At age forty, Margaret quits her sales job to follow her husband’s hotel career to Paris. She’s setting sail on this adventure with a glass half full of bravery, a well-traveled passport, a journal in which she plans to write her novel, and the mentally engrained Davis Family Handbook of Rules to Live By. Everyone tells Margaret she’s living the dream, but she feels adrift without a professional identity. Desperate to feel productive and valued, she abandons her writing and throws herself into new roles: perfect wife, hostess, guide, and expatriate. When she and her husband move to Cairo, however, the void inside she’s been ignoring threatens to engulf her. It’s clear that something needs to change, so she does the one thing she was raised never to do: asks for—and accepts—help. Over the next fifteen years abroad, the cultures of Egypt, Thailand, and Singapore confront Margaret with lessons she never would have learned at home. But it’s only when they move back to Chicago—with Margaret now stepping into the role of perfect caretaker to her parents—that she has to decide once and for all: will she dare to let go of the old rules and roles she thinks keep her safe in order to step into her own life and creative destiny? Drop In with us to find out!
Margaret Davis Ghielmetti is a writer, storyteller, solo performance artist, and photographer. She and her Swiss husband, Patrick, have lived on four continents and have visited nearly fifty countries. Her journeys inform her rallying cry (“The world is not my enemy!”) . . . . . . and her creative work (including winning two StorySLAMs with The Moth storytelling show.) Ghielmetti’s solo show, “Fierce,” is about re-claiming her creative expression in mid-life . . . . . . and she wrote Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist to inspire readers that it’s never too late to learn to live our own lives – if we dare to let go of outdated roles and rules we thought kept us safe. She also hopes to entertain readers with her adventures (and mis-adventures) abroad . . . and to share what each country taught her (that she never would have learned on her own.) Her memoir takes Margaret and her hotelier husband from New York City to Paris, Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt,) Chiang Mai (Thailand,) Bangkok, Singapore, and back to her hometown of Chicago, with significant “stops” in India and Switzerland. Genuine connection with other humans is what drives Margaret’s art. Please visit www.margaretghielmetti.com to stay in touch . . . . . . find reviews and interviews . . . video/audio of her stories . . . view her Instagram photos of the world . . . and for more about Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist. Drop In with Margaret!Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers. Conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table. Diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically stories reveal the common threads that link us. Experience the joys, the fist pumps, the detours and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same and now here’s your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. We’re into summer. A time to draw a breath, maybe take a rest somewhere and eye what’s possible for us in the post-pandemic reality. Margaret Davis Ghielmetti has written a book called Brav(ish) about how she tested herself while living in far-flung destinations around the world with her hotelier husband Patrick. This included New York, Paris, Cairo, Sharm Al-Sheikh in Egypt, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Bangkok, Singapore and back to her hometown of Chicago with significant stops in India and Switzerland. You can see it was something of a whirlwind. She made their lives work like clockwork. Margaret, many women relate to you and the expectations that you were under. Welcome to Dropping In.
Margaret: Thank you so much Diane. I’m really delighted to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this uh ever since you asked way back when so thank you so much for having me.
Diane: Well we’re delighted to have you in addition to doing all of that wait, there was a job descriptions in your book that I loved the trailing spouse and the minister of domestic affaires which was spelled with A-I-R-E-S at the end. Really, you did it all. You did the budgets. You ran the households. You packed up each time. Needless to say there were a lot of moves. You were caught up in a sweep of VIP receptions, house guests, budgets and meanwhile you were very alone most of the time and quelling yourself with chardonnay. You used to have a high flying job in sales and you were a self-described introvert in the hotel business as well but once you started this world tour with Patrick you became the second in command.
Your priority was your contribution versus maybe who you are and who you were. Did it come as an expense in terms of knowing who you were? You say that roles versus meaning in life. As long as I play out my roles no one will ask me what I’m doing with my life. Do you know on reflections see the difference between roles and you as a person, Margaret?
Margaret: Oh that’s a fantastic question Diane. Thank you. I do think that we all do play out roles every day. The difference for me now is that I’m awake or at least I’d like to think I’m more awake. I’m conscious of the roles that I’m playing and I’m making choices whereas back at the beginning of our journey I was really driven by, people who read the book will see the Davis family handbook which outlined some rules which then dictated the roles I took on. I took them on. I still take on roles but I now know what I’m doing. I’m making choices where then I wasn’t conscious of the roles I was taking on. I was filling a void.
