Jo Ann Allen Takes It Slow
After a frightening accident, the veteran journalist reset her approach to work and life. The result was a surge in creativity.
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Jo Ann Allen told her story to producer Tanvi Kumar for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
This was in the summer of 2021. I live alone. I lost my balance in my kitchen, and fell and hit my head on the concrete floor. The impact knocked me out. I don’t know for how long, because I have no sense of time around what happened, and also it made me black out.
The next thing I knew, paramedics were knocking on my door.
I am the host of the podcast Been There, Done That, which tells the real life stories of the Baby Boom generation. I am a former radio journalist who has worked for various NPR stations. I enjoy writing; I’m writing a memoir now.
The accident happened when I was 67, almost 68. One of the scariest, if not the scariest, moments in my life was when that accident happened to me.
I think when you’ve been a journalist all your life, you’re aware of everything around you. You’re aware of other people, you’re aware of what you are doing. There’s a keen sense of knowing things that are going on, that are happening. And to lose that was just, Whoa, where did I go? What did I do? How can I find out for sure?
The fall left a wound that was bleeding and a dent in my head that I have right to this day. It’s never going to straighten out, which is a reminder of what happened. But I was lucky enough that my fall did not cause any brain injury, per se, other than the concussion.
Over the next several months, I really had to take it easy. I couldn’t do what I normally do, which is write and be on the radio, because I could tell my brain had slowed down somewhat. It didn’t require any kind of medication, just sitting still and being. Which I thought would be hard to do, but when your brain gets a jolt, sitting still and taking care of yourself is easy to do.
I kept trying to go for walks, but I waited until I started feeling OK with being outside in the fresh air and the sunshine. Seeing my neighborhood, which is a fairly nice neighborhood. Getting outdoors was part of the healing process, but I never pushed myself. I trusted when my doctors said, “Take it easy, don’t overdo it.” But it was a year of questioning, How much will I be back? Will I be back to what I feel to be a hundred percent?
I learned to really take it easy and to, in fact, slow down. The benefits of slowing down are that you get to relax. You’re not hyped up, your shoulders are not up in the air the way they would be when you’re on deadline, for example, because in radio journalism, the deadlines were constant.
Another thing is that I knew how to do radio journalism well, and it’s hard to let that go because it feels good to do well. To learn that I can get satisfaction elsewhere was important. I learned that I would be OK not doing journalism. I could move those creative juices that I have into another area, I could be much more creative as a writer and put aside journalism. This past year I’ve learned that it’s not going to be as hard to retire as I thought it was going to be, because I’ve always, all my life, ever since I was in grade school, loved telling people something new.
I always tell people who are thinking about retiring and just can’t quite do it, don’t retire and sit down and do nothing. When you retire, make sure you have one or two or three things that you really enjoy doing lined up. Whether it is golfing every day, or volunteering with a charity, or helping your neighbor in their garden, have things to do that will keep you happy and will keep you moving.
I am grateful in a sense that I had that fall, because I feel so much more aware of who I am, what I am, what I want to do, how I can go about doing those things.
There’s something about experiencing hardship and coming through it onto the other side that makes you grateful that it happened, that allows you to be as human as possible and not apologize for it.
Jo Ann Allen is the host of the podcast, Been There, Done That, and a columnist for The Denver Post. She’s currently writing a memoir about growing up in the Jim Crow South. You can find her on Twitter @radiojaa.