Happy Weekend, RG2E Peeps!
We’re welcoming back to The RG2E, one of my fave authors, Anne R. Allen, whose got a fascinating look at a very real issue – Bag Lady Syndrome.
Take it away, Anne…
According to MSN financial columnist Jay McDonald, “Bag lady syndrome is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute”
And the Washington Times reports, “90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure…and almost half are troubled by a ‘tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady’. ”
Bag-lady syndrome can be paralyzing, according to Olivia Mellan, author of Overcoming Overspending, and a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology.
She says “Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.”
“It cuts across women of all social groups; it’s not like wealthy women don’t have it,” says Mellan. “Heiresses, women who have inherited wealth, have big bag-lady nightmares because they really feel like the money came to them magically and can leave them just as magically.”
Photo By David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons
When you quit your day job to write full time—especially if you’re single—those fears can escalate to nightmares, anxiety attacks and debilitating self-doubt.
For me, they hit a crescendo when my publisher went out of business and I had to start at square one, writing query letters to agents and editors again like a newbie.
I had to face the fact there would be no more money coming in from the books I’d worked so hard to promote. My magazine writing gigs had dried up, too: either the journals had gone under or were no longer paying. I’d been out of the workforce for years and the world was in the middle of a recession. My savings were dwindling fast. I feared I’d made all the wrong financial choices and I’d soon be living under a bridge.
I started having a recurring nightmare about living in a rusted, wheel-less truck in some kind of dump full of rats. My skin was crawling with insects. Sometimes parts of my body would fall off. I’d wake up screaming.
One morning I woke from one of those horrific dreams to an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. (Yes, I have Public Radio on my clock radio: nerd city.) They were talking to a successful Manhattan magazine editor who had lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff.
Look: it can happen to anybody, I told myself—even people with a ton of savings who have done everything right—and at least I don’t have all that much money to lose.
I got up and read my local morning paper, which was full of articles and letters to the editor complaining about our local homeless population, and how their camps and panhandling were ruining our town’s idyllic image as “the happiest town in America.”
I flashed on how that posh magazine editor I’d heard on NPR could become one of those scruffy people standing outside the San Luis Obispo Mission with a cardboard sign. She could be one of those despised people living in the “filthy” camps.
So could I.
An awful lot of us are only one Bernie Madoff or catastrophic disease away from those camps.
So I took a day off querying and outlined a story about a New York magazine editor who is not only conned by a Bernie Madoff type, but married to him, so she not only loses everything, but is accused of being complicit in his crimes. On the lam and destitute, she ends up living in a homeless camp in the idyllic wine country near where I live.
For me, picturing somebody like Martha Stewart living in a tent and cooking over a Sterno stove, worrying about where to go for showers and basic bodily functions—not knowing which homeless people she could trust—helped me to walk myself through my fears and see that it would be possible to survive.
Thinking the “unthinkable” sometimes helps us to cope with our fears. If we can visualize ourselves in a terrifying situation that has a positive outcome, it can help us overcome the terror.
As the “Anxiety Doc” says “When it comes to treating anxiety, panic attacks and phobias, creative visualization techniques have proven very therapeutic for sufferers. In order for the visualization to be completely effective, the person must involve all their senses in the process. They need to see themselves performing the behavior, hear the sounds associated with it and feel any tactile sensations. In some cases, even the senses of taste and smell will be involved.”
That’s what a writer does! So as when I visualized my character, Home decorating magazine editor Doria Windsor, in a homeless camp, I pictured her surviving each of my own fears: the lack of hygiene, the stink, the cold, hunger, loss of dignity, etc.
And if she could do it, I could.
It also helped that I write romantic comedy. I had Doria—and my ever-unlucky sleuth Camilla—both find romance and a little wisdom as they face homelessness because of the Ponzi-scheming villain’s crimes.
Then I started giving the homeless people in Doria’s camp personalities and backstories. I researched by talking to a few of the homeless people who panhandle in front of some of my favorite stores in Morro Bay. One woman was remarkably plucky and full of humor. She became the model for my character of Lucky. I decided not to make my homeless characters objects of pity, but strong-minded survivors who help solve the mystery of a homeless man’s murder.
In a way, they’re the real heroes of my story.
Not long after I started the book, I got an offer from the editor of a small press to publish my backlist. Then another offered to look at the new stuff. Between September 2011 and December 2012, I published seven books. NO PLACE LIKE HOME is the most recent. It’s the fourth in my series of Camilla Randall rom-com mysteries.
Things are looking up.
I’m not saying that I’m entirely over my bag lady fears. Some of us never will be. But I don’t have those nightmares anymore and the panic isn’t lurking there under the surface every time I lie down to sleep.
I’m giving away a copy of NO PLACE LIKE HOME, so leave your name in the comments (and an email address would help our admin a lot) and one of you will be chosen for a free book.
So tell me: Do you have bag lady fears? Have you ever had nightmares about being homeless? How do you cope with them?
Until the end of February 2013, her previous Camilla Randall mystery, SHERWOOD, LTD is FREE on KOBO and Smashwords. It is also available in paperback from Amazon. It’s inspired by Anne’s own misadventures with her first publishers, an outlaw band of Englishmen following their own self-styled Robin Hood.
She has written a guidebook for authors with Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of the iconic novel Pay it Forward.) HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY! She shares an award-winning blog with NYT bestselling author Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris
Wow, Anne! What a fabulous post! I write about Madoff-style Ponzi-scheming too in my Cozy Cash Mysteries, but I never thought about it from the homeless angle. Fascinating!
Thanks sooo much for sharing with us today, and for the Ebook Gift Copy and FREE Ebook too!
The Best of RG2E Reading Wishes — D. D. Scott, RG2E Founder