Welcome to another installment of this string of episodes on writing with limitations and disabilities.

In this episode, Crystal Randall Barnett, a member of my Writerly Love Community, adds to the conversations we’ve been having in this series of episodes on writing slowly and listening to your body.

Crystal Randall Barnett is an emerging writer from Ontario. She has been published by The League of Canadian Poets and Blank Spaces and her first-place short story appeared in a 2023 fiction anthology from Chicken House Press. Her writing is physically impacted and creatively influenced by her disability, Persistent Post-Concussion Syndrome.

Crystal shares how she adapted her reading habits when her experience of persistent post-concussive symptoms made reading on the page a barrier. She also shares a simple hack to make audiobooks even more accessible—one I’ve implemented for myself.

And she reads from a poem I had the pleasure of publishing as an editor with Room.

Sign up for my Writerly Love Digest, filled with support for your writing practice, prompts, and lit mag publications sent every week.

#95 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript

Rachel Thompson:

Welcome, Luminous Writers, to the Write, Publish, and Shine podcast. I am your host, author, and literary magazine editor, Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.

Hello, Luminous Writers, and welcome to the fourth installment of this string of episodes on writing with limitations and disabilities. In this episode, Crystal Randall Barnett, a wonderful writer and member of my writerly love community, adds to the conversations we’ve been having in this series of episodes on writing slowly and listening to your body.

I’m taking a breath here to emphasize that this encouragement that has come from writers interviewed in the series, slow down, listen to your body, is something I’ve also been trying to absorb as I’m producing these episodes. I’m working on slowing down and working in my own time and way, along with I’m sure many of you listening. It’s always good to remember this as writers and I’m grateful for how often this advice has come up from the writers in the series.

Crystal Randall Barnett is an emerging writer from Ontario. She has been published by the The League of Canadian Poets and Blank Spaces and her first place short story appeared in a 2023 fiction anthology from Chicken House Press. Her writing is physically impacted and creatively influenced by her disability, persistent post-concussion syndrome.

Like many of my guests, the label “disabled,” putting that in air quotes here, didn’t seem to fit her at least at first. But Crystal shared in our conversation about her choice to describe herself this way and the understanding that disability is different from person to person. Crystal shares how she has adapted her reading habits when her experience of persistent post -concussive symptoms made reading on the page a barrier. She also shares a simple hack to make audiobooks even more accessible, one I’ve implemented for myself since our conversation, and she reads from a poem that I had the pleasure of publishing as an editor with Room. So here is my conversation with Crystal Randall Barnett.

So welcome to the podcast, Crystal Randall Barnett.

Crystal Randall Barnett:

Thank you, thank you so much for having me.

Rachel Thompson:

It’s my pleasure, thanks for agreeing to do this. As you and our listeners know by now, the series is focused on writers who write with limitations and writers who write with a disability or identify as a disabled person, a spoonie and neurodivergent. We’ve added neurospicy to the list I think so far. There may be other additions to come. But how do you publicly identify yourself? What’s in your writing bio and how did you come to this identity or way of expressing yourself within your lived experience?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

So I do identify as disabled publicly but I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t really sure how long my disability was going to last for and I felt that brain injuries had stigma attached to them so as I continued to have persistent post -concussive symptoms or PPCS and that actually used to be more widely known as post -concussion syndrome over the course of years I came to kind of accept that I did have a disability and it was okay to identify as someone with a disability even though I had already had experience with disability. And, you know, I also realized that disability is different from person to person. So for example, in the concussion community, you often hear if you’ve seen one concussion, then you’ve seen one concussion.

And yeah, I came to realize there wasn’t anything about myself that I needed to hide or be ashamed of. So I wanted to spread awareness about what disability especially PPCS could look like from person to person. Besides that, PPCS actually impacts everything I do. So most everything I do requires preparation and planning for me from how and when and how long it might even attend something like, you know, a literary workshop or a writing festival. And, you know, when I’m able to work on my writing. So even when I’m doing something with (unclear), like hanging out with my friends, I need to communicate my needs and be sure my spoons and my symptoms can stay within a manageable level. It’s essentially just laying out boundaries.

