Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween To The Max

(Photograph of a wheelchair using brown dog, with a greying muzzle. His two back legs being supported by a brace and wheels. He is dressed up for Halloween as Max, the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His wheelchair has been decorated as the sleigh that the Grinch, who is sitting on bags of presents he stole from the Whos down in Whoville.)

Every year, around Halloween, I get pictures sent to me of costumes. Usually one's of people who have transformed their wheelchairs or other mobility devices into something fabulous. I like these pictures and the creativity of them.

I'm trying hard to become someone who likes this particular holiday. It helps that Ruby and Sadie love getting dressed up in costumes, it's wonderful to hear their excitement ring down the phone line. Pictures like the one above bring me more into the spirit - even though I see this picture as more political than fanciful - so I suppose I'm getting there.

When I was a young boy and Halloween took over the small town I lived in, I couldn't get into the idea of a day where people dressed up with the idea of looking frightening. As a fat, sissy, uncoordinated boy - people were frightening 365/24/7. There is a relentlessness that comes with being the bullies first choice. There is the tedious predictability that hurt will come, in some form, pretty much every day. The message, 'It gets better,' may seem potent to those of us who made it to adulthood, but it would have been weak encouragement then.

The only thing I found frightening about costumes and masks was that I sometimes couldn't tell who was in what costume. I couldn't locate, track and therefore prepare for danger. I stopped going to Halloween parties and by adulthood had dropped Halloween out of my annual 'to do' list. We like giving out candy, we like helping the kids with their costumes, we like watching children have fun. I want to, always, ensure that my past doesn't influence the present of those vulnerable to my moods and my tempers.

So I won't be wearing a costume this year. I don't have to. Who I am is frightening enough to those who despise difference. I know how this sounds, how this reads, I know there is bitterness in these words. And yet I can't help it sometimes. When I realise the enormity of what was stolen from me by bullies, the culture that created them and the systems that gave them tacit approval, I am bitter. I wanted a childhood of carefree fun, of a world were there someone took a stick and beat the H out of Halloween making something magical ... threats.

Then, after all that, I look at the picture of Max, a dog in costume. I smile at the cleverness with which his costume is created. I marvel at the love that crafted the wheelchair. But it's his face that I truly love looking at. You can tell well loved dogs, you can tell. He is well loved. He has been petted and cuddled. He may be dressed up as Max the Dog, but he's really wearing a more subtle costume, 'The Dog Who Is Loved,' and that's perhaps an even better costume to wear.


Anonymous said...

Personally I object to that being done to the dog. He didn't ask for it, it holds no value to him, it does not make his life easier or more enjoyable - it is the complete folly of his owners. I further object because it is being done to a "disabled" dog. One who depends even more on his caregivers and can't run away from the costume. I am a cat and dog owner. I know my dog dislikes having things behind him. I'm sure the dog is use to his cart - which has made his world more accessible - but all that stuff moving, jiggling, adding weight - not to mention the tied on antlers. No - I don't think this is "fun" at all. I do think it is scary - but for all the wrong reasons. I'm sure if there was a person in a wheelchair who couldn't not speak or act for themselves - and they were all decked out for halloween without any comprehension of what that means - we would be horrified. Objectified in order for others to have amusement under the guise of "inclusion". Hmmmm...that stinks of bullying. I'm not saying the dog is not "loved" - but this just is not right.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, a really thoughtful comment that gives me much to think about. I think I thought of my dog Eric, who loved wearing his collar that looked like a business tie. He would sit up proud and loved the attention that came from it. He would get all excited about wearing it. When it finally wore out I think he missed it. Perhaps I should have thought more about the image in general rather than what it meant to me and what memories it brought back of Eric. I don't think that, because a dog has a disability, he wouldn't be able to 'run away' or to communicate his displeasure, and I hope that the people who have him, love him, wouldn't do to him something he found dreadful. But, in any case, I am glad you wrote, I will think more deeply about 'representation' in the images I choose. I admit, I just quickly feel in love with the look on the pooches face.

Karen said...

Anonymous, I find it wholly objectionable that you made a comparison between an animal with a disability and a person with a significant disability. You seem to be more concerned about the rights of the animal than you do with the rights of those with significant disabilities to be seen as FULLY HUMAN. That dog could be put down because of his disability, and many would have. The idea you suggests leads to people making similar comparisons and coming up with similar solutions.

I'm sorry to be ranting but that cheesed me off.

Dave, these comments now run the danger of discussing Max and not what you wrote about. I am sorry that you had your childhood taken from you by bullies. My was too. I don't often think about it, but when I do the sense of loss is keenly felt.

Anonymous said...

Dave - I can see how you would be drawn to the face of the dog. What a lovely face. And as I said, no doubt he is loved. Thank you for your sensitive remarks. As to Eric, I'm sure he wore his collar with pride - but you have to admit - bit of a difference between a collar and a sleigh and antlers. :-) Don't want to be a grinch here!!! :-)

Karen - I think we may be feeling the same thing in a different matter. I am concerned deeply with the rights of those with significant disabilities - so much so I wouldn't want them dressed up for sport when they don't have significant understanding. Being fully human doesn't mean being degraded. Included in festivities and enjoying moments sure - but my heart would break seeing someone who obviously doesn't have the mental ability to comprehend being paraded up and down and street with items on and around them for the delight of others. If it brought the individual some fun - a wee smile - bring it on. I certainly did not even want to hint at comparing the "putting down" of either. I am surprised that you lept there - but please be assured - not my intention.

