The gift of literacy

You may not be thinking about it, but just in reading this post, you’re exhibiting a great amount of privilege: you can read.

I’m sure you don’t think about what a special gift literacy is, but in a world where 14 percent of the world’s population is illiterate, it really is a gift. That 14 percent is 107 million people, or, if you think about the US having slightly more than 330 million, that’s like a third of all Americans. What if one third of America couldn’t read? (I know, I know, half of America is about that stupid…) If that portion of our country couldn’t read, it would mean oppression and control in a way none of us alive today can imagine. But we all know of a time when a group of people was barred from learning to read: the years before the Civil War. Not only did slave owners prevent their slaves from learning to read, laws such as the South Carolina Act of 1740 existed to make it illegal.

I always start my Literature of Revolution class with a section on poetry, and one of the poets we encounter is Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Born in Maryland to free Black parents in 1825, Harper used her position, education and life to work as an abolitionist, educator, writer and suffragist.

We read two of Harper’s poems in this class, “The Slave Auction” and “Learning To Read” and students tell me how much these two poems shock and move them. “I can’t imagine not being able to read,” they say, even if they don’t like reading. The speaker’s experience in both of these poems gives them perspective and sometimes introduces them (anew perhaps) to the reality that some people have been purposefully kept in the dark when it comes to literacy.

If you haven’t explored Harper’s works, I encourage you to do so now. She is one of the first Black females to have her creative works published; in 1859 a short story, “The Two Offers” was published by the Anglo-African. Another champion of Black literacy was Frederick Douglass, who, once he learned to read, found both joy and despair in it. Joy in what he could access through books and papers, but despair in what the lack of literacy meant for other Blacks.

I know the ability to read is something I take for granted on many occasions, but as I go on my own journey to be better educated and more aware of Black history this month, I’m in awe of people like Harper and Douglass who grew up acutely aware of what a privilege it was to have this cornerstone of education and freedom.

If you’re looking to unwrap the gift of literacy a little more, why not present yourself (bad jokes are a gift too, aren’t they?) with some other Black authors. Thrift Books has put together a nice list here, pulling from books they offer. Author Faith Adiele and several other California authors offer a list of their own here.

Black History Month offers lessons for everyone

It’s real easy for me to look at the calendar and come up with something to write, or at least the starting point for something. That’s no different tonight because I’ve been thinking about a flurry of social media posts I saw–and didn’t see– on the first day of the month.

What stormed my Facebook and Insta feeds was a lot of Imbolc photos. This ancient European festival day celebrates the halfway point between the solstice we go through in winter and the equinox we celebrate in the spring. It’s a pagan celebration, but no matter what religion or lack thereof one practices, it’s a day that signifies coming light and longer days. It looks forward to a change in seasons.

I’m not surprised I saw a lot of friends celebrating Imbolc. I have many friends doing the homestead thing, the farm thing, the fuck the mainstream thing. And even my friends who are clearly religious and live here in the Midwest are definitely looking forward to longer days.

And I’m not surprised about the lack of other posts I was thinking I’d see: Black History Month posts. It’s a bummer, but it seems to me that a lot of folks don’t think about Black History Month unless they celebrate Blackness as part of their heritage or their family’s heritage.

Black History Month was born in 1915 when Carter G. Woodson, who had studied at Harvard, and Jesse E. Moorland, a minister, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Originally, Woodson had hoped for a day, and then a week to honor Black culture. Why February? Because it’s the month of Frederick Douglass‘ birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. My calendar reminds me that it’s also Washington’s birthday month, and President’s Day (but the same calendar does not mention Douglass or Black History Month).

I can’t act like I knew all of this before this month; it was the lack of posts about Black History Month that spurred me to read posts about it. I think our present political climate has heightened people’s awareness of the fact that we don’t know so much about some groups of our fellow Americans. History, written by “the winners,” has silenced these stories.

So for the rest of the month, I want to share some of the things I’m finding and reading and learning about Black History Month and the people and culture it celebrates.

First up, on the first, I read this piece from the New York Times about Rosa Parks. Did you know she had been working to combat police brutality and sexual assault for two decades before the bus incident she’s famous for? Did you know she was married to a barber; after her stand for justice, she and her husband lost their jobs and could not find decent work in Montgomery again. Her family moved to Detroit, and she found work in U.S. Representative John Conyers’s office. I had no idea.

