Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writers on the blog.

Steve Trimble, a well-known Utah photographer and writer and also a longtime friend of Brooke’s and mine, is teaching a couple of writing classes at the university this semester. Somehow he was stirred by something or other he read on the blog the other day and asked me to come to his classes to talk about how Brooke and I each write, separately and together, for it.

I’ve been to the first of these classes—maybe 30 students, packed into a small seminar room on the basement floor, students intensely interested in writing. When I arrived, one of the students was reading from his work, a vivid account of his experience when he was employed as a chain-saw operator clearing land for development--both his shame and sense of sin, as he called it, in cutting down the trees in a particularly lovely, mossy grove, but also his sense of privilege in being the last person ever to see it. I was moved this evocation of real ambivalence and tension between seemingly incompatible dualities, but it also gave me the sense that this would be a group of students who would be sensitive to the seemingly incompatible dualities Brooke and I experience all the time: between ongoing anguish at what has happened to him and the extraordinary moments of insight and love laced through this.

Well, Steve’s got a great class. Their assignment was to read the blog and come equipped with questions. The handful of questions we had time to discuss in class were interesting, thought-provoking, challenging, but it was just a handful, and of course there wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all the questions from all the 30 or so students. I told them how much it has meant to both Brooke and me to read the comments on the blog (particularly to Brooke, since it’s one of the principal forms of contact he has with the world beyond the walls of his hospital room) and how interested he and I would both be in all the questions from all the students, about how they see what we see from their own differing perspectives. The only things I know about them are that 1) none of them keeps a blog of their own and 2) something like two-thirds of them ride bicycles.

So there’s a new assignment Steve is giving to these classes: to post their questions here. Right here. Read on. There could be as many as 30 coming in from this class, and a bunch more from the next one. I imagine they’ll all make us think.

And thanks, Steve.



Steve Trimble said...

I'll go first. On the 10th of September, I read a new post from Peggy at around midnight (like her, I often work late at night), and fired off an email that said:

"so much of what you write is both astonishing and heartbreaking. It occurred to me tonight that I should just assign reading the blog to my students as an example of the power of good writing."

Peggy wrote back within minutes: "You can tell your students if you do assign it that some of it is written at 2 am, after I get home from the hospital, but also that some of it is written by Brooke and me together, sitting in the big bed in his room. Also tell them that some of the most interesting stuff is in the comments that other people post, especially early on--you really learn a lot about the differences among people in what they see and how they react to something like this. You could also make an assignment of posting to the blog--why not? And if you're really serious about assigning this, I'd be happy to come to your class sometime."

That was the genesis of this wonderful exchange--remarkable testimony to the power of language and to the generous spirits of Brooke & Peggy.

Er said...

Peggy & Brooke,
Hi. My name is Ericka; I am in Steve's class on Mondays and Wednesdays in which you so gracefully blessed our presense, which was wonderful. You are an amazing woman, and I congratulate you and Brooke for the steps you have taken thus far. I think if I were in your shoes I would be nowhere close to where you are today. How have you done it? Allowing yourself to everyday push on and write what has become a sensation. In that case I am not as brave, putting your life out there for people to immerse themselves in connection to you. Is it hard to put that much passion in your writing that is essentially your life? Wow, ok I'll let you be and comment later. Thank you for your time. I look forward with gusto to the next comment.

Allie:) said...

Thank you so much for attending our class today. I really enjoyed learning about your experiences and asking questions. I love writing in my journal on a daily basis and felt that I could connect with your reason for blogging. Ever since I started my journal last December, I have learned so much about myself and benefited insurmountably. At first I was very resistant to journaling, but I was forced to start for a project and after a short period of time, fell in love with writing. I feel like my thoughts solidify and align when I write them down and I am better able to make decisions and cope with issues. I love looking back and seeing how I change and how my feelings progress over time. I believe that writing down experiences is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have and I really appreciate putting your feelings out there for all of us to read and be inspired by. Thanks again for coming.
-Allison M.

Derek said...

Brooke and Peggy,

Your story is inspiring and extremely moving. What impresses me most is how you have reacted to such a tragedy. I see two choices for you in your situation. Which are,one, lose hope and quit, or, two, fight everyday in your seemingly endless struggle.

It is absolutely apparent that you choose to fight, which is what is so inspiring. My question is, do you consciously choose to fight in order to lift others, or is that just your natural personality?

My other questions are where was Peggy when the accident happened, and is difficult to not become bitter through your trials?

Thank you for being such a source of strength to me. I've learned so much from both of you, and don't even know you personally. The range of people you are affecting is unimaginable. Thank you for your incredible efforts.

