Posted in Being human, joy, medical, music

Who am I when I can’t do…?

Mel wearing headphones with shadows falling over parts of hir face.
Mel wearing headphones with shadows falling over parts of hir face.

I hate being reduced to a pile of medical problems.

I don’t care what guise it comes under, either. I’m not your intriguing case. I’m not a two-dimensional prop in your medical detective story. Or your medical melodrama about brave people who buck the system and discover the truth. Or your very private psychodramas you want to act out with me as little more then a living doll.  And that includes “positive” versions of originally medical ideas — if you reduce me to any diagnosis, no matter how positive you think you’ve changed it into, you’re still reducing me down to something I’m not comfortable being reduced down to. It’s why I’m not comfortable with communities that’ve basically grown out of a single medical label, no matter how they believe they’ve transformed it.  At any rate, if you want to reduce me to medical crap, whether you think it’s good or bad — I’m not fucking interested. If you reduce me or my life to medical issues you’ll rapidly find yourself being ignored or tolerated at best.

But sometimes it seems like things close in, and all there is time and energy to think about is the next medical thing. And I start wondering, is this all there is to me? Is my life just one medical crisis to the next and holding myself together with strings and baling wire in the meantime? You don’t want to know the sanitary conditions I’m living in right now, the compromises I’ve been forced to make for survival. If you’re physically disabled you probably have some idea either from your own life or that of your friends. The shit we do to survive and live free at the same time. It’s criminal that we’re forced to live this way. I have an elderly family member I probably inherited my congenital myasthenia from, they describe crawling around the house when they can’t walk, and can’t get up off the floor, and you don’t want to know how they drive a car sometimes. They’ve coded before, I worry about it happening far from help next time.

Anyway, eventually the world closes in and all you can think about is medical shit. Explaining it to people over and over again. Doing medical shit you need to do to survive. And it feels like there’s nothing left, nothing left to you, everything’s gone.

It’s scary.

And it doesn’t help when that’s essentially how lots of people see you. As just a pile of flesh with a lot of medical problems. You start to go crazy. You start to wonder if there ever was anything more to who you are. Medical shit can fuck with your head in huge ways.

The medical way of seeing us is incomplete. It doesn’t include the things that make us people. Those core things that really matter. So if this shit gets into your head, you can’t see those things about yourself either.

The important parts of the world never go away. They are literally everywhere, embedded in everything. Including us. When we can’t feel them or perceive them, it’s always because something is blocking our view. Not because they’ve gone anywhere.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit we are fed, too. Like that we aren’t real people, not the kind that matter, unless we can make a contribution that fits in with capitalism. Like something that pays money. And people with lots of medical shit that takes over our lives to this extent are seldom fully employed. So that can eat at us too, that knowledge that whatever we contribute to the world will never be good enough to count.

But we do contribute valuable things to the world. Just existing is its own contribution, but people contribute more than our existence. Each one of us is uniquely positioned to make very specific contributions to society, whether we are trying to or not, whether we are aware of it or not. Real contributions often go unnoticed even by the people making them.

And we get so caught up on what we do, that things get unpleasant when all we can do is whatever it takes medically to ensure our continued survival. Who am I when this is all I can do?

At first I fall back on connections to place, people, family, culture. I am a child of Redwood Terrace. I am an Okie and a Minnesota Swede. I am a Californian. The landscape of California, from the cliffs and ocean of the Monterey Bay to the bare yellow grass hills with oak trees, to the redwoods of San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County to the converted swamp / desert / farmland of the San Joaquin Valley to the paved-over orchards of Silicon Valley, these things are burned into my DNA almost, they go in so deep. The graves of my recent ancestors, in Shafter and Wasco cemeteries, places likely to become uninhabitable soon. My father’s grave in the Siskiyous. All the objects my father gave me that point like a giant beacon to who he was, who he is now that he’s merged with love and become something different.