Yesterday, my friend Connie made a FB post about the ACE Academy, a private school in Sioux Falls, SD for kids in kindergarten through eight grade. This school runs year round and gives at-risk and students of color opportunities to engage in an academic community that values diversity and brings into the classroom concepts like meditation and culture-based curriculum. ACE is the kind of school that is working to support the real history of various cultures in our society, and they’re doing it not just for their students. This month they’re posting all sorts of tidbits about Black history. You can check out their FB page here to get in on updates, the fun posts and more.

And tonight I read that the Library of Congress is hosting a transcribe-athon Feb. 12-14 to finish a transcribing project of Mary Church Terrell‘s papers or documents related to her. Born in Tennessee in 1863, Terrell was the daughter of slaves. She earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Oberlin College and became a teacher and advocate for racial justice.

I learned of Terrell tonight as I read about the transcribe-a-thon, and I am sure there are all sorts of things I’m going to learn this month. I’ll learn because I’m looking to learn, and I hope in the process I’ll be able to share some of this knowledge with you. I didn’t have a school like ACE as a kid, but as an adult, I know it’s up to me to educate myself in areas I’m unschooled in.

Did you know all of these little info nuggets? Any of them?

Docs for your shots

Recently, the US announced it would require negative COVID tests from any international travelers flying to the country, effective Jan. 26.

This means US citizens and non-residents both. Either proof of a negative test or proof of recovery are acceptable, according to the State Department, and the new policy applies to all passengers two and older. It’s not the only notice of the sort that’s been put into place this week; Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the country is banning flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, and requiring all international travelers to quarantine at approved locations upon arrival. Their policy goes into effect Feb. 3.

Back in December, CNN Business predicted that we might need “vaccine passports” this year, and it looks like that prediction has come true. Will they work? Are they “fair,” asks a new piece in Forbes.

I’ve been dreaming of seeing my family in Colombia since 2017, but the two trips I’ve had scheduled since then have been cancelled for one reason or another. The first trip, scheduled for January 2019, got cancelled because of weather. I couldn’t get out of Minnesota. The second trip, scheduled for March of 2020 was cancelled because of COVID. And up until the beginning of January 2021, I had been dreaming that I’d get to Colombia in May or June of this year. But after our family had a COVID exposure scare while preparing to fly home from California, I’ve decided that I just don’t have it in me to take any risks right now. And as these new requirements are put in place, I feel even more certain that Colombia is a ways away, literally and figuratively.

So to take my mind off this distance, I’ve been clicking on every Colombia-themed thing that shows up in my Twitter feed this week. It’s led to some lovely surprises, like the illustrator Eddie White, Jr., an Aussie living in Cartagena, Colombia. When I spent New Years in Colombia more than a decade ago, I hung out with some Aussies there and had a wonderful time. Finding this guy wasn’t quite as magical, but certainly transported me back to the country. His map of Bogota’s districts made me smile, not just for its whimsical figures, but for the imagination and creativity that went into it. It reminded me of the city itself.

From Eddie White Jr.’s Twitter account, posted Jan. 29, 2021.

And while looking at the various figures here, the funny periscope fish, the Loki-dog head, the bright yellow gnome head, I was able to imagine myself moving from critter to creature to figure, crossing “borders” and edges and experiencing the new joys (and challenges) that come with new places. We’re certainly in uncharted territory with COVID these days, and it gets to be pretty stifling at times. But turning to art, to new discoveries and to new vistas of the mind is one way to get through this, no passport needed. It’s hard to remind myself of this when I’m missing my family or trudging through snow, but I know it’s what I have to do, at least for now.

How are you curbing your wanderlust?

Lookin’ at you, fledgling little habit

Well, February is staring at us, Kilroy-was-here-style, and I’m happy to report that January has been productive.

I can’t say I’ve totally followed my own advice about goals in the new year (on January 4 I wrote a post about habits and goals), but the nugget of advice that I’ve tried to implement is breaking down my work into small tasks. When I made that post, I’d envisioned it would look something like early morning childcare, then teaching and grading work, then some me time (maybe even on the treadmill!) and then some time for blogging. I’d take a lunch break, then do some other writing– reviews, manuscript work, freelance work, things like that. Maybe I’d have more time for me and time for reading in the afternoon and evening. Maybe. Have you ever raised a toddler? Yikes.

