Storytelling My Life

My disability is a story I tell every day. Though not the story I might have chosen, it remains uniquely my own.

Since I first needed an assistive device to get around, I've decorated it. A crook-like piece of driftwood from the shores of Lake Michigan was embellished with woodburned designs, hanging feathers and beads. An aluminum cane soon lost its orthopedic look under layers of rainbow-tissue collage, sealed with acrylic varnish for rain. A wheeled walker--evocative of nursing homes--became a color-collaged altar of ritual objects such as windchimes, bells, crystals, beads, herbal pouch, Mexican cornhusk flower, bracelets woven by Bosnian refugees...with lime-green velcro to hold my cane and a lemon-yellow canvas seat for occasional rests. The front basket of a purple Amigo RT scooter named La Lucha sported a windchime, an artist-made dreamcatcher, beaded necklace from Nepal, purple feathered Diannic Goddess headdress, painted tin dancing woman, and a shocking pink tricycle horn handed down from a 13 year-old neighbor.

By decorating my assistive devices, not only do I please my artist's eye, but the implied message is, "Look over here! Don't ignore me or my 'friend'." Windchimes signal my approach, often eliciting smiles and gentle-spirited remarks, like, "Oh, that sounds lovely!" Children gather around, ringing bells and chimes, playing with beads and crystals, and honking the horn. They ask, "Why do you use this?", as they roll the walker back and forth or look longingly at my scooter controls.

I simply reply, "My legs don't work very well. It helps me go farther on my own." Children respond quite naturally to this answer, even as some parents try to shush them up, as if my story is not one to talk about openly, as if ignoring my differentness is more polite than acknowledging it.

This experience of being differently abled--actually I've always been differently abled, especially when I was running marathons and biking 200 mile weekend tours--has changed my definition of storytelling.

I've performed original stories in coffeehouses and other venues off-and-on for years, but not until recently did I realize the story I tell with my life has more impact and transformative potential than any of my carefully-crafted words. And my audience is larger and more diverse than I can imagine. Especially since bringing windchime walker to the web!

In San Francisco--where I like to spend the winter months--I have no car, so am literally out there on the streets every day, scooting, taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system), or sitting on windchime walker as I wait for friends to pick me up in front of the garden cottage that I rent in the Mission District. Every person who sees my rainbow-collaged walker with its portable altar or hears the tinkling chimes on my scooter is changed in some way...and isn't that the purpose of storytelling? To prod people into seeing things differently, feeling more deeply, experiencing themselves and the world in new ways?

Since graduating to an Amigo RT scooter--La Lucha was the first, and now it is Ona--I broadcast my story far and wide. Whether at the downtown Detroit Concert of Colors summer celebration of world music and cultural diversity, or at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every August, or demonstrating against corporate globalization at such events as the June 2000 Organization of American States General Assembly in Windsor, Ontario, windchimes signal my presence and the decorated front basket says that life is rich no matter how you make your way through it.

Of course, the primary audience to whom I storytell my life is myself...that I might hear it with a fresh ear, make sense of it, place my story within a larger frame of reference than the purely personal me. As with any good story, it soon develops a life of its own, defying control or tidy resolution by the storyteller.

My art is to take whatever comes, work with these materials in a colorful, original fashion, turn them inside out and upside down... thereby transforming myself from storyteller to the story-being-told.

© 2000-1 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.

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