A Wheelchair in Gold: Part 1:Self Reflection

I was first alerted to somebody called Kylie striking a pose in a golden wheelchair no less by tweeter Kayla Whaley, otherwise known as @PunkinOnWheels, who I’d recommend you follow by the way. She’s fantastic, sharp and witty.

My initial worry over somebody called Kylie posing in a golden wheelchair was that it could be Kylie Minogue. Although she doesn’t know it, Kylie and I have a special connection. Her album, imaginatively titled Kylie with the first album my mother ever bought me. I should be so lucky! The best bit is she also bought me a plastic drum kit with a flashing set of multi-coloured disco lights underneath. I somehow think Kylie would have approved. So imagine my relief then when I discovered that it wasn’t Kylie Minogue who was striking a pose in a wheelchair after all. It was in fact Kylie Jenner who is part of some famous family. I knew I could trust Ms Minogue not to be that stupid.

Before I turn to the matter of Kylie Jenner and her recent posing, let me offer some thoughts on my own wheelchair.

For me, there was no accident, no broken legs or fractures. My relationship with overgrown buggies, and later wheelchairs was never ‘It’s Complicated.’ Due to cerebral palsy, it has been a lifelong dance. However, the dance partner is silent and yet makes all the moves.

A lot of commentary I have seen has spoken of the love people have for their wheelchairs, and the fact that wheelchairs offer them freedom. For me I cannot dispute that, but is it that much of a taboo to diverge from this narrative slightly?

My relationship with my wheelchair is tempestuous. Mercifully, my wheelchair has never told me what it thinks of me. Why is it tempestuous, and perhaps less so for others? It is something I have reflected upon, and is one of the reasons why did want to rush my response to Kylie Jenner’s photo shoot.

My feelings about my wheelchair range from love and thankfulness to utter contempt and disdain. I went to mainstream school, which was brilliant academically for me, and it made me able to pursue my artistic talents in spite of rather than because of my disability.

However, I also paid a price. I was exposed from a young age to the sense of being different. I became quickly aware of my difficulties and deficits, and sometimes the lack of equilibrium between me and other people.

I believe it is only human therefore to wonder and speculate about what life would be like without the wheelchair. I know it would be infinitely easier. I know my life may have panned out very differently.

Whenever I see a theatre production on stage, and I see people dancing I imagine the steps myself, and I imagine what it would be like to do them. Some will say, “well you can’t so just accept it.” The truth of the matter is that my body has physical limits, but my brain doesn’t, and it is as sharp as the sharpest needle.

The capacity to imagine possibilities and ideas outside of disability are a huge driver for me. I do not concur with the school of thought that says disabled people, rather I am a person with a disability.

I made a new friend recently, a fellow creative and she said to me;

“I wish we could get you out of that chair. I see you dancing in my mind.”

To some people this could be interpreted as being extremely offensive, as though somehow disability made them inferior. From that moment on though, and I must stress that I speak for myself and myself alone I knew this person and I would be good friends.

For as well as being musically gifted, she had the intelligence and wit to see that my disability is not the sum and total of me and the entirety of my identity. It is part of me that is undeniable. But I have talents and abilities which supersede it and long may that continue. I can write. I can play the piano. I can laugh. I can listen to friends when they have problems. So the wheelchair is what I am but certainly not who I am. When my friend said those things, I was exhilarated. In society so many people can’t see past the wheelchair. I love to dance in my friend’s mind. I’m aware that these remarks may be offensive to some. But as a writer I feel my raison d’être is to push the boundaries and explore. I don’t want to just think about what is real, tangible and practical. I am an unashamed dreamer, and while I have breath in my body I will continue to dream.

Clearly I am at a disadvantage when my wheelchair breaks down. It is a machine and things do go wrong from time to time. Have you ever heard the expression “you’re like a bulldog chewing a wasp?”

Well if you multiply that by a million, you have the measure of Hannah Buchanan sans wheelchair, plus a wasp’s nest to deal with.

So of course I miss my wheelchair when it is broken. But I will not bow down in reverence to it, as though it were a supernatural metaphysical object. The truth of the matter is that I would rather not been a wheelchair at all because I’m aware of the vast array of possibilities this would open up unlike Kylie Jenner it seems.

 

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