These things are important. Connections are important. And no matter how difficult and dysfunctional our families get, family is always a part of you, a connection you can’t sever, part of who you are. I try to remember my grandfather’s violin, to remind me family is family and the worst things about it can still yield surprising moments of love and beauty.

I’m still the bleakest optimist I know. I can look into a pile of shit and find something worthwhile, but I still don’t shy away from it being a pile of shit. This confuses people. I continue to believe this skill will become vital to the survival of lots of people in the world today, though. Discounting the good or pretending the bad isn’t there will lead to disaster.

Anyway, family, culture, place, they all provide a firmer foundation than what you can do at any given moment. No matter how messed up that family, culture, or place is. But there’s something far more basic and far more important:

You are a small piece of the world. A very particular small piece of the world. You have a place, that’s specific to you and who you are. Everything from your best qualities to your worst faults are part of this. You are connected to everything and everyone else. Who you are and what you do, matters. You are always, always connected to the deepest parts of reality. They are a part of you, you are a part of them. You may not be able to feel that at any given time, but all that means is something’s obscuring your view. This is always there.

You are always so fucking much more than a set of categories, shitty circumstances, or ideas. And more than a set of medical problems or any other kind of problems. You are exactly no more and no less than a tiny expression of the deepest and most beautiful parts of the world.

And if we have anything we are meant to do, it’s to express that the most clearly with the least bullshit obscuring it as we can, which may be the most difficult thing in the world to do, but also the most important. But that’s not something we can or should be constantly freaking out about. Just something to keep in mind.

And sometimes the hardest times bring out the most depth of beauty in the world in weird and unexpected ways. Other times they’re just hard. But the world is a strange place. And you do have an exact and important place within it that nobody else can fill, no matter what anyone tells you, even yourself.This little piece of the world is who you are no matter what you can or can’t do. And this little piece of the world may be little but it’s also important.

I was writing this post, it’s taken me days. And I came across the perfect song to express part of what I’m talking about. I’m a huge Grace Vanderwaal fan for reasons. And she wrote this song that’s about those amazing parts of the world we can just forget are there entirely. And — those amazing parts of the world — we are a part of them, they are a part of us, and that’s who we really are, who we remain, regardless of what we can or can’t do at any given time.

So here’s the music video then the lyrics:

Sit right here, chillin’, level low
Close your eyes and just let it flow
Right next to me I hear your heart beat, beat
When the dial turns up and the music starts playing
We don’t realize in this society
Doesn’t matter how your hair looks or what they are thinking
Just, just what we are finding

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh (hey)
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

The whole crowd seems to like me now
‘Cause they think I’m cool but back when I was in school
They found it very easy to hate me
Funny how always these times are changing
Back then it was so easy to shatter
But now in the end it doesn’t really matter

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh (hey)
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

All of the talk, and the talk from ya
Won’t even matter when the lights come up
All of the talk, and the talk from ya, hey
Open your eyes and just wake up
Do all the things that will matter to ya
Open your eyes and just wake up, woah

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this

You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Wow, that kid has more kitten wisdom packed into her than you normally see in a child.  She reminds me so much of Igor, right down to the ability to unfailingly be exactly who she is, even when she doesn’t appear to know.  (Kitten wisdom is what I call the kind of wisdom that often comes with youth rather than the kind that sometimes grows with age.  And Igor and Grace Vanderwaal have a ton of it.  And remind me of each other in ways I can’t articulate.  Also some of her dancing in that video is perfect.)  And I love that she writes songs about being a child her age rather than just singing artificially weird children’s songs written by adults, or just adult songs.  It’s weird, though, that this should be unusual enough to comment on.

Mel wearing headphones.
Mel wearing headphones again.

Anyway, that place that’s so much more than this is always right here.  And we are always so much more than this, so much more than we’re told we are, so much more than a role or a category or a collection of frigging problems and labels and crap.  Because we’re not separated from that place, ever, we just sometimes feel like we are.  But it’s always there, and we’re always part of it.  The stuff that makes us think we’re not, is all confusion and illusion of various sorts.

redwood terrace fungus 01
A tree with moss and fungus in Redwood Terrace photographed by my best friend.
Posted in Death & Mortality Series

Death & Mortality Series.

