Thoughts On Self-Employment

Today I am wearing my favorite necklace. It was made by an artist with a disability named Anjuli… I get compliments on it ALL. THE. TIME. (Pssst… You can check out her artwork and jewelry here: Expressions by Anjuli)

2015-08-06 13.04.11

Every time I wear it, I am reminded of all the entrepreneurs with disabilities out there. According to Department of Labor statistics, people with disabilities are about twice as likely to start their own businesses as their able-bodied counterparts (as a self-employed musician with a disability, I am helping to confirm this statistic). Something like 14% of people with disabilities are taking their employment into their own hands. I find this to be both empowering and inspiring.

The reasons to go into business for one’s self are no doubt varied. In my case, it was partly because the 9-5 working world was not conducive to someone who doesn’t drive, has lots of doctor appointments, and takes forever to use the washroom. But I also made the switch because it’s exciting to be the author of my own professional future, even if success isn’t guaranteed. I love to create, and starting your own business makes this possible on almost every level.

On a more subtle level, perhaps having a disability forces you to get more comfortable with living life outside the box. You’re used to standing out in most situations, so why should one more societal difference be a big deal? Maybe in a society that doesn’t really value accessibility (paying lip-service to “inclusion” or “acceptance” is different than actually building a ramp), you feel like to some extent you’re always fending for yourself anyway. It might be less stressful and more fulfilling to fight your own battle on the periphery instead of working so hard to make it in the mainstream.

How about you?  Do you have your own business, or have you always dreamed of starting one?  If you haven’t made the leap yet, why not?  What are some steps you could take to get you closer to your dream? There are tons of great resources out there to help you clarify your mission and to provide you with helpful tips and motivation. No matter where you are on your entrepreneurial journey, please know that I am cheering you on!

Coming Full Circle (Two Years Later)

Hello again!

It has been quite awhile since I posted anything on this blog… Life just got so busy and time slipped away from me. Indeed, a lot has happened in the last two years! I started teaching fiddle lessons, I played more shows than I ever have in my entire life, I had a hysterectomy, I got married, I attended the funerals of two grandparents and a beloved uncle, and I started a career in insurance.

Although some might more easily recognize this whirlwind of change as a source of stress, I was not so insightful. In fact, at first I didn’t even realize how busy I actually was… Nonstop action became my normal state of being. I worked two different careers during the day and then played music at night — sometimes up to 4 nights a week. I got a smartphone back in July 2014, and it instantly took up far too much of my time. This constant state of doing and cyber-connectivity began to put pressure on my relationship with my husband; I was not spending enough quality time with him. But still, I felt compelled to grow my little insurance business, to take on more fiddle students, to say yes to any and all show opportunities that came my way (and to check Facebook… just one more time).

When people asked me “How do you do it all?”, I would just smile and shrug it off. But inwardly that question caused me to cringe. I had a painful, nagging sense that maybe I was trying to do too much — somewhere, somehow, something would eventually have to give.

My personal suspicions were confirmed when I started having daily heart palpitations in December of 2014.  It was so scary because no matter what you do, it is impossible to ignore your own heart beat once it goes awry. If you’ve had them before, perhaps you can relate – it feels like a ticking time-bomb is nestled inside your chest. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight, and it was hard to enjoy anything (not the best way to spend Christmas — laying in bed at 4 o’clock in the morning worrying that you might have a heart attack at any second). To their credit, the doctors did a lot of heart tests to rule out any heart conditions; they even performed a stress test. But after everything came back negative, they said that it was simply stress that was causing the palpitations. At that point I was pretty much left to my own devices to make them stop.

I knew that I was busy, and that I often wished that I had a little bit more down-time, but it was still hard for me to believe that something as emotional as stress could cause my heart to throw in extra beats at least three times every minute. Despite being skeptical, I tried to heed my doctor’s advice: CHILL OUT. I stopped drinking alcohol for several months, I came home more often after work instead of meeting up with friends, and I made sleep a major priority. I got counseling, I went on a low-dose beta blocker to help slow down my heart rate, and I even started meditating (once and awhile, at least)! It took several months, but finally in May 2015 the palpitations subsided. I still get a small bout of them every now and then when I am tense or nervous, but usually deep-breathing does the trick and they are gone within ten minutes or so.

Anyway, this winter was long and emotional. Chronic conditions like pain or heart palpitations have a terrible way of inserting themselves into your psyche. I thought about death pretty much all the time (which was more than my usual: a fair amount of the time). Counseling helped me to come to terms with a lot of these darker thoughts, plus, the up-side of facing the Big Unknown is that it can also prompt you to think very critically about how you want to live. Life is fleeting. How do you want to spend your time? Do you want it to be in front of a screen, at a job that you don’t really like, with friends who don’t make you happy?

Just about a month ago now an elementary school friend of mine passed away pretty suddenly from cancer. I had already been contemplating my dual-career situation for awhile: trying to pursue music and insurance simultaneously was starting to feel kind of like a black-hole. Both careers are focused on growth, and there is only so much time or energy to give to one’s job. At some point, one career would grow, and one would be stunted. The writing was just staring at me, from a wall I had been trying to ignore.

