If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…

We all remember that old saying our grandparents used to tell us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s a pretty basic concept, right? If you can’t say something positive, then keep the negative to yourself. Well, once I became an open amputee (meaning I don’t hide my prosthesis or cover it up), I discovered that is a lot harder for people to do than it sounds.

On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I encountered a woman in her 60s who obviously had forgotten this rule of thumb. As I stood there waiting for my daughter to finish looking at something, she came right up to me like she knew me, even though I was quite sure I had never seen her before. So there I was standing in the town that I write books about, and I’m thinking, “Okay, smile and be pleasant. She probably read the book.” And I no sooner finished thinking it when she opened her mouth. What came next told me she lived by the rule, “If you have something to say, say it.” She started waving her hand in the direction of my prosthesis while saying, “You should cover that up, no one wants to see it.” And before I could open my mouth, she was gone. I’m pretty sure if there had been a camera pointed at me that very minute, they would have gotten quite a range of facial expressions.
I’ve been physically challenged for enough years to know that she was judging the book by its cover. It happens ALL the time. It isn’t always as blatant, but here are a few examples.

Amputee Myths

Amputees want to “show off.”

Yes it was December in Minnesota, and yes it was cold. You see, I don’t wear shorts because I want to “show off” my leg. I wear shorts because I get very hot wearing said leg. Every morning when I get up, I put on a silicone liner and cover it up with three to five wool socks and then put it inside the carbon fiber socket for 18 hours. For comparison, imagine getting up and putting on a rubber dish glove and then three pairs of your favorite wool socks over your arm. Now walk around for a while and see how long it takes before you start to sweat. I can tell you it’s not long! With the knowledge that everyone is going to see my leg, I try to keep it interesting and fun for people to look at. My motto is “People are gonna stare, might as well give them something to stare at.”

Amputees don’t want to “talk” about it.

Yes we do! We’d much rather answer your question about how it happened, if it hurts, if it’s hard to learn to walk again, if we can run or any other question a person might have. We’d rather be engaged than stared at. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Amputees shouldn’t park in handicapped spots.

There is no right answer here. Do I still park in a handicapped spot? Sometimes, like if there is two feet of snow on the ground and the parking lot hasn’t been plowed, or if my leg is really bothering me from phantom pain, or it’s broken I will park where I can be closer to the door and there’s a cart to use for support. On a sunny day and my leg is feeling good I don’t park in the handicapped spot, and you know what? It feels great! It’s the little victories in life sometimes.

Amputees have no life.

Truly, people believe this! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Katie, and I am a below-knee amputee. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, full-time medical katie duluthtranscriptionist, author, ballroom dancer, living kidney donor and strong advocate for #lifewithoutlimitations. Most nights (like tonight as I’m writing this at 11:30), I find that I have an abundance of life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

I don’t often get upset about anything that is said to me. I’d probably spend most of my time in public angry about one thing or another if I did, but this woman really got to me.  Her assumption that “no one” wants to see my prosthesis really peeved me because I know a lot of people who want to see it. I have a husband and three kids who are ecstatic every morning when I put my leg on and get up and start my day with them. They LOVE to see it. I was very glad my daughter was not near us when she said these things, not because I don’t think my daughter can handle it, rather I don’t know if the woman could handle my daughter! 🙂 I went to my in-laws that night and was telling them about it. My father-in-law, who was an educator in their district for 33 years, was appalled. He suggested I write a letter to the editor and say what needed to be said, and I did just that. (See below) As I sat down to write it, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say, but my heart knew. When I finished writing the letter and submitted it to the paper, I can’t say I felt great satisfaction in responding to a negative remark, but I hoped I had done it in a way that was “being the bigger person.”

In my books, and my life, I’m a solid believer in a reason for everything. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t but there is always a reason. For me, Dec. 7 in Wal-Mart was my reason. I felt that little piece snap into place, that piece that said, “This is your mission. This is why you are an amputee. You will be the voice of those who can’t or won’t stand up and say I am still ME. You will stand up and be an example for living your #lifewithoutlimitations.”

I’m happy to report that the letter was shared more than 100 times and even made its way as far as Japan and Australia, but more than that are the responses I have gotten from other amputees. Words like, “I’ve always hid my prosthesis, but you have given me the courage to shed my cover and just be who I am.” The experience has opened doors for me to continue to be a voice in my community, and I look forward to all the wonderful changes that continue to evolve.

Another saying goes something like this, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might miss the great story inside.” I hope everyone who reads this will let that become their new motto for 2013 and join me in living #lifewithoutlimitations.

Dear Female Wal-Mart Shopper,

On a recent visit to Cloquet my daughter and I stopped at Wal-Mart before visiting my in-laws. As I stood in the aisle, you approached me and stated, “You should wear pants because no one wants to see that,” all the while motioning towards my prosthetic leg. I was a bit taken aback and saddened by the fact you felt the need to lay your negativity on someone who was minding her own business and not affecting your life.

Our encounter left me wondering what you would have said had you looked past the cover and read the story inside. When you judged me, you didn’t see my beautiful daughter shopping in the aisle across from us or my two boys at home with my loving husband. You didn’t see the woman who works full-time and takes care of a home and a family. You didn’t see the bestselling author who has adopted Cloquet as her second home and writes novels about the beautiful Twin Ports. You didn’t see the woman who loves ballroom dancing, shopping with her daughter and walking on the beach with her husband. Who you didn’t see, very simply, was me.

Legato_28June2012_BRFMHI am more than the carbon-fiber foot I wear on the outside. In fact, I wear that carbon fiber proudly because it has shaped me into who I am today. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer, an organ donor, a lover of life, oh yes, and an amputee.

As the holiday season is upon us, it is my hope that the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, wearing a prothesis, talking with their hands or using a guide dog, instead of bringing them down you reach inside yourself and find a way to raise them up. Offer to hold the door or even an encouraging smile.

Our country will never move forward if we continue to teach our children intolerance and hate. It isn’t until people stop judging a book by its cover and take the time to read the great story inside that we will shed the heavy coat of intolerance and find out how good it feels to wear acceptance.

Respectfully Yours,

Katie Mettner

They Just Don’t Know

Editor’s Note: One of the underlying things I wanted to do with this blog was offer a place for people to come and just share what was on their mind at the time. As you’ve clearly seen, I’ve had the pleasure of having some amazing guests with some incredible stories on the blog, since I started it more than two years ago. I hope you’ll welcome Noel, who’s been on the blog before, and give her a warm welcome.

People complain about my actions as of late, but they don’t know what I’ve gone through.

I thought I was head over heels in love with my husband. I was so wrong. I thought he was great for me and the kids but again I was wrong. In January 2012 I found out he had been cheating on me for at least three years. Can you imagine my heartache? The bad part is it was with my best friend. Or, well, someone I thought was my best friend. This woman is married to his twin brother. I was distraught, I was upset. I took my anger and my hurt to Facebook, mostly seeking someone to talk to. I was looking for someone to know what I was feeling. That’s when another man sent me a message. That’s when my world changed.

