Welcome! Today's guest is Emily Johnson, an author and mother of 1 from Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.
Emily grew up with a creative mother, she spent many years dancing ballet and golf. Emily has a background in journalism and marketing,
When Emily was 13 her mum was diagnosed with advanced stage Ovarian Cancer. Statistically, she had very little time left and shortly after, she began writing a novel entitled Bird of Paradise, She lived for another 17 years.
Shortly after her mum's passing, Emily opened her mums laptop and found her unfinished novel, and a letter from her mother requesting that Emily finish the novel for her. It took Emily 8 years to complete this epic task, and along the way the process took her through emotional ups and downs, processing grief, learning more about her mother and creating a legacy for her family.
Bird of Paradise was finally published on what would have been her mother's 71st birthday.
**This episode contains discussions around grief and the loss of a parent, having a baby without your mother in your life and anxiety.**
Purchase the book - Bird of Paradise
Connect with Emily
Music used with permission from Alemjo, Australian new age and ambient music trio.
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Art of Being A Mum Podcast. I'm beyond honoured that you're here and would be grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave me a 5-star review in iTunes or wherever you are listening. It really helps! This way together we can inspire, connect and bring in to the light even more stories from creative mums. Want to connect? Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on Instagram tagging me in with @art_of_being_a_mum_podcast
I can't wait to connect. And remember if you or somebody you know would like to be a guest on the podcast, get in touch! I love meeting and chatting to mammas from all creative backgrounds, from all around the world!
Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.
Welcome to the Art of Being a mum, the podcast. It's a platform for mothers who are artists and creatives to share the joys and issues they've encountered, while continuing to make art. Regular themes we explore include the day to day juggle, how mothers work is influenced by the children, mum guilt, how mums give themselves time to create within the role of mothering, and the value that mothers and others placed on their artistic selves. My name's Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter, and a mom of two boys from regional South Australia. You can find links to my guests and topics we discuss in the show notes. Together with music played, how to get in touch, and a link to join our lively and supportive community on Instagram. The art of being a mum acknowledges the Bondic people as the traditional owners of the land, which his podcast is recorded on. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for listening. It really does mean so much. My guest today is Emily Johnson, an author and mother of one from rally in North Carolina in the United States. Emily grew up with a creative mother. She spent many years dancing ballet and golf, and she enjoyed many trips to say The Phantom of the Opera. Emily has a background in journalism and marketing. When Emily was 13, her mom was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Statistically she had very little time left and shortly after she began writing a novel entitled bird of paradise. Emily's mom lived for another 17 years. Shortly after her passing, Emily opened her mom's laptop and found her unfinished novel. Together with a letter from her mother requesting that Emily finished the novel. He took Emily eight years to complete this epic task along the way, processing her grief, through emotional ups and downs, learning more about her mother and creating a legacy for her family. Bird of Paradise was finally published on what would have been her mother's 71st birthday. This episode contains discussions around grief and the loss of a parent, having a baby without your mother in your life and anxiety. The music you'll hear today is from Australia New Age ambient music trio LM job, which features myself, my sister, Emma Anderson, and her husband, John. I hope you enjoy today's episode. Thank you so much for coming on today. Emily. It's a real pleasure to welcome me.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate
it. So you're in North Carolina in the US. So what's it like there at the moment? What's your weather doing?
It's doing the typical North Carolina spring. So one day it's winter and the next day it is oppressively hot and humid. So I believe today is supposed to be warm tomorrow. Thunderstorms tornadoes last week, and who knows? Maybe snow by the end of the week. Oh, wow.
I'm joking about the snow. We're over that. But it's a funky time of year here.
Yeah. Right. And like tornadoes. Like that doesn't sound that fun. Is that?
No, no, it's not. I mean, we're not not like the tornadoes they get in the Midwest, but a tornado is a tornado as far as I'm concerned.
Yeah, that's it, isn't it? Oh, goodness. Well, that's one thing I have never had to come across here. So that's, you know, I have no experience on that. But and you said just while we're chatting that you're not originally from North Carolina. Where are you from? Originally?
I am originally from Aspen, Colorado. Ah, yep. Yeah. They were born there. Yeah. I was there for 13 years before my family moved to North Carolina. Yep.
Oh, beautiful. That's, that is a beautiful part of the world.
I kind of think of my creativity as being two folds. By Day and profession. I'm in marketing and advertising, which is certainly creative. I call it box creativity because you can only go so far. You've got clients and, you know, length. Regulations. And you know, I mean, a tagline can only be so creative. And then unexpectedly, I just published a book, while I guess just is a year ago. And it's a work of fiction. So a lot of creativity. It was actually originally begun by my mom when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And she passed away leaving it unfinished and a couple weeks after she passed away I found a letter from her that had her unfinished manuscript And she asked me to finish it for her. So, yeah, it was a Titanic, you know, trying to do that. But after eight years, I finally finished it. And I am still shocked and surprised that it's published.
Congratulations. That's an epic, epic story. So you had no idea that Did you know that she was working on it? And you just assumed that it it sort of just been left to one side until you read the letter?
Yes, I did. I mean, I knew for years she was writing it. And I knew she'd spent hours doing it. And I'd always ask what she was writing about. And she told me I'd find out eventually, and then I'd asked, Can I read it? And she said, you'll find out about it eventually. You know, and said, I had no idea what it was about. I mean, the first time I sat down to read it, after she passed it, I was just, I was blown away. I was shocked. Never in a million years could I have I imagined my mom writing something like this. And she's a brilliant woman. But it was just amazing to me. And so yeah, it was shocking.
Oh, goodness. So I'm gonna go I'm gonna leave that story there. For sake just leave everybody on the tip of the chairs waiting. But I want to go back to, to you as a as growing up. And as a child, I guess. Were you creative? Then? Were you interested in the arts or music or things like that when you're growing up?
