Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Action plan. Writing about health care.

photo-66For today can I just write a blog about writing a blog? Of course I can. I’m the boss of me. Except that I started writing another piece today, one I realize could be considered controversial and should only see the light of day under deep pseudonym in the AARP magazine backpages–so I feel less the mistress of my own freedom than any thinly veiled braggadocio might suggest. That piece, the one you will likely not read, is about the atrocities of getting old in the changing workplaces of an ageist society where you are unappreciated as a still fierce force to be reckoned with. Instead the piece reads more like a Human Resource reportable incident than a blog post and do we really want to go there? If you do, message me discreetly.

So anyway, in the spirit of positivity, let’s talk about a new project instead. This March I attended the annual conference “Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professionals” at Harvard. I admit it was daunting to spend time with two hundred medical experts and hearing their pitches for what could easily become the next medical blockbuster. We met with agents, editors and publicists and attended three days of lectures on such topics as “How to Get Your Message Out in Today’s Changing Media Environment,” “Narrative Writing in Healing: The Power of Stories,” and “Publishing is Changing the Way Medicine is Practiced.” Participants left the conference all charged up with action plans and brand new twitter accounts. I left geared up to do…something. During the workshops I made a pretend pitch to write a patient-centered handbook, titled something like So How Was Your Week?, which would explain, in a conversational Anne Lamott-y tone, what to expect from your psychiatric encounter. I practiced and pitched it and got good marks for my delivery to a panel of a dozen agents and editors and the aforementioned two hundred others. No agents swarmed me for a book deal, nor did I really want one. My handbook just didn’t have the punch of, say, revolutionary non-pharmacological ways to beat the common headache forever or how one surgeon brings the dead back to life or the slam dunk memoir potential of impoverished illegal immigrant cures blindness (maybe I embellished a bit here) What I really want to do anyway is find ways of talking about how we feel about doing health care, how do our stories matter in the schema of Obama-care and litigation and insurance insanity? I’ll never be an Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, I’m just a worker on the front lines. But what if stories like mine and those of my colleagues could shine a light on the complexities of today’s health care and create better communication with patients, families, colleagues, legislators? What if we could promote health care by making our process more transparent? What if we found words to support each other during this process? Working on the front lines can be a lonely and misunderstood endeavor. Our stories have great potential to heal and I want to talk about ways to do this.

So in the positive spirit of staying close to home and writing what you know, starting in May I’ll be working with the marketing and communication team at my local hospital to do some interviews and write some blogs and connect with my colleagues and patients to do the same. Stay tuned. In the meantime here are several collections with beautiful narrative, moving examples of the genre.

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris, Seal Press 2015.

Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, She Writes Press 2015.

Same Time next Week: True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness, edited by Lee Gutkind, InFact Books, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Hybrid

I have decided to publish “Dumped: Women Unfriending Women” with SHE WRITES PRESS. SHE WRITES was co-founded by Brooke Warner, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. Brooke was the Acquisitions Editor for Seal Press (the first hot shot non-fiction folks who published my early essays) and she is also a bad girl (gave people wine from under her display table at the AWP conference last March even though the security guards told her to stop.) (She reminded me of me as a teenager.) (Only smarter. Taller.) More importantly, being a “bad girl” means that she was willing to leave behind the norms to create, with co-founder Kami Wycoff, a hybrid publishing model. “Hybrid” falls between the “still not ready for prime time” concept of self publishing and the traditional route which has begun to erode in our digitized and transitioning literary culture. Gutsy, professional and transparent, SHE WRITES may just be leading the way for a whole new deal in publishing.

Did I (do I) dream of the traditional route? Getting on the train to Manhattan to lunch with my agent and strike a big advance with a major publishing house? That image also has me in white gloves, nylons, and a tight waisted suit, much like the one my mother would have worn when she accompanied my father to do just that when I was a little girl. And if I focus on that, I might just end up too old to even get on the train without serious help. My initial forays into that world were pleasant enough, some generous assistance finding an interested agent, but for the Catch-22, the details of which I have already bemoaned adequately.

Brooke consulted on my non-fiction book proposal- a traditional thirty seven page “learning experience” which was likely more time consuming than the final product will be, and we suddenly asked ourselves why I didn’t publish with SHE WRITES? The vetting process a success, SHE WRITES has now accepted it for Fall 2014 publication.

Dumped will be a collection of essays written primarily by women about that awful moment when you are erased from a friendship more meaningful than even the basic romantic relationship. You expect romantic relationships to break up, the entertainment industry and a good part of literature revolves around that loss. You feel as though there should be an Adele song for you, but there isn’t.

My “pitch” goes like this:dumped cvr blog 1

“The essays in Dumped aren’t stories of friendship dying a mutually agreed upon death, like when you fall out of touch and a decade later find each other and you haven’t missed a beat. These are the stories about suddenly finding yourself erased, without context, possibly without worth, undefined. The stories that stay with you, maybe for a lifetime. I want textured, layered, messy, funny- with anger, sexual confusion, redemption, hopelessness and social context. What did it really mean to be deleted, discarded, deserted?” By the ones you most trusted?

I  have a number of essays I am reviewing from women all over the country, I have some works in progress by some outstanding writers- Jessica Handler, Alexis Paige, Judith Podell. A reprint promised by the well known Ann Hood. In conversation with a fabulous publicist I met at a conference this spring. A number of other writers who’ve made initial commitments.

But seriously? All I can envision is the not yet existing  “EVENT” button on my website, fast forward to the readings and signings and NPR interviews. And what I will be wearing and if I can lose 40 pounds. In the meantime I will update on the process of “going hybrid.”