But we all know that good plans deserve, nay, invite, serious challenges. My dog had surgery, and caring for a sick pup who becomes a pup with an unzipped belly requires a lot of emotional energy.

While I was working through my fears and sorrows, however, I managed to make small strides forward in manuscript work, namely, searching for agents. Using QueryTracker, this month I’ve compiled a list of 30 or so agents who want the type material I have to offer: memoir with a strong voice, punchy characters, a compelling plot and literary treatment of the work. I’ve spent time crafting a good one-liner about the book, a succinct overview, an engaging author bio and a letter unique to each agent I’m querying. This is almost as much work as raising my toddler. Almost.

What this activity has meant, in terms of breaking my work into small tasks, is that I pretty much broke off all other non-necessary work. No blogging. No story pitches to magazines or other publications. Just a little bit of review work.

So I don’t think I can say I’ve completely followed my own advice, but I can say I see the first tendrils of a new habit forming. Additionally, the puppers is on the mend, and an agent has responded, asking for the first few chapters.

Onward!

How are your New Year’s goals coming along? Not a goal maker? Cool. How’s your 2021 workload?

Header image photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kilroy_was_here.svg

Fighting not just inaction, but disregard

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, mostly known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At a time when the #BLM movement has made great progress in raising awareness about systemic racism in our country, I wonder if MLK Day is more than a “day off from work” for a lot of people who could help break down some of the systems that have kept racism in place. I didn’t have the day off, and if I’m honest, I only began pondering this question after friend, Whitney Raver, posted these thoughts:

FB post from Whitney Raver’s profile.

As I wrote to her in my response, I’m not 100% white, but I can recognize that I fall into a category of moderate Americans who have for so long been quiet on the sidelines as people like MLK and today’s freedom fighters work for justice for people of color. I can recognize that in my work as a teacher I think of my contribution as making a difference for the future. But is it really enough?

As a Latina who understands what it’s like to grow up in a sea of white faces in a white place, it’s easy for me to be an ally to those who are discriminated against because of the color of their skin. I’ve experienced it myself. Yet am I part of a problem noted by Dr. King? It’s a problem he addresses in “Letter from Birmingham Jail“:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action…

Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963

Am I part of the moderate crowd that isn’t doing enough? Sometimes the answer is yes. I know that one of the tenets of Critical Race Theory is that people in power use their experiences to talk about other people’s; I’m guilty of that here. And I’m not a march in the streets kind of a person. I don’t yet know how to talk with former classmates and community members about their racism. I don’t know how to get them to see that saying, “but I have a black cousin” doesn’t mean they are devoid of racial bias.

But what I do know is that I want to help raise awareness about social injustice, and it starts with work that I do know how to do: Asking questions. Listening. Teaching. Writing.

That teaching component is so very, very important today. I mean today in general and today specifically, as #NotMyPresident Trump released his “1776 report,” a document that basically excuses slavery and says the nation’s schools need a whole new curriculum to teach them about how great our country is and how condemning slavery and other unjust practices have a “devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric.”

Living next to South Dakota, where the troll of a governor Kristi Noem has started her own re-education campaign, I am transported to Cambodia of the mid-to-late 70s and the Khmer Rouge’s re-education efforts under Pol Pot as I read about this new course of history these people want to create.

I believe education is such an important part of moving through social injustice and racism, and it is truly frightening that people in power (people who are definitely not moderates) are trying to erase entire histories. This is not just inaction, it is a disregarding of reality, a disregarding of thousands of people’s experiences and the foundation of racial problems we’re experiencing today.

I urge you to read about Trump’s delusional report, but also to read the 1619 Project cultivated by the New York Times. Knowledge is power, and sharing it is my form of activism.

The reinvigorating cliché

Tonight I sat down to write, but all I could think about was my crap day. Not wanting to write about that, I jammed on the idea “when it rains, it pours.” I know, I know, clichés are about as fun to read as a blogger’s sob story, but I may just have some new ideas for you here.

  • At their best, clichés do impart quick meaning and association. They connect those who know them. When you read, “when it rains, it pours,” you probably imagined exactly what kind of day I had. So there’s that.
  • As a stand in for a writing prompt, a freewriting tool or a research session, clichés can have some value: they give a writer a place to start. I tell my students to use them if they must, and then figure out how to replace the language that came easily with something more beautiful and unique.
  • A cliché can delight. Even though the phrases are old hat (haha!),fun placement can still pack some zing.