Yeah, I mean, I loved it. I danced ballet for years and years and years. Certainly not professionally. But it was something that I really enjoyed doing. And so I had an appreciation for the classical arts. I've always been a big fan of musical theater. When I was in fourth grade, my parents took me to go see Phantom of the Opera. And I was pretty much hooked since then, I think I've seen at about 14 times, all over the world, which is kind of, I don't know, crazy, maybe fanatical. But I just I love going to the Broadway shows. And I've just always loved the symphony. And you know, any of the arts has just been a huge part of my life. I even wrote grants for the professional ballet company here for several years. Yeah. Anytime I get a chance to go and see anything in the theater on there.
Yeah, that's interesting. You say about the Phantom. That was the first show that I ever saw. The town that I live in, were sort of 500 kilometers between. I don't know what that is in miles, sorry. But we're like halfway between these two major cities in Australia, Adelaide and Melbourne. So we don't have we don't have big things come here. But this one time, I don't know how maybe I was 11 or 12. And mum took myself and my sister on the bus to go over and say it. And then as soon as it finished, we got on the bus and drove back home again. Like it was just this quick trip. But that was ah, yeah, I can definitely relate to you about that. That being the first show that you see. It just it's incredible shows and it's just
I love it. I mean, I when I was a kid, I even put on a one woman show the Phantom of the Opera in my living room from my parents so that they were chandelier falling and everything. Fabulous. I play the piano, you know, just for fun and kind of stress release and things like that. And I'm a golfer I played competitive golf throughout my high school years. I still play not competitively, but there's some creativity to that. And when you end up in the woods, you got to figure out how to get yourself out of their
vision what could be
I never thought about golf that way actually, my husband used to play and I never thought he was very creative. But you know, that's a good point.
If you're hitting it straight, it's not creative. But if you're all over the place, you gotta get yourself over to that green.
I love that. That's awesome so, your mum, she said You said she was you know, a brilliant person in your words was Was she always sort of creative and doing things and and you're exposed to that when you were growing up?
Yeah, I mean, she was very artistic. Her art did not pass down to me at all. She never really did anything, you know, other than just for pure joy of it. She used to love doing paper cuttings, and I still remember her doing Apple birds and grapefruit roses for dinner parties. Oh, you know, she she just loved that kind of creativity. She was a school teacher. She taught elementary school. She was actually my teacher in second and third grade is the only teacher ever sent me to the principal's office she Yeah, that was embarrassing. But, you know, after she retired when we move North Carolina, she did a lot of work with curriculum and she worked for I can't think it's the American Curriculum Development Society, I think is what it was called, don't quote me on that. And so she did a lot of talks around the country about developing curriculum for elementary school level. But I just I always enjoyed watching her create things.
Yeah, that would have been like a really awesome sort of environment to grow up with having that, like encouragement. And, yeah, yeah,
it was, she's, she's like, every year, we used to go to New York and go to some Broadway shows. And that was kind of our celebration of our birthdays. And it always would be fast with the opera would be number one, and then we'd go see a couple others as well. So I have a lot of memories of that.
So that's it. Like that's a really good setup for you, regardless of whether then you actually have this incredible task given to you by your mom to, to complete the book, what what was your first thoughts? I mean, you have shared that you couldn't believe that she had written it, when you had to think about you then writing it, how did you feel about taking on that task?
You know, it's really funny writing, it was the easy part for me. I think I just I knew my mom's so well, that once I read through this and got to know her characters and, and their motivations and who they were, I actually the story came to me fairly quickly, I wrote the end before anything else, and then backtracked my way to that black and white line of where she ended. And then, you know, when I, when I created the ending of the story and the story arc, I had to complete it. So I had to go back to what she had written, and add in events and some conversations just to make it cohesive. But it, you know, it and so I guess, in part, it was almost therapy for me, because so much of her even though it's fictional, is in this book that I was able to, you know, really continue a conversation with my mom, for nearly eight years after she passed away. And in that immediate moment, after her passing is, is very difficult. You know, and everyone has a different way of grieving. And this helped me through it enormously. Because it just felt like I could talk to her.
Yeah. So how did it feel then when you're coming up to finish it? Did that feel like you didn't really want to finish it? Like you knew that would be the end? You know, of the?
Yeah, I, I think part of the eight years of me trying to write this, yeah, I changed careers, I had a child, which I know we'll probably be talking about. So I had a lot of distractions. But part of me also thinks I never really wanted to finish it. Because I knew that would close a chapter on my life with my mom. And I could have gone over and over and over this, you know, indefinitely, but just decided I have to stop at some point. And just type the end. And I really thought that was it. I mean, I never really intended to publish it. And then I just happened to know someone that knew someone who was in publishing and got my manuscript to them. And all of a sudden, they wanted to publish it. So it was amazing, but I just, you know, and now I can look back on it. It's been 10 years since my mom passed away. So now I can kind of look back on it. And it's a new way of connecting with my mom, you know, our words are gonna be forever intertwined in this book. And so, you know, I can kind of think to that as well.
Yeah, that's such a beautiful story. Like, yeah, and um, yeah, sorry, I'm getting emotional. That's just so special, isn't it? Like, you're right forever. You're in your mom's words and your ideas and concepts and everything will be together in this one document. That's pretty massive, isn't it?
