Tag Archives: pain

Music review: Charlotte Martin’s “Dancing on Needles” (2011)

[Description: Cover of Charlotte Martin’s album Dancing on Needles, which depicts Martin, shown in profile, in some sort of woodsy outdoor environment. She appears to be looking up at something out-of-frame.]

Charlotte Martin: Dancing on Needles (1 Feb 2011); Test-Drive Records (available via iTunes, Amazon, and through the artist’s website)

When I first started hearing about Charlotte Martin’s album Dancing on Needles in some preliminary press coverage last year, I was both excited to hear the album and more than a bit skeptical when it came to the tone of some of the coverage. Some of this coverage focused on the fact that Martin’s new record had been inspired by her battle with severe chronic nerve pain, and the apparent “happy ending” to her story; as someone with chronic pain, it seems to me that this type of narrative is often trotted out in order to reassure the audience that the subject is “better now”–even though that’s not the way it works out for most folks with chronic pain. For many of us who deal with chronic pain issues, there is no “ending,” happy or not; chronic pain is, by its very definition, unending. Oddly, many narratives of disability in popular culture propose an end or accord some sort of “inspirational” power to a disabling health condition, often meant to reassure many nondisabled folks’ existing attitudes about disability.

Popular culture, at least in the United States, tends to engage with disability in ways that are both extremely limited and highly specific. There are a number of well-worn tropes about disability and ability that popular culture drags out time and time again, namely: Disability is always tragic and awful. Illness and/or disability can be turned into a 100% positive “opportunity” to discover what’s really important in life, or to teach the person with the disability or illness–and the nondisabled people around them–a crucial life lesson that they never would have learned if not for their illness/disability. Disabled people are freakish, abnormal, scary, and are thus not deserving of basic human treatment; they deserve only pity, charity, or to be gawked at. They are constantly angry about their lot in life (think of House, for example–even with all of the complexities that make him such an interesting character). They are just jealous of people who are normal because they themselves are not normal. People with disabilities can “overcome” their limitations, but only by doing amazing things that, above all, serve to inspire nondisabled people (what’s up, Supercrip)!

Dancing on Needles, thankfully, does none of the above. If you’re looking for a completely inspirational record, or one with easy answers, you may want to look elsewhere.

Charlotte Martin has made quite a few albums. I have heard almost all of them (exception: Piano Trees, which apparently was a tour-exclusive album and one that I haven’t been able to track down). They are all spectacular in their own ways, but this one might be my favorite, and not just because many of the songs are about dealing with chronic pain and the uncertainties that it poses. The entire album is a complex, layered work about dealing with chronic pain and its uncertainties. We have all seen works of art about disability that rely on one or more of the tropes and narratives listed above. To which I say, YAWN, because most of the aforementioned tropes and themes get excruciatingly boring after a while (not to mention overused), and then you have a lot of people thinking that those tropes are the only ways to engage with disability/ability in creative work, simply because those are the stories that have been used so often. Dancing on Needles does not fit into any of those narratives quite so easily, at least not with lyrics such as:

My reflection is a woman I do not know/Thunderclouding ’cause she hasn’t got far to go/I haven’t got far to go (from “Any Minute Now”)

Or:

Great ideas/God, we had great ideas/Didn’t know this could happen to me/Struggling/To see the meaning in all of the meaningless/I wasted when I had you here (from “Life Vest”)

Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret the album’s lyrics, including those excerpted above, but since the album has been described repeatedly in articles and press materials as being inspired, in part, by Charlotte’s recent experiences with chronic pain, I’d be pretty surprised if at least some of the lyrics did not refer to it at all. Even if the lyrics are not straightforwardly about chronic pain throughout, all of the songs on this album add up to an incredibly interesting, rewarding record that seems, more generally, to be about life changes and the uncertainties that they pose. I’d argue (mostly from personal experience!) that chronic pain, and living with pain, can be and often is a major life change. Learning to live with pain entails some sort of change, usually; Dancing on Needles is a stunning example of how great art, and great music, can spring from tremendous life changes.

