Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking A Leap

I discovered that part of the problem on doing a rewrite of your book is that it inevitably leads to becoming convinced that you're an amateur and an atrocious writer. Asking people you care about to tell you what's wrong combined with turning you on a very critical eye on chapter after chapter leads to extreme self-loathing. Charlie on the heels of that is a decided aversion to writing. Because why would you do something you so very obviously suck at.

Luckily, I have a writing buddy who told me two very important things. One, that this detour into believing everything you do is shite is entirely normal for this stage of making a book. And second, that the way out is to write something silly. To play around with writing, rediscovering the joy of it. And she's running for breast cancer, so if you're looking for someone to sponsor, I highly recommend Laurie.

We both produced a small piece of silliness for our meeting this week and this was mine:

Albert stood on the edge of the pier looking into the water. The wind had picked up today and below him, he could see his friends bopping in the choppy waves. If he looked out over the lake he would see whitecaps, but he very decidedly did not look out over the lake. He could feel the queasiness building in the pit of his stomach and was starting to believe his face was taking on a sickly greenish tinge. His friends yelled encouragement from below, although for some, it took the form of taunting. There was nothing for it, he'd have to jump in. Today was the day, there was no avoiding it. He wished he had some Gravol and if he wasn't feeling so ill, he'd have laughed. 

Who, he thought, had ever heard of a seasick duck? 

His toes clutched the edge in a last-ditch effort to hold onto the stability of the shore. And then he stretched his beak into the sky, closed his eyes and leapt into the waves.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pain Management in Recovery and Addiction

My latest post for MyRACentral is about managing pain when you're addicted or in recovery:

My friend T. lives with high levels of chronic pain. The pain makes it difficult to get through each day and it's not just having an impact on his physical function, but on his relationships with his family and friends, as well. Despite this, he's not taking any pain medication. T. was an alcoholic and has been sober for nine years. He's afraid that if he starts treating his pain, he might relapse and start drinking again.

Those of us who live with high levels of chronic pain are often faced with concerns about addiction to painkillers. Sometimes it's our family and friends who get worried and sometimes it's our doctors. The goal of managing chronic pain is to "obtain reasonable pain relief while maintaining a maximum level of function" (Prater, Zylstra and Miller, 2002). At HealthCentral, we do our best to help you get that kind of pain control by giving you the tools you need to counter concerns about addiction. The fact is that the risks are generally quite low. But what if you are in recovery from addiction or are still struggling with it? How can this impact treatment for your pain?"

You can read the rest of the post here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Out Among the English: Body Language & Disability

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about physical barriers tosocial interaction, mostly in terms of design issues and aspects that can be corrected by having some chairs in the place. Today, Part II. Namely physical barriers to interpersonal communication.

Say that you’re

  • At a formal occasion - a wedding, formal business event and the like - and you’re seated at a large round table with 9 other guests. The person next to you is having a fascinating discussion with the person next to them and you want to join in. What do you do?
  • At a party where you don't know anyone and don't feel like spending any more time standing by yourself by the potted plant looking fascinated by what your invisible friend is saying. You even feel brave enough to sidle up next to one of the multitude who you don't know and try to start a conversation. What do you do?
  • You're talking to a stranger, perhaps at a party or maybe at a bar, museum or in a restaurant on a first date. You’re feeling that tingling in the pit of your stomach that means you'd like to explore being much more than friends. Short of stating it baldly or pouncing right there, in the bar, restaurant or bus stop, what do you do?
Much of our conversation happens in the body. What we say is accompanied by gestures and movement that elaborates, enhances and sometimes contradicts the spoken word. And it’s cultural, too - how you say things with your body can differ as much from country to country as spoken language does.

Enter the disability as complicating factor. For the purposes of this post specifically those requiring the use of a wheelchair. And shortly, even more specifically the type of disability that affects mobility in other bits in addition to your legs.

