Caroline Tanner grew up in England and has lived and traveled all over the world. As a public health expert, she worked in remote and dangerous places managing large-scale epidemics and community heath programs.
After a sudden severe illness three years ago, she was forced to slow down her manic life. She healed by walking in her local woods and practicing yoga. She now teaches yoga for trauma.
She has always been a voracious reader and loves to write. Until recently her writing was mainly technical and academic. She likes to spin a yarn, but was put off the idea of creative writing by the memory of an English teacher telling her she should stick to science as she “lacked imagination.”
She now finds great freedom in letting her thoughts flow uninhibited. She writes by instinct on any subject that comes to mind. She likes shorts because of the discipline of limiting the word length of a piece. She is naturally drawn to writing about the extremes of human nature and the life experience; pain, suffering, and loss juxtaposed with kindness, joy, and humor. She hopes many women will draw inspiration from and find resonance with her writing. She aims to be insightful, witty and wise! Look out for her forthcoming pieces on the current pandemic affecting us all.
The writing bug now unleashed, she plans to do much more of it. She has vague intentions of writing a collection of pieces and a memoir, but she doesn’t plan, and perhaps a novel will emerge.
Interviews and stories of her life and work in emergency aid have appeared in the Daily Mail, The Observer, The Guardian, and on BBC Radio 4, NPR, CBS, and in an ITN TV film.
Caroline’s piece “Wicked” won an honorable mention in Women on Writing’s Winter 2019 Creative Non-Fiction Contest.
Caroline has a grown-up daughter and a teenage step-son. She lives with her husband in a small house on the edge of hill overlooking the National Zoo in Washington DC. She writes to the sound of the lions roaring.
If you haven't done so already, check out Caroline's insightful story Talk About the Curse and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations Caroline! Thank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Talk About the Curse?
Caroline: The subject matter I write about usually chooses me rather than me choosing it! I was chatting with a group of women friends one evening, and we were telling stories about our periods. I recalled my own experience in vivid detail. I took pen to paper and started to write it.
The subject of periods is something that all women have in common. As women, we all have our stories to tell about our experience. I wanted to bring that out. It is somewhat depressing that attitudes and beliefs about periods have changed so little in much of the world. Period shaming continues, girls can’t go to school safely and lack access to even the most basic of supplies. In our own society, our male leaders (you know who I mean) still make the period a subject of jest. Women can be put down, shut up, cast out because they bleed. It is a classic example of the latent fear men have of women and the pervasive misogyny that still exists
In any subject that is difficult and sensitive, I like to find the funny side. Those that can find humor in pain are the most resilient. Laughter is good medicine. There is a time to laugh, a time to cry, and a time to speak out.
I hope women of all ages will relate to this essay and feel inspired to tell their own stories. There is a poignant message to women and girls in this piece about the importance of knowing and owning our own bodies. This starts at a young age by calling things by their biological names. Say Vagina! It wasn’t until I read Our Bodies Ourselves at 17, that I understood I had more than one opening. It is hard to speak up about menstruation in a culture of silence. But we must. Women are creative and resourceful. We have a responsibility to support each other and help each other live our most vital lives.
WOW: I really appreciate what you said about finding humor in the pain - thank you for sharing that great perspective!
Where do you write? What does your space look like?
Caroline: I like this question! Easy answer. I never sit at a desk. I write with my laptop on my knee. I write in coffee shops and sometimes at home. After a painful renovation, my home space is now a place of light and calm. When the weather is good, I write on my deck, which overlooks the National Zoo and listen to the Lion roaring.
I am not an organized writer. In fact, I would not even call myself a writer. I am just getting my head around that one! My husband is very tolerant of my writing because when I get into it, I get lost. I may not change out of pajamas or do any washing or cleaning. I am focused and single-minded. Time stands still. A piece may emerge quickly, or it can take longer and require several phases of re-writing and editing. I wrote one short piece of fiction in just three hours. That one came to me in the middle of the night.
WOW: Oh yes - middle of the night, standing in the shower, I feel you...you never know when you'll be bitten by the creative bug (and what may have to get put on the back burner)!
Do you often enter contests or is this a first? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests?
Caroline: I am relatively new to creative writing. I love to write, but other than letters and journals, my writing has been mostly technical. After a severe viral illness three years ago, I slowed down my manic life and found for time to write. I enjoy the freedom of creative writing, allowing my thoughts and memories to flow. I am used to writing to deadlines with prescribed word lengths, so I initially entered the WOW contest because it helped me to have a goal and a word limit. WOW provides a uniquely supportive community of female writers and readers. I find the critiques from the judges and editors incredibly useful and insightful. I don’t have much interest in writing groups as I enjoy the freedom of writing on any subject that comes to mind. I don’t want to be forced to write to a prompt. The feedback from the WOW community has been very encouraging. Placing in the top ten has given me the impetus to continue to write. I have focused mainly on creative non-fiction, but I am now dabbling with flash fiction and prose poetry. As far as my advice to others, I would say for both new and seasoned writers, entering contests and, more specifically, the WOW contest with a is a great idea. Keep going with it if, at first, you don’t succeed, don’t be put off. Rewrite and edit and go at it again! In addition to entering contests, I will likely look for outlets to publish. I plan to write a memoir as a collection of pieces.