Yes. I mean, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. It was so much fun getting to do it. And just knowing that that her dream of being published was was going to be fulfilled
Yeah. Like on one hand, it's like, I want to say it's a lot of pressure to put on you because she obviously knew you're capable. She wouldn't have done it, I guess. But yeah, that achieving it is just, you know, like you said, it's, it's meeting that dream that your mom had. And that's pretty special, isn't it to be added,
I think she always intended me to be the one to finish really put the letter in the copy of the unfinished manuscript somewhere, which she knew I would find it. It was in her closet under her computer. And she, I think she knew I'd go snooping for it because I wanted, I knew it was on her computer, I knew her password. And I think she just knew, you know, I was gonna go try and find this. And So lo and behold, there it was. And yeah, I am I, my mother never did anything, unintentionally. That just wasn't her way. And I really think that she, she knew how much I'd need this, she knew that I'd be capable of finishing it, even if I didn't think I was gonna be. And so I think she really, this was her way of, of making sure I was going to be able to make it through the next few years, until I got to that point in my grieving period, where I knew that I was going to make it through versus this is where I'm going to be forever in this empty space, you know, without my mom. So you know, and I and the way with the story goes, I don't want to give anything away. But there's a ton of me in this, I mean, you can, you can almost in a sense, feel my emotional growth throughout, you know, the book as well. And because the book follows a young girl who starts out at the age of 17, at the beginning, which is in 1967, in San Francisco, which is when my mom was in San Francisco, that's where she grew up. So the 60s in San Francisco, she's got some had some great stories. But you know, the in the book follows a decade long journey of this girl, as she, you know, learns to find her place in the world and who she is and, and learns that you have to overcome things in order to find the beauty in life. And so it it there's a very strong central family in it. That is very much like what my family was. And so I can see little bits and pieces and the characters and the stories and things. And I think she you know, she knew I'd need that there's a lot of life lessons that you really hope you can pass on to your children, but she didn't know if she'd be there. She had terminal cancer. I mean, I was 15 She got diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had had breast cancer before that. And they told her, you know, statistically, people don't survive this. And she made it nearly 17 years past that. She wished she told her doctors, you know, you, you better make sure on there to see my daughter walked down the aisle. That was her ultimate goal. And I put, you know, like I said, I was 15. That was a long ask for terminal cancer. But she was there, she saw me get married, to have her doctors that were with her the whole time. Also, were there to see me get married, which was really special to me. And you know, she just she wasn't going to take no for an answer. She was just, that was it. She wasn't going until she was ready to go. And that's I think what? What made her the survivor? She was.
Yeah, well, that is just an inspiration in itself, really, isn't it? Yeah.
All right, well, let's talk about your family that you mentioned that you had a child during this process. And yeah, share us share with us about your family.
Well, I have one son, he's seven and a half now, which is absolutely unbelievable to me. And my husband and the three of us live in Raleigh, North Carolina. My husband's an engineer. And like I said, I do marketing advertising. And my son his full time profession is to be crazy.
I joke that he's solar powered, going and going and going to use the joy of my life.
Yeah, I can relate. I've got a six and a half year old. So you know, around that time? They are they like the Energizer Bunny, they just go and keep going and going and go and they just don't stop. Do they
know they never do.
So how was that like then trying to write and then, you know, raise a little ball of energy.
Yeah, well, I mean, I, you know, I started, I started writing, I got pregnant, I guess a year and a few months after my mom passed away. And so I I had already started writing this a little bit prior to getting pregnant. And then during the pregnancy process, I was actually I feel like my creativity went up tenfold. I don't know why. Once I got past that third trimester that or the first trimester that was a little rough week. We could do it without that. But you know, I had this time I slowed down my my actual profession quite a bit during my pregnancy, it was kind of a rough one. So I spent a lot of time at home. And this is how I filled my time. And then once he was born, I put it down, I almost forgot about it. It was it was a couple years. I mean, it wasn't until he went to preschool that I was able to pick it up again. And he was in preschool for about six hours a day. So I dropped them off. And then I'd go to a local coffee shop with my computer and just sit and write. And that's kind of how I went about and then we, you know, when he went immediately, well, not immediately, he actually ended preschool early because of COVID. And did virtual kindergarten. So that was a bit rough. And I did not, you know, it's during that virtual kindergarten is when I was able to get this published. So he'd be sitting there and I'd be editing it and listening to him on the computer as well. So so it was definitely on and off. And that's I think, why it took me eight years to bash
hmm, yeah. Well, I was gonna ask you about your identity when, when you became a mom, did you have the sort of shift in? I don't know, we sort of joked that feels like we've been hit by a truck. And, you know, we don't know, if we're up the right way or the wrong way, whatever. Did you sort of experience that sort of emotions when you had yourself?
I did. I mean, it was funny. I was, you know, it was very hard for me giving birth without my mom. My dad's older sister actually came out for several weeks to be there with me. And then I was so late in my delivery that she left
a couple days after, because she, she needed to get back to our family.
But you know, so I think for the you know, it's just such a shock. It's like hitting a brick wall, where you have those moments of pure joy. And then all of a sudden, you think, Oh, my gosh, I'm responsible for another life. And I don't know what I'm doing. And, you know, it was, you know, my son sneezed. And I immediately wanted to call my mom and ask if I needed to take him to the hospital or not. But she wasn't there, you know, and my dad was completely overwhelmed as well, I don't know, what do you do?
You know, and it was, you know, so
for the first few years, it was really difficult. Not that it's not still difficult, but it was just kind of, I really just became Nate's mom. That's what I did. And then I ended up going back to work. I'll be it a little differently. It wasn't in the ad agency, or nonprofit world. But I ended up going back to work and did that for several years, my college roommate, who I was still really good friends with, actually ended up watching my son while I was at work, which was, you know, I had someone to trust. But I just got to that point where I felt like I was missing him, I felt guilty that he was away from me. And so I stopped working, which I never thought I do. I always intended to be that career person that would have a family and juggle their full time career and figure it out. And then all of a sudden, that wasn't important to me. I just, you know, I lost that, that drive to have that type of career. And in advertising, it is very difficult not to be 100% committed to the career if you want to move up. It's just it's a cutthroat business. And so yeah, my my identity as a career woman completely went out the window. And I became a full, you know, full time mom. And now I'm able to do freelance marketing advertising. So I have my own clients, I can work from home on my own schedule. And I've built a business that way, which has been fabulous, but I still remember hitting that moment where I I looked in the mirror and I was like, I don't even know who I am. I mean, I've I've everything is now revolved around my family, which is great. But I saw myself starting to go downhill because I had lost who I was.