For some reason, after Tim died I started thinking, “If this was the last year of your life, what would you want to do for a job?” Obviously if I only had a week left, I would not go to work and I would just enjoy my time with family and friends.  But if I had a year (or 5 years) left on this earth, I would still have to pay my mortgage. So I can’t really choose whether or not I want to pay my bills, I just get to choose how I earn the money to pay said bills.

As soon as I asked myself this query, the answer became clear. I would want to be teaching more violin and playing music. I’m not sure if this happens with everyone, but I have received many loud and clear messages (from the angels among us disguised as friends and strangers) about music. It’s just what I am meant to do… I know it from the deepest part of my soul. The last two years, however, I thought that I could get away with doing it part time. But this was proving too stressful and not worth the extra income.

So about three weeks ago I talked to my boss at the insurance agency (he is a great person) and let him know that I had decided to leave my insurance career.  From this point forward, I will be teaching fiddle lessons full-time, supplementing my income with musical performances (and eventually recording).  I just find it to be so funny, because I basically wrote this exact same post two years ago. But as many artists do, I got too scared of being broke so I went out to get a second job.  This time I intend to teach and only teach as long as it is a satisfying career.  I told my husband jokingly that if I ever talk about getting a second job he should refuse to drive me to the interview! I know what I want to do, and the goal now is to remain true to my calling. The last two years have brought me full circle in terms of my career; my foray into the insurance industry may seem like wasted time, but as Anne Lamott so wisely wrote in “Stitches”:

“Periods in the wilderness or desert were not lost time. You might find life, wildflowers, fossils, sources of water. I wish there were shortcuts to wisdom and self-knowledge: cuter abysses or three-day spa wilderness experiences. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. I so resent this.”


Cheers to following your dreams… and following them again when you get off-track!

Eros and One-Dimensionality: An Application of Critical Theory to the Lives of Women with Physical Disabilities

“People with physical disabilities are stereotyped as asexual, as lacking the same sexual and relationship needs and desires as non-disabled people. Yet people with disabilities are human beings… and thus sexual beings with the same capacity to love and be loved as any other human.” (Chance, September 2002)

INTRODUCTION: The quality of life for citizens with physical disabilities in this nation has improved dramatically over the past century, especially in the realm of social interaction. Much of the advancement is due to the relatively recent intervention of the federal government to assure this minority the same rights as other citizens. In 1935, the Social Security Act was passed, which provided assistance to blind individuals and disabled children. In 1960, the Social Security Amendments allowed disabled workers of any adult age to receive insurance benefits. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was passed, which gave the disabled equal access to federally-funded programs. In 1975, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act was passed, which required free and appropriate public education to all handicapped children. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed—this important piece of legislation provided comprehensive civil rights to people with disabilities, including the right to be reasonably accommodated in the workplace and the right to accessible public transportation. (Francis, 2000) Needless to say, one should not overlook the tremendous successes of the Disability Rights movement—a large amount of effort was put forth in this field to achieve significant and lasting results.

This story of increasing government intervention is not, however, the whole story; the minority at hand must continue to deal with oppression of a different kind. People with disabilities are still widely viewed as asexual beings, and the implications of this stereotype are serious and far-reaching. In fact, “many people with disabilities consider sexuality to be the area of greatest oppression.” (Traustadottir, July 1990) But what can be done about this remaining obstacle to a whole and fulfilling life? The government obviously cannot mandate that its able-bodied citizens find their physically-disabled neighbors attractive. Clearly, the solution lies elsewhere.

In the following paper, I will propose that applied critical theory can be used to diagnose and treat the sexual difficulties which face women with physical disabilities in modern society.

Throughout my essay, I am going to focus on physically disabled women. I decided to narrow my analysis to this topic exclusively for several reasons. First, being a woman myself, I am familiar with that gendered experience—the last thing I want to do is misrepresent another minority – such as physically disabled men, or people with developmental or mental health disabilities – groups which already must to work to clear up existing stereotypes. Furthermore, I believe a discussion of physically disabled women will prove to be especially fruitful in light of critical theory. In a one-dimensional society, all women are expected to conform to manufactured standards of beauty, which I will discuss later in my paper—it is only necessary to state here that women are particularly targeted on issues of sexuality in a one-dimensional society.

Concerned readers should comfort themselves in knowing that even though this current discussion will be limited to a specific population, I am confident that its conclusions will ultimately be relevant to a much wider audience. In fact, by demonstrating the application of critical theory to contemporary society in this way, I hope that my paper will spark dialogue and debate, and that a liberation of Eros for all will eventually follow.

I am a woman with a moderate physical disability, so this topic is obviously rather important to me. I know from experience that the liberation of Eros for physically disabled women involves much more than the freedom to have sex. Most likely this is because feelings of sexual inadequacy and low body esteem are drilled into physically disabled girls from the youngest of ages onward in a one-dimensional society. These girls will eventually become women; despite themselves they will no doubt internalize the “appropriateness” of the asexual stereotype. Thus, it is important to remember that sexual experience in and of itself cannot erase a lifetime of psychological conditioning.