Musically, it is also a great pop album. I hope that this will not be the only pop record that features a first-person experience of disabling chronic pain as one of its main themes. Of course, it’s probably not going to completely revolutionize pop music and that genre’s treatment of disability, because it is one album. The important thing is that this album is a starting point, and one that has set the bar pretty high at that.

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Problem toes

What I imagine my toes might say, if they could talk. As usual, click for large.

[Description: Black and white line drawing of two feet; all of the toes have gleeful facial expressions, and a few of them have dialogue lines. Third left toe: “My nail grows at a weird angle”; Big left toe: “My large calluses will never go away, Ped Egg or no”; Big right toe: “The joint just below me will hurt in cold weather, and you will have no idea why!”; Smallest left toe: “My nail grows at a 45-degree angle!”]

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Splotch

The reddish reflection here is from the sweatshirt I was wearing when I photographed this piece, and for some ungodly reason, I liked the effect enough to post the photo. As usual, click for a larger version.

[Description: Black and white painting of a bunch of random splotches, in the midst of which is a woman who stands uncomfortably while holding her right arm out to the side. Her arms and hands are composed of large, random shapes, her legs are thick black lines, and her feet are rectangles. She stares directly at the viewer, and does not appear to have a mouth.]

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Headache #2

Inspired by — you guessed it — a bad headache that OTC pain relievers could not touch. Click for a higher-quality version.

[Description: Black and white line drawing of a dissatisfied-looking woman standing as a bunch of squiggles, random swirls, explosions, hands and sharp objects emerge from the top of her head. Some of the swirls emerging from her head wrap around her body.]

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Willpower isn’t enough

New-agers are always a-titter about individual willpower as the response to everything. Often, this does not work for those of us with health issues, no matter how hard we may try (as demonstrated in the cartoon above)! Click for large.

[Description: Line drawing of a woman, obviously in pain, with a thought bubble over her head that reads “Willpower. Willpower. WILLPOWER.” On her left, a very happy-looking giant pill leaps from a bottle of prescription pills while saying, “Just TAKE ME already, asshole!” to the woman.]

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Quick post: Experimenting with ink

I’ve been trying to do some stand-alone line drawings recently, with mixed results. Here is one that I completed a few days ago that I quite like (as always, click for larger):

[Description: Photo of an ink on paper drawing with lots of random, grey ink splotches and splatters. On the right side, a figure (*~ARTISTIC~* black and white line drawing version of Annaham, the artist) stands in a large blob of grey, with a somewhat blank expression on her face. Her hands and arms are depicted as sharp, jagged claws.]

I will probably upload more of these when I can get access to a scanner, instead of having to settle for crappy laptop camera pics.

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Things That Make My Life Easier: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

[Image description: Four bottles of perfume in front of and resting upon some books; the bottles are labeled “Australian Copperhead,” “Banded Sea Snake,” “Cottonmouth,” and “Asp Viper,” respectively. Image courtesy of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.]

Today, I am taking a page from amandaw’s awesome series “Things That Make My Life Easier” and have chosen to spotlight the fantastically scented goodness of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. As a person with chronic pain, I have found that certain things having to do with the five senses that take my mind off of my pain — even for a few minutes — makes dealing with pain and fatigue much, much easier. While I am unsure of the scientific veracity of perfume oils and their use in general life-improvement for folks with pain issues (in my case, fibromyalgia, which for me usually causes intense muscle pain and moderate to severe fatigue), I have personally benefited from wearing the complex and often surprising essential oil blends in which the Lab specializes. While smelling nice certainly won’t bring my physical pain down from, say, an 8 to a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10), many of these blends have helped me to relax, focus on a different sort of physical sensation that is not abjectly, horrendously painful, and generally be more comfortable as I go about my day.

