Q&A with Sallie Weissinger
1. Why did you write this book?
I thought my experience might help people dig themselves out of the black hole of grief and loss. I hoped my efforts to keep moving forward could show people how meaningful activities can help them work through their darkness. I wanted to share my discovery that there’s more to life than finding a soul mate.
2. How was it different doing a personals search in the 2010s vs. the late 1970s – besides the fact that you were a lot older?
Well, the big change was that men had started lying – about their ages, backgrounds, interests, and activities – and their photos, well, often they were not exactly current. And I wasn’t prepared for how a number of the men were savvy in the art of searching for a mate – as if they’d taken some sort of course to develop impressive profiles. Back 40+ years, men I met were who they’d said they were, and they looked like their photos. Also they seemed more interested in knowing and asking about me back then.
I wasn’t prepared for the fact that many men my age (58 at the beginning) were looking for a woman ten and fifteen years younger than I was. I had evidently “aged out.” That realization was a punch in the solar plexus.
3. Is Yes, Again more than a search for HIM? I don’t mean this as a loaded question; I want your honest opinion.
When I started my journal, it was primarily about the search to find HIM – and I thought it would be faster and easier than it turned out to be. What I discovered was there were more than bumps in the road – there were fifteen years of stones, rocks, and more than a few boulders in the path. But as the journal became a book, I found I had reached a joyful place, as a single person with strengthened ties to family and dear friends, and a life with fulfilling activities. My heart was full from being of service to those in need in our community and abroad. While I hadn’t abandoned my search for a soulmate, I had learned how to be my own soulmate.
The serendipity is that, by realizing what I had learned, I was led to HIM.
4. What advice would you give someone 50+ who was looking for HIM or HER?
I’d say, if you’re doing the online personals, “Be careful!” Even though I was very cautious – I never gave out my last name or address, and I always had coffee shop meetings in daylight hours – I wasn’t expecting to meet liars, scammers, and a child molester. I wish I’d been more wary, more skeptical. I’d read about men trying to wheedle money out of women, but didn’t think anyone would try it with me. And yet two did. Fortunately they weren’t all that clever about it.
I tried not to blame myself for the grim encounters, but I wondered why I hadn’t been able to screen out more of the men who, to put it mildly, turned out to be disappointments. In time, I learned to tell myself, “Well, if this doesn’t go anywhere, treat yourself to something to perk up your spirits.” I found long walks were the way to regain my emotional equanimity. So my advice is for a seeker to be prepared for these ups and downs.
Two more things: I’d suggest Googling what sites are the best suited to your age category. People can check out the ratings and comments posted for personals sites for seniors. But the best option is to approach friends and ask if they know anyone to introduce you to. It’s hard – you feel like a beggar, or at least I did. I gulped a lot and swallowed hard each time I asked. It never got easy. But I kept telling myself, “It only takes one.” And “You lose by not trying.” I’d advise seekers to be thicker-skinned than I was.
5. What do you know now that you didn’t when you were doing your online search? What did you learn from your “school of hard knocks” experiences?
At the risk of sounding trite, I learned that my real search was to find all of me, not just the part of me that went missing when Matt died. And that, no matter what ultimately happened, I would accept that along with the merde, there was lot of grace in my life. That’s what Yes, Again is about.
6. What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
It got funnier. In the first few drafts, I got bogged down in sadness and disappointment. It’s said that tragedy turns into comedy with the passage of time, and fortunately that was true for me. Initially I saw myself as a clown, slipping on banana peel after banana peel, always falling on my ass. In time, I began to laugh at the embarrassing moments. When I told people about them, and they laughed, I knew I was on to something. (It also helped to have a comedy writer as an editor.) There was no way I could have anticipated that in the earlier drafts.
The second way my book changed was its out-of-the-blue ending, unexpected and stunning. Sixteen years of twists and turns led to a place I assumed was long past finding. Johnny Adams sang the truth in "There's Always One More Time." Maybe not always, but in this case, yes, again.
7. Are you inspired by other memoirs?
As much as I love novels, especially those by a favorite writer (Ann Patchett, Jane Smiley, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Wallace Stegner, and Walker Percy, to name a few), it’s no longer enough that fictional characters seem real, that they come across as someone believable and touchable. These days I want to know what really happened – or, at least, how the biographer / autobiographer / memoirist views what really happened. I loved Mary Catherine Bateson's 1989 book, Composing a Life, about the struggles and successes of five women intent upon creating meaningful professional and personal lives. Since then, I've read more and more biographies and memoirs, finding something absorbing with each one: Angela's Ashes, All Over but the Shoutin', and The Glass Castle stand out. More recently, Hillbilly Elegy, Educated, and both of the Obamas’ autobiographies have stayed with me, leaving me in awe of how some people find the strength to overcome Everest-sized challenges.
8. What did you leave out of this book?
Nothing of significance. But I almost didn't include anything about my five-week marriage back in the mid-1970s. Even most of my closest friends didn't know about that. I told Bart before we were married – I wanted him to know my every wart – but didn't intend to include it in the memoir. When dear friend Murray read the final manuscript, she urged me to come clean. It took a bit of time before I sat down and wrote about it.
A separate question is what I included that I wouldn't have if my parents were still alive. They would have highly disapproved of my doing the personals, both back in 1978 and even more so today. Matt and I told them that we met at the neighborhood ice cream store. That was true, but there was, of course, more to the tale. My daughter, Heather, eight years old at the time, heard the full story, but didn't understand how the personals worked. One day I heard her tell a friend that Matt and I had met on "Queen for a Day," a defunct television program series that she somehow knew about. If my parents were still alive, this would have been a different book or no book at all.
9. If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?
It would be Anne Lamott. I've recently reread her Bird by Bird, which I first latched onto twenty-five years ago. At the time, I didn't have plans to write anything, fiction or nonfiction, but assumed at some point I'd give it a try. Now I'm annoyed I didn't pick up her wise and witty instructions for writing when I was drafting this memoir. Her book, based on the years of classes she's taught, is filled with advice about overcoming writer's block, fighting perfectionistic tendencies (she calls this quieting "the voice of the oppressor"), and accepting unavoidable "shitty first drafts"; she admits she doesn't always follow her own advice and fesses up, self-deprecatingly, to her failures.
Best of all, Anne Lamott sprinkles her book with knee-slapping humor and homespun anecdotes. Who else would think of comparing a writer's mind "to a wayward puppy you are trying to paper train"? She states emphatically that we don't kick the puppy into the neighbor's yard when it piddles: "We keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what there is to be seen and noted." That's a visual image I'd like to have had when the right words just weren't coming. We all piddle.
10. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can offer about writing?
A big problem is how to fill the empty screen when you’re stuck. I follow the advice of established authors who say simply to start writing about something, anything. So I might write about how much I enjoyed my morning walk with the dogs, especially the look on the face of a toddler as we passed and my dog wagged his tail at her. If I sit down and start writing about that, in time the words might come to describe the day I realized I had to leave my husband, even though my daughter was only three years old and I had no idea how we'd survive. Often it works. Not always, though.
The second thing I've learned is to put first or second or third drafts aside for a day or more. That way I can come back to the keyboard with fresh eyes. I have the objectivity to see what’s wrong and fix it. That can give me the time and space to make the writing into something shinier and more insightful.