KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Rynita McGuire (pictured) puts a new spin on the word “mouthy” as she mixes turntables and paints murals.
The 34-year-old, Kalamazoo-native completed a college degree entirely with her lips and teeth. She will receive her bachelor’s degree in painting from Western Michigan University on Saturday and every piece of art she’s created — whether it be on canvas, in headphones or on a computer screen — was made with her mouth.
McGuire was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the tendons resulting in underdeveloped muscles, and has used a wheelchair for essentially her entire life. She orders straw-like devices called mouth sticks online for about $70 a pop and uses them to DJ and make graphic designs.
“I’m not paralyzed. I can use my hands but I have much more control with my mouth,” she said. “I lived my life like this. It’s not hard. If you push yourself all the time, things become natural.”
She said she has been using her mouth to do most things since she was a kid, so it was a no-brainer for her to grab a wooden spoon the first time she encountered DJ-mixing tables about a decade ago. Six months later, she was invited to perform at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2002 and would continue to tour the country under the name DJ Short-e. She was one of three female artists asked to perform at the electronic music event, which is a male-dominated field, according to McGuire.
McGuire fell in love with art when she picked up a crayon, but didn’t seriously pursue it until college. She attended classes for graphic design and painting on and off at Kalamazoo Valley Community College but she wanted to get her bachelor’s degree. In 2009, she chose to focus on school at WMU because being a student and a traveling DJ was hard to multi-task.
“I think painting with my mouth was harder than learning to DJ,” she said. “Finishing school on my own was really intense. I didn’t think I was going make it a few times. Western can be a big scary place, even for me, and I’m not intimidated by a lot. I’m really proud I made it.”
McGuire’s independence is innate, according to her mother, Elizabeth Schmidt, of Kalamazoo.
“She doesn’t feel like she is handicapped. It’s the people who are doing nothing and have use of their arms who are handicapped,” Schmidt said. “She is able to pick herself up and keep going despite some really hard obstacles and it’s not like anything has been given to her. She’s done it on her own, even school.”
McGuire receives some state funding for her disability and was eligible for student services, but said it was more efficient to do her homework alone. She’s a project manager, has worked for WMU’s RSO Designs throughout college and lives on her own with two dogs.
McGuire suspects being older than her peers and in a wheelchair kept many of her classmates from getting to know her, but the fight to be acknowledged for her talents rather than disabilities is not a new one.
“Getting people to understand that I can do anything they can do and not to treat me like a kid is the challenge,” she said. “A lot of people treated me like I was a project. New people sometimes talk to me with high-pitch, slow voices or they ask my friends questions about me, but I don’t sit around and feel sorry for myself.”
She said she refused to DJ live until she spent thousands of hours practicing.
“I didn’t want people to think I was good for a girl in a wheelchair, I wanted people to think I was good.”
Even though she started drawing pictures and mixing cassettes for friends at 6 years old, she ignored encouragement to pursue art as a career until she attended college.
“I started out as a psychology major at WMU because I wanted people to take me seriously intellectually,” McGuire said. “I was dismissing a talent I had because I wanted to prove something.”
She’s since realized she can be taken seriously as a painter and musician because she is both of those.
After her educational sabbatical, DJ Short-E returned to the stage at Old Dog Tavern last month. It was the first time any of her peers heard her perform. Within minutes, the dance floor was filled as DJ Short-e pumped her neck to spit out beats.
McGuire is working to gather local painters and DJs in February for a graduation thesis paint show and is already booking shows in Michigan.
She hopes to either find a job teaching art or start her own graphic design firm in Kalamazoo.
“She’s inspired a lot of people and she has a long way to go; she’s young,” said Schmidt.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Disabled Western Michigan University student DJ's, paints murals, finishes college using mouth stick
The Kalamazoo Gazette:
Posted by BA Haller at 10:28 PM