Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Interview with Advocate, Poet & Songwriter: Alicia Cook


I promised myself this year I would be braver. Which means reaching out to those who not only work in fields I respect but; also have an soulful artistic side. I've been dying to ask Alicia Cook for an interview for some time now. So I figured there was no time like the present, I totally did, and she said yes. I have such admiration for advocates. I used to be a RSSW at one time in my life, so I understand the potential challenges that can be faced in a job such as Alicia’s -- with regards to advocacy.  I must admit while I read her interview I cried, I read the words of a woman who consistently sees pain on her journey and maintains positivity and honesty.  She doesn’t sugar coat important issues that require attention.  Yet her poetry is so emotional and genuine. Lovely really, they ooze experience and honesty.  See for yourself follow her on social media via Instagram @thealiciacook and Twitter @the_alicia_cook. 

Alicia's book “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” is available on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble her forthcoming book “I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip” is available via pre-order.

RMMW: What was the catalyst to you becoming an advocate?

AC: I advocate for families affected by drug addiction. Whole families are impacted when a loved one suffers from Substance Use Disorder. And up until a bit ago, no one was really talking about the destruction of the family unit. How they endure, how they move on, how they need to recover no matter what. I lost my cousin Jessica in 2006 to a heroin overdose and looked for a voice on the subject, and couldn’t find one at the time. So I began writing about it.

RMMW: Have you experienced an incident that’s ever made you question your decision to be an advocate?

AC: Of course. This work is emotionally draining. To do all I’ve done, and then still get countless emails a day from strangers telling me they’ve just lost someone they love to drugs is gut wrenching. Three different people the day after Christmas messaged me that they lost someone to a drug overdose. Advocates are in the trenches – and you can find yourself asking, “Why am I doing this if nothing seems to be changing? If people are still dying?” I keep on going because I know the people left behind need to know someone else has been there and knows their pain.

RMMW: Being an advocate is stressful work, as you are constantly discussing difficult subjects that affect humanity in various ways. How do you detach yourself from all the heartache at the end of the day?

AC: It’s definitely hard to detach myself. I have parents sending me their kids’ obituaries or the eulogies they read at their funerals daily and those alerts go right to my phone. It’s hard not to look immediately. I know someone on the other end of that message is hurting and needs human connection. I have been trying to detach from my devices a bit because it’s hard not to internalize their pain and make it my own. And I know that’s not healthy. But it comes along with the job.

RMMW: How has your advocacy work shaped how you view humanity?

AC: I like to think I’ve always been a compassionate person, but this work has definitely made me more compassionate, more understanding, less judgmental. My cousin died so young, I never really had the chance to believe the stigma that surrounds addiction. I knew my cousin. I knew she was a drug addict. But I also knew she loved sushi, and reading, and her parents, and Broadway shows. My cousin was a full-dimensional person, so I never thought anyone else addicted to drugs would be less of a human than she was. Everyone has a family. Anyone could lose their way. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.


RMMW: What do you feel is the most valuable lesson self-published authors need to remember for genuine success?

AC: When I started out, I was a self-published author. Now I am with a traditional publishing house. So I like to tell people that you have to put your work out there because you never know who is looking for what you have to offer, both the reader and industry-side. I believe there is a reader for every writer. As long as you are authentic.

RMMW: Do you feel there is a difference between writing music lyrics and poetry?  Do you prefer one over the other?

AC: I’ve definitely jumped more into songwriting, especially given my upcoming poetry collection is a mix of my poetry, prose, and songwriting. It has just been a fun brain exercise. Has reinvigorated my enjoyment in writing. Because it’s easy for a writer to get blocked or fall into routine – and that’s never good in my opinion. To me, lyrics and poetry are born from the same thread. Poetry, in my eyes, should always have a musicality to it, and I like to think my foray into songwriting and working with musicians was just the next natural, logical step.

RMMW: Do you have a favourite poem that you are excited to share from your new book “I hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip”? (Or at least a little taste for our readers?)

AC: Yes! I wrote this book over the course of nearly 2 years. By the time I handed it over to my editor, I was on the 21st draft. So these poems are a part of me at this point. I am really excited for readers to read the poems that were also recorded into songs. I think that will be a cool experience for them. To read something, then follow a link and hear it. I am also looking forward to feedback on my longer pieces. I wrote one called “This Isn’t About the Number Six” and it’s many pages long and chronicles the before/after I experienced upon losing my cousin. Somehow my brain broke it down on paper around the number six, but like the title says, it has nothing to do with the piece. I read it at a reading and the crowd was in tears.


RMMW: I love how you selected a cassette tape for the cover of “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” and a vinyl record for “I hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip”. How has music shaped your writing style and what do you listen to while you create?

AC: Thank you! Music has always been a large part of my life, from childhood. My dad is a huge fan of music and I was brought up on his vinyl collection. He loves all kinds of a music from Frank Sinatra to Mo-Town to international music. He’s a big reason why I began seeing music as the dots that connect my life experiences.

RMMW: If there was one thing you’d want the readers of your book to take away with them -- what would it be?

AC: I might say more than one thing. I want them to know, to feel, that I took a lot of time with this upcoming collection. That I didn’t rush it for the sake of releasing another book. I want them to know that I wrote “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” in 2015, and grew three years as a writer and woman since then. I am not as broken anymore, thankfully, but I do have miles to go before I become the 
person I aspire to be.

This new book is more mature, I am 31-years-old now. But it’s still very “me.” I realized early on that writing specifically about my life was more likely to connect to readers than writing in platitudes. So I am basically handing over my book and saying, “Here. This was the last 2+ years of my life.”

RMMW: As writers, we constantly must deal with our inner critic – how do you contend with yours?

AC: Good question. I’ll let you know when I have an answer because right now, second-book-sophomore-slump-fear is a REAL.

RMMW: Almost anyone who works in a creative field may at times be faced with creative blocks?  If you ever get into a funk how do you get yourself out of it?

AC: I am a career writer. I work full time at a college in New Jersey – so I am always writing on deadline. Though it’s not creative writing, per say, I think it keeps me sharp. Creatively if I get blocked, I just let the block happen. I don’t fight it. I used to be afraid that whenever I got blocked it meant that I “lost” my gift. That I would never write again. I learned that isn’t true. So, I just put my pen down and I go on living my life and my life experiences always inspire me in some way and the 
writing returns.

RMMW: I’ve noticed following your stream that you enjoy reading and are constantly posting reviews. What have you been reading lately that’s been deemed your favourite?

AC: I’ve been reading contemporary poetry because that’s my genre, but also because I want to support people who I know have supported me. I think honest reviews are so important, especially to a self-published writer who is starting out. Other than that, I usually read fiction books my mother recommends to me – she reads nonstop and I trust her recommendations. My favorite book of all time is The Lovely Bones and my mother actually told me to read it many years ago.

RMMW: If you had a super power what would it be?


AC: To keep my parents alive forever. I can’t imagine my life without them.