You can’t tell an ‘after the fall’ story without a fall

Home Again for the First Time was my second go at a title. Now it should be noted that, while I may sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about, I had a teacher at school tell me that I’d never be a writer. One thing I’d learned from writing the “Life with Multiple Sclerosis” blog for EverydayHealth.com for over a decade was that starting with a title can be directive, the way laying down a trackline on a chart helped me sail difficult waters in my days as a US Coast Guard navigator. (John Cusack plays me, by the way, and “pertinent” but “reluctant” would be my stage direction). An American chef with multiple sclerosis moves to Ireland … and gets a puppy. It is available from all good bookshops and online from collinspress.ie/chef-interrupted Though my ancestry can be traced to Ireland, it’s Co Fermanagh whence my people come, not west Kerry where the book is set. That seemed to encompass what I thought readers of the book would take away but seemed more like a ham-handed sales strategy of appealing to the widest possible audience – the foodies, the diaspora, the MS and chronic illness community and, of course, who doesn’t love a good story about a dog? For better than 20 years I believed her and abandoned a pastime that was budding into passion. Loves, passions, tastes, and appetites can be sated or tantalised; satisfied, or fascinated. As a chef I used to tell staff or students as we would prepare for a busy dinner service, “We’ll either run out of customers, out of food or out of time.” What I realised in reading my own memoir was that I hadn’t yet run out of any of them. This title didn’t end up working because, as I wrote and edited the first draft, I realised that:

1) it wasn’t a fall – I had actually been knocked down by the debilitating disease and

2) the story of life since MS has me being knocked over and over again. Now that the book has won an international literary award and is being published in my adopted country, I have to wonder why I gave a mediocre educator so much power over my young life. It is a view seen by anyone who has been knocked to the ground by any outside force as they mustered the strength to get back up. Who knew that would be so hard? I learned that, like a great meal, just because one course in life is cleared away it doesn’t mean there can’t be more to be anticipated from life after the diagnosis with a life-altering disease. Trevis Gleason is the author of Chef Interrupted – Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis, published by The Collins Press, at €12.99. Something about “The Town” (as it is exclusively referred to) feels more like a home than any of the dozens of places I’ve received my post. From the ground-up perspective, however, the view isn’t of an end of the old thing but potential for the new. I also learned from both experiences that external forces of set and drift can take one off course – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Only in leafing through the pages as a reader did I understand the lessons I, the protagonist, had learned over the Irish winter of 2005-2006. From the view of the person looking down on my broken and fallen life, I saw what would no longer be – what could no longer be. It wasn’t, I suppose, until I sat down and read the edited manuscript that the final title, Chef Interrupted, stuck and the subtitle, Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis, was finalised. I tried to convince the editor by subtitling the manuscript “An American Chef with Multiple Sclerosis Moves to Ireland… and gets a Puppy”. As a chef I used to tell staff or students as we would prepare for a busy dinner service, “We’ll either run out of customers, out of food or out of time.” What I realised in reading my own memoir was that I hadn’t yet run out of any of them. A long-standing icebreaker at parties among my circle of American friends was to name the actor who would play your part in “the film of your life”, then to give that actor just two words with which to sum up your whole person. It’s all a matter of perspective. Given my choice, it may have been published under that title, but my editor couldn’t figure out what it was that I meant by it. Not of a dead passion, but rather an interrupted one. In reliving the stories of visitors’ comings and goings, of faulty heating and sessions down the pub, or the quiet conversations with my new puppy, Sadie, I read not of an ended journey but a diverted one. What we should have been playing at was titling our memoirs. The first title at the top of my page was After the Fall. There was still another course to be devoured. It seemed fitting as I had assuredly experienced the “pride cometh before” part, and falling happens quite often with my form of multiple sclerosis (MS). For that reason I pencil in a title as I begin, as an initial direction, and see where the writing takes me.