Thursday, February 26, 2015


I've been asked, many, many, times, how it is possible that I have enough stories, from my life as a fat, disabled man, to write a daily blog. The question always is asked with a tone that suggests that maybe I should just admit that these things I write about are more fiction than fact. For me, I always wondered how people could go through a whole day and NOT have a story to tell at the end of it, but then, we're all different.

I knew that I might have the 'story advantage' for a few reasons.

1. Visually, I'm 'dually different' I'm really fat, and I use a wheelchair. Right off that sets me up for interactions that are founded in one of those two differences. I have come to believe, from my own personal experience, that the most common social experience of those who are visibly different is social hostility in one form or another. That's not to say there aren't positive experiences, but if you added up every experience and placed them into two categories. Social violence would top social welcome every single time, every single day. I had an argument with someone with a disability who sees me as being 'too negative' about this fact. When I said this, she said that wasn't her experience. I asked her if in her calculations of her days, did she include the staring, the inappropriate comments, the annoyance of the space she takes. She said, dismissively, 'oh, I've gotten used to all that.' Well, maybe, but they still count.

Stories arise out of these kinds of interactions if you stay open enough to still see them, which I do, even years later.

2. I require help from others. My need of assistance pulls me into an odd kind of intimacy, even with strangers. Even the briefest interaction, like asking someone to reach something for me, results in a story pretty much every single time. I don't tell that story, to anyone other than Joe, to everyone all the time. Asking is an act of both bravery and vulnerability and establishes a dynamic that is entirely different from person to person and situation to situation.

3. By nature, I am a story teller. By nature I am introspective.

All of these I had realized a long while ago and I realized them all through the writing of this blog. But I wondered if those were the only reason. On a whim, I decided to try an experiment. I didn't tell Joe of this until after it was over because he was part of this little test. We were heading down Yonge Street, from Bloor to Dundas. It's a fair walk. The day was one that felt warm because the temperature was up to -8. I decided to count the number of interactions I had with random strangers on the street versus the number of interactions that Joe had. Joe is an affable guy so this was a very fair measure.

By the time we were down to College Street, in my mind this is about the half way point, I had spoken to 17 people and had non-verbal conversations with 3. Now the speaking to was mostly, 'excuse me' or 'sorry, can I get past please.' The non verbal conversations were about negotiating space - who's going which way and when. Joe had had 1. He's said hello to someone he recognized from the building we live in.

By the time we were down at Dundas, I was up to 28 verbal and 7 non verbal. Joe was still at 1. This means I had interactions with 34 more people than Joe did. Thirty four! That's a lot. I admit that I was surprised at the numbers, I expected that I had more interactions, I just didn't know exactly how big that number would be. I suspect it would be higher in summer with more people out on the sidewalks walking.

So clearly, at least to me, the more interactions you have, the more likely a story results.

However, this little study answered two questions. One we just looked at. The other? I'd wondered why I was always so socially tired when I got home from being out. Why, since I became disabled, I seemed to have a much greater need for privacy and quiet when I got home. I guess that's understandable now.

28:7:1 Wow


CapriUni said...

Some years ago, while surfing the Web, I came across an Irish Gaelic proverb that was translated as:

Whoever brings you one story will take away two.

The website then went on to explain that in the Irish culture, it's polite to give more than you receive, so when someone tells you one story, you're expected to tell two in return.

That explanation felt thin to me, though. Proverbs are about how the world works, regardless of our plans.

The way I see it, it goes like this:

The storyteller brings you a story. They still have it when they go away. That's One. They also have the story about their encounter with you. That's Two.

So I came up with my own proverb, based on that: "If you want to be a Hero, be good to the Storyteller (P.S.: We're all Storytellers)."

I guess, in your case, the proverb would go: "Whoever brings you one story takes away thirty-five."


clairesmum said...

the higher number of interactions gives you a basis to frame the new hypothesis - that more interactions are likely to lead to more 'stories'. i wonder how many you are the initiator and how many you are the responder? gives me a new way to look at the ordinary activity of moving down a public street.
glad it is (relatively) warming up in Toronto.

MaLa G said...

Yes x 1000! What an illuminating social experiment.....for the able-bodied. They don't experience this and certainly none of my friends notice that it happens constantly to me. So not only am I exhausted from an outing (and usually incredibly sad and angry), I often get to feel crazy or paranoid due to my able-bodied companions dismissing my reaction. They saw nothing, noticed nothing. There's no more insulting pickmeup than "lighten up."
Here's wishing that your every outing feature less than 5 hostile moments!

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

Also, since you're disabled, people assume you don't DO nearly as much with your day as the "normal" people do. If you're inside your apartment all day, as many want to believe, it would be impossible for you to have so many stories.

They just want you to be where their minds put you, darn it!

Kristine said...

I didn't consciously realize this, until I was in the grocery store with an able-bodied friend. It seemed like a normal day to me, until she blurted out, "EVERYBODY talks to you!" She'd been noticing the crazy number of interactions I have, while I'd never really thought about it. And it truly does attract many more stories to tell at the end of the day!

Anonymous said...

Goodness, I don't see how one could not have stories. Everyday holds new adventures and the visiting of the familiar. How life touches one is a story, the story of their life. Keep observing, keep interacting and keep sharing with us.