From Kelli (founder/producer)
Three years ago tonight, I was in the hospital having emergency surgery on my infected knee replacement. It was really unpleasant and I came out of the OR with tubes everywhere and in pain they couldn’t get under control. They kept me overnight in the recovery room. It was late on a holiday and no one else was there so they let my circle of friends come and sit around the bed, just a bunch of queers/transfolks in the semi darkness punctuated by incessant hospital beeping. My friend Bryn (who we lost to suicide a year ago) was one of those circle of friends. When I had to pee they wheeled my entire hospital bed over to the bathroom (bedpans are not a great option for fat thighed folks) and I said “Bryn…um can you…” and before I even finished the sentence she was up and helping me pee. Helping someone pee under the best circumstances isn’t easy. Because I was in so much pain and still trying so hard to be cool about it, oh it was really not pretty. And then shortly before her death we had this facebook exchange about it.
So I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot since then. I had a story in my head of what I experienced that night and while I was grateful to have my extremely faithful friends there, the pain and fear and despair was mostly what I remembered.
But when I brought this story to Bryn, she held a slightly different story, and reflecting with her, seeing that night through her eyes actually changed and deepened my experience.
In the last ten years I lost two partners to cancer and had the same knee replaced four times. This not so great luck has certainly informed and influenced my stand up comedy and storytelling (perhaps more than the average stand up fan would prefer) and it’s influenced my nursing practice almost as much. But when a very well-intentioned therapist suggested that I see myself as a wounded healer I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud. That’s kinda precious in a not very cute way and also TOO MUCH PRESSURE.
But then I read Arthur Frank’s Wounded Storyteller (I’m a nerd, there’s always a book in my stories) and thought “okay okay that’s more like it. I think I can handle being a wounded storyteller.”And hell, maybe on some days a healed storyteller as well.
Truth is, I’ve had the idea for this festival for a long while. And when I performed in the Cinderblock Comedy Festival this past year (a comedy festival that privileges less heard voices) I was impressed and thought “so grateful these young folks have enough energy to make stuff like this happen because I don’t”
But in this current political climate, I had to wonder if I really had the luxury of being “too tired.” Frank talks about the responsibility of “refusing narrative surrender” that is, holding onto the truth of our own stories and fighting to make them heard.
I’m hoping that what we can create for a week at JACK will be like that night in the hospital recovery room (with fewer out of place body fluids); a time to listen, to witness and to respond to our bodies’ stories, a time to recognize ourselves as experts on our own sometimes embattled lives and joyfully refuse narrative surrender.