How We Spend Our Days: Sue William Silverman

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Sue William Silverman.

SWS squareAround two a.m. insomnia startles me awake. Without turning on the light, barely opening my eyes, I pick up my laptop from the floor beside the bed, propping it on my stomach. I sip Smart Water, waiting for the computer to boot up. I recently started a fourth memoir about the inconvenience of hypochondria, fear of dying and actual death itself, to say nothing of all manner of emotional mayhem and conundrums encountered since childhood. A real light-hearted romp! I’m the kind of person who thinks a headache must be a brain tumor, or a new freckle a sudden outbreak of skin cancer.

Counter-intuitive though it may be, writing about long-held fears and fiascos—writing about the past itself—calms me.

I grow tired, after about an hour. I close the computer and play a CD called “Sleepscape Delta.” This new-age-y music, plus a white noise machine, actually cause the air to sound more silent, not less. Lavender-scented pillowcases relax me, too. I need all the help I can get.

Around seven, like clockwork, my cat’s paw slides under the door to remind me of her needs: food, water, warmth. I open the door. Bijou makes a beeline for the bed. I snuggle beside her. I power up my computer and continue to delve into the depths of hypochondria, fear of death, etc., hoping this theme, in an ironic tone, will sustain a whole book. (Let me hasten to add that, right this minute, I am perfectly healthy, and not about to shuffle off the mortal coil.)

It’s April in Michigan, too cool yet to open windows: foggy morning, foggy mind. Nonetheless, this quasi-dreamlike state facilitates writing, the subconscious still close to the surface.

At ten I go downstairs for breakfast: oatmeal, raisins, walnuts, more Smart Water.

Sue William Silverman

in her office

I next carry my computer into the office. I’m ready to sit upright at my desk. I put finishing touches on a presentation about my recently published third memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. In a few weeks I will deliver this brief talk to the Jewish Book Council in New York. I practice reciting it aloud. Bijou pretends to listen, but I know better.

A letter I received a few weeks ago from Pat Boone himself is propped on my desk in a place of honor. I sent him a copy of the book. Back when I was a teenager, I wanted, literally, for this wholesome squeaky-clean Christian white-shoe wearing 1960s pop-music idol—whose records often out-sold Elvis Presley’s—to adopt me. I, a Russian-American Jewish girl, wanted to resemble Pat Boone’s four daughters, be like all my WASPy high-school friends. I wanted to fit in. Recently, as an adult, I twice met Pat Boone backstage after concerts, encounters that prompted the book into being. His letter, which I read daily, thanks me for writing it. In the letter, he also says he looks forward to reading the book. I worry about his reaction, however. The Pat Boone Fan Club is a tribute of sorts, but one that’s quite ironic and conflicted; after all, I’m a liberal feminist with a life-long crush on a Tea Party member!

I take a break from work and walk the five blocks from my house to the Grand River. I stand on a deck overlooking the water flowing into nearby Lake Michigan. A palpable haze drifts inland, almost obscuring the red lighthouse at the end of the pier. This mecca for summer tourists isn’t crowded yet. I feel alone, cocooned in mist and near silence—my favorite state of being—one that allows me to think about writing even when I’m not actively doing it.

Sue outside her Victorian house

on the porch of her Victorian house

Later in the afternoon, I recline on what was once called a fainting couch wedged into a tiny second-story room in my Victorian house. I read for a while before editing a paper copy of the morning’s writing. I stare out the window overlooking the secluded backyard. Century-old lilac bushes struggle to recover from a brutal winter. I daydream.

By five o’clock, I’m ready for my appointment with Dr. Moss, a therapist-hypnotist. He ushers me toward stairs leading to his refinished basement office. He walks behind me, but shouldn’t I be following him down, down to wherever this guide to the subconscious will lead me? With each step, I feel as if I enter a faint humming in my mind. The underworld of the psyche.

