Self Advocate Finds Voice in Poetry, Theater
I’ve changed for the better
I’ve shed that sad lonely self
The one I hated so much
The new me is strong and beautiful
In case you haven’t noticed
Look beyond appearances
For within is a fiery soul
With wit and love to spare
In case you haven’t noticed
Maybe my grades don’t show it
But it’s there all the same...."
--excerpt from poem, "In Case You Haven't Noticed"
by Megan M. Jones
Megan Mary Jones has a way with words as a poet and self advocate with a flair for the dramatic. Born in California and now thriving in North Carolina, she has been writing poetry since high school to give herself a stronger voice. Megan says, "I am a person with disabilities and those disabilities influenced how I grew up and expressed emotion in a world where I really did not fit in."
When Megan moved from California to North Carolina with her family, she remembers realizing that the education system, at least for people with disabilities, wasn't what it should be. "You were either in special ed or you weren’t discovered and stumbled through mainstream," she said. She grew up in special education, except for math. And then she says, she found a way with words.
"From a very young age I had a love and aptitude for words. My family encouraged my love of reading. I had a pretty good library from a young age and preferred books to my classmates," Jones said. Many of her classmates found her to be a source for teasing, but she befriended a German exchange student in high school, who had as much trouble with fitting in as Megan did and they bonded.
When her friend moved back to Germany over that following summer, Megan struggled a bit with the typical things -- becoming 17 years old, being teased, but also struggling to balance where she was gifted with where she still had a few setbacks in learning. The words and feelings she shared with her German friend were given an outlet once and for all when she attended a San Francisco showing of "The Phantom of the Opera". Afterward, she said, "I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to write so I did." And Megan didn't stop writing.
Of course she had read poetry but never been educated or encouraged to write it. Yet she finally felt like a tremendous missing part of me had finally fallen into place. She had found her way through words. "From that day on I took to carrying a notebook and pens everywhere," she said. But on occasion, she would forget her notebook and pens and strange emdai would present it self like restaurant table cloths. Once when out with dear friends, she felt words welling up inside her and wrote on the vinyl table cloth at dinner. Although Megan had to pay to replace the table cloth, she never let anyone or anything stifle her flood of words.
At first, Megan was not very sure of herself, but she kept on writing. It was an outlet, a spout for the outpouring of feelings, emotions and opinions she had on various topics. "I was finally developing self pride in my life" through writing, she said. She auditioned for the school talent show by presenting a poem. Expecting her to read from a page, her classmates were in awe that she got up, took a deep breath and with only one small stumble that nobody noticed recited the poem from memory. "I was a huge hit," she said with pride. The For once, she was a popular girl in high school, even if for only the last two weeks of the school hear. "A lot of the kids who had either ignored me or taunted me were fighting to be the one to buy me lunch. I admit It felt really good."
It wasn't until a family career change led Megan to North Carolina and her words had a broader outlet beyond the high school stage. Through the state chapter of TASH, an organization committed to advocating for people with intellectual and multiple disabilities and the Developmental Disabilties Training Institute, Megan met great allies who supported her self expression. "They pushed me to use my gift to help others express themselves. I made my first self-published book with the help of one of my very dearest friends."
Megan compiled about 60 of her best poems into a book and sold it at a conference in 2004.
Shortly thereafter, a theater group for people with disabilities was created in the Raleigh-Chapel Hill area and Megan's creative wings widened further. "That really kicked my poetry writing into gear. We are a family of a variety of different abilities and stumbling blocks."
Richard Reho formed the Community Inclusive Theatre Group in 2005 of which Megan is now an enthusiastic player. Reho developed a unique, inclusive, co-creative process in which members of the group participated equally, creating material which was woven into a cohesive, artistic whole. Reho also facilitated the building of relationships within the group and its development into a real “community” in its own right. The theater group is inclusive in its truest sense. Instead of focusing on the roles society has pushed upon the self advocate group members, they are given the opportunity to play themselves and express straight from the heart. And Megan flourishes with the friendships and bonds she's made in this group.
Megan is currently involved with "A New Kind of Listening," which tells a powerful story about one small arts initiative that changed the lives of its participants and put out in the world a moving theatrical work. The goal of a documentary on this group that it will invite dialogue, challenge definitions of disability and inclusion, and inspire others to see the power of the arts to honor the voices of people with disabilities.
Nearly a third of Megan's life has been spent now expressing herself and her advocacy skills through words and poetry. She has composed roughly 1,700 poems in total and keeps on writing like a literary Ever-Ready Bunny. "I’ve written on many subjects from love, heartbreak, politics and both joy and mourning. I’ve addressed child abuse and ignorant doctors and funny cats."
Megan's favorite poem she has written is called "I Want to Be Gershwin" which talks about how much she wants her poetry to touch people's hearts. Here is an excerpt.
I do not claim I can write music, nor even read it.
At playing it I am utterly hopeless.
Yet I want to be Gershwin.
I want my words to ring in your heart.
I want them to speak what you always wanted to say.
Megan dreams of someday professionally publishing a book, "hopefully more than one," she said. Megan has so much more to say. She relishes the opportunity to express herself to a wide variety of people who will listen and to make a difference for others who still have not quite found their own voices. She has a personal slogan on a business card that reads, “Anything said or done could become poetry.”
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