Diane: Maybe it’s more mindful. Now this Davis family handbook, I got a huge kick out of because we all have one whether we acknowledge it or not. There’s some kind of a criteria for every family and what the expectations are. I thought we’d take a look at the family handbook and we’ll talk about how you modified it. The first is how lucky am I. How did that manifest for you uh while you were living abroad? How lucky am I?
Margaret: Well I do really genuinely, I came into this world a very lucky and grateful person so a lot of that is genuine but a lot of that was layered on me by people who saw my lifestyle. The old adage all that glitters is not gold thought oh wow. She’s quit her job to follow her husband’s career. She’s going to be living in luxury hotels. How lucky are you? I was told that repeatedly. Those are from not the people who love me but the people who really were just looking at the surface and weren’t really interested in knowing how I was really doing. They were more interested in telling me how I was doing so that’s how that came about was on top of my natural sense of gratitude I was being told by some kind of clueless people that my life was perfect. It didn’t allow me time, it didn’t allow me the space at the time to push back and say this is what’s really going on for me.
Diane: You were in paradise most of the time. How could you have any complaints? How could you have any kind of dissonance with it? I mean hotels are fantasy places. They are places that exist in pieces of real estate that we could never afford ourselves. You have these tremendous views. You have full staff. You have every accommodation and luxury. Quit complaining but I wonder if there’s a part of the dissonance isn’t also that hotels themselves are a fantasy. It’s not the real world. Maybe you dissociate yourself from the real world and the activity of life on the street. I know you and Patrick went on trips but is there a way in which you felt kind of removed from other people that maybe was a little bit loneliness-making.
Margaret: Oh absolutely because you’re spot on with that Diane. What we’re doing in the business of hotels is creating pleasure and fantasy and dreams for people. That’s definitely the goal is to make people happy that they are staying with us. A lot of energy goes into that and I actually love that. I naturally love to make sure people are enjoying themselves. That part of it I was all in on but you’re completely right. That’s not the reality of working in a hotel. That’s not the reality of living with someone who’s working felt like 24 hours in a hotel. There is definitely a disconnect there. I do think that some hoteliers get under the mistaken impression that they are their guests but our job is to serve the guests. Not to be in their fantasy. That’s their dream so yes it was quite lonely sometimes because I was working very hard to make sure everyone else’s dreams came true and didn’t at the time know to stand up for my own dreams to myself. Stand up to myself.
Diane: Well it’s hard to identify them when all of your energy goes towards enabling others to realize this dream phase. There’s no requisite. There’s no need for you to call on yourself. You’re supposed to be living the dream while you’re doing that. There’s a lot of shoulds in that equation of what you’re supposed to be like when you’re living in this incredible environment.
The second tenet of the Davis Family Handbook. If you want it done right, do it yourself. Now that’s a little stoic right Margaret? You had oodles of help and yet you needed to forge on. You needed to do it yourself. What was that like to be so self-reliant that you came to a tipping point where you finally did have to ask for help in certain situations because it was threatening to overtake you? That disparity as well must have been strange.
Margaret: It was strange once I saw it but having been really raised to be very independent and I’m grateful for the positive aspect of every morsel of this family handbook. It’s allowed me to live around the world and be in fact pretty brave in my life but it’s when it’s in excess. Once I did see that this fairly positive in a way adage was taken to excess then it really dawned on me oh, wait a minute this is simply not working. When you say that a lot of people will relate to that I think that’s true for a lot of people. I know that we feel we have to do it alone and if there’s one thing I’ve learned we are not alone.
Diane: We’re not alone. We’re not meant to be alone. It’s a falsehood to think that we are doing it alone. Also this idea of compassion and service. I mean you’re in an environment that is just totally steeped in and reliant on service. You’re a prime target then for what’s known as compassion fatigue where you have so much compassion for everyone else that all the guests that are arriving weekly in your domestic space you find out partway along or there’s a dawning awareness that you are in fact an introvert who needs a lot of space and time to herself. This is in an extroverted world this is also like not acceptable but you get there. You sort of gird your loins and start to dig in that you are this person. You say you already you always started out as a kind of service oriented person. Is it true that there’s a point of diminishing returns or a point where it’s a tipping point where that compassion as Ellen the Therapist said becomes false?
