bella milroy fan club
I genuinely think I got to age 25 and thought I wasn’t going to feel any new feelings, which was just baiting the future to wreck me. I’ve found a lot of new ways to feel bad since then, but it’s rare for this stream of new feelings to come anywhere close to good. So when it happens, it’s special. It becomes overwhelming very quickly to be honest. One of those feelings has been access intimacy - sitting in the same room as somebody else disabled, un-masked, in a glass bubble; no performance of vulnerability because the vulnerability is already there in the air between us. In almost 2 years, I have only met 4 people IRL with Long Covid. The time has been a blur but those encounters are daylight in my memory. I don’t think I can do a good job of describing how vital it has been for me to spend time with disabled people. This week, I reunited with Bella Milroy over dinner in my house, and she mentioned the phrase ‘access intimacy,’ and I thought, yes, that’s what the new feeling is. The new warmth, the lifeline. It’s intimacy. Before I was sick, I don’t know that I ever felt the same intimacy with my normal friends, and now I am feeling it with strangers who suffer the same feelings as me? Complicated validation, and even a bit of neediness, it is something pure and good that skips the queue. I learn so much from Bella. I really take her lead.
Bella is an artist and writer. She commissioned me to write an essay back in 2017 and then she became a friend. In 2021, during my first year of illness, her voice notes and phone calls helped me get to know my new body. It has been very special to see her face to face after this transformation, feeling closer than ever before; it has been hard at times to reintroduce myself to non-disabled friends and family with these new access needs, especially when they aren’t obvious or easy to speak about. None of that here. Only love.
When I went on my night walk tonight, I was thinking so much of Bella – she is only in Liverpool for the week but I wish she was here forever. I have so much more to learn. I need more sick friends here! Where are they? I don’t know. I walked up autumn roads, dipped my eyes at the car lights, and (via my phone) I went back to a project Bella did last year (when I was too out of it to pay attention). It’s called Mob-Shop, an exploration of mobility shops, design and disability. Part of the project involved a podcast series of the same name and I put it on loud in my ears so I could drown out the sound of my breathing as I slowly made my way up fields and hills in the suburbs here, where the houses are bigger than you’d think.
Episode 6 of the Mob-Shop podcast is an interview with Kyla Harris. I don’t know Kyla but I feel like I do because of ‘It’s Personal’ the film made in collaboration with Lou Macnamara which I highly recommend every person in the world watches. But back to the podcast - Bella and Kyla discuss the drab aesthetics of mobility aids, and how they feel about their identities in relation to that specific kind of design. I guessed that the conversation might follow a sort of: ‘I don’t like the way they look, I wish they looked better’ arc. But it went somewhere completely different. Mobility aids were spoken about like body guards; they discussed treating these devices with love, and even character, so that non-disabled people treat them with the same respect; and getting over drabness because disabled people are so often judged on the way they look, and how much does aesthetic design really matter over function anyway?
I am still learning how to be thoughtful about these subjects. The language and the angles I gain from listening to other disabled people is so enlivening. And I realised tonight, I shouldn’t wait for the encounters - the IRL moments that are so few and far between because so many of us spend so much time at home. Now that I have an inch more headspace, I can catch up on projects like this, and I should. Because listening to Kyla and Bella break new ground in their conversation together felt close to the access intimacy that I know I need now. I just felt so grateful tonight to be able to listen to it – to come back home and scan the transcript as well. I just got into bed to do some writing but before I get going on that, I wanted to write and push this blog post so that my thanks are here on a website and in a higher volume. Thanks, thanks, thanks. Tonight, art feels good. Tonight, I am glad for the Internet. Tonight and every night, I am Bella’s biggest fan.