Texan, Stroke Survivor, Writer, Hiker, and One-handed Guitar Player shares his Story


The name "Avrel" means either "Elven King" or "Wild Boar" depending on who you ask. Fortunately, while Avrel Seale is not boring, this multi-book author and stroke survivor is the guest on Strokecast this week.

Our discussion of course covers Avrel's story, but we also get into a discussion about the nature of Generation X and how all this discussion of generations came to be. Avrel also has some great insights into the writing process.

His latest book is "With One Hand Tied Behind my Brain"*, so after you listen to our chat, pick up a copy from your favorite book store.

(For the full content, audio, and video in this story, visit http://Strokecast.com/Avrel)

About Avrel

Avrel Seale Lokk straight at the camera, supporting his chin with his left hand. He is seated in front of a lavendar backdrop

From https://avrelseale.wordpress.com/bio/

Avrel Seale has authored 10 books, including memoir, humor, philosophy, history, religion, and unsolved mystery. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Kirstin, and three sons.

In 2018 at age 50, Seale had a major hemorrhagic stroke that left him partially disabled. His story of survival and adaptation, With One Hand Tied Behind My Brain: A Memoir of Life After Stroke*, was published by TCU Press in 2020. His one-handed guitar playing was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.

In 2017, his memoir Monster Hike: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery* was published by Anomalist Books to positive reviews. Wendy Garrett of KCMO Talk Radio in Kansas City called it “fascinating and compelling.” Nick Redfern called it “highly entertaining … a witty, amusing, and adventurous saga.” Andrew W. Griffin wrote, “There is something Walden-ish about Monster Hike that I did not anticipate when I first picked it up … as much about ourselves and our place in nature as it is about ‘monsters.’ ” And Loren Coleman named it one of the 10 Best Cryptozoology Books of 2017.

Dude: A Generation X Memoir* was included in the Austin American-Statesman’s “Best Books of 2008.” Staggering: Life and Death on the Texas Frontier at Staggers Point (2014) chronicles the arrival of Seale’s ancestors in Texas in the 1820s and 1830s and the tumultuous events and brutal conditions of the pioneering years.

Seale often writes and speaks about the Baha’i Faith. In addition to numerous articles about the religion, his books The Hull, the Sail, and the Rudder (2006)*True Freedom and the Wisdom of Virtue (2007)*, and The Tree – A Spiritual Proposition (2008)* deal extensively with Baha’i concepts.

Though predominantly a nonfiction author, he has written two novellas — the afterlife comedy The Grand Merengue* and The Secret of Suranesh*, which he originally wrote and co-produced as an independent feature film.

His latest book, Nuts: Down the Nueces River With One Stroke, is awaiting publication.

Seale grew up in McAllen, Texas, the son of writer Jan Seale, the 2012 Texas Poet Laureate, and composer and conductor Carl Seale. Earning a bachelor’s of science in radio-TV-film from The University of Texas at Austin in 1989, he returned to the Rio Grande Valley, where he started his writing career as a reporter and a columnist for the McAllen daily newspaper, The Monitor.

In 1992, he returned to Austin and served 16 years as editor of the UT alumni magazine, The Alcalde. From 2011-2015 he served as speechwriter for the president of The University of Texas. Since 2015, he has been a writer and editor in the university’s news, marketing, and development offices.

Subject Matter Expertise:

  • Stroke
  • Baha’i Theology
  • 19th century East-Central Texas History
  • Crypto-hominology (sasquatch/bigfoot)
  • Persuasive Writing
  • The University of Texas at Austin


The core principle of neuroplasticity is the cells that fire together, wire together. The more you do a thing, the more connections will form in your brain to do that thing again. More connections mean more real estate gets taken up in the brain for that task.

A professional basketball player will have a lot more neural connections dedicated to free throws than I will. I might have two. And one of those is dedicated to spelling it.

The metaphor of the homunculus is helpful in understanding how this impacts brain injuries.

The homunculus is a representation of the brain and various parts of the body. The more you use a part of the body, the more neurons it takes up in the brain. For example, the hands and tongue take up more space in the than the elbow and pinkie toe.

The more time and energy you dedicate to something, the more space in your brain is dedicated to that task. For example, a homunculus of my brain would likely show a much larger segment dedicated to speaking than to throwing a baseball.

One way I think about how this applies to survivors (and I may be stretching the homunculus analogy) is that a skill from the prestroke days that a survivor was an expert at may come back before a skill one had limited experience with simply because despite the damage there were simply more nerves dedicated to it.

As you continue to work on a skill post stroke, a larger portion of the brain will be dedicated to it. More nerves, dendrites, and synapses will become involved. This is neuroplasticity at work.

Writing Plan

Avrel writes books, writes speeches,  and writes lots of other stuff, too. He also teaches writing.

Avrel's recommendation for anyone wanting to write a book is to make sure you have something to say. A typical non-fiction book is going to be somewhere between 60,000 and 120,000 words. To give you an idea of what that means, a typical episode of this show is 10,000-14,000 words.

To find out if you have something to say, Avrel suggests writing a long essay about your experience -- about 8,000 words. If you can't get 8,000 words from your experience, maybe you don't know what you want to say, yet. That could change in the future, or you may find another platform for your story.

And once you do get to 8,000 words, you have a thing that you can shop around to magazines or to flesh out further and turn into a book. That long form document becomes the foundation that you can build the rest of your narrative on.

To learn more about writing a memoir, also check out my conversation with Christine H. Lee at http://Strokecast.com/writeyourstory

Guitar Playing

Back in episode 22, I spoke with Craig Martin from OnlineBuske.net. Craig was a British professional guitar player working at clubs and restaurants in Spain when he had his stroke. It took one of his arms and he had to learn to use it again to get back to his beloved guitar playing.  And then it happened again.

Today, he plays guitar and sings. He posts some amazing videos on OnlineBusker.Net and uses them to raise money for stroke organizations around the world. You can hear that conversation at http://Strokecast.com/OnlineBusker

The reason I mention that is Avrel is also a guitarist -- a one-handed guitarist. You can hear some of his playing at the end of the episode or check out this video:


You can see more of Avrel's guitar playing on his YouTube channel. If you play guitar, I'm sure you'll be fascinated by his tutorials, too.

Caffeinated Comics

The logo for the Caffeinated Comics podcast. It features a page for comic book layout, a coffee ring stain, and a drawing of a man from behind as he puts on a cape.

William Shatner released a new album and went to space. So that was my cue to join Jon Clarke on the Caffeinated Comics podcast to talk about it.

Jon and I are long-time Star Trek fans and I've been fascinated by Shatner for years. In the beginning it was because of the combination of absurd projects he'd done combined with his reported arrogance and poor treatment of other Star Trek cast members. As we've all matured and I've read his memoirs and listed to his music and watched his talk show, I became fascinated in a different way.

His latest album is called simply "Bill" and explores themes of depression, loneliness, guilt, connection, death, love, and horses. Some folks experiencing their own mental health challenges may find it triggering, but it's a fascinating piece of art. You can get the CD here* or find it in the streaming service of your choice.


To listen to the conversation Jon and I have, click here, search for Caffeinated Comics in your favorite podcast app, or just click play below.


Hack of the Week

Avrel's hack is all about playing the guitar. He's able to make the notes and chords by using hammer on and pull off techniques on the fret board. This works well on an electric guitar.

You can see more of Avrel's guitar playing on his YouTube channel. He doesn't just play most of the songs. He also takes the time to demonstrate how he does it and teaches his hammer on technique.

On some tracks, Avrel also uses a digital looing device to expand his playing further.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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