Thursday 3 July 2014

Dear Able People: Wearing the Inside Out by Jerry Garcia

Dear Able People:
Wearing the Inside Out
by Jerry Garcia

The alarm was all afire with notification. No time to stretch and lounge in bed. No time to observe morning’s light passage through blinds or to hear the call of frisky birds. There was just enough time to limp into the kitchen and start the coffee before turning on water for a prolonged hot shower. All the while, nerves flared like hot prongs in an alloy plant. Too many days of waking this way made me weary.

Avascular necrosis of the hip plagued me, destroying mood and motion. A degeneration of the joint, hardly understood, caused the friction of bone grinding on bone. At night, whisky and pot hardly masked the pain, though they did induce a nice oblivion, alone, stoned in front of the television set, I could take my rest. Nor were the NSAIDs effective at that progression of the condition; Advil, Naprosyn, Aspirin were lackluster performers. Cocaine worked best, but that eventually enslaved me into a hapless, moneyless man with bad teeth. So the long hot shower soothed me and prepared me for the day of physical and social encumbrances.

After the shower I managed to dress appropriately for the day and drive myself to work. How to dress became overbearing. I feared not to wear coat and tie, because that was what my family thought proper work attire to be. The pressure remained to be traditional, but that was a conformity which was on the other shoe. Formal dress was not the fashion of my industry, unless I aspired to be a deal-maker. I did not. I considered myself a craftsman though I didn’t use hammer and saw. As a film editor I brought images together, matching and contrasting, pacing and defining significance.

There was a “hip” factor to contend with; the irony should be clear that while my disease centered in my arthritic joints, my mind also strove for that elusive social distinction to rise above the pack. Limping and contorting were not the distinction that qualified me. I would listen to music and wear clothes from the latest fashion rack to join the current crowd of coolness, but felt that was all negated with my limp and awkward stance. It was just as well that I chose not to deal with the tie and the clasp, lapels and creased slacks, because it was difficult not to be self-conscious while walking around the editing room with a wide-gate limp. Fortunately, perhaps, I had earned a reputation for my work ethic, and acquired valuable skill-sets prior to my hips starting to degrade.

I had a respectable job working with elite advertisers and filmmakers. I worked in a fast world where people tripped over one another to score for their team. Being sidelined by the rush of a purposeful coworker or laughed at in the grimace of my reaction was one and the same. Every man would make his own observations, whether or not he followed the groupthink of the day. People stared, some asked, some confided. I did not wish to make anyone live my pain, but the manner in which someone reacted was as important to me as how he talked. And there lay the conundrum: was I belittled or just not as good?

My bone disease had started during my apprentice years, when I was eager to learn the trade. Coming on as a weakness and a dull throb, often after bicycle riding or hiking, it later developed into throbbing and sharpness in both hips. But I never lost a day of work due to the pain; I managed to power through. It could be quite debilitating for some, but for me it was important that I stayed on the path to success. Film projects were hurried with strict deadlines, it was not possible to take time off, as long as I could hobble through the day. Succumbing to the pain would completely destroy the future to which I aspired. The fear of being replaced or forgotten loomed.

I don’t think that makes me better than those who deal with their pain differently. But it makes me an example of a person who is dedicated to career over his own body. Perhaps that is not fair to myself. It also makes me a mess to live with. Depending on which pain treatment I use when I get home, moods swing and reactions flare. That makes it unfair to others.

So I learned to carry film cans three at a time because I was no longer capable of hoisting 60 pounds across a room. As I labored at the craft I love, I listened to others complain about the wheelchair-bound beggar on the street and lovingly joke about a colleague who hobbles on crutches because he broke his leg skiing. I understand that there is a difference as I watch and listen as the disabled are displaced and ignored. I frown at the pain and moreso the evidence of ableism and wonder what has been said behind my back.

Jerry Garcia is a poet, photographer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, California who earns his living as a producer of television commercials and motion picture previews. Jerry has been a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets and served as a member of Beyond Baroque’s Board of Trustees. His poetry and photography have been seen in poetic diversity, Chaparral, The Chiron Review, Askew, Palabra Magazine, The November 3rd Club Rick Lupert’s The Night Goes On All Night, KCET’s Departures: Poetry L.A. Style and his chapbook Hitchhiking with the Guilty.

Editor's Note: This is the first guest post in a series on disability, ableism, creativity and functionality. If you would like to share your thoughts, please comment below. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please feel free to get in touch. We welcome anonymous guest posts on this subject, as we are aware of the pressures of discussing these subjects in a public forum.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing without complaint and pointing out the bold fact that people talk about us behind our backs while we're supposed to join in the joke they make of others.