There’s Still Cake
Once, in a hospital, a tech said to me, “If you throw a pity party, nobody comes.” I had just received bad news about my health and lifetime prognosis. I suppose it was her strange way to say, “Buck up, kid.” I have often thought of that hospital tech and her statement to me. It seems that stigma rears its ugly head here. When faced with the fear of another’s anguish, the “buck up” approach may serve to distance and appease an observer’s discomfort. I, too, find it difficult to sit with my own impotence to remediate another’s painful reality. What do we say as we bear witness to the complex expression of sorrow? I suggest saying something other than, “If you throw a pity party, nobody comes.”
In fact, I have found this to be profoundly untrue. For me, pity parties have served as a vital survival mechanism in balance with many other mechanisms. In my experience, everyone can bring something to a lamentation party, be their pities “large” or “small” relative to others. Each personal crisis or tragedy is real and vital to s/he who brings it. The problem is not that nobody comes to a pity party. The issue I can see is that not everybody wants to leave it. I take a tactical approach to the concept of “pity parties.” I have developed kits for hosting the perfect, time-limited pity party, with guidelines, custom tissues, and decorations. Perhaps a piñata? I am up for suggestions. But of course, there’s cake.
In 2007 after being struck and crushed by a car, I gained a visible identity, “Disabled,” along with many of the social stigmas of life inside the blue box of a wheelchair symbol. I have been playing with ways to shift the viewer’s expectations of a disabled identity. These photographic works are set in an everyday landscape where tasks are usually proscribed and predictable. Bathing Independence, below, examines one aspect of my life with disability. I find getting out of a bathtub can be source of both difficulty and humor. The text borrows from a form I have faced on “Activities of Daily Living.” There are only two answers to each category (Cat 1: Bathing). It asks, “Independent…. yes / no?” I ask a more complex question, “What can it be like to have no independent way out of a bathtub?” As I take an unconventional and awkward exit from the tub, I reclaim control, confirming that we can adapt to new circumstances through our creative potentials.
In the performance, video, and performance still series Defining Tough, I ponder how a mobility scooter can be a sign of toughness and virility. By putting my scooter (“Pride Mobility” brand) at the front of the pack, I am redefining toughness and pride on my own new terms. One true sense of strength is daring to be different, to risk being judged, and to know when to draw on one’s resources. I extend a special thank you to my friends from Firebase Fairfax and Rolling Thunder, who are strong, daring, and fun.