To celebrate the publication of Into the Woods and Out Again, I have a great post for you guys today (if I do say so myself). The author of the book, the lovely Dina Glouberman, let me ask a few questions about the book, her writing journey and being creative. Since I am a) a writer of sorts myself and b) ever curious (nosy), I loved the opportunity to come up with some questions for you and she has come up with some cracking answers. I do love nattering with writers! Grab a cuppa and we’ll get started.
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process when it came to Into the Woods and Out Again?
This book was years in the making. Memoirs are hard. Your life isn’t so easy to organise as a book of nonfiction. Just telling it chronologically is a way to organise it but it can be incredibly boring. I never wanted to tell the facts of my life, but to reveal the inner life that was going on in the background and what it all meant to me. I did send it round to friends who loved it, and laughed a lot at my black humour, but I just couldn’t make it work as a book. Then about two years ago, I decided I really wanted to do it, and I found a wonderful editor, Wanda Whiteley. She showed me how to organise it, what to cut, and what to bring forward. Suddenly the book sprung to life. And here it is now, in print, and hopefully about to enter the minds and hearts of readers.
You speak very honestly about your life in this memoir. Was that a terrifying experience or a liberating one (or perhaps a mixture of the two)?
I write about experiences that were terrifying, like going mad, but were also wonderful and illuminating. I also write about experiences that were wonderful, like starting Skyros Holistic Holidays on a Greek island, but were also terrifying and difficult, especially given that I also had two small children, a full time job, and lots of other work as a therapist and group leader. So when we go into the inner world, and the insights and learning that reside there, we find that most transformative experiences are both wonderful and terrifying and that is how it is meant to be.
But if you are asking me whether writing about the experiences honestly was terrifying or liberating, I would say that for me it was neither, because I take for granted a certain openness about myself both in my everyday life and in my writing. Perhaps it’s that old Jewish self deprecating sense of humour that has kept me sane. For me, rather, it was mainly a challenging creative opportunity to find a way to write about my experiences in a way that was honest, interesting, funny, and helpful to others.
Many years ago, I wouldn’t have talked about going mad because I would have feared that people would view it the wrong way. But those days are long gone. I am by nature an honest open person, and have always sought to offer people whatever I learned from my own experiences so as to say “If I can do it, so can you.”
But some bits were rather tricky, as when I talked about my family, because here I had to be very careful to speak the truth in a way that wasn’t hurtful to anyone I loved.
The theme of community is apparent in your work. Why is this something that you keep coming back to?
I have always felt happier in warm, honest, loving community atmospheres than in more formal institutions. My own experience in communities began with my community oriented summer camps when I was a child, that brought me out of myself to the extent that I used to say I had one personality at camp and another at school. When in my 20’s I had a breakdown and spent two or three months on a psychiatric ward, it was not the drugs or the staff, but the community of patients that healed me. Then in 1979, I co-founded Skyros holidays with my then husband, Dr. Yannis Andricopoulos. The wonderful holistic community oriented holidays based on the Greek island of Skyros, and later spreading worldwide, changed the lives of so many of the people who came. We offered wonderful courses, a world-class staff, and a beautiful Greek island environment, but in the end, it was the community that made the difference.
I knew that the centre of a transformative experience was the sense of being held by a loving honest community. In my picture, institutions are built of walls of brick and stone, indifferent to our coming and going; if we don’t like them, we vote with our feet and get out. Communities have walls made of people; if we don’t like what is happening, we move ourselves into a better shape by being both responsible and responsive. This keeps us human, and gives us a sense that we matter.
But the community had to be one where you could be accepted simply and unconditionally for who and what you are, and what you are becoming, and not for who you have been or should be. I later called this kind of community a “soul community”.
Nowadays, there is a lot of evidence that people who live in healthy communities where they are known, cared for, valued, and have a role, are generally healthier and live longer. But I always knew that, because that was where we were all happiest.
I used to go around in the early days of Skyros asking people ‘Would you rather be loved or be free?’ In a soul community, these are indivisible.
Throughout Into the Woods and Out Again, you write about a number of projects that you have focused on, whether that is your work as a psychologist, co-founder of Skyros Holidays or as a writer. Do you have a project that you prefer or do you enjoy the variety?
I love each of the projects, whether writing, or teaching, or doing therapy, or offering insights, or creating an atmosphere that works for people, and they become more or less significant depending on where I am in my life at that time. But what I love is the creative and intuitive connection to each of them, the moment of being creative about something or with someone. What I don’t love is the admin and organising and checking and listing that make them work in the real world. And some of this can’t be handed over to someone else, because there are certain things that only the person with the vision can do.
How do you balance so many plates?
That’s a good question, and when I find an answer to it, I will be enlightened. Let me just say: With difficulty. It works when I am both relaxed and focussed, and not having to do it as if my life depends on it. It works when I make a list for the day, and cross off each thing in turn, and don’t mind if I don’t do it all. It works when all the deadlines don’t collide with each other. But sometimes, it’s hard and I have to keep whispering to myself: I can do this one step at a time.
You speak frankly about burnout and your study of it. What are your tips for keeping it in check ?
That is a very long story, and I’ve written a whole book about it, called The Joy of Burnout. But to put it briefly: As long as you are wholehearted about what you do, you will probably find the energy and the joy to accomplish miracles. But if your heart goes out of the situation, either because it has changed or you have, and you drive yourself forward anyway, you are in danger of burning out. It is probably because your identity is tied up in the old path you were on and you can’t bear to reconsider. So to head off burnout, step back, reconsider, decide if you want to change your attitude, change the situation or leave the situation, but don’t keep on keeping on blindly.
And if you are starting to burn out, my mottos is: Stop. Give up Hope. Keep the Faith. That means:
Stop holding it all together.
Give up the hope of whatever it was that was driving you forward and seemed more important than life itself. You may never never have it or become it.
Keep the faith that no matter what happens, you yourself can always be okay.
Think of yourself as the goose with the golden eggs. You’ve always taken care of the golden eggs first. Now it’s different. In a choice between the goose and the golden eggs, always take care of the goose first. Your golden eggs will come naturally if you yourself are thriving.
Dina Glouberman’s new memoir Into The Woods and Out Again is out in June, priced £9.99. In it, Dina reveals the inside story of her remarkable life, ranging from her experience of madness, to her adventures setting up Skyros Holistic Holidays on a Greek island.
Thank you so much for answering all of my questions Dina!