Taking the High Road

Somehow I encountered the gifted Susan Pohlman.  And her new book, her inspirational memoir.

Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home” was shortlisted for the newly established Inspy Awards.  It was also awarded “winner” in the relationships category and “runner-up” in the memoir category at the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

But what really impressed me about Susan was her friendly, open-hearted personality.  So I invited her to be my guest in SunnyRoomStudio. Susan also seemed like someone who had taken the “high road” in life — never easy, but often personally rewarding.

Instead of caving in to the status quo, Susan rose above cultural trends and looked deeper to discover lasting answers, as opposed to quick, superficial ones.  We all have something to learn from that, don’t we?

Books about personal transformation have been popular lately.  Probably for good reason.  Everyone is seeking answers about something in life — hopefully.

But too often we complicate our search, losing track of ourselves in the process. Even when this journey of transformation is usually about coming full circle one way or another.

We look externally, finally realizing the answers are internal.

Sometimes we just need to take a new look at something we already have to figure out why it’s perfectly meaningful — still.  Thoreau speaks of this dynamic in so many of his well-known quotes.

  • We make ourselves rich by making our wants few.
  • We are ever dying to one world and being born into another.
  • What I am I am and say not, being is the great explainer.
  • Direct your eye inward, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered.  Travel them, and be expert in home-cosmography.

It’s my pleasure to welcome Susan Pohlman to SunnyRoomStudio.  I know you will enjoy getting to know her and will love the brave and compelling story behind her memoir.

Taking the High Road
by Susan Pohlman

When Daisy invited me to come for a visit in the Sunny Room Studio, I was honored and excited.  Though a multitude of possible topics ran across my fingertips, I felt most compelled to share a portion of my writer’s journey. Not the awakening of my writer’s soul part, nor the taking many classes to learn the craft part, nor the agonizing I will never sell anything or claim published author status part.

The portion I wanted to share was the discovery of memoir as sacred storytelling part. The experience of writing only for the soul-clearing beauty of it.  The type of writing that pours forth with such force that you can do nothing to stop it.

  • I began writing memoir by accident.

I set out to share with my closest friends, the keepers of my heart, what it was like to give up my house and home to search for wholeness in a marriage that simply was not working. To search for a life of deeper meaning with my little family of four.

In May of 2003, while on a business trip to Italy, my husband and I decided, in a rare moment of grace, to sign a year’s lease to a furnished apartment on the Italian Riviera rather than divorce papers.  On day number four of a six day trip, Tim grabbed my hand, looked deep into my heart and said, “I could live here.”

That simple phrase began a conversation that would change our lives. We had been together since college, had two children, Katie (15) and Matt (11), and had been living a stress-filled version of family life in a lovely town near Los Angeles.  From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside Tim and I were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither of us could figure out why we were so miserable, but we both had agreed that we were tired of trying. Prior to the trip I had quietly visited a lawyer and knew that this would be our last week together before all hell broke loose.

Unexpectedly, we were hopelessly charmed by the majesty of Florence and the beauty of Liguria.  Somehow, time away from LA opened our eyes to a possibility we had never considered.  Perhaps our lifestyle had gotten in the way of our ability to see each other and love each other in ways that mattered.  In a desperate attempt to save our family,  Tim and I made the decision that he would quit his job, we’d sell our house, and move our family to Italy.

  • It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives.

We embarked on this journey with no expectation and no endpoint in mind. We decided to see where life would take us. To see what it was like to live a life where one follows the heart rather than the subconsciously scripted recipe of happiness according to the American Dream. I was petrified and strangely relieved at the same time.

Before we left Los Angeles, I sat with a group of close friends and told them of our plan. Stunned and worried for us, they asked that I send them updates as we went. Real, honest and raw accounts of what it was like.  I promised them that I would. Little did I know that this promise was the start of Halfway to Each Other.

When we landed in Italy eight weeks later and began the process of settling in, writing a book was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, it never even occurred to me. Tim and I had the daunting task of setting up a home for our displaced children in a culture we knew very little about.

  • As you can imagine, it was an intense time, a fertile field for any writer.

I kept my promise to my friends by capturing the moments along the way that spoke deeply to me. Rather than writing an ordinary email, I chose to write those moments in scenes so that they could walk the path with me. So they could share my tears and my joys as I explored the unknown. I sent the scenes out, one by one, until, a few months later a journalist friend urged me to stop sending them and consider a book.

So you see, it was not until I gave up the intense goal of publishing my material (which, at the time was screenwriting) and began to create for the sheer joy of it that my best writing began.  The fact that I wasn’t composing for the world helped me to write freely, with courage. I did not plan a storyline nor did I force an outcome. I wrote what arose organically. I

  • It was a writing experience that bordered on euphoria, for lack of a better word.

An effective memoir is written in hindsight because it must intertwine reflection with storytelling. It wasn’t until I returned to California that I understood all that the journey had meant; a year so powerful and transformative that it needed to simmer before I was ready to serve it. When the time was right, I took all of those scenes and layered them with the new song that was singing in my soul. With the help of an excellent editor, I fashioned the tale into a narrative and when I was finished, headed fearlessly into the jungle of the publishing world about which I knew very little. Step by step, the story found its way.

It is important for me to share this with writers who are struggling. I had given up on screenwriting when we left for Italy.  I was as disillusioned with that venture as I had been with our marriage.  Looking back, I see that all of the time and energy I put into learning the art of screenwriting was really preparing me to write something else, a different genre entirely.

  • Sometimes we have to fail in order to be pointed in the right direction.

Writing is a calling. I believe that those who are drawn to it have something important to share with the world. It took a long time for me to recognize my own story as something worthy.  I thought that I needed to create a fairy tale, the newest Pixar event, a heartbreaking romance for the likes of Julia Roberts, or a humorous caper through NYC to stake my claim in the world of writers when all I needed to do was to have the courage to reveal my own heart.

Daisy’s wonderful blog is all about inspiration.  Some days I click on the Kindred Spirit Quotes here in SunnyRoomStudio just for a boost.  I love her simple quote at the bottom of the page as it also has become my writing mantra: “Be joy.  Be love.  And give what you are.”

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