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Falling Into Place
~self portraits by Patricia Lay-Dorsey~
Photographing my life, the everyday ordinariness of it, has become a spiritual practice. As I write this I can hear many of you saying, “Oh god, she’s going new-agey on us.” Maybe so. But the fact is that photography has forced me to see life as it is, not as I wish it were. Sometimes I wonder if I would ever have come to this place had I not fallen into it. Literally.
It started with a fall, a knee-buckling ankle-spraining fall onto an unyielding sidewalk one cold January day. After the fifth unexplained fall in six months, I saw a neurologist who put me through a series of tests. Two months later I had a “75% certain” diagnosis of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. Within the year he’d changed it to 100%.
Twenty years later I wonder who I’d be and what I’d be doing were it not for this unexpected assault on my body. Don’t worry, I’m not going to say I’m grateful it happened. Sure I’d love to be able to run another marathon, or bike another 200-mile weekend tour, or even open a flip-top can by myself. It’s a real pain to take a half hour to change into my swimsuit, to wet my dress because I couldn’t make it to the toilet in time, to ask for help opening every door that pulls rather than pushes. And more. Much more. Being disabled can really suck.
And it can teach too. Patience, perspective, humility, determination, even gratitude. How much I appreciate small things like being able to pick up my camera’s memory card when I drop it (again and again) on the floor. How proud I was last August when I drove by myself the 1300 miles to and from New York City. How pleased I am that my claw-like fingers can still hit the shutter release button on my beloved Canon 40D.
I call this essay “Falling Into Place” because, in some strange way, I feel this IS my place, to see the world waist-high rather than face-to-face.
I started this project with the intention of showing my world view as a woman with a disability. As months went by, the work dictated its own focus and that was simply providing an eye into my daily life. Being disabled was just one piece of the puzzle, and not a particularly significant one at that. What became important was not so much showing my life to others, as seeing it for myself. My task as photographer/subject has been to recognize and document the most unremarkable moments of my day.
Some people “get it” and others don’t. My friend Dorothy Walters wrote the following poem after seeing the first tight edit of photos from this essay. Dorothy gets it.
She has transcended body,
left it behind.
She lives in a brain-ferment,
a buzzing hive of mind,
a tossing sea of perception.
She gathers fragments
of the presented world
and translates them
into a new medium,
a cosmos of images
held in a different frame.
In this uncovered order sun
and darkness meet,
old and unaccustomed bleed into
one another's space.
She is the eternal creator,
eyeing, composing, unmaking,
turning life over
into new soil,
August 9, 2008