The Stories WE Tell

Because they are primarily associated with creations of fiction, Stories have acquired a bad reputation. When the word refers to events in our lives, it calls their validity into question. In this blog, I tell stories frequently in the hopes that they will convey a truth better than an explicit statement for “Truth dressed as story can be easier to embrace.” The color of context, character and surroundings does not dilute or nullify the genuineness of my experiences, but it does transform it into something softer. Same end message with a more pleasant mode of receiving it.

Our lives can be framed as a series of stories we tell ourselves and others. It goes beyond anecdotes to encompass an overall message. My story, for example, is about how disability has shaped me giving it the power of a character that can impact plot. My life contains a story about how circumstances impact two people in very distinct ways. My presence out in the world tells anyone listening how what is thought to be life-ending can be the opposite.

Unspoken stories – those conveyed without me saying a word – have one kind of power. My spoken narrative, I have found, has a transformational strength uniquely its own. I can give a lecture with facts and theory that articulates why plastic surgery is a solution to body image issues that appeals because it takes less effort but also has a shelf-life because we all age. I can also stand before a room telling a string of stories about my experiences with reconstructive surgery and how I felt by it’s end. Then, I can describe the various events and phases that morphed my body image into something healthier. While the same truth is conveyed, the one with greater transmutative power contains my life stories.

And then there are the stories about me that other’s create. They are woven around the ‘truths’ of my life others believe they know, such as my life is full of hardships, I must possess special abilities as compensation, or even simply I cannot do x activity. From I cannot drive,” they imagine a tragedy of isolation and loneliness with me as the unfortunate protagonist. As is the case with that example, there can be a kernel of truth in the reality they have fashioned. Just enough truth so that a vague vision gains the substance of fact in the inventor’s mind.

When I run up against people who are operating based on these supposed facts, I tend to feel like I’ve hit an unmovable wall. There I stand, a living, breathing contradiction of their story, and yet it has no power to change the plot or elements of their tale. I often must engage in gorilla tactics to cause alteration. One always successful ploy is to say something that involves the phrase “I am the co-coordinator of the San Diego Bisexual Forum.”

I would have less objection to these narratives if they did not inform action. People creating stories about my helplessness is one thing. People treating me like I’m helpless is quite another. Behavior of others evokes tears and yells, frustration and pain. Ultimately, I tend to take such events, treat them with sarcastic humor, and create my own stories to lessen their sting.

Unfortunately, sometimes the stories spun by others have sway over even me, especially when it comes to narratives about my value as a person. Often such tales begin with incontrovertible truths such as I don’t work or pay taxes, I receive social welfare aid, and I need help to accomplish daily tasks. Intertwined with these truths are societal beliefs about independence, what is considered a worthy contribution to the world, and what is assumed about my ability to achieve. Suddenly, a story springs forth that has enough truth to make it as insidious as sand on a beach. One minute it’s on the ground under your shoes and the next it’s in your socks, stuck to your leg, and in your clothes. While you might clean it off with great dedication, it’s somehow present that night when you undress.

It bothers me that other’s stories profoundly effect me, engendering self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. I wish I had a way to wall myself off from all of it. But, if I am going to believe in the transformative power of my own story, then I must acknowledge and accept that the stories others imagine for me have their own influence. This is why no matter how long I live or how hard I try, I will forever be effected by what others think.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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