Margaret: Oh thank you for citing Ellen. I’m for forever indebted to all of my therapists but in this case Ellen Katsu is amazing who as you say Diane identified that I don’t need to worry about not being a compassionate person. That’s part of how I am but she did say and I cite in the book when I go into compassion overload it’s no longer about the other person. It’s me self-soothing. It’s no longer that I’m taking care of someone else. I’m trying to keep a hold on what I think my identity should be as the perfect hostess, the perfect guy, the perfect expatriate. Yes, that did tip over for me much, much later in the journey but it’s true.
To be an introvert in an extrovert world. Thank you for calling that out. That was one of the biggest a-ha and relief moments of my life to go oh, I’m just different. I’m married to an extrovert so sometimes I have to remind myself that oh he’s just different and not wrong because sometimes for introverts it can be too much. There was definitely that discovery along the way. I started to slowly take back the space I need, the time I need. Anyone who knows me knows that around 2 PM in the afternoon probably a good time to leave me alone, feed me a snack and let me go be by myself for a while. Yes, a lot of things I needed to learn about myself and how to take care of myself.
Diane: Self-care and recharging your batteries it’s different for everyone. I might add that you know it’s not just the contrast to the extroverted world. It’s very difficult for an extrovert to sit down and write a book as you’ve done Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist. This is an important thing to do. How’s it been since the book came out? How does it feel as slightly introverted to have a lot of stories about yourself be out in the world because the next tenet of the Davis Family Guide is don’t air your dirty laundry in public.
Diane: Oh well.
Margaret: That one I’ve had to really throw out the window. It’s the sort of the twin to I don’t need any help, don’t ask for help, don’t accept help. Once I realized I do need help. As you said none of us are doing it alone. It’s a falsehood to think that we are. Once I started to accept help I did start to open up to the world and later in the book our readers will see I do start to express myself creatively through live storytelling. I do see that in storytelling I thought people would be most interested in my entertaining travel misadventures. People do love to hear about me riding my bicycle into a canal or in a tower with rabid monkeys but what really moved audiences was when I shared my vulnerabilities around infertility, around alcohol, around dying parents.
That really helped me to see that my dirty laundry, the way I was raised to believe it was dirty laundry is actually my key to connecting to people and helping them to know that they are not alone, that help is available and that we’re in it together. Luckily even though I’m an introvert in terms of how I recharge I’m a very, very social introvert and I love to be with people. I just then need to withdraw. Once I perform then I need to collapse quietly in a dark room afterwards but that part has been really exciting because it’s allowed even deeper connection with listeners and with readers.
Diane: Well you humanized yourself. You become human. You come out of the gilded cage of the hotel which is all pristine working glory like clockwork. There’s never an imperfection. There’s never a flaw. That’s something not to be tolerated and yet the flaws in life are what makes it interesting. You do go up on stage and I thought this was fascinating that you’re kind of way out was to actually get up on stage and share more of yourself which was kind of a takeoff from just do it which is the last tenet of the Davis Family Guide but I’m going to just give our listeners a little background here.
Margaret Davis Ghielmetti is a writer, storyteller, solo performance artist and photographer. She and her husband Patrick have visited nearly 50 countries. Your journeys form a rallying cry and a creative work including two story slams with the Moth Storytelling Show. Every Saturday I listen to the Moth. It’s so much. Ghielmetti’s solo show Fierce is about reclaiming her creative expression in midlife. You wrote Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist. You inspire readers that it’s never too late to learn to live your own lives. If we dare to let go of outdated roles and rules that we thought kept us safe.
I wonder about this idea of rules and what it meant to you. You were brought up in a in a rather strict environment as many of us were in this generation before us, before baby boomers were quite strict. Not entirely enlightened psychologically. We were just supposed to suck it up. We were not supposed to be questioning. Then you came across this person Patrick who is Swiss. You visited Switzerland and you found out that it too is the place of many rules. Was that of comfort to you? Did it feel vaguely familiar? Was it something that was kind of reassuring? We just have a moment till the break but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Margaret: Okay that’s great and I’m chuckling a lot. I’m just trying not to laugh right over your words Diane so thank you for calling out so many of these essential themes. Meeting Patrick definitely I felt like I was meeting someone who understood my family language because he has similarly loving but strict growing up. I do come to realize in the book that Switzerland is in many ways an anti-handbook for me because there are so many things I really genuinely crave and love which is really time with family and friends, eating, walking. There are a lot of rules. I am comfortable with that but there’s also a lot of genuine connection. It’s kind of a funny thing with Switzerland. It’s one of the most rural bound countries in the world probably but it also gives me a lot of freedom too.