How many conversations start with a look and a smile? It's how we test the waters to see if conversation would be welcome, it’s how we engage in that first leap, build a bridge between two people. But if your smile happens at other people's crotch level, it can be a bit problematic to catch somebody's eye. From a woman’s point of view, you might consider it payback for all those times women had to tell men that their eyes were in their head, not at chest level, but very few people notice the direction of your gaze if they're looking down at the top of your head. So you have to say something to engage with someone and if you're in a noisy environment, whether in a talky crowd or place where the music is more than merely background, it involves yelling. All while craning your head back so you can do that eye contact thing. That is, if the person hears you and looks down and not withstanding issues with your neck that make it impossible to look up.

The party being seated can help somewhat, because at least you eyes are more or less at the same level, but let's take a visit to that large round table and see what else happens. In some ways it's a good equalizer because you are an exact same situation as an able-bodied person - those tables are so large you rarely talk to the people on the other side of the table. But you do talk to the person seated next to you and sometimes, a smallish group is created when the person next to them joins in. But how do you indicate you would like to be part of such a conversation? You lean forward and over, close to the person next to you and the two people having a conversation understand that body language cue and (if they're not hopelessly rude) make room to include you. But what if you can't move like that? What if your body isn’t good at leaning forward and to the side leaving you without a cue - and your neighbours without a clue - that you'd like to contribute. And then there’s the part that staying apart instead of leaning in is also a body language cue that you're not really interested in meeting other people. So there you are, not able to move much, the place is noisy so it's difficult to yell "hey, I’d like to talk with you guys!” Not to mention not good manners and just not something that most people is comfortable doing in such a situation. Because we've all seen that movie where a hush falls the nanosecond before you open your mouth and then the entire room will stare at you.

And then there's the part about the subtle body language that tests the waters of romantic interest. I’ve watched TV programs about body language in such situations and they include leaning into the other person (covered above), touching them on the arm (what if your reach is limited?), grooming gestures to yourself and the other person (difficult if your mobility and dexterity is affected). And other people don't touch you, because the wheelchair creates a pretty effective barrier to touch – and that’s enough material for several posts - not to mention that it seems as if some believe the cripple is going to crumble into pieces if touched. It leaves you in an odd no-(wo)man's land of having to read between the lines or perhaps being very forward, skipping over that subconscious dance of two bodies checking interest level in each other. Which usually doesn’t work because you haven’t had the dance and without it, things don’t bud quietly and you’re out of sync. Which may be it's one of the contributing factors to people with disabilities often being viewed as asexual (aside from lack of imagination on the part of the ablebodied). When that subconscious dance may be impossible, just as it can appear as if we are not interested in conversation, without the appropriate/recognizable body cues, we appear not interested in romance or sex. Which also is a post in itself.

I'm starting to wonder if much of the space around a person in a wheelchair that you so often see in a public or social situation is due, at least in part, to us not sharing a language, physically speaking. Our body language is not recognizable to others, in much the same way that Russian is unintelligible to most English speakers. Although it does differ in a very significant way. Because the Russians can learn English - and by hanging around someone who has a disability, the English can learn Russian - but we cannot learn a different body language. Because if you can't move freely, you can't speak ablebodied.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Praise of Sloth

It's been 10 days of not doing very much at all aside from reading good books, watching good TV and lollygagging and it has been bliss. Just bliss.

It took me more days than I care to admit to stop with the "shoulds." Every time my internal voice said "you should be (insert work-related or other type of obligatory task here)," I managed to very clearly say NO and push the urge away.

It is remarkable how many shoulds there are in a day. I don't think it's good for us. 

Therefore, I decided to banish the shoulds from my life (at least for two weeks), eventually becoming nothing but a walking (metaphorically speaking) Id. I got so good at the banishing that when last Monday, one of the last really nice days of the summer, I felt I should be going down to the lake, I somehow managed to persuade myself that I shouldn't be doing any such thing if I didn't want to. So I stayed inside all day and messed with some photos instead. There was something wonderfully wanton about holing up inside on a beautiful day, very deliberately not going out and enjoying it. It may have been even more enjoyable than going outside to enjoy it!

Every day for the past two weeks, I've gotten up and asked myself what I felt like doing and usually, the answer was read, talk to friends - or more often, not talk to anyone at all - noodle on the computer and nap. And I did and in the process started viewing my busy life as just a tad crazy. I started thinking that this value we put on being busy, on getting a lot done, and moving so very fast is… well, nuts. If I don't have time to notice how the sun sparkles off the water or that pigeon fighting with a french fry or the colour of the sky at sunset, then my priorities are really screwed up.

