Hello, and welcome. I set up this blog in early December of 2008 primarily to promote my first memoir. The date is set years ahead so that this entry will always be first. My clever friend Sarah did that with hers and I thought it was a great idea.
The book is about my first year of college at a small Baptist school (North Greenville) located in the upstate of SC. The story takes place in late 1994 and early 1995. In this reader-friendly and simple story, I recount my experience of leaving home for the first time, friendships, academic challenges, romances, and the life lessons I learned during that very important year. To read excerpts, press releases, and other information about Carmella's Quest, click here http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=carmellasquest&keyword=%2A&filter=all
What makes this book different from other college memoirs is that I also describe unique situations that arose for me as someone who was legally blind but not totaly blind. Some of my choices around that issue will be frowned upon by members of the blind community. I am prepared for that. I do things differently now, but am honest about where I was in my own acceptance of the "blindness thing" at the time. Another aspect of this story that may set it apart for many readers is that the book does not include offensive language, or descriptions of wild college parties or other content that might concern parents or offend some readers. I just wasn't into that stuff and being at a Christian college meant such things weren't so much a part of the culture there. I'm sure I'll take some teasing from family members just based on what I was willing to share about my dating life, simply because I had one and said so. I'd give it a PG rating if it were a movie, I think. It has a few "questionable" or "edgy" segments .
I enjoyed writing this book, believe there is enough diversity of experience to keep readers engaged, and am excited to be able to share it and to see where it takes me. It can be ordered through the publisher or through Amazon.com. For autographed copies, indicate that when you send a check ($14.95 + $2.00 for shipping) and Bob will let me know. If you are blind and want or need an electronic copy emailed to you, as well, please include a note letting us know that and I'll forward one to the email address provided in that note. If you ordered from Amazon and want an electronic copy, simply forward your order confirmation email to me and I'll email you an electronic copy of CQ.
Through this blog, I'll also share some of the other pieces I've written, books I have enjoyed, other writing related stuff, current happenings in my life, and my thoughts on other topics. I'll also do some singing, as that is another way I express feelings and creativity.
So, who am I? I ask myself that a lot so let's just stick to facts here. I'm originally from a small town near Augusta, GA. I have been legally blind since birth due to complications related to prematurity. I live and work in the Columbia, SC, area. I am passionate about my career as a Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist. I have two undergraduate degrees (North Greenville College and Columbia Bible College/Columbia International University) and a graduate degree from the University of South Carolina. I am passionate about truth, relationships, and writing.
Living in a world set up to accomodate those who can see is not always easy, especially since life still offers a range of other difficult experiences that have to be dealt with on top of the "blindness thing." I strive to live a life of independence, authenticity, and integrity and am sustained by faith in God, my family and friends, and my wonderful guide dog, Maggie. One of my favorite things, as I say on the Dedication page of CQ, is being an aunt to my sister's three great kids. Spirituality and a sense of humor that can tend towards sarcasm and edginess also help a lot. Despite life's challenges, I consider myself very blessed.
