“You’ll be dead in six months.” It was May 29, 1985. Those words started me on the path to become a writer. I just didn’t know it at the time. When I wrote my first book, a memoir intriguingly titled White Man’s Disease, I faithfully depicted the scene I vividly recalled where I was with my crying wife and the brain surgeon who said those words to me. White Man’s Disease was published 30 years after that scene took place.
I became a writer at age 58. When I woke up on the morning of December 6, 2014, I had no plans to write a book. When I went to bed that night, I was a writer. December 6 was my oldest daughter Kina’s wedding day. In the months leading up to the wedding she would occasionally remind me of the father-of-the-bride’s obligation to address the wedding reception. “What am I supposed to talk about?” I would brusquely respond. I was not excited to speak to the room of friends, relatives, daughter’s friends I knew vaguely, and guests on my son-in-law’s side that I did not know at all. I do a fair amount of public speaking in my professional life, and am actually quite good at it, but it is something I have always just tolerated and never particularly enjoyed. “You’re supposed to talk about memories of me growing up,” Kina said.
Generally, memories of a daughter growing up is an easy lift for most fathers: standard stuff like school sports anecdotes, first date and prom stories, trips to Disney. Yes, I covered all of that. However, for me the most powerful memory of Kina growing up wasn’t standard at all, and my speech would lack authenticity if I did not mention it. When Kina was six years old, and I was 29, I was stricken by trauma—the medical situation which caused the aforementioned brain surgeon to utter the “you’ll be dead in six months” phrase to my wife and me. Upon my discharge from the hospital after twelve hours of brain surgery and weeks of hospitalization, I had to work on regaining my normal faculties—to the extent possible—including relearning how to walk at a normal gait. So, every day little Kina would grab her seeming giant dad by the hand, and with a cane in my other hand we would walk my mom’s neighborhood in Long Island, NY.
I incorporated the story about the walks with Kina in my wedding talk; but I went further. I needed to put context around the story; what led up to it, and amazingly, its aftermath. I say amazingly because I shared information at the wedding related to my convalescence and return to “normalcy” that I had hid and held inside for 30 years, out of shame and embarrassment—things my mom didn’t even know. Here’s the interesting thing: as I spoke, I could feel a huge burden lifting off my shoulders. The more I shared, the better I felt. It was liberating; cathartic; therapeutic. When the speech was over there “wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
I needed to hold on to that feeling I had when I was opening myself up to the wedding guests. I felt renewed, free, and empowered to be myself. So, I went back to my hotel room, got my iPad out and became a writer. I wrote everyday and it felt wonderful; like the wedding speech it was therapeutic. In fact, as White Man’s Disease approached completion a little over a year later, I underwent a little bit of a funk. Writing the book had become a passion, and I was worrying what life would be like without that passion. (Little did I know about the marketing effort that was in front of me—so my apprehension about my life being no longer heavily intertwined with White Man’s Disease was misplaced!)
My six-year-old writing muse, Kina, all grown up
White Man’s Disease was named Winner, Creative Nonfiction & Memoir, North Street Book Prize, a judged, independently published writing competition with a nice cash prize, and a few other perks. Winning Writers called White Man’s Disease “gripping and inspiring” in the press release announcing the award.
Accolades, and more importantly, reader feedback provided me with validation, and that has enabled me to maintain the good feeling I felt when I was writing. Just as I did after I finished that talk at my daughter’s wedding, I wanted to hold on to that feeling. So, it was an easy decision to write another book. The Joy of Cruising is my new book, a narrative nonfiction journey featuring amazing cruise travelers—millennials to 90-something’s; Grammy winner, Poker Hall of Famer, winner of the TV series Last Comic Standing, to “ordinary” cruisers doing extraordinary things. The Joy of Cruising will fascinate anyone who has ever cruised, aspires to take a cruise, or just loves travel. The Joy of Cruising seems a stark departure from White Man’s Disease, yet at the heart of both books is passion, and how passionate people do wondrous things.
Speaking of passion, I am passionate about writing. Besides the fact that writing enabled me to become comfortable with myself after living 30 years in a self-imposed confinement, it represents a way for this thoughtful, but off-the-charts introverted individual to communicate comfortably. And I crave validation from readers. Marketing a couple of books is very time-consuming for an independent author and I long to get back to writing.
My new book: The Joy of Cruising
While I am focused on marketing The Joy of Cruising right now the urge to write is gnawing at me. I had such a blast writing The Joy of Cruising, interviewing and telling the stories of the passionate cruisers that I featured, that I have begun to outline More Joy of Cruising. Sounds like a good reason for me to go book a cruise or two. You know, research.