Today I am happy to host Karen Chase, author of Polio Boulevard who is sharing how her illness of Polio helped shape her imagination.
As a tiny girl, my mother took me on the train from the suburbs of New York into the city where I took painting lessons in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum. Right now, I can smell those oversized jars of red and blue tempera. I loved to paint.
When I was ten years old, polio struck. I was shocked to be immobilized, first by the deadening effect of polio and later by an enormous body cast. As my body was losing motion, my mind was painting. I remember lying inert in my hospital bed, focused on the dots of the hospital ceiling tiles. I pretended they were all kinds of animals on the move – bears, camels, foxes on parade.
With the help of my abundant imagination, I joked around on the hospital ward, making life not only bearable but fun. Looking monster-like in my full-length body cast, I wrote a letter to the Barbizon School of Modeling, asking whether I could become a model.
Although my illness made for a rich inner life, no amount of pretending could alleviate my actual physical confinement. Had I focused on that rather than letting my mind flow free, I can’t imagine how miserable I would have been. In fact, during those strenuously hard years, I felt very alive. Better a life without such obstacles, but for me, immobility shaped and widened my vision.
When I returned to school 4 years later, I was a plucky ninth grader. I resumed a full-fledged teenage life, with nary a sign of my illness. I went to college, got married, and had children. Eventually, I wrote a number of books, poetry and prose, all of which relied on imagination. After polio, I valued my mind’s flexibility like gold.
Now I have written a memoir. POLIO BOULEVARD is my true story, but in those pages, you will see that even now, nothing can keep my imagination in check.