That is why a great deal of work will be necessary in order to truly liberate the Eros of physically disabled women. But I honestly believe that critical theory can help these women on their journey to emancipation—perhaps others, too, will realize that this freedom is available to anyone who can see through the fog of one-dimensionality. My greatest hope is that this essay can contribute to the growing discussion and awareness of the often-overlooked needs of women with physical disabilities, and of all human beings.

PART ONE: “It is widely documented that women with disabilities are typically seen as asexual. This is true of society in general as well as of most professionals with whom women with disabilities come into contact… At least part of this stereotyping stems from seeing people with disabilities as eternal children. Others… without disabilities tend to view sex as an acrobatic activity which makes it difficult for them to imagine how people with physical impairments can be sexually active.” (Traustadottir, July 1990) The perception of physically disabled women as asexual certainly has its consequences. For example, “in the contemporary United States, to be perceived as physically attractive is to be socially and sexually desirable. As a result of their invalidated condition, women… with disabilities are constrained in their opportunities to nurture and to be nurtured, to love and be loved, and to become parents if they so desire… Writer Susan Hannaford explains, ‘I discovered on becoming officially defined as disabled that I lost my previous identity as a sexually attractive being.’ …women are four times as likely as men to divorce after developing a disability, and only one-third to one-fourth as likely [as men] to marry.” (Gerschick, 1266)

What happens psychologically when society does not allow a physically disabled woman to fulfill her sexual roles? After all, one cannot simply shut off natural desires simply because they are not being satisfied—certainly not without a great deal of effort. Martha Nussbaum states that this trait actually defines humanness: “It is characteristic of human life to prefer… sexual desire and its satisfaction to a life with neither desire or satisfaction.” (Nussbaum, 80)

Not surprisingly, however, the effects of continuous social invalidation of one’s sexuality and the lack of physical and emotional satisfaction that often accompany a physical disability are far from positive. In fact, a study of both the physically disabled and the able-bodied which investigated the association between sexuality and psychological well-being in people with physical disabilities revealed that “sexual esteem, body esteem, and sexual satisfaction were strong predictors of self-esteem and depression among people with physical disabilities, and that this relationship was stronger among people with physical disabilities than the able-bodied participants… The results of the study suggest that researchers and clinicians [and critical theorists!] who are concerned with the psychological health of people with physical disabilities should consider strategies to improve the body esteem and sexual well-being of people with physical disabilities.” (Teleporos, 177)

It hardly needs repeating that sexual repression often has negative effects on women with physical disabilities. However, did critical theorists and their predecessors have anything to say on the matter? Surprisingly, they did indeed. Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst who sparked the revolution of critical theory decades later, was aware of the detrimental effects of sexual repression at the turn of the century. “[It] is well known, [that] temptations are merely increased by constant frustration, whereas an occasional satisfaction of them causes them to diminish, at least for the time being.” (Freud, 87)

The writings of Freud on sexual repression are particularly interesting one reads them in the context of physically disabled women. Whereas “sexual freedom” has long since been attained for many groups of people, arguably even the homosexual community, there is still the unspoken consensus that the disabled are taboo in terms of sexuality. Thus one must read Freud’s words with a keen eye, realizing that much of what he had to say about sexual repression almost one hundred years ago still applies to people with physical disabilities today:

“As regards to the sexually mature individual, the choice of an object is restricted to the opposite sex, and most extra-genital satisfactions are forbidden as perversions. The requirement, demonstrated in these prohibitions, that there shall be a single kind of sexual life for everyone, disregards the dissimilarities, whether innate or acquired, in the sexual constitution of human beings; it cuts off a fair number of them from sexual enjoyment, and so becomes the source of serious injustice… But heterosexual genital love… is itself restricted by further limitations, in the shape of insistence upon legitimacy and monogamy. Present-day civilization makes it plain that it will only permit sexual relationships on the basis of a solitary, indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, and that it does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of propagating the human race. This, of course, is an extreme picture… But we must not err… and assume that, because [society] does not achieve all its aims [in regards to repressing sexuality], that such an attitude on the part of society is entirely innocuous. The sexual life of civilized man is… severely impaired… One is probably justified in assuming that its importance as a source of feelings of happiness, and therefore in the fulfillment of our aim in life, has sensibly diminished.” (Freud, 60-1)

Despite the fact that our society witnessed the so-called “sexual revolution”, sexual intercourse is generally still focused on the genitals and looks toward the ultimate end of procreation. For a woman with a spinal cord injury, however, genitally focused intercourse may not be particularly enjoyable—in fact, she may not even be able to feel it at all. What’s more, this same woman may not be physically able to give birth to a child or may choose not to procreate for other reasons related to her disability. Does this woman, who cannot participate in sexual intercourse as it is defined and accepted by our society, automatically cease to desire physical and emotional connections simply because of her disability? Certainly not—yet this is indeed the message society conveys today, inadvertently or not, when it handles the subject of sexuality. We can see that Freud certainly had a sharp eye and a great deal of foresight when he wrote about sexual repression and its effects on human beings.

