An Interview with Sallie H. Weissinger, Author of Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker

Sallie H. Weissinger, Author of Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Think

1.If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Resilient, kind, and intense. My husband said to add a fourth: strong-willed.

2. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind writing “Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker”? What prompted you to share your experiences navigating the online dating world and intertwining them with stories from your childhood and volunteer work?

My writing journey began as entries in a journal over a four-year period, during which I lost the people closest to me – my husband, my parents, and my daughter. I was pouring my heart into a bucket overflowing with grief, not for publication. Over time, the darkness got lighter and I found comforting, gratifying, and hilarious adventures to write about. Lemons, lemonade, and lemon meringue pie came together. Along the way, I had two dear girlfriends and my sister who read my writing, lent content and editorial suggestions, and inspired me to move into a new direction.

You asked why I decided to share my experiences about online dating: I wanted men and women (not just women!) to know they can find meaningful companionship after heartbreaking loss. But a new romance takes you only so far. I was finishing my book with a different ending when Dr. PASTRAMI came into my life. I wanted readers to know a powerful way to manage grief is to help others. In my case, seeing scores of children smile, after surgery had corrected their face-distorting cleft palates, was an incomparable reward. Volunteer work is the best panacea I know, along with time spent with dogs.

3. Throughout your memoir, Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker, your storytelling is vivid and engaging. Did you find that your passion for writing was something you discovered later in life, perhaps as a result of the experiences you recount, or was it a passion that you’ve carried with you since childhood?

I’ve always loved writing. There’s magic in writing, whether it’s notes, cards, and (non-electronic) letters to friends; journal entries and poetry for myself; or articles and website postings for work and non-profits I’ve volunteered with. Writing preserves thoughts; it brings back the past and accentuates the present. It keeps love, joy, and memories in your heart.

I wrote for Tulane University’s student newspaper. As a high school teacher in New Orleans in my twenties, I was the yearbook advisor. In my four years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in San Francisco, I was the firm’s newsletter editor and frequent writer. In twenty-three years with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, I worked as the bank’s corporate communications writer, and then, as vice president of human resources and public affairs, the keeper of the red editorial pen. For over fifty years, I have written, but it was for a defined audience. This time was different.

4. Reflecting on your experiences with online dating in the early 2000s compared to the present day, how do you think the landscape of online dating has evolved?

I have no idea how the online dating scene has changed since the early 2000s. My point of comparison is with the late 1970s, when I picked up the Bay Guardian newspaper in San Francisco and leafed through the personals ads, reading short write-ups (four lines or, at most, eight or ten) without photos. The paper charged you by the number of words you used to describe yourself. If people liked your brief squib, they mailed a letter to you (I was “W/F, 34, seeking the good things”) in care of the newspaper, describing themselves and including a photo. Similarly, if someone caught your eye, you sent them a letter telling about yourself, with a photo, to the same central P.O. box and waited to get snail-mail responses. Everything was “blind.” The process was slow, not the slick click-on-the-keyboard that it is today. I was nervous, excited, and hopeful about meeting someone special. And I did. It happened within six weeks.

By the early 2000s (maybe sooner), people were shrewder about putting a shine on their profiles. A number of men (not everyone, to be sure, and probably as many women as men) padded their stories, sent outdated photos, and burnished their personal and professional history. When I ultimately met them in a coffee shop or cafe in broad daylight, in the majority of cases, I met nice men with whom there was no chemistry and with whom a 45-minute cup of coffee was all we shared. I kept thinking I would meet a knock-my-socks-off guy because I know they’re out there. I just didn’t have the good fortune to meet many of them. Several became good friends. But no bells rang. No, that’s not completely true. With three men who joined me for coffee, I heard bells. Sadly, they didn’t.

Since I pulled the plug on the online personals, I’ve distanced myself from the scene. I don’t know anyone over age forty who is doing the personals these days. My single friends aren’t willing to go out looking. They’ve been scared off by stories of lackluster results, misrepresentation and scams.

5. Could you share some of the most memorable (mis)adventures you encountered while navigating the online dating world? How did these experiences shape your approach to finding a partner?

I wouldn’t call the experiences with the men I’ve already mentioned misadventures. There was nothing wrong, but nothing right. But 10% -15% of them were out-and-out disasters. After a few disappointing years, I began doing Internet searches on men I thought were strong possibilities. I found an e-article about one man I was drawn to, a management consultant in Sacramento, only to discover he had two child molestation judgments in Colorado. His response when I asked him about it was, “Is that a deal breaker for you?” There was a second man I dated eight or ten times; we had cooked together, gone to dinner and the movies, and taken walks. He told me he had managed a financial investment firm and took early retirement. He failed to mention being caught misappropriating firm funds, something my internet search revealed. There were more blatant misadventures: two men who requested short-term loans – $25,000 (to help “Josh” cover damages from an accident in his Saudi Arabia oil exploration work) and $10,000 (for an architect handling an over-budget construction project in Scotland). In both cases, they presented well-crafted, plausible stories. But my answer was no, and, unsurprisingly, they disappeared. These setbacks- and a handful of less dramatic ones- took the steam out of my engine. There weren’t enough good things happening to compensate for my dismay. I pulled the plug, developed my own search engine with my sister’s help, and conducted my PASTRAMI search..

