Dear Mr. Melissa Blake:
A friend of mine recently asked me if she could interview me for her blog – do people still have blog wherever you are? Anyway, I found myself being more honest than I ever thought possible (I know, Sweetpea, I can’t believe it’s possible for me to be even more honest than I already am).
Anyway, this interview proved to be a good “snapshot” of where I am in my life during the last few months of 2009. I’m trying as hard as I can to break those disability stereotypes and get to that place where I feel 100 percent comfortable in my own skin. A skin, I’m sure, you’ll be all over when we meet – in a metaphorical way, remember, Sweetpea? Until we meet…
What do you enjoy the most about being a woman with a physical disability?
I’ve thought about this one a lot. People are always so surprised to learn that if given the chance, I honestly don’t think I would want to become able-bodied. This life, a life with my disability, is the only life I’ve ever known. It’s my normal, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My disability has, obviously, made me a lot stronger, given me a pretty thick skin, but most most of all, it’s made my family and me incredibly close. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.
What do you hope to teach women through your writings?
I may have obstacles in real life with my disability, but when I’m writing, it’s as if all those walls and obstacles just vanish. I can do anything, be anything and go anywhere I want. It’s a very freeing experience, which is part of the reason I became a writer in the first place. I hope to teach women that really, there are no boundaries greater than the ones we construct ourselves. As they say, sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. I know I’ve been guilty of this – and still am sometimes – but I’m learning, through writing, actually, that life doesn’t have to be about what you can’t do. I’m trying to make it about what I CAN do.
How do you view our society’s outlook on disabilities in the media? How can we change the view to gain full acceptance?
As with any group considered a ‘minority’ by the media, I do think we’ve come a long way over the years. At the root, I think we need to be more assertive in showing society that we have a full right and responsibility in society and take an active role in it. I’m one of those people that, when someone tells me I can’t do something, it just gives me more strength and energy to prove them wrong — which, of course, I usually do. I college, I was the only disabled person on my newspaper staff of more than 75 people; it felt great, actually, to show them that I could do everything they did, sometimes maybe even a bit better.
How do you view yourself? Do you see your disability in the mirror?
I still struggle with this sometimes. I often wonder if my confidence is just me trying to overcompensate for my disability. Am I really not comfortable with it? I know deep down I am, but like all people, whatever “flaw’ it may be, you can’t help but be self-conscious of it sometimes. I do sometimes look in the mirror and wish I just looked normal – whatever that means – but then I notice my red hair and can’t help but smile a little brighter. It’s all about trying to focus on the positives, and really, everyone has more meaningful beauty on the inside than on the outside anyway.
What are the most important philosophies you have learned throughout your life?
1. Don’t give up
2. Life is meant to be lived
3. Enjoy the ride
4. Everyone has flaws, and those who don’t admit it? Well, there’s their flaw right there.
How did your writing dreams begin? Do you hope to write a book one day?
Ahhhh, a book. Everyone keeps telling me I need to write a book! Maybe someday, but for now, I’m enjoying freelancing and being a newspaper columnist and blogger. Honestly, I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t writing, whether it be a short story in elementary school or a loooong entry in my diary. Writing is my way of exploring the world. I may not be able to physically experience the world because of my disability, but I can go anywhere when I write. Writing has also helped me deal with my emotions and difficult times in my life, such as my father’s suicide in 2003. I needed an outlet for my grief and all these emotions swirling in my head, and writing helped me process all that.
What do you believe men do not understand about a woman who is physically disabled? How can we change a man’s perception of us?
How much time do you have? I write about this all the time on my blog, and the biggest misconception is that women with disabilities aren’t interested, don’t have the same desires and romantic dreams as other women. We’re not any different, and if men would only take the time to get to know us, they’d see that. It’s just a matter of being ourselves and if a man can’t handle that, well, then that’s sadly his loss. I am a force to be reckoned with, and I think that sometimes might scare men away. I’m waiting for the one who doesn’t get intimidated by me. It’ll be interesting to see who that man turns out to be.
What do you miss the most about your father?
Everything. My father, from the very beginning, was my window to the world. He taught me that my disability shouldn’t stop me from anything in life, and he seemed to make it his mission to get me to experience life just like other children my age. He used to hold me for hours on the shores of the beach just so I could splash in the water. Or, he used to take me on walks all over town; we had some of the greatest talks on those walks. He understood me in a way not many people could. Oh, and his smile could light up a room and his chuckle was infectious.
What is your biggest fear?
Honestly, my biggest fear has little to do with my disability. No matter how much I miss my dad, I hate him for leaving us the way he did. Part of me worries I’m never going to be able to move past this anger and get to a place where I can just say I miss him, instead of “I miss him, but he’s the one who left.”
What one person has influenced your life the most?
Different people influence different parts of your life, for different reasons, but my parents, hands-down, gave me the best, most fulfilling life I ever could have asked for. I owe them more than the world, actually. I feel like I owe them the entire universe for all they’ve done for me.
How have you coped with having twenty-five plus surgeries?
I was lucky, I suppose, in that all my surgeries took place between my birth and the time I turned 15. I think when you’re a kid, you’re more resilient, so you don’t necessarily get so scarred by everything you go through. You’re more able to just roll with the punches, I guess, and I honestly thought as a child that my childhood was normal. I saw myself and other kids in the hospital, so I thought that’s how all children grew up. And, ironic as it sounds, some of my favorite memories took place while in the hospital, especially a lot of good times with my father. I remember he used to read me the newspaper as I’d be lying in bed; maybe that’s where my love of journalism came from. But I always felt so safe, even though I was in this giant, scary hospital. None of it ever really scared me.
What literary character are you most like?
Oh, good question. I think I have the spunk of Jo from Little Women and the dreams of romantic grandeur of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet.
What do you like the best about writing blogs?
The freedom. You don’t have to censor yourself, and you can be whoever you want to be. I write about what’s going on in my life, about what I know. I tell my story, and no one is ever spared. Just read my disclaimer. It basically sums up my entire writing philosophy too.