People & Places

How writing helps Thomas Sharpe combat Parkinson's

Sharpe's essay 'Stepping Over Logs' to be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Thomas G.M. Sharpe

Cedar Rapids writer Thomas G.M. Sharpe has had an essay about challenges he has encountered since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease included in Chicken Soup for the Soul; Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Thomas G.M. Sharpe Cedar Rapids writer Thomas G.M. Sharpe has had an essay about challenges he has encountered since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease included in Chicken Soup for the Soul; Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s always the 800-pound elephant in the room, Thomas G.M. Sharpe says about Parkinson’s disease, but the Cedar Rapids writer prefers to look at it as a log — a log he has to step over on the pathway of life.

“You can’t walk away from it,” Sharpe says. “Every morning you wake up and determine what kind of a day it will be.”

For now, Sharpe, 54, is determined to write. He blogs about life, including Parkinson’s, at http://thomasgmsharpe.blogspot.com/ and is a self-described “emerging writer.”

“It’s become the purpose in my life” since leaving his position as a vice president of marketing and public relations in Chicago and serendipitously landing in Cedar Rapids.

Sharpe, who has been writing full-time for five years, was among thousands invited to submit essays for a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. His essay, Stepping Over Logs, was one of 101 about “regular people mustering up the courage and stepping out of their comfort zone to change their lives for the better,” according to the publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.

For Sharpe, stepping out of his comfort zone meant stepping over logs — a reference to advice a nurse gave him when he “forgot” how to walk. Later he learned that “freezing” in place is not uncommon among people with Parkinson’s.

The nurse told him that if it happened again to focus on a crack in the sidewalk and “Pretend it is a log and that you must step over it.”

In his essay, Sharpe reflected on the logs in his life — leaving a job he loved because of Parkinson’s, leaving his wife of 30-some years because of the challenges of the disease and watching his children — three of his own and three others he and his ex-wife raised.

Instead, Sharpe’s goal as an essayist is “some kind of a message, some meaning, a moral that brings it together.”

“I don’t want people to walk away saying, ‘That’s such a sad story,’” he says. “I want to inject a little joy or humor.”

He admits that after his diagnosis he became something of a hermit, but then a woman who he had taken to a carnival 40 years ago when they were 15 called to say she was passing through Naperville, Ill. They had lunch and stayed in touch by phone.

Nine months ago, he moved to Cedar Rapids to be near her. His Boyson Road apartment, which a son describes as a “cool mash-up of a bachelor pad and Sherlock Holmes’ apartment,” is his writing studio. Sharpe is working on an essay for a future Chicken Soup for the Soul collection. The theme is love, and his essay will be based on how he met his former wife.

He has done readings at Giving Tree Theater in Marion and has been invited to read in a Chicago bookstore.

Sharpe also has some ideas for historical fiction “with a ring of truth” set in small-town western Illinois.

And while his Parkinson’s is always present and he’s had to adjust his life, Sharpe also has met “warriors” who inspire him, as he says in his essay, to “keep moving forward in whatever new and positive direction that means for our lives stepping over one log at a time.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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