Michael Gabel | She Can Fly

Today’s book recommendation is a very important and special one. I met Michael through the beautiful Suzanne Shpall as she was making mention of his incredible project, She Can Fly.

While taking a break from his Ivy League degree, Michael—directionless—decided to spend a month with his long-time, childhood nanny to document her powerful story of abuse, corruption, embezzlement, strength and sorrow. A journey about one women’s middle class upbringing that innocently fell into a life of spousal abuse spun into acts of survival.

This nonprofit and novel set the tone for a very real and important platform giving a voice to those, still prominent in society today, one they never thought they had. Without further introduction, meet Michael Gabel and support his inspiring cause, She Can Fly.

GIVE US INSIGHT AS TO WHO KERRY KEYES IS

Kerry Keyes is an everywoman. Born in the middle of the 20th Century, she was raised in a middle class home in the middle of America. But after being dropped into a vicious cycle of abuse, her story becomes so much more. Though the unimaginable pain she endured was the product of one man's egomaniacal need for control, her survival is a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, a spirit buoyed by the fundamental desire to love and be loved. 

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KERRY

I don't remember my life before Kerry. My parents hired her as a nanny and she very quickly became indispensable in our household. The cooking, the cleaning, the shopping and errands, she handled it all effortlessly. Her main priority, however, was taking care of me, then an un-potty-trainable terror of a two year old. She taught me discipline, she taught me manners, she taught me kindness, and, very quickly, she became my best friend. Day in and day out, she was there for me. When my parents' relationship began to crumble I spent more and more weekends at her apartment, building blanket forts and rip-roarin' fires in her fireplace. 

Then, one day when I was ten, she didn't show up for work. And we came to find out she had been arrested on a fugitive warrant from a different state. She had been living under a false name with no drivers license or bank account to speak of, all because of the abuse she had suffered in the past. My parents, preoccupied with the divorce, offered vague explanations.  Domestic violence, check fraud, prison, rape -- these were words I'd only heard on TV shows I wasn't supposed to watch. It didn't make sense to me. Not for a very long time.

HOW DID YOU COME TO ACTUALLY WRITE THE MANUSCRIPT

At Dartmouth I entered my own cycle of negative behavior. Still a confused and angry little boy, I spent too much time on my 'social education' and not enough on my academic studies. I got busted for underage drinking and was given a second chance. And a third chance. But I refused to learn my lesson and wound up suspended. At a loss for what to do or where to go, I drove to Kerry's apartment. She had been out of prison for some time and, although the frequency of our interactions had diminished, the strength of our bond remained unchanged. 

Kerry offered exactly what I needed: home-cooking and a shoulder to cry on. Then she told me about something she had seen recently - a woman being physically bullied by her husband at the supermarket. Kerry tried to help, but the woman couldn't help herself. She was too trapped. And Kerry knew it was time to tell her story. She asked if I knew anyone who could help her write it. I offered to try. 

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF GETTING IT PUBLISHED AND GIVING KERRY A VOICE

I sat with Kerry every day and listened to her life story. While she spoke, I typed, and after a month of getting it all down, I started going after agents and publishers. I figured, "We've got 100K-words. That's more than enough." But I wanted someone else to do all the hard work - the restructuring, the revising and the polishing - necessary to turn those words into a book. I believed in Kerry's story 100%. I knew it had the power to save lives. I just didn't want to do the work. I didn't think I could. So for a long time my wheels just kind of spun in the mud. 

Kerry's never been in the best health, though - a vestige of all those years of abuse - and she had a few scares in the years that passed while I moved words around in the manuscript and continually tweaked my query letters. But when we started the project, I made a promise to Kerry: We'd get one email from one woman that said, "Your story helped me find the strength to leave." If we could just get that, then the book would be a success, and Kerry's suffering would have redemption. And eventually I realized no one else was going do the work for me. 

So I took writing classes. I found an editor who believed in the project as much as me. And in a few short months I had cut the manuscript in half and rewritten every sentence. Sitting in Kerry's living room day after day while she shared her life's story - a story she had never shared in its entirety with anyone - was the most emotionally vulnerable experience of my life. And then to be entrusted as the keeper of that story is its greatest privilege. Writing about issues that I have never and, as a man, could never experience was difficult, but I knew if I could relay even a fraction of the beauty and clarity with which Kerry opened up to me then the story would speak for itself. 

I launched a Kickstarter  to raise the funds for self-publishing, and met my goal of $6,000 in a week. Now She Can Fly is officially available in paperback, on all major eBook platforms, and completely free online. We've built a 501(c)(3) nonprofit around She Can Fly to receive tax-deductible donations in support of maintaining the free online version. Many women in volatile situations can't safely purchase or possess a resource like this, so offering the book in this way ensures there aren't any barriers to access. 

IF SOMEONE WERE TO ASK HOW THEY COULD HELP SPREAD KERRY’S STORY, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM

Share it. This project has never been about making money. It's about touching lives. Social media and digital promotion have been invaluable in gaining exposure for She Can Fly, but nothing can top good old word of mouth and human-to-human interaction. So if you know someone who could benefit from Kerry's story, give them your copy when you've finished. Or direct them to shecanfly.org where they can read the entire book for free. Victims, abusers and bystanders alike can benefit from the message in Kerry's remarkable story. 

WHERE WILL WE SEE THIS PROJECT DEVELOP FROM HERE

We've been reaching out to shelters and other domestic violence resource centers that could benefit from a donated paperback. Professors have asked about including She Can Fly in their respective curricula, and a high school in Brooklyn is interested in getting the material approved for teaching. So having all those pilot programs underway is very encouraging. There's also been interest a screen adaptation which I've begun working on, but it really all comes down to exposure. The more people that are aware of Kerry's story, the better. 

GIVE US SOME BACKGROUND ON YOURSELF

Just like Kerry I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. I migrated from the plains of the Midwest to the woods of the Northeast for school. After graduating college I was offered a job in Amman, Jordan designing theme parks. I took it and used the opportunity to read and travel widely. But mostly I explored myself against a backdrop of utter cultural isolation. Every time I dug down deep, I came back up with the same thought: This isn't what I really want to be doing. 

HOW DID A FINE ART STUDENT TURN INTO A WRITER

In short, art was easier. I actually remember telling my freshman year roommate I wanted to be a writer. But I didn't have anything I wanted to say. And after a particularly discouraging interaction with a particularly crotchety professor, I just sort of shut down that part of my brain and pursued drawing and architecture. Kerry's story reignited that spark in me, however, and after leaving the theme park industry behind, I fully committed myself to the craft of writing so I could make this project a reality. 

BOOK YOU’RE READING NOW

Right now I'm reading Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi's classic Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. I'm fascinated by people and what makes them happy and depressed and everything in between so my leisure reading tends toward non-fiction biography/memoirs and accessible psychology. I guess the connection to She Can Fly is pretty obvious...

HOW DO YOU FIND YOUR ZEN

 My personal practice is a constant process, but I firmly believe active and honest engagement with the things that give your life meaning - whether it be your art, your children, your significant other or mountaineering-is the only way to truly be fulfilled.