Dr. Moss asks me to close my eyes, lean my head back. Inhale through my nose, exhale through my mouth. Slowly. Again. Focus on breathing. I have asked him to hypnotize me to enable me to go back back back in time….

I visualize where his words lead me in order to touch the origins of all these random life-long anxieties that endlessly cycle on the treadmill of my mind.

Later that evening, curled up in bed, an amorphous sadness, stemming from my preoccupation with the past, wells up around me. To calm myself, I pencil notes about the session with Dr. Moss. I plan to include what I learn from this hypnosis in the new manuscript.

I sprinkle lavender oil on my pillows. I pull the antique copper chain to turn off the lamp. I’ll lie awake with night-thoughts for another hour. Maybe two.

As a writer of memoir, I find that the present—the now—fades to hazy, blurry edges, whispers of longing

Live in the moment? Me? Never!

It is in this way that I catch days, nights, catch hours of the past itself by writing about last year, or the year before, or a previous decade. I flow through days already lived as if I contain my own lifelong weather—the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the fog—alone with the night, with the past, always restless beneath the surface of skin.

~

Sue, book signing at AWP, The Pat Boone Fan Club

signing books at AWP in March

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • The Family Heart: A Memoir of When Our Son Came Out by Robb Forman Dew. Dew is better known as a novelist, but this extraordinary memoir shows me more about what it’s like to be a mother, what it’s like to be part of a family, than any book I’ve read in a long while. In my own life, I only know how to live in a broken family (as a child), and, as an adult, I’ve never had children. Dew’s memoir elucidates for me, in the most profound emotional way, what it means and how it feels to be part of a family. I’m simply blown away by how she conveys love. Familial love. A mother’s love. This book moves my emotional furniture. I’m still reeling.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Well, how about four?!
    • Emotionally submerge yourself as if you’re following a trail straight to the heart of your senses. In every scene determine what that moment tasted like, sounded like, felt like, looked like, smelled like—whether literally or metaphorically. How do these senses convey the interiority of the narrator?
    • Read everything: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction.
    • Drink Smart Water.
    • Be tenacious.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I am plagued with insomnia. So if I read good literature while trying to fall asleep, that’s like a jolt of caffeine. I am deeply immersed in the language, in the narrator, etc. In order to fall asleep, therefore, I read books that aren’t, well, considered literary. Oh, I’ll read genre murder-mysteries, like that. In short, the so-called page turners lull me to sleep as well as any other sleep aid!

x

By Sue William Silverman

The Pat Boone Fan Club, for webcover, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You Fearless Confessions for web love sick

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— Other Writers in the Series

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15 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Sue William Silverman

  1. This was fascinating to read! And timely, too. (There’s that serendipitous coincidence thing going on again, Cynthia lol). Just yesterday Patrick Ross wrote a post relating to memoirs and how Creatives give back. I’m sure you’d all love to check it out, and if you’re not aware of Patrick, I’m glad to help you with that ’cause his blog is another of the rare (like yours, Cynthia) blogs of very high quality:

    http://artistsroad.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/when-creatives-give-back/?replytocom=18363

    Sue, I sincerely wish you weren’t plagued with the emotional hardships you have, but it seems you’ve got a handle on it as best you can. Though the weather can be very harsh where you are, living so close to a lake must often be like a slice of heaven 🙂

    Thanks for the wonderful post, ladies! 😀

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  2. I loved the opening Annie Dillard quote. Thanks for that. And ever since Fearless Confessions showed up both on my Kindle and in my mailbox, (I forget which one I ordered first) I’ve been in love with Sue Silverman’s writing. So, as I move on now to write something about my latest take on multi-tasking, I’m also repeating to myself, “and this is my existance.” Indeed, how I live each day is “my existance.”

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    • Janet, I agree about the Dillard quote! And it’s perfect for this blog series, isn’t it? Thank you SO much for reading “Fearless Confessions”! I’m very touched by your comments. Truly! Your support means so much! Sue

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      • Oh, and Janet, I meant to add: I think that’s great that you’re writing about multi-tasking…and how that ties into one’s existence. Sounds fascinating!!

