Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Plugged In To The Past

Joe has been spending the past few days getting ready to expunge a lot of paper from our apartment. We are clogged with paper. We have files with paper gone yellow and brittle with age. When Joe gets busy with a project, the side effect is that I do too. Over the last few days he's been setting piles down beside me with the unspoken but clearly understood expectation that I will sort through each big pile and turn them into smaller keep and not keep piles. I have been complying because, well, I don't really have any other option.

There are some benefits to doing this kind of thing. I just went through a pile and I found two things. I want to write about each thing separately. Today I want to show you this:


I was brought up short when I found this in the stack of papers that was set beside me this morning. It shook me a little bit, actually, more than a little bit.

As you know I've taken a bit of a leave from blogging as I've been incredibly busy and I got really tired from travel and wedding and other demands on my time. During this time, I've been thinking a lot about the work that I do and the work that I've done. I've been thinking about things that people of my age begin to think about. Life. Choices. Regrets, Celebrations.

In the middle of all that, I get this piece of paper.

It was a gift when given to me.

It's a gift now.

I had just finished doing a workshop for people with intellectual disabilities on rights and responsibility and voice. It had been a really moving experience for me, and, as they always are, it was fun. Several people came to speak to me after the class and thanked me for the workshop. One fellow, sat where he was and was frantically drawing this picture. He brought it to me and shyly handed to me. He said that it showed what he learned from the workshop.

He explained that he listened, got great ideas, got plugged in to his own voice and that he knew he had a responsibility to speak out.

I told him that I loved the picture.

And I did.

And I do.

It's not getting shredded. It's staying here, with me, to remind me again of why I lived the life that I lived and why I made the choices I made and that though I had regrets there have been a lot of celebrations.

I suppose we all go through times when we need to ponder. When the letters that form the word 'listen' rearrange themselves into the word 'silent.' I am still going through that period. It's not a comfortable place to be, but I think I'm well into the journey I need to take. I need to be able to embrace the next part of my life by understanding what came before.

This little piece of paper helped.

And I wanted to share it with you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blog Update

First I need to apologize for not posting for the last week without notification to the many faithful readers of this blog. I am being pulled in many directions, right now, for my time and energy, I'm afraid in that tussle, time for updating Rolling Around in My Head has simply not been there. I don't anticipate being able to get back to writing regularly for a few weeks yet. So, see you in early August.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Head and My Heart Thank the Man Who Was Not Frank

We had parked just outside the hotel and I descended the ramp and made my way to the door. It's an older hotel and it doesn't have automatic doors. There was no one around to ask for help so I simply waited until Joe was ready to join me. Once in, I mentioned to the fellow behind the desk that there were no door openers. He nodded and said that the hotel was due for some renovations and that the door opener was on the list. OK, my mandatory 'by the way' conversation was out of the way.

After check in, I gave Joe the keys and asked if he wanted to join me shopping at a large store nearby. He was done with shopping, as we did some half way through the trip just as an excuse to get out of the van. I said I'd zip off and then meet him back at the room. He said he'd be at least ten minutes unloading the car. I laughed. I don't shop for 10 minutes.

So I went, along the side of the road, then across the road then down the large parking lot towards the store. I had a couple of particular things in mind, found approximations of them, bought them, and headed back. On my way back I worried that there wouldn't be anyone around to help me in. The wait for someone could be long. But when I rounded the corner I saw several people gathered around the door talking, having a few beer and smoking.

I rolled up, all jolly hockey sticks, and said, "Glad you are all here, could someone get the door for me?"

"For fuck's sake," said a bearded and bellied guy, "Don't they have a door button thing?"

:"No," I said, that's why I was glad to see you all."

He grabbed the door and opened it for me, quicker than his size or steadiness would have predicted. Another fellow said, "I'll go get the inside door." Perfect.

As I was going by the second guy, he reached out to give my head a pat, the first guy stopped him short by saying, "Geesssuss Frank keep your hands off him. He's a grown man in a wheelchair not a pet,"

I shouted out 'Thanks,' to the guy behind, but I don't think he heard me over Frank protesting that he was only being friendly. I didn't hear the conversation which continued on as I turned to head to the room.

