Tag Archives: memoir

WeekEND Reading: Gayle Brandeis talks about her new memoir, THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS, her mother’s suicide, the juxtaposition of life and death, mental illness, STRANGER THINGS 2, books she’s reading, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Razor-sharp, raw, poetic memoir about mothers and daughters, suicide, mental illness, and grief.

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Gayle Brandeis’s mother disappeared shortly after Gayle gave birth to her youngest child, Asher. Several days later, her body was found hanging in the utility closet of parking garage of an apartment building for the elderly.

THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS is a gorgeous read about a less-glamorous time. Gayle is struggling with grief and heartache, as well as the soupy surreal time of postpartum. Gayle takes this dichotomy of death and birth and weaves it into a coherent, poetic narrative that brings readers into the grief experience.

What’s more is the family history surrounding a series of bizarre medical symptoms that often masked themselves as psychoses. Or was it psychosis, after all? It’s hard to say because the symptoms tend to overlap: delusions, paranoia, factitious disordersfactitious disorders; Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, porphyria. For the last few years of Gayle’s mother’s life, she was working on a documentary about these
disorders, called THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS. Gayle takes that script and braids it, along with her own feelings and experiences into the narrative. images (23)

Be sure to watch the stunning book trailer here: 

I found the writing clear and glittery, the medical mystery fascinating, but most of all–I wondered, what really happened?

From the back cover: 

“Written by a gifted stylist, THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS delves into the tangled mysteries of the disease, mental illness, and suicide, and comes out the other side with grace.”

I am so, so honored to welcome Gayle to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Gayle, I find your story so important and so honest and I thank you for sharing it with us. Like you, I had a tumultuous relationship with my mother. Like you, I lost her to suicide a little over two years ago. I dont have to ask what was haunting you when you set out to write THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS; I know. But I am curious about what kept you going with the writing?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much, Leslie—I’m so grateful for your kind words and so happy to appear on your blog. I’m sorry that you are part of this suicide loss survivor club, too—it’s not a community I’d wish on anyone, but I very much appreciate connecting with other survivors. Our stories are so often kept in the shadows, and I think when we share this complicated form of grief, we can help reduce stigma, help release shame. That was part of what drove me, but what drove me on a more personal level was the compulsion to dig and dig and dig until I could come to some place of understanding—or, if not understanding, at least a place of greater peace—with my mom, her life as well as her death. I wanted to make some kind of sense out of the chaos.

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L.L.: While THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS is as much about death as it is birth. Your youngest son, Asher was born just a week before your mother took her life. You share several beautiful passages in the narrative about Asher/Ashes/Ash/er/es []  its very poignant and also a nod to grief; I think we often grasp at small connections as our mind absorbs loss. We want to make sense of the tragedy.  You also share a really strong image of your sister carrying your mothers ashes in one hand and Asher in his car seat in another arm. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of life and death?

Gayle Brandeis: Life and death are always around us, of course—cue “The Circle of Life” music!—but losing my mom a week after giving birth drove that home in such an intense way. That moment where my sister was walking down the hall holding my baby Asher at the same times he was holding our mom’s ashes, embodies that juxtaposition so perfectly for me, the beginning and end of life in her hands (and realizing those two words—Asher, Ashes—are just one letter apart; just one breath apart, as I write in the book). Having a new baby kept me from running off the rails, I think—I’m so grateful he brought his ray of light to ground us and bring joy through that painful time. I’m very glad I took notes as it was all happening because both grief and giving birth can give one a kind of amnesia—some part of me must have known that, and took notes to guard against this double whammy. Those notes helped greatly once I was ready to write this story—they brought me right back to the intensity of the experience, of holding the reverberations of grief and birth in my body all at once.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit to the medical side of THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSISyour mother believed she (and  your family) suffered from a couple of rare medical syndromes: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and also porphyria. Later, theres mention of factitious disorder and malingering syndrome. You had me Googling all kinds of things! Can you break down what you understand about these illnesses, please?

Gayle Brandeis: I feel like I still don’t understand as much about Ehlers-Dalos syndrome and porphryria as my mom had wanted me to. Both are genetic disorders; Ehlers-Danlos is a connective tissue disorder which has a several manifestations—the most common seem to be the hyper mobility type, in which joints are extra loose, and the vascular type, which affects blood vessels (as well as other parts of the body) and can lead to issues like rupture of the aorta (my mom felt certain that this type ran in the family). Just in the last couple of years, several people I know have been diagnosed with EDS, or a family member has, or it’s been suspected by doctors, so it’s possible that my mom was right when she believed it’s not a rare disease, just rarely diagnosed. Porphyria is a metabolic disorder that has all sorts of physical and mental presentations, including some pretty wild ones, like a thirst for blood and “werewolfism”; it may be what drove King George “mad” (and thus helped America become America.) There is something kind of mythic about it, although of course it leads to very real suffering. As I mention in the book, I was kind of disappointed when it turned out I didn’t have porphyria, after all—if I had to be chronically ill (and of course I would rather not be!), that was an interesting illness to be associated with.

Factitious disorders were a more recent discovery for me. In the book, as you know, I talk about how I prolonged my illness for a year after it went into remission when I was a teenager because I didn’t know how not to be “the sick girl”—it had become my identity. A few years ago, a friend mentioned the word “malingering” and I knew I had heard it but didn’t fully understand what it meant; when I looked it up and discovered that it meant gaining some sort of reward from pretending to be ill, I thought, well, that’s what I was doing as a teenager. I later learned, though, that those who malinger get some sort of material benefit from their charade—money, etc.—but those with factitious disorders get their reward directly from the experience of being ill and the attention it inspires. That struck home all the more. The most serious form of this is Munchausen syndrome (named for Baron von Munchausen, a character who made up outlandish tales); there’s also Munchausen by proxy, in which a person, often a mother, will make someone else, often their child, ill through a variety of means. My mom didn’t have Munchausen by proxy, but our relationship as “the sick girl” and “the mother of the sick girl” was definitely an unhealthy and co-dependent one.

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L.L.: And yet, and yet…at times your mother seemed to suffer from some kind of mental illness. As I read, several diagnoses came to mind: schizoaffective disorder, bipolar, narcissism. What do you think was really going on?

Gayle Brandeis: It is still wild and ironic to me that I went out of my way to appear ill when I wasn’t and she refused to acknowledge she had mental illness when she did. After doing my own research and interviewing psychiatrists, it seems likely that she had a paranoid delusional disorder, which is different from schizophrenia and is apparently incredibly hard to treat. Even if she had ever been properly diagnosed, it’s unlikely there would have been a medication or other therapy that could have significantly  helped. Learning this was a relief in a way—I had been beating myself up, wondering what I could have done differently, how I could have helped her more, and when a psychiatrist I interviewed said there really isn’t anything I could have done, it helped me let go of some of the guilt I had been carrying. I do think she had narcissistic personality disorder, as well—the world very much revolved around her.

