Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Sherry Sidoti Interview - A Smoke and a Song

Photo Content from Chelsea

Sherry Sidoti is an author and the founder and lead director of FLY Yoga School, a yoga teacher training program, and FLY Outreach, a not-for-profit that offers yoga and meditation for trauma recovery on Martha’s Vineyard. A certified Labor Doula, Addiction Recovery Coach, and Somatic Attachment Therapy Program graduate, she leads spiritual courses, teacher training, and retreats globally. Her musings, infused by twenty years of practicing and teaching yoga, healing arts, and mysticism have been published by The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Heart & Soul Magazine, Elephant Journal, and Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly. Her essay “Mosaics” is featured in the 2022 She Writes Anthology: Art in Times of Unbearable Crisis. Sherry is most devoted to her greatest teacher, her son Miles, whose love, sensitivity, humor, and wisdom illuminate her path. A Smoke and a Song is Sherry’s first book. She currently resides on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
Befriend your teachers, question the teachings.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
It's a toss between The Collected Poems by my grandfather, the late poet Stanley Kunitz, and Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Early. These two books of poetry are technically outside my genre, yet are memoir in their own right. These poets remind me to connect from my heart to the natural world from a felt sensory place, and, while not always good at it, to use words sparingly.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
Be truly and madly in love with your subject matter. Writing is no fling, it’s long-term love. You will breathe, eat, walk, go to bed with your writing. Like any relationship, it deserves attention, open communication, respect, and a willingness to sit in the fire of transformation and learn from it. At times ruthless, others tender and caring, your writing serves as a mirror: you look to it, and it will reflect to you what you sometimes cannot see in yourself.

Be open to asking for support and create your “circle” of people along the way. Go to therapy! Move your body daily! Make sure you get out of the house sometimes! Live fully, even when consumed by your writing. Actively participating in life aside from writing will keep you whole and inspire your stories.

What chapter was the most memorable to write and why?
“His Lamb”, 100%.

The story was written minutes after my son drove off to move out of our home and into his own apartment. I was living the “feels” of empty nesting in real time. It was an overwhelming moment— I was cracked open, raw, desperate even. All I could do was spill that pure emotion to the page and give it a place to land.

Can you tell us when you started A SMOKE AND A SONG, how that came about?
A Smoke and a Song found me ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic. A confusing time for all of us and I, as the rest of the world, was taking major inventory of what mattered most. Exhausted from pivoting two back-to-back yoga teacher trainings to online, I decided to take a sabbatical from teaching. Quite simply, I was “tapped out,” with little left to offer others on their healing journeys. I had just turned fifty, was menopausal, and on the cusp of empty nesting. I was in the middle of moving out of the home where I lived and raised my son for eighteen years (the home I busted my ass to keep after my divorce!). Newly engaged, my fiancé and I purchased a parcel of land where we planned to build our “second-chance” life, literally from the ground up. Every aspect of my life as I knew it, was up for review.

Amid all of this, came the news: My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Unable to sleep, I’d wake daily at 3:22 a.m. (side bar: that is my mother’s birthdate, which was not surprising). Memories long-since forgotten came bursting to the forefront again. Creative, spontaneous inspiration followed the memories. During the dark time of the morning that the mystics call “the shamanic hour,” I’d get up, make coffee, do a little breath work, move my body for a minute, meditate, then sit outdoors, and cathartically write until the sun came up. Over the next two years, what started as disorganized, frazzled, written snippets of my life, shape-shifted into my memoir.

What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I cannot say it was love at first sight. But as a complete novice in the publishing world, I had made a pact with myself to trust the process and the professional experience of my publisher. We made some small tweaks, yes, but mostly, falling in love with my cover was a choice I made— like an arranged marriage.

