Saturday, April 12, 2014

SoCal Author Sandra Tsing Loh Gives Us the 'Loh' Down on Life and Her New Book

Sandra Tsing Loh
Sandra Tsing Loh is mad -- well, a Mad Woman at least. In her latest memoir, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones, Loh reveals the dark side of being a woman ... and a wife and a mother.

Loh, who is both hilarious and thoughtful, will be speaking this weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and she took time to speak with L.A. Story about her new book, what it's like to go through menopause, some advice she's saving for her two daughters (ages 12 and 13) and where she likes to take her girls in L.A.

Tell me a little about your book, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones.

The book is my memoir of menopause – “meno-memoir,” I guess. It’s based on this piece I wrote for The Atlantic Monthly on menopause called The Bitch is Back, and it won the Best American Essay in 2012. This is an extension of that. It’s a book about a year in the life of a woman transitioning into menopause. It’s actually perimenopause, when the hormone levels are just swinging wildly up and down. You don’t know what’s happening to your body or your mood or your brain cells or anything. It’s a pretty wild ride.

It’s also a memoir of other things. I also had a midlife crisis, I had an affair in the middle of my marriage. I blew up my marriage, and I ended up in this little bachelor cottage, and I had too much wine and Ambien, and then my right side became a paralyzed claw. So everything that could go wrong went wrong.

Perimenopause, I've read, can start in your late 30s, which seems kind of scary. Were you surprised by the onset of perimenopause?

Yes, it can start in the late 30s, but it can last between 4 and 14 years. I was surprised myself—in my book it describes just driving along the freeway, coping with a bunch of stuff and then suddenly my mood fell, just dropped through the car and into the Earth. And it’s hormonal. It’s like where you go, “I am losing my mind.”

We all have too much on our plates, and I think especially the sandwich generation, and we all have our little ways of coping and getting through the day, where suddenly your little coping mechanisms -- your little jazz station, your half sandwich, your glass of Pinot Grigio at 6 -- are not working at all and you feel really black and dark, and that’s how it felt to me.

And my mom had been very depressed and actually ended up getting early Alzheimer’s, and you’re going, “Oh my gosh, am I reliving my mother’s history?”

How did you treat it?

In the book there’s this speech by the gynecologist -- the wonder gynecologist -- and she said, “You know, there are two kinds of girls: the Chinet girls and the paper plate girls. The Chinet girls, you can pile a lot on their plate and they don’t crack, and the paper plate girls, you can put a carrot on there, and they’ll just shatter to pieces. And so it’s a combo platter where she says, “I think at heart you’re a Chinet girl, but you’re going through a lot of physiological stuff right now and having an emotional response, so you can do two things. … And I finally went to the doctor after a year because I so didn’t want to be weighed. and I got a little better advice.

When these waves of either emotion or sadness or grief or rage come over you, know that it’s part of what your body’s doing right now. You can either just watch it happen and then start the next narrative to say, “Oh my God, I’m going crazy.” Just let it happen, and you can take a little bit of antidepressants, low level for a while or a little bit of estrogen or hormones for a while to balance you out, and you can also take stuff off your plate.

So you strengthen the plate, and you also start taking stuff off it. If you’re the PTA president, step down. If you’re worried about getting your Christmas letters out in March, just don’t do it at all. Nobody wants them anyway. Just to really give yourself a break across the board, and if you want to stay in bed all Saturday and set a record for spending the longest period of time in bed, stay in bed. I think that women, we all have too much stuff and we’re all trying to wear too many hats -- being a good wife, a good mother, a good this and a good that, while our hormones are imbalanced. Even when they are balanced, we shouldn’t because it’s just too much.

You’ve written candidly about your life. Is there anything you would say is off limits, that you wouldn’t write about?

I think when memoirists have to write, I think they should be careful if they have relationships with family and with friends because if the people around you haven’t given you explicit permission for you to tell their story, then it’s not fair to. I wrote the book, I’m implicated in doing a lot of bad stuff, but the people around me are basically fine. When we write memoirs, we kind of choose some of the details to tell the story of specifically our own stuff, but we might change some of the identifying details of the other people to protect them.

I never write about sex. I don’t write about it very well. That’s never going to be the book I’m going to write.

Do you have any special mom advice that you’ve given or are saving for your daughters?

Having gone through such a roller coaster of mine in terms of marriage and divorce and all of that, I’ll have lots of advice for them when they get older, but there not at that place now, in terms of maritally.

I had a very good relationship for 20 years, and I still honor that, and I wouldn’t do that differently, but I think that I no longer really hold people to the standard, or judge them if after 20 or 30 years their relationship needed a change. We live a long time.

For my daughters, it’s interesting because in my book I have broken down a lot in front of my daughters but have survived and then they’ve helped me out a bit and they’re very balanced now. And it’s sort of how we’ve gotten through life. I think, since my divorce and blowup, that we have a harmony and sensibility about being together. Everybody’s fa├žade has cracked, and now we’re actually more friends and it’s great. It’s very comfortable.

But wisdom…girls, for them to be whoever they want to be and be interested in what they are and not try to live up to the various roles that people will put on them or the ones they’ll put on themselves. That’s so true. It’s always true with women.

You're an alum of USC's Master of Professional Writing program. I graduated from that same program. What do you think about USC's recent decision to end it in 2016?

I think that’s really sad. It’s just sad, and it came as a huge surprise. It’s such a special place in Los Angeles for people to be not just movie and TV writers but also prose writers and poets and playwrights if they want to. Students have come from all over the world to Los Angeles, and they really found a home in that program, and those relationships will have continued long after they’ve been in the program. It’s really sad.

Where do you like to go with your kids in L.A.?

In Van Nuys, there’s something called the 94thAero Squadron, which is this themed restaurant at the Van Nuys Airport, and it has a World War II theme, and it’s really hilarious. For dinner it’s really funny.

The great thing to do is go to the Huntington Gardens. It’s beautiful—the kids can run around and mom can appreciate it also.

Now that they’re 12 and 13, it’s thrift stores. In Pasadena, where I live, there’s one called Acts, and all of the new Goodwills are awesome. They’re so trendy and cool, and there’s like a shirt for $2. It’s really great. For tween girls, they almost don’t remember that you can buy retail clothing.

1 comment:

Heather Christine Miller said...

Nice to see your comments and hear your good humor. All the best. ..


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