L.L.: THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS teeters between time periods and also is told, in part, by letters you wrote to your mother after her death at the urging of your therapist. There are a million ways you could have structured this narrative. How is that you decided on this structure?

Gayle Brandeis: The structure evolved as I worked on the book. The letter my therapist suggested I write to my mom was something I truly had started writing for myself alone, and as I delved into my history with my mom, at some point I realized that this letter could provide a deeper context for our relationship in the book, since the present tense narration around her suicide was urgent and immediate and didn’t really allow for that kind of reflection. The film transcription came in a bit later in the process—I had decided to borrow my mom’s title but I hadn’t considered using the film itself in the memoir, mostly because I hadn’t been ready to watch it after her death. Once I did let myself view it, I realized that braiding the film into the book could give my mom a chance to speak for herself on the page. And the research elements came in naturally, too—they were part of my investigation and it made sense to weave them in. It seems fitting that the story ended up being told in a complicated, fragmented way—it mirrors how complicated grief after suicide can be (but it also allowed me to create form out of chaos in a very satisfying way.)

L.L.: There are other memoirs about mental illness and suicide; mothers and daughters, but this one is illuminating and uplifting in some regards; redeeming in others. What do you think sets THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS apart? What do you hope readers take away? And did it transform you in writing it?

Gayle Brandeis: Of course every story of suicide is unique because of the voice and vision of the person writing, but there are also important points of connection between our stories. I take a dance class called “Groove” where the guiding principle
is “unified but unique”—you are given a few simple movements to do with each song that are touchstones for everyone in the class, but then you make the movements your own, layer on your own quirky stuff. I think of my book that way—I hope people who have gone through similar experiences will find a sense of solidarity and community, that it will help them feel less alone, but I also hope that this book will offer something new—a fresh approach to form, a singular experience told through my very particular (and sometimes peculiar, as was said in a review, which I love) body and mind. I very much hope readers leave the book with a sense of hope (and perhaps some inspiration to tell their own stories.)

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Writing this book transformed me more than I could ever say. I was asked to do a self-interview for The Nervous Breakdown, and I ended up asking myself “How did writing this book change you?” eleven times, with eleven different answers, and I could have kept going. I am a different person than I was when I began writing the book—a stronger person, a braver person, a more open person. I am so deeply grateful for the journey of this book.

L.L.: Gayle, its been such a pleasure. Thank you! Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have? Like, maybe whats on your end-of-the-year-bucket list, what are you reading, what your guilty pleasures are, or how Asher is doing?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much for having me—this has been a treat! I don’t think you forgot anything at all, but I’m happy to answer these questions! Not sure I have an end-of-the year bucket list, but I do want to see the Northern Lights before I
die.
  Speaking of death, I’m reading a book that comes out next year, I AM, I AM, I AM: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell, which is a beautiful exploration of how awareness of death can help us appreciate life all the more deeply. As for guilty pleasures, hmmm…I gobbled down Stranger Things 2, but I don’t feel guilty about that at all! Hot baths are perhaps my guiltiest pleasure—guilty because I don’t like to waste water, but I sure do love a good, long, hot soak. And Asher’s doing great! It’s kind of amazing to me that he’s 8 now—he is such a barometer of how long I’ve lived without my mom. He’s just about as tall as my armpits these days. Time is so weird. Thanks for asking about my sweet boy (and thanks for all of your other great questions—so very grateful!)29906170001_4871960491001_4871918106001-vs

For more information, to connect with Gayle via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS, please see:

Gayle_Brandeis_by_Rachael WareckiABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gayle Brandeis is the author, most recently, of the memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (Beacon Press) and the poetry collection The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Books). Her other books include Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), Delta Girls (Ballantine), and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt), which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award and was chosen as a state-wide read in Wisconsin. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction have been widely published and have received numerous honors, including a Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award and a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. She currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line platforms:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Beacon Press and used with permission. Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights image retrieved from USAToday.com, quirky carpet layers from , the world revolves around me from, Life & Death Tree from Pinterest, no source noted, reading/book image from L. Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 11.16.17] 

 

WeekEND Reading: Jessica Teich on her sublime memoir, which is more of a ‘shared autobiography,’ touching on very tragic & real issues of suicide, rape, victimology, & teaching our daughters self-preservation skills

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By Leslie Lindsay 

At once a story of heartache and trauma, interwoven with a bit of mystery following the suicide of a not-quite schoolmate, fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY is an interior memoir at the core with very strong writing.small-cover-image-copy

It was an honor to be awarded the exclusive and prestigious Rhodes scholarship, particularly as a woman. In THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, Teich sets out to render those old gender stereotypes outdated, while  simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that she is, indeed, worthy of the award. Meanwhile, things in Jessica’s past bubble to the surface. She suffered horrendous abuse in her youth at the hands of a 30-year old male dancer. Routinely, Joe would sexually and physically assault her, threatening death if she told anyone. Yet, she succumbs, and later, attempts to put the past behind her.

Fast-forward some years and Jessica is married, a mother, and consumed with dread. OCD-like symptoms explode. She can’t sleep; she worries. When she comes across an obituary in the Oxonian, (the Rhodes Scholar bulletin), she glimpses the name of a fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, who recently took her life at age 27. Why would this smart, young, and recently married woman take her own life? This thread becomes the pull through Jessica’s life, as she begins to explore Lacey’s death.

Jessica continues to ask, “Why would a woman described as ‘brilliant, beguiling,’ and so widely admired, deeply cherished, commit suicide?” Seeking answers, Jessica hires a private investigator and tracks down Lacey’s survivors: her adoring brother, a wounded sister, the widower. While unraveling Lacey’s life, Jessica learns truths about her own life as a mother, wife, scholar, and survivor.

Join me as I chat with Jessica about this deep and thoughtful book.

Leslie Lindsay: There are so many things going on in THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY (Seal Press, September 27th, 2016), that it’s hard to determine exactly what genre it falls into. Ultimately, it’s a memoir, but there are themes of abuse, survival, suicide, mystery, mothering, and so much more. Where did you draw your initial inspirations?

Jessica Teich: I was largely inspired by the kinds of memoirs that blur boundaries; that are reflective and lyrical and vivid and visceral.  Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES is one.  I also love Lorna Sage’s BAD BLOOD.  It’s wildly funny and poetic, introspective, at the same time.  I do think my book is a memoir, or perhaps, a shared autobiography.  It’s Lacey’s story, and mine, and there is a third thread that’s part of the narrative weave: the story of my older daughter, poised on the brink of adolescence, the moment smart girls can be swallowed whole.  Strangely enough, memoir is a genre I’ve fallen in love with relatively recently.  I tothelighthousewas a big reader as a child—I still am—but it wasn’t until I discovered Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as a college student that I began to appreciate how rich and fully dimensional an interior voice can be.