Yeah, yeah, that's the thing, isn't it? If you if you don't sort of look after yourself and know who yourself is, I suppose you do. You do risk just sort of dis dissipating. I suppose just like you said, just being nice mum. And, and that's all you exist for. And then that can be I don't know, I actually spoke to a lady a couple of days ago when I was recording. And she had the same experience. She always wanted to have four children. That was her dream was just to have four children. And she had to and realize how hard it was but she just kept pushing on and she got the four and then she thought she'd be happy. They she thought Once I've met my goals, this is what I want. Now I should be happy. And then she couldn't work out why she wasn't happy anymore. And it was because she'd lost sight of who she was. Like she was just existing for her children, basically. So, yeah,
it's scary when you get to that point. I mean, there's a lot of feelings that go into that. And I actually, you know, I had started to try and find my point of passion, again, that fit into, you know, that circle of family, I mean, there's things that I would love to be going to do. But you just can't, as a mom, I mean, there's, you know, the logistics of babysitting, and school and things like that. But I needed to find that thing that was just mine. And I started to do it, I got really into kickboxing, and I went to the gym. I had a trainer who had I've known for years, because I broke my back when I when I think from years of playing competitive golf, I had fractured my back unknowingly, but it came to a head in 2011, and I had to get surgery. And so he was my physical therapist when I was able to kind of start getting back to it. So, you know, I'd always been working out, but it really became a central focus for me, when I found out that I had completely lost who I was. And, you know, I obviously, you know, if some, my son needed something, I had to put the working out on the back burner for a little bit. But, you know, I tried very hard to protect that hour of my day. And but then, you know, you kind of start losing it a little bit when when something happens, or your son goes to school, or, you know, there's a life change. And then I read an article in a magazine that Rachel Harris wrote, she's an actress, and you know, about her becoming a mom in in the acting world, and what she learned about it, and she got really into fitness as well. You know, and she just, she realized that being a happy mother made you a good mother, you know, and that, so I didn't feel the guilt anymore about really taking that time for myself, because I realized what I was doing was actually helping my son and not harming him.
So, absolutely, yeah, that's something that really common theme on the podcast is people talk about having their own needs met, so then they're able to meet the needs of others. And I think that's, you know, as a mom, who's there for everybody, not, you know, you're not just there for the children, but you know, your, for your partner and your job. Or if you've got, you know, pets, you've got to look after, like, you're there for everybody, like, there's so
hard, you know, and I suffer from anxiety, I was always a type A personality, and then the older I got, and then having a child, I took my anxiety up to a huge level, and that would interfere with my ability to do things. And so, you know, working out came became the way to combat it. I took it a bit too far, not that long ago and broke my ankle doing it.
But you know, you have to be, you know, a little careful.
You know, I really did. I mean, if I'm happier, my family's going to be happier, I'm going to be more present in the moment, which is so important. Rather than thinking of the what if this happens, or I didn't do this, right, or, you know, it, it's so important, I think, to do that. And I I fall, you know, off the wagon every once in a while and have a moment of complete, you know, panic about things, but I think I'm getting better. I'm a work in progress.
I think we all love to be honest, everyone has their moments. And then, but I think it's having that goal, like you said that, that point of passion, which I think is awesome, saying I'm going to start using that is, is really does, you know, even if you, you're conscious that you haven't done it for a couple of days, whatever, it's always in your mind now because you've got something that you know, makes you feel amazing. And, and that in turn, you know, helps you, you know, be the mom that you want to be I suppose for
one, it's very much. That's a lot of my mom, my mom, because it's a theme throughout the whole book is finding that thing that you're passionate about and finding your sanctuary, which she always said was you know, finding who you are and knowing you know, knowing who you are and liking who you are. And once you find that place, you know, things the good will come. But she was always one to live passionately, you know, she had to face her mortality. So she lives you saying she lives every day to the fullest. It's kind of weird because someday she just you know, throw up her hands and you know shout and yell and say things I can't say on a podcast. But everyone's allowed to do that. You know, I mean if you don't if you're perpetually perky, it's you're hiding things that's just not human nature. She was a big proponent of of Never Letting Go Have passion in your life. And unfortunately I did. And you know, since that's a theme throughout the book, I mean, this, this book is really almost a guide for me at various stages of my life, and I'm forever thankful for that.
Yeah. It's awesome. It's like, you've got your own personal little, you know, I don't want to call them a self help book, because it's not, but you know what I mean? Like, it's a, it's a little, little reminder for
certainly self help, you know, it's not what to expect when expecting, but it is definitely self help. For me. I mean, I just, there's little reminders in there, where I just have to say, oh, yeah, you know, I forgot to do that I forgot, I forgot me, I forgot to hold on to that passion. And I really, it has changed my life to remember to go back and take care of myself.
You're listening to the art of being a mom with my mom, Alison Newman. That's an incredible gift for your mom to give you to like to raise you in that way. And to, to actually role model that for you for you. And then, you know, I'm sure as your son grows up, like, he's going to have the same sort of mentality, because that's how you're authentically living your life in that way. It's just I hope
so. I mean, it's, you know, I can see a lot of meat in him with his personality, you know, he looks just like my husband, except for his hair, his hair is as wild as mine is. But, you know, he, he's very type A, I can see the anxiety in him. You know, and I'm hoping that I can combat that. You know, from being on the other side, I know what it's like to have that anxiety, you know, in college, sometimes it can be, you know, detrimental. It can, it can make things very difficult sometimes, you know, particularly with exams. And so I'm hoping, you know, that I can I can impart that wisdom on him, like my mom did to me, or tried to do to me. But it took me to getting an adult in my mother myself to understand exactly what my mom was trying to say to me the whole time. And you know, and this book is his grandmother's legacy, and his mom's legacy. I did very similar to my mom, I tried to put in, you know, like I said, it's a fiction, but there's some very deep, you know, things for me, not only, you know, with the storyline and places that the book goes that I wrote from experience. I mean, he'll get to, you know, see some of my experiences in life. But it's also I tried to put in, in those lessons that I want to pass on to him as well. Yeah, you know, and it's, it's, he's very proud of it, which just makes me feel warm and fuzzy. He drew an art in art class, he drew a picture of the cover. And I just, you know, I went to tears when I saw
that. Oh, that's beard focus. Yeah, that's, that's was something I was going to ask you is like, how does you know? Does he know that his mom's an author? And obviously he does and yeah, like, very proud of it.
