PLEASE WELCOME LAUREN SAPALA
Lauren Sapala is a writing coach who specializes in coaching introverted, intuitive writers. She founded the WriteCity writing groups in Seattle and San Francisco and currently blogs about writing and creativity at www.laurensapala.com.
My fellow creative friend on the east coast just released another book August 29, 2017. Check it out!
“A voice that was strong and cruel came from somewhere deep within me. When the voice split away and talked to me all by itself I started calling her Lo…She’d watched me at my lowest points and saved up a thousand slights, a million minor offenses. She forgave nothing, and now she wanted revenge.”
Leah is an alcoholic. She’s antisocial, self-destructive, and deeply damaged. She’s also battling a voice in her head she calls Lo, who wants to take over her body. Lo is everything Leah isn’t—beautiful, charming, confident, and ruthless in her desires. She commandeers Leah’s will whenever Leah gets too drunk, and acts as her escort through the rainy Seattle underworld.
As a misfit bibliophile, Leah’s conception of reality has never been rock solid, but as she spirals deeper into addiction the “real world” of bars, bikers, dealers, and addicts slowly dissolves into Lo’s dark vision. As Lo steadily tightens her hold, Leah prepares to make one last bid for survival, knowing her only chance is to transcend Lo’s terrifying drive toward death.
In the beginning you addressed this book to your Uncle John. Who was he to you, and what impact did he have on your life?
My Uncle John is my dad’s identical twin brother. One of the issues I explore in the book is the death of my younger brother, which occurred when he was six years old and I was eight. My younger brother battled leukemia for three years before his death and my Uncle John was the one who drove us to his chemotherapy appointments two hours away, each month. My uncle had a bad hip, so being in the car for long periods of time like this wasn’t ideal. But he did it anyway. I have always carried that memory of my uncle soldiering on through the physical and emotional difficulty of ferrying us back and forth to those appointments. I watched his example and learned from it. That’s why I say in the dedication that he taught me that “the only way out is through.” It’s a well known saying that means, “the only way to get through it is to get through it.” My Uncle John always got through things, he didn’t run away from them. This is a lesson that the narrator of the book, Leah, needs to learn.
*What does the “shadow” represent from the title of your book?
The “shadow” refers to the shadow self, that psychological dark side that exists in each of us, but normally remains buried in the subconscious. The narrator, Leah, is a normally introverted, bookish type of person who doesn’t know how to express her true self, or how to express her real needs. When she gets drunk, her shadow self comes roaring to the surface, the wildly extroverted, aggressive, domineering personality who has absolutely no awareness of anyone else’s needs other than her own.
For those who are interested in MBTI, I’m an INFJ personality type, so my shadow side is an ESTP. However, because our shadow side usually stays hidden in our subconscious, it also stays relatively undeveloped. A personality expert I love said that using your conscious side is like signing your name with your dominant hand—it’s smooth and fluid from using it so much. But using your shadow side is like trying to sign your name with your left foot—everything comes out distorted and barely recognizable because that part of you hardly ever sees the light of day.
When Leah gets drunk she goes into her shadow side and becomes Lo and, consequently, everything in her comes out as distorted and barely recognizable. It’s definitely a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of situation.
*What does the “Lo” represent?
Lo is the personality that Leah, the narrator of the book, becomes when she gets drunk. I was an alcoholic for many years and this book is based on my experiences during that time. To this day, I’m fascinated by the personality changes that people undergo due to addiction. It’s quite common to hear people say that a family member is the most loving, compassionate person when sober, but when they’re drunk or high it’s the complete opposite. And of course, people do things when intoxicated that they would never do sober, like lie, cheat, and steal. I find this so intriguing and so I wanted to explore how that process worked for me when I was an active alcoholic.
I also believe that, as a society, we use a lot of different addictions to lower consciousness on a regular basis— that is, to make ourselves less alert, less empathetic, less compassionate, less emotionally sensitive. Alcohol and drugs are obvious choices, but we also use things like shopping, sex, the internet, gossip, an oversaturation of news and media, exercise, and food. In my book, Leah is just one extreme example of someone who systematically and purposefully tries to lower her consciousness whenever she can (through alcohol) because she doesn’t want to deal with her emotionally painful past, or her energetically sensitive present.
*There are two very interesting quotes at the front of the book. Can you describe what they mean to you?
