(Her)oics Writer Untold Story #11 Lori Jakielo

(Her)oics is available at the publisher site (Regal House Publishing, imprint Pact Press), your local bookstore and online retailers. It is getting a very warm reception. Our first two events were very well attended. See this page for details on all upcoming events including the next one, on March 26th at 6 PM PST, Pandemic Tales around the table with recipes from around the world shared with all attendees. Please do register in advance for the Zoom Link.

I’m so glad to catch up with you, and most of all to have your witty and sweet essay in the anthology. What made you decide to write this piece?

In the olden times–pre-pandemic, 1900s even–whenever I felt overwhelmed I’d try to meditate a bit. I quickly learned about monkey-mind, the way the human brain won’t hold still and leaps from here to there, swinging vine to vine, prone to flinging poop whenever it’s told to settle down. 

My whole pandemic experience has been one big monkey-mind. 

Focusing on anything has been difficult. Accomplishing anything has been difficult. The pull between family and career, home life and work life, sanity and insanity — it’s all been a tangled mess. Netflix is about the only thing that feels possible some days. Reading books, which I love most of all, has become difficult. I feel stalled a lot. Writing has felt, at times, impossible though it’s always possible. The pull of the news every day is gravitational. My phone makes a noise–it’s a catcall, really, a whistle that I could change but I don’t and so– that triggers my monkey mind and, boom, I’m gone. A text message. A news alert. A sale at Macy’s for clothes I don’t need because I rarely leave the house. A sale at Wayfair on a couch to replace the couch I can barely get off of most days. 

It’s all so much.

At the same time, the pressures to focus and accomplish and do something, anything, feel more intense than ever. There is no work/life balance. There is no home/world veil. There is no escape. Everything is present and pulling and pushing and shoving with the same intensity, all the time. 

Maybe women feel this the most. My husband is great–he takes care of laundry and groceries and does so much– but I still do about 80 percent of the work with our kids while dealing with a job (teaching) and another job (writing) that never stops now. There aren’t even snow days anymore. We have two teenagers, and figuring out something as simple as meals is insane. My daughter eats only chicken and mac-and-cheese. My husband eats only meat and cheese. My son is all about smoothies and protein, except when he’s not. It’s exhausting just thinking about three meals a day, let alone everything else. 

God I love Dorothy Parker — What kind of fresh hell is this? 

I miss my friends. I miss coffee shops, those quiet caffeine-fueled respites that seem to coddle, if not settle the monkey down. I’m grateful, of course, to have a home to huddle down in, to have my loved ones healthy. But some days, I just want to lie down in traffic. 

When I wrote this piece, I was feeling the demands of every-which-thing and decided to let my writing loose to replicate that spiraling feeling of being propelled forward and downward and sideways into nothingness. I tried to find the humor in that, the meandering in that. It felt a bit freeing, even, to just get it out. To follow the yellow-brick-road of my own pandemic brain and maybe find some companions there.

Has the experience of being in the anthology made an impact in your experience of the pandemic?

At a time when I feel very exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s wonderful to realize I’m not alone, that we’re all in this mess together. It helps, too, to put my own experience in perspective. Others are struggling so much more, in ways I can’t imagine, and yet they’re generously reaching out here, too, and sharing their stories to help others through. It’s humbling. 

What are a few of your favorite essay or memoir writers? Why or what do you love about their work? 

I adore Joan Didion, her stoicism, her cool-customer-ness, her ability to face the most devastating truths about the human condition head on. And I love David Sedaris, who can do all those things, too, but find the humor and light in places where humor and light feel impossible. And I love Hemingway, who said we only need to write one true sentence, and then another one. That’s how we save our hearts and each other. Say something true. Now more than ever. 

What are three things that got you through the pandemic?

I have a rescue rabbit named Waxy Kardashian Newman. She’s very Zen, unless I’m late with her breakfast. My family–my husband, who’s a writer and who gets it; my daughter and my son. Even when we make each other nuts, there’s a sense of grounding, that we are rooted to this world and to each other. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that after a year where I underwent a bunch of surgeries for cancer, we’re all relatively healthy (back off, virus). Also, wine. And chocolate. That’s four things. 

Why do you think people should buy and read the anthology? 

One of the things I love most about writing and reading memoir is that it makes the world feel less lonely. I love how memoir says, implicitly, This is how it is for me and maybe for you, too. At a time when we’re all so separated, the voices in this anthology, these hearts, these stories, can remind us that we’re not alone.

Lori Jakiela is the author of several books, including the memoir Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe (2016), which received the 2016 Saroyan Prize for International Literature from Stanford University, and most recently an essay collection, Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker (2019).  Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Quarterly, The Rumpus, Brevity, Vol. 1 Brooklyn and elsewhere. She lives in Trafford, PA, with her husband/author Dave Newman and their children. For more, visit http://lorijakiela.net or find her on Facebook or Twitter.