Nelson shares her varied life experiences in a big way

Sask Bulletin
April 19, 2018

Linda Nelson and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Senior Administrative Staff Milton Block discuss the book the longtime educator and former councillor has written about her experiences as a Little Person.

Most of us can never imagine the utter confusion and wide range of emotions that would be an everyday reality for someone who grew up as a Little Person diagnosed with achondroplasia.

If you would like to gain some insight into what curves and challenges life has thrown at retired teacher and longtime Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation councillor Linda Nelson, you can check out her first published book, That is Not Me… A Journey of Perception.

Anxiously awaiting the official book launch on April 28, Nelson visited the STF office to share not only what is contained in the book, but also the genesis of her writing it which stems back to a poem she had written in her early twenties as a young teacher. In the book she acknowledges this was one of the lowest ebbs of her journey, as she wondered about how her life was wasted, and how she was tormented by hidden anger and negative emotions.

It is a poem that appears in the book (left in its original state), which Nelson was vehement about maintaining in discussion with representatives from FriesenPress.

Though she was raised to be independent and resourceful, including by her mother who was also a teacher, she knew there would always be significant struggles and heartache–both physical and mental.

Although Nelson calls herself a storyteller and not a writer, her love of writing has been there throughout her adult life and continues today as she mulls over possible subsequent books.

This book, a decade in the making, was originally a dream for Nelson: “I just thought I had a story to tell and there was a lot I had to figure out as I went along, but I guess I thought it might make a difference to someone else,” she said.

She alluded to some chapters depicting her relationships with family and friends that she had to rewrite three or four times on this self-reflective, emotionally raw journey.

Nelson is convinced the book is not meant exclusively for other Little People, but that it can resonate with others as well.

“I think of it relating to those who have an interest in social aspects, or who are perceived as different, people who like to solve their own problems and who like to learn. A lot of this is about perceptions and how they influence us,” Nelson offered.

If the aforementioned poem was the catalyst, a couple of near-death experiences certainly added to the urgency of its completion. The first was when, after much frustration and medical misdiagnosis, Nelson had a revolutionary surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2005 which left her with the heretofore-unknown sensation of being able to walk down the hallway without having to tell her legs what to do.

Then there was an accident in North Battleford in 2016 when, as a pedestrian, she was struck by a vehicle and did what she called “a barrel roll” before hitting her head on the pavement. Her first thought was that the book wasn’t done.

That only served to further fuel her determination to complete the book and have it published. In the FriesenPress preamble, the book is cited as testament to her tenacity.

Nelson agreed, although added that “tenacity is not exactly complimentary, but I guess it’s me, always trying to figure another way if you have a setback.”

To borrow a phrase from the book to emphasize the point, Nelson says, “it’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to quit trying.”

Reflecting back on her own innermost thoughts, Nelson said that in growing up she was particularly frustrated at how Little People were often depicted as jokesters and as a form of entertainment or curiosity rather than being accepted for their own unique qualities like others in mainstream society.

“We’re just people. We don’t see ourselves as small. My eyes don’t see small when I look at you in the eyes and my shadow isn’t small,” she said with a resolve, which those who know her will be well acquainted with.

She frequently exhibited that resolve and confidence while a teacher as well as with her numerous roles within the Federation (20 years as a councillor and six years on the board of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Retirement Plan). She was also grateful for the occasions when she utilized the counselling services offered by the STF.

“I always felt so welcomed in the STF world and it was an important part of my life as a teacher,” she said.

Since her retirement from teaching, she continues as a tutor for a small group of adults and students, sharing her expertise with technology in particular.

“I’m still writing all the time; I wake up writing and it’s my fascination. There are a lot of things going on in my head that might make an interesting book, but I’m OK if this is my only published book because it’s about the message and how we should never quit learning.”

Nelson readily acknowledged these last few days prior to the launch have been somewhat nerve-racking.

“This is a big step for me and the whole process has been eye-opening. The whole promotion thing can be overwhelming but it’s like teaching in a way. A good teacher keeps a personal distance from their students and I felt the same way here. I know it’s all part of the process and I like talking to people and sharing the story if it helps one person.

“When they actually sent me the completed copy, I read the entire book for the first time. When I think about when I started and to now, it’s very emotional. A lot of things had to come out that I had withheld. This has been about figuring out a lot of stuff, including figuring out who I am.”

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