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  3. I just finished your Pat Boone memoir, and I’m glad to hear you’re feeling well. I loved so much about the book and this post. Such as: “Counter-intuitive though it may be, writing about long-held fears and fiascos—writing about the past itself—calms me.” And: “Live in the moment? Me? Never!”

    I’m working on a collection of essays from early childhood, so I hear ya. But I’m not sure it always calms me. Sometimes, but not always.

    Anyway, thanks for the post and for the great tips.

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  4. Darrelyn, thank you so very much for reading the Pat Boone book! That really means a lot to me. And, of course, I’m delighted you read this blog post, too! Yes, I think much of writing is kind of counter-intuitive…but that’s also what makes it such a magical and mysterious process: that creative process. For me (and of course everyone is different), I think I feel a sense of calmness when I’m deep inside of an experience (in the past) and can almost, well, touch it…and then that affords me the opportunity to discover the language to write it. In other words, before I write it there’s that uncertainty: “how did that event really happen?” Then, once I discover the answer, I feel calm. I hope that makes sense?!

    That’s wonderful that you’re working on a collection of childhood essays! I really wish you all the best with it! Sue

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    • It does make sense. There I am in my tiny child’s body with that little girl’s innocence. Then I see my sisters! They are brushing my hair or we’re pretending to be Little Eva or the Supremes. It’s like the scene in Peggy Sue Got Married when she’s talking to her late grandmother on the phone. (That is still one of my favorite movie scenes.) Sometimes it’s painful, but often I don’t want to leave. And you’re right, that’s where the words live. Thanks, Sue.

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      • I love your comment: yes, there you are in that child’s body, entering that moment in time. And it’s only through words that you’ll discover what that moment really meant…what it meant back then, as well as what it means to the author-narrator *now.* Exactly!!

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  5. I enjoyed this blog post very much, Sue,especially the scene with the hypnotist. Is this a new experience for you, or have you used hypnosis as you wrote all your memoirs? I’ve always wondered about the role of hypnosis in assisting memory. Possibly assisting in healing also?

    I’d love to hear more about this process if you don’t mind saying more. But possibly I’ll just have to wait to read the next book. I hope to read about Pat Boone while on the train this summer. Thanks to both you and Cynthia for appearing on this excellent blog. It’s been too long since I’ve wandered around here.

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    • Hi, Shirley, thank you so much for stopping by to read my blog post! I love your feedback and comments! This is actually the first time I’ve used hypnosis…so this is all very new. In this sense (sorry!!), I’m afraid I’m not yet able to really share more about it, in that that’s what I’ll be figuring out in the new book. Does that make sense? In other words, I won’t fully understand it until I write *deeply* about it. But then, yes, you’ll be able to read about it in the next book…once I figure it all out, too.

      Meanwhile, I LOVE the image of you reading about Pat Boone on the train this summer! I hope you like the book. Thanks for everything! Your support is lovely!

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  6. I have only read your first memoir, and I am waiting for Fearless Confessions, Herograpics in Neon and Love to arrive in my mail. I am so humbled by the author’s wide open heart, she is always willing to show us with us the path to her mind and her heart. What I look for when I read a memoir is to feel what the writers feels,and with Sue Silverman’s writing I do feel her in each word. English is not my first language, and I am embarked in the adventure of exploring myself in that language. Sue’s writing has shown a new English, the English of the heart, the phrasal verbs of the soul. I want to read all the words she has written! Excuse me for being so ambitious!

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    • Dear Florencia, I am truly moved by your comments. Thank you so very much for reading this blog post, and for your interest in my books. I’m so touched that you enter my memoirs — my words — in such a profound way and know — and feel — what it is I mean to convey. I want to send you a million thanks for embracing my work…and for caring. I couldn’t ask for more! Sue

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