“Now, I’d like to present the award for Female Resident Student of the Year,” announced a voice I recognized as Michelle’s. “The Resident Assistants chose the recipient from among all of our on-campus girls.” I wonder who they picked, I thought distractedly, a lot more concerned about the algebra final looming over my head. Everyone was assembled for the second to last chapel service of the year. The staff of Student Services was onstage presenting awards in various categories. The past twenty-five minutes had been a jumble of flowery speeches, applause, and stage crossings. RAs had been honored, and various students had received awards for excelling in specific academic or athletic pursuits. Several staff members had been recognized for their support of student organizations. “The award goes to Carmella Broome.” I sat frozen for a moment, unable to believe what I’d just heard. My heart began to pound as the auditorium erupted into applause. I knew I should be thrilled, but all I felt was a sense of dread. How was I going to handle this? I had to make my way to the stage to accept the award, and I didn’t have my cane with me. I considered turning around to ask David for help, but I wanted to go by myself. I’d been up there before. There were steps and cords, and probably podiums and chairs. I could trip or run into something and really embarrass myself in front of all these people. I might fall down the stairs or step right off the edge of the stage. Was I familiar enough with the stage to chance negotiating it without help? Deciding that I was, I got up and, trying not to step on anyone’s feet, made my way toward the center aisle. “God,” I begged silently as I walked toward the stage, “I know I’m being really stupid, but please help me get around up there.” Climbing the steps, I was relieved to hear Reverend Crouse’s low instructions. “Watch these cords. Good. It’s a straight shot.” I walked forward into the brightness of the spotlights, mentally coaching myself to keep my head up and not shuffle my feet. “Here I am,” Michelle whispered, placing a plaque in my hands. “Congratulations. Look to your left a little so they can take your picture for the paper.” I turned my head and smiled. The camera flashed. Amidst another round of applause and cheers, I turned to make my way back across the stage. Now came the hardest part. How was I going to find that top step? I slowed down when I neared where I knew the steps to be, probing the area with my foot. I felt Reverend Crouse’s hand on my arm. “There’s the step,” he murmured. “Thank you,” I whispered, descending the steps carefully. Thrilled that I’d made it down from the stage without incident or embarrassment, I turned up the center aisle and counted rows until I reached the sixth one. Trying not to step on anyone’s feet once again, I counted my way past the first seven chairs. As I sank gratefully into my assigned chapel seat, thankful that I hadn’t miscalculated and wound up in someone’s lap, I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. David’s voice whispered, “Congratulations.” With the ordeal of accepting the award behind me, I was finally able to turn my attention to the plaque Michelle had placed in my shaking hands. No one could possibly guess how much it meant to me. I had no idea what it said, but that didn’t matter. The public recognition wasn’t what made it so special, though that was certainly nice. To me, the plaque’s truest value was what it represented. It was a tangible symbol of success. I had done something I hadn’t been sure I really could do. I’d successfully completed my first year of college.
The Second Edition of Carmella's Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen is now available via print on demand and in electronic formats for download to various e reading devices. My publisher, Bob Lamb of Red Letter Press, decided to change the cover. The new cover and an excerpt can be viewed at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/101186
I still have a handful of first edition copies that canbe bought from me directly, as well.
Speaking of, I used to always keep a couple copies of CQ with me at all times. You never know when you're going to wind up in a conversation with someone who might be interested in the book you wrote and its great to be able to seize the moment. I'd stopped doing that at some point.
Monday morning, I remembered that a couple of new people at my office had expressed interest in my book. One of them had run across it on Amazon. I remembered to slip a couple copies in my backpack on my way out the door. Later that day, while running some errands, I happened to cross paths with a woman who works with blind children and families. During the course of our conversation I mentioned my book and she expressed an interest. I was able to sell her one because I just so happened to have one on me. Had it been the previous day or the next, I wouldn't have had it. Good reminder to myself to continue keeping copies with me. I may wind up speaking with some parents of blind children she works with, too, which would be great.
I'll be speaking at a conference for Talking Book Services librarians at the SC State Library on April 10. This is a national conference so I'm looking forward to the experience.
Also, I recently was interviewed by a writer for "Dialogue" magazine, which is written for and about those who are blind. http://www.blindskills.com/dialogue.html They have published a couple of articles I've written in the past, as well. One was about blind people and volunteering. Another was about finding a driver. This writer contacted me after reading my book in audio form through Talking Book Services and actually put together two articles. One was about my career as a professional counselor. The other one is about Carmella's Quest and my experiences as a writer. I haven't heard when they will be published, but am hopeful that one or the other will come out in an issue this spring or summer. I believe the magazine is published quarterly.
I enjoy good works of serious fiction about families and the human condition and the complexities of relationships. I also enjoy good mysteries. No fiction book I've ever read has moved me as powerfully as memoirs do, though. This is because, even if some names are changed or events reworked slightly, I know the story is true in its essence. It is something that actually happened to a person brave enough to share personal experiences in writing, to put their words out for strangers to take in and pick apart and pass judgment on. I automatically feel more connected with authors of memoirs for this reason and admire them for their courage.
I know first-hand that feeling of vulnerability when you launch a book into the world. There's no way of knowing how it will be received. I knew mine would face some criticism. I was okay with that. It was still worth it to me to tell the story. No matter what, it was my story about a part of my life. No one else lives in my skin with my heart and my brain so no one else can tell the same story or stories.
