Holy Cow: Cubs Win the World Series and Our Hearts

This is a story of resilience, of hope rewarded, of an underdog rising to greatness. It’s a story of generations, of love passed down through DNA, of unifying triumph, of a storybook “happily ever after” and banished curses.

It’s a moment in history that’s been over a century in the making, and everyone wants a part in it. Five million people filled the streets of Chicago on Friday in the seventh-largest human gathering of all time–and the largest ever in our country–to watch the Chicago Cubs’ victory parade. “Thank you for your patience,” the lauded World Series Champions of 2016 said, giving as much praise to their fans’ perseverance as their own. The Chicago Cubs had had the longest drought of any professional sports team in the history of the USA: 108 years without a championship.

#FlytheW–the Cubs won the World Series! Photo courtesy of my friend Arnaud Buttin, who attended the rally.

That number, 108, keeps popping up in uncanny ways, signs of destiny that 2016 really was our year–according to Inside Edition, the list includes:

  • The building that broadcasts Cubs games: 108 stories high
  • Stitches on a baseball: 108
  • Original address of baseball manufacturer, Spalding: 108 Madison St., Chicago
  • Run time of movies Back to the Future 2 and Taking Care of Business, who predicted future Cubs World Series wins: 108 minutes

Here is the Inside Edition video, published 10/25, predicting the win:

Also, another that came forward, necessarily after that video: Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, presented the championship trophy to the rally in Grant Park at 1:08 p.m. on Friday.

This feeling of destiny is a heavy weight lifted off the shoulders of so many who have inherited this love of the Cubs from others. At first, I thought the story I shared last week about our family Cubs tradition was unique, but over this past week, I’ve read many other touching stories of people rejoicing more on behalf of their loved ones than themselves.

One man drove all day to Greenwood Cemetery, Indiana, to keep a promise to his dad–that they would listen to the World Series together. He set up a radio and a lawn chair, and they did just that.

In my own family, my dad kept an unspoken promise to his mother, who raised him to be the Cubs fan he is today. She wasn’t far away during that epic game 7 of the World Series. Her mass card sports St. Anthony of Padua, who she always loved as the patron saint of lost things–and lost causes, she added. My dad kept her mass card and the lucky marble he’d shared with her on the table we surrounded while we bit our nails, jumped up and down, hyperventilated, and nearly collapsed during that game.

St. Anthony of Padua on my grandmother’s mass card, and the lucky marble my dad shared with her

The next day, he looked everywhere for a newspaper to take to her grave–an acknowledgement, a celebration, of the moment they’d been waiting for for many decades. And while she didn’t get to see it while she was here with us, she had the ultimate view from Heaven.

The newspapers were sold out at four different stores my dad went to, but he randomly found a pristine copy of two in the wrong spot by the coffee at Jewel. Even the cashier shared her shock he’d found one, but he smiled, knowing it was a special delivery.

Special Delivery: Victory Newspapers

We figured out later that our grandma was definitely watching the game from Heaven, when we realized the three final winning games had significant dates for her: her death anniversary, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day.

The game went on forever, in a good but completely nerve-shattering way. After jumping at a leaf the next day, my mom announced her nerves were shot. Several of our friends had to turn off the game at one point because they were about to be physically ill. As for me, my heart was racing for the entire game, but I determined to make it through, no matter what! After all, if these underdogs were about to change history, I didn’t want to miss it. As a bonus, I discovered I actually can hold my breath for 4.5 hours.

The game was as epic as a Lord of the Rings movie–and this, coming from an LOTR superfan–but it was like the climax lasted the entire duration. Movie producers would dismiss a script like that because it would be too unbelievable. When the game went into an extra 10th inning because of a tie, and then when there was a rain delay–even nature was adding to the drama–that was the breaking point for some people. For the Cubs, though, it was the moment of truth–Jason Heyward, outstanding outfielder for the team this year, gave a rallying speech to the Cubs that they could break the tie, break the curses, that not all was lost.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, it reminded me of another rallying speech:

Image result for aragorn speech gif       Image result for aragorn speech courage of men

Indeed, after that rain delay, the Cubs pulled it together to achieve a final score of 8-7. To say the crowds went WILD is an understatement. It’s no wonder that the celebration is still going strong–“Go Cubs!” has replaced “Hello” around here, and “Go, Cubs, Go,” is the anthem of every place music might be played, from my own band’s performance to our hospital’s black-tie fundraising gala. Fans–of the Cubs, of Chicago, of the underdog story–want to acknowledge this moment of unity, perseverance, and reward of faith invested, breaths held for over a century. Our fandom only increases as we learn how the players are using their fame to give back to fans, including Anthony Rizzo’s foundation for cancer research he started after beating it himself. These aren’t just good players; they’re good people. These are heroes for America’s kids that we can be proud of. That goes for the Cleveland Indians, too–I was really impressed with the civility and kindness between the opposing teams. Now that’s a lesson we could carry with us!

