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Friday, December 26, 2014



When I was about 8 years old, I had an old, dog-eared field guide to the birds of North America. I read up on the most common birds found in the Cleveland area: blue jays, cardinals and robins.


What caught my fancy the most, though, were the brightly colored songbirds of summer. It was always a treat to catch a glimpse of a Baltimore oriole in the backyard or a scarlet tanager along a country lane.


Peculiar kid that I was, I thought I’d better figure out what kind of bird I wanted to be. I’d seen enough episodes of the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits to know that someday I just might find myself in a position to have to make such a choice. It was best to be prepared.


After careful consideration, I selected the indigo bunting. It’s a small migratory songbird that eats seeds and navigates by starlight. Its defining characteristic is its color. It’s a feathered embodiment of the intense blue in Renaissance paintings. The first glimpse of an indigo bunting can take your breath away.


Then I got clobbered by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The arthritis hit me the way a closed window stops a sparrow in mid-flight: stunned, dazed, lying on cold concrete on a gray winter’s day. It sped through me with the intensity of wildfire. My immune system began an absurd attack, triggering an inflammatory response of the joints, resulting in swelling, excess fluid and severe pain. My body began destroying itself, the disease steadily consuming me. One day I awoke and realized: I am my own assassin.


By high school, I had permanently morphed into a member of the JRA race. My arms were short and my hands twisted, gnarled. I would never have an elegant gait, long straight legs or graceful posture. The arthritis had claimed me, had – as the result of my appearance – placed me on the margins of the human race, where those who are deemed “too different” reside.


At some point, I reconsidered my choice of bird should I ever change corporality. Beauty seemed out of the question. Because I felt marginalized and voiceless, I thought it would be cool to be the baddest bird on the block. No sweet little songbird for me, thank you very much.


I changed my choice to the harpy eagle: the largest, most powerful raptor of the Americas. An apex predator, the females are twice as large as the males. With wings that can span more than seven feet, they swoop down to make a meal out of monkeys, deer and domestic livestock.


I’m now on the other side of 50. While beauty and power still hold an allure, my perspective on life has changed. The days that bring the most joy are ones of balance and tranquility. Days when I don’t feel compelled to push the rock that will inevitably roll back down the hill. Days when I embrace, rather than run from, the things that set me apart from the masses.


I’ve selected another bird yet again, perhaps for good. Ideals of beauty be damned; I’d be fine with bald head and hooked beak. I don’t have to prove my power to anyone, instead content to hold my wings still and float for hours on the thermals.


So, on winter days when the sky is sunny and clear here in Miami, I gaze out the window at the turkey buzzards and imagine myself gliding on the updrafts.

Thursday, December 25, 2014



by heidi johnson-wright

Dear Santa:

It’s been a few years since I last wrote to you. Like, 45. Probably makes you wonder why I’m sending you this letter now.

First off, let me assure you I’m not writing to ask you for any gifts for myself. I mean, there are some neat-o gizmos that any gimp, myself included, would love. For example, I wouldn’t mind having a speedometer. Why, you ask? So the next time a stranger (that is, the 4,739th stranger) looks at my chair and asks me “how fast can that thing go?” instead of yelling “bite me,” I can actually holler out a number.

I also wouldn’t mind receiving a pair of shoes. And I’m not talking about a pair of SAS orthopedic, turd brown lace-up Oxfords, like us crips and Denny’s waitresses are so fond of. No siree. I’m talking about a pair of Christian Louboutin Highness Tattoo Dragon platform pumps with a seven inch heel. (If you’re not familiar with Mr. Louboutin’s creations, think back to the type of shoes that only strippers used to wear. For a cool $1,595, now lady executives, lawyers and doctors can wear ‘em, too.)

And I wanna be clear: there’s no way on God’s green Earth I could ever stand in those shoes, let alone take a few steps. What I’d like to do is scuff up the soles real good so they look like they’ve been walked in a whole lot. I’d put them on, get in my wheelchair and go out in public. I’d be sure to sit in the chair so the bottoms of the shoes can easily be seen. Then, I’d take photos of the reactions on people’s faces. I would even create an Instagram account for them.

