Archive - Dismodern Body

Today, Monday August 2, 2005 Magi and I went to the Stevens Centre to do our second learning service. We spent two hours there. We had some coffee and food while chatting with some of the members. We have met new members, and we saw some of the members that we had met already a couple of weeks ago. The conversation was mainly over the difficulty of getting a job, and the lack of transportation in Carlisle. Also, we talked about the weekends and how we spent them. This time we got to see a lot of the members, because we were there around lunch time and we got to see the lunch ceremony there. People function there as a family. Each person was in charge of doing something in the cooking.

This time I felt glad to be back, and to be in a place where I could be applying the theory that I have read in the texts we have discussed throughout the semester. I felt really sad to know that people with certain cognitive disabilities have problems finding jobs. I think that as a college student that there should be a solution that institutions would adopt in order to make sure that people with certain disabilities are able to get jobs and function in the society as the “normal”.
The visit this time was interesting, because it was just right after watching the “freak show” in Coney Island, watching the film Freaks, and while reading Geek Love. The interesting part is that I was exposed to thinking of people with certain disabilities as a community. Then, I started thinking of who is considered as a “normal” person that sense. It reminds me of Lennard J.Davis’s argument about what it means to be disabled. He mentions that a disabled person is the one who does not fit in the norms of the community around them.

On Thursday, July 14th, I did my first learning service session at the Stevens Centre. Margate, Sarah, and I arrived there at 10:00 am and we stayed there until noon. We said hello to the people who were hanging out in the lounge. Then, then we saw some of the pictures they have in the photo album that includes pictures of the members, so we could figure out what kind of activities they like to do. Then, we talked to one of the members, who paints and he is possessed with Egypt. He showed us his paintings and he talked to me, especially, about his interest in Egypt and the Egyptian gods. Then, I played Monopoly for the first time with two of the members while chatting with them and some other members.

This experience was slightly different than the experience that I had when we went for the orientation the first time. This time, we had more personal interactions with the members. We played Monopoly with some, we saw some of their arts work, and some showed us their children’s picture. Getting to know them in person made me feel more comfortable being around them. Also, the fact that they are willing to talk about their experiences (not their health status, of course) was very comforting and it made it easier for us to deal with them. This time, I was glad that I was doing the service, because I felt that I was representing the “norm” at that moment. I felt that I was making the members feel that there are people who are considered “normal” by others who still respect people with cognitive disabilities. However, I felt so nervous. I was not sure what the right way to talk to them is. I was concerned about the way they would feel. I was afraid that I am showing “sympathy” if I got too personal, but I was afraid that they would think that I am looking down at them if I did not act so friendly.
The main thought that occurred to mind there was the right way to deal with the members. It reminds me of Rosemarie Thomson proposes in her book Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring physical disability in American Culture and Literature about the fact that both people who fit in our standards of what is called “normal” and those with certain “impairments” try to create a certain way to deal with each other in the appropriate way.

Areej and I walked over to the Steven’s Center this morning, getting there around 11:00AM. We stopped by Stephanie’s office to tell her that we were there, and to say hi. We headed straight for the dining room, where we knew people would be. Everyone was helping Ron, who is the main chef at the Center, make lunch. We sat with Sandy, Tom and a few people who were visiting from the Pennsylvania State Hospital. Most of the visit consisted of conversation versus the activities that we did with everyone at the last visit. At noon, everyone started putting tacos together and eating. And Areej and I, after eating some food with them and having a discussion about local buses (and Carlisle’s horrible version of a transportation system), left around 12:45PM.

This day in particular consisted of a lot of stress. It seems that everyone we talked to had anything but a peaceful weekend. Tom mentioned that his new meds were having odd side-effects, and Sandy’s weekend mostly consisted of looking for jobs. Everyone else just seemed tired and content to sit around drinking coffee. Debra, a new member who i met today, mentioned that perhaps there should just be a caffine I.V. in the Center. Tom brought up the conversation again about Tom Cruise’s comments regarding therapy. This seems to be a discussion that’s brought up frequently among the members at the Center. We all agreed, after explaining Scientology to a few people who were talking with us, that different methods of recovery work for different people. It’s just rather frustrating to me that there is still such a stigma attached to mental illness and therapy. Even when I was listening to Sandy talk about finding a job, she mentioned that it was hard for her to work certain jobs because of the stress level. I suppose it’s just easier for the rest of the world to not think about these issues unless they have a loved one or a friend who goes through a similar situation (or they go through it themself), but I don’t think people realize that it could be someone close to you who is going through such set backs. People should just take these injustices more personally in my opinion.

On that note, I couldn’t help but think about the article “The ‘Careers’ of the People Exhibited in Freak Shows: The Problem of Volition and Valorization,” by Gerber. The article concerns with the physical aspects of disability rather than the cognitive. However, it’s true that the “higher” places in society and “better” jobs are assigned to those who at least give the impression of being normal cognitively as well. The members of the Steven’s Center did not ask to have something that society stigmatizes, just as someone with an extraordinary body can not control society’s stigma upon physical disability. And thus, they cannot always acquire the jobs and positions that they would like. Sandy explained that she would like to be able to carry a good job, but none were available to her due to the fact that she was a member of the Center; that most people would not hire an individual going through active therapy. And while most of these members are not going to make money off of what society might find as a spectical, the way that the members of a Freak Show would, the situations of most of the people I have met in the Center speaks openly to the lack of choices there are in occupations for those with a cognitive disability.

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