Hello, and welcome to the first post in my Death & Mortality series.  You can read my Death and Mortality posts any time with the Death & Mortality Series category on this blog.  This post is essential to understanding the context of any post I make about my experiences and viewpoints around death and mortality, so if you’re able to read it please do.  It will explain what I do mean, what I don’t mean, and why I am planning to write so much about death at all.  And especially this post explains a particular way I do not ever want my posts about death taken or used.  So moving on…

Light shining through the canopy of a redwood forest in San Mateo County.
Canopy of Redwood Terrace with sun shining through.

I have meant for a long time to write a long series of posts about my relationship with death and my own mortality.  But the sensitive and complex nature of the topic has always stopped me.  It’s not the kind of topic where my views can be summed up in a single post.  At the same time, if I posted some of the things I believe and experience, I worry they could be used out of contexts to support viewpoints that have real-world deadly consequences for disabled people.  So I have hesitated to post about it except in certain selective contexts.  And I have let many important things go unsaid.

Because death is an important topic for everyone.  It’s the one thing that all people are guaranteed to experience.  And there are a lot of taboos about even discussing death.  So I want to discuss my relationship with death in detail.

But I also want to say up-front that I speak for nobody but myself and maybe any others who may feel the same as I do.  (It’s not uncommon, but goes largely unspoken.)  And that I never mean to imply that my experiences ought to be the same as another person’s experiences.  Your relationship with death is deeply personal.  Everyone has a different one.  That is not a bad thing.  Lots of people see death very differently than I do.  Lots of people experience their own mortality and that of others in a very different way than I do.  That diversity of experience is probably a good thing.  I in no way intend to say that everyone can or should view their own death or that of of others in the same way I do.

That said, I do have certain views about death that go beyond the personal.  For instance, my views on the way disabled people face ableist assumptions that kill us on a regular basis.  Those are not just my personal views about facing my own mortality.  Those are views that I do think are important on a wider scale than me and people like me, because those ableist ideas are out there killing people every single day.  They have almost killed me more than once.  And I draw a distinction between what’s essentially a political standpoint (my views on death and disability), which is intended to be taken broadly, and things that deal with my very personal, very subjective relationship to death and my own mortality.  Hopefully you can understand there’s a distinction here, even if the two have some overlap.

And it’s that tension between a very private and subjective personal experience, and a political view about ableism that is already killing people, that makes this such a difficult topic for me to discuss.  Because my relationship with death is extremely friendly in nature, my views of death are very positive.  But part of that deadly ableism out there is the idea that disabled people are better off “accepting” death, or just plain better off dead.  And I don’t want my personal acceptance of death to ever in a million years be used to justify the idea that disabled people should just accept our fates to die and not fight for our lives like anyone else would.  That’s not the kind of acceptance I talk about when I talk about my personal acceptance of death, and anyone using my personal acceptance of death to justify DNRs for all disabled or potentially disabled people or something is flagrantly misusing my words out of context to support things I would never support, and will be treated as such.  (And no, I will never have a DNR, that’s not what I mean when I say I accept death.)

But the real reasons I want to talk about death are more related to the unexpected personal experiences I have had along the way.  Far from feeling morbid, my relationship with death has long been extremely life-affirming.  And while it may sound like and dovetail well fo the most part with certain viewpoints out there that are becoming more popular or at least more openly spoken of, there are sometimes differences that are important.  And everyone’s various experiences of these things are important, and not things that should have to be hidden in the shadows to make a death-terrified society comfortable.  Nobody should have to talk about these things in public, but it should be something people can have a public discussion about.

Obviously the topic is also highly emotionally charged for just about everyone.  Most people have strong feelings about death whether they think about it regularly or not.  It’s something everyone encounters and has to grapple with, and everyone responds to in different ways based on everything from personality to culture to personal experiences in life.  Our own mortality shapes us, the loss of loved ones shapes us, and these things can make death an extremely difficult topic.  So does the fact that it’s in many cultures something you’re just not supposed to talk about.  And where there are often rigid views that people are expected to hold.  So I totally understand how emotional and difficult discussions of death can be for people in a huge variety of ways.

