Tag Archives: communication

Robert Rudney on why he wrote a novel, living with a disability, and pity

rudneynovelIt’s a tale we see time and time again: a man with left-side paralysis joins a self-help group for people with disabilities, and finds himself falling for a woman dealing with multiple sclerosis.  Okay, wait, I may have exaggerated by about 1,000% what we do see of such fictional portrayals.  But with Robert Rudney’s Lovers Lame, there’s one solid story about people with disabilities being all human and stuff — and it’s by someone with a disability. See my interview with Rudney, a defense specialist and former head of an employment self-help group for people with disabilities, below:


Maybe you weren’t conscious of it at the time, but when you were writing Lovers Lame were there any mainstream books or authors that made you think there was space on that shelf for what you wanted to do? 

There has been no disability novel written by an individual with a real disability.  Temporarily able-bodied authors like Jodi Picoult make an effort in books like House Rules.  But no one has caught how it feels from the inside to have a disability and how difficult it is to form intimate relationships with other human beings.  That’s why I wrote Lovers Lame.

I once heard the sentiment that the reality of society is marginalized people remain marginalized.  What makes it particularly significant is that it’s the only time I can recall hearing that from a person whom was also pretty liberal.  As someone who ran a networking group for the physically disabled, do you think there’s truth to that?    

Lots of surveys these days show an increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth.  People with disabilities are caught in the downward spiral because they are forced to depend on entitlements like SSDI, SSI, Medicare and Medicaid that entrap them in genteel poverty.  That was the case for a lot of individuals in my networking group.  Many couldn’t take a job because they couldn’t risk losing Medicare or Medicaid, and employer health plans (if they existed) were not sufficient for their health needs.

The employment conundrum is a key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.

Have experiences that come just because you’re physically disabled made you empathize with other marginalized people?  Or do you find that there are divisions between you and people whom have similar experiences from different vantage points?

I have been pitied and over-accommodated and advertised as a “poster child” for people with disabilities.  However, I was able to transcend my disability and make it up the career ladder with little or no assistance from legal protections like the ADA.  I was one of a small minority in this respect.  Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point.  The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.  The narrator, David, has something close to cerebral palsy and falls hopelessly in love with Jessica, a tempestuous artist with multiple sclerosis.  Their failure to communicate is one of the driving forces of the novel.

Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point.  The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame. 

I think, with mainstream culture being what it is, there’s a strange dichotomy between normalcy and having to come to terms with the fact that a certain amount of what is good syncs up with looking a certain way, with taking certain roads home.  David, the narrator of your book, seems like a guy who carries a certain weight with him in this regard.  A quick glance at the guy in certain situations and he may look ordinary enough, but anything beyond that, and his left-side paralysis doesn’t make for someone who looks normal.  As he is initially in your book, he seems introverted and closed off, even to himself somewhat.    

Yes, we have a packaged, programmed view of what people should look like, what is accepted to be ‘normal.’ In  Lovers Lame, David draws a sharp distinction between his condition and that of his brother Ted, an able-bodied athlete, affluent businessman, happily married.

At times, David (like me) tries to hide his disability and usually fails.  Too many experiences like this induce a heavy dose of introspection and introversion, both in fictional characters (David) and ‘real life’ (Bob Rudney).

With how rare they are in general, have typical portrayals of people with disabilities been something that you’ve  found alienating?

All those condescending poster-children portrayals drive me up the wall.  In the immortal words of Ed Roberts, the pioneering disability activist:  “Piss on pity.”


Thanks to Robert for his time.  Find out more about him and his novel at these links:   




A Meaningful Correspondence (with Feral Cats)


Your arrival at the end of our Neighbors as Correspondents orientation was a welcome one.  I know things got a little quiet, but the thing was–everybody else had already worked out who they would be writing to.  Also, if I may say, you and your friend both looked like you tried to pet a Tasmanian devil.  This probably had more to do with your reception than your friend’s notion that you were the attractions in a new, more twisted kind of art gallery–one in which you might be “snarked at for sport.”

