Passion Makes Our Lives Special
Ever since 6th grade, when I realized that the musical My Fair Lady had different writers for the original play, the music, the lyrics and the adapted version, I wanted to write a novel that had music associated with it. I wanted to do it all myself.
In 2013 at age 63, after three recordings of original music, I fulfilled that dream with the publication of my young adult fantasy, The Heart of Applebutter Hill.
My journey included being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and ultimately undergoing a double mastectomy. I was a street performer with a desire to go to Nashville and get into the songwriting business. However, the cancer sapped my energy and eventually I gave up working on music as a career.
What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?
I had another dream – to write a novel. We moved to the endless mountains in Pennsylvania. It’s a rural area with 17 acres. It was a huge transition and gave me the opportunity to devote more time to the novel since I was no longer performing music full time.
Born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, I was already legally blind by three years old. My vision got worse as I got older. In school I kept falling further and further behind on everything. How am I going to do anything important at all?
We haven’t been able to convince the sighted world that there is value in blind people. There are blind people who are NASA engineers and astrophysicists. They can use digital data transformed to audio, but as a kid, I didn’t see blind people doing anything.
I grew up thinking that I was a shame, that I wouldn’t be able to do anything, go to college, live independently, have a career, and that no man would want me. People said those things to me. It doesn’t do much for your self-esteem.
The energy from not wanting them to be right got me through to getting the damage repaired. I didn’t learn Braille at age five, when I should have. I learned it as an adult. It’s hard; you don’t make up for all those years of bluffing your way through.
What were the specific obstacles that you faced?
Being blind wasn’t the most overarching obstacle. It was trying to be the independent, productive person that I knew I could be despite what the public thought — that my blindness was a deal breaker.
What helped you get through them?
My stubbornness. Being a stubborn person has helped me get through. My own anger flames me up enough to move forward.
I had four guide dogs. I have a bond with my dogs that is special. They are one of the few things about being blind that’s awesome. They are a blessing and a wonderful thing in my life. My ‘fur people’ have a personality, they are interactive, picking up on your emotions and your moods. Other than my husband, my dogs have been my best friend.
Were there people that tried to discourage you?
The normal way about going to publish a book is to find an agent. No publisher is going to look at a first time author without an agent. That’s the way it’s done.
I wanted to find an agent, but the publishing industry is not ready for my story – an independent, free-thinking blind girl. They need to see the girl in a subservient, spiritual, faith-oriented role, needing to be saved. She cannot be snarky, independent or the heroine.
How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?
It’s a wonderful feeling. I remember when I got the first test copy in the mail. To hold it in my hand, actually feel and smell it, I felt like I finally landed.
I wish I had started sooner, not that I had a lot of control. I don’t go to the regrets because you can’t change anything. Regrets are not productive. You can only go forward.
What advice would you give to others who are contemplating finally living their dream?
When you have a dream that goes beyond the norm, our true passions get swept to the side. People think they have to make a living and feel that their dream is over and done with, so they put it in a box and nail it shut themselves. As long as you are still alive, find a way to incorporate that dream in your life.
If you have a passion, know what that passion is and go for it. That’s what makes our lives special. That’s what makes humanity and all of the good things that we have.
We need to fulfill our dreams because it helps others fulfill theirs and live their purpose.
Click here to learn more about Donna and The Heart of Applebutter Hill.