Interview with Jenny Q, Author of Held Together: A True Story of Love's Victory

This is a very unusual book in terms of how the story is told - in some ways a collaborative book. Please share the journey of how this came together - the idea to tell your story this way, how you decided whose words would be included, did they write their notes during your illness or are these reflections written afterwards from memory, etc.

Indeed, this is a strange way to write a book! The idea was formed as much by necessity as it was a creative/artistic vision.

Many people asked me to write my story soon after I came home from the hospital, but I was still very sick and couldn’t imagine tackling a project so big. Also, there was much about my journey that I didn’t know, because even after I emerged from the coma, I was living in a dream-like state for many months.

I also liked the idea of moving the book like a novel, fast-paced and with tension. So I ripped apart all the submissions and wove them into my own writings. I wanted to keep everyone’s voice intact, so while I edited each piece, I kept the personalities of each writer.

I sent out a call for submission about six months after my original hospital stay, so at the beginning of 2015. Most people wrote from memory, but some were written at the time that I was away.

Your passages are written entirely in lower case without any capitals while others follow a more traditional format. Why did you choose to express your thoughts this way?

The initial reason I did this was that I was in some sort of weird phase when that was how I was writing everything! I grew out of that :) but decided to keep my pieces that way to distinguish my voice from others. Also, many of my pieces are stream of consciousness, so I thought this quirky way was appropriate.

While you were in a coma, you were surrounded by a community reaching out in support in many many ways, both physical and spiritual. Did their presence slip through the layers at any time, or did you become aware of this amazing outpouring only after you awakened? 

I have bits of memory from when I was in the coma. I saw a woman that I knew from around town that I barely knew. Later, I found that that she is a spiritual woman and told me she had been meditating with me. There are a few stories like this. I saw many other people that I know intimately. 

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What was it like as you read through all the loving and positive words written by other expressing how important you were in their life? Was there anything you learned that surprised you? 

That’s a great question that no one has asked me yet! It was very strange to read through everyone’s writings. It filled me with joy and love, but was very hard as well. I cried a lot as I read through each submission. I am very humbled.

It was particularly hard imagining publishing a book with so many positive words about myself. It made me feel so vain! But I kept trying to take some space from the ‘Jenny character’ so that I could convey the journey.

As far as being surprised goes, I think I felt more secure in the fact that when you love your community deeply, it is felt and reciprocated.

But I was surprised in other ways. Each submission that came in told a part of my own life, pieced back together parts of my life that I didn’t know or couldn’t remember. It was incredibly healing in this way.

I believe every step we take, every experience we have, teaches and guides us. How has walking through this experience - the physical, the spiritual and the family/community - touched your life? What have you learned or what has been affected in your outlook/journey?

Oh, in so many ways!

First, I never want to take my body and my health for granted! I used to run five days a week, and though I savored my strength and ability, I would sometimes whine while tying my laces in the early morning light.

Second, I was always one that believed in gratitude- my shop is called Grateful Desert! I thought I had that nailed. No matter how hard life had been at any moment, if I focused on what I was grateful for, things would always seem lighter. But going through this experience gave me such a deeper experience of gratitude. I know how hard life can be and how lucky I am with the amount of ability I have left.

Lastly, I was given a gift as I traveled through the stars while in a coma. Ah, it is so magnificent, the truth and depth of who we are. Nothing is as perfect as when we simply are. The knowledge I hold onto is that nothing needs to be as stressful or dire as what we make it, especially the pressure we put on ourselves to be good or productive. When we go, we are all the same, we are indeed one. I came back with the surety that we can relax, be good and productive because it feels good; that no one is keeping tabs, there are no celestial elevators. I came back more joyous than ever knowing that this life is a gift, and afterwards, it is even more brilliant.

What would you most like readers to take away from reading Held Together?

This book is multi-dimensional. There are many stories.

The most obvious - there is an able-bodied person, an average woman just like most, who becomes disabled and physically transformed. I want people to be able to relate to people that look like Other. We are all alike more than many people think. It would also be wonderful for people to understand how hard it is to move around this life with physical and other disabilities.

Also, it can be quite lonely to be disabled. There is so much shame associated with it! I wanted to reach out to other people who feel different and let them know they are not alone. People tend to stare at my prostheses, and I want to let them, so that the next time they see an amputee, it won’t be as shocking. I tend to wear short dresses for that reason.

This is also a story about community, and how love can save a life.