September 2010: Issue 34


Thoughts on Paul Kahn

Few people have come into my life who have inspired me as much as Paul.... Your work has and will continue to change lives.
- Barbara Marder, Janet Bernault

It was an honor to know and work with Paul. Before meeting him, I had heard for several years about his prolific work as a writer and an activist. I was delighted when he invited me to join the editorial board of Opening Stages. Immediately, I was moved by his intelligence and gentleness. Then, when he was going to be in New York, he suggested a get-together of editorial board members in the city. We used my office. It was a wonderful few hours together, and the opportunity to experience Paul in person. I remember his delicious sense of humor throughout the afternoon. Then, in the ensuing months and years, I came to know his tenacity, his openness, his discipline and determination. I still cannot get over the fact that two days before he died, he sent me an outline of questions he wanted to review with me for an article in Opening Stages. But that was Paul. Doing what he believed in, with passion and vigor, to the end. Wherever you are, Paul, long may you wave!
-- Sharon Jensen, Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, Member, Opening Stages Editorial Board

Paul was one of a kind: passionate yet open-handed, a committed advocate who gave everything he had to his art and to his advocacy work. We were lucky to have him lead us here at Opening Stages.
-- John Dillon, Sarah Lawrence College, Member, Opening Stages Editorial Board

Amaryllis Theatre has had many readings of new plays by disabled and non-disabled playwrights over the years, and I have to say that most of them get understandably prickly when their work is criticized. We did a reading of Paul's The Making of Free Verse two years ago. Paul was not prickly. He was a teacher and a gracious gentleman as well as a wonderful playwright. He responded to criticism by standing up for his play but doing it in a way that really honored the person who was giving him feedback while he also explained his own sound, creative reasoning. He was incredibly gifted and a terrific friend and colleague. He will remain in our hearts forever.
-- Mimi Smith, Amaryllis Theatre, Member, Opening Stages Editorial Board

From the day I met Paul, I have admired and honored his tenacity, talent and his pursuit of following his passion of writing. He has been a torchbearer for artists – not just artists living with disabilities – but artists who believe in their art and stay true to their creative spirit. I will always remember his passion, his humor, the love he shared with his wife and the people around him who adored him. The world of accessible arts is indebted to Paul for his tireless efforts to promote a barrier-free and inclusive arena for all artists. You are missed, Paul, but your legacy lives on.
-- Rod Lathim, Access Theatre, Member, Opening Stages Editorial Board

Paul interviewed me once for Opening Stages. Here’s the excerpt that sticks in my head:

It sticks in my head because Paul really nailed a lot with that observation. That explained the baffling fear of disabled folks that persists. Why are some people so desperate to segregate us out of sight or pay us hush money in the form of charity? Why do they feel so threatened and cornered when uppity activist cripples speak up for their rights?

It’s because we’re just too human. We destroy a lot of their comforting myths about perfection, immunity, strength and autonomy. But that comfort is false, fleeting and fickle, like trying to stay permanently anesthetized by whiskey. The sooner we all stop denying that we’re all big bouncing balls of fragility and strength, the better off we’ll be. Then maybe we can see the beauty in our reality as humans and not be so freaked out all the time.

This gave me a new sense of relevance and pride in being an uppity cripple. We’ve got a big important job to do. We’re liberating a whole lot more people than just ourselves. Thanks, Paul, for the revelation.
-- Mike Ervin, activist, writer and playwright

Paul was not connected with an academic institution. He was not a bullhorn for any particular disabilities movement. Because of that, his work will go unnoticed by most, and that is a pity because, in many ways, Paul was just the sort of man whose work provides the bricks and mortar of disabilities literature. His was the voice that disabilities literature was meant to express in all of its unresolved complexity.
-- Michael Northen, editor of Wordgathering and a member of the Inglis House Poetry Workshop, from Paul Kahn: Something Close to Beautiful

Paul's words and his art will live on, connecting us with the world at large as well as with our personal worlds. But mostly, they connect us with a man worthy of our admiration and respect who lived intensely, spoke truthfully, and made the most of his life.
-- Tim Gilmer, New Mobility

Dear Paul,

I’m gazing at a photo of us, taken during the International Wheelchair Dance Festival back in 1997. We’re both facing out; I’m slightly in front of you. You’re in a blue shirt and black pants, sitting in your chrome E&J power wheelchair. I’m in a black T-shirt and blue pants, standing legs apart, front knee bent, barefoot. My left hand is stretched in back of me, holding your hand as I lunge forward, the right arm extended at my head. We’re dancing!

Our life together was a dance: sometimes legato and easy, other times allegro and frenetic, frequently alluring, and always graceful. We had our missteps, our miscalculations, and even an occasional clumsy moment, but we always held each other up, as good dance partners should, showcasing the best we could each be.

You were a prolific artist. As I relocated from the second floor up to the fourth floor, I found five portfolios bulging with sketches, drawings and paintings; two boxes of oils and framed drawings; and of course, all the artwork that hung on the walls of our apartment. You were a prolific writer, with boxes and file folders overflowing with essays, plays, journal entries, magazine and newsletter articles, poetry. Gazing at your “My Documents” computer folder is like exploring an attic, both discovering and rediscovering treasures. You are with the world and me, always and evermore.

You had a wicked sense of humor. You were a quiet presence, which made your words all the more powerful. Above all, you knew your body. You knew yourself and what you needed more than anyone else. I loved watching you manage your attendants, patiently and directly. You cared for and loved me, empowering me to know you and your ventilator, your wheelchair, your suction machine; empowering me to write, to sing, even to drive!

I am proud of you, my dear, proud of your accomplishments, especially Opening Stages. Your work and your life inspired us all.

Let the dance continue…

All my love,
Your own Ruth
-- From Paul's wife, Ruth Kahn

Reprinted with permission from DISABILITY ISSUES, Vol. 30 No. 1.