Sunday, January 27, 2013

Going With The Flow -Part 1


As we saw in the short film, Butterfly Circus, there actually was a time in history when persons, who had visible differences, compared to the overall population, were exploited astoundingly, used as "attractions," making money for unethical circus owners. A horrible way to spend your life. Even today such things exist, but as far as I know, the differences have beeb chosen by the subjects, such as the lady who is really into snakes, the fire eater, or the dude who's body is fully inked in tattoos, face included. A far different thing it is, to make a living from being stared at because you have chosen to do so. That's none of my business.
Seeing Red 
No, I am not in denial. I am fully aware that it's "normal" human behaviour, to have our gazes drawn by anyone or anything, that is not part of our everyday life. As a visual artist, adding a contrasting punch of colour to a composition, causes the eye to automatically look at it. This is why we must be careful where and what we do with the elements and principles of design. Not sure what I mean? Well, look at the image to the right. Pretend this is a completely dull grey neutral landscape or street scene. In paintings, colour can definitely be utilized to evoke specific moods. It all depends on the artist's intent. Personally, I just love colour and couldn't even consider creating anything like this.
Now if there was a red spot on that grey based painting, no matter how small it was, you would see it right away wouldn't you? Just look, even as I type this, that red spot is popping into my peripheral vision, totally unavoidable. That's us! We're contrasts in a sea of grey. No matter how hard we may try to blend into the scenery, we can't. There was a time when I desperately tried to be grey, blending in and yes, actually trying to hide the four wheels "strapped" to my backside!
What Happened!
One day when I was about eleven, one of my caregivers at the institution I lived at, was pushing me in my manual wheelchair. We were planning on just enjoying the day. Suddenly, a total stranger stopped us and began gasping, "What happened?" She moved her face closer to me, as if I was something to inspect. As I sat there, stupefied at her behaviour, my mind raced trying to understand why she was behaving like kooky person. I knew she was referring to my wheelchair, but because I could still walk a little back then, I thought perhaps she knows my Mom and didn't know I use a chair. But, it appeared this was not the case at all. She was just a total stranger,  who had no second thought about stopping us to ask her question.
Not getting a response from either of us, after about the fourth, "what happened?" my indignant caregiver said something like this, "Look it lady, get out of the way, we're trying to go for a walk!" She moved over and we moved on, shaking our heads! That day is one of those imbedded memories that are as clear as yesterday. Being bullied since I was about seven, had become a consistent part of my life. But never had a full grown adult react like that, just because they seen me in my wheelchair! Kids, I had expected it from, but not an adult. No, she wasn't mean, she was sincere. But, when you want to just "be" as everyone else is doing, having a spotlight put on you makes you not only see red, but feel like that red spot on a canvas. Impossible to blend in.
Cammo
In retrospect, it would appear that incident, was a key turning point. Something that I now, ashamedly admit to now, to "camouflage" my obvious, very visible differences, (or shall I say uniquenesses?) became my number one goal. It's not a secret that during these years most of us are self focused as it is. Desperate, I now can admit that Ieven ashamedly admit that by trying to not be around or sometimes even, associate with my peers who were in the same situation as me, in public, I ignorantly believed that others wouldn't view me as different. Yes, I am now ashamed to admit that I did the very thing, I was against. But the young mind is often desperate to survive, especially ones that have already been emotionally pounded with threats, names, taunts and physical intimidation. Thank the Lord, that all things happen for His good purposes and I am able to sit her today and write down these lessons learned the hard way.

Being bullied, doesn't justify negative behaviour in return, but it can help us try to understand the state of mind some are in when they commit awful acts. No, I never went that far, instead I chose to hurt myself instead. How? Well, it was the beginning of grade seven and we all know what happens to twelve year olds. Okay, at least most of them. They struggle with fitting in, finding their place among classmates and peers. Personally, smoking was never a result of peer pressure. Not once did anyone ask me to smoke. Assuming, the more I did what some of the "cool" kids were doing, the more I would be accepted as part of the crowd. Being "normal," if you will.
So there I was, grade seven, far out across our school yard, huddled with a group of fellow students. All of us with a lit tube of smelly tobacco, hanging between our lips. Smoke billowing all around us, as if we were in a huge London fog.
Way Cool!

Then, to affirm my coolness, wouldn't you know it, a fellow classmate/smoker dude, actually came towards me and declared proudly, "Anita's smoking, ever cool!" He wasn't even someone I ever spoke with, but it didn't  matter. The fact that we weren't even friends made it even more meaningful in my delusional young mind. After all,  he made the effort to point out my coolness. Up until that moment, I don't believe I had ever experienced pride. It swelled my head and felt a warm fuzzy well up inside. To me, he didn't see my wheelchair, he saw Anita, being cool! Needless to say, in spite of the disgusting taste, smoking for the sake of being cool (thus blending in) became a way of life for a long time to come. Don't get me wrong, in no way is smoking cool. In fact, most likely, it was the stupidest choice I had made up until that time of life. Notice emphasis on that time of life. But to my twelve year old brain, blending or fitting in, was worth any amount of smelly old smoke.
Actually, I was so afraid of death back then, that I bought lower tar cigarettes and wouldn't hold the smoke in my lungs for more than a split second. Oh right, that was once I finally could inhale the toxins!

....to be continued

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