The first Chicago book signing for The Farmer’s Story was, I think, a solid success. Nicholas Taylor & his team at the Uptown Borders Books & Music (http://www.borders.com/online/store/StoreDetailView_554) were profoundly gracious and organized. The building alone is so gorgeous that just being invited inside with the book was a tremendous privilege. Friends and family from across northern Illinois drove in for the event. Friends from my old job at the Park Grill Restaurant came up and brought flowers and hugs. Some very nice people I’ve never met before talked to me about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and whether or not the book is autobiographical. It was a whirlwind of a good day.
I’ve had a lot of good days lately. The Farmington book signing back in September was a hoot. Speaking to Terry Skinner’s classes that same weekend was an honor. Melissa Gillliam’s article about me and the book in Insider573 magazine is on stands and I am thrilled (http://www.insider573.com). Husband and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary. My dear niece and our friends’ kids are all growing up healthy and strong, and are getting old enough walk right up to me and offer hugs unsolicited. That brings me a joy I’ve heard about, but never really expected to experience first hand. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I am a profoundly blessed woman.
I’ve been asked that question about autobiographical aspects of the Johnson family’s story more than a few times. My response is always, I hope, pretty demure. No, it’s not based on my life. I wasn’t raised on a farm. I haven’t lost a parent to cancer, or a sibling to a weather-related tragedy. Yes, sure, I’ve had disappointments and heartbreak. My dad died when I was only twenty-three years old. There was that unfortunate business with the sexual abuse when I was even younger than that. The husband’s accident back in September of 2009 was gut wrenching. But really, in the scheme of things, I’ve always been really overwhelmingly blessed.
Except there’s a part of The Farmer’s Story that’s been kind of nagging at me lately. It’s the part where Coree tells Johnnie that she doesn’t know how one family can take so much pain (that’s on page 151, if you’re following along in the novel). I think it’s nagging at me because it does feel autobiographical. And, as much as I love the people in my book, I’m not psyched that I’m relating to them in this way. I’m not psyched that I find myself thinking that things aren’t fair. Not when I’ve been so fortunate. Husband is on a solid path to recuperation. Sexual abuse still haunts me, but not with my every breath. I’m living my dream of being an author. So why does “reality” have to set in and smack me around? Why is it that now, after this amazing creative and fortunate year I’ve been given…why do I get news that includes words that require a dictionary to understand?
Words like “lesions,” “multiple scattered foci” and “subcortal and periventricular deep white matter.” There are the word combinations like “cerebellar hemisphere likely suggestive demyelinating disease.” For some of this I need a dictionary AND a translator. Because words like those can never mean everything is hunky-dory and you can keep making your plans. When your favorite family practitioner hands you a box of tissues and tells you it’s time to find a neurologist for a more specific diagnosis to go with the radiologist’s report from the MRI, well…. Whatever plans you were making pretty much come to a screeching halt. And you might start to question the fairness of things. That’s where I’ve been since November 17. Alternating hot and cold between perspective and disappointment. Optimism and deep annoyance. Fair and unfair. Which, frankly, is embarrassing. Why on Earth would I think I get to have a pass at challenge?
I do know some things now. I know Husband and I will visit a neurologist on December 17th. That will bring some knowledge. I know I’ll keep researching online and through contacts. That will continue to provide valuable information. I know I’ll study Multiple Sclerosis as much as I can for as long as I can. I know I will not give up.
There are so many unknowns with any condition that effects the central nervous system, I cannot predict how this thing will progress in my case. There will be tests and opinions and more boxes of tissues. I will have good days and bad days, which is probably the most consistent thing in all of this. So I have a new goal. Starting today, November 28, 2010, my goal is to just go ahead and let my characters in The Farmer’s Story be the nagging thought in the back of my demyelinating head. But to keep that thought moving forward to the example those people set. Yes. Things get hard. Yes, there are unexpected turns of events that make plans stop or change course. Yes. People get sick. I got sick. I am still sick. But, like Johnnie and the farmer and everyone in that book…I have a chance to keep going. To adjust and be flexible. To share my life with my family and friends. Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t change the good fortune of my life, just as it doesn’t change the challenges I’ve faced before now. It’s just another thing. And I guess that’s as fair as anyone can hope for.