I just find by communicating my needs to others, it means I get to live my life to the best of my ability, which is what everyone is trying to do, I guess. And I do find that this carried over naturally into my writing file. So I do add that I have to work on my writing. a disability there saying something like, you know, Crystal’s writing is physically impacted and creatively influenced by their disability persistent post -concussive symptoms or something like if I need a shorter word count, you know, Crystal is a disabled writer from Ontario. I may not always identify my bio, but right now for me, this is true.

Rachel Thompson:

I’m wondering how have persistent post-concussive symptoms impacted your writing both creatively and in practice?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

In some ways, getting this disability is the reason why I’m now writing, or at least writing as much as I am. And the beginning of my disability, which was kind of at the end of 2016, meant that the life I’ve been leading came to a screeching halt. And, you know, while I was trying to heal during those like really hard days early on in the compression, I couldn’t really be doing anything. Like I couldn’t be on my phone, I couldn’t have conversations with others, I couldn’t listen to or read anything. You know, I couldn’t even really watch TV or go anywhere, but I could look outside my window for snippets of time and see the changing seasons. And that spring and summer, I would sit in my backyard for bits of time and watch the animals and the plants.

And I really found that the slowing down of my life brought a kind of wonder to it. When Mary Oliver died, that was the first time I’d heard of her. I picked up her book Devotions. I found her writing brought a poetic voice to my experience of living in a world that felt simultaneously smaller but also more expansive and full of beauty. So I just really wanted to be a part of creating that. I just want to clarify that feeling like your life is smaller is not true for all disabled people but it was for me. I would say that getting PPCS made me realize how precious life is and helped to clear what was important to me. So writing was a lifelong goal of mine, and I knew I want to just spend the energy I had kind of pursuing that.

And besides this, my disability dictates when and how long I write. You know, I pace myself. I don’t force daily writing practices that doesn’t work for me on multiple levels. And my disability also kind of says how long my work in progress is going to be and what genres I write in. like shorter genres tend to work better for me, like poetry and short story, though I’m trying some longer works at this time. And creatively speaking, TPCS informs my subject matter at times. I do write about my disability because it’s become such a large piece of who I am. And I want to help others understand what it’s like and also maybe to have a kinship with those who have been through it.

Rachel Thompson:

What a wonderful thing that Mary Oliver came into your life at that time when you needed it. I think you spoke a bit about the challenges and I mean even the solution to that like the boundaries that you have to create and the real clarity around your energy and abilities. But what have posed challenges in your writing life related to PPCS?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

I mean there’s a few of them but one of the main things that my disability impacts still are my eyes and how and when I can use them. and I find that it’s actually really hard for me to physically read that’s kind of tricky because I know that reading is a really large part of writing and I do really miss physical books but they’re actually really hard for me to consume these days and I consume them very slowly when I read them at all. The other problem is when I can’t find audio books that I want to read, I can make learning by book more difficult so I kind of have to pick and choose what I’m reading physically. And also along this line, it took me time to switch my brain to taking in information audibly as well.

So one of my hacks for that, it’s just slowing podcasts and audio books down in the app. So that’s been working. Also, it’s been really hard to not be able to keep physically writing when I feel like I’m on a roll or I just really want to keep going. So I find that at times I don’t produce work as quickly. And I do find that, you know, even though reading is hard, I zone out for periods of time while I’m typing, I do not watch every word as carefully. And that does make writing easier, but editing can actually be really difficult for me. So the bigger or wider the document or screen, the harder it is at times to read.

I love to learn, but, you know, most formal post -secondary environments may not be doable for me, even with accommodations. I do have a master’s degree, and I’m familiar with that type of learning, and I’ve just found that there’s tighter timelines, and turning out work and reading, large reading lists could make this a bit more difficult. At the end of the day, it can be days or weeks between writing, and sometimes that’s because I’m not feeling well, but other times it’s just because I need to spend my spoons elsewhere. So, that’s kind of the things I found.

