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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Rare Encounter

A couple weeks ago I finally got to go bike shopping. This isn’t as easy as it probably sounds to most people, but the reasons for that related to my cerebral palsy will have to wait for another day. What I found so interesting was the mere fact that I met someone else with cerebral palsy doing the exact same thing.

I may be dramatizing just a tad, but I can assure you that meeting someone else with CP out of the blue is a rare occurrence in my life. I don’t mean to suggest that we’re some sort of endangered species, but meeting someone in everyday life with very similar characteristics who is doing the same thing at the same time simply doesn’t happen much when you have CP (or, I feel safe saying, most other physical disabilities).

I won’t use his real name, but Joe was out with his mom and dad, and they were also looking for an adaptive bike. He was about high school age, and probably has significantly less spasticity than yours truly. My mom began telling his parents about the adaptive biking program I recently started attending on Saturdays down by the river, and I later e-mailed Joe’s dad a few specific details.

In his reply, Joe’s dad started telling me how he was glad that Joe got to see that I can drive, and how he is always talking to his son about the importance of being independent. It was such a rare opportunity that I had to refrain from offering every piece of relevant experience that I could think of.

I wanted to tell the kid to do all of those annoying, pain-in-the-ass exercises his physical therapists are (hopefully) telling him to do. I wanted to tell him to hold on to any friends he has in high school as best he can because such relationships may be hard to come by in just a few years. I wanted to tell the kid to push past his comfort zone, whatever that may be for him, because it only gets harder to do so with every passing day.

No, I really don’t think I know so much about living life with a disability that I needed to offer advice to a virtual stranger. In fact, just the opposite was at work. I saw the encounter, which hopefully won’t be a “one and done” opportunity like many in my experience have been, to engage in a give-and-take about the disability part of my life.

Of course, offering a ton of advice or even just relevant experience right off the bat is one of the best ways to have it fall on deaf ears and find people inching away from you as fast as possible. At least that was always my reaction as a kid on the few occasions that I met someone who might actually have a clue about life with a physical disability.

The problem, I think, besides my being a teenager, was that there were only a “few occasions” to meet adults with disabilities that could offer a give-and-take, advice, or stories about relevant experience. Maybe as the world delves into “social networking” that’s all changing, but my fear is it’s just adding to the general noise level that being in touch 24/7 has created. I’m believing more and more that internet contact isn’t nearly enough for any group, including the disability community. You can’t get to truly know a person online, or have them get to know you, which is what builds trust and the ability to share and learn from one another.

I’m obviously not disparaging online communication. In fact, I just recently joined Facebook and LinkedIn to learn what those sites are all about. Among other things, I hope to engage other people with disabilities and have them engage me. I’d like to find something more than someone to IM, or “poke,” or whatever.

If you have looked around, or “clicked around,” on this blog, you no doubt quickly learned that it is dominated by sports posts. They get the most hits, and the most comments, so I naturally give the topic the most attention. I’m once again hoping to begin matching that, or at least creating a strong second place, with posts on my experiences with disability.

As I offer my experiences, thoughts, opinions, and, God help you, advice on life with a disability, feel free to jump in with comments of your own. Even if you’re already doing it in other places online, as I hope to be doing soon enough, it can’t hurt to spread the conversation to a wider audience. It might help a younger (or older) person avoid some of the same obstacles you faced or connect with an activity that might fit his or her abilities that is buried in a sea – or a world wide web – of noise.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marley and Me — DVD Review

It’s pretty rare for me to read a book and then watch the film version (or vice versa), though it seems a lot of people enjoy doing so. I find myself watching to see how the movie producers did this or that from the book, or how closely they stick to the book, instead of just enjoying the film. But, for the same reasons I eventually gave into reading Marley and Me, plus the gigantic poster of the cute little puppy that I kept seeing, I finally saw the movie.

At first it seemed like Disney was prepared to take John Grogan’s story of life with his mischievous dog on a path that was only loosely connected to the book. Possibly it was just the skeptic in me looking for the worst. But once the film settled in, passed the wedding day (well, evening) of the Grogans, it actually stayed true to the book fairly well. Honestly, I’m not even sure the wedding day was not mentioned in the book. My concern was more about the tone that the film seemed to be setting.

