People with Handicaps
• Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left his body almost totally incapacitated although his mind was fine. He was able to control only his left eye, but by blinking he dictated a book to freelance book editor Claude Mendibil, who recited to him the letters of the French alphabet by their frequency of use. When she pronounced the correct letter, Mr. Bauby blinked his left eye. With practice, she was able to guess the word he wanted after learning the first few letters. The title of the book he dictated, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, refers to his life. His mind — the butterfly — was still active, but it was trapped in a body that no longer functioned properly — the diving bell. The book became a best seller, and it was made into a critically acclaimed movie with the same title. The process by which the book was dictated could have been disheartening, but Ms. Mendibil says that she cried only once. It happened when he was dictating a passage about his two young children, Céleste and Théophile. Ms. Mendibil says, “I have a child, and I suddenly realized what it would be to be next to her and not be able to take her in my arms. The tears rose, and I had to go outside for five minutes.”. When she returned, Mr. Bauby used eye blinks to tell her, “You look beautiful when you cry.”
• From age seven, James Thurber was blind in one eye, but he never stopped looking at the world in a humorous way, writing such famous stories as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” He was also famous for his humorous drawings that appeared in The New Yorker, although many people felt that a child had created the doodle-like drawings and although some parents even sent in examples of their children’s drawings to show that they were better than Mr. Thurber’s drawings. Later in life, Mr. Thurber began to have trouble with his good eye, and he was forced to stop using a typewriter. He began to write his stories by hand on paper, but his poor eyesight forced him to write only 20 words per page. Eventually, he was unable to write his humorous stories on paper, but he refused to let even that stop him. Almost totally blind, Mr. Thurber created the stories in his mind, memorized them, and dictated them to a person who wrote down the words he spoke. Other people may have become bitter with the loss of their eyesight, but Mr. Thurber kept laughing, and in his humorous stories he made it easy for other people to laugh, too.
• Early in his career as a playwright, August Wilson found writing dialogue difficult. He once asked his friend and fellow playwright Rob Penny, “How do you make characters talk?” Mr. Penny replied, “You don’t. You listen to them.” When writing his play Jitney, Mr. Wilson listened to his characters. He says, “I found that exhilarating. It felt like this was what I’d been looking for, something that was mine, that would enable me to say anything.” Unfortunately, his play was rejected — twice — by the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, leading Mr. Wilson to wonder what to do next. His thinking took the form of a conversation with himself: “Maybe it’s not as good as you think. You have to write a better play.” “I’ve already written the best play I can write.” “Why don’t you write above your talent?” “Oh, man, how can you do that?” “Well, you can write beneath it, can’t you?” “Oh, yeah.” Of course, he did continue to write plays. His manner of writing was unusual. He wrote while standing up, and he had a punching bag by his side. According to John Lahr, “When Wilson was in full flow and the dialogue was popping, he’d stop, pivot, throw a barrage of punches, then turn back to work.”
• Caesar Augustus once wrote a tragedy titled Ajax, about Ajax the Greater, a mythical ancient Greek hero who, after the events described in the Iliad, committed suicide by falling on his sword. However, Augustus was unhappy with his tragedy, so he destroyed it. When someone asked what had happened to his Ajax, Augustus replied, “Fell on his eraser.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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