Andrea S. said...

Some people seem to have a strange tendency to read ANY expression of concern about the welfare and well being of ANY non-human animal as somehow reflecting lack of concern for humans.

Just because a person is concerned for the well being of an animal doesn't mean that they aren't also just as concerned for the well being of humans as well. I promise you it is possible to be concerned about both animals and humans simultaneously. It is not necessary to devalue one to be concerned for the other. Not if your heart is big enough. In fact, there is some research that implies that people who abuse animals may often abuse humans as well. Whereas people kind to animals are more likely to be kind to humans as well. I'm sure there may be some exceptions to these general trends ("trends", after all, only imply general patterns of behavior not universal laws of physics), but the trend seems to be there.

Doesn't it make sense that respecting the rights and well being of one kind of animal would be linked in certain ways to respecting the rights and well being of other animals as well? You forget that HUMANS ARE ANIMALS ALSO.

To Dave: Thank you for so often in your blog sharing your childhood experiences with bullying and, particularly, how it continues to impact you today as an adult. I have been learning about the long term repercussions through your blog--the loss of childhood, and the way that the need for constant vigilance for so much of your childhood can color the way you respond to things, such as costumes, that at first glance don't initially seem linked. Thank you for being so willing to share and to teach.

Ettina said...

"Anonymous, I find it wholly objectionable that you made a comparison between an animal with a disability and a person with a significant disability. You seem to be more concerned about the rights of the animal than you do with the rights of those with significant disabilities to be seen as FULLY HUMAN."

I find it objectionable that any comparison between humans and animals gets taken as devaluing the humans. I value my cats as much as I'd value a child. They are not human, and shouldn't be treated as humans, but in my opinion they do have the same inherent value as any human does.

And Amanda Baggs has noticed that the same people who relate to animals in a problematic way also tend to relate to disabled people in similar ways:

Anonymous said...

Dave, I have always dreaded Holloween for many of the same reasons you wrote about. I had to work very hard not to pass my dislike of the holiday to my children (and believe me it was not easy). As for the comments about the rights of animals vs. the rights of humans: I just want to say that I believe the rights of any and all living beings to be of importance and have never noted you to write anything contrary to that.

Cindy B. said...

Under the heading of Halloween costumes, I don't know if you have seen this one yet - the little guy looks quite pleased with what his dad did for him.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I do hereby admit that I wish I had not written this post, used the piccture or shared something so personal. I am without Internet access or I would take it down.

Princeton Posse said...

But Dave, such interesting discussion! Food for thought, don't regret anything!

CapriUni said...

As someone who, by whatever strange twist of Fate, was rarely bullied by other children, but often bullied by adults in authority, I always found Halloween costumes fun (and Halloween also turned the tables, and gave me, the child, the authority -- for a little while).

Costumes let me take off the "mask" that Society keeps strapping to my face (poor little, suffering, angel with a disability), and instead let me put on an identity of my own choosing (at least for one night) -- Clown, Indian Maiden, Queen on her Throne, Alien-in-a-Spaceship, etc..

These days, I'm better at thinking up costumes than I am at bringing them to fruition; some day, I still want to [convincingly] dress up as a rainbow-with-a-pot-of-gold (and I could even give out appropriately themed candy -- like those chocolate "gold coins") ;-)

For many years, I've had ambivalent feelings about costumes that cover or "hide" a wheelchair. But now, I've come to see the wheelchair as a ready-made scaffolding for a parade float, and I can go through the world for one night as a Parade of One.

Anonymous said...


please do not take this post down. I am thankful for all the points that came up in this comment section. I always learn something about the values people have for humans and animals.

Do not doubt something that you wrote from a feeling you wanted to communicate. The world would be a poorer place if all tried to shy away from all our feelings.

Julia (who generally is annoyed by Halloween today but for a lot of different reasons)

"If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died" Nickelback

Tamara said...

I'm sorry you feel like you want to take it down. I thought it was a very good post. And I think it's great to remind people about bullying and its impacts. And the most powerful way to do that is to talk about personal experiences. Wouldn't blame you for not wanting to put it "out there", but I think it can help others when you do.

I also think your point about "it gets better" is one that should be made more often - and much more loudly.

But, there's the dog picture ... Honestly, it seems to me that making a judgement about how a dog (or a person) feels about something from one little picture is a bit unfair. We don't know the dog. We don't know the owner. We have no context.

But , I think we do know that this dog has an owner that has made the world more accessible to him/her. The dog seems truly loved, and I would prefer to bet that the owner understands his dog and wouldn't do anything to him/with him that would cause him any misery or humiliation.

I would prefer to think that if we had the opportunity to see a video, we would see a dog happy and enjoying some extra attention from his costume ...

Cynthia F. said...

I'm very glad you shared, Dave, this post was another reminder to me to be vigilant as a parent to make sure my son and his friends are not bullying others - or that I'm making sure there is zero official or unofficial tolerance if they are being bullied.

As I read it I was also reflecting that when I see your picture - on the rare occasions when you post one - you look quite loved these days, for which I am very glad.

Anonymous said...

Dave - please don't take down the post. It is interesting. It is educational. You open the drapes to windows many of us don't ususally look through or are even trepid about doing so. It is your gift. (Thus all the nominations for your blog!!)

I'm sure many can relate to your experiences with costumes and masks - of various types. Many love hiding behind facades which can be "fun" but also "deadly". It is only through such truths can the "bad" be revealed. Kudos.