Friday, May 5, 2023

Q&A with Antonia Deignan




Antonia Deignan is the author of the new memoir Underwater Daughter: A Memoir of Survival and Healing. She lives in Martha's Vineyard.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir?


A: The inspiration for my memoir resulted from a blindside. At 55 years old, a bad bike accident took me out of commission. Housebound and bedridden in recovery, I found myself staring at unresolved sorrows, missteps, and trip-ups from my past.


I had enjoyed a challenging and rewarding professional dance career. I raised five children, with at least one of them living under my thumb, roof, influence, and curfew for 25 years – a self-less and self-full love journey inherent in chaos, to-do’s, anguish, reward, and awe.


But felled by the bike accident in 2018, I weirdly dissolved. Seemingly on the outside, I was a put-together, disciplined, and focused woman. But on the inside, I was featureless, voiceless, and spineless. I was functioning like a sexually abused young girl would, with silenced tongue, untrustworthy thoughts, and frayed esteem.


The accident broke the spell, and the writing, the memoir, became the portal to reinvention.


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


A: Underwater Daughter was first named The Beauty Within, which I still love but wasn’t a unique enough title.


The process of writing revealed the beauty within me and within everyone else. The journey inward helped me understand the fear, the self-loathing, and the self-doubting that trauma delivered. 


That journey also steered me into what I found beneath those things: the longing, the awe, the suspense, the love, the humility, the forgiveness.


That sense of being underwater, blurred vision, words and meaning not quite audible or available to sense, movement suspended in a dreamlike state, all these things are implied in the finished title. There is magic below the surface.


Q: The author Richard C. Morais said of the book, “Underwater Daughter starts with disjointed pieces of prose and poetry violently breaking across the page like smashed glass. As you compulsively turn its pages, the writing gradually becomes more lyrical and coherent, the jagged shards subtly glued together to produce a beautiful and colorful mosaic out of all the broken bits.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe your writing style?  


I say Yes. Richard Morais’ assessment of my writing style feels right.


I toggle back and forth from long-ago memory, to dream, to the near past, and bring the reader directly into discomfort, like stepping around broken glass, there are pieces of difficult flashbacks, followed by deep dives of contemplation, and returns to the surface and reinvention. It’s hard to breathe at times. It reflects a chaotic interior, shattered by life’s events.


My story and the style of writing follow the same pattern as Richard Morais points out, they are both disjointed and in search of cohesion, and form. I choose words as much for their rhythm, their imagery, and their movement as much as I do for their meaning. I believe I choreograph stories more than I write them. My goal is to be truthful and concise alongside a desire to create art with words.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: I continue to be deeply impacted by the endeavor of writing. Even as I write in response to questions like these about my process. All of this has helped me stand firmer in the messaging I originally sought to put forward. All of this has helped me let go of blame, shame, fear, and self-doubt. Not all at once and maybe not every single minute, but I am better at being my own best friend, someone I can count on.


I don’t believe I will understand all there is to know about sorrow, longing, love, grief, beauty, passion, ease…but the time I have spent devoted to telling my story has opened my heart wider than I thought possible.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have begun work on a novel, following the stories of a small circle of seemingly random characters whose lives weave together in strange ways, becoming a single braid, a life-saving force of love.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes! One result of writing my memoir is I now facilitate weekly online events guiding others in meditation and writing prompts. We have created a safe place of witness, an intimate circle of support, creativity, and unhurried listening.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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