Sharon van Ivan began her memoir, Juggle and Hide, in Los Angeles in 2004, just after the death of her mother. She and her husband, the renowned realist artist Charles Pfahl, had moved to Los Angeles to be close to Sharon’s mother. Sharon sought out a writing group as she was having trouble diving into the painful story that was the early part of her life. Encouraged by her husband and Daisy White – director of a small writing group in West Hollywood — she moved forward. The result was the memoir that was finally published as promised to her husband (who died October 4, 2013). So, she kept her promise.
The book is available at Amazon.com and the cover image is the painting Juggle and Hide done by her husband when they were still living in Los Angeles. Sharon lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico — for the time being — with her cats, The Duke and Earl, and plans a big move back to New York in the not so distant future. There she hopes to return to writing – this time about Charles Pfahl and their love and friendship and then the terrible loss. Another survival story for Sharon.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Juggle and Hide. When did you start writing and what got you into writing your memoir?
I am mainly a screenwriter and I have also adapted other writers’ books into screenplays. The death of my mother after a long struggle with alcohol-induced dementia (even though she had been sober 40 years when she died) was really what pushed me into writing my memoir. I had kept journals over the years – a ton of them – and I started to look back and didn’t come back to the present till I was finished. I’m thinking about another part of my story now, but it’s too painful at the moment. Again, I’ll have to wait till I’m less vulnerable.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
I worked for the novelist Howard Fast for a few years, and during that time I learned to trust myself to write and to not get too caught up in the end result. He taught me to “just write.” I also worked as the assistant to the great independent filmmaker, John Cassavetes, for several years. I learned a great deal from him, too. A great deal.
I am a high-level procrastinator and, left to my own devices, I would never settle down to write, let alone finish a project. There was a lot of outside encouragement and “pushing” to get me to sit down and start my memoir. The impetus, as I mentioned earlier, was the death of my mother. She had a horrific childhood and her life was a struggle – every day of her life was a struggle. She was a good person, but had no life skills. In telling my story I told her story, as well. That was a bit terrifying. I don’t know she would have reacted to the book. I hope she would have realized how much I loved her.
Who is your target audience?
I think anyone who has had an alcoholic or drug addicted parent, anyone who has suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, anyone who felt different growing up because they were ashamed of their homes lives – basically anyone who had a dysfunctional family life would be my audience. And also all those survivors who have reached that point in their lives where they can stop blaming others and accept responsibility for themselves. In other words, just about anybody who has lived and loved and is still here to talk about it.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
I think love is the most important part of our lives. I was searching for love all of my life. I found it early and lost it and then found it again with the same person many years later. We had both changed because the second time around, we had stopped drinking and doing drugs and were able to appreciate how lucky we were to have found each other again. And, more importantly, how lucky we were to have a second life. That’s how I think of alcoholism and drug addiction. When you stop drinking and drugging, you get a life – one you never would have imagined. I know both my husband and I would have been dead at least 20 years ago, if we hadn’t changed our lives so radically. His parents were alcoholics, too. His mother and father were my mother’s sponsors way back in the 1960s – before he and I had even met. I hope the readers will see that we are all survivors and if we keep going – and learn as we go – that we can have good lives filled with love and friendship – in spite of ourselves.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
I experience anxiety before I do almost anything – even if it’s something wonderful like writing. I’ll do anything to avoid sitting down to write: I’ll deadhead the roses outside or pull weeds or go buy groceries that I suddenly find essential or call friends. Sometimes I’d even rather clean house than write. And I hate to clean.
Where is your book available?
Juggle and Hide is available at Amazon.com and also through my publisher’s website CygnetPress.com. I was afraid to have the memoir published at first, but now that it’s out there, I am kind of excited to see what will happen to it, how it will be received. I want it to be read now. At first I kept telling the publisher, Timothy B. Anderson at Cygnet Press, that I didn’t care if anyone read it. That I only wanted to be able to let people see the cover because it was an image of a painting my husband Charles had done. He was a great painter. And I miss him so much. I think I want it to be read now because of him – and the promise I made to him.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
Of course, it’s ideal if you have the support of your spouse or partner. Not that they have to be totally wrapped up in what you’re doing – they should have their own lives. But I would have found it impossible to write if Charles hadn’t been so supportive. I am a little negative sometimes and I need support and encouragement. I think if you can continue to write without the support at home, you have to find that support elsewhere. Perhaps in a writing group. Or friends. Other writers. I wouldn’t suggest leaving someone you love because they don’t support your writing. On the other hand, if you have to leave to fulfill your goals, then leave.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
I’m no George Orwell, but my life was a “horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness…” until I started writing — and until I was reunited with the love of my life.
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