I’ve been sitting at my kitchen table for over an hour now actually doing what I said I would. I read a couple poems from Billy Collins’ Whale Day And Other Poems, did day 3 of Brittany Polat’s Journal Like A Stoic (great Christmas present from my wife!), completed today’s Bible App devo, started setting up my Best Self Journal, and now I’m writing this…
And speaking of my journal…for the first time that I can even remember, I went through my journals from the past year. One of the reasons I did this is because I ACTUALLY JOURNALED CONSISTENTLY FOR MOST OF THE YEAR. Like a lot of people (most, I’d venture to guess), I usually start with good intentions and then my journals fizzle out quickly. I’m looking at the one that was supposed to be June-August of 2020 and there are seven entries. Seven. Total. Sept-Dec 2022 journal…16 entries total. I can’t even find any journals for 2021. And here comes your patented Ryan vulnerability…
Mostly I feel shame and embarrassment when I look back at my old journals. It’s so painful to see the same struggles and self-pep talks over and over and over and over again for years. It can very easily spiral me into the negative space of self-doubt, apathy, sadness, etc etc. There are actually entries where I say something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry to whoever finds these things after I die. So embarrassing and boring. Sorry I wasn’t able to do better.” Not really the legacy I want to leave.
But, as I looked through the three nearly full journals from 2023 I saw a ton of growth. I saw consistency. And as I’ve said in this space before, continuing to try even when you’ve fallen down a million times truly is a show of strength. I could give up, but I’m not. And I won’t. Setting the intention to get physically healthy is still good, even if it’s the umpteenth time I’ve done it, for example.
My word of the year is ACTION and I’m excited about it. I’m an introvert by nature (believe it or not), so my thought life is…rich. Yeah, let’s call it that. I prepare and plan to death, oftentimes at the expense of actually doing anything. Brianna Wiest says, “When we have a goal, dream, or plan, there is no measure of intent. It is only whether you did it or not. Any other reason you offer for not showing up and doing the work is simply you stating that you prioritize that reason over your ultimate ambition, which means that it will always take precedence in your life.” Damn, Brianna. This quote is from her book The Mountain is You, which is one that has affected me deeply (she has many that are amazing).
This year I will be a man of action. I will be courageous in the face of fear as I confront the things in my life that I don’t want to be there anymore and as I push through the frustration of establishing new, healthy habits in the place of ones that don’t serve me anymore. I’ll continue to give myself pep-talks when I fall, but this year I’m going to give more energy to the actual doing. And yes, it’s incredibly important to give yourself grace and to recognize all growth. In fact, I’m working on not defining growth as “big or small,” but rather, good. Because it’s all good, no matter the size. That said, for me at least, I want to take more action. After all, ideas and intentions are great, but ultimately it is only whether I did it or not.
“Amazing! Ryan had the attention of 450 kids of all different ages! He knew how to speak his message to different age groups and leave a lasting impact on all of them! We had children come home from school raving about their speaker and all the amazing things he taught them! Would highly recommend for any school assembly!” – Colleen, Swallow Parent and SEF Vice President
“My favorite part was Ryan showing kids that even though he has a physical challenge, he can do anything he wants to do through perseverance and by using his imagination. I also enjoyed how positive Ryan was throughout the program.” – Brian, Swallow Teacher
Last week I drove a little over an hour from home to bring the “Different Is Awesome!” Experience to Swallow School in Hartland, WI and we had such a great time! All 450+ students from grades K-8 attended three separate assemblies and every group was fantastic. We started early with middle schoolers and they were great. We went over a full hour and they asked thoughtful questions while Cade and Max helped me demonstrate how I catch a football and a baseball.
After a delicious lunch at Pink Mocha, we finished the day with back-to-back assemblies for grades K-2 and 3-5. They were so much fun! They were engaged and excited and ended our time together with some great questions. One of my favorite parts of leading these assemblies all these years is seeing their little faces thinking and connecting with what’s going on. When they realize that not only am I different, but we’re all different in some way and that those differences are awesome… it makes kindness and acceptance and inclusion so much more accessible!
So grateful for the opportunity to spend the day with the kids and to start those very important conversations that will hopefully be ongoing at Swallow. Huge thank you to Mr. Shircel, Dr. Ries, Stephanie Christiano and Colleen Berkowitz (President and Vice President of SEF, who funded the visit). In fact, Colleen and I have been online friends for years and FINALLY got to meet in-person for the first time! Made me so happy! So grateful for her friendship and persistence over the years to make this visit a reality!
Oh! And SEF also got 12 signed copies of my book, “Different Is Awesome!” to be the first one available in their brand new BOOK VENDING MACHINE! C’mon. That’s awesome.
What a great last school visit for 2023. Can’t wait for 2024 and already have some visits scheduled in the Spring, so if you’d like to schedule one for your school, just submit your request and we’ll get the conversation started! Looking forward to it!
It’s that time once again to spend money on the people we love!
Or we got someone’s name in an exchange and have to get them something.
Either way, it’s time for the SOMETIMES ANNUAL LIVING ONE-HANDED HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE!
Here’s a bunch of cool stuff I found that’s super sweet for one-handers, but is ALSO uber-convenient for those with two! It’s certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, but there’s some pretty cool stuff available. Just click on the pictures to go to the Amazon page.
First of all, I’d be a terrible author if I didn’t suggest Different Is Awesome!, a book for all children that teaches acceptance and celebration of differences! The story is engaging and the illustrations are bright and fun! A perfect present for that little one on your list! (If you want a signed copy, email me directly! email@example.com)
**This one is pretty intense, so if you’re sensitive to the topic of suicide loss, please feel free to read something else. I do a lot of processing here and it’s messy. I’m good, though. I’m posting this in the hopes that it will resonate with others who have been affected similarly and have or are going through similar pain cycles. You’re not alone.**
Today marked nine years since my dad died by suicide.
I heard an analogy once that rang true with me and it goes something like this: When you experience suicide loss, the pain feels gigantic. It feels like it’s taking up every part of you, like a bowling ball in a bucket; there’s not much room for anything else in there. But, as time goes on, it feels like there’s more room for other feelings. Maybe the bowling ball goes into something the size of a garbage can and then an above ground pool and then maybe a lake… The pain still exists and is even still the same size, but it doesn’t take up as much space. It doesn’t slam into you with the same frequency as it did before. When it does, it still hurts like hell, but it’s not as often.
That’s how I felt this morning. As I journaled, I said something to the effect of, “Dad, I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here. All the things. But, man… I’ve got a lot going on. I’m working on a lot of things in my life and I have so much to be grateful for, so… I’m gonna do that.” And it’s true. I don’t feel bad about it and I don’t think he’d want me to. It’s just where I am.
Or at least, it’s where I was this morning.
The weather was beautiful in the afternoon, so I went to the cemetery to visit. Most of the time when I go, I don’t do much talking. Just kind of take in the surrounding nature, the peacefulness of it all. Sit and breathe. But, today was different. Today was complicated.
My youngest had her first JV1 basketball game of the season last night and she did awesome! I started telling dad about it and how I wished he was there and how much fun we’d have had and how proud he’d be and as I did that, I started to get pissed off. And sad. I kept going back and forth between them. Because, like I said, it’s complicated. It’s still complicated nine years later and if I’m sure of anything, it’s that it’s always going to be complicated.
I got mad at him for all the pain he’s put us through. I was especially mad for my brother and step-mom who found him and have to live with that for the rest of their lives. Mad isn’t the right word. I was furious. How could he?! How did he not anticipate that they’d find him in his own garage?! And my kids! They were ten, nine and seven. SEVEN. Are you f***ing kidding me?! And your brothers and sisters, who had to go through that with your BROTHER thirty years prior. You made them go through that AGAIN?! Are you out of your mind?!
Yes. Sadly, the answer is yes. Something was wrong. And that’s why my anger turns to sadness so quickly.
His intention wasn’t to cause pain. Quite the opposite. His intention was to end the pain. The pain he felt in his chest. And the pain he anticipated causing as a burden to those around him. That’s what he was thinking about. And that makes me so sad.
It also doesn’t change the fact that he did cause a lot of pain. Pain that lingers here nine years later and will continue to persist for many of us. This isn’t an either or situation. It’s a both and situation. He did something that caused so much pain for so many, though that wasn’t his intention. He was in pain and got to a point where ending it all was the only thing that made sense. He exercised all of the control he believed he had in order to alleviate that pain. I can forgive him for that and I have. But it doesn’t change the fact that he’s not here for my kids, my brother’s kids, his wife, his boys…me.
It’s such an odd and confusing mix of emotions. Sadness, anger, confusion, understanding, forgiveness…bouncing around like a bouncy ball in a shoe box. It’s exhausting. And I know he’d feel terrible if he knew that he caused it. But that’s not where his mind was.
So, here I am at 8:49pm on a Friday night, listening to “Everywhere The River Goes” by Nathan Nockles, a beautiful and peaceful instrumental album, as I struggle to put words to my experience today. A few friends and family reached out and asked how I was holding up today and, even given what I described above, my answer of “pretty well” is true. I’m ok with the hard stuff. I get it. It’s not my favorite, obviously, but it’s life. And like I said, there’s so much good in my life. Like, SO much.
