Part One of Joan Carol Lieberman’s two-part autobiography, OPTIMAL DISTANCE, A Divided Life, reveals the genesis of her family in prose and photographs. The book’s title comes from early recognition that her survival was dependent on maintaining a safe distance from her mother, the descendant of prominent Mormon pioneers, who tragically developed paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the author’s birth. Perpetually alert to the distance between herself and others, her narrative draws upon the attachment theory of D.W. Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst.
Her atheist father was a USDA research entomologist, who conducted the first experiments using DDT for agricultural purposes in Delta, Utah. After World War II, the author's family moved to Logan where she found safe harbor in the Mormon Church having followed a playmate to a Ward House, where her presence was welcomed. Knowing her mother would never follow her there, she felt the Mormon Church was a safe place to hide.
She was fourteen when her father was transferred to Bozeman, Montana and she left Mormonism behind. Less than a year later, her father was sent to Bakersfield, California, where the author finally read the medical literature on paranoid schizophrenia. In that era, experts believed schizophrenia was caused by “perverse mothering.” She concluded that she was doomed, a fear that haunted her for the next twenty years. After studies in pre-med at the University of California at Berkeley, she traveled in Europe and worked as a medical volunteer in Africa. By the time she returned to Berkeley, the author had become an increasingly formidable and resilient woman, able to withstand the sadness of her mother’s illness with the fortitude of a well-adjusted adult. Granted excommunication from the Mormon Church on the grounds of apostasy, she faced illegitimate pregnancy, a shotgun marriage, divorce, and single-working motherhood. She broke through the glass ceiling facing women in 1968 and kept going. Her poignant, painstakingly detailed journey is both exhaustive and intimately personal.
Locales include: Salt Lake City, Delta, and Logan, Utah; Yellowstone, Wyoming; Bozeman, Montana; Bakersfield and Berkeley, California; Europe; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Troy, Idaho; and Boulder, Colorado.
|Publisher:||Camperdown Elm Publishing, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
Born a Gentile in Utah, she spent her childhood in two small Mormon towns, Delta and Logan. Her father was a federal research entomologist, distantly related to Simon Bamberger, Utah's only Jewish governor. Her mother, whose ancestors were among the first Mormon pioneers to arrive in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, tragically developed paranoid schizophrenia shortly after the author's birth. Schizophrenia is a devastating and incurable biological mental illness that effects one out of every one hundred people. The title of OPTIMAL DISTANCE comes from the author's need to keep a safe distance away from her mother whose mental illness triggered episodic murderous impulses toward the author.
The roots of Joan Carol Lieberman's unusual two-part autobiography can be found in a pink diary she received on her fifth birthday, a gift that converted her into a devout diarist. As an only and often lonely child, she found comfort in telling an imaginary listener her concerns and worries.
Her father's research assignments meant she started high school in Bozeman, Montana and graduated in Bakersfield, California. After studies at the University of California in Berkeley, she traveled to Europe and worked as a medical volunteer in Africa. When the author returned to America, another attempt was made on her life and the author committed her mother to a Tucson hospital where she was finally treated with the first anti-psychotic drug, Thorazine.
Soon after returning to Berkeley to finish her studies, the author became pregnant with her first child, a daughter. Her life for the next five years mirrored the social upheaval of the 1960's. In 1966 she left Berkeley for Northern Idaho, where she went to finish her thesis. In 1968, she accepted her first professional managerial position in Boulder, Colorado as director of the county-wide Head Start program. In 1971 the Ford Foundation sought her assistance in establishing the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Boulder. She met and fell in love with Bob Pelcyger, one of the founding NARF attorneys; following their marriage in 1975, he adopted her daughter.
Her mother died on the morning of the author's fortieth birthday. The next year she and Bob had a son. The author was still nursing him when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While facing death with a young child , she continued to work, started a school for her son, and provided hands-on-help to other mothers with breast cancer. Her now twenty-eight-year survival is both remarkable and inspiring, but not without extraordinary costs, both physically and financially.
As a finalist for the Bakeless Literary Prize, Joan Carol Lieberman was invited to attend the 1999 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference as a Bakeless Scholar. It was there that she began to write her autobiography, an effort that continued on and off for the next eighteen years. After forty-two years of marriage, Joan Carol Lieberman and Bob Pelcyger made a bucket list for what they each wanted from the other before their death. Bob wanted his wife to finish both Part One and Part Two of OPTIMAL DISTANCE, A Divided Life,which she did in his honor on her seventy-fifth birthday.
Table of Contents
Dedicated to the Believers, the Unbelievers, and Those In Between xi
Preface to Part One: About Optimal Distance xiii
Book I: CHILDHOOD 1
Inheritances of a Full-Blooded Gentile 3
A Female Prisoner of Two Wars 13
Second Choice Survivor 17
The Bear Goes to Topaz 23
The Untouchable Sable Coat 29
Ben’s Birthday Couch 33
Afton’s Broom 39
My Mormon Safe Havens 43
The Great Fried Egg War of 1949 47
Baptized a Mormon in Sinful Apostasy 55
My Father’s Feline Dream House 61
The Bear Who Loved Cherry Chocolates 67
My Mother’s Dream House 71
Branded for Life: My Atomic Tattoo 75
Never Worry About Where Your Money Has Gone 79
The Rewards and Risks of Giving 85
Bras and Cars 93
Love and Betrayal 103
Dreaming of Being Mrs. J.C. Penny 109
A Female Twin 115
Speaking Truth to Power 119
The Over-Achievement Defense 127
An Agent of the Turkish Police 133
“The Perverse Mother” 137
A Mother for My Mother 141
Changing the Distance 145
The University of California at Berkeley 151
Europe and Africa 155
Never Wanting to Go Home Again 159
Practicing Medicine in Ouagadougou 165
My Mother’s First Commitment 173
Thanksgiving in Berkeley’s Tilden Park 179
“She Has a Turkey in the Oven” 181
Making and Breaking Vows 183
My Mother Saves Her Progeny 187
Book II: MOTHERHOOD 195
The Love of My Life 197
Excommunication and the Ayn Rand Man 205
When the Body Remembers 213
Vietnam War Bride 217
Mistletoe and Modern Day Polygamy 221
The Accident 227
Starting Over 237
Cross-Species Relationships 241
Twin Falls 251
The Company That Came 257
The Gold Star Girl 265
Coming Together, Coming Apart 273
The High Price of Help 287
Mad Manx Leads Me to True Love 295
Henry Kissinger and “The Refrigerator Mother” 303
Work and Distance 311
My Beloved Daughter 315
Death—the Ultimate Distance 321
Glossary of Individuals and Animals 337
Credits for Photographs and Illustrations 347