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Aimee Ross

Author Post: On Writing and Nearly Dying Twice

Aimee RossAimee Ross published Permanent Marker: A Memoir in March 2018. She completed her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing at Ashland University in 2014, and her writing has been published on lifein10minutes.com and SixHens.com, as well as in Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Scars: An Anthology, Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators, and Teaching Tolerance magazine.

5 Things Writing Helped Me Understand after Nearly Dying (Twice)

“You are the author of your own life story,” promised the skinny strip of green bubble letters outlined in neon pink that used to hang above the chalkboard at the back of my classroom.

Back then, I believed in that language arts message as hallowed inspiration.

Now? Teacher-catalog b.s.

Only recently, I had become a character in my own life, and I didn’t know who was actually authoring the story. The one I was sick of telling. The one that delivered the same embarrassing reaction.

I was almost killed in a car accident. The other driver was under the influence. He died. I had to be resuscitated.

Disbelief: “Wow.”

Yeah, I was recovering from a heart attack that had happened five months earlier.

Surprise: “What?”

A heart attack. Yes, only forty-one years old. I know, crazy. It was stress. I had just told my husband of eighteen years that I wanted a divorce.

Next, pity: “That’s horrible” or “I’m so sorry.”

And then a final shrug or pat on the hand to quickly to end what could possibly turn lengthy if left unchecked, I suppose. “Well, you look great anyway.” 

The Trifecta

I’d had two brushes with death, made it through The Trifecta of Shit, and I “looked great anyway.”

I had recovered physically, yes, but my spirit, crushed between major life-changing moments, had shattered into countless irretrievable pieces, and I couldn’t make any sense of the mess. Guilt from ending my marriage and guilt from a young man’s death (survivor’s guilt?) haunted me. I wondered if I’d had a mid-life crisis. I wondered if God had sent that car into mine to punish me for the divorce. And I worried that it would define the rest of my life.

I needed the randomness of The Trifecta to have meaning. I needed to understand my survival. And I knew I was the only person who could put me back together again.

The Process of Healing through Writing

When I returned to teaching school six months after the accident, I discovered that my classroom was just what I needed. I was back in my comfort zone surrounded by teenagers, once again fueled by their energy. I sat in a chair at the front of the room, relishing being alive and back in my classroom.

When I assigned my students a writing project, I found myself writing alongside them every class period. No matter the prompt I gave, my writing always took me back to the Trifecta in some way, shape, or form, and before I knew it, I had a small collection of writing through which I attempted to process what had happened to me. I had done what I’ve always done when I wanted to organize the thoughts or solve a problem in my head: write.

Permanent MarkerFate and circumstance stepped in when I learned a local university offered a master’s program in creative writing, and I decided to apply immediately. I had always wanted to earn a graduate degree, and to do so in writing sounded like a dream. I could use the two years to write about and process my circumstances for a degree, and hey, maybe I’d have something publishable at the end. It couldn’t hurt to try.

Maybe I’d also find some peace along the way, the answers to the questions that haunted me: What had happened to me? Why was I still alive? And, who was I now?

I felt like I might already know the answers, but they were just outside of reach, tangled up and twisting around one another. So I kept writing.

Soon, through the regular rhythm of working out events on paper—or on a laptop screen— I saw my story unfold. Yes, it was messy, disjointed even, but I finally had an outlet for my grief and anger. Sometimes, random bits of the story came out of me at odd moments on scraps of paper, or a line would form in my mind while I vacuumed. Other times, I could sit down and write a part of the story with such clarity and insight that I shocked myself.

My story finally started to make sense.

What I Learned

Writing became my therapy, the words on the page a clear and thoughtful intervention. Soon I could even see the real-life, true-gold, only-can-be-gotten-from-almost-dying (twice!) wisdom I’d gained along the way. They were hard-earned lessons that must be shared.

  1. Don’t take anything for granted. Not Clifford the Big Red Dog stuffed animals or clean, cotton sheets or walking, one foot in front of the other. Not steamy, hot showers; your raggedy blue baby blankie; or breathing, as deeply as you want, whenever you want. Not hugging your children, playing catch with your pup or sleeping in any position your body likes. All of it matters.
  2. Embrace the power of simple gestures. A get-well card in the mail, a bouquet of flowers from someone who’d survived his own trauma, or an already prepared meal of chicken fettucine and garlic bread can give life meaning. Return the favor when you can. Or better yet, pay it forward.
  3. Let others in to help you heal. My mom, dad, brother, sister, and children were the caretakers and supports who kept me from falling apart, from completely losing myself. And when I wanted to close myself off from the world that seemed just beyond my reach, visitors—whether my writing group or teaching colleagues or former students—kept me grounded and open enough to attempt optimism. Eventually, because I allowed people to surround me, I became well enough to return to school, where my students turned in to my therapists, whether they knew it or not.
  4. Draw strength from nature and all of your moments with it, whether planting herbs, flowers, and vegetables outside in the spring; having someone take you for a drive just as fall leaves are turning colors; or hiking a path to pick black raspberries in the humidity of July. Watch the sunset from the wicker chair on your front porch every single night, even in the frosty cold of winter, and stargaze from your driveway whenever you can. Nature presents its own healing—its own reason for being.
  5. Life can change, or even end, in a moment. It cannot be controlled. That’s just the way it is. You can try to guide it, making choices or even setting a direction, but most of the time, that will be knocked out of your hands unexpectedly. Sometimes you might get the control back, but other times—in fact, a lot of the time—you just have to wait. And either way, you can only control yourself—no one and nothing else. Life, no matter who’s writing the story, just happens. And you can’t get out of the way or hide or run from it. You just live it, one moment at a time, making your way through, one challenge at a time, attempting to live with courage, accepting each moment gracefully. That’s all you can do.

