my partner about last night. I was a beast.
No, that’s not my disability. I do not turn into a monster by the light of the moon. But if I get tired, or my brain gets overstimulated, or I push myself too far (which I do way too often), I become cranky, I pull to the left when I walk, I trip, stumble, and fall, and I whine. Oh, do I whine. I also set things down in thin air, usually things filled with liquid, and I close my eyes to shut out the environment. Not a good thing if you’re driving. And, yes, I have done this while driving. So, in the last 10 years, I’ve had to learn a lot about living with a disability.
I chose Liz’s disability because it is visible. She’s blind. I’ve had several friends over the years who were blind, deaf, paraplegic, or otherwise visibly disabled. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with them, and as a former reporter I tend to ask LOTS of questions. And, invariably, I’ve been impressed with how, well, “normal” they all are. Well, except my blind friend who once drove from Moscow, ID to Pullman, WA with a bunch of drunks yelling “A little to the left.” “A little to the right.” He justified this behavior as being sober and therefore the designated driver. He’s just crazy.
Having a disability does not suddenly make you stupid, incapable, or somehow less than. That’s hard for me to remember when I’m feeling my worst. But, despite a disabling condition, I manage to work more than full time, travel, play, preach, write, and generally enjoy life. Yes, I do sleep more than I’d wish. My brain gets tired and knocks me flat on my back.
But back to Liz. I wanted to write about a person with an acquired disability who manages to keep doing the things she’d done before, albeit modified or in a different way, and who is not some sort of fictional “Wonder Woman” with hyper senses to compensate, able to see better than sighted people. I wanted a complex, multifaceted, sometimes angry, sometimes brave, sometimes quirky, often intelligent, sometimes stupid, and mostly just plain “normal” person. Who just happens to be blind.
And I wanted to explore the reactions and feelings of the so-called “normal” woman who falls in love with her. Hence, Erik. A strong, capable, neurotic woman who has to wrestle with her feelings for a) this particular woman and b) the fact that this particular woman is blind.
I guess it gave me a chance to explore more of my own feelings, about being disabled and about how we all treat folks with disabilities. And I’ll be exploring it even more in coming books about the duo. Stayed tuned.
This post brought to you by the words handful, hurricane, heart, hell hound, and heavenly. Also by the numbers….hm, are there numbers that start with “h”? Maybe in Japanese, but I can’t remember. Please advise.