Archive for January 2015
Those of you who have read Distracted Girl in its entirety (spoiler alert ahead) know that I included the complete text of a short story called “The Creative Spirit Is Alive,” which I wrote in 1999 for a class I took in college. It was a fantasy story that took place in a dystopian society (such as the ones described in Brave New World or The Giver), and the heroine was a young woman much like me. Her escape and journey to another land, the characters she encountered, and the lessons she learned paralleled my own journey and life lessons.
My professor and the other students in the class were very impressed, and told me that I should try to get the story published. A few years later, I attempted to expand the story to a full-length novel. I was very excited, as I thought this would be the first step towards fulfilling my dream of becoming a fantasy/sci-fi writer; just like Madeleine L’Engle, who was my favorite author as a teenager.
As time went on, I started working a traditional office job at the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and I began dating the man who is now my husband. While I was grateful and happy for these changes in my life; it also meant that I had less time to write, and I never finished my fantasy novel.
Sometime later, the director of the Federation suggested that I write down my life story as a memoir to let other young people with ADHD and similar disabilities learn from me. I took him up on this suggestion, and eight years later, Distracted Girl was published. I had finally achieved my dream of being a published author.
Today, I work as the Youth Disabilities Coordinator at the Federation. Part of my job includes giving presentations on self-determination and self-advocacy to adolescents with disabilities and their families. I feel truly honored and blessed to be in a position where I can use all my strengths and gifts to do work that brings purpose to my life and that enriches others as well. It may not be exactly what I had envisioned in my youth, when I dreamed of being the next Madeleine L’Engle, but I am confident that I am exactly where I am meant to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a young friend named Kirsti. She is a 20-year-old woman with Asperger’s. She loves to read and write, and is especially fond of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. In many ways, she reminds me of a young Becky Rizoli. She has many of the same characteristics that I had at her age: her creativity, her gift of writing, her passion for the things and people she cares about, her unlimited capacity to dream, her uncertainty about the future, and her struggle to accept herself and her disability.
Kirsti’s parents bought her a copy of Distracted Girl so that she would know that she was not alone. While Kirsti admires my courage at writing my book and telling my story, she suggested that my book would have been more interesting if I had written it in an “abstract” form, where I invented fictional characters and placed it in a fantasy, otherworldly setting where my characters learn the same lessons I had learned.
I asked Kirsti if she had reached my college years yet, and she said no. Then I told her about “The Creative Spirit Is Alive” and how I had intended to turn it into a novel (or “flesh it out” as my writing coach, Nerissa Nields, often says). Kirsti wanted to know why I abandoned the novel to write a memoir, and I told her that I deliberately wanted to write my true story so that others could know that they weren’t alone and that someone else had similar struggles to them. I also told her that since I included my short story verbatim in Distracted Girl, it now is published as a story-within-a-story.
While Kirsti understood my reasons for writing the memoir, she told me that she prefers fantasy/sci-fi stories, as they allow her to escape to another world that is more exciting and fascinating to her than the real world. So then I gave Kirsti my blessing to skip ahead to the pages in my book where I tell “The Creative Spirit Is Alive,” if she felt that the fantasy/sci-fi genre spoke more personally to her.
Kirsti agreed, and then she said, “Imagine if you had completed and published the fantasy novel. Today, you would be rich and famous and would be a guest on national TV shows!” I told Kirsti that while I was flattered that she thought my writing was good enough to bring me fame and fortune as a fantasy novelist; I am completely happy with the choices that I have made and that I feel that I am right where I’m meant to be in terms of my career.
Later on, I kept thinking about my conversation with Kirsti. There had been a blizzard that day, which prompted the governor of my state to tell everyone to stay off the roads. This gave me a chance to catch up on some of the movies I had recorded on my DVR. One of these movies was “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey (another inspirational ADHD success story!) as a man who attends a life-changing seminar and makes the decision to say yes to everything, particularly to opportunities that he had said no to in the past.
After I watched the movie, I sat down and gazed at the fire burning in my fireplace and contemplated what would have happened if I, like Carrey’s character, had said yes to my dream of being a fantasy novelist. I thought about what Kirsti had told me, and realized that it was very similar to the advice I had given to a friend who, in high school, had dreamed of being a comedian or an actor, but is now an accountant. He is just as funny as he was as a teenager, and I have told him several times that he could be the next Stephen Colbert (and I happen to be a HUGE fan of Colbert, so coming from me, it’s quite the compliment). He says he is content as an accountant and he is very successful at his work, yet I feel it’s a shame that his comedic talents are being restricted to witty Facebook status updates. I’ve told him, “It’s not too late. I’m not necessarily saying you should close your business, sell everything you own, move to New York, and try your luck at the comedy clubs; but perhaps you could pursue it as a hobby. Maybe start a blog or post some videos to YouTube and see where it leads you.” He said that he’d think about it and put it on the back burner.
Then, I realized that it’s not too late for me, either. I still could write that fantasy/sci-fi novel and live out my dreams of being the next Madeleine L’Engle. Why not start today? I stopped and thought about how I would begin such a book. For one thing, it would be very different than “The Creative Spirit Is Alive,” as I am a very different person than I was in 1999. In fact, I’m not even sure that writing fantasy/sci-fi is my dream anymore. Today, my favorite authors are Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood. While Atwood has written sci-fi and Oates occasionally uses supernatural elements in her novels; both women primarily write realistic fiction that takes place in our world in the present day. They appeal to me because their use of language makes the ordinary become extraordinary. Their heroines do not have superpowers; nor do they fight demons, zombies, or vampires. Instead, they are ordinary women who struggle with issues such as eating disorders, racism and antisemitism, sexual assault, abusive relationships, or the loss of a loved one. The strength that these heroines gain as a result of triumphing over their adversity inspire me more than reading about witches, fairies, or other magic creatures.
What, you may wonder, has caused this change? Is it because the cold, harsh reality of the real world has made me stop dreaming of magical, hidden other worlds? Not at all. On the contrary, I have come to discover that our world is more strange and wonderful and mysterious than the fantasy worlds we can only dream about. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” A quick Google search revealed that it is attributed to Mark Twain, and the quote in its entirety is, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
When I look back at my life and consider the many twists and turns that my journey has taken, I marvel at how it has all led up to this point. I can’t help but think that it was all meant to be. When I look at my friends and consider the many struggles they have overcome, I am inspired by their strength. Life has a way of surprising us. I no longer need to retreat to other planets or fantasy worlds; now that I have discovered so much of the joy, adventure, and fascination that this world holds.
I still read fantasy and sci-fi occasionally. Perhaps someday I will write that fantasy novel. Or maybe I won’t. I have already started writing a novel, but it’s realistic fiction, not fantasy. I have every intention of finishing it and getting it published. But no matter what happens, I know this much: I am exactly where I’m meant to be and I have no regrets. I’m not going to waste time wondering what might have been had I taken a different path. It took me a long time to arrive at this point, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished.
I hope that someday, Kirsti and others like her can say the same.