And while there’s a lot of heavy, difficult stuff to work through, I’m also able to remember good things. In fact, I didn’t realize until I was about halfway through, but I did something today that I watched him do while his dad was in hospice. I remember sitting with him and he had this little notebook and he was writing something. My dad was NOT a writer. I’m laughing as I write this because he would agree; he asked me to edit things he had to write for work (he was the parks department foreman in our city) several times when I was in middle and high school. I asked him what he was writing, since it was so out of character for him, and he said ever so gently, “I’m writing down the things I love about my dad.” I’d give anything to have that piece of paper. I remember him telling me that he wrote things like “strong” and “loyal” and “funny” and “kind.” There were more, of course. It really impacted me. I knew he loved his dad and he wasn’t perfect, as none of us are, but to see my dad push himself out of his comfort zone to put his love and gratitude into words…
I wrote many of those same words about my dad today. I was especially thinking about him in his role as Papa to my kids. Proud. Funny. Affectionate. Playful. Inappropriate. lol Kind. Encouraging. Helpful. Cool. Strong. Then I remembered all the times he came to my concerts and theater performances. I remembered the times I called him when I was overwhelmed and the way he comforted me and made me feel like things were going to be ok even though it didn’t seem like they would be. I wish I could have made him feel that way for himself. Sigh.
I don’t really have a great ending for this, honestly. Life, for me, goes on. Without him here, but always in my heart. And in so many others’. If you’re still reading, thanks for letting me process all this.
Dad… I love you. I miss you. I forgive you. I still get mad at you sometimes, but I also get really sad and that kind of makes me mad, too, so… It’s complicated. I know you said to take care of each other and to be nice, so I’ll try to keep doing that the best I can. – Ryan
This is actually from a Facebook post I made a year ago today.
I joined a rec league basketball team with some friends this year. I hurt my knee within the first two minutes of my first game. I came out, then went back in to try and tough it out…and hurt it again. So, now I’m wearing multiple braces and they seem to be working!
Here’s what I’m noticing: I’m very competitive. More competitive than this old, out-of-shape body will allow me to be on the court. Also, playing on a team is a completely different experience than just playing 21 with a group of dudes. In that case, the only person I’m letting down if I don’t perform well is myself. I put a LOT of pressure on myself to perform and I hate making mistakes that hurt the team. And I’ll admit that there was one shot in particular that I heaved towards the basket last night where I thought to myself, “That had to look TERRIBLE! I’m not representing the limb-different community very well!” Missing shots and turning the ball over are totally normal things, but I’ve internalized such immense pressure to perform from as far back as I can remember.
One of the things I’m learning now as an adult is how often I was told as a kid that I could do everything everybody else could do, which, in most cases was true! What I’m realizing, though, is that I internalized it as “I MUST be able to do everything everybody else can do and I have to be able to do it even better than them to PROVE that I’m not less than.” Ugh. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid. What I would tell little Ryan now is, “Give it your best shot and if you can’t do it, that’s ok! We all have a hard time doing some things. And missing shots or turning the ball over are normal things that everybody does from time to time.” It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to not be able to do something. That’s normal.
I feel like there needs to be a balance. I’m all in on determination and effort and finding creative ways to accomplish things! But we also need to understand that “failure” is a part of life. It’s normal and it doesn’t lessen our worth. Accept it, grow from it and move forward! Let me know what you think!
I had the opportunity to speak with author and illustrator Jeffrey Brown about his new book, “Batman and Robin and Howard” and our conversation, while far-reaching, focused primarily on his choice to be intentionally inclusive in creating the characters in the book – including Pete, who has one hand! I loved hearing Jeffrey’s thoughts about where the idea came from and why it’s so important for varied representation, especially in kids literature.
Please watch the interview and share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear how you’ve felt included or maybe how your child has felt included by others, too! I’ll be choosing someone to receive a signed copy of Jeffrey’s book, too!
Today I had the opportunity to hangout (virtually) with the 3rd graders at Glover School in Marblehead, MA. WE HAD SUCH A GREAT TIME! And they had such fantastic questions. I think I even went a little over time because I HAD to answer them all. Ha! To see them giving me thumbs up and clapping and even running up to the camera to share pictures they’d drawn…it was perfect.
I’ve missed this so much. And I get to do three more presentations this week (to grades K-2), which I can’t wait for. I love telling kids that they’re awesome just the way they are. Especially the ones who don’t feel that way. It brings me so much joy and I believe with all my heart that it makes a difference.
