DSQ > Winter/Spring 2007, Volume 27, No.1-2

In Other Words: The radical nature of telling stories through blogging <http://kestrell.livejournal.com>

When I began blogging back in March of 2003, I had no intention of writing about my specific experience of being blind or the experience of disability in general. I just wanted to chat and procrastinate online the same way my sighted friends did.

The thing I keep forgetting to remember about the public perception of disability is that the more common and ordinary the act, the more comment it seems to arouse. Blogging was no different, and for the first few years it seemed that merely being a blind person who wrote in a public blog was weird enough that it often aroused comment. Of course, at the time that I started blogging, blogging was considered to be something strange and suspect in itself, like reading porn or well, having a disability.

Something about the nature of blogging, however, made me more conscious of not just the radical aspects of adopting new media, but the radical aspects of using new media to tell my own stories about being blind. The more time I spent writing about my experiences in a public forum, the more I began to perceive that those things which I viewed as ordinary — getting an education, participating in public life, having romantic and sexual relationships — were often perceived as existing at odds with mainstream media images of PWD as disenfranchised and socially isolated. The more I blogged about my personal experiences, the more it felt as if my blog was a point of confrontation between the stories I wanted to tell about myself, and the stories other people, including traditional media producers, wanted to tell about me. Blogging has offered me the motivation to develop my own voice, both as a writer and as an individual. "Voice" as both a personal form of expression and an active mode of speaking has always been a focus of my blog.

In other words, my blog has emerged as a way of creating revisionist disability stories, of producing media stories in my own words.

The ultimate irony in all this is that I am not naturally the sort of person who finds it easy to discuss my private and personal experiences to other people, let alone in an extremely public forum. I don't think there is a person with a disability who has grown up literally and figuratively naked under the collective gaze of doctors, psychologists, educators, and social workers — not to mention the public gaze of all those strangers who feel compelled to stare and say whatever pops into their head like so much lint into an old dryer — who feels completely at ease when it comes to self-disclosure. We are all too well aware of the power games involved in being the person upon whom other people's demands are imposed versus being the inquisitor who gets to issue those demands of self-disclosure and self-exposure upon someone perceived as less powerful. As someone who grew up both low-vision and an orphan, it often seemed to me that the active investigations of others conducted upon every facet of my identity suggested that other people felt I was not entitled to the right to privacy, and this instilled in me an active aversion to revealing anything personal. The term "aversion" is not an exaggeration: once, as a fourth-grader, I voluntarily flunked a project in which I was suppose to write my autobiography (an experience which I write about in two posts, my memoir, part 1 (<http://kestrell.livejournal.com/162113.html>) and Becoming Science Fiction, my memoir part 2 (<http://kestrell.livejournal.com/162420.html>).

Blogs, like science fiction, represented for me a radical form for creating new and oppositional narratives. The link between disability and technology began to draw my interest and, after being accepted into the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) graduate program at MIT, I began to write, both informally within my blog and formally within my thesis work, on the intersections between disability and technology and on the history of people with disabilities as early adopters and adapters of technology. In addition, I began to relate how cultural stereotypes of the disabled body intersected with similar stereotypes regarding female and queer bodies.

One of the things which I find most appealing about blogs is their aspect of combining both academic and/or technical knowledge and more general knowledge. I sometimes create writings which start out as something academic, which then morph into something different once it is posted to my blog, where it becomes part of an open conversation. That was the case of a short paper I wrote about one of my favorite media objects, Harry Potter fanfiction, and the introduction of disability themes into the Harry Potter story by fanfic writers. The paper, titled "Whose Story Is This?": The Radical Act of Telling In Harry Potter Disability Fanfic (<http://kestrell.livejournal.com/150847.html>) began its life as an assigned writing in one of my media classes but then turned into a paper and a disability theme panel which was part of a Harry Potter conference that occurred in Salem, MA, in October 2005. This remains one of my favorite pieces of writing posted to my blog because, like my ongoing posts about the disability story being told through the character of B.D. in the comic strip "Doonesbury," people "get" how these characters with disabilities in stories can either express something personal about the experience of disability or can be used to merely recycle the same tired stereotypes. Readers understand that disability does not have to be framed within the political context of "Doonesbury" to be understood as portraying an experience which is in itself political, that is, the struggle for self-expression and self-determination. That is what I see as the ultimate strength of blogs: they point out the many ways in which stories can be read and interpreted by readers, and invite readers to literally interact with the writer of the story.

Since graduating with a M.S. from MIT, I continue to blog, and my blog continues to serve an increasing number of purposes. I review books, write about research projects I participate in, and continue to comment on media images of disability and technology. In addition, I use my blog as both a social and professional way of networking and participating in conversation about everything from disability to science fiction to new technology. Perhaps the ultimate purpose of my blog is as a means of recording and contemplating my own changing goals and activities. For this reason, I think the real strength of blogging is that it is simultaneously permanent and ephemeral. Part diary and part story, part postcard and part graffitti, blogs, like language and music and other forms of self-expression, resemble a live thing that continues to change shape according to one's needs and inclinations, reflecting the shape of the changing story.

Copyright (c) 2007 Alicia "Kestrell" Verlager

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