I mean, to hear him talk you think I was like a best selling you know, New York Times famous author. So yeah, it's great to see I mean, you you hope that your children see you as this hero figure in your life. Y'all not so I saw my parents I was very close to my parents. I was an only child just like my son is going to be because I was after his birth I was one and done. It was not gonna happen again.
Oh, I was yeah, that was not I'm so thrilled with the way it turned out but it was not pleasant.
Yeah, but it's just you know, that's just it makes it worth
it. Yeah, I nearly I nearly only had one because I had a very terrible delivery and then a very challenging baby. So my kids have got seven nearly seven half years between them. It took a while to get back on the wagon.
I understand that I just never got back on the wagon
Yeah, no good on you.
will get a dog that's all.
Yeah, now I could have easily have done that. was at the point where I was either going to get a hysterectomy or have another child like that's how my brain was like flip flopping between the two options. You know, it was my husband
it was not was not not in the cards.
Tell us the name of the book called Bird of Paradise.
Can you share what it's called that? Or is that sort of comes out in the book more? Would you rather know?
Yeah, it's funny, I don't, you know, my mom titled it. And I found out from the very little notes that she left that at one point, she was gonna call it letters to my daughter, which just gives me the warm fuzzies. Because a lot of it is kind of have that relationship between the mom and the daughter. It's it's a lot of that. But she her favorite flower in the world was bird of paradise, she had one in the room that she did the majority of her writing. So it does, you know, for her it, there was a bird of paradise flower that the mother took everywhere the family went, because the father's job takes them to all these different exotic locations like London and Paris and Hong Kong and Jakarta and all these amazing places. And so she always brings the bird of paradise with her. But that's where it ended with my mom. It's part of the story. And because I knew how important it was, I carried it into a much larger theme where it became symbolic and not necessarily just the flower. So there's it's twofold. You know, and there's bird of paradise all over the cover. There's a there's an island in the book, which is the family's true home, even though they live all over the world. And that island is, is the one place in the book that doesn't really exist. It was all made up in my mom's mind. I've had so many people ask me, you know, where is it and I have no earthly idea. But it is this beautiful idea like tropical islands that I would love to find Sunday. And of course there's bird of paradise on.
So just coming back to how you approached writing the book, did you have to? Did you find that your style of writing was already, like similar to the way that your mom had written? Because you've been reading? Or did you have to make a real conscious effort to try and make the way that you're writing blending with your mom's?
It was a very conscious effort, because just my background is in journalism and marketing, which is not descriptive and poetic. I mean, you have to say what you want to say and get out of there. And so, you know, for me, it was I wrote very black and white. My mom was very descriptive. You know, very, I've had people compare it to a movie in the mind. So there was no little detail she left you know, hidden and you know, so my first draft of this, you could tell it was two different writers. It was my draft was very, you know, just this is what happened. These are the facts. And here's the story and, and I knew that was going to happen. So I had to go back over, you know, my my sections of it. And just I've said several times, and I hold true to it that it was like an oil painting, where you just add layer upon layer of description until I got to that level of what my mom's writing was. And that took you know, it took a massive amount of some of it was evaluating my internal feelings and using that to get to that level. A lot of it was finding Google Images that spoke to me that made sense within the story and just scribing them, or finding, you know, this book goes somewhere, and I don't want to reveal where it is, but this book does go to a location that is one of the most special places in the world to me. And so I was able to pull out old family photos and, and the feelings I had of seeing these things in person and, and use that, to really describe it, I'm still shocked that I was able to do it. I'm shocked that nobody really knows the true line of where I took over 100% Not even my publisher. You know, it's just my father is the only one that knows, and I hope it stays that way. I've had people guess, and you know, and things like that. But I don't want really any I don't want to reveal that.
No, I Yeah, even if they guess, right, you're not going to tell it because it's
gonna smile and say, you know, no.
Yeah, that's true. No, but that's the thing, too. It's, it's part of this incredible story. It's the joining together. But at the same time, it's the same. It's one in the same if you know what I mean. Like, yeah, you you wouldn't want people to to like to tell people because I don't know. It just doesn't it wouldn't feel right, wouldn't it?
I know. And it was very important to me, you know that I stay true to my mom's story. This was her story. You know, I, I made sure her name was listed first on the cover. That was really, really important to me. For some reason, it's small, little detail. But that was that was essential that that happened because it is hers. These characters are hers. Just because I completed their story art doesn't mean I took them over. And I didn't want to take away from her writing, you know, I could have easily gone in here and just stripped her writing down to match more my writing style. The book is over 550 pages long. It's a saga of a book. But and I could have certainly done that. But then I would have it wouldn't have been hers anymore. And that's what's so special about it. And she didn't leave any notes. For me whatsoever. There was no outline, she created every character with the exception of one I just had a name and knew who that character was supposed to be in the story. And that was a lot of fun for me to create that particular character. I have a feeling she did that on purpose. I don't think she wanted to box me in. I think she wanted me to be able to take the story where I wanted to take it. I actually don't even remember her writing for the last year of her life. Granted, I didn't live at home, but I think she stopped intentionally. I mean, I just I I don't know why I just have this feeling. But I think she, she did not want me to feel like I had to stick to one particular story. I like to think where I took it is exactly where she would have. Because I knew her like that. I knew that the way she thought, you know, this is this book starts as a coming of age family saga. And then as the main character gets older and more experienced, it works its way into a romance. And you know, I think you know, and I just think that's something she wanted me to experience as well.
This is such an awesome story. Honestly, how many people can say that they've done what you've done. Like, it's just you must feel like incredibly, like proud and privileged. And, you know, all the all the big words and emotions like to have been able to do it.
