Interview by Michael Pang
We all have a past. Our past is filled with joy and sorrow. Some take their joys for granted and carry around their sorrow as baggage. While other cherish their joys and grow from their sorrow to become stronger. And then there are those who take all of that experience and find ways of how they can use it to benefit others. We are truly blessed to have Fran Simone, author of “Dark Wine Water,” with us today.
Michael: Fran, can you tell us a little about your background?
Fran: I’m a retired Professor Emeritus from Marshall University in Huntington, WV. While there I taught classes in writing and also directed The West Virginia Writing Project, a statewide affiliate of the National Writing Project, University of California at Berkeley.
Michael: Wow, it must have been quite a journey you took to get you to teaching writing on a collegiate level. Where and when did your writing journey begin?
Fran: It began early on. From a young age, I was an avid reader. I attended an all girls’ Catholic High School where I was taught by nuns. Two in particular, Sr. Cecilia Madeline and Sr. Grace Marie were gifted teachers and shared their love of language with their students. Great role models. I credit them with my becoming a writer and a teacher of writing.
Michael: So, you mentioned that from a young age you were an avid reader, who are your favorite writers and how have they influenced your writing?
Fran: E.B. White is one of my favorites. Since my focus is on personal experience, I read lots of memoirs. Favorites in that genre would be Mary Karr, Vivian Gornick, Tobias Wolf, Rick Bragg. Joan Didion, Isabelle Allende and Patricia Hampl. Currently reading a beautiful novel by Wendell Berry.
Michael: Definitely an excellent list of writers. Now that you’re retired, what does a typical day in your life look like? And what is your writing routine within your day like?
Fran: I don’t write every day. But I set a modest goal of writing 750 words each week. So far I’ve been successful. This summer I am presenting workshops, at writing conferences, so I’ve spent time researching my topics and creating handouts.
Michael: That’s a great goal! Maybe, I’ll try doing that myself. What prompted you into writing your memoir, “Dark Wine Waters?”
Fran: Many loved ones experience a similar situation trying to navigate the choppy waters in an alcoholic marriage. I wanted to share both the highs and lows of my life with my husband, hence my subtitle: My husband of a thousand joys and sorrows. I also wanted to share my message of hope that loved ones can lead happy and healthy lives despite tragedy. In that sense it’s a story of redemption, hope and recovery. That theme is universal.
Michael: I love stores of hope and redemption. What advice can you give readers who might currently be in a similar marital situation?
Fran: Get help in any way you can from groups, counseling, etc. and encourage your loved one to get help as well. Try not to nag, threaten, and enable (not easy to do). Find out as much as you can about alcoholism. There’s a wealth of information online. I benefited from a twelve-step program. It may not be for everyone, but it works for me.
Michael: That’s great advice. What happens to us in the past makes us who we are today. How has the experience you had with your spouse changed who you are today?
Fran: I believe that I’m more compassionate and forgiving and less judgmental. But I had to do a lot of soul searching to get there and it wasn’t always easy.
Michael: If you could do it all over again from the point you met your spouse, what would you do differently?
Fran: I would not trade our early days together for anything. It was a great romance, which I describe in the first two chapters of my book. My husband was a kind, gentle soul with a disease. He was never mean, nasty, or abusive. When he drank, he simply disappeared into his own private world. I wish I had embraced a twelve-step program much earlier that I did. The program tools would have helped me deal with the situation a whole lot better than I did as his disease progressed.
Michael: In your book, you’ve divided it into four parts each opening with an epigraph of the disease stage. What are the four stages and what are some tell-tale signs of each stage?
Fran: Early stage – The alcoholic has a “wow” experience and begins to form a relationship with the drug. Denial begins to form.
Middle stage – The alcoholic becomes anxious, depressed and lacks joy. Use escalates and denial intensifies. Conflicts with family members emerge.
Late stage – The alcoholic experiences increased tolerance, cravings skyrocket, the body deteriorates, the drug dictates. He/she becomes isolated from family and friends.
Recovery – Recognizing that we are powerless and becoming willing to surrender. (I describe my own recovery but this applies to everyone in recovery.)
Michael: Definitely good signs to look for. So, what do you have in store next for your readers?
Fran: I am contributing to blogs on addiction and the family, including one Psychology Today Blog. I continue to write personal essays and speak to groups about addiction and recovery. I haven’t decided whether or not I will write another book.
Michael: Wow, Fran, you are so inspiring to me. You are using a bittersweet experience in your life to help others who might be in similar situations. It’s good to be able to stand back up and grow stronger after such experiences. But it is great to be able to then use it to benefit other. Thank you so much for sharing with us your story.
This article first appeared in the 8/5/2015 issue of The Examiner