Activism and Advocacy / Author interviews / Managing Spoons in 2020 / Spoonie Challenges

Managing Spoons in 2020, featuring Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Editor’s note: As promised, this Fall season brings us a new series called Managing Spoons in 2020. It’s been a heck of a year for many of us, so I decided to ask fellow Spoonies how they’ve been handling it.

ID: Deep purple background. Text reads: Managing Spoons in 2020 Week Two: Dorothy Ellen Palmer. (The zeros are the tops of spoons. Also included is a headshot of Christina Robins.
This week we are featuring author Dorothy Ellen Palmer. Let’s welcome her to the Spoonie Authors Network in the comments!

I’m so thrilled to have you with us on the Spoonie Authors Network. Please tell our audience a bit about yourself and what you write!

Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m a disabled senior writer who writes a little of almost everything. I’m a mom, binge knitter, left-leaning Sherlock Holmes fan, accessibility consultant, and retired English/Drama teacher, improv coach and union activist. My memoir, Falling for Myself, (Wolsak and Wynn 2019) examines how disability and adoption combined to help me become an activist and find her birthparents. My first novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), features a disabled teen protagonist in the Woodstock-Moonwalk summer of 1969. I’m thrilled to have a story in, Nothing Without Us, the anthology you edited for Renaissance Press with Talia C. Johnson. My fiction and nonfiction has appeared in both literary and disability journals: REFUSE, Readers Digest, Broadview Magazine, Wordgathering, Canthius, Alt-Minds, All Lit Up, Little Fiction Big Truths, Don’t Talk to Me About Love, 49th Shelf, and Open Book. I serve on the Accessibility Advisory Committee for FOLD and am a proud member of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO). 

I know from your social media posts that you have been isolating at home since March. Can you share what that’s been like for you and why you decided this was the best course of action for you during this pandemic?

Yes, I haven’t left my small apartment since March 8, 2020, some seven months ago. I check almost every risk box. I felt I had to make that decision first of all for my own safety. The loneliness and isolation of not seeing anyone I know in all that time has been a terrible strain. But I’m at risk from more than the virus. Given the rise of open eugenics, given the likelihood that my fat old disabled life might not be seen as worth saving, I felt I had to take every precaution. I also knew trying to guarantee my safety so that my children wouldn’t be as worried about me was the only thing I could give them right now. Lastly, I wanted to take a very clear stand about “Stay Home.” No one has been in. No one has been out. I have taken deliveries of only meds and groceries. At the end of this, I needed to be able to tell myself I did not put even one more delivery person at risk of losing their life. 

In my opinion, 2020 has underscored an even greater divide in the perceptions between non-disabled people and disabled people when it comes to living in the time of COVID-19. What are some observations you have made regarding the attitudes you’ve witnessed this year?

COVID-19 has made me even more acutely aware of the ways ableism and ageism reinforce each other. When people (incorrectly) say that the virus “only kills” old people, or “only kills” those with “comorbidities” or “pre-existing conditions,” it’s the same cold dismissiveness, the same kind of “othering” that results in disabled people and seniors, and especially disabled seniors, been seen as expendable, as expected collateral damage worth no more than a shrug. Under capitalism, once we stop producing worth, we are labeled worthless. That is frighteningly close to the open eugenics of the Nazi’s who exterminated “life unworthy of life.” That so many people believe this without really examining it is truly concerning.

One thing that’s happened more this year is the “magical” appearance of online accommodations for education, work, and conferences. What are your feelings about this? (I know mine…LOL!)

It has been very bittersweet for members of the disabled community to see the virtual access to jobs, education and the arts that we have been asking for for years and always been told was too expensive and logistically impossible, is now instantly available because abled people need it. And then they still whine about it. Abled people find more access than they ever gave me, yet they still find virtual events hard to handle. I am truly tired of abled people whining about Zoom, when it is an extraordinary improvement of equity and access for all readers and writers. I have been able to attend and participate in festivals and literary events all over the country thanks to them going virtual, when many of them would have been held in buildings that were not wheelchair accessible, and therefore, not accessible to me. This is a gain not a loss, and we all need to welcome and fight for it to be maintained.

Part of your advocacy is calling out CanLit about accessibility and representation issues. Do you find 2020 has prompted you do this just as much as any other year, or are you speaking up even more?

I find my ability to speak up these days vacillates widely. Some days, I can speak up. Other days, it seems totally pointless. The drive to open schools prematurely I see as a death sentence to many in both my senior and disabled communities, so it is very hard to see why everyone doesn’t see it that way. The number of people who never took “Stay Home” seriously and did all kinds of mental gymnastics to make personal escape hatches for themselves disgust me. I have been trying to argue that post-COVID, those of us who have been arguing that we shouldn’t go back to normal, should also not go rushing back to inaccessible literary events that are “normal” only for abled people. But we’ll see.

About to managing spoons: We advocates can’t be “on” 24/7, for sure. What are you doing for distraction these days? Any recommendations?

I’ve been writing a thriller and a Sherlock Holmes book. I’ve been reading every Scottish murder mystery ever written. I’ve also been trying to set a calendar of scheduling one pleasant phone call to look forward to everyday. That human contact really helps.

How can people find out more about you, your work, and where to connect with you? My books are available online at Wolsak and Wynn, Coach House, Renaissance Press, or at Amazon. At this time, I am asking that no one buy a physical book as it puts another delivery person’s life and the life of their family at unnecessary risk when e-books and e-library books do not. I’m on Facebook and can always be found on Twitter.

Thanks so much for sharing your 2020 experience with us, Dorothy! And as you always say to me: “Onwards!”


Headshot of Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, retired English/Drama teacher, improv coach and union activist. Her new adoption-disability memoir, Falling for Myself, (Wolsak and Wynn, 2019), is acclaimed by The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire, and Readers Digest. Longlisted for the ReLit Award, her novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), features a disabled teen in the Woodstock-Moonwalk summer of 1969. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in literary and disability journals. She serves on FOLD’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and has appeared at FOLD, GritLit, WOTS, The Next Chapter, Walrus Talks, The Eh List, and CBC Radio.

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