I'm so honored by the fact that she entrusted me with something that she had worked so hard on and, and I am very proud of it. I'm blown away by the reception. It's gotten the things that people have said, I mean, I've been compared to famous authors that I never had a million a barber freebie, and I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so cool. And, you know, and then you know, so it's just been absolutely incredible, you know, the experience and the almost the confidence that has given me again, I mean, that's something as a mother, I don't know, if it's just me or a lot of mothers, you start losing your confidence in your ability to do things. Am I ever gonna be able to do this again? Or is this any good? Or am I any good? You know, and I think a lot of that comes down to a first time Mother, you don't know what you're doing. So there is not a lot of confidence in that and you carry that through other aspects of your life. Because that's just the mode you get into is you just don't know if you're, if what you're doing is right. And that's the thought patterns you have. And I've always had a bit of a confidence issue anyways, so it just amplified itself. But you know, and then the thing that's really been special is the people that have reached out to me less about the book and more about the fat They've experienced losing a parent or they grew up with a parent that was facing a terminal illness and what that was like for them, or somebody that I hadn't even spoken to, since middle school reached out because his mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. And, and that has, where things have so surprised me. Because I've done a lot of podcasts that have been more grief based podcasts than writing technique. And that's, I think, a gifts, my mom left as well, she was, you know, she'd be in the chemo treatment room in the middle of eight hours of chemo, talking to the person next to them and encouraging them and getting them talking about things that were not cancer related. And that was just the person she was she was this larger than life personality that put so many people and so much ahead of her, not to her detriment, but I think it was part of what kept her going as well. You know, and now I'm getting to do that and carry that legacy on.
Everyone talks about the seven stages of grief for what it is which, which to me is a bunch of hooey because nobody goes through grief the same way. You know, you might feel the guilt, which for me was the hardest part, you know, and obviously, you're going to fill that empty void and things and, and I'm still 10 years out grieving. But I think I've hit this point where it's, it's therapeutic to me to now talk about it, I spent years where I could not talk about it. It just was something. You know, I wasn't in denial, but I didn't want to bring up the memories. And that last few days, because she, despite the fact that she fought cancer for 17 years. The end was very quick. She was there one day and on life support the next day, and she passed away the day after Christmas in 2012. And, you know, in a sense, you know, you never want to lose someone, you kind of hope it goes that way. You don't want to see them with a slow decline. We were lucky I got a chance to say goodbye because she knew where things were going. I knew where things were going. And she had prepared me very well for it. You know, not that you can really say you're prepared for that. But I was lucky I got a chance. The last thing I ever said to her was I love you. And she said that back and that was it. And I was I just that's a gift that I will have forever. But, you know, I'm still I'm still like I said I'm still grieving and being able to now talk about it from a way of maybe helping other people is my new stage of getting through this. Yeah. You know, so it's not just helping, you know, it's helping me talk about it.
Yeah, absolutely. And like you say, you can feel like you're prepared. I mean, yeah, there's you can do some preparation, I guess. But when that actually happens, it's like yeah, it's
I got that closure that that conversation actually she was fine the night before she went on life support, she's in the hospital, but she was fine. And she and I stayed up almost all night with that, that conversation of closure where you you know you talk about things I mean, when I was a brat as a teenager you know when I got a chance to apologize or I got a chance to tell her you know, hey, I'm gonna be okay you know, I've married this wonderful man I've I've got this in store for me, you know, be comfortable with the fact that I've gotten to that place in my life where I'm I'm happy where I am you know and and I didn't need to apologize for that stuff. But it's you say everything you need to stay knowing that that's the conversation you're having.
Yeah, yeah. Just take a moment and have a drink of water.
Gonna have some coffee
but you're right about grief. I mean, gosh, there is no there is no linear checklist of all the things that you go through in In this particular order, and, you know, my Nana passed away when I was 10. So that's like 40, sorry, 3034 years ago, and I still have moments where I just burst into tears because something's reminded me of a smell something, usually it's a smell. That's me, or I see a particular bird. Pardon me? And I just like, oh, no, I used to love those bits. And then off I go, you know, it's like, you're never, you never stopped grieving someone. I don't think it's just in different ways as time.
Yes. Yeah. I mean, I've told you know, there's a lot of people that say, Hey, it'll be okay. But you know, it's not, you know, I used to hate it, when people would tell me that, because it's never going to be okay, that I lost my mom, but it's going to be different. I'm gonna get to that point where I can look back at the gift of the time I had, and not at what I've, what's been taken from me.
Because it would be, you know, it's in times like that, it's very easy to get angry and, and resent, you know, whoever or whatever, you know, it's not fair. You know, all this sort of emotion, did you sort of go through that, as well.
I didn't go through the it's not fair kind of stage. I remember the first few weeks afterward, you know, you're you're calling the banks and taking care of the credit card from the medical bills and things and I had my dad to go through all of it with but you're very, you know, systematic once you right away, which I think is a blessing, because you're you're not I don't think at least for me, I was not capable of facing the fact that she was gone. And those first few weeks, it was just not going to happen. It was actually the day I found the letter about the book that I finally realized, you know, it's the casseroles have stopped coming, the family's gone, people have gone back to their lives, and mine will never be the same again. And that's the first day that I really let myself go. And, you know, but I think for me, this, the place I stayed the longest, is also the place, that's the most detrimental, and that's the guilt. The guilt that, you know, things you said the smallest little things, you know, teeny tiny little things that the person probably had didn't even remember. And all of a sudden, they come flooding back and you just feel so guilty about the things you've said and, and certain things and the fear that, you know, I had, I went into an instant state of fear with my dad, I wasn't I couldn't lose my dad, I every little thing you know, don't get in a car dad, or make sure you're taking your medicine or so all this kind of stuff. And I stayed down with my dad for a couple months afterward. Because I was able, you know, thank God, I was able to do that. But you know, and so it's those two feelings that really were hard for me. And that guilt took a lot of time to get over, I did go see a therapist. I am not despite the fact that I talked about it on podcast. Now. At that point, I was not someone that would share my emotions. I don't cry in front of people. It's just not, not me. You know, I don't want to I don't want to show it's not a weakness whatsoever to express your emotions. But to me, I felt like it was showing a weakness. And I couldn't do that. I also wanted to be strong for my dad, he'd lost someone he'd been married to for 43 years. And, you know, it's it's and he was young. I mean, my mom was only 63 when she passed away. You know, and so my dad was in his mid 60s as well. And you just don't expect something like that. And, you know, but instead I let myself stay, you know, and it was it was not a therapist that got me there. She said something about guilt. And I all of a sudden realize that's what's preventing me from moving forward. I have got to get this guilt. I've got to work through it. I have got to let it go. And and so that was the biggest part for me. But you know, I never went through the anger. I never went through the denial.
