The Best Way Out is Through: A Chat with Martha Moravec

Editor's Note: Martha Moravec is a novelist, playwright and lyricist who makes her home in southern Vermont. We've invited Martha to discuss the personal story behind her latest book Magnificent Obesity, the stories of others she has found inspiring, and offer advice to aspiring memoir writers. 

Signature: Your story is one that is both personal and revealing. Tell us about the moment when you knew you wanted to share it en masse?

Martha Moravec: It sounds gruesome, but a severe bout of colitis convinced me this book would be worth writing. I was aware that my mid-life heart attack had created a prolonged spell of panic attacks but when I also experienced an appalling loss of bodily functions for a year and a half, I realized how deeply my ego had been disturbed. The colitis, which I refused to treat, felt like a perverse catharsis or a fierce detoxification, not only of the body but also of the psyche. Talk about the mind-body connection! It felt incredibly powerful and seemed worth exploring.

SIG: Your story is so inspiring. What is the most important thing you hope readers take away from it?

MM: Two things. First: when it comes to conquering your demons, your fear and your pain, think Robert Frost: “The best way out is through.” And second, get help. Don’t waste a minute of your precious life feeling too ashamed or afraid, too embarrassed or stupid to ask for support. Don’t worry about appearing weak or childish, self-absorbed, needy, crazy, uncool or unmanly.  Don’t tell yourself you’re too busy, too old or too young, too important or not important enough, or that you don’t want to be a bother.  Be honest.  Be authentic.  Life is short.

SIG: What other published memoirs do you find particularly inspiring? Is there anyone else in the public eye who you find very inspiring?

MM: Inspiring is a loaded word. I have felt inspired by really good writing, such as I found in Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Mira Bartok’s The Memory Palace. But I don’t remember feeling uplifted or in-spirited by them. I do remember feeling profoundly moved by two books I read 40 years ago, although I don’t know what I would think of them now: Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento and Freeman Dyson’s Disturbing the Universe. They made me feel fully alive. As for inspiring public figures, the two that stand out for me (because of the example they made of their lives) are no longer with us: Nelson Mandela and Paul Newman.

SIG: What are your hopes for this next chapter in your life?

MM: I want to make my contribution in the way I’d always hoped I would. I want to make my living as a writer. I would like to sell the books I’ve written and to be given the health, energy and longevity to complete the books I still have planned. I want my works to make a difference. And when I’m not writing in my country home with its gourmet kitchen and tennis court, I want to be booking long weekends at the spa, traveling far and wide and meeting the world’s people.

SIG: What advice would you offer to those who have a story to share and wish to try their hand at memoir?

MM: Question your motives.  Know what they are. If you are seeking revenge, know it and work it into a story we can all relate to. What’s driving you? Anger? Sadness? The desire to teach or enlighten? No matter how personal or negative your reasons may be, work your material until you have transcended and transformed those reasons into subtle lessons for us all. Know your motive and line it up with your message.