Monday, May 07, 2007


Writing a post on a blog every day is a new challenge to me. It was easy for the first, say 100, posts. But then I had to tax my memory for nuggets and I found myself paying very, very close attention to what was going on in my world. As they say, "everything is copy" and that became really true for me. I store images away and hope that they will come together in an interesting way.

I was thinking about this last Sunday when we were downtown Toronto. I got the urge for a veggie dog and Toronto hot dog venders have the best in the world. We headed to a cart that we knew on Queen and Spadina. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had the windows down and the music up. We both felt 16 again - except in a much nicer car. We both still miss the dogs like crazy but we gleefully point out pooches we see on the sidewalk.

"Look, quick, over there," Joe said excitedly and I glanced to see a brindle dog of an interesting lineage. The dog was running with an odd lope. Then I saw that his bag right leg was missing. Gone. His gait was an adaption for his disability. But there he was, running hell bent for leather down the sidewalk. He glanced back, like something was chasing him, and I swear he smiled. Then he disappeared down an alleyway and was gone.

It was such a powerful image to me but I didn't know how to use it. I loved the fact that his 'dogness' was not even slightly compromized even though he was missing 25% of his legs. Sure, he'd adapted for the loss physically but psychologically, he was still just a dog. It was beyond cool.

I thought of the dog again when Joe and I went computer shopping the other day. I'm going to get a wireless laptop and we went into a store that sells electronics. These stores intimidate me and I immediately feel slow and stupid. Especially when kids, not old enough to shave, talk to me in a language I don't understand about things so abstract to have no meaning to me. I don't think I would have noticed at first if I hadn't been in the chair. He held his hands oddly as he spoke. Since my eyes were even with where his hands were I saw that one of the hands was formed very differently than the other. He did everything he could to keep that hand out of view. I understood why, I'm sure he has a long history of stories about that hand and the social reception it's gotten.

But I needed his help in getting to the computer I was interested in and he had to use that hand to pick it up. He blushed. I don't know if it was shame or fear, or maybe both. But I didn't give two whits about the hand, I just wanted to see the computer. So we talked and decided to buy a computer that we then find is out of stock. Great. But as we thanked him and left the store I just wished for a second he could have seen that dog running down the street. Just running. Just being a dog. To hell with everything but dogness.

Again I thought of that dog when I was at the Vermont conference, after my first presentation to people with disabilities a woman came up to speak to me. She typed on a keyboard faster than it should be legally allowed and then held the keyboard up and a voice spoke. She asked a question about the presentation. Then she said, "I like your blog" and introduced herself as Ballastexistenz. I flipped. I love her blog and told her so. She's a brilliant writer because she's a brilliant thinker. It was an honour to meet her.

We agreed to talk again later and we did. We actually managed to have a couple very long chats. The fact that a communication devise was used made no difference to the flow of the conversation and the sharing of ideas. It was exciting to talk with someone who views the world in a similar manner, who understands the nature of prejudice and further has a keen sense of personhood in a world that robs people with disabilities of that status. It was transformative. With a suddenness that is unusual to me, I trusted her and shared things I don't tell most. It was so easy to just 'be' with her.

Then, I remembered the dog.


Adapting with every step to a disability never forgotten but seldom remembered. For awhile I thought that that kind of 'state of being' was a 'state of mind' forbidden to us as humans.

I was wrong.


All 4 My Gals said...

At first I thought I was going to be reading about veggie dogs. :)

Part of my initiative to try to take better care of myself (I tend to get lost in the care of my 4 little girls) is to use my brain daily.

Thanks for making that an easy thing to do. Your blogging stays on my mind all day!

Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of a duck that I used to feed on the neighborhood park when I was nine. Its top beak was broken. However, it was the fastest of all ducks to get to the food we tossed them. So that duck had its own way to make up for its disability. I really loved that duck and still have a picture of it.

Anonymous said...

I'll take that as a compliment. I'm always telling people dogs have a much better attitude towards disability than humans do.

n. said...

i like the "dogness" story too. and i want to add that i have also met Ballastexistenz face2face, and she is one of the most Real people i know.

Anonymous said...

I've always noticed that there are many birds and animals in the world who, if human, would be defined as disabled, but like this dog find a way to be themselves in spite of whatever difference they are dealing with. I often wonder if one of the reasons they seem to succeed so well is that none of others in their species takes over their lives for them but let them get on the best they can in their circumstances and let them just be dogs. Maybe that's one of the mistakes we humans are making. We can't let others "just" be human.

Anonymous said...

"NEver forgotten but seldom remembered".....

Wrong metaphor.
I myself am fairly severely visually-impaired (admittedly a very different demographic than the autistic spectrum folks, etc...), but somewhat similar in overall dynamics, in that it causes me to relate to the world in a markedly different way than I might otherwise do, if I was "normal" along that particular axis.

Anyway, I just wandered on over from ballastexistenz's blog (which I read because she is, as you said, a brilliant thinker, and inquires into stuff that everybody else seems to take for granted, among other reasons)....and I felt it was neccesary to correct you on your viewpoint in this instance.

First, it's completely innapropriate to assume that the dog was "adapting" to anything -- his "disability" included. How do you know that the dog wasn't born that way? The reason I bring this up is an observating I've made regarding those who are born visually-impaired, and those who become blind or suchlike, later in life. QUite frankly, I don't regard those born with a given characteristic (even one labeled as a "disability" ) as "adapting to" anything. Rather, they are just learning to do stuff with whatever their characteristics happen to be at any given time. There's no preconception as to what those characteristics "should" be, and most importantly, no reference model to which they're comparing themselves. Do I 'adapt" to my level of musculature simply because Arnold Schwartenegger's musculature is larger? No. To say that the dog's reaction is an "adaptation" is to make the claim that there is neccesarily some pre-existing "norm" from which it has changed.

This phenomenon is really prevalent with those who ahve been born blind, and those who are "impaired" later in life. Notice that their level of functionality tends to be radically different, even when they have the same level of "disability".

In the former case, those "born that way" aren't "adapting" to anything -- they're just learning to do stuff in a given situation, with no comparative frame of reference.

In the case of those who are "disabled" later in life, they have a whole antecedent context built up where what they know how to do is dependent on a particular level of attributes which -- through their ubiquity -- have been "normalized" in terms of the person's life. They've learned to do stuff via a specific set of attributes, and when any of those attributes are changed, THEN "adaptation" is required. They are the ones who are "compensating" for a previous state of affairs which no longer obtains.

In the case of those born "different", there is no such "adaptation" -- rather, they just learn stuff in relation to "how stuff is" for them. If they were (for example) to have their characteristics radically changed (for example, a "cure" for autism), THEN they'd have to "adapt" to the new state of affairs.

Okay, so this was hairsplitting of the worst kind.....sue me :)