Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Re-Animation of James Tim Walker

Parkinson's disease wants to take everything you ever worked at. Everything. It wants skills you mastered so long ago, you can't remember the heart and soul you put into acquiring them. It wants skills so basic that you assume that they will always be a part of you. To walk, to speak, to feed yourself, to stand without toppling are just givens of being human that most of us have down cold by the time we are ready for kindergarten. Parkinson's wants all that.

But before it takes the essentials of what we normally think we all share, Parkinson's Disease wants to hollow out all the things that make you the particular human that you are, that you have shaped yourself into. It wants to take the career you have chosen. It wants the ways you play and the time you volunteer to the causes you honor. This jealous disease demands you see less of your friends, and does its utmost to push family away. It goes to bed with you each night and gets up with you each morning, jealous, and zealous.

How do you tell this disease "no" when it has crept silently into every cell of your body and settled into every sinew? To defy such a thorough occupier you must catch it off guard. To surprise Parkinson's you must surprise yourself. You must re-imagine yourself to hold paradoxically what you can. Which brings us to Tim Walker.

Tim fell in love with cartooning early and passionately. He was good enough and disciplined enough to work at a number of well-known animation studios, from Bakshi to Disney. Over the years Tim worked with classic characters of American animation, including Scrooge McDuck, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Tweety, and The Flintstones. He was fortunate enough to live his childhood dream, and to find that dream fulfilling.

When Parkinson's came to call on Tim, it predominated on his right side. His drawing side. The hand most directly connected to his heart, the hand with which he built his career and his identity, seemed to rebel. It refused the simplest request, disobeyed the most urgent commands. Cornered by his disease, there was no way out but through the wall.

So Tim retaught himself to draw and write left-handed. You can verify for yourself how tough this is by trying it. I did and you can see the result above. Imagine the initial frustration he must have felt as neither hand would perform as he knew it should. No imagination is needed to see the joy he felt when he regained mastery, it is evident in the book of drawings he has completed since. (Tim generously sent me a copy.) The drawings are spontaneous and fluid, the last thing they say to their viewers is Parkinson's Disease. But follow them back far enough and you'll find a wall, a wall with a Tim-shaped hole in it.

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