You’ve just had to escape from your own home, with the help of a family member.
You’ve had to move into a new rented house in an area where you don’t know anyone.
It’s the first time you’ve been living independently for a few years, but you’re determined to give it a go. After all, you’re 31 years old.
The only help you get is from a care agency and from your mother, because you are paraplegic.
You did expect you would settle in quickly and hoped to be making friends.
However, for four long months, apart from going out with your mum, in her car, you’ve only managed to get to the end of your road by yourself.
You’re living in fear, frightened your old life, the people you call ‘the guards’ are going to find you, return you to the nightmare that nearly cost you your life.
Something has to change…
What would you do? How would you cope?
This is The Single Feather and the story of what Rachel did next.
Thank you to Kendra for this interview on her blog.
Today we have R.F. Hunt here with us to discuss her newly released book, The Single Feather, a fantastic read which I highly recommend.
What motivated you to begin writing creatively?
When I was very young, I wrote a story and created characters called The Doo’s shaped as a letter ‘D’. My parents cut it up and stapled it together to make a book and sent it off to Hamlyn, the publishers of the Mr. Men series. Obviously, it didn’t get accepted but since then I’ve always enjoyed writing. I had planned to study for a career in Journalism, when I was involved in a serious accident. For about ten years after that, survival and being independent was my goal, and I did very little writing. It was only after my disabilities got substantially worse and I found myself at home with a lot of time on my hands, did…
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When I was first mulling over ideas for what was to become The Single Feather, I remembered a poem I had read in the 1990’s by a woman called Lois Keith who was the editor of a book called ‘Mustn’t Grumble’ with writing from disabled women. In this poem, she tackles the many ‘striving, ambulist metaphors’ – such as walking tall, or standing up for yourself, reminding us all how ableist the English Language can be. It also is a poem with controlled anger running through it, about how dependent it can make you feel if you can’t put your best foot forward, or stay one step ahead.
Writing about a paraplegic woman, as I do in The Single Feather required me to think about language all the time. I also found ‘Rachel’ to be a great observer, of the movements and landscape around her. For much of the book she is an outsider, looking into a world where she wants to belong. So although she may not be as physically active as some of the other characters she is painfully and acutely aware of what those around her are doing.
I’ll end with this poem. It was an inspiration for me, as were all the writings in this wonderful book.
Tomorrow I’m a Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith
Tomorrow I’m going to rewrite the English language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength,
My new, different strength
Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time
I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world
All this walking tall
And making great strides
Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English language
Creating the world in my own image
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress
I will wheel, cover, encircle,
Somehow I will learn to say it all.
Lois Keith from Mustn’t Grumble published by The Women’s Press 1994
Along with many other bloggers today I’m talking about compassion. What does it mean to be compassionate? I think we can only be compassionate if we can put ourselves in another persons shoes and imagine what it’s like to be living their life.
In fiction – we have to do this. We may be writing about characters who have nothing to do with our own experience of life, but if we want believable characters, we need to put ourselves in their position and understand what makes them ‘tick’.
As someone with disabilities, I’ve come across some thoughtful, compassionate people, like the neighbour who will help me get shopping. I’ve also had the experience of being bullied, by people who should be caring, such as nursing staff. Not many people are deliberately mean, but if we’ve had a difficult, tiring day, then sometimes our ‘default position’ takes over.
‘It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.’ (David Foster Wallace: This is Water)
I know if we are trying to find a disabled parking place, and I see someone who looks fit get out of a car in the last remaining space, my default position is: ‘Look at that person. Bet they haven’t got a blue badge.’ Then I realise what I’ve done. I’ve made a judgement without putting myself in their position. I don’t know what their disability is – they could have severe epilepsy or have cancer.
Likewise on the way home, my usually calm, rational friend might get angry at the car trying to overtake her, She makes judgements about the type of person based on the car and their driving. We all do this. Again its a judgement – the car driver might be rushing as his daughter could be in hospital or his wife in labour.
People might look at someone who is overweight and think they are lazy. Another stereotypical judgement. What they don’t know is this person might have a medical condition that makes them overweight, or be comfort eating due to the loss of their parents.
People might see someone out of work, and think they are a scrounger, but this person may have worked all their life, and lost their job in the economic crash. They might be studying or retraining to get the skills needed to get back to work.
When we change what has meaning, we change what we see…[Wallace ] can do this because he recognises his ‘natural default’ way of seeing is not his only way of seeing. It is a choice. (How to Fly a Horse – Kevin Ashton)
Western philosophy has often conditioned us to see things as black or white, yin and yang (as opposed to yin-yang). However, we don’t have to see things this way. We can see them as connected.
At the start of This is Water by David Foster Wallace, he introduces two young fish who are swimming along when they meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them, and asks,’how’s the water?’ The two young fish swim for a bit longer before they turn to each other and say, ‘what the hell is water?’
We are the fish, swimming in a sea of judgements, and assumptions which we at first don’t notice. The next step is to know why you assume, or judge the way you do. What is your default setting? Then you can start to suspend those assumptions and try to see things in a different way.
Is it easy? No it isn’t and I don’t always manage it. However, when I do, by changing my default setting – I feel like I’m giving myself a break, as well as being more compassionate and caring towards others
Compassion is all about our reactions. To reach out to a stranger, someone who challenges our beliefs, or our assumptions means examining why we think like we do, and then changing our view.