Storytelling is an inextricable trait of the human experience; it occurs naturally as we interact in any environment at any time, and in itself it is a truly effective tool for action. As Jerome Bruner puts it, “we organize our experience and our memory of human happenings mainly in the form of narrative” (1991, p. 4). Beyond that, I have always believed storytelling to be the one real-life phenomenon that most closely resembles casting a spell: When you communicate with meticulously chosen language and structure it into an engaging story, you spark flames in the minds and hearts of whoever might be listening. And, once the audience is so intrigued, you can harness the story for the purpose of emphasizing a crucial message.
In terms of individuals with disabilities and their experiences, for example, how are some of the most fruitful ways to communicate those stories? The late Anne B. Thomas, an icon of disability advocacy and a consummate storyteller, once said,
I started telling stories about what it’s like to be disabled; inappropriate remarks from strangers, the travails of dating in a wheelchair, what do I do when the subway elevator is broken. People are fascinated because they don’t know and they want to be educated. It’s transformative for them to get a glimpse of a world and challenges they don’t know anything about. And it’s transformative for me because writing my story before the show forces me to be reflective and really examine how my disability has shaped who I am and my life experience. (2015)
In so many contexts, the act of storytelling is inherently a learning process. From how Thomas explains it, the term “transformative” is at the core of what these stories do. When someone has a narrower perspective on disability and diverseABILITY, a well-executed story expands on that perspective dramatically. That marriage of storytelling and diverseABILITY advocacy challenges the grand narrative of “disability as weakness” still imposed on us today.
To further promote that mission of advocacy and to harvest the personal stories of individuals with all abilities, LSG’s UNTAPPED program will host a storytelling event at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque on Saturday, Oct. 15th at 10:00am-3:00pm. It is a family-friendly event and is free for everyone, outside of the usual $3 fee for entrance into the park. This event features a variety of activities, all of which lend themselves well to how multifaceted the act of storytelling can be:
- 10:00am-3:00pm – Speak to representatives from several organizations with booths set up near the Education Building. You will have the chance to hear accounts of groundbreaking inclusive workplace models, like that of Restoration Pizza.
- 10:00am – There will be two storytellers presenting in the Herb Garden: Enrique Lamadrid from UNM and Dianne Rossbach from Storytellers of New Mexico.
- 11:00am-1:00pm – Facepainting in the Herb Garden! An ideal activity for the month of Halloween.
- 11:00am – Back at the Education Building, Ray Johnson will present a poetry reading.
- 11:45am – Participate in a medicinal herb walk, wherein you will learn a great deal about the progression of nature.
- 12:15pm – If you happen to have a personal story that simply demands to be shared, adults and children alike can stop by the open mic and participate in story quilting.
- 12:45pm – I will introduce our discussion panel, which we have dubbed the “RoundtABLE.” I will share a tale of my own that centers on how I have felt “stitched together” throughout my life, not unlike a certain mythical figure.
- 1:15pm – RoundtABLE begins, with discussion focusing on the many perspectives and misconceptions around disability, mental health, and other relevant topics.
- 1:15pm – In the Herb Garden, Patricia Ann Davis will guide attendees along the Corn Pollen Path for another immersive storytelling experience.
We are very much looking forward to this momentous event with so many intriguing stories being shared with the community, and we hope to see you all on the 15th!
Until the next story,
Aaron Kelly Anderson
a.k.a. “A PhD on the Spectrum”
Bruner, J. (1991). The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry, 18
(1), 1-21. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1343711