Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while. It’s time for Coffee and Conversation.
When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..
Do you write any disabled characters?
It really made me think, and, at first, I was a little embarrassed, because I couldn’t think of a single one…
Was I unintentionally discriminating against people who didn’t fit my own image of ‘abled?’ Did I think, on some level, that they couldn’t be interesting characters, with lives and conflicts worth reading about?
And then, I started to remember…
- Vaara, who is not only mute, but has no understanding of spoken language as a communications device for most of her childhood, and lifelong difficulties in the conversational arena.
- Liacivaar, like my own secondborn child, Elijah, Liacivaar was born with profound brain damage, and died a short time later.
- Tisira falls from a tree as the result of a telepathic attack…
- … and awakens as Nockatee, bereft not only of her memory, but also her self.
After I realized this, I started to feel better. No, I wasn’t ignoring disabled characters. But was I capitalizing upon their disabilities? In each case, above, the disability is a central theme of the character’s story arc. Without the limitations imposed by it, the story could be easily resolved.
So, was I taking advantage of my disabled characters; giving them disabilities only so that I could exploit them?
And that’s where the Kifo Island Chronicles comes in…
Kifo Island is my fictional hospice resort. During the April 2014 Blogging from A-Z Challenge, I wrote 26 flash fiction stories, each of a man, woman, or child who had come to the island to live, die, or work. Among my cast of characters were more than a few with life-altering or threatening disabilities:
- Ava has leukemia, and struggles against the control of emotionally unavailable and overbearing parents.
- Terrance’s heart is failing and being broken at the same time.
- Donovan, is an albino who finds an unexpected family.
- Exuberance has metastitic cancer, and a far bigger problem in judging men.
- Gladys is dying of old age and Parkinson’s Disease, but has a mission to see to, first.
- Iris has been severely abused and neglected, but sparkles with the capacity for love and joy.
- Josiah is ravaged by the effects of drug abuse, but has found a reason to live his remaining days well.
- Linwood suffers from age-related dementia, and a grief too deep to accept.
- Mauve is an ancephalic infant whose death offers life.
- Percy has an inoperable and terminal brain tumor, and trains therapy animals.
- Quincette, in the grip of an eating disorder, saves two lives and changes her own.
- Robert is on the autism spectrum, and wrestling with life-altering news.
- Serrah has a congenital heart defect, and misses her Mommy and Daddy.
- Timothy has cystic fibrosis, and a relationship in trouble.
- Ubunta was trafficked as a sex slave, and wants what’s best for her unborn child.
- Wilma is blind, and discovers a body.
- Xavier has testicular cancer, and beats his wife.
- Yvette is the victim of longtime spousal abuse, and lives a secret life through art.
- Zeke suffers from mental illness, which he uses to his advantage as a stand-up comic.
These characters are different than the ones above. Their disabilities are part of their stories – but only part. Each of them is a person, with a life that is be affected by illness, infirmity, or being at the mercy of others who violate them in some way – but this isn’t the sum of them, only one factor in their reality. It might be an overarching theme – but they are people. Some of them are consumed by whatever condition they have; others try to deny that they even have a disability, and others find a degree of balance with their disability, accepting the real limitations it imposes without allowing it to have a greater impact on their life than necessary.
Just as the people I assisted dealt with life in different ways, according to their natures, so do the characters I write for whom disability is a fact of life. Because they are people, first and always. People who live, love, work, play, and sometimes die – and, just like in the real world, their disability isn’t all they are. It can be a descriptor, but not a definition – just like my being tall means that there are times I have to duck when a shorter person could pass through. It’s my reality, but being tall isn’t the only thing that I am.
If you write, do you have any disabled characters? Does their condition, whatever it is, define them, or is it simply one aspect of their nature?
Do you have any favorite characters with disabilities from literature, television, or elsewhere? I’ll pour the coffee; let’s converse!