Thursday, October 6, 2011

Memoir: an Interview with Bonnie L. Casey

In 2010, I read and blogged about Growing in Circles: My Struggle to Make Peace with God, Myself, and Just About Everything (Two Harbors Press, 2009) by Bonnie L. Casey. We connected online at Here Women Talk, where I facilitate a discussion group called Creative Intentions. We also met for lunch in the DC area one fine day last fall. Bonnie is a medical and scientific editor at the National Institutes of Health, and also writes blog posts, articles, stories and music. To my delight, she has become a big fan of my collages. It has been great to fall into a friendship with Bonnie, and I am most pleased to present this interview with her.

What galvanized you to the point that you knew you HAD to write your memoir?

I “had” to write my memoir in the same way that I “had” to give birth to my son after nine months of gestation. With my legs up in stirrups, I realized that childbirth wasn’t really an act of volition—it was happening because its time had come and I was merely the vessel of emergence. Melodramatic, perhaps, but that’s really how I experienced the process of writing Growing in Circles. By 2008, with determination and an army of helpers sought and unsought, I was finally recovering from the serial trauma of parental, spousal, and cultural abuse that had bound me to cycles of depression and self-hatred for as long as I could remember. I was coming to terms with recent losses and old wounds and finding a new spiritual grounding. But I knew intuitively that I couldn’t complete my recovery and learn to accept joy and inner peace until I found a way to let go of my past. The urge to write my story finally became overwhelming, like the urge to push after 19 hours of labor. All I needed was a matrix for combining accounts of my personal and spiritual journeys—a way to organically connect my history with the story of the creation of the Sacred Circle that had become central to my spiritual growth. As soon as I found that matrix, Growing in Circles virtually wrote itself in three months. When friends who know me as fiercely private and introverted ask what moved me to reveal such intimate details of my life, I tell them the simple truth: that whether or not anyone else ever read or understood my story, I had to write it down so I could get past it and move on.

Your blog “My Write Mind" is one of my favorite online subscriptions. Tell us what being a blogger means to you, and comment on where your inspiration for topics comes from.

After I wrote my memoir, I realized how central writing had become to my emotional and spiritual well-being. So, as an extension of the practice of mindfulness, I started to write short literary essays about finding grace, wisdom, and humor in the ordinary events that propel us through the seasons. I wrote sporadically while searching the Internet for someplace to park these quirky little pieces—a site, perhaps, with the title “Occasional Forum for Earth-Loving, Moon-Worshiping Crones with an Itch to Write Short Essays on No Particular Theme.” When this search proved fruitless, I filed my half dozen essays on a flash drive and went back to journaling. As my memoir attests, it can take a while for circumstances to drop-kick me toward the obvious, but the light eventually flickers to life. In this case, one morning I awoke to one of those “Duh!” moments and thought, “Well, if I can’t find the right website for my writing, I’ll just have to create one.”

Besides imposing much-needed discipline on my writing process, the blog’s greatest gift to me has been the opportunity to see my experience through a new lens. After I was divorced, my son was grown, and I had severed a lifelong connection to a church community, I fell into the habit of defining myself in terms of what I’d lost. I became somewhat reclusive, not entirely by choice, as my universe shrank to the rounds of maintaining my job, property, and person. But setting myself the task of writing and posting a monthly essay forced me to find inspiration from within what I had come to think of as “my small life.” The blog graces me with the insight that, at least once a month, something happens that opens me to love and wisdom, or absurdity and humor. And if I’m tempted to give in to the urge to hunker down and close my door to the outside world, the thought that I’ll need something to write about next month will often be the impetus to accept an invitation or seek out a new experience.

When I taught college writing courses, I’d exhort my students to write about “the leaf, not the tree,” to craft a vivid word picture of a single oak leaf rather than a blurry image of an entire forest of oak trees. Now that my days have become a collage of small leaves, I have a chance to put that theory into practice, to find meaning in the act of living an ordinary life and, in so doing, turn it into a work of art.

Tell us a bit about your connection to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. (I must add here that hearing of Bonnie's love for the book, I reread this beloved childhood classic and found it absolutely endearing once again. Honestly, there's no such thing as being too old for The Wind in the Willows. If you'd like to read it too, be sure and find an edition with the Ernest H. Shephard illustrations.)

The small town where I grew up had one drab public library and one tiny, poorly stocked bookstore. My mother, an avid reader and bibliophile, was eager to acquaint me with as many of the classics of children’s literature as possible, so when she couldn't find a title in the library, as was often the case, she would cajole the bookstore’s proprietor into ordering a single copy for her. One day she proudly presented me with a small Avon paperback edition of The Wind in the Willows, on whose flyleaf she had glued a bookplate and written my name in her elegant script. The corners of the little book were rounded instead of squared, and the heavy card-stock cover showed Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad enjoying an outing in the idyllic English countryside. The story itself was enchanting and hilarious and planted one of the first seeds of my deep, mystical connection to Britain and all things British. In my teens, as I became disillusioned with the religious culture I was raised in, I realized that Grahame’s four animal friends embodied an ethos both simpler and more profound than the dogmas of conservative Christianity: reverence for nature and its seasonal rhythms, the joys and obligations of friendship, patient acceptance of one another’s differences, appropriate awe in the presence of the supernatural, and recognition of the sanctity of afternoon tea. When my Avon paperback started to get shabby I graduated to a hardbound edition illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. This probably explains why, as most of my generation were identifying with The Catcher in the Rye, I was dreaming of “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows).

Thank you, Bonnie!

1 comment:

Kay Van Hoesen said...

I loved, loved, LOVED reading this interview with Bonnie Casey and getting to know her a little better. After reading this, I feel I MUST meet Bonnie in person. What a gifted storyteller she is. The two of you together - magical. Thank you, Keddy, for the joy of your blog!