How "Columbine" Ruined My Writing Career  

Posted by Heidi in

Whenever we move into a new area, I warn my neighbors thusly: “Terrible things always seem to happen in our vicinity." (In other words, be afraid. Be very afraid.) (This could be why they seem to shun us but I’m not jumping to any wild-and-crazy conclusions). For example, we lived in San Jose when the Loma Prieta quake hit, the Haley-Bopp mass suicide took place not many miles from our home in San Diego and we were covered by the blanket of grief that settled over the inhabitants of Littleton, Colorado as a result of the mass shootings at Columbine High School.

The terrible events of that day and the numerous connections we had to people who knew somebody who was related to somebody that got shot (and the fact that I could swear I saw one of the shooters in his long, black coat walking around downtown Littleton the weekend prior to the event) are too heavy to discuss on my self-proclaimed humor blog. However, the dark and terrible deeds of that day changed the course of my life forever.


As one can imagine, everyone was terribly upset. People entertained thoughts along the lines of: “They must have been crazy!” or “How could their parents NOT KNOW?” or the easy-to-jump-to-conclusion “They must have been raised by wolves!” As I watched the news coverage mapping out possible motives for the shooter’s horrific acts, the whole sorry mess felt so much more applicable to my life than if they had done their dour deeds a few states over. Because I had a pre-adolescent son for whom my earliest fears (starting at about three days old) was that he would grow up to be an axe murderer (a totally illogical fear yet eerie in how close to the mark it was), all I could think about were the parents of the victims, including those of the shooters. The phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” went through my mind over and over.

It was during the Littleton years that my then undiagnosed, multiply-disabled, mildly cerebral palsied, brain-damaged through birth-accident, depressed, anxious, bipolar child with learning disabilities and autistic-type tendencies (though not autistic) was holing up in the basement, living on a diet of soda crackers and water and freaking out every time I came down the stairs and turned on the light to do the laundry (you can imagine how downright acceptable dirty clothes began to look to me). One can see how I might have been a tad anxious about this child’s future. I thought I knew just how the parents of the shooters were feeling right about then and I would have cheerfully given my right arm in exchange for a guarantee that I would never have to feel that same way. However, I knew my time, patience, energy and wits would be a far more effective sacrifice--which meant I would have to completely and irrevocably give up pursuing the many-years-longed-for writing career I had dreamed of since I was little more than a tot.

So, that's what I did.

As it turns out, “Columbine” was the seminal event that led me to decide I would much less regret never becoming a published writer than being the author of an axe murderer. Because of the events of that day, I traded in working on my potential writing career for spending masses of time chatting up pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, behavioral and physical therapists, pharmacists, neurologists and nutritional specialists.

And to think that Miss D might have been published close to ten years earlier than it was--I could have been an insufferable egomaniac that much sooner!

Then again, I could have been dead.

Heidi Ashworth, author of Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind and this here blog, lives in domestic bliss with her husband and three children, including her multiply-disabled son who, in spite of his homicidal tendencies when not properly medicated, is a loveable teddy bear, deathly afraid of anything sharp.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 7, 2009 at Thursday, May 07, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

44 wise, witty and wonderful comments

I'm so glad you were able to achieve your dream. And not have a serial killer for a son.

May 7, 2009 at 7:49 PM

Kristina, you always know just the right thing to say. :)

May 7, 2009 at 7:50 PM

I really think that sometimes we must put our dreams aside for far better things.

I'm so glad you got both your dream and take care of your family.

Amazing people have amazing callings. =)

May 7, 2009 at 7:58 PM

So as a relative newcomer to this blog, how is your son now? Obviously doing well enough you're fine almost joking about this (in a very respectful way, and all that). Good thing it didn't mean a permanent giving up of your writing career - although that doesn't lesson the sacrifice made then, since at that point you didn't know that.
I think when said out like this, every parent would rather have their child turn out well than anything else - money, power, fame, a mortgage, etc. But sadly, whether through self-obfuscation or outside influences, it is not always this clear of a choice.

May 7, 2009 at 8:00 PM

I think it's perfectly wonderful you made both your dreams come true!