The Big Picture

According to Dr. James Pennebaker, a pioneer in studying the healing nature of writing, expressing what happened to you through words on a page allows you to organize and understand your experiences and yourself. This, in turn, provides a sense of control, something you probably lacked during the traumatic event(s) that led you to need to heal in the first place. When the writer has given the traumatic experience a structure and meaning, not only are the emotions drawn from the experience more manageable, but the story most likely then has a resolution, or ending, which eases the trauma.

Writing your story could provide the therapy necessary to feel whole again.

I know, because I am no longer a character in that old, sad story, defined by trauma. The process worked for me.

Turns out you really can be the author of your own life story. Why not try it?

Aimee Ross

Author Post: ‘The Holocaust Lady’

Aimee RossAimee Ross is the author of Permanent Marker: A Memoir, an award-winning high school teacher, and a passionate educator about the horrors and history of the Holocaust. Here, Aimee explains how living and working in a small, rural town in Ohio fuels her desire to teach on that dark period of history.

‘The Holocaust Lady’

I remember her words like it was yesterday.

March 2004, San Francisco, California: the Northern California Forum on Holocaust Education.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum had brought me in as a team member to run one of five classroom sessions, accommodating more than 200 attendees, including survivors. We had just finished a few days of sharing resources and strategies for teaching about the Holocaust, which included finding survivor testimony, when she approached.

“Excuse me, Aimee?”

I turned, smiling, still on the post-workshop adrenaline high that accompanied a job well done, to find a middle-aged face, surrounded by frizzy dark curls, pinched in a frown. The room had cleared except for a few people looking at resources on the periphery.

“You know, you or the museum should really research the area you’re going into a little more,” she said. “I teach at a Jewish day school here in the Bay area, and we have no trouble getting Holocaust survivors in the classroom.”

The harsh fluorescent lights overhead glared back at me from her wire-framed, circular glasses.

How should I respond? I didn’t want to speak on behalf of the Museum, because it wasn’t my place. Plus, I was only trying to help those who might not have the access to survivors that she did.

“Also—” she continued.

I tensed.

“You made it very clear that you are from a small, rural town and that you are not Jewish.”

“Yes,” I said. During the course of the workshop, I’d shared my background with participants, including the fact that I was not Jewish, but just to provide context for my pedagogy.

“What right do you think you have to teach about this then?” she accused.

A Journey of Learning

A tight pain crossed my forehead, and my cheeks flared. I didn’t know what to say. She’d caught me completely off guard, which must have been her goal, because she turned and stomped out of the room then.

Hot tears formed behind my eyes, threatening to spill.

That woman didn’t know me or my journey over the past nine years, searching out any and all chances to learn about the Holocaust. She didn’t know I’d gone on a study trip to Poland and Israel, or that I’d developed my own course on the Holocaust, or that I had been receiving hate mail from deniers for the past seven years. She didn’t know I’d won a national contest through the Museum for a lesson I’d created about pre-War Jewish life in Europe, or that I was preparing to take a second field trip with students to Washington, D.C., specifically to visit the Museum and hear a survivor speak. She didn’t know I’d written and won a grant to bring a Holocaust survivor to my hometown for a community presentation in the next month.

And she had no idea that the more I learned about the Holocaust, the more I felt compelled to teach the time period’s most important lesson: that we are all human beings sharing the same world, no better than anyone else.

‘Humanity Is Reason Enough’

Does someone really have to be Jewish to teach about the Holocaust? Does someone have to be a victim to teach about injustice? No.

Humanity is reason enough, and I have every right to teach about it. Even if I am from a small, rural town in Ohio, and even if I’m not Jewish, which is even more of a reason if you ask me. Because if I don’t teach about it, who will?

Today, fourteen years after that moment of negativity and criticism, I’m proud to say I continued educating other teachers and students about the dangers of disrespect and intolerance. I even earned the nickname “The Holocaust Lady”—at least locally.

