In 2012 I saw David Rakoff give this talk and performance, three months before he died. I just heard it again, rebroadcast on the radio, and found a video of it that I've put at the bottom of this post. A lot of what he says resonates with me both as a person of difference and as a person of dis/ability:
It was an exercise in humiliation and trying to make myself as invisible as possible.
That was how he felt going to dance classes as a young man. That was how I felt in gym class as a kid. The difference between us that as a kid in gym class, I was coming to terms with disability, and the young David Rakoff wasn't. Not yet.
On becoming dis/abled, he says:
Everybody loses ability—everybody loses ability as they age. If you're lucky, this happens over the course of a few decades.
David Rakoff's "if your lucky" referred to his cancer and resulting string of operations, the last of which left him with a flail limb, meaning that he could neither move nor feel anything in his left arm. His descriptions for accommodating to this disability, though different from those that a person with low vision performs, are pretty familiar in their perfunctory absurdity:
If I retained anything from dancing, it's a physical precision that certainly helps in my new daily one-armed tasks. They're the same as my old two-armed chores. They're not epic or horrifying. Some of them don't even take much longer, but they're all to one degree or another, more annoying than they used to be, requiring planning, strategy, and a certain enhanced gracefulness.
Oral hygiene: Hold the handle of the toothbrush between your teeth the way FDR or Burgess Meredith playing The Penguin bit down on their cigarette holders. Put the toothpaste on the brush, recap the tube, put it away... Then reverse the brush and put the bristles in your mouth, proceed.
Washing your right arm: Soap up your right thigh in the shower, put your foot up on the edge of the tub, and then move your arm over your soapy lower limb back and forth like an old-timey barbershop razor strop.
Grating cheese: Get a pot with a looped handle, the heavier the better. This will anchor the bowl that you want the cheese to go into. Put the bowl into the pot. Now take a wooden spoon and feed it through the handle of the grater and the loop of the pot, and then tuck the end down into the waistband of your jeans. (Clean underpants are a good idea.) Jam yourself up against the kitchen counter and go to town.
In memory, here's David Rakoff's complete talk and performance:
After he died, This American Life ran an hour-long tribute to David Rakoff's life and work. Listen here.