Even if someone else has experienced similar circumstances, our perceptions or which parts stand out will differ. That can be said of every single person on this earth. I believe everyone has a story worth sharing. We can all learn from each other. We all have wisdom gained through experience. I tell my counseling clients this a lot when I'm talking with them about their life stories/narratives. Same goes when I give talks at churches or to other groups. I encourage people to think about the parts of their lives where they've learned important lessons or grown as a person, as well as times that were happy or funny. I stress that those stories are stories no one else could tell the same way. I talk to them about the power of the words they choose and the emphasis they place on certain events and the meaning they make of those events.
If someone doesn't like memoirs in general or certain ones in particular, they can choose not to read them. Personally, I don't read celebrity memoirs. I'd much rather read about "regular people" and what they go through. The exception would be if a celebrity writes about life before they became famous maybe. If the writing isn't good, that should be addressed because its not good writing, not because of whether its memoir or fiction. Carmella Broome Author of Carmella's Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen (Red Letter Press 2009) http://CarmellasQuest.LiveJournal.com
For Immediate Release For more information, contact: Carmella Broome, 803-256-3271 or CarmellasQuest @ hotmail.com. Local Blind Author Receives National Writing Award Columbia, SC. - August 01, 2011. – Columbia resident Carmella Broome, author of Carmella’s Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen, published by Red Letter Press, is the 2011 recipient of the Ned E Freeman Excellence in Writing Award. This award is presented annually at the American Council of the Blind’s national convention. Ms. Broome received this award for an article she wrote about partnering with the SC State Library’s Talking Books Services department to record her book so that it could be enjoyed in audio format by blind readers.
Her article, "In My Own Voice: The Carmella's Quest Collaboration". was published in the March issue of the ACB’s monthly magazine, The Braille Forum. “I used this experience to encourage readers to think outside the box if there is something they want to accomplish that might be possible with a little creativity,” Ms. Broome explains.
“Carmella’s Quest” was released in print in February of 2009. Later that same year, Ms. Broome recorded her book (a memoir about her first year at North Greenville College) at the SC State Library. “I was able to read the book myself using my own adaptive technology combined with the technology available through the Talking Books Services department,” Broome says. “When I came to them with the idea of how to do this, they were open and willing to try something a little different. The finished product turned out better than I could have imagined.”
The Ned E Freeman Award is given out annually by the American Council of the Blind’s Board of Publications. Any piece published in “The Braille Forum,” or another ACB affiliate publication, can be nominated for this Award. Mastery of the craft of writing is a major consideration by BOP voters. Interesting subject matter, originality in recounting an experience, or novelty of approach are also considered. A Freeman Award winner receives a plaque inscribed in print and Braille and $100.
“I read the Braille Forum so I know how many excellent pieces of writing were published this year,” Ms. Broome says. “The fact that the Board of Publications chose mine is really humbling and such an honor.”
The Ned E. Freeman Award, instituted in 1970, is named for the first president of the American Council of the Blind who, after completing his term of office, became editor of "The Braille Forum."
Congratulations to Carmella Broome! Written by Dianne Keadle Tuesday, 02 August 2011 09:27 Congratulations to Carmella Broome!
Ms. Broome is a local author and a longtime member of the Talking Books Services. She is the author of Carmella's Quest: Taking on College Sight Unseen .
Ms. Broome is this year’s recipient of the American Council of the Blind’s national Ned E. Freeman Award for Excellence in Writing for her article, "In My Own Voice: The Carmella's Quest Collaboration". It was published in the March issue of the ACB Braille Forum.
To read Carmella’s article in Braille Forum online:
For MP3 version: http://www.ptbs.org/ then click the link for The Braille Forum - March 2011 Side Two
Her book, Carmella's Quest: Taking on College Sight Unseen is available from TBS in cassette (CBC00492) and digital (DSC00492) formats. Carmella’s Quest was recorded at the South Carolina State Library’s Talking Books Services.
The book description: A young woman, legally blind since birth, must decide whether to surrender to her infirmity and remain dependent on others for the rest of her life or go off to college, get a degree, and strive to become self-sufficient. Against enormous odds, she chose to make her own way in the world. 2008.
