The Igor & Millennium Guide Dog Fund

As many of you know, my dear guide dog Igor passed away very suddenly last September. I knew almost immediately that I had to make some good come out of this terrible loss, so I decided to raise funds for the Animal Medical Center, which did so much for him throughout his short life and so much for both of us during his last few days. Then, less than a month later, I received news that my first Guide Dog, wonderful Millennium, also passed on, and The Igor and Millennium Guide Dog Fund was born!

The Igor & Millennium Guide Dog Fund

If you have already given, thanks so much!
If you have not yet given, please know that every little bit counts…
The Frank Lloyd Guide Dog Fund at The Animal Medical Center in New York City provides routine and emergency care to guide dogs, free of charge. The fund is always giving out more than it receives,
Please help us keep this vital service going in loving memory of:

Igor GuideDog (2009-2013) & Millennium I (1999-2013)

These are our stories…

Igor was an amazing dog in his smartness and sweetness. He was one of those rare creatures who comes into the world beautiful and leaves it beautiful. He did not degenerate like the rest of us. My dear friend Artemis suggested that he was my bodhisattva, a creature of light who suffered this life in order to teach me and then was released into the energy of the universe. We only had two years together and still it is hard for me to imagine another guide dog in my future. But, as many of you know, he did have a predecessor…

Wonderful Millennium, my first guide dog, also passed away this fall in the arms of his little mistress Isabel. He was just shy of his fourteenth birthday. When he was no longer up to the task of running me around the streets of New York City, I gave him into the arms of an adorable family full of love and kids and chickens. Millennium and I had worked and played together for over 9 years. We went to Europe once, California many times, Memphis, Maine, Florida, countless shows, lectures, teaching gigs, performance gigs, bars, restaurants, etc.! When I was paired with him in 2001, I was just starting to lose my vision to such an extent that I found it hard to get around. Having him with me expanded my world immediately and profoundly. We had so much fun together. He helped me to establish the life and many of the friendships I have now.

Millennium was very rarely sick. He had a hearty constitution on the inside, though he was a bit of a princess on the out. (He loved soft beds, cookies and wearing pearls!) Still we very much appreciated the yearly checkups, keeping shots up to date, and occasional small emergency visits that were all covered by AMC’s Guide Dog Fund. Though they were both bred and trained to be guide dogs at The Seeing Eye, Igor & Millennium were as different as two dogs can be. And, because I went from being a visually impaired person to being a blind person during my years with them, my relationship with each was a totally different experience.

Igor was a rock on the outside. He would always lie in the middle of the floor, and would not so much as lift his head in rebuke when mommy tripped over him, which happened, I’m sorry to say, rather often! Igor was a goof at home and super focused on the job. He loved his SqueakYourBall, and he sure could catch — even wild mommy throws! Igor pulled mommy around like she was a rag doll. He was so strong on the outside, so imposing. Often teenage boys would jump out of our way announcing into their hands “Wolf! Wolf!” But on the inside Igor was fragile. He was allergic to 26 different environmental substances, from smoke to grasses to things that slough off humans– Yep, my dog was allergic to people!

As I’ve tried to make sense of the death of the young and seemingly healthy Igor, I can only think of it this way: for Igor, life was a drug that delivered a punch for every high. In the first month that we were together, he developed a giant nasty lip blister from his beloved Kong toy. That brought us our first course of antibiotics, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial drugs of what would eventually amount to perhaps twenty such courses in just two years. He had countless ear infections and terrible skin blowouts. He was allergic to chicken which he loved. Every time we would go play in a park or in our friends’ backyards he was pummeled by his system.

In his last few months, with the help of Dr. Macina and Dr. Palma, it seemed we had finally gotten his allergies under control. We would visit AMC every Sunday morning to get his allergy shot. Igor was also on some pretty serious steroids that we were hoping to wean him off of this fall. He was looking so beautiful — a super model dog, a prince as Igor’s buddy Benjamin said– but I believe that inside, his little system was perhaps being pushed to its limits.

Though the doctors at AMC tried everything, they do not really understand what happened to complicate a relatively routine surgery to the point where his internal workings fell apart. They all knew him and loved him and were deeply upset by their inability to save him. Because of the Guide Dog Fund, I was relieved of the burden of making any medical decisions based on finances, so I know that everything that could have been done to save Igor was done. Besides offering routine vet services, AMC is also a research hospital, which gives me hope that they also will learn something from Igor.

Please help AMC keep the guide dogs of New York City healthy so they can continue to live and work happily with their people companions, who need and love them!