Thank you, Cubs, for bringing us such a happy moment in history–something we could really use right now, especially in Chicago. Here’s to hoping we can carry this optimism and camaraderie with us beyond baseball. And even though 108 might be my new favorite number, here’s to hoping for another thrilling win in 2017.

 

Drawing by my very talented sister

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Happy Father’s Day


(My first Easter, adorned in custom-made gown and bonnet, with my dad <3)

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 Thank you for the huge difference you make in your children’s lives.

As I grow older, I realize I rely on my dad just as much now as I ever have. Maybe the reasons have changed–I’ve now learned how to tie my own shoes, for instance–but he is still the steadfast pillar in my life I turn to when I fall and cry. It’s not skinned knees anymore (well, sometimes it is)–it’s more like a bruised heart. He is the man who has always been there for me, even as my romantic relationships come and go. Through his loving relationship with my mom, he has shown my sister and me how a healthy relationship should be. Through his support and encouragement of our dreams, my sister and I have realized we don’t need a man to accomplish anything we want–though we are lucky to have our dad, blowing air into our sails.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, but especially mine. ❤

If you’d like to read my letter to my dad about his crucial role in my recovery from my TBI, please visit my previous Father’s Day post: Happy Father’s Day.

Christmas Snow Globe: A Reflection on Christmas Blessings

Good morning, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. I will share the details of my fabulous holiday soon (thank you loved ones for making it so), but today’s post is a reflection on my Christmas eight years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marianjoy held its annual Patient Christmas Party two weeks ago. It was lots of fun, including skits and carols. A coworker-friend of mine wrote a parody of the “Wassailing” song that we all performed; it was hilarious and went over really well. 🙂

We got to wear costumes if we wanted to, which of course means I did:

I dressed as an angel! My mom sewed the dress for me in high school, and my dad made the halo. I’ve worn the wings so many times they’re a little droopy. 😉

But the most special part of the event, for me, was the opening reflection. I asked our Spiritual Director if I could write a piece to share at the party, and she invited me to open the event.

As soon as we arranged it, I was intimidated. My mission was pure enough: I wanted to share some inspirational insights about hope at this time of year. No one *wants* to spend Christmas in a hospital–but if you look at it in a different way, it may be the most special Christmas you’ll ever have.

When I spent Christmas as an inpatient at Marianjoy eight years ago, it was such a unique experience. (I was discharged just a few days later.) I hadn’t planned it, of course, but it wasn’t cold or clinical–it was warm, friendly, encouraging, and full of love–all the things Christmas should be.

So I, the writer, the girl who is always talking, sat frozen at my keyboard for weeks, trying to think of how to put this into words. It was so important to me to get it right. Not only would my whole audience be experts on the subject, but the gift I wanted to give them was abstract and elusive, a long-shot: hope.

I must have gotten it at least a little right, because I had a lot of applause and people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for sharing it–patients, coworkers, the CEO, former therapists, nurses, and doctors. It was a terrific experience; better than I’d hoped for. 🙂

My writer’s block finally disappeared when I thought of the central image, which you can find in the title below. I hope you enjoy my speech. 🙂

“Christmas Snow Globe”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Christmas in a hospital is kind of like a snow globe:

Frozen Snowglobe

(then I shook this snow globe, a Christmas present to Jennifer and me)

Your whole world is turned upside-down. You feel as if you’re suspended in a schedule of personal flurry, too busy with the rituals of therapy to notice that time is passing outside of your dome. And suddenly—it’s Christmas.

And—when you pause for a moment to catch your breath—you feel it. You’re not alone. You are surrounded by love and hope.

You might expect to hear something like this out of someone from the Marketing Department. But the way I really know this is I was a patient here myself eight years ago, due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury that gave me only a 5% chance at survival.

When I came to Marianjoy, I was out of the danger zone, but I wasn’t back to myself, or back to my life. It was a transition, between nearly dying and nearly living. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending Christmas here.

For me, Christmas has always been about being home with family. But while I was here, I discovered a new family. I saw it in the compassionate faces of the therapists. I felt it in the healing touch of the doctors. I even tasted it, in the peppermint bark another patient had made for me, surprisingly—candy she guarded so closely that she gave my father strict instructions not to eat it before giving it to me. I guess she had a sixth sense about my father’s sweet tooth.