In Word by Word, Anne Lamott says "being busy is the drug of the 90s. It's keeping us all stoned and wasting our lives." That lecture came out in 2004 and by now, I'm starting to suspect being busy may have replaced religion is the opium of the masses. The thing that keeps us from paying attention and realizing that life is supposed to about more than the busy.

I need to get back to mindfulness. Not should. Need, as in it’ll be good for me and my ability to prioritize with some degree of perspective.

So after all this lollygagging, do I feel better? Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Overall, there is a bit more energy, but I still run out fairly quickly and in between the overall bit of improvement, there have been days where I've felt as crappy as I did at the start of this time away from work. Which wasn't supposed to be the point of this whole thing, but I can't argue with my body. I can ask it repeatedly why the hell it's not getting any better, but no answer. It prefers to remain mysterious.

I do feel well enough to be able to have gained some perspective and in retrospect, working what for me is the equivalent of a full-time job, rewriting The Book, supporting two family members through different, but equally intense events, dealing with root canal and crown, as well as an unreliable wheelchair (and the exorbitant cost of the latter two) to mention just the most memorable parts of this summer is a recipe for burnout and depression. No wonder every day had begun to seem insurmountable.

And hence sloth. Because sitting by the water doing nothing and having no plans for the afternoon other than going home to eat lunch when I get hungry gives you time to think and process. To imagine and create. And to get en effin’ grip.

I'm not quite sure how to incorporate sloth once I return to work, but I'm thinking I should start with taking one day off a week. There's a reason that a certain divinity rested on the seventh day. It's good role modeling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Killing

So… there's been sitting at the lake, lots of reading and in the evening, I’ve been completely and utterly obsessed with the Danish series Forbrydelsen (The New York Times has a good article about it).  In English, it's called The Killing and if that sounds familiar, it's because there is an American remake airing on AMC. The remake has gotten a lot of good press, but from what I can see in the various episode guides, the 13 episodes only take you through part of the case, and not to completion as in the 20 episodes of the Danish series. Maybe that's left for season two? Every review I have read of the remake has mentioned that despite its excellence, you owe it to yourself to (also) watch the original.

Having just spent the last week or so watching two or three episodes a night, I wholeheartedly second that recommendation.

Forbrydelsen starts with the murder of a teenage girl and follows the investigation, the impact on her family and the municipal election campaign that becomes tangled up in the case. Each 55-minute episode builds within itself, ending in a nailbiter - sometimes just warranting gentle gnawing, sometimes leaving you without anything resembling a nail left on any of your fingers (or whatever else you do when watching engrossing, tense TV). It is a fantastic slow burn, both within each episode and over the entire season, as well. The main character is Sarah Lund, the lead investigator, but to call her the main character is to ignore that this is an ensemble piece. The show is populated by three-dimensional characters played by excellent, subtle actors who get under your skin and into your head and draw you completely into the story. A story about which I will say very little else because you also owe it to yourself to discover the magic without any knowledge of what happens. It’s more fun that way.

One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed about this series (other than the story) is that each episode is 55 minutes. You get so used to an episode of a TV show being the 41 minutes that the major networks believe is sufficient time to tell a story, because it's essential to have 20 min. of commercial every hour. Being able to disappear into a story that takes its time is so much more effective in terms of making the story come alive. I also loved that it took 20 episodes to tell it - again, this slow burn, take-it's-time storytelling pulls you in so much deeper, makes you feel more and get your mind moving in terms of trying to figure out who did it. You’re actively engaged in the process, not just passively watching. The other day, I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the American remake of Primes Suspect. Never mind the argument that remaking it is a crime in itself, but instead of each season being about one crime, this one is going to feature the "solve it all in 41 minutes" that is so characteristic of network television. And - forgive me for my moment of being a Euro snob - I think it’s also the difference between European and North American television. Because heaven forbid you should take a while. Have character development. Nope. Let's rush through it, skimming along the surface of the characters and the story in 41 minutes. No wonder so much of it is junk food for the mind.

