Skopje, 16 December 2018 (MIA) – Writing, for me, is a way to connect to other people, said Israeli author Michal Segal-Arnold following the book launch for Ringo and I, recently published in Macedonian by Magor.
In this interview for MIA, Segal-Arnold speaks about the spiritual connection she felt with the Beatles as well as how living with the Dakota Sioux has influenced her work.
When did you become a writer?
I’ve written all my life, since I was a child. I wrote articles for many journals. I’m a lawyer and have a PhD in Political Science so I’ve written for professional journals, too. I’ve also written about traveling, about art, about architecture. But this is my first book. It was published in Israel four years ago, and it came into a second edition.
I’m Israeli, but I lived with American Indian people in the ’90s. I lived in the house of a spiritual leader, so many ideas from American Indian spiritualism come into my books. So this book is about the ability of the soul to travel through time and space to heal people.
I’m now writing a series of books called How to Love a Shapeshifter. Shapeshifters are people who can change the way they look from a person to an animal and then go back to being people. I love writing.
What made you write Ringo and I?
My father died. It was a difficult time. I mourned for a long time. And I couldn’t get out of it. This was after I had been with the Indians and I was telling myself, “You have spiritual knowledge, and you help other people to get over all kinds of crises in their lives. How come you can’t get over your own mourning?” It had been four years. Four years, for American Indians, is a symbolic time, a ceremonial time. Because there are four seasons, and there are four directions, so four is a powerful number.
Then I said, “Okay, I have to write about it,” because writing for me is a way to connect with other people and Creation. As I started to write the story of how I lost my father, I realized that if I was going to tell my story as it was, it was going to be very short and not very hopeful, because I was very depressed.
I said to myself, “I have to find a way to turn this woman in the story from me into someone else, and I have to find a way to help her.”
As I mourned, people started to say, “Oh, it’s been a long time, why are you still sad? You have to get over this…” I said, “I have my own rhythm! This is my process.” So I decided the heroine in the book would have to find people in mourning. Now, I’m a child of the sixties—I was born in 1967—so I’ve always loved the Beatles… Do you remember when John Lennon was murdered?
That was the first time I experienced grief. Although we never met, he was an important person in my life. And when he died, I was shocked, and I was in mourning. I really felt grief. And then everyone went to the Dakota house to mourn him. So I said, the heroine can go in her dreams to the Dakota house in 1980—because she’s in 2012—and she can mourn with them, and that can help her to get out of her mourning.
I was so happy with that idea, I couldn’t sleep that night. Then I turned on the television, and this movie was on, talking about the ’70s, and then it comes to the point at which John Lennon was murdered.
I go, “I was just thinking about it, and it’s on television!” Then they showed that Ringo Starr came to visit him. I didn’t know that. I didn’t think about Ringo Starr, because my heroes were John and Paul. And I’m told, in the movie, that Ringo Starr and his wife, who were in the Bahamas, left everything and came to be with Yoko Ono.
And I think, “This is amazing! The heroine of my book can go to the Dakota house to mourn with the people—in her dreams— and then Ringo Starr will see her from the apartment of Yoko Ono and he will invite her in to mourn with them. This is great!” But then I’m thinking, “But it’s only happening in her dreams. How will they [the readers] be able to see that?”
Then the idea came [to me] that she’ll be a time traveller, her soul will go through time and space, and she will be able to heal him throughout his life, and then he will be able to see her.
So this is where the idea came from. I was mourning my father, and I found a way to heal from it through the connection with the mourners of John Lennon. We can all heal each other, it doesn’t matter where we are, it’s in our power to heal each other.
So this is the main message of the book?
The main message, yes. We can heal each other. Then the most amazing thing happened. I thought I was just telling a story, but then people started reading the book and calling to tell me I helped them with some crisis. They said, I went through this — not only that someone died, but also: “I had this problem at my work, I had this problem with my girlfriend, I had this crisis with my boss, I had this problem with my child… And I read your book and it helped me get over that crisis.”
People reached out to me, which is amazing. Often we read a book and we want to talk to the writer. Even Salinger says that in The Catcher in the Rye. But how often do we do it?
Then someone told me, “I read the book and I felt you were holding my hand. Or, I felt like you were talking in my ear.” Things like that. They said there was something healing, something very spiritual about the book.
You’ve lived with Native Americans. Could you tell us more about their views about nature and today’s way of life?
We’re all concerned about the environment. You can feel it. I’m 52 and I know the winters are different than the winters we had when I was a child. When the Europeans came to America, there were just a few million Indians there, and the Europeans thought, “How come?”
The Indians always knew how to live in balance with nature. The women knew when to get pregnant and when not to get pregnant. They knew where each tribe was, where the water was, which animals were there, how to treat them. Many of their taboos about nature—such as a tribe saying, “Never go to that place!”—was to actually to protect the place, because maybe it was where the water came from and they didn’t want to contaminate it.
Living in balance with nature is important to them. Also important is the way we live with each other. American Indians don’t think of God as separate, their God is not punishing. They think of Creation and the Creator as one, a system in which—you, this book, me, the music, the other people here, the trees outside—everything is connected with everything else. What happens to you, happens to her, happens to me. So it’s my concern to make this Earth livable for everybody, even if I don’t like that person over there.
How long did you live with them? How did they dress, what language did they speak?
I lived with them for 10 months. Day to day, they dress like me and you. But in ceremonies, they use the feathers and beads and everything. They spoke English. The spiritual leader was the last of the Dakota Sioux who spoke the Dakota Sioux language. Twenty-six people, that was all. We were sure it was going to die. When I recently went back – people were speaking the language! They revived it.
They took an example from my people. You know, Hebrew was a dead language for 2,000 years and people revived it and now we speak it and this book was written in it. So, they said, “If they can do it, we can do it.” They have schools to teach those languages, and ceremonies, and it’s wonderful.
So you gave them something from your culture and they gave you something back.
Yes, but also from just who I am. This is a very American Indian belief, that we come to this world with a certain gift and our goal in our lives is to find out what this gift is and to give it. Which brings us back to how I healed myself and now I’m helping others to heal through the book. That’s another very American Indian thing: to tell a story. They tell you a story, and you take away from it whatever you want to take away from it.
What do you think about Macedonia? And how did your collaboration with Magor happen?
I sent them the manuscript. I know the Israeli ambassador here and I thought I should send the book [to publishers]. The owner, Pavlina [Lazarevska], read the book and loved it. It’s a recurring thing. Once you start reading it, you can’t put it down. She called me and we talked for over an hour. We had so many things in common. I feel it with so many people here in Macedonia. This is the first time I’m here. There’s something here, some connection. The river is beautiful. The city is interesting, and so are the people. They are interesting and loving. I hope they get the same healing from the book. American Indians believe that, and I’m sure other cultures do so, too. If you want to help someone, nothing will stop you.
Ed. by Magdalena Reed
Photo: Frosina Naskovikj