I recently received the following message from a young lady named Colby Garrison who just finished reading Carmella's Quest. I am sharing it with her permission. "Hello Carmella, I am a totally blind college student, pursuing my undergraduate degree in Communication Studies. I have been totally blind since birth, due to retinopathy of prematurity. I am a Christian, and I am working with my first Guide Dog. I started reading your book last night, and I could not put it down. If I did not have classes to attend today, I would still be reading it. I downloaded your book from bookshare. I cannot thank you enough for writing your book. I wanted to thank you for writing Carmella's Quest, because I feel like there is someone else with whom I am able to identify on many levels. You make me feel like its all right to experience the highs and lows of blindness, and to release the emotional responses that come with them. I will be recommending your book to my friends who are blind."
My response: "I'm so glad the book has been an encouragement to you. That was my hope for it from the beginning. I know how hard it can be to find time for pleasure reading while in college so it means a lot to me that you're taking the time to read my book right now.
You're right. As I describe in CQ, faith, supportive loved ones, and focussing on our independence and goals can help so much. Having a sense of humor and not expecting perfection from ourselves can, too. College can be challenging but rewarding, as can blindness. There are days when it really isn't a big deal and when it presents some uniquely special opportunities and other days when it sucks. We know not everyone is going to accept us and that some people will decide everything about us based on narrow minded ideas. I don't waste a lot of time on people like that. I've found way too many people who don't make a big deal about it and treat me like a whole person, with blindness just being a part of that. They treat me with sensitivity but not with pity and consider me an equal. The older I've gotten, the more friends like that I find.
Sometimes, blind people aren't honest even among themselves because we try to put such a brave face on for the public so we won't be pitied. The reality is that living in a world set up for those who can see can take a lot of energy and can present plenty of frustrations. No matter how much technology and other plans for handling lack of sight we put in place, they don't bring us quite up to the same level as our sighted friends. Things take longer. Gadgets don't always work right. People don't come through like we need them too. We try and do the best we can with it and that's all we can do. A sense of humor and staying focussed on the bigger picture are so vital to that process so we don't get bitter and stuck in self pity.
It sounds like you have goals and try to have a good attitude and to do the things that will help you to be successful. I think that's great. Give yourself credit for the extra effort involved sometimes. Be honest about the difficult parts. Find some "safe" friends you can be truthful about the harder times with. It doesn't help to dwell on them, but it can help to express emotions around them to people who care when it all gets to be too much. That's not weakness; that's reality. For the most part, focus on what you can do rather than getting stuck on what you can't and know your strengths. Be open to the lessons in blindness and to God's plan in all this. With ROP babies, any of us could have died. Obviously, knowing we didn't can help us have more of a sense of purpose about why we're still here and God's hand on our lives. We know He's working out a unique plan in us and that there is a reason why we are who we are.
Just some thoughts on all this. Keep pressing on and I hope these words, as well as the book, have been helpful."
I recently survived an extremely frightening episode of pneumonia. I've never had it before. It started with the flu, and faster than you can say "I feel like crap," I was in ICU on 100% oxygen. I dodged intubation and eventually started responding to the massive amounts of IV meds (antibiotics and steroids) they were giving me. I was in the hospital from Feb 12 to Feb 21. It was not a fun time. They never did figure out what kind of pneumonia I had, or why I came down with such a severe case of it. They did plenty of blood tests to check for EVERYTHING that could possibly be checked for, believe me. I'm a medical mystery, but I have obviously lived to tell about it.
I was out of commission for quite a while. I worked Feb 3, and that was the last day I set foot in my office until March 14. Recovery was slow, but I'm doing much better now. I view everything we go through as a chance to learn more about ourselves and to gain wisdom and perspective on life. Some important relationships were strengthened and God showed me all over again how many people truly do care about me. Lots of thoughts and prayers were going up on my behalf at the time when I was the weakest I've ever been. God obviously still has more for me to do here. 2011 started out extremely rough for several reasons, but its getting better.
Bryan (one of the main characters in CQ who is still such a special part of my life 18 years later) came down from Greenville to keep me company. He came in on Valentine's Day with flowers, candy, and a really cute teddy bear, and stayed until that weekend when he got sick himself. He came back to spend a few days with me shortly after I got out of the hospital, too. He had to get "security clearance" from a doctor before Mom would let him get within a zip code of me, which is entirely understandable given the hell we'd all just survived.
