Last weekend I returned to Ragdale. I was last there for a 2005 residency with a primordial project that’s now a book manuscript called Reconstruction: First a Body, Then a Life. I thought at that time that the whole narrative would be about my stay in the ICU and would focus on my delusions during my medically-induced coma. Although that original narrative is an important part of the story, the story was really not complete until after my scooter journey last year. That journey didn't give me exactly a Hollywood happy ending, but it certainly left me with a newly constructed life.
Ragdale worked her magic with me once again. When I was there in 2005, I wrote about the two hallucinations that had been hardest to articulate; they required my complete and total concentration. Unlike the rest of the book, these two vignettes remained almost entirely intact after the second draft editing. At this last StoryStudio retreat, I successfully reworked a section of the book that involved translating six weeks worth of emails into narrative and then incorporating missing story elements. I wasn't sure it could be done and was ecstatic when I did it!
The writer’s retreat at Ragdale last weekend was sort of a book-end experience, as we are completing the manuscript that started there six years ago, eleven years after my exit from the ICU. The decade between these visits (along with the ever patient editorial guidance of my husband Michael) grew me into a real writer.
My illness took away my physical ability to perform my choreography and photography. Trapped behind my laptop, I began writing by default. As I prepare this project for a literary agent and publisher, I have been forced to reflect on the last few years. I was surprised to realize that… well, I’ve been doing more writing than I realized. I have written three different blogs (79 posts in all), an article in GET magazine, and an essay in a literary journal.
While back at Ragdale responding to a countless variety of writing prompts, I discovered that I can now write about anything. I had a chance to see that, as a writer, I have a unique viewpoint. I tend to write about things that have meaning for me, things that I hold sacred and the psychology or relational underpinnings of experiences.
Now, my dear followers and friends, you can help me with the next step. I've done my homework and decided that the Liza Dawson Literary Agency is the one for me and this book. So, if any of you know her or know anyone at her agency, I'd sure appreciate a proper introduction. This is important or I'm going to be reduced to trolling the sidewalk outside her office wearing a sandwich board.
Times are hard. This isn't new information. The weekend I returned from my scooter tour last summer, our firefighters were camped in several intersections, raising money for their local charity. As I was stopped at the light, I scrambled for a couple dollars and opened my window. I asked him, "How is it going?"
The firefighter paused and then said, "You want the truth, don't you?"
"I do, actually."
"Well, we aren't doing a tenth of what we did last year, and that doesn't even compare to what we did the year before."
I understood. I didn't raise even one percent of what it cost me to do my Midwest Tour. Without that prep tour I wouldn't have the experience to one day take my dream ride across France, ending at Sacre Couer in Paris (add link to previous blog). I certainly wouldn't have been physically strong enough either; my body had grown progressively stronger over the course of the tour. Although I did my 50-day Midwest tour solo (with the exception of my three days in and around St. Louis), we knew that if I ever became too fatigued to continue my husband Michael or my friend and colleague Dante could grab my Tahoe, with its specially designed scooter rack, and come pick me up.
So now, if I want to continue, I need an angel to cover the Midwest tour and front the money for the French tour -- or I just have to wait. I'm now editing a book about the Midwest tour and all that led up to it. Ten years ago, when I got out of Intensive Care, I was too sick to do much other than use my laptop in bed. It took a decade's journey back to health, including my scooter journey, to return me to some semblance of a normal life.
I am insanely grateful for the wild and wonderful journey this past summer, to every person I spoke with at a gas station, every person who pulled over to make sure I was okay when I was just getting some water, every person who shared the story of a loved one who meets the challenge of a hidden disability (or doesn't), and to the few special people who took me into their home along the way. Of course I’m especially grateful to the St. Louis Scooter Club, and all the motorcycle people on the road who treated me as one of them, regardless of the fact that I was a chick riding a three-wheeled scooter.
I will continue to ride around Southwest Michigan and Chicago in 2011 and share my stories here and @offthemap_eu. So keep an eye out for more news about my riding life, and upcoming news about my forthcoming book and all the rest of life's adventures.
Ara Lucia Ashburne is a writer, artist and director with physical and hidden disabilities. She is booking a reading tour, featuring selections from her narrative (August 10 – November 1 2011). She is also an advocate for International LGBT human rights, a social media votary, nerd lover, and food sensualist.
She divides her times between Berrien Springs, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois.
You can also find her on her Facebook page at Ara Lucia Ashburne and on Twitter at @Ara_Lucia.