To illustrate a few of the ways I’ve played in the puddles of my mind tonight, here are a few of my findings based on a web search of “when it rains it pours.”

Rain poems
I didn’t want to run with this most common phrase, “when it rains it pours,” but I needed something to sop up my emotions this evening, and I knew poetry could help. So I Googled “poetry magazine rain.” Despite its problems in 2020 with Michael Dickman’s poem, the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Magazine is my go-to for poetic inspiration online.

First up, “Rain,” by Kazim Alli and this image: I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled. / If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain. How perfectly this line captures the essence of being consumed by something. Could it be love? Hate? Sorrow? Joy? All of those emotions? Sure. When it rains, it pours.

Next up, “To The Rain,” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I love Le Guin’s fiction and non-fiction, but I’ve not read much of her poetry. This poem did not fully provide what I needed as I read it, but I did come away from it with an appreciation for the beauty and promise of rain.

Finally, “The Beggers,” a poem by Ranier Maria Rilke. I’m no expert on Rilke’s works, but I love the lyricism of his writing and the impassioned power of his words. It’s not lost on me that I’m always reading someone ELSE’S words because his poems as I read them have been translated in English. Here, however, I am giving credit to Rilke. It’s not unlike Alli’s poem in that readers peer into the darkness of a mouth and explore what it means to be consumed by something, but the line that stood out most to me was the phrase They sell the hollow / of their hands.

New perspectives
After reading the rain poems (and skipping over others) I Googled just the word “rain.” There were several news stories, my forecast (45 degrees and rainy), videos of Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande singing something that had to do with rain, and rainymood.com, which bills itself as “the internet’s most popular rain experience.” I scoffed as I read this line– by what metrics? Are there other less popular rain experiences online? What makes them less popular?– but an hour later, the page is still open in the background, my “rain experience” still spattering away. Normally, rain does not calm me. I see it as a barrier to time outdoors and an inconvenience. But there is something nice about letting rain spill down on me aurally and knowing it won’t ruin my day.

Fun facts
My final foray into finding new ways to express the idea of what it is to experience a deluge led me to a page on the US Geological Survey’s website: a chicken-or-egg bit of trivia that asks visitors to select where they think our planet’s water cycle begins. I said “atmosphere” and did a mental face palm when I read what scored higher. Play along and you’ll see why!

So there you have it. A dreary day and a familiar phrase gave me something to write about in a new way.

No one wants their writing to be littered with tired phrases, but if you can pick up that trash and use it, as a writer, you should. Happy hunting for your own ways to use the cliché!

Word by word

If you’ve been following along for the past few days (OK, like, all my adult life) you know I really want to “make it” as a writer.

At times, I feel like I have. I’ve worked in communications, I work as a freelance writer and I’ve got some literary publications to my name. But I’ve got this book, you see, and I really want to get it off my mind and focus on new things. Until I do this, I feel like I won’t have really met my goals as a writer.

Sometimes I get down for not having worked harder on this book years ago, or not having working exclusively on it during grad school. I get bummed out that I’m still hemming and hawing over it and I don’t even know it it’ll get picked up by a publisher. Most of all though, having this thing hanging over my head reminds me of how hard it is to accomplish a goal and make time to write on things that don’t have deadlines or paychecks attached to them. And that makes me want to pull all-nighters and go nuts on it.

#NotPossible.

Writing isn’t about banging out a book in a day, and it shouldn’t be all about a paycheck, either. When I was younger, it wasn’t. But now, with a family to support and a “real job” to attend to, I don’t make the time I need for my creative work because it takes time and because the literary stuff barely pays for new erasers. And who uses erasers these days?

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to get that time. One of the things I’ve been doing is forcing myself to post to the blog. Another is reading. And today I read something really encouraging in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Rebecca Shuman, author of the column “Are You Working?” offers blunt wisdom and practical advice to academics and writers who think they need to do it all right now. Instead of sprinting across the page and fizzling out when faced with other real world requirements, here she encourages her readers to slow down and figure out what might really work for them.

The advice that stood out to me the most was her suggestion to break down writing and research work into two-hour chunks twice a week. Rather than thinking we have to make up for all the words we didn’t write last year (or the years before, in my case), Shuman says just “divide work into single coherent tasks.”