L.L.: As a teenager, you were a ballet dancer. Graceful pirouettes come to mind, pink leotards, delicate steps, but what happened in the attic room of that dance studio was anything BUT graceful and delicate. I know how challenging this must be, but can you talk about that briefly, please?

Jessica Teich: For me that time takes place behind a scrim.  It feels like so many lifetimes ago.  Yet my memories are visceral: lying on Joe’s bed while he molested me, staring at the nails piercing through the ceiling of his attic bedroom. It was like being in a coffin, except a coffin would have been safer. In a coffin, I would have been alone.  Instead, as I say in the book, “there was Joe, lusting, pumping, groaning, rutting like a malevolent machine.”

For me, that passage captures the sense of helplessness I felt as a teenager, and also the confusion: why is this man behaving so brutally?  Why doesn’t anybody help?

Only later did I learn that many victims of violence never tell anyone they’re in trouble.  They don’t think there’s anything anyone can do to help.  If you’re a poised, confident child—at least on the outside—you’re probably pretty good at solving child-sized problems.  But you can’t think of a way out of the violence, the terror, the aloneness, and you’re only 16, so you can’t imagine anyone else would know of a way out, either. And I didn’t grow up in a family where you could talk about how you felt.  You couldn’t say, “I’m afraid.  I need you.”

Looking back now, I see that I was trapped in a perfect storm of susceptibility: distant parents; teachers I didn’t want to disappoint; a sense of myself as inadequate in some way, not truly desirable, not fully female or adult.   I was vulnerable at 16, but the abuse doesn’t stop when the clamor, the chaos, ends.  The experience of violence is a depth charge that continues to detonate.p2-w2-ballerina-a-20140529

L.L.: There was a vague sense of closure with what happened with Joe, but what happened with him, do you know?

Jessica Teich: I don’t know if he’s still alive.  If he’s still married.  If he’s still dancing.  I know he took the dancing away from me, for a very long time.  As I was writing my book, over so many years, I would often imagine some kind of rapprochement: a conversation in which I could ask why he hurt me, and he could explain what happened.  But there was no explanation— there never is— for that kind of brutality, that awfulness.  Or rather, there is no excuse, but there IS an explanation; that he had been abused by his father, and that the cycle of violence, passed down in families for generations, is exceedingly difficult to break.

Experts think that it’s very unwise—for obvious reasons—for survivors to go in search of their abusers.  Not only because of the threat of more violence, but because, on the simplest level, there is no satisfaction in confronting someone so damaged, so depraved.  There isn’t anything Joe could tell me that would make what happened better.  I needed to make it better myself, by freeing myself to feel the love of the people I chose to be vulnerable to, the people I’d embraced.

L.L.: This brings up the urgent call to end violence against women, in their homes, on college campuses, even in the workplace. How can we help victims bring their attackers to justice?

Jessica Teich: There are so many ways to help, legally and logistically.  There’s still so much work to be done.  We can help lift the restrictions on access to DNA rape kits that still exist in some states.  We can ensure the preservation of DNA forensic evidence and expedite its analysis.  But there is an enormous cultural shift that needs to happen as well.  We have to believe people when they say they’ve been molested.  Statistics show that it’s extremely rare for someone to invent a story of abuse, even though those instances have gotten a lot of attention in the press.  What’s more, abusers are serial predators.  It’s not like some college freshman drank too much and lost control.  They say everything in life is about sex EXCEPT sex, which is about power.  This kind of violent abuse is a desperate, broken way for people to exert power.  There’s no romance in it.rsa1

What’s more, it’s often the victim whose life is forever altered. She— and most survivors are women— is forced to flee with her children, or withdraw from college, while the predator carries on unhindered, free to violate someone else.  That’s got to stop.  We’ve got to believe these victims, and arrest their attackers, and give the assailants a punishment befitting the heinousness of their crimes.  These aren’t frat boys, misbehaving.  They are serious serial predators.  It’s quite frightening to send your daughter to college knowing there is a 1 in 4 chance that she will be the victim of assault.  That’s indecent.  It’s unforgivable.  I read recently that some colleges are hosting seminars for women on “how to avoid rape.”  As one young woman pointed out, what we should be teaching, mandating, is an end to rape, not a strategy for avoiding it.

L.L.: When the book opens, you write about “stalking” your own daughter as she goes to ballet class. Were you fearful the same thing would happen to her, and where is she now?

Jessica Teich: Yes, I was terrified. And I came to realize how unfair that was, most especially to her, but also to the world she lived in, which was safe and nurturing.  She wasn’t nearly as vulnerable as I thought she was.  In fact, she’d twice taken a self-defense class—I think every girl should take a class like that— and she feels quite strong.  I hope she won’t be tested.  But she is exceedingly smart and thoughtful and vigilant. I trust her.  And I trust the world more than I ever thought I would.

L.L.: The story of Lacey is intriguing to me, as well. I’m a survivor of death by suicide. My mother, a little over a year ago, took her own life. I can see the grisly intrigue, from someone on the outside, but as an insider, this is raw material. How did your investigation into Lacey Cooper-Reynold’s life begin? And how did it spiral out, going deeper and deeper into your own fears and frustrations?

Jessica Teich: I’m so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I can only imagine how anguishing that is, based on the writing and thinking I’ve done. I’m sorry to say, too, that it can be something one struggles with for a long time.  Not just the final decision, but the feeling of not being able to help.  Not being allowed to help. That’s why I wanted to write about Lacey.  To help.

You know, my investigation into her death began serendipitously.  One night I couldn’t sleep and I wandered downstairs to my living room and stumbled upon the obituary of a stranger.  I was captivated by her story.  Before I knew it, I had become consumed with thoughts of her, and I wanted to know why someone so talented and beloved would choose to end her own life—on the very day her new husband was arriving in Los Angeles.  But I think the real question was: why did she feel she wasn’t enough; would never be enough?  That’s a question I realized I had to ask myself.

L.L.: Did you ever find out what ‘really’ happened to Lacey? What do you suspect now, after your research and writing?

Jessica Teich: There is no “aha!” moment in the book. Nor, I might add, is there always, or even often, a moment like that in life.  I have my own epiphanies—mostly about where I left my sunglasses—but rarely is there a single revelation that explains the arc of heart-love-window-winter-frostsomeone’s life.  For me, there is always a central, impenetrable mystery at the heart of every relationship.  We are all, always, strangers to each other in fundamental ways.  What’s amazing to me is that any two people can be “intimate” for any length of time: lovers; parents and children; colleagues; teacher and student.  It’s so hard to be open and honest, respectful of boundaries but transparent, vulnerable.