Years later, Herbert Marcuse also dealt with the issues of sexuality and repression in his book, Eros and Civilization, which just happened to be an analysis of Freud’s writings. Marcuse claims that repression now reaches even further heights in contemporary society than it did when Freud was writing. After all, in Freud’s time, “the suppression and control of sexuality was still achieved by means of moral and legalistic prohibitions and by rigidly defining and causing the introjection of the accepted channels of ‘legitimate’ sexuality… The result of such ‘surplus-repression’ was the sublimation of the sexual instincts beyond the capacity for sublimation, and the perpetuation of a particular society with its repressive performance principle at the expense of the health and relative happiness of the individual. For Marcuse… the repression continues today; but it is created and reinforced by the new dynamic of advanced industrial society.” (Ober, 109) This new dynamic, in so many words, is modern capitalism. Beauty, Marcuse argues, is advertised for profit and is consequently standardized in what has become a one-dimensional society. The effects of this capitalistic dynamic are powerful and can be devastating. “The inevitable failure to match the standards set by the commercial sex idols and ideology leads to enormous profits for the cosmetic and other industries; and it also leads to both a variety of sexual malfunctions, such as frustration and increased aggressiveness, in the continual public and private competition with the idols who serve as ego-ideals, and at the same time to passive resignation and shame which leave the individual more susceptible to that which is offered.” (Ober, 125)

The amazing thing which one must remember is that these critical theorists weren’t even writing to or about a physically-disabled population. However, their writings can easily be applied to this group of citizens. Just think, how can women with deformed limbs, for example, ever hope to even remotely resemble their able-bodied “role models” on the covers of Cosmopolitan magazines? It seems to be a worthless pursuit, does it not? Thus, one begins to wonder if physically disabled women must simply relinquish their wishes of being sexually appealing to anyone in order to achieve some sort of emotional protection in this profit-driven, materialistic society.

At least this much is clear so far—our society is trapped by the controlling power of capitalism and one-dimensionality. Furthermore, this imprisonment has negative effects on many of its citizens, physically-disabled women included. Is there any way out?

PART TWO: It seems we have dug ourselves into a rut in the previous section, so we shall leave it be for a bit and switch to another topic—Utopia. After all, as every famed and aspiring critical theorist alike is bound to do, Marcuse wrote about his version utopia—a society in which Eros is truly liberated. What is most interesting to us about his description, however, is how it is quite easy to imagine how physically disabled women would fit into this scheme. Martha Nussbaum would thus certainly approve of Marcuse’s social model, as do I: “A commitment to bringing all human beings across a certain threshold of capability to choose represents a certain sort of commitment to equality: for the view treats all persons as equal bearers of human claims, no matter where they are starting from in terms of circumstances.” (Nussbaum, 86)

In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse discusses the possibility of living in a rationally-organized, fully developed industrial society after the conquest of scarcity:

“Instinctual development would be non-repressive in the sense that at least the surplus-repression necessitated by the interests of domination would not be imposed upon the instincts. The quality would reflect the prevalent satisfaction of the basic human needs… sexual as well as social: food, housing, clothing, leisure. This satisfaction would be… without toil—that is, without the rule of alienated labor over the human existence… Under the ‘ideal’ conditions of mature industrial civilization, alienation would be completed by general automatization of labor, the reduction of labor time to a bare minimum, and exchangeability of functions…the reduction of the working day to a point where the mere quantum of labor time no longer arrests human development is the first prerequisite to freedom…Beyond the rule of this [performance] principle, the level of living would be measured by other criteria [besides material goods]: the universal gratification of the basic human needs, and the freedom from guilt and fear—internal as well as external, instinctual as well as ‘rational’…this is the definition of progress beyond the rule of the performance principle.” (Marcuse, 152-3)

What exactly does Marcuse’s liberated society look like for physically disabled women? First of all, it involves the absence of scarcity. This means that blind women would be able to obtain seeing-eye dogs, paraplegics could have access to functioning wheelchairs, and those with diabetes would be able to receive the appropriate medications at a reasonable cost. In short, everyone’s physical needs would be met.

Furthermore, there would be a noticeable de-emphasis on work; and whatever work was still necessary would be easier and take less time to complete, as it would be automated. Marcuse believes that this shift in priorities is essential because then there could be more time for the expenditure of Eros, which consists primarily of creative and libidinal energy. It should be noted that the release of Eros is not simply the participation in sexual acts—although this is of course a part of it; rather, Marcuse believed that “emancipation from surplus-repression requires far more than the unhampered release of private desires and hostilities in private and public.” (Ober, 114) Therefore, only the liberation of Eros in its completeness would truly lead to a happier and healthier society.

This shift in societal priorities from work to automated labor and increased time for leisure would also be ideal for physically disabled women. After all, currently only 24% of women with disabilities participate in the workforce. (Traustadottir, July 1990) This means that over three-fourths of disabled women cannot relate to what is a large part of life for many of their able-bodied counterparts; this in itself is a source of isolation. Furthermore, many disabled women lack physical strength, stamina, and mobility; such deprivations automatically limit their job options. If work was easier and took less time (again, automated), then perhaps more physically disabled women could fill this social role with greater success. Finally, if there was indeed more leisure time due to a de-emphasis of work, physically disabled women would be more sustained in their creative pursuits—there would surely be an abundance of socially-endorsed and publicly-supported creative and intellectual opportunities through which they could explore their otherwise untapped libidinal energy.