WOW: You certainly have a gift - so I'm happy to hear there's future plans that include more writing!
Readers are sure to delight in your memoir. And speaking of reading - what you YOU reading at this time?
Caroline: I am reading two works that seem fitting for the current time we find ourselves in.
Mark Nepo: The Book of Awakening.
Mark Nepo always has the most perfect words for any situation. His work was recommended to me by a writer friend. This extract from The Book of Awakening is particularly poignant to our current situation. “This is the trick to staying well isn’t it: to feel the sun even in the dark. To not lose the truth of things when they go out of view. To grow just the same. To know there is still water even when we are thirsty. To know there is still love even when we are lonely. To know there is still peace, even when we are suffering. None of this invalidates our pain, but only strengthens our way back into the light.”
Albert Camus: The Plague.
I first read this novel aged 19. I found a dusty copy high up at the back of my bookshelf. The Plague by Camus is a reflection on the human condition. It reminds us that we are all susceptible to sudden death, whether by a virus, an accident, or the actions of our fellow man. The novel resonates with our current experience because we cannot escape facing our own mortality. We come to understand that nothing in life is certain. We cannot take our comfortable lives for granted.
Camus also reflects on what he calls the “absurdity” of life. I think that in crisis, we are wise to recognize this and to try and find humor, albeit perhaps dark humor. I am British; we like to see the absurdity in things, even death. Think of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Recognizing the absurdity of our situation should not lead us to despair, says Camus, but to a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment to joy and gratitude.
WOW: Those sound facinating - thanks for sharing!
You have lived and worked in difficult situations. Here we are, April 20th 2020 and what advice do you have for others, during these turbulent times of the Pandemic?
Caroline: I worked in public health all over the world in crisis situations. I have experienced long periods of isolation, restricted movement, mass deaths, and sickness. Women friends have asked me to share my experience and advice about life in crisis. I do so with humility as I acknowledge those who constantly live with war and lockdown.
When everything around us seems to be falling apart, we feel fear, confusion, and frustration. Feeling secure is the most important thing. Clean your home, put gas in your car, stock your shelves, and make a coordinated plan. Focus on the four F’s; family, friends, food, and fitness. It is not a good idea to do anything obsessively. That includes watching the news or trying to predict outcomes. Ignore posts of those showing their happy life in shut-down. It is fake news! Be very gentle with yourself and others. Take plenty of rest. Adaptation to crisis living is in itself exhausting. When you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, try and shift your thoughts to a calm place in your mind – a place you know or somewhere imagined. My calm place is a meadow deep in the woods. Find peace and breathe there. Breathing deeply allows negativity and tension to be released.
Build a core support team of two or three friends, family, or neighbors who live locally and can get to your home if necessary. The regularity of contact is essential. The core support team provides a space where you can be your authentic self, express how you really feel, get advice, and, most of all, and not feel alone. This is especially important for women as we do the caregiving and most of the essential work on the frontlines. When you feel supported by your core team, you are better able to weather the storm and be of support to others. It’s like the proverbial oxygen mask. Help yourself before helping others. I have two local female friends in my core support team. We are in touch daily and FaceTime several times a week.
Everything is intensified during a crisis. Your emotions will be raw. I find I laugh and cry more. With death all around, we think about our own mortality. You may feel grateful for things you took for granted; shelter, food, health, and toilet paper. You may notice things you overlooked before; the birds singing, the stars, silence. Adverse circumstances show us who we really are. It exposes the strength and the weakness in our relationships and ourselves. “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in,” sings Leonard Cohen says. Crises tear down our preconceptions and make us acutely aware of what is most important. We all know the adage; what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. It is a well-worn cliché, but there is a nugget of truth in its rust.
In a crisis that has no clear ending, we want to know when life will go back to normal. This virus knows no surrender. The reality is that we won’t return to the old normal. This crisis will change us as individuals and our society. I advise people to try and pace themselves. Like a marathon, if you sprint at the beginning, you will burn out before the finish. You need plenty of patience and a bucket load of good humor. Stick to the rules in a spirit of solidarity. Recognize that we are all in this together for the greater good. Remember those who are risking their lives for you. Emotionally prepare for the acute phase of the crisis to continue for six months, followed by what we call in emergency lingo the ‘transition to recovery.’ The recovery phase will be about a year.
The word ‘crisis’ means a dangerous and critical time. It also means a turning point. My hope is that through this adversity, many women will discover their inner strength and resilience and find an openness to new ways of being and doing.
WOW: Caroline - I hope by the time this article is published these times are behind us - and thank you for such wonderful insight and advice as is it greatly appreciated - and thank you for sharing your thoughts today. We will be looking forward to hearing more from you in 2020 and beyond!
Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!
Check out the latest Contests: