Tomorrow I will post a memoir excerpt from Left of the Dial. I was unable to write a blog entry today so stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.
I’ve been thinking about my VU meter analogy and the significance of living your life left of the dial: with your feelings and thoughts in balance and everything on an even keel.
A person shouldn’t have to spend days and days and even weeks and weeks depressed or otherwise symptomatic.
Yet one think (er-thing) I’ll talk about here this winter is knowing when to rest and when to get active.
Sometimes we all need to rest for a day here and there. I’m fond of living in a city where there are four seasons: I have the chance to acclimate my body to nature and the changing weather.
I’m the biggest foe of climate change and the rising sea levels and the erosion of marshland and other economically damaging man-made phenomena.
I advocate for getting in tune with the seasons, with the natural world, with living by a park or by greenery if you’re able.
I’m all for whatever effective techniques a person can use to lower the distortion on the VU meter. I champion the natural world that is fast disappearing as money-grubbing agribusinesses and food conglomerates put profits above people.
Illness is not a natural state of being. And all sorts of illnesses are on the rise because companies are in the business of selling fake food.
Ironically, as our natural resources get ravaged, I think too our personal resources become limited.
As cold as it gets in New York City in the winter now I make the case for hibernating when it’s necessary.
I maintain though that lowering the volume on the VU meter can help us live our lives in balance.
The interconnected nature of all these elements I’m talking about is no accident.
I’d love to hear your comments on this.
A thousand thanks to everyone who has bought a copy of my book.
My goal in March is to do in-person book talks in the New York City area. Stay tuned on my speaking engagements page to find out the dates and times and locations.
I’m in contact with my Uncle who served in Iwo Jima in World War II. He commented that in my book I “reminded all of us of our humanity.”
My Uncle enlisted. No draft existed. He risked his life to do what he believed was right: serve our great country in a time of war.
I think of my Uncle now. I wrote to him that we did not suffer in vain: he and I lived to tell our stories to benefit others. I told him I’m willing to risk the stigma.
The cost of untreated mental illness in America is estimated to be upwards of $100 Billion. The loss of human capital is greater.
Sometimes the cost of telling your story is a price you must be willing to pay because of the benefit to others.
My Uncle sends me essays he wrote about his involvement in the war. He was a Marine. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Mary Oliver is often quoted from her famous poem:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
What do you plan to do? If you have a story, tell it. If you have a cake to make, bake it.
I plan to go to my grave advancing the agenda that getting the right treatment right away results in a better outcome.
Our lives are wild and precious.
We are each of us here for a purpose in this lifetime.
“Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I’m going to continue with another memoir excerpt.
This is a scene from an early session with my first therapist. She was Italian, as I am.
The days seemed longer, even though they were short. My one happiness was the jewelry design workshop I signed up for on Monday nights at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. I was creating a copper necklace and earrings. The hot metal felt good in my palm as I sanded the edges. The earrings were cutout triangles with dangling wires. The pendant was a downturned cutout triangle screwed to a flat, stippled back.
In the studio, I lost all sense of time. A young girl who attended FIT talked with me about her goal of designing a jewelry line for Tiffany’s. “Would it be like Paloma Picasso’s?” I remembered this designer’s signature kiss earrings from the advertisements in the fashion magazines. “I want to work with diamonds,” she intimated. We were the first to arrive in the studio and the last to leave.
The night before, I felt tiny particles of dust in my eye, and I was afraid it was the copper, so I called the emergency room, and the triage nurse told me that as long as I could still see, it was okay. I was afraid to go to sleep but woke up fine this morning.
Now I sat in Flora’s room across from her in the black chair. I rubbed my eyes reflexively.
“Is your eye okay?” She was concerned.
“Oh I was working in the studio; it must be the copper dust.” “The copper dust? A studio?”
“I haven’t been doing much. So I joined a jewelry-making class,” I said this as if it was just something I did.
“Good. Why didn’t you tell me?”
My voice came out in a trickle. “It’s all I can do.” The tears started coming down.
“This is a big thing. Don’t discount it. You’ve just gotten out of a hospital, and you’re doing things. That’s great.” She extended a boutique box of tissues.
“Oh it’s not much of anything. What can I do? I have to do something.”
“Are you socializing?”
“I have a friend, Carny, from school. I’m afraid she won’t want to be my friend once she finds out I got sick.”
“Tell me about her.”
“Oh, she’s just great. We met at the radio station. We’d go out at night drinking in Clove Lake Park or drive to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, and listen to punk bands.”
Oh, those nights at the park: swinging low on the swings and talking about when we were young. She’d gone to the after-hours club Danceteria with fake ID, and I had stayed home with my ear to the radio. Yet I could match her song for song when it came to what we were doing at that time in our lives. The first song I heard when I tuned in to WSIA was the Heaven 17 song “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” She first drove on the highway listening to the Avengers’ “We Are the One” on the cassette deck.
It was sweet relief from boredom, and I was flattered that she would want anything to do with me. I was besotted with the tales of her sexual escapades—the savage love conquests on the foreplay couch in her apartment. She had a lot of boyfriends before her long-term guy Willy, and I had no one. I wondered what it would take to get the courage to be able to love someone and leave, or be left. I was afraid a guy would use me, and I’d feel cheap.
