It'll Feel Better when it Quits Hurting
Lisa Orban has written a memoir about her life, at turns both disturbing and hilarious. It deals with her life growing up with dysfunctional parents, foster care, and eventually escaping an abusive marriage. She is currently working on the second book of the series, Wine Comes in Six-Packs. We have conducted an interview with her.
Do you feel relief after writing down and publishing the trials and travesties of your life into a memoir?
I'm not sure relief is the right word that I would use. Except for the last chapter, these had been stories I had shared multiple times over the years, and I wrote them in a very similar way to how I verbally shared them. They were the well-loved stories of my friends, who often inviting me to share them when meeting new people, or told again just because they were funny. So, those stories were already out there, among a group of people, and were as comfortable to me as a favorite blanket.
It is only the final chapter that I agonized over sharing. Those were the stories I had never shared with anyone before, and were taken out and put back in multiple times before I finally decided to leave them in. I will not lie, there are some dark moments in my book, but there is also humor, love, joy and redemption in the end. It is my life, and like all lives, it is not perfect, and not without its sad/bad moments, but I have tried to show the humor more than the pain, while never straying from the reality that is my life.
And I promise this to my readers, I will not leave you in a dark place at the end, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not the oncoming train. I bring you with me out of the darkness, and into the light, and with the hope that at the end of the book you can imagine me standing before you with a wicked smile on my face, saying, “That was a helleva ride, wasn't it?!”, ready to begin again.
How did you eventually decide to title your book "It'll Feel Better when it Quits Hurting"?
The title for the book came from my Grandpa Bob, it was his favorite phrase. I suppose it could be considered the family motto if we had one, passed along for three generations now. And I doubt that it will stop with my children, since I've heard them utter this phrase multiple times to their friends, and with the birth of my first grandchild, I'm sure another generation will hear it again.
When I was young it was applied to boo-boo's and the small scraps that come from growing up and falling down often. Growing up it became the phrase that I began to apply to my entire life. It may be the truest statement ever made because it will always feel better when it quits hurting. You may carry the scars of it, whether physical or emotional, but in time, all things heal, and eventually, the pain will fade away, and you'll realize, "I'm okay, I do feel better."
My Grandpa died in his early 60's of cancer, my two oldest were too young then to remember him now. And sadly, my youngest three never had the chance to get to know him. But his legacy and his words live on through all of us, his descendants, and now I pass them along to you. It will feel better when it quits hurting...
What is in "Wine Comes in Six-Packs" that you called it 'six-packs'?
My second book picks up shortly before the end of It'll Feel Better when it Quits Hurting. I did this for a couple of reasons, but primarily, it was because I wanted people who had not read the first book to be able to pick up Wine Comes in Six-Packs without reading the first and know what was going on. It also expands upon things that are only briefly mentioned in the last chapter of It'll Feel Better when it Quits Hurting, giving those that had read the first book a better view of my life at that moment.
The book then quickly sweeps on to cover another twenty or so years, using a similar episodic approach that I used in the first. In the second book, you'll notice one difference, each chapter title after the first, is named after a person. In this second book, I use each of my major relationships over that time to set the pace of the overall story.
Relationships define who we are in many respects, they affect our decisions and our choices in a very fundamental way. And, unfortunately, we don't always choose wisely, I know I didn't. So in this second book, I used each disastrous relationship as a framework, because along with trying to figure out my life, I was also being influenced a great deal by their mistakes and choices as well. Who we love can bring us our greatest moments of joy and our worst moments a pain, often caused by the same person. And, I think just about every person can identify with those mistakes, I think we've all had at least one relationship that brought out our best and our worst before we walked away, looking for our next big possible mistake.
I want to share this with you also, this book was split into two, there will a third book, Good Friends Bring Shovels, that will also deal with this same time frame, from a different vantage point. It is an exploration of my friendships, my mistakes and some of the truly idiotic things I have done in my life, all on my own. When I first sat down to write this second book, I had all the stories combined, but it quickly became too unwieldy, and began to drift all over the place. I realized it was because I was telling two different stories, and while they happened together, were very different aspects of my life.
There is more than one face we show to the people around us, one for family, one for friends, one for our significant other, and one for the public. We give something different to each of these aspects in our lives, it doesn't make us fake, it makes us real, choosing to share selectively with those around us. The second and third book are mirror pieces, written to reflect off one another, yet can be read completely independently. You'll see a little of my friendships in Wine Comes in Six-Packs, just as you'll see a little bit of my relationships in Good Friends Bring Shovels.