6. Humor seems to be an important aspect of your storytelling. How did you balance the serious and lighthearted elements in your memoir, especially when discussing topics like grief and loneliness?

I didn’t always balance the two sides. My early writing was heavy on grief. The humor came with time and with dating adventures that were fodder for laughter. One unforgettable adventure occurred at a cafe near the Berkeley campus where I met a coffee date who placed a blow-up cushion on his chair. I sipped my foamy espresso drink as he provided in-depth details of his recent hemorrhoid operation and explained his strategy for minimizing discomfort. There were other amusing episodes, but this beats them all.

7. Throughout your experiences, how did the support of friends and the companionship of your dogs contribute to your resilience and perseverance?

Friends were indispensable, but not to talk with them about my black-hole grief. I wanted to participate in their activities – go for walks and hikes, see movies, discuss books, have dinner with them, and travel. Being with people and talking about everyday life helped me feel normal. When I wasn’t with friends, I still chose to be around people – reading at a coffee shop, going to the gym, going to a restaurant where I knew the friendly waitstaff. Best of all, I did volunteer work at a dog shelter and traveled to Central and South America and the Dominican Republic as a medical interpreter. In my twenties, I taught college and high school Spanish. In my sixties, I studied medical Spanish and worked with doctors and nurses on medical missions: they performed surgeries for children with cleft palates and cleft lips, examined women with cervical lesions that could lead to cancer, and treated people with a variety of chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you see people whose needs far outstrip yours and whom you can help.

And dogs! After my husband’s death, our house would have become a tomb if not for my two dogs. They offered – and continue to offer (although now it’s two other rescue dogs who have taken the place Clementine and Daisy once occupied)- companionship, connection, and merriment.

8. As a recipient of awards such as The Gilda (Radner) Award and the Next Generation Indie Book Award, how has the recognition of your work impacted you as an author?

When I learned I had won the Gilda, I was stunned, humbled, proud and incredulous – I thought there had been a mistake to pick my work as being distinguished by “a fresh voice, honesty, authenticity. (They) make us laugh even when we want to cry.” A month later, when I won the Next Generation Indie, I began crying. After, the long days and late nights of writing, I felt validated.

9. Do you have other writers in the family and friends?

My sister is a wonderful writer. In her early years, she was an editor at Mademoiselle Magazine and Editor-in-Chief of Louisiana Magazine. These days she runs a non-profit foundation and writes for governmental entities around the world. Two friends who helped me immeasurably are a professional writing coach (and published author) and a former screenwriter (and part-time editor). My screenwriter friend and I have been pals for fifty years, and she helped me with the humorous parts.

10. For readers who have been deeply touched by your story and are seeking support or guidance, how can they reach out to you for counseling or further assistance?

I am reachable at [email protected].

I want to add more about sources of support and guidance that could help readers. I gained invaluable insights from sessions with a life coach in Berkeley (Chapter Fourteen). And I recommend reading (and rereading and rereading) When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. Everything helped – the passage of time, friends and family, volunteer work, dogs, reading, my life coach, physical activity, and a commitment to finding joy in my life. Winston Churchill said it best, “Never, never, never give up.”

11. Were there any challenges you faced while writing your memoir that you wish you had known about earlier? Any advice for new writers on overcoming those challenges?

I was writing for publication during Covid while I was a new resident in Portland, away from my support system in Berkeley. Everything had shut down at my hybrid publisher’s offices, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know, to make my way to my pub date. How to obtain blurbs and copyright authorizations? How to navigate the technical side of sending and receiving text without it getting distorted when their computers inserted errors into my text? How to deal with cover designers, font people, and formatting experts? I found it frustrating and terrifying. Now that Covid is at least at bay, I would hope there would be more support resources for a first-time writer. By the time I reached publication date, I was beyond drained. My lodestar through this ordeal was Caitlin Hamilton, my publicist, whom I’ve never met. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and still shines bright for me.

12 .Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives you’re excited about, whether they relate to your writing or personal interests?

I’m keeping notes for a possible “something” – you know, a “Now that five years have passed….” version, but I doubt I will write it in book form. I am currently writing and submitting articles to various sites, including the Huffington Post. My goal is to get the New York Times to print me in their Modern Love column. I’ve received one rejection but am not giving up. They accept only 1-2% of submissions, and I intend to make their cut.

13. As you reflect on your success, are there specific individuals, experiences, or moments that you feel particularly grateful for on this journey?

Oh, yes: I referred to them (unnamed) in question #9. My sister, Virginia Littlejohn; my friend Jane Staw, author and writing coach; and my long-time friend Courtney Flavin, screenwriter, editor, and humorist. And Caitlin Hamilton, my publicist, who went above and beyond for me. And my stunningly lovely husband, Bart McMullan, who suffered with me as I yelled, cursed, and stormed around, consoling me constantly and fixing my computer when he could. Bringing me a glass of white wine when there was nothing else he could do. He was colossally tolerant of me working till 2 am on Christmas Eve and throughout the holiday season, to meet my deadlines. He deserves a prize.

Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker Paperback -Available on Amazon

Read: An Interview with Jana Eisenstein, Author of Ghosted – Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences

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