How Do I Write?

How do I write?

I don’t ever allow myself to think that I cannot do something. So in my opinion, I can write – but not in the conventional way like you do – not with a pen and not on paper, but still.

Since childhood, I have always had a real fascination with paper and ink. As a young girl I used to collect writing paper of various designs and prints. I would spend hours on end paging through them with the girls at school – touching, feeling, admiring, comparing and swapping them out.

I was also privileged to have an English teacher at school who was passionate about writing, encouraging us to write letters to children all around the world. I will never forget the joy of the very first letter I crafted and posted to a pen-pal – and the excitement of getting a reply, nearly six weeks later, all the way from America.

As a teenager I would spend hours in my room (supposedly studying) listening to music, fantasizing and writing love-letters to my “boyfriend” in the Army – decorated creatively with brightly-coloured-ink-pens and an intimate spray of perfume. Never mind the fact that I had never even bloody-well kissed the guy! *laugh*

Interestingly, on my last blog post (How Do I Read?Roy Blumenthal commented:

I think the whole romanticisation of the paper artefact is somewhat exaggerated.”

I admitted, maybe a little defensively, that I am a true romantic. Books, pretty paper and ink have all the charm I need to whisk me off to magical dream world. Written words – books, pens and paper just do it for me! And a handwritten love letter is the ultimate! *sigh*

Not too long after my accident, I was presented with my very first computer. Desperate to help, my friends, my colleagues and the children of Nelspruit Primary School collected the money in order to buy a top-range computer with voice activated software. I was touched by their kindness and generosity. But, to be honest I was scared beyond words. I did not even know how to switch this freaking thing on. I’d had very little contact with a computer. I grew up in an era where I was not exposed to computers at school. Lift your jaw, I am not that old! *laugh*

The computer was left in the box, in the corner of my lounge, for more than six months, before I had the courage to face the daunting challenge of learning how to use it.

After it was set up, I hardly had the strength, physically and emotionally, to go near the darn thing. So it spent another few months gathering dust.  At the time, very few – if any – of my friends knew how to operate a computer. Besides not knowing who to ask for help, I was still trying to deal with the devastating changes in my life. And, there was more to come.

One of the worst days of my life was the day I was expected to sign my divorce papers.  I think that was the day it really dawned on me – that I could no longer hold a pen in my hand and sign my signature – ever again.  Another part of my identity – gone!

As a teacher, I spent my life signing my signature on reports and in the children’s books. It was just something I did – without thinking about it – every single day. Why oh why had I ever complained about marking books? If only… *sob*

I felt sick to my stomach! I was terrified of the future that lay ahead – paralyzed from the neck down, divorced and alone. Hell, I didn’t even want this divorce. In my mind, I naïvely hoped that my husband would now be forced to keep me because I couldn’t sign the papers. A part of me desperately wanted to believe that. But I was intelligent enough to know better. Denial is a strange thing – it can be both healing and destructive at the same time. Denial is a place I don’t ever want to go to again.

Anyway, I needed a commissioner of oaths to witness and verify that I had “signed” the divorce document. My parents took me to the police station, which is in the centre of town. But, there was no way for me to access the building in my wheelchair. There were tons of people milling about. My dad dashed into the building, anxiously seeking some help, leaving Mom and I on the pavement. A few minutes later, we were approached by two burly policemen, who were clearly bewildered by my circumstances. Dad patiently tried to explain the situation to them. Assuring us that they would be back soon, they walked away briskly and disappeared into the building. Eventually, they came back with an ink pad and a stamp. By now, I could feel the curious eyes of many bystanders focused on me. All I wanted to do was to get up and run away. 

In broken English, the policemen gently tried to explain how the process would be done. I was fighting back tears. I felt incredibly vulnerable as one of these strange men picked up my hand, by the thumb, and rolled it back and forth on the ink pad. Then he placed it on the document leaving my thumbprint just above the line I was supposed put my signature on. He put his official stamp and signature right alongside it. He showed it to me but everything was a blur. The tears were streaming down my cheeks. I felt so humiliated. By then, I was truly numb – not only in body, but in heart, mind and soul.

