Anger, inspiration, and the stories we tell, a guest post by Marieke Nijkamp
Before I Let Go tells the story of two girls in the arctic heart of Alaska. Two girls who were best friends, who were discovering who they could be, who were each other’s center of gravity. It tells of grief and ice, of mystery and mental illness.
And it was, at least in part, born out of anger.
Anger is good writing fuel for me. Anger and questions. It’s where most of my story ideas start. Of course, for an idea to grow into a book, it needs far more than just a spark. It needs characters to carry it, a plot to move it forward, and beautiful Alaskan settings. Oh, how I love playing with winter.
But it started with a spark of anger.
The source of that anger? Inspiration porn. A specific instance… or ten or twenty.
If you don’t know what inspiration porn is, the late, great Stella Young defined it as such in her absolute spectacular Ted talk I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much: the act of objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.
It’s posters of disabled athletes with the slogan “The only disability is a bad attitude.” It’s describing disabled people as courageous simply for living. It’s quite literally describing us as inspirational.
I don’t know anyone with a disability—especially those of us who use assistive devices or are visibly disabled—who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to tell them how brave they are. I don’t know anyone with a disability who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to say, “I can’t imagine living like that, but you’re really inspiring to me.” Or, “I wasn’t feeling well today, but then I thought of you and how much worse you have it, and I pushed through.”
It happens countless times.
At the core of it is this strange idea that living with disability is either so remarkable or so terrible that the sheer act of existing is to be applauded. (And that we only exist for the benefit of nondisabled people.)
Now, on the surface, inspiration porn may seem relatively benign. Sure, it’s objectifying, but inspiration is a good thing, isn’t it?
Let’s set aside that objectifying and othering means not valuing us, means denying us accessibility, means hindering our quest toward equality.
Sometimes, it goes beyond even that. When there’s a very specific variation to the theme: when a disabled person’s death exists to inspire nondisabled people in life.
This particular version is often used specifically in the context of (romanticizing) mental illness and suicidal ideation, though there are also ample examples of it being used in broader disability representation.
And honestly, I’ve seen one too many portrayals of dead disabled characters whose death is turned into a teachable moment instead of a tragedy. Or, a flawed reminder to “make the most” out of life. And it always keeps the focus on nondisabled people.
That’s what sparked Before I Let Go. I wanted to write a book that examined and would be conversation with inspiration porn. Sure, it’s a murder mystery too. And a story of friendship and responsibility and how even the best intentions can be harmful. But Kyra’s death at the start of the book is unequivocally a tragedy.
She deserved so much more. And that’s where we start.
Meet Marieke Nijkamp
Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she spends as much time in fictional worlds as she does the real world. She loves to travel, roll dice, and daydream.
Marieke’s debut young adult novel, This Is Where It Ends, follows four teens during the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting. Her sophomore novel, Before I Let Go, a haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter, is out now.
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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