But enough about my flights of fancy. The real point of this letter is to ask for Christmas gifts for other very deserving people: people who have taken positions on issues affecting us crips. The gifts would show gratitude for their valiant efforts for disability rights.

First, Santa, please bring gifts for the politicians. In particular, I’m talking about the ones who say that the Americans with Disabilities Act hurts business owners. How does the ADA hurt them, you ask? Apparently, requiring a ramped entrance or lowered counters is likely to bankrupt restaurants, stores, theaters, etc. So, even though the ADA is a federal civil rights law, the politicos want to enable businesses to opt-out of it. Otherwise, the entire U.S. economy will collapse just like it did right after the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were passed. (It did, right?) And we can’t have that. So, Santa please give these politicians the gift of not getting re-elected so they can make an honest living flipping burgers at businesses that discriminate against gimps.

The next group of folks that deserve gifts are the architects, builders and town planners that oppose visitability. Visitability is the movement to change the way homes are constructed so that new homes will have things like a zero-step entrance, interior doors wide enough for wheelchairs, and a half bath on the main floor. Visitability objectors claim these things quash creative design and even worse, give the false impression that non-gimps might someday cross over into gimpdom! For those who are against visitability, please, Santa, give them the gift of six months in a long-leg cast and the inability to use crutches. This will require them to climb stairs on their hands and knees just to get the crapper. Think of the toughness of personal character this will build in those who oppose building accessible homes!

And last but not least, Santa, please bring something special for people who lie about their pets. You know, the inventive folks who dress up their Shih Tzus and Rottweilers in nylon vests and claim they’re service dogs just so they can take them into the Gap and Olive Garden. Such resourcefulness deserves recognition, even if it creates ill feelings toward and distrust of disabled folks with genuine service dogs. For these folks, please give them the gift of a dog bite that gets infected so they end up with a pronounced limp. That way, even if they happen to misplace the dog vest and service dog ID card they purchased from a phony company on the Internet, they won’t need ‘em. The limp will speak loud and clear.  

Well, Santa, I guess I’ve asked for my annual quota of gifts, so I’ll sign off. I’ll have to ask you for gifts for condo and home owners’ associations that bully disabled people next year.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014



Sometimes I can be the most impatient and easily frustrated person on the planet.

But a foundation of values, created by my father and polished by my beautiful wife, has taught me to get over life’s maddening setbacks while focusing on the long journey and big picture.

That is why I have used humor in my words to describe my father's influence in my life.

I understand the tears of all the people touched by the life of Kenneth Lee Wright. But I feel this is more of a celebration than a ritual of sadness. 

My dad did most everything he wanted to do, saw most everything he wanted to see and raised two sons to ages 46 and 50.

In his 70s, the healthy as a horse Midwesterner who probably missed fewer than 10 days of work in 40 years, fought a combination of maladies that robbed him of his energy and tranquility.

That suffering has gracefully ended and why I have created a dozen blog posts to remember the man who taught his oldest son to be a man...

...a man that I hope he is proud of (he always told me he was proud of me and I loved him for saying it).

I am proud of him and I will tell his good story till the day when the time comes for my body to be at restful peace forever.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014



Sorry for another sports analogy, but dad’s words and actions taught me resiliency. 

My unconventional career path has easily been marked by as many colossal failures as victory dances in the dugout.

Had my dad not taught me persistence, I'd have given up after a couple setbacks and been living under a bridge.  

Instead, I have been able to discuss Dali’s Persistence of Memory with the curator of MOMA during a private tour.

Monday, December 22, 2014



My grandpa was one of the greatest handymen in all the Great Lakes region. 

He built most of his own house and probably never paid a cent to a repair man, electrician or plumber -- because he could fix anything with his hands, no instruction booklet required.  

Dad, well, did NOT genetically inherit those skills. 

After a few broken faucets, fried electrical outlets and hammer smashed thumbs (with requisite high volume, multi-syllable cursewords that I'm pretty sure we were not allowed to repeat) -- dad proved the point that sometimes it’s best to dial the experts before even trying. Dad learned to dial the experts. 

I learned my lesson and never tried to grow up to be Mr. FixIt.  

I simply figured a way of selling enough prose and poetry to pay for the plumber.

This is a 12-day tribute to my dad, who died a few days before Thanksgiving this year, from his first-born son.