When asked to sum up my disabilities, I am faced not only with the linguistic or medical quandary of whether to define the state of my body as disabled, but also the many psychological and ethical dilemmas that come with this definition.
As a result of an accident, I have reconstructed vertebrae. I have considerable nerve damage and slight paralysis to the left side of my body from the shoulder to my foot. My left hip and pelvis were severely damaged and often quite painful. My right elbow was completely replaced, and I have only partial movement.
After describing all of this, I should definitely add here, that I do not define myself as disabled, but rather, somewhat limited in movement.
Quite a long time ago, while visiting Japan I was graciously served tea from a bowl that had once been broken. Its cracks had been repaired with gold. I was struck by the beauty of an accepted and accentuated imperfection, one with no attempt to cover-up damage or disappear history. I referred to this urushi - traditional ceramic repair method in a text wrote and titled “Broken.” These gold filled cracks implied the possibility of other value systems - of a world without face lifts, no sweeping under the rug, or tears over spilled milk.
Some metaphors linger. This is certainly one that has stayed with me, and shifted in importance with time. Some years after writing this text, I fell from my third floor window in New York, and by fate, luck, fluke, I narrowly escaped death. There was much breakage and damage to my body, some which mended in time. Other breaks, like the one to my vertebra, was crafted back together by surgeons with a metal armature. The process of recovering was long, laborious and clearly life changing.
I generally steer clear of autobiographical references in work, fearing the myths, heroes, and clichés that are easily created. Subtle metaphors need protection from becoming flat footed and obvious symbols. Yet somehow, over time, I found myself returning to this image of repairs filled with gold, and I have taken great solace in thinking about these Japanese objects with their gold honored broken past. Like I said, some metaphors linger.
These precarious broken objects balance between wholeness and fragmentation. Broken things are one more class of cultural underdog, sheltered under my aesthetic wing alongside the very small, the invisible, the ephemeral, the absent. They provide yet another lens for looking at how we seek value in objects and why.