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Hope Edelman: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Hope Edelman is a journalist and the author of five non-fiction books, including Motherless Daughters, Letters from Motherless Daughters, Mother of My Mother, and Motherless Mothers. Her newest book is The Possibility of Everything, a memoir about a week in 2000 when she traveled to Belize with her husband and three year old daugher. In Belize, a skeptial Edelman took her daugher Maya to a shaman, hoping to banish Dodo, Maya's aggressive imaginary friend.

Question from LibraryThing member Alliebadger: The Possibility of Everything is a book that describes a beautiful journey. How was your life affected by what happened upon your return to the US?

Readers frequently ask if I came back from the trip a Believer with a capital B, but that wasn't the outcome at all. I'm still pretty skeptical about a lot that crosses my path; I think that's just my nature. But to have been exposed to such a richly spiritual culture, and to have witnessed some extraordinary events—these were definitely life-altering experiences. I'm much more comfortable living with ambiguity now, and with accepting there are some phenomena in the world I can't quantify or explain but can nonetheless accept as real.

You wrote this book several years after the trip to Belize—would it have been a different book if you had written it immediately after you returned, say in January of 2001?

I think so. I actually started it in early 2002 as a novel and switched it to memoir in late 2003, but the story didn't have the layers of depth that came from the knowledge and experience I had yet to accumulate. I went back to Belize in March 2008 to take a workshop in Maya spiritual healing and learn the principles of what had been done for my daughter, and I also spent several months reading about Maya cosmology and history. Those two events informed the way I now look back at our first trip in countless ways. I can't imagine having written the book without having done them.

At one point in the book, you write that you envy people who have the discipline to write in their journals every day. Do you keep a daily journal?

I'm hopeless at keeping journals. Thank goodness blogging came along. I don't do that daily either, but maintaining a public blog at least gets me to catalogue my thoughts and experiences in a semi-consistent fashion.

Do you think Dodo, Maya's imaginary friend was a spirit?

That's a tough question. I'm asked it a lot, and I sense that people want me to say 'yes.' But the truth is, I still don't know what this Dodo character was, only that he was a presence in our family when we got on the plane to Belize, and he was no longer an issue by the time we came back to L.A. That's what I mean about being more comfortable with ambiguity now: I'm okay with not having a hard and fast answer to that question, but can still feel grateful for having had the experience of that wild trip. As for Dodo's true definition, I'll have to let readers decide.

Did Dodo ever return?

Ah—you're asking me to give away the end of the book! I'll just say that he came and did his work, and he knew when it was time to leave.

You're the skeptic of the family. Do you now believe in "the possibility of everything"?

I'm a Jewish girl from suburban New York who's been to Belize five times and taken two workshops in Maya healing. To me, that says anything is possible.

You now have two daughters—did this experience alter the way you approached parenting the second time around?

We do tend more toward holistic medical treatments for both kids now. I wondered what I'd do if my younger daughter developed an aggressive imaginary friend—would I have taken her to a healer, too?—but I never got the chance to find out because she never had one. She had an older sister who showered her with attention, so she probably never felt the need for other company.

She's older now, but does Maya remember this trip to Belize? What does she think about having a book written about her?

She remembers bits and pieces of the trip, mostly from the second half. The first few days outside the U.S. she had a high fever and was sleeping a lot, and I think she experienced much of the activity as a dream state. She does have some very clear memories about the time along the beach in Placencia, which came after the rainforest portion of the trip. Her response to the book now is mixed. She's excited for me and wants it to do well, but like any twelve-year-old girl, she's not sure about being in the spotlight for things that happened when she was three.

You've started doing some charitable work in Belize, can you tell us about that?

When I went down to Belize in 2008, I realized I couldn't in good conscience take money from an American publisher without giving some of it back to the people and place that gave me the story, so I started looking into projects I could support. I've since done a book drive for the San Ignacio Library and also provided supplies for their summer camp, and I've made donations to organizations that support rainforest education and preservation. A portion of my advance money went to sending two students to high school this year whose families otherwise wouldn't be able to afford the tuition. I've also been raising funds to help build two classrooms in the Maya village of San Antonio through the Crossroads Foundation in Belize. Hopefully, the building will take place in January.

What's your personal library like?

I have books all over the house, on a shelf in the living room, a shelf in my bedroom, stacked on my night table, and in an office upstairs. I also have a small office in Topanga with a tall, painted bookshelf that holds only memoirs, with about 250 books alphabetized by author that I rely on when I teach writing workshops.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Perfection by Julie Metz, and I'm about to start Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway—both memoirs. I'm also working my way through Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval, which gives you an idea of where I might be heading next.

—interview by Abby Blachly

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