May 7, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Carolyn--you have no idea how blessed I feel. Thora--he is doing much, much better. There is no guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen but for the time being, he is stable and things are manageable. You are right that it isn't always so clear of a choice--I am ever so grateful that, as painful as it was, my choices were crystal clear to me. It made it much easier to choose the right one. Rachel--so do I!

May 7, 2009 at 8:42 PM

It is remarkable how unimaginable events change the course of our lives, thanks for the perspective. I think I will be mulling over this one for a while.

May 7, 2009 at 9:13 PM

What a challenge that was Heidi.

Great that you are living the dream. Carry on and make us proud.

May 7, 2009 at 9:24 PM

If any of the parents of those shooters are sufficiently healthy, I imagine they would feel grateful that some good came to someone as a result of that horrific experience.

May 7, 2009 at 9:25 PM

Sometimes our blessings are so much greater (or at least we appreciate them more) when we had to sacrifice much to get ourselves there. I loved reading this, and I think all mothers can relate, though possibly not in such a dramatic fashion.

And, maybe I don't want to be your neighbor after all. :)

May 7, 2009 at 9:45 PM

and here years later you have a wonderful (when medicated apparently) son AND we all get to enjoy Miss D.

Columbine gave me a lot of pause just because it was so close to my home town... and things like that just aren't supposed to happen...

Good for you to make something Good of something so tragic, because what you did was Good for your son and Good for your family. (not to mention the numerous others who are spared him being dangerous)

May 7, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Having a sister who is multiply handicapped, I understand how draining it is on a family before there is a diagnosis. I applaud you for taking care of your son first and then you were able to see your desires come to fruition! Yeah for us!

May 7, 2009 at 11:25 PM

It's so true. Columbine ruined/prolonged realizing your dreams of becoming a writer, but it saved your son. It's so good to keep that in perspective (for me) because for every time there is a season. It's hard to be patient. Sometimes I want to break the law just so I can go to jail and have uninterrupted time to write beautiful letters like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joseph Smith.

But I guess that wouldn't be great for the kids either. (shucks)

May 8, 2009 at 1:32 AM

I love being comment number 13.

May 8, 2009 at 1:33 AM

You also wouldn't have had the network (read:US!)ten years ago that you have now as a published author.

And I could tell after being around you for a short few hours, that you are a devoted and loving mother first.

You are made of hero kind of stuff.

May 8, 2009 at 5:22 AM

So I guess what you're saying here is that this stupid PTA fundraiser is no reason not to write? Shucks.

Isn't it good that Heavenly Father blesses us with trials? You must have grown/be growing remarkably.

May 8, 2009 at 7:11 AM

Wow, this explains the dead guy in the crosswalk at Mayberry Elementary. My mother has natural disasters follow her on her vacations. Samoa, China, Indiana--it doesn't matter: if she visits, disaster shall follow.

You made the right decision. Ditto Kristina. I'm glad you are a published author and not the mother of an ax-murderer. (She always knows the right thing to say. :)

I love you!

May 8, 2009 at 7:17 AM

So then, it it rude to say I'm pleased you live far from me? Although, I just happened to be visiting my hometown of Northridge, CA the weekend of the Northridge quake, back in 95. Seemed some crappy karma.

My mother realized while she struggled to teach my mentally handicapped brother to speak, that she was better at it than the Speech Therapists.(She had him speaking within the low normal ranges by 18 months, and he has an IQ of 50). Later she went back to school and became a speech pathologist and taught Aphasic preschoolers.

Good on you for the choices you made.

May 8, 2009 at 8:47 AM

I'm glad you listened to your instincts and decided to put your writing on hold. It seems you have been doubly rewarded!