I grew closer with this other man. I had already moved out of the bedroom I shared with my husband and was sleeping on the couch. My husband started staying gone with work and with his brother’s wife as well as being gone to his mom’s house all the time. The kids and I never saw him.

On February 19, I decided I wanted a divorce. I couldn’t take being alone anymore. I couldn’t take him cheating on me right under my nose. I had never cheated on him. My male friend and I were just that, friends, until I told him I was going to divorce my husband. So we made plans to meet up. Nothing came from it, we just sat and talked because I needed a friend. This guy had lived down the street from me for years, and I didn’t know it. We went to school together. He’s a great guy.

So February 21, which is also his birthday, this friend and I met up. I picked him up in my van that I had just bought, and we went and sat in the dark, since it was just after midnight on the 21st. I kissed him first, he didn’t kiss me. If it looks like cheating, it’s my fault. We weren’t alone together long that night. After I went home we still stayed in contact.

NoelMy husband didn’t even know I was gone that night since he was sound asleep. I had been telling my husband for days I wanted a divorce. I guess he didn’t believe me, and on what would have been our six-year wedding anniversary, I went and got the divorce papers. It took him forever to even want to fill them out. But in this time I had gotten a job. I was proud of myself, even though it was only at McDonald’s. I was still seeing the guy from Facebook, too.

My husband and I had come to an agreement. We were going to try and still live together since we were buying a duplex together. He would have his own little section of the house and I would have mine. We were both hoping it would help with the kids, that it would be an easy adjustment for them. But this way we would both be there for the kids, and the other could watch them while one was at work or started dating and we could still split the bills. We both thought it would be cheaper for us.

I worked days, and he worked nights. I’d take off on the weekends with the kids while he was at work and do things with them. They met the guy from Facebook and instantly liked him. He treated the kids just as their father should have been treating them, showing them the attention they wanted. That’s when my soon-to-be ex-husband found out I had started dating. He hated it and still does. My boyfriend and I started getting closer, and there were some nights I never came back to the house. I was trying to give my ex a taste of his own medicine. It didn’t work, and just caused us to fight and him to bad mouth me and my boyfriend in front of the kids. He was trying to get them to hate us both.

Then the day of the divorce in July came and went, and I was free to do as I pleased. I got full custody of the kids and since he moved out he would get to see them weekends, when he decides to get them. We tried to stay in the same house together as friends until one night I was gone all night. When I came home he was looking for a fight. It was a good one, too, because I kicked him out. Told him to never step foot in my house again.

All I could think was now what was I going to do? I had a house payment, all these bills, a van payment and no one to watch the kids so I could get back and forth to work. I had to quit my job until I could get a sitter for them. August rolled around and here comes my landlord wanting his money for June, July and August. I looked at him and told him the ex should have paid those other months since I had given him my half of the payment for those months. Turns out he didn’t pay him. He hadn’t paid any of the bills. The money I was giving him and the money he was making at work went on his truck, which was junk to begin with. Here I was looking at the landlord trying to rack my brain to figure out what to do. That’s when the landlord told me it looks like me and my kids would be sleeping in our van. I had thirty days to get six years worth of stuff out of the house and find someplace else to live. The power was supposed to be cut off any day and so was the water. I was scared, so very scared I would lose my kids.

My mom pulled strings at the light company to keep the power on until I could get out. The kids and I stayed in the house a week then moved in with my parents. We didn’t bring anything with us except clothes. My boyfriend was moving into his new house and was trying to get it ready. I didn’t know what he wanted to get it ready for until he told me he couldn’t see me and the kids being homeless. Close to the end of August we moved in with him in a very small house that still needs work. I took what I could from the old house, which wasn’t much since the landlord and some drug addicts he paid to help him had already been in the house and destroyed everything. Bookcases were empty; my Xbox stolen. Things that were in my dresser drawers were all over the place.

So we moved into the house with my boyfriend with pretty much a fresh start. We don’t have anything, and he didn’t have anything either. You would think things would get better now, but they didn’t until October when the van was repossessed. It turns out the payments I made on my own for August and September only caught up June and July. Again I asked my ex to make the payments for me while I was at work. He even used the van to go make the payments. I handed him all the money, but it was never paid. I have no clue what he did with the money.

Noel kidsSo now here I was with a new house, no job and no vehicle. But if I had my van I could have gone back to work with McDonald’s. It’s not much but at least it is a start. After October things started to get better. I’m still emotional and very clingy to my boyfriend. I guess I’m scared the same things will happen with him. Even though he is so much different than my ex.

People are always telling me they see a great change in me. I can see the change, too. I’m happy and smiling all the time. I’ve changed. I care how I look when I go out of the house, and I always have a smile. I hold my head up daily because if it wasn’t for my boyfriend I would still be homeless. I would be scared that someone was going to walk through my parents’ door and take my kids. My boyfriend has changed me and the kids. They are happy, too. They know they are loved, and I’m hopelessly in love with my boyfriend. I’ve lost friends recently because of how mushy I get with him on Facebook. That’s their loss not mine. I’m happy and have started my own business out of the house. I’m a tattoo artist and have been tattooing for five years. It’s slow starting off, but I have a great time doing it.

2012 was an up-and-down battle that most people didn’t see. I kept away from Twitter, and no one on Facebook knew much. All they knew was I was divorcing and then got a boyfriend and moved. But they didn’t know the little details until now. I see great things for 2013.

21 Years Of Trauma and Still Standing With C-PTSD

I truly hope you’re inspired and blessed by Jessica’s story. I met her on Twitter about a week ago, and it’s truly remarkable what she has been through. Her story is one of heartbreak and triumph. I hope you like it.

The story you are about to read is true-it is about my life. I would like you to take a moment to read about my sorrows and how I found inspiration to persevere. I have become a voice for those who are the silent ones, the abused children and women. I am opening a foundation that will provide a home for women who have been abused to have a place to go to get on their feet and become independent successful women.

Have a blessed day, for here is my story.                                                                           

My name is Jessica Solsona, and I was a victim of abuse.

JessicaI was molested as a child by my step-father for years, while my own mother knew I was being violated and did nothing to stop it. For years I did not know why she did not protect me. She told me she hated me because she thought he was paying more attention to me than her. He would go to my bedroom every night and take me to the sofa while he watched porn. I was so scared. He would tell me not to fight back or I would get beaten. I just laid there numb, wanting someone to save me. I turned to my mother for comfort and protection, there was none. She said she hated me because in her mind I was stealing the man she loved. There was no solitude, no place for me to turn. 

After my step-father went to jail after someone found out what he had done my mother told the police she did not know. She abused me so bad for eight years afterwards, and even beat me because the house was not clean enough or the food was not warm enough when I served it. One day my mother took me home from school and closed all the blinds and doors. She beat me so bad I was knocked out. She said as she beat me that I messed up her life. She threw me in a cold shower to “cure” my bruises.

