Friday, December 23, 2011

Sheridan author Abbie Johnson Taylor reflects on her new book and her role as "family caregiver"

Wyomingarts picked this up from the Wyoming Writers, Inc., listserv. Abbie Johnson Taylor of Sheridan is a long-time member of both WyoPoets and WWInc. She’s a prolific writer, singer, full-time caregiver for her husband Bill, and an activist for the visually impaired. This info is about her new book, followed by a Q&A. Inspiring reading for the holiday season:

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver is a book of poems just released by author Abbie Johnson Taylor of Sheridan and published by iUniverse. In January of 2006, the author’s husband suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. After months of therapy in a nursing facility, he returned home in September of that year. Although he still had little use of his left arm and leg, it was hoped that through outpatient therapy, he would eventually walk again. In January of 2007, he suffered a second stroke that wasn’t as severe, but it was enough to impact his recovery. In August of that year, his therapy was discontinued because he showed no progress. He has never walked since.

The first five poems in the book tell the story of how Taylor found her husband when he suffered his first stroke, detail events in the first few months afterward, and describe Taylor and her husband’s reactions. The rest of the poems in the first part were inspired by Taylor’s experiences while caring for her husband. Covering such topics as dressing, feeding, toileting, their relationship, and his computer, 
they often provide a humorous outlook. Some poems are from the husband’s point of view. Poems in the next two parts cover childhood memories and other topics. The last section of poems was inspired by Taylor’s fifteen years of experience as a registered music therapist in a nursing home before marrying her husband.

Abbie Johnson Taylor’s novel, We Shall Overcome, was published by iUniverse in July of 2007. Her fiction has appeared in Magnets and Ladders and Emerging Voices, her poetry in Distant Horizons, her creative nonfiction in Christmas in the Country and SageScript. She is President of WyoPoets and secretary of Behind Our Eyes and is involved with other writers’ groups including Sheridan Range Writers, Wyoming Writers, and Explorations in Creative Writing. She also participates in a monthly poetry critique group. When not writing or caring for Bill, she facilitates a support group for the visually impaired, sings with a women’s group called Just Harmony, and participates in water exercise 
classes at the YMCA. Please visit her blog at and website at

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, ISBN #978-1-4620-6794-7, is available from iUniverse, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Links to where the book can be ordered on these sites can be found at Copies can also be ordered from the author by calling (307) 674-6109.

Q&A with Abbie Johnson Taylor

Q. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

A. I was born in New York City on June 1st, 1961. We only lived there for about a year. My parents had degrees in education, but they wanted to become actors. However, they realized that teaching careers would provide a more stable income. After a year in New York, we moved to Boulder, Colorado. When I was about four, we moved to Tucson, ArizonaIn 1973, we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming. My grandfather died a couple of years earlier, and my grandmother needed someone to run the family’s coin-operated machine business. Since no one else seemed interested, my father felt obligated to take over. Sheridan has been my home ever since.

Q. Because of your visual impairment, were you educated in special schools?

A. In Tucson, I attended the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind for five and a half years. When my parents became dissatisfied with my education, they transferred me to a public school. When we moved to Sheridan, I completed my education in public schools.

Q. Where did you go to college?

A. When I graduated from high school in 1980, I thought I wanted to be a rock singer. I went to Sheridan College for two years where I majored in music performance and graduated with an AA degree. I then transferred to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where I again majored in music performance and graduated with a BA degree after two and a half years. While I was there, a career counselor told me about music therapy, the use of music with a variety of populations including the elderly and mentally ill to achieve therapeutic goals. Since Montana State University had a music therapy program, I transferred there after graduating from Rocky Mountain College. After two more years of study and an internship in a nursing home in FargoNorth Dakota, I returned to Sheridan in 1988. Almost a year later, I found a job conducting activities in a nursing home where I used the 
music therapy skills I learned.

Q. You’re not working there now?

A. No, I quit so I could write full time.

Q. Was that when your writing career got off the ground?

A. No, I started writing a few years before I quit my day job. Several of my poems and stories were published in various journals and anthologies, and I wrote my first novel We Shall Overcome. When I 
married my husband Bill, he persuaded me to write full time.

Q. How much vision do you have, and do you use any adaptive devices to make your life easier?

A. I can see people, objects, places, and some pictures. I can read print if it’s large enough. I use a desktop video magnifier, and my computer has software that reads the screen to me in synthetic speech, allows me to navigate using the keyboard, and tells me what I’m typing. I use a white cane while walking around town.

Q. Where did you get the idea for How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver?

A. In January of 2006, three months after we were married, Bill suffered a stroke that left his left side paralyzed. He spent months in a nursing facility where he received therapy and finally came home the 
following September. At that time, I found myself writing more poems about him and the trials and tribulations of being a family caregiver.

Q. Where did you come up with the title?

A. I’ll have to give our caseworker at the local senior center’s in-home services program most of the credit for that. Several years ago, one of the aides who gave Bill his shower three days a week claimed the process of transferring him from the bed to the commode was bothering her back. Our caseworker said, “I wish I knew how to build a better mousetrap.” That’s what being a caregiver is about. You 
sometimes have to find different ways of doing things, and it can be especially tricky when you can’t see very well. You often figure things out by trial and error.

Q. Are all the poems in the book about taking care of Bill?

A. No, the majority cover such topics as feeding, dressing, and toileting. Some are from Bill’s point of view. One in particular is from the point of view of his computer which he has trouble using because of his lack of short-term memory and use of his left arm. Some poems provide a humorous outlook on being a family caregiver. Others offer a heartwarming look at our relationship. Poems in the second and third parts of the book cover childhood memories and reflect on other topics. The last part contains poems inspired by my fifteen years experience working with nursing home residents.

Q. Bill is still in a wheelchair today?

A. Yes, when he came home in 2006, we hoped that through outpatient therapy, he would eventually walk again. But in January of 2007, he suffered a second stroke that wasn’t as severe, but it was enough to impact his recovery. In august of that year, his therapy was discontinued because he wasn’t showing any progress. He may never walk again, but that doesn’t matter. We love each other, and we’ll enjoy our life together for as long as we can.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish by publishing this book?

A. If anything, I want others in my situation to know they’re not alone. Fortunately for me, Bill is still relatively healthy and mentally alert. The only great challenges I face are the physical ones involved with his personal care, and I’m thankful for the help I get from the senior center’s in-home services program. But others are harder to care for because of Alzheimer’s’ or other more serious medical problems. Their loved ones should know that help is available. Our local senior center has a support group for caregivers and other services, and I’m sure senior centers in other communities have similar 
programs. Caregivers should seek out such help and not feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

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