On our time

On the days when the hot, humid air weighs on my chest, or when my brain is exhausted after a long meeting, I walk slowly. My pace is measured and I feel other people rush by me. In the beginning it was even slower, and I remember wondering--I used to walk that quickly? 

I am moving on my time. On crip time.

(If you are not familiar with the term “crip,” pause here and read more.)

“Time is foundational in the production of normalcy,” according to feminist-disability scholar Alison Kafer, who writes on futures for disabled people in Feminist, Queer, Crip. What about those of us whose bodies and minds deviate from the norm?

I think about crip time when my gait and speech slow. I feel myself in its liminal space when I can’t find my words. I notice it in the way I am constantly planning for and managing the near future, while in the now. Will that party be too loud for me to attend? My friend suggested we meet at this restaurant, how do I propose a different one that is quieter or less crowded? I am mapping the waters of the future while sailing the present. Sometimes, I am still feeling the rocky currents of the near-past.


Several months back, I had a meeting scheduled with a friend at her office. She is a wheelchair user, and a few minutes past the hour, her able-bodied colleague came downstairs to announce that she was “running late.” My friend arrived at about twenty minutes past the hour due to an issue with her car’s wheelchair ramp. One could say that she was “running late,” but another interpretation is that she was moving on crip time. For those who rely on mobility devices, attendants and accessible architecture, “crip time bends the clock” (Kafer) to accommodate.

Crip time is also, fundamentally, about the disjointed nature between what our bodies and minds can do. It is accepting, even reveling, in the non-normative nature of things. Anne McDonald, an Australian activist who lived with cerebral palsy, wrote that “my thoughts are as quick as anyone’s...and my talk is slower than a snail in quicksand.” For her, and for many disabled people, crip time is a site of liberation. McDonald compares her lunchtimes before and after institutionalization: “I take an hour to eat lunch - not an hour to go to the restaurant, order, consume my meal, and chat, but an hour just to eat. I used to live in an institution, where I didn’t have an hour. Meals for us were done in your time, or evenfaster, six minutes per child...Long lunches are now my frequent pleasure; they show me I am free.” 


Through the lens of crip time, I have found it easier to frame and resist society’s all-encompassing push towards cure. If able-bodied time is about “progress,” of course the predominant question is “How soon until you’re better?” On crip time, we can dream our own ideas of what “better” is. We have our own framework to benchmark progress, which usually consists of “less pain, less anxiety, more flexibility--but not usually to become able-bodied,”  according to disabled activist and healer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice). 

Crip time is “time travel,” according to Ellen Samuels, author of Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time. “We are never linear.” “Progress” of mind and body is forwards and backwards and cannot be understood on normative time--it’s best not to try. Time travel takes me to imagined futures, where I consider how my brain will change in different ways than had it not been injured. Occasionally, though less frequently now, it takes me back to the moments before the accident, willing my then-self to take a different route home, to take the subway home, to not go home. I stop myself from falling into the grief of this time travel.

And indeed, Samuels writes that “crip time is grief time. It is a time of loss, and of the crushing undertow that accompanies loss.” In the early days, I envisioned my grief as waves hitting me one after another, or a bus toppling me repeatedly. I mourned the possibilities that were gone. Slowly I made long mental inventories lists of things I couldn’t do (driving, running, hiking) that I wanted to reclaim. Many of these things I can do again, in a modified way. Some things are still off the table. 


But many paths and visions have appeared that otherwise would not have. I think that crip time can be dream time. Not in a simplistic way that celebrates disability as a “gift,” but in a way that frequently pushes us to reorient the building blocks of our lives. To ask new and difficult questions. To “listen to our bodyminds so closely, so attentively, in a culture that tells us to divide the two and push the body away from us” (Samuels).

How much I’ve lost, and found, on this time.