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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

Month

November 2011

Humble Pie

I haven’t been through anything. Sure, compared to most of my able-bodied readers, I suppose I’ve been through something. I have great strength and a positive attitude. I’m inspirational and blah, blah, blah. But I’m here to tell you, I haven’t been through anything.

I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at an adaptive horseback riding event put on by Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program and Haven Horse Ranch. I thought I was going to write a post about therapeutic horseback riding. As usual, all attempts to plan out or corral my writing have failed, and my storytelling takes a shape different than the one I expected.

My companions that day were two women I had met only recently. One woman had been in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The other has MS. She walked with crutches for short distances and was in a wheelchair the rest of the time. Those are the short, simple versions of their stories.

In reality, they’d both seen more than their share of tragedy. One woman’s husband had died, the other’s had split. They were both single mothers left to finish raising five children between them. And after all the bumbling doctors, misdiagnoses and health insurance nightmares these two managed to have quick smiles and good natures.

Sure, I’m happy. But I’m not grieving. I don’t have anyone to blame. My disability just — happened. Disappointment and heartache haven’t been poured on besides. Imagine having part of your insurance settlement signed out from under you while you were in a coma and then try living without bitter resentment every day.

My new friends are brave in small ways too. After the horseback riding, some people headed to Cracker Barrel. My brain immediately got caught up in logistics. How will three women in wheelchairs get out of and back into a car? How will we get in the restaurant? Through that crowded little store? To the restroom? While I was busy planning, they were busy doing — asking for help where we needed it. And I realized, I could use a little more “jump in and go” mentality and worry a little less about what people think.

I’m reminded, once again, how important it is to belong to this group. Usually, I’m the only person in a wheelchair. Here, I’m one of many. Eating with able-bodied folks, I’m conscious of what I can’t do, of poor table manners and food on my face. At this table though, everyone’s got their own problems. I’m freer to be me. And if that means spooning my eggs out of a bowl, so be it.

When it comes time for dessert, I’m eyeing the chocolate pecan pie. The three of us consult the menus. “You know,” our driver says, “it’s cheaper to buy the whole pie.” Ah, women after my own heart. When the pie comes, I’m asked how large a slice. I motion for a bigger piece. I’ll take mine with a side of courage, please.

All About the Books

Want to know my dirty little secret? In college, I didn’t actually read the books. Well, that’s an exaggeration. I didn’t read all the books. I mean, c’mon! I was an English major. How was I supposed to read all those books and write the papers on them? Seriously, it was like a book a week or some crazy thing. I had a social life too, you know. There were football games to attend and keg parties to go to. And to me, those things were just as important as my education. (Hey, I was nineteen!)

I always felt bad about that. Everyone assumes that an English major is well-read. And the first piece of advice you ever hear about writing is that to write well, you need to read a lot of books.

So, I set about making up for lost time. I read a lot throughout my twenties and thirties. I consulted old reading lists. I read Oprah’s picks. I even bought into that Classic Book of the Month club until it proved too costly and I dropped out. I still have two books from then, leather-bound, edges leafed in gold: Moby Dick and Great Expectations. I started Great Expectations for the first time this weekend, spurred on by my own blog. The point is, it’s never too late.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.  ~Oscar Wilde

Though I strayed in college, I’d been a pretty voracious reader as a child and adolescent. I loved and collected all of the Nancy Drew series. I was shocked to learn they sell those in antique stores now. (Great.) As a child, my grandparents gave me The Boxcar Children about four orphans who run away and set up house in an old boxcar. The children wash and keep milk cold in a nearby stream. They find old dishes to use in a dump. It was one of my favorites — independent even then.

 I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. 

~Anna Quindlen

I realized at a young age, the comfort a book can provide. I remember spending part of a summer at my aunt’s, desperately homesick. The only thing that consoled me was a book from my mom — The Wind in the Willows. This still applied 20 years later in Europe, alone in my tent, snuggled up to a copy of A Woman’s World: Traveler’s Tales. 

Reading – the best state yet to keep absolute loneliness at bay.

  ~William Styron

And what teenage girl of my generation didn’t read Judy Blume’s Forever, Wifey or Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.? So, do yourself a favor. Grab a book and settle in. It’s the perfect activity for chilly nights when the days are shorter. Or instill reading in your children. It’s a habit they’ll come back to, even when it seems all they care about is parties and football. I guarantee it.

Monastery Hours

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

~Benjamin Franklin

I am writing this at the ungodly hour of 4:13 a.m. ‘For the love of pete, why?’ would be the legitimate response. And I’m going to tell you. First, let me get the obvious out of the way. As a disabled person, it takes me an hour and a half to shower and get ready — and I don’t wear makeup or do anything to my hair aside from brushing it. Basically, I get ready like a guy, but take the time of a prom queen on formal night. Add an hour for Frankie’s walk, plus time for breakfast and it’d be lunchtime if I slept late.

So, I like to get up early. It wasn’t always this early. For awhile, I was “sleeping in” till 5:30 or 6:00. But after a short break, I’m reinstating “monastery hours,” as a friend calls them. (She keeps them too.)

