Now is faux past prologue, an advertisement so false even your pineal gland knows it. Now is the most favored word in capitalism. Worse of course is the expression “now and then” which implies a stricture on tomorrow, governed by nothing as “now” has little predictive value. “Right now,” say the tyrants, “things couldn’t be any better.” Now says global warming isn’t real. Now says the poor are imprisoned and they’re meant to be so. Now, in America, is shorthand for “there isn’t any future unless you’re already in the now club.” We used to say a salubrious person was “in the know” but, well, you get my drift.
In disability circles there’s no future planned beyond this: your tomorrows are being erased in the halls of Congress. After health care and social security are gutted will they bring back the ugly laws? Will they lock up the disabled in ruined shopping malls?
This morning I found myself thinking of Aristophanes who I read assiduously in college. Here he is:
“Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.”
Now wants what it has to stay always. The plan is to take down future democracy always.
I don’t read pop psychology very much and when I do I avoid the more treacly kind—Leo Buscaglia’s “The Life of Freddy the Leaf” or Mitch Albom who blithely imagines people he’ll meet in heaven. I’m confident I’ll find no one in heaven as that’s of course what makes it heaven and one is better off admitting the afterlife is essentially nothing more than the first stirrings of social desire in the infancy of imagination. (Of heaven I’ve always liked Christopher Hitchens’ view that the Christian model is a kind of spiritual North Korea.)
Heaven is the original dull book, a composition which, rendered as music, is hardly more interesting than Gregorian chant. There’s no harmony in it. If Christianity is without sophistication, well, one might say, its hard to listen to. Mark Twain understood the problem better than anyone when he pictured heaven as a place where no one knows how to play the harp, hence it offers a cacophony of child like pluckings.
Why am I “on” about heaven? In part because I prefer mine in musical form, Josquin Desprez or Palestrina. I like it when, in Handel’s “Messiah” the voices move from bass to soprano. Heaven is best when heard and finest when complex.
In keeping with musical paradise, it’s good to recap that Beethoven believed his third symphony the “Eroica” was his finest accomplishment. It’s musically ambitious, structurally sophisticated, and it has plenty of early Romantic idealism. That is heaven.
So you’re disabled. You get a job after years. You plant seeds in snow. It’s not much of a job but it turns out to be steady. The seeds are small and blue—a friend jokes, says they look like “viagra tablets” and then you see they do like like viagra tablets though you’ve never actually had first hand experience with the stuff. The supervisor looks like a malevolent version of Mr. Rogers and he comes around periodically on one of those All Terrain Vehicles and says you’re not pushing the seeds deep enough into the snowbanks. So, “ahem,” you say, adding: “I can’t really reach deep into the snow because I’m riding a wheelchair you see…” Mr. Rogers says, “I’m riding an All Terrain Vehicle” and I can push blue seeds into the snowy sod, and he leans over and pokes two or three viagra into a snow man’s belly button. Then he whisks away in a cloud of exhaust. You never get the chance to explain that the average wheelchair bears no resemblance to an ATV and that most wheelchair users can’t lean to their sides to touch the ground. For Mr. Rogers, it’s enough that you both have wheels. And you never get to point out that planting blue seeds in snow is non-productive work. Talk about alienation! You’re separated from the means of production, planting fungal seeds above the arctic circle.
It’s axiomatic among disability activists and scholars to employ the term “cripple” as a useful identifier. The term is edgy, ironic, and instantly reflects the most egregious elements of ableism. As Nancy Mairs said famously: “As a cripple I swagger.”
Lately I”ve been thinking that really, given the wholesale destruction of the safety net in the US, it’s probably time to move from being a cripple to embrace the obvious—I’m a beggar.
As Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are ravaged, pillaged, set ablaze, there’s no better self declaration than “beggar” and if there isn’t any swagger to it, there’s at least a mirror held up in the faces of Republicans who, after all, want us disabled types back in the streets where they believe we belong.
A student talks about how hard it is to write. (Pronoun withheld) is mindful of politics, subjectivity, privilege, all proper “outsicles” as I call them—one is out about difference, disablement, race, manifold historical wrongs—so many—and so (pronoun withheld’s) politics transform into something beyond scruple they become a grid iron of self-inflicted shame.
Carl Jung said shame is a soul eating emotion and I think it’s true. What Jung meant is the shame that makes you stuck, as opposed to propulsive shame which is the incitement for growth as any alcoholic in recovery can tell you.
When (pronoun withheld) feels too much shame to write, one’s forced to conclude academic writing isn’t liberating enough to bust a move. Amen to that.
I keep notebooks the way some collect oddments—found coins or feathers. I cannot say keeping notes isn’t a waste of time. Maybe poems will come or I’ll recognize in the mirror the child still searching there.
The poem must be loved, and eat and drink, sleep like a log, / curse and laugh and cry / humanely…
I spoke with Saarikoski on the phone once. He was in the final stage of drinking himself to death. In life he couldn’t love poems more than poison.
“The end is the way it is made: that’s why it’s pretty stupid to hurry. The book will not change.”