Are you thinking of writing your life story? (I hope so!) Want to know what it’s like to do so? Here’s an e-interview with Linda Wisniewski, author of her memoir Off Kilter, available from http://www.pearlsong.com/offkilter.htm or http://www.amazon.com/Off-Kilter-Journey-Scoliosis-Heritage/dp/1597190128/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240179743&sr=8-1
Q: While writing your life story, were you surprised by some of the things you remembered? Did the process of writing help you recall events from your past?
A: When I wrote about the first time I stayed in a hospital, I suddenly remembered the name of the little girl in the next bed. I hadn’t seen or thought of her in 49 years! The process of recalling details and writing them down brings up more details from that part of the brain where they are imprinted during especially difficult times. Of course, some of the details I remember are different from what others recall. Some relatives remembered a different model car, or different people being absent or present on a particular day, etc. A memoir is just the author’s personal story, not a history book.
Q: What historical event or trend do you remember best? How did you participate in or contribute to that event or trend? How did it affect your life?
A: I would have to say the women’s rights movement of the 1970s. It changed my life. I was in an unhappy marriage, just like my mom, and for the first time I saw possibilities other than being the submissive, traditional female. My eagerness to be ‘liberated’ was a challenge for my mom, who sadly never believed in herself enough to follow her dreams.
Q: If you could talk directly to your great-great-granddaughter/son (you might be doing so right now!), what would tell her/him about the lessons you learned during your life? What do you want him/her to know about the times you lived through? Do you think she/he will read your book?
A: So far, not even grandchildren (LOL) but I hope someday they’ll read my book, and that it will be helpful to them. The most important thing I’d want them to learn is to not be afraid to tell your story, to find your voice, to stand up for yourself. This has been a challenge for women, historically, but boys, too, need to believe in themselves.
Second, I’d want them to know they don’t have to suffer. Girls in my time and place were taught to put up with all kinds of abuse for the sake of family harmony. It doesn’t work; dreams die, spirits wither, and even the abuser is not happy.
Q: How is your book organized? Chronologically? Or focused around a particular event, or a particular relationship? Or focused on specific life lessons? How did you decide on the organization or structure of your book?
A: Off Kilter is roughly chronological, beginning with my early childhood, and ending in the present. While I was gathering my essays for the book, I found they centered on three themes: my scoliosis, my relationship with my mother, and my Polish Catholic heritage. I chose to link them together, and write additional material, using scoliosis (spinal curvature) as a metaphor for my life: uncomfortable, even painful, and in need of frequent adjustment.
Q: As you wrote your book, did you discover a “theme” that recurred throughout your life? If so, was this a surprise to you?
A: As I said above, the theme became clear after I’d written quite a few essays that became chapters. One thing that helped was using different color markers to highlight topics: pink for sections about scoliosis, blue for work about suffering, yellow for my mother etc. This helped me see which subjects I was writing about the most. And no, it wasn’t a surprise. I’d already had lots of therapy! (LOL)
Q: Was writing the book fun, or a chore? Which aspect of writing the book (organization & structure, actual writing, editing, designing, etc.) was the most fun, and which the most challenging?
A: Truly fun! The actual writing was half done before I realized I had the makings of a book. The more painful stories made me cry, but by the time I’d revised and crafted them, the pain was gone. And the funny parts made me smile.
Lucky for me, my publisher did all the editing and design work. I love that she curved my name and the book title on each facing page in the shape of my scoliosis.
Q: What were your family members’ reactions to your book?
A: Very few – maybe two or three – were upset that I wrote about the effects of verbal and emotional abuse on my sister, my mother and me. They knew it happened, but they didn’t like reading about it. I hope someday they’ll read again the chapters about using what I was given to create a balanced, fulfilling life.
Q: How did you handle embarrassing or difficult periods in your life, about you or others? Did you skim over them? Boldly examine them? Ignore them totally? Why did you handle them this way?
A: Most of the periods I write about are far enough in the past that I’m no longer embarrassed or hurt by the memories. I hope I’ve ‘boldly examined them.’ The whole point of my book is that the only person we can change is the one in the mirror. Once we realize that, the real work begins, and the reward is a rich, authentic life.
Q: Why would readers want to read your book? How will your life experiences add value to their lives?
A: Many readers have told me Off Kilter inspired them to examine their own lives and to get their own personal stories down on paper, and that makes me very happy.
One reviewer called me ‘an ordinary woman,’ and at first, I was taken aback, but now I’m happy he saw the value in reading about how I came to terms with the good and bad in my life, and decided what to keep and what to leave behind. If an ordinary woman like me can do it, so can anyone.
Q: If you were to write this book again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
A: I don’t think much about changing the past, and that includes writing Off Kilter. It was the right time, the right form – a collection of essays – and the right publisher. Now it’s not even ‘mine’ anymore;’ it’s out in the world for whatever good people derive from it, and I hope that’s considerable.
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