What is an autoethnography?

It was after reading Simi Linton’s My Body Politic in the fall of 2013 that I had my first “eureka” moment as a grad student. Linton writes about becoming a disabled woman, and how it’s a process, not something that happened automatically. In other words, she didn’t wake up in the hospital after being paralyzed and was well-adjusted to her new disability. She was devastated. But after being treated as a patient for too long, she began to get mad. That’s when she began to realize that her existence as a woman with a disability wasn’t just a biological fact, but a political one. She would choose how to live her life, not the doctors that treated her.

Anyway, Linton speaks so candidly about her life that I all but dived into her story. At this point, after choosing disability studies, I knew that I wanted to do something that brought together my love of writing with my love of disability, but I didn’t know what form that would take. The idea that I would write my story was terrifying. Who would read it?

Face-to-face with Linton’s narrative, though, I knew my fate was sealed.

*

This summer I’m working on the proposal of my thesis. It’s an autoethnography, and when I tell people that their eyes kind of glaze over because it’s one of those academic-sounding words that just sound intimidating. It just so happens that autoethnographies are, excuse me, the shit, but they are also intimidating. Think of an autobiography with theory to back up your position in the world. Think of an autobiography quoting feminist, queer, and disability studies scholars who are writing about something you have actually experienced. Doesn’t that sound cool?

Autoethnographies are based on vulnerable narratives. They are a kind of writing that is meant to highlight not only the experiences of the writer, but to make those experiences universal. I don’t know much about anthropology, where the term “autoethnography” comes from, but I wish I did. I think looking into minority groups and voices and seeing where we fit into those experiences – rather than where we diverge from them – is the key to successful understanding.

But I digress.

This is what I’m doing. I’m writing an autoethnography. I’m going to write about my life in a way that I hope many people from many different walks of life can relate to it and find just the teeniest bit of similarity with their own life. It’s going to be scary, and it’s not going to be easy. I don’t particularly like being vulnerable; it’s not something I’m comfortable with yet. But I’m learning, I’m growing.

And by doing this, by writing my way through it, I think I’ll manage.

(Do you get why I’m obsessed with stories right now?)

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Why I’m back/Why stories matter

Hello, virtual world!

I’m back.

I’m back because I’ve missed you.

I’m back because…well, let’s face it, I always knew I’d be back, deep down. Even though being back terrifies me. Even though I’m both scared out of my mind and deeply humbled to share my little crippled heart with you again. Humbled that you want me to share my little crippled heart with you.

The last two years had been…interesting. To say the least. I turned thirty. I’m still single. I have another niece. Everyone in my life right now seems to be either getting married or is pregnant. The typical thirty-something story.

The biggest news, though, is that I completed all my courses for my disability studies Masters a wee few months ago. I’m now working on The Big Scary Thesis. I’ll write my proposal this summer. Or that’s the plan, anyway.

Which is where you come in. I’ll be writing an autoethnography for my thesis and, for lack of a better word, I’m scared shitless. (This is what it is to be in your thirties, I think: you’re pretty much scared shitless all the time. But you’re a grownup now, so you have to hide it.) I know I need another outlet, though, other than pouring myself completely into that project. Otherwise, I’ll shrivel up and never leave my apartment again.

*

The last six months, I’ve become obsessed with podcasts. (Basically anything Radiotopia puts out is pure gold.) It’s got me thinking about stories. Stories people tell, and why they tell them. Funny stories. Sad stories. Happy stories. Vulnerable stories.

Basically what I’ve realized, though, is that they’re all one and the same.

We need stories in order to live. Stories give us a sense of who other people are, and who we are.

And that stories that aren’t often told are the best ones.

Which is exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to let other people know that, as a disabled women, I like my life. Sometimes it sucks, and sometimes it’s great. But everyone’s life is like that. So why should mine be any different?

I’m here to share my story with you. Why?

Just because.

Because I kind of need to.

(I’ve written about how disabled narratives are a form of empowerment before. To read that post, go here.)