Rachel Thompson:

That’s really good to think about and really specific too about the page widths and sizes, like just really specific considerations. I mean, I think one of the things that I’ve discovered in this series is just how many people in our writing community identify as having a disability and have some kind of limitations or challenges because I’m just realizing that there’s something about being able to do things in your own time and your own pace that, of course, is very helpful to those folks and an unintentional, beautiful bonus, I guess, of the community that we’re building together. So thanks.

What are some of the things you’ve done to make the work of writing better fit your abilities and limitations?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

Because my disability largely impacts my eyes and how they work, I had to find a lot of workarounds with that specifically. So for example, I was talking about smaller things being easier to read. So my computer is actually very small. It’s only nine and a half inches in width. And so that makes it easier for my eyes to read because I don’t have to go across such a large space to edit. I do find that longer documents are still difficult for me to read, but sometimes I paste myself through them or… or also lean on my phone’s Google Docs app. That’s obviously a very small space so I do that.

I do prefer editing on the laptop though. Other things I do are when I’m not feeling well and can’t write, which I mentioned sometimes for days or weeks. I do love listening to writing podcasts or books on writing or just even a book in the genre I love to read and I’m also writing and can be informative and helps to keep making them to my writing practice. Thinking about my works in progress when I can’t work on them is something that’s helpful chewing on a problem while doing other things and I’m away from my writing and I mentioned audiobooks, so I’ve been honing my listening skills as well. I actually have found the nice thing about audiobooks is that I think I read more now than I ever have because you can kind of multitask with them.

So that’s kind of cool too. Few more things to just be like listening to my body and do what it’s asking. I can’t just kind of blow through symptoms that are increasing and hope to be able to write again the next day. Writing and editing something shorter like poetry, I’ve been really leaning into that, which is good ’cause I do love to write poetry. In terms of fulfilling my love for learning, I’ve been choosing workshops, mentorships, and some courses taught by authors like you, Rachel, and our other learning opportunities outside of official institutions. And I find that these opportunities sort of allow me to work at my own pace and take time away when I need to.

Like for example, most recently, I had to take a month away from a mentorship I’m doing just for fronts and jumps. And I do find that these opportunities still provide high quality learning outside of a formal classroom. In some ways, you know, these more focused forms of learning might even teach me more because they’re more specific to what I want to learn anyway.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah, I think that’s vital the way you said about listening to my body too and not blowing through it. I mean, I think there’s so much here for everybody. I think it’s really good. Like that’s just sort of basic advice that somehow we forget along the way. It’s like, no, actually, we could listen to our bodies and do what our bodies want to do. I know it’s hard at times, though, for sure.

Yeah. And I don’t want to get into some kind of maybe almost ableist trope I guess too but it does kind of feel like there’s also I don’t know I don’t want to phrase it in terms of the gift of disability or something but I’m just thinking like this idea that you have to be very clear about your boundaries because you have to be very clear about your boundaries. I mean I kind of just wish we all could do that already but you had to learn that under duress I guess.

Crystal Randall Barnett:

Yeah I do find it difficult still, but if I don’t, it’s just, and I’ll just go south pretty quickly.

Rachel Thompson:

So what kind of writing and writing practices excite you these days? Are there certain methods, genres, forms and places where you feel momentum and excitement about your writing?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

So as I mentioned, I’m currently doing a poetry mentorship and that’s pretty exciting for me. As I mentioned, I’m a lifelong winner. I’m really excited about what I’m learning in that genre. And I find that in the mentorship, I’m diving more into technical aspects than I have previously with my own poetry and reading when I can a bit more widely. So for example, I’m hoping to learn more about traditional form of poetry, whereas I’ve been working mainly with my intuition for the last few years. That’s been working for me. But, you know, I’m really enjoying this time of learning and growing in that way.

Yeah, I think I’m also feeling a lot of enthusiasm. and some trepidation, but mostly enthusiasm around my larger works in progress as well. You know, sometimes I feel overwhelming, but when that happens, I just have to come back and break them down into smaller pieces. And know, you know, I’m not just gonna blow my eye energy trying to ran through a bunch of chapters at once. So that goes okay.