And I realized—I was spending Christmas here with my family, with this place that has become a home to me. It’s a family I have been blessed with, a gift I did not anticipate receiving that Christmas along with my life. Yes, Marianjoy is like a family to me—and, much like the in-laws who suggest staying after Christmas into New Year’s—they can’t get rid of me.

And so—I know this may not be how you planned to celebrate Christmas. But take it from someone who has been on this journey before: there is beauty all around you. In this snow globe—you are loved. There is hope here. We even asked for some fresh snow today. This transition is a special time in your life—and in a funny way, it is a gift. I will never forget the Christmas I spent here, and I hope yours is just as special. Merry Christmas.

——————————————————————————

I hope you liked it, dear readers. Good luck on your New Year’s Eve preparations! If you’re not back here before then, I wish you a happy New Year full of peace, love, good health, and prosperity. ❤

Happy Halloween: Memories of Halloweens Past

Happy Halloween, readers! I hope you’re enjoying the holiday. I’m having a rather spooky experience at the moment: our phone line is going in and out, and since it’s on Halloween, that means it has to have a sinister cause.

But perhaps the scariest thing about this is that I can’t “save draft” as often as I’d like, so I may lose my work…

It’s actually the very first year I haven’t worn a costume, and it fills me with a Victorian Halloween-appropriate melancholy, complete with gloomy fog rolling through the moors of my mind. Our friend (pictured below, as Marilyn) who usually hosts the Halloween party had to be in Canada for much of the month for two separate weddings, one of which she not only participated in, but planned. A more than adequate excuse, I think, but we’ll definitely have to make up for it next year with a *huge* celebration. I still got to be festive at work yesterday, as you can see from my last blog post. Annnnd I’ll still get to be a princess at our gala, and so will my sister, but I am so happy we subvert fairy tale tradition by not being evil to each other. 😉 Oh yes, you can expect a flood of pictures after this weekend.

Speaking of flood of pictures, tonight, you’ll be seeing some snapshots of my childhood. Halloween has always been special to me, my absolute favorite holiday. From a young age, our parents encouraged Jennifer and me dress up and be creative, and we’ve never grown out of that. Halloween has always been about the costumes for us, not the candy (though I wouldn’t turn that down, either).

I believe this was my very first costume ever. My mom sewed this dragon costume for me; I think I was three years old here.

Amanda in dragon costume, pointing

Making some important dragony point, I think. You can see I was assertive, even back then. 😉 (Sorry for the blurriness.)

After that, I believe I was a teddy bear, and then mostly various princesses all the way up until college, when I alternated between strong female characters. (Spoiler alert: next year I am going to be BOTH, as Daenerys from Game of Thrones.)

Our friends group in 2003. Left to right: Megan is a black cat (I think Figaro, from Pinocchio; Jon is a rugby player; Jennifer is Tinkerbell; Lindsey is Marilyn Monroe; Alex is that guy who caught that baseball at a Cubs game, causing the team to lose that year; Kara is Arwen from LOTR; and I'm in the front, as--who else?--Belle. :)

Our friends group in 2003. You may recognize several of these faces from other posts. 😉 Left to right: Megan is a black cat (I think Figaro, from Pinocchio; Jon is a rugby player; Jennifer is Tinkerbell; Lindsey is Marilyn Monroe; Alex is that guy who caught that baseball at a Cubs game, causing the team to lose that year; Kara is Arwen from LOTR; and I’m in the front, as–who else?–Belle. 🙂

Another special tradition to us was reading our favorite stories all together. You might’ve seen this in my previous post about the history of storytelling and reading aloud, but I think this one bears a repeat:

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. <3

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. ❤

My family’s done a lot of organizing this year, and we unearthed our two favorite Halloween books EVER. We reread this one right away when I spotted it.

Image courtesy of Amazon; click to buy.

This is a charming story that opens with this line: “Once, there were two mice who fell in love with the same pumpkin.” While this seemed perfectly normal to me the first time my dad read it to us, 20 years ago, now, it makes me feel like this:

I think I feel this way because I cry at adorable things. I’m so overwhelmed by the cuteness factor that it has to spill out of me in tears. As an adult, I think this is a great book to teach children to cooperate and work together to achieve your goals–that even if you have different goals, you can both get what you want by helping each other. So much of the value is in that bond you form while striving together. In fact, maybe this is a good book for adults, too. 😉

Image courtesy of Amazon; click to buy.

