A Bit About Me

I was born in Canada, adopted by American parents, and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. It was there that I spent the first sixteen years of my life and had many of the foundational experiences that drive my writing. I now live in Sacramento and began working on a memoir in Spring 2016 when my daughter urged me to document my extraordinary and arduous past.

Family is one of the most important things in my life. I have strong relationships my daughter, son, and grandson in addition to the daughter I was reunited with eighteen years after giving her up for adoption. I am also close to my brother and 92-year-old mother, who live nearby and have helped to fill in many of the blanks of my past. After being reunited with my biological family, I began traveling to Canada. I also make frequent visits to Anchorage, the land of my youth.

My writing focuses on identity, rebellion, self-doubt, and—most importantly—personal growth and overcoming difficult circumstances. I love to write in the early morning hours when my world is quiet and my mind is open.

Thanks so much for taking this journey with me. I’m excited about the places it will take us.

August 28, 2017

How a Coworker Hurt My Feelings

The place I work has lots of interesting entrepreneurial types. One of my co-workers is a middle-aged screenwriter, a former sports editor, and a nice enough guy with a dry sense of humor and sarcastic whit. Lets call him Ben, great life, great wife. You know the type.

Over the fifteen years that we have worked out of the same branch office we have chatted a number of times. Once I began writing my memoir I approached him for his take on the whole writing thing.

I remember the moment we sat in the lobby of our office building, a crown of skylights overhead, cool ceramic tile floors at our feet and rays of sunlight steaming in on the leather couch, where we sat. He had just finished reading one of the early drafts of my essay, and eventual chapter in my full-length memoir. It was about the rape when I was a fifteen-year-old virgin titled, A Lousy Lay. I was anxious to hear if he thought I had writing potential.

He looked directly in my eyes like he was seeing me for the first time. In a seriously concerned voice, he said, “have you had therapy for this?” It wasn’t his words that hurt but the way he looked at me, not so much with pity but as an internal burn victim, like I was permanently scarred on the inside. At that moment I saw through his eyes how “normal” people view those of us who have had violent trauma and messy pasts. Or was it just my imagined perception, filtered through my thin vale of shame that saw it that way? Regardless, I was embarrassed by his concern. I have never felt like a victim, if anything I blamed myself. My ego didn’t want his pity or was it compassion? I couldn’t tell.

What he didn’t know was that until I put my words on the page and finally saw the real truth, not the lies my emotions remembered but the raw facts about the rape. It was then that I could see how shame had been hovering in my subconscious, influencing many of my life decisions.

I felt like I had scabies. I wanted to say, “oh no it’s not contagious. I’m ok, what you read on the page, that thing, it didn’t really hurt me.” I began wondering over the months, why my feelings of that conversation kept nagging at me. I realized, that what I saw in his eyes was true. I had been scarred, anyone would be. I just didn’t want to admit it. My egoic mind kept saying, “no I’ve got this.” I pressed on with my life proving to you and to me that I was ok. I’ve had success and on the surface I look like I’ve always had my life together but I saw that he looked at me with a different assessment.

I assured him that of course I’ve had therapy, “you know it was 43 years ago.” But what I didn’t tell him was that the therapy I had was for the other bad stuff that happened. How could I? I already felt like a freak.

A number of months later I consulted with him again about starting a blog. He agreed it was a great idea for a new writer to get a following and shared a blog with me that he had been following. It was raw, funny and slightly vulgar. Weeks earlier he had read another piece I had written which was in the same funny, vulgar vein but not a part of my memoir. He said, “You can call your new blog, My Crazy Fucked Up Life!”

My immediate thought was, “ouch.” The next thought was, you don’t get it. “It’s my Beautiful Fucked Up Life.” It’s because of all the shit, the muck, the sludge that I am who I Am. Not because I survived it but because somehow I emerged from it with compassion for myself, and others who are seemingly damaged goods. My beautiful mom said it best, “from cesspools and slimy things, come beautiful flowers.

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July 2, 2017

Knee Deep in Drama

OK, I’m going to tell on myself. Something has been on my mind all week, eliciting a cringe every time I think about it.

We’ve all known people who go on and on about the drama in their lives, getting so wound up in talking about it that it makes you wish you could pole vault into another state to get away from them. I don’t ever want to be that person. Unfortunately, I have been that person—as recently as this week.

When I was at my favorite lunch spot, I ran into a woman who had been my neighbor twenty years ago. She is one of those artsy, slightly reserved, seemingly grounded, natural types. In other words, my neighbor is my complete opposite. She holds workshops and art classes for Empowerment and Freedom Through Emotional Healing in her home, for Christ’s sake. We quickly caught up with the “what are your kids up to?” pleasantries. I asked her questions about her life because I was genuinely interested, but then she made the mistake of asking me what I’ve been doing.

If you’ve been reading my recent blog posts, you know that I’ve been working on a memoir that includes a chapter about being the victim of an abduction attempt when I was fifteen, an event that followed right on the heels of my rape. I have rewritten it about eight different ways during the past year, dissecting and investigating what happened, approaching it from all different angles in an attempt to discover who my abductor was and what he planned to do with me.

So basically, I’ve been in obsession mode for the better part of a year. While speaking with my old neighbor, I started out in a slow roll, telling her about writing my memoir—and, of course, the abduction chapter. I felt the wheels of obsession gaining momentum, but I ignored them. It wasn’t until I was knee deep in the drama that I caught a glimpse of panic in her eyes. It might have been there for a while, but I don’t know for sure because I was too busy talking.

Horrified that I’d become that person, I quickly snapped out of it, muttered that I probably needed her services, and asked for her business card while I tried to excuse myself without further invading her personal space and increasing my humiliation. I can’t clear from my mind the image of her slowly opening her purse, retrieving her card, and handing it over like she was parting with a winning lottery ticket.

