World Traveler Credits “Patience, Courage, Compassion, and Perseverance” for Writing Success
by Nita Sweeney, author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink.
Interviewing WNBA-SF member Mag Dimond offered yet another opportunity to learn from this fine, diverse, talented, intelligent group of women writers. I hope her answers inspire you as much as they did me.
Nita Sweeney (NS): I’m so intrigued by your extensive travel. Do you have a favorite place you would visit again and again if you could? If so, what draws you there?
Mag Dimond (MD): There are two places:
Italy because it is another home for me, dating back to the time I lived there as a young girl. I speak the language, adore the culture, and feel as though I belong there – particularly the region of Tuscany/Umbria/and Venice…. In Italy, there is deeply familiar comfort and sensual pleasure, and in Africa, a vast adventure with wildlife that has so much to teach us…
Africa – In the African bush I met the elephant, and it was then that I felt this mysterious connection with this wise matriarchal creature for the first time. Being a human being in the African bush is to understand how small we really are in relation to other living creatures, and I find this awareness hugely refreshing. It is time we humans stopped considering ourselves center of the universe.
NS: You are an avid meditator. Would you be willing to share your history around meditation? How did you begin and how has that woven into your life?
MD: I was living in Taos, NM, working hard at my teaching and trying to hold on to the belief that the person I loved was going to love me eventually. I was carrying a great deal of suffering – both physical (as I had been neglecting my body for many, many years), and psychic. I had left a long marriage to create a new life with this person, only to find out that he was incapable of responding to me emotionally. A friend – also a bodyworker – noticed my suffering and talked about the healing that comes with mindfulness practice. Eventually her gentle words sunk in and I decided to join a meditation group. From the first time I sat amidst quiet and gentle people on their cushions I realized that this was my path. Everything I heard of the Buddha’s teachings made infinite sense and reminded me of my beloved grandmother’s wisdom. Do no harm? Love yourself and respect your fellow beings? Be present so you can understand how you feel, who you are? Absolutely sensible! I became a weekly meditator, eventually taking the practice into my daily life. That was over 20 years ago, and my heart is filled with gratitude for the wisdom and goodness that has come my way as a result. The practice has helped me in challenging circumstances, whether I’m in India dealing with the injustice of the caste system, or in Cambodia, feeling the deep dark despair of their holocaust, or in Paris, just dealing with my family and their issues…
NS: Does meditation feed your writing? If so, how?
MD: Staying in the present moment, which comes about from a continuing practice of mindfulness, allows you to both see and translate what you see with immediacy. It also allows you to peel away layers of the stories you’ve lived with and discover the core of your life’s path. You can travel back in time and look deeply into your past and discover what you actually experienced. No matter what our creative medium, meditation practice allows us to see the moment by moment unfolding of our journey.
NS: Tell us about your teaching career. Is there a moment you would like to share?
MD: When I was teaching in Taos, NM, I had a young married woman in my creative writing class who felt driven to write a story about an elder in her family. When her husband found this out, he harshly objected, telling her it was not her business to write such stories. When she shared this with me, I told her without hesitation that as long as she was telling the truth to the best of her ability, and not intending any harm, she had a perfect right to write the story that lived in her imagination. She went ahead and followed my guidance and wrote the story; I was so proud of her. All humans have stories in their lineage that need to be told.
NS: How did you find your way to Taos?
MD: A busted-up marriage and a brand new (ultimately misguided) relationship were the catalysts. I left my family and the Bay Area to head to Taos with a charismatic artist so that he could build a studio in Taos and I could start a “new life.”
NS: How did living there impact you?
MD: A great deal unfolded during the thirteen-year period I lived in Taos: my spiritual practice was born, my college teaching career took off, and I explored jewelry design – not to mention discovering a close and intense community of friends. I was always a bit of a misfit (being an urban girl), but somehow, I trusted that this path was taking me where I needed to go, and when I looked at the vast and exquisite northern New Mexico skies I realized I didn’t miss the Pacific Ocean so much!
The most powerful pieces of the Taos experience were the beginning of my mindfulness practice, and my teaching experience at University of New Mexico – Taos, where I taught creative writing and literature courses that I designed myself. With the wonderful mix of ages in all my classes and the sense of real commitment to the work of writing, I was able to open up doors for my students.
Additionally, Taos offered me a close-knit multicultural landscape to discover myself in, and this felt somewhat natural, given that I had lived abroad as a young girl and was comfortable with people who were different from myself. I learned a great deal about the Taos Pueblo culture, and I worked alongside Hispanic Taosenos. Though these different ethnic cultures here were often separate and distinct, it was a privilege to learn from them up close.
