We had the chance to meet Melissa at the Markham Village Music Festival (June 20th & 21st). At the Festival, Melissa raffled off her guitar and donated the proceeds to the Markham Arts Council and B-Strong.
We were later, over e-mail, able to ask her some questions about her journey thus far as a new author and an artist…
MAC: What motivated you to begin this book?
Melissa N.: Well, after working in long term care for 10+ years and living a healthy lifestyle, life threw me a curveball. I had a few hours notice before I was going to have surgery to remove a brain tumour. Until then, I was very familiar with being on the giving end of healthcare, but not the receiving end. The result of surgery was that I had to learn how to walk again, and use the function of my right hand (unable to write, play guitar, paint etc.).
The surgery and road to recovery was a surreal experience to say the least, so a couple weeks after surgery I began to type notes to myself, short form reminders, appointment times etc. Next thing you know, as weeks and months passed, everything became a book. I drizzled some humour into the book here and there, because life isn’t always so serious and there were some laughs along the way.
A painting done by Melissa Nichols, post-surgery.
MAC: Your book was just published in March – how do you feel the response has been to your book thus far? Have people’s reactions surprised you?
Melissa N.: At first, I would cringe at the anticipation of hearing feedback about my book. After all, I was sharing the most vulnerable and personal story of my life. Seeing as how I am the polar opposite in nature- I’m more like a prideful and private joker – going public was a little jarring at first.
The response has been mind-blowing. I am so incredibly thankful that some have shared with me their personal stories in return, such as their experience of chronic pain, frustrating medical mysteries, or indirect ‘confused punishment’ because of a health hardship. Most of us experience these things. When others share their personal story with me it’s not only a special gift to me but also creates conversation, which in turn brings taboo topics out on the table, such as depression, loss of friends, and social stigma. Many readers shared they are not big readers, but said they read Day by Day in a matter of days and told me how it inspired them.
Hearing that I made an impact on someone’s life/outlook is always a surprise. To think the book touched them that intimately is the ultimate honour.
MAC: What do you hope readers will get from your book? Is there any particular message you hope resonates with them?
Melissa N.: After hearing back from most of my readers, I can say Day by Day will help anyone who reads it: as a patient, as a family member/friend/caregiver, or even stranger. It reminds us that no one is alone in their turmoil, regardless of how big or small it is and that there IS something everyone can do to make virtually any bad situation a little lighter. Doing nothing is the worst you can do. Also, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! (Or sangria)
Melissa Nichols and her niece – born the same day Melissa had her life-altering surgery.
MAC: What other art forms are you also interested in that inform your creative process? Any that you admire or would like to learn?
Melissa N.: “Music exists to speak the words we can’t express” is a quote I closely relate to. Sometimes words aren’t enough. I used to play acoustic guitar- mostly by myself or in a small group while camping, and got lost in the moment every time I played.
Same goes for visual art. I paint on canvas, sometimes putting brush to canvas without any clue of what I’m going to paint. Other times, I try to get the colour or shape just as I’ve envisioned it in my mind. I had a goldfish by the name of “Tickles” (named because when I first got him, he swam as if being tickled). I used to paint the background on the back of his fish tank every few months with a theme for his entertainment (okay, maybe mine). I find with art you need to be fearless, and make it seem mistakes were on purpose.
Just yesterday (Canada Day), with no one in sight I started playing around on my Mom’s keyboard for the first time. Half an hour later, I learned the first line of “Somewhere over the rainbow”. Albeit it was rough, but I got lost in the moment, like I did when I played guitar. I think I’ll pursue that next!
Painting by Melissa Nichols
MAC: As a Markham native yourself, what advice do you have for aspiring Markham authors and anyone hoping to get involved in writing?
Melissa N.: About HALF of all Day by Day readers told me they too want to write a book some day. Writing a book someday shouldn’t be on your bucket list because that’s all it will be- just another item on your bucket list you will not do. Don’t wait, start today. Like, right now.
People get too caught up in saying they don’t have anything interesting to say, or don’t have a specific story to tell. But look at the show Seinfeld, for example – what was that show about? Nothing. Keep in mind, that even if you don’t have a story to tell, then focus on HOW to tell a story – kind of like telling a cheesy joke. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. Sometimes telling a cheesy joke with confidence elicits a smile, even it’s a bad joke.
Melissa: “Hey Bobby, What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you?”
Bobby: “I don’t know. What?” *rolling eyes*
Melissa: “NACHO CHEEEESEE!!!”
The things you don’t want to share end up being the most interesting to read. Example: I mentioned in my book I love to people-watch, and I admitted that I watch people in the building in front of mine from my balcony. I described some of the people and felt creepy about it, but it was a good read (and besides- who doesn’t like people watching? Admit it!).
Don’t look at the big picture- take writing one step at a time, or rather, day by day. Just write down something, anything- you will go back and fix it later (trust me, a few, or hundreds of times). Just like art and playing music- don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
What message are you trying to relate? Your audience doesn’t know what you haven’t told them. Also, give examples of things that everyone can relate to so you have an emotional connection with the reader. For instance, we all have an idea of what mannerisms ducklings have as they follow their parent around. So if I were to say a doctor had students following him around like baby ducklings, then it’s understood I am saying they seemed dependent, insecure, young, inexperienced and within close range.
Need help with the self-publishing aspect? Contact me. I’d be happy to help.
MAC: Any future projects? And how can people keep up with what you’re doing?
Melissa N.: There have been amazing things that have come out of the release of this book – this interview, being one of them. From newspaper articles, photo shoots, and then raffling off my guitar to benefit Markham Arts Council and BStrong- it has been an exciting ride. There’s more news to come- a big announcement TBA about something I am ultimately passionate about and proud to be part of.
It has been 3 years this October since the surgery, and believe it or not it wasn’t until recently that the dust has settled. Sometimes it feels like 3 days ago, not 3 years. Since Day by Day‘s release, I have been riding an incredible wave- with extreme highs and lows: from meeting rock stars to radiation- I never thought I would endure in this lifetime.
Eventually, I’d like to climb back into my private world and not be such a public figure- there’s more to life than being a brain tumour survivor. As long as there’s an opportunity to share my story and help others, I will be here to help any way I can.
See the original interview in full here: http://www.markhamartscouncil.com/2014/07/03/featured-artist-for-july/