Archives for the month of: August, 2008

Change of Focus
Originally uploaded by Lynn Park

Things change, especially the things I take as rock-solid certainties. When I wrote my blog profile, I referred to my power chair as both central and peripheral to my existence—and thought I’d summed the matter up succinctly. But no. Behind a simple statement about my means of conveyance lies the whole issue of my disability, something that gets more complex as I get older and as I get more able to be with the nuances of my own experience.

When I was a little girl, we didn’t talk about “it” because there was nothing that talking could change. Somehow I got the idea I wasn’t supposed to have feelings about living in a body that would sometimes fracture of its own volition, about looking different, about being unable to do so many things that other children did. It wasn’t supposed to bother me that some people on the street would stare and some people would avert their eyes and refuse to look at me. I had good manners and made good grades and my parents gave me nice presents, so there was nothing to say.

As a young adult I concentrated on Good Grooming, perfect makeup, never a hair out of place, had long red fingernails, and bristled if people mentioned my being disabled. After all, I could do almost everything but walk so why did they need to say anything? I lived alone, I drove across country, I had a full-time job, I even moved the furniture in my studio apartment (the hardwood floor meant I could slide things). I could get out of the chair, scoot up a flight of stairs on my bottom bringing the chair with me, and get back in it at the top.

Then in my thirties, after a bad accident, I couldn’t go from the chair to the ground any more, was limited to horizontal transfers. Fast forward to the present: more accidents, weight gain, a brace to prevent a vulnerable lower leg from fracturing, an arm that doesn’t rotate properly, and I have become what I thought I would never be: a Disabled Person, someone for whom being disabled affects most activities of daily life.

I don’t drive any more. I use a bedside commode instead of a toilet because the transfer is safer (and it’s still difficult). I use a slide board to get in and out of bed. I can’t turn on my side in bed without deliberate and difficult maneuvering. I have a harder time than I used to reaching things in the kitchen. I, who used to be pain-free, know about frequent aches. I, who used to go longer and harder than just about anyone else, generally lie down in the afternoon. Along with the changed visage of middle age, I have a new body, one that I don’t yet identify with, one that is not yet entirely my friend. And still, with all of this, the I who investigates, who takes these pictures, whose eye and heart still finds newness and beauty along the sidewalks I travel, is both able and grateful.

This photograph “Change of Focus” appears in my photostream at Flickr.com.

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I may have painted between the lines when I used Daddy’s shirt cardboard, but something in me wants to kick over the traces, do it differently, make a new statement.

I was just thinking, wondering which of my poems fits this mood and realized that while I’m not grieving any particular romance, the apparent loss of romance in later middle age–“which of course can have its creative compensations”–is a kind of grief. And if I tell the truth, it’s grief for losses I’ve been feeling in recent months rather than depression about the way things are. A subtle distinction perhaps but important and by no means an indication that every moment has been misery. Far from it. But I do have a poem that seems apropos:

THE NEXT TIME

the next time
I get a broken heart
I don’t want to act civilized
and talk things out
in a rational
manner

instead I want
to throw things
and make huge scenes
in public
places

I want
to hold on to his leg
as he drags me behind him
while he tries
to walk
away

I want
to break glasses
and smash plates
and not ever
clean it
up

I want
to cause a commotion
not take responsibility
feel sorry for myself
be self-indulgent
throw a tantrum
raise a ruckus
suffer loudly
be immature
have a fit
blame him
carry on
grieve
whine
moan
cry

and howl
at the moon

over and over
again

Note: The photographs “Green Set (c), (a)” appear in my photostream at Flickr.com.

One Way–or Another
Originally uploaded by Lynn Park

When I was little, Mama would give me the cardboard from Daddy’s shirts when they came back from the laundry. One Christmas I got a set of oil paints. I remember painting on a piece of shirt cardboard, the paints spread out on a towel at the foot of the other bed in my room. I was very careful not to make a mess. I don’t remember what I painted.

Note: The photograph “One Way–or Another” appears in my photostream at Flickr.com.


Obama ’08
Originally uploaded by Lynn Park

It happened this way. At a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, Obama responded to a young heckler who took him to task for supposedly not doing enough for black people. After detailing specific actions he’s taken, he ended by saying, “The only way we’re going to be able to solve our problems in this country is if all of us come together: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, old, young, disabled, gay, straight.” DISABLED? Did he really say “disabled”?

He did—and all of a sudden I understood why it had meant so much to a friend with multiple sclerosis some years ago when Jesse Jackson had a silver stripe—for chrome wheelchairs—included in his rainbow. Howard kept saying, “He knows we’re out here, he knows we’re out here.”

Now I knew what he meant, because Obama was talking about me. I matter. People like me matter to the possible future President of the United States.

And today, as I kept reciting the list, which I’ve memorized like a mantra, I realized it’s not just a list of the excluded or the marginalized. More important it’s a list of the people who belong, who have to be counted—and that includes disabled people.

It’s been hard to come out, as it were, as a disabled person, despite the fact of that disability being so very obvious. But if Barack Obama knows me well enough to make me cry, I might as well “stand up” and be counted.

I think they were tears of joy.

Note: The photograph “Obama ’08” appears in my photostream at Flickr.com.