See the Cripple Dance | City-fascination, fibromyalgia, & fiction

Yeah, the Ace of Wands is a spark of energy, inspiration, and creativity – but it doesn’t have to happen only at the beginning of a project.

Instead, it can happen in unexpected moments throughout the creative process, even after a project is complete. For those of us who don’t experience healing on a linear plane and don’t write our stories in a neat and tidy chronological order, this is marvelous news.

I have a list of thirteen long-term writing projects I’m working on. I’ve joked that I’m pretty much booked up writing-wise for the rest of my 30’s, but it’s true. I have Gemini rising, which means I’m working on each of them all at once, almost entirely unable to decide which ones to prioritize over others. Although they’re somewhat separate projects, each of them are overlapping and interconnected, which further troubles my ability to prioritize.

Last year, I began writing a short story that I’ve since been developing into a novella. I shared a chapter online, and named it The Horizon Condos Experiment (excerpt from an untitled novella). Since then, I’ve been building a world in my head, a more accessible city-world adjacent to the city I currently live in, but somewhere else too. I’ve been learning more about the characters and seeing the city through their eyes and bodies.

Walking is one of my favourite activities, which is one of the reasons fibromyalgia became so devastating to me. My chronic pain condition originated in my wrists, affecting my ability to write. Over time, it shifted to my spine, hips and pelvis, damaging and nearly destroying my ability to walk. I know what it’s like to lose the two most essential activities that give my life meaning. I know what it’s like to watch those activities slip away through a body that I’d never come to accept or to revel in before becoming physically disabled.

A city, to me, is a living, changing body. This is a tough analogy for me to pursue as somebody who refuses to use illness or disability as metaphors, but still sees buildings as organs and roads as veins, lights as neurotransmitters and concrete as mobility aids.

In The Everyday Witch Tarot, a figure in a dress that looks like a lit match drops their broom and watches in astonishment as a wand rises from the flames of the campfire they’ve built. Among other implements materializing in the smoke are a pen, a book, and a map. I get the impression that the map itself is incomplete – rather than being a set of directions for them to follow, they are now the creator of the map and can use the creative impulses of the Ace of Wands to make their own way, build their own world, and mark out the places and paths that are relevant to their own journey. There’s no deadline to finish the map; they can meander on their own time.

I can envision myself as the figure in this card, or I can see it as representing the storyteller in my novella, Jinx. I can feel the warmth of the flames on my open palms – despite my apprehension or overwhelm, I need to reach through the smoke and hold onto everything the fire is giving me, put each object to good use. Jinx will, too.

In Pixie’s Tarot, we see the classic hand emerging from the clouds, holding onto a wand with little sprigs of green leaves growing. If I were to create a cripple-artists tarot deck, I might re-imagine this one as the Ace of Canes, a hand gripping a scuffed up and be-stickered cane, forming a fist of sick, mad, disabled solidarity. While continuing to include artists’ tools the way many decks do, the cane itself would become an artist’s tool. The rubber foot of the cane would have claws and make noise on the pavement, and the bearer of the cane would never dream of a non-disabled life.

My fascination with cities, as well as my desire to write about them in a multitude of ways, some of which I don’t yet have the skills for, led me to search for information on city planning, city experiences, and city dreams. Through my search, I found the word psychogeography: the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or on behavior; the geographical environment of a particular location, typically a city, considered with regard to its influence on the mind or on behavior. I started reserving more books at the library and adding more books to my wishlist.

But one word isn’t enough. And it won’t surprise you to learn that many of these books are written by white, cis, non-disabled men – people who have an entirely different experience of cities from me, my friends, most of my readers, and most of my fictional characters. I can envision a map of Toronto with an overlay of how my crip-body navigates the city, and I can envision an unfinished map of the fictional city of my novella, with multiple disabled characters negotiating public and private space, co-creating accessibility where non-disabled designs and imaginings have consistently come up lacking.

A Change Has Been Proposed For This Site recently became the working title for my novella. Named after those ubiquitous signs propped up in front of neglected houses and green spaces that I wish would be kept as public parks and fruit & vegetable gardens, it’s become an unwelcome, intrusive chant in my city wanderings: a sentence I’ve read too many times, a line that gets stuck in my head like the chorus of a bad song, words that lead me to mourn for what once was and what might have been, had the proposed change not been yet another luxury condo.

While I love unclassifiable writing, I’m tempted to try to name mine as well, to invent genres and play around with naming them. For now, for my novella, I’ve created a category I’m calling ‘Speculative Psychogeographical Crip Lit’. Naming it gives me something to work toward, but still room to breathe.

When I was a kid, I drew maps of imaginary towns and floor plans for make-believe houses. In Winter, I built small walls of snow and pretended my hands were people walking within them. In the houses, I gave myself what I couldn’t have in real life: big windows with wide windowsills stacked with pillows, hidden bookcases underneath. Mysterious attics, wraparound porches with couches and plants. Tall trees. I liked walking over and under bridges, and through dirt paths created through brambles by foot and bike.

In the forest behind my dad’s house, which I visited on irregular alternating weekends, my twin and I contributed to building a tree fort with kids who lived in the neighbourhood full-time. We brought scrap wood and manual saws to the forest, nailing things together without taking any measurements. We were jealous of the kids who got to stay when we had to leave. I wanted to sleep inside the tree fort overnight, fill it up with my own things.

A few months ago, I attended a conversation at an art gallery between Maggie Nelson and Sheila Heti. One thing Maggie Nelson said that has stayed with me is, “A book is not written in one temporal moment.” I’ve been thinking about how a book, an essay, a blog entry, a zine goes on being written even after it’s posted, after it’s printed. The writing happens within multiple contexts, and – like a city, like a body – it’s always moving, always changing. I write until a piece feels as complete as it’s gonna get, but it never stops being written in my mind: a thousand P.S.’s and addendums, more what-ifs, more what-I-really-meant-to-say-is. The characters keep growing and changing, keep living. We have conversations with one another. It’s impossible for me to say how and when a thing was written, when it was completed. Everything feels unfinished.

In The Collective Tarot, a hand holds onto a key, unlocking an enflamed treasure chest. Like the Everyday Witch Tarot, the tools of art-making are released from the fire: a typewriter, musical instruments, a pair of scissors, a map. The Next World Tarot shows a scene a little more sparse, but powerful nonetheless: a flower of flames bursting forth through cement. The image of flowers and weeds growing through cracks in the sidewalk may be one that has been replicated and written about many times, but it’s still one I strongly identify with. While concrete is a beloved substance to me, the plants that break through it are just as precious. In the background, a city has either burned down or is about to be built – maybe both. Maybe it’s always both.

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