Diane: I agree. The time that I spent in Switzerland I noticed that coffee can be two hours long and no one cares. That’s a perfectly worthwhile thing to do with your afternoon. I’d say to someone what did you do today? Oh I had coffee with a friend. I mean it’s just great for those of Americans of us who are driven but your take on it I think is very interesting. Of course it did give you a sense of freedom to go to a place that has completely alternate rules.
We’re going to take a break now but when we come back we’re going to talk about perfectionism whether it’s self-induced or where does it come from and how the pandemic has made alcoholics of many people but especially women who are cooped up at home and disconnected. Don’t go away we’ll be right back. We’re listening to Margaret Davis Ghielmetti author of Brav(ish).
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Margaret Davis Ghielmetti and she’s written a book called Brav(ish). I think it’s great that you don’t just call it bravery because that’s a hard thing for us to always live up to Margaret. I think he gave us some slack there with the ish. I think well deserved slack because it’s hard to always be brave. You were very brave. You were living a life with a hotelier which meant that he was frequently away, frequently at meetings in the evening and you self-soothed not in a socially unacceptable way but in fact the most readily available way which is wine.
Wine drinking during the pandemic has become it’s kind of an off the charts kind of problem that snuck up on us that women in particular who are cooped up at home and feel cut off from family and friends are more susceptible to self-soothing rather than dealing with these ugly emotions that come up when you’re just plain angry at why can’t I be with people. Why can’t I have my needs met? What about my social needs? What about the feeling of connection that you so well describe? Is our sense of perfection in the way things have to be tied in with this need to self-soothe? Are those two related in your mind?
Margaret: That’s a great question perfectionism. I think you for my take hit the nail on the head in terms of why a lot of people use something outside themselves to soothe themselves. It’s to make whatever feelings feel unacceptable go away for many people. I think you’re right. During this pandemic a lot of people felt well we’ve just got to get through it or we’re so angry or we’re so cut off. There as you say are a lot of emotions going on. I do think that people use any sort of substance to distract them from feeling what they don’t want to feel. I’m not surprised that drinking and I’m sure other behaviors have gone up during this pandemic. It’s a way to get out of feeling what we’re really feeling. It’s certainly been a time of intense emotion.
Diane: Absolutely. I think that you are an expert in this because there are feelings that were not acceptable that you’re supposed to be going along for the ride. You’re supposed to be content organizing everything. Why would you need more? Look at the women who have left the workforce and who are now focusing on domestic affairs. How isolating is that at times when you really don’t have a great support system or certainly not compensation necessarily but even acknowledgement or appreciation for what you’re doing. It’s just so hard when everybody has to pitch in. I wonder about your dawning realization that you needed to talk to somebody kind of inside yourself but it wasn’t really going to be enough to just talk to your friends.
I mean there was a moment where you kind of looked at the cosmos. You looked at the universe and said well help me. Help me. I’ve got to get a handle on this. You heard a voice. Were you utterly surprised at that moment?
Margaret: Yes. I was utterly surprised at that moment because as readers will see I was not raised in a religious home. My parents raised us with very positive values that any religion would be proud to espouse but not the let’s say the comfort of going to a house of worship. I was raised to believe that this is it. For me to be desperate enough to get to the point where I reached out to something that I didn’t even think existed necessarily and I certainly didn’t have a right to ask for help. Then to get help immediately and constantly yes, I was very, very surprised by that.
Diane: When you heard this response from and we can call it whatever we like. We can call it your higher self, source, the beyond, whatever. It became a guiding light for you. It’s telling you things you may already knew but you need to have reinforcement about. It’s a voice that maybe you’d never really tuned into before but became your greatest ally and strength. I really wonder about this idea of spirituality and the reluctance of sorry, very strong families to ever acknowledge that in fact we are in need of help. We are in need of something beyond ourselves. Was that also a lonely realization? You did have a friend who went through a similar path. Did it connect you to others to have this experience of hearing a higher self?
Margaret: I would say I don’t know anyone who’s had exactly my same journey but I do know a lot of people who have found a point in their life when they needed to surrender. The sense of me being God. That was the big moment for me is realizing oh, I’m actually not God. I’m not meant to be God. I completely agree with you. I don’t really care what it’s called. I don’t try to define it because to me it’s undefinable. I did have someone recently confront me saying don’t you think this is just your gut speaking to you. I said that’s fine with me whatever anyone wants to experience. The big difference for me was recognizing I was not doing a good job running my own life and to surrender my sense of control over pretty much everything. The circle of control that’s that is the circle of my arms held out in front of me right now. It gave me a lot of power to do what I can do but I did have to let go of what I thought was my control over pretty much everything else.
Diane: I love that you’re so cheerful about it because honestly you do feel that sense of control very taut in the book. I mean you’re going to these unbelievably wonderful places and they’re aptly described. We are transported by them but you are controlling the itineraries of your guests and everyone. We’ve got to march up the steps. We’ve got to keep marching up the steps even though we’re slipping down and there’s goop. We don’t know what the goop is and now we’ve got our hands in the goop. There’s a lot of parts where I thought to myself gee, she’s not really listening like to her physical self. You shouldered on. You soldiered on.
I think that’s what we think we have to do so much of the time. It turns out it’s really a kind of a falsehood. As you say it’s sort of an illusion to ourselves as a god. To surrender, relinquish that, wow. What a burden to offload. It just sounds great. The Jungians talk about spirit and spirits as alcohol that they substitute for one another, that they’re interchangeable. That the only intervention for having a dependency on spirits, that’s alcohol is to discover a spiritual being, entity, you name it within yourself or within your realm. I think that once you did that was it much easier for you to let go of a lot of roles that you’d assigned to yourself and to acknowledge some of your self-doubts, some of your constant scrutiny and perfectionism? Was it easier to let go?
Margaret: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, very much. You’re right. I do still tend to be very much a just do it person. I still do a lot of things in the rule book. I still really like to. As I mentioned before what it is now is a choice most of the time. I can tell when I’m really something is sort of bedeviling me and I feel like I have to do it. That a very old should voice but now I’m more often at a choice point. I still push myself harder than someone else might do but it’s because I want the experience now but yes, my life changed absolutely.
The relief I received was absolute once I put down the burden of feeling I was supposed to carry not only every iota of my life but of everyone else’s life and the whole universe and everyone else’s success and their happiness. To hand that over is a tremendous relief. I’m very grateful that is absolutely a moment of grace in my life that and it’s ongoing for me. It’s definitely still an ongoing conversation for me with whatever we want to call it. I do agree with you that trading, I put down the spirits but I do have a very different connection to spirit now.
Diane: You’ve created boundaries for yourself. Compassion and boundaries, I mean it’s extremely important to have boundaries because otherwise you’re overextended, you’re burnt out, you’re unfulfilled. You’ve really walked the walk Margaret. I’ve got to hand it to you. You’ve got the travel. You’ve got the self-discovery and then the third part of the book you take care of your parents which is a whole nother transition in life and one where I wonder sometimes if we haven’t assigned our parents a kind of judgment over what we could and couldn’t do. I mean you kind of got to the point with your mother where you started talking to her about performing the Moth, performing at the Moth and stand up. She was right there with you. I wonder sometimes do we make up the narratives of what our parents think we should and shouldn’t do and maybe discredit them. Don’t give them enough sort of leeway to actually be on our side.
Margaret: That’s a beautiful thing to say and I completely agree with you on sort of that’s two things to me to let people be on our side including our parents. Something I learned in a flash at some point was that something my mom had said to me when I was a little girl and the basis of my solo show. She said one thing and I made it mean something else. What I carried with me, I carried with me for decades until I realized she hadn’t meant that at all. She said one thing. I made it mean another thing.
There is this I feel so grateful that my parents were alive late enough in my life for me to be able to develop a genuine friendship with them, to ask for their forgiveness for things, to forgive them for things and to realize that they were on my side. They were. It sounds clichéd but they were doing the best they could. I just sometimes really misinterpreted it and I carried that for a long time. That’s another case of setting down some very weighty burdens. It’s never too late to set those burdens down.
Diane: I think it’s so healing when you start to realize you’ve constructed these narratives. We do it because we think it’s us or them, our parents versus us. We’re not allowed. We’re not granted permission and really a lot of it we make up and or can potentially be making up. Appearances are deceptive in that way and speaking of which at one point when you were I think in if it was a group that you organized but you got the feedback on yourself. I mean talking to you you’re entirely engaging. Reading the book is such a an enjoyable journey but you got the feedback from others that aside from your best thoughts they turned out that you were somewhat aloof, somewhat uptight, somewhat formal. It seems to me like you’ve broken down a lot of things here. You’ve dismantled a lot of things. You’ve emerged from a lot of things. Do you think people would say the same thing now?