Another thing I’ve been a bit resistant to, but I’ve been enjoying lately is co -writing. And I’ve found, you know, that writing research has felt a little bit more solitary than usual. And so I’ve actually joined you, Rachel, your co -writing sessions. And I think that’s been going well for me too. So, thank you.

Rachel Thompson:

Lovely. And we’ve loved having you at those. I meant to pick up on what you said about audiobooks before too. And you mentioned them again, because I think that hack of like slowing things down is a good one that I’m going to immediately use because sometimes my mind does wander a little bit when it’s a little quick. So there may be days where I need a slower voice in my ears.

Crystal Randall Barnett:


Rachel Thompson:

Who are some of the writers, artists, and people in your life living dead, related or not, that taught you through their own writing with disability and limitations? I guess you mentioned Mary Oliver already, but are there others that you want to mention now?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

Actually, when I was thinking about this question, it came up with a lot of people. So I think like, my journey to learn more about the disability community started with a writer in my local writing group who has a disability and writes about her experience. And I was only like vaguely aware that there was a disability community and that there was so much to learn about disability before I spoke with her. So I’m pretty thankful for her influence in my life that way.

I have another friend, she’s a visual artist, but she experiences disability as well and it kind of like a one just when I kind of started my journey with that and I just really enjoyed watching how she’s reinvented herself and her life fit into what she wants to do and you know that really resonates with me because that’s something I’ve been working on over the past few years but besides those two you know I do love a good fantasy book so some of these are fantasy authors. Her son, Yideen, wrote The Geaters and she has autism.

Mary Robinette Colwell speaks a lot about ADHD and she’s also a fantasy sci -fi author who wrote the “Lady Astronaut” series. Amanda Leduc has cerebral palsy and I just finished her book “Disfigured” on fairy tales disability and making space just before the New Year.

Actually, early on in my journey learning about this, I listened to “Disability Visibility” that was edited by Alice Wong who has final muscular atrophy. And, of course, you know, I tend to. the Festival of Literary Diversity. Currently, I’m reading Disability, Politics, and Theory by A .J. Withers. And it’s not a literary book, but it’s really informative.

I think one of the main things I’ve come to learn about disability through this journey of learning from others and experiencing it myself is that disability is just a natural part of life. And every one of us will probably go through even short periods of disability throughout our life.  So for example, I did fall in early January and I’ve torn cartilage in my left wrist and I can’t really use my hand right now. And that’s just kind of how life is, you know, we’re mortal. We’re not infallible on our bodies, you know, even though they do a great job at keeping us alive and completing so many processes throughout the day, they’re still imperfect. And, you know, that can be true while also us being perfectly ourselves. And I think that’s okay.

Rachel Thompson:

What do you wish people would sense or know about writing with disability limitations?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

I think I wish that people knew even though I’m writing and still disabled, I think I can be both an artist and a disabled person at once, and it’s just not one or the other. And I mean, this is a generalized statement, and I think things are changing out there, but there seems to be a kind of public perception, especially with doctors or disability income carriers or sometimes even family and friends that if you’re disabled, it means you are very unwell, sit on the couch, unable to do absolutely anything. But, you know, my disability, like many disabilities actually fluctuates and I can be feeling well enough to write for a bit on one day, but, you know, totally unable to write on a different day.

You know, I’m still maybe not able to do what the general non -disabled population can do in a day, but I can do what I can in a day and I think that’s okay and I think that’s what we should all be doing as we were talking about kind of following the signals our bodies are giving us.

Rachel Thompson:

I asked you if you would bring a piece that you published that relates to your disability. Would you like to read from it now?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

This is “Fallin’ Stars. We’re finding with post -concussion syndrome. There is no moon” and the obsidian night has filled its ink into the sleeping mescopal lake at my feet. I cannot always say what I mean, but tonight I witness the expanse of the evening sky, a gift I have not been given for at least a year of sitting living. A tiny, not a piece, but a whisk of falling rock licks the darkness, skims the surface before diminishing and then dissolving into the atmosphere or falling to the earth below. It doesn’t matter which, except that it is like a word that enters my mind and alights for an instant before it fades on my tongue, evaporates in the warm breath of my lungs the second before I speak its name.

