Christopher Nolan: The Unicorn Writer, RIPRAYMOND ARROYO
This week the world lost a rare writer at the age of 43.
He was not a media fixture and certainly not one of those writers making appearances at the literary salons. He was a Dublin homebody. But what an astounding person Christopher Nolan was.
Nolan was born with cerebral palsy, could not speak, nor control his extremities. Confined to a wheelchair, he was the type of person our society looks at with pity or largely ignores. Thankfully, his family never saw him that way. They loved him unconditionally, interacted with him and taught him as one would any child. He would go on to school, though no one fully appreciated his mental acuity.
A drug was discovered that allowed Nolan to move one muscle in his neck. (Bono of U2, who attended school with Nolan wrote the song "Miracle Drug" about the boy). At the age of 11 he was equipped with a "unicorn stick" which was fastened to his head. With it Nolan would peck at a typewriter. His mother had to apply pressure to his chin to stabilize the boy's head, allowing him to work his art. It was a torturous process, taking him more than 15 minutes to produce one word on the page. And what words they were.
He published his first book at 15, a collection of poems appropriately titled Dam-burst of Dreams. His second book won Britain's prestigious "Whitbread Book of the Year:" in 1988. It was called Under the Eye of the Clock, a biographical work in which he refers to himself as Joseph Meehan. At one point in the book Nolan writes of crying upon the realization that he is not like other children:
Nolan was a Catholic, one who was often frustrated by his inability to open his mouth at communion time. But the mark of his faith is evident in his work. In Under the Eye of the Clock he wrote of Christmas:
His Mother, Bernadette told the Christian Science Monitor in the late 80's: "He has shown (people with disabilities) that life is worth living, and it doesn't matter whether you're in a wheelchair or a bed; it's what's going on in your mind and your soul that is important.''
Beyond his somersaulting innovation with language, the thing that lingers about Nolan is the improbable miracle of the man himself. I am in awe of the great sacrifices he made each day to share his voice with the world. Each overwhelming obstacle to communication was soberly considered, and ruthlessly overcome. Of writing he once said: "My mind is just like a spin dryer at full speed. My thoughts fly around my skull, while millions of beautiful words cascade down into my lap. Images gunfire across my consciousness and, while trying to discipline them, I jump in awe at the soul-filled bounty of mind's expanse.''
How many able bodied people put off their calling, or make needless excuses for doing nothing. The next time those deadening temptations bubble up, we should think of Christopher Nolan. With a stick affixed to his head, in a body he could not control, his mother holding his chin, Nolan managed to produce a book of poetry, a play, a novel, a biography and an incredible witness for us all.
May Christopher Nolan rest in peace.
Raymond Arroyo, "Christopher Nolan: The Unicorn Writer, RIP." Raymond's blog (February 25, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of Raymond Arroyo.
Photo credit: News (UK)/Rex Features
Raymond Arroyo is the news director and lead anchor of EWTN news. As creator and host of the news magazine The World Over Live, he is seen in more than 100 million households each week. He has worked at the Associated Press and the New York Observer, and for the political columnist team of Evans and Novak. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and many other publications. Raymond Arroyo is the author of Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, and the New York Times bestseller Mother Angelica. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife and three children. Raymond Arroyo's web site is here.
Copyright © 2009 Raymond Arroyo
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