In one of his most famous pieces of work, William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”
I’m not much for Shakespearian theory, but to me, those two lines speak volumes about what it’s like to have a disability. Having been born with cerebral palsy, I learned at a very early age that the world is indeed a stage. The fact that society is constantly questioning what I can and can’t do is a stark reminder that I’m not up there for just one skit or performance. I’m up there for life.
There have been many times when I’ve wished this part of my story would fade to black, and the lights would come up on a much better scene. That never happened–and in truth, never truly will.
So, in watching Maysoon Zayid’s TEDTalk video, “I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One“, it was incredibly refreshing to not only watch this woman explain her method of mentally managing the same disability I have, but to also see that she has many of the same reasons and motives for being a comedian as I do for being a writer.
There have been many times when I’ve wished this part of my story would fade to black, and the lights would come up on a much better scene. That never happened–and in truth, never truly will. — Erin Kelly
Much like Maysoon, cerebral palsy, combined with a little magic in my fingers, has given me an opportunity to prove myself on that stage Shakespeare refers to. My footsteps may be replaced by the clickity-click of my motor wheelchair, and you may have to listen a little closer when I speak–but I still feel that same sense of responsibility Sayid feels to attempt to blur the line society has inadvertently drawn between the disabled and non-disabled.
I was seven years old when I told my parents I wanted to be a writer. They didn’t roll their eyes or tell me I was crazy. They instead instilled in me the importance of perseverance and said, “You can do it, just try another way.”
They, like Zayid’s parents whom she mentions in her video, don’t believe in the word ‘can’t’. In fact, watching that video several times and listening to Maysoon talk about how she overcomes the challenges that her cerebral palsy brings brought back a few memories of my own.
Before I landed my first job as a columnist for the local newspaper in my hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania five years ago, people wouldn’t even look in my direction and were quick to write me off as “just a girl in a wheelchair.” It felt as though their minds were asking questions that their lips were too afraid to ask. It took a good while for them to feel comfortable with me, but once they overcame that initial fear, they came running like little kids waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap–and some do, literally.
That was a truly magical moment because again, like Maysoon, it lifted the veil of my CP. It took the focus away from the obvious and put the spotlight on something that I poured my heart and soul into. As I continued to write, my audience’s comfort level got to the point where locals now run up to me and say, “I love your column!”
I felt the same feeling of accomplishment Maysoon describes towards the end of the video, when she listed all the famous faces she’s had the opportunity to meet and work with through her “twisted journey” as a comedian. I also love the way she addresses her cerebral palsy. She doesn’t try to downplay or hide the fact she has it. Not only that, but she conveys the idea that while humor may not take away pain, it has the power to carry us through anything and perhaps even lighten our load.
In fact, I think she approaches it in a subtly elegant way that not only takes the heaviness out of the subject of disabilities, but also lets her audience know she’s a strong, poised woman who’s not going to let this, nor her 98 other problems get the best of her. In the end, Maysoon’s clever wittiness is light, entertaining and ultimately funny–which is what I aim to do with my column every month.
However, there’s another chunk of her story that I immediately connected with. She mentions her ethnic background and how it also plays a role in the way others see her. I was taken aback a bit, because I was adopted from Korea as a baby. I don’t have any vivid memories of my life there, but the fact she, too, is of a different nationality just blew me away.
It sends chills down my spine when I think about how similar I am to this woman on almost every possible level–a woman who I have more in common with than most people I know personally. Yet, I don’t know anything about her except for what she revealed in this video.
My hat’s off to you, Maysoon! You’re living proof that no matter how many problems we may have, the show must go on–and I can’t wait to see yours someday.
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