I follow or trail the feather to say, trace the tale of it, back through the forever of the emptiness, the eternity of my mind, watching as all lines change the path. Thought that was essential, only a moment ago, pale, broke them against all the hundreds of thousands of stars therein. Justice is missing from my life, just as Libra is missing from the sky in our darkest months. It leaves a gaping hole where words used to appear, where there should be a well -deserved sentence, tried but not found. The act is unacceptable, but the actors are unaccountable. They are larger than the rockets and zonerates the… shoot into the darkness of the infinite night and will not be punished for the mess they have named.

Instead, the sky and my brain are left with light pollution and old debris resting in the atmosphere. What can the night and night do to change the course of our histories, our lives? Except keep trying. Exist with spirits shining behind the veil that was given? No, pressed upon us. So we keep learning and observing, finding all of you. And all the brilliance we can, which it turns out is endless, just like the sky.

Rachel Thompson:

Beautiful, Crystal. I love that you brought the piece that you published with me when I was the editor at Room for the Neurodivergence issue as well. So that’s a nice little touch there. That was great that you submitted to that issue.

What helps you move, rest, heal, grieve, and celebrate your efforts, wins, and losses?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

So I think that my own intuition and sense of self helped me move those things. I think that listening when I need to rest or hearing my heart and make me need to breathe or take some time to try and feel something that’s happened is important. I do really feel my emotions deeply. So it’s really hard not to listen to them when they’re telling me I need to be listening to them. I also think these things are just kind of a form of self -care and that’s a term I didn’t really understand when I was younger, but it’s something I’ve become intimately familiar with. You know, I think being able to tell when you’re feeling run down or discouraged or when you need a listening ear and paying attention to that and then doing things that bring you joy and make you feel good or important.

You know, for me, I know that exercise helps me to feel good, for example, and being in nature and being creative and also being with family and the people I love like my partner Scott and also my dog. So I always try to make time in my week for these things. And I found, you know, from my own experience that you can’t just sort of push through life without also taking time to care for and nourish yourself. You might just find that you’re not taking the fastest route to where you want to be, but rather you might find that you’re slowing yourself down in the long run and making yourself unhappy in the process. And again, that’s just my own experience.

Rachel Thompson:

Can you say more about that about the slowing yourself down? I mean, before my disability, I’ll just maybe speak from that angle.

Crystal Randall Barnett:

You know, I was always trying to pack and cram so many things in. And I think that in the long run, I might have contributed to different things like, you know, anxiety or just being tired all the time. And, you know, by cramming so much in and go, go, going, you know, you’re trying to get some more quickly or just trying to fit as much in as you can. But in some ways, you know, that kind of slows you down in the long run. If you have to take that time to rest anyway, and then you’re playing catch -up. So I think it’s important to sort of, again, keep going back to listening to the body, I guess, for me here, but just take that time and really be in touch with what you need and know that, yeah, it’s okay to not get things done as quickly as possible.

I think our society. really tries to push that, but I think that it’s okay to just be a human and do what we can do and know that there is time for everything, especially time to take care of yourself.

Rachel Thompson:

For sure. And I feel like when it comes to writing too, that slow is a really good way to write. A lot of the times it’s like, sometimes you can power through and do like a monthly challenge where you’re writing a novel and a monthly challenge. but there’s gonna be a lot of work revising that novel ’cause I think it’s good to be able to get that momentum started sometimes, but there’s just something to this slow, deliberate, thorough, thoughtful. This is thorough as a call out to Olwen Wilson, who’s gonna be in the previous episode as of this recording who reframed thinking of themself as a slow writer to thinking of themself as a thorough writer.

Crystal Randall Barnett:

So that’s a good way to put it.