CQ readers won't be surprised to learn that my parents, sister, and extended family were by my side constantly while I was in the hospital. Mom was also with me before and after at home. That nursing degree she recently earned came in some serious handy. Once I was well, she was finally able to get an actual job and is now working as an LPN at a nursing home in Washington GA.
Shortly after I got out of the hospital, I received the March issue of The Braille Forum, which is published by the American Council of the Blind, and was pleased to see an article I wrote about CQ included. Its a piece about my colaboration with the SC State Library to record the book. I submitted it some time back and it couldn't have run at a better time. It reminded me that there was more to my life than being sick. It can be read on line at http://www.acb.org/magazine/2011/bf032011-10.html
As a result of this article, I've been asked to speak at the state convention for ACB of Ohio. That'll be in November. That's quite an honor, and Columbus Oh is where I trained with both of my guide dogs so it'll be neat to visit there again, if I wind up being able to go.
Laura was reviewing Shauna Niequist's latest book "Bittersweet" (published by Zondervan) and asked readers to post about a "bittersweet moment in their own lives. Before I share what I posted there, I'd like to note a couple of other recent bittersweet moments. First, my friend Wanda, who is one of the first people readers meet in Carmella's Quest, is getting married at the end of October. Wanda is the friend from my hometown and home church who began attending North Greenville the same time I did,. She was a huge help to me when we started there, both practically and emotionally, and I'll always appreciate her caring and sensitivity. Her father passed away several months ago so I know this must be a "bittersweet" time for my friend. I wish her many blessings and every happiness.
Also, my Dad just turned 60. Its weird to think of him as being that age. Crystal and her family came up to Mom's and we had a little party for him. I bought him "Grumpy Old Men" and "Grumpier Old Men" and several humorous and gift books related to becoming a senior citizen. One was called "I Didn't Ask To Be A Senior Citizen, I Was Drafted," and another one was "A Thousand Things I Learned About Turning 60, Of Which I can Only Remember 240." I don't like getting older myself. I like my parents getting older even less, but I'm glad I could celebrate his birthday with my family.
This is what I wrote on Laura Turner's blog: carmellasquest said... "I agree. Shauna's writing is very real. She doesn't pretend to have it all figured out or try to wrap everything up in a neat little package with a bow on top as far as easy Christian answers. For her, and for others of us who think deeply, the thinking and seeking understanding and processing of difficult ideas or experiences comes along with God's gift of a working brain and a need to try and understand. We struggle knowing we won't figure it all out but that trying has a lot to do with growth and becoming deeper and more real. I could talk about many bittersweet experiences in my life. A recent one was my guide dog Maggie's thirteenth birthday. She's a fun-loving and sweet yellow Lab. She's been with me for eleven years. Our time together has included pretty much every adult first experience (last semester of college, grad school, first apartment, first job, several boyfriends, etc). She is still working and healthy, for the most part. Her birthday was a wonderful celebration and I'm so thankful that she's still with me and doing well. At the same time, I know that she is getting older and the thought of the time coming when she can no longer be my helper or companion here creates a tremendous sense of sadness. The bittersweet of it is that I love her so much and that I don't take my time with her for granted. Each day with her is a gift. We are together 24/7 in a very unique sort of relationship that most people can't begin to understand. She's such a blessing!"
I'm quite a fan of Shauna Niequist. I recently put a quote from the recently-released "Bittersweet" up as my FaceBook status (yes, I'm one of those annoying people who posts quotes. That's better than telling everyone what I had for lunch and how many times I went to the bathroom, right?) Shauna is also the author of "Cold Tangerines." I put a quote from that as my FB status once, too. An interview about Shauna and that particular book is at http://americanbibliophile.com/?p=115
I wrote the following on Shauna's blog: http://www.shaunaniequist.com "Hi Shauna, I just read the beginning of "Bittersweet" through the Zondervan Breakfast Club email book club. You're so right about how harder seasons are necessary. None of us look forward to them necessarily, but they make us so much more real as Christians. I know that, for myself, its the hard things that have made me so much more a person of grace, compassion, and mercy. I'm much more about understanding and not rushing to judgment. I much prefer my deeper more philosophical self to the me that may have been a little too willing to use the "chapter and verse" answers more flippantly when I was a little younger. This book seems very vulnerable in a different way than Tangerines (which I also love). I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it."
