Monday, April 14, 2014

Guest post by Stacey Calcano: "An Open Letter to Author John Green On His Perpetuation of The Use of the R-word"

  • Dear Mr. Green,
  • I’ve just finished reading “An Abundance of Katherines” and have previously read: “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Looking for Alaska,” and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson.” As a woman of 40+ plus I have probably read more of your books than many of my peers. My oldest daughter, who is 17, and her friends are huge fans of your work and I read the above-listed books at her suggestion. I must admit that I have enjoyed your writing style, your penchant for weaving characters together, your ability to keep the reader interested throughout and your sense of humor.
  • Sadly, there is a part of your writing that I have not enjoyed….your repeated use of the word “retarded” and its many iterations as a slur. My youngest son, who is 2 years old, was born with Down syndrome. He was born into a world where many people think he should never have been born, where people think it’s okay to ridicule him simply because he has an extra chromosome. They judge him and the person he will become, before they’ve even laid eyes on him. Now, I’m sure you did not mean your use of the R-word as an insult or a slur towards my son, or those like him. I’m sure your intent was not to offend, but to use vernacular that is widely used by your reader base. What you may not realize, is that your use of the word reinforces the negative connotation and normalizes its use amongst teenagers. When these types of slurs are accepted they enable disenfranchisement on a very large scale. What I didn’t notice in your writing was the use of other slurs. Slurs such as the N-word, gay, homo, fag, the list could go on and on of words that were once widely used and with impunity in our society. These words were often used in order to garner a cheap laugh at the expense of others. As African American and LGBT rights have flourished, the use of these words became less and less acceptable. People began to realize that words have the ability to target and diminish and entire population of people. In today’s world, people with cognitive disabilities and their families and advocates are asking society to stop using the word “retarded” and all of its many mutations for the exact same reasons. It demoralizes and diminishes an entire population of people, sight unseen. At a minimum, I do hope that you will reconsider your use of the word in future writings. It would also be amazing if you would take a vocal stand against the use of the word and join the “Spread the Word, to end the Word” campaign. Just think of the impact you could have.

Respectfully, Stacey Calcano (mother of 4, ages 2 to 17)


When most people see the word processing, they most likely think of what a computer does.  It transforms information into readable text, pictures, kitty cat memes, etc.  It processes computer jibberish into a medium that our brain recognizes, quickly.

What I want to talk about is the way people interpret information.  Specifically, how me and my youngest son see and hear things.

When I was a child, before I began school, I was a genius.  I read whole books way before I entered Kindergarten.  I had a grasp of the English language that probably rivaled that of an average ten or twelve year old when I was five and my use of sarcasm and humor made adults weep with glee.

It was universally accepted (okay, my mom WAS my universe when I was five) that I would get straight A's all through my school years, that I would graduate from Princeton and become a successful brain surgeon/astrophysicist, or at the very least, a writer that used correct grammar.

It didn't turn out that way; far from it, in fact.

By the time I hit second grade, I was already "not working up to my potential".  I fidgeted.  I lost my homework.  I didn't DO my homework.  My desk and bookbag were overflowing with crap and my mother and my teacher were both shaking their heads (at best) and screaming (at worst) at me over my laziness.

"If you would only APPLY yourself!"

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that throughout my school years, I'd at least have a couple, two, t'ree bucks.

I carried on believing that I had just been a lazy student until I had my own children and I started seeing my struggles in theirs; especially, in my youngest son's.

Like me, he talked and read very early.  My mom often recounts a story of E, sitting on her lap, at about eighteen months old, reading her Scrabble letters out loud while we played.  He was and is a very bright boy.

Within the first few months of Kindergarten, we realized that he was having trouble, though.  It turns out, this trouble had a name:  Processing Disorder.

There are three basic types of processing disorders:  Auditory, Visual and Sensory.  Sound, Sight and Touch/Feel or Tactile.

E and I both have trouble with the way we interpret what we read.  Often, our brains are on the next paragraph, while our eyes are still on the one before.  It leads to confusion.

We are also not very good at following spoken directions, which is part of the reason for my doing so poorly in school, when nearly every class relied on lots of talking by the teacher and lots of note taking by the students.  I would invariably get lost at some point, quit trying to figure out what I was supposed to be writing and would start daydreaming and doodling.

When the time came to turn in the homework that was assigned during the drone, I would usually have missed it, taking the parking break off the steamroller at the top of the hill of crap that was my missed assignments.

In classes that I had a good grasp of:  History or English, I could usually make it up and get by; but math, especially Algebra, was another story.  If I missed one thing, I was lost for days and weeks, often never to get back on top of things.  It didn't help that my Algebra teacher was the same one for three years in a row and that she was a psychotic, polyester pantsuit wearing, drunk.  I was afraid to approach her for help and when I did, she repeated the tired old line about being lazy and not applying myself, instead of understanding that I was having trouble.  Needless to say, I didn't ask for her help very often, except under threat of bodily harm or house arrest carried out by my mother.

I was grounded for approximately 742 days of my high school career.

So, when I got an email from my youngest's teacher about some writing assignments he had missed, I responded quickly that I would talk to him about it and we would get things straightened out as soon as possible.  Only, I read it wrong...

And mixed up the assignments she was talking about...

And confused the whole situation further...

And had to ask her for more time, because I had made things worse...

And it hit me that as much as I have learned to compensate for my struggles with processing, it is a lifelong challenge.

I have to remind myself to slow down, to re-read, to clarify things that I am not quite sure about.

And sometimes, I forget.

And I think of all the times that I have felt totally lost, when it seemed everyone around me knew what they were doing, even now, still, today.

When everyone else brings the paperwork to the meeting and is on time; I wonder why it is so hard for me.  Why am I such a scatterbrain?

And I look at my kid's desk and backpack and have a flashback of my own.

And I feel for my kid.

And I am thankful that I "get" it.  

And I hope I can help him.

And I think that he will probably always struggle, as I have.  

And then, the ray of light:  I have a life.  I have held on to jobs.  I have made something of myself, though it is miles short of the goals I have set.  I have SURVIVED.

He will, too.