There were many days that were the same. I went to school crying and my hair falling out because of the morning beatings. I hated going to school like that but happy that I was not home. I walked home extra slow so I wouldn’t get home. I wished my mother was in a good mood.

One day my mother woke me up at 2 a.m. and drove me in the middle of no where because she said she heard a little girl was raped and dumped there. It was dark and cold. There were no city lights. I did not know where I was walking. I saw a very small light far away and followed it. It soon was light enough for me to see where I was. I felt so scared and alone. I finally made it home. My mom was mad and told me to get to school. All I wanted was to sleep. I went to school wondering if the kids knew what I went through, but thankfully no one noticed.

I never had the protection a child should have, the protection a child needs from her parents. The very people who should have kept me safe had imprisoned me into a life sexual slavery.

When I was 15 I got married just to get out of the abuse to only get myself into another abusive seven-year relationship. He abused me everyday. I left school to work and pay his court fees. I had a son at 16 and soon after, at 17, I had a daughter. I fought hard to make sure they were not hurt by him or anyone. He was deported back to Costa Rica, and I followed thinking he would change because he told me he would. My kids and I were held hostage in Costa Rica for a year because he would not let us leave. He was so abusive and even more so because we were not in the USA. During that year my six-month old daughter almost died. I fought hard to get back. I made it back to the USA with both my kids and without him! I worked so hard to get on my feet. I have remarried and now have four children. I want to show them their mother is a soldier and can overcome anything!

My story is my life and through it all I had my faith in God. I knew that I was put on this earth for a greater meaning. A meaning that eluded me. My search for peace is all that kept me going through the many years of abuse that followed. My faith that one day I would make my way through the despair and use every ounce of my being to make sure other children and women did not endure what I had.

Jessica 3My dream of one day having a family of my own has come true. However the physical, as well as emotional, scars have remained. Like many women and children that go through what I have, I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or CPTSD. Though my will is strong, at this time I am unable to maintain full-time employment. I use this time to love my children each and every day. I work to raise money for my foundation for abused children and women as well as work on my memoir so I can tell my story and hopefully help someone’s desperate cry for help. I want so much to make a difference in this world. I feel it is my obligation, my purpose!

I want to create a program where women can get help to get out of abuse. Most women stay because they are told they are nothing, they can’t make it without their partner, and they don’t have the money to get out and be independent.

My goal is to get them out and give them support. I want to have a stable home where they can have the protection they need. I want doctors to help them with what they have been through. I want to find them secure jobs. I want women to become strong, successful and independent.

As for the kid’s who were abused I want so much more! They never asked to live that kind of life. All they want is a mother and father who will protect them, not abuse them. I am wishing my book could help change how people see and think about child abuse! When they hear a child screaming for the person abusing them to stop! I HOPE THEY WOULD DO SOMETHING INSTEAD OF NOTHING!

Put Yourself in My Wheels

Sorry if this offends some people but I witnessed something this morning that really ticked me off and almost caused me to make a scene at work. I’d just gotten to work and was getting ready to pull in the handicapped parking spot I usually get, but somebody was parked in it.

Now, usually when something like this happens, I’ll check for a handicapped permit or license plate so I can write their tag number down and give it to a police officer, but this morning was different…. This woman (and I use that term VERY lightly) was SITTING in her minivan WAITING on somebody to come back out!!! Really? REALLY?!?!

There were 20-25 regular parking spaces that were empty but this $H*C# was sitting in a handicapped parking space reserved for people like me who NEED the spaces. It was raining and I got damp, thankfully it wasn’t a monsoon or I would’ve had to run home and change, and I don’t have two hours to spend running up and down the road because somebody only cares about #1 and doesn’t care who she’s taking advantage of.

IMG_7176You know I wish some people would just show a little damn respect and think about the rest of us who have to park in a handicapped space to let our lifts down so we can go to work or wherever else we need to go. We are people too by God and it’s high time I took a stand and let people know that this kind of disrespect and abuse will stop.

I bet she would have raised T-total hell if she was the one in a wheelchair and I parked there and just sat there reading a damn book or took a nap while she figured out how she was going to get out……….. and you know what, I would’ve just sat there and not moved just to prove how hard it is on some of us who have to survive every day in a wheelchair while the rest of society passes us by and looks down their noses at us.

Author’s note: I just want to say how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to work in a place where my co-workers respect me and are willing to do whatever they can to help me when I need it. I will never, ever be able to thank my friends and co-workers for showing me the respect and giving me every opportunity to succeed. I just hope I can continue to do a good job.

Author’s Roundtable: Erynn Rowan Laurie

How long have you been writing? Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

I’ve been writing all my life, and getting published since I was in junior high school during the 1970s, in various venues from the school paper to the regional Mensa newsletter. I think the first time I got published in national circulation was a short piece I contributed in the late 1980s for a Pagan newsletter, Circle Network News. My first professional publication was an article in Sage Woman, in 1994, another Pagan publication. I framed a copy of that first check and kept it on the wall for several years to remind myself that I was a “real” writer. It was a very exciting moment. Several of my articles and essays, and some of my poetry, have been translated into at least half a dozen different languages over the years. My first book, “A Circle of Stones,” was published in 1995 and has been reprinted in a second edition, which was released in May.

Writing is definitely something I always wanted to do, ever since I realized that every word in the books, stories and poems I had ever read had been written by another person. I was very young when I started reading – about three, according to my mom – and to me it seemed like magic. The ability to create worlds, to make music with language, to convey emotion, information and mystery, has always impressed me very deeply. There’s something holy about creating like that; I think that to write well is to share in that power, to touch the heart of what it is to be human. Words well-used have the ability to change the world, and to change the hearts and minds of those who read or hear them.

What books or stories have you written?

I have a fair list of publications out these days from various small publishers and three more projects that came out in 2012, with a few more anthology pieces waiting for the editing process to finish. I enjoy working with small presses because it feels so much more personal, and because I think I have considerably more control over what the finished work looks and feels like. Small presses are, in my experience, much more willing to work with an author rather than dictating content. They don’t pay as much, but I don’t have to worry about making a living with my writing, so I’m content with what comes.

My work is mostly nonfiction. I deal with disability issues and veterans issues in my writing, as well as Celtic Pagan spirituality and poetry, so my work covers a pretty broad spectrum of interests. My biggest project so far has been my book on the early Irish ogam alphabet, “Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom.” People use it for divination and magic, and I spent about 18 years researching and writing for it before it was finally released in 2007. Part of what took so long was the fact that I’d had to throw everything out and start over entirely, four times. It was very frustrating, but I think the end result was much better for having done all that.

