Friday, March 06, 2015

Hamish's Bark

A long while ago I wrote about the only exercise I do with audience about how it feels to live with a disability, is the "My Dog Hamish" one. I don't like the 'ride around in a wheelchair one' or 'blindfold yourself one' or any of the others that have people attempting to take on the physicality of disability. I think those send entirely the wrong messages and further contribute to the 'better dead than disabled' attitude that many have. But I've written about all that. I'm bringing this up because a few days ago, My Dog Hamish was a huge service to me. Helped by something I created for others to understand a bit about disability.

Some of you may be scratching your head about exactly what "My Dog Hamish" is ... so let me fill you in if you don't remember. I use it in one particular workshop I do. I draw a picture of a dog, under the dog I write the sentence, "My Dog Hamish Has Blue Eyes." The job of those in the workshop is to write a couple of sentences about Hamish and his Blue Eyes but without using the letter 'e'. Drawings and graphics and gestures are not allowed. The point to the exercise is that having a disability means living a life where you ... adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt adapt and adapt. You constantly have to adapt to the environments, social and structural, where you are. I was on the phone with my mother last night, also a wheelchair user, and she was talking about the differing carpets in the differing casinos on the Island and which are rollable and which are not. This is a conversation that people who walk may never even realize happens. So, the message is that it's tiring and sometimes frustrating but eventually you find a way to do it.

So, back to what happened.

I've been losing a skill, forgive me for deciding not to share the exact nature of this skill, over the last few months. I've had to ask Joe for help more and more often. He's really, really good about it. I'm not though. I don't want to lose this skill, I don't want to need help with it. In fact, while Joe is being nice, I'm often not so nice and not so easy to help. Joe, I know, understands that my mood isn't about him it's about the changing circumstances.


I was about to try again, was prepared to fail again, when I thought of Hamish. I pictured him clearly as if he were a real dog, not an awful drawing of one, sitting looking at me. In my mind he looked and me and said, "Adapt!"

So, I thought for a second. I had to throw away the way I had been doing this particular thing. It wasn't working well for me any more. Then I had to look at what the end result was and decide to change up how I was getting there, develop a new pathway. I tried something, quite simple, but also quite different, and ... it worked. I wanted to wait to see if that was a 'one off' ... and it isn't. It works every time.

I've got the skill back.

Thanks to a dog called Hamish, with blue eyes, and who's bark sounds an awful lot like, "Adapt!"


CapriUni said...

What a great exercise, Dave (both in your workshops, and in your changing life). ...I, too, have been slowly losing abilities, as I age, and have had to adapt my ways of receiving help. I agree with you -- it's not easy!

In the meantime, what are the details of this particular exercise? Is there a minimum number of words?

I have several friends in my online social circles who are interested in Disability awareness and also happen to be writers. I think they'd enjoy taking on this challenge.

Anonymous said...

love this!!!

clairesmum said...

On a lesser scale - six months ago i left the house where I had lived for 30 yrs and moved across the US to rejoin my spouse, who had been here for work for 7 months. Just creating and adjusting to new routines in an apartment took about 3 months - humbling to keep losing items in this small space and finding them right in plain sight - until my brain absorbed all of the changes and I could do a daily routine without full attention/anxiety. Now I am exploring the new places and trying to meet new people...and slowly feeling that I can build a new life here. I'd always lived in the same state, so this has been a radical change/loss for me. Not the same as permanent loss of physical abilities or health, I know.

Dave Hingsburger said...

CapriUni ... there aren't many details. I do the drawing, making sure I have a blue marker for the eyes ... write under it 'My dog Hamish has blue eyes.' The audience is told that they have to write a short two or three line paragraph about Hamish and his blue eyes.No drawings or pictograms, no guestures or sign language, just the written word. That's it. They can do it as individuals or as pairs or groups as they decide. Everyone gets it, but it's work.

CapriUni said...

@ Dave -- Thanks! A lot of writing exercise challenges have specific word-count requirements, and that, alone, can effect how challenging they are (ever try writing a complete short story with exactly 100 words [called a "drabble"]? Oy!)

@ Clairesmom -- Wow! You've had a big year! Congratulations for "rounding the corner" to where you can see "The light at the end of the tunnel."

And, please, don't dismiss your own sense of difficulty, or the work you've done, adapting to it, simply because it doesn't show on the outside, or is a topic that gets addressed in TV Movie Specials.

For one thing, I get really uncomfortable with the implicit "pyramids of suffering" our culture likes to erect (often, because I have a visible, physical disability, and folks want to stick me at the bottom [or should that be 'top'?], as worst off). And for another thing, our culture puts too little value in social connections and friendships as it is. Humans did not evolve to live like porcupines or polar bears -- we need community.

You deserve empathy for your homesickness, and congratulations for adapting -- And when you go out with a new friend for coffee (or any social beverage of your choice), you also deserve to get a treat with that, to celebrate!