My parents were given official power of attorney after that, to sign all documents on my behalf. Suddenly, it felt as if I needed permission to spend money or to buy something. Every time I needed to pay a bill or write a cheque, I needed Mom to do it. It was awful!  Although I was grateful for their support, I found it terribly degrading. My independent nature made it so difficult for me to accept that this is how I would need to live the rest of my life.

Defiantly, I tried to learn to take a pen in my mouth and practiced signing my signature. It was so frustrating and I failed dismally. Every time I attempted to talk the pen fell out of my mouth. Not only did I struggle to gain control of the pen, but I didn’t enjoy the drool and dribble that went along with it. Yuck! Besides, I still needed somebody to put the pen into my mouth. I realized that I was going to become a freak show every time I went out shopping and got to the cashier and needed to sign a cheque.

My determined spirit forced me to think of ways that I could become more independent. That is when I noticed the computer in the corner of the room. I began to think that perhaps this was the answer after all. Besides, I had nothing much else to do with my time. And believe me, the days were long. Excruciatingly long.

So I began my tech-journey learning to use a computer with voice activated software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking v 3.5. It took hours of training for the computer to even remotely recognize my voice. It was a slow and agonizing process. I still remember the picture on the box – a man sitting with his feet up on a desk with the catchphrase “Real men don’t type”. Yeah right! I’ve heard of many people who tried voice activated software and eventually gave up in frustration because it was really not that accurate. I persevered, not only because it filled a big part of my day, but I simply had no other choice.

With time Dragon NaturallySpeaking software really improved and as I grew in confidence – and dependency – I began using a laptop which gives me the privilege of more freedom and mobility, allowing me to sit wherever I like or even lie in bed to do some writing.

At present I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred v10 which is a vast improvement. It is claimed that it is 99% accurate but don’t you believe it. It often misunderstands, leaving me to exclaim “Where the hell did that come from?” Unless, of course, my accent is more “Souf Effrikan” than I care to admit.  It tends to be most responsive to an American accent.  And, if I have a slightly scratchy throat I can forget about getting anything done. It has obviously been programmed to avoid a sexy, husky voice at all costs. *husky laugh*

However, I am grateful for the technology that allows me to be in control of certain aspects of my life thus diminishing the sense of total dependency. It brings a great sense of freedom and a welcome relief to my feelings of isolation, idleness and boredom. Ironically, the technology I was initially so terrified of , now prevents me from going completely insane!

I’m very proud to say that everything I have learned to do on the computer has been self-taught, with a few tips from many kindhearted souls along the way. I’m familiar with most Microsoft office programs and I can do the usual – e-mail, Internet banking, surfing the net and engage on social networking sites like Facebook, Skype and Twitter. So basically I can do just about anything you can do on a computer by simply using my voice.  You cannot imagine the difference it has made my life.

My good friend Chris Yelland of EE Publishers encouraged me to start writing a blog – something I have always wanted to do but never had the confidence to go ahead and try. With his dedication, expertise and guidance he helped me to set up a blog and got me going on Twitter. He introduced me to a whole new world of social media which I am really excited about and thoroughly enjoying.

I know that I have a powerful positive message to share through my writings. But I am not a writer. I guess I’ve always believed that I needed a qualification of sorts to entitle me to write publicly. I get anxious and I stress about all the grammar errors and spelling mistakes. My voice program spells the words in American English which irritates me sometimes. Ideas will always flood my mind in the middle of the night when I cannot get up and quickly write them down. Needless to say, by the time I am back in front of my laptop I can barely remember the thoughts from the night before. I often struggle to find the words to express myself.  I am slow and it can take me hours to write a post like this. But here I am sharing my life with whomever cares – or dares to read it.

Much like reading, writing is cathartic and it has the potential to whisk me off into another world. Although writing allows me to dream and hope, it brings many challenges like forcing me to face my reality in order for me to share it with you.

I will always long to sign my signature, just one more time. I will always wish to be able to pick up a pen in my hand and write a handwritten note. But in the meantime this is how I write. Talking into a microphone linked to my computer. Hey, at least I can speak Dragon and I don’t get sore hands and fingers from typing !  And for all of this I am grateful !

