This is why I love Bob Perske

When I started writing about people with disabilities 30 years ago, my mentor quickly became evident. Robert Perske’s clear and plainly elegant words shaped my own thoughts about this new element of exploration I was in. He’s become a dear family friend over the years. And, of course, his pal Martha’s drawings captured the very essence of beautiful humanity in the faces and bodies of her subjects. So much has changed about the way people with disabilities are supported and encouraged to be part of the world, and so many people enjoy interesting, lives of worth and value. Despite how far we’ve come, Bob still makes me sit up and and remember that it’s more important than ever to guard against what smacks of ‘us’ and ‘them’. That attitude, even if unbeknownst to the people who carry it now, comes from very scary beginnings. Bob still sends me things that remind me to never take what we have for granted, like this one:

“After reading Good Blood, Bad Blood, I can’t get Emma Wolverton off my mind.

           Dave Smith and Mike Wehmeyer are by far the sharpest researchers yet to carefully and completely pinpoint how Henry Goddard used Deborah Kallikak as his “poster child” for identifying persons with disabilities and trying to wipe them off the face of the earth.

I became acquainted with Goddard’s efforts 54 years ago after being hired as a chaplain in a new state institution.  Some staff members wondered how a clergyman might function in a place like this. I wondered too, but others showed such kindness for the residents, I copied them.  I still copy people like that today.

Even so, an aged psychologist delivered an orientation course for new employees that included the reading of Goddard’s small, 121-page book, The Kallikak Family.  I still own that book and memories of the sleepless nights it caused me.  Now, these memories help me see how far we have come since then.

But the last paragraph in the book made me want to shed tears:

          When we strip people of their names, we strip them of their dignity, their value, their selfhood.  It allows us to talk about “them” in anonymity, referring to our pejorative name for them or the number we’ve tattooed on them, as if they were not people, not human.  We can refer to them as morons, criminal imbeciles, or degenerates as if they were not really sentient beings.  We can lock them away for the rest of their lives or sterilize them without their knowledge.  We — we humans — can march them into gas chambers by telling them that they are going to take a shower.

                   Her name was Emma, not Deborah.

Emma Wolverton.

We at least owe her the respect of calling her by her name.

Is there something we can do to keep Emma’s name alive?”

 Bob Perske



Praise from a parent

Thanks to Kim Aubrey and Red Claw Press for a wonderful book launch at McNally, and thanks to McNally, too, for hosting a great event. If you haven’t been to a book reading/launch/signing there, you really should go. Very well done and fun, too.

I kick off the reading at McNally Robinson the other night.

And, just received this very humbling and gratifying review of my new book Flourish: People with Disabilities Living Life with Passion. This from a parent:

“I want to tell you how much I appreciate Flourish. It came to us at a good time, while we’ve been helping our adult son who has a longterm health challenge (possibly reversible, possibly not) and I’ve spent lots of time wondering what to pray for. Praying for a cure wasn’t quite right, as it likely isn’t to happen. Also, his situation isn’t going to deteriorate, which is a good thing, but it will be challenging to live with. So the idea of praying for joy in his life was such an inspirational thought, and a helpful one. Thank you for reminding us that joy is indeed the best part of life, and something to be supported. All the best, and keep writing!”

Made my week 🙂

Reading at McNally Robinson November 13

If you find yourself in Saskatoon on November 13th looking for something literary to do, come to McNally Robinson and join Red Claw Press for the launch of Seek It: Writers and Artists Do Sleep. There are going to be readings, wine and snacks (how do you turn that down?) and celebration with these writers/artists: Mike Chouinard, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, Jeanette Lynes, Dave Margoshes, Grace Paterson, Lorelie Gerwing Sarauer, and me! I had a piece in the first of this series, Crave It: Writers and Artists Do Food and editor Kim Aubrey asked me to tag along on this new launch. Come on out at 7 p.m. It’ll be fun!