Mary Akers: I loved your SOS piece “Betty” and the way your narrator watches and describes the scene for us then re-imagines it from another angle. God, I feel like poor Betty most days. Wandering, searching, naked. It’s such a great allegory, really. And then the interactions between the other women, efficient Ann, who also covets the lavender shirt. This story is so rich. Can you tell me a little about what inspired it?
Debbie Ann Ice: I work out at that YMCA regularly, and one afternoon I noticed these older women wandering around looking into lockers. I had seen them before. I think they were in a swim aerobics class certain days at the same time. One was very much like the Betty in the story, and yes she did lose her locker, so the others were helping out. I just loved them– their way of accepting the situation, how they all worked together. No one made a big deal about losing one’s clothes. No one teased Betty. No one rolled their eyes. No one acted like they were in a hurry. “This is who we are,” their way of being said to me. “We are old and we lose things. And we are managing just fine, thank you!” So, of course, I couldn’t get enough of them, I soaked them into my bone marrow. Do you do that sometimes? Soak up people you notice and think are terrific? If I didn’t pause to write, I think I’d follow people around. I would be on TV, handcuffed, some older woman telling the reporter, “She seemed nice at the gym, but then I noticed her car behind me, then in my driveway.”
I did peek into lockers and help. But the rest of the story was simply inspired by observing them and trying to figure out Betty, her loss, her lostness. I can imagine losing a loved one feels like wandering around naked and being unable to find your clothes. And who cannot relate to that?
By the way, I lose things all the time, and I do forget where I parked my car in big parking lots.
MA: Betty learning to “place” herself speaks to me. Like Ann in the story says, aren’t we all placing ourselves all the time? And after a monumental loss like Betty’s it strikes me that she would not only be placing herself, but REplacing herself in her changed landscape. Do you think Betty will find her new place without Gene?
DAI:Of course she will! Betty owns herself. She’s just temporarily lost and naked. There are always these Anns and Andreas hanging around to guide people. Everybody wants to help a Betty because we admire those who own themselves, who strive to survive, not linger. Besides, we are all Bettys wondering around naked at some point in our life. Don’t you think?
MA: Yes, I do. Which brings me to one of my favorite questions to ask of contributors: What does “recovery” mean to you?
DAI:I think everyone has a different definition. My definition of recovery is the time it takes to move from defining yourself by the impact of the world upon you to defining yourself as your impact upon the world. Severe stress, trauma, loss, addiction are huge pains that require lots of work. But every day holds little pains for everyone, small hiccups, we all have to recover from. A bad phone conversation, a rejection of some sort, your kid talking back to you, you and your husband fighting etc. If you let these pains define you, you risk giving yourself permission to act horribly, because you see yourself as a product, not a mover.Dickens described people in one of his books (Tale of Two Cities I think) as houses that hold great mysteries inside, mysteries we can only guess at. A little light escapes the windows, we see shadowy movement, we notice the paint on the outside, we notice the roof that needs repair, we see the driveway with a few potholes. But we can only imagine what is taking place inside. Sometimes what happens inside is horrifying, so horrifying the outside of the house starts looking worn down–the paint peels, the roof falls apart, the driveway potholes sit there. Recovery is handling whatever has to be handled in such a way that the house returns to a good condition. It starts to look OK again, holds up well during the seasons and fits nicely into the neighborhood.
This is why it’s best to refrain from concluding anything about anyone based upon outside appearances, or mistakes, or a bad day. Judgment blinds one to the fact that inside the house is a mystery.
MA: Maybe you’ve already answered this, but since it was my next question, I’ll go ahead and ask. This past week I had a chance to promote r.kv.r.y. and I would tell people that we are a themed journal, with the notion of recovery at its core. Then I would add, when the person looked doubtful, that “After all, we’re all recovering from something.” Do you think this is a true statement?
DAI:Everybody has something they are dealing with. Even the most perfect person (and in my town there are a ton of perfect people! They frighten me!) has something they are trying to deal with. How they deal with it defines them. And everyone has their own plan unique to them.
Some people have to recover from their recovery! I read this terrific essay in New York Times magazine by a writer who had been seeing therapists for 40 years. 40 YEARS!! And what she could not get over was something most all of us would consider, well, minor. She simply didn’t think her parents paid enough attention to her.Anyway, years and years, talking about the parents, then everyone else in her life and how they made her feel. blah blah blah. Totally cocooned in her past, her victimhood. She was a great writer, very honest about this, very funny. Anyway, finally, a therapist mentioned it may be time for her to try life without therapy. So she had to see a therapist who specialized in determining if she could live without therapy. Then, when those therapy results suggested that, yes, indeed she could live without therapy, she had to find a therapist who specialized in weaning her off therapy. She is now being treated– I kid you not!– for past addiction to therapy.
MA: That’s a great story. I think I know that person. And I may have to use that sometime–may I? I’ll pay you a dollar. (One of my writing mentors says if you use someone’s idea, pay them a dollar–that way it’s not stealing and you don’t have to feel bad about it.) On a more personal note, I know that you have two lovely canine daughters and that they often appear in your work. Here’s your chance to speak to the loveliness of the breed. Would you tell us all something that you’d like us to know about bulldogs?
DAI:Bulldogs have wrinkles that have to be cleaned.
Bulldogs have little bellies that sometimes drag through mud and puddles and leave their muddy imprint upon furniture.
Bulldogs wobble when they run. And they love to play, like toddlers.
Bulldogs have lots of health problems and require constant care.
Bulldogs are the most stubborn animals created. Once, on a walk, my two bulldogs decided “OK, no more walking. We’re tired and that’s it.” And there I was in a neighborhood, quite a distance from home, with two fat things blobbed out on the side of the road. I sat in the grass and waved at cars until Dora (the oldest and fattest) decided she would rather sleep on the couch, so slowly stood and started movement. I had to carry Daisy, who was younger at the time, half the way back. Everyone who passed in a car was laughing hysterically.
Bulldogs are misunderstood at dog parks. The average typical, non-bulldog dog has 100 different facial expressions and thus have amazing social skills. The bulldog can only make 10 distinct facial expressions due to excessive wrinkles. Thus dogs don’t get them right away. But when they do get them, they love them. This understanding has to be helped along by the caretaker.
Bulldogs sometimes put their heads and little cheeks on your shoulder. They crawl onto your lap like a
And here is a picture of my bulldogs sharing a bone. One chews on one end, the other on the other end.