Next time …  How Do I Get Around?

About Tracy Todd (Brave Lotus Flower)

Author of Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon – an intimate and inspiring memoir of a quadriplegic. Inspirational Speaker. Teacher. Counsellor. Wife. Mother. Animal lover. Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly not what defines me.
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32 Responses to How Do I Write?

  1. Bill Watson says:

    Tracy – you have a wonderful sense of humor. BTW – most Americans think that a boot is something to wear!

  2. Norm Santoro says:

    I discovered your blog through twitter a few months ago. Also a quadriplegic who uses Dragon speech on the computer, I found writing to be a good outlet, and a way to keep sane. What impresses me is your ability to post blogs on a regular basis. Initially I had hoped to do this also, but the Internet has countless other websites to explore. I’ve also been able to connect with people around the world and make new friends. What writing skills I had are enhanced by the use of Dragon speech, and I’ve received a lot of compliments from people whose lives have been lifted just by reading. I continue writing, and hope you do also, as a voice on behalf of other disabled people who have no voice. Tracy, you are quite simply amazing. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Dear God… Are You There? | Tracy Todd's Blog

  4. I continue to be inspired by your determination and spirit. As for the writing – you should definitely “own” it – because you sure can do it.

    Thank you for sharing your world for us. And your courage.

  5. Hi Tracy,

    I enjoyed reading about how you write. Love your determined spirit.
    It underscores how much we take for granted until it’s taken away from us. Thank you for this reminder.

    I know what you mean about being afraid to try something like the computer and keeping it in the box for 6 months. I kept putting on my to do list “add a pay pal button” to my web site for easy payment and sign ups for my life shops. Every day for months.

    Finally, I just asked my web programmer to do it when I realized I wasn’t going to.

    It’s now more convenient for all.

    Funny, how we put certain things off. Often the ones that will set us free the most.



    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you Giulietta! It’s so true what you say that we put off things which have the potential to set us free. I wonder why we do that? Probably related to our own insecurities and fear of the unknown. We should all live life more boldly!

      Thank you for your comments!

  6. Tracy, once again, I’m blown away by how effortlessly you share these intimate stories and facts with us. So many of us hide. Meanwhile, you reveal the beauty of vulnerability and in this way, you shine, giving us inspiration and strength in our vulnerabilities. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thanks so much Belinda. I guess in my case there’s not much point in hiding my vulnerability because it’s plain to see. But I think I have much more to gain by sharing my inner vulnerabilities as well as well as an opportunity to make a difference. As after all, if you don’t make a difference, you don’t matter. I want to matter!

  7. J.D. Meier says:

    Books, pretty paper and ink paint the perfect visual.

    There is something to be said for tangible experience. I think it was Covey that said we create twice, first in our mind, then in the world.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      That’s true! But in my world I almost entirely create in my mind which I see as an advantage and a privilege. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and for making the effort to leave a comment.

  8. Excellent piece, Tracy. Very well written indeed.

    And hey… what’s all this humility? Come on… quit the talking yerself down stuff. You know how good the writing is.

    And thanks for quoting me.

    Blue skies

  9. Tracy Todd says:

    Thank you so much Marc!

    Divorce is probably one of the most difficult things a person has to go through in his or her lifetime. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel despite the terrible heartache you are experiencing at present. I shall keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Hang in there!

  10. marc arndt says:

    Tracy, my heart honestly goes out to you. My divorce date is scheduled for the 14th April and its killing me, I feel, on a very small scale what you might have gone through.

    It still shocks me, to this day, how many public places simply are not wheelchair friendly, or some what claim they are only to find that you need to get a wheelchair through 100m of gravel stones.

    I tried using dragon naturally speaking, I know it needs lots and lots of training – I liken it to a dog. You spend many hours training but you still need to repeat the command 4 times before the dog listens.

    You are a wonderful, special person, when I dream of who my perfect partner would be, you would be the perfect role model. I do wish more people knew your story.

