For some, writing is a dream. For others, it’s a way to heal. For Anne Frandi-Coory it’s both. Abandoned by her mother at ten months of age, Anne endured a childhood of abuse and neglect in an orphanage and at the hands of her extended family. Through researching her lost heritage and writing a memoir about her tormented past, she found closure as well as a new career path for the future. Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Anne about her journey…
Anne Frandi-Coory: My maiden name is Anne Frandi-Coory. I have four adult children who are all married and have children of their own. I now consider myself to be an author, although I do part-time nannying under “Nanny Jo Services”, which I enjoy and which supplements my small income from sales of my book Whatever Happened To Ishtar? This arrangement allows me the space and time to write my next book.
I was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia five years ago with my partner. I was previously an interior decorator and then moved into the real estate industry in NZ and Australia. My partner and I owned a successful café and catering business in NZ in the late 1980s. I have had many dreams throughout my life.
My current dream is to paint the beautiful red river gum trees that surround me in Melbourne, where I now live. I am just beginning the charcoal sketching phase. I am studying all the different painting techniques and media. I have always been interested in art and have visited many art galleries in Italy and France.
When I decide on a challenge, I usually teach myself. In the past I have taught myself, among other things, the Italian language and how to write a book. The biggest challenge of my life was raising four children because I had no experience of normal family life. I read everything I could on child rearing, which helped give me the confidence that I was doing the right thing.
Self-teaching is a habit I learned as a child because there was never anyone around to guide me. I love reading – for pleasure and guidance on life issues. All this reading means I understand everything in a strictly literal sense, which isn’t always a good thing when having conversations with other people.
BTG: Tell us about a time you found yourself in “the gray”.
AFC: My childhood and adolescence were extremely traumatic and I can truly say I was a “lost” child – neglected, abandoned by my mother and abused by my father’s Lebanese extended family. Loneliness was a steady companion. However, as a critic once said about my memoir, “there were enough people in Anne’s life who cared about her.”
I knew very early on that if I was going to survive into the future I had to find a place for myself in the world. I had to find an identity. I escaped at the age of eighteen into marriage and, although I chose the wrong man for me, the four children we had together helped shape my life for the better and made me a stronger person. They taught me as much about life as I taught them.
Because of the tragedy of my mother’s life, I passionately strived to avoid being a defeated mother. I gained inspiration from the many biographies I read about women who found themselves in similar situations to mine. My disastrous marriage lasted 16 years, mostly because I could not leave my young children. I now see it was also because I did not want to believe my marriage had failed and that I may become a defeated mother too. However, as difficult a decision as it was at the time, when I did leave my life changed for the better. I had matured, was finding out who I was, and knew what I wanted for the future. I met someone who allowed me the space to go out and achieve the things I wanted from life: a university degree, a career and to search for my past. My passionate determination helped me to achieve all three.
My latest dream was to write and publish a book. And in 2010 I achieved that dream.
AFC: I began writing Ishtar about five years ago. I spent many years before that tracking the history of my Lebanese and Italian ancestors in a quest to find out why my mother abandoned me and two of my brothers, and why she adopted out another son and daughter.
I had read enough books to know that her life was exceptionally difficult and that she never managed to “move beyond the gray.” I wanted so much to know her and the reasons why she failed so badly at motherhood and life in general. I’d heard many negative comments about her from my father’s family but I never had the chance to know her as a person.
After traveling overseas and around New Zealand interviewing Lebanese and Italian family members, and searching records in local museums and libraries, I was armed with enough information to visit places in Italy and the United Kingdom where members of my extended families once lived. I also managed to collect and record an extensive Lebanese/Italian family tree. After filling many notebooks and collecting countless photographs, I realized I had enough material to write a book. The theme that ran throughout the various family stories was that of defeated mothers. I explored this further and the book grew from being a memoir to several personal stories within a geographical and genealogical framework, beginning with my abandonment and abuse.
Whenever I found writing the book too difficult, I would leave it for many months. Then I would wake at night with inspiration to get up in the early hours and write several chapters. I felt that I needed to write down what was invading my thoughts. I wanted to leave a family history for my descendents so they would grow up understanding what had gone before them, their wonderfully rich heritage and the places that left a mark on their ancestors. I hoped that my book would inspire others to follow their passions, to search for answers – in other words, to go beyond the gray.
