Author Diaries is pleased to welcome C. Streetlights, Gravity Imprint author of Tea and Madness.
After writing and illustrating her first bestseller in second grade, “The Lovely Unicorn”, C. Streetlights took twenty years to decide if she wanted to continue writing. In the time known as growing up she became a teacher, a wife, and mother. Retired from teaching, C. Streetlights now lives with her family in the mountains along with their dog that eats Kleenex. Her new memoir, Tea and Madness is now available.
What is your book’s genre/category?
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Tea and Madness is a collection of poetry and prose written during a time when I experienced a great deal of emotional pain, loss, as well as growth. In approximately 3-5 years I experienced the loss of a baby, sexual assault, debilitating depression, betrayal from friends and coworkers, memories of a rape from college, and severe anxiety. This collection is my way of showing how I survived.
Now for the juicy, fun part ~ discovering more about what makes you, the author tick.
Please pick 15 random questions from Proust’s Questionnaire and answer.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing one of my kids. It is the worst panicky feeling when you turn around for a second and can’t find one of your kids. It’s the kind of panic that makes you want to vomit. I am absolutely terrified that I will lose them. My son was always very timid in public places, always stayed close to me. My daughter, on the other hand, is 100% free spirit and gives me the slip constantly. I feel like I need a sedative by the time we come home from wherever it is we went. It is a very hard balance to teach your children the proper dose of caution while out in public and not instill in them total paranoia – even if you yourself are feeling it. If I could strap my little girl to my leg when we go out, I’d do it more than likely.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I have the inability to celebrate myself and my accomplishments. While this might seem like a small trait to deplore in myself, I have seen how it has affected my life and so many of my choices. It is because of this that I never studied abroad when I was younger and why I never attempted to submit any writing to contests or scholarship opportunities. It is because of my silence that I never spoke up in my defense when nobody else would defend me either. It is because I thought so little of myself that I relied on the wrong people to fill up my spirit’s empty places with even emptier words to make me feel whole. What’s worse is that I still struggle with accepting well-deserved praised; I still feel itchy with compliments as if I’m wearing wool sweaters. I am working hard to be gracious and say “thank you” without qualifiers. It is harder than some might think.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Entitlement. I grew up in a home that many would consider this hypocritical of me. My father worked very hard so that my mother could stay home with the kids. We lived in an upper middle class neighborhood with equally nice homes. I went to schools that were predominantly white with classmates that were just as fortunate as I was socioeconomically. Most kids were given new cars when they turned 16. I didn’t know of anyone who went without when I was growing up. When I talk about how and where I grew up people want to shame me – that’s the stylish thing today, shame – because I while we weren’t affluent, we were part of the Orange County beach community. However, none of my friends grew up feeling entitled to anything. I certainly didn’t. All of my friends had jobs from the time they were 15 and saved money to pay for college, car insurance and gas money. If we wanted to do something we had to work for it. And while my parents worked hard so that I wouldn’t have to work for college, they still made sure I knew how to work. I had a work ethic that meant doing a job well, not taking money unless I earned it and not until I had earned it. I was taking care of my grandma (who had Alzheimer’s from the time I was 8 years old) every Saturday once I turned 12 years old, from noon until 5. The kids in my graduating class went to top tier universities because they earned scholarships their, not because of how much their parents donated. And so when people look down their noses at communities like where I grew up and assume we had it all given to us while at the same time complaining they aren’t given enough to compensate, I have to bite my tongue. None of us expected things to be given to us. That’s the difference. The expectation that benefits of some kind will just be handed over really bugs the hell outta me.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
This was very challenging so of course I had to answer it. I would have to say honesty is most overrated. Everyone claims they want honesty in a person but in reality they don’t. What they are really asking for is to not be hurt. Nobody really wants honesty, if they did then politicians would be much more likable, teenagers wouldn’t be afraid of those in authority, and there’d be no need for most of our laws. In all actuality, what people want is to be seen for who they are and for others to honor the truth that is inside them.
On what occasion do you lie?
