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  • Crip Time
  • Petra Kuppers (bio)

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Participants in “Helping Dances” gather outdoors to enact loving interdependence, offering caring touch and affirmation to other people with disabilities.

Mareva Minerbi

I live life in slow motion. The world I live in is one where my thoughts are as quick as anyone’s, my movements are weak and erratic, and my talk is slower than a snail in quicksand,” writes Australian author and activist Anne McDonald, reflecting on her perception of time. “I have cerebral palsy, I can’t walk or talk, I use an alphabet board, and I communicate at the rate of 450 words an hour compared to your 150 words in a minute — twenty times as slow. A slow world would be my heaven. I am forced to live in your world, a fast hard one. If slow rays flew from me I would be able to live in this world. I need to speed up, or you need to slow down.”

In this way McDonald explains the difference between her time and “normate” time (to use a term coined by disability scholar Rosemarie Garland Thomson, making “normal” a little more strange). Many disabled people will recognize this “crip time,” the traces of temporal shifting, in their own lives. There is the day we lie in bed, the time of pain blooming in our bones, the end of the street impossibly far for limping legs, the meeting and its noise assault set against the reassuring tick of the wall clock at home.

To many disabled writers, writing in crip time becomes a sanctuary. As Gloria Anzaldúa writes in Borderlands, “It is dark and damp and has been raining all day. i love days like this. as i lie in bed i am able to dive inward. perhaps today i will write from the deep core.” Diving inwards. Deep core. Sanctuary. A snail in quicksand.

These moments out of time, out of productive, forward-leaning, exciting time, can become moments of disability culture politics. As McDonald reminds us, these time experiences might be born out of pain and frustration, and these moments shouldn’t be romanticized. And yet, many disabled people speak or type or gesture to the blossoming of attention in attenuation, in waiting, in abeyance. To the other side of crip time.

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“Is this what disability spiritualities might look like?” the author writes. “Here is a sanctuary, created by nothing but bodies, attention, and soft fabrics.”

Cheryl Kaplan

Many spiritual traditions know these times out of time, these nondriven moments that turn their back on modernity’s insistent tick. Meditation and prayer bring many people to a welling of empty time, to a fulfillment, in halting.

Dancing Out of Time

I am a disability culture artist, and as an artist, I find studies that focus on the wellness aspects of prayer to be very seductive. I wish for artful self-care for disabled people, and the work of the collective I lead, The Olimpias, often starts from this premise. Drawing on this vision, my partner, Neil Marcus, and I have initiated a practice called Helping Dances.

Marcus’s spasticity influences his communication: he speaks very slowly, and his speech difference can be hard to listen to by people who want to communicate in nor-mate time. My own disability is pain-related, and at times it can immobilize me, leaving me momentarily breathless, retracted — a large woman caught in her wheelchair, turned inward.

Here is our Helping Dances invitation:

Neil and I love each other, and we love to move. But we can no longer move the way we used to — our bodies are getting older, more painful, less flexible. So we would love to ask for your help. Can you lend us your strength, your ability, your care, your attention?

Every week or so, in public places, parks, street corners, join us as we enact interdependence. Together, we activate thoughts and emotions about the network of helper economies we are part of, and their relations to issues of class, age, ethnicity, race, disability, and sexuality. Experience the joy of helping, respectfully.

Helping Dances started...