After today’s presentation, one of the teachers said, “The students were very engaged in the conversation that you led. Many students identify with the “different is awesome” message and it is nice that they can hear it from someone besides their classroom teachers.” And, “Ryan was very personable and relatable for the students. The demonstrations of how he accomplishes tasks were fun…playing piano, catching a ball, etc. The best message was that he likes being different.” Another said, “Thank you! The students were very engaged in your presentation! We’ll be sure to checkout your website!” HELLO!!! 🙂
So, here’s the deal… If you’re in education and you’re looking for someone to engage and encourage your kids to be kind to themselves and others, I’m your guy. Virtual or in-person, please reach out and let’s get connected. I’m ridiculously excited about this coming fall and (safely) visiting as many schools as possible (K-12) to share the message that BEING DIFFERENT IS AWESOME. A perfect way to start the school year by celebrating diversity and encouraging inclusion.
And if you’re a part of a business or organization that is holding an event where you need a keynote speaker who will get your audience to laugh, cry, think and laugh some more…I’m also your guy. Let me know how I can best serve you and we’ll make it happen.
I need to be honest with myself (and you) and admit that it was a big deal to me. I feel like I initially couched my thoughts in the “I’m an advocate for others, so this is why it’s a problem for us” angle and there’s truth in that, for sure. But in actuality, it pissed me off, personally. I went to the gym to try and workout my emotions and started tearing-up on the treadmill like four times. There was something there and it’s important to me that I examine why.
Let’s start here: I’m not offended by much when it comes to my disability. I joke about it a lot. I find what others would likely deem “inappropriate jokes” to be pretty dang funny most of the time. I’m proud of and confident in my abilities to do the things I want and need to do. I wrote a book about how being different is awesome and I travel the country doing assemblies at schools teaching kids to accept themselves and others just the way they are. I’ve become accustomed to staring and rude questions and outbursts from little kids and am able to let them roll off my back pretty easily, for the most part.
So…why was it so upsetting to me when Topps released Jim Abbott’s card with his name spelled incorrectly?
I think it’s about being seen as an equal.
I’ve always loved baseball and played when I was a kid. Every time we played a new team, my first at-bat was nerve-wracking. I didn’t want special treatment. I wanted to prove that I belonged. That I was as good as anybody else. I’d look at the confused faces of the kids in the field as I stepped to the plate and simultaneously think to myself, “Don’t screw this up” and “They have no idea what’s coming.” A fabulous mix of insecurity and confidence. I’d watch the outfielders get waved-in by their coaches and dig my back foot in even harder. I’d watch the pitcher’s face, which was usually either confusion or amusement, and waggle my bat. And almost without fail, I’d get a solid hit. You could see everybody’s eyebrows rise as they thought, “Oh dang, he can hit! Okay okay…” And then it was on.
Same thing happened on the basketball court. Make that first step-back jumper. And the football field. Fly down the right sideline to make a grab and scamper to the endzone. You get the point.
That’s a lot of pressure on a kid! And it sticks with you, I guess. That’s what I’m learning.
Most of the time, whether you think we should or not, people with disabilities feel excluded. Or at least not fully included. We feel marginalized. And when we are included, it oftentimes feels like the people doing so think they’re doing us a favor. And even then, most of the time we aren’t asked what would work best for us, so the ways people try to include us actually make us stick out even more or, in some cases, don’t really even work.
Which is why, I think, it hit me hard when the card came out with Jim’s name spelled incorrectly. In addition to just being plain ol’ disrespectful to Jim, it felt like, “Here ya go! We included you! We didn’t take the time to make sure it was right or anything, but… You’re included!” They still haven’t said anything about it and they haven’t corrected most instances of it on their website even 24 hours later, even though it’s clear they are aware of it because they changed one image. And maybe it’s not fair, but I can’t imagine them making the same mistake with Mike Trout or Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken Jr or Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth or Willie Mays or Mookie Betts or or or… It is, in fact, literally the only name they’ve spelled incorrectly in the entire project.
I’ll take a second here to beg you to watch Crip Camp, an incredible documentary on Netflix (that should have won the Oscar, but whatever). It will likely make you uncomfortable if you don’t have a disability, but it’s incredibly important to see the very recent history of how disabled people have been treated (read: dismissed) in this country. The people in this film are literally my heroes and my life is what it is in large part because of the difficult work they did.