Why did Lacey “do it?”   The answer is both too easy to imagine and forever beyond our ken. I think the more important question is: what can we do about it?  How can we reach the next person who feels ragged and desperate and alone?  As Lacey’s closest friend said, “We must keep these things alive. It’s common when these things happen for people to tell each other that no one could have known, but I think it’s fair to ask what more could have been done.”

That’s why I wrote THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, to help keep her alive, and to keep alive the questions raised by her tragic death: How do we tell the truth about who we are?  How do we metabolize our pain?

L.L.: Suicide rates among young women have continued to climb, even more alarmingly, among teenage and preteen girls. Since 1999, suicides among girls ages 10-15 have tripled, according to a recent CDC report. These statistics are harrowing. As a mother of girls ages 9 and 11 whose grandmother died by suicide, it’s particularly shocking. Can you speak to that, please?

Jessica Teich: I think our culture places enormous pressure on girls, and women: to be perfect, to need nothing, to give everything, to ask for very little. Even to this day, I think we’re expected not to take up too much space.  I remember reading an article in the New York Times years ago, about a group of girls in a New England town who were like supernovas: bright, accomplished, philanthropic, athletic.  They had everything 17-year-old girls might seem to need, from perfect test scores to a close cohort of friends.  But they said they spent a lot of time wondering if the boys thought they were “hot.”   They calculated their value as people using the most superficial metrics.  I think that’s still the case.01girls-large5

Our culture, with its perpetually revised, homogenized images, exerts pressure on all of us to seem “publically perfect.”  I don’t think perfection of any kind is a value to aspire to.  To be oneself, to fill out the contours of one’s life, to step into one’s own skin; that’s what’s important.  And that’s the best way to make a contribution to the lives of others, which I think is a huge source of self-esteem.

In doing research for THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, I discovered that girls who volunteer are less self-focused and self-critical.   Connection, collaboration; these are the ways to help girls shore up their sense of worth, to say nothing of the benefits to others.  Too often schools encourage students to volunteer for the minimum number of hours, to meet their “service” requirement.  But that’s not enough time for the relationships, the benefits, to take root and grow. Realizing that our lives are inextricably entwined with the lives of others; that can be healing, buoying. Engagement is also a great antidote to depression and hopelessness.

I sometimes think of what Robert F. Kennedy said: “We must tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of the world.” Making gentle. I think that’s our job.  “Gentle” is one of those words— like “lovely” or “cozy”— frequently assigned only to women.  But “gentle” can be fierce.  I like it as a verb: to gentle.   The more we do that, the more I think our lives, our hearts, will mend. It turns out the ancient Greeks had a word for people who didn’t perform public service.  Our word “idiot” derives from it.

L.L.:  There’s another statistic I’d like to mention, and while I don’t have definite numbers on this one, it has to do with the ‘middle school girl slump,’ where smart, self-reliant girls are made to ‘dumb-down’ to appear more soft, likable, and more attractive to the opposite sex.  How can we get society to stop sending these messages to our girls? Or, does the message come from elsewhere?

Jessica Teich: The messages are everywhere.  What’s important is for parents and teachers to say to our daughters (and sons): I see who you are.  I see what you’re struggling to achieve.  Maybe it’s to understand Robert Frost’s poetry.  To join the Red Cross team at school.  To get along better with your brother.  To stop saying the word “like.”  We’ve got to help our children achieve a sense of scale, so they can see where they fit in, what they have to contribute, what’s worth achieving and what is just mindless, meaningless, purposeless acquisitiveness. 

My husband and I chose to send our daughters to an all-girls school, but initially, I was very resistant to the idea.  I’d grown up with downloadbrothers.  I kept walking around the school thinking, “Where are all the boys?”  Then we sat in on a science class, and the classroom had been redesigned to accommodate the ways girls like to learn: in groups.  The lab stations were enlarged to make it possible for the girls to work collaboratively. One girl raised her hand and asked, “What’s an autoclave?” She was an eleventh grader and I thought, “How can she not know what an autoclave is?”  (But then, I was a doctor’s daughter.)  The woman giving the tour turned to me and said, very patiently and without judgment, “At least she’s not afraid to ask.” That’s when the penny dropped. I realized that what we want most—for our children, for ourselves— is the courage to take chances, to heed our own instincts, to acknowledge our mistakes, to ask for help.  I think that’s what we all long for: freedom from fear.

L.L.: Is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Jessica Teich: No, but I’m very moved by your willingness to talk about your mother’s death.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  Your willingness to be open about it, despite your pain, is very courageous.  The Buddhists say our children choose us, to teach us, to free us.  I think your daughters chose very well.

L.L.: Jessica, it was a pleasure chatting. Thank you!

Jessica Teich:  Thank you so much.

“An honest, compassionate memoir… Teich’s book is not just compelling for the way it plumbs the psyche of an outwardly driven and ambitious woman; it is also provocative in its questioning of what female success really means.”

—Kirkus Reviews

For more information, or to connect with Jessica, please see: 

screen-shot-2016-08-10-at-4-04-02-pmAbout the Author: JESSICA TEICH graduated summa cum laude from Yale and received an M.Phil degree from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar. Her previous book, Trees Make The Best Mobiles: Simple Ways To Raise Your Child In A Complex World, appeared in Vanity Fair, People, Us, and The Chicago Tribune, and was featured on the Today show. For almost a decade, Teich worked as a literary manager at the Mark Taper Forum, commissioning and developing plays. She subsequently received a grant to write and direct a movie for the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Teich served as head of the Biography committee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by clicking on the various links: 

[Cover and author images courtesy of L. Rossi-Totten and used with permission. Girls in science lab retrieved from , rape statistics image retrieved from, Ballerina image from, Virginia Woolf cover image from Wikipedia, all on on 9.23.16] 

WeekEND Reading: Celebrating Family, Food, and Dad with Dawn Lerman’s MY FAT DAD, how childhood memories are attached to food, growing up in 1970’s NYC, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

“Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food.”
Dawn Lerman spent her childhood constantly hungry. She craved good food as her father, 450 pounds at his heaviest, pursued endless diets, from Atkins to Pritikin, and everything in between—and insisted the rest of the family do the same, though no one else had a weight issue. book
On the other hand, Dawn’s mother could barely be bothered to polish off a can of tuna standing over the kitchen sink, corded phone in hand. She didn’t understand why Dawn was obsessed with “good” food, spending money frivolously on expensive pears, cleaning the house, and helping her father maintain his diets.
A chaotic and lonely childhood, Dawn helped her younger sister get starring roles in Broadway plays, sending her on the road for a couple of years, and later a stint on the popular show, “Charles in Charge.”
Set alternatively in Chicago and New York City, MY FAT DAD is more than the title suggests, but a memoir of love, family, and food, It’s about coming-of-age in the 1970s, about being Jewish, about the ad men of New York, and so much more.
Today I am so, so honored to have Dawn with us to chat about her book.
 