The simple reason is — I get more done. It’s peaceful and quiet (Frankie’s still asleep,) and the phone never rings. I use it as my time to write. My writing coach has been encouraging us to get in 1,000 words a day.  I know I’ll never make that, but I figure I’ve done my part if I get in a good hour and a half to two hours of uninterrupted writing every morning.

For those of you who follow such things, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  The organization that runs this challenges writers to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. That’s 1,666 words a day if you break it down. Sara Gruen supposedly wrote Water for Elephants during her month of NaNoWriMo. The point is, to call yourself a writer, you actually have to write. And you really should do it every day. So writers, as my father would say, “poop or get off the pot.” (Actually, my father would say the words originally intended, but this is a good, clean, family blog.)

I’m often commended on my discipline, getting up that early in the morning. But the morning is easy, often automatic, if I’ve had enough sleep. Where it takes discipline is the night before. I need my eight hours. Which means I have to go to bed at 8:00. Which means I have to start the process at 7:00. I often fall asleep to the sounds and smells of a neighbor’s dinner, barbecue flaring up, steaks on the grill. And before the recent time change, the sun was still up. Once, I woke from a deep slumber to the sound of the telephone ringing. I answered it, my voice thick with sleep and irritation. “Do you know what time it is?” I demanded. “8:30,” came the response.

Even if you’re not a writer, you’re not off the hook. The benefits are endless and for everyone. Get to work early and get a head start, catch the sunrise, squeeze in a workout, beat the traffic or finally have time for breakfast. And if you are a writer, the early morning hours are best for channeling that ever elusive Muse. Wayne Dyer believes you are closer to divine inspiration at dawn. Or if he’s too New-Agey for you, take it from Bill Gates. He’s an early riser, too.

Assuming I’ve convinced you to give it a try, here are some tips:

1. Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this one enough. To get up earlier, you need to go to bed earlier. Otherwise it will be that much harder and you’ll feel awful. Or maybe you like fighting a losing battle.

2. Have a reason to get up. Ever notice how easy it is to get up to catch that flight or pack on the first day of vacation? Doing something productive or having something to look forward to makes it easier.

3. Don’t rationalize. If you allow your brain to talk you out of it, it’ll never happen. Don’t even start to have that conversation. Just don’t go there.

4. Set the alarm across the room. If you have to get out of bed to wake up, you’re less likely to get back in it.

5. Don’t make drastic changes. Don’t attempt to change your routine overnight. Start by setting the alarm 15-30 minutes earlier. Gradually increase this by increments until you reach your goal time.

6. Get out of the bedroom immediately. Don’t tempt yourself by the sight of an unmade bed. Walk into the bathroom, turn on the light. Wash your face or jump in the shower. How about heading to the kitchen and starting that coffee?

7. Don’t hit snooze. You’re not getting up. And you’re not getting good sleep. It’s a lose-lose. And if you hit it once, you’re more likely to hit it two, three or seven times.

8. Reward yourself. Stay motivated. Treat yourself to something if you’ve accomplished your goal. Enjoy a tasty breakfast treat or a smoothie.

9. Get a wake-up buddy. Just like working out, it’s easier with a friend. Find a similarly motivated pal and encourage or call each other.

10. Pay attention to sleep cycles. Your body goes through five sleep stages, including REM sleep. If you’ve tried all the above and you’re still having trouble, you’re likely waking in the middle of a cycle when it’s best to wake at the end of one. Try setting your alarm a half-hour earlier or later.

Harmony: Life Lessons From My Pets

Bella and Frankie have adjusted to living under the same roof. There’s still no love loss between them. They’re not exactly grooming each other or sleeping together. But they’ve learned how to be in a room simultaneously. We should all be so lucky. So, next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ — take a hint from a cat and dog who’ve mastered it.

Allow people to be themselves. Don’t expect everybody to be like you. It took Frankie a while to get this one. He just didn’t understand why Bella didn’t want to wrestle with him. He would bounce around all excited, doing the maneuver where he lowers down, front legs out straight, inviting her to play. Bella, in turn, would get all freaked out and run away. To Frankie, of course, this simply meant game on. As an outsider, it was so easy to see all the miscommunication going on. This leads to the next bit of advice.

Stand your ground — gently. Don’t run away or give chase. This was the worst thing Bella could do. She’d tear down the hall with Frankie close on her heels; terrified, while he had the time of his life. She has learned. Now I watch her crane her neck back, moving her head as far away from him as possible without moving her feet. She stays put. Clearly with distaste, but she never moves her body.

Be tolerant. Don’t overreact or yell. She used to hiss and make a big fuss whenever he came anywhere near her. Poor Frankie didn’t mean any harm. He just wanted to get to know her. Now she doesn’t make a big production of it, just lets him take a sniff or two. She’s realized that’s all he’s after. There’s no reason to growl and get all testy.

Give others plenty of space. As with any relationship, all parties can benefit from a good dose of “me time.” Since Bella is little Miss Independent, Frankie had to be the one to learn that sometimes a creature just wants to be left alone. Now he seems to know to act bored and aloof. It goes against his nature, but he’s a quick study. What’s true for winning over a man can also be true for winning over a cat.

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