The last difference between contemporary reality and Marcuse’s vision of liberation that concerns us in this paper is that sexual needs could and would be met in the absence of domination. What does this entail for the physically disabled woman? First, it means that sex would not be dictated in any way by capitalist advertisements—gone would be “sex tips” from Cosmo and various talk shows espousing advice on how to give better orgasms. People would be free to figure these things out for themselves. Eventually, this absence of domination in sexuality would lead to the decrease of that previously-recognized distinction between “normal” and “perverse” human sexual behavior. This would indeed be an extremely liberating change for the physically disabled woman—she would finally be free to partake in sexual intercourse in any way that worked for her and it would no longer be viewed as “abnormal”. Extra-genital acts and sex without ever intending to procreate would both be completely accepted.

Because sexual intercourse is currently widely depicted, categorized, and normalized by our one-dimensional society, there are many unnecessarily-held notions about sex which discourage people from including physically disabled women in their schema of sexuality. As mentioned earlier, “stereotyping stems from seeing people with disabilities as eternal children. Others… without disabilities tend to view sex as an acrobatic activity which makes it difficult for them to imagine how people with physical impairments can be sexually active.” (Traustadottir, July 1990) Both of these conceptions are false and would likely not even be an issue in Marcuse’s liberated society.

Although it is probably not possible that contemporary society as we know it could successfully make the great leap to liberation in the very near future, it is nonetheless important to at least be aware of the possibilities that do indeed exist for women with disabilities in regard to sexuality specifically and Eros in general.

PART THREE: The third and final portion of this paper is dedicated to bridging the gap that exists between my first two sections—to discovering the ways in which our current society can utilize Marcuse’s vision of liberation in order to begin breaking the bonds of one-dimensionality. Stated differently, is critical theory good for something if you’re a sexually-frustrated, physically disabled woman? I would answer that it is indeed. Furthermore, I would say that the lessons that can be learned from critical theory by physically disabled women could just as easily be applied to any other group of people in a modern society. It is simply because the relevance of critical theory is less obvious in many other cases that I foresee that physically disabled women will be the first group of citizens who will have the chance to use Marcuse’s ideas in order to free themselves.

The first lesson to be learned from critical theory, though not necessarily the most important, is that Eros does indeed need an outlet. Since the impulse toward destruction is due to the repression of Eros, working outside of the home (or inside the home, if need be), may be an effective outlet for Eros. After all, Marcuse himself once wrote that “work in civilization is itself to a great extent social utilization of aggressive impulses and is thus work in the service of Eros.”(Marcuse, 84) Not surprisingly, there is sociological evidence to support Marcuse’s claim—the women “most at risk of having mental health problems are non-white, non-married, non-employed women, and women who live in social isolation with limited social roles. This suggests that women with disabilities may be at greater risk than most other women of having mental health problems as a result of their social isolation and the limited social roles available to them, including their limited access to labor force participation.” (Traustadottir, July 1990)

At first, this advice for physically disabled women to work may be counterintuitive when one considers Marcuse’s vision of a liberated society, but upon closer examination it is not. Fair enough, working is not the ideal way to expend one’s Eros, but until libidinal repression is no longer required of physically disabled women, it may be an important and healthy method of coping and compensation. For even though only 24% of physically disabled women are currently employed, it is recorded that 42% of physically disabled men have jobs. (Traustadottir, July 1990) This statistic leads one to believe that women with disabilities could indeed be more involved in the workforce, despite their disadvantage.

It very well may be that other factors led to this statistical disparity between disabled women and men. After all, one should certainly remember that “evidence links female wage-earning outside the home strongly to female healthcare and life expectancy. We can imagine that many women would not fight for participation in the workplace; nor would they be aware of the high correlation between work outside the home and other advantages… they may have fully internalized the ideas behind the traditional system of discrimination, and may view their deprivation as ‘natural’… we [as humans in an un-free society] most often… support the status quo and oppose radical change.” (Nussbaum, 90-1) If a physically disabled woman truly cannot hold a job in or outside the home, she should at least remember that expending creative and libidinal energies of any form helps prevent her from turning her aggression inwards; therefore she should attempt to utilize such energy whenever and however possible.

