I just got home from my trip to Florida. While snow kept me from attending the first leg of my journey at the Jacksonville BookMania Festival, I did make it to Miami and to Boca Raton.
In Miami, I read at Books & Books and received a warm welcome. The room was full, mostly due to Connie Ogle’s excellent feature article on the front page of Sunday’s 2/28 Miami Herald Arts section: http://bit.ly/bgQiyi
Sometimes it’s difficult to feel so exposed, because my memoir does disclose some pretty personal stuff about my past and my difficult relationship with my mother. But then the most amazing, wondrous things happen if I remain open.
On one side, I am at times blindsided by the rage and resentment from extended family members, who think this kind of stuff — like alcoholism and abuse (verbal, physical, psychological) should be “kept in the family” and never aired in public. This is a shame-based reaction to mental illness that I totally reject. Interestingly, the people who are angry about the book NEVER come forth and tell me they’re angry; they pass the message on in a back-handed, back-channel way, through other family members, or friends, who in turn feel compelled to pass the piss and vinegar on to me. Truth be told: I couldn’t care less. They’re not even my relatives, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t take on other people’s shame any more. I’m done with that.
But, the most amazing result of this book for me is the complete strangers I’ve met at my readings and at book fairs and through email who not only thank me for writing this book, but share their deepest fears and pain with me. This is something I never expected, a gift that goes so far beyond our human fear of shame and dishonor. I am surprised and blown away every time. And every time I begin to feel drained from the strain of deflecting the resentment and anger, someone approaches me out of the blue, writing me an email, or showing up at a reading, or befriending me at an event, and sharing a story that recharges my depleted batteries and urges me to go forward on this weird journey of healing.
At the Brandeis University fundraiser lunch in Boca Raton, five of us women writers spoke to a gathering of 500 women (and 5 men). Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, shared about working as a doctor for 2 years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She focused on the similarities between women of all religions; she talked about the commonalities between us all, not the differences. She was a true ambassador for peace. Lisa See, whose great-grandfather was a Chinese immigrant, talked about her family history and the history of the Chinese immigrant experience and how these are the rich sources from which she mines her stories. Thrity Umrigar, a Parsi writer originally from India, shared her childhood experiences growing up a Zoroastrian in a predominantly Hindu society and the experience of being an “outsider,” which is shared by so many all over the world. Barbara Delinsky shared about her incredibly interactive relationship with her readers, and how her topics are often culled from women’s issues in the news.
Thrity Umrigar, Lisa See, Dr. Qanta Ahmed
After the luncheon, a stranger approached me and asked me for my opinion: Did I think she was an alcoholic? She began to tell me her story. Her close friend, now sober, apparently told her she had a drinking problem. She wanted to know if I agreed. I told her alcoholism is a self-diagnosed disease; I couldn’t know and couldn’t say. But I suggested she try to stop drinking for 3 months. She said she had no desire to stop. Well then, I said, if it hasn’t affected your life in a negative way, what’s the problem? The problem was the friend who had frightened her.
A little while later, several others came over and told me quietly that they were also in recovery, and were delighted by my outspoken approach to the disease of alcoholism.
But really, the coolest thing that happened was I made a friend. Dr. Qanta Ahmed and I came back on the same flight to NYC. We talked the whole way. We are going to try to bring a group of American women writers to Riyadh to speak to Saudi women as ambassadors of peace. What a world. I am just happy to be alive.