My approach is very much based on history and research, but the applications are as much influenced by practical modern use as by the historical context. I’m always very clear about what’s history, what’s conjecture, and what constitutes my own interpretations of the material, so that people can decide for themselves how they want to handle the material and what they want to do with it. I’m all about the footnotes; I tend to be a little obsessive about them, but it’s largely because when I read, I want to know where things come from, so I’m giving my readers that same ability to chase down sources themselves if they want to.

My first fiction piece was published in 2011 in a short story anthology. I was very excited about that. I enjoy writing fiction but don’t particularly pursue publishing it at the moment because I feel like my non-fiction work is more important, both to me and to the community for whom I write. I write fiction largely as a way to relax and clear out the cobwebs between longer and more serious projects. It’s possible I’ll try writing a novel someday, but I’m not terribly motivated to do so right now. When it comes to writing outside of nonfiction and research-based work, I’m much more inclined toward poetry, and my first poetry collection, “Fireflies at Absolute Zero,” came out in October 2012 from Hiraeth Press.

Fireflies-at-Absolute-Zero-199x300One of the works I’m proudest of is a piece in the academic anthology “Disability and Religious Diversity: Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Perspectives.” This was particularly significant for me because I don’t have a degree. I’ve only taken a couple of spare college classes and have never had the money or the focus to attempt to earn a degree. I live with post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, anxiety disorders and a variety of other issues that mean it’s hard for me to keep to a consistent schedule, or to deal reliably with other people on a daily basis. Far too often, I have days when the idea of leaving the apartment is just overwhelming. I work very hard on having something like a normal life, but chronic pain and the effects of my other problems make it difficult.

My article for the anthology is about PTSD and the geilta, or sacred mad figures in early Irish, Scottish, and Welsh literature and myth. These figures are usually presented as “going mad” after great trauma, either in battle or as the result of violence or the death of someone close to them. The ways in which they act out that madness reads as being very like the symptoms of PTSD. Yet most of these individuals are strongly associated with poetry, music or prophecy, and I find the concept of seeking healing through poetry, art and interaction with the sacred a very inspiring one. It has served me as a very useful model in my own personal work in dealing with PTSD and other issues in the context of my Celtic Pagan spirituality.

Can you talk more about writing about disability issues. What made you decide to discuss disabilities in your writing?

A lot of it is because the disabilities I deal with are invisible. It’s so easy for people to dismiss them and assume there’s nothing at all “wrong” with me. The fact that I look “normal” doesn’t mean that I’m not in pain, or that I don’t have certain limitations other folks don’t have to deal with. Always hearing “but you don’t look disabled” gets frustrating. It’s not that I particularly want to complain about my life, but I do try to be up front with people and let them know that my health is unpredictable at best, and I’d prefer if they understood a little of why. I dislike not being able to do what I’ve committed to do, but sometimes I don’t have a choice. Blinding migraines tend to take precedence over going to a meeting I’ve promised to attend, for instance. When I have a migraine that bad, it’s just not safe for me to drive, and I’m barely able to see anyway, so there’s no sense in my even trying to leave the house. My friends understand a lot better, but strangers just assume that I can do everything they can, and when I can’t there’s a certain amount of disbelief and a good bit of anger or resentment if I have to back out of something because my health has failed me.

I don’t know what it would be like to be visibly disabled. I know folks who are, and I know that there are a lot of other issues that they deal with that I don’t have to, so I really can’t see one option being any “better” than another. I would love it if nobody had to struggle with these things, but human beings are just flesh and bone, and physical systems fail. One of my friends talks about how everyone is really only “temporarily able” — age gets everyone who lives long enough. Everyone’s bodies eventually begin to fail them. Some of us just have to start dealing with systemic failures of one sort or another much earlier in life than other people.

The other issue that pushes me to write about it is the stigma surrounding mental illnesses like clinical depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders and the like. People think that depression just means you’re a little sad and that you should be able to “just get over” things like severe traumas or panic attacks. If you have to take psych meds, people think you’re weak, but they don’t think people with a broken arm should “just get over it.” I write about these things because every person who speaks out about the issue helps chip away at those poisonous assumptions. People should be treated like human beings, regardless of the state of their bodily or mental health. I get so frustrated with how many ways people discriminate against one another on the basis of so very little — the color of someone’s skin, their gender, their religion, whom they love, whether or not they have children or are married, the state of their health, how they dress. If anything I write does even a tiny bit to help change things for the better, to make it easier for someone else to live their life happily and to be understood a little more, I would be so very happy with that.

I’ve had to take psych meds for years and will probably have to continue to take them for the rest of my life. They didn’t “fix” me, but they have given me a stable place to work on the things that I need to deal with. And they really did make so much of a difference once they started working that I felt like I was living on an entirely different planet. Being suicidally depressed nearly my entire life until that point was awful. Even with the good they’ve done me, they also have damaging side effects — I have hand tremors, and I’m not sure how much of that is because of the fibromyalgia and how much is because of nerve damage from the antidepressants and other meds I’ve taken over the years. At this point, there’s really no way to tell.

Being able to function, though, to be able to leave the house without someone with me, to actually enjoy food, movies, music, reading, writing and friends — to me it’s worth the physical damage that has been done by the medications. Some people choose otherwise, and that’s their right but, for me, being able to have a life where I can function in society even if I can’t work for a living has been an incredible blessing and worth the price I’ve paid. I want people to understand that there are choices, there are sometimes options that can help. Medications don’t fix everything, and they work differently for each person, but I wish that our society allowed people to make those decisions for themselves without stigmatizing it and making it seem like a failure.

That is kind of a nutshell of why I write some of the things that I do and why I speak about these things publicly. I’m at least in a place where I’m able to do that, and I have enough skill with words that I can generally make my point reasonably clearly, so I might as well use those skills where I’m able.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

Dealing with my body and the mental issues caused by the PTSD, the fibromyalgia and my other problems is the hardest part. I’ve been in chronic pain for so long that I no longer remember what it feels like to not hurt. One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is a sort of brain fog that makes it very hard to focus, and this can cause memory problems as well. When I have a migraine or when I’m having brain fog, I can’t focus enough to even read, much less write a sentence. I’ve found myself sitting on the couch for hours, reading the same paragraph or sentence over and over again because I’ve forgotten that I read it just a moment ago, and that’s incredibly frustrating. Some days just opening my eyes is agonizing because light hurts. It’s hard to feel like I can accomplish anything at all when I hurt that much.

As you might imagine, this can make it very hard to put together a coherent sentence when I’m writing, as well. I have to try to take advantage of the days when things are a little clearer, or when I have enough energy to do anything at all, and sit at the keyboard with a lot of discipline and determination. I write even when I don’t feel well, because sometimes just getting a hundred words in a file means I’ve done something that day. So often, I have to make a choice between writing and making something to eat, or writing and doing the laundry. Taking care of the basics of my daily life can be very challenging. I’ve had to let go of my expectations over the years and realize that this is what’s normal for me and that I’m all right with the choices I make in order to research and write and finish up a project to send off to a publisher.