Derek Egan

Elyse Schwab said...

Thank you for coming and talking to our class, it is amazing that you can write about all of it for everyone to read.

I was just wondering how you feel about having people that you dont know read your story? Does it feel better to be able to write it all down? and do you think in the future you will look back and read this again?

Thanks again for coming to talk to us!
Elyse Schwab

Ryan Davis said...

This doesn't have to do a lot with a discussion about writing or even with Brooke's accident but I would like Brooke to know that I was a student of his. He won't remember me but he was my first English professor at the university in the fall of 2006. We read from an anthology that year and I remember writing for Brooke's prompts on The Pillow Book or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

What stood out most to me about the course was how engaged Brooke was while teaching. It always seemed during class discussions that Brooke wasn't only teaching but that he was learning or experiencing as well. I could feel his excitement for teaching and for the written word and I asked one day to come in and meet with him.

Brooke really took an interest and ended up acting as a kind of counselor that day instead of a professor. I remember that after telling him I planned to serve an LDS mission the next year, he replied, "Well, hope that you can learn a foreign language. That will open up the world for you."

The day school ended, I was surprised when Brooke caught me on the way out the door and asked if I knew where I would be going yet. I've never had a professor yet that took so much interest in each student.

As I read the blog, it feels like Brooke fights some of his battles by taking a sincere interest in others. I would like to ask how Brooke's relationship with or interest in others works. Is it like looking through a window on something that you can only watch and not participate in? How does listening to others change the way in which you write?

Also, you comment on the blog that you have had some positive experiences throughout all of this. Are these experiences ones that you recognize at once or does writing help you in recognizing and processing different experiences?

Thanks for sharing your amazing story. And for the effect you had on me as a professor at the U.

Randi said...

I can’t help but be changed after reading this story. Having Peggy visit our class today was a pleasure, and I’d like to express my thanks to her for sharing so much. In all of the questions and answers exchanged in that classroom today, one statement, made by Peggy, had a profound effect on me. She suggested for each of us to face troubles with this question in mind. “How do you want it to change your life?” This would imply that we can choose how to respond to unfortunate events, instead of simply letting life happen to us. I can’t stop thinking about this question today, perhaps because I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
My question to both Peggy and Brooke is just that. How do you want this to change your life?

Maziar said...

Hello Brook and Peggy,
My name is Maziar Nourian, and I am part of Steve Trimble's class that you met with today. I wanted to know what troubles you encountered while making this blog. I would like to let Peggy know that you are a very strong and brave person, and i highly honor you.

Devon said...

I was about to ask you this while you visited our class, but we ran out of town.

You said the survival rate of the first year of quadriplegics is sixty percent. How did you keep your head up and your hopes up during that time?

mrtheprofessor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mrtheprofessor said...

I'm very sorry that I missed the opportunity of hearing you answer questions in class, but I'm glad that I get to be part of the online discussion. I apologize if you already answered this question in class:
Do you keep a journal or have another way that you write about your experiences that is private? I would think that sharing the blog with your husband and having it so public affects what you write. Do you find this format restrictive in that way or do you feel like you are still able to use it as a kind of therapy? I'm also interested in how Brooke would answer this question.

John said...

Hi Peggy,
I was reading the blog and noticed quite a bit of humor as well as Brook's optimism for the future even though he is going through such a hard time. I remembered how you, Peggy, discussed that people who go through these traumatic events and rehabilitation have a state of mind that resembles the person before the accident. Has Brook always written with such joy and passion before the accident? Has the accident changed his personality? Sorry if these questions are too personal. You don't need to answer them.

And again, thank you for coming to class.

-John Pham

morgan said...

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come talk to us. It really means a lot to be able to learn from someone such as you. I wonder do you ever regret writing the blog? Does it ever take up too much of your time? Have you ever written something you wish you hadn't on it?
Once again, thank you. I admire your strength through your ordeal and I wish the best for you and your husband.

Anonymous said...

Brooke & Peggy,
First off, thank you Peggy for setting aside your time to talk to the class. Your comments and outlook on life are inspirational. I was wondering if you were going to make your journey into a book? There was a similar story in Michigan where the family blogged about their accident and then they made it into an amazing book. People could learn a lot from your story. The strength that your whole family shown throughout this blog is extremely admirable. I plan on keeping up with Brooke's progress and zest for life through this web page and wish you both the best of luck! :]
Amanda M.

Krista said...

