Friday, March 10, 2023

Q&A with Candi Milo




Candi Milo is the author of the new memoir Surviving the Odd. As a child, her father turned their home into a halfway house for developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed adults. An actor, singer, and stand-up performer, Candi Milo is also an advocate for the mentally ill.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and what impact did it have on you to write it?


A: I decided to write this book because I had told the story of my childhood live so many times at parties, on stages, at speaking engagements that my memories became twisted--meaning I lost track of what was true and what was constructed as a bit for a laugh.


So, I took a breath, a decade worth, sat back and really tried to remember. I did this because it is a story that deserves to be told.


You know, the mind is kind of a beautiful thing. When it’s not trying to kill you, it protects you. Peeling back the layers of mental safety I had built up was difficult, but ultimately, I have now told it exactly as I wanted to.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book says, in part, “Challenging as it was, life at the Milo Arms, along with her parents’ deep sense of compassion, shaped Milo’s perspective and sense of humanity.” What do you think of that description?


A: The entire Kirkus review sort of blew my mind. I am new to writing professionally. I make my living as an actor and comedienne. So, to have an august company like Kirkus read me and understand me at my core was so deeply touching.


As any child would be, I was at first confused and angry at my father for insisting that I had to share my home and family with strangers. But as I matured my heart grew, and my compassion grew, and my sense of duty grew and my idea of family grew. And my perspective went from these people are not my problem to these people are not the problem and we have to do something.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title came to me instantly one day as I was driving to a gig. And the cover photo was pasted on my bulletin board above my computer as I wrote.


"Surviving The Odd" is a take on the old expression survive the odds – sometimes said as against all odds -- wherein you have a Herculean struggle and people may bet against you, or the deck is stacked against you, BUT against all odds, you survive or succeed, you come out on top, the crowd cheering wildly. (Well, OK, that is what happens in my mind.)


So, I think I am that girl. I am a survivor. What I experienced was odd. The people we cared for were odd. Society’s reaction to them was odd. The government and medical industry’s decisions on behalf of them were odd – and yet, I survived. Better than that, I believe I came out on top. Battered and a bit bruised, but I survived, nonetheless.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope that people will finally see that what happened in the late 1960s had nothing to do with the people actually affected by deinstitutionalization but had everything to do with the people in charge. And that the issue of homelessness and street mental illness grows exponentially as we continue to blame folks for their own misfortunes.


Unless and until we realize that every person is somebody’s child and that as wards of the streets they deserve basic mental health care and food and shelter at the very least, we will see this issue compound and grow.


I also hope that people see that being exposed to “others” and having a chance to look past their covers to the book within can only increase compassion. Visibility is key.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am still doing my cartoon voices and auditioning for TV, film, and commercials, but now I am also writing a lot more. I enjoy writing stories/pieces for Medium. Lots have to do with my start in show business and dating during the Klonopin Years. HA!


The idea is to compile 20 or so short stories from these essays and turn it into a second book called I Should Be Dead By Now. (I had to stop writing for a second because that title makes me laugh my pants off. Dear Gawd, I hope it isn’t taken.)


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am a big believer in just “doing the damn thing.” After I went through a painful divorce, I found myself shuddering at night, waiting for the other shoe to drop. A single parent to a preschooler. An actor without steady income. Fearful Worried. I was at wit’s end.


But with the help of dedicated agents, I was able to take a leap and follow my passion – performing. It has worked out OK so far.


My fervent hope is that everyone has the courage, at least once in their life, to follow their passions. I truly believe that taking that first step can lead you to joy, however fleeting. You might need to modify your idea of outward success, but to take a chance and survive the odds – well, that’s half the game won.


Lastly, as far as the mentally ill homeless are concerned, I want to remind everyone that I see them as they are. The rose-colored glasses are ripped off. But beneath all the dirt and soot, rags and wild hair, the self-flagellation and disjointed talk lies a human being who was born into this world the same as you and I but with a tortured soul in need of care.


You don’t have to cure it. You just have to see them. And look past their outsides. I truly believe that taking that first step can also lead you to compassion, a place I highly recommend. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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