And on the blog http://ninaandtravis.blogspot.com/2010/08/bittersweet.html carmellasquest said... "I recently read the beginning of "Bittersweet" through the Zondervan Breakfast Club. Those who haven't read it can enjoy the first few pages by going to http://www.supportlibrary.com/bc/v.cfm?L=zondervan&V=N1A3FA321F42&nb I'm a fan of Shauna's work. I appreciate Christian authors who can describe thoughts, feelings, and experiences without trying to give us "chapter and verse" answers that are all neat and tidy. Its about the struggle and the parallel traintracks of things we consider to be "good" in our lives and things we consider more difficult. Its about how the harder things help us to change and grow if we're open to it and knowing that God is still there and still guiding us, even when things don't make sense. Its about times and seasons. She and her husband went through a dificult season with change and loss. These combined experiences and reactions clearly lead to some thinking and she has allowed readers to see into her thought processes. What a blessing for us! On a lighter note, I also like Shauna's writing because she's real enough to talk about enjoying a good glass of wine. Being a "good Christian" and "drinking" are two things many people think should never go together, at least where I come from in the south. I believed that, too, in my late teens and early 20s and went to Christian colleges where alcohol was one of several things that were absolutely forbidden. A friend and I had gone to dinner regularly for years, and had talked about faith and boyfriends and our work as counselors and so much else. I'll never forget the day we both finally admitted to enjoying a glass of wine with dinner occasionally. We both admitted that we'd been concerned about offending each other if we ordered a drink. Its so funny because we're counselors who are supposed to know how to communicate rather than just guessing about such things. You know the saying; Assumptions make you spend less money on alcohol. So, we had a good laugh, ordered our wine, and then said the blessing for our appetizers and it seemed like some important thing had just happened. Anyway, great writing from a very authentic woman who is spiritual and real and willing to speak the truth about her life and her thoughts. Great stuff!"
at the end of any comment I make. In the process, I'm finding items I already commented on that may or may not have been expanded on here.
Most recently, I ran across http://www.journeyswithAutism.com/ which is Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's blog about living with an autism spectrum disorder. She did not discover that she had an ASD until she was fifty and has written a memoir about this experience. "The Uncharted Path: My Journey with Late-Diagnosed Autism," was published in July of 2010. Rachel's blog is at I wrote: "Hi Rachel, I just wanted to congratulate you on your memoir and blog. I believe your experiences, as someone who was not diagnosed at a young age, are going to help fill a crucial gap in the first-person stories available on the topic of adults with ASDs. I hope writing this book helped you to heal and understand yourself and your life differently and that it brings about so much good for you and those who read it. I wish you the best of success personally and professionally."