Thank you so much for visiting our class. Both of you truly are such an inspiration to a generation of people who may feel at times invincible. What I love the most about your blogs is the love. Both of you feel so much pain and heartache on a daily basis yet you both never lost the ability to love. Through your experiences you have opened up an entirely new world for yourselves, the people involved, and the readers. It is terribly interesting to me to experience with you your way of viewing the world. Peggy especially noticies things about life that everyone I know, including myself take for granted every day. I love looking at life through your eyes and it really has helped me see the beauty hidden every where within the world. I do hope that you pay more attention to that aspect rather than dwell on the pain in your lives. every cloud has a silver lining and it amazes me how past you found yours. I would love to eventually see this experience turned into a book and I wonder if you plan on doing anything else in the later years to educate a younger generation on these aspects, both the good and bad. I, for one, would listen.

Catherine said...

To Brooke
This is Catherine Callister from your english class and I just wanted to thank you for this beautiful blog that you and Peggy update and also for a book you recommended to me. I saw you last April at South Davis and you remembered that I had loved Lincoln’s speeches when I took your 1850s American Literature class. You told me that you had just read a book called Lincoln’s Melancholy and knowing that I was a lover of all things Lincoln, you suggested that I might enjoy it. I read the book in the early summer –and it is still somewhat on my mind, also I have been thinking about you and your family and I just wanted to say thank you for letting me have a window into your lives through this excellent blog. You are amazing.
It was interesting to read a book that was totally devoted to Lincoln’s melancholy. It seems that many biographers only acknowledge Lincoln’s depression in passing or spend time discussing specific depressive episodes as part of his life’s history. I had always though, “oh it is too bad that Lincoln experienced severe depression-it is amazing that he was able to be a great leader in spite of it.” This book changed my thinking- Lincoln was not a good president in spite of his depression, he was a good president because of it. The author describes how depression took Lincoln into his own personal hell multiple times throughout his life. Because of his melancholy, Lincoln was well acquainted with suffering when he came to the presidency. But he had also learned that with time it was possible to come out of the darkest of melancholies. When the country was thrust into its own hell, it needed a leader like Lincoln who had already been there and could lead them out when the time came. This has stuck with me and I wanted to thank you for suggesting this book.
I have taken the liberty of stealing another reading suggestion from you. I saw in the Salt Lake Tribune article that you were reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and now I hope to check this out from the library. Thank you, for continuing to be my professor even though I am not in your class. If you were ever to publish a list of books you recommend, I would be a big fan of it. Know that I think of you and your family often, and hope all is well with you.

Samuel said...

Thank you for coming to class on thursday. I do have one other question I did not have time to ask. Have you ever imagined yourself in Brooke's position? If so, how do you think your response would compare to Brooke's?

Anonymous said...

During your time spent in our class on Thursday the question arose who do we write for, and what specific audiences we wish to reach and target… Over the weekend I’ve thought a little more about it, and came to the realization that although when put on the spot I instinctively responded that I write for the professor, somewhere in the back of my mind I hope that what I write not only influences the professor but someone else that may stumble upon my words. Sometimes I feel like this limits what I say, and other times allows my mind and words to run rampant, leading to places I shouldn’t have gone. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us, and answering the questions that otherwise would have gone unanswered. I wish the best for both of you.
Mason R.

hotfreckles said...

My name is Carly and i am part of Steve's monday/wednesday class. i want to thank you so much for sharing your experience through this ordeal with our class. i need to confess that a day before i received the assignment to read your blog, i was told about a bike accident happening very recently where a man in a bike race here in utah was biking around a corner in the canyon and was hit by a swerving car. As i read your blog,i combined the two stories and found myself mentally fighting with the facts of your situation because the two cases seemed similar. Then i started to think that bike accidents are very common, but what makes Brooke's case so special is how strongly you two have reacted to it. Your strength is so motivating on the blog and in class; thank you for sharing your story.
Carly Child

moonlight_shine said...

Thanks for coming and talking to us in class on Thursday. I was really touched by how you and Brooke were able to keep such a positive outlook on life in the midst of tragedy.

My question is, even though the accident has made it so that you cannot spend as much time with Brooke, have you become more connected to him because of the accident? Has sharing a journal helped you to understand and relate to his feelings? Has this blog helped you realize more about your own feelings? Sorry, these are kind of personal questions. But it your writing is really inspirational and it seems like you are trying to connect to people through your blog entries. Thanks again! Andrea Chen

Matt said...

Thank you for coming to speak with our class!!! Reading the blog is great, but hearing you speak in real life, about Brooke, and both of your lives now, it is incredible. The power you have through writing can truly be seen in your emotion and dedication.