Perhaps the most pertinent lesson to be learned from critical theory in this essay is that Eros need not be repressed. Physically disabled women must first be aware of the fact that Eros is only repressed now because one-dimensional society has usurped sexuality as an area of human life to be normalized, managed, and sold to the highest bidder. Then, instead of feeling despair that they are not capable of conforming to society’s advertised standards of beauty and sexiness, these women can learn to rejoice.
First of all, sexuality as portrayed by the media is nothing more than a specific representation. There is no one right way to look beautiful or act sexually—there are as many ways to express Eros as there are people. The sooner physically disabled women truly internalize this fact, the sooner they can begin telling others. Furthermore, these stereotypes of sexuality actually tend to limit the citizens of modern societies by establishing rigid gender roles. Perhaps intelligent women with physical disabilities can help to dissolve the notion that a woman can’t be sexy and good at math simultaneously. For in an unexpected way, women with disabilities are currently freer than most to explore gender roles because of the stereotype that they are asexual—“Ironically, women with disabilities [may be] less likely than their able-bodied counterparts to be limited by many of the gendered expectations and roles that feminists have challenged.” (Gerschick, 1266)

Indeed, there is an important loophole in the theory of one-dimensionality—women with physical disabilities. Truly, society has not included physically disabled women it its scheme of “normative” sexuality; thus, there is currently an utter lack of expectations for the sexual lives of this minority. Although this may seem unnerving, the sexuality of these women is also, at present, an area of personal expression which is essentially free of domination. Until the appearance of Cosmo for Cripples, physically disabled women have the unique opportunity to develop their sense of Eros without interference. Furthermore, if they can use their experience of exclusion as a means to get others to realize their unnecessary bondage to one-dimensionality. After all, physically disabled women are not the only members of society whose Eros is repressed by one-dimensionality. “The degree to which one’s body [and sexuality] is compromised is… affected by [many] social characteristics, including race and ethnicity, social class, age, and sexual orientation.” (Gerschick, 1264) To this list I would also add the characteristics pertaining to physical appearance that are beyond the realm of physical disabilities, such as height, weight, and even the condition of one’s skin and hair.

CONCLUSION: Throughout my research for this paper it has become increasingly clear to me that every day that passes during which women and men of all kinds feel unattractive, undeserving, or useless is a needless extension of the era of one-dimensional repression. I believe that, armed with heightened consciousness and a critical eye, women with physical disabilities indeed have the capacity to familiarize contemporary modern society with the ideas that could eventually release Eros for each and every individual.

Hopefully, this essay was able encourage women with physical disabilities to realize their potential as worthwhile, desirable, and sexual human beings who deserve to be viewed as such. Let these women live with courage and conviction in their full personhood; in doing so let them set an example for the rest of society.

Martha Nussbaum once wrote, when forming our views on sexuality and other human characteristics, we must “begin with the human being: with the capabilities and needs that join all humans, across barriers of gender and class and race and nation [and physical ability]. This advice… instructs us to focus on what all human beings share, rather than on the privileges and achievements of a dominant group, and on needs and basic functions, rather than power or status.” (Nussbaum, 61) We all share the need to love and be loved, to feel desirable and also to desire others, to create our own works of art and to inspire the work of those around us—it has long been time for our society to prioritize, restructure, and function in a way that acknowledges this fact.

Comprehensive Works Cited:

Chance, Randi. To Love and Be Loved: Sexuality and People with Physical Disabilities.
Journal of Psychology and Theology. September 2002.

Francis, L.P. and A. Silvers, Eds. Americans with Disabilities: Exploring Implications of _ the Law for Individuals and Institutions. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Freud, Sigmund. Strachey, James, ed. Civilization and Its Discontents. Standard ed.
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989.

Gerschick, Thomas. Toward a Theory of Disability and Gender. Signs: Feminisms at a _ Millennium. v25, i4 (Summer, 2002): p. 1263-1268.

Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization. 3rd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1974.

Nussbaum, Martha C. “Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings.” Women, Culture, _ and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities. Ed. Martha Nussbaum, and Jonathan Glover. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. p. 1-105.

Ober, John David. “On Sexuality and Politics in the Work of Herbert Marcuse.” Critical _ Interruptions: New Left Perspectives on Herbert Marcuse. Ed. Paul Breines.
New York: Herder and Herder, 1970. p. 101-135.

Taleporos, G., and M.P. McCabe. The Impact of Sexual Esteem, Body Esteem, and Sexual Satisfaction on Psychological Well-Being in People with a Physical Disability. Sexuality and Disability. v20, i3 (2002): p. 177-183.

Traustadottir, Rannveig. Obstacles to Equality: The Double Discrimination of
Women with Disabilities. Center on Human Policy. July 1990.

Why I Oppose Sulfide Mining in Minnesota

My name is Gaelynn Lea. I am a musician and I am proud to call Duluth home. Two of my bands, Snöbarn and The Murder of Crows, recorded tracks for the Arrowhead Story – an album created to raise awareness about the risks of Sulfide Mining. I am against the proposed PolyMet mine for many reasons. Of course, some of my opposition stems from my spirituality – I believe that humans are supposed to protect, not destroy, the Earth that God gave us. I also believe that it is our duty to alleviate suffering whenever possible, in this case, suffering from the future harm and disease caused by toxins that will almost certainly be released by this proposed PolyMet mine.

But there are other reasons to oppose Sulfide Mining, even if one is not of a religious background.

First, it just seems like a bad business deal: We loan PolyMet our land for 20 years, less than one generation’s time, and they will leave it polluted for 500 years? That means over 16 generations of future Minnesotans would be affected by pollution caused by the PolyMet Mine! If I tried to get a business loan and said I’d have it paid back in a speedy 500 years, I’d be laughed out of the loan office. Why are we even considering this mine as a plausible business idea?