I lie to protect others.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My “baby weight” turned into “toddler weight” and is now “preschooler weight”.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
I really enjoy men. What I mean is, I enjoy talking with men and being their friend. I tend to have more male friends than female friends. I don’t know why this is, and maybe it has to do with communication style more than anything, but I like men who are straightforward and to the point. And I like men who can handle that same trait in a woman. I find that when I make a new male friend who is incapable of understanding my straightforward nature, we are not good friends for long. Even when I tell men from the start that this is my nature it’s as if they don’t know how to respond to it. So I really appreciate it when I find a guy to talk with who is not a game player and is capable of accepting the same from me.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
I like women who respect other women and their choices. Not all women will be the working mom, or the stay home moms, or even become moms – and all of that is okay. I despise “The Mommy Wars” and wonder how on earth we will ever close the wage gap when all we do is tear each other down? I love women who support each other, congratulate each other, and are willing to jump in and help when and where it is needed. We are not each other’s enemy, why are we criticizing each other constantly? Why are we so catty with one another? I am astonished by what women say about other women – whether it’s about looks, clothes, their children, their housework, their partners, everything! The best advice I was given was to surround myself with other women “who get it” and I have found that as I build my tribe of women who get it, I am feeling more empowered, more self-confident, and more encouraged than ever before. These are the kind of women I like.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My Southern California comes out strong here, I overuse “like” for sure. Are you kidding me? Rad and stoked.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
By far the greatest love of my life is my children. Everything changed for me the moment I held my son. He had a way of pursing his lips as a newborn and he looked up at me with his enormous eyes, his sweet lips pursed, and I just knew that my heart belonged to him forever. And it has been that way ever since. He and I both nearly died when he was born. He had fallen asleep in the birth canal and just decided that birth was not exciting anymore. The c-section had to be rushed because I had to be put under and so I didn’t get to hold him for several hours until after I had woken up from the anesthesia. Even now I can imagine the warmth of my baby boy lying next to me. Motherhood is terrific wonder. My baby girl was rushed to NICU soon after she was born. I thought my heart would erupt into pieces when I heard the Code Blue being called for her and there was nothing I could do. I didn’t get to hold her until three days afterwards when she was taken off the ventilator. My heart has been complete ever since. My kids are everything to me and they truly are my greatest loves.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I enjoyed exercise and had the motivation to do it. Because I sure as hell don’t now!
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When I was on suicide watch this was, by far, the worst misery I have ever experienced. It was several days of terrible darkness and emptiness inside me, something I have never experienced before. I had no noise in my head, no thoughts or words, just a void. Nothingness. Days passed, one to the next, and I had no concept of time. Sometimes I slept but mostly I stared at my wall. All I wanted, more than anything, was to no longer exist. I truly believed that there was no purpose in my living any longer and my family would be better they didn’t have to deal with me anymore. I have never felt such numbing lack of emotion.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I have freckles on my nose that never go away and get darker in the summer. When people spend time with me or get to know me, they seem to always point out my freckles as if I don’t know they’re there.
What do you most value in your friends?
Love. I’ve been betrayed and hurt so deeply I need friends who will love me. With love comes loyalty, faith, and all the rest.
What is your motto?
You can’t dance with the devil and expect to lead.
What motivated you to write the book and what have you learned about yourself from the process?
Tea and Madness came about because I had no faith in myself, to be honest. I knew I wanted to have a collection of poetry and prose reflecting a time period when I when experienced enormous pain and struggle. I wanted to be real to the reader and that life is authentically messy. Everything is extraordinarily packaged for perfection out in the media and women in particular are sent toxic messages that their lives need to be perfect. Even their struggles need to be conducted in a socially acceptable way. I felt driven by the truth I learned for myself, that we are all incredibly messy with living messy lives and that chaos is what makes us human. I didn’t want my book to be one more voice adding to the “perfection programming”. I wanted it to be safe. I wanted Tea and Madness to tell people, “My house is a wreck and my laundry never gets done either, but I’m still a good person doing good things.”
Where can we find your book?
Thank you, C. Streetlights for chatting and taking the Proust challenge. I wish you continued success with your writing and Zen life!
ABOUT JACQUELINE CIOFFA
Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in the anthologies, Brainstorms, Feminine Collective’s Raw & Unfiltered Vol. 1, and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness, and author of the poignant literary debut, The Vast Landscape, and soul-stirring sequel, Georgia Pine.
The essence continues because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack. I seize the opportunity to revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live in the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. Hope is our greatest asset. To choose hope against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life. ~ Georgia Pine by Jacqueline Cioffa
Look for her new column, “Bleeding Ink” with Feminine Collective.
The Infamous Proust Questionnaire
In the 1880s, long before he claimed his status as one of the greatest authors of all time, teenage Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871–November 18, 1922) filled out an English-language questionnaire given to him by his friend Antoinette, the daughter of France’s then-president, as part of her “confession album” — a Victorian version of today’s popular personality tests, designed to reveal the answerer’s tastes, aspirations, and sensibility in a series of simple questions. Proust’s original manuscript, titled “by Marcel Proust himself,” wasn’t discovered until 1924, two years after his death. Decades later, the French television host Bernard Pivot, whose work inspired James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio, saw in the questionnaire an excellent lubricant for his interviews and began administering it to his guests in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, Vanity Fair resurrected the tradition and started publishing various public figures’ answers to the Proust Questionnaire on the last page of each issue.