I just returned home after the annual convention of the National Communication Association, which was held in Dallas. On the third day, I encountered some technical difficulties, and I muttered to myself, “#amputeelife, #thingsthatbipedsdon’tdealwith.” I felt very hip and millenial to have had a thought in hashtag form as a 48-year-old Gen-Xer, even as I endeavored to solve the problem.
That day I wore a dress with black thigh-high stockings. The stockings have stretchy bands at the top that keep them in place. The band on my bioleg (AKA left leg, original equipment) worked just fine. The band that I had pulled over the prosthetic socket that encases what’s left of my right leg would not stay in place on the super smooth surface of the socket, however.
Side note—it is not unreasonable to wonder why I bothered to put a stocking on my prosthetic leg, which is not covered with flesh-simulating foam but rather appears from the ankle up as a collection of mechanical parts. I do this mostly for symmetry. I have a white-person-colored, rubber foot cover on my prosthesis (so that I can wear the same size shoe on both feet). If I don’t cover the rubber foot when wearing my more formal shoes (read: black flats) and a black stocking on the bioleg, the peachy-beige rubber foot glows weirdly and contrasts horribly with the black shoes and black stocking-covered leg, particularly in fluorescent lighting. On a more practical level, it is also a lot easier to cram my prosthetic foot into the shoe when the rubber foot’s nonskid surface is covered with the smooth stocking.
Anyway, after the stocking slid down yet again, I rather impatiently yanked it up, with perhaps more force than necessary.
Riiiiiiiiiiippp! Uh oh.
The band lined with gripping material remained in my hand, but it was no longer attached to the stocking. Sigh. With no time to go to my room for another stocking, I dug through my computer bag, coming up with an elastic hair tie and a paper clip. I slipped the hair tie over my shoe and up my prosthetic “ankle” and “knee,” gathering the stocking material tightly at the point where the computerized knee joint attached to the socket, and I twisted the elastic tie as tightly as possible, securing it with the paper clip.
Miraculously, this fix held—see photo below—and my dress was long enough that it wasn’t visible. I told a friend of mine, and she pronounced it a “MacGyver moment,” referencing the TV show of our teenage years where the hero improvised highly improbable mechanical solutions to problems, a feat accomplished every episode via video montage with a signature soundtrack.
At that moment, it occurred to me that the creative work-arounds necessitated by my fairly regular bodily and device failures have often, although certainly not always, held well enough—both of the paperclip variety and of the extensively engineered titanium implant or computerized prosthesis variety. I reflected on the ingenuity needed to solve these big and little bodily failures, and it occurred to me that this is pretty much what it means to be a scholar.
Yes, I sometimes bemoan the number of mundane details, pains, and bodily annoyances I must deal with due to my particular body (while also acknowledging that there are many daily hassles, microaggressions, and burdens that my privileges enable me to avoid). But I also realized that my creative efforts to solve daily problems, cope with as much grace as possible, and even keep a stocking in place, actually provide me with great practice for addressing challenges in my research and writing.
How do I work around this barrier? How do I compensate for this missing piece? How do I forge connections where none exist? How do I explain this need to someone who has never experienced it? These are the same questions that scholars face, and I relish the challenge of constructing interesting and useful responses through my research.
Back home from the conference and comfortable in cotton socks and sneakers, I look back on a successful conference where I presented new ideas, met with both junior and seasoned scholars, enjoyed time with friends, and engaged in outside-the-box thinking to keep my stockings up.