And that is if everything goes RIGHT. What if something goes wrong and we end up facing much more pollution than we were told to expect? I just can’t trust a for-profit company to honestly have the environment’s best interest in mind; ultimately it’s about the bottom line, it has to be. So even if PolyMet tells me that this mine will have the newest safeguards in place, creating minimal damage to the environment, I still hesitate to believe them. And it appears to be for good reason:

For example, one study found that, among modern mines in the US that predicted that no acid mine drainage would occur, 89% of those mines DID have acid mine drainage during operations or after closure.

And just in case it’s not clear, there are many reasons to fear acid mine drainage: acid mine drainage kills fish, wildlife and plants, leaving contaminated waterways devoid of most living creatures. Mining by-products such as arsenic, manganese and thallium, have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses in humans. Make no mistake, there WILL be disease created by this mine. Are profits really worth anything if they’re at the expense of human life?

And, if 500 years of pollution somehow doesn’t bother you, maybe the costs to the taxpayers will: Experts who have studied other mining projects across the country said even those that start with financial safeguards can end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In Montana, they underestimated the volume of water needing treatment after a gold mine had closed, and state taxpayers had to create a $34 million trust fund to pay for it. Northern Minnesota cannot afford a miscalculation of that magnitude.

Another study says that water treatment would cost between $3.5 and $6 million per year after the mine closes. Northern Minnesota cannot afford to foot that bill. Not for one year, not for 500 years.

There are other, safer, better ways to grow our economy. For example, Maurices is soon expanding its corporate office, and they’re slotted to create 600 jobs right here in Duluth. PolyMet will only create 360 full-time jobs, with HUGE liabilities attached. Let’s focus on industries with less risk and more jobs.

I vote as conscientiously as I can, I live as conscientiously as I can. My household, and my friends, regularly take actions to preserve the earth and our own health. And now a FOR-PROFIT company is hoping to come in and risk my health and the planet’s vital water supply… all for money I will never see? Where is the political, social, or moral justice in that? Will no one fight to protect our rights to live as healthily as we can? Well, I will fight for a healthier tomorrow, and I hope that all citizens of Minnesota, especially those with the most power, will stand up and oppose this dangerous, damaging operation. The risks are just too high to bring Sulfide Mining to Minnesota.

Gaelynn Lea

P.S. Public comment on the PolyMet Mine is open until March 13, 2014… If you prepare a written comment, you should email it to: E-mail submissions must include a full name and legal mailing address.

P.P.S. Still have questions? Learn more about the impact of the proposed PolyMet Mine at Mining Truth ( & DNR (

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Welcoming a New Era!

Hello there!

It’s been quite awhile since I last posted (March, I believe) and there have been a couple big changes in my life:

Paul (my boyfriend of over six years) proposed to me by Lake Superior exactly a week ago, on May 25th! Even though deep down I knew we were going to be together forever I was still pretty surprised (and happy) when it happened. We are getting married on December 21, 2013 in Duluth. So far it has been really fun making the initial wedding plans… As you probably can tell, I enjoy planning. 🙂 It doesn’t change a whole lot in the day-to-day (we’ve owned a house together for 4 years now) but things do feel different in a subtle way — like I’m seeing the relationship with a new lens or something.

Also, in mid-April I made a big decision to quit my day job in June to pursue music and self-employment. I did a lot of thinking about how to make a transition like that feasible and after many conversations with close friends I began to formulate a plan.

So from here on out, I intend to earn my keep by teaching fiddle lessons, playing a wider variety of shows, coordinating a local Farmers’ Market in the summer, and helping people promote their own events. The last shift at my day job was yesterday so obviously the outcome of this career change remains to be seen. But I am feeling very hopeful that so many things have fallen into place already!

With the help of many loved ones, here is what I have realized so far:

You only live once, so make your job something you enjoy if at all possible! For some reason I developed a weird guilt associated with choosing my vocation, especially one that I enjoyed. The concept of creating my own ideal job made me feel secretly selfish or hedonistic: all over the world people are born into socio-economic situations that they did not choose and they are trapped by things like poverty and disease… So why should I have the luxury of pursuing my dreams? And while I still don’t have an answer to this question, I have realized with the help of a close friend — as long as I contribute to the greater good, I am not wasteful with my resources, and I intend no harm — that I cannot limit my own joy out of some near-sighted concept of “fairness”.  I would never ask anyone else to do that on my behalf! Ultimately I think I will be of more service to humanity if my job brings me a sense of zest and passion, because I am more fully alive and motivated.

Figure out what you’re good at and find a way to get paid for it. I have a close friend that owns her own business training horses. We were talking one night about how much she enjoyed her new life as a self-employed person (earning more than I was at my day job), and I uttered rather wistfully, “I wish I had a skill that people would pay me for.” My friend looked at me with disbelief and said, “You DO. You play the violin! Most people can’t do that. You could teach them how and make a living doing it.” Although I had tossed the idea around casually before, I’d never considered teaching fiddle as a legitimate option for employment. In the last month I have started working with four beginning and intermediate students… so far it is going great! I still have a lot to learn about teaching but I know it will get easier over time. I am certainly grateful to my friend for helping me think of teaching lessons as a real option.

