Monday, November 26, 2012

Breathing Lessons

Over the weekend I caught the movie 'The Sessions'. It offers up some insights into living with disability, but the scope of the movie is small - mostly covering one year of a 49 yr life through the lens of sexuality. Still, it's a lens worth looking through to humanize the face of the disabled.

The movie was only the first breadcrumb on my trail to discover Mark O'Brien - the man behind the story - poet, journalist and disability activist. Disabled by polio at age 6, he lived under his parents care until he was 27, next moving to a nursing home for two years. He escaped that horror to bravely venture into the big, grand world of adult independence and enrolled at Berkley, graduating in journalism. He was also a poet, stating: "Poetry and journalism have more in common than either would like to admit. They both have to tell the truth."

He wrote by poking painstakingly slow at a keyboard with a stick in his mouth as he lay inside an iron lung machine - the contraption that gave him breath and sustained his life.

Mark O'Brien on writing: "I'm living and I imagine it's for some reason. I have my work. I write. I don't have writer's block ever. I have all this stuff I want to write. And I can only write an hour or two a day. There's never enough time to write."

In digging up information on him, I came upon this link to the '96 documentary on him that won an Oscar for best short documentary - 'Breathing Lessons'. It's short - 36 minutes -- and waaaay better than The Sessions. The latter is the "watered down for the mainstream," mass appeal, feel-good, semi-romantic comedy. Breathing Lessons is the real deal - multi-layered, complex, complicated -- like a human being is.  The sexual surrogacy story of 'The Sessions' being just one small chapter of a remarkable life of a writer confined and limited - in body only.

If you take the time to watch this you'll only be enriched. Consider it leavening for the writer in you.

"Everybody becomes disabled.... unless you die first." - Mark O'Brien