Carny was a happy drunk and fueled by alcohol; I was chatty and outgoing. We revealed our deepest desires: she wanted to marry Willy, and I wanted to become a journalist. We vowed to meet on the park swings ten years from that date and catch up with each other. I knew it would never happen yet secretly hoped it would.
Silent as I remembered this, Flora brought me back into real life by asking, “What are you thinking?”
“All a person needs is two friends, pizza, and a really great sound system.”
“I suspect you can count on one hand the number of good friends you have,” she colluded.
The friendship between Carny and me was an unlikely pairing. We didn’t celebrate each other’s birthdays. We had little in common except the music. Her feelings were often mercurial. My mood was as black as my boots lately. She was like a chair that goes with a table; we just happened to fall into each other’s lives.
Flora’s comment stung, though most likely she was talking about everyone, not just me. Who was I if not a rocker girl? Who would I be without Carny? I wanted to be Chris, whoever she was, and right now I felt like I was a long way away from meeting my true self.
The tears flowed as I reckoned with the idea that I would lose all this. I was embarrassed to use up all the tissues, so I reached for one last tissue to dry my face. I drowned in tears as the session neared the end.
“Carny was the only person who understood my dream.”
“What did you dream of?”
“I want to go to grad school for a degree in journalism.”
“Okay, that’s a good long-range goal, but what are you doing now during the day?”
I told her I was doing nothing except reading books I checked out of the library. She said that it would be a good idea if I joined a day program called Rise, where people with psychiatric conditions met five days a week for therapy and support.
“You could meet new people—be around people who are in the same life boat.”
It sounded like a plan. She tore off a sticky note from on her desk and wrote down the name and phone number of the director to schedule an intake.
“Think of it as a job interview, to sell her on getting you in. I’ll see you next week.”
“Okay.” I searched in my bag for the sixty bucks and forked it over.
“By the way, what are you creating in the studio?”
“A pendant and a pair of earrings.”
“You’re okay, kid. Keep up the good work.”
“Thanks.” I exited the room.
Driving home, I stopped at the drugstore to look for some lipstick. I swirled up the tubes until I found the perfect shade. It was Certainly Red.
You can special order Left of the Dial from Barnes & Noble and local bookstores as well as buying it online.
Public libraries will be able to buy copies so you’ll be able to check it out of the library too.
Towards March I will do book signings in the New York City area.
Shortly I will create a GoodReads author account so stay tuned for this also.
I recommend plotting in chronological order the key events of your life.
Take the event that resonates with you the most and start writing about that time in your life.
The goal is to have 50 pages of writing. I recommend joining a writing workshop that is comprised of supportive, knowledgeable, and educated individuals from diverse walks of life.
The first memoir workshop I joined in 2001 was for Italian American writers. The next workshop I joined had four women and was at first lead by a published fiction writer and playwright. Then we met on our own at each others’ houses.
I was not afraid to tell my story to unknown strangers in 2001 and then again with the women. At some point, you’ll have to get feedback for your writing. You can’t rely solely on your own eye or ear.
There is no formula for writing memoir. I told my story in chronological order and tightly edited it to include only certain scenes that followed one into the other in a cohesive, linear narrative.
You can’t bridle up what you have to say when you first start. It might take two, three, or more rounds of editing to polish and perfect your story.
So write where you are. Keeping going. Listen to other people’s feedback with an open mind.
You want to publish only the best possible version of your story. Regardless of whether you get an editor to buy your book, or you decide to self-publish, you have to bring out a great, engaging story.
I will talk more in the coming blog entries about how to see your life with new eyes to uplift your narrative. Or as one woman in the first workshop told another woman, “Be Irish” even though she wasn’t from Ireland. You have to fully become the character whose life you’re crafting.
Sometimes this will be unsettling. You’ll have to go to the root of the narrative and pull up the weeds so that the gorgeous flowers show through. What you write might be about something sad, about a horror, yet there should always be something elegant and beautiful about it. (That’s what I think.)
I’m ticked up that most publishing houses only want to publish authors who write formula bestsellers like James Patterson and Douglas Preston. The houses are only willing to sign authors who can sell a million copies not 950,000 copies of a book.
In this climate, great works of literary merit are routinely rejected. I side with Amazon in the Hachette dispute. You can Google Amazon Hatchette dispute to read the story about the legal brawl. In short, Amazon wanted to reduce the price of Hachette books sold on the website. And Hatchette wouldn’t comply so Amazon delayed the shipment by a week or two of every Hachette book sold on the website.
Though Amazon shot dirty pool in doing this I do side with Amazon as opposed to the big publisher.
As a disc jockey on a college radio station in the 1980s, I played bands that were signed to indie record labels. The spirit of this DIY ethic is alive and well in the publishing world today. Defying the conservative, money-grubbing big publishing houses is possible and necessary in today’s literary climate for a lot of authors.
I read between 30 and 35 books every year. Thus I’m confident in my judgment of what makes a book good and what books shouldn’t be published. Plenty of great books have to get self-published because their authors don’t write formula thrillers like James Patterson or Douglas Preston.
Just like rock bands had to sign with indie record labels in the 1980s, a lot of authors today have to sign with independent publishing houses or go totally out on their own to bring out their books.
I will write in the coming weeks about how you can craft your own narrative to tell your story. You might want to get published or you simply might want to write things down for your own review.
Either way, if you have a story in you, you deserve to tell it in your own original way.
Stay tuned for what I think is a great way to start to write the story of your life.