Also, my posts may get into specific religious and spiritual views, or things that sound like religious and spiritual views, that are personal to me.   All cultures and religions have extremely varied views on death, and many people are atheist, not religious, or have very specific personal views that don’t follow any particular religious view.  I respect all of those viewpoints and how they can differ both between and among themselves.  Please respect my own views, and that my holding and discussing those views does not mean I am trying to force anyone else to believe the same things I do.  These things are, again, very personal.

All of these things have made making even one of the posts I want to make, very difficult.  But I do want to make a series of posts dealing with death specifically.  And writing this, so you understand the context I’m doing it in, is the first step.  And the step that has kept me from writing any of the others.

I don’t know how fast I will write more posts, or how many I will write.  Whether I write one or dozens, be aware that each is only a small piece of a larger whole.  Some posts may even seem to contradict each other at first glance, especially if you’re unfamiliar with views similar to my own.  (People often expect one view to be clustered with a bunch of other views in a certain way, and my views on just about anything do not tend to follow those expectations very well.  It makes it hard to communicate sometimes.)  Like many people would be a little confused by I completely accept death and even welcome it as an important and beautiful part of life and I want to live as long as I possibly can even at costs other people would find unacceptable coming from the same person.  But those are viewpoints I hold and they don’t actually contradict each other.  And many people assume the only reason someone could possibly want “extraordinary measures” medically is an extreme fear of death — not true either.  So just… please try not to assume too much from a single post, or you’ll get confused.  If I could make one post that summed up everything, it would’ve happened already.

TL;DR:

  • I’m making a series of posts about death and mortality.  I don’t know how long it’s gonna be.  You can find it in my Death & Mortality Series category.
  • Some posts will deal with highly personal views.
  • Some posts will deal with more broad political and ethical views, especially around disability rights and deadly forms of ableism.  When it comes to these broader topics I am going to sometimes say when I think certain views and policies and systems actually harm and kill people.
  • Each of us deals with our own death and mortality differently for a huge number of reasons, and just because I deal with mine a certain way doesn’t mean I’m telling you that you have to deal with yours the same way.
  • I respect the many different cultural, religious, and spiritual perspectives that exist out there regarding death, please respect mine.  In stating mine I’m not trying to say yours are bad or that everyone should share mine.
  • Please understand each post is once piece of a complicated issue.
  • If this is too intense for you, feel free to skip it.
  • This is all extremely important to me.

 

Posted in Things I try to hide

I hide what I don’t know when the blankness is huge.

A lot more of the time than I let anyone realize, most of the world is blank.  Most of what happened is blank.  Most of what is supposed to be background knowledge is blank.  Most of the past is blank. Lots of the present is blank.  Lots of things are blank.

And to let anyone know is terrifying.  Because I don’t want people to ever realize how much I sometimes don’t know at a given time.  I’m afraid of what would happen to me if people knew.

The world starts fresh over and over for me, fresh from a moment.  I start not knowing where I came from or what is happening and I wing it.  Over and over.  I am good at just acting in the moment and not letting on that I feel I just appeared in that moment.

Eventually, eventually it all filters down into awareness, memory, and I can write about it:   I just appeared where I am.  I don’t know how I got here.  I don’t know what led up to here.  Everywhere I look is blankness.  This is a common thing.

And I may not pass as not cognitively disabled but I sure as hell try to gloss over the extent.  And since people don’t expect such level of blankness it works in some circumstances.  I haven’t even managed to convey the half of it.  But I probably never will.  I’ve tried.  Hence this.

So what do I do?

Hold onto a familiar rock and hope that things beyond the rock will be familiar again one day and the world will expand again and not everything will be blank.

Photo on 6-18-18 at 6.24 PM.jpg

When I can remember the rock.