Sometimes we write to explore new worlds, new situations, new possibilities. Other times, the writing comes from a deep need to understand and make peace with what is happening, now, in our world.
In the case of actress Judy Prescott (who has appeared on television shows such as True Blood, Grey’s Anatomy, Cold Case and Bones), the inspiration for her book came as a result of her mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, when she had to come to terms with a situation that was entirely out of her control.
As a long-distance caregiver, Prescott found that writing poetry helped her express the pain of witnessing her beloved mother’s journey while also helping to understand what was happening. From this came her new book, Searching for Cecy: Reflections On Alzheimer’s. (For more about Judy’s experiences, visit her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.)
Tell me a little about yourself. You are an actress and a poet—both creative professions. In what way are they similar? Different? Do you find it difficult to switch from one to the other?
Both my poetry and my work as an actor provide me with the opportunity to examine various aspects of life. They each feed my need for self-reflection and help me to understand and interpret the experience of others. Writing and acting come from an inherent place within me that wants to explore, illuminate, and give voice. They are interchangeable forms of self-expression and exploration.
How long have you been writing poetry? When did you start?
Poetry was a way for me to express what I didn’t have the courage, opportunity, or faculty to discuss verbally as a child. I wrote my first poem about the sudden death of my closest childhood friend, Kyle, when I was twelve or so.
What was your “writer dream”—your goal— when you began to write? Has it changed over the years? What is your “writer dream” now?
My intention has been to give voice to this experience of being human. To bear witness.
When did you first know that you were a writer?
I suppose I learned the value of the written word early. I have written on and off for most of my life, and yet I have only just begun to consider myself a poet. Perhaps compiling Searching for Cecy has helped me to embrace the idea.
Who are three of your favorite authors (prose or poetry) and why?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because of the genius of his magical realism and his effortless ability to make one laugh at the darkest of moments, Charles Dickens for his complete understanding and portrayal of the human animal, and Pablo Neruda for his belief in the utter inevitability of grace… and the bard, of course!
On average, how much time do you spend writing a day? Do you have a schedule that you keep?
I used to write in the very early hours of the morning, upon waking. With the birth of my daughter, I have had to become very adaptable. Now I scribble ideas onto bits of paper as they come to me and pray for a moment of peace when I might have the opportunity to make sense of them.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I write anywhere and everywhere, I write on paper, and I prefer not to be seated at anything as structured as my desk.
What stimulates your creativity or serves as a writing inspiration? Conversely, what creates a major writer’s block for you?
Powerful emotions triggered by beauty, loss, or injustice inspire me. If I am not true to myself, I cannot write.
Do you keep a journal?
I occasionally use a journal as a way to discover a poem if I don’t have a specific idea in my head. I begin by writing what I think the poem might be… often taking a great deal of time to structure an idea. I almost always abort the mission when I realize I am being too heavy-handed, then turn the page and write what I am meant to write in a way that seems effortless. I find that the process is similar to throwing a pot on a wheel…if I try to force the clay into a specific shape, it will collapse in on itself.
Tell me about your book, Searching for Cecy, Reflections on Alzheimer’s. What inspired this poetry collection?
I wrote the poems in Searching for Cecy over an eight-year period. I live in California and my mother, Cecy lives in Maine. Being so far away from her has been a great challenge for me. I began writing the poems in this collection as an attempt to chronicle both Cecy’s journey and my own through the rough seas of Alzheimer’s. I wanted to make sense of a situation that seemed entirely out of control.
One of the family artists who contributed pieces to Searching for Cecy is my aunt Rosanne Prescott Mac Pherson who lives in Maine. She would visit Mom and take photographs of her and turn them into beautiful art pieces using collage. These she sent to me in Los Angeles so that I might feel closer to Cecy when I was far away. This kind gesture gave me the idea to ask Rosanne if she would consider collaborating with me to create some sort of a tribute to Mom. She agreed and we elicited the help of three family artists to join us in our effort to honor Cecy. I paired my poems with their artwork. I was looking to find the beauty in this journey and working with these talented and inspiring artists helped me to do just that.
What kind of impact has this book had on your life? How did it help you come to terms with the situation?
Putting this book together these past nine years has given me the opportunity to learn to let go while continuing to mourn the loss of Cecy, however gradual. It has provided me with the added challenge of speaking publicly about the book…something I have not been accustomed to doing. I feel honored to have been presented with this opportunity and happy to have found my voice.
Did you have a specific goal for this book when you first started writing it or was it more for you to help you come to terms with your mother’s diagnosis?
Creating this book has been a way for me to better understand and pay tribute to the fascinating woman who is my mother. I wanted to give voice to her remarkable spirit and to bring awareness to a disease that touches so many.
What type of feedback have you received from readers? From your own family members?
The feedback I have received regarding the book has been kind and supportive. Readers relate to the story in many different ways. I’ve received a great deal of correspondence in which many readers have shared their own personal stories. This prompted me to create a “community” page on my website (judyprescott.com) inviting anyone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer’s to share a few words… a poem, a piece of art.
What do you hope others get from reading this poetry collection? What is your message to those who may be facing a similar situation?
I hope that experiencing Cecy’s story will help others in a similar situation to feel less alone and more willing to share their own story with loved ones or friends in whatever manner helps them to find peace.
Did you have an agent for this book?
I did not pursue agents or publishers in the creation of Searching For Cecy, but chose initially to publish the book independently. During this process, I was introduced to a woman who began advising me and ultimately, published the book.
What is the next project you have in the works?
I had a dear friend, Ken Kelly, who recently died after a fifteen year struggle with HIV/AIDS. I was involved with his care for many years. He was a strong, courageous, human being and I feel his story should be told. Perhaps on stage, perhaps on paper…we’ll see.
How do you define success as a writer?
In my opinion, a successful writer is able to exalt and find beauty in the human condition against all odds.
What do you find the hardest part about the “writing business”?
In the writing business, like show business, the struggle to balance creative passion and business acumen can be a difficult one.
What’s the worst advice anyone gave you about being a writer? What’s the best?
Worst: “No one wants to read poetry.” Best: “Keep writing.”
What advice do you have for other writers who are contemplating pursuing a writing career?
What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” – W.B. Yeats
My thanks to Judy for sharing her story and being part of One on One: Insights Into the Writer’s Life!