Dan Malito’s keen eye for the absurdities of living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) made him the perfect choice for the new CreakyJoints storytelling series Talking Joints. "It’s my chance to share and opine about things I usually keep to myself," he said when I interviewed him about the new series. He hopes to use these stories to inspire others who live with RA and educate those who don’t, building bridges between the two groups.
Talking Joints is five minutes’ worth of Dan taking on an aspect of living with RA with his trademark wit and unique perspective. "He’s a natural storyteller," says Stacey Cahn, producer of the series, "his “talking joints” is humor grounded in truth that resonates with anyone who has faced challenges." In the first episode, Dan recounts his experience of needing to see an ankle specialist and getting stuck in a revolving door. In his hands, it becomes five minutes of inspired lunacy that is eminently relatable for anyone who lives with a chronic illness.
Humor is important
Great humor often comes from pain and Dan has had his share of it. Diagnosed with RA at the age of nine, the disease has put him through the wringer. "Autoimmune disease is unique," he said, "It takes a hard toll there is no outcome, you never get better. It takes the longest amount of time to come to terms with it and you may never do."
As a child, Dan quickly learned to deal with the stress in his life by using humor. "I was never going to beat anyone up," he said, "I talked my way out of bullying, by disarming them." His sense of humor developed over the years into what his friends have described as "lovable a**hole."
"You’ve got to have a sense of humor. People are so serious, holding on so tightly." He continued, "How can you be that tightly wound when you know some days will punch you in the gut?" Dan credits his illness with teaching him two things. "One, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you wake up worrying about if you can walk to the bathroom, there’s no point in worrying about a stain on your pants. And two, just let everyone live and let live."
Creating Talking Joints
Dan has used his perspective on life with RA in writing for several years, both for CreakyJoints and the Huffington Post. Recently, he flexed his storytelling muscles in his memoir So Young: a Life Lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis. He told me that, "six or seven years ago, I never thought I’d be writing."
And then another of his talents was recognized. "Six month ago [CreakyJoints co-founder] Seth was guest hosting a spot on a radio show. He asked me to come on to talk about chronic pain," Dan remembers. Shortly thereafter, CreakyJoints Content Director D. Z. Stone had a conversation with Stacey Cahn about doing something more. Stacey, a veteran of radio and television news known for helping others find their voice, coached Dan on making the transition from print to broadcasting. "I was blown away by his voice, he’s got great ‘pipes,’ but doesn’t see himself as gifted," Stacey told me. And I agree completely. Dan’s deep and raspy voice is perfect for radio, without sounding like a clone of every other radio announcer on air.
Dan told me that the most eye-opening aspect of transitioning to this form of storytelling was how detailed the script was. "The hardest thing is to say what you want to say and be funny, poignant, and coherent, all in five minutes."
But Dan and Stacey managed to capture lightning in the bottle. So much so that Dan was recently approached by a New York-based production company about developing a show based on the Talking Joints stories! Talks are in early stages, but I for one hope to one day see Dan on stage. In addition to this exciting development, there are high hopes for the future of the series. Stacey summarized it, saying, "I would like to see Talking Joints get sponsored and reach a larger audience." She’d love to see it “as a weekly show on NPR where storytelling is a valued commodity.”
When it comes to material for new shows, "there will be no shortage of topics," Dan says. He’s getting married to his fiancÃ©e Allison in a few months and looks forward to the funny aspects of traveling for their honeymoon and telling stories about their future kids.
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.