Diversify, diversify, diversify.  Another close friend of mine is a farmer-in-training, but he’s also an entrepreneur. He has all sorts of plans about how he will use his land wisely to generate income: farm tours, produce sales, even turning a spare building on his property into a conference center! His main objectives are: 1) generate several income streams so that in case one falters he won’t go broke, and 2) keep the overhead low. As much as he’d love to build a brewery on his land, that costs a lot to start and also requires a steady stream of supplies to maintain production. Low overhead = much lower risk if you don’t have a lot of money to throw around. That’s why I am so excited about my multi-faceted approach to self-employment. There are several streams of income involved and all I need are my violin and my computer!

Anyway, I will keep you posted on how things are going occasionally. I’m a pretty terrible blogger in the sense that I only write posts every few months but oh well. 🙂 Be well, and have a wonderful summer everyone!



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Life in Balance

“The truth is not that it is going to be alright,

the truth is, it already is.” (Frederic Evans)

So this has been a crazy couple of months. Ari (my bandmate in Snöbarn) moved in with me and my boyfriend in November 2012. Then I got a new job in December, which turned out to be a much bigger commitment (and infinitely more stressful) than I anticipated. My new employment also happened to begin the same week that Snöbarn launched its Kickstarter Project to raise funding for our debut album. We played 12 shows in 60 days; all while I was working 32 hours a week and fitting in occasional shows with The Murder of Crows and trying not to go crazy. Well, we successfully raised our money on February 3rd, and literally started recording the album the next day. We had 9 total recording sessions in February and March, from 8pm to 1am each time. Needless to say, I was tired at work more often than not. Meanwhile, I formed another band with Dan Dresser (The Getarounds), and we played a handful of shows somewhere in there. Now Ari and I are done with recording and moving in to mixing.  Snöbarn is starting to plan its CD release show and the Getarounds are preparing to record this summer… Anyway, as I said, it has been a crazy couple of months.

And I guess I am not complaining. I mean, I probably AM complaining, but I know I shouldn’t be. Life has been very good to me. Over the past two years I have forged new bonds with people in this community that are very special, and I have been so grateful for the support I’ve received. Playing this much music has led to new levels of creative expression and exploration that I never really envisioned before… But once and awhile you gotta slow down and evaluate: Is it good to be busy all the time? Is it healthy to be around people during every waking hour? Is it normal to feel overwhelmed so often? What kind of human experience do I want? Do I even get a choice in the matter? WHY DON’T I JUST MOVE TO A FREAKING MONASTERY?!?

These feelings too shall pass. Sometimes I am really invigorated by all the activity, and other times I want to run and hide in the woods. I feel like this in waves, which probably means that something’s gotta give eventually. Maybe I’ll quit my job in a year and try to make a go of music. Or maybe I’ll scale back music and just work during the day and come home at night like a normal person. Or maybe I actually will join a monastery. Who knows? There is no need to rush these types of decisions. The best thing to do is to try and listen to what my body is telling me and respond with integrity in the moment.

One thing I’ve realized is this: What you can and cannot handle as a person is yours to decide, without shame or self-judgement. I recently acknowledged that I need more sleep than most people need (or claim to need), and it’s just part of who I am. So while some musicians can play a late-night show and still get up for work at 8:00am, I cannot — I turn into a basket-case. So I only want to play shows at night if I can sleep in the next day. It feels oddly limiting to assert these guidelines, but in reality maybe too many of us are trying to live limitless lives. I am tired of burning both ends of the candle.

I am also learning to admit that I am not necessarily a MUSICIAN. I am a person who plays music sometimes. I love performing and recording has been a wonderful experience, but I also have other hobbies to which I want to devote my time, like gardening and writing and spirituality. Sometimes I feel inferior when I meet people like Alan who literally live, breathe, and drink music. I think that is a unique and wonderful thing, but I’d be lying if I said music was that much of a focus in my life. Music is always with me (I whistle without noticing it), but I am not always pondering it or writing songs or listening the latest bands. But to feel inferior to anyone for a difference in passion is silly. I can be a musician in my own way, and that’s OK. I definitely want to honor the gifts God has given me (which basically sums up the reasons I play at all), but I think that God gives us not only functional gifts (music or writing or accounting), but also gifts of grace  (the feeling of peace you get when you actually make the time to meditate). I don’t want to miss out on the gifts of grace because I was spending all my time nurturing my functional gifts. Life is not all doing. At least not for me.

“Be aware of the light wherever you are, and don’t wander off from the truth inside you. For even if you are convinced of the truth, you will be happy only when you obey the truth you are convinced of. And if you don’t, you will surely lose your chance of innocence and simplicity. Now you have time, so value it; this is your day of opportunity, given to you by God.” (George Fox)

And with that,  I am going to go. Maybe read a little. Maybe take a nap. Maybe meditate. And hopefully enjoy the rest of Saturday, free of worry and grateful for all the gifts I have been given in this very moment.