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Today we travel to San Francisco, California to chat with Mag Dimond about how travel, elephants, silent retreats, a blue leather journal, Bach, and the Dalai Lama come together as sign posts on the path of Dimond’s life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in my “hometown” of San Francisco, where I lived as a child and to which I returned about 15 years ago after moving around quite a bit. I was raised by an eccentric woman who didn’t much like being a mother and who was an alcoholic as well. I was an only child. She took me to Italy when I was 11, and that pretty much changed my life. I became an expatriate at a young age, fell in love with an Italian boy at 14, and grew up pretty fast.
I grew up thirsting for love and affection and understanding….
I married young and was a mother at the age of 20. It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I actually completed my college education, and following that I went into teaching writing at the college level (San Francisco State). I began traveling when I was in my thirties – with my husband and sometimes with my kids. Later on, when I was on my own I traveled alone and then with a newfound partner in my life. Travel in a way was an escape from the loneliness I felt in my life and it was also a way for me to learn about who I was…
I’ve lived in San Francisco, Ohio, New York, New Mexico, and of course Italy, and I generally feel at home no matter where I find myself.
I’m close to my two daughters, my five grandchildren, and I’m working on establishing a connection with my four year old great grandson who lives in Oregon.
I have been a Buddhist for over twenty years and attended many silent retreats – my life has changed profoundly because of this practice…. I love to cook, drink good wine, knit, play the piano, write, walk with my dog, read, go to museums, and be in conversation with dear friends.
In which genre do you write?
How many published books do you have?
One published book: Bowing to Elephants (pub Sept 2019) by She Writes Press
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
When I lived in Italy at the age of eleven… my stepfather gave me a beautiful blue leather journal complete with gold trim and little lock and key. I spent most afternoons with this journal, recording such things as loneliness, hunger for experience, questions about my mother’s eccentric behavior, excitement about what I was learning in school, and yearning for love. I was an only child and I had l a lot on my mind. I remember imagining then that one day what I wrote might eventually become published work that would be widely read. I had grown up around books and literature all my life, and this seemed a natural aspiration. Since that early time I persisted in recording my life in journals and notebooks, including my variety of travel experiences in adulthood. The journals were ultimately the scaffolding of my memoir, Bowing to Elephants.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
I would choose the elephant. For several reasons: the elephant represents the matriarchal culture which feels familiar and comforting, and draws me to it. The elephant has a prodigious memory, carrying information about not only its own experiences in the wild, but that of its family members. They say that the elephant has “historical memory,” which connects it to its distant past. Who wouldn’t want to have such a vast store of memory? It boils down to maternal love and memory. Growing up with a woman who couldn’t mother me, whom I tried to love, I always looked for this kind of love; in working on my book I discovered that my memory of the distant past was murky and full of holes, and this disturbed me. A therapist once taught me that when childhood trauma has occurred, it’s likely that memories of one’s early days will be lacking in detail, or may vanish entirely….
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I am a great grandmother and proud of it.
I am a terrific (gourmet) cook.
I frequently imagine these past lives: I was once a monastic studying in an Italian monastery, I was a mosaic artist in Venice who helped to create brilliantly colored church interiors…
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
It was born out of my amazing collection of travel journals (from Italy, France, Burma, India, Cambodia, Africa, Vietnam, and so on…). The raw material was all in those “diaries,” and all that needed to be done was figure out how to lay out the whole story as I wove in the important segments about my childhood.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I play Bach on my grandmother’s baby grand, I walk by the Pacific Ocean with my little dog Peaches, I meditate every day, I cook beautiful food, drink good wine, I’m addicted to British murder mysteries (Morse, Prime Suspect) on TV, I knit scarves in luscious colors, I read at least two books at the same time (currently into American history), I eat out frequently in my hometown of SF, I travel (of course!) either alone or with family members…
If you could have a fantasy tea with a famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
If I had tea with the Dalai Lama, I would ask him to share his secret for accessing happiness, given the deep and relentless suffering he has endured in his long life. All humans want happiness – it is a universal desire – and this man is the embodiment of this emotion. I would like him to share his wisdom with me.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
I’ve learned that despite my propensity for seriousness and looking into the darkness, I have a surprising capacity to be funny and irreverent at times!
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
That moment where I know in my bones and in my heart that I have grabbed ahold of an elusive, murky, and important memory from the past and have made it come alive, have made it knowable to my reader.
What is the most inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
The most inspiring thing was looking into the eyes of a giant elephant in Kenya almost twenty years ago; this humbled me, and transformed my mind and heart, and I can say I haven’t been the same since. I’ve been driven all these years to learn as much as I can about this extraordinary animal and to advocate for its survival. What I saw in those eyes: love, acceptance, gentleness, intelligence.
What do you miss about being a kid?
I had two very special friends growing up: Sue and Lynn – they were sisters. From the time I was four, we spent our days together as a threesome. They lived upstairs from me, and we alternated playing in my apartment or in theirs. We had piano lessons together with a very formal French lady, we made up plays, and we conjured things in the kitchen… They represented family to me, and their mother Josephine was a true bodhisattva, offering love and affection and food and laughter. With my friends and their mother, I felt like I “belonged.”
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
How does it feel NOT to have an obsessive brain like people have? Good??
How do feel about the job I’m doing, really?
If you could be taken anywhere, where would you like me to take you?
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
My love of words. If it weren’t for my love of beautiful language (and in fact pretty much all beauty!), and my lurking belief that I had the capacity to use words really well, then my book perhaps wouldn’t have been completed. There was a sense that I owed it to myself to craft the most moving, lyrical, and honest work I could and offer it up to the world. I guess I was convinced my words needed to be read.
Tell us about the book:
Bowing to Elephants is a very intimate narrative about traveling in the world and ultimately discovering deep truths about oneself. Beginning as a series of travel essays, it then morphed into a layered memoir that peeled away layers from childhood to look at what drove me to explore the places I chose. I carried an insatiable need to find answers, connection with others, and ultimately to forgive myself for the darkness I held for my narcissistic mother. Thanks to travel, writing, and Buddhist practice, I found many of the answers I was seeking, and most importantly learned to love myself.
It was wonderful learning more about you and your history, Mag. Your book sounds fascinating! Sending you much love and blessings! – Camilla
BOWING TO ELEPHANTS, Tales of a Travel Junkie is a travel memoir… with a twist.
An unloved rich girl from San Francisco becomes a travel junkie to escape a dysfunctional family and a narcissistic, alcoholic mother.
Thanks to a journey of healing and self-discovery, the author navigates depression, loneliness, and loss while learning how to break down the false barriers that separate people.
Music, art, and food influence our hero as she finds her way to far-flung parts of the world.
By the end, Dimond accepts the death of the mother she never really had ― and finds forgiveness, peace and her authentic self in the refuges of travel and Buddhist practice.
BOWING TO ELEPHANTS is an epic adventure — Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, India, and San Francisco — that transformed the author’s life.
More than a travel memoir, readers will be inspired by one woman’s journey of self-discovery, healing, and forgiveness… as they encounter strange lands, tantalizing foods, and mesmerizing characters (including a 14,000- pound African elephant).
Pub. Date September 17, 2019 Publisher: She Writes Press List Price: $16.95
Where to find the book:
The book is available in all independent bookstores –
IndieBound.com for complete information on whereabouts of such bookstores. It is also available on Amazon.
Connect with Mag Dimond:
Dimond offers her free 10 minute mediation on lovingkindness for those interested in following her and signing on to her list. www.bowingtoelephants.com/gift