Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired you to write LOOKS EASY ENOUGH?
The book started off as a love letter . . . to my wife Susan. We had just gone through cancer, a forest fire, a market crash and were relaxing in lounge chairs on our back deck watching the sunset. And from out of the blue I mentioned to Susan that I was going to write her a love letter. I had never written anything in my life, but the mood was there and I thought it was a good idea at the time, so what the heck.
Over the next few days, I hoped Susan would forget that I had mentioned it, but she didn’t. When I finally sat down to write, what I thought was going to be a quick half page turned into a few hundred pages - I couldn’t stop writing - and ultimately into a book. The book is a love letter to my wife based around a tough four-year period of our lives.
Readers have said that the book is an adventure story, a comedy, a do-it-yourself book on how to build a house, and some have called it an inspirational story of overcoming adversity. The book is all of those things, but to me it will always be a love letter to my wife.
What is the significance of the title – LOOKS EASY ENOUGH?
Looks Easy Enough is kind of the way I try to look at life. It used to be that when I was faced with a tough job, like how to operate a new computer program or how to drive a bulldozer for the first time, my first thoughts were always, “Man, this looks hard!” But inevitably after jumping in – reading the instructions of the computer program or climbing into the seat of the bulldozer and pushing a few levers – the once tough jobs seemed easy enough. So now when faced with a tough challenge, I skip over the part about how hard it looks and go straight to looks easy enough.
I called the book LOOKS EASY ENOUGH as a reminder to me - and hopefully to the reader - to not give up, to keep pushing forward, because eventually it will be easy enough.
How did you land on our feet or as you say on the back cover of our book, “come out smiling” after going through cancer, divorce, a market crash, and a forest fire?
The simple answer is you just do! You do what you have to do to survive and to make it as painless as possible (nobody likes pain). It’s a matter of self preservation. One of the things that helped me through all this and also makes life for me in general a lot less painful, is trying to see life from the “big perspective” or from what I call the Magic Of Life. The Magic is simply taking responsibility for our experiences and learning as much as we can from each them. And as we learn from our experiences we grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It seems like a much healthier approach to life, to see these events as learning experiences rather than asking God and the Universe, “Why are all these bad things happening to me?” I know it sounds somewhat like a cliche – learn from our experiences - but what can I say
. . . it works for me.
Seeing life as a learning experience keeps us from being overwhelmed by the moment, which then allows us to kind of step back and get a clearer picture of what’s going on. And with a clearer picture we can then better see what it is we need to learn, or better see how best to help someone else through the experience, or to better see the humor in the experience. If you look, there always seems to be humor in whatever is happening. It is real hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re trying to learn, help others, and laugh.
Laugh? . . . You also mentioned earlier that some readers have labeled the book as funny. LOOKS EASY ENOUGH is about cancer, divorce, forest fires, and financial hard times – not exactly subjects you associate with a comedy.
It’s amazing how good you feel after a stomach aching, nose running, laugh as you’re rolling on the carpet. I agree that these are not subjects you would usually smile about, but humor, along with seeing life as a learning experience, was a big part of helping us make it through these tough times. Not that we went around trying to be funny or telling jokes, but we tried to stay open to the possibility of laughter when it presented itself. This “possibility of laughter” is what I tried to convey in the book and it is apparently what the readers are picking up on.
One reader commented, “Mr. Stevenson has a way of making a serious subject seem less serious, as when he nonchalantly maneuvered behind the plastic surgeon to check out his hair transplant, or the time he and his wife turned into the Creatures From the Black Lagoon while waterproofing the block walls of their house, or the time he threw a dart at a group of attorney ads pinned to the wall as a way of choosing a divorce attorney, or the tale of the three-legged dog at the hospital in Tijuana where his wife was receiving treatment.”
I know it can be difficult - trying to see the lighter side especially while laying on a gurney waiting to be wheeled into the surgery suite - but it’s worth the effort.
Learning from your experience . . . humor . . . is there anything else that you can pass on to the listeners that may help them through similar experience?
Yes, and it’s a big one . . . ESCAPE! Cancer, a messy divorce, going through a market crash: every one of these things can be all-consuming. It was real easy for us to get caught up in the small world of our fears and worries and sleepless nights. We needed to get away, we needed an escape. Fortunately, we had the perfect escape . . . building our retirement house in the middle of the Cleveland National Forest. It was physical, we could commune with Mother Nature, we could relax, and we could come back refreshed. But most of all there were no attorneys, no medical results, and no market quotes.
We formed a family construction crew – me, my wife Susan (battling cancer), my sister (struggling through a divorce), my sister’s two youngest daughters (ages eight and eleven) and my seventy-seven year old mother. Every Saturday for almost two years, the family construction crew would show up on the site, leave our troubles behind and have fun. We even managed to get some work done. Five women and myself – it was great.
