Friday, April 8, 2011

Wherein I introduce myself, and this blog

I am an adult woman with cerebral palsy, or CP. This means that, for my entire life, I've moved through the world in a noticeably different way, and the world has responded to my presence in a noticeably different way.

I am also a woman who loves traditional folk- and fairy tales, and have, on occasion, written stories in that style, on commission.

The storyteller in me wants these two facts to be connected: maybe I'm so fond of alternate realities because I move through the world in an alternate way, looking at everything from a slightly different angle. Or maybe it's because my imagination gives me more freedom than my body does. Or maybe... or maybe... All of the reasons I can imagine are probably true, on some level. But the simplest truth may be that these two facts are just co-incidents.

Whatever the reason, these two facets about me -- one of my body, and the other, my mind, are often bumping up against each other, creating sparks and frictions and insights. Which leads to the creation of this blog.

Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a tale for a young man who also happened to have cerebral palsy. On the day I met with him to discuss the story, and learn a bit about what he wanted, he told me, straight out, that he did not want the hero of the story to be disabled, or have CP like him. I understood exactly what he meant. When you have a disability, well meaning strangers want to make that the center of everything. And his life was full enough with well-meaning strangers. But even as I was agreeing with him wholeheartedly, his reasoning stung: that "cerebral palsy doesn't belong in fairy tales."

Folk and fairy tales have been passed down through generations, shaped by lived experiences the way a river stone is shaped by the forces of the tide. They're peopled with princes and paupers, men, women, and children, farmers, merchants, craftsmen and thieves. These stories have been studied by psychologists, ethnologists, and college professors as mirrors of human existence. Why were we, this young man and I, both so willing to erase our reflections from these mirrors? The truth is, we were wrong. The disabled have always been a part of human society, so we've always appeared in stories. And I will use this space to prove that.

I've chosen the philosopher Plato to represent the denial of disability -- the idea that only the "Ideal Human" is a fit subject for stories. And I've chosen Aesop, who legend says was himself, disabled, to represent the desire to see our real selves in our tales.

This blog's central focus will be the exploration of traditional tales and fables that deal explicitly with disabled characters (including both cognitive and physical disabilities). But I will also venture out along the spectrum of where the subject of stories and the subject of disability meet, to include disability's appearence in proverbs and platitudes, "High" literary works, such as the plays of Shakespeare, literary wondertales, and more modern fantasy novels such as those by Mark Twain and George MacDonald.

My bright boundary line shall be the start of the Great War (now known as "World War I"), since my feeling is that after the turmoil of war, the Issue of Disability in Stories became capitalized, and self consciously "A Thing to Write About," and thus an issue (and an invention) of the modern world.


  1. Thank you.

    Would love to read and hear these great stories.

    I am thinking of "The peach boy" at the moment. He comes from the Japanese tradition.

  2. Welcome, Adalaide! I look forward to sharing these stories. ... I'm currently mulling over which one should have the honor of being first. :-)

    Thanks for the recommendation of "The Peach Boy," too. I always love getting new stories into my hoard. :-)

  3. This promises to be an extremely interesting blog. I look forward to reading!

  4. As always, CU, well laid out. I look forward to this, very much. I am reminded of Menotti's opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, though Amahl is healed when he gives his crutch to the Magi as a gift for the Christ child.

  5. Amahl is healed when he gives his crutch to the Magi as a gift for the Christ child

    *nods* There's a lot of miraculous healing going on in these stories, as is the assumption that of course disability is an affliction.

    Just because a tale is old and traditional does not mean that every detail is full of wisdom. But sometimes, evidence that we are here and have always been here (even if that means we've always been the shunned and mocked), is enough.