I’d dreamed of writing and publishing a memoir for years. I wanted it so much it hurt. But though I dabbled on the manuscript, titled HIPPIE BOY, from time to time, I was full of excuses for why I couldn’t devote the necessary time to it. I told myself it wasn’t the responsible thing to do—not when my marketing business was so much more certain and lucrative, and when I had two young daughters to care for.
Then, in early 2004, I walked into an eye doctor’s office for the first time in my life expecting to walk out with a cute pair of red cat-eye frames—only to learn I suffered from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease that had already stole my night vision, was eating away at my peripheral vision, and would likely leave me completely blind.
In the terrifying, soul-searching weeks that followed, I suddenly began to understand the importance of embracing the present. As I pondered a future without eyesight, it occurred me to that no one is immune to death or disease, that all any of us has for certain is now, and that I’d better make NOW count.
It was the jolt I needed to start enrolling in creative writing classes and get involved with critique groups. But I still struggled to step back from the marketing business that was consuming my time. It took my daughters, the ones I was trying to be responsible for, to give me the final push I needed.
One evening in late November 2009, the two of them were goofing around and decided to do a parody of me as an old woman. They hunched over and pretended to be walking with a cane. Then, in the most decrepit, ancient voices they could muster, they both yelled in unison, “My book, my book, I have to finish my book.”
My husband and daughters burst out laughing while I bit my lip to keep from crying. To see that this was what I was teaching them—that dreams were to be buried instead of realized—was the last straw.
After working through the finances with my husband, I cut my client work to a minimum and threw myself at my book dream full force. The journey since then has been beyond anything I could have imagined. I finished my manuscript within six months, wrote a book proposal and found an agent. A year later, I decided to strike out on my own and self-published HIPPIE BOY in the fall of 2011. Two months later, I was invited to partner with an English teacher at an alternative high school—where we use HIPPIE BOY as a guide to help her students find their voice and power by writing and publishing their personal stories. Our collaboration has so far resulted in two student story collections and has led to the launch of WeAreAbsolutelyNotokay.org, a nationally recognized program that focuses on transforming teen lives through personal storytelling. Over the past two years, I’ve written and published two more memoirs while continuing to spread the word about HIPPUE BOY. In June 2013, I achieved another huge dream: to see HIPPIE BOY land on the New York Times eBook bestseller list. Shortly afterward it was acquired by Berkley Books, providing the opportunity to reach a whole new audience of readers.
My journey has taught me that when give yourself permission to go after your dream and give it everything you’ve got, the Universe has a way of making it happen and opening doors you couldn’t have envisioned. But the most important lesson and reward for me has been the response from my two daughters. Because I’ve realized my dream, they now believe they can do anything they set their mind to do. Sydney, now fifteen, has decided she wants to become a film director. Last year, she was named Filmmaker of the Year at her middle school and was one of only a handful of freshman admitted into her high school’s nationally recognized video production program. Hannah, who just turned twelve, is on her way to becoming an ice hockey coach and writer, and has already started sharing her short stories on open submission platforms.
Shortly after I published HIPPIE BOY, Sydney gave me a card that will sit on my desk forever. The outside features a picture of Wonder Woman. And inside are these words: “Thank you for teaching me to go after my dreams by going after yours.”
About Ingrid Ricks
Ingrid Ricks is an author, speaker, essayist and teen mentor. Her memoirs include the New York Times Best Seller HIPPIE BOY, Focus, a memoir about her journey with the blinding eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa, and a short story collection, A Little Book of Mormon (and Not So Mormon) Stories. She is currently working on a memoir about her yearlong quest to save her eyesight, and is blogging about her journey at www.determinedtosee.com. Connect with Ingrid on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.
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