But, my head, literally and my heart figuratively owe a debt to the man who spoke up.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Tunnel

Photo Description: building underconstruction onf the south east corner of Yonge and Bloor, pedestrian walkways (tunnels) run round the building.
The top part of the route between where we live and where we bank is under construction, on both sides of the street. For the longest while it was just the east side of the street, so we always made sure to travel the west side of the street. Now, construction is impossible to avoid.

To keep all us pedestrians safe, they've crafted wooden tunnels that we need to go through. They look rickety and like they'd never actually stop something heavy that falls from a great height, but they're there and we're supposed to feel secure. I don't think, honestly, about security when I go through them. I just think, 'shit they are narrow.'

All sorts of weird things happen when I go through the tunnels. There is more than adequate room for me to pass on one side and someone else pass on the other. But somehow many people lose their ability to measure space when I come towards them in the wheelchair. They fling themselves against the opposite walk, or put on scaredy-cat faces as they go by as if they are in huge danger. There's room, more than adequate room, but they are freaked out.

Needless to say, I don't like going through the tunnels but, also needless to say, I have to, that is if I'm going to be able to do my banking.

We are travelling again today and so yesterday, after work, Joe and I headed up to the bank. I was in the wooden tunnel and there were two young men coming towards me. They were walking side by side, chatting. They saw me and as they got close one tucked in just a little behind the other. There's nearly enough for two people to pass on that side. (See, I said there was adequate room.) And because he'd moved for me, I said, "Thanks." He said, "It's OK mate, no thanks necessary, you've got as much right to be here as we do." I almost steered into the side of the tunnel.

That's a response I'd not anticipated because I'd never had it.

His voice was casual, as if making this observation was so obvious that it was like a small joke.

On the way back from the bank, as I headed into the tunnel, I heard is voice in my mind, "It's OK, you've got a right to be here." It's amazing the power of positive words. They stay, they stick, they shore up courage, and determination, and belonging.

Because after all, though it's not a joke, I do have a right to be there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Welcome Unexpected

Photo Description: Central United Church in Barrie, surrounded with snow and announcing a pancake breakfast on sign in front of the church.
Yesterday I gave a lecture at the Central United Church in Barrie. I've spoken in many churches before, not at the services but at lectures booked in the sanctuaries. As a small boy I really wanted to be a United Church minister, so it was cool to be asked to do the lecture there. For those from outside Canada, the United Church is a very progressive church, I believe it's still the largest denomination in Canada, and it's welcoming of lgbt people both in the congregation and behind the pulpit. Anyways, I'd been told that the church was accessible, and it was, unexpectedly.

As I said, I've spoken in a lot of churches and attended a lot of churches over the years. For the longest while Joe and I, when in another city on a Sunday, would attend church in that city. We've been in beautiful spaces, taking the time to be quiet and to listen. It's a nice way to spend time when away in another city. As we've got older, though, that's trailed off. Sleeping in became much more attractive and option.

But.

As I said, we've been to a lot of churches.

Accessibility became an issue immediately upon becoming a wheelchair user. Finding a church that one could get it was a challenge. And, there were some interesting conversations about it. Once, at lunch with some folks attending a conference I was presenting at, I spoke to a woman who professed to be a Christian, about the difficulty of finding a church in our area that we could get into, the all had stairs. She looked at me and said, "You know why they have stairs, don't you?" I was startled by the question but said, "I'm guessing it's because they were built in a time when accessibility wasn't even considered as a need or an option." She said, "No, it's because if you were really a Christian you would get out of your wheelchair and walk up those stairs."

Oh.

OK.

But it was very different yesterday. I was able to easily get in the church and then I rolled into the sanctuary. I saw it but it took a second or two to sink in. The pulpit was ramped. A long, beautiful, wooden ramp, with hand rails on either side, spaced perfectly for me to pull myself up. The floor of the church was carpeted, not with thick pile, but with pile that was easy to roll on, but there was no carpet on the ramp. May I say, Hallelujah!! Can I have an Amen! I was easily able to get up onto the platform and give my lecture from where a sermon would be given.

