On Getting Disabled

We talk about the art of getting naked or of flower arranging, but we never speak of the art of becoming disabled. In America disability is discussed simply as rehabilitation, as if living is no more complicated than lighting a stove.

The art of getting disabled is a necessary subject. When we look to history we find examples of this art everywhere. Disabled makers stand against loss.  They make something of difference. When traveling in France Thomas Jefferson broke his wrist. A surgeon set the break badly. A major facet of his life was changed forever.  He was forced to put aside his treasured violin. In turn he took up long, slow, leisurely horseback rides as a meditative practice.

Blind people don’t necessarily need dogs. White cane travel is a very fine way to get around. But I say guide dog travel is an art. It’s a means toward living much as Jefferson learned to live. Moving in consort with an excellent animal is one way to make a life. Art is mysterious. Some find a path to a certain form. Some find an unlike form.

Oh I know Jefferson sang to his horses. He was very fond of singing. Moving in consort requires it I think.

It’s hard to imagine singing to a white cane.

Do you need to sing to live well? No. I’ve a great good friend who is nonspeaking. But in turn his whole body is music.

My deaf friends sing.

“You got to keep something moving all the time,” said Huddle Ledbetter, otherwise known as “Leadbelly” when asked how he played the 12 string guitar.

Many of my wheelchair pals are dancers.

Several of my disabled friends are comedians.

We crackle, zip, exhale, inhale, sport with our fingers, flap, jump, pop wheelies, and jingle with harnesses.

Resourceful life is practiced. Sometimes it is silly. Art can and often should be frivolous. With permission from curators at the Museum of Modern Art I was once allowed to spin Marcel DuChamp’s famous wheel, a bicycle fork with front wheel mounted upside-down on a wooden stool. DuChamp was a DaDaist. He made art by placing things side by side that did not formally belong together. A MOMA staff member handed me a pair of latex gloves and I pulled them on and with my first guide dog Corky watching beside me, I reached out and gave DuChamp’s aluminum wheel a spin. “This is the steering wheel of my life,” I thought. Eccentric motion. A dog walking life not always understood by others, but simple and smoothly elegant.

No you don’t need a dog, or any other animal if you have a disability. Solo life contains its own joys.

I certainly know some blind folks who would say I’m over the top talking about art in the context of service dog life. I know people who say a guide dog is just a mobility aid. I’m fine with that. As long as they’re kind to their dog machines I’ve nothing to say about this view. To each his own. I have friends who don’t like poetry. I don’t think their worlds are harmed by their disinterest. All I know for sure is what a guide dog can do. Though the stationary wheel of your life seemed forever stopped, she says give it a turn. You’ll be surprised where the imagination can take you.

 

 

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