This other Halloween favorite was a lot of fun for us, starting 21 years ago. That button in the upper-right corner was quite exciting, as it let out a sound mimicking the title. My dad would always say the title while the button was playing, too. Jennifer and I would take turns getting the privilege of being the Important Button Pusher, except when we would *accidentally* forget who pushed last. Honestly, I don’t remember much else about this book, and I don’t want to spoil it for myself, because we’re planning to read it tomorrow.

Other story news for tomorrow: you should finally have your Top 10 list I owe you for this week. I’m going to blame the internet flakiness for the delay on it tonight, but the other reason it’s taking so long is because it is so long. People had many favorites, which will make it not a top 10 but rather more, which takes out the requirement of its being posted on Tuesday…right? I promise it’s worth the wait. 😉 Also, I am planning to post a flash fiction horror piece I wrote in grad school–it may go up tomorrow or sometime in the near future. I vote for extending the Halloween celebration past tonight; what do you think? 🙂

Readers, what are some of your favorite Halloween memories? I’d love to hear them.

An Epic Kind of Night: “Lord of the Rings” at the Ravinia Festival

Happy Friday, readers! I wanted to tell you about the amazing daddy-daughter date I had last night. ❤

My dad and me pre-concert; cannot contain the excitement!

My excitement often overwhelms any hope of being photogenic in pictures, but such is the curse of a fangirl. (See my confession in my last post.)

Every morning I work, I wake up to Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT, on my radio alarm clock. Earlier this week, I heard an advertisement for an event at the Ravinia Festival: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra would be playing Howard Shore’s soundtrack while screening The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Whoa! Was early-morning grogginess causing auditory hallucinations? Could this meld of my favorite things actually be taking place?

Was there some kind of planetary alignment I was unaware of? (Illustration by EvilOverseer on deviantart)

After checking on their website, I realized it was true!

I’ve been going to the Ravinia Festival with my family since I was little. We’ve seen many fantastic performances there. Ravinia is a unique concert experience, open during the summer near Chicago, where you can hear the music inside their pavilion or out on the lawn. Both options have their merits: The lawn enables you to have a picnic and be more immersed in nature; Ravinia’s sprawling grounds are surrounded by huge trees, which provide a great platform for cicadas and birds to chime in. Inside the pavilion, you get to see the orchestra/performance, and you can hear the music directly, as opposed to amplified through speakers, both of which are difficult on the lawn.

The outside experience at Ravinia

The inside experience at Ravinia

By the time I’d heard about the performance, the pavilion seats were already sold out, so that made the choice easy. I knew immediately whom I would ask to go with me: my dad! We have always geeked out about Lord of the Rings together, texting each other quotes during the day, making important life decisions based on what the characters would do, etc.

You Shall Not Pass gravy meme

My dad also happens to be my classical music buddy, the one who always listens to it, critiques it, and goes to see the concerts with me. So it was a perfect arrangement.

For something this epic, obviously, I had to go all-out.

Boromir knows.

In high school, one of my best friends Kara also frequently obsessed about LOTR with me, to the extent that we made iron-on shirts for our favorite LOTR races. I chose Hobbits, and she chose elves.

I <3 Hobbits shirt

We had to cut out and iron on each letter individually. So worth it.

We had to cut out and iron on each letter individually. So worth it.

I got stopped many times at the concert by people wanting to know about my shirt; I was proud to say my friend and I had made them. You see, I know how much work goes into making clothing/accessories, and I take it as a compliment when people ask me if I’ve made something. Unfortunately, not everyone does, as I learned at the opening night of the Lyric Opera when I asked a lady if she’d made her hat. It had the extreme opposite effect; whoops.

I topped off the shirt with this necklace:

Arwen’s Evenstar

which the ticket guy complimented, as he handed me my ticket, wearing this ring:

Aragorn’s Ring of Barahir

at which point I knew we were entering a festival with other LOTR superfans. This was confirmed when we saw someone dressed in a Gandalf costume. 🙂

When we walked in 1.5 hours prior to the performance, believe it or not, the lawn was already packed. We lucked out in finding a prime spot for viewing, the screen only slightly obstructed by a light pole. Ravinia had fogged for bugs beforehand, which was very nice; we both escaped the night with 0 bug bites, which is positively unheard of for us.

One surprising element I found very fun was the pre-concert entertainment. On the screen, they displayed a live Twitter feed of people Tweeting @RaviniaFestival. This was a great touch, since so many people were there so far in advance of the concert. It was also great marketing, IMHO, because they got tons of new followers and looked super popular with people mass-Tweeting them for hours.

