Gina’s Reading: The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom PerrottaMy husband, a writer in his own right, loved The Abstinence Teacher so much that he started an email exchange with Tom Perotta about it. That’s incredibly rare esteem from him. So, I read it immediately.

I will agree with Ned Andrew that the prose is flawless and the dialogue is incredibly crisp. Most of the characters are sensitively drawn and multi-dimensional–especially the males. Perrotta does a wonderful and sensitive job of exploring difficult relationship and community issues without making anyone out to be the villain.

I appreciated that there wasn’t a neat and tidy wrap up–one of my pet peeves–and that the pace was maintained throughout the book. The movement between the two main characters was seamless.

There was one aspect that left me a little flat. Of the two main characters, Perrotta may have short-changed Ruth a bit. While we get all sorts of depth when we watch Tom make his choices and understand why he does some of the things he does–even when we wouldn’t choose those paths–Ruth is less a protagonist than she is a reactionary. I kept wanting her to do something instead of just bouncing off of everyone else’s choices.

I did really enjoy reading the book. Perrotta is laugh-out-loud funny at times–admittedly more often for Ned than for me–and can break your heart with dead-on dialogue. I can’t give it all 10 (5? I need to get a rating system worked out.) gold stars simply because I wanted a little more development of Ruth’s character–but I am really being picky here.

If you enjoy deep characters, the exploration of difficult subjects, and incredible dialogue, Perrotta has written a book that’s worth the read.

Happy and Included

Friendship -- One piece of Happy and Included

G & S Walking and Talking on a Sunny, Spring Day

For as long as I’ve been a part of the disability community there has been an ongoing debate. Well, there have been many ongoing debates, but one in particular speaks to the fundamental nature of how folks with disabilities — especially intellectual disabilities — live in our society. What’s the debate?

Choice versus Safety

See, there’s this belief that they are mutually exclusive realities. Somewhere along the way we decided that either an individual can lead a self-determined life — a life of their choosing — or they can have a safe life where they are protected from bad choices — their own and, presumably, others’.

And then we started seeing the reality of this “safe” life option. The exposure of the horrors at Willowbrook and similar institutions began the slow shift toward the empowerment of individuals with disabilities to make choices in their lives. Some might argue that the pendulum swung too far and opened up all sorts of dangerous realities. Others will argue that no one is truly safe in this world — that getting into a car is inherently dangerous and most of us make that choice every day.

So, we debate it endlessly. How much choice does an individual with a disability get to have? When do others have the responsibility to step in and protect them? Who is liable if they make a choice that risks their health or costs them money or ostracizes them from their community? Do they get to vote in our elections? And around we go.

I’ve spent about 25 years listening to these conversations as I have worked with folks with a variety of labels — some of them disabilities — in a variety of settings. And as luck would have it, I’m raising several kids and have innumerable family members, colleagues and friends with labels of their own.

It’s my intention to share more of this background as this blog develops, but the end result of all of this experience is the solid belief in two essential elements for a well-lived life. The first thing that people really want and truly need is to be happy. As Michael Smull often says, “While alive and unhappy is unacceptable, dead and happy are incompatible.” We have to pay attention to both — choice and safety. The second essential element is to be included — to be seen as and to feel like a person of value, as someone who contributes to and is a welcome part of their community.

Now, defining those terms — happy and included — is about as individualized and as universal as it gets. Getting to those definitions and then making them reality is where the real work comes.

Ah, but it’s wonderful when we get it right and it’s pretty great when we get it close to right… and it sure beats arguing over semantics.

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