eTitle:A Love of Language With Elizabeth Sammons

A headshot of Elizabeth Sammons & Cover of The Lyra & the Cross
Meet Elizabeth Sammons! Hear how her love of languages has taken her to Switzerland, Russia, the Peace Corps and helped her become a published author.

Her journey illustrates how we can find ways to include our passions in our career and throughout our lives.

Listen

###Resources
The Lyra and the Cross

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host and producer T.Reid. Just about every two weeks or so, I bring you someone who has been impacted by Blindness, low Vision or Disability in general. These are people I find compelling.
People I believe have a story to share. The goal is to reach those of you adjusting to vision loss.

There’s a real power in learning what it really does mean to live with disability as opposed to what we either indirectly or directly learned or
absorbed throughout our lives. I know this because I too have experienced vision loss and early on decided to challenge my own biases. Occasionally I bring you stories from my own experience as a man who became Blind as an adult.

Up next on today’s episode; we see an example of someone setting their own course through life.
while being sure to find ways to fulfill their passion.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

Allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Sammons. She’s retired from the Vocational Rehabilitation and
international relations fields.

Currently, she and her husband are traveling the country in an RV while she continues in her new career as a writer. She’s been an exchange student, volunteered in the Peace Corps and lived and worked in Russia. We’ll get to that but as you’ll see, her early years really set the pace for how she lives her life.

ES:

I was raised in Central Ohio, small town which is a blessing.
Went to a school for the Blind for two years, learned Braille. Went on and long story short I was mainstreamed in the public school in fifth grade.

TR:

Let’s say Elizabeth’s high school experience left much to be desired socially.

ES:

I told my parents and I told the school I was willing to do anything if I could get out in three years rather than four. And I did that and I was only 16 when I graduated

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What was it that said, go ahead I’m going to go and finish early. Now I get it that you said you weren’t having a good time, I guess some bullying or whatever the case may be, but to say I’m just going to rush through it as opposed to the way I think most stories that involved bullying, sort of like the hiding from it, you weren’t hiding you said I have to get out of this situation.

ES:

I didn’t hide I ran

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with ES:]
And that doesn’t seem like a typical response. What was that about?

ES:

Well I think it was realistic. I said What am I going to do to get away from this and hiding didn’t work for seven years. And I figured the best thing I can do, and I know I’m capable of it, is to work really hard and get out of at least a year.

I haven’t thought about that. you’re right . I actually think it was as healthy a response as I could have given at that point.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Especially because you knew you could. You had a good sense of yourself at that age.

TR:
Elizabeth credits her parents for their early advocacy and support. for example, check out their decision following her early high school graduation.

ES:

My parents rightly said, you’re too young to go to college, you’re socially too young and so I had the opportunity to do an exchange year and I went to Switzerland for a year .

Studied for a year there in a French school and lived with a host family and that was not always easy but a really neat experience. The more I look back on it the more I realize how much it influenced me really.

[TR in conversation with ES:]

So your parents said you’re too young to go to college but they sent you to Switzerland. (Laughs…)

ES:

I never thought about that. (Laughs) That is a little… (Laughs)
I think what they meant was I was already a year ahead of my peers . I would have been almost two years ahead at that point. There’s a big difference as most of our listeners are going to know between someone who is 16 and someone 18. Plus my high school years had not been happy years and I think that they wanted me to just have another year to kind of de press from that. As it ended up my Switzerland experience, I was pretty well accepted by my peers there and I had some great experiences that it proved to me that Elizabeth was ok and that I could kind of set out a new like and not have the bad experiences with negative social experiences like I had before that. So it really worked out well. And I was happy to do it. I was an adventurer of different cultures and different people and so it was a great thing.

TR:

Elizabeth’s love of culture and languages began early.

ES:
I actually remember when I was about 10 years old turning our local television stations and there was a movie in French and I literally remember sitting and crying saying this is such a beautiful language I wish I knew it. So the first chance I did have which was high school to take a language and they offered Spanish, French and Latin. I decided on French because I was interested in Europe and I decided that would be the most widely spoken language next to English. I just took to it like a duck to water.

TR:

Returning home from Switzerland, Elizabeth enrolled in college. Majoring in both French and Communications she decided to complete college in three years. She then went on to complete her Masters in Journalism.

