Friday, August 31, 2007

A Quiet Place

When I was young--only old enough to be capable of reading children's books and deeply grateful I had the ability to read them at all--I discovered a book called "A Quiet Place." I read this small book to my four-years-younger sister until it became her favorite. Its lyrical cadence introduced both of us to a new life sound: the rhythm and rhyme of words. Soon "A Quiet Place" became more memory than script, and its familiarity brought union.

Tonight I feel its words creeping back from some distant place. Not because I want to find a place to hide so that I may play pretend and eat an imaginary biscuit while drinking imaginary tea like the young girl of the story; but because I am in such a place--a quiet place--and it has come with an even newer rhythm that's been none of my doing.

I'm quiet.


For the next order, for the next printing of books to arrive, for assurance that Involuntary Joy does, indeed, have a future beyond its life to this point.

And while I wait maybe I will find an actual quiet place...and have a cup of tea. And a biscuit. Or two.

And maybe, in this new rhythm of life, I'll feel the union of those living their own involuntary joys.

Friday, August 24, 2007

When & Where

I've been warmed and sustained by many generous comments since Involuntary Joy's release five weeks ago. Sometimes I feel I can sense people reading. Most likely the sensation comes from reflecting on what I've learned about how and when people are reading the book--and where. Hearing these things provides me with yet another brand of joy--a quiet, peaceful kind:

- one woman is forcing herself to read it only one chapter at a time because, "I don't want it to end."
- another woman decided to read it during her treadmill workout because, "I enjoy it so much, it makes the time fly."
- one couple (in their 80s) shared the experience as the wife read it aloud to her husband (who has cataracts) each night for a little more than a week;
- a daughter is reading it to her father in the evenings as he is recuperating from cancer treatments;
- a man (a nurse visiting Iowa relatives) bought the book and stayed up all night reading it; then, after he returned home to California, called my parents to say he thought it was "phenomenal."

Each time I hear a story like those above, I'm reminded that I will never know all the people who have read Involuntary Joy -- when, how or why -- or even what reading it has meant to them. Nor should I. My story becomes theirs to take in. Its words mix with their experiences, enriching my life because it has privately--and very personally--enriched theirs.

What an honor -- then, now and everytime it happens -- whereever, whenever and however it happens.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Epilogue Moment

I had an epilogue moment in the produce section of Bill's Family Foods after school today. I'd just left Stross at home. He was working with his respite worker on a homework assignment that he and I had begun together. It was the first day of school--the first day of homework as a junior--but very little had changed about the way homework happens. He needs me or someone making sure appropriate modifications happen and that he stays on task. Because Megan took over helping him--my respite--I was free to head to the grocery store to pick up items for supper.

Compared to the rigor of his homework assistance, shopping alone did feel like a respite. But in the produce section, my moment of mindful rest ended.

As I headed toward the bananas, I saw Heidi and Holden, twins who are classmates of Stross, shopping with their mom. I remembered how excited Stross had been to go to their birthday party in elementary school and how much he likes just being part of their class.

Just then another young man, also my son's age, called out to Heidi and they smiled and waved to each other--the kind of excited, attention demanding, shout out that says, "Hey, look at me. We know each other and life is fun." And they were having fun--first day of school, we are juniors, aren't we cool fun.

Then a seeping sadness crept in.

Everything I did next, I did mechanically. I chose some bananas, placed them in my cart, pushed my way through the rest of my shopping list and headed to the checkout counter where another of my son's classmates checked my groceries and yet another one bagged them for me.

I needed to get back home.

I needed to see how homework was going...and reassure myself that my junior had enjoyed an exciting, attention demanding, event filled day as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Invitation to Empathy

I hesitate to write anything here today, as I feel I have something developing that isn't fully formed. Still, I want to get this much into print: Involuntary Joy is an invitation to empathy.

The truly ironic fact is that in my earliest years, I was keenly aware that I lacked the capacity for empathy--not fully, but to any degree that aligns with virtuous qualities like mercy and compassion.

Now, however, I can empathize with a great many things. And I believe it's because of the way Stross ushered me into motherhood.

Based on feedback about Involuntary Joy's impact to readers, I think it's safe to say it recreates our family's experience in a way that conveys what it felt like to be me at that time. Readers empathize with my experience. Best of all, it seems those feelings live on, helping readers better connect to others who are persevering through unanticipated pain.

And I'm beginning to realize that's what I've wanted all along. I sorta knew. But I really like the affirmation. (Me like affirmation? Perhaps an understatement, yes?) :-)

But seriously, if someone can vicariously live our family's experiences, then perhaps they can better connect to how their sister or daughter or neice or friend might be feeling -- even how that person's life companion might be feeling. That can only bring good things, for empathy leads to a level of understanding that fosters compassion. And compassion moves everyone just a bit closer to love--the quiet, all-encompassing, can't-get-around-it, agape kind of love.

It's the love that sits quietly next to someone who is crying and doesn't feel the need to speak.

The love that draws near to someone simply because being separated by time and space seems wrong.

The love that cooks a meal and offers to run errands so someone else can simply sit and be.

The love that says, "I can't know exactly how you feel, but I hurt with you." (Not for you, but with you.)

And if Involuntary Joy helps somebody recognize opportunities to do that for someone else, I'm deeply, deeply pleased.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

1st Newsletter

I'm in a quiet place where "Involuntary Joy" is concerned.

Let me clarify that: The need to market and develop a query are not part of this quiet place. I guess the quiet feeling has more to do with my sense of completion. "Involuntary Joy" is done. And after nearly 14 years of book talk, I'm basically talked out. I guess because I did it. I finally took the bits and pieces I'd been writing off and on since Stross' birth and created a book. Signed, printed, delivered--it's yours...that is if you want to read it.

Of course that doesn't mean I don't want to talk about the book. I love hearing from readers willing to share their feelings about what they read and about the types of conversations the book's content incited. (Or dare I say "inspired"?) That's what I hoped would happen. I wanted the book to get people talking. So, of course I want to be part of that!

I think my quiet place is a restful place.

It's not that I don't have more to say. Because I do. I even have more essays tucked away that just didn't fit into the arc of "Involuntary Joy's" story. But it's time to be quiet--to rest. It's time for others to talk. And I'm ready for that.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Audience Hunt

I'm beginning to see more clearly the audience for "Involuntary Joy." I had an audience in mind, but I now have the opportunity to see if who I was writing for matches the people who are actually reading it. I had always hoped "Involuntary Joy" wouldn't get labeled "a religious book for parents of disabled children," and I don't think it is. Of course I hope parents and others who have a family member with a disability are part of the book's audience! But I don't believe they are the only audience. If so, I've failed them.

I'll venture only so far in my speculations: I'm reassured that "Involuntary Joy" isn't being positioned as a faith book. In fact, I'll say that "Involuntary Joy" is no more a religious book about faith than Martha Beck's book "Expecting Adam" is. (If you've read both books, you'll know what I mean.)

I hesitate to type in this space what I believe the message of "Involuntary Joy" is or who I believe is finding/receiving the message. Right now I only know who is buying early copies of the book. What's more, I have no idea who they are passing their copies on to or if they are referring the book to others. Therefore, I'm content to continue waiting just a bit more. (And because I'm really bad at waiting, that's a big deal.) This is too important. I want to see and hear the message reflected back before I allow myself the satisfaction of affirmation.

But if you are reading this and if you have read "Involuntary Joy," please let me know what you think. We are in this together.