Another good blog interview, also commented on by me, was by Rachel Simon, who wrote "Riding the Bus With My Sister." I read this book, which was later made into a movie. The author describes life for her sister, who is mentally challenged. Her latest memoir is "Building A Home With My Husband," and it looks like a fascinating read. The interview talks about writing fiction vs memoirs and private vs public selves. It is a good read for writers. http://www.thedebutanteball.com/?p=7286 -
I also commented on the review of a similar book, "That Went Well, Adventures in Caring for My Sister" by Terrell Harris Dougan. http://blog.mawbooks.com/.../that-went-well-adventures-in-caring-for-my-sister-by-terrell-harris-dougan/ The author's sister was born in 1946 with a brain injury. Her parents chose not to institutionalize her and the author describes growing up with a sibling who was "different." Later, she becomes her sister's caregiver. This book seems to combine lighter moments of humor with the more serious concerns expected in such a situation. Again, this is similar to "Riding the Bus With My Sister." My comment was: "I relate to this book both professionally and personally. Professionally, in my work as a counselor, I work with families at times who have a special needs child. Divorce rates are higher for parents of children with physical or cognitive disabilities, often due to the constant stress and differences regarding what is “best” or “appropriate” for the child. Also, siblings of these children can often feel pushed aside, burdened by expectations to help with caretaking even when young, or simply as though there just wasn’t enough time or energy to go around. They may have mixed feelings about this, even if they know rationally why it is and even when their parents really do try and give them a “normal” childhood. On a personal level, I can relate to this as a child who had “special needs.” I applaud this family for not automatically following accepted wisdom at the time. If I’d been born in the 40’s, institutionalization would very likely have been what was suggested for me, as well, at least for my education. I was a premature baby, and up until the 1940’s, most very premature babies simply didn’t survive. Beginning around that time, medical advances began allowing the survival of many preterm infants who would have died previously. One of the consequences of this was that many of these babies survived, but were blind. Back then, figuring out what to do with these children when they reached school age was a problem and state institutions for the blind began to become a more and more common option. Usually, these blind children would be sent to live at schools specially able to address their unique learning needs. As was mentioned in this review, there were not laws about the rights of families with kids with special education needs until much later (70’s, I believe). That’s when I was born. Fortunately for me, by the time I was scheduled to begin kindergarten, mainstreaming was more common. I went to public schools and lived with my family. This is not the best choice for every family, and schools for the blind still have their place, but I’m glad to have had a mainstream experience. This meant that Mom had to go to bat for me, my rights, and making sure I received appropriate services on various occasions. There were issues with a few teachers and some social difficulties, as well. I also know having me for an older sister meant that my younger sister had to probably deal with some awkwardness, like questions from her friends or the stares I would get in public. We have a solid relationship based on love and respect, though. Us being this close probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been sent to a residential school and only been home for visits. I appreciate books like this that share the honest perspectives of siblings of special needs children. I hope such books lead to greater sensitivity to these important issues and allow for a greater understanding of the experiences of these “nondisabled” siblings. There’s a lot we can learn from their experiences."
A while back, I also commented on a review of "Boy Alone" by Carl Taro Greenfeld. http://www.5minutesforbooks.com/1698/boy-alone/ This book is about the author's experiences growing up with his brother, Noah, who has autism. Again, it is a sibling's very honest account of this experience. Carmella said: "... On a personal level, I have been legally blind since birth and I know this made for a slightly different childhood for my younger sister. I’m sure she had to answer questions from her peers, suspect there were times when being seen with me made her self conscious as an adolescent, and that she faced other awkward situations unique to being “the blind girl’s sister.” Meanwhile, her friends with siblings who had use of all five senses didn’t have to deal with such issues and probably couldn’t understand them. Of course, some of those siblings had no amount of the most valuable 6th sense we often call “common” that really isn’t, but that’s neither here nor there. I at least had some amount of that. I, of course, wished I could have the “normal” life and peer relationships she experienced. We followed different paths in life. She is married and has given me two wonderful nephews and a niece, and is a very good sister and friend. I, meanwhile, pursued advanced degrees and career interests. From childhood, I was always more focussed on what I wanted to do professionally and she was always more interested in getting married and being a mom and we stayed true to those paths. We’re proud of each other, respect each other, and support each other and truly are friends as well as being siblings."
A very good article I read and commented on recently was "The Power of Memoir to Heal" by Linda Joy Myers. I follow Linda Joy with interest, as she is also a psychotherapist and memoir author. She is now also focussed on helping others write their memoirs and the therapeutic benefits of telling one's story. In this post, one of the things she mentions is that memoir writers should balance difficult memories with happier ones. http://lindajoymyersphd.com/2010/08/the-power-of.../comment-page-1/ My comment was: "Hi Linda Joy, I agree with what you say about balancing darker or heavier moments with lighter ones. When I was working on my own memoir, I sometimes found that focussing on a lighter scene kept me from feeling stuck when the idea of fleshing out a more difficult experience seemed too overwhelming. I knew I could come back to that more daunting episode when I was feeling more up to it. The heavier and lighter moments keep the story moving and help readers to understand us better, as well. Sometimes, those who have been through the most difficult life experiences have the best appreciation for the “good times” and the best senses of humor because it has helped them get through so much, I think. Those easier moments keep us and our readers from feeling buried under the constant weight of life difficulties and dark emotional intensity."
I believe the authors mentioned above have discovered this also.