ES:

When I was at Ohio University studying Journalism I had a few extra credits, we had to take some electives and I decided my electives would be starting to learn Russian because I’d always been interested in Russia and Russian culture but had not had the opportunity to study it. So
I began to study it . Made friends with one of the Russians who worked in our language lab and she really helped me privately just because she wanted to. She saw I was interested. I started volunteering . At that time there were a lot of refugees coming in from Russian primarily Jewish refugees but also some active Christian refugees, also Baptist and other Christian groups . Most of them came adults with kids but some of the adults with kids would also bring their parents and so you would have people 60, 70, 80 even older who would be coming in for many reasons would not be able to learn English or very little English. I volunteered to say hey if you’ll speak to me in Russian I can do things like make telephone calls for you , help you read your mail, help you correspond, maybe talk with your landlord for you with you, interpret for you as I learn better Russian and people needed that and wanted that . So I was able to give to that community and they were able to give to me as my Russian developed and it was a really great kind of exchange.

TR:
Although Elizabeth’s Master’s Degree ultimately was in Journalism, her real interest was creative writing.

ES:

I was writing stories ever since I was 4 years old. I love to read I love to write. Storytelling and also fact gathering, I love both of those things. I wanted to get my masters in creative writing and my mother who was alive then said, anyone who knows you knows you can write well but if you have on your graduate certificate Journalism, then you’re a lot more likely to get a job then you are in creative writing. And I’m so glad number one she said that and number two I listened. She was truly right about that and the creative writing sort I don’t want to say came of itself but it was something I knew I could do. Journalism so strengthened my writing .

[TR in conversation with ES:]
The fact gathering methods must have been a challenge in getting a Journalism degree. What was that like? Now we have the internet …

ES:

You’re so right on the questions you’re asking me . You’re right because I was studying in the 80’s . There was no internet. I did rely on readers . I did rely on asking the right questions. I did rely on cooperation with fellow students and I realize after having been midway in my degree year, coming closer to finishing it that I was not going to be a kind of Journalist that could get a 3 AM call on a three bell fire alarm and get there and do an adequate story most likely. so what interested me more was storytelling journalism of that type that travel magazines and other less time sensitive periodicals but none the less periodicals that need good journalism and need good fact finders and reporters would do.

ES:
I should also mention that especially my Master’s program where I needed to read so much I had a number of volunteer readers who were from other countries that I said hey if you’ll read for me I’ll help you with your pronunciation. If there are words you don’t know I’ll take time to explain those to you and when it comes down time for you to write your thesis or write papers I’ll help you edit. So again I would really encourage anybody who has abilities to find that means of exchange. Not what can you do for me but what can we do for each other.

TR:

Doing for each other or finding a way that everyone can benefit is one of the motivators prompting Elizabeth to join the Peace Corps.

Hoping to put her knowledge of Russian to work, she wanted to land an assignment in Russia or Poland.

ES:

Well they decided to send me to the one Eastern European country that spoke a totally different language, Hungary. I think they said well if she could learn French and Russian she can learn Hungarian too, which I did study it as soon as I found out that they were inviting me to go there as an English teacher.

TR:

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s time in Hungary was cut short due to some health problems.

She did however get the opportunity to immerse herself in the Russian language and culture during her almost decade stay in the 90’s.

ES:

I had worked a bit in Russia before that with a government exhibit that traveled through Russia and I think I’d been the first person with a disability that they knew of that did that and it had been going on for about 40 years as kind of a citizens exchange. I was interested in going back to Russia , I had met a young gentlemen there so I went back and I heard from someone about a disability related kind of a program going on in that city so I contacted the American organizers and said hey guess what I’m living here I would love to serve if you have a position and they happened to have something . So it was kind of one of those right place right time situations where I jumped in as soon as I heard about it . They interviewed me . They gave me a job and also the fact of living in Russia and being bilingual and English is my native language there were so few of us that there were lots of teachers and interpreters and advertisers who really needed that skill of a native speaker so I was really able to get an American , small but albeit, American salary and American bank account at home and able to moon light and do my other things and make enough money on the economy there to live alright. And I got married too I forgot to say and I got married to this gentlemen.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
That sounds like what got you out there, the guy. Laughs…

ES:

It is, yes it is. The guy got me out there.

