To me, Inklette has always seemed a truly cosmopolitan online writing community. A quick glance at our staff page shows an international group of writers, and in my time as a prose editor, I’ve encountered submissions from middle schoolers to seasoned professional writers, and from all six inhabited continents (I’m still holding out for a submission from Antartica). It wasn’t until this summer that I noticed that there was one community that none of the writing in our seven issues had focused on: people with disabilities. I probably wasn’t the only one to forget about this group; they are often ignored in diversity initiatives, at least in part because it is hard to fit them under the argument of “We are all the same on the inside” when, by definition, they have minds and bodies that work differently from neurotypical people. Different, however, does not mean deficient, as I learned this summer working as a volunteer at Cow Tipping Press, an organization that cultivates and publishes the writing of adults with disabilities. I was amazed in my teaching at the new perspectives that the students in my creative writing class offered, using their neurological differences that have so often been deemed a disability to offer a unique perspective on so many topics. I’d love to delve into my ideas about how and why disabled adults offer these perspectives. But, in keeping with the Cow Tipping Press rule that disabled adults should always have the opportunity to tell their own story, I’ll shut up and let the students and teachers of Cow Tipping Press take it from here.
– JOHN S. OSLER III, Prose Editor
NICK COCCHIARELLA (Volunteer and Student)
Your hand is not a helping one
It’s dirty, clammy, feels weird on my skin—
Don’t touch me! Go away!
“Stay with us,” you plead, your voice an ill-disguised command
“Let us lure you in with proactive promises you know we won’t keep.”
“No,” I silently scream, “Pictures of hands don’t help.”
“This way – no, sir, this way! That way!”
Here, hang on, let me—
“No!” I shout with body language. “Don’t do that! Don’t touch me!”
“Hi, how’s it going? I’m Jim, what’s your name?”
“I’m Nick,” My voice is a mockery of a mumble.
You extend a hand; we shake; and yet, I can’t help it
Your kindness is suspicious, Your friendliness belittling – why can’t I trust you?
Oh yeah, right… Y. The chromosome.
I shake your hand, but I can’t help it.
Just go away, I sigh in my scrambled egg mind. I can’t be saved.
Note: Nick Cocchiarella said that his poem is about his experience as “a person who is blind and autistic trying to figure out how to deal with people being helpful to the point of sometimes being invasive.”
Interview with NICK COCCHIARELLA
John: Was this poem based on any personal experience?
Nick: Yes. Particularly walking out in public. I have to walk around a lot if I want to travel and don’t want to expend exorbitant amounts of money on ubers and lyfts, and the amount of well- meaning “helpful Henrys” who “only want to help” tend to jump in and steer me around are staggering. And when that happens, I lock up. I can’t speak. I either let them do it or pull away, and I look rude. Also there is a line that refers me from coming home from a training program and my parents were trying to talk me into staying at home for a while until I save money, and all I could think while they were trying to convince me – that they’d actually build me an apartment downstairs, that they’d get me set up with a system to organize my stuff etc – is that they have been making my siblings and I similar promises since we were kids, and nothing ever came of them.
And because of all that, it’s hard to have conversations with people in public sometimes, and doubly so with guys.
John: Why did you choose to write the poem with the Helpful Henrys in second person?
Nick: I honestly didn’t think about it too much. It was just the tense that sounded right to me as I wrote it.
THOMAS ROBINSON (student)
Advice to Daughter
Be nice to people. Don’t be mean to people. Be nice to your elders. Be nice to people with disabilities. Be an advocate for yourself. Always be on time. Sometimes be late. Always hold your hand when you cross the street. Don’t jaywalk. Don’t hurt other people. Don’t hurt yourself. Be positive. Don’t let the evil beast destroy you.
INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS ROBINSON
John: This seems like very helpful advice for everyone, so why did you choose to write it to your daughter in particular?
Thomas: I wrote this poem to teach people about what how to treat people with different values and views.
John: Who or what do you mean by “the evil beast”?