May 8, 2009 at 8:50 AM

Heather, Jan, Pam--thanks, I appreciate your kind words. Lara--I agree that most parents do have these kinds of experiences even if, like you say, in a less dramatic way. T--LOL! Yes, we are grateful for the safety of everyone within his sphere. :)April--honestly, I think that is how it potentially works for everyone when we choose to walk the right path. Crash--I love that you love being comment #13 (don't tell Jami I said that, though) Kazzy--that's true! (I mean about the blog audience thing, not the hero thing--but thanks and hugs!) Melanie--I hear that you are doing remarkable things with the PTA fundraiser thing. Actually, all of those things help to make us better and more interesting writers, anyway. Jami--you're right--the elementary school suicide and the post office random killing--we have actually had a much worse situation since we have lived here but I didn't include it on my list (actually, I did but then I removed it) b/c it might have wounded the sensibilities of some of my readers. Kelly--just in time for Northridge!?!?! Oh, dear, that must have been interesting. Heidi--I would have to agree and am so grateful!

May 8, 2009 at 9:12 AM

Have a well-deserved Mother's Day.
I hope your son (and other children) are all well.

May 8, 2009 at 9:27 AM

Disasters seem to follow us around too...the Rodney King riots, a handful of earthquakes, the Altadena fires.

But I think sometimes when we make a really important sacrifice, like you did with The Big Guy, they become Abrahamic in the sense that there's eventually a ram in the thicket. You have a wonderful son and a novel in print. And I believe you might have extra success simply because you WERE WILLING to make that sacrifice.

May 8, 2009 at 9:41 AM

When I read about people like you, I can't help thinking about 1 Nephi 3:7, and how the Lord won't give us anything we can't handle. I know that the courage and skill to "handle" things comes with time and experience, and that most people in your circumstances don't think of themselves as a strong person, but you most definitely are. And for people like me, who have had a relatively easy life with no such challenges, I realize how weak I really am. Knock on wood.

May 8, 2009 at 10:53 AM

I love the thought that we can have it all, just not at the same time. So yea for things working out.

Melanie J. I think PTA fundraisers are a reason to contemplate suicide, let alone not writing on your blog. Just saying.

May 8, 2009 at 1:24 PM

Donna--thanks--you too! Jana--such a thoughtful response. I have come up with that word "willing" so many times. I truly believe that is the only diff between me and someone who doesn't have the challenges I do. I'm not smarter or better or stronger or more spiritual--just willing (what was I thinking!??!) (JK) (Really!) Sue--you're right, I really don't think of myself as a strong person. At least, I didn't used to be one. I suppose I'm a bit less gimpy now. :) Pat--so true! Not all at the same time! Good things come to those who wait!

May 8, 2009 at 1:28 PM

The things we sacrifice for our children, right? Seriously. So glad that you helped your child AND managed to become a published author, even if it was later than you wanted. Just think - maybe you couldn't have written as good a book without all the experience you accumulated over the last decade!

May 8, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Your story reminds me so much of focusing on putting the Lord's kingdom first and then you will be blessed with the righteous desires of your heart! (Something I'm trying oh so hard to do right now!) You are amazing Heidi, I'm so glad to know you!

May 8, 2009 at 3:44 PM

What a beautiful post that discusses an issue not many of us think about...victims on all sides of a tragedy. It's heart wrenching to think about all those poor families that lost their children but thanks for reminding us to also think about the other families left behind who won't get support from the community or media and may not really be horrible people.

May 8, 2009 at 7:29 PM

This is a great post. So glad I read it today. I've been banging my head against the wall trying to write more while balancing the lives of my 4 small children and sweet husband. I'm passionate about my yet-unfinished book and desperately want to add to the 15 chapters I've written so far.

But! (and it's a big "but!)...There is a time for everything. Thanks for reminding us block-heads that (notably: me). There is a time and a season for everything. sigh...

May 8, 2009 at 7:54 PM

Your challenges have truly made you an even more amazing person. And like Kazzy said, you wouldn't have had us back then, and we wouldn't have known about you!! Glad you waited!

May 8, 2009 at 8:00 PM

Alyson--this book was already written at that time (I just gave up on finding it a publisher until recently) but I certainly hope I am a better writer than I was 15 years ago. Melinda--I am glad to know you, too!! Jen--thanks for seeing things that way. I was worried about this post. I wasn't sure if people would take it the way I meant it. I am grateful that most certainly seem to have. :) Terresa--it was incredibly painful for me to try to write and be constantly pulled away from it. You are sooooo young--the passion will last. It is humbling to think that something I said might have made things more clear for you. I'm not judging anyone who doesn't choose the path I chose--but I still recommend it! Val--I am too!! Truly, I am! So often we get exactly what we want most when it seems like just the opposite. As humans, we have such a finite perspective on things.