TR:

In 1996 Elizabeth returned to the states to give birth to her daughter. She went back to Russia about a year later and following a break up she and her daughter came back to the states in 2000.

ES:

Back to Ohio. I looked for a job. I used Vocational Rehab to help me and although it wasn’t the job I wanted. I knew a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush so I took a job with Social Security. I worked there for about 5 years as a Claims Rep and doing some PR for them.

And then I moved on in 2005 to our Ohio Vocational Rehabilitation system and Defacto I became kind of like the Public Relations person and community relations down at the state house with our legislators. Always kind of reaching out using that Journalism , using that research using the ability to gather facts and make recommendations and explain to people why we could or couldn’t do something or needed to do something. That was a lot of what I did.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
How about the languages? How were you incorporating those types of things?

ES:

It’s so funny that you ask that because in my interview for Social Security job I told them that I spoke Russian. And you know they kind of gave a token nod that’s cool. The first they I got there they said do you really speak Russian ? I said well yeh I told you I speak Russian. They said well, we’re having this Administrative law judge hearing with someone who’s Russian and doesn’t speak English today. Would you be willing to go be the interpreter. My first husband had been a doctor and I heard all kinds of medical terms and different things and I didn’t blink an eye well sure I’d be happy to save you the money for hiring an interpreter, why shouldn’t I do that. And I think they were kind of shocked and picked themselves off the floor. I had to be very careful explaining to the lawyer and the Russian speaking client that I do receive my salary from Social Security but in this hearing I am your interpreter. I am not taking any sides with Social Security. You know I’m not taking your side either . My job is to make sure you’re heard.

There were some cultural ways that this gentleman answered that didn’t make sense. I knew what he meant and I said the true sense of what he meant to the judge and after the gentleman left with his lawyer the judge said Ms. Sammons would you stay here for a moment. I thought oh boy an I in trouble. And he said I’ve been a law judge for 20 years this is one of the very few times if ever that I felt I truly spoke with the claimant. I just kind of smiled and said well you can tell Social Security that too. I don’t say that to brag I simply say it because knowing the culture as well as knowing the language is really important when you’re an interpreter. Anyone who is out there and you have a visual impairment and you know two languages your interpreting shouldn’t be effected in any way by your vision. Something you can readily do as long as you know the languages and understand what’s behind the culture so I’d encourage you to think about that.

TR:

Elizabeth had additional opportunities to interpret in the Social Security Administration, as part of Vocational Rehab and as a volunteer in the community.

Notice how Elizabeth is putting her interests into action in and out of her career.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What about the writing?

ES:

(Sighs!)

I kind of put the writing on a back burner for a while. Not that I didn’t write at all but I certainly did lots of writing for my job, but in terms of creative writing . I started up with a group a writing group which meets twice a month and we’d go over one another’s manuscripts and give comments.

TR:

Elizabeth suggests avoiding the writers groups where author’s read their work and group members critique on the spot. Understandably, such a process isn’t going to produce quality feedback.

She began by sharing one of her already completed short stories.

ES:

They liked it, but they didn’t like it as much as I did. I really felt for 4 years that it wasn’t the best I’ve ever wrote, but it was the thing that I wrote that I loved the most and it was just sort of crying out to me, you’ve done this little bitty sketch, you need to turn this sketch into a big portrait.

TR:

At the same time, tragedy in Elizabeth’s life served as even more inspiration. This included the loss of two friends, one of which was to Cancer.

ES:
This death experience and the broken relationship experience really made me think a lot about what makes a friendship work or not work and what happens when people are so different that they can’t live together, they can’t get along.

TR:

Taking two characters from the Bible, Steven or the first Christian martyr…

ES:

and some people may know who Paul or Saul was – a Jew who then began to believe in Jesus but before he did he wrote lots of letters in the New Testament like the first and second Corrinthians and Romans and Ephesians and other writings.

He first comes into the Bible when Stephen is being stoned. It says a young man named Saul stood by and held the garments for those who stoned Stephen. Being that Paul/Saul was such a huge figure in the Bible later I thought that’s not a real positive light to come in. (Laughs) If you want to come in you might think of a different door to come in, but not that he wrote that.