Not every day is like this. I have really good days where I don’t hurt that much and the words flow and I feel inspired, but I take them as the blessing they are and don’t imagine that every day will be a good one. I’ve also had to come to the understanding that I’m going to hurt whether I do anything or not, so I might as well do things I enjoy when I’m able to, and writing is one of the things I enjoy most in my life. It gives me an incredible sense of pleasure and accomplishment to finish a project, and to finally hold a book or a magazine in my hands that has my work in it. This feeling makes all the struggles and the pain worth the effort I’ve put into it. On days when I can’t write, I feel restless and incomplete. All those writers who say that we write because we’ll die otherwise, they’re right. I can’t refrain from writing. Something precious and irreplaceable in me would be extinguished.

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

Sit down every day and write something. It doesn’t matter what – an email, a blog post, a poem, a paragraph in your diary – but write. It doesn’t matter where or when, or whether anyone else ever sees a word of it. Every word you write is another word that makes you a writer.

Learn to accept constructive criticism and editing, because not every word you write is going to be a good one, or appropriate to the work. We all have an ego attachment to our work, because that’s what writers do, but it’s important to detach as much as you can and learn to be a better writer by working with an editor or a writing group, or even just a friend whose honesty you can count on and whose work you respect. Always hearing how wonderful you are is never going to improve your work. You need to hear where you’ve got weaknesses and where you misstep, then make an effort to work on those weaknesses, in order to grow and learn.

If you want to write nonfiction, learn to do research. Learn where to look for information, how to keep track of it, and how to share it effectively with others. Be in love with learning new things, and be willing to throw out or modify old theories when something comes along to change what you know. Write about things that spark your passion, because that passion will come through in your words. Flexibility and openness are so important to the process of writing.

Even when writing nonfiction – or perhaps especially when writing nonfiction – be awake to the music of language. Read your work out loud and listen to what it sounds like. Think about how it will sound to someone else’s ears, and how it sounds to your own. Is your language clear? Does it really say what you intend to communicate to others? Does it flow and have beauty to it? Do the words bring you up short or take your breath away? If they do, you’re on the right track.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?

Writing expands us. Every time we sit down to write, we learn something new about ourselves and about the world around us. Writing opens our souls to something larger than ourselves and allows us to share what we hold within. I’ve learned so much about life, people and the world through my writing, no matter what the genre.

It can be a healing art as well as a path of learning. Sometimes there are things in our lives that are difficult or impossible to talk about, to say out loud, or even to whisper in the presence of others, but the ability to write those words can crack us open and let that pain out and turn it into something manageable.

To sit silently with a keyboard, or a pen and paper, teaches us to quiet ourselves and listen, both to the world and to ourselves. I think, properly done, writing can be a deep and valuable spiritual practice, no matter what your religion or spirituality.

Through my writing, I’ve met so many absolutely incredible people. I’ve been given opportunities to travel, and to teach some of the things that I know, because of the things I’ve published. Every year I drive down to California to one of the major Pagan gatherings, PantheaCon, and speak there; I have a wonderful opportunity to talk with my readers, to offer new information that I haven’t yet had a chance to write about and to learn from other people who are involved in our communities. Last summer I was given the amazing gift of being able to lead a pilgrimage to Ireland to teach poetry and writing as we explored sacred sites associated with Brigid, the goddess and saint, as the patron of poetry, smithcraft and healing.

None of this would have happened if I had not taken a chance and submitted my writing to publishers and to magazines. I’m never going to be wealthy because of my writing, but my life has been so vastly enriched because of it. It has been the most amazing blessing imaginable.

Has writing made you a better person? Was there a point in your life where writing helped you deal with something, a death or a problem relationship perhaps?

I like to think that it has. Writing has shown me how the process of growth is a slow one that happens a little at a time. It’s shown me that it’s okay to make mistakes because we can go back and edit if we need to, we can change ourselves just as we change our words. It offers me a way to look back at where I was five, 10 or 20 years ago and understand where I’ve moved forward and where I still have work to do and things to learn. Writing offers incredibly valuable perspective.

Poetry has been a deeply healing practice for me, and it was particularly useful for me when I was an inpatient in the PTSD ward at the veteran’s hospital back in the late 1990s. Poetry allowed me, for the first time, to talk about things that I had never before dared to say out loud, and showed me that there was a path through the horror and the confusion. Ordering my words helped me to order the chaos of my mind and my emotions, and it gave me a handle with which to grasp the enormity of some of the things that had happened to me, and that are still happening in the world. It has allowed me to fight to right some of the things that are wrong in the world.

Writing allows me a constructive way to express rage, sorrow and fear so that it will not destroy me. It’s given me strength to continue when I thought I had no path forward. And it’s allowed me to express my deep gratitude and joy to friends and family and to the other powers at work in my life for all the great gifts I have received over the years as my life has improved.

I do think our challenges can help us become better people, if we’re willing to embrace that and work toward it.

What’s a typical day or week like living with PTSD or fybromyalgia?

I’ll try to give you kind of a nutshell of what my life is like. I do talk about things on my LiveJournal, though not necessarily in great detail when it comes to the more personal aspects of it.

Mornings are always rough. I wake up in pain, and a lot of days pain is what wakes me. Other days the dog wakes me up, unless I have an alarm set for something, which only happens once a week or so.

I’m allergic to almost every pain medication available. They make me break out in hives, so the only thing I can really take are a couple of Tylenol a few times a day. If things are really bad or if I wake up with a migraine, I take a tramadol (I also have very bad side effects from all the migraine-specific medications out there). I have a handful of pills I have to take for various reasons – antidepressant, something for acid reflux, Tylenol, vitamin D and a B-complex, which do somewhat help with my energy level. I have meds available if I have a severe anxiety reaction to something, but I try not to take those very often, because I find it hard to function if I’ve had one; like the tramadol, which tends to make me a little groggy and dizzy. Migraines tend to happen when my hormones shift with my period – I also get cramps from my waist all the way down to my toes during that time, so it’s no fun at all. I usually stay home those days. I’m 51, and I really ought to be getting past that, but it’s showing no signs of actually stopping.

Anyway, I’ll get up, take the dog out the door to let him go to the bathroom, then come back in, make myself a cup of tea and check my e-mail until I feel awake enough to have a shower and get dressed. It might be several hours before I feel up to it. I always know a hot shower will help me feel better, but it can be hard to get myself together enough to actually do it. I don’t usually eat breakfast because that early in my day I’m not hungry, and the idea of food can get a little nauseating. Occasionally I’ll have some toast or a little yogurt or something. Most days it’s just tea.

Once I’m actually up, get dressed and check my e-mail, I’ll take the dog out for a proper walk around the condo grounds. Some days he’s the only reason I manage to get out of the house, or (on a really bad day) out of bed at all.

