Hello, Little Lady was delighted when Angela Muir Van Etten, author of ‘Dwarfs Don’t Live in Doll Houses’ approached to read and review her latest memoir, Pass Me Your Shoes: A Couple with Dwarfism Navigate Life’s Detours with Love and Faith.
Angela, who has been one of the leading figures at the forefront of advocacy and awareness for the Dwarfism community writes with grace, warmth, strength and a dash of humour about her life after moving to the U.S.A to marry her husband after meeting him on a Winston Churchill fellowship as a lawyer from New Zealand.
Angela, please can you tell us about the inspiration behind the book and why you decided to write your second book over 30 years later?
When I first met Robert, I had already begun writing a book called Dwarfs Don’t Live in Doll Houses, a memoir of my early years. Even though the book was published seven years after I married Robert, I kept to the original plan and only wrote about being single. Because many people asked why our romance was not covered in ‘Dwarfs Don’t Live in Doll Houses’, my typical response was, “Wait for book two.” As it turns out, it has been a long wait!
Initially, I had to wait for our marriage story to unfold before there was even a story to tell. By 2004, there was plenty of material and I started a book outline. But book plans were sidelined for several more years when I ran for a national office in Little People of America and changed jobs a couple of times. I eventually got back into writing and completed a draft manuscript in 2012, but everything halted again when I was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis and required aortic valve replacement surgery.
Although the surgery was a success, I no longer had the energy to juggle writing with full-time work, church and family duties. So, the book was shelved until I retired in 2018.
From the moment you stepped off the plane to visit the USA as a lawyer on a Winston Churchill Fellowship, you capture the reader with your romance with Robert and life adventures. How did you find the move from New Zealand to the U.S.A?
Adjusting to the climate change and learning to drive on the right side of the road were among the easier transitions. Moving out of the spotlight into obscurity and from having a national reputation to only being known by my beloved was very difficult. Harder yet, Bobby went to work each day leaving me alone with no job, no friends, no family, and no church.
Language differences were an adjustment that at times I wondered if Americans spoke the same language. Although people liked my NZ accent and we used the same words, people often did not understand what I meant. The best example is when I asked for a biscuit with my tea, got something that looked like a bun and tasted like a scone. I should have asked for a cookie.
Continuing my legal career was also much harder than expected. My New Zealand law degree earned less credit than anticipated and I had to return to law school for three Semesters instead of the two allowed by the American Bar Association. After acquiring the credentials for practicing law in the United States–an American law degree and admission to the Ohio bar – I hoped that my five-year NZ legal practice would give me an advantage. It did not. Employment discrimination was blatant and it took me more than a year to find a job in the legal profession.
You talk frankly in the book about the prejudice and discrimination, both yourself and your husband, Robert, have faced throughout your careers – what advice would you give to other little people who find
themselves in similar situations?
Prepare yourself with the qualifications needed for the position you seek. When you enter the job market, be confident that you are able to do the job you apply for and project that confidence onto the employer conducting the interview. Don’t disclose your dwarfism on your Resume / Curriculum Vitae or job application form. Don’t give a prospective employer any excuse for failing to offer an interview based on preconceived misconceptions. This is not deception, it’s a matter of timing the dwarfism disclosure to your arrival at the interview.
Be ready to answer questions about what accommodations you might need on the job, such as a stool or adjustable height chair.
Challenge interviewers who try to blow you off with irrelevant questions. Ask for job-related interview questions. Prepare yourself for not getting a job offer from obviously prejudiced people.
Persevere and keep applying for jobs until you get one. The good news is that not everyone is prejudiced!
Do you feel society’s treatment of little people has improved over the past 30 years? And what work needs to be done to ensure we are treated equally and fairly as we move into the new decade?
Society’s treatment of little people has improved in the past 30 years as demonstrated by the passage of nondiscrimination laws, improvements in public access, and the presence of more little people in a diverse range of professions, trades, and businesses.
However, human nature has not changed and laws cannot change attitudes. As we move into the next decade, equal and fair treatment depends on people with dwarfism claiming our rightful place in society, contributing our skills and attributes, and challenging the violation of equal protection laws.
You mention in the book how your faith has supported you throughout life’s trials and tribulations – how can other people find solace and comfort from faith?
