Imagine you’re born perfectly normal, but then a virulent infection devours your eyelids, nose and lips. Your parents decide they can’t handle raising such a needy kid, so you become a ward of the state – and a doctor gets permission to do experimental plastic surgery on you. After three years in a cage-like crib at the hospital and myriad painful operations, you, the doctor’s work-in-progress, get placed in foster care. Wherever you go, people stare, and though your foster family does its best to make you feel at home, you feel like an outsider, a freak. People assume your misshapen nose and lopsided lips mean you’re mentally retarded rather than a plastic surgeon’s pet project.
This is Howard Shulman’s story.
Recently, his memoir Running from the Mirror was released, and it’s riveting. His raw honesty in how he describes growing up the “monster kid” at the mercy of his experimenting doctor and the opportunities he grasps to survive as a young adult (not all of them legal) brought tears to my eyes, caught my breath, and occasionally provoked a guilty grin.
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this is a painful read, for example, when he describes one of his Frankenstein-like surgeries:
“A large nine-by-eight-inch patch of skin was excised from my chest and shoulder, the graft then rolled up and stitched along the seam to create a headless snake of raw, living flesh. One end was then attached under my chin and the other to the tip of my reconstructed nose. This appendage, left to dangle in front of my face for the next six weeks, was a constant reminder of what I had gone through but one that gave me no idea where I was going. Doctor Gratz literally held my future in his hands.”
If his childhood memories are gripping and intense, Howard’s irreverence in relaying shady career endeavors to keep food on the table and a roof over his head is equally engaging, possibly even a guilty pleasure (I’d give examples, except I hate when people talk about books and spoil the surprises). Ultimately, Howard’s journey as he learns to accept himself and finds love is extremely gratifying.
I actually got to meet Howard a few months before Running from the Mirror was released by Sandra Jonas Publishing House. Howard called and told me he’d met a friend of mine in line at Starbucks who gave him my number. He wanted to talk to a local fellow author about giving writers’ workshops together. We met at a coffee shop in Chula Vista, California, where Howard shared his experience writing his memoir: cleansing yet uncomfortable, often frustrating, sometimes sad or filled with regret. Still, the satisfaction of knowing how far he has come and the hope his story might give to others made the project worth the effort.
Talk about grit. They don’t make ‘em much more bad ass than Howard.
Now in his 50s, Howard has owned successful businesses and traveled, but what he treasures most is his family.
“When I turned 50, I experienced two miracles,” he says. “The first was my marriage. It never occurred to me…[I’d find someone who would be] beautiful and caring and love me for who I am. The second miracle was that my wife came with the family I had longed for… [By] helping raise my wife’s twin daughters, [I found] parenting is not a one-way street. I am in a relationship with them that provides more love than I could ever have imagined…We respect and learn from each other. ”
Since Howard and I met, my husband and I moved to Bend, Oregon, to start 94.9 FM Central Oregon’s Sports Radio (which has been a harrowing experience, worthy of a Tenacity to Triumph post, coming soon). Howard and I have become friends, though, and I’ll visit family in San Diego County every few months, so we’ll be doing writers’ workshops together in the near future.
If you’re interested in participating in a writers’ workshop with Howard and me, whether you’re a seasoned writer who could use inspiration and techniques to get you to the next level, or you’re someone who likes to write and has a fiction or nonfiction story to tell, please leave a comment with your contact information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (619) 647-5559.
A portion of Howard’s sales go to Hillsides, an organization that works to recreate the lives of at-risk kids. For more information about Howard’s book or to order Running from the Mirror, click here.
A quick note: The link goes to Sandra Jonas Publishing, which is selling the book for 20% off ($12.00) until October 31. You can also get the book at regular price ($14.95), through Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Amazon erroneously has Running from the Mirror labeled “Temporarily out of stock”, but your order will go through).
Comments are ALWAYS appreciated, whether you’re interested in coming to a workshop, or you have something you’d like to share.
Talk to you soon!
(Lots of great posts will be coming now that the radio station is finally on the air. Sheesh!)
Writer, Coach, Editor, and Fellow Bad Ass