Summer in Words

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Q & A with Lauren Kessler

Prolific author ImageLauren Kessler sent me this interview from the Ouky Douky on Hermonova Street in Prague before she boarded the night train. She’ll be teaching two workshops on Friday, June 21. To follow more of Lauren’s European adventure and her fascinating exploration of aging and anti-aging find her here.

Q: You’ve been working on an anti-aging research/writing project that is the basis for your new book Counter  Clockwise My year of hypnosis, hormones, dark chocolate, and other adventures in the world of anti-aging. Can you tell us about it,how it came about and if it was fun?

 

A: Let me answer the last question first:  It was fun.  A lot of fun.  The most fun I’ve had researching and writing a book.  But those who know something of my other work –my book about attempting to survive my daughter’s snarky passage into teen-dom, a book about the life lived by those with Alzheimer’s – will know that my notion of “fun” might be skewed.  I suppose anyone who thinks that going in for a muscle biopsy is “fun” – and I did – is suspect.

 

How did the book come about?  Like all of my more recent work, it came from two places: the personal and the journalistic.  As a midlife woman living in a culture that values the young, I am confronted every day with messages (subtle and not so) about how young is good and old is bad.  It’s made me think hard about what age means, which led me to the science of aging, which led me to the enormous difference between a person’s chronological age (birthday) and biological age (the actual age of the body).  I am basically fascinated with the human body in general.  When I read that scientists now believe that perhaps as much as 70 percent of biological aging is within our control, I was hooked.  I wanted to try to exert that kind of control over my own aging.  I wanted to delve into the science, immerse myself in that fascinating research world, but make it alive (and funny) but using myself as a guide.  Or, in this case, a guinea pig.

 

Q: Could you give us a list of your books?

 

A: My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, a Journey through the Thicket of Adolescence; Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s (the paperback was published just under the subtitle); Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family; Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era; The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes; Full Court Press: A Season in the Life of a Woman’s Basketball Team; After All These Years: Sixties Ideals in a Different World.  I also wrote a book about the history of alternative journalism and co-wrote a health book with my husband, a science writer.  

 

Q: What are the chief advantages of guinea pig writing or immersion journalism that you practice?

 

A: For me, it’s a way of connecting directly with the reader.  I am a stand-in for the reader. I am you if you were crazy enough to do this, or had the time to check this out.  I am saying:  Follow me.  Together we’ll go exploring and make some sense of this – whatever “this” is. In writing this way, in using myself this way, I am hoping to invite the reader into the material, to make it accessible and personal and, I think, meaningful.  And I hope entertaining.

 

Q: Would you describe your approach as bad ass?

 

A: Well, I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but I do like to push myself, to test myself.  I want to explore…not fearlessly exactly… but with energy and excitement and an edge. I want and need to find out for myself, to put myself in the thick of things.  And I’ve got this, I guess, attitude.  This Oh yeah?  Really? Attitude.  And a skewed sense of humor. A dark-ish sense of humor.

 

Q: What challenges do you face when you write?

 

A: During the act of writing itself – which, incidentally, I adore, I live for – I face all the usual challenges:  time, focus, discipline, the way life conspires to rob me of the aforementioned.  The way I self-sabotage to rob myself of the aforementioned. There is always and forever the challenge to make something I am fascinated with fascinating to others, to entertain while informing, to wear the research lightly, to tell a good tale.  These are good challenges, welcome challenges, challenges within my control.  It’s the other challenges that are so difficult:  Persuading my agent, who needs to persuade an editor, that this idea I have, this (to me) endlessly fascinating idea I have, is commercially viable.  Breaking through to readers in a very very crowded and increasingly uncontrolled marketplace.  That is the tough stuff.

  Q: You’ve been working on an anti-aging research/writing project that is the basis for your new book Counter  Clockwise My year of hypnosis, hormones, dark chocolate, and other adventures in the world of anti-aging. Can you tell us about it,how it came about and if it was fun?

 

Q: What is your best advice for writers in 12 words or less?

 

A: It’s only a problem if you don’t admit it’s a problem.  (You owe me a word.)

 

Q: When you are not writing what is your time occupied with?

 

A: Laundry.  Well, actually not so much any more.  A few years ago, when all three of my children were still at home (only one is now), I was pretty much a fulltime laundress, part-time everything else.  Now:  Working out with the Sweat Chicas, my bad-ass exercise buddies; chicken wrangling (from 6 to zero hens depending on the appetite and ingenuity of resident raccoons); traveling; cooking; teaching narrative nonfiction in Portland. (The University of Oregon has a new program, and I’m its director.)

 

Q: What books are on your night stand?

 

A: I’m in Prague right now so I feel compelled to read Kafka.  As the long suffering mother of a 21st century teen, it’s great to read a guy who had such intense father issues.  

 

Q: What’s next for you?

 

A: I’ve got three ideas I’m noodling right now, reading, thinking, lots of thinking, walking around with the ideas in my head, letting them expand, contract, just roll around.  I am interested in, well, everything, so it takes a while to sort through and decide. Writing a book is a serious three year commitment for me.  I don’t take it lightly.

 

 

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