If I don’t have to go down to Seattle for an appointment at the veteran’s hospital (weekly group sessions, monthly visit with the psychologist, occasional other stuff), I’ll maybe fix myself some food and sit down at the computer to work on my writing. I do this most of the day, interspersed with e-mail, chatting with folks on Twitter and visiting various websites where I catch up with things. If I can’t focus enough to write, I’ll try to read. If I can’t read, I might put a DVD in and try to watch that. I don’t actually get TV, but I haven’t really been interested in anything on TV in years, so I’m perfectly happy with the occasional movie or series on DVD, and even that tends to be a last resort, when I’m unable to focus on words. I usually have a little music on during my day. If I’m feeling really awful, I’ll just take a nap, but I have to feel half dead to resort to that. Housework like doing the dishes or the laundry has to fit in here from time to time, but I may only do the dishes every couple of days and clothes when I’m pretty much out of things to wear.

Part of the reason I don’t watch TV is because so much of it (especially the news, or crime shows) tends to trigger the PTSD and anxiety problems in me. Sometimes, by the time I can change the channel or turn the power off, it’s too late, because that image or that scene has already buried itself in the back of my mind and caused a response in me that’s very hard to derail once it’s started. Flashbacks are not fun. It’s not like I’m seeing things in full sensurround or anything, but I do feel some of it physically in my body, and it’s hard to remind myself that I am not BACK THEN and BACK THERE, even with the evidence of my eyes in front of me. At night it’s worse because in the dark it can take a few minutes to get reoriented to time and place. I’ve been doing a lot better with my psych stuff since I stopped watching TV, though in election years the stress about politics tends to get into everything. It can be hard not to get worked up about people trying to take away yet more of my privacy, my rights and my freedoms, or to kill funding for my pensions and medical benefits. Anyway, I do my best to avoid the worst of the triggery stuff. Listening to the music I’ve collected rather than the radio also helps control this – I don’t need to listen to ads or news breaks, I just get music that I like. I keep reminding myself I’m one of the lucky ones; I survived the things that happened to me, and I have a materially good life.

Early last year, I tried to walk around the lake across the street from my house a few times a week in order to get into better shape for my trip to Ireland and Europe last summer, but I often got back home from that 45-minute walk with my knee or one of my hips barely functional. I get pains in my hip joints like being stabbed with knives. Sometimes my knees don’t work right. I used to walk with a cane for several years until my arms got so painful that I can’t put my weight on them. Hiking poles are a little better, and I used those when I went to Europe, but for a walk in an urban environment, I don’t really feel comfortable using them. Days when I hurt too much to walk, I just don’t leave the house. Days when my arms hurt too much to hold a fork, I can’t really do anything at all. The docs at the VA will ask about pain on a scale of 1-10, but it’s hard to calibrate when your average daily pain level probably qualifies as a five or six in most people’s experience.

I try to function even if I have a migraine or my body hurts badly because these things happen so often that if I simply gave up, I would never do anything at all. Back in the 90s I finally went on full, permanent disability, so I can choose what I want to do, and what I need to do can be prioritized or the schedule shifted to a day when I feel better able to cope. Yet I know that I will always hurt, there is nothing that I can do about it, and that if I want to do anything at all, I have to do it while coping with the pain. I’m going to hurt whether I do anything or not, so I might as well hurt because I’m doing something I enjoy. It’s better than hurting while trying to do things I don’t like, for people who don’t give a rip, all for minimum wage. Between my VA disability and Social Security disability, I’m able to have my own home, own a car and get to do things I like with my time. I have enough, as well, to help friends of mine who are less fortunate than I am. I enjoy taking people to dinner or going to a movie with them sometimes. I often go out on Tuesday evenings to hang out with my steampunk friends, for instance. I have sometimes gone out to movies while I have a blazing migraine because it was something that got planned for/with a group. It’s hard, but I try to have at least a little bit of a good time anyway. It’s nice to be with people, even when I can’t focus very well. I stay busy because I hate being bored.

This said, I tend to be really introverted and need a lot of time and space to myself. Being a writer means that I have a ready excuse for not being terribly social sometimes, but my friends and the folks who know me are aware that my health is unpredictable at best, and that I genuinely do have to cancel on plans sometimes – particularly if they involve my having to drive somewhere. If my hips hurt too much, they might cramp up, and that’s a really bad idea when I’m driving, as I might not be able to deal with the gas pedal and the brake, and that’s just not safe. Too much of a migraine also means it’s not safe for me to drive, though sometimes I’m up to having someone else take me somewhere, so long as I can just be quiet and in the background to enjoy what’s going on without being too involved. The anxiety issues I have mean that I hate talking on the phone, so I rarely do that unless I absolutely have to. Most of the time I either text people or email them. I do teach and do public speaking, but I almost always have huge anxiety attacks beforehand, even if it’s in front of people I know or dealing with topics I’m familiar with. I know that the things I can share are important, so I do these speaking engagements anyway and generally do well with them. People say I’m an interesting and engaging speaker, so that’s always nice to hear.

If I think about it when I’m hurting, sometimes I’ll take more Tylenol or some tramadol during the day, but I tend to opt for less medication when possible and just try to take it easy rather than pushing too hard. If I’m feeling really achy and exhausted, I may forget to eat. It’s not that uncommon for me to only eat once, maybe twice a day. I love to cook, but often I don’t have the energy for it. I have a category of stuff I call “food now damn it” that usually involves a freezer and the microwave, but I prefer to have real food that doesn’t come out of a box. I have a couple of shelves full of cookbooks and they do get a workout when I’m feeling well enough to do anything with them. I like cooking for other people, because sharing food is a lot more fun than eating alone.

There’s a grocery store within walking distance of my house. I usually walk down there unless the weather is really nasty out, but I tend to go late at night when I’m unlikely to run into a lot of people. I prefer not to deal with crowds, as they can trigger my anxiety. If I’m going to a big event like a music festival, I can prepare myself ahead of time to be able to deal with huge crowds of people, but on a day-to-day basis I prefer quiet. I walk because I need the exercise and because except for the one big monthly grocery run I do at a further away grocery store, I usually only need one or two bags of things.

I have always been a night person, but I also suffer from insomnia and nightmares, so I often don’t go to bed until sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., and even then it’s hard to sleep. Going to bed at 1 a.m. is early for me. I take more pills when I go to bed, pretty much the same thing as in the morning except I don’t take the acid reflux meds or vitamins, but I do take an antihistamine so that I can breathe better at night. I remember having night terrors even when I was very young. I still clearly remember one particular incident when I was three or four years old – my brother was still sleeping in a crib in the same room with me at the time and we lived in Rhode Island, so that was very early on, and I woke the whole house with my screaming. Not getting enough uninterrupted sleep aggravates the fibromyalgia and contributes to chronic fatigue, but all the sleeping meds I’ve ever taken either don’t work, or they leave me too groggy the next day to function at all, so I don’t really have anything to resort to except reading in bed until I can’t keep my eyes open.

