by Jerry Waxler
After reading Carol O’Dell’s memoir, Mothering Mother about her experience caregiving for her mother with Alzheimer’s, I contacted her to ask what it was like to write and share her story with others. Here is part one of a two part original interview.
Waxler: During your original journaling, did the writing help you cope with your situation?
O’Dell: Absolutely! I found insights into my own soul and motives. I found that for the most part, I was a “better” person than I thought I was. My ideals, hopes, intentions were honorable-for the most part. I started to recognize how my experience went across the generations. Since I have three daughters, I started to realize that everything I thought or did to my mother, would one day boomerang. Like the old saying-what goes ‘round, comes ‘round.
Waxler: Even, and especially at the end of my mom’s life, I wrote by the hour. It gave me an excuse to walk out of the room. It allowed me to go into that “observer’s” place. It gave me something proactive to do with my fear, hurt, and sorrow.
O’Dell: Writing, especially personal writing, (but I think all writing’s personal) can be a form of self therapy. I’ve saved thousands of dollars. Instead of, “Physician, heal thyself” is should be “Writer heal thyself!”
Waxler: Many aspiring memoirists fear that writing about their experience might awaken the pain of it. Could you talk about how this worked for you?
O’Dell: Facing my own personal demons was an evolution. I’m sure I inflicted my pain onto others, and at times, my poor writing group was not only “bleeding” with my purple prose, but also from some pretty strong subject matter (I have other “issues” besides good ole’ mom!) All I can say is don’t try to publish this stuff too soon! You, as a person and as a writer, and perhaps your family, have to evolve and incorporate this material into your being. It’s healing, but anyone who knows anything about medicine and surgery will tell you that the healing process can be a messy, nonlinear journey. I think everyone can benefit from writing and examining aspects of their life-but not everyone needs to publish it. In the end, being a healthy, whole person is even more important than being published.
Waxler: Your experience would offer support and encouragement to others in your situation. Do you give talks on this topic?
O’Dell: Do I talk! All the time. I speak at Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Caregiver’s conferences, support groups and online forums. I speak to professional groups because caregiving is beginning to impact the workplace. I speak to writer’s groups and conferences too. I love to communicate.
Waxler: Did you start speaking in public before you started writing, or after?
O’Dell: I’m a preacher’s daughter (my mother was a minister), and I’ve always been “up front,” whether I wanted to or not. I sang as a child, played the piano, testified (I was brought up Pentecostal and we testified a lot!) So I am used to talking in front of people. I started giving writer’s group/conference talks about six years ago. By then, I had published many articles, essays, and short stories and I shared my journey of going from no publications to dozens. I also did open mic nights, booksigning events for anthologies–any way I could get in the practice.
I know it’s not easy for every writer, but I do believe it’s almost necessary to sell books today. You can’t be reclusive or shy. If it’s uncomfortable for you, start small, do open mic nights, join Toastmasters-anything that gives you experience. Also, if you get published in anthologies such as Chicken Soup, you can schedule booksignings. It’s a great ice breaker to get used to the process. And if you’re at writer’s conferences-get in the thick of things-sit with the authors, agents, and editors. Offer to buy them a drink. Small talk. Talk books. It’s not like you don’t have anything in common.
Waxler: How does it feel sharing personal experiences with a live audience?
O’Dell: I LOVE to create a story, a vision that everyone in the room can see, hear, feel. Just as in writing, the old adage, “Show, don’t tell,” still applies. Showing the audience a story beats telling them, “you may experience frustration.” How about, “I’d stand at the counter shoving Oreos into my mouth at 6:00 at night. I hadn’t slept in 30 hours, and mother’s yelling at me to come change her night gown.” It’s visual. I implied the exhaustion, frustration, isolation.
There’s no greater feeling than to look into people’s eyes and know that they’ve agreed to suspend belief for a few minutes and go with you on this journey. To see them smile, laugh, cry, nod, forget to breathe, and then that sweet release at the end of a story…I LOVE IT! It’s like getting to “watch” your reader reading your work, which you don’t get to do, so this the next best thing.
To buy a copy of this book, click the Amazon link, Mothering Mother
This interview coincides with Carol O’Dell’s Virtual Book Tour. For more information about what a virtual book tour is and how to enter Carol O’Dell’s Virtual Booktour contest, and for more interviews and information about other services Carol offers, visit her website at http:\\www.caroldodell.com.