Saturday, August 2, 2008

Speak For Yourself

This post and the last one have a common theme, It wasn't really planned that way. I ended up going in a slightly different direction with "Pretty" than I had in mind, and just happened upon the article mentioned here a few days later. Call it forunate chance, call it synchronicity, chaos theory in action, whatever. Just the way I see the world, I guess.

A coworker was reading the July 2005 issue of guitar magazine. The cover caught my eye - a comic art style drawing of a female guitar player, rendered in a style reminiscant of the late 80's and early-mid 90's. I pretty solidly dislike this style but it drew my eye enough to see the title of the issue's feature article: "Are Women the Next Guitar Heroes?"

How that question was answered is a topic more suited to my music-only blog. What is of interest here is one guitarist mentioned, or rather how she was described - Victoria Williams.

Williams is better known for her songwriting. The article does focus mostly on her playing. The first description of her playing style gave me pause though: "despite her ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis, she has developed an eclectic style".

What gave me pause, what is problematic, is that first word: "despite". Intentional or not (and I do not believe anything negative was intended) that word is making a claim about people with MS - that we are somehow incapable of accomplishments such as "develop[ing] an eclectic style".

"Despite" is especially problematic because an argument could be made that "Because of" is more truthful. Williams began to play more electric guitar after numbness in her hands made playing a standard acoustic somewhat difficult. She also experimented with string weights and chord fingerings more suited to reduced use of her hands. All these changes - adaptations to the effect multiple sclerosis was having on her body - play signficantly in to her style.

I was intriged enough to look around the net for more information on Williams. Often what I found was disappointing. Nearly every item was respectful and eventually informative, but I had to wade through overused words like "suffered". I'm well aware that MS ain't no picnic. But really it's tough enough without others substituting how they think they'd react or feel for how we deal with it ouselves. Which brings us to this post's title. Speak for yourself. Not others. You might find you don't know the language.

So what is the alternative? What's wrong with non-value laden words like "has"? Words that describe without making unspoken claims? Words like the All Music Guide uses in mentioning the fact that Victoria Williams has MS: "she was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disorder multiple sclerosis".

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