I like this because it works well for my fractured way of thinking, and because it seems manageable with a toddler. I can find two hours a day a couple of times a week. Now, sitting my butt in a chair and writing…making myself do that will be another story (post?) entirely.

If you’re an artist with a “real job,” what advice for creative time has helped you accomplish your goals?

Feasting on the burned bits at the bottom

This afternoon while the toddler napped and my mother texted me about family in Colombia, I read Lynn Johnston‘s essay about burned rice, which appeared in The New York Times.

You might not know about crispy burned rice, the beautifully golden-brown color it takes on after just the right amount of time, the way it crunches in the teeth, the way it brings back one’s childhood. If you haven’t had that childhood, or positive experience with this foodstuff, then yeah, you don’t know about it in the way others do. I’m sorry.

Growing up with a Colombian mother meant that burned rice at the bottom of a pan is as much a staple and talisman in my life as is anything. And Johnston, a literary agent based in NY, is not Colombian, but as she shared her own experience eating crispy rice as a child in Saigon I felt all the same things about city and place and familiarity and comfort as she described in her essay.

I cried, people. I cried. I so wanted to be in Colombia multiple times in the last year, but especially over the holidays. Reading how Johnston has weathered the pandemic with rice, how she has connected (or not) with her mom over rice during this time, and how she has bonded with her own child(ren) through rice made me so nostalgic for my family, my origin story and my people on this first day of the new year. If a bit of burned food can do that for me, what can this metaphor do for the rest of the world?

Could the metaphor of burned rice allow us all (those reading, at the very least) to see how much we have, and how we’re all capable of “getting through” the fires that engulf us?

I had rice with the in-laws this evening, and as I watched my sister-in-law fret over the perfection of the rice, I marveled at the stress with which one might view this part of a meal. Yes, rice as a staple in so many peoples’ diets is worth perfecting, but what of the experience that comes with the hard bits at the bottom?

What if we could all appreciate the darkened bits as they coat the surfaces of our lives?

There’s no way of knowing what 2021 has in store, but I ask you to be on the lookout for the crunch and crackle of things and see them as new experiences, as new flavors that add to the dish that is your daily life.

After 2020, everyone could use writing to heal

A few days ago I wrote a post to commemorate the 16th anniversary of my stroke. One of the articles I linked to in that post, a piece in The Atlantic titled, “The Year We Lost,” explores the many things we didn’t get to do in 2020. It also takes something away from those who managed the year through writing.

It was “a year without parties,” a year that “paused many people’s progress on long-plotted family and career goals,” writes Joe author Pinsker. When I originally read the piece, it nicely summed up what I was getting at in that part of my post, which was the idea that at a time when so many people have lost so much, thinking about what I almost lost but didn’t felt shallow. In the days since I linked to this piece, I’ve kept thinking about this one line in Pinsker’s article:

The year 2020 has given more to the authors of history textbooks than it has to the writers of diaries.

It’s the first line, so it has to be catchy and hooky and give people something to think about. I’m a writer. I get it. But as someone who has studied the value of therapeutic writing or writing about trauma (that stroke, man, it keeps popping up), I think this line doesn’t quite give “writers of diaries” or the diaries themselves a place of value. I get this, too. The belief that the arts have healing power isn’t as widespread as this artist would like. However, if there is any way I see myself making a difference in the world, it is spreading the word that writing is a coping mechanism anyone can use — to great effect.

We may not have done all the things we wanted, or any of the things we wanted in 2020, but those who turned to diaries to track their despair and how they felt about it may have found a way to get through the letdown of a year with a better sense of well-being. People who journal may have had fewer “fun” things to write about this year, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have anything to write about.

Over the past forty years, research has found that writing about traumatic events and how one feels about them helps lower blood pressure. It helps boost the immune system. Expressive writing can help people sleep better and even perhaps “get over” the trauma and even physically heal sooner.

That’s right. Writing can help people heal.

If you’ve click into any of the links I’ve shared in the paragraph above, you’ll see that the fount of this wisdom and research comes from psychology professor James Pennebaker. In the mid-eighties he found that students who spent 20 minutes a day for four days writing about a significant trauma were healthier after this practice than their peers who did not write about their significant traumas. Pennebaker has worked with hundreds, if not thousands of students since then; other researchers have taken the idea and explored various intricacies of it in different studies. The research keeps stacking up: If people are able to write honestly about bad things they’ve experienced, and if these same people reflect on how they felt about the experience or how they feel about it now, they process the event and work through it in ways others don’t.