I am glad that this feeling didn’t spoil his appetite — the platter he took with him when he left ensured that no heavy leftovers had to be carried home — but I was a little hurt until I realized you did put your email in the drop box, and that the two of you had tried talking to people before he got loud.  You walked out just after him, so maybe you could hear the conversation becoming more lively than it had been.  Though I was unsure if most of the people who turned out would put down their smartphones down long enough to write a solid piece of correspondence, I’m confident that they had something to text each other about for a little while.

And, well, my mother always said I’d do something really good with my life.

Anyway, I’m not really familiar with your area, so I’ve decided that I will be your neighborly correspondent.  I do have one already, but I’m sure I can manage.  With the little free time that people generally have, the reason Dustin and I put together this initiative was in the hope of really communicating with the world around us.  Where I come from, the world felt smaller and larger at the same time–particularly when it came to how big what was considered local was, and the people you knew in that space.




I think if either me or my friend petted a Tasmanian devil, then watching the other one be mauled would probably mean a lot of head scratching — and a slow but surely reached conclusion not to pet that Tasmanian devil after all.

I was surprised to get your note, as, beyond the invitation to come in at the entrance, I thought you were as stone-faced as anybody else there.  I figured maybe it was obvious that I thought you might be local.  If you’re not from here, that seems to be an insult.

Maybe dropping in on our way back from the hospital wasn’t the best idea.  But after Sam and I managed to pry away the claws of the feral cats that had lunged at our chests, I told myself that I would do something else that was different, with less of a possibility of cat scratch disease.  The flyer I saw for your ‘Neighbors as Correspondents’ program fit the bill.  Who couldn’t use a little more meaningful correspondence?  Well, not Sam apparently.  But after waiting a half-hour for his cousin, who’s a nurse, to tell us that we and our cat scratches would probably be fine, Sam figured why not if it was close enough.

We’re working a few towns over in this place that seems like it could be where you’re from.  It has a golf course that keeps me on during the peak seasons as a groundskeeper.  The closest residential street has a lot of feral cats that frequently find their way to it, and they seem to be multiplying.  The head groundskeeper went to this local animal shelter about getting that under control.  But the shelter is understaffed.  They told the head groundskeeper that they’ll spay and neuter any cats he’d bring in, then they instructed him in the first and last part of trapping, neutering, and returning.  I think it maybe gave him a strange sense of purpose.

Keeping the ground pretty for a few people isn’t always that involving.

Oh, wait.  Maybe I should tell you what feral cats are, in case you don’t know.  Any house cat that hasn’t been around people for a long time becomes feral.  Got it?  Good.  They — not the animal shelter — say the same thing happens with people.  I’m not really much of a cat person, but there’s this ugly, beat-up looking one that used to hang around the concession stand. The guy who runs it was chasing it with a golf club once, and I snatched the club away and told him to leave it alone.   After that, I found a mouse tail at the door of the groundskeeper shed, and the thing was watching in the distance.  I’m not sure, but, as gross as that was, it may be a lot for a cat.

Anyway, the head groundskeeper got enough of a tiny budget on this project from the golf course to pay a few more people to help out.  The prospect of less golfing with cats running across the green is that powerful.  Thus the return of Sam, who had quit working as a caddie.

When it comes to catching feral cats, the number of traps are limited, and the thing is, in a small area crowded with cats, some of the others eventually see other cats getting trapped.  We’ve brought about seven back from the shelter, but the only thing the cats hone on is the being trapped.  After one day in which no cats were trapped, the head groundskeeper started trying to catch them with nets.  Reluctantly, we did the same.  And, well, the cat that I had to pry from my chest seemed to be coming to the aid of a gray one that I was trying to help Sam get off his chest.  Also, it was the ugly, beat-up looking one.

I know for some people, the most important question here is if the cats were hurt.  And to them I’d say, no, the cats weren’t hurt.  But some feelings were, I think.  And Sam’s don’t count so much in that instance.

As for his being loud before, I don’t really think he was.  I know noisy, and he just happened to talk with feeling when no one else was.  If that was something that was automatically loud, maybe parts of both our notes would be in caps.


(Trying my hand at fictional correspondence. – David )