The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
– F.Scott Fitzgerald
I sat on my glasses for the last time yesterday. They broke. Glasses have been a part of my life since I was four years old. I have been to the optometrist and had my checkup and ordered new glasses which will take two weeks just like in the old days. My mother realized there was something wrong with my eyes when she couldn’t teach me how to read. Thankfully she didn’t waste too much time in having them checked and glasses ordered from James Shane in Winnipeg at the Bay, which was my family’s beachhead in Winnipeg. Reading became a snap and an important part of my life.
I’ve been closing my eyes a lot lately, without really knowing why. I’ve been looking for a psychiatrist in Kelowna, but I’ve had the good fortune to find a psychologist in the meantime and I had a session this morning. Towards the end of the session I talked about closing my eyes all the time. And trying to connect it to some thing.
Then I remembered these lines from a piece called OUTTA SIGHT!
” What I’m trying to say is I don’t want to be seen like this. I know, anybody I know doesn’t really want to know how much it hurts on a scale of 1-2-10. My pain is only original to me. So I take my pain alone like so many others not being a burden making do, getting by and closing my eyes because I don’t want to see me like this either.”
Part of this story relates to my son Theo who, when he was three, covered his eyes and said you can’t see me. He became invisible because he covered his eyes. So the whole business of seeing and looking into somebody by looking into their eyes is of interest to my thinking.
So on the one hand I’m self-conscious about my disability, particularly my weight, and during my ‘cognitive variances.” I’d prefer people not see me when I’m not at my best. This has been happening more often since I’ve become physically disabled. Covid has come just at the right time where it looks like I’m just doing what everybody else is doing instead of withdrawing from the people-y world. I’ve been fortunate again in finding a partner who also has a disability and also rather be at home than out and about, who commented on losing service of our body and mind at the same time, “When your mind and your body both give out at the same time – total quitsville!”
I’ve just got this big Canada Council for the Arts grant which is essentially an extravaganza of showing myself and asking people to look, or more formally, let’s say it’s about identity, self-portraiture through the lens of pain, suffering and disability.
These are the two opposing ideas that I’m starting off with. On the one hand I’m closing my eyes a lot. On the other hand I’m writing stories from my life and I’m asking 12 different artists to interpret aspects of my life from my writing including my body parts and pieces of my mind and the pieces it’s in. I am delighted that I have found artists that will work with me and my conceptions of myself; or as I sometimes think, my several different selves.
For me it’s important for other people to look and see and hear different narratives of the disabled experience. There are as many stories and variations of living as a disabled person as there are disabled people. “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person” is a common saying, because for Christ sake we’re all different! That should be a basic understanding but it means people have to tolerate difference. In fact tolerate isn’t even a good enough word we should be able to do better than that, be kind is getting there, be fair. Better or worse!
But in this instance, my story told using theatre, films, music, writing, videos and sculptures all showcase different parts of my life and my living. I have a cartoon that Murray Toews drew for me. I had a dream in which the doctors were pointing to the base of my spine, where I have spondylolisthesis and said “see that’s where the hubris is coming in.”
I try to remind myself to be cautious about my expectations either of myself, the other artists that are working on the show, and the people that come and see the show. One thing I can say about this though, it won’t be boring. The conflict between not wanting to be seen, to hide deformity, disability, my different body that people really have trouble looking at, which I’ve been writing about since 1979 actually, “all the picture people look the other way” (Jimmy Bang) and my desire for people to accept my differences so I am not ashamed will be dramatic.
For me the energy comes from creation. One of my favourite sayings is simply that desire creates all. And wanting to do something, making some thing is the forge that I need to get dressed in the morning.