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Author Writes Memoir About Forgiving And Letting Go Of Her Parents

 June 24, 2020 at 11:25 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 During the last few months, many of us have experienced what being home means in new ways is home made up of the four walls that enclose us, the family that surrounds us, or the idea of safety that often eludes us a new memoir contemplates the concept of home and family at its tattered limits. Stephanie dabbler, who came to fame several years ago with her novel sweet bitter is out with a memoir about her parents, struggle with addiction and her own struggle to overcome that legacy. Her memoir is called stray and she joins me now, Stephanie, welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:37 Good morning. Thank you for having me. Speaker 1: 00:39 What's it like having a book come out during the coronavirus pandemic? Speaker 2: 00:44 Oh, I think it's a mixed blessing of sorts. It's definitely not comparable to what happened with Sweetbitter where I was touring and able to connect with readers face to face every night. At the same time, I do feel that there's this digital intimacy that has allowed me to connect with my readers when everyone is home reading and ready to be in a conversation, Speaker 1: 01:11 Right. I'm thinking that home must be a multilayered concept for you growing up with your parents impaired by addiction. What's the stay at home order been like for you? Have you been doing a lot of thinking about creating a home for yourself? Speaker 2: 01:28 Of course, I have an 18 month old son and I am 35 weeks pregnant with a girl that I will be having shortly. And I think about home constantly. I also think about how they are being raised in such different circumstances than I was their father is their primary caretaker. I'm still working full time. There is a consistency and calmness to our home, which is something I never experienced. I don't, I it's unrecognizable to me, but it's been really beautiful to create. And then watch my son live into it. Speaker 1: 02:11 Have you thought about the kids who've been locked down at home with addicted parents? Speaker 2: 02:16 I haven't. I've thought about partners who are locked down with addicted spouses and abusive spouses, verbal and physical. And it's scary. I don't know what the longterm consequences of this stay at home order will be. I think many of us are wondering how this will shape the children, whether they're skipping their senior year of high school or their high school graduation, or there are small kids who relied on other caretakers, which I did for most of my life. My grandparents had a huge part in raising me and I was in various daycares, but who depended their caretakers and their teachers for an outlet from their family. Um, I don't, I, and I don't know what the answer is yet. I don't think anybody does, but it has been on my mind, Speaker 1: 03:09 You know, Stephanie in your first book, sweet bitter, it was set in the restaurant world of New York city where you were working while you were writing it. And people who know you from the success of that novel and the stars TV show based on the book might be surprised that you followed it up with this memoir. Why did you choose to write stray? Speaker 2: 03:29 You know, it didn't feel like a choice. I think excavating the darker areas of your past is so unpleasant that if you can avoid it, you will avoid it. I had moved back to California after 12 years in New York and found that I couldn't write about anything else, but my childhood and sites of trauma and the very flawed people who raised me and who they were now and how they had shaped me. I wanted to write a novel. I told people for years I was writing a novel and then eventually the writer in me looked at what's the best writing coming out right now. And it was the autobiographical material. And so I continued pursuing it, but I definitely, I definitely won't be doing it again Speaker 1: 04:19 The home. So what were some of the hardest things to reveal in your memoir? Speaker 2: 04:24 I think there's a degree of personal shame. Uh, throughout the book, I'm having an, a fair with a married man that was very unhealthy and something that I would never let someone I really care about. Engage in. I also think that admitting the ways in which my family confuses, neglect and care was really hard. I don't think that my parents are bad people. Um, I don't think that those that have tried to care for them are bad people, but somehow it's all slipped through the cracks, any sort of healing and intimacy. We have never been able to gather it and keep it. And so that was hard to write about too. And I was a new mother when I started the first draft of this book missing my mother very much. She had a brain aneurysm in 2005 and is mentally and physically disabled. And so I felt very alone in that journey as well. Speaker 1: 05:26 What has helped you overcome some of those things that you write about in your memoir stray? Speaker 2: 05:31 I've had a lifetime of therapy and group recovery, like Alanon I started going to Allah team when I was a teenager. I was very aware that my parents were alcoholics and that I needed resources beyond my own self destructive tendencies or tendencies towards self-medication. And so I feel really lucky that I've had a practice of talk therapy. I think the most important turn that I've made, came with making boundaries, which is partially what stray is about. Being able to separate myself from these very hurtful people, whom I love dearly being rigid in those boundaries, but also knowing that they're an ongoing work in progress. And I really think that once I started to say no is when I started to define myself, which is why I thought that this story might be worth telling. Speaker 1: 06:31 What kind of role has moving back to California played in your healing? Speaker 2: 06:35 I mean, it was the impetus for the book. I had one idea of what California meant. I thought that it was a homogenous blue sky, one note, uh, intellectually bereft place. And I thought that Los Angeles was an empty city and I moved back to find so much depth and nuance and another big part of the book strays about falling back in love with California, even with all of its corruption and damage and instability and uncertainty. And I mean that at an emotional and a landscape level. And I don't think I'll live anywhere else. I mean, I see its flaws. I'm engaged in trying to make it a better place, but I still, I think California is the most beautiful place in the world. Speaker 1: 07:30 I know that you've been conducting virtual book events. You have one coming up today. I'm wondering what kinds of questions and reactions you've been getting from your memoir? Speaker 2: 07:39 I think that it is shocking how many people have grown up with alcoholic or even narcissistic parents who couldn't take care of them. I'm at the point in book promotion, where I think that if you had a whole and loving relationship with your parents, that you are in an extreme minority, because what I hear every day, whether it's through social media or through these events, is this is my story. And they don't mean that it's exactly their story. They mean that their parents weren't able to take care of them and they felt largely abandoned. Um, it's heartbreaking actually the sheer volume of adults who feel crippled by their childhoods and are looking for ways to break out of old patterns of looking for help. And then of course, there's also the, has your mom read it as your father at it? Has your ex married boyfriend read it? Uh, the more real, what does your sister think about it? I think that memoir lends itself to real life questions, as well as more theoretical or general. Speaker 1: 08:56 All of which I have not asked you. I wonder if you have any good answers to those questions about whether your close family and, and, uh, friends have, I've read the book and what their reaction has been. Speaker 2: 09:08 So the book is also about friendship. I talk a lot about my friend, family. That is my chosen family. And I talk a lot about how close my sister and I are. She and I were in constant contact throughout the writing of stray. And we disagreed constantly. We disagreed to the point where one of us would say it was a night in December and the other one would say it was a day in August. We had such wildly, wildly different memories of the same of events. But overall, we found a way towards what we're both comfortable calling the truth, which is the emotional truth of what it felt like to grow up in our home. She read it, my friends read it, my mother can't read. And so she has not read it. And it's not really based on her handicap from her aneurysm. She has no short term memory. Speaker 2: 10:06 It's hard to engage in conversations with her or explain the full scope of a project, which would be something like this book is about forgiveness. Um, I don't think she would be able to metabolize that and I don't have contact with my father. So I don't know whether he has read it or not. I think by the end of the book, I've really let go of these people. And that's a boundary, right? It's letting go of my mother and my father and of this man who treated me terribly. And so in a way I was freed from what memoir writers often struggle with, which is I want to write about my parents, but I see them every Sunday. I did not have those constraints on me. Speaker 1: 10:50 Well, I've been speaking with author, Stephanie downer, whose new book is called stray. And for more information about her virtual book event tonight, you can visit magic city books.com. Stephanie, thanks so much. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

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Stephanie Danler, who came to fame several years ago with her novel "Sweetbitter," is out with a memoir about her parents struggle with addiction and her own struggle to overcome that legacy. It's called "Stray."
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