Another thing I enjoyed thoroughly about Forbrydelsen was the visit to Denmark. For the past week, Danish has been at the forefront of my language center and it's been quite a trip to feel as if speaking English isn't quite right. I also learned much about present-day Denmark and in so many ways, it hasn't changed at all. They still address everyone with the informal 'you,' even politicians in high places. The only exception is the elderly, who are still addressed using the formal 'you.' Everything - not just the language - is wonderfully informal. The lead investigator, Sarah Lund, comes to work every day in a pair of well-worn, comfortable jeans and a handknit sweater - which has fans - and carries not a briefcase, but an amazing leather bag very similar to the ones my teachers carried way back in high school. High school girls still wear overalls and scarves, everyone is still on a first name basis (again, with the exception of the elderly) and yes, that includes your boss, your teacher, your mayor. And speaking of handknit - watching this series is a treat for knitters. I'm pretty sure you can invent a drinking game about "spot the handknit sweater" and if you combine it with taking a drink every time somebody lights a cigarette in a public space, such as a police station, you could get quite inebriated by the end of each episode!

I will say this: 20 episodes was stretching it a bit - I think it could have been just a bit tighter if it was two or three episodes shorter than that. Still, it didn't take away from the overall experience which was compelling. I keep reading about people "marathoning” the first season and completely understand. There were times when I was grateful that I have an attendant coming at a specific time to help me get into bed because otherwise, I would have stayed up all night watching episode after episode after episode.

The DVD set is unbelievably expensive in North America ($249), but if your local video rental store (or mail equivalent) doesn't have the series, there's a way around it. Get it from Amazon UK at a mere £38. Well worth it - you won't regret the purchase. And best of all, there's a season two – released on DVD in Decemeber - and they’re in the middle of filming season three!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rest Stop

I’ve been spending a lot of time down by the lake since I last posted. You know how much water means to me - it soothes me, centers me, heals me. The fact that there is now a place so close to my home where I can go get in touch with those elemental forces means so much. If you turn your face into the wind, it is almost like the ocean. Not the smell of salt, but the unmistakable scent of a large body of water and with the beach there, sometimes, it's mingled with the smell of sand and it feels almost like home.

Lately, something interesting has been happening down by Sugar Beach. There are geese. A lot of geese.

I first noticed it Saturday, seeing small groups of them swimming around close to shore. This is new - all summer, I've seen only seagulls and the occasional duck (well, there was that Cormorant, too). Geese don't tend to hang in this neighborhood, so having recently discovered the fascinating in birdwatching, I set about doing just that. It was a beautiful day, a bright sun in clear skies and low enough that the water sparkled with a brilliance never seen in a princess cut solitaire and in between the sparkles, little groups of geese came paddling by

I wandered around the area and in the small, quiet harbor between the beach and the sugar factory where sometimes, great container ships from far away are docked, taking on loads of sugar, more were gathering. Two groups, sometimes three

The next day, I was back and so were they. I saw them flying in, sometimes a few together, sometimes only one at a time, landing in the water - not always gracefully, the weight of the goose can create quite a splash - and joining others already there. And there were a lot there, both in the water and up on the narrow dock above, nestled close to the factory

They seem to stay in the smaller groups in which they came in first, gathering over by the sugar factory side of the small harbor, getting acquainted, jostling for space, making conversation and sometimes arguments would break out about who got to be where. The honking of them was a beautiful soundtrack to a beautiful day.

Apparently I need a Steadicam 

Eventually, they would iron out their differences, decide which group to join and there was an ever evolving flow of integration, blending and growth.

Even the sailboats got into the spirit of things and bunched up in a flock

And then, when the time was right - and I never did figure out how they made that decision - a group would take off over a silvery lake to parts unknown.

According to Google, the Canada goose doesn't migrate until ice forms on bodies of water, but they are going someplace and they all know about it. Near as I can figure, Sugar Beach is a rest stop on the journey. If the weather holds, I'll be back down there today to check on their progress.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


It's been an interesting week for new experiences.

This past weekend found me down by the lake and two very exciting things happened.

