No, that’s not a typo. I’m speaking about Canadian author Madona Skaff, not the recording artist. This post is way overdue, too. I just have to tell the world how this amazing human has impacted my life since late 2015.
She told me to enjoy the journey.
When I met Madona, it was at the now defunct Ottawa Pop Expo. I was dressed as a fashionista dalek, which caught the attention of publishing director Nathan Fréchette at the Press Renaissance Press table. Madona spoke to me about her experiences with the publisher, and her sincere manner really made an impression on me. At that time, Life in the ’Cosm had received a few rejections, and I didn’t know where to submit next. After she told me about her positive relationship with Renaissance, I felt I wanted to take Nathan on his offer to “ping him in January 2016.”
But what Madona wrote in my copy of Journey of a Thousand Steps was what I needed to hear:
To a fellow writer
Enjoy the journeyMadona Skaff-Koren
When you’ve never been published and a published author treats you like a peer, it does wonders for the morale. Because of how she made me feel, I felt encouraged to take the next steps.
Today, I’m a writer who by the end of 2019 will have a “pride shelf” that contains two novels, three anthologies that include short stories of mine, and one anthology I co-edited.
She got me rolling!
People who follow me know I love my rollator (walker with wheels). I even named her Noola, after the feisty disabled soul in Life in the ’Cosm. Since I got that mobility device, I’ve encouraged several of my friends to get one, and they love theirs as well!
Before Noola, I could not walk to the end of my street without a lot of pain and the need to sit down. After Noola, and in fact that same summer, I walked 4K in one go! I still suffer from debilitating leg neuropathy, but my muscles are stronger, and I say yes to way more activities because I always have a seat with me!
But you know what? I resisted getting one for many years because I internalized ableist narratives that told me I didn’t need one. Guess who pushed me to try hers? Madona.
We were at a geeky craft con together, and I needed a bathroom break. Madona was at a table beside mine and insisted I try her walker (because I kept refusing). The moment I did, I was like: This is the best thing ever!
I bought my own and am a happy little human who zooms all over the place.
She told me to budget my frustrations.
This is only hit me this year. (Sorry, Madona, I guess I needed to grow up a little.) It wasn’t that long after I started using my rollator that I got fed up of how many spaces in Ottawa were still not accessible. I sort of had a meltdown when I had to figure out how to get to a second floor of a pub. It’s normally connected to a government building, but the building shuts down elevator access on Sundays. After some discussion, I managed to find someone at the pub to help me use the service elevator. Once upstairs, I need to go to the bathroom and noticed there was no large stall there. And I left my rollator outside, used the bathroom, and came back out and vented to friends. Man, was I pissed.
Madona tried to calm me by explaining that I cannot let this incident tax me so much. She looked at me and said, “Trust me. You can’t get angry like this every single time.”
I didn’t understand what she meant and felt invalidated.
I’m a disability advocate these days, and in the last few months, I had a revelation about the type of advocate I want to be. I don’t want to be angry all the time. I want to call things out but also to use my humour in a satirical or snarky way, to makes us laugh while exposing the truth. That fits my character, and it keeps my energy up while standing up for what’s right. I want to promote disabled artists and writers. I’m co-editing Nothing Without Us, which is an anthology where all the protagonists identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and/or manage mental health. I’m boosting own-voice stories. And it feels great. So great.
I don’t want to be angry all the time.
I get it now.
I need my strength for the long haul.
In conclusion . . .
When someone has travelled a road ahead of you, even if you are a character with an independent nature, there’s so much benefit in taking the time to listen to their experiences. Mull them over. Decide how they can apply to your life.
I didn’t always react right away, but when I did, I discovered more about myself. Then I thrived.
My wish for you all is that you find yourself blessed by having a Madona in your life.
Because holy stars, we need community. We really do.
Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers (Fall of 2019). When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She’s also teamed up with co-editor Talia C. Johnson on the Nothing Without Us anthology (Fall of 2019.)