May 8, 2009 at 8:51 PM

I have often felt sad for the mothers of these situations. How could one know? It's amazing that you've sacrificed for your child and how lucky he is to have the benefit of the support system you have set up.
Kudos.

May 8, 2009 at 9:24 PM

You're a fabulous mother. It was your kind advice on this same subject that has helped me through a great deal with my son. Thank God for you, Heids. Thank God for you.

May 8, 2009 at 11:39 PM

I got very, very seriously sick a few years ago - when The Baby was a baby - and NEARLY DIED and when I was in the hospital, I realized that my unfullfilled writing dreams mattered SO much less to me than the thought of leaving my babies.
You made the right choice. And look! It all worked out!

May 9, 2009 at 9:03 AM

Such a powerful post, Heidi, and very, very appropriate on Mother's Day weekend. We all make choices in life, don't we? As mothers, I think that we are forced to make about 1000 more simply because of the little people we take care of. I've seen the pictures of your boy. He is a huggable teddy bear, like you said.

Clearly, you have been making the right choices for him and for your family for a long time now.

-Francesca

May 9, 2009 at 9:39 AM

You guys are all so good to me! Mariko--thank you--and I totally understand why you didn't have a chance to show up at the library--no worries--tho I would have loved to meet you and hear your lovely deep voice. Laura--you are too generous! I'm very grateful for you, too! Beck--it really is amazing and humbling the way bad experiences work for our good. (Glad you didn't die!) Francesca--thank you! And you're right! When you're ancient like me, you have been making choices for a verrryyyyyy long time! (hee hee) But, really, you all know how you feel about your kids. As painful as it was (and it was) I knew never being a published writer would hurt way less than feeling like I didn't do my best by my kids. So, in the end, it isn't really a sacrifice at all. It's just giving up what you want right now for what you want most. I think we truly can have most of what we want as long as we realize we don't get it all at the same time.

May 9, 2009 at 10:49 AM

I didn't think I could like you or admire you more but now I do. If all moms were half as caring as you, we'd all live in a better world.

May 9, 2009 at 5:11 PM

I am a firm believer that good things can come from bad things.

And you putting your writing career on hold not only helped your son, but it also gave you the chance to share your book with all your blog friends now!

There is a season for everything.

May 9, 2009 at 7:10 PM

Don't know what to say that hasn't been said already, so I'll just say Happy Mothers Day, Heidi :)

May 9, 2009 at 10:18 PM

I personally think you get to go straight to Heaven.

May 10, 2009 at 4:10 PM

You will understand when I say that I get it... so many years later and every year it is the same. This is where I still live and it still haunts us. This happened before I was a parent and all I can say is that that day changed us all forever. I am a different parent than I would have been....

May 10, 2009 at 8:21 PM

That's so interesting. I'm glad you were able to publish regardless. It's quite amazing to me what you have been though. I agree. I feel badly for the parents. Certainly, if they could see it coming they would have done something to stop it. And, perhaps by delaying your writing career you really were able to prevent a tragedy. You seem to have pretty good intuition.

May 11, 2009 at 8:58 PM

I appreciate your inspiration coming from a place of anxiety. I have a son(24 yo this summer) and it is squarely because of him that I am who I am today.
He has cerebral palsy as well; cognitivity of a 6 yo on some planes and a little higher on others.
It is because of him that I am patient; that I celebrate the little things, and overlook a whole lot of stupid things; that I see the "invisible" people when I walk into a room...I can't help but go over and meet them.
Dean taught me that and so much more. His presence in our lives has been the toughtest, sweetest experience we know.

May 18, 2009 at 9:51 AM

What You Have Written Are The Words From Heart And I Really Appreciate Them !!!

May 18, 2009 at 2:21 PM

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