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


Stroke in Antarctica in a Novel


(If you don't see the audio player above, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

I don't see many novels that deal with stroke and aphasia. Memoirs, sure, but not novels. That's one of the things that makes Jon McGregor's novel, Lean Fall Stand,* interesting. That, pls the fact that Jon himself is not a stroke survivor. He's someone who has taken an interest in our community an endeavored to learn more.

Oatmeal, a light-brown Jellycat brand teddy bear, sits on a couch and read's Jon McGregor's Lean Fall Stand

Jon's novel follows the story of Robert, a research scientist in Antarctica. Robert gets caught in a storm , suffers a stroke, and acquires aphasia. The novel chronicles Robert and his wife's adventures as they enter and then adjust to living in stroke world.

Jon and I talk about the book, Jon's research, his adventure in Antarctica, writing beyond an author's personal experience, and more.

About Jon McGregor

Author Jon McGregor wears a dark patterned shirt, suspenders, and a beret while standing against a dark green wall looking at the camera

Jon McGregor is the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Costa Book Award, the Betty Trask Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award, and has been long-listed three times for the Man Booker Prize, most recently for his novel, Reservoir 13. His latest novel, Lean Fall Stand*, is out from Catapult in September 2021. He is professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, England, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters.

Jon's Resources

Jon talks a lot about the research he did to understand the experience of stroke and aphasia. He met with therapists. He talked with survivors. He attended support groups.

The Stroke Stories podcast is another resource he used to learn about Aphasia and stroke from a survivor's perspective. It's a show that tells stories more as news type pieces rather than in a traditional podcast interview. You can find it in popular podcast apps.

A couple years ago, I was lucky enough to be a guest on the show. You can listen to that episode here: Stroke Stories Episode 50 - Bill Monroe

The Aphasia Access Conversations podcast is another one Jon found helpful. It's a show focusing on the education, experience, and thoughts of speech therapists who work with folks who have aphasia.

For more stroke related podcasts, visit http://Strokecast.com/StrokeRelatedPodcasts.

Jon also learned from Sara Scott's YouTube channel. Sarah survived a stroke at age 18, about 12 years ago. Since then she has posted videos recognizing various strokeaversaries. You can watch her progress in dealing with aphasia over the decade and see her recovery over the years.

Sarah Scott 10 years living with Aphasia

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Edwyn Collins is a Scottish musician who made it onto the worldwide charts in the 80s with his post-punk band Orange Juice. He survived a stroke with aphasia in 2005. Jon drew inspiration from the documentary of Edwyn's story, "The Possibilities are Endless"

The Possibilities Are Endless (Official Trailer)

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Jon also learned from the Stroke Odyssey production from Rosetta life:

SO Trailer 7

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Artists' Residencies

Artist residencies are a fascinating thing. In the one Jon talked about, he applied to go to Antarctica. He would be provided transportation, lodging, and access to the work of research scientists. In return, he would, eventually, make a thing.

In Seattle a couple years ago, the city offered space in a draw bridge that an artist could have for months to make a thing inspired by the space.

The variety of residencies available to artists is kind of amazing. It's an interesting intersection of public relations, marketing, public art, patronage, and other elements.

If you feel a desire to create but want space, education, or inspiration, it may be worth exploring the idea of residencies.

Writing About Marginalized Communities

We discussed the idea of writing about marginalized communities in this interview, specifically about disabled people or people with disabilities.

A lot of the same concerns apply when writing about folks of a different race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, etc.

When you write a character who is of a different group, especially if the character is part of a historically marginalized group, the writer has a special obligation to get it right -- to make sure they can write about the character and the character's experiences with honesty, accuracy, and individuality, without reducing them to a series of stereo types.

I've read parts of Lean Fall Stand* (Jon's team sent me a copy) and so far, his portrayal seems good. Of course, my experience with aphasia is all second hand. I'd encourage you to check it out and share your thoughts.

Become a better writer

Jon is a long time novelist and a professor of creative writing. You might expect him to have advanced models and techniques for becoming a better writer and telling better stories. But what is Jon's advice?

Read more.

Write more.

It's that simple. Sure you need to read deliberately and think about the choices a writer makes in the pieces you read.

To get better at walking, we need to walk more. To get better at moving our fingers we have to move our fingers more. To get better at speaking, we have to speak more.

To get better at writing, we have to write more.

More reading and more writing. Hmm. I can get behind that.

Hack of the Week

Jon talked with as bunch of folks with aphasia and cited two things they did that were helpful.

First, the used their phones and tablets to help communicate. It wasn't just about typing out messages or using special apps, though. It was about using other tools for communication. For example, telling the story of travelling to a city by using the maps app. It was about thinking of different ways to share the story without strictly telling the story.

Second, a lot of the folks Jon spoke with carried a card that explained they have aphasia and explains what aphasia is. There are still millions of people out in the world who have never heard of aphasia and folks with aphasia still have to deal with them. A simple card can make a big difference.


(If you don't see the list of links below, try visiting http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast