Thursday, October 10, 2019

Q&A with Jim Linnell

Jim Linnell is the author of the new memoir Take It Lying Down: Finding My Feet After a Spinal Cord Injury. Linnell also has written the book Walking on Fire: The Shaping Force of Emotion in Writing Drama. He is professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico's Department of Theatre and Dance, and is the former dean of the university's College of Fine Arts. He lives south of Albuquerque.

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about your recovery following a spinal cord injury?

A: Writing has been, since I was in the rehab hospital, an essential part of my recovery. It became the way for me to define and accept a new life after having lost the life I knew for 70 years as a fully mobile and animate individual.

As told in the book, the writing began at Craig Hospital when I dictated to [my wife] Jennifer weekly reports that I shared with friends and colleagues. The response to these reports was very strong and positive and acted as an encouragement for me to consider turning the project of writing about what I was experiencing into a book. 

Q: You describe many painful experiences in the book. Was it difficult to revisit those especially challenging times? 

A: Actually, for me, less so for Jennifer, revisiting those experiences helped drain them of their power as they were now put to use as a part of my narrative and didn't just sit there as a horror story to be told for no greater purpose.

Q: What impact did writing the book have on you?

A: The book helped me explore and clarify the ways that I was coping with my new situation and led me to think that this might be useful to other people.

But the book couldn't just be about my injury and had to be also about the man who suffered the injury, which made it an exploration of how my life and how I've lived has come to play a role in helping me to define and understand who I was now and embrace my new identity.

I learned that what I'd studied all my professional life as a teacher, works of history, literature, and art, shaped who I am and provided resources for me to face this catastrophe.

Q: What do your family members think of the book?

A: They are proud and complimentary about the book. It is very difficult for Jennifer to revisit the experiences of those days; their pain is still all too real for her.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?

A: I hope readers will see a man turning a catastrophe into an occasion to affirm life to engage them in the process and thinking that allowed him to use the experiences of his life to bring to bear on something that threatened ruin.

I hope they see the depth of the relationship between Jennifer and myself, how it was tested and our bond allowed us to learn to adjust and make the best of what we were dealt. My story tells how our bond was forged and the bumps and jolts in our learning curve. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm writing a novel called Stool Pigeons: How Idioms Confess Their Stories. It is a book that follows a set of characters whose stories are advanced through the use of idioms. I have a draft of the novel and am continuing to work on it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I just completed a reading of the book in Maine in the hometown where I grew up and went to college. I met many members of my high school class and some from my college graduating class that I hadn't seen for 60-some years.

It is like time travel to juxtapose the faces you have in your head from the past with the faces that are changed from such a long passage of time. People who were all possibility undefined now defined a completed picture. They embraced the book and Jennifer and me.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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