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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I’m Not Here to Inspire You is Now Available on SmashWords—Don’t Let the Title Fool You!

Cover of I'm Not Here to Inspire You featuring Rob finishing the MS Ride
World Cerebral Palsy Day seemed as good a day as any to finally put my first book, I’m Not Here to Inspire You: Essays on disability from a regular guy living with cerebral palsy, on

I self-published the book a little more than three years ago through iUniverse. I’m simply re-publishing it through SmashWords to take advantage of the pricing flexibility they offer writers.

Nothing has changed about I’m Not Here to Inspire You, though I’ll admit that there have been times that I wished I had gone with a different title. (I have lost track of the number of wisecracks I’ve heard about it.) And, rereading the book before giving a copy to a friend not long after putting the book on SmashWords, I will add that at times my delivery might be a bit softer now. Yet, I still hope there are some positive messages in the book.

I wanted to get people’s attention with the title, and I guess I did.

A few people with disabilities indicated that they like the title, and that helps me remember why I published the collection of short essays in the first place. I especially hoped young people living with disabilities would read it.

Recently, I’ve enjoyed hearing them offer the same message about what some now call “inspiration porn.” This summer, a young woman named Anastasia Somoza, who is also living with cerebral palsy, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In a video released around her brief but strong appearance at the DNC, she said, “I think it’s a bit silly when people give me the sense that they think I’m inspiring, just because I live my everyday life. And I think that is what we need to change.”

In September, Zach Anner, a very funny comic living with cerebral palsy who won his own show from Oprah Winfrey (though I don’t know if it ever ran), came out with a list of the top 10 things people should know about cerebral palsy. Number 7? He’s not inspiring just because he has cerebral palsy.

And before the haters come calling, no, I don’t think they got the message from my book.

Even though my book was out first!

I hope people will take a chance on the book—the deal on SW makes it easier than ever—and read beyond the title. The very first paragraph of the introduction points out that there’s nothing wrong with true inspiration. The title is merely a nod of understanding to other people with disabilities who have experienced the person in the supermarket, restaurant, or anywhere else, who makes a point to tell us just how wonderful it is to see us there—in all of our disabled glory, apparently. Praise Jesus! You’ve gone out of the house, you inspiring miracle!

Ok, I got a little carried away. Though I have read stories of disabled people actually having strangers pray over them. And I understand that people mean well. Yet, besides the occasional awkward encounter it creates, the basic image of people with disabilities that has been available in the media for years—someone with a disability who inspires others by simply being alive—is problematic.

It lowers the bar for people with disabilities.

Imagine that the only picture of a disabled person an able-bodied individual has in their mind is the beaming individual using a wheelchair, happy to simply exist and take hollow compliments. Think about the reaction that person will have when someone using a wheelchair enters their office looking for a job. Is that person really going to take the job applicant seriously? If the same two people meet in a bar, will the able-bodied person see the other as a potential date? If they meet at a PTA meeting and have differing opinions on a particular subject, will the individual with a disability truly be listened to?

The answer is “no.” The able-bodied person is much more likely to politely (in their mind) dismiss the person with a disability, perhaps think it’s “nice” they were included, and quickly move on to the business at hand.

Of course, I’m Not Here to Inspire You is about more than this one concept. I wrote about my experiences as a mainstreamed student, doing physical therapy and lifting weights, the problem with politically correct language, what I call the hierarchy of disability, a Christmas memory about the way people with disabilities view each other, cycling, and the struggle to find love and, yes, sex. I don’t pull any punches, which I know some folks have taken as bitterness. My hope, instead, is to offer a real picture of life with a disability.

Another topic I write about is the fact that older people with disabilities are an under-utilized resource by schools for their disabled students. Writing about my experiences in a realistic manner is my effort to fill that role in a small way of allowing young people with disabilities to hear from someone who has been through some of what they’re experiencing. I hope readers will learn from some of my mistakes. I also write about doing the MS Ride in 2010. It’s not to brag. It’s to let a kid with a disability know that as much as I want her or him to be realistic about their life with a disability, I also want them to push their limits—for themselves, not to inspire others.

I hope other people will read the book, too. World Cerebral Palsy Day, as I understand it, is about raising awareness about living with CP. I believe my book fits in with that goal. And, by the way, readers have called the book “funny,” said it “hit home,” and that if “you’re disabled, it’s the sort of book to buy, read, and pass along to the important people in your life.”

I really hope you give the book a chance. Remember not to let the title fool you, and that I’m still not here to inspire you.

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