The actual writing of the book was an extremely painful experience emotionally. It brought up many childhood memories, but in the end all the information I was able to piece together helped me heal.
Soon after the book was published, it began to sell well online. Part of this success was due to my blog, Lebanese & Italian Connections, where I posted excerpts from Ishtar.
Many readers from the Lebanese and Italian communities found family connections in the family tree, which appears on my blog and in the book’s appendix.
BTG: How can we get our hands on a copy of Whatever Happened to Ishtar?
AFC: My blog contains direct links to online retailers that carry the book as well as my publisher (Sid Harta) and distributor (Dennis Jones and Associates in Australia). If you have any difficulty ordering a copy, contact me and I will ship you a copy.
BTG: According to Ishtar’s book jacket, you believe that a life with purpose can be lived despite a crippling beginning. What would you tell other people who’ve had a “crippling beginning”?
AFC: Actually, that statement was made by a book reviewer. I can only pass on what I have experienced in life. One of the main lessons I have learned is that it’s not what life throws at you – that cannot be changed – it’s how you deal with the start you’ve been given.
I’ve found that there are many people in the world who have had far greater suffering than I. For me, loving and understanding animals has brought me another level of acceptance. We had a menagerie when our children were growing up and animals have taught me so much about life and death. They have no control over who cares for them and have to accept their fate. Caring for animals has made me a calmer person in the process.
Finally, I refused to be a victim. In hindsight, I can see that it’s not always a good personal philosophy because I haven’t in the past allowed friends and work colleagues to get close enough to help me through the bad times. They rarely got to see the real me. I internalized all the negativity and emotional pain and tried to deal with them on my own. I became extremely efficient at work and running a household, while fighting at all costs not to become a victim. All this takes enormous amounts of energy and it distanced me from those around me. Thankfully, my children and grandchildren have made my life so full, and the older I get the calmer I become. My advice is to trust others and accept their help.
BTG: What fears have you faced as you chase your dreams? How do you overcome them?
AFC: My biggest fear is that of the unknown. I read all I can about other people’s experiences of pursuing their dreams and this helps. Biographies of my favorite writers, artists, mothers and mentors have always inspired me. I have never been one to listen to negative comments about my dreams. I keep my own counsel and have a strong sense of self belief. I value my solitude and strictly control who I let into my life and my personal space. I think this comes from always having had to do things on my own. I have always had this incredible insight into things, like seeing well ahead that something wasn’t right and that I needed to make changes. I am not sure where this gift comes from, but I believe it is a gift. In other words, believe in yourself and trust your intuition. There were many times in the past when I didn’t trust my judgement but I learned quickly from my mistakes.
BTG: What are your hopes for the future?
AFC: To write and publish another book – this time fiction based on fact. And to leave my descendants a heritage they can be proud of, notwithstanding past tragedies.
BTG: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?
AFC: Find something that you are passionate about – something that almost consumes you – and a lot of negativity in your life will dissipate because you don’t have any mental energy left to dwell on it. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, you will be distracted by other issues in your life. And when one passion cools, find another.
In my case, my first dream was to have children of my own – to be a good mother. Then I searched for my lost Italian family. I wouldn’t let anything stand in my way and I’m sure it drove everyone around me to distraction because it was a fifteen year physical and mental journey. Even though not everything I discovered about my extended family was encouraging, the fact remained that I was searching and, in the process, learning a lot about myself. As a result, the micro picture of my childhood that I carried around in my head was replaced by a macro view. And it took the focus off me.
Once I had completed my search, I changed tack and that dream was replaced by another: to write a book. Each new photograph, each new person I found, each new bit of information, re-energized me. I still experienced depression and days of tears and frustration, but I tended to get over them more quickly than I had in the past. I still preferred to hide away from people most of the time, but when I felt like company and facing people, I was so much more confident.
To read more about Anne Frandi-Coory’s remarkable journey and Whatever Happened to Ishtar?, visit her blog, Lebanese & Italian Connections.
Are you chasing a dream? If so, I’d love hear about it!
E-mail me at: erika (dot) liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com