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Terp Writer's Corner - Richie Frieman '01

Terp Writer's Corner - Richie Frieman '01

Richie Frieman '01

By Mateo Aycardi


Richie Frieman ‘01 wrote “The Optimistics”, after interviewing over seven dozen individuals and their care partners who have been diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It all started with Dennis, Mike, and Jim who were strangers and became best friends through their YOD diagnosis, and dubbed themselves “The Optimistics” as a way to showcase hope and optimism with dementia. Frieman’s goal is to raise awareness of this disease and show others how hope and love can still prevail in the darkness of a disease. Read on to learn about his journey to writing this novel!

Describe your book.

How can you escape the darkness of living with an incurable disease to find the light of optimism? In “The Optimistics” every chapter is a new story of how someone and their loved ones have answered that question.

In 2021, Dennis, Mike, and Jim were strangers, all diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia (YOD), all in their fifties. Forced into retirement and a world of uncertainty, they believed they were alone in their battles. However, after meeting each other at a local support group for YOD individuals, the three men went from strangers to best friends to brothers who committed unwavering support to one another. As a result of their uplifting mantra, they dubbed themselves “The Optimistics” as a battle cry of showcasing hope, love, and optimism in life to allow others in their situation to escape the darkness of an incurable disease.

​​For almost two years, I interviewed Dennis, Mike, Jim, and nearly 100 other YOD individuals and their care partners across the country to answer the question of optimism. “THE OPTIMISTICS'' is a collection of emotional love stories, intense family relationships, and the unwavering belief that when it comes to life, time is important. Continuing my commitment to The Optimistics, I am making a significant contribution by donating 25% of my own sales to The Alzheimer’s Association.

The Optimistics Book Cover

What, or who was your inspiration?

I grew up seeing Alzheimer’s in elderly family members but never Young Onset, which is a dementia diagnosis before the age of 65. When I first met Dennis, of the Optimistics at an Alzheimer’s Association Walk, he spoke about seeing signs in his late fifties. At the time I was nearing 45 and to think that this could be me down the road, shocked my body into trying to understand what that must feel like. Dennis, Mike, Jim, along with dozens of other Optimistics all had to cut their careers short way before “standard retirement” and had their independence stolen from them due to their diagnosis. I interviewed seemingly young couples in the dementia world going from planning their retirement to seeing their roadmap derailed by medical bills and an eventual life of isolation.

You would think that watching your loved one disappear into eventually becoming a complete stranger, would keep everyone involved in the darkness of depression, however, everyone found the light. It wasn’t always pretty and is still a constant battle but hearing how people like the Optimistics are able to embrace their future with hope and beauty, shows that everything in our own lives can be adjusted to realizing what is truly the most important parts.

What is the #1 item you want people to take away from your story?

Hope and love are two powerful mindsets that will oftentimes be challenged, however with the right support they can’t be broken. To that point, the biggest lesson I learned from my Optimistics is that time is important. If you knew your time was running out, what would you do? What do you find the most meaningful? And most importantly, how can you make the best out of the time you have left?

What advice would you give to a new writer?

Never stop writing and get used to rejection. Everyone gets rejected. It's a part of the business. A lot of people have good ideas but the small 1% actually do something with their plans. A large part of being a professional artist (in any medium) is allowing your passions to be presented to the public and to do that you have to embrace all that comes with it; the good, the bad, and the wildly unpredictable. However, at the end of the day, writers write. Step one is to put it on paper and if you can do that continuously, then you’re already way ahead of everyone else who gave up.

What book is on your nightstand right now?

“Why Fathers Cry at Night: A Memoir in Love Poems, Letters, Recipes, and Remembrances” by Kwame Alexander. It’s an incredible story of what it means to be a father today. I can’t recommend this book enough!

What is your favorite book?

"What Should I Do With My Life?" by Po Bronson. Every chapter is filled with another person’s story of how someone found their passion in life.

What do you do in your non-writing free time?

I love spending time with my wife (a fellow Terp), my two kids (future Terps), and long car rides to get coffee with my dog, Tucker (who has a Terp dog collar at least). On the weekends, I can be found on either a soccer or lacrosse field with my son or daughter for hours on end, rain or shine.

What is your favorite alumni event or experience?

I enjoy talking to other students who are looking for support about their "real world". I always say that I found out a lot about myself during my time at UMD and I will forever be an advocate for the school. I tell younger students that wherever you go, you’re going to find a Terp.

What's your Fearless Idea?

My first book was a children’s picture book I wrote and illustrated called, “Terple”. I have two Terple books now and more to come. My ultimate “fearless idea” is to create a massive walking children's book art installation of "Terple" as an interactive display on the mall. I mean HUGE! I want each page to be at least 30’x20’ and scale the entire mall for people to read, relax by, and enjoy with their friends. Who’s with me, Terps?!?!


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