Jerry Fabyanic is the award-winning author of the novel “Sisyphus Wins”and of the “Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit” series, Volumes One and Two. He lives in Georgetown, Colorado, where he explores the world of myth and story. He enjoys running, skiing moguls and climbing 14ers. Learn more at www.jerryfabyanic.com.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Jerry Fabyanic: After writing and publishing my novel, “Sisyphus Wins,” a colleague encouraged me to start a blog as a way to engage readers on an ongoing basis and to grow my audience. Having been an English teacher with strong interests in literature as well as mythology and psychology, I instinctively composed the pieces in essay format.
I wrote on a wide range of topics, staying clear of non-social/political issues. They were topics with which the wide-range of readers could identify. Over time, I noticed a connection among the themes I was exploring. They tended to focus on aspects of the mind and spirit: mindfulness, philosophy, psychology, mythology, spirituality, and so on.
That told me something I had intuitively known about me but had been giving only cursory thought to. And having had followed an intuitive, non-linear trajectory through my life’s journey—from a little Catholic boy from a super-large family in Western Pennsylvania to a “mature” man, who in addition to his intellectual and spiritual interests loves to hike, ski, and run in and through the Rockies—I soon realized I had a treasure trove of material to tap into and draw upon. I understood there is no separation among them. As it is with all life, they were part of the One.
SunLit: Place these excerpts in context. How do they fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select them?
Fabyanic: While all the book’s essay topics relate to mind and spirit, the ones I chose to highlight go to the heart and core of my beliefs and perspectives. Most of the book’s essays are serious in tone, but a few, like “The Great Pumpkin Pie,” are lighter. But even in it, I could not resist briefly exploring the theological issue at play in Linus’s exchange with Charlie Brown, a point I never gave much thought to until I was literally in the throes of writing the piece.
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Another essay favorite is “Passing the Time.” In it I take aim at the notion that reading, especially fiction, is a mere matter of whiling away time. The other excerpts are quite personal in tone. They help the reader understand why I am the way I am, why I write on these topics, and what I see is important in life. And it’s not necessarily the grand events of one’s life.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?
Fabyanic: I reached a low point in my life in the fall of 2020. Not only were the pandemic lockdowns keeping me isolated, like millions of others, and the election raising the social climate temperature near to Fahrenheit 451 degrees, my dear friend had recently committed suicide. I was in the depths, the bluest I could remember ever being.
One pre-dawn morning, I awoke to the strains of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” playing through my head. The song has been a personal favorite for decades. It resonates deeply in my psyche because I easily identify with the patrons of that bar. I had been there, done that many times. So I sat down, logged on to my computer, and wrote an essay about loneliness. It didn’t take long for it to flow out and course through my fingertips. I titled it “Sharing a Drink Called Loneliness,” drawing on a line from the song.
After I posted it on my website, I was inundated with replies. Some were online comments posted by readers and others private email messages from friends confiding their feelings of loneliness, depression, and disconnect. Apparently, I had struck a chord. It was validating to me at a time of personal vulnerability. It was then I realized I was far from feeling alone.
It was also encouraging, prompting me to write more essays on a regular basis. It helped give my crumbling, dissipating life structure. Readers were appreciating them, and I was feeling renewed vigor and intention. After a few months of that, several independently urged me to compile them into a book. And thus came about “Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit, Volume One.” At the time of this writing, Volume Two is in the print process.
SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Fabyanic: Even though the pieces are independent essays in construct, they collectively tell a story like chapters do in a novel. That leads to a couple of the wonders of this “novel.” One is that a reader does not need to read the chapters sequentially. Another is that they don’t tell one story. They tell multiple ones in that they encourage readers to reflect on and write or tell their story with the topics I wrote on acting like prompts.
When writing the essays, that ten-thousand-foot perspective hadn’t occurred to me. But after hearing from readers about the stuff my essays engendered in them, I realized the power of such a work.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Fabyanic: Refamiliarizing myself with the writing-to-publishing process from start to print. It made me recall the insight I offered to fledgling authors: Writing the work is the easiest part. It is when the rough draft MS is complete that the hard work begins. For me, the editing process is the most challenging and grueling.
SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Fabyanic: Yes with the questions. A bajillion plus or minus. But I don’t consider reactions to be strong opinions as much as they are thoughtful reflections. I continue to be amazed how different essays evoke different reactions in different people. It was an intriguing learning experience I had after publishing “Sisyphus Wins.” I had thought that it would be gay men who would most gravitate to my novel since they might be able to view the story through the lens of their life experiences.
“Food for Thought”
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What I discovered though was that while gay men certainly did, it was women, especially older women, who were most relating to the tale. It made sense. After all, who has had more experience in and knows more about pushing a rock up a hill time and time again only to watch it crash and tumble to the bottom than women? So when someone tells me that a particular essay resonated with them in a way I would not have imagined, I am not surprised. In fact, I am elated.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Fabyanic: Most of my ideas arise from my unconscious in the wee hours of the morning. I have learned to listen to that voice that wakens me between midnight and 3:00 a.m. It’s time to get up and write. Sometimes I might have a general idea about what to write, but oftentimes, I don’t. I simply turn on the lamp, log onto my computer, and begin pecking on the keyboard as I sip a cup of green tea. Once I do, almost always ideas flow, many times in ways and directions I had not given prior thought to. I see it as a process of bringing to consciousness something from my unconscious.
SunLit: You talked about the essays that most resonate with you. Is there one that you consider particularly personal?
Fabyanic: Actually, there are two. “Sharing a Drink Called Loneliness,” which I mentioned earlier, and “A Slice of the Ice Cream.”
I have already talked about the circumstances that led up to writing “Sharing a Drink Called Loneliness,” so I won’t belabor that part. Another point I will add, though, is about the feelings that arise when rereading it. It evokes the same sad melancholy in me the way the song “Piano Man” does. But fascinatingly enough, it also ironically evokes an uplifting feeling.
I consider that essay to be the one that really flipped my life around. Writing and posting it was a turning point, a Robert Frost fork-in-the-road moment for me. Through the fog of my depression, I realized something: Yes, I was at a very low point, but I wasn’t dead. So I had to choose, and I chose to tell the Universe. It was risky, to be sure, but like Brené Brown reminds us, true courage requires being vulnerable. Drawing on another literary allusion, afterward I felt like a phoenix rising from its ashes moment.
“A Slice of the Ice Cream,” on the other hand, always induces a melancholic warmth within me. In it I describe a few of the scenes from my childhood. After my dad died while my mother was still carrying her thirteenth child, times got really tough. But I don’t dwell on or cry about those times. Rather, I write about how that overall coming-of-age experience and the individual experiences within the larger one shaped my values and formed the man I became. Getting a slice of ice cream in lieu of a scoop. The act on the surface is mundane, but its symbolism is profound for me. Equal means equal; fair is fair. And we’re all in this together, so I can’t always have it my way.
There are many details I didn’t include in that essay that in hindsight I wish I had, like finding the driest towel to dry off with after bathing, planting and harvesting a garden, and picking and canning fruit from the trees my dad had planted.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Fabyanic: I was a middle school and high school teacher, so multitasking became my MO. So after teaching both English and social studies simultaneously, writing in two different genres, fiction and nonfiction, comes second nature to me.
I am working on three future works. One is a sequel to “Sisyphus Wins.” It is a project that I spun my wheels on for about five years and finally canned. But like that phoenix arising from its ashes, I have resurrected it and given it a more narrow and compelling focus.
The other two are essay compilations. One will be Volume Three of “Food for Thought” and the other a compendium of “memoir-ish” essays and stories. I have had numerous friends encourage me to write a memoir, but I am reticent for a few reasons. The primary one is that I don’t see my life being extraordinary. But I do think there are aspects of it that others might relate to that would be fodder for a more personal writings. Simple things like having to wear eyeglasses as a boy that were like Ben Franklin’s aphorism about reputations: easily shattered and never well mended. And more painful ones like being shamed in front of another you wanted to be friends with. So much more.
My hope is to move one of the three to print by the spring or early summer in 2023 and a second one, likely “Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit, Volume Three,” in the fall. All, of course, to be determined.
TBD has become one of my most used acronyms. The reason is that I have learned it’s best not to go with the flow but to flow with the currents of the Cosmic Ocean. Or, as I love to say, keep choosing to carpe the diems.