Leslie Lindsay: So I completely devoured MY FAT DAD. It triggered some of my own memories of food, grandmothers, and dysfunctional family happenings. What moved you so much to sit down and write this story?
Dawn Lerman: I originally set out to write a health book for kids about snacking. While I was compiling recipes, I realized that each one of them had a memory attached to it. The memory was as important as the recipe —it was the people I was with at the time; where I was when I tasted it; and the smells that made it so important.
 
Nourishing yourself and your family is about the love you put into it, which led me to want to share about my family and my maternal grandmother Beauty, whose recipe cards saved me and gave me a purpose. I was able to focus less on the chaos and loneliness I felt in my day-to-day life. The story of how home cooked food had such a positive impact on my life, even in the face of my father’s 450-pound weight, felt like an important story. I wanted to provide the color and context around the recipes that were woven into the fabric of my life.
 
6-Beauty & Dawn 2yrsL.L.:  Like you, I had a grandmother who was an amazing cook. I’m not sure that she ever formally taught me how to cook, but I watched. And we corresponded through letters, over boys and my parent’s divorce, but never with recipes. The other grandmother was a horrible cook, bless her! Still, both of their styles have influenced my cooking style today.  How does one’s culture and familial heritage shape their overall attitude toward food?
Dawn Lerman: In the words of my grandmother Beauty, “Good food is not fast. Fast food is not good and if you know how to make a pot of chicken soup, you can nourish your self for life.”
It was not what my grandmother Beauty cooked that influenced me, but the love she put into everything she prepared. We spent every weekend until I was 9 years old together. We would shop for ingredients and spend our evenings creating the most wonderful soups, stews and cookies. It was in her kitchen that I learned what it felt like to be loved and nourished. After my family moved from Chicago to NYC for my dad’s life changing job as a creative director at McCann Erikson, where he would be the head writer on Coke and Nescafe, Beauty sent me a recipe card every week with a 20-dollar bill. That way the warm sweet smells from her kitchen could always stay with me.  “If I am cooking brisket for Papa you can cook brisket, for your sister. Sharing recipes will always keep us connected.”
 
L.L.: I hate to say it, but cooking—real cooking—is almost as obsolete as other crafts like needlepoint and sewing. It’s easier (and sometimes cheaper) to go to the store and purchase a sweater than say, knit your own. Same goes with food. We can just go out to a restaurant, pick something up at the WholeFoods bar, rather than “waste” our time slicing and dicing. Can you speak to that, please?
Dawn Lerman: While I think that is true and convenience often overrides home preparation, I think cooking real food is making a big comeback. The whole organic and farm to table movement has inspired a new generation of cooks. In the 60’s and 70’s the- women —especially my wanna-be actress mom, longed to be modern– rebelling against both the traditional family values they grew up with and the old world food. Frozen dinners were a novelty and were a luxury that the generation before them did not have.

 

L.L.: I love how each chapter in MY FAT DAD begins with a topic and the food that fed you—either emotionally or physically—during that time. For example,Chapter 2: My Baby Sister. Aunt Jeannie’s Apple Strudel, Chocolate Chip Mandel Bread, Russian Borscht, Family dinner at my Bubbe Mary's houseSure to Make You Feel Special Shirley Temple. Plus, the food offerings were often (but not always) indicative of the social and political times our country was experiencing. Was it more about that for you, or was it more about the comfort of food? (P.S. I still remember that my great-aunt made me spaghetti with meat sauce, green beans and garlic bread the night my sister was born; and I threw it up all over her white sheets I was so excited).

Dawn Lerman:  Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food, the food I craved, the food I was not allowed to eat and the food that made me feel loved. My father, a brilliant copywriter in the Mad Men era of advertising, was known for his witty ad campaigns—he was responsible for such iconic slogans as “Fly the Friendly Skies of United,” “Coke Is It,” “This Bud’s for You,” and “Leggo My Eggo”—and being able to solve any image problem that was thrown his way. Unfortunately, he was not able to use the same problem-solving skills when it came to his weight. My dad was fat while I was growing up—450 pounds at his heaviest. His weight would go up and down like an elevator, depending on what diet he was on or not on that month. For six months, he only ate white rice; another time, he only drank shakes; and another time he only had Special K—hoping that after a week of eating the cereal, there would be only an inch to pinch. What was most vivid to me about those early years with my parents was the constant feeling of hunger that consumed me as my obese father rotated from diet to diet.
But on Friday nights, I was never hungry. My maternal grandfather would pick me up for the weekend, and when we arrived at my grandparents’ home, the table was always set with beautiful china. There was always a pot of something cooking on the stove, a freshly drawn bath, and a fluffy, lavender-smelling nightgown waiting for me. It was at my grandmother’s house where I learned what true nourishment was. It is where my tears were dried.
When I walked into her kitchen, life transformed from processed packages of salty MSG instant soup to the delicious warm, fragrant smell of homemade chicken soup. Giant salads, fresh fruits and the aroma of just-baked muffins filled the air and my world. It was the only place I can remember feeling happy, safe and nourished. It was what I craved.
 
L.L.: Just yesterday, my 11 year old was sitting on the couch reading. A massive storm had just blown in, the sky was dark, claps of thunder could be heard in the not-so-distant distance. She looked up and said, “Mom! Nothing tastes better on a rainy day than homemade brownies. Will you make some?” I didn’t have all the ingredients right then (nor the time), so the brownies are on hold. Still, it got me wondering…like smell, do you believe food is connected to emotion and a certain time in personal history? I think I know your answer.
Dawn Lerman: My Papa used to say, “There’s nothing like Beauty’s soups and roasts to make all the problems of the world go away.” Before I even had words to describe the delicious, thick-as-fog split pea soup flavored with bone marrow, I knew what he was saying to be true. No matter what I felt during the rest of the week, the anticipation of Beauty’s food and of time spent in her kitchen lifted my spirits. Little Beauty is what she called me, and beautiful and special is how she always made me feel.Cooking is how she showed her love and when I became old enough that is the way I learned to show mine
L.L.: This same daughter has a list of food she loves. She created it one day at school and presented it to me at dinnertime. Quiche, chicken pot pie, corn casserole, fresh strawberries with sugar, fudgy brownies, sugar cookies. So the kid loves rich, sugar-y foods! But my other daughter is all about salty things. Angel hair pomodoro, tomato foccacia sandwiches with fresh mozzarella; she has an aversion to meat (so do I, being vegetarian). Do you think somehow we are “wired” to like different foods? How does that happen?
Dawn Lerman: I think everyone’s tastes, cravings, and food preferences are unique. Everybody always made fun of me because as a child I hated greasy and salty food. It always gave me an awful stomach. During the summer my family spent at the fat farm, I had the opportunity to speak to a nutritionist I asked why some people craved salty food while others craved sweet food. My sister craved fish and chips, the greasier the better. I loved things plain and was happy munching on cucumbers, carrots, and unsalted shelled sunflower seeds all day. My mom had an adverse reaction to all fruits. My dad seemed to be fine with all foods, but maybe that was because he was used to not feeling particularly great. As a child people were amused with my interest but no one really was able to answer my questions. This is a topic that I have dedicated my career to. What I learned is there is no one diet for everyone–bio individuality.