In his 1990 book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, Pennebaker spends time unpacking his inspiration, the studies he’s conducted and what he’s learned up to that point in his career. The information is compelling, his writing is engaging and he covers a lot of psychological, physical and mental health topics. I first learned about Pennebaker’s work in 2005, when my mom, a therapist, gave me a journal detailing his process of writing to heal. I’d always believed there was cathartic value in writing, but learning there was science behind it was validating. I didn’t need that science to nudge me into writing, or to benefit from my writing, but being able to tell others that it was proven to make a difference was amazing.

Years later, when I entered grad school, one of the biggest projects I spent time on (outside of my thesis) was immersing myself in Pennebaker’s work and getting caught up on what had taken place in the field of expressive writing between the 80s and the mid-2000s. I can’t say I’m an expert on his work–that would require working with him, I think– but I spend a lot of time talking him up to my students who seem like they could benefit from his work, either personally or because of their desired professions. And I’m excited to be presenting on it at virtual conference at the end of January. I’ll introduce people to his work, the theories behind it and what has been discovered about expressive writing. Then I’ll lead people through a little exercise of their own, hopefully equipping them with some strategies and tools to harness the power of writing. As a a writing instructor, I believe part of my job goes beyond just teaching people what they are in class to learn. If I see a chance to share something like this with them, I go for it. Doesn’t mean I’m an expert, but I do think I can be a resource and example for those wanting to know more about writing to heal.

If you’d like to check out Pennebaker’s book mentioned above, here’s a sample chapter from the third edition, published (and posted online) by Guilford Press.

Sixteen years later, still on the road to recovery

On this day 16 years ago, I woke up from a drug-induced coma after surviving a massive stroke and having brain surgery to stop the bleed. I was lucky–the type of arterovenusmalformation (AVM) that almost killed me often kills or leaves its victims seriously disabled. After a month in the hospital, I walked away with some vision changes, a spotty short-term memory, and some serious identity issues. I was only 22 at the time, and I’d just completed my BA in journalism. Adulthood and what I imagined as total independence were just around the corner, and then poof–I almost died.

Those early years of recovery were rough, and I’d be lying if I said every day is a day further from that event and my thoughts of it. Time has given me distance from it, and writing has given me more distance, but sometimes my deficits whack me on the head and I’m back in “why me” mode. Most of the time this happens with my vision. My depth perception tricks me, or I can’t figure out spatially what’s going on with something like assembling a toy or a piece of furniture. Not life-ending things, but if I allow myself to think about why I can’t see well enough to figure out what needs figuring, I can send myself into a real funk.

In 2020, a year of so many losses, medical challenges and personal pain, it feels tone-deaf and downright mean to write something about how things get better. Even if things do get better after traumatic events, I don’t think there’s a prescriptive path or pithy saying that holds true for everyone at every moment. Like anything, the good and bad comes and goes as the days do.

I don’t really celebrate anniversaries of this event anymore, but every milestone day brings up memories of that time. That’s been especially true in the last year, as I’ve worked to complete my memoir about the experience. Every milestone feels big as I’m immersed in visceral memories of waking in the hospital, completing therapies, returning to my parents’ home to recover and then striking out on my own again. I’m hoping soon I can start celebrating other milestones related to this: signing with an agent, getting a book deal, reading a galley copy or an ARC and then seeing the book in stores.

But for now, I’m celebrating in small ways: reflecting on the beauty of light dappling leaves on a quiet road, wincing at the pain in my hip and then reveling in the ability to walk, smiling as my fingers move across the keyboard and the cursor dances across this page. Today, I walked on the beach in Northern California with my son and husband, I drove us home from a family dinner in the dark, navigating portions of Highway 101 and the California Expressway system. They were small portions, but for someone who hates driving at night in unfamiliar places (because of my vision), traversing the slopes and loops was an accomplishment.

Recovery from a life-changing event comes with its own dips and drops and curves, and as much as I want to see this book out there to be done with it and move on, I want to see it out there to give others going through a medical trauma the sense that things can work out OK, even if it takes years or a decade to navigate what that OK looks like–and even then sometimes the vista gets fuzzy.