As to why I named it Wine Comes in Six-Packs? For that you'll have to read the book.
Upon your first realization that the humor in your life comes not from the light moments, but the dark, what was your most initial feelings/emotions?
The secret to humor that most people don't realize is that humor isn't kind. Think of every joke you've ever heard (outside of children's jokes), the one's that made you laugh, I mean really laugh out loud, they aren't loving or nice, they are the darker moments that we all share that bring us pain. Humor is our laughing back at the universe, daring it to try again because we will not be broken by the pain. I'll give you a quick example:
When I die, I want to go quietly in my sleep like my grandfather did…
not kicking and screaming like his passengers.
There's nothing “funny” about that joke, yet people always laugh. (I know, because I tell that and other darker jokes and gauge people's reaction to them, morbid curiosity on my part I'll admit.) It's talking about a carload of people dying, and yet we laugh, every time. My stories are a lot like that, it's the presentation of them that makes them funny, not the context that the story revolves around. I have a gift for taking those dark moments and making them funny, by sharing the pain in a way that is identifiable to others, with a smidgen of “oh thank god that wasn't me!”. It allows other people to look back at their own mistakes and make them more palatable because now that pain has been shared among many, it takes away the isolation that makes it hurt. By identifying with someone else's mistakes, perhaps even worse mistakes, it gives your audience a measuring tool to look at their own lives, making their burden less.
Humor is a forced perspective, seen through a lens of tragedy, for our mutual benefit.
If you hadn't written it using the 'episodic approach', how else do you think you will write your story?
Before I began writing, I was a storyteller. I've always had a flair for getting people to laugh at whatever tale I was telling, no matter how dark. When you tell someone a story, you're taking this small slice out of your life and sharing it, you don't go into a lot of background, you give a quick setup to set the scene, then proceed quickly to the heart of the story, and that's how I approached writing this book.
I sat down and thought about all the stories I had shared over the years with so many people, the stories that people encouraged me to tell again and again. I fleshed out some of the in between moments, for people who had never met me before, but the basic approach was still the same. In many ways, while writing this book, I used the same techniques of verbal storytelling while writing, often imagining my readers sitting with me, listening to what I had to say.
Even after editing, many grammatical errors were intentionally left in the book, because I wanted my voice, the way I speak, to come through. This is a memoir, and not everyone, all the time, uses proper English when speaking. And it was my hope that my readers would feel that same intimate connection with me that I had with them, that I was speaking to them personally. That they could see me sitting there beside them giggling as I told these story's for their entertainment, and sometimes I did speak directly to them. I would break out of my narrative and address them for various reasons, as storytellers do when talking to people.
I'm not sure I could have written it any other way. This book covers a span of about 15 years, and there's a lot that happened that was left out or taken out after editing because while funny, did not progress the story in the way that I wanted. I also took out a lot of the mundane, the boring and the simply factual if it didn't in some way convey the tempo I was setting. Which means I took out an almost entire other book of things that never made it past my own reading. And I wanted the book to have the feeling of a roller coaster, the ups and the down that sweep you forward. I could have just written about the happy moments, but without the context of the dark as a balance, it lost something. It lost the feel of reality, of why those moments of joy were so important, like they are for everyone in life. Without those dark moments, my life became one dimensional, lacking any true substance and without meaning.
So, to answer your question. No, I don't think I could have written this any other way and still stay true to my voice and realistically bring that span of time together without splitting it up into multiple books over the same time frame.
How do you think the foster care and educational system could be better?
This is a difficult question and I do not know if I have any true answers.
I think the biggest issue in education is that while we ply ourselves and our children with facts and figures to memorize, we take all the contexts out that is meaningful and relevant. We focus too much on conformity, ignoring the individual. We have taken the true meaning out of life, substituting cold facts, and expecting it to be enough to sustain us.
Facts are important, as is math and science. They are relevant to everything we do, but without context they are meaningless, heartless. Not every child is going to grow up to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, yet our entire educational system is set up for only those types of careers. Completely ignoring the artists, the dreamers, the makers of things that bring meaning to our lives as a whole. Think of all the things that bring you joy (and I'm pretty sure it's not your lawyer), your favorite song that lifts you up on a bad day, your favorite book that makes you smile when you read it, a painting or a poem that inspires you. Yet, all of these things are deemed secondary in our educational system, readily cut out when funds are low. Making the children who excel in these fields feel worthless. By cutting these programs and not giving them the recognition that they deserve, we are telling these children that by association, they too are secondary and unimportant. When in reality, they are what make us, well, us. They are the context that holds the fabric of our lives together in a shared mutual experience. They become the moral compass, creating the framework that the facts and figures hang on.
