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Author Interview: Christine Macdonald

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Christine Macdonald, author of Face Value: From Working the Pole to Baring My Soul.

FQ: You're very open about your personal struggles in Face Value. Was there ever any hesitation in whether or not to include certain events? Did you ever discuss with a close friend (or friends) what you should include?

MACDONALD: I hesitated with all of it! A large part of my story is about how and why I found the stripper pole in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and after a harrowing, heartbreaking and hilarious decade, how and why I walked away. The location is a wildly popular tourist destination (Waikiki, HI), so I knew it would garner attention. Knowing this, I confided in childhood friends (noted in the book) asking how far down the dysfunctional rabbit hole I should go. I share quite a few experiences in Face Value but did leave some out, out of respect for all parties involved.

FQ: Was Face Value "living in your head" for a while before you started writing? Did you think about the benefits of sharing your personal experiences well before the pen started flowing? Was that perhaps the impetus for sharing your story?

Author Christine Macdonald

MACDONALD: Yes. Absolutely, yes. I knew having a career in six-inch stilettos and bedazzled G-strings in Paradise was unique; but I also knew that every one of us who found their way to the strip club had a story. Our paths may have been unimaginable for most, but our stories of longing for validation and acceptance are more common than we think. I still have pieces of paper, napkins, and notebooks with written memories  all of which made their way to Face Value. There is even a scanned copy of a cocktail napkin (with a love letter written by a waiter from a club where I worked) from 1990 in the book.

The benefits in sharing my story far out-weighed any trepidation I had about lifting the veil of my toxic past. Before I began work on my manuscript that would evolve into Face Value, I created a blog titled Pole to Soul which garnered a healthy viewership. Once Pole to Soul was awarded Blog of Note by Google in 2010, the amount of subscribers blew up and as a result, I received emails from strangers across the globe, thanking me for sharing my painful past, helping them feel less alone. Part of my story includes living with a rare form of cystic acne, (Acne Conglobata) and most of the emails I received were from fellow sufferers of this disfiguring skin condition. These emails, in addition to my fellow sorority sisters from The Pole who have thanked me for giving them a voice, and my own passion for giving purpose to my pain, became the impetus for Face Value.

FQ: Given that much of your early life was in Hawaii, I have to wonder if you have traveled to or maintained any personal ties to Hawaii.

MACDONALD: I was raised in Honolulu and lived there nearly thirty years. My family is still there and I do visit when I have the chance, but even now, decades after my life as a sex worker and drug addict, my PTSD gets triggered when visiting. The moment I see a glimpse of the island through the airplane window upon our descent, I feel myself needing to remember to breathe. Hawaiʻi is a magical, tropical heaven for most who visit and live there, but when it’s the scene of the crime and genesis of childhood trauma, it becomes a different type of place entirely.

FQ: Speaking of Hawaii, so many people think that they can outrun their life issues by simply moving to a new/better place. But as you note, "Skin deformity on her face resulting in nine surgeries since age 15...childhood abuse, addiction, bullying, mental illness...All in the Jewel of Paradise: Waikiki, Hawai`i." So, what would you tell those people who want to "run away" from their problems?

MACDONALD: I am one of those people! I should clarify; I used to be one of those people. In my twenties, I thought relocating to a different zip code would magically wipe my slate clean, serving new opportunities with zero baggage, but I digress. Knowing that to be an adorable fantasy (popular with young adults and drug addicts alike), I would say to people wanting to move away from their problems that trauma knows no bounds. Sure, the views may be different, but until we dig into our why – the distance we travel is superfluous. Our baggage is self-tracking and will always find its way back to us until we address the reasons we have them in the first place.

FQ: You have created a scenario of behind-the-scenes pole dancing and other such activities; are you aware of any significant changes in that profession since the years of your involvement in it?

MACDONALD: Oh yes! When I started dancing on stage in the late eighties, there was no such thing as a pole dancing class or clear heels (“stripper shoes”). We were self-taught and worked in six-inch stilettos with a metal spike as our heel. We also used to wear elaborate costumes and performed semi-choreographed numbers. Another big difference I notice now in the clubs is that most dancers have beautiful tattoo artwork; this was something almost no one had when I danced. But the most surprising thing I learned from the women who work in the industry now is that most clubs charge their dancers a stage fee. For example, if they have a $200.00 stage fee, and only make $400.00 in tips one night, they take home less than half of that after paying their stage fee and tipping out the servers, bouncers, DJ and bar staff. That one still gets me.

FQ: I love your book promo video, and the text that goes with it - "Dreams coming true = hard work, belief, moxie." So true, and so, so positive. I love the positive message. How do you stay so positive?

MACDONALD: I just talked with my therapist about this question; it’s a good one. How does one stay so positive after a lifetime of trauma and challenges? I wish I knew, but I am so grateful to be. I suppose positivity is in my DNA, and the fact that I am addicted to comedy (watching stand-up comics is part of my mental health plan) doesn’t hurt. Having a sense of humor and the ability to see things through a healthier lens (drug-free) is paramount. Once we see life through a healthier perspective, finding gratitude for the little things become part of life’s big things: empathy, forgiveness, compassion, resilience, self-love, gratitude.

FQ: I see that you do speaking events - would you share a bit about these events with our readers? Do you give a brief overview of your life, the battles you've fought, how you've overcome them? What is the reaction from your audience? I suspect that many find it quite enlightening, given they may have similar struggles. Do some attendees (at speaking events or book signings) come up to you and share their struggles?

MACDONALD: I have spoken to private youth and women’s groups and am building my speaking resume slowly as Face Value gains momentum. I have Ted Talk dreams and of course, taking my story on the road for more book signings. Book events have been rewarding and humbling, as I receive many “so did I” comments in private. You’d be surprised how many retired sex workers are out in the wild! The most memorable interactions, however, are always with people who have struggled with mental illness (depression/anxiety), PTSD from trauma and Acne Conglobata. Sharing in detail, the severity of my case, the nine surgeries I’ve had to address scaring, in addition to being so open about my mental health struggles has connected me with some amazing human beings – all with their own stories of survival.

FQ: You've done a lot of writing for various publications - Salon, The Good Men Project, Power Women Magazine, to name just a few. Do you find it very different to write for magazines vs. writing a memoir? Is one more enjoyable than the other, or are both fulfilling, perhaps in different ways?

MACDONALD: The process is the same, but on a much different scale. Both are equally fulfilling once the pieces are complete. With writing essays, I typically choose one story from my past and craft a piece based on the theme derived from the lessons learned. With Face Value, each chapter is an essay threaded within the walls of how I got from there to here. My book is the grown-up, fleshed-out version of my old blog, Pole to Soul.

FQ: You have a link on your website to donate to RAINN. Would you tell our readers a bit about this organization and why they should donate?

MACDONALD: In the mid-nineties I was a twenty-something cocaine addict who danced naked on stage for money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but just a few years earlier at age thirteen, I was raped. I explain the story in Face Value, but the gist of it is this: I had no idea I was raped because of the particulars of my story. It wasn’t until years later and through therapy that I realized I was abused. Once I connected the dots with my past to the time of this discovery, I remembered that Tori Amos (a singer of which I was/am a fan) was public about her survival story. So much so, she became the first spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). I was impressed by Tori’s openness and position of acting as an ally for other survivors, so I investigated RAINN further. I now speak about their organization through my social media channels and promote their work on my website. [*RAINN is an American nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization, the largest in the United States. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, as well as the Department of Defense Safe Helpline, and carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice through victim services, public education, public policy, and consulting services. *Wikipedia, 2023].

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