Thomas: The beast is the a thing I dreamt about long time. The beast is the evil in everybody’s life that you should not do bad things. The beast looks like things with wings and stuff.
Shinoa Kaprice Makinen (student)
Love One at Heart
I have a friend who loved to hangout play with kids, I have a friend who loved us all so much it hurts our family how he served this country he loved and gave up to fight the ones who attacked our United States who sacrificed his life to serve for peace on this earth
I have a friend who took care of our family when not sick
I have a friend who would do it all over again if he didn’t pass unexpected fish, camp and sleep in our camper beds
I have a friend who took care of me like a dad when young
I have a friend my mom who’s in tears a lot wish never ended soon
You might think I have many friends but I have one this is called a loved one at heart
I have a friend who’s going to welcome our family when we get to where we’re going there someday to have happy tears no pain or struggles anymore those who love him don’t cry for him up there he is resting in his place where soldiers are at peace and angels sing amazing grace he is happy you let him free no trying to wake him from his sleep
I have a friend who loves the green grass and trees and works his life until it was over he loved to ride his corvette back and forth I call the country living life he lived
I have a friend who’s waiting to say welcome you home to the family when it’s our end but for now he’s waiting at the heaven’s doors when it’s my turn I be laying my body to the ground and be back to ash and dust again
I have a friend who be missed by all but glad he’s in lord’s hands now and have angel wings
I have a friend who loved his pet’s brows and ford
I have a friend who would be happy if he had seen how deep I write so much I can’t finish my poem until it’s done he would say thank you for the love you gave me when I was here
I have a friend who we all should tribute for his passing and give his wish where he wanted to lay to rest but sad he won’t be back to camp and fish over and over again but glad he served his life he lived back in the days he served for peace
I have a friend a loved one country living kind hunting fishing life I am going to miss but for now we are taking care of his pets until it’s their end
I have a friend who loved his friend Bev next door neighbor who she called him hugging friend and had coffee and breakfast sometimes
I have a friend a loved one who lived on the dirt road the countryside he took me every summer to spend some fun with him
I have a friend who cooked for family when we visit Menahga, MN up north breakfast lunch and dinner and baked as well
I have a friend who came to every event I did choir concerts and holiday traditions like Christmas or Thanksgiving and or birthday parties, funerals and wedding he was in
You might think this special someone might be a friend, son, husband, nephew, or dad or cousin but this friend a loved one we all knew is gone this love one I am referring to is grandpa Roland.
Interview with Shinoa Kaprice Makinen
John: You talk about your friend as if he were still alive (saying “I have a friend” rather than “I had a friend”). Is this because you feel like your grandpa Roland is still with you, or another reason?
John: How did you feel to write this story?
Shinoa: I felt sad.
John: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you?
Shinoa: I would like to to write that I am also a songwriter.
Kelly McNamara (student)
Story of My Life
I wish I had a boyfriend when I was younger. I wish I had dated AJ. I wish I was his wife when I was younger because he is cute. I wish I could ride limos all the time. They are awesome and feel like I was rich. I used to be in choir. I enjoyed it. It was in school. AJ was in the choir. I loved school. I know I’m not going to be part of AJ’s life. He has a wife and kids. I feel bad that I won’t be married to him as an adult.
INTERVIEW WITH Kelly McNamara
John: In your writing, you talk about both AJ and limos. Is there a connection between the feeling of being with AJ and riding in a limo.
Kelly: Well, I was going to go to a Backstreet Boys concert, but I never had a chance to. So I never got a chance to ride in limos and get spoiled by him and, um, AJ was a big part of my life before God took him away from me and I was really sad and lonely and depressed.
Mary (Kelly’s caregiver): AJ is a signer from the Backstreet Boys that she likes. She never really knew him as a person.
John: Why did you choose to write this as a letter to yourself?
Kelly: Um, it just reminded me of AJ and I felt right writing this story about myself because I would never see AJ in real life and it’s making me sad and lonely because every day he gets to ride in limos with his wife and his kids and every day he gets to ride on a private plane and go places, but I’m just very sad…and that’s my way to say goodbye to AJ.
