Interview about UNPACKED by Aly Coy
1) What made you want to write UNPACKED?
When I was backpacking around Western Europe, I felt alone in the experience and felt the need to document it and share it. When I left Josef in The Pyrenees (spoiler alert–I do leave him), there was so much to–unpack–that I jumped right into a creative writing course to get the stories down while I still had detailed accounts.
I've been writing since my last year in high school, with a story about how I had an abortion that year. It was a traumatic time in my life but writing the story helped me process it. I work through trauma by writing and sharing stories with others who have similar experiences.
2) What do you want people to get out of the book?
I want readers who have been through similar situations to feel validated by reading my story. A lot of abuse is subtle, and I didn't know it was happening until a good friend pointed it out. Once I started talking about it with other people who also got out of an unhealthy relationship, similarities arose which I now know are red flags. I also want readers to feel inspired to travel, experiment sexually, pick up hobbies, fail, start fresh, and write about it.
3) How are you living now?
I live off-the-grid, not in The Spanish Pyrenees, but on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. I rent a small cabin at the back of a permaculture farm in the south end of the island. With one solar panel, a rain water catcher, on-demand hot water, and propane stove, I live year round and run a small botanical body care business called Barefoot Daughter.
4) What was the hardest part of writing the book?
It was emotionally difficult to get through writing the scenes of abuse in the book. Subconsciously, I tried everything to postpone completing the memoir: I started a business, took two herbal medicine courses, and moved five times. It's easier to see myself as a character in the book, but rough to constantly pull myself back into a situation where I felt so broken, weak, and voiceless. Overall, I feel empowered by having the stories shared of that time.
5) There are many references to water in the book. What does that symbolize?
There is water in different forms, surrounded by canals, ocean, lack of water in a drought, feeling frozen under ice, flowing tears, burning my hand on steam. To me water symbolizes emotion, cycles and the pulling of tides. I was stuck in an unhealthy cycle that I had to break.
6) In your memoir there's emotional abuse and sexual trauma–what made you want to reveal your baggage to the world?
In sharing baggage, it's not as heavy. I got the chance to study my former naively-optimistic self and see where things shifted and fell into place. When I met the character Josef, I thought I was ready to have a partner, but I was immature and fell into a very unhealthy relationship. I want folks to learn from my mistakes even if it's embarrassing or something I'd rather move on from.
7) You gave up on society and moved to a commune, did you ever feel like you were in a cult?
Looking back on it, it reminds me of a cult. A two person cult. Josef was so radical and charismatic–he talked of how I was brought up brainwashed with TV and idolized famous people. He wanted to deprogram me and to have a triad relationship with another girlfriend of his. I was lost, looking for a different way of life and my partner Josef seemed to have all the answers. We were also preparing for the collapse of society, December 21st, 2012, so we moved to a remote community in The Spanish Pyrenees. It was also very hard to leave, physically and emotionally so there are similarities that I see now as cult-ish.
8) What did the role of addiction play in your memoir?
I was addicted to a few things during that time including my relationship with Josef. I was uneasy when I wasn't around him. Also cigarettes were a big part of my day to day life. I don't see myself as addicted to drugs and alcohol but there was a lot of experimentation when I lived in Amsterdam.
9) Do you see this memoir as a comedy or tragedy?
There are many dark moments in the book but I also found humour in it all. Not taking myself too seriously has helped me work through a lot of my issues or baggage. I think the best work is a mix of both comedy and tragedy.
10) How has therapy helped you write the book?
Since parts of the book describe when I was depressed, I was worried to tap into that place of darkness. A few times when I immersed myself in writing I heard the words Josef said to criticize me, and I was brought back down. I wanted to make it as raw and authentic as possible so I tapped into the part of my psyche that had been pushed away, and luckily, through therapy, I worked through the triggers that arose.
I also learned to recognize red flags in an unhealthy partnership. When Josef introduced another woman into our relationship I became jealous, uneasy, and obsessive. When he refused to talk to me for three days after I said no to him in bed, I lost the nerve to turn him down, and when he couldn't blame our land-mates for certain downfalls, he turned on me.
11) Why did you name the book UNPACKED: a memoir of checked baggage?
It's part travel memoir, part emotional baggage. I was a tour guide in several cities, including Amsterdam and Seville, which are locations in a few chapters of the book. The reader explores places with me while I backpack through Western Europe and a couple chapters have the narrative woven into my tour guide performances.
It's also unpacking the emotions that came up during that time in my life. I feel like I've worked through a lot by writing the book and through therapy so it's "checked" baggage.
12) Any more memoirs in the future?
My next book will be called "Barefoot." It'll be partly how I started my herbal body care business and partly dating flaky musicians at folk festivals.
You can order a copy of UNPACKED here or on Amazon. Aly Coy also has online walking tours of Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Seville through Unanchor.com