People Paper: The Art of Storytelling


(Originally posted on Joel Franco’s BlogChesapeake Films)

When I was four years old I started writing poetry. It came naturally to me and was a source of solace in a world filled with chaos and confusion too complex for a baby to understand. I loved writing. It was the one thing that made me feel smart when my teachers, doctors and counselors continued to express concern that I was less than average after I started school.

216929_7007745156_1050_nSeizures began to plague my life when I was five. People didn’t understand epilepsy back then, and I was considered a spoiled attention-seeker until I was properly diagnosed after being revived from drowning in the fluid that filled my lungs during a tonic-clonic seizure.

I recall never quite being the same again after my near death experience. I was left with a knowing that my purpose was more than what the outside world projected. At a young age, despite all the odds, I felt driven to succeed.

As my seizures progressed, I wrote. I became fascinated by text and the body. In grade six I had all of my friends write words and expression on my acid-washed jeans. There was something so exhilarating about the intimacy of people using me as a home for their thoughts.

automaticmarkAs a student with special needs I was often sent to a trailer that sat outside the school for educational assistance. I told my special education teacher that I would be an author. She was the only encouraging educator who believed my affirmation to be true. It was that defining moment that led me to understand the power of simple acts of kindness and support.

Although my epilepsy and seizures become more prominent as I reached puberty, I continued to write. Poetry flooded my journals and I poured myself into each word capturing my hopefulness, pain, optimism, spirituality, and the fear that I would not live to see my dreams come to fruition.

I was failing school. By the time I was eighteen I was having over one hundred seizures a day. I dreamt of graduating, going to university, traveling the world, and sharing my true artistic gifts as an inspiration to others; to persevere in the face of adversity.

One particularly difficult day in grade eleven, after returning home from school, I got on my hands and knees and prayed.

IMG_2060“God, if you are real, like I think you are, please take my epilepsy away. If you do this I promise that I will give myself to the world. I will speak to youth and inspire them to never give up.”

I opened my eyes and stared at my walls filled with the beautiful murals I had painted and I knew, like I knew after my near death experience, I was going to succeed. So I let go and trusted.

Two years later I stood on the stage of my high school and accepted my diploma, after having undergone two major brain surgeries to remove the benign brain tumor that caused my epilepsy. I achieved my dream of being accepted to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and kept my promise to continue to inspire youth and people struggling with adversity.

I continued to explore my passion for text and the body through performance art and toured my first exhibition, Automatic People Paper, automatic writing on people’s bodies that embraced imperfection.
resizeI became fearless and performed as a canvas for poetry in public spaces. My words exposed to the world on my skin and the adrenaline of being read by strangers was a true expression of facing judgment. Not only judgment from strangers, but the judgment I held within.

After I had traveled the world, and became a single parent, I was introduced to a new form of storytelling, the art of video. I decided that I was no longer going to hold back and started to tell my story through this transformative artistic medium. I presented it to high schools, youth groups, and business conferences, and quickly saw the impact that comes with having strength in exposing vulnerability. Like a song on the radio that speaks to you when you are heartbroken, my story empowered others to speak out and pursue what they thought was unthinkable.

I kept my promise and what it has taught me about the power of storytelling: that one thought, one action, one word, one story, can create a ripple, changing lives and the world in which we live.

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