  11. Henry Sinclair says:

    Great writting your book must come soon love you dad

  12. Mvelase says:

    For the first time Tracy, I’m going to say, ‘utter rubbish!’

    It’s utter rubbish that you’re not a writer, because you are. You are an amazing writer, and that is just a fact.

    Just look at this post, you’ve crafted a heart-wrenching, but also funny yet ultimately beautiful story out of an explanation on how you write. If I had but a fifth of your talent…

    Another amazing amazing post.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Ah Mvelase, thank you! You make my day!

    • Melissa says:

      Firstly can I say this is the 2nd time I’m writing this because i deleted the first by mistake – so Tracy some of us can’t even use computers properly for other reasons!
      Secondly Mvelase you took the words out of my mouth! I am so glad that Tracy persevered with the Dragon software as she is a beautiful writer and she has the most exquisitely sensitive way of describing things which many people would rush over. I believe her work is a very big contribution to the world.
      Thank you Dragon! and well done Tracy. Keep them coming – they help to fill up our days too with your wonderful takes on life. Get that book published!!

      • Tracy Todd says:

        Thank you Melissa! Really appreciate your kind words. I’m running out of excuses now so I’m definitely going to have to do something about getting that book published.

  13. Deborah says:

    Hi Tracy

    I found this post so interesting and absorbing. I was particularly interested in your experience of ideas flooding into your mind in the middle of the night and the frustration of not being able to remember them in the morning. I think that’s a very common experience. I really hesitate to suggest technology to you as I’m sure lots of other people advise you far more knowledgeably than I ever could; however, I understand that small voice-activated recorders are available which can be left on and record only when someone speaks. I wondered if you could keep such a gadget nearby at night and just speak if ideas occur to you? Then they wouldn’t be lost forever! All best wishes, Deborahx

    • Anton says:

      The voice-activated recorder is a great idea, unless you snore! 😀

      • Tracy Todd says:

        Not sure if I snore Anton. Sleeping alone in bed has its disadvantages as there is nobody to report back the following morning on snoring habits or talking in my sleep! 🙂

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thanks so much Deborah. With your wealth of knowledge of English punctuation and grammar I think you are probably my biggest teacher at the moment. I read your posts religiously, hungry to learn more and to become a better writer. I’ll give the voice activated recorder a try sometime.

      • Anton says:

        Will you post your snores or the stuff you say in your sleep? Can you post sound clips here?

  14. Anton says:

    Tracy, earlier today I had to write my name, surname and phone number on a sketch of something I needs manufactured. The guy looked at my scribbles, frowned and then asked me for a business card. Years of rarely writing more than cryptic notes resulted in my handwriting (which won me a gold medal at an eisteddfod at the ripe age of 9!) looking like your attempts at writing with a pen in your mouth!

    Although I have Dragon I rarely use it, Dragon doesn’t like my voice, period. If you write in Word, just Select all and change the language to UK English.

    I think many people will agree with me that we’re happy you managed to slay the Dragon! Go girl!!

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Don’t worry Anton don’t feel alone. There are some days when Dragon simply does not like my voice either. It can drive me insane! Thanks for the encouraging words.

  15. I’m still loving the tech posts, gadget-freak that I am.
    Not a writer? Oh, puh-leeze. You’re a storyteller, a teacher and a devotee of good reading. Only one thing more required, just doing it. Here it is!

    You’re writing, and it’s good writing.
    It might feel new to you, but you’re a writer.

    (I’m writing a fun one, but I might not be finished until you wake up tomorrow.)

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you Mikey! I’m looking forward to your comic post because it’s always good to have a good laugh. Laughing, like writing for me makes life more bearable.

  16. As always, Tracy, I admire your determination in figuring out how to continue writing. I think a lot about how to define a “writer” and your essay has helped expand my definition ever further. Your story of going to the police station to sign your divorce papers was especially powerfully told. I join many of your fans in looking forward to reading your memoir!

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Something I’m learning more everyday about this blogging world, Kristen is that there don’t seem to be too many rules when it comes to writing but rather it seems as if good communication and getting one’s message across seems to be quite acceptable. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to be a better writer. Thanks so much for your comments.

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