Sarah Debbins (student)
I would like to give some advice to my guardians, my house staff, and to Lifeworks staff. I have problems with stealing or lying, especially telling the truth given advice from my therapists and counselors, to help me and the answer my questions about my own problems on my meds throughout my depressions and let my anger out with my OCD and Down Syndrome to really cut down on paxil meds, because my body usually gave me headache, dizzy spells and nerves breakdown, but I need more help giving more advice, it really help me in God’s prayer for hope turned it around to have faith in me to be strong and very last. “I can do it, just do it.”
Interview with Sarah Debbins (conducted by Miranda Cross)
Miranda: Why do you like writing stories? How does writing/ telling stories help you?
Sarah: It is a lot of fun for me to write stories, and I think I am good at it. It also helps me share experiences that I have in my life.
Miranda: What do you like to write about?
Sarah: The weather, stories about myself.
Miranda: What about yourself do you like to write?
Sarah: I like to write about my health, the disabilities I have, and experiences that I have had (jobs, vacations, memories).
Interview with Miriam Tibbets (teacher)
John: Has working at Cow Tipping Press affected the way you think about writing or your own writing?
Miriam: Absolutely it has. Working at Cow Tipping has remoulded the thinking patterns I have created when editing writing. Working with my students (who often write in impulsive, uncalculated ways) has shown me that the raw stuff— tapping into one’s own stream of consciousness— is just as valuable as a good edit. When I write and edit, I no longer sift out everything and reconstruct something completely new. I look at the essence of what I have written, and consider its value before tweaking and chopping.
John: You only had two students in your class this year. How was it teaching such a small class?
Miriam: At first I was very worried about teaching a small class. Quite honestly, I felt even more pressure to make the class perfect for Vince and Nick. However, this pressure was beneficial— having two students made it so that I could get to know and understand the both of them perfectly. In this way, I could customize lessons to appeal to their interests, while simultaneously pushing them to their healthy limits. Knowing Nick and Vince so well made the class tight-knit, created a safe space for all voices, and indulged all three of us with a slow pace and equal amounts of sharing. I loved being able to hear both Vince’s and Nick’s voices after each writing session (something that might not have been possible with a larger class), and was so grateful that I could give both of them individual attention when they needed it most. It was really a wonderful experience.
About Cow Tipping Press
“Welcome to Cow Tipping Press! We create writing by people with developmental disabilities, giving audiences a new way to think about this rich form of human diversity.”
“Cow Tipping Press applies lean startup principles to create just that—an opportunity to relish assets rather than pity deficits of our peers with disabilities through the unique lens of creative writing.
We teach inclusive writing classes for adults with developmental disabilities (over 400 alums and counting), a radical chance to speak for themselves in a medium usually used to speak about them. Students then share these distinct voices with audiences across time and place, in person and in print. 85% of audiences cite that Cow Tipping authors change their fundamental perspective on disability. That’s even true of our pool of college-aged teachers, a number of whom we’ve pipelined into full-time work in this important field.
Cow Tipping Press has won awards from Grinnell College, Teach For America, and 4.0 Schools. Our books have been used as diversity education tools in classrooms across the country. And our authors have parlayed their skills into blogging and public speaking opportunities, a scholarship to the Aspen Ideas Festival, inclusion in national publications, a spinoff podcast, and teaching and leadership roles within our program (nothing about us without us!).
You can take on a part of this important work by referring a partner organization or individual to Cow Tipping Press or making a donation of any amount. Even better, take a minute to consider the dynamism and assets of that neighbor, coworker, or classmate with a developmental disability. In the words of one advocate, “So much of the battle with inclusion involves rethinking what is possible.””
Source: Website- Cow Tipping Press
JOHN S. OSLER III is a sophomore at Grinnell College. He attended both the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio and the New York Writer’s Institute. In middle school and high school he wrote over two hundred satirical articles for The Southern View. His short stories have been published in Sprout Magazine, The Phosphene Journal, Random Sample Review, Zephyrus, and The Grinnell Underground Magazine.