Dear Dax:

More than anything, this is a piece of fan mail. I hope you consider it as such. I know it probably won’t make its way to you, but social media is so weird and connective that I guess there’s a chance it will. I hope it does.

I love your podcast, Armchair Expert.

Like, I really love it. (Yes, Amy, you and the rest of America.) I love that it’s obnoxiously long, I love that it goes off topic even before it goes on topic. I love that you were an Anthropology major and clearly smarter than I am. I was an American Studies major, which is like anthropology but easier and I bet you had to take math. I did not. I love that you had Ira Glass on your show and that you admitted to him that when he complimented your movie Hit and Run (which I have not seen and I mention this only as evidence that I am not your stalker, which by now you might be worrying about) it was like the best thing that had ever happened to you because I once got a compliment from Ira Glass and felt the same way and think about it more than is healthy. I love that you talk about shitting your pants. I love that you talk about words and writing and my favorite thing is your fact checking segment at the end of each episode. Fucking brilliant.

I use the word fuck a lot. So much that I’m now that person whose friends buy her stuff with bad words on it — like the plate from a college friends that says “Bullshit” and a needlepoint pillow that says “I Love Bad Bitches” from a writer friend. This Christmas some former co-workers at the newspaper where I worked for 25 years gave me a banner that says, “Do No Harm, Take No Shit” and I took that as a compliment, but I also had to ask myself, “Do you want to be the person who people give that kind of shit to?”

I’m not sure. To be honest, I prefer the Nora Ephron quote my older daughter needlepointed for me last Mother’s Day. It says, “Be the heroine of your own story, not the victim.”

We all veer toward victimhood, but in my case it’s a real challenge because my younger daughter has Down syndrome.



Sophie is 15. Pretty much overnight, I went from being the asshole staff writer at the alternative newsweekly who complimented her boss when he called state legislators “mouth breathers” to being that annoying mom who interrupts conversations at other tables at restaurants when she overhears someone use the word retarded.

Yes, I’m an advocate. I mean, I’ve never called myself that, but I guess you would.

And I know you’ve produced many episodes since last year’s conversation with David Sedaris so this stuff isn’t on your mind, but that’s the episode I heard this morning and it’s the one that’s got me thinking a lot. Even Sedaris seemed uncomfortable when you announced that it wasn’t fair for a parent of a kid with a disability to complain about a comedian using the word retarded, and I cringed when you almost spit out the word “advocate.” Like it was a curse word.

But I kept listening, holding my breath, hoping that this would be a point of discussion in the fact checking segment. It was. And I was glad. Monica (like you) is brilliant and such a good foil — and both of you made good observations. You really made me think, and I already think a lot about why I care about anyone using the word retarded, or other language, for that matter, when my husband and I are both journalists and pretty big First Amendment fans. But neither you nor Monica got to what I really think about when I think about why I ask people to not use the word retarded.

Look, first of all, I get it. I get that we are all drowning in the waves of political correctness. It’s horrible. I can’t say or write a thing without worrying about the thought police. Before Sophie was born, I was considering trying to bring back the word gay (like, really). After she was born, I couldn’t watch Gray’s Anatomy because Sophie had to have open heart surgery and suddenly I could recognize all those words the fake doctors were shouting over the fake patients. I hid in the bathroom and read Augusten Burroughs’ essays till I landed on one where he takes home a guy and fucks him and wakes up the next day and realizes the guy has Down syndrome.

It’s gotten better in the last 15 years, and I do worry about just what you touched on in that Sedaris episode, that I have no business speaking or trying to speak for my daughter. She’s her own person. She can tell you she doesn’t want you to call her retarded.

And she might. Sophie’s pretty fully self-actualized, even with a diminished IQ. I have no doubt that you and she would be fast friends. But let’s face it, most people with intellectual disabilities (a term I hate, I can’t find one I like) can’t tell you they don’t want to be called retarded, because they don’t understand what it means.

Does that mean we should call them whatever names we like, because they can’t tell us not to? What if black/African American people/people of color literally, physically, existentially, couldn’t object to being called niggers? Would we let it rip?

Monica mentioned how hard it is for parents of people with disabilities. It is. I don’t want to sound like a victim (see above) but some days my life really fucking sucks. But it’s so much more than that. I am willing to bet that I love my daughters as much as you do, that they bring me as much joy as yours do to you.

All of that said, I’d like to have back the two hours I spent waiting in line to see the fake Elsa and Anna at Disneyland a couple years ago. But I will not hold that against your lovely wife.

Thanks for making “advocate” my new favorite curse word. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m going to keep listening. Next on my list is the episode with your mom.

Your Fan, Amy

PS Here’s the piece I did for This American Life, and one for Lenny Letter (Lena Dunham’s late, great newsletter). And here’s the style guide for the National Center on Disability and Journalism, which I edited.

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3 Responses to “A Letter to Dax Shepard: Advocate Is My New Favorite Curse Word”

  1. I love reading Amy Silverman. I love the words she uses and I can understand them at my own pace (public radio: people who talk at the rate I think about things I care about). I’m sad I don’t know who Dax is. But I loved this piece completely.

  2. Amy; Dax; Monica:

    here is a blog post you really need to see and think about.

    [and, yah, Sam, for public radio and its pacing!]

    And there’s also another good one about being an advocate and being an activist. That one is from Andrew Pulrang:

    Thanks Annabelle for the needlepoint of Nora Ephron on heroines and victims.

  3. ooh, thanks! I’m on it!

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