Today is both Love Thursday and Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008. I find myself with an embarrassment of riches, topic-wise. So many things, oddly, relate to both! It may not be clear how this can be true. But "disablism" is prejudice against people with disabilities, while love, of course, has little to do with any such thing and must combat disablism or any other unkind prejudice by its very nature.
There are so many topics I could have discussed just for BADD '08. I thought about blogging about my own personal winter of disability, how often, unlike in years previous, I actually thought of myself as a person with a disability and what I did about it. Sometimes the disability was in me. Sometimes, on the other hand, it was more the "social model of disability" I was battling. Perhaps, I thought, I would show you what it looks like when a town properly and dutifully installs ramped curb cuts at every crosswalk but then doesn't maintain them as vigilantly as the streets when it snows, not even at the height of the holiday shopping season, not even three blocks away from the main library. (Click to enlarge for full sense of daunting.)
Then I thought I would amuse you with my experiences this winter using local parking reserved for the disabled. For example, if you are as big a fan of Ms. AmpuT as I am, perhaps you remember this lovely sign, which is in fact posted here on the west side of my undeniably delightful town. It and its identical twin grace two spaces in the parking lot for my favorite local bakery and café.
However, the other day I noticed something funny. Across the parking lot, in front of the clever design house Swing, are two more spaces (three when it snows and the yellow lane demarcations are obscured) reserved for people with disabilities, and they look from a distance as though they bear the exact same signage.
On closer inspection, though, it is clear that though they once might have been identical, they are no longer.
That's a lot of reserved parking, and it is wonderful to see. But yes, on this side of the parking lot only, someone has gone to the trouble to paint over the words "Don't cry if towed and fined." My true love and I laugh about this and wonder why it is so. Ironically, while I often see vehicles bearing no special permit parking in these spaces ("for just a minute while I [fill in the blank]," no doubt), including one very nice Mercedes I'm still looking to photograph in the act, I never ever see anyone who shouldn't park in spaces marked by the signs with the original wording intact. Go figure.
But here's the thing. While all of this makes funny fodder for the purpose of opening conversations about disablism, it is hard to say what it has to do with love. True, as we have discussed previously, a genuinely loving culture cares for and protects everyone in it, or at least tries. However, I strongly feel that a personal practice of love and compassion is most constructive when it not only allows us to see injustice or unfairness or simple absurdity and argue for better, but also when it allows us to see something that is already right and share it with others, or at least to share a vision of something that can be right, all on its own, even if it's just a terribly small thing.
And that's how I hit on what I want to talk about today, Love Thursday and also Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008: just a small possibility.
Awhile back, esteemed correspondent Elizabeth McClung raved a bit about the perfection of badminton as a wheelchair sport and encouraged others to pick it up. Continuing a theme, her readers began a discussion of other sports a wide spectrum of able-bodied and disabled people could enjoy together. Inevitably, even though it is not the kind of team sport Elizabeth meant to discuss but more an individual practice, ever adaptable yoga was mentioned. And then I mentioned tai chi.
I suggested to Elizabeth's esteemed correspondent LilWatcherGirl, who had described herself in comments as an "EDS-er" (person with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) with proprioception issues and dyslexia, that she might want to look into it. And later, I wondered if this had been presumptuous. What the hell do I know about either tai chi or EDS? That's right! Absolutely nothing!
Among his many other fine attributes, however, my true love just happens to be a tai chi student and teacher. He teaches privately, and also through a continuing program at the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts, in the dance studio there almost every Saturday morning from September into May.
We have had many discussions about yoga and tai chi, comparing and contrasting them. I don't really view yoga as a sport, precisely, but contrary to the belief of many, tai chi is a real, live martial art, not just a woo-woo New Age movement practice. One of the things yoga and tai chi have in common is that they are about energy, about channeling it and maximizing it through the body and the mind. Another thing they have in common is the diversity of practitioners, and the diversity of teaching styles.
I think I have mentioned in comments here before that, although it is eminently adaptable, and although you can even see on page 77 of the January/February 2006 issue of Yoga Journal a photograph of the much respected yogi Sri B.K.S. Iyengar assisting a female transfemoral amputee such as myself with a Warrior Pose at a conference in Colorado, it is nevertheless very difficult to find yoga instructors who are willing to take on people with discernible physical disabilities. Some of this is fear of liability if we are injured while in class, because another big part of this is that most teachers really don't know what to do with us. I've also read and heard of yogis explaining that you can't really get real yoga unless you have all your limbs in good working order.
As the English say, bollocks.
Now, look. I am not a Yogi. I am an adaptive yoga practitioner. I am also not Hindu and don't speak Sanskrit. I am not trying to get to Nirvana from this incarnation; I don't even believe in god(s). So I am not going to argue with anyone whether or not it is possible for me to be missing a leg and also become a "real" Yogi, because I think it's a stupid, pointless argument. Yoga or yoga-derived practices of mind and body are things I have pursued to make myself stronger and freer.