Margaret: Oh maybe when I’m under duress I definitely do revert to very old stories. Those stories are control everything, be a lady, take the high road which I still think is good advice but I do under duress I will revert to some very old stories but I do work really hard on that. When someone did say that to me it was in a sort of a personal growth setting. It was a really flash of oh that’s not at all what I want to be presenting to the world. I do not want to be perceived as arrogant and aloof. I pray for that every day too. I can be cold. Please help me to be warm and cool. I can be controlling. Please help me to hold lightly.
I mean I do see the strengths that are engaged there. I think to be independent is wonderful but to be overly independent is strength in excess. I do see the
Holding myself to a high standard is a good thing but when that tips over into wow, now it appears that you’re being arrogant and aloof. That’s not what I want. I don’t think people perceive me that way now but I do pray for that grace every day to not be cold.
Diane: I don’t think people perceive you that way in this conversation. Anything but cold. You’re doing the hard work. You’re looking deep into yourself. You’re holding up the mirror to yourself. Not many people are brave-ish enough to do that. We have just a couple minutes to the break. We’re going to talk more about being a fixer, being there for everyone. What is your job now Margaret if you’re not a fixer?
Margaret: There’s where the book begins. What is my job now if I’m not XYZ? That I think is the work of a lifetime for any of us to see where we are now and how do we want to be showing up? Another prayer of mine is I can be self-sabotaging. Please help me live my life with intention and purpose. My goal now is to be awake in life. I have many things that I do but I’m much more interested at this age how I can be, how I show across and how I can be of service to other people while not giving myself away, while holding on to what I want to also do and be in the world. I think that’s a really good question for a lot of people my age. I’m 61. I know a lot of people who are finishing their careers or considering it. It is oh gosh who will I be without my business card or without my uniform. I do think it does challenge us to think what are we here to do? What do we want to do with the time on earth?
Diane: It’s not being Superwoman apparently which is exhausting. First of all the costume changes I mean and all of that. It’s just too much. I really think you just were extremely eloquent there in terms of the challenge that we face in the time that we have on this life. What is the life that we want to have? It’s absolutely the most essential question.
We’re going to take a short break but when we come back we’ll continue talking with Margaret Davis Ghielmetti and she’s going to provoke us even further to think about other choices. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Margaret Davis Ghielmetti, author of the book Brav(ish). She was at one point either a self-defined saint, savior or sentry. Margaret this is a tall order. I hope you’ve forgiven yourself some of these roles but even if it sounds absurd how many of us really do kind of toy with this kind of delusional thinking in ourselves and always portray ourselves as the person that has to come swoop in, be the savior, be the sentry, be the saint. All of these do you identify with, you’ve peeled back these layers. I guess what I’m wondering is what’s the next layer because you’re really peeling the onion here. You’re taking away all these self-assigned roles and when you look beneath them and find out who was the original Margaret? When were you the most like yourself?
Margaret: Oh that’s a very fun question. If I take off the Superwoman cape, set that aside, put down the sword of the sentry, you mean all of that. I am at heart a really fierce and creative and loving and curious person. You’re right. A lot of that layered on top of it was first of all those roles I thought kept me safe as long I was the perfect daughter. People would tell me oh look at you. You’re the perfect daughter. You’re the perfect corporate spouse. That was very soothing when I really didn’t know what I was doing and who I was but now that I have peeled back a few layers. Thank you for saying that Diane I really do feel I’m just another bozo on the bus. I’m really a human being and I can feel when I tip back into particularly sentry mode. Any of my friends know that if someone is doing harm to them I will actually say just tell me what airport to fly to. I mean I’m ready to go. I’m ready to go to protect people. That’s a very strong sense in me but I definitely now know I’m not a saint. I don’t need to be a saint. No one’s asking me to be a saint.
Some people did like to put that on top of me. I have learned to say to people please don’t tell me that I’m a saint because that allows the person telling me to be a saint to abdicate their role in the situation. I really saw that people were trying to put me in a box that fit them sometimes. Now, I just don’t allow it because it’s not good for me and it’s not good for the situation.