The Greek tradition, and Stephen was Greek holds believe it or not that Saul and Steven were relatives. And this puts an entirely different light on Stevens martyrdom and what Western folks reading the Bible see… oh yeh, Saul was thee when Steven was martyred. So I held this together historically, respecting the tradition may or may not be true, but let’s say they were at least people who knew each other well. I portrayed Steven and Saul as best friends at the beginning of this book. Really close, grew up in childhood , helped each other and gradually through the book as Jesus Christ comes on to the scene living and later crucified and Steven makes the choice to believe in him as the Messiah and Saul very strongly holds to the traditions in the honor of those traditions and how the friendship breaks.

I describe the events of that through different points of views so there’s some chapters that witness of Steven and some are witness of Saul some are witness of other characters that I invented or other historical characters that see this change in the friendship and of course ultimately the martyrdom.

Many scholars do believe that Saul had a disability. And I did in my book give him a disability which also influenced a little bit his take on this whole situation and his feelings and his reactions because he was never quite the one . He was always a little bit of the odd man out too. And deal as well with the loss of his friendship with Steven.

TR:

Elizabeth’s first novel, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both print and E-Book on Amazon.com.

ES:

I am working on getting an audio copy ready and when that does come out I will definitely let you know that’s out.

TR:

Even before The Lyra and the Cross, Elizabeth wrote a manuscript for a book set in the 1990’s. It’s about a family who’s patriarch dies

ES:

They find out some secrets that expose them to realizing they have some very serious genetic threats in the family and they have some very serious other issues in the family that they never knew about.

And the name of that book which I hope to get published hopefully by next year is With Best Intent because all the characters except for one all are doing things believing they’re doing the right thing but unfortunately some of the consequences live on for decades and decades and mark people not in a good way.

TR:

Inspired by a story she created for a presentation, Elizabeth is finishing up a Children’s book on advocacy.

ES:
Told from the view of a family who brings in a homeless cat and this cat has to find its place in the home , make itself loved by the family when things go wrong let the family know. It’s the Advo Cat.

I’m working with a professional illustrator right now and she’s working on getting it visually pleasing to 10, 11, 12 year olds. I meaning it for pre-teens.

It’s not advocacy related to any particular disability or politics or religion it’s just good advocacy principles.

It’s called Omar Advo because in the beginning you don’t know he’s a cat.

I describe him but I don’t use the word cat at all and people are thinking he’s a human and then you see the picture and you realize he isn’t . The first lesson is sometimes someone isn’t who you think he is. That’s the first lesson of advocacy.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Isn’t that the first lesson of life! Laughs…

ES:

Amen to that. laughs…

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Say the title one more time.

ES:

Omar Advo

TR:

It’s pretty apparent, Elizabeth knows how to adapt to new environments. Always finding ways to incorporate her interests and passions throughout her career and no matter where she calls home.

ES:

My husband Jeff retired two years ago and struggled and cajoled and finally convinced me that it was ok to retire young . So I did early resign from my Vocational Rehab job last August.

We are currently for the most part living in an RV and traveling around. Right now I’m talking to you from Texas. We plan to continue a lot of our travel .

TR:

Elizabeth’s not interested in writing about her travels. She prefers to pursue her creative writing.

ES:

I feel extremely blessed even though it’s not always easy but to be able to live as an artist right now and be able to really travel and see so many great things and meet some amazing wonderful people . My life right now is sort of on the road and as much on the pen as I can be. Exploring our country and hopefully exploring our world a little bit just enjoying and trying to be there for people.

TR:

While she’s not active on social media Elizabeth says if you’re interested in reaching out with any questions she’ll be happy to answer. Therefore feel free to send questions to ReidMyMindRadio at gmail.com and I’ll forward them to her.

Once again, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both E-Book and hard copy from Amazon with an audio book version on the way.

You can find some additional writings from Elizabeth including posts on her international experience over on her blog WindowsOfThought.WordPress.com. She hasn’t written much in this space for a couple of years but like me I think you can find something you may enjoy.

A big shout out to Empish Thomas for recommending and introducing me to Elizabeth.

Empish is a freelance writer and one of the bloggers along with Elizabeth on Vision Aware .com.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Leave a Reply