I believe certain people were just born to be heroes. Brooke, you are one of those people. Those who are thrown curveballs in life can do two things. And it's clear you chose the route that includes using your situation to inspire and motivate other people. To me, that's amazing. Keep staying strong!

Matt Cunningham

Jasminedr said...

To Peggy:
Thank you so very much for coming to our class and speaking to us. It was an honor for you to take time out of your hectic schedule to come speak to us, and for that I appreciate. It was wonderful to have been able to read your blog and then be able to meet you in person. It takes a very strong person to be able to go through that kind of a journey and then re visit it on a daily basis. I'm sure your husband is very greatful for your devotion to him. The story you tell is especially moving because it is an account of the same situation from two different points of view, so the reader is able to see it from different angles.

Once again,
Thank you for putting so much time into this in order for the rest of us to be able to benefit and learn from your experience. I'm very greatful.

To Brooke:
I just wanted to comment on what a terrific job you're doing. I love how you two incorporate the different roles people in the medical field play in your life. Your wife said something like this in class last week.. The lower on the scale in the medical field you get, the more interesting the person is.
I'm a nurses aide, and I see so many different people come in and out of rehab and assisted living facilities. It is an honor to be able to help these people with their day to day activites, and just make their day a little bit better. Playing this role in other people's lives allowed me to have a much deeper connection to your story because it made me mentally picture what it would be like to be in that situation caring for you as a patient because I do it with various people every day.
The people I care for are very strong and they have been through a lot, and from what I've read you are too.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm sure we all gained something from it, I know I have.

Jasmine Roosendaal

rachel said...

Thank you so much for visiting our class. Your story is truly inspirational. Just listening and reading about your story has changed my view on life. You are so strong and brave and I can only hope to be half the person you are. I think you should make your blog into a documentary or book. It is such an amazing story and I think it would touch so many more people. Do you ever regret putting all your thoughts and emotions out for everyone to read? I don't know that I would be able to be so open. I guess that is just another one of your strengths. Thank you again and I wish you both the best.
Rachel S.

Alex said...

Peggy, thank you so much for coming to class and being so willing to answer our questions. I think it's great that you are so willing to talk about your experiences to our wriitng class and everyone that reads your blog. I remember hearing you say that you and Brooke used to travel a lot but now you'll be having new adventures at home for a change. What have been some of your new adventures living life since the accident? Do you think you'll be blogging about life 5 years from now? I think that's a great thing that you have such an optimistic outlook on life. I know you get out of life what you put into it and I think you two clearly understand that concept.
Thank you,
Alex Lewis

kade_hanson said...

Peggy, I appreciate you being able to stop by and share your thoughts and feelings concerning your blog and writing in general. All of my questions were answered in class so I would just like to reiterate my thanks of being able to read such powerful moments that have occurred in your life. Keep on the great writing!

Jenn C. said...

Brooke and Peggy,
Thank you so much for having the strength and courage to be able to share your story with the world. I deeply admire the way that you choose to look at your situation with such genuine hope and optimism. Your story has inspired me and really hit home. One of my best friend's little brothers was in a car accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. His family has had a hard time with his injury, but like you, refuses to see it as a negative situation. I am definitely going to tell them to read your blog!

Peggy thank you for coming into our class and sharing just a little bit of your lives with us. I wish you both the best!

Jennifer Christensen

Quenton said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. It seems it would be at times painful to share some of the memories, but you are willing to help strengthen others.

Is helping others part of your reason for writing here?

Anonymous said...

Your story is such an inpiring feat that will surely impact many people that you have shared with. I always uphold the principle that life is not about the destination but rather the journey that you undertake. Sometimes you don't choose which journey you want to take, but the cards are dealt to you regardless. I am moved by the fact that Brooke chooses to keep fighting back by attempting to teach at Osher. I am the office assistant here and I have the opportunity to truly appreciate the values of continuing education for adults. My question is; do you think that it is harder to deal with the accident itself personally or is it harder for your significant others to deal with it? Sometimes I feel that it might be harder for others around to accept such adversity since they care and love you so much.

adrian said...

Thank you for commenting on my story Peggy, it was nice to see it mentioned here. I know that the class also appreciates your appearance the other day; your answers during the Q+A session proved to be very enlightening.
I have a question that I didn't get a chance to ask you in class, but the blog may be a more appropriate forum anyways; I'd like you both to have a chance to answer. So, Brooke and Peggy, have you returned to the scene of the accident? If not, do you think you will? What was your reaction, or what do you think it will be?
Once again, thank you both for spending time with us and inviting us to participate in your blog, it is a privilege.