Many people have faith, but it is important to know who we put our faith in. If we find solace and comfort in people, positions, or possessions we eventually become dissatisfied. People disappoint, positions come and go, and possessions are subject to the rise and fall of the economy.
As a result, I recommend finding comfort and solace in the unchanging, eternal God who loves us. He has revealed Himself generally through the beauty of His creation and specifically through His Word, the Bible.
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of His understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. ∞ Isaiah 40:28b-29, New Living Testament
I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me. ∞ Psalm 16:8_, New Living Testament_
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my Savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. ∞ Psalm 18:2, New Living Testament
For God so loved the world that he gave__ __his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn __ the
world, but that the world might be saved through him_. John 3:16-17.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. ∞ Ephesians 1:19-20, New Living Testament
Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you . . . ∞ Ephesians 3:20, The Passion Translation
In a world where the Dwarf body is objectified, prejudice towards our disability prevails and the onus is on us to educate wider society, what words of encouragement would you give young people in the community to follow their own dreams and aspirations.
Don’t let others define you or be discouraged by people underestimating you. Keep moving forward towards your goal knowing that discrimination and patronization are mere bumps in the road.
Discriminatory barriers won’t block your path if you look for ways to get around them–knock them down (appeal) or go around them (find someone who says yes).
Know what you are capable of and do it.
Dreams and aspirations are achieved with perseverance and determination. Obstacles encountered may involve detours, but they strengthen your resolve and cannot quash your dreams if you hang onto them tightly!
You have a third book coming out – ‘Always an Advocate: A Couple With Dwarfism Fight For Independence and Respect.’ As a fellow little person and creative activist, I can relate to the title. In what ways do you ensure you don’t burn out and what advice you would give to fellow activists and advocates attempting to create a space in society for our community?
Cultivate the following characteristics found in advocates/activists who succeed in making change:
- CARE enough to do something when your sense of injustice is aroused to the boiling point.
- COMMIT yourself to the task. Step up to the plate instead of waiting for someone else to take care of the problem.
- Be COMPETENT: get the facts and learn the rules that apply to the system in which you are advocating.
- COMMUNICATE with the right people in the right way. Concisely state the problem, why it’s important, make a request, and suggest a solution. Be credible and consistent. Counter potential negative arguments before opposition groups speak against your position.
- CHURCHILL’s advice is to “_Never give in; never, never, never, never.”
BURNOUT is avoided by not carrying the load by yourself. Solomon–known as the wisest man who ever lived–said, “Though if one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. ∞ Ecclesiastes 4:12, New International Version.
I recommend forming connections and coalitions with individuals and organizations that have the same goal i.e. constituents with the same problem, allies from a similar constituency, and supporters who care enough to help.
And always remember, we can’t change the world overnight.
Change is incremental.
And it’s okay to take a break now and then.
Be sure to celebrate the victories when they occur.
What is the one thing that you hope readers will take from reading Pass Me Your Shoes?
I’m not good at choosing one thing. I pray that readers will–
- be encouraged to persevere in tough circumstances.
- be warned that poor decisions can lead to lasting and painful consequences.
- learn how to live every day with hope and confidence in God’s strength and love for all people no matter what their size or appearance.
Where can people find out more about you, your work and where to buy your book?
People are welcome to visit my website at https://angelamuirvanetten.com where they can read about me and subscribe to my weekly blog. Alternatively, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
You can buy my book, PASS ME YOUR SHOES: A Couple with Dwarfism Navigates Life’sDetours with Love and Faith on Amazon.
Hello, Little Lady’s thoughts
I was thrilled when Angela first approached me about potentially reviewing her latest book. Having an opportunity to talk to one of our most prominent advocates in the community is a privilege and I asked if we could go one step further with an interview. Luckily for me, Angela agreed!
What I loved the most about this memoir is Angela’s ability to write with warmth, grace and humour at what were very challenging parts of her and her husband, Robert’s lives together.
Angela shows how, while we face many challenges, discrimination and prejudice because of our disability, we can and must live our best lives – not for society, but for ourselves.
Thanks and best wishes, Angela, on the launch of your book and for your words of wisdom in this interview.