Writers in Real Life: Carol Clupny

We’re so happy to announce that Yellow Arrow contributor Carol Clupny, whose essay “Bus, Burros and Broken Beer Bottles” ran in Vol. 1, has a book coming out this month! Carol lives in Oregon, so we conducted an email interview with her.

What is your inspiration for writing?

Having Parkinson’s Disease is like having Robin Hood become part of your life. He steals from the rich part of you the things that make you alive; your ability to move, your facial expression, your tone of voice, your handwriting, your smell and taste and on and on. When your spirit has become poor, and there is not much left of you, he sees the poverty in you and brings you gifts. The gifts are quite unexpected. Some people with Parkinson’s can’t see their gift at all.

The three words “You have Parkinson’s” either shuts you down hard or opens you up softly. When you can see past those words, and they are only words, you become the definition.

The gifts help us define our new selves: a canvas and oils, a guitar, a sense of service, a potter’s wheel, poetry,  compassion, or wisdom to share with the newly diagnosed.   

The gift that came to me was a surprise. Writing!  Up to this point in my life I had only written technical reports and a few brief articles for professional journals. I began to share my travels via social media. The more I wrote the more encouragement to publish came my way. When the subtle encouragement felt more like a hard push I gave in. I found someone to look at my short pieces of writing and she saw the much bigger story. To bring together hundreds of posts and blogs and letters into a cohesive memoir was a huge task, yet one I felt compelled to complete as Robin (aka Parkinson’s disease) kept sneaking in the back door to take away more and more of me.

I have to use this  gift. I have to let people know they can laugh at their challenges. There is hope ahead in that tiny light at the end of the dark tunnel. There is adventure to be had, friendships to be made and hopefully a cure to be found. I want to tell the world about it.

Where do you write?

I have composed pieces from the stoker’s seat on our tandem bike and walking down a trail eating the dust of the person dragging their feet in front of me, visualizing typing and seeing the words on the screen so I can recall just how it happened when I can get to a word processor. I have plunked away with my stylus on my tiny phone keyboard in an albergue with 20 snoring pilgrims and in a tent in someone’s front yard in small town Iowa in rhythm with the splattering rain. I have edited late at night and in the early morning hours when I should have been sleeping like the rest of the pickers at a blue grass festival. Although most of the book was written as I traveled, it was put together in a spare bedroom turned office in our house.  I sit at a dark wood computer desk with piles of papers and a window where I can look out at my two old horses. I type on my son’s gaming computer, with a fancy lit up keyboard and a mouse that accidentally gets set in motion by my trembling right hand. This computer is also a gift as I have lost the ability to hand-write anything legibly. It has to be absolutely quiet when I am at the computer. Even my husband’s breathing at his desk a few feet from mine distracts me.


Carol was kind enough to share an excerpt from her book, The Ribbon of Road Ahead:  One Woman’s Remarkable Journey with Parkinson’s Disease

It started in the pit of my stomach as a queasy feeling and worked its way up to tighten my throat. I tried to ignore the sensation and keep hiking. The trekking pole on the end of my right arm clinked on the pavement. My left foot moved forward. I reached my arm out with the left pole. My right foot didn’t want to move. It was as if my foot had been inserted into a boot of quick-dry cement. Not only did my right foot not want to cooperate, but also the sweat on my face now turned into a running stream of sunscreen stinging my eyes. The sun heated up the surface of this black asphalt country lane out of the village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The heat was stifling. A car approached from behind, and the groups of people with their colorful backpacks moved to the sides of the lane to let it pass. The vehicle lost its momentum on the steep incline as it slowed for the walkers, and it had to back down to take another run at it. My throat felt tight and very dry. Hot, steep, stinging eyes, leg won’t work … Oh … my … God. If the rest of this Camino is anything like this, I am in for it! There’s no way I am going to be able to walk the five hundred miles to Santiago de Compostela. “My men,” as I thought of them, were all ahead of me now. My scream was stifled before it got out of my mouth, but I still had some tears left. They rolled down my cheeks as I tried to catch up with the guys. “Charlie,” I squeaked out, then “Charlie,” a little louder. He turned around, and as I saw him look at me, I crumpled right there on the hot pavement: backpack, hiking sticks, and all. Nearby walkers rushed to me. By the time Charlie got there, I was a sobbing mess of panic.

How to purchase the book:  Presale begins March 11

You can order directly from Carol at  https://ultreiablog.org

The paperback and e-version will also be available on Amazon.