Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interview with Eddy Gilmore, Author of The Emancipation of a Buried Man

We used to drive past a house where over a period of time plastic trash bags were accumulating around the house. The collection grew and grew till it nearly filled the front and stretched beyond the house toward the back of the property. Eventually the city must have dealt with it, because it's no longer there. We didn't have a word for it, but now it's quite familiar because of the "reality show" about hoarding.

Eddy Gilmore's book is about what it's like to be raised in such a home, except the television depictions only faintly resemble a real hoarding environment, much like the features of Duluth "resemble" a big city until you see Chicago or New York.

Eddy Gilmore's The Emancipation of a Buried Man is a remarkable story well told. The memoir captures vividly the almost inconceivable realities he grew up with, but also tells how he escaped the long-term psychological issues such a life could have fostered and how he created a normal home life for his own children.  Since you can read reviews of the book at Amazon.com, this blog post features my interview with the author.

EN: Your book brings valuable insight into a life that is quite uncommon. When did you realize the extent to how different your family was from other families? What triggered this insight?

Eddy Gilmore: This question is far more difficult for me to answer than one might expect. Here is a feeble attempt at an adequate response. I’ll be surprised if I don’t answer this differently a year from now. My processing of these events is forever in flux and subject to new insights. I’m thankful for this.

Seeds of emptiness were planted in me at an early, undefinable age. These seeds, when exposed to the necessary elements of germination, behaved somewhat like the magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk. They erupted into my life unexpectedly. While standing atop these thriving perches, I was able to gain a clearer view of the land. Otherwise I was too mired within the chaos to establish a proper reference point.

One scene from the book comes to mind as being particularly poignant, and yet filled me with gratitude and hope. The moment of embarking upon my first camping trip with a happy and intact family was probably the most meaningful event of my childhood. A dad at the helm of a minivan with a loving mother next to him was a unique and precious site to behold. I allowed the peaceful atmosphere to seep into my very bones. I drank it in and savored it. A feeling of safety, like that of a baby bird high up in a nest with its mother, washed over me. I thought of Andy, sitting alongside and oblivious to these new positive feelings within me, as a kind of brother while pretending this was my very own stable family.

Such moments shone a spotlight into my dysfunctional family life, while simultaneously filling me with hope of a brighter future. I am grateful for these experiences that materialized into my life as if by magic, which thankfully were few and far between. While these moments carried me to ethereal heights of near-ecstasy, the return to reality always came in the form of a crash landing.

EN: What prompted you to write a book about your experience?

EG: I am a storyteller. Twenty years have elapsed since the events described in the second part of the book, my “emancipation,” and I have planned on sharing these stories of epic adventure and self-discovery right from the get-go. I kept a detailed journal as I experienced illumination on a daily basis. At the time, I had no plans on discussing a past that I preferred to forget. It took two decades, along with a painful job-loss, for me to see that my history of being lost among piles of debris and squalor was indispensable to the telling of this tale. I needed to share these painful experiences from the past in order to adequately paint a picture of the great heights that were ascended during my escape into a life of freedom, adventure, love, and gratitude. I truly was liberated from crushing loneliness, shame, and fear.

Ultimately, the loss of my job provided the impetus needed to complete this goal that otherwise might have laid dormant forever. The pain of losing my job, and the crocodile tears that were shed, enabled me to find my voice as a writer.

My column for the local newspaper was due several days after experiencing this blow. I was shaken to my very core. There was nothing to write about but the all-consuming shock of being laid off. I was angry, hurt, and at rock-bottom. While writing about this experience, I allowed myself to feel these emotions and to really hurt inside. I had the sensation of these powerful feelings flowing out from my heart, down through my arms, and could even sense them pouring out of my fingertips as I birthed them into tangible words. My writing became more vivid and evocative. I sought to replicate this sensation whenever I wrote, and thus learned to write with more feeling and passion. Having time on my hands, I finally spilled these stories into a completed book. But….it was the pain, more than anything, that enabled me to explore a past that I previously ignored or ran away from. Additionally, I had an overwhelming sense that this story was the only thing of real value that I was able to offer to the world.

By the end of it, I found myself extremely grateful for my childhood. These experiences helped shape me into someone that takes almost nothing for granted. This is a quality that very few people possess.

EN: Were you concerned about hurting anyone by the story you tell here? How have people close to you reacted?

EG: Yes, I was. Perhaps this is one reason it took me twenty years to actually have the maturity and wisdom required to coalesce these thoughts out of the chaos and into a coherent story. Ultimately I decided that the burden should not be on me to keep silent. I have spent my entire adult life waiting to share these amazing stories. Worrying about hurting feelings would have ruined the book, so I set those worries aside.

In order to prevent a complete derailing of the project, I chose not to send an advance manuscript to my parents. This was liberating. I wrote my story without fetters of any kind. There were absolutely no restraints. My feeling is that anyone else is free to write their own account.

I have received significant support from my parents throughout this project. My dad absolutely loved reading the book. This was a great relief to me, because I paint a rather complex picture of his unusual character. Mom’s response has been more nuanced. Early on she told me to, “Have fun with it,” and not worry. Her support has continued unabated, though she has yet to read the entire book. She read the first chapter, which can be viewed for free on Amazon, and it brought her to tears. I’m not sure when, or if, she will be ready to read it in its entirety. This is cause for some anxiety in me, but at the end of the day I feel like this is perhaps her last opportunity to change her reality.

EN: Tell us about your current family (as a married man with children)... What steps have you taken to give your children a more normal life?

EG: I am married to a beautiful and creative woman. She was my first girlfriend, and I still feel like I hit an impossible hole-in-one with her. Like me, she is hopelessly impractical. Shawna is an artist, and I am a writer. Sometimes I wonder why one of us couldn’t be a Type A sort of person who can always be depended upon to bring home a healthy income.

We are fortunate to have twin children, a boy and a girl. They experience all of life together, and are in fourth grade. My hope is that they will never know the kind of loneliness that I experienced, and that they never take for granted the wonderful gift they have in being intricately woven into our loving, intact family.

While I want them to enjoy a more normal life than I experienced as a child, one of my fears is that it will be too normal. I want them to experience “differentness” in all its rawness and unpredictability. When they reach their teen years, I hope they can look the boring status quo directly into its bland, sterile face, shake their fists at it, and say, “HELL NO!”

I often feel that my efforts in this area miss the mark, but the accumulation of them should pay off in the end. For example, we eschew anything that hints at suburbanization, and enjoy living in a walkable area of Duluth, Minnesota. We raise chickens in the city, and attempt to choose the bike over the car whenever possible. The loss of my job is also an opportunity to live a life outside the staleness of routine and safety, as our family’s economic activity has been brought entirely into the home. It remains to be seen whether or not we will succeed in this, but I am thankful for the opportunity to spare my kids both a “normal” life and a dysfunctional one.

EN: What are the key takeaways people will receive from reading your book?

EG: Everyone will be affected in different ways, which delights me. Some will find encouragement in my having come to terms with a difficult past. Others in my transformation. Perhaps a few aimless college students will find the courage needed to take a break from school. This would bring me great joy! I think the average reader will find my account of growing up amidst squalor fascinating, as a sort of oddity, and then will be spurred on to a more adventurous existence as they see the transformation that can occur by fleeing the status quo. I don’t see how they could not be challenged to devote even a small amount of additional time to exploring the outdoors, embracing solitude, and more regularly choosing books over television and Facebook.

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For more about the author, visit eddygilmore.com

1 comment:

John said...

An insightful interview with a fascinating person. Eddy's story is truly inspiring - I highly recommend the book.