 
L.L.: I have to say, I’m a huge fan of MAD MEN. And I just loved hearing all about your dad, the ad man, on Madison Avenue creating slogans. As I was reading, I’d shout to my husband, “This guy came up with ‘Coke is it,’ ‘TaB, it keeps you light on your feet,’ ‘Leggo my Eggo,’ and well—there are more! What was his influence over you as a writer?
Dawn Lerman: I always saw my dad write and my mom was an English teacher. But the type of writing each of them did was very different from me. I wrote as an escape. As a child, my words and my thoughts were something that was very private. I used to carry around a little journal and pretend I was Harriet the Spy. Writing was my escape from my chaotic childhood. It was a place to put my feelings. It transported me into a world where I felt safe. 
 
L.L.: It seems like there were a good deal of appearances and disappearances with your family members. You moved as a child from Chicago to New York, leaving behind Grandma Beauty. Your dad left for the “fat farm” at Duke University, leaving behind you, your mom, and sister. And then mom and April leave when April gets cast in “Annie.” And then your parents get divorced. Can you talk about that, please?
Dawn Lerman: Great question. I think the constant disappearances of my family members, is why I started cooking. It was a way to control my surroundings.  When I made a chicken soup with dill as my grandmother did for me, it was like she was with me. The same with my sister.Whenever I would make her a care package of cookies, I felt the excitement she would have when she opened the box. Nourishing others was my calling from a very young age. Even as a child, I understood that my family was different, and that made me different. The pain and loneliness I often felt gave me a sense of empathy that would eventually give me a unique voice
 
L.L.: Since tomorrow’s Father’s Day, let me just share that when my parents divorced, my dad tried so hard to cook for us. We often had “glue” green beans (green bean casserole), instant mashed potatoes, and Jenny-O turkey loaf drenched in gravy atop of a slice of wheat bread. It was disgusting. But he tried. And I remember that. Meanwhile, I yearned for my mother’s “real” food, but somehow she stopped cooking, resorting to Tuna Helper and the like. Why the role-reversal and did your parents go through a similar phase when they divorced?
 
Dawn Lerman: Since we never had family dinners and my mom never really cooked, not much changed. I had already been cooking for myself and my little sister April since age 9. However my dad found a new girl friend who was a wonderful Italian chef and as much as I did not want to like her, she made the most amazing veal tonnato and tiramisu. 
Me with my mom and dadL.L.: And your mom. She sounds a bit mercurial at times. My own mother had a tough life as well. We had an oil-and-water relationship due to her mental illness and personality issues. Still, you seem to have broken free of that slightly toxic relationship. How can others wade through?
Dawn Lerman: As a child I remember wishing that my mother would be more like my grandmother, her own mother.  My mother was not very domestic and she found the things I loved boring, but through our battles I knew my mom loved me and she did the best she knew how. I think managing expectations of our parents is important.  As a mom now, I see that the things I care about are very different than what my son values. I also think forgiveness is very important.
L.L.: What advice would you give to those who are interested in writing about family and their relationship with them?
Dawn Lerman: Write from your heart. Write what you know. 
L.L.: Where is everyone now? Can you give us an update?
Dawn Lerman: My dad is now 210 pounds and vegan. My actress sister is now a family therapist and my mom was recently in a play as the star character instead of being on the sidelines. And I am a  writer and a nutritionist working with kids.
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but forgot?
Dawn Lerman:
Q: What do you want people to remember about your story?
A: I hope my story helps families create happy memories around food.  I also hope that “food” is seen to be more than just the macronutrients, protein, fat, or carbs from which it is composed.  I have always had a passion for taking any family recipe and making it healthier—I hope readers can see that good food can taste good and you don’t need to give up your traditional favorites if you are willing to exchange a few ingredients (There is an index at the back of My Fat Dad that explains what you can use as a substitute for most of the basics that go into every recipe).
 
L.L.: Dawn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for inspiring us with your tale of food, family, and culture.
Dawn Lerman: Thank you, Leslie!
For more information, to purchase MY FAT DAD, or to follow on social media, please visit:
Dawn Lerman Family

Dawn Lerman Family

About the Author: Dawn Lerman is a Manhattan based nutritionist, best selling author of My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes, and a contributor to the NewYork Times Well Blog . She has been featured on NBC, NPR, Huff Post TV as well as several other news outlets. Her company Magnificent Mommies provides nutrition education to student, teachers and corporation. You can find dawn@dawnlerman or Dawn Lerman.net 

Well.blogsnewyorktimes.com/author/dawn/lerman/ 
[All images courtesy of D. Lerman]
 

Write On, Wednesday: Melissa Cistaro on her lovely and devastatingly beautiful memoir, PIECES OF MY MOTHER, writing the story within, & finding forgiveness

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By Leslie Lindsay 

My own mother essentially abandoned my sister and I, not because she deliberately drove off, never to return, but through the devastating effects of mental illness. She left us for good this summer when she died by suicide. 9781492615385-300

A wife and mother now, I grapple with similar worries and concerns of this illusive mother figure, a similarity in Melissa Cistaro’s PIECES OF MY MOTHER, a hauntingly beautiful and devastatingly real account of her mother’s abandonment when she was just four years old.

We read sometimes to find meaning and understanding in a world that doesn’t align. If you’re looking for hope, forgiveness, and understanding, this is a must-read. But it’s not all roses; Cistaro delves into the depths of despair when she talks about family finances growing up, drugs, alcohol, and her own struggles as a wife and mother: what prevents any of us from just getting in a car and driving away?

Today, I am thrilled to have Melissa on the blog couch.