I think I just let myself be overcome with the guilt. Yeah,
my dad sold their house and moved into another house. And that was a hard thing to say goodbye to and then you know, going through clothes. And you know, my mom had a lot of beautiful jewelry. So I've gotten to keep that and you know, but I did get rid of clothes except for the few that I will never wear. But they just hold special memories for me. I mean, one of them was this, you know, duster jacket she used to wear to fan with the opera every time it was her thing that's not going anywhere. And there's pieces of furniture that are memories of my childhood, which are completely not my style, but I can't give them up. So they're in my you know, guest room, which is the collective room of things that I don't know what to do with. You know, it's the memory room. Yeah. But it's a difficult thing. I think with every little thing. I've been able to let go I've healed a little bit. Knowing that, you know, it's, it's just a process.
Yeah, yeah. And it will just take as long as it takes to go through different motions at different times. And it's just It's an ongoing thing, isn't it? It doesn't have an ingress.
No, it never has an end, but it gets better.
Just going back to you to what you said earlier, you said about how you've gained confidence. Do you think you write another book?
I have another book idea. It's actually related to birth paradise. And it's the story of the parents that are in it. I see a lot of my parents and those two characters. And it's funny, because there's a little bit of everybody and all the characters. I mean, there's a lot of my dad and the little brother, my mom, you know, clearly didn't like my high school boyfriend. And I didn't know that until I read the character, the high school boyfriend, I was like, Oh, okay. I know who that is. And the, the way the parents met in this book, is the way my parent my parents actually met, they met at UC Berkeley. And so it would be really neat for me to go back, I'd have to go back much further. In time, since this book starts in 1967, which was a whole nother issue with turning to write it was that it happened during time period, I wasn't alive. That was, that was a lot of research going into that. But yes, I'd have to go back quite a bit. But it would be it would almost start the connection again. And it would give me a chance to go to my dad and find out about his life and use that to put into it. So it's, it's there, it's in my mind, I've tried to start it and it's I just can't get past the first sentence. You know, and I think that's an important thing for a writer to recognize when you've hit that writer's block and just walk away for a while. I've got too much going on with my clients and, and keeping up with my seven year old. Ish, just not right now. It's more of a stress than it is of a way to relieve stress. And that's, you know, writing Berta paradise was very stressed, you know, a way for me to escape the world, a way for me to let go of some stress and get that emotion out. It's, and it went in very positive way, this new book trying to write it, I just felt this is a negative thing for me. And it's time to walk away. So I don't know, is really the answer to the question. I hope so. Yeah, I
hope you dig through it when the time's right. You know, when, when life when life gives you that little nod and says, Okay, now it's your turn.
And I'm a big believer in that, that, you know, things happen for a reason. And there's little, you know, I, I always my mom always kind of taught me that, you know, you can't control what happens in life, but you can control how you respond to it. And that there's moments where you're given gifts, but whether or not you choose to take them is completely your choice, and you're the one that writes your own story. And that actually, is heavily put into bird of paradise, because it's something that my mom and I had talked about so many times that you know, nothing, nothing is going to be, you know, necessarily given to you, you have you're presented with these gifts, and then it's your choice whether or not you go with it, and they can they can come to you at any moment. But they'll come to you at the right moment when you need it the most. And so hopefully that that gift of writing a new book will present itself at some point and then I will jump on it
that is so good. Can you share with us how readers can get a hold of your book?
Yeah, it's sold exclusively on Amazon. It is theirs Believe it or not a lot of books called Bird of Paradise. Most of them are nonfiction about the actual flower and bird. So be careful there. But it's a yes. So it's it's by Maryland and Hughes and Emily HUGHES JOHNSON. And it's on Kindle Unlimited. There's a paperback Kindle itself. So yeah, I would love people to read it. I mean, sharing my mom's work with the world has just been incredible.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you like
it, review it because it's really important.
Read these reviews make the world go round.
I do. And unfortunately, I mean, it's something I find myself doing more since having published a book as an unknown author. I mean, I'm completely no one knows who I am. My goal was to sell one book to someone that wasn't related to me. Yeah. And, you know, it's happened, it's been great. But, you know, I find, you know, reviews are so difficult, particularly with Kindle Unlimited, you know, people aren't going to go back and take the time, because we're all busy to go write a review, even though you know, I know what the sales are and things like that. And so, I've tried to find, you know, books that don't have a lot of reviews, because I think a lot of incredible books are missed, because people look at that, and not the book. Yeah. And I have found some incredible books that don't have that many reviews that I just wish, you know, I hope I don't, you know, I don't want to miss out on something from these authors. I'm not trying to tell people to get well, yes, go buy my book. But I'm not trying to say, don't miss it because of reviews. But you know, and I think that's something the publishing industry is so incredible now that they have opened up smaller hybrid publishers, self publishing, you know, things like that, that you have this option for really talented writers who, for one reason or another, can't get in with the top five publishers, and a lot of that is money. It takes a lot of, you know, money and time to go query and get an agent and then get into these publishing companies, and they're so rigid about what they will and will not, you know, published and I follow a lot of writers on Instagram and Twitter, and one of the things from the smaller writers is they get turned down, you know, they get these letters say, it's an incredible story, we love it, but you don't have enough social media followers. You know, and that's, that's, that is so limited. Just you have to wonder how many incredible stories are out there that will never be seen, because of something so unrelated. It's not about you know, in I'm sure, you know, the top five publishers are wonderful, but, you know, you almost concerned about sales more than getting a beautifully written story out there.
And that's a real shame, because, I don't know, I have this feeling that, you know, social media exists now. But will it be around forever, you know, like, these, the stories and, and books will probably outlive all of this stuff, you know, and that would be a shame for something to have, just because it was in this time period, when social media was around. And it's being judged by that, for that not to be shared. It's a it shine.