The @RaviniaFestival #LOTR Twitter Stream

Everyone tried to out-humor each other, and many were quite clever. Some particular gems I enjoyed were: “One does not simply park into @RaviniaFestival. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. #LOTR” and “Every time Legolas or Gimli says a number, take that many shots. #drinkinggame”

Mine didn’t make it onto the wall, but I did feel honored that @ChicagoSymphony (Orchestra) “favorited” it: “It’s feeling more crowded than Helm’s Deep here!” with this picture, which was only part of the front lawn section:

To make the night even more fantastic, there was a Lou Malnati’s pizzeria five minutes from the park, which just so happens to be our favorite food ever. My dad and I picked up a veggie pizza for a picnic on our way there.

Ambrosia: Lou Malnati’s veggie pizza

with carrot cake we bought at the festival for dessert. Another favorite!

When the screen changed and the orchestra started playing, everyone cheered and clapped, followed by audience silence–nice. I have to say the audience was wonderful, with no jeering, cursing, or drunken debauchery. The most disruptive it ever got was to whoop whenever Gandalf kicked butt, which we were all doing mentally, anyway.

The set-up was done quite well. The dialogue was toned down and captioned so that the music took the forefront, which was a really neat experience. The performance was flawless–perfectly in time and in tune, with heaps of passion from the orchestra, choirs, and vocal soloist. Even though I own the soundtracks and have listened to them countless times, it almost felt like hearing the music for the first time when I saw the visual scenes the songs matched. The regular movie version plays the music more quietly in the background so that the dialogue takes precedent–makes sense–so you don’t notice the music as much. Shore’s soundtrack is so fantastic that it is standalone, but having the meld of the two together was pretty magical. It was like having insight into the composer and the director’s heads.

It was also neat being an audience member looking in. My high school orchestra played parts of this soundtrack once for a “Pops Concert” we did every year, and it felt so awesome to play violin in this epic music. Combining my love for the story and music with the “performance high” (mentioned in this post) of playing wonderful music on a favorite instrument–it was sublime. Hearing what something like that sounds like on the outside was a different kind of wonderful, too. For the next concert, I definitely want to try to get a pavilion seat, because part of what I love about concerts is seeing the energy of the musicians. I actually found out afterwards that one of my friends from my writing program at DePaul, Angel Barrette Underhill (no relation to Frodo’s pseudonym), was singing in the choir, and that Kara was in the audience, too! What a small world. 🙂

I hope you have a fabulous and epic weekend, readers. In closing this post, let me share the best part of this daddy-daughter date:

Audiobook Month & History of a Reluctant Aural Fanatic

This  Sunday, June 30, marked the end of several official things–but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the end of your celebration. End of the weekend? Carry that relaxed feeling into the work week! (Easier said than done?) End of June–but making way for that fun midsummer month, July!

As the last day of June, that means it is also the end of Audiobook Month. But if you’re like me, that’s something you celebrate every day all year! The Audio Publishers Association explains the campaign to increase popularity of audiobooks here.

As you may have gleaned from past posts, I LOVE audiobooks. In fact, they comprise the majority of my reading time these days. I listen to them whenever I’m in the car, be that my commute to work, a trip, etc. They sure make construction more bearable and epic.

Transform from this…

Embed from Getty Images
…to this, with the help of an audiobook!

In thinking about my love affair with audiobooks, I tried to remember when we first crossed paths. Although I mostly use audiobooks now during commutes and working out (OK, the latter activity is much less often than I’d like), I knew my history started long before that.

Hearing stories aloud is integral to the beginning of not only our personal development, but also the development of human culture. This fascinates me as a reader and a scholar of English literary history. Stories were told orally earlier than we can confirm–because there is no record of it, of course. 😉 Beowulf is widely regarded as the bridge between oral and written stories in English, hypothesized as having first been passed through generations orally before being written down. This is indeed a possibility, as storytellers back then made lines rhyme for memory purposes. (Think of the first stories we memorize–they are nursery rhymes. We memorize aural sounds even before we understand the story. The aural memory reinforces our development of story comprehension.) The poor translators have the additional task not only of translating Old English to Modern English, but also of making the lines rhyme and staying true to the meter as much as possible. Old English is not Shakespeare’s English; it is the Anglo-Saxon language that was in use around the times of 400-1100 A.D. It is entirely foreign to those without training, as you can see below. But with our understandings of nursery rhymes and aural memory, it is easy for us to imagine the importance of meter in ancient stories. Even so, to memorize something so epic in length is quite an impressive feat!

The original image of the Beowulf manuscript (via Wikipedia)

Many of us are lucky to have parents read aloud to us. For me, it’s one of my favorite memories. Our parents used to read to my sister and me all the time, and it was the only way they could get me to agree to go to bed. 😉 I’m sure it had an impact on our imaginations and love of reading from a young age.