The main device used by the movie producers that was not presented in the book was John’s best friend (or seemingly so) who was also a coworker for a time, Sebastian. I call Sebastian a “device” as his main purpose was to allow the audience to learn John’s thoughts, which surprisingly involved plenty of regret about the professional path he chose not to take. Sebastian popped in and out of the movie as his career continued to climb the ladder of success, at one time pursuing a big investigative story, which would make John a bit envious. In fact, there was more time spent on his doubts about becoming a columnist versus pursuing a career covering hard news stories. As a wannabee writer, I found it very interesting, and I don’t think it would detract from the movie for most people.

Of course, there was this dog in the story. I didn’t mean to give the impression that Marley isn’t the star of the show; he certainly is. As I wrote in my book review, the lovable dog spends plenty of time reeking havoc and being rather irresistible all at once. I will say I felt more attached to the dog when reading the book, and he’s not quite as irresistible in the film. There was just no way to fully duplicate the depth of the attachment displayed in the book between Grogan and his dog in film, which the reader tends to adopt as his own. Plus, I think there was something about seeing the destruction Marley wrought that made him just a touch less less lovable.

I was very hesitant about Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston playing the Grogans. They just seemed a bit too “Hollywood” to pull-off what I had read, and Wilson has a surfer dude quality for me. I never totally got passed feeling like Wilson had been pulled of the beach and told to play a family man, but overall they were both quite good.

Well, I warned you that I tend to focus on the differences between book and film in these circumstances. The ending still evoked plenty of emotion, and I have this gnawing feeling (no pun intended) that I’m being too harsh on the film. I don’t mean to be harsh at all. It was very enjoyable. The book was just better.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lisa Scottoline’s Dirty Blonde

Lisa Scottoline is a Philadelphia writer, so I wanted to give her novel, Dirty Blonde, a shot. I’ve been forcibly read to from her column in the Philadelphia Inquirer from a fan of her’s on numerous occasions, and thought the novel that had been on the book shelf in the hall was a safe bet.

Cate Fante has just been appointed to the district court in Philadelphia, and her high-profile case involving the creator of the latest legal thriller to reach the small screen has her in the news. When she’s forced to allow a judgment in favor of the producer over the local writer claiming to have originated the concept for the show, things get even crazier after the producer is killed – seemingly by the complainant, who has killed himself. Her life only gets more complicated when producers of the show threaten to expose her penchant for one-night stands with guys she picks up from dive bars in the city.

Some form of empathy for the protagonist is generally a part of the reading experience involved with pop-culture novels. While Scottoline deserves credit for challenging the typical formula by giving her main character a major character flaw, it made it difficult for me to “root” for Fante. I’ll admit that may be nothing more than a chauvinistic bias on my part, and there’s little doubt the author had some fun turning the womanizer type of character around.

But I really think there was more to it. Most of the trouble Fante faced was brought on by Fante. She had everything going her way, as protagonists often do in the beginning of these stories, and continued a behavior that she knew threatened all of it. Obviously, there was the hint of a sex addiction, but it wasn’t quite sold in that vein. It came off as just her stupidity that caught up to her, especially when the idea of treatment never comes into play even in what ends up being a typical pop novel finish.

I’m always impressed when a novel, or any “entertainment vehicle,” deals with a disability in a realistic manner. Fante’s best friend has a son who has autism. A good amount of time is spent dealing with the challenges the single mother and the little boy face in dealing with the disability. It simply isn’t done enough by other writers. Fante’s relationship with the family even becomes a part of her struggle.

The writing is perfectly fine, allowing for easy enough reading. I struggled to get going with the novel, but that happens so often that I have to think it’s just me as opposed to anything with the book. Once I got going, the reading was smooth, and, as a side note for others from the area, it was fun to read a novel that took place in Philadelphia.

I wouldn’t recommend Dirty Blonde, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone considering picking up the novel either.