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Bainbridge author Rebecca Wells to celebrate latest release at Eagle Harbor Book Co.
When bad things happen, whether it is a death in the family or a disease, there is an arsenal of feel-better phrases to choose from, from “look on the bright side” to “this, too, shall pass.” Bainbridge author Rebecca Wells, however, only needs one word.
“Dancing,” she said. “I’m a great believer in dancing in the kitchen, when you’re really blue or when you’re really happy. While I am not a doctor, I do give out that prescription.”
Wells will celebrate the release of the paperback version of “The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder,” her latest novel, at Eagle Harbor Book Co. this week. The writer will offer performance fiction on the theme of “Searching for the Moon Lady,” a thread that winds its way through many of her books.
“The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder” is set in Wells’ beloved Louisiana, in a small river town where a young girl, after losing her mother, learns to transform the suffering in her life.
Out last July, it is Wells’ first departure from the Ya-Yas, known best in “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” which was made into a feature film in 2002.
Calla, the title character, grew up in a home with a beauty shop on its front porch, where she inherited the healing hands of her mother, a beautician who drew out the sadness from her clientele. She is guided through life by Wells’ recurring Moon Lady, a feminine presence of protection and love.
“I do believe there is a force that is greater than we are. You can call it god, goddess — you can call it really whatever you want to. I approach the books with that belief inside of me,” Wells said. Wells, who suffers from advanced neurological Lyme disease, added she recognizes that force working in her own life.
Just as Calla comes to understand the transformative potential of hurt and loss after losing a parent — and just as everyone, at certain points in time, is knocked down by life’s surprising blows — Wells has experienced a difficult journey with her disease.
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” she said, quoting John Lennon. “I think that’s really true, because my life is not what I planned.”
Her symptoms began quietly more than a decade ago; they worsened to intense pain, seizures, severe fatigue and extreme weakness. Doctors struggled to diagnose her, and postured she suffered from a brain tumor, Parkinson’s Disease — or that the pain was only in her mind.
Lyme disease, caused by bacteria transmitted through a bite from a tick, is found in at least 20,000 Americans each year, according to the Infections Diseases Society of America.
In Washington, seven to 18 cases are reported each year.
Many — including Wells — do not recall when they were bitten.
Lyme, once diagnosed, is often treated by antibiotics, though many insurance companies will only pay for treatment for a short length of time.
Wells has improved since her 2004 diagnosis, though some symptoms, like strong sensitivity to noise and bright light, still remain. She constantly works to reduce her stress and build her immune system, returning at each struggle to the meditative rhythms of breathing. She calls it a miracle to walk again, and still remembers the moment she could first fathom doing just that, when she stepped out of her wheelchair and walked the short lane in front of her island home. It was a triumph against Lyme, which had temporarily stolen the strength from her legs.
“I never dreamed that would happen,” she said.
She has since returned to the stage, where she once was an actress, to promote awareness of the disease.
“I will never probably go back to the old normal,” Wells said, of her life before Lyme and after. “It’s a new normal. I feel like now I’m really able to live my life, when for so many years I asked ‘Am I going to get my life back again?’”
Over the phone, Well’s speaks with a delicate canter, a sureness in her soft southern accent — “Age is a number, and mine’s not listed,” she says, a quote from a Kentucky woman she once knew. She grows quiet, and says she is becoming tired. She asks that the comment not appear in print, then immediately changes her mind; she wants others to know how deep the effects of the disease really run.
“I’ll be totally fine, then all of a sudden get so weak I have to hold on to something,” she said.
But when she does, as they say, look on the bright side, she certainly finds something there; she is anything but defeated.
“That quieting down and slowing down process is really one of the gifts of the disease,” she said. “It forces you to slow down and be in a place that’s quiet.”
Wells encourages Kitsap residents to check themselves and their children for ticks when they come indoors.
Search for the moon lady
From 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 15 with author Rebecca Wells at Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Book Company, 157 Winslow Way E.