Q: What inspired you to write Yes, Again?
A: Yes, Again started out as a personal journal, with the possibility it might become a memoir if the story and the writing turned out to be good enough. I thought I had something to say about the breadth and depth of a fully lived life. I hoped readers would resonate to my experiences and observations on life, love, loss, and gain. And risk-taking.
I was inspired to stick with the writing part when I saw a message emerging: “Don't give up.” “Don't lie down as long as you're still alive and kicking.”
Q: You describe some very difficult times in your life, as well as much happier ones. What impact did writing the book have on you?
A: I'd like to say that, while writing, I relived more of the happy times than the difficult ones, but that's not true. Revisiting the painful times flattened me.
Before starting to write, I had managed to divert myself, occupying myself with medical interpreting in Central and South America, teaching Spanish, and doing volunteer work with rescue and service dogs. I kept dizzyingly busy going to movies, plays, and the gym; walking and hiking; doing anything I could to distract myself.
Writing about it brought it all back. Ultimately, it was a relief to shake off the numbness, sit down, put pen to paper (well, put hands to the keyboard), and allow myself to cry.
But it wasn't all grief and misery. At some point, as I engaged in a superannuated version of the online personals, I began to see the ridiculousness of some of my misadventures.
How else to describe meeting a man at a coffee shop for the first time, only to have him talk about his hemorrhoid operation? There were encounters worthy of Saturday Night Live skits for the AARP crowd.
Dana Carvey would have been great as the guy telling me about his operation. I can just see him trying to get comfortable on the donut cushion he placed on the chair at the coffee shop.
Q: How did you come up with the system you call PASTRAMI, and can you describe it for people who haven't read the book?
A: PASTRAMI was an extension of what I'd done professionally. I started my 23-year career at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as a recruiter and, before that, was a vocational counselor for injured workers reentering the workforce.
In my heart of hearts, I've never stopped being a recruiter, matching people with jobs. But this time it was personal. I put my recruiter hat back on, interviewing applicants and finding the perfect person from the candidate pool to fill the job, fill the empty chair at the dining room table, fill my heart and my bed.
One morning, it hit me like a bolt of lightning what I had to do. I sat down at my computer and developed a list of the necessary skills a candidate should have.
I came up with PASTRAMI, with each letter of the acronym referring to a quality I was seeking: Politically liberal, Animal lover, Spiritual (but not religious), Tender (yet strong), and so forth.
PASTRAMI ended up being PASTRAMI ETC because I was looking for a partner with a few more attributes (Emotionally stable, Travel enthusiast, and Communicative). Then I “posted” the job opening by going to my friends and offering a “referral award prize” to a nonprofit to be chosen by the Love Liaison who came up with the winning PASTRAMI Candidate.
And guess what? It worked. And therein lies a juicy tale in my memoir.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: Well, I gave that away in the first question. The takeaway message is “Don't stop hoping, wishing, and working toward what's possible.”
And there's a little more: “If you feel discouraged, take a break. Stay close to your friends. Do rewarding volunteer work. Pet your dog or cat. And prune your roses – your garden needs you and you need it. Cultivate your garden.” (I know, Voltaire said it first.)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I'm taking a break, but I’ve talked with my editor to see if she’ll work with me on a story that warrants telling - I don’t want to discuss the topic because it would give away too much about Yes, Again. If my editor is up for it, I am too.
Writing is a solitary process, and I’d like to do it with my friend Courtney.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I can’t think of anything. But if anyone wants to know more or ask me questions, my email is on yesagainmemoir.com. Thank you for letting me take this space and your time.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb