Nancy Mairs Essays

In two memoirs, “Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith and Renewal” (1993) and “A Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith” (2007), she described her conversion, in her 30s, to Roman Catholicism, and the ways her newfound faith shaped her mental world and her attitude toward suffering, death and the social fabric.

“To view your life as blessed does not require you to deny your pain,” she wrote in the introduction to “Carnal Acts.” “It simply demands a more complicated vision, one in which a condition or event is not either good or bad but is, rather, both good and bad, not sequentially but simultaneously. In my experience, the more such ambivalences you can hold in your head, the better off you are, intellectually and emotionally.”

She was born Nancy Pedrick Smith on July 23, 1943, in Long Beach, Calif., where her father, John, a naval officer, was stationed. He died when she was 5 after driving his jeep over an embankment in Guam, where he had been transferred after World War II. Her mother, the former Anne Pedrick, took the family back to the United States, where she eventually settled in Wenham, Mass., north of Boston, and found employment as the village tax collector.

Ms. Mairs earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., in 1964, a year after she married. In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Anne Mairs; a son, Matthew; a sister, Sally Caroline; a half sister, Barbara Cutler; and three grandchildren.

She worked as a publications editor for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge and the International Tax Program at Harvard Law School before enrolling in the University of Arizona, where she earned an M.F.A. in poetry in 1975 and a doctorate in English in 1983, presenting as her dissertation the book later published as “Plaintext.”

She published two collections of poetry, “Instead It Is Winter” (1977) and “In All the Rooms of the Yellow House” (1984), before finding that the essay was her métier.

As “Plaintext” made clear, she could write movingly about nearly any subject.

She plumbed the psychic lower depths in essays like “On Touching by Accident,” about her suicide attempt, and “On Living Behind Bars,” about her struggles with mental illness, but her determination to live fully and her sense of adventure infused many of her essays with an infectious zest.

Her disabilities, and the predicaments they spawned, struck her as amusing as often as not. “Where I Never Dreamed I’d Go, and What I Did There,” included in “Carnal Acts,” described an improbable trip to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), undertaken against all advice. Ms. Mairs saw much of it as an exercise in comedy.

“She’s not telling these stories to inspire people or induce our pity,” the poet Kathi Wolfe wrote of “Waist-High in the World” in The Progressive. “The author is coming out from behind the curtain to make visible the experience of being disabled in America.”

A lifetime of disease and suffering led her, almost inevitably, to write “A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories” (2001). In a series of linked essays, she examined the deaths of her mother and stepfather, the plight of the death-row prisoners with whom she corresponded, and the unsolved murder of her foster son, Ron DuGay, at 41 in 2000.

Her interest, she wrote in one of the book’s essays, “A Necessary End,” lay in “the role of affliction in perfecting human experience.” Viewed from a spiritual perspective, she added, it is “simply an element in the human condition, to be neither courted nor combated. To refuse to suffer is to refuse fully to live.”

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Author of disability Nancy Mairs who’s a feminist and a cripple, has accomplished a lot in writing and teaching. Her remarkable personality shows in many of her essays especially in Disability which was first published in 1987 in the New York Times. In this essay, Nancy Mairs shows how disabled people are constantly excluded, especially from the media. By giving out facts and including her personal experiences, Mairs aims for making some changes regarding the relationship between the media and people with disabilities. Mairs thesis is shown implicitly in the first and last paragraphs.

Her main goal is to show everyone that people with disabilities are just like everybody else and they should be included and accepted in all daily activities. By using irony, intensity, humor and self-revelations, Nancy Mairs succeeds to get her message through. Nancy Mairs starts her essay by describing herself as a crippled woman with multiple sclerosis. She talks about her condition and how she’s never seen a crippled woman like her in the media. Then she mentions some television shows about disabled people that focus almost entirely on disabilities and neglect the person’s character.