I refused to let her words stop me.

Yes, they stung. And clearly, they left a permanent mark.

But I’m leaving one, too—one I know will last a heckuva lot longer.

Aimee Ross

Q&A with ‘Permanent Marker’ Author Aimee Ross

Aimee Ross was living a perfectly normal life raising three kids, married to her high school sweetheart, and teaching at her high school alma mater. Life was perfect—right until it wasn’t.

Unhappy in her marriage, Aimee asked for a divorce. Three days later, she suffered a heart attack at age forty-one. Five months after that, she survived a near-fatal car crash caused by an intoxicated driver.

Her physical recovery took months and left her body marked by scars. The emotional recovery, though, would take longer, as Aimee sought to forgive the man who almost killed her—and to forgive herself for tearing apart her family.

Permanent Marker takes readers on a journey of healing, proving that from darkness can come new light, new love, and a renewed purpose for life.

What prompted you to write your memoir and share your very personal experiences with readers?

I had to understand what happened to me: Who had I been, and who did I become? I knew I was different. I knew something life-changing had happened to me, and I needed to understand how it had affected me so deeply. Sharing the experiences is education at its basic level—teaching and learning from each other. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t know how not to share.

How did reliving your most painful experiences—a divorce, a heart attack, a near-fatal car crash—affect you? Did it feel therapeutic, or was it harder than you anticipated?

I’ve been working on this for more than six years, to tell the truth. When I first started writing, it was only about the accident. Before I knew it, the story of my divorce and heart attack was bubbling out of me without control. Within months, I realized that even though I’d chosen to get divorced, the heart attack and accident just happened to me; my first reaction was that karma was paying me back. Guilt made me wonder if I’d deserved all of what happened, and ultimately, that’s when I started asking the bigger questions of myself through writing that most definitely—as the book explains—became my therapy. I cried a lot and processed a lot. And thank goodness, because it worked. (But I’ve always believed in writing as a cathartic, insightful experience, says this veteran English teacher.)

Which writers and works inspired you to put your own story on paper? Who has influenced your writing style?

Darin Strauss’s Half a Life and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love both inspired me. Strauss experienced a traumatic accident as well, and as a result, he dealt with his guilt through writing his memoir—I took strength from that. Early in Gilbert’s book, she briefly writes about the end of her marriage, and it has always stuck with me.

My younger sister is a humor writer, and she’s been influencing and guiding my writing for years, no matter whether I was working on an essay, a lesson plan, a presentation, or an application. I’m also a huge fan of Abigail Thomas’s writing style, which I studied during my MFA. She writes almost conversationally, and she experiments with voice and chronology (or lack of) brilliantly. Both Jill Christman’s (Darkroom) and Cheryl Strayed’s (Wild) writing also have influenced my style and not just their books—both women are prolific essay writers with unique, straightforward creative voices.

What makes a great memoir? What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to get started with a memoir?

A great memoir, no matter the writer’s experience, makes you feel as if you have been through it with her. Not only does the writer have a voice that’s relatable and realistic, her story has universal qualities that help you identify with it while making you feel something.

After hearing the same advice over and over again, from editors, writers, and publishers alike, I decided, “Hey, maybe, they all know something I don’t (duh, Aimee),” so here it is: Figure out the story you want to tell and why it needs to be told. Then get it all out in writing. Every bit of it. After you do that, then you look for patterns and similarities and gaps, or ways you could experiment or change the structure.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

For me, it has been the challenge of the writing itself: telling my story the best way I can and finding just the right words to say what I want. That gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. When I can read something I’ve written over and over again in a quest for perfection and feel proud, that’s fulfilling, too.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Permanent Marker?

Ultimately, I think we’re all asking the same questions of ourselves—Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How do I get through this struggle?—and memoir is the perfect genre to find possible answers in others’ experiences to help us answer our own.

KiCam Welcomes New Author: Aimee Ross

Aimee RossKiCam Projects is delighted to welcome our newest author, Aimee Ross, whose debut book will release in March 2018.

Aimee, of Perrysville, Ohio, has a remarkable story to tell of living through the “perfect” heart attack, later surviving a horrific car crash, then rebuilding her life and finding love and contentment along the way.

A  mother of three, Aimee is also an award-winning educator with a passion for reading, writing … and Ricky Martin.

“I am a huge fan of poking fun at myself,” Aimee says. “My sense of humor is one of my best assets. I love to laugh, I love my job; I’m a diva, a huge dork; and I really did marry Prince Charming. The best part? I have this crazy story to tell about myself that finally feels ‘crazy’ and not defining. Thank God.”

We’re thrilled to be partnering with Aimee to tell her story. If you’ve ever gone through a major life change or had to reconstruct your self-image—in Aimee’s case, both literally and figuratively—you’ll want to mark your calendar for March 14, 2018.

Welcome to the KiCam family, Aimee!