Thursday, October 25, 2012

Special olympian, octogenarian helping me keep the dream alive

This week I got two reminders from unexpected places that it's OK if it takes awhile for me to finish my novel.

The first was national news.

In her never-ending quest to further civil discourse and add thoughtful commentary to today's political landscape, Ann Coulter called the president a retard as an insult in a Tweet.

Luckily, someone who actually does further civil discourse and add thoughtful social commentary responded.

In an open letter, Special Olympian and Global Messenger John Franklin Stephens told Coulter, "you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much."

As it turns out, I went to high school with Stephens (when a bunch of people I went to school with kept posting links to the story on Facebook, I finally put two an two together). 

I road the bus with Frank (back then he was known as Frank -- maybe he still is?) in middle and in high school. To be honest, I don't remember a ton about him. He was very friendly and cheerful and always on the lookout for a girlfriend. I think he asked out just about every girl who road the bus with us -- myself included (although I was like a sixth or seventh draft pick). I turned him down -- never really giving him the time of day, further evidence that as enlightened as I'd like to be, I still have a long way to go.

Here's Frank in high school:
Told Ann Coulter what's up.



And, to be fair with potentially embarrassing yearbook photos, here's me freshman year.
This is before my eyebrows
had been introduced to tweezers.
In his letter, Frank says says that as someone with Down syndrome, he's continually having to overcome the public perception that his mental disability makes him dumb and shallow, but that really it just takes longer for him to process information.

I think any writer can appreciate this statement -- that sometimes it can take days, weeks, months and (in my case) years before we are able to say what we mean in the way we want to say it. 

Frank reminded me that just because it might take a while to figure out the best way to say something, doesn't mean it's not worth saying.

The second writing lesson of the week came from Ann Small Niess, a source for a story I'm working on for the Daily Record.

Niess recently completed her second book about her childhood home, the Elmwood Mansion, which is a landmark here in York. 

Niess is 89. She didn't begin writing until she was in her 80s (she compares herself to Grandma Moses). She'd never written a book before, but couldn't shake the voices out of her head. It took her five years to write her second book and she said that she must have rewritten it 10 different times. 

Why did you stick with it? I asked her.

"I don't know," she said. "I'm a determined sort of character."

So there are no excuses for me. I have another 50 years before I'm 80 -- that should give me plenty of time.

And to get more use out of the yearbook I dug out of the basement -- here's another famous Chantilly High School alum -- Napster founder Sean Parker:
Heeey - he doesn't look
anything like Justin Timberlake.

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