Mairs states that although disability changes a lot in one’s life, it doesn’t kill him/her. She for example, can do what every other woman her age can do. And although she’s a great consumer, advertisers never choose someone like her to represent their products publicly; and the reason for that, according to Mairs, is that people cannot yet accept the fact that disability is something ordinary. The consequences of this situation are hash on disable people, for they might feel like they don’t exist. Finally, Nancy Mairs says that anyone might become disabled.

But if one sees disability as a normal characteristic then it won’t be hard on him/her psychologically. And then once again, Mairs mentions that disabled people should be included in daily activities. Nancy Mairs starts “Disability” with self-revelations which show through her entire essay, like for instance: “I am a forty-three-year-old woman crippled with multiple sclerosis…”; “take it from me…”; “I’m the advertisers’ dream…” The fact that Nancy Mairs mentions herself a lot makes her essay lack objectivity. But the reason behind this is that few are the people who can relate to this topic.

So no one really knows what this is about as much as Mairs and all disabled people who form a minority do. This tells us that the author knows what she’s talking about. Since this essay is addressed to people who don’t know much about disability, its purpose is not merely to inform us about the physical disability itself but also about the psychological effects of the constant isolation and exclusion of people with disabilities. This makes the essay persuasive rather than argumentative since the author only mentioned her attitude towards this subject.

But what a better way to do it than having a person with disability talk about his/her personal experiences? Persuading people of Mairs point of view which is that disabled people should be included in the daily activities couldn’t be done by just stating objective facts. This kind of persuasion needs examples. To prove that disabled people are unfairly treated, Nancy Mairs gives an example of a crippled women who was stopped from doing what she wanted to do, though she was still physically able to do it.

She also gives examples of products to prove that she’s regular consumer and that there’s no reason there’s no reason why people with disabilities couldn’t get the opportunity to appear in the media and represent these products. Nancy Mairs is well known for her style in writing. She uses irony to show that the reason why media always excludes disabled people is ridiculous: “if you saw me pouring out puppy biscuits, would you think these kibbles were only for the puppies of the cripples.

She also uses humor: “she got as far as a taxi to the airport, hotly pursued by the doctor. ” Intensity is also shown when she says: “advertisers who determine… deny the existence of me and my kind absolutely”. This intensity is nothing but the result of a strong anger caused by the mistreatment of disabled people. This style gives the essay a kind of vivacity, sparkle and even strength. It shows that Mairs is not afraid of making fun of the advertisers.

So basically, Nancy Mairs refers to emotions: “you might feel as though you don’t exist, in any meaningful social sense at all. ” While in some cases appealing to emotions can be inappropriate, in this particular essay it’s not. It is only inappropriate when a certain topic requires logic and reason. Actually getting people to accept disability and people carrying it requires neither logic nor reason. They’re just human beings who deserve to be treated like anyone else.

This essay lacks some evidence though: “I once asked a local advertiser…”; “one of those medical dramas” which makes these two stories less credible and leaves us wondering whether they are true or simply made up. But as for the rest of the essay, the information is based on personal experiences and emotions that don’t require much evidence. As for the audience, this essay is addressed to all people who read the New York Times, while it should have been addressed specifically to advertisers so they can make a change regarding the inclusion of disabled people.

Nancy Mairs in her “disability” has done a good job in delivering her message. I believe she managed to persuade the audience that there is no reason to exclude disabled people from the media. Her information was clear and made sense, her examples were enough to support her thesis and her tone added a certain flavor to her essay. “Disability” can actually make certain changes if it is addressed to its right audience and I certainly recommend it to my friends and anyone who might be interested in this topic.


  • Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating disability, transforming feminist theory.” NWSA journal 14.3 (2002): 1-32.
  • Rohrer, Judy. “Toward a full-inclusion feminism: A feminist deployment of disability analysis.” Feminist studies 31.1 (2005): 34-63.
  • Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Feminist disability studies.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30.2 (2005): 1557-1587.





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