I saw the Snowbirds in person. Well, not exactly in person, but with my own eyes in real life, as opposed to images on the television screen. There they were, flying in formation out over the lake. You may have to embiggen the photo


A little later, when I wrenched my eyes downwards from the sky, I saw a loon! I have been in Canada for 29 years and had never before seen this iconic bird in any place other than statues, paintings, the loonie and the like. In person? Way cool! Before I posted it to the blog, I checked with The Boy. Just in case. And he said it wasn't." What are you talking about?" I said, “have you seen that profile?!” He said the loon’s beak comes to a point and this one didn’t.

Hrm. I cropped, got a close-up and lo and behold, he was right. This wee fellow had a distinct overbite. So I consulted my friend the bird expert. She mentioned cormorant and that put me on the right track. After some digging – and Facebook conversation – I think I have it. It’s probably a young Double-Crested Cormorant.

All of a sudden, I understand bird watching as a hobby.

Last week also saw the occasion of me uttering the following sentence: "I have a shoe emergency." I wear a specific type of Clarks sandals. Found them years ago - 10? 15? - and never looked back. They are incredibly comfortable, work with my chair, have the right kind of heel for when I do transfers from my chair to other places and best of all, Clark's doesn't seem to stop making them. They're a bit expensive, but considering that my present pair lasted 4+ years of being worn everyday, summer and winter - yes, with socks and I know it isn't fashionable, but it's comfortable - it works out to an amazingly cheap deal. However, the heel is finally disintegrating and the sole is this close to cracking into two pieces, so I've been out there looking for replacements. Naturally, this couldn't happen earlier in the summer when there was a nice selection of sandals. Nope, it had to happen just on the cusp of the change of seasons. Finding replacements proved at first impossible and requiring going to a lot of different shoe stores. To be told that no, they didn't have them and by the way, haven't seen that model all season. I did eventually find a small store that had three pairs left in my size on sale and I got them all. I now have shoes for the next decade or more.

However, that is not the point. The point is that as part of the quest, I went to a shoe store on Yonge Street that is 1 km from my home and back again. This is the furthest I have gone in years. I don't actually remember the last time I went that far. And sure, I'm paying for it with some interesting pain levels, but I have range again!

And now for the last first, which is sort of two, but they're connected. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about being smack up againstmy limits and a very good friend left a comment giving me a smack upside the head. She suggested that perhaps I wouldn't be quite so close to my limits if I posted a little less and in the blinding brightness from the lightbulb that went off over my head, I decided to, for a while at least, to decrease how often I blog. I'm not going to set out some sort of schedule - I'll still be here every week, but how much depends entirely on how I'm feeling. I can be taught. If it's accompanied by a smack upside the head, that is. Thank you, good friend.

And in related news… Slowing down didn't help. This Monday, after having spent two days doing very little, I woke up exhausted. Again. This, combined with the whimper that escapes me every time I hear about somebody going on sabbatical, made me think. And then I put on my big girl pants, faced facts and am now on a two-week sick (stress? sleep?) leave from work. It's going to make me nauseous the next time I pay my bills, but if it was becoming very clear that if I didn't, my body would make me sit still and I wouldn't enjoy that at all. And best of all, it's obviously the right thing to do, because waking up this morning, I didn't have that awful feeling that I was Sisyphus. All that's on my list today is getting groceries and reading a book. And it's bloody marvelous!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I'll Be Over Here, Next to the Potted Plant

Say that you’re
  • At a small family gathering and across the room sits a member of your family with whom you haven't had a good chinwag in a while. What do you do?
  • At a party where you don't know anyone and don't feel like spending any more time standing by yourself with a glass of wine and looking fascinated by what your invisible friend is saying. What do you do? (note: running screaming for the door is not an option)
  • At a large and informal get-together in a restaurant. The tables are arranged in a U and you’re seated at one of the "arms." After the meal is finished, the other guests start to chair hop, moving around to chat with other guests. What do you do?

Now imagine that you use a wheelchair and can't easily move around. Either because that means you're hugely in the way or there are people or furniture in your way.

Some time ago, I was at a posh event, out among the English for the first time in a very long time and I learned a number of things. I learned that I need to get out more or I'll forget how to talk to strangers in a non-work setting. I learned that when I go into observation mode, I don't say much - I'm too busy mentally recording everything that happens. Not coincidentally, I also learned a number of things about using a wheelchair in a social environment. And then I started thinking about other social occasions, experiences that I’ve always just shrugged off and all of a sudden, there they were. Obstacles everywhere I looked (which is usually why I prefer to remain oblivious).