I hoped to never run into her again.

But then I called her. I learned decades ago that if someone or something is bothering me, I should write about it and examine my role in the situation. Where was I at fault? Did I owe her an apology? Ugh.

To my surprise, my neighbor sounded genuinely happy to hear from me and was very sweet. (She may have been hoping I would sign up for her Cellular Release Therapy.) I apologized for invading her space and she assured me that it was fine, not to worry about it, that she had just been distracted at the restaurant.

At first, I wondered why I cared so much about what she thought. I hadn’t seen her in twenty years and we had never been close. But, after spending this last year writing, I’ve learned that what I feel influences what I think, which in turn changes what I feel. My feelings are then overlaid with a myriad of invisible layers of crap, most of which have no basis in reality. There is a well-known saying: “Don’t believe everything you think.” I think I should practice that more often.

When thinking about the incident with my neighbor, I searched through twenty years of my memory banks and wondered why my perceived intrusion on her personal space bothered me so much.

I recognized that the judgment I felt from her at the restaurant was familiar. I recalled that I hadn’t liked her twenty years ago and had felt judged by her even back then, but I couldn’t remember why at first. A while later, I remembered that my then-twelve-year-old daughter and I had taken a Coming of Age workshop from our neighbor, complete with a moon circle and the crafting of medicine bags.  It was in that setting that my daughter revealed some of her painful personal history. I also flashed on another incident—my neighbor didn’t want her kids, particularly her son, to play with my daughter based on that personal history. Never mind that her son was the same little shit who shot my darling angel in the leg with a BB gun. This all happened during my Birkenstock and hairy-leg years.  Maybe that’s why it initially slipped my memory. It’s no wonder I hadn’t liked this woman. I realize that she is probably a nice enough lady and that I may very well need her Cellular Release Therapy, but I won’t be calling her any time soon.

I know that self-awareness is a good thing. As I write and revise, I peel back the flaky skin of the onion to reveal what may turn out to be a sweeter onion, like those Vidalia onions that you can eat raw. The onions that don’t make you cry when you chop them up and put them in the quesadilla you’re about to eat because your now-adult daughter has put you on a diet to help you lose the twenty pounds you gained while writing your memoir and the only things left in your fridge are two corn tortillas and some Parmesan cheese. And maybe an onion.




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June 17, 2017

Why I Gained 20 Pounds While Writing My Memoir

Monica Against Wall

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m pretty much an open book. That’s what I thought, too—until I started writing my memoir.

I’ve told my kids many crazy, entertaining stories from my past, but I’ve also told them about some of the bad things that happened to me when I was a teen. Initially, it was my daughter who urged me to write my memoir. I have kept a journal on and off since I was twelve, and I’d published some industry papers in my entrepreneurial years, but never had I considered writing a book, least of all a memoir. Even so, my daughter insisted that my life would make fascinating reading. I thought, how hard can it be?

I began writing and almost immediately felt an urge, like the bearing-down pains of childbirth. This story wanted—needed—to come out, and nothing was going to stop it. As I wrote, I discovered that some memories stay buried for a reason.

I had been working on the memoir for almost a year when, through a series of seemingly unrelated events, I happened upon a developmental editor, Signe Jorgenson, who earned her master’s degree in Anchorage, Alaska, where I grew up and where much of my memoir is based. She lived there many years after the wild oil boom that was the backdrop for my eventful childhood and teenage years, but she had heard the stories.

I’d been told that if I wanted to publish my memoir, I should create a few standalone pieces and submit them to magazines and literary journals so I could accumulate some publishing credits and develop an audience for my work. I wasn’t quite sure how to do this, so I sent my editor one of the more difficult and painful chapters, the one about the 1972 rape that I had kept secret for fifteen years, and worked with her to turn it into an essay.

Working on the essay was like therapy, only deeper. I did about five revisions, each of which was met with six or more pages of developmental notes and a corresponding annotated version of my manuscript. I once asked my editor if she had a background in psychotherapy. She didn’t, but because of her training and years of teaching writing, she knew the deeper questions to ask. An example: When I wrote, “I hung my head in shame,” she asked me to write about why I was feeling shame. Strangely enough, the why had never occurred to me. Deeper and deeper I dug, uncovering memories that I had buried in my subconscious for decades.

My meditation practice, spiritual connection, family, and recovery friends were not enough to get me through this process. I quit drinking thirty-three years ago and I don’t take medications. Instead, I ate many, many times when I wasn’t physically hungry while working on this essay. I knew what I was doing as I sat on the couch with a fat bag of chips, temporarily numbing my pain, but I did it anyway. I would tell myself, “It’s OK. You’ll get a handle on the eating and lose the twenty pounds when you finish the essay.”

Memories are funny things. When I began writing about my rape, I still felt the shame and guilt I had felt when I was a fifteen-year-old girl. I was transported back to that time and place, and to that mindset. I would write my memories and then talk them over with my sweet 91-year-old mom, then write some more. Once I had it all on paper, every single detail of that night, from what the room looked like to the way my rapist smelled and the words he used to shame me, my mom walked me through it from an adult’s perspective.

Gradually, I began to see the rape with my grown-up mind and not my fifteen-year-old feelings. I discovered that I had never directed the blame, rage, and judgment toward the perpetrator. I had placed it all on myself, the victim.

I doubt that I will ever mend completely, but the writing and revision processes have allowed me to gain a much deeper level of healing. I’ve also found compassion for the fifteen-year-old girl who was forced to grow up way too fast.

Now I’m at work on another essay, this one about an abduction attempt that occurred just months after I was raped. I’m going through that same process of mining my memories and reconciling my teenage perspective with my adult understanding. But this time, I am not eating my way through it.

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