NS: What led you back to the Bay Area?
MD: I came to San Francisco as a three-year-old with my young parents who moved there from the East Coast. So, you could almost say I was “native” to San Francisco! I have traveled all over the world, but I have always carried San Francisco inside me, have always thought of it as my home.
NS: What prompted you to volunteer as a tutor?
MD: I dearly missed teaching since leaving Taos and giving up my teaching job there. Though I launched a jewelry business and worked as a hospice volunteer, I never forgot the joy and inspiration of being a writing teacher. I longed to return to some form of teaching…
NS: Tell us about Bowing to Elephants. Is there something we might not know from reading the blurb?
MD: This book is an affectionately crafted narrative I would have loved my beleaguered and confused mother to read, for if she had she would have seen the love I held for her despite all that separated us. In peeling away the layers of my past with careful attention, I discovered that my mother had given me some great gifts – not only of my life, but also art, beauty of all kinds, humor, good food, a love of cats, a sense of daring and adventure, the notion of standing out as different from all the rest. When I pause to feel the gratitude for those gifts, I feel a great warmth in my heart that I hope is evident in Bowing to Elephants. It would have been a great thing if she had been able to understand this…
NS: The book has received high praise. What has been your proudest moment?
MD: Sitting in front of 60 people or more at the launch event for the book at Book Passage in Corte Madera and really hearing myself read my own words – words that I had agonized over, played with, questioned, and delighted in for so long as I worked on completing the manuscript. In that moment I had the heart-warming experience of offering up my own experience to the world and loving what I was hearing. There was a welling of pride, a voice inside that said, “Yes, you’re a good writer … you finally made it!!”
NS: Do you have any writing tips to share with the WNBA-SF members?
MD: Patience, trust, more patience, courage, compassion, and perseverance – Without these, you will have a hard time finishing your project. And I also have some words of wisdom from my writing coach Sean Murphy, words that literally saved my sanity as I flailed about in fear and trepidation… these words: don’t believe everything your brain tells you. Use the Buddhist wisdom that reminds us that the supreme truth teller is the heart, while the mind often operates contrary to our best interests as it tries to dictate non-existent perfection. Trust the heart and tell that brain of yours to take a break every so often!
NS: What’s on the horizon? Do you have any other projects in the works?
MD: I want to write a book about elephants from a historical and personal perspective. I want to educate readers about this magnificent endangered species and galvanize people to advocate for them. Not sure exactly what this would look like, but it is calling to me. I’m also keen on writing a book about food – have been a foodie all my life since living in Italy – I want to share the history of certain foods and talk about the role they play in healing our bodies and minds. I see it as a book that would include an array of lovely illustrations of food.
NS: Would you like to add anything else?
MD: I want to put some gratitude out there to all the writers who are busily trying to make their written dreams come true. It takes amazing courage and stamina. I was surrounded by a community of such writers back when I worked on Bowing to Elephants, and they provided a scaffolding that held me in place and provided continual support. I don’t think I could have completed the book without them. There are communities of writers large and small all over the world who are working hard at this very lonely job, and I want to say that I’m glad for the bravery and heart they all have to muster to do their work, to tell their very important truths, to give their gifts to the world. Hooray for the writers!
Mag Dimond has been a world traveler since her mother took her to live in Italy from ages eleven to fourteen. She traveled extensively in Europe and Central America, and ventured to such exotic landscapes as India, Cambodia, Bhutan, Japan, Kenya, China, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cuba. In her seventies now, she continues traveling, the most recent adventure being to Machu Picchu and the Amazon jungle. After a career teaching writing to college students in San Francisco and Taos, she often volunteers as a writing tutor at 826 Valencia, an esteemed literacy program launched by David Eggers. She has been a practicing Buddhist for twenty years and is a dedicated member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco. She is a mother to two daughters, grandmother to five grandchildren, and great grandmother to a young boy living in Oregon. She is a classical pianist, photographer, gourmet cook, animal rescuer, and philanthropist.
Most recently, Mag’s memoir, Bowing to Elephants, has been honored by Kirkus Review as one of the best Indie memoir/biographies of 2019 (it received a starred review). Prior to publication, excerpts from Bowing to Elephants were honored in American Literary Review, Travelers Tales Solas Awards, the Tulip Tree “Stories that Must be Told” awards, and the 2017 William Faulkner Wisdom awards. Additionally, Dimond has published essays in Elephant Journal, an online magazine with a readership of almost two million. You can find her essays on her website: www.magdimond.com. Dimond is offering a 10-minute lovingkindness meditation for all new readers at this site: www.bowingtoelephants.com/gift. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.