Embracing Dissonance

WE won! The Star of Happiness is proud to announce that it will be a part of Horse Trade’s miniFRIDGE in the summer of 2011.  Thanks to all those who came out and supported, an huge appreciation to David Lowe for producing some perfectly weird video and to luckydave for helping with tech.  both of these super talented guys have agreed to help out with the final production which will be nearly an hour in length and a culmination of a couple of year’s worth of research inspired by Helen’s four year stint on the vaudeville circuit.

I sometimes worry about putting so much pressure on Helen’s time on vaudeville.  After all, it was a mere four years in the long and impressive life of a woman named one of the most influential people of the twentieth century and whose name has been household for over one hundred and twenty years, though admittedly I just met someone the other day who claimed never to have heard of Helen Keller(!), which was a reminder to never take anything for granted.  But her time on vaudeville, controversial and even scandalous as it was  at the time, affords a unique opportunity to think about the relationship between spectacle and performance, oddity and entertainment.  My research into Helen’s time on vaudeville prompted me to wonder about the roots of vaudeville and its “odd act” which vaudeville producers dubbed any act that did not precisely fit into the entertainment arts.  Sometimes these acts would be informative other times sensational.  The best ones were both.

Helen had a theme song called “The Star of Happiness” written especially for her by the man who also wrote “yes, We Have No Bananas”.  She was a headliner, performing only twice a day with a premium salary, whereas lesser acts performed up to four times daily in this continuous entertainment.  Ostensibly her act was informative, but it had enough to titillate and amuse.  It cannot be said to be free of the stigma of the freak show, and yet it gave her an opportunity to voice her controversial, generally leftist, opinions that had gotten her into trouble on the more conservative lecture circuit.  She was supposed by many to be a heavenly, not political, creature. 

What interests me in this moment is its potential to be a crucible for a number of volatile substances.  Disability is as unstable a thing as a person can handle.  I will consider myself a failure if my work looks anything like a celebration of overcoming obstacles or transcending adversity or the like.  This is not that, or if it is, it is despite my best intentions.  But neither is it a flippant parody, meant only to reveal the embarrassing connections between the odd act and the freak show, though this connection is part of what drives my interest.  There is no easy interpretation of the deaf blind body offered as spectacle to the masses.  Like it or not, she was performing as herself and her fame was securely wrapped up in her person.  She was not blind, pardon, to this fact and as I hope will be clear in other places on this blog and in my performance, she often found this crippling – more crippling in certain respects than the disabilities themselves.

When I tell people about this project the most common question is “what was her act?”  and well, that will be part of my act too, so I won’t give it all away, but I can assure you that, though wholly dependent on her being there live and in the flesh, it consisted of elements as old as performance and as transcendent and hacky as vaudeville itself.

Vaudeville producers made it a point of having acts as varied as possible so as to invoke in their audiences a constant state of alertness.  The dissonance that the heart’s and mind’s of the spectators experienced as they were carried from opera to monkey acts and from buster Keaton to Helen Keller, is precisely the mental state I would like to induce.  However, I, unlike vaudeville producers who might accidentally inform their audiences if they thought it entertaining, am more like Helen who would happily entertain en route to opening eyes.

Abstract

Seeing and not-seeing suggest a confusion between seeing metaphorically and seeing literally.  This confusion manifests in writings about poetical/critical seeing either in the mind’s eye or in the real eye.  As epistemological questions circle around the senses in the wake of empiricism the concept of seeing literally becomes more important and the metaphorics of blindness more complicated.

By examining the blind man in an age when the evidence of the senses, particularly sight, increases in importance, one finds a radical shift in ideology. The blind man, as an empirical specimen rather than a potential site for divine inspiration, deprives the Platonic ideal of meaning.  In his blindness, and in the way in which he is read through the eighteenth century, Milton represents both the poet/prophet and the specimen of empirical inquiry.

For certain early modern critics, such as Addison, the way to understand art and society is through the senses.  However, by the middle of the eighteenth century, Burke turns again to the blind man and says something quite different than had been said before.  He will empty vision of empirical sight, and he will cite real blind men as evidence for the possibility of describing the visible world without the means of sight.  For Burke the vastness of augmented sight – microscopic and telescopic – suggest the sublime, but for others particularly Swift and Pope, the microscopic eye suggests a kind of too-much of seeing that is not unrelated to blindness itself.  Lastly, I consider Samuel Johnson and his forty-year friendship with the blind lady Anna Williams, which at times suggests that his existential fears of death and doubts regarding Christianity are intimately bound up with the weightiest metaphorics of blindness.