The first quote actually comes from one of my clients, a writer named Ritu Kaushal. She has a blog called Walking through Transitions (http://www.walkingthroughtransitions.com) which is just fantastic. I was reading some of her work and stumbled across that quote from her and it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Especially the last few lines:
Maybe, that’s what hurt does. It cuts us into different people. There are some parts with their gaping holes that break off from the core, and then they roam inside us, reminding us of our own poverty.
I thought, “Yes! Ah-ha! That’s EXACTLY the way I felt during all those dark years when I was drinking!” Ritu very graciously let me use the quote from her and I am so grateful because it’s just perfect.
The second quote is from Jean Genet:
Worse than not realizing the dreams of your youth, would be to have been young and never dreamed at all.
He’s one of my very favorite writers, and that quote from him sums up how I felt about those years. They were dark and difficult, but I’m so glad they happened and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. As painful as that time was, I still saw it all through my writer’s imagination (my “dreaming eyes”) and I treasure those experiences.
*After suffering some hardship you turned to books. What led you in that direction?
Oh, I’ve always been a book nut. In fact, that was something I really wanted to emphasize in this memoir/novel. Because of some painful experiences in her childhood, Leah has a lot of trouble connecting with people. She feels separate from everyone all the time. One of the main ways she relates to the world and figures out how to navigate life is through books. For example, there’s one instance in the book where Leah meets this couple who run a nightclub together. She immediately compares them to characters out of a Fitzgerald novel and wonders to herself if she should “plan” to feel about them the same way she felt about those characters. This is extremely dysfunctional—but that’s actually how I was at that time. I had no idea how to even have spontaneous emotions toward people because I was so guarded and shut down. So, I often categorized people as characters from books I had read, and then treated them accordingly.
Leah (who is obviously me as a character) does this all through the novel too. She becomes involved with a guy who reminds her of Prince Myshkin from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and so she instantly puts herself in the role of the tragic female character of that novel to support that fantasy. At the end of the book Leah flees her disastrous life in Seattle to start over in San Francisco, and the only way she can process that decision is by comparing herself to Anna Karenina jumping in front of the train. You’ll see this over and over again throughout the book. Leah is so frightened by “real life” that the only way she can interpret her experience of it is through story.
*What were some challenges writing this book.
Um, wow. I could write ten pages on this. Well, the first draft took me over two years to write. It came out to about 800 pages, and it then took me another nine years to cut and rewrite and revise. I probably rewrote the whole book at least five times. Putting it all together structurally was kind of a nightmare.
Beyond the actual process of writing it, the book contains really, really personal stuff. And a lot of it is super embarrassing. I detail incidents in that book that I hadn’t told my closest friends about. There are sections that are sexually explicit, and other sections that are incredibly emotionally intimate. I was terrified of what people would think of me.
I resolved to bury the manuscript in the backyard and never think about it again at least 20 times. And then I finally published it.
*Name the rewards of writing it.
Ha, I could write ten pages about this too! Well, first of all I felt a huge sense of relief once it was out of my desk drawer and into the world. I do believe that releasing your work into the world is the essential last step in the creative cycle for any writer. If you have a ton of work stuffed away that no one has ever seen, it’s just as mentally unhealthy as it would be if you were a hoarder and living in a house stuffed with piles of newspapers.
Second of all, I made the most unlikely and unexpected connections through the book. Readers messaged me on Facebook and emailed me directly to tell me how strongly the book resonated with them. All the stuff that I was so embarrassed about and was cringing over…well, they loved it. They told me they thought it was hilarious or beautiful or just awesome. That was a really, really cool thing for me to see, that I’m not the only one that’s gone through dark times.
*What is the message you want others to walk away with?
I want others to read this book and know that they don’t have to hide themselves. It’s okay if you have or are currently struggling with addiction, or low self-worth, or messed up stuff from your past. Other people are going through it too. We’re all human and none of us are alone in this. I also hope that people are just plain entertained by the book. Readers have told me that they read it all in one night because they just couldn’t keep from going on to the next chapter, and then the next. I think that’s something every writer wants to hear, that the book you wrote was just actually a lot of fun for people to read.
*Hindsight is 20/20. Put on your hindsight glasses and write a letter to your younger self. What would the letter say? What would you say to Lo?
Well, after living with her myself, I can honestly say there is no telling Lo anything. She is completely ego-based and runs entirely on fear. That’s her role in this life and that’s cool. But I would tell Leah that everything is going to work out, and that everything she’s living through is going to be in a book someday. I think that would have made her very happy.
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Don’t miss out on Lauren’s other book, The INFJ Writer
THANKS FOR JOINING US ON THE WRITING TRAIN