April 15, 2011

Made It Moment: Mindy Greenstein

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:08 am

House On Crash Corner

I am very glad to welcome Mindy Greenstein to the blog. Mindy is published by one cool press and you guys know how I feel about those. Plus, I cyber-met Mindy through my mentor at New York Writers Workshop–a man whose incisive eye on my pitch helped lead me to my agent. Finally, Mindy’s book is just plain good. Smart, funny, poignant. We could all use a little of that. So, how does someone like this think she’s made it? Read on…

Mindy Greenstein

It isn’t in my nature to feel as if I’ve ever made it. In a sense, there are many gradual “made it” moments— my first handwritten rejection letter, my first rejection by phone (no, the editor didn’t hate my work so much she had to tell me personally; she invited me to submit pieces in the future). But there was one moment in my writing career that stands out as particularly special.

“Little Louie” was the first piece I’d written out of raw pain. It was the story of my building’s doorman’s last days after a tragic motorcycle accident. We were all in mourning– the residents, the staff, and especially the children. I had just come back from watching him lie comatose in the hospital when an essay started to form in my head. I knew there would be a group of red-eyed people standing in the doorway waiting for word.I would have to tell them what I knew, that there didn’t seem to be anything the doctors could do for him. I felt so terribly sad, and yet I felt so close to everyone in our community, as we went through our misery together. I needed to write about that feeling and give voice to our communal pain.

Having the essay published in the New York Times would have been a made-it moment in itself, if it weren’t for my ambivalence. I’d rather have Louie back.

By the time my piece came out a few months later, I became concerned about reminding the building community about our open wound. I particularly thought of Louie’s daughter, whom I’d met at the hospital, and who might not want to be reminded of those terrible last days.

But when the article came out, something extraordinary happened.

Everyone said the same thing, including Louie’s close friends on the staff—“You made me cry so hard. Thank you so much!” A combination I hadn’t heard before. I felt something new and very moving, as if I was discovering the real reason I started writing in the first place. Sometimes, we write to teach, or entertain, or even inspire. Sometimes, though, we write to make our pain tolerable, by allowing us to share it with each other. And by doing that, we also help make other people’s pain tolerable.

But Louie’s daughter reminded me of the most poignant reason we write. “Thank you”, she said, “for honoring my father.”

Mindy Greenstein is a clinical psychologist, psycho-oncologist, and author of The House on Crash Corner and Other Unavoidable Calamities.

She was the chief clinical fellow in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Her personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, SELF Magazine, and numerous other publications.

She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. (And she actually likes to cook chicken, no matter what she says in her book.)


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I had a client who died unexpectedly with so few friends and family that I decided to write a memoir about him so that in a small way he would continue to be noticed and remembered.

    Comment by Warren — April 15, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  2. Mindy, I especially appreciate this moment, after having lost my father to a pulmonary embolism (the likely result of 9 years of cancer remission and preventative treatments) just last summer. I have a 22-month-old son, whom my father met only three times, and I have often grappled with the injustice of losing my dad when I’m only just 30. I was somehow able to turn my feelings into a drive to finally work towards finishing a decade-old novel that my father enjoyed, but now would not be able to read. Whenever I worry about not being able to finish it, I just remember all of the things that my dad accomplished in his life, and I try to use those things to motivate myself to continue. You’re absolutely right in stating that writing serves a lot of different purposes for readers and writers as well, and understanding and pushing through pain is one that can often make our writing more poignant. One sad irony with my novel is that the opening scene involves the loss of a character’s life, and I now know exactly what it feels like to be confronted with that in such a sudden and painful way. It’s made my writing better, much as I wish I didn’t have to have that knowledge right now. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    Comment by Becca — April 15, 2011 @ 8:58 am

  3. These comments are as meaningful as the Moment itself. Thank you, Becca, Warren, for sharing.

    Comment by jenny — April 15, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  4. Wow, that is so moving.

    Comment by Savvy — April 15, 2011 @ 9:54 am

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