Most churches that are accessible, in my meagre experience, don't consider the possibility that someone with a disability would ever need access to the pulpit or the choir loft. Ever.

It was amazing.

Heavenly even.

Buildings can community welcome or exclusion.

Yesterday, I was full and warmly welcomed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Watcher and the Watched

The evening after we got married, Joe and I, along with Mike, Marissa and the girls, went back to Signs for dinner. We went the first time for the experience of being in a restaurant being served by deaf wait staff and learning sign language as we ordered. We came back because of the sense of welcome, true, but really we came back because of the food. It's really good food. They have a great menu. So all of us decided it would be a wonderful place to go, relax, have fun, and have dinner.

Joe and I arrived early. The ramp is a bit intimidating and I'd never managed it on my own. Joe had never even helped me, it had been Mike helping me both times. But one of the things that you learn as a wheelchair user is that you can't always rely on help being there, you have to push yourself and you have to try to do things on your own before ruling out that possibility.

So I squared myself and made it up the first half of the ramp. But I couldn't make the turn at the top. I rolled back down. I looked at it again and thought that I needed more room on my right to make the turn. Rolling back down I realized that, no, I need room on the left to accommodate the back wheels. Zip. I made the turn. OK, nearly there.

The next section of the ramp is steep. I'm heavy, my power chair doesn't like really steep inclines. But I backed up as much as I could, maybe an inch, and I barely managed to clear the top, but I managed. I was delighted. I did it on my own and I'd made enough errors to learn what works.

It was upon arrival at the top I noticed that a small crowd had gathered on the other side of the street, they, along with patrons who were sitting at the tables inside the restaurant and beside the ramp, had been watching all of this with great interest. I had the immediate sense of being a circus freak. I had the immediate need to simply flee the situation.

But I didn't.

I had to realize that however they saw me, kindly or unkindly, was not relevant to me at that point. What was relevant is that I got up the ramp without assistance. That was the only thing that mattered. Next time there wouldn't be as much of a show. Because I know how to do it.

In the end, the dinner was delicious, the service wonderful, the company fabulous and we had a good time. By the time we left the crowd, now gathered at the back of my mind had receded in proportion and importance.

But I'd be lying if I said, they weren't still there.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Social Violence

For those of you who followed it, we had quite a discussion on this blog regarding yesterday's post. There was a lot of differing opinion and several suggestions, some I liked as ideas, some I could never do. But there was a statement made about me and about what I like and don't like that leads me to want to clear up a misconception that I may have left with you as readers about me and what I need from the social environments in which I find myself.

The comment was about my 'helping' the woman in question and how I don't like unwanted, unasked for help - like with doors. It is very true that I don't like it when people insist on helping me physically when I don't need, or want their help. That is different however, from when I am in a social situation being stared at, laughed at, pointed at, or mocked because of either my disability or my weight. I see this as social violence and I am used to (as some didn't seem to realize yesterday) street harassment on a several times daily basis. It's about my body, it is aimed to hurt and I feel very, very vulnerable in those situations.

But when someone steps in like the guard at the ROM I am completely and totally grateful. The link here is to an article about Ruby, not the guard, but I wanted to mention that guard in the post because what she did is remarkable.

Do you know why it is remarkable?

Because it never happens.

Ever.

Ever.

Ever.

I was in the same museum when a group of young teens were going through and I had to wait until they passed. A goodly percentage of them openly and loudly spoke of me, saying hurtful things. Their teachers heard them, the guards heard them, other people heard them. And no one spoke. Including me. I felt that the silence of others signalled their agreement with the ugly assessment of those teens. I got what I deserved.

I was on a street corner, crowded, waiting for the light to change. I was surrounded. There was a police officer there, waiting for the light with us. One person started talking about the 'ugly laws' and how people like the 'lazy, fat dude in the wheelchair' shouldn't be allowed out. His tone was mocking and it was clear he expected no one to speak up in my favour, to challenge what he was saying. He was right.

I feel alone a lot.

I like it when I don't.

This isn't the same as helping with a door when I don't want it.

Not at all.

Others may feel different, of course, but me - I am in awe whenever someone does something.

Like the guard.

Who did her job.

Because she thought I mattered.