Perhaps you recognize Lisa’s name and wonder, “Where did I hear that name?” It could be the side panel of this website. Or it could be from the last page of A Ship of Pearl. [tweetthis] Yes, she’s that Lisa Romeo. My editor. She has her memoir, Starting with Goodbye, published by University of Nevada Press.[/tweetthis] I bet my Twitter followers or Facebook friends are saying ‘a-ha, Adela’s been tweeting quotes from Starting with Goodbye.” That’s because I L-O-V-E, love this memoir. Lisa tugs at my heartstrings in unexpected ways. She grew up far differently than I and had a far different father than mine. Yet, our grief journeys are different routes to the same destination, varying mile-posts and scenery, but the same rest stops along the way. Here’s a longer excerpt than twitter can handle:
One of Sean’s [Lisa’s son] symptoms of multiple developmental delays was that as a toddler and young boy, he couldn’t “cross the midline.” If he was coloring with the crayon in his right hand, and needed to color in a section of the paper to his left, he had to switch the crayon to the left hand….It was almost as if he couldn’t see anything as belonging to a continuing whole, as if everything existed only in its parts…As my father slipped from life, and my son’s life began to open up, and as my grief progresses and I sense some unspoken edict that I’m not moving on fast enough, I feel like a child who can’t cross the midline: handcuffed, frustrated, and unable to understand what I’m doing wrong, since what I’m doing is working for me…I begin to see my grief as my inability to cross some kind of invisible but important midline of my own. I can’t see the whole, only one part at a time…
Lisa, like me, went back to school to hone her writing craft about the same time most people start dreaming about retirement. She’s 58 years old now. Something tells me that more and more writers are blossoming in what I like to call the third quarter of life.
Lisa graciously agreed to an interview via email. Here’s a photo of her unboxing her books. I love that she’s in her home office. How many of the same books do you have on your shelf? I really want to know more about that book, Enslaved by Ducks.
What are some things you’d like to share about your personal life? I live in the place I grew up, Cedar Grove, NJ (about 12 miles west of New York City,) not by design really; that’s just how it worked out when I returned to NJ in my mid-20s—after traveling the horse show circuit and working as a freelance writer—and married my high school crush! As a kid and young adult, I had a lot of privileges because my father, who dropped out of high school to help support his family, built a successful polyester business. My adult years by contrast have been very modest and yet I’ve been perfectly happy raising my two sons that way.
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: I don’t have a firm routine. Over the years, parenthood and the need to juggle several jobs taught me to be flexible. I do like silence, but it’s not mandatory. I’m not an early morning person, but I can be when that’s all I have available. I write very crappy rough drafts—which I call brain dumps—to get started, and then the real work happens during revision. I tend to write in big bursts of productivity over a few days or a week, then let things simmer for a bit while I work on paid jobs. Then, switch it up.
How did you get started: I began writing (what I’d later learn to call) personal essays when I was a teenager and had the good fortune to see them published in magazines and newspapers. For three years after college, I wrote for dozens of equestrian publications, domestic and international—news and features about shows, riders, trainers and judges, the U.S. Equestrian Team, etc. That led to a job in Manhattan in public relations, and I stayed in that field for about 10 years.
What’s your biggest challenge: Keeping up to date with all my projects, jobs, ideas, and deadlines. Teaching, editing, and coaching obligations (translation: paid jobs) take priority. But then so does the writing. And then…you see what I mean. I’m good at getting it all done, but not so good at knowing when to stop. I’d work seven days a week if my family didn’t remind me to take a break. I must remind myself to replenish the creative well or else things get done, but not with any spark!
Why should we read your book? Death, grief, loss, gone parents, relationships that didn’t feel finished in life – these are all things most of us shy away from talking and reading about. And yet they are some of the most important life experiences—ones we would all benefit a lot from discussing more openly and more often.
My book is a doorway, maybe an invitation to that conversation. Through telling my own grief story, about how I reconnected to my father after he died, the book offers others an opportunity to continue their own relationships with their loved ones who have passed on.
How can someone else do what you do? If you mean, have a writing-centered life, there are many paths to that. Some include teaching or holding a related career job, perhaps in editing, journalism, or another communication-based field. But the truth is, if you want to write, you will write; you’ll find ways to reconfigure your time and your lifestyle so that it accommodates the writing time. The caveat is, if you are going to write, you are going to NOT do something else. The question for every would-be or floundering writer is: what are you willing to not do?
Tell me about your first day of school Ha! I couldn’t wait. My brother and sister were much older than me, and my neighborhood friends were already in school, so I was so eager. I already knew how to read and write, so my kindergarten teacher let me practice, but I had to put it away if the principal entered the room! At that time (1964) kindergarten was all about play and naps.
What were you like in high school? A brainy nerd, editor of the school newspaper, reading all the time. I missed a lot of school to travel with my parents, and I disappeared every day as soon as the bell rang so I could get to the stables and ride. I spent every weekend at a horse show. I dated older guys, always had a job of some kind, and started getting published (in magazines and newspapers) by age 15. Those are a lot of reasons that account for having a tough time fitting in. Yet—I loved my high school years; I was doing exactly what I wanted to do!
What advice do you have for someone who has the same background/childhood/aspirations as you? Take the time to get some solid education; majoring in journalism in college was the greatest training. Find mentors and actively learn from them. Read, read, read. And marry someone who wants you to succeed.
Where can readers get your book(s): Through any online retailer and in bookstores. I’ve gathered all the ordering options here, including my nearby independent bookstore, which can send a signed copy — http://www.lisaromeo.net/starting-with-goodbye/order/
Here is my Amazon Affiliate link:
Lisa and I both married our high school sweethearts at a young age by today’s norms. (Hers flourished, mine withered.) We both have amazingly resilient children with developmental delays. We were both five year-olds chomping at the bit for kindergarten and nerdy high schoolers. Lisa and I both rode horse, although my competition days were limited to 4-H. My first print publication was in PK Advocate, a literary magazine for horse-lovers.
[tweetthis]Perhaps you have some things in common with Lisa, too. [/tweetthis] Here are some places where you can find out more about her and her writing