Home » Alessandra Gelmi
Alessandra Gelmi is a national award-winning author, professor, journalist, editor, former member of the White House Correspondents’ Association and an advocate for human and animal welfare. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is at work on her fourth book, Soulbait.
KC: You’ve worn a myriad of hats throughout your impressive and accomplished career, both personally and professionally. How did your stroke in 2007 change your life?
AG: The doctors thought I would never walk again. I had to relearn how to walk and talk. I remember the speech therapist coming in every day when I was hospitalized and pointing to something in the room–a sink or a chair–wanting me to name it. I had no idea how to do this. I was in intensive care for three weeks while paralyzed on my left side.
Friends would tell my doctors, “She’s a fighter. She’ll fight this.” Let me tell you, my recovery was anything but a fight. I chose to embrace the situation and decided to live moment by moment in a nonjudgmental space. I knew I was in my Creator’s hands and it all was perfect. I was a healthy woman in my 50s, and after the allergic reaction that caused the stroke, I continued to make peace with my body. When I returned home in the spring, I would lie on the living room sofa with the windows wide open and listen to the birds. Some days that’s all I did. I learned to isolate and identify specific bird calls, and I felt connected to that beauty. It was enormously liberating.
After a year of rest, I was back on my feet. One of my neurologists wondered if I were writing. When I told her that I was, she referred to me as a “high-performance individual,” which struck me as odd. My career was always shape-shifting. Whatever I did, I did professionally, but I still felt as if I were in free-fall and not exclusively dedicated to any one discipline. Someone once asked a famous author–maybe Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison–if writing were her life. She answered, “No, my life is my life.” I feel the same way. I don’t define myself by my occupation, but being a writer implies that you are up to something big.
KC: You mentioned earlier that, post-stroke, you’ve been “drawn to connecting with infinite intelligence.” What does this look like for you, and how is this influencing your work?
AG: I have always written and continue to write about the same subject, at least in my fiction, poetry and plays–and that is the fragility of life and how one navigates it, especially in the context of what is Truth and how this is accessed. Since my stroke, I’ve moved from my personal preoccupation with the Divine to a larger space. I participate in planetary healing meditations with a group every week to collectively pray for the survival of “GAIA”–our earth–and our species. We harness powerful group energy as meditation for prayer. For example, we continue to address the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima in Japan. People think that accident has come and gone, but the damage is alive. The Pacific Ocean is now radioactive. Pre-stroke, I was about me. Post-stroke, I am about the planet and her inhabitants.
As any “seeker” knows, the more one learns in existential matters, the more questions arise. That is the nature of the quest. I am interested in the heart. Before my stroke, I was more interested in the mind–in logic and reason. These days, I soak myself in esoteric readings, spiritual technology, indigenous wisdom and the mystical traditions of the Judeo-Christian faith. But I do this while still enjoying a double cheeseburger and a cold beer or getting dressed up and wearing my five-inch Jimmy Choos. Despite my fascination with metaphysics and philosophy, I still take pleasure in this three-dimensional existence. This is critical. We are in this world to connect to it, and it is our birthright to experience joy.
I write currently for an international newspaper, The Epoch Times, that delivers news under an umbrella of human-rights monitoring. For example, people worldwide should be free to practice whatever religion they feel led to practice. It’s the first amendment of our Constitution. In communist China, that’s impossible. In Iran, that’s impossible. People are being murdered in so-called “civilized societies” because of their creed.
KC: You’re currently at work on a fourth book, Soulbait. Can you share more about this project?
AG: I want to share what interests me vis-á-vis new science and spiritual technology. I see this work being dramatized for the stage as a two-character play, eventually touring. Why not? My first play, Falling Stars, was performed by an Equity cast at The National Theater in 1988. The fodder for that play came from teaching first graders in trailers in a very poor community in South Carolina. Teaching and learning are a kind of seesaw. They are at spectral ends, but they are also one. I learned a lot from those six-year olds.
KC: What exactly did you learn?
AG: As Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.”
KC: As you reflect back on a truly impressive several decades, for what do you feel the most grateful?
AG: I had a boyfriend in my 30s who was very cheerful. I once asked him, “Why are you so happy?” He looked at me quizzically, as if I had asked him whether the moon were round. “Because I’m alive,” he said. Now, I get that. Then, it sounded like Mary Poppins’ drivel. I also remember crying as a child at, maybe, four years old, and my mother asking me why I was upset. I answered, “Because I’m a human being.” It’s a mixed bag, but I’m grateful to be alive!
Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her work has been previously published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Narrative Magazine and Hunger Mountain, among others. She is a regular contributor at As It Ought To Be and Fogged Clarity, and she teaches in Southern Indiana.