Sunday, August 22, 2010

O&M somatic practice notes for David Wolach

I was going to post this on Nonsite, but there is some code crazyness when I go there--and if I don't do this now, Monday will happen.

At a recent Nonsite event, David Wolach asked us to develop a somatic practice that re-humanizes the work place and the home place. For me, choosing is hard because everything is somatic practice, I am always practicing with my body because actually doing is interrupted, difficult, complex—be it walking or providing info and referral as a disability service or obsessing about the type of worker I should be (“Why did I get an MFA? Why am I not a physical therapist or a VI teacher or a real social worker?” “or why not in academia really then, instead of just with academic friends….?’ “How to be all when I am often neither?”etc etc etc. ). Working, not writing-working, but working-working as a social service provider (which also does involve some form of writing-working) is also somatic practice.

Since I recently lost all vision in my left eye, and since I cannot turn my head (my field thus being a lot more limited despite the fact that my right eye retains high partial vision) the Dept of Rehabilitation is paying for me to get O&M at my place of work—which happens to be the place that provides such services (I usually work on the other end of it, brining folks in for the services, instead of myself). O&M stands for Orientation and Mobility—the process by which a blind or low vision person learns to navigate with a white cane. The DOR is the governmental entity that funds training or other services for people with disabilities, injuries or illness. If job attainment or retention is contingent upon receiving such training or services, then one can be declared “severely disabled’ and receive funds for the training or service. There are many exceptions to this, much goes unfunded and one must have a certain way of presenting one’s case to the DOR to receive services. Since I work on the inside, I got my O&M authorization fairly easily, though typically, it can take several months.

My coworker, an O&M specialist, my age or a few years younger, has been assigned my case. We go out into traffic and practice intersection analysis. She seems a little appalled that I have no concept of left and right if it is not in relation to my legs. That car may be turning right, but he is turning toward my left, stiffer leg so the notion that he is a right-hand turner seems unreal to me. When she was still in grad school, she came to visit our agency and I showed her around, talked to her about how the organization works, etc. It's a bit awkward. I have strategies she did not learn about in school because O&M is geared towards one kind of disability generally. And she is not disabled and I feel obliged to forget my strategies in order to learn something from her--because also she has to check off boxes to say that I have learned and that I am safe. My strategies are opposite to what she has been taught is safe (i.e. I need to launch myself off the curb at the same time as I make the wide arc with the cane--because my leg bones require that kind of forward momentum. She maintains I need to be still while the cane does its pronouncement and then go quickly).

There are multiple systems at work here, not to mention thin layers of workers’ hierarchies. Vagaries in O&M (“once you have decided to step into the street, you can’t turn back, so there is no use in listening for the car nearest you—you have to listen to the lane ahead”) and in poetry. Bu there is a sense of a vital circuit between the DOR, O&M training, my job and myself as a worker and now a client of my place of work.

These notes form my journal are probably illegible. Does somatic practice writing have to be legible? Can it possibly be legible? Or is it like composting toward another layer of writing? (The LightHouse has gotten a grant to sue this long abandoned lot across from City Hall as a community garden—for the blindness community and other Civic Center communities.) The last line in the journal entry has to do with me suddenly hitting upon a possible resource lead for a man with ankylosis spondilits who came in seeking O&M from the LightHouse. He will never qualify for it, because he is not even low vision. His fixed spine makes it so that he cannot look up when he walks and people mow him over at the opera, which he enjoys going to regularly. It is frightening and demoralizing to him. but it has nothing to do with work retention, since he is retired and it is the opera. Therefore the DOR would not pay. It occurs to me that an East Bay agency offers generalized “travel training”. I feel relieved at having some suggestion to offer him, especially since like him, I fall more to the side of mobility than orientation.

Follow-up notes; I call the East Bay agency and the lady says they only offer this service to people who live in the East Bay. The AS guy would not qualify. I know she is telling me the wrong information, that she is, herself confused, so now I have to circle back to figure out who else at the agency I might need to talk to get a different answer. She is kind of an acquaintance, so the politics of it are difficult, Also, I am resourcing her for my resource work—we are now twice removed from seeing any income come into our agencies for the time spent on the AS man. But I am funded (being paid as a “resource counselor”) to do this kind of work, so in a sense, I can take all the time I want on it, except that since I saw that man, dozens of other people have come through the doors, and there is not time to come up with helpful leads for all of them.

Bodies in systems needs organic outlets, one stages need that is more prescribed than actual. The real need can’t quite get funded. You can come close to it—poetics, or just conversations (I really liked the guy with AS—it makes me want to meet him on a weekly basis and walk around with him. can I get paid for that? Unfortunately, we all need to get paid….) These are economics. The real social work falls somewhere else, it is like improv or communal somatic performance. One thing I love about my job is that the position exists half outside the system—someone can call me and just have a conversation.

Follow-up notes: On my next to last O&M session, my co-worker and I go to the cable car turn-around at Powell, to practice walking in crowds with the white cane. This is what I most wanted to practice. But when we get there, it seems that there can be no practicing. People are not machines, like cars (or mechanistic of the traffic system). Or they are and the white cane signals them to move, to drag their children out of my path as if I were a kind of motorized zombie (oddly, when speeding to Forever 21 on the mobility scooter, people stop dead in my path to examine bracelets at a street cart. They do not seem oblivious to my trajectory, but confident that I will find a way to skirt them or that I will yield until they choose to move out of my way.) For my part, for my own safety, again, the choice to exaggerate tendencies for optimal function--I have to choose not to veer but proceed toward them, so I am not constantly darting larger faster passersby. It is embarrassing only because I assume they know I see that but choose to not yield. Though actually, they probably assume I cannot see at all, because they do not ever make eye contact. Nothing about not being to see on the left side is that scary when merging into a crowd rushing toward the Gap. It is still the same old signals in my body, which mistake chronic ache for external danger--and it is not unfounded as slower stiffer walking can make for collision. Trust that they see you, I think of Rodney Bell telling me during the site-based performance with Axis (the phrase in which we were all moving, wildly quickly toward each other, criss-crossing). This is kind of the the antithesis of O&M theory and practice, and yet, also very applicable, as with listening to the lane ahead and going with the nearest parallel.

If you are reading this with a screen reader or screen mag software and want access to the text in the images, pleas email me. amberdipietra [at] yahoo [dot] com. Id be happy to transcribe. I just ran out of juice for the moment.

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