Diane: I mean it’s interesting. It’s an interaction. It’s a projection from others. It’s a definition from ourselves. You say that most of your actions then in the before were motivated by something you call preemptive abandonment. Fear of being abandoned. Talk about that for a little bit because I think that’s something. That’s a touchstone for a lot of us. Being abandoned, the fear of it, what it causes us to do. How do you disengage from that? How do you extinguish that?
Margaret: I honestly know that that’s sort of a core wound for me. I feel it’s something that I won’t probably extinguish but that I assume will visit me for the rest of my life. I just when I see it coming I try to embrace it and say oh, okay. That’s kind of an old story, the fear that I will somehow be left alone even though I didn’t have any evidence of that concretely as a child but we all have our, we all have our wounds.
I think what a couple of things have helped me is the sense of being connected to spirituality, to something outside of me. I no longer have the feeling that I can be abandoned in a greater sense. It’s either we’re part of nothing or we’re part of everything. I choose to believe that we’re all part of everything. I cannot be abandoned. That gives me a lot of freedom. I also really reject other people putting it on me. I now have a voice to say to people please don’t put that on me. I really don’t need that. When I feel myself putting it on myself I just try to be awake enough to say oh, that’s an old handbook message trying to keep me safe.
In fact I have a very close friend who just recently when I was feeling frightened and I said my handbook is screaming at me to be strong and brave. She, lovely person wrote an email to my handbook saying dear handbook. We’re here for you too. Margaret’s just trying to do things differently now but we know you were trying to keep her safe but she’s going to be okay. I found that very touching. It’s an old message to kind of keep me safe that I don’t need anymore.
Diane: They’re out worn. Out worn coping mechanisms. Things that I think it’s important to recognize their worth to say that was working for me so much of my life. It’s not that I was bad. It’s not that this is not to be forgiven. You forgive yourself this but give it a rest with a handbook already. I mean God, that’s really, it’s really like a little too much.
I wondered about the contrast too of you doing stand-up. This is a revelation. Here’s a person who if you don’t mind my saying so was perfectly kind of calibrated, measured in a way, definitely poised and in control of yourself. I thought maybe it probably took a very long time for a message that you thought to like bubble to the surface. Then you put yourself in an environment of stand up or improv where everything’s completely spontaneous. Do you find that a relief? Is that a contrast to who you once were and how has it helped you?
Margaret: I think that plays completely into the question you asked previously which is who am I if you peel back the onion. If you peel back the onion and you shear off all of these perfect this and that roles at heart I am a very playful, creative, imaginative person. Improv for me is just heaven because I don’t really care if it’s good or bad. I’m just having fun. It’s like being a little kid. I also did learn and taking improve at Second City in Chicago they really have a strong, it’s not a rule but they say we’re not trying to make you funny. We want this to be real. Whenever I did a real scene with someone life is sometimes funny even in its darkest moments. I really saw that and I carried that into my storytelling, the sense that even some of my darkest moments, I mean when I tell a story about infertility which is really one of the worst chapters of my life, the hardest, saddest chapters of my life.
There are still some very, very funny moments in that. I think it’s real. What I’m going for is real. Improv and then storytelling and solo show, all allowed me to be real. What I crave more even if I’m an introvert in terms of recharging. As they say I’m a very social introvert. The word I love best as I said is connection. If I’m connecting with people and it’s genuine that is a tremendous joy to me. That’s why I do any art that I do is in the hopes of connecting, in the hopes of inspiring someone, entertaining them. All of these things I didn’t feel afraid. I think it also helped that when I was a young person in my first job I gave a presentation to 100 people at the Chicago Council on foreign relations. At the end of it 99 people stood up and applauded. One man in the first row was loudly asleep snoring. Honestly it freed me from the sense of you can’t please all the people all the time. I figure I’m going to reach some people. I’m not going to reach some other people but I want to connect.
Diane: And play I think and keep it real. This is back to the hotel fantasy concept. I mean you and I have a commonality. We’ve both been to the most I would say phantasmagorical hotel in the world The Walled House Sills which is straight out of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel movie. I mean the wackiest sense of being removed from the world and yet the most beautiful world that could be created. You’re hiking by day. You have the spa. The people remember your name year after year. It’s just another world. It’s otherworldly. The steam comes up off the lakes. This kind of place and your determination to get beyond that and to see the imperfections and to kind of look under the edge of the envelope and see what’s in there. I think it’s very refreshing. I think there’s going to be more from you as an author. What do you think about that?