Besides a “General Catalogue” consisting of hundreds of scents—all inspired by a diverse mix of people (comic-book heroes and heroines; H.P. Lovecraft), places (the “Wanderlust” line, which offers scents inspired by famous locales) and things (love [image on page is NSFW], myth and fairy tales, classic art, religion and spirituality, and Alice in Wonderland, to name just a few)—BPAL also offers Limited Edition blends. Currently, they are offering their annual Fall/Halloween scents; if you’ve ever wanted to smell like an apple orchard, fall leaves and smoke, or Halloween candy, one (or more) of these oils may be for you.

It is next-to-impossible for me to pick favorite blends, as mine seem to change by the day. There are a few that I consistently utilize, however: Blood Kiss is a bizarrely dark blend of vanilla, clove and cherry that I’ve been wearing for years (I’m on my third bottle of the stuff). Absinthe is effervescent, minty and (obviously) boozy. When I want to smell sort of like a head shop sans the moldy undertone, a couple drops of Sin do the trick. Aquatic scents seem to be my most-used “category,” with the salty, swampy Bayou being the one that I reach for most often, tied with the Limited Edition Sturgeon Moon (the latter is no longer available, unfortunately). The smoky, slightly citrusy goodness of Carnaval Diabolique (part of a sprawling LE series of the same name) makes for a great late summer/early fall scent, as does the sharp, lavender-tinged Casanova.

Of course, the very fact that I wear essential oil perfumes brings up another issue — how to be sensitive and accommodating to fellow PWDs who may have scent sensitivities, allergies, or who may have otherwise painful reactions to scented stimuli. When I’m planning to be out and about, I tend to wear a drop or two at most, usually applied with a q-tip, and allow ample time for the oil to dry before I leave the house; this is not a perfect solution, but I am still figuring out how to balance the benefits that I personally get from wearing these amazingly-crafted oils with the needs of other PWDs whom I may encounter in public.

[Originally posted at FWD.]

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Detached

[Description: Line drawing of a woman in a bed, sitting up against the pillows as her eyes—popping out of her head—focus on her body parts, which have detached from their sockets and are floating around the room.]

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OF COURSE it’s time for meds, if a rocketship crashes into your head

[Image description: A line drawing of a young woman with a quizzical facial expression who has a rocket embedded in the left side of her head. A thought bubble to her right reads, “It’s time for Vicodin.”]

Ink on paper, 2009.

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BADD 2010: “Exhibition”

For Blogging Against Disablism Day this year, I thought I’d share a poem that I wrote a while ago that I haven’t shared until now. I was going to turn it into a spoken-word piece but never got around to it. Better late than never, I suppose.

Exhibition

On my side
side/ways
eyes brain neck
spinning along with
everything else
and I haven’t even been drinking

this is not a workout
and yet, I am sweating
the body over (re)acts
does not know quite how to
respond
and I wish I
could say to
every non-believer, every “skeptic”

everyone who’s ever asked:
what’s wrong with you
why do you walk like that
is something the matter with your foot
what is it
why aren’t you getting better
why isn’t your attitude more positive
why can’t you

almost always accompanied
by one of these:
at least you can walk
at least you’re smart, so you can deal with this
at least you’re not homeless
or starving
or living in a Third World country
you’re luckier than most
how bad could your pain be?
just take some aspirin
stop complaining
why
why
why

for every
you should take vitamins
just work through your pain
I have pain, too
you’re too young to have something
like that
why are you so bitchy
that I hear
I smile a little bit, inside

because: someday
many of these people
will also know
pain

but for now
this is my reality
and I wish you could see it
feel it
for only a minute
and then maybe you’d
think before you
talk at me
or offer meaningless platitudes

every word that exits your mouth

random stranger,
friend of a friend,
asshole on the street who tells me to smile
because it can’t be that bad
every word
means less to me
than I do to you

I’m not your vehicle for
public service
I am not to be used
to show the world

what a great “liberal,” progressive kind person you are
or to be subjected to
your pity
masked as concern
so please step out of
my way
once I can stand, that is
for now—lucky for you
I am confined to vertigo
In my own carpeted purgatory

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