We need to inspire our children. Encourage them to think for themselves when solving problems, and how to work together to build creative solutions to unusual problems, and spend less time on only the dry data we are currently forcing them to memorize. We need to encourage creativity, how to solve problems rather than simply regurgitating information. We need to take the individual into account, rather than forcing children to learn in ways that are foreign to the basic nature of how we learn as a species. We learn about the world through touching, tasting, seeing and experimenting with it on a personal level, and even, maybe most importantly, through our mistakes. Failure is always an option, and it should be an option for children to openly admit to while learning. Encouraging them to try again, in a different way until a solution is found. Because that's how life works, we learn from our mistakes and try again until we get it right.
As to the question, how would I change foster care? After living within that system for two years, I can tell you more readily what it took away from me, then I can answer how to change it. It took away my trust of anyone in authority. It left me with an abiding dislike that will probably never go away for social services. It took away a part of my identity at the time, and any feeling of even minimal control over my life. It separated me from the comfort of my friendships that had for many years before been the rock that I relied on when things got bad. It left me adrift in a sea of unknowns, completely alone and it left me resentful that I no longer had any say in my life.
There are good foster parents out there, I was lucky that I had two, out of my four foster homes. But unfortunately, many foster children are just seen as walking ATM's to supplement their income. They have no personal interest in your welfare, only that you are quiet and cause them no trouble while they take in money from the state to offset the inconvenience of keeping you alive while in their home.
How do you change indifference? How do you make sure that foster parents actually care about the children they take, when there are so many children and so few people willing to open their homes for these kids? How do we give children a voice in a system that was never designed to listen to them, only physically care for them?
It is a broken system built on lofty goals. It operates on the ideal of saving a child from a terrible situation, when in many cases it is only switching the location, not the devastation that the child is living with. Forcing a child out of the familiar, away from whatever support they may have had, tearing them away from siblings, friends and even other loving family members, then demanding that they be grateful for the interference, and punishing them when they are not. Yes, many children are physically “saved” when put into foster care, taken away from a potentially life threatening situation, but their mental well-being is often ignored, deemed a secondary, and therefore unimportant, issue.
How do you foster security, when a foster child knows at any moment they could be sent away? How to build trust when that child was ripped away from their only home, often by force? How do you nurture compassion when their emotional needs are not being met? How do you build relationships when at any point, they know anyone can be taken away from them? How to you build empathy when they are treated with indifference?
I don't have any answers to those questions. I wish that I did.
From the Author to the Readers:
During this interview I was given some very serious questions, that I tried to seriously answer to the best of my abilities, from my point of view. I will be truthful with you now, I'm not a very serious person in my actual life. I can be serious, but I more often choose to give myself up to the simple joy of living, telling jokes, laughing often and often in serious need of a sarcasm font when typing.
My book, like myself, is not very serious for all the serious moments it contains. I want you to laugh with me, I want you to experience my life as I lived it, and with the same joy I had while going through whatever life threw at me. There were times when I was sad, but even then, there will often be a small tug of smile through the tears while your reading it, because I want you to laugh with me. Because, hey! I made it out alive! How about that?! I'm still here, wondrously cracked, beautifully bent and put back together with Elmer's glue, but not broken, never broken.
A few years ago, a friend of mine said in all seriousness to me, “When you're gone I'll miss your laughter the most. I can't imagine going the rest of my life never hearing you laugh again.” And so, I laughed at her, and then made her a video of me laughing. Going through 20 years of video, I gave her an hour of my laughter throughout my life, to keep forever. She will never have to go the rest of her life without my laughter, and that dear reader, is how I want to be remembered. Not by my serious moments, not the mundane steps I took to get from here to there, but for my laughter, my joy and my unwavering optimism even as the world crashed down around me more than once.
I hope you enjoyed this interview, and that maybe it gave you some insight into how I look at the world. I hope it will encourage you to read my book, and then if you feel like it, you can share how you feel about it to me personally (you can find my contact information at the front of my book) or through a review if you're so inclined (happy dance time!). In the end, I hope that I can make you laugh, maybe feel better about your own mistakes while laughing at mine, and to tell you one last thing, never give up, because life can be a wondrous and joyful thing. Be kind to each other, help one another, don't give up even if you've fallen down a hundred times, because that's how we learn, from our mistakes as much as from our triumphs. And remember, if you can't be a good example, then be the best damn warning label anyone's ever seen! ;)Twitter: @LisaOrbanAuthor
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