Margaret: Oh gosh. From your lips to God’s ears I appreciate that Diane. I love that we have the vault house in common because as you say it is this perfect dream but we’re very good friends with the owning family. We do know behind the scenes and as you’re saying with a hotelier husband I do know what a little bit about what it’s like and having worked in a hotel. It is that juxtaposition but I do really, my desire going forward creatively is again to connect. What I’d really love to do is some shorter pieces because I’ll be honest with you writing this book and grading together my literal journey and my emotional journey pretty much nearly killed me. It was really hard work. I’d like to be doing more observational things.
As you said that you picked up on the word play. I don’t tend to put play very high on my list even though it’s a huge value of mine. I do what I think a lot of listeners can relate to. I will do everything on to-do list first and then if there’s a minute left I will play or have fun. That will be a personal challenge for me to not do so much but to play and to have fun. That’s harder for me. I know it sounds perverse but that’s a big challenge for me so I’d like to bring that into my creativity.
Diane: I think there’s a whole cult of us out there, the non-players that yearn to play. When we are playing realize this is just the joy of the day. Play is an essential ingredient. I had a friend that said to me hey listen, if you look at who’s successful in the world. It’s ball players. It’s people playing parts on a movie screen. It’s really all about play. We don’t have a script here. Without a script it is freeing and for those of us who’ve de-prioritized play get a cat, get a dog, do some playing. It is the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself in this very much in need of self-care time coming out of the pandemic. I wondered about that and whether you had more, also sense of feedback when you talk about connection, play and connection. It’s more immediate when you’re in a stand-up in a live audience than with the book and yet the reception for the book has been great. What kinds of things do you hear and what have you learned or how have you evolved from what people say to you about the book?
Margaret: Thank you for asking because as an author I had to really come to the realization that I do want people to buy the book. My old handbook message would be no. If you just sell two books your husband should buy one and your father-in-law should buy one. That would be enough. That’s not what I want because I do want to be sharing inspiration and hope and entertaining people but it is a very, very different journey after writing the book. Writing the book was as you mentioned for an introvert that’s not hard for me to sit at a desk and write. I mean I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I’m, we all know on this conversation a very driven person so I can put my butt in chair and do the job but getting a book out into the world is a very different job.
I will say what’s been tremendously satisfying to me are the comments I received from people. Of course from my friends they better say nice things but from people I don’t know, someone wrote to me to say your journey gave me the strength to quit drinking. I really honestly I pretty much could lay down and die with happiness over that. Someone else said it gave me the a-ha moment I’ve been waiting for and I didn’t know. I’ve been waiting for my whole life some freedom. If I can give people freedom. To be hearing that from readers is enormously moving to me. I’ve met wonderful people like you who really take the time to dig deeper and talk about things which are I think really important. I’m very grateful for that. It’s been a very different journey but it’s definitely been an education and it’s been a joy in its own right.
Diane: Well you’ve given us insight into agency, the ability to make our own choices, going against the grain of what we did before. Why do we have to be playing by the same rule book? You completely modified yours. You didn’t throw it out. I think that’s interesting because that’s not real either right Margaret? You’re keeping it real here. We have just a couple of minutes left but you have in Brav(ish) enabled people to say that they can make decisions whether it’s quitting drinking. Maybe it’s just stop, pause and say, am I really fulfilling my purpose here. If I have the ability, if I can really survey and inventory in my life what would I really love to be doing and reset the compass. That’s a huge thing.
Brav(ish), your book A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist is a book that does enable people to do that and bring them the juice to do that. We’re perfectly delighted to have you. It’s been wonderful speaking with you. We’re out of time sadly but we’ll look forward to hearing from you some more maybe on Moth or elsewhere. Margaret Davis Ghielmetti, you have twitter. This is Margaret G-H-I-E-L-1 on twitter and you can follow her on Instagram Margaret Ghielmetti. You have a website. Your book is available wherever books are sold. We just thank you very much.
Margaret: I thank you so much Diane. I really do thank you for the TLC that you’re offering, the folks that you’re in conversation with and your audience that really means a lot to me so thank you so much.
Diane: You’re more than welcome. Thanks to our engineers Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, to our executive producer Robert Giolino and most of all to you, our listeners. Remember to stay safe and take it from Margaret. It’s never too late if you’re listening to this. Till next week thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.