Beauty, disabilities brooded over in thoughtful memories



An exploration of beauty through the eyes of author Chloé Cooper Jones is a journey through disability and desire, to the glittering and self-reflective depths of humanity.

As a Pulitzer-appointed professor of philosophy and freelance writer, Jones fuses philosophical uncertainty with visceral reality. His memoir is at the same time a travelogue, a love story, a guide to the study of aesthetics and a distinctive chronicle of an unexpected motherhood.




<p>Easy beauty</p>
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<p>Easy beauty</p>
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<p>It’s a vulnerable account of tiptoeing between survival and self-sabotage in search of something beautiful.  (It also sneaks into cultural commentaries on Beyoncé and Roger Federer’s respective healing powers.)			</p>
<p>Living in Brooklyn with her husband and six-year-old son, Jones cannot find the motivation to finish her second Ph.D.  She takes readers with her to Italy, seeing Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptures in Rome, drinking wine with outdoor opera-goers at the Terme di Carcalla, sweating in the VIP section of a Milan stadium.			</p>
<p>She berates herself for clinging to the idea that she can only attempt an “embarrassing imitation” of the clever, male white travel writers she admires.  But she offers no imitations: this is her voice of hers.			</p>
<p>Jones covers the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and throws a private party for actor Peter Dinklage.  He bonds with a tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia, then sets off to admire Federer’s talent at a tennis tournament near Palm Springs, California.			</p>
<p>Prior to these trips, Jones never wanted to write about disability, even though, according to his account, it is the lens through which the world sees it.			</p>
<p>She was born with sacral agenesis, a rare congenital defect that involves abnormal development of the spinal column.  The condition causes her to be in almost constant physical pain.  She affects the size and shape of her body and the way she walks.  People had to “not see” her body, she believed, before they could know her.			</p>
<p>In the book, Jones remembers a friend asking her why she never wrote about it.  Her immediate response: “I’m tired”.			</p>
<p>The memoir itself is a much more thoughtful, no less honest answer.			</p>
<p>Sectioned into two parts (concert pre and post Beyoncé, incidentally), <em>Easy beauty</em> it is entirely imbued with Jones’s experience of disability.			</p>
<p>It describes what it feels like to live a life that some see as less than human, pushed aside by others to the point that it excludes itself.  He promptly discloses his flaws and his tendency to hypocrisy.  Managing this emotional depth is where the memoir excels.			</p>
<p>The dismissal and discomfort of people, Jones writes, gave her the freedom to remain a stranger.			</p>
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“I was free to feel superior to people who excluded me. It’s hard to leave the darkness and step out into a bright, dazzling light. ”

Leaning on literary journalism and away from exaggerated academic language, Jones unveils complex ideas, smoothing them out and then underlining all wrinkles, inviting readers to see the light and darkness in his story. He writes with a rhythm that hums pleasantly, but leaves powerful reverberations.

The narrative dips when Jones engages in prolonged conversations with strangers and often unnamed acquaintances, but the reader can trust that each of these dialogues will unlock different perspectives that will ultimately lead her to where she needs to go.

The poignant moments in the memoir explore Jones’s relationship with his son, Wolfgang. He sees how his earned but fallible worldviews are shaping him. In him she sees fragments of herself: fear, intelligence and beauty.

After walking to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean with Wolfgang, he writes: “We were only given a real life, terribly normal and sublime, and I would no longer betray its beauty by wishing it differently.”

Katie May is a Free Press reporter who did badly in her philosophy class.

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Katie May

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