Melissa Cistaro gives creativity, time and power everyday to her work, as a mother, writer, author, book lover, mentor, and artist.
She lives her creative process in line with her favorite quote from Mary Oliver:
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.”
She’s the author of the memoir Pieces of My Mother, which was recently selected as Best Nonfiction Book of 2015 by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. (See a book trailer here.) Her essays, interviews, and stories have appeared in The New Ohio Review, Brevity, The Huffington Post, PBS: To the Contrary, Good Housekeeping and the anthologies Love & Profanity and Cherished.
And, we are thrilled to have her working on her next book at The Hivery.
Her love of books and writing also flows into her work a writing mentor and as an event coordinator at Book Passage where she has introduced hundreds of authors.
Tell us about the new book.
I’m thrilled to be at The Hivery writing my second book. My memoir Pieces of My Mother came out last May and I spent a good part to the past year promoting it and going on a national book tour. I was really fortunate to have a publisher who supported my book and helped it make it a success.
Now I am taking on the exciting challenge of penning a novel. The story is about three generations of women — a grandmother, a mother and a daughter who are all connected by an incident that forever changes their fates. The story grapples with the themes of how our past shapes us and what happens when the truth of our history is withheld from us. This stage of the writing process and discovering the story is absolutely intoxicating.
What inspired you to start your new book?
I’m a writer at heart — it’s what I do to survive and to understand the complicated fabric of life. After working on my own story for so many years, it feels incredibly liberating to write fiction.
What do you like about writing at The Hivery?
I have always thrived in a communal setting when it comes to writing and dreaming. Most of my memoir was written in coffee shops. Even back in high school, I would head to Denny’s to do my homework. The library was too quiet and home was too chaotic. I like the soundtrack and motion of life surrounding me — and it’s what keeps me focused.
I’ve made an incredible amount of progress since I’ve joined The Hivery. When I come to The Hivery, I feel like I am being bathed in light. The light is essential to me. It allows my creative side to open up. I often describe The Hivery to others as, “A beautiful light-filled space where I get to write and be surrounded by the creative energy of other women following their passions.” What more could I ask for?
Tell us a little bit about your day at The Hivery.
I drop off my youngest (I call him my mid-life surprise child) at school in San Rafael at 8:30 and then I head to Mill Valley. I love this short commute time each morning because it allows me to do a little thinking before arriving.
By the time I walk through the doors, I’m ready to start working. I’m very disciplined when it comes to my writing time, but I also give myself permission to to wander around in the process (sometimes that means doing research, free writing, or even simply staring out the window as a way of working something out that needs attention on the page).
I feel like the time I have between dropping my son off for school and picking him up are sacred hours. At the same time, because my mother didn’t live with our family when I was growing up, I am grateful that I am able to be there each day for my children before and after school.
Are any other new chapters (pardon the pun) happening for you right now?
I’m also using some of my time at The Hivery to craft a teaching syllabus and author mentoring program. I’ve been getting a lot of requests to speak and teach and this is very exciting. From my years of working at Book Passage and then being on the other side as an author with a published book, I have a lot I want to share and give back to aspiring authors.
I love that you are giving back. Tell us about your mentors or people who support you.
I have learned to surround myself with positive, soul-searching, big-hearted people. This isn’t always possible — but it’s vital for our well-being. The people I reach out to again and again are those who are supportive and listen without judgement.
If we are going to be vulnerable and expose our deepest desires and truths, we need to surround ourselves with those who inspire us. Over my years of working at Book Passage, I have been inspired by the many authors I have met. I’ve had the privilege of introducing some of my favorite writers and speakers including Brené Brown, Anne Lamott, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Jeanette Walls, Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert. Working with these authors has nourished me in so many ways.
Positive, big-hearted people are so important, and we see that every day at The Hivery. How has The Hivery community affected you?
I met Grace back when she started The Hivery in Sausalito and I was instantly enchanted by her spark and passion. I came to a social gathering when I was home for a few days right after my book launched. I remember having a terrible migraine. I almost didn’t go, but I went because I wanted to surround myself with women like Grace who were in the act of creating meaning in their lives and in their communities.
Later, I discovered Megan Flatt’s wonderful workshops which helped anchor me back to reality at the end of my book tour. I needed to refocus and gather a strategy for the new year. Megan inspired me to create an awesome goal board and got me hooked on Post-it notes. Her blog posts are great, especially for moms who are striving for that work/life balance.
Balance is so hard, and yet you make time to be creative. What advice would you offer your younger self about finding (and making time and space for) work that you are passionate about?
I’m going to stick with my Rilke’s quote which I have always held in my heart:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I love that, the idea of living the questions. And yet uncertainty can lead to fear. How do you work through or with fear?
I’ve worked with fear for so long that we’ve actually become friends. We need our fear if we are going to attempt any kind of creative work whatsoever. Fear can be transformed into a great source of fuel. It’s perfectionism that gets in my way most of the times.
It was perfectionism that made me hang onto writing and rewriting my memoir for so many years. But I got to a point where I realized that I was never going to be truly “happy” with my work and that it was vital to let it go out into the universe with all its beautiful flaws and imperfections. Letting go of this memoir – when that final draft was going to print and I couldn’t make any more changes – was one of the most emotional times for me over the twelve years of working on it. It was no longer going to be mine alone – the world was going to see it and love it or hate it or be indifferent to it. And yes, at times it was absolutely terrifying.
Terrifying, but you did it! Thank you, Melissa for showing us how you give your creativity, power, and time to creating your work.
Want to give your own creativity power and time? Check out The Hivery's Monthly Writing Circle, AND Melissa’s writing classes (starting SOON!) and mentorship:
- Writing mentoring with the Path to Publishing program at Book Passage. This is one-on-one work with writers who want to get their work published. Sunday, October 9th. More details here.
- Memorable Memoir: A San Francisco Memoir Workshop (5 WK). You know your story. It’s about you, after all. But how do you make your tale so engaging that it pulls the reader in page after page? In this five-week San Francisco memoir workshop, successful memoirist Melissa Cistaro takes you behind the scenes, exploring techniques for making the truth more compelling than fiction. More details here.
For a sneak peak at a different kind of creativity, check out the 7th Annual Altered Book Show which supports the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. Melissa has a piece that received an Honorable Mention Award. Women doing cool stuff, indeed!