When I travel, it’s hard to cope with some of this, but I usually manage to keep moving until I get home again. At that point I’ll just collapse for a few days or a couple of weeks, depending on how long I’ve been away. I love traveling but, as you might imagine, it’s kind of rough on me. I drive when I can so that I have control over when and where I stop, and for how long. If I need to pull over to a rest area and stretch, I can. If I just want to keep going until I have to stop for gas, I can do that. I travel to California a couple of times a year to teach, and it’s a day and a half trip for me. Driving for that long makes my arms ache worse than usual, but I’d rather do that than fly because I can take what I want and I don’t have to worry about dealing with the TSA.

So that’s what my life looks like. I don’t “look disabled” but I certainly have to cope with all the downsides of having a disability. I write all the time and I work hard at it, but I’m doing it through a haze of pain and exhaustion on all but the absolute best days. Even on the best of days, I still hurt somewhere. The thing is, if I’m going to do anything at all, I don’t have a choice. I have to keep moving. I don’t want to waste the life I’ve been given.

If there’s anything you could say to someone with these conditions, what would it be and why?

You get used to it. If you don’t want to let it defeat you, eventually you have to figure out ways to do things you enjoy, along with all the stuff that’s required in your life. Taking the time to do fun things is hard, but it’s okay to do it, so don’t feel guilty about having a good time. If people think you shouldn’t be enjoying yourself because you’re disabled or you live with depression, screw them. They’re not the ones inside your head or living in your body, so they have no way of actually knowing what your life is like. Do what you can to give yourself the best life you can possibly manage, because everyone deserves to have some happiness and some fun, no matter what their body is doing to them.

You mentioned you were in the military? What was that like? Are any of your writings based on your experiences?

Each person’s experience is going to be different, obviously, but the military was absolutely awful for me. It quite literally nearly killed me. The following are an essay that I wrote and an article, both of which touch on PTSD and my military experience.

The first one is published in the anthology “Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis” edited by Ruby Sara, published by Scarlet Imprint. It is called “Becoming Poetry.”

This talks a little about living and working with chronic pain and trauma, about poetry as a way of healing, and about the historical context of the poetic tradition I strive to practice within.

The second article is the one from the academic anthology “Disability and Religious Diversity: Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Perspectives“, called “Since Feathers Have Grown On My Body: Madness, Art, and Healing in Celtic Reconstructionist Spirituality.”

This deals specifically with the parallels between PTSD and the phenomenon of “geilt” or “madness” in the Celtic literary tradition. The second half of the article is a more personal exploration of what that means to me, and how I have found that model useful as a healing metaphor.

The latter, being an academic book, is fairly expensive, but should be available through interlibrary loan, or at a university library if they have a disability studies department or a decent research library.

I was wondering if you had a minute to discuss your experiences in the military a bit more? Were you treated well? Abused? Harrassed? How did men react when they saw you in the military?

I’ve had some crappy experiences at the VA hospital before because I’m female, but I’ve had fewer of them in the years since they opened an actual Women’s Clinic and counseling at the Women’s Trauma & Recovery Center. Seattle has a pretty reasonable hospital, considering the VA system (most places are much worse), but there are still issues, and I’ve had to go to the Patient Ombudsman and complain about things like not being able to schedule anything in clinics I need to go to. Bureaucracy being what it is, a lot of the problems are not gender-specific, they’re just the way things work, and everyone gets screwed.

You also said you speak on military sexual trauma? Does this come from personal experiences? What kinds of things would people do to each other?

Any kind of horrific thing you can imagine, people will do to one another. As you might imagine, it’s an intensely emotional topic and one that’s very difficult to talk about for most people. It’s hard for me, too, but I feel compelled to bear witness to what has happened and hope that in some way my words can help other people dealing with similar situations.

While we’re discussing the sexual trauma you might have experienced or witnessed while in the military, what kinds of things were done to soldiers, particularly women soldiers? How did this impact your job performance or the job performance of those who were subjected to sexual trauma?

There’s really too much to talk about comfortably. This kind of thing is never easy to speak of, and society tends to make it harder by blaming the person who was assaulted. I have seen/experienced or heard from people I know about everything from inappropriate sexual comments to gang rape.

I was reading “Becoming Poetry” and loved the line, “The tattoos and piercings I have endured are poetry marked out on my body…..” What are the tattoos symbols of?

The images are of a salmon and a raven. Their basic design is Northwest Native art, with elements of Celtic knotwork and designs incorporated. There is also something of an Asian art influence to the ornamentation around the main images.

Both of these animals are significant in the mythologies of the Pacific Northwest, of Ireland and Scotland, and in Siberia. The reason this is important to me is because it represents the mix of spiritual influences that affect my experience with them. I live near Seattle and have been living in the Northwest since 1981, so I feel very connected to the land and the waters here. The deities I worship and the primary spirituality I practice is Celtic, largely influenced by the Gaelic cultures of Ireland and Scotland. I also for a few years studied Siberian shamanism with a woman from the Ulchi tribe of southern Siberia.

What do they represent?

The raven in the Northwest is the creator spirit who stole the sun from his grandfather and brought the gift of light to the world, though in both Celtic and Siberian cultures, the raven has associations with death as well. The raven is clever and powerful and very much associated with the otherworlds. In Ireland, the raven is the bird of the Morrigan and other battle-related goddesses, and is a bird of prophecy. The circle in the raven’s beak is representative both of the life provided by the sun, and of the death-associations of the ravens who eat the corpses on the battlefield. It is a transformative image of life and death as one, for they are always deeply intertwined. The dead feed the living earth, and the earth feeds us all, until we return to her and are transformed into what feeds the next generations.

The salmon here in the Northwest is associated with plenty and prosperity, and is a profoundly important spirit for the preservation of the life of the people, who live very much on the salmon. The bones of the first salmon of each season is returned to the river where it is caught, to go back to the sea and ensure the continuation of the salmon people. In Siberia, it is the progenitor of one of the clans of the Ulchi tribe, some of whom are the ancestors of the woman I studied with. In Gaelic mythology, the salmon is the source of poetic and prophetic wisdom, and is supposed to be the oldest creature in the world. It eats the hazelnuts that fall from the trees over the well of wisdom, where the salmon lives, and then it is in turn eaten by the druids and poets who are seeking poetic inspiration.

Both of these animals are often seen as shape-shifters, or as divine figures in disguise.

Where are the tattoos on your body?

At the moment, I only have the two on my chest, but I intend to have more as time goes by and I can afford them, representing other animals or deities who are important in my spiritual world. They will likely eventually also be on my arms, shoulders, and possibly my legs as well. The next one I get may well be a stylized hazel branch with hazel nuts, arcing above the salmon and the raven and essentially joining the images with a Celtic knotwork design.

Note: The tattoos on Erynn’s chest are not shown to protect privacy.

About Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie is a professional madwoman living near the shores of the Salish Sea. Originally from New England, she has been living in the Pacific Northwest since 1981. As a disabled Navy veteran, she is concerned with veterans’ and women’s issues and has spoken on topics such as post traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma on Seattle’s NPR station, and at the American Mensa Annual General Meeting.

Her current publications include two books, one co-authored book, and contributions to more than a dozen anthologies and other projects. For more information on Erynn’s writing, click here.

Erynn blogs on spirituality from time to time at Searching for Imbas and keeps a more personal daily blog at the Book of Leaves. She can be found rambling about film, writing, politics, food, and posting random comments to friends on Twitter.

You Make A Difference

A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made.

She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time.

First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, “Who I Am Makes a Difference.”

Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony.

Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt.

Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, “We’re doing a class project on recognition, and we’d like you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened.”

Photo courtesy trustedcare.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy trustedcare.blogspot.com

Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow.

He sat his boss down, and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, “Well, sure.”

The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss’s jacket above his heart. As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else. The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school, and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people.”

That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I’m a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says “Who I Am Makes a Difference” on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic, and when I come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You’re a great kid and I love you!”

The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn’t stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I had killed myself and asking you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn’t think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don’t think I need it after all.”

His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The envelope was addressed, “Mom and Dad.”

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive helped several other young people with career planning and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his life…one being the boss’s son.

And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson.

Who you are DOES make a difference!

~Author Unknown~

Author’s Roundtable: Luke Murphy

How long have you been writing?

I started writing in 2000. It actually started out as a hobby, a passion, a way to pass the time. I got serious about writing with the intention of seeking publication in 2006.

Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

Growing up I only wanted to be one thing, an NHL superstar. I never thought much about writing. Actually the only time I wrote was when my teachers made me.

What books or stories have you written? Published?

I’ve completed three manuscripts and published one of them. “Dead Man’s Hand” was released in October 2012 by Imajin Books. All of my stories are in the crime-thriller genres.

Can you tell us a little about your books? What are they about?

I grew up reading suspense/thriller stories so it only made sense that I write them. All three of my manuscripts can be categorized as crime thrillers, mystery/suspense novels. “Dead Man’s Hand” takes readers inside the head of Calvin Watters, a sadistically violent African-American Las Vegas debt-collector, who was once a rising football star, now a murder suspect on the run. The book I’m currently working on follows the career of a female rookie detective with the LAPD.

How did you get inspiration for the characters?

As far as characterization goes, “Dead Man’s Hand’s” protagonist Calvin Watters faces racial prejudice with calmness similar to that of Walter Mosley’s character Easy Rawlins. But Watters’ past as an athlete and enforcer will remind other readers of (Jack) Reacher of the Lee Childs series. The Stuart Woods novel “Choke,” about a tennis player who, like Watters, suffered greatly from a dramatic loss that was a failure of his psyche, is also an inspiration for “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Are the books based on personal experiences?

No. I’ve suffered sports injuries like my protagonist so I know how he feels, but this is a work of fiction. I did not base the characters or plot on any real people or events. Any familiarities are strictly coincidence. There is not a single moment in time when this idea came to be, but circumstances over the years that led to this story: my hockey injuries, frequent visits to Las Vegas, my love of football, crime books and movies. “Dead Man’s Hand” became real from mixing these events, taking advantage of experts in their field and adding my wild imagination. The Internet also provides a wealth of information, available at our fingertips with a click of the mouse.

PIs there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

Get a part-time job to pay the bills (ha ha). Just kidding. Honestly, for anyone who wants to be a writer, you need to have three things: patience, determination and thick skin. You can’t let anyone or anything get in the way of your ultimate goal. You will hear a lot of “nos,” but it only takes one “yes.” The writing industry is a slow-moving machine, and you need to wait it out. Never quit or give up on your dreams.

Can you talk a little about the benefits of getting your work professionally edited?

It improved not only the story I was working on, but my overall writing and perspective. I’ve worked with editors, agents and publishers and each time I learn something new. Every professional brings a different perspective to the table and because writing is such a subjective business, it’s imperative that you have many sets of professionally trained eyes revising and editing, besides yourself. Take advice and be able to receive constructive criticism with a grain of salt. I don’t think you can ever stop learning in this business.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

“Telling” too much. The first draft of “Dead Man’s Hand” was more than 120,000 words. After working with editors, the final published version was 80,000 words. I did too much “telling” and not enough “showing.” Also learning to be patient with the whole process was definitely a challenge.

How did you find time to write your books?

I started writing when I was young and playing professional hockey. A couple of hours a day on the ice and in the gym and then the day was mine. I also suffered a serious eye injury in 2000 and couldn’t play, so I had a lot more time on my hands. Now that I’m older, with a family and full-time job, makes it a lot harder to find the time to write. I’m most productive early in the morning before my kids wake up, but lately I haven’t had any time to write.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?

Writing allows me, for a short time, the freedom to leave my everyday world and explore new avenues, to be in another place and time. It allows me to get inside the head of characters—to think, do and say whatever I want with no rules or restrictions. It means liberty and freedom to express myself.

Several of my guests have often said writing is therapeutic and relaxes them. Can you talk a little about how writing relaxes you? Any specific examples you can share?

I’m never more at ease than when I’m sitting in my writing office early in the morning, a hot cup of tea in front of me, letting my fingers rest on the keyboard and my brain relax and let go. There’s no better, more calm feeling in the world. Everything around me disappears and I get tunnel-vision on the monitor in front of me. Just ask my wife.

Has writing made you a better person?

I like to think so, but that is determined through the eyes of the people around me.

Do you like to read? If so, what are your favorite genres and why?

I love to read, and I always have. It only makes sense that I write what I read, so naturally I like to read crime-thrillers. I try to support other new and up-and-coming authors. If I’m in research mode, then I read documentaries, etc. But my first choice is fiction. My first chapter books were the Hardy Boys. They introduced me to the mystery/suspense genres. My first adult novel was “Cujo” by Stephen King. Some of my favorite authors now are Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and Greg Iles.

Can you talk about how important reviews are to writers?

Extremely. Reviews are what many readers look at before determining what to buy and put you in good standing in the industry. Many promotional opportunities are designed to cater to those novels with the most and best reviews. Reviews are considered vital in a writer’s pursuit for success.

Have you ever received a bad review? If so how did it make you feel?

Since my first novel is relatively new, I haven’t yet received a review less than three out of five stars. The first time I received a three-star review I felt unsettled and uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how to react. But the reviewer had nothing but good things to say, as well as some constructive criticism about the book so the three stars didn’t seem as bad. You have to learn to have thick skin and let these reviews bounce of you. Just remember, it’s not personal.

_3About Luke Murphy

Luke Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec, with his wife, two daughters and pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).

Murphy’s debut novel, “Dead Man’s Hand,” was released by Imajin Books on Oct. 20, 2012.

For more information on Luke and his books, visit his website, “Like” his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter. Buy “Dead Man’s Hand” on Amazon.