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. <3

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. ❤

I also realized I used to listen to audiobooks all the time as a kid, with the help of this guy.

The one and only Teddy Ruxpin ❤

For those of you not in the know, Teddy Ruxpin was an electronic teddy bear who read stories off of a cassette tape that accompanied printed books, for kids to follow along. But after his mouth stopped working (I’m sorry, Teddy </3), I was left mostly to my own devices, no pun intended.
Actually, puns are always intended with me.

In mourning the untimely demise of Sir Ruxpin, I parted ways with audiobooks for a long time. I rented one in high school to “read” a book last-minute, but I discovered at 4 a.m. that night that this particular reader did not expedite my process. (One…of…those…slow…readers…you know the type.) 😉 I decided audiobooks would never be the same without Teddy. 😦

And then, in 2005, I sustained a traumatic brain injury. (If you’re new to my blog, you can read the basics of the story on my About page or Memoir Preview post.) Part of the injury included slower processing speed and multiple nerve palsies in my eyes. The palsies caused double vision, and I couldn’t see anything clearly at all, at first. Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the man has all those books and all that time but broken glasses? Now I had time off of school, but couldn’t see, at least, at first. But my story, luckily, had a happy ending. As I began to recover, I was able to start reading, albeit not conveniently. This is what reading a book was like for me:

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other--each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn't converge.

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other–each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn’t converge. I’ll never forget exactly how it looked: overlaid and askew.

What the text above looks like to normal eyes. (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

What the text above looks like with normal vision (and my eyes now). (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

Eventually, I was able to see a single image if I held it up to the tip of my nose (and then farther and farther away as I recovered). I read the entirety of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked with the pages touching my nose. I probably just looked engrossed, which was also true. It was the first book I read after my TBI; it and the musical really inspired me and showed me that being different is not only okay, it’s what makes you extraordinary. (I watched the musical with a patch over one eye, and Jennifer and I got special seating near the front–it was magical, in more ways than one!) I was determined to force myself to read in the traditional way, with a lovely paper book, and of course, with my nose so close to the pages, it was a constant aromatic treat, as well. (I wish they made a perfume of “new book smell.”) I wanted the pleasure of reading on my own; not someone else reading to me. However, after I got LASIK eye surgery two years ago, there was no pleasure in even keeping my eyes open, let alone reading–so I decided to give audiobooks another shot with the longest one I could find at the library. Perhaps the nearly 53-hour, 41-disc unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo was a little ambitious for post-surgery entertainment; I never did finish it.

Jennifer had a different idea after she got her LASIK: she asked me to read to her. She would call out, “Read to me, Seymour,” in reference to the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. I’d never seen it, but I recognized the tone of urgency. I looked up pictures to post the namesake here, but true to the name, it is pretty horrific, so I’ll let you Google that yourself. 😉
We had both just read The Hunger Games for my fabulous children’s/YA literature class with Alix Reid at DePaul, which opened up, or reopened, a whole new genre to me–and now, it is my favorite genre both to read and write. Jennifer and I were both hooked on dystopias, and I went to our local library to ask for suggestions. They recommended Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, an apocalyptic YA novel. At first I recorded myself on a computer, but it turned out Jennifer wanted a live performance–and perform I did. One thing I remembered about being read to, and hearing audiobooks, was when people did voices, and I did not want to disappoint. The main character, especially in the beginning of the book, sounded like she needed to have a “valley-girl” voice to go with her diary narration (despite her being from the East coast). After some verbal rotten tomatoes from Jennifer, I learned my lesson not to do extreme voices for exposition, which comprised about 75% of the book. (Click here to hear an example.) It’s not that the book was bad; it’s just how I heard the main character in my mind.

After a few days of reading until I lost my voice (usually about two uninterrupted hours at a time), I insisted that Jennifer switch to audiobooks. However, we both read traditionally after our eyes healed, until I started my new job. I began encountering horrid construction every single day, no matter what route I took, which made my journey take as long as two hours occasionally. Even blasting Taylor Swift or classical music couldn’t quell my frustration for long. “If only I could use this time to read,” I thought. Lightbulb! I began to check out several audiobooks at a time from the library, to make sure I was never without one. (I do recommend renting them when you can, since they can be expensive–worth it for favorites, but a costly gamble when you’re not sure.) It turned my route from frustrating to epic, as illustrated above. I eventually convinced Jennifer to join my fulfilling commuting habit by recommending my favorite at the time–and I think it remains my favorite.

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Click to go to Amazon and hear an excerpt.

