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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark

Make Excuses

*This post is inspired by the post about disability in pole sports recently done by The Pole Physio on instagram. In their stories they reminded people that disabled polers don't exist to be everyone else's inspiration, I woke up to hundreds of new followers feeling inspired. So I wanted to share my personal thoughts on the messages of 'no excuses' and 'no limits' that often get shared along with videos or photos of me doing aerial. A version of this post appears on my instagram as an introduction to all my new guests*

Here's something to consider if you are not a disabled person and you think of me as an example of how there are 'no limits' and also that there is 'no excuse':

I am limited. There are things that I will never do no matter how hard I train. As an aerialist, that's my starting point. That's not the thing I ignore, it's the entire frame of reference. At worst, It would be UNSAFE if it wasn't and at the very least, I would be significantly less effective. I am not defying my limits, I am obeying them. I am respecting them.

So why doesn't it look like that to you? Why do you feel so strongly that what you see with your own eyes is so clearly proof that there are no limits and that anything is possible and 'what's your excuse?'

Because you don't actually know what my limits are. You've made a false comparison between your idea of my limits and what you see me do.

I'm not overcoming the limits of my disability, those limits just never prevented me from doing aerial in the first place. It's not proof of anything other than I'm using my body according to it's natural mechanics. Being in the air, my asymmetries and weaknesses don't work against me the way they can on the ground, so I have more access to the strength and range of motion of my upper body. I have always loved swinging and monkeying around. These are not amazing discoveries to me. They're just continuations of what I can and always could do.

You're discovering that what you expected, isn't what is so. This is ok. How could you know? But try and remember that you couldn't know because you don't know me. You're not in the aerial studio with me as I am working on things. You are not watching me choose what to focus on regardless of what the rest of the group is doing. You do not see me unsentimentally give up on a trick (I'm looking at you, anything requiring a back bend) because it is fruitless. You are not there when I accidentally invent something entirely different than what I intended because that's the pathway my body opened up and despite how hard rope/silks/pole is, I'm still mostly taking the path of least resistance. (if you watch me long enough, you'll realize i'm basically just going in and out of a meat hook in different ways over and over again! ha). You don't see the process, and you don't know me.

I think I understand the excitement and genuine enthusiasm behind sharing me as an example of what you believe. But I ask that you be aware that when you repost me and add a motivational message about excuses or limits, you are speaking for yourself. While I have seen the benefit of those beliefs in the training of other aerialists, it's not my approach and those are not my words. And because of that, it is my hope for anyone who holds those beliefs that you would be able to be your own example of your message and how you train and what works for you. You don't need me for that. You've got you!

Now, back to me.

In talking to a few friends over the last few weeks about excuses and exercises to diminish them and how I feel like Alice in Wonderland whenever it comes up, one of them empathized saying how weird it must be when people essentially use me as a learning device and then try and teach or present it back to me as a revelation.

I told my (also disabled and a professor of disability studies) friend Jeff, "It feels like a trap. Because I guess I must not make excuses the way they say I don't --I'm not really struggling with being in my own way as these sorts of motivational messages try to address. But, I don't agree at all with the 'no excuses' concept. My orientation with the concept of excuses doesn't map onto this way of thinking."

Jeff replied, "I think because you’ve already broken through the ableist fantasy of narcissistic supremacy."

"I have broken though a form of narcissism? Seems unlikely," I said and he explained:

"So one of the things I found repeated over and over in my PhD study was that disability was marked as particularly threatening because of the ways it deconstructed fantasies of bodily autonomy, strength, etc. That an important part of the normate psyche was this myth of bodily control/strength that was drawn into question by disability. There was this belief that one could “do anything” and were free before disability, but after becoming disabled they were now confined. This was what Alison Kafer would call a death of the future. So failure, to the normate, because this evidence of something they can’t admit to themselves — they are limited. But you (and really anyone with a disability) know their own bodies as fundamentally limited. But that intimate sense of limit doesn’t like…kill their future. Because they’re still alive, doing stuff, learning stuff, being stuff. So not being able to do something isn’t an attack on the ideal sense of self, it’s just a reality we’ve come to terms with. It’s basically the alcoholic anonymous creed, no? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. Like that’s basically a description of disability….minus maybe the god bits haha. But I think for the normate, the “accept the things I cannot change” is really read or felt as “accept that I have lost.” And the ‘excuse’ is actually protection."

My friend is an academic, so his reflections come with an intensity which I love --and then desecrate with my own interpretations. My interpretation of what he's saying:

I have been reading The Pole Physio posts for a little while now and something that strikes me about almost ALL of their recovery/injury/training posts is that the premise is something like " didn't know your limits and pushed past your limits and now you're injured (ie MORE limited) and still trying to push past your limit." Then the posts tries to help those polers who can relate to stop ignoring their limits.

Limits are good for you. Limits protect you. Limits are the context *within* which you can do these wondrous feats. They are not the things you are meant to aim at with the weapons of determination.

So, say it with me: I AM LIMITED.

As for excuses? I love them. I told Jeff that I feel like excuses are often a way we express a desire without admitting the desire. A way we petition power for permission when we feel we don't have that power. Or, maybe a way in which we attempt to exercise power when we're not sure of the consequences of going against the social conventions immediately surrounding us. Where we feel we will not be accepted if we do what we wish to do, we find a way to take permission without sacrificing acceptance.

Considering that definition of excuses, I feel like the statement "no excuses" prevents us from asking good questions. like, "Where is that excuse coming from? what source of power are you petitioning? what is it that you want/need permission for? What or who do you fear/resent/resist in doing this or not doing that?" Sometimes the answers to those questions deserve to be respected, not dismissed.

As a disabled person, the concept of excuses is turned entirely on it's head. In the non-disabled world, excuses are seen as little weaknesses and roadblocks that come from within preventing you from doing what you are capable of or 'should' be doing.

In my world, all those roadblocks and weaknesses often come from external sources. Other people, or environments themselves, telling me 'no' is much more common than me saying it to myself. They are not internal, abstract, abstentions from effort, they are external —and literally in my way. Am I making an excuse or pointing out a barrier? The validity of an excuse tends to be in the hands of the one who is receiving it. You see? how we then might need to draw our petitions?

If I point out too many obstacles, wearying the person receiving this information, what often happens is that they will say, 'well, if it's that hard/bad/such a big problem/etc then just go home. Why bother?" I have had this said to me by educators legally REQUIRED to teach me; "Just don't bother." The frequency with which 'don't bother' is offered as a solution to something being difficult because of inaccessibility or lack of inclusion colours the meaning of the inspirational intent of 'no excuses' with irony.

Inspiration is shallow if I am being used as the shinning example of 'no excuses' for people who have the ability to make them, while I'm not making excuses because if I make too many, all that inclusion can disappear suddenly and without recourse.

Excuses are little luxuries. If I'm in the company of someone to whom I can say 'no' and 'I can't do that' and 'it's impossible' and generally express my limits and not worry they'll segregate me or kick me out or go on without me. When I'm in a place where I can be grumpy, quiet, frustrated, on-edge and not feel like I risk being rejected for not being positive and inspirational. That means I'm with people who know me —people I trust. If you've heard me say, "I can't do that" —especially if I was totally wrong— you've seen me feeling safe to try, safe to explore, and safe to be me.

What if we asked each other “whats your excuse?” But we really meant it? What if we stopped telling each other to have ‘no excuses” and started helping each other feel more safe to explore, to try —to be limited.

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