It's not that easy being green

The 2011 Northeast Regional Mentoring Conference, Oct. 13-14 in Framingham, MA, will bring together more than 250 practitioners, researchers and other stakeholders in the mentoring field. The conference’s numerous workshops, covering various themes, will ultimately connect the outcomes and power of mentoring.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting the conference with previews to some of the workshops. This post is courtesy of presenter Carolyn Martino.

I am a professional storyteller, and I was born with a large birthmark on my right cheek. Growing up I suffered the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of being different. But my journey - this wonderful, difficult, tragic, comic trek we call life - has led me from feelings of inferiority to a true appreciation of my own uniqueness.

I recently saw the movie, Music Within. The title comes from a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them:
Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!"

The movie is based on the true story of Richard Pimentel, a man who played a pivotal role in creating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Deafened by a bomb blast in Vietnam, Richard returns home to discover his life’s calling: helping others with disabilities, including his fellow veterans.

Along with his best friend Art Honneyman, wheel-chair bound with cerebral palsy and almost undecipherable speech (Richard calls him "the smartest and funniest man I have ever known”), Richard fights for the rights of those whose voices can’t always be heard.

In one harrowing – and at the same time, hilarious - scene, Richard takes Art to an all-night restaurant for pancakes to celebrate his birthday. After his tortuous struggle to get the wheelchair up a flight of stairs, the waitress refuses to serve them, calling Art “the ugliest, most disgusting thing” she has ever seen. “People like you should have been killed at birth.” When they refuse to leave, the police arrest them under the “Ugly Law,” a statute that prohibited public appearances of people who were “unsightly.”

It’s like the joke Abraham Lincoln told about himself. While riding in the woods one day, he stopped to let a woman, also on horseback, cross the path. She stopped, horrified, and said, "I do believe you are the ugliest man I ever saw." "Madam,” he replied, “you are probably right, but I can’t help it!" "No," she said, "you can’t help it, but you might have the decency to stay at home!"

Richard Pimentel’s mission was not so much about changing others’ perceptions of people with disabilities as it was about altering their own perceptions of themselves. With Art’s help, he does that. And in helping others discover their hidden music, Richard discovered his own.

In my workshop, I will present MASKS, an autobiographical piece which chronicles my own journey. It’s in two acts. Back in 1990, living in New York City, before I even heard of storytelling, I was moved by the intimate nature of performance art to write the first act. I was learning to speak from a place of deeper connection with my real self, and I thought people might be interested in hearing about my childhood with a birthmark and my decision as a teenager to wear a thick make-up to cover it up. They were interested.

It has taken me over 20 years to write – to live – the second act. There are many needs for art, and perhaps the greatest is to mirror our own lives. Growing up different - and this is also true also of the gay and lesbian population - you never see yourself reflected in the media, and you begin to feel that something truly is wrong. Invisible, a ghost nobody, not even yourself, talks about. There’s a profound sense of isolation. I’ve learned that when we are allowed to talk about our differences, we prove our existence and we discover our own humanity.

That happened to me with MASKS, and it has happened with many members of the audience as well.

It is my hope that this performance/workshop will give you a greater insight and sensitivity into the internal struggles and self-limiting beliefs of your targeted populations -- people who for one reason or another feel out of the mainstream, isolated and alone, and who find it difficult to talk about their feelings.

There will be a chance after the performance to discuss ways in which you might use your insights to have a greater impact on those you serve.