Waaaay back in 2004, I had an incredible opportunity to write a monthly column for my local newspaper. I was just out of college, and retained aspirations of being Lois Lane. (Love me some Clark Kent.) The reason I applied in the first place was because it was an opportunity to bring attention to the issues which I felt were of pressing importance. That was the whole point; not just from my perspective, but that is how the whole “Community Columnist” thing was marketed.
I wish I could say I parlayed that experience into a regular column, but, alas, ’twas not to be. I got one year, 12 months. Only 12 columns of 700 words or less in which to express my bountiful opinions on the ills of this world. I longed to be a voice for a community that I felt was too often silent – the disabled community. I wanted to tell this city, and society as a whole, why they were wrong about people like me – wheelchair users and the hearing or sight impaired, just anyone who was different. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, but I couldn’t get to the rooftops because they were not wheelchair friendly. So, I had to bring that to their attention first. I wanted people to understand what it was I was so angry about when I couldn’t get somewhere I wanted to go, or do something I wanted to do. Truth be told, I batted in a couple of softballs, but for the most part, I didn’t hold back.
And, somehow, this honesty, this attempt at enlightenment, earned me the label of “bitter.” I didn’t think I was bitter then, and I feel the same way 11 years later. (Good God, 11 years?!) I only had 12 days out of 365 to get people to see the problems I saw year-round. I wasn’t bitter; I was truthful. I couldn’t waste the little time I had writing fluff pieces. If there is one thing I learned from LL and the Daily Planet, it’s that newsprint should not be used on fluff. (Clearly, the modern news media did not get that same lesson, but I digress.)
When I got ready to write my first column for January 2004, I had my motto about writing in place: “If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re doing it wrong.” I find this to be a solid mantra, and one I continue to live by. I was well prepared to receive dissenting opinions in the mail or by email. I welcomed them; I relished them.
Because I knew I was right. This isn’t self-righteousness speaking. It is personal experience and a brain that functions as it should. I was right, and the majority of responses I received back me up on that.
But being called “bitter” bothered me. I am a lot of things. I am cynical. I am depressed (it’s cool; I got meds). I am temperamental. I am passionate and opinionated and bathed in the fire of righteous anger at a world that does not embrace me as I am. But I am not “bitter.”
To me, the word “bitter” conjures an image of an old woman, surrounded by cats, whose life has withered away. She has no friends or family, and begrudges everyone around her their bit of happiness. She is angry about things she cannot change, rather than fighting to change them.
That’s why it really bothered me. I wasn’t complaining. At least, that wasn’t my sole purpose. I was fighting to change things, and, in order to do that, I had to bring it to people’s attention, and make them aware of the problems. That’s how it works. If no one knows that something is problematic, the problem will not get solved. You can’t expect people who have never experienced using a wheelchair to understand what is like without explaining it to them. And, yes, explaining these problems sounds like complaining.
And the worst was when it came from someone in a similar situation. Especially I after I broke out my rapier sharp wit and wrote a tongue-in-cheek column about the “perks” of using a chair. Evidently, sarcasm does not translate in print. Who knew?
“Bitter” is a word used by people who are comfortable with the status quo because it benefits them. “Bitter” is a label reserved for those of us willing to disrupt the status quo. “Bitter” is applied to people with disabilities who do not conform to this ridiculous notion that we have to be either inspirational or happy – all the time.
I am not bitter. I am not sweet. I am both.