My guest this week is Alicia Giralt, and reading her story has struck a chord with me and made me feel very humble yet grateful. It reminds me to be thankful for what I have right now. Do, please read to the very end, and you will see exactly what I mean.
Alicia, over to you.
I was born in Barcelona, Spain. At twenty, I moved to the United States, where I have lived for almost 40 years. I started writing when I was a child and have continued ever since. In college, I majored in print journalism inspired by Hemingway, who was also a reporter.
I loved working in newspapers but wasn’t thrilled that my Hemingway-esque words would end up lining a bird’s cage.
One of my professors invited me to apply for a scholarship to pursue a master’s in Spanish. He said he was sure I would get it. Taking this course of study had never crossed my mind, but he had planted a seed in my brain. I continued working and studying at the same time. In December 1990, I was pregnant with my third child and ready to graduate. It was a time of economic crisis and I was elated to have three offers from different newspapers. One evening in class I was talking to a friend Bettina about Christmas plans and feeling excited. I’d chosen my new job and was going to start working the day after classes ended. Bettina told me that since her job was being a teaching assistant, she didn’t have to work until the new semester started. Something was wrong with this equation. But I was happy about going to work, five-months pregnant, and leaving my two older sons in daycare. Bettina did not have to work. Very interesting.
I talked to the professor who had mentioned the scholarship and my future changed forever. I loved reading, so studying literature didn’t feel like work. It was fun. When I was almost done with my studies, I was offered a scholarship to obtain a Ph.D. in modern languages. Was that possible? And how much fun would that be? A lot, I thought, and it was.
With my Ph.D. in hand, I went to a job interview at Weber State University in northern Utah, a place I knew nothing about. The night before the interviews –there were to be several– I strolled around my hotel. The town is in a valley framed by the Salt Lake to the west and the Wasatch mountains to the east. The mountains were covered in snow and the full moon shined on them. It took my breath away. Next morning, I taught an advanced class. To my surprise, one of the students started talking to me in Catalan, my home language. A young man in Northern Utah speaking in Catalan? This had to be a sign.
Nineteen years later, I’m still in awe of the scenery and amazed by the quality of my students. I’m certain the future is in good hands.
This January 1st. I had to resign due to health issues, but I keep in touch with many of my former students and colleagues. There’s always a silver lining: Finally, I have time to write those stories that have been percolating in my brain.
I’ve published academic articles, a book about Spanish writer Lourdes Ortiz, and a medical Spanish textbook. I’ve also self-published a poetry book in Spanish and a bilingual Spanish-English children’s book and did the illustrations to the former. My poetry has appeared in journals and magazines. I’ve received so many rejection letters that I could wallpaper my whole house–and my neighbor’s. Luckily, I have also received numerous teaching awards, among others, the Higher Education Teacher of-the-Year by the Utah Foreign Language Association, Outstanding Mentor Award, Excellence in Teaching, Secondary Education Award by Southwest Conference on Language Teaching. Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (Best higher education, foreign language professor in the 9-state region), the John A. Lindquist Award for Community Involvement, the Gwen S. William Award of Excellence, and the Lowe Award for Innovative Teaching.
In 2005, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to present a paper at the World’s Interdisciplinary Congress on Women. On an organized trip to honor Korea’s comfort women, my mother told me she loved me. The only problem was that she had died when I was 15-years old. I felt I had to share this experience with anyone who would listen, but being an academic put a damper on it. My colleagues would no doubt see me in a different light, maybe in a bat-crazy light. So, I only told close relatives and friends. Ten years later, in 2015, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Now, I really had to share my story. I could die soon and my story would die with me.
After chemo, I went back to work and research, with no time to write my memoir. When my cancer came back a year later, at stage four, I knew I was running out of time to tell my experiences. No more procrastinating. I am convinced of the existence of an afterlife–my mom had shown it to me. Gone was any fear I might have had about dying. In April 2016, my oncologist told me I had a year left, maybe two. I’d better hurry up. I finished my memoir, which should come out in February 2018.
In Blooming out of Darkness: A memoir about cancer, spirits, and joy, my goal is to offer readers a progressive look at spirituality, without dogma or limitations, with only joy. If someone benefits from it, all the work will have been worth it.
You can get Alicia’s children’s book here https://www.amazon.com/dp/1419667173
This is the link to Alicia’s website. https://aliciagiralt.org/blooming/
Alicia, it has been a privilege to have you as my guest this week, and I hope you have many more days left on this earth. One comforting thought for all writers is that their work will live on long after they have gone.