L.L.: Melissa, thank you for taking the time to pop by. First of all, I have to say how much I really loved PIECES OF MY MOTHER. Its dark, its devastatingly real, and yet so well done. Can you tell us a little more what sparked your muse when it came to actually sitting down and getting the story written?

Melissa Cistaro:

Thanks Leslie. I don’t think I ever could have written this book had I not become a mother. This may sound odd, but in some ways motherhood has been my muse. When I became a mother, my past came into focus in a way I had never seen it before. I started asking a lot of questions about what it meant to be a mother. It was painful to think that my own mother had been capable of leaving her three young children. I felt this need to understand the complexity of where I had come from. Here I was with a new baby – so completely in love and so completely caught off guard by the everyday challenges of caring for this tiny person. I started writing pieces of my story while my youngest napped. Once my son and daughter were old enough to be in school, I spent every free moment I could writing. I had to use my time efficiently. I never imagined that it would take me twelve years of working this way.

L.L.: I love the structure of the story. You weave in and out of now and then, showing us exactly where you are in the present, but how you arrived there. Structure can be a tricky thing for a writer. How did you arrive at this decision?

Melissa Cistaro:

The structure came very late in the twelve year process and for years I struggled with how to put the story together. I wrote a lot of the childhood scenes and the stories of visiting my mom first. It was about two years after my mom died when the structure finally came into focus. I knew I had to write about the last six days I had spent with my mom before she died. These were the most painful and devastating days for me. Emotionally there was so much at stake and I was desperate for some kind of closure or answers during that final trip to see her. And when I realized that I had to go back and write about those last six days, I had a strong intuitive feeling that this was the structure I had been waiting for.

 L.L.: For those of us who have struggled as a motherless daughter, what words of wisdom can you impart? How might she learn from this experience to be a better woman, wife, mother?

Melissa Cistaro:

I was fortunate to be in a long-time writing group with Hope Edelman who wrote Motherless Daughters. Hope inspired me in many ways and when my mom died, I remember coming home to find a beautiful basket of white flowers on my doorstep from Hope. There is a sentence that always resurfaces in me, “Daughters never stop longing for their mothers.” I think this is true, whether our mothers are with us or not with us. I continue to miss my mom and have worn her silver bracelet on my wrist for the past seven years. We wonder and worry because we feel the threads of this bond no matter if it is strong or broken. As a mother to a teenage daughter now, I do my best – and still question every single day whether my best is ever enough.

L.L.: Like you, I have an unsubstantiated fear that I will one day go crazy as did my mother. You share in PIECES OF MY MOTHER that you fear you have a leaving gene, can you speak to that, please?

Melissa Cistaro:

I wanted to understand how my mother had come to walk away from her three young children. Because I had never understood her story fully, I worried about what kind of mother I would be. What if she had passed on a “leaving gene” to me? What if that leaving gene was laying dormant inside of me? Was I capable of snapping and walking out the door someday? It was unimaginable to me but still I questioned myself. I turned this phrase over and over. This is when I began writing the story that became Pieces of My Mother.

L.L.: Im not sure that the book really covers this, but did you ever glean any real answers as to why you mom left? Do you have any speculations?

Melissa Cistaro:  I was desperate for some clear and definite answers before my mom died. I was searching for that “Ah-ha” moment of finally understanding what caused my mom to leave. But what I found is that her story was so complicated and layered that there was no single or “ah-ha” to be found. There was no name for my mom’s struggles as a mother and that is part of what I was trying to explore in the book. Often, we want a title or quick diagnosis for something that troubles us. The last thing I ever expected to find on my final visit was her folder titled “Letters Never Sent.” These letters are really one of the greatest gifts she left behind. In her letters, I meet her as the beautiful free-spirited woman she was as opposed to the mother figure she might have been. I discover my mom’s best and worst self wrapped up in this bundle of letters she left behind.

L.L.: I am assuming your parents officially divorced as in the end, your mother is married to another man. How did that transpire?

Melissa Cistaro:

My father never remarried. My mom married another man for about a week in the late sixties. In her forties, my mom went back to school and got sober for seven years. It was during this time that she met the man she married.

L.L.: Like many readers, I felt a bitter tang of resentment toward your mother. Yikes! I hate to even admit that. Yet, somehow you were able to soften and appear at her bedside as she lie dying. I think that must have taken a tremendous amount of courage. Can you speak to that?

Melissa Cistaro:

It was important for me to understand my mom during her final days rather than judge her for the choices she had made. She was weak and sick and I didn’t want her to die. I felt extremely vulnerable and was afraid of having some sort of breakdown after she died. I didn’t know how her leaving again would impact me.  I wanted her approval right up until the end. And I was also a coward during those days. I wished I could have been more direct with her and asked her more questions, but I simply wasn’t capable. We never know what will surface when we are faced with death so close. I knew that I didn’t want to just tell the story about the poor choices my mom made by leaving her children, but I wanted to get to a place of forgiveness and try to understand her. Occasionally, a reader will comment on the anger – or lack of my anger in the story. My anger usually surfaced as fear. My brother Eden was able to let out his anger with my mom before she died. He says he spent 20 – 30 minutes screaming at her for all the ways she had wronged him. I think this helped him. But this would not have worked for me. I had a much more quiet and introspective way of communicating with my mom. I believe that when we find true forgiveness, the anger recedes and we find compassion.2015-05-31 21.50.52_resized_1

L.L.: What advice might you give to someone who would like to write about something painful? Im thinking of the emotional implications, the way the truth is always different depending on different perspectives, and what one might hope to gain by sharing their story?

Melissa Cistaro:

We cannot betray our truths. If there is a story boiling inside of you – find a way to tell it. Maybe it comes out in a piece of music, a painting or a memoir or a fictional story. But why should we die with the stories we long to share still inside of us?

Our memories will not be the same as our siblings and parents and lovers. Their stories are their own. Emotionally, this was a very difficult story for my father to read. He was not aware of the emotions I held inside as a child – and yet my dad and brothers have been incredibly supportive of the book. Writing this memoir has been a long and painful journey – but I am glad I stayed with it. I am especially grateful now as I hear from readers who express how much the book has inspired them to tell their own stories.

L.L.: Oh goshI could go on and on, but what questions have I not asked but should have?

Melissa Cistaro: I always like to mention that I work in a wonderful independent bookstore (Book Passage) which is really a dream job for me. I’ve had the opportunity to introduce many of my favorite authors and I get to read a lot of wonderful books. Working in a bookstore keeps me both humble and inspired. It is a gift to witness this passion for storytelling and the lasting power of books in our lives.

 L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Melissa. I so enjoyed your story.

