This post was originally made for and shared with, the folks on Bayo Akomolafe’s We Will Dance With Mountains 2023: VUNJA! course, but I thought I’d share it here for wider(?) consumption. Bayo’s latest small essay A Grief That Laughs is also worth a (perhaps provocative) read.


This thought arose in response to something elsewhere, but I’ll share it here, and expand upon it because something like this question is always with me:

So, here’s a thought. Good old Fiona Kumari Campbell –  scholar of Studies in Ableism – often talks about encumbrance as the thing ableism attempts to negate. That is, an ableist society is one which despises encumbrance. In terms of the ranking, notification, prioritisation…of sentient life, those at the ‘bottom’ are the most encumbered, entangled etc.

They are less ‘free’ as per modernity’s idea of freedom, which is ultimate ‘self-sovereign’ – I am the highest ranked being, autonomous, and none shall restrict my ability or desires.  Note that the precise use of ableism is one which suggests a framework of ‘abled-ness’ as superior. Even the notion of ‘supremacy’ conjures an image of being untouchable. (This is why ableism is also intrinsic to most contexts of oppression. Any time any population is viewed as ‘less intelligent’, ‘less able to control themselves’ or ‘more emotional’, has ‘special needs’ or is a ‘drain on resources’, ‘lazy’, ableism is in play)

Being ‘a burden’ is seeing a thing, process, or a self, as an encumbrance a thing that restricts or curtails ability and autonomy. This only works because we selectively commodify certain entanglements, and not others. When they are presented so, they are not encumbrances but ‘aids to freedom’ or some such. A potential question is, what if entanglements can be processed as potential liberation. and encumbrances as processes which deepen our understanding of interdependency? This goes beyond ‘doing it because we love them’ and leaning into burden as noticing how we carry, and carry in turn – and how we are supported by others, or not in doing so. Even the cognitive shift is hard work, but if one can pull it off, it tends to shape-shift modernity’s concept of ‘care’ into something else entirely.

Because it admits that we are all dis/abling each other, and being dis/abled in our turns, what might this mean?

If, say, a speaker uses language we are unfamiliar with and thus meaningless to us, or someone asks us to move in ways that we cannot, find difficult, or exhausting, what then? Suppose for a second, just as an experiment, one leans *into* this dis/abling. What might happen.

Many disabled writers and thinkers explore the phenomenon of crip-time; the way crips, cripples, disabled and chronically ill folks experience different temporalities. They may need different amounts or kinds of time to exist, to process, to think, and be.

I was in conversation with some dear friends the other week, and one of them was speaking powerfully and rapidly about important things. Things I wanted to hear about, but my brain-damaged systems could not keep up with. So rather than burning through energy trying to keep up, I screwed my courage to the sticking post and made myself vulnerable.

Hold on a second,” I said, “I’m having real trouble processing. Could you slow it down – I need some time, crip time y’know?

Now, even though this person was my dear companion, I was nervous. What if I broke their flow, what if, even if they slow down, I’m still not going to be able to understand? What if I’m going to be a burden and disrupt the entire conversation and we lose this amazing vibe? But I asked, because I was becoming more and more dis/abled by the way the conversation was speeding by.

But I wasn’t asking, in order to become more abled – I’m a cripple, that’s never going to happen. I was asking because I needed to be more cripple, less abled.

And you know what happened, folks?

My companion stopped, and told me “Thank you, for saying that.” And then they began speaking slow, easy, deep, about deep and rich things. And later, they told me that the reason they said thank you? Well, I paraphrase: You asking me to slow down, they said, made me feel reached for, made me feel you trying to connect to me, and that felt good, felt like you cared.

And I did, and do care.

So much of modernity is about speed, about ‘getting it’, about perfect one to one transmission of information, without mess or loss. Sometimes, making things simple is mere reductionism, in service to speed.

Sometimes it is a pause, a prelude, a stumbling block inserted as gently as possible to trip, and shift our relation to our bodyminds, so we can stagger, fall, and, maybe help each other up – maybe pull each other down into a laughing, weeping, pained, exhausted heap.

If we are dis/abled, and dis/abling in turn, what then?

What if disability is larger than any of us, and the way we move with it is indeed, to paraphrase Bayo, to slow down in urgent times? What if the way to regulate nervous systems overclocked by modernity, is to shift and crip our relationship to time and space, to acknowledge our encumbrances, and how we encumber others in turn. Not as a methodology of getting rid of them, because we can’t – and the belief that we can become master and mistress, dominar of all we survey, that we can scramble up the pole to the top, is fundamentally an ableist proposition.

But as a methodology of sensing, rather than making sense and commodifying it as thing that can be got, or had, kept or hoarded. The essence of a container is to carry, after all. To carry and be carried in turn, to leak and slop and overspill.

