Voices and staring and how we aren’t really that different but, of course, we are

April 25, 2013

First of all i need to know how and why with my immense love of graphic novels no one ever made sure i had read Maus and Maus II and then kicked me in the face when i said no? Seriously. i want to inject stories like that into my veins and breathe them in. i would read that and any of Marjane Satrapi’s books and Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels (to name some of my favorites) all day every day.


i’ve talked with people about the fact that i am not one of those writers who can write what she doesn’t know. i don’t mean i can’t write fiction but the situations are going to be based on what i know. There is a poet (and i can’t remember who it is) who wrote these incredible poems about all of these different people in hugely varied situations and talked about how they wrote these poems to give a voice to people who didn’t have one. And they were so successful at it, if you just came across the poem you wouldn’t expect to find out the poet had never experienced any of those things. i understand that there is always a personal touch onto these things and we can’t leave ourselves entirely out of our writing but to even broach the subject is awe inspiring for me.


i can only talk for me. i’m totally okay with that and i know somewhere deep in my mind i know that by talking for me i am, in a way, still speaking for people without a voice. One of my awesome Scottie sisters sent me a message with this in it recently “When we share we realize we’re not alone and help someone else in the process.” When i was growing up we didn’t have blogs and the books that talked about things i needed to know were vastly different than they are now or just didn’t exist. i felt totally alone in a lot of ways. But now i can use my own voice to show other people that they aren’t. Even if they can’t say it themselves and that’s kind of incredible.


And even if people who read this have never experienced anything that i’m talking about, they probably know someone who has and i hope that it can open a dialogue that won’t be the naive or close minded discussion it could be. When i read these graphic novel memoirs (and other memoirs in general – but the graphic novel ones hit me in a totally different way) i can soak up other people’s stories and understand them and the world in a way i couldn’t before. People are less scary because i can look at them and see the human in them and the commonalities rather than the strange differences that i don’t understand at first. The world is both more and less scary because i can see even more of the injustice and horribleness out there but i also see the good in people through these people’s stories.


One of my Amandas sent me an article last week from The Disabilities Studies Reader called Beholding by Rosemarie Garland-Thompson. i don’t know if it is available online but if you want to read it send me a message and i’d be happy to pass it along. The article talks about staring and the differences between good staring and bad staring and how we can turn bad staring into good. The context has to do with people specifically differently abled people and the judgements and assumptions people make about them upon first glance and how that first glance isn’t really a glance but a gawk. It talks about two different women who were both featured on the cover of New York Times magazine, both women’s photos would probably make most people stare or even uncomfortable but the accompanying articles show that those physical differences that seem so frightening or off-putting are not what we should really be staring at at all. We need to be looking deeper into the stories people have to tell and basing our thoughts and even judgments based on those.


Our stories and our experiences and our voices are just as unique as our finger prints. No one else is going to experience life in the same way that another person will but somehow we all seem to expect that of people sometimes. It is a ridiculous notion and is how we end up in cycles of violence and prejudice and hate. We are not alike. We have commonalities and those are awesome to find with people and to share but we are not the same. We can help our communities and our world by realizing this and taking the time to read and listen to those stories and hear those voices that are speaking for people who can’t. Find those commonalities but also cling to the differences because they really aren’t scary, they’re just different.


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