Melissa Cistaro: Oh my goodness Leslie, thank you for the wonderful ways that you are supporting authors and their books. It is a privilege to share my story here with you!

headshot1 for launchBio: Melissa Cistaro is a bookseller and the events coordinator at Book Passage, the legendary San Francisco Bay Area independent bookstore, where she has hosted more than 200 authors. A writer and mother of two, she has been interviewed on a number of radio shows and has been published in numerous literary journals including the New Ohio Review, Anderbo.com, and Brevity as well as in two anthologies alongside Anne Lamott, Jane Smiley, and other writers. Melissa graduated with honors from UCLA and continued her education with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She has participated in the Tin House Writer’s Workshop in Portland and The Writer’s Studio in Los Angeles. She lives in San Francisco.

For more information, or to connect with the author, please see: 

Twitter: @melissacistaro

Facebook: /melissa.cistaro

[Cover and author image courtesy of Sourcebooks/L. Williams. Family photo of Melissa, her brothers and father from the author’s personal archives and used with permission. Book trailer is available on the author’s website, http://www.melissacistaro.com] 

 

Write On, Wednesday: Interview with writer Laura Munson

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By Leslie Lindsay author_photos_heath 004

I am honored to have NYT bestselling author Laura Munson with us today as she talks about her memoir, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS (Berkley Trade, 2011). She has graciously agreed to give-a-way a copy to a lucky reader!! Laura’s writing has appeared widely in various household publications, including The New York Times, Redbook, and O Magazine. She is also the founder of the Haven Writing Retreats. Without further ado, please welcome Laura Munson!

1)  Laura, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS (2011). While your story is no doubt an eye-opener, what do you believe sets it apart from other memoirs out there?

LM: People tell me that reading my book is like sitting with a good friend, drinking tea, and sharing.  That is a result of many years of learning my craft and understanding why I write.  I come from a place of service.  I want to help people know they’re not alone.  I want to help people know that we can powerfully choose our emotional reaction to the things people say and do to us.  I think that my intention behind writing This Is Not The Story You Think It Is shines through:  writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life.  I faced that time of crisis in my life by writing my way through it, both for myself and others.  I was walking the walk, and I think that is what drives the book.  The reader actually experiences the writer using her lifeline, which gives them permission to do the same in whatever challenges they face in their own lives.

2)  Many readers/writers are interested in doing just what you’ve done: writing a memoir.  Whether the book is about their entire life or just a horrific portion of it, how do you see the process of writing memoir different than, say writing fiction?  

L.M.:Writers mine their lives, whether it is in fiction or non-fiction.  I write both and I need both.  Fiction feels like distilled reality to me.  Realer than real.  In writing fiction, we are not bound by actual events and people.  I like that freedom to go somewhere I might not go in my “real” life…on the page.  With memoir writing, however, it is such an intimate, vulnerable dwelling place…that it can’t help but bring new insights into the world as you know it.  They both have their place.  I’m working on a novel and a memoir right now, and I decide which book I want to work on depending on my mood/needs at the time.

3)  Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process?  How do you determine what to include in memoir? What to leave out? The stories you relate are quite real and raw leaving you, the author vulnerable. Would you say writing is cathartic for you?

L.M. For the most part, I’ve written every day since 1988.  When you sit at the intersection of heart and craft and mind that is writing– page after page, year after year– you learn the architecture, rhythm, and voice that breathes a book alive.  People often think that a memoir is a tell-all expose or a long journal entry.  It’s not.  At least not a memoir I would want to write or read.  Yes, the writer is drawing from her life, but it still has to be crafted to work as a narrative.  And that comes from hard work and good intention.  I believe that if you write out of service and responsibility, then you can write about anything.  Writers write as much for ourselves as for others…to try to makes sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life.

4)  How does your environment—the horse farm, the mountains—influence your creativity?  Can a writer flourish in an isolated study carrel at the library as much as she can a log cabin in the woods?

L.M. : I hope that this is true!  I believe in being a flexible person and a flexible writer.  I’ve written in cock-roach infested urban apartments, and in the stone cold silence of Montana, when I worked three jobs, when I had small children—you name it.  I know that the sacred follows us if we’re dedicated to creating it, and my writing life, outside of my motherhood, is the most sacred ground I know.

5)  Please, share with us a bit about your Haven Writing Retreats.

L.M.: Haven Retreats are incredibly powerful.  You do NOT have to be a writer to come.  You simply have to be a seeker, willing to share in a group setting, and have a hunger to dig deeper into your creative self-expression on the page.  I’ve worked with over 100 people and it’s like magic every time, watching them have breakthroughs on the retreat I design and facilitate.  It’s a true honor and some of the most important work I can imagine doing, because it’s not just about being creative and opening your mind…it’s about raising your self-awareness and that translates to anyone, no matter where they are in their life.  Haven meets you where you need to be met.  I have a few spaces for my Feb. retreat, June is full, and there are still some spaces for next Sept. and Oct.  You can find more info here: http://lauramunson.com/retreats/

6)  Are you working on anything else right now? Other books?

L.M.: I am working on three books right now:  a novel, a memoir, and a book about writing inspired by my retreats and what I have learned in my writing life.

7)  Anything obsessing you right now? 

L.M.: I’m totally obsessed with the power of retreats!  I ADORE helping people go places they would never go on their own at Haven, and helping them to get a clearer sense of what makes them unique and special.  I feel like I’m on a crusade to help people ask (and answer) the most powerful question I know:  What can I create?  And then apply it to their lives!

8)  Thanks again for sharing your journey with us, Laura!!

L.M.: It’s been a great way to spend a snowy Montana morning.  Thank you for your support of writers and the written word.

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

And now for the give-a-way: All you have to do is share this post (email, FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and then comment that you shared and Laura’s book could be yours.  (You can also drop me a line at leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com with suject line, “I shared!”). This will enter you in a raffle in which 1 name will be drawn Saturday, Jan 18th.  It’s that easy!!**

Bio:Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness.  It has been published in nine countries and has been featured in Vanity Fair, Elle, Redbook, Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, and many other newspapers, magazines, and online venues across the globe.

Laura is the founder of Haven Writing Retreats in Montana and speaks on the subjects of empowerment through creativity.

Her work has been published in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, O. Magazine, The Week, Huffington Post, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, More Magazine, The Sun, and others.  She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, WGN, many NPR stations, Hay House radio, as well as other media including London’s This Morning and Australia’s Sunrise.  She lives in Montana with her family.

**The fine Print for Give-a-way: Open to U.S. residents only. Must let me know you shared to be entered…or, else I don’t know to enter your name. Don’t worry–your email won’t be used for anything else. Please check your email; this is how your will be notified if you won. Please check spam/junk mail and respond asap with your mailing address. If I don’t hear from you within 24 hours, I’ll have to draw another name. Good luck!!

[book cover image retrieved from Amazon.com on 1.13.14]