Very happy to have Alison Gresik with us today.
Alison is a writer and coach and is currently traveling the world (most recent stop: Holland) with her husband and children.
She also coaches writers and artists who are prone to depression and want to make their art a priority.
Earlier this year you wrote a post about walking depression which struck such a chord with me. Now you’re working on Pilgrimage of Desire, a memoir of your recovery from depression. Why this book? Why now?
Pilgrimage of Desire found me and won’t let me go.
The book brings together every aspect of my self — writer, coach, traveller, wife, mother, daughter, spiritual seeker, entrepreneur — in a way that is very artistically satisfying. I’ve been telling pieces of my story, in person and on my blog, but I wanted to assemble it into a crafted whole that would have more impact.
As for why now, this period of my life feels like crossing a threshold. I’m stepping out of a quiet, settled existence and into the world, physically and virtually, in a bigger way. Pilgrimage of Desire ushers me over that threshold and into a more open, genuine relationship with others. The book feels very alive and of the moment, and I have this urgency to get it into people’s hands.
In the literary world, it’s not always cool to have an agenda for one’s work. There’s this idea of “art for art’s sake” and not imposing meaning on it. But I am writing this book for a purpose. I want it to change people, to inspire them to bring their disparate selves together and strike out in the direction of their desires. It’s not enough for me to be happy — I want to spread happiness like an echo in a canyon. That sounds so incredibly uncool even as I write it, but that’s the truth.
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You’re crowd-funding the self-publishing of Pilgrimage of Desire. What have you learned about yourself and others through this fundraising experience?
I’ve never been good at asking for help — I have this independent streak a mile wide. I like having control instead of relying on the good graces of others. So this fundraiser has challenged me to reach out and trust that people want to help, that they believe in my work and will extend themselves to see my project succeed.
As artists, I think we all reach a point where we have to recruit others to our cause if we want our creations to have the scope and power they deserve. So this fundraiser is great practice in advocating for myself and my writing, something that every professional artist needs to be adept at.
And doing this has reminded me that in giving there is receiving. When I worry that I’m putting people out by asking for money and publicity, I try to remember what they’re getting back: the joy of being useful, the fulfillment of being invested in an important project, and the pleasure of connection. Friends, family, and strangers have stepped forward to back this campaign, and they seem delighted to do it. So when I feel shy about sending out yet another email request, I remember that I’m giving people a gift too — the gift of doing communal good.
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How is the experience of writing your memoir influencing your fiction work?
In practical terms, it’s distracting me from it! I have a middle grade children’s novel in progress — I’ve just had it professionally edited in anticipation of a major revision — but the demands of the memoir mean that I’m not working on the novel right now.
From the perspective of my creative process, the memoir is taking me to a new level of confidence and flow that I’m sure will transfer back to my fiction writing.
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In your coaching practice you help writers and artists learn to create art-committed lives. What is an art-committed life?
The term “art-committed life” was coined by Eric Maisel in his book Creativity for Life, meaning that “a person can spend a lifetime creating in a particular domain to which she decides to devote herself.”
And my take is that when you design and live an art-committed life, everything revolves around your identity and work as an artist.
I may not spend every waking hour writing, but I travel like an artist — observing and collecting material, making each stop on the trip meaningful. I mother like an artist — giving my kids inspiring adventures, listening with empathy. Right now I’m fundraising like an artist — taking breaks for sightseeing and coffee on the terrace instead of spending 24/7 on my computer.
I also make sure that my writing practice gets the best I have to give. When I sit down to work, I’m happy, rested, and not rushed. Those are the best conditions for flow. Many of my clients have a tendency to push their art to the fringes, and spend only the dregs of their time and energy in the studio. An art-committed life means that your creative work is privileged and central to your purpose.
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In 2011 you sold your house and headed off with your husband and two kids on a world wide trip. Where have you found truth and beauty in this adventure?
This morning, in the smell of mown hay, sheep bleating in the field, and bicyclists sailing by on the path outside our window here in Zuid Holland.
Last week, in the colourful house of a Frenchman named Benoit, who offered us beds, champagne, and sparkling conversation when we couch-surfed with him. In the way I’ve fallen more deeply in love with my husband and children because we’re sharing this enchanting time together. In the times of uncertainty and homesickness and setbacks, too, which remind us of what this lifestyle costs and why it’s worth it.
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Who are your biggest supporters and what does their support allow you to do?
My husband Shawn makes this whole life possible for me, by sharing the dream and the workload, by keeping the faith and doing the dishes.
My parents and parents-in-law have also been wonderful, despite the fact that we’ve taken their grandchildren half a world away. Their unconditional love creates a sense of safety that makes it easier to take the kinds of risks we’re taking.
And the book designer I’m working with, Michelle Farinella, has held the vision for Pilgrimage of Desire and given my words gorgeous life. This memoir would not exist without her.
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What are your favorite books and what are you reading now?
A few books have stood out for me this year. There’s Martha Beck’s latest book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, which inspires me as a model for Pilgrimage of Desire, since Martha weaves her personal experiences so organically with her coaching advice and exercises. This book has many stories about her encounters with animals and her visits to a game reserve in Africa.
I stumbled across the science fiction book WOOL by Hugh Howey, which is not only a terrific novel about a society living underground in silos, but also a rags-to-riches story of Howey’s success in self-publishing. Since January, he’s been able to quit his day job to write, and now has traditional publishing contracts and movie deals. Months later, the characters and images from that book are still with me.
This fundraising period has made it hard to focus for reading, but when I do have a minute, I’m enjoying the middle grade historical novel The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, who’s also campaigning to self-publish a companion novella to her next children’s book.
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Is there anything else you’d like to say?
The first few chapters of Pilgrimage of Desire are available to read at Michelle’s site. And I would love for people to check out the Indiegogo fundraiser before June 6 and support the project. (Look at me, asking for help!)
Alison Gresik is the author of Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Intimate Journal of Art and Flow as a Way of Life. She also coaches writers and artists who are prone to depression and want to make their art a priority. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.