I’ll be doing an event at the University of Washington, Seattle, with artist Riva Lehrer. It’s the headline event for the Pacific and Western Disability Studies Symposium 2016: Making Disability Public: Arts, Scholarship, and Activism. It’s free and open to the public.
This is a kind of coming-out for me: my first appearance where I not only talk about and read from my work but discuss how my MS and disability have had an impact on that work. It’s absolutely fitting that I’m appearing with Riva, whose portrait of me was one of the catalysts of coming out as a crip. Riva and I are friends, so expect the unexpected.
Anything I read will be based on the body and its delights with full-sensory physicality. Something from Hild, maybe. Or a brand-new bit of Menewood. Or The Blue Place. Not sure yet. I might also read from a not-yet-finished novella, “Small Dog Theory.” So, hey, it’s going to get…interesting.
Here’s the official description of my event:
Friday, May 13, 4:30-7:00pm
“Disability Arts & Culture: An Evening with Riva Lehrer & Nicola Griffith”
University of Washington, Seattle, Odegaard Library (ODE), Room 220
- 4:30-5:00 Poster and Art Display
- 5:00-7:00 Presentations by Nicola Griffith and Riva Lehrer
We’re honored to host a reading & discussion with Nicola Griffith, whose novels include Ammonite, Slow River, and Hild. Griffith will talk for the first time about disability in her work, and participate in Q & A with Riva Lehrer about the making of her portrait “Nicola Griffith / Snow Leopard” that’s featured on the advertising for this event.
We welcome Chicago-based artist Riva Lehrer, an award-winning painter, writer, and speaker whose work explores issues of identity and cultural depictions of disability. Her visual art and writing have been featured in several documentary films and publications. Among her best-known projects is “Circle Stories,” a series of portraits of disabled people with careers in the arts, academia, and activism. Lehrer writes about her latest project, “The Risk Pictures”: “For twenty years, I have been using the language of portraiture to explore what it means to live in a stigmatized body. My portrait collaborators have often been made to feel ashamed of their physical selves, as a result of being targeted by judgmental, aggressive gazes leveled in their direction. Reasons for stigma might be due to disability, sexuality, gender affiliation or racial identity; all can lead to difficulty in living in one’s actual body.”
Attendees on Friday will also be invited to the poster session of student disability studies research, art, and social justice engagement.
Sponsored by the Disability Studies Program, ASUW Student Disability Commission, and other UW units
Map: Odegaard Library. Time: 4:30 – 7:00 pm. Free! Facebook Event. (FYI, I’m assured that if you have difficulty with registration via FB not to worry: come on down anyway, there’ll be room.)
5 thoughts on “Making Disability Public, Friday May 13”
I admire your bravery to talk about your disability and how it affects your life. I have difficulty talking about mine without crying – something I’m working on – and therefore I tend not to talk about it, even with friends and family.
@Leona: Is this a new thing for you? Acquired disability, especially when it’s unexpected, can take some getting used to. I’ve had many years to adjust. Although of course one of the problems with MS is that things change all the time; I can never think, Okay, so *this* is how it’s going to be now. My impairments i not static. Sigh.
Unfortunately no, this is not new, although I’m the worst I’ve ever been. This current bout started in 2007, although I was able to keep working until 2010. Before that I was sick from 1998-2004. I had a few good years, then bam. I’ve received half a dozen diagnoses, depending on what specialist I went to. The latest dx is chronic fatigue syndrome, which doesn’t help my emotional state since it carries lots of stigma (“it can’t be that bad”, “you don’t look sick”, “I’m tired too”, etc). Anyway, I didn’t mean to ramble on, but suffice it to say, you’d think I’ve been sick long enough to be able to talk about it calmly, but it’s something I’m still working on (therapy, etc).
It’s got to be hard to make commitments when you don’t know how you will be doing on a given day. That’s another thing I admire, that you haven’t shut yourself off from the world and are putting yourself out there. I’m working up to that, and your work is inspirational, not just as an activist but as an author as well.
My first diagnosis was ME in the UK, then CFS in the US. If you feel anything like the way I felt, it really can be that bad. I feel for you, especially regarding others’ attitudes. My family were not very good about adjusting—not until I was diagnosed with a “real” disease, MS.
The first time I asked for a wheelchair in an airport the gate agent said, “You look pretty good to me.” I said, “I’ll take that as a compliment. Meanwhile, bring my fucking wheelchair!” The lack of empathy of many people enrages me.
The thing is, there are times I shut myself away from the world because, frankly, it’s just easier to live in a bubble where only people I like enter. It keeps crap to a minimum at times when I don’t have many resources. And then there are times when I’m ready to be out there, like now. It will always be a thing in flux, though.
So try not to be hard on yourself. If you can, just take a week where you stop fighting, just pamper yourself, give in, weep or rage or whatever. It might help. And then you might be ready to get back in the saddle again. My big realisation was that we don’t have to be strong all the time; it can be perfectly appropriate to feel sad and dispirited. And, anyway, fuck appropriateness and fuck what other people think. You are the best judge of what you need. If you need to check out for a while, then check out. Give yourself a break.
Hang in there.
Definitely wise words. Our society values the disabled/sick person who “never complains” and “never lets it get her down” and judges those that don’t keep their bad days private as a personality flaw. Ultimately, I know that I need to get past how people react to me and just live my life. It’s easier said than done (as most things are).
Good luck to you this weekend!
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