Social media is great, and being able to connect, you know, this huge world, but it is also so detrimental to society. And I use it I have to, I mean, that's one of the ways that I market the book, I don't have a choice. But if it wasn't for that, I would start giving up social media, because I just, you know, it's just not it can be you can go down the rabbit hole very quickly. And it's not necessarily a good thing.
Oh, I basically got I ended up getting off Facebook for my own personal stuff, because I just, I just couldn't put up with the rubbish anymore. I just thought, like rabbit hole stuff, I just get dragged into things and think why am I caring about this, you know? So now I just go on Instagram, and then I just link it to go on my Facebook. So I never have to go into Facebook. But then I miss a lot of things. If people tag me and stuff or invite me to things. I'm like, oh, sorry, I missed
your best friend's having a baby and you don't know about it?
Exactly, yeah, put it on Instagram, then Oh, no.
Share it with everybody. And then I'll be able to, you know, call and say, Hey, congratulations.
But it is funny, like this whole thing that's meant to bring us closer, like we know what people are doing. So we feel like we know what they're doing. But we're not really knowing what they're doing. Because we're just seeing all these little tiny curated aspects of their lives. And it's, it's sort of pushing us apart more in a way.
Well, and I think you try and present your best self on social media. I mean, who doesn't you know, you don't you want to make sure you're presenting the the highlights and so many people forget that. It doesn't matter who you are, life is dirty. I mean, it's there's going to be moments where you don't want to present yourself to the world. And so you don't and I think it gives a false sense of who people are, unfortunately, unless you're one of those people that is blatantly you know, getting yourself out there to just showing all the aspects of your life and there are some people out there and I appreciate you know, the people that do that. I think it takes a lot of courage to be able to put Good, the Bad and the Ugly out there. But I think that's something a lot of people unfortunately forget that this isn't showing the whole story. And I think it it negatively influences a lot of people. It's happened to me, I've looked at things and I'm like, gosh, you know, it's it's that that big, ugly, jealous.
forbear, yeah. You're like, why
can't I be doing the ad? Or or you know, and it's, it's not necessarily happening that way
few you know, mom is like that too, you start comparing yourself to other mothers. And you know, every mom is different, every situation is different. And, and you know, you, you want this pride and you're your child and you want your child to excel and exceed, but if you're not careful, you're starting to compare them to others, and not to their best self. And, you know, and I've had to pull myself back from that every once in a while. Question, am I being a good mom? You know, and but it's, it's, am I being a good mom, for my son? Not for the kids of the entire world? Yeah, yeah. It's hard. I mean, that's the you know, people think physically being a mother is hard. But there is a lot of emotional second guessing. And, you know, and I'm doing this correctly. What, you know, am I a terrible mother? Am I a good mother? Am I you know, am I completely screwing my kid up for the future? And unfortunately, a lot of people don't talk about that unless they're moms themselves.
Oh, yeah. That's the thing like this, the mom guilt, that sort of label that we've got, I call it a hashtag mom guilt, because it's like, it's just been created for, for social media, but it's huge, like the way that we're forced to judge ourselves. Because I don't know what I find mostly. Is it? Other mums too, but mostly people that don't have children? Or like, or how come she's doing that? Why isn't she with a child? Or? Oh, she, she's going out again that night? You know, like, they're just always making judgments upon you, which makes, then you question yourself, like you said, you, you know, you don't have that self confidence. So you're like, I don't know what I'm doing. But I don't know is this, I get sick of this whole guilt guilt trip that moms feel like they have to go on?
Well, I think just you know, societal norms, I think a bulk of society hasn't gotten past the 1950s. Mom, you know, where the mother is 100% The mother, you know, and that's your focus. And that's what you do. And you You know, I don't want to say you give up life, because that is wrong to any mother and the 1950s. It's not that but there's this almost, you know, it's almost Hollywood created view of what a mother should be. And that hasn't, that hasn't morphed to match the sign of the times, you know, we're way past the 1950s. Now, things are different. Women can be more independent, and they can start putting themselves you know, ahead of things because it's the healthy thing to do. And I think when someone sees a mother that does that doesn't understand that, that that is not being a bad mother is being a good mother. That is That is how, you know, we we deserve to be able to do stuff like that, so that we can come home and then put 100% focus into our families again, because it's impossible. i It's exhausting. And I don't think I've seen my friends that are moms that have just stopped everything to be a mother, which you know, when you have a newborn, you kind of have to do that you don't really have a choice. But if you never change as your child grows older, either. It's very detrimental. And it was for me, I mean, I've learned to start going out with my friends a little bit, not to date the podcast, but COVID put a stop on that one pretty good. But I'm really excited to start
doing that again.
You know, it's funny because I, during the last few years with everything that's been going on, I have found myself going back to that time where I'm not able to go to the gym, I'm, you know, my son's home, I don't have that that time to myself while he's at school. And I've I've relapsed into that forgetting about myself every once in a while. And when I do that, I go back to that article I talked about from Rachael Harris and reread it gives myself a little bit of a kick in the rear like oops,
give yourself a pep talk and then off you go again. To find that letter, it would just be like, oh, man, like, I don't know. It's just It's huge, isn't it? I'm gonna go
on the tie at the time, I didn't realize just how big it was. Yeah. You know, you kind of don't you're not thinking so much at that point.
Yeah, yeah. Like you said, you going through the motions and doing all the practical stuff that it's got to be done and good on you.
I'm really glad my curiosity got the better of me and I tried to get to her computer. I
mean, she's, I'm sure she's you mile and down. She knew I would try and do that.
Good on it. I really loved having a chat with you today, Emily and hearing your story. It's such a unique story. I'm sure I'll never speak to anyone again in my life who has done what you've done. Congratulations. It's a massive undertaking, and it's it's incredible. And I'm really looking forward to reading in. Yeah, well, thank you. Yeah.
It's been crazy. Yeah.
Wow. Thanks for your company today. If you've enjoyed this episode, I'd love you to consider leaving us a review, following or subscribing to the podcast, or even sharing it with a friend who you think might be interested. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the podcast. Please get in touch with us via the link in the show notes. I'll catch you again next week for another chat with an artistic mum.