Crip Time Lessons

“On Listening to Wagner” collagraph by Ruth Singley Ensign, 1983

True confession: I had no idea what ‘crip time’ meant until I heard the term used in the recent International Health Humanities Conference plenary session response by David Serlin, Associate Professor of Communication and Science Studies at University of California, San Diego. I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, and wrote down ‘crypt time or crib time or crip time”‘ in my notes.

From the context within which he used the term, I figured out that it was crip time, as in ‘crippled time,’ a term used within disability studies. Serlin used crip time almost interchangeably with the more familiar (and to me, overused) term ‘slow time.’ The Australian disability rights advocate Anne McDonald wrote this beautiful passage to describe crip time:

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. 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. ~from the Anne McDonald Centre website.

Serlin also spoke of the ‘non-modal subject’ and challenged the linearity that is built into academia. That last point I can relate to, what with our straight railroad ‘tenure tracks,’ our straight and largely isolated/isolating silos of academic disciplines, and our straight and bewilderingly complex academic buildings and medical centers. And I can wax ranting-ly lyrical on the proliferation of the straight-laced Microsoft PowerPoint slide decks used in teaching and in presenting academic research. Serlin did begin his talk by stating that “PowerPoint corrupts absolutely,” although he then used PowerPoint slides…

The non-modal subject, as in the outliers, the freaks, the ‘not normals,’ the ‘not averages’–where do they fit within all of this and what lessons can they teach those of us who ‘pass’ as normals? Because, we should remember, that we are all either disabled or ‘not yet’ disabled in one form or another.

~note: “On Listening to Wagner,” the collograph by my artist mother, Ruth Singley Ensign, is a representation of some of her synesthesia (‘colored hearing’), a perceptual condition of mixed sensations. A handicap or a gift?

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