Auntie Ursula knew this too.

For those who saw me talk about noticing the impossibility of stillness, perhaps you have a hint of what that sensing might be – the impossibility of being in control, where our own bodies give the lie to the concept of being ‘able’ to be still.

Here’s to crip-time, stumbling, and leaning into the way disability leaks into all our lives – after all, one either dies or becomes disabled in some fashion, no? And if so, maybe care is something different.

Something where care is not teleological
– not done to, or for, but is itself a dis/abling ontology where we are all vulnerable. Where there are no Instructors, only teaching, and the teaching  what happens when we trace our entanglements, where a fridge and a father’s laughter down a phoneline whisper something beyond divisions of sacred and profane, where academic language might be a disconcerting and arresting kind of poetry we’ve never encountered before, as well as the excreta of hundreds of years of thinkers shot through with the whiteness of so-called Enlightenment.

Suppose it’s ok to crip and crawl and stumble, to wave our feelers in the air in confusion and consternation, a confused cacophonous swarm of dis/oriented disabled dung beetles pushing our worlds of shit, following the paths of the Milky Way as we have done for millions upon millions of years and countless generations.

Suppose we even crip that “OK” into “inevitable”, “unanswerable”. Suppose all we can do is smile, and weep and scream, and hold each other as we mourn the injuries we receive and inflict; explore our wounds together, and allow the world to carry us as it will, as we are also worlds and worldings; the many countless weavings and braidings of baskets which we perform, but whiteness would have us look away from, gaze fast and fastening on the next thing, the next novelty, the next product of progress and evolution – beckoning us with promises of freedom, autonomy, and above all power?

I’ve said before, I don’t believe in power. It might be real, is very real, for a given value of real, as real as a Potemkin Village, an ersatz bulwark against porosity encumbrance, and above all, vulnerability. Smoke and mirrors coalescing into a heroic boot on a monster’s throat. Clean, shiny, ever-new-and-eternal order over messy primordial chaos.

What might dis/power appear as?

Failing. Not getting it. Missing more than hitting. Lying the f*ck down when every part of your body is screaming that you should be productive, should be doing something, should be doing something to get us out of this bloody mess.

Should contribute
. Should organise. Should fix. Should  solve. Should learn how.

Letting those Shoulds scream out elsewhere and meanwhile; playing with the thickness of your pain and exhaustion, your overwhelm, your overload, your nausea beacuse you have no other choice.

Noticing how it moves you, how half your movements don’t belong to ‘you’, but are those of ancestors, the subtle influences of soil and microbe, the myriad imagistic influences of mountains encountered, waters drunk from, plants (and fleshes, if that’s your thing) that ‘you’ think ‘you’ have eaten, but maybe, just maybe, inveigled themselves into your tissues and teeth for their own ends and desires.

Notice what comes and goes, and what stays, and yet where it comes and goes within that. Feel the luxuriant terrible wait of your own bones that throb and sing in concert with the rhythms of heart and lung – remembering that oxygen turns iron to rust and dust. Why should you, who breathe, be any different?

care (n.)

Old English caru, cearu “sorrow, anxiety, grief,” also “burdens of mind; serious mental attention,” in late Old English also “concern, anxiety caused by apprehension of evil or the weight of many burdens,” from Proto-Germanic *karō “lament; grief, care” (source also of Old Saxon kara “sorrow;” Old High German chara “wail, lament;” Gothic kara “sorrow, trouble, care;” German Karfreitag “Good Friday;” see care (v.)).

care (v.)

Old English carian, cearian “be anxious or solicitous; grieve; feel concern or interest,” from Proto-Germanic *karo- “lament,” hence “grief, care” (source also of Old Saxon karon “to lament, to care, to sorrow, complain,” Old High German charon “complain, lament,” Gothic karon “be anxious”), said to be from PIE root *gar- “cry out, call, scream” (source also of Irish gairm “shout, cry, call;” see garrulous).

If so, the prehistoric sense development is from “cry” to “lamentation” to “grief.” A different sense evolution is represented in related Dutch karig “scanty, frugal,” German karg “stingy, scanty.” It is not considered to be related to Latin cura. Positive senses, such as “have an inclination” (1550s); “have fondness for” (1520s) seem to have developed later as mirrors to the earlier negative ones.

Hidden in every word and world is an ancestry of grief. And in that grief, that cacophonous noisy wail, there is a song, countless songs, carrying a cosmovision only found if we feel the weight of those encumbrances, are rendered and re-membered as crooked and bent by them.

Weight is mass multiplied by gravity. Enough gravity, and space and time are bent into new shapes. Temporalities and spaces that exceed clock and maps’ attempted clarity and precision. Let us wail the gravity together, and discover what we have been trained to avoid.

Crip-time indeed.