Rachel Thompson:

So what advice, if any, do you have for all writers, but especially writers who identify as maybe having traumatic brain injury or PPCS?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

I think that, you know, advice I have for writers or maybe people even with my disability is that feedback is just information, so of course good feedback is really encouraging. I think feedback, you know, keep in mind that it’s not a moral judgment and it can actually just really help inform your work and your writing. And you know, it isn’t something that you need to take to heart, and if it doesn’t feel right for you, it doesn’t mean you have to listen to it.

But I have found, you know, in the last year, even in different feedback groups that sometimes I’m getting feedback that doesn’t make sense for the story that I’ve tried to write, that kind of just helps to clean me in, but I’ve not made myself clear in those places. So just again, good information for me to go back in and try to clarify my writing. And it’s just an opportunity to keep getting better. And also, I think to get to know yourself and understand your writing and what you need in your own writing as well.

Rachel Thompson:

That’s so true. I’m going to ask you to do our quick lit round now, where we fill in the blanks of these sentences. The first is being a writer is?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

To experience wonder and pay attention to details.

Rachel Thompson:

Literary magazines are?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

A really good way to see what other people in your genres are doing and how others are experimenting and pushing boundaries.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah, so true. Editing requires?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

An understanding that it’s essential to your writing and often where the real writing is done.

Rachel Thompson:

And rejection for a writer means?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

Seeking new possibilities and others.

Rachel Thompson:

And then finally, writing community is?

Crystal Randall Barnett:

An encouraging necessity.

Rachel Thompson:

Well, thank you for being part of that encouraging necessity with us in our community. Thanks, Rachel. So that was the Luminous Crystal Randall Barnett. Note that if you’d like to read and see the visual layout, which is striking of the poem she read, called Fallen Stars, word finding with Post -Concussion Syndrome. It can be found in the ghost’s issue of room, so an issue just out last September, not the neurodivergence issue. I edited both of those issues and I got them confused because both were great and both featured writing on themes of brain injury.

I love, love, love what Crystal said about following her own intuition. As she put it, you can’t just sort of push through life without also taking time to care for and nourish yourself. Deep breaths again, as I feel I’m always learning and relearning this myself.

Watch this feed for a few more conversations on this topic. I’ve been honored to be able to offer this series and have these writers come and talk about their experiences as well as sharing insights into their practices and reading their brilliant words. And I’ve felt so many of you out there listening to you. I get the benefit of hearing from some of you. By email, I’m especially grateful to writers who read my last few newsletters and reached out when I wrote about recent experiences with temporary illness that triggered some of my ongoing experiences with sadness and grief, and I guess naming it now a bit of burnout. I love hearing from writers who connect with what I share here and in my weekly letters.

The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. Sound Editing by Adam Linder. Transcripts by Diya Jaffery.

Milie Walker has helped with producing this series of episodes, and I’m grateful to all of her support and insights as we put this together and reminding me to do things of my own time and own way and not push through so much. Thanks, Milie.

You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love Digest, sent every week and filled with support for your writing practice.⁠

If this episode encouraged you to hone in on your intuition I always love to hear from you. You can always email me at hello@rachelthompson.co.

And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.

Thank you for listening—I encourage you to do things on your own terms.

Crystal Randall Barnett spoke to me from Waterloo, Ontario on the Haldimand Tract treaty land and the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples.

And I am a guest in the South Sinai on lands historically and presently inhabited by the el Muzzina Bedouin. I remain hopeful that we can Free Palestine if we continue to engage our leaders and demand they stop supporting the slaughter and now starvation of people in Gaza.

Transcript Outline

00:01 Introduction to the episode

01:16 Crystal’s introduction

02:23 Embracing Diverse Writing Voices

04:58 Post-Concussion Writing

07:11 Writing challenges with PPCS

09:54 Adapting Writing Process

13:06 Writing Passions Today

14:47 Inspiration

17:11 Understanding Disability Writing

18:11 Crystal shares her work

20:25 Self-Care in Writing

23:29 Advice for Brain Injury Writers

24:32 Quick lit round

25:11 Ending words

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