  • 1. The entire book was written in the dark, outdoors on my deck, between 3:30am and 7:00am
  • 2. The original name of the book was In the Folds of My Skin.
  • 3. The original subtitle was A Daughter’s Memoir of Living in the Layers.
  • 4. The first chapter “Kitchen Window” was originally the last chapter.
  • 5. I first wrote the book in past tense and about six months in the journey, I decided it needed to be in the present tense instead. I had to comb out the “ahas” of what I know now and simply tell the story from where I was at the age of each chapter. I chose this way so the reader could make their own meaning relative to their own experience.
  • 6. While writing and editing the book, I got engaged, built a house from the ground up, got married (and nearly divorced— just kidding!), closed my yoga business and non-profit, and my son left for college. Oh, and I decided to grow out my grays!
  • 7. While editing my manuscript I took a four-month online course on Attachment Theory and Strategy and Polyvagal Theory to better understand and be able to “show” the complexities of what motivates our behaviors, how this looks physically in our bodily response, and how it effects our methods of communication in relationships. I used what I learned to enhance the scenes between the characters, specifically with dialogue, and relaying the physical reactions the characters displayed in the scenes.
  • 8. I used a meditation practice called “Five-Sense-Awareness” to go into each writing session, so that I could “plop” myself directly into a setting and into the hearts and minds of the characters. I used my yoga practice to come out of every writing session to rebalance my nervous system from the triggers that often took place while writing past experiences.
  • 9. My grandma’s painting “Tiger, Tiger” (mentioned in the book) currently hangs in my son’s bedroom.
  • 10. I still have my son’s stuffed animal lamb.
What is your happiest childhood memory?
Sunset, riding the subway home, with my sisters beside me and my head in my mother’s warm lap, while she unknots my hair. I am salty and sandy and so darn sleepy after a full day of wave-tumbling, knish and ice cream-eating, and boardwalk-strolling at Brooklyn’s Brighten Beach.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Coffee. Always coffee. Café Bustelo, hand poured through a recycled filter, a little milk, a little honey.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Love with a broken heart, every time! It’s worth the pain. Plus, it lends itself for great writing material later!

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
When did I turn into my mother?

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
There is no better feeling than this, right here, right now.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would have added a disclaimer on the first page of the book. It would read something like this:

Memory is not a life timeline of events, and neither is my memoir.
Memory is a felt sense that lives behind the knees, in the marrow of my bones, between toes. I taste it in my coffee, it’s in the ashes I haven’t yet cleaned in the wood stove. Mine is in the songs I no longer play, it’s on sticky skin, in open pores. I dream from memory. Memory meets my yoga mat, my meditations, words on the page.

How and what we remember will always be deeply personal, subject to the complexities of who we are and the lens we look through: coping mechanisms, survival strategies, our interpretation of our upbringings, belief systems, traumas, triumphs, family inheritance, world view, politics, people, point of reference, spiritual practices, what we ate for breakfast even, to name just a few.

My story will never be your story.

And yet sometimes, it is.

I touch my pain to remember how I have healed.

So you can do the same.

I touch my sweet and tender spots to remember my strength.

So you can do the same.

I touch the loneliness to remember I am loved.

So you can do the same.

I touch the chaos to repair-back/repair-forward, seven generations.

So you can do the same.

Any Camp stories you would like to share?
As a New York City girl, spending time outdoors during my six summers at Camp Wawa Segowea in Massachusetts was life changing. I have so many coming-of-age stories from camp, but the top three are:
  • 1) Evenings on the lake in a rowboat with my bestie Erica (we were so inseparable everyone called us “Sherica”) eating Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and gossiping about boys we wanted to kiss before the summer ended.
  • 2) Hiking the Adirondack Trail through New England. Erica led the pack, I took up post behind the line of campers.
  • 3) My last summer, as a Counselor in Training, Erica and I nearly got kicked out because we had “three strikes” against us: The first, we were caught sneaking off campus to meet up with a gaggle of eighteen-year-old boys who drove from the city to see us (we were fifteen). The second, the camp director busted us smoking cigarettes behind the tennis courts. The third, we memorized a kid’s dad’s calling card number and used it to make long distance calls. Note: our parents made us pay back every cent to the dad.
What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A hidden underground chamber below the basement of a home my husband was painting. It was hidden behind one of those faux bookshelves. The chamber was made completely of stone and had iron hand shackles laid into the stone walls. It was horrific! Lord knows what creepiness happened in that house.

When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
About three minutes ago, to my elderly and completely deaf cat Shadow, who often sits by my feet while I write. She looked up to me and I batted my eyelashes at her, which my son tells me is “cat-speak” for I love you.

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
This past March, I took a trip to Mexico with a handful of girlfriends to celebrate one of their fiftieth birthdays. We laughed, deep-cramping-in-the-belly, pee-in-your-pants laughter about a hundred times a day for the entire week!

January 2021, ten months into the global pandemic, Sherry Sidoti’s mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer—so Sherry prioritizes a trip to Manhattan over long-awaited empty-nesting and her “second chance” with fiancé Jevon. With new life blooming and loss looming, she is beckoned to answer the question that has haunted her since: Is freedom found in “letting go,” as the spiritual teachers (and her mother) insist, or is it found by digging our heels deeper into the earth and holding on to our humanness?

A Smoke and a Song is Sidoti’s story of her quest to find meaning in her memories. Told with tenacity, tenderness, and wry humor, Sidoti stumbles toward self-actualization, spiritual awakening, and, despite it all, love. This is a story steeped in art and spirituality that explores the complexities of transgenerational maternal bonds, attachment, loss, and leaning in to our wounds to find the wisdom.

You can purchase A Smoke and a Song at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SHERRY SIDOTI for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Smoke and a Song by Sherry Sidoti.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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