In addition to being an amazing book, the voice actor does a wonderful treatment of the text. He is grave when he needs to be and light when the story calls for it. Somehow, he manages to do all different accents perfectly throughout the story, even when switching between characters in the same scene. (You’ll see why there are so many different accents in the same scenes when you read the book–I don’t want to spoil it!) I absolutely loved this book and reading; I thought it did a terrific job of bridging younger and older audiences seamlessly, and I had the pleasure of telling the author himself when he came for a book signing to a local bookstore recently. I also asked him when he’d be writing a sequel for this book, and he sighed in his hilarious way and said more people would have to buy copies of this one first before he’d be allowed to write a sequel. So start buying, people. 😉

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, read by Ari Graynor. Click the image to go to Amazon to hear an excerpt.

While Jennifer loved The Supernaturalist–indeed, she’d read the book in the past, but wanted to hear the audiobook–her personal favorite is City of Bones. I loved it, too. The reader is just right for this text–sassy, direct, emotional (when called for). I’m not sure she’d fit with a more “gentle” book, but this one was the perfect fit. The readers they have for the sequel books are also good. And if you haven’t read this one yet, you definitely should before the movie comes out, according to Buzzfeed and many other articles I’ve read this summer. (The movie looks AWESOME, but I can already pick out a few differences from previews.)

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

Another favorite! I loved Mandy Williams’s quiet, steady reading of this book. It really matched the feel I got from the main character. All of it was perfectly lovely; even the horrifying parts were achingly beautiful. I felt so connected to the titular character and her world. The sequel is coming out next year, and I can’t wait!

Enchantment

Enchantment, read by Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

This is the audiobook I’m listening to right now, and it’s already becoming a favorite. The book switches among many different points of view, and it’s an interesting technique. I definitely think it helps to have the dual narrators, especially of different genders, in order to differentiate breaks in P.O.V.

One audiobook I can’t believe I’ve never heard is anything read by Neil Gaiman. I’ve devoured his books reading them traditionally, but I’ve never heard one on audiobook. Because he’s one of my absolute favorite authors (perhaps favorite ever), I know I’d be very picky over how I felt his work should be read. There’s such a cadence in his language that makes the words as much a pleasure to read as the story itself. I have heard some of his videos on YouTube before, and his voice is very nice, so I’m sure his own narrations would be great. Actually, a radio production of Neverwhere was recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4, which I tragically discovered only after the broadcast was taken down. I hope it will be available for purchase/rental very soon; the cast included Benedict Cumberbatch and Natalie Dormer, two of my favorites–I’m sure it was phenomenal!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these favorite audiobooks I’ve posted are among some of my favorite books, period. A great voice can’t save a bad book, but a bad voice can ruin a good book, I’ve realized. A great voice + a great book makes for an amazing experience. Jennifer learned this earlier than I, when I valley-girl-read Life as We Knew It to her (it was only a few seconds at a time before I went back to my normal voice, which was of course hoarse from reading aloud for hours). I realized it the hard way when I forced myself to stick with a fantasy classic that a reader made WAY too dramatic. Every syllable was a different tone; when the main character was running, he wheezed through the sentences; when something was funny, you could barely understand him through his own laughter–which of course made it not funny at all. I’ve realized that you can’t let the reading/performance get in the way of the story–and isn’t that a lesson that we’re taught as writers, too? So often I’ve been guilty of that in the past, where a main character’s voice will overpower the story. It’s something I still have to watch out for, to this day. And if I am fortunate enough to publish something to audiobook someday, I know I will be very picky as to whom the narrator will be.

Speaking of audio versions of my own written work–as I mentioned in my “Noir–Poetry on the Radio” post, one of the neatest things I’ve gotten to do as an author was to read some of my work on DePaul’s radio station, which included a fairy tale and three poems I’ve written. The radio hosts invited me to read and discuss a whole hour of my own work. Click here to listen. If you’d like to hear just the fairy tale, it’s approximately the first twenty minutes. If you’d like to hear just the poetry, it’s near the end–the “Noir” blog post will instruct you where exactly to listen for that. I’d already experienced audiobooks by this time, so I was afraid to be too dramatic with “voices,” but I think if I were to do this again in the future, I probably would differentiate them a little bit more.