And listen, I get it. This is all nuanced. Hell, I’m 43, have had a physical disability since birth and I’m still figuring this all out myself! But my request is that, instead of throwing up your hands (however many you have), you’d be open to hearing other people’s perspectives and experiences. And that you’d resist the temptation to say that it’s just complaining or “playing the victim.” If you’ve never walked into a grocery store/a classroom/anyplace there are people and felt eyes all over you because of how you look, I understand this is a foreign concept to you. And I’m glad you don’t have to deal with it, but there are a ton of us who do.
Let me also clarify that I’m not calling for a boycott of Topps or Craola (the artist) or anything like that. At all. I’m not going to storm their facilities or anything. I do believe it was a mistake, but even honest mistakes can and often do have unintended consequences. This is one of those situations where I hope we’re all able to learn together and move forward. Like my friend Tom on Twitter said, “We’re all just people.” Let’s work on treating each other that way.
For those unfamiliar, the Topps baseball card company is celebrating 70 years of making collectible cards with a year-long project called Project 70. They have commissioned 70 artists/creatives to create/reimagine 20 baseball cards in their own style throughout the year. Monday through Friday they release four new cards on their website, which are available to purchase for 70 hours and when the clock hits zero, they print however many were purchased.
While most of the cards have been of big stars on the teams in major markets, today was a big day because, for the first time, one of the artists did a rendition of a Jim Abbott card! A bunch of people on Twitter alerted me to the news and I excitedly went to the site to purchase the card. There it was! And the artist even went with Jim in his California Angels uniform instead of his Yankees one! But as I looked closer…
Wait a second…
Do you see it? Not the dinosaur. The name. His last name. There’s only one T.
Ok…so, before anybody freaks out, I want to say a couple things. It’s not the end of the world. I don’t know the artist and he may very well be a great dude. I have no idea. And my guess/hope is that Topps will correct it before they print it. All that said…
There needs to be some accountability here. How on EARTH does EVERYBODY involved in this process miss this?! Topps has been making cards for 70 years and they’ve been making cards of freaking JIM ABBOTT FOR THIRTY OF THOSE. It’s not like he’s an obscure player that they’ve never made a card of before. And as the artist, how do you not quintuple-check the player’s NAME? Especially if you don’t know much about baseball (which is totally fine, but do your research then). It’s just mind-boggling to me that all parties involved got this wrong. This isn’t just a simple mistake. It’s someone’s NAME. Someone who deserves respect and has represented himself, his fans and the sport of baseball as well as anyone in history.
And here’s the deal. I don’t want a pity party. That’s not what I’m getting at at all. And I’m sure Jim doesn’t care because he’s just the best like that. But, there’s definitely an element of disappointment. Jim is larger than life for those of us in the limb-different community. He represents us (this is not news to him; listen to my interview with him here). So, finally seeing him pop up after over a year (they did a similar project last year, which he was not in) and then to see it so badly botched was like, “Of course.” That would NEVER happen with Acuna or Judge or Mookie or or or…
We’re basically the same height. Give or take a foot.
I appreciate the effort. I really do. And I hope they’re able to correct it and that they take responsibility and don’t just sweep it under the rug (though I think that’s what will likely happen). But it’s important to understand that when you try to represent, you need to do it well. Do the research. Take your time. Get it right. It’s really, really important. That’s why it took me so long to publish my kids book, Different Is Awesome! I knew I needed to get it right. It represents more than just my story; it gives a voice to kids and families who are living similar stories and brings some normalcy to their lives.
So, Topps and Craola…I’m asking for two simple things. An apology for getting it wrong and the promise to make it right. I feel like that’s fair. And I’m happy to have further conversation about it if that would help. Thanks.
Just wanted to give a quick update and welcome anyone who might be new here! My book is back and better than ever! Just kidding, it’s almost exactly the same, but it IS available again! lol Good grief, I’ll stop with the exclamation points.
If you haven’t heard of it before, “Different Is Awesome!” is a children’s book I wrote that is based on the true story of when my younger brother Joey brought me for Show-and-Tell. A little boy brings his older brother to school and all of his classmates ask his brother questions about how he lives his life with one hand. Along the way we see that we’re all different in some way or another and that’s…well, awesome!
There are now 10,000+ copies in print, which blows my mind, and you can get a copy on Amazon or, if you want a personalized/signed copy, let me know! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and for $25 I’ll send you a signed copy with a bookmark and a sticker! I might even tuck another awesome surprise in there (while supplies last).
Thank you all for being so supportive over the years. It means everything to me. And remember, too, that I am available to speak at schools, both virtually and in-person (if your school is open), so let me know or put me in contact with the folks who bring in speakers and we’ll make it happen, cap’n!