For people with disabilities, barriers to socializing with others aren't limited to the attitudes of the able-bodied that prevent them from going over and talking to you, just in case you might accidentally drool (or worse) on them. They’re there, for sure, but that's not where I'm going today. Today is about the physical barriers to socializing.

When you travel seated, you are at a distinct disadvantage in a cocktail party environment. You're supposed to wander around, mingling and meeting others, right? Except when you try to do that in a wheelchair, it very quickly becomes apparent that you're much better off sitting over by the side, out-of-the-way. It means people don't trip over you or accidentally walk into your feet. Also, as fun as it is to be eye-to-crotch with potential conversation partners - and perhaps surprisingly, it's not as much fun as you might imagine - sitting down when everyone else is standing up means it's impossible to start a conversation. Parties get loud, either because of the music or the talking or both.

The times you do run into someone and both of you do that awkward initial smalltalk, there's also the problem of your neck. Unless you're at a convention for little people, everyone will be taller than you are (see: crotch level). Looking up for hours will mean spending the next several days with a sore neck and that's only if your disability doesn't impact your neck. If you have a condition that does affect the mobility of your neck - for argument's sake, let's pick RA - you can't look up. Because it hurts or maybe your neck doesn't move that way or maybe you're not supposed to hyper extend your neck.

Some people know about good manners when talking to someone who uses a wheelchair. They understand that is not a good idea to make the seated person crane back their head to look up. Instead, they grab a chair or squat next to the wheelchair so they’re at eye level (but never that hands-on-knees bent-over thing used when talking to children. Because it usually comes with the attitude of talking to a child and I'm at child-height, but not 4 years old ). You have no idea what kind of relief it is when you meet someone who gets it. In addition to keeping socializing from being a literal pain in the neck, it means you get to have a conversation without having to yell up to the mountain peak that is the other person's head. 

And that's where the design aspect enters the picture because most cocktail parties do not have chairs scattered about. Which, come to think of it, might actually be a nice thing to do, because even the ambulatory sometimes have trouble standing for a long time. Whether it's back problems, hip issues, wearing heels or not being able to squat due to wearing a tight short dress, the ability to sit can be a highly welcome one.

While I am talking about design, let's move on to the restaurant scenario. Last week, I was at one such establishment celebrating a friend's engagement. There was no room to mingle if you weren't ambulatory and as in the party situation, my wheelchair was a significant impediment to mingling. Or perhaps I should phrase that differently, because it is not me who is an impediment, it is the design. Most places are not designed with anyone but the able-bodied in mind, which means when you use a wheelchair, you park yourself somewhere out-of-the-way - at the end of it able or next to the potted plant - and stay there for the duration. This is not conducive to meeting anyone and even the best friendly and inviting expression on your face is not going to magically draw people to your. So you end up talking to the plant and running screaming for the door as soon as you can.

And there are layers to this, layers that go beyond design or thinking outside the box when it comes to the physical aspects of creating an environment for social interaction. The more I thought about this, the more I saw how it is all connected. But this is long enough already, so I'm saving that for Part Two and for next week.

Friday, September 02, 2011

BuskerFest Birthday/Winner

Before I report on the ant infestation, it's time for the results of the tomato contest. There were 347 tomatoes in the bowl. K came came very close closest with a guess of 238 and also called me Fairy Princess - that alone deserves a reward! Congratulations, K! Check out my Flickr page and/or the photos on the blog in the past year (I'm so far behind...) and let me know which photo you want at landers5ATgmailDOTcom. NB Friday evening: Colleen left a message suggesting Rose might be the winner instead of K. I've looked through the comments an extra 3 times now and there's no Rose. If I'm stupendously oblivious and Rose did leave a better guess, then please email me, as well. Only thing better than giving out a print is giving out 2! Two hours later: Thanks to Trevor, I have now figured out my #$%^! comment system. Rose is indeed the winner - only 12 from the actual total. Congratulations, Rose! Follow the above directions and Ms.Idiot here will send you your print. Sigh...