I hope you enjoyed my tribute to Audiobook Month. Even more so, I hope you will continue to enjoy audiobooks throughout the year. Besides myself, my sister is the only one I know personally who regularly listens to audiobooks, and I’d like to increase awareness of this fabulous medium. Why not make your adventures of shopping, commuting, and working out a little–or a lot–more epic? I’d also encourage people with visual challenges to use audiobooks; technology makes these books wonderfully accessible.  Swords and dragons not included with CDs, but you have your imagination for that. 😉

Happy Father’s Day

My first Easter, with my dad. ❤ The gown and bonnet were custom-made as a gift for me.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 It’s been a nice, relaxing day for us so far. My mom and sister made a tremendous breakfast of omelettes, potatoes, and pancakes from scratch. My sister and I bought our dad baseball tickets and mini-golf/batting cage passes, but my dad elected for us to use those on a not-as-crowded weekend. 😉

I am so lucky to have such a great relationship with my dad, and we’ve only grown closer over the years. He has always been a wonderful mentor, role model, and protector, but now that Jennifer and I are older, he is also one of our best friends. He is one of my favorite people to have deep conversations with about philosophy, religion, government, and classical music, and I so appreciate that he and our mom have always taken our opinions seriously, no matter what age we were–I think that really helps children develop into confident individuals. 🙂 As I mentioned in this post (which is actually my most-viewed day of all time!), I also love how he will take Jennifer and me out on daddy-daughter dates, one-on-one. My lovely fellow-blogger friend Misty made this comment on that blog post, which I totally agree with and didn’t even think of till she mentioned it: “It is SO important for fathers to take their girls out to show them how their future husband should treat them!” Well-said, Misty! Since we were little girls, Jennifer and I have always imagined our future husbands to have many of the qualities our dad has: dependable, supportive, honorable, loving, hard-working, thoughtful, and more. Potential suitors can tell immediately that they have a lot to live up to, and like Misty said, I think that’s a good thing. After all, for most little girls, their fathers were the first men they ever loved.

It’s one thing for a dad to be there during happy times, but it’s another for him also to be there during the hard times. A lot of men can be intimidated or overwhelmed when “the going gets tough,” but not my dad. He has always been our hero, and he argues that we put him on too high of a pedestal, but the truth is that there isn’t a pedestal in existence that’s high enough for him. And that’s OK, because my sister sewed him a superhero cape a number of years ago, so he doesn’t need to stand when he could fly in the stratosphere, anyway. 😉

I think the hardest thing a parent could go through is losing a child–and the next-hardest thing would be almost losing one. That’s why I always say that my traumatic brain injury experience was harder for my family than for me. When you boil it down, for me, my experience was mostly positive: I survived, I was getting better every day, I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me no matter what. It’s hard for me to imagine what my parents felt, and that’s one of the hardest aspects of writing my memoir–but I know it couldn’t have been easy, squelching negative “what-ifs” and replacing them with unconditional smiles and positivity. I don’t remember a lot of things about my TBI recovery, but one thing that resounds through all my memories is my father saying “she can do it”–no matter how bleak a medical prediction was pronounced. And that’s what I always held onto, because I’ve always trusted my father so much–so I knew that if he thought I could do it, I must be able to. 🙂

When I was in the secondary education (teaching) program at UIUC, one of our assignments was to write a thank-you note to someone who has inspired us. I knew immediately who that would be, and for what. Here is the letter I wrote on 8/31/07, less than two years after my TBI.

Dear Dad,

            The simplest words we’ve heard so many times are sometimes the most effective; the repetition makes them especially powerful, so that when they are said at more poignant times, we remember them especially well.

            “She can do it”—not even spoken to me, but about me. Hearing you tell someone else that I could do it meant knowing that the sentiment wasn’t a term reserved simply to comfort me with perhaps exaggerated situational confidence.

            Never was this more critical than when you said it, while I was in the hospital, in response to several doctors’ doubts about my ability to walk, write, etc.—let alone return to college—again. At a time where I was less certain than ever of my abilities and potential, the person whose judgment I had always considered the soundest (well, along with Mom’s and Jennifer’s), just voiced firmly that I would be able to do potentially everything I wished—just as you had always told us.

            Maybe I wasn’t so different then than the little girl who looks to her hero (her father, of course) for identification, encouragement and guidance for her potential. I know for certain that I would not be the person I am today without that invaluable, unconditional support and faith you bestowed upon me; I know I would not have returned to that person without that very similar faith.

            Dad, thank you not only for telling me that “I can do it,” but telling others “she [I] can do it,” too. This very simple act of publicizing your faith reinforces that belief in me.

            Just as this now-big girl will always be your little girl, so will you always be her hero; and she hopes to continue to hear that simple phrase from you that means so much to her.

Love,
Amanda

I mailed that letter to my dad, and he’s kept it ever since–and he has indeed continued to tell me “she can do it” through every endeavor I try.

Thank you, Dad, for all your support and guidance of shaping me into who I am today. I love you forever. ❤