In our extensive discussions, I have told my true love all about all of this. And guess what? These reasons I study Yoga? These are also some major reasons (besides also, for example, being able to take down an attacker in a dark alley) that people pursue study of various martial arts, including tai chi. And this is why my true love is always, always, always trying to recruit people to tai chi specifically, especially people with various physical infirmities.
My true love is convinced that tai chi is the antidote to a wide range of complaints! Flat feet? Take tai chi! Aching back? Again, tai chi is the answer! Chronic headaches? Fibromyalgia? Arthritis? Cancer? Tai chi, tai chi, tai chi, tai chi! Okay, not the answer. My true love is not stupid or insensitive. He just thinks tai chi can do you a lot of good, no matter who you are, and I must concede that medical studies increasingly bear out his point.
(Well, they're starting to. My true love wishes to point out that he is as yet unaware of any studies linking tai chi to health benefits for cancer patients or people with flat feet.)
He's serious in his belief, and he spends a lot of time thinking about this. Last time we were in my prosthetist's waiting room, we were even talking about how he could teach tai chi to amputees. I had to stand up to demonstrate the different ways that lower-limb amputees use knees both organic and mechanical and balance between them, different from whole-bodied people, I mean. "Ah, I see," he said, and then the wheels began whirring in his head, visibly, almost audibly, and I went back to reading my book and absentmindedly dripping iced coffee all over my T-shirt.
Bear in mind that my true love does not have any amputated students, nor have any amputees yet contacted him about lessons. He was just thinking about the possibilities.
So that day when I actually made so bold as to suggest tai chi as a possible physical outlet even for an "EDS-er," and then immediately had doubts about whether or not I should have done that, what could be more natural than to ask my true love directly?
I told him what I'd done, and of my doubts. "So, what do you think? Was I telling the truth? Could a wheelchair user get something out of tai chi? How 'bout someone with dystonia, cerebral palsy, paralysis? I mean, I know they aren't going to become martial arts masters, like, Jackie Chan level or whatever, but do you think it would actually do them some good?"
"Sure!" He said this without hesitation. "You know, most of my students aren't going to get to that level. For that matter, neither am I," he added with a little laugh. "It's practically impossible for a person starting as an adult to really become a true master. You have to start when you're really little, like they do in Chen Village [where tai chi originated] and practice all day, every day, for years. But what difference does it make? You can still get something out of it."
"So how 'bout you personally? Would you teach a person with disabilities?"
"Sure! I'll teach anyone who shows up!"
"Yeah! Why not?"
"Well, what if they can't do much?"
"I'll teach 'em whatever they can learn. 'Cause that's what it's about, you know, doing what you can do, not worrying about whatever levels you're never going to reach."
"So what exactly would be the point of someone who was maybe barely mobile studying tai chi? What could this person expect to get out of it?"
He replied -- and I asked him to write it down for me today, because this other conversation took place a whole brain surgery ago and I just couldn't remember exactly what he said -- "That's a good point. Taiji is a whole body movement. You use everything, the arms, the rib cage, the abdomen, the hips and the legs. If you couldn't move [anything at all], it's not the right thing for you. However, if you can breathe, and move even just your shoulders, it can help strengthen what you have. Everything else is bonus."
So. You "heard" him, right here. My true love said he will teach tai chi to anyone who shows up, no matter what their physical condition might be, though he does feel that you should be able to at least breathe and move your shoulders in order to feel the benefit. (To sign up for classes, which are ending for the season very soon but will start up again in the fall, contact Emerson Umbrella for the Arts or e-mail me privately and I will forward your information.)
This, obviously, is the opposite of disablism. This is also another of the many faces of love. This one is actually two faces in one: passionate love for a particular sport or practice and also that generous love for other people that causes us to wish everyone maximum opportunities, to believe in the existence of possibilities and to desire to help make them realities, even if we don't know what they are yet, and to act on that desire in our everyday lives just as a matter of course.
I just wanted to point that out. Sure, I also have complaints and lectures and all kinds of snarky ridicule to deliver on all kinds of related topics at some other point in the future, but look: here is one tiny thing that's good, one teacher who gets it -- and I'll bet there are others. (There must be others. Please feel free to talk about any you know in comments, and to provide links where available.)
And that, my friends, is my contribution for today. I know it's a steaming pile of disorganized rambling, and I apologize for that, but my weak excuses are that I am very tired and also that I started out with way too many ideas. If you've gotten this far, thank you, and happy Love Thursday, but also happy BADD '08. Now I'm off to read what others have written to celebrate the day on both counts.