Joy, Wellness, and Storytelling

Laurie and Debbie say

Author Terry Pratchett, in Witches Abroad, talks about the importance of stories:

People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Stories exist, independently of their players. If you know that knowledge is power.

Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling…stories, twisting and blowing through darkness.

And their very existence overlays a faint but persistent pattern on the chaos that is history.

Stephen Kuusisto is blind. And thoughtful. In this blog post on Planet of the Blind, he is part of telling a new story about dis/ability, healing, wellness, joy, and … stories.

I recently attended a conference on writing and “healing” and heard lots of literary writers talking about how important their creative work was in terms of “healing” from illness. What was fascinating was the way every one of those writers assumed the easy use of “healing” or “being healed” as being analogous to the purpose behind human creativity. This is an old fashioned idea that many otherwise sensible people are still attracted to. Who would want to argue against this idea? Isn’t the goal of every therapeutic encounter to be healed?

Well no, not always. People who have disabilities or who are enduring an intractable illness are often faced with a different challenge, one that defies healing but which requires us to think about being well just the same.

Kuusisto is far from the only person trying to tell new stories about disability: stories that simultaneously acknowledge the downsides, unpleasantnesses, inconveniences, and sometimes tragedies of the body while also leaving room for (in his words) wellness, “tempering” (a metalworking metaphor) and group joy. He happens to be the one we found this week, and he writes extremely clearly about his subject.

Kuusisto is looking for a number of important changes in the cultural story of “disability.” We agree with him, and are particularly excited to see him bringing in joy, in this case accompanied by a dog and a group of delighted children. Deep uncontrolled profound life-changing joy is one of the most powerful human emotions. It has been an essential component of human stories forever. William Blake probably wrote about it best:

I have no name: I am but two days old. What shall I call thee? I happy am,
Joy is my name. Sweet joy befall thee!

Joy disconnected from health, from success, from virtue is almost completely missing in our contemporary stories. In our stories, when joy appears, it has become a reward: “the joy of healing’ or sometimes a cheap reward, “the joy of the perfect outfit.” Wild joy and its power have been excised. This hole in our stories shapes us.

Thanks to Stef for the pointer.

joy, wellness, healing, storytelling, stories, disability, Terry Pratchett, William Blake, Body Impolitic

2 thoughts on “Joy, Wellness, and Storytelling

  1. This is an excellent & thought-provoking post on many levels. First off, Terry Pratchett is one of my two favorite writers in the world, as may be suspected by those who know his work & my email address. And I connect with the words about finding joy & wellness when one is disabled & has a physical “difference” which cannot be & will not be healed. I have had to come to terms with the reality of who I am & of the body in which I live in so many ways, & realize that I am a strong person, though not physically strong, that I overall a very healthy person, though also disabled, & that I function very well in life & do not need to be “fixed.” I guess, because of my personal perspective, when I think of “healing” these days, I think of healing from my emotional issues, from the very deep psychological pain inflicted by a childhood of great abuse, & healing from the self-hatred & body hatred engendered by those early experiences. The more I can heal inside, the more fully & joyfully I can live in the body I have & the more well I feel. Feeling great joy is healing, being deeply loved is healing, accepting myself as worthy & beautiful & good just as I am is healing, as is knowing that someone precious to me also accepts me as I am. Concentrating on the joys of daily life, large & small, & moving beyond the weaknesses of my body, the pain, the inconvenience, letting go of anger & resentment at my body when it will not do everything I think it SHOULD, also leads me to real healing & a feeling of being well.

  2. >People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

    Stories exist, independently of their players. If you know that knowledge is power.>

    It’s true.

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