“When you grow up in a world that doesn’t see you or welcome you or include you or represent you, you believe the world isn’t for you.” – Rebekah Taussig (@sitting_pretty)
Just finished this one. Rebekah Taussig is one of my favorite (disabled) writers I’ve discovered in the Instagram world. In “Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body”, Taussig debuts with a candid memoir about life in a wheelchair.
Taussig has lived in “a body that doesn’t work” since surviving an aggressive cancer at 14 months and paralyzed since 3. Today, she holds a PhD in creative nonfiction and disability studies. She is an English teacher, talented writer, passionate advocate for disability, wife and new to motherhood.
Much like her Instagram mini-memoirs, her book is very intelligent, witty, friendly, warm, enlightening and poignant as she charts out her experiences in being disabled, her childhood, love life, family, and career. She analyzes sex and disability, online dating, unwitting ableism and the glaring media halo that celebrates particular groups, while portraying disabled as sad, less than and “inspirational” simply for being disabled. She expresses how disheartening the physical and psychological barriers placed upon us by society can be. She tales the panic of losing medical insurance and what it’s like to feel all eyes on us (able gaze) no matter where we go, when all we want is not to be defined by our disability. She expresses constant safety concerns in something as simple as taking an Uber. In general women have to plot out so many of our moves when it comes to safety, something men never have to consider, but disabled women even more so.
She writes with vulnerability and compassion while eloquently etching what it’s like living with disability in a society that doesn’t include us, yet prefers to overlook us because looking us in the eye is too uncomfortable. Too often in discussions about diversity and inclusion, disability is omitted from the conversation.
As I read her book my mind periodically wandered to some of my own parallel experiences. I would weep and have to put the book down. Perhaps it was a single word that stirred my own emotions, which wasn’t all sadness though no doubt a sense of grief and loss from a progressive deterioration disease is always lingering in the background like some wispy aromatic perfume. Reading her life stirred a planar vista view of my own last 41 years; all I’ve seen, learned, grown, gained and lost — a one shock life lesson dished out to me in a single vision.
What I’ve grown to love so much about storytelling, and perhaps always did but never felt formerly trained or competent, was the ability to learn, empathize and be surprised. Each story is filled with their own private corners of figuring out their place in this world, and I’m always thirsting to learn how others connected their own dots to form their unique path. I think it’s a really beautiful thing to share and be shared to. In these intimate moments our defenses, ignorance, hate, fear or preconceived notions disintegrate and maybe, even if for a moment, we can live in harmony — recognizing that we really aren’t that different from each other, and where we are different is the single thing that humanizes us.
I’m looking forward to writing my own memoir in the future. There are very few books written on or featuring disability and even fewer disabled writers are published. And, most scholars of disability studies accepted into this academic arena are white able-bodied individuals. This is a problem.
Society’s structure and infinite narrow canals of thoughts is the problem, not us. To be seen, to be heard is all we are asking for. So, be seen.
The future is…hopefully accessible for all. Give her book a read, and I also recommend her latest Time’s article, “I’ve Been Paralyzed Since I Was 3. Here’s Why Kindness Toward Disabled People Is More Complicated Than You Think”.
Purchase on Amazon:
A memoir-in-essays from disability advocate and creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty Rebekah Taussig, processing a lifetime of memories to paint a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most.
Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Rebekah Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), inspirational (Helen Keller), or angelic (Forrest Gump). None of this felt right; and as she got older, she longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling.
Writing about the rhythms and textures of what it means to live in a body that doesn’t fit, Rebekah reflects on everything from the complications of kindness and charity, living both independently and dependently, experiencing intimacy, and how the pervasiveness of ableism in our everyday media directly translates to everyday life.
Disability affects all of us, directly or indirectly, at one point or another. By exploring this truth in poignant and lyrical essays, Taussig illustrates the need for more stories and more voices to understand the diversity of humanity. Sitting Pretty challenges us as a society to be patient and vigilant, practical and imaginative, kind and relentless, as we set to work to write an entirely different story.
“Rebekah writes in a way that is somehow both world-shakingly profound and beautifully intimate. Her voice is unforgettable in its power to make you feel, question, learn, and grow. There aren’t words for how much the world needs this book.” (Megan Jayne Crabbe, bestselling author of Body Positive Power )