Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
“In the end, it’s all these crazy stories that made me who I am today.”
Growing up, Oran Canfield’s life couldn’t have been further from the average person’s childhood experience. The son of Chicken Soup for the Soul author and self-help guru Jack Canfield, Oran spent his early years honing his juggling skills among circus people, attending punk rock shows, and just basically spending time with every possible unusual subset of fringe culture.
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As an adult, Oran relocated to San Francisco, where he played drums in a number of art rock bands, opened a successful recording studio, and developed a drug addiction that nearly killed him. In his debut memoir, Long Past Stopping, Oran chronicles his long and often frustrating road to recovery with unexpected humor as he unpacks the numerous bizarre stories he collected along the way.
Chris Teja: How did the idea for Long Past Stopping come about?
Oran Canfield: The whole thing started because of a clever title I had come up with. I woke up one morning with, Give Me Some Bread with that Chicken Soup in my head, and said to myself, “Damn. I’m going to have to write a book.” I had never written anything before that.
Chris: That would have been great. So you just kept writing even after the original title fell by the wayside?
Oran: The original title was scrapped towards the end of the writing process because the book didn’t have as much to do with my dad as the proposal had. Although I agree with the decision, I still love the working title.
Chris: What effect do you think you father’s involvement will have with how people react to your story?
Oran: I think the biggest effect is the obvious irony between my childhood, my lifestyle choices as an adult, and my cynicism, and my Dad’s feel-good, self-help, Hallmark-style pop psychology. I have already received a number of emails from people whose parents made them read his books and who can relate on that level. So far the sensationalism that could have come up has has been minor.
Chris: I think people will be surprised to find out that your being the son of Jack Canfield is probably the least crazy aspect of your story. I really loved all the surreal, almost unbelievable moments (particularly your trip to Mexico). Was there anything you left out thinking that it might just be too strange to believe?
Oran: Believe it or not, I actually left a lot out. Some of it because the stories were too strange to believe, but mostly because a book only has so much room for crazy story after crazy story. In the end I even had to cut about 70 pages from the original manuscript. Very sad.
Chris: I bet. After reading about how, as a teenager, you helped a middle-aged Mexican man carry his drunk friends, who inexplicably fall asleep in the middle of the road night after night, I can only imagine what was deemed too strange. Did you have any journals to reference when you were writing or did you have to do it all from memory?
Oran: I had journals from certain time periods, but mostly I worked from memory and/or interviewed family and friends. I am actually still in touch with many of the characters in the book, and I tracked down others I hadn’t spoken to in years. It is amazing how these age-old experiences I haven’t thought about in years come right to the surface when I sit down and start writing, or how someone’s voice or even listening to music from the time period can trigger certain memories.
Chris: What it difficult to revisit some of those times?
Oran: It was possibly one of the hardest things I have ever done. Surprisingly, it was mostly the childhood stories that were hard to re-live. By the time I started writing, I had already come to terms with much of what I wrote about in the drug-using chapters. It was really the childhood stuff and family stuff that was hard to get through because writing requires a certain amount of empathy for all the characters, which I had never experienced before. All of a sudden I had to contemplate what my parents and friends might have been going through, which made it a lot harder for me to be angry at them. There were more than a few moments when I broke down crying during the writing process.
Chris: Did you have a sense that doing something as straightforward as writing your life story could be so exhausting?
Oran: Having never written before, I knew it was going to be hard, but I really didn’t have any idea what I was in for.
Chris: Is there a specific thing you hope that people will take away from your story?
Oran: Hopefully a certain amount of acceptance and even appreciation for themselves, the weird people in their lives, and their own crazy experiences. In the end, it’s all these crazy stories that made me who I am today.
Chris: And they also resulted in a completely fascinating book. So Oran, if you were to take you’re entire story and edit it down to a six-word memoir, what would it be?
Oran: Chicken Soup for the Misanthropic Soul.
BUY a copy of Long Past Stopping
VISIT Oran Canfield’s website
READ an excerpt from Long Past Stopping