The birthday weekend started with a trip to BuskerFest, to wander a little, avoid performances and get funnelcake. And we had a blast - the funnelcake was a bit contributor to this, but we also came and went before the performances really got going, so hardly any frustrations marred the day..

We had a lovely welcome


Saw lots of balloon art

Met a pirate

and some mermaids

goofed around

And then we experienced a bit of a reversal of roles. Because that's when the ants came. Not just any ants - these had a herder. And all of a sudden, I felt very small

 Photo by David

my neighbourhood was invaded by something entirely unexpected

we even found their nest

and I'm not sure they were happy about that...

It was a great start to a wonderful weekend. I'm even (sort of) looking forward to next year. But that might be a hankering for funnelcake speaking...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

BuskerFest Accessibility

It's tradition. Every year around this time, I post something that shamelessly points out that it's my birthday and closely connected to that, often in the same post, I rant about BuskerFest. This is the four-day festival celebrating street performers that takes over my neighborhood to the point where it's hard to go anywhere is as a regular resident and nigh on impossible as a person using a wheelchair.

This year is no different. However, this year the ranting post and the one with photos from BuskerFest that are not related to accessibility issues will be split up. Today, I rant. Tomorrow, I share the fun.

The ranting part involves two targets. One is clueless people. Of which there were many. We started the festivities by catching the end of a performance that involved fire. My latent pyromaniac loves such things, so we decided to check it out. Even better, the grand finale involved the performer jumping through a ring of fire on a skateboard. The reason this was so terrific (aside from the jumping through a ring of fire) was that he needed to have a good run in order to make the jump and asked the crowd to open up and create a clear path. All of a sudden, instead of just black smoke above people's heads, I could see the ring of fire and I quickly got out my camera and focused on the flames. Whooosh! Someone on a skateboard flew past me and equally whoosh! The crowd close up the circle again. Giving me this photo of the daredevil act

Trust me. Somewhere behind all those arses is some nut bar jumping through a circle of flame.

A bit later, the ant herder and his charges went by (don't worry, this will make sense tomorrow) and I was just about to get a terrific photo of the guy when some woman felt compelled to walk in front of me so she could see him better.

Nice shirt, lady. Not exactly my intended shot, though.

And then there is BuskerFest itself. Last year, I wrote about how they had implemented an Accessibility Strategy to address complaints from people such as myself who are in effect completely excluded from participating in this event. Last year, I even gave one thumbs-up (no need to get crazy) to the efforts, had a good time and didn't get to crabby about the whole thing. Want to hear how this year went?

On Thursday during the setup, I walked home from the grocery store and came to a point on the sidewalk that was being blocked off by a street vendor cart and some luggage. I cleared my throat meaningfully, thinking that people were just in the middle of moving things around, but was told that they'd let me through, but after that, the sidewalk was being blocked again. I commented all friendly like that there are a lot of people with disabilities in this neighborhood who might want to use the sidewalk, to which they cheerfully replied "walk-through is on the street!" Nevermind if you wanted to go to the bank or the supermarket…

Later that day, I crossed the street where the entrance was set up. Set up so close to the curb cut that when you were behind a small group of say, about four people (as I was at the time), a wheelchair could not get up to the sidewalk. And the light was changing. On a very busy street.

But what about the people who were designated to look out for people with disabilities and help them navigate the grounds and get a spot near a performance where they could see what was going on? I saw one such station and one such person (who didn't see me because they were busy looking at a performance) and I was there for two hours. Granted, I wasn't looking for someone, but the accessibility helpers were dressed in T-shirts the bright blue of the accessibility sign with a giant symbol of a wheelchair, so they wouldn't be hard to spot. All the years of living with a disability have taught me to instinctively spot that color and that symbol.

To be honest, I really don't think that you can make a festival of street performers terribly accessible. The nature of the beast is that people are going to watch performances in tightly packed circles, so that limits to what you can reasonably expect.


However, you can expect that entrances will be placed in a location that do not block wheelchairs from getting out to the sidewalk. You can expect that sidewalks will not be blocked. And you can expect more people in blue T-shirts.

And by the way… Hanks and Wine Bar still don't want my business.

You can still enter the Birthday Contest - it closes at 6 PM tonight.