Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “special needs”

Reimagining Beauty – U is for Uniqueness

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – U is for Uniqueness

Those who have been following my blog know that the Reimagining Beauty series was inspired by a little girl. She was born with a rare, genetic syndrome that has given her many medical challenges. In addition to needing a wheelchair, her appearance is unique because her body is asymmetrical.

But that doesn’t matter one whit. When that child smiles, when she gazes at something with interest, one doesn’t see how she is different. One simply sees a beautiful little girl.

It’s not just my opinion. Thanks to social media, I regularly see how people react to photos or videos of her. Everyone is floored by the child’s beauty, and they say so.

To some it might seem a sweet conundrum – what makes her look different adds to her great beauty. But truly, her uniqueness doesn’t rob her of beauty, her uniqueness bestows it. The sweetness deep inside that child connects, accentuates, and beautifies all of her features, sculpting a sweet and lovely darling.

Why can’t beauty be viewed in terms of the uniqueness of people? Instead trying to make people all look alike, let’s value beautiful individuality.

People say that they want this. The web buzzes about how we can and should shed culturally defined, marginalizing, unattainable beauty standards. Any of us can step up to the plate and reimagine beauty in all the ways I’ve described in this series and in all the other ways that beauty manifests itself.

Put the force of your words behind your wants. Write about the beauty of uniqueness. Tell stories about people who are different and beautiful. Retrain your mind to appreciate the gorgeousness of diversity. We can do this with the power of language: for that little girl, for each other, and for everyone.

We can change the way the world defines beauty, one word at a time.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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Be the Superhero

In my last post, I wrote about how the power of visual images can marginalize children with disabilities. Here is a case in point.

Anthony Smith is a young fan of superhero comics. Born deaf as a result of a genetic syndrome, he refused to wear his hearing aid because the superheroes in comics didn’t wear hearing aids.

Children notice many things about the images that come, and that don’t come their way.

However, storymakers can be as powerful as superheroes. According to the Huffington Post and Wikipedia, when Anthony’s mom wrote a letter asking for help, the folks at Marvel Comics acted like their characters and came to the rescue. They created a new character who wears a hearing aid. His name is Blue Ear.

Upon seeing the character, great delight came to Anthony. Great delight came to his parents too because Anthony started using his hearing aid.

Anthony is a lucky boy. He has caring parents who took action. Their letter landed into editor Bill Rosemann’s activist hands. Then, a corporation approved a brand new idea and made it happen quickly. Wow.

Wonderful as all this is, it is unlikely that publishers can or will modify the entire literary canon to reflect the extraordinary diversity of children in the world. Though we too can write letters to educate publishers and wait for changes to happen over time, we can also do something right now.

If there are children in your universe who don’t see themselves in visual depictions of characters in books and other media, remember that you – parent, teacher, therapist, child care worker of any kind – have the power to be a superhero storymaker. You can tell stories that describe characters in ways that are inclusive of children with disabilities. Take it another step too, for stories can be inclusive of children from any cultural heritage, of any shape and size, and on and on.

By telling stories, you can be as marvelous for the children around you as Marvel Comics was for Anthony Smith.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

You Never Know

Yesterday we performed in an elementary school for several classes of kindergartners. They were a lively bunch. In fact, they were livelier than usual for several reasons.

First, they were visiting the cafeteria at the wrong time of day. Second, they were attending a storytelling assembly. But the third and most prominent reason for their excitement was that it was Pajama Day. Almost all of the children were dressed in pajamas.

If our assembly occurred later in the day, their excitement would have dwindled and the children would have forgotten about their ‘evening wear.’ But there was not enough time that morning to properly determine who was wearing what superhero pajama top before they were led away, single file, to the cafeteria.

They streamed in like a hive of busy, buzzing bees. After settling down on the floor, they were very attentive. They sang when invited to do so, they moved when asked. It was an interactive performance with a responsive audience.

As we were telling our first story, though, we noticed one child. It was hard not to notice him. He stood out because he suddenly stood up. But even after his teacher gathered him in and sat him down next to her, it was hard not to notice him. He called out during our stories. Sometimes he guessed what was coming next in response to our prompts. But mostly, his words came at random moments. He seemed to have a hard time controlling his desire to talk along with us.

Over all the years that we have been doing our work, we have seen students like him. He is not like Jakey, a child whom we wrote about last month. Jakey’s exuberant ‘outbursts’ were completely connected to the narrative and in sync with our invitations for audience commentary. This child was different. He was not always in tune with the social niceties of audience behavior, his comments weren’t always invited or on point. Lovingly, his teacher quietly redirected him when she could.

To the observer, it might seem like the child’s frequent interruptions displayed a lack of interest in what we were doing or betrayed his desire to sabotage the show.

Does this sound irritating?

When we started our work years ago, it might well have irritated us. But over the years we have seen how difficult it is to read individuals in an audience.

For instance, when we performed for the first time in England, one carefully coiffed lady sitting front and center drew our gaze. She appeared to be annoyed with us. She scowled continuously, as if her most recent cup of tea was served with curdled milk. Throughout the show her pinched face suggested displeasure. Like two toddlers trying to get the loving attention of a surly aunt, Barry and I both felt like we had to get her to smile. But that scowl was etched on her face for the duration.

When the show was over, we expected her to hightail it to the nearest exit. Instead, she hurried over to us. We cringed in preparation for an attack. Instead, she shook our hands until our forearms were vibrating, and said, “Brilliant. That was just brilliant!”

Who’d have thunk?

That was the first of our many lessons about how challenging it can be to read the minds of an audience member through body language alone. Sometimes what appears to be a downright rude expression is merely a concentrated effort to take in all that is offered in a live performance. It is hard to know.

That was why, in the school cafeteria, we didn’t take the child’s interruptions personally. We didn’t know his story and were in no position to make an accurate judgment. Instead, we acknowledged his comments when they made narrative sense, and focused in on the rest of the audience when they did not.

After the show was over, the teacher approached us. She said the boy was very connected to our storytelling and it had touched him in ways that she didn’t usually see.

We said, “Does he have any challenges?” Her nod and widened eyes spoke about just how many issues there were.

“He hardly connects with anything. Even if he doesn’t say what he should, the fact that he says anything shows that he is connecting. I am so delighted and I want his parents to know.”

Although she was complimenting us, we understood that it wasn’t due to our skills alone, but rather the live connection that we were making with him. By shifting our performance on the fly to accommodate some of his comments, by looking into his eyes and responding to his gaze, we gave him the raw materials of connection.

So you never know. The rude one out there may be the one who is most heartily listening. The one who interrupts may be connecting in the only way she knows how. Even if it is not ‘appropriate’ in one set of standards, it may hugely appropriate for the person in question.

You never know.

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