Talking points: Susan and the bulldozer.
Pour concrete foundation and the Turkey Inn.
Are you saying that five women, from grade school to senior citizen, helped build your house? Just the physical aspect would seem to be overwhelming.
They not only helped, they built most of the house. Susan and I were building the house ourselves, and, what with the medical appointments and the attorney meetings, I didn’t have much time left over for construction. So having long weekends with the family construction crew was a great way of getting work done on the house.
And hey, building a house isn’t rocket science! It’s learning how to do something and repeating it over and over. It’s learning how to wrap a piece of tie wire around a piece of steel rebar and repeating it a hundred more times. These women were smart, hard workers that learned quickly and were willing to tackle everything from digging ditches to nailing on the roof. They were a great construction crew.
Talking points: Concrete hoses and spaghetti
Is this the same house that faced the forest fire? And did it survive?
Yes, this is the same house that came face to face with the Cedar Fire (San Diego, California 2003). At the time it was the largest recorded forest fire in the State of California.
I don’t want to give away the ending. You’ll have to read the book to see if the house made it through the fire.
In regards to the fire, why did you stick around – the helicopter had flown over advising your community to evacuate and the flames were less than a mile away?
At the time, it seemed like a good thing to do. How often do you get to see a forest fire up close? And remember life is a learning experience and this was a great opportunity to learn. That said, I would never put my life in danger, nor Susan’s, just to try to save a house. I did want to do whatever we could to protect the house, but hey, it’s only wood and concrete. And never did I feel threatened for our safety. Not even when we eventually evacuated with the flames within a hundred yards of our door step. Our exit road went in the opposite direction of the fire, so it was an easy drive out. Also the winds, until the very end, were blowing the fire way from us. But most of all, we could see with our own eyes that the fire was still a ways off. If the winds did change and the fire came roaring in our direction, we had plenty of time to safely get out.
It was like being in a Twilight Zone episode – facing west we could see a massive wall of smoke and flames, but turning one-hundred and eighty degrees away from the fire, all we saw was a beautiful summer day with clear blue skies. The contrast was amazing.
There was this one magical moment. I’ll always remember it. It was two in the morning. I was on the back deck watching the fire. Susan was asleep. The night was pitch black and there was dead silence. I could see this giant wall of smoke on the horizon, stretching as far to the right and to the left as I could see. At the base of this dark wall of smoke was a golden necklace of flames running along the ridgeline of the mountains tops, again running to the right and to the left as far as I could see. Directly overhead the sky was jet black, but crystal clear, with more shining stars than I could ever remember seeing. The moment was magical and I felt fortunate to be there.
Susan (author’s wife), what did you think about staying until the fire was within a hundred yards of the house? Did you feel fortunate to be there?
I wouldn’t exactly use the word fortunate and I definitely wasn’t trying to figure out what I could learn from this experience. When the helicopter passed over and we heard through its loudspeakers that they were advising the community to evacuate immediately, I definitely was ready to leave. But Scott was so calm and seemed so confident . . . and as Scott said, you could see that the fire was several miles away and that we were not in any immediate danger. Bottom line, I trusted in my husband – we have been through a few adventures in our life and each time I was glad I didn’t back out . . . so if Scott felt that we would be safe, then I felt that we would be safe.
I did however insist that we pack up the cars and have them pointed down the driveway, so that if the time came when we did have to leave, all we’d have to do is jump in and drive away.
Susan you were diagnosed with breast cancer, had a mastectomy to remove the tumor, then decided to switch to holistic medicine. Why did you switch to the holistic approach?
It was a very difficult decision to make. In the past, I had always leaned towards the holistic path taking natural remedies and going to alternative practitioners . . . But cancer is serious stuff, I could lose my life. All I wanted to do at that time was to get the cancer (the tumor) out of me as quickly as possible. So I more or less caved in and followed my surgeon’s advice. After having the tumor removed through a mastectomy, but before my first scheduled chemotherapy appointment, I decided to try and strengthen my immune system so that I’d be able to better handle the chemo. I found this wonderful program by Dr Schachter - he’s a licensed medical doctor and psychiatrist. His program is geared to strengthen your immune system by eating healthy foods, cleansing, and taking mineral and vitamin supplements. I was also encouraged to work with a therapist to explore the core reasons of why the tumor appeared. Dr. Schachter’s program addresses the entire person (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), rather than just the physical aspect of the tumor.
About this same time I learned two things: First, a healthy immune system can fight off cancerous cells. None of my conventional doctors had told me this. Second, chemotherapy in some cases, have been known to cause healthy cells to mutate and in a few years become a secondary cancer which is often more aggressive and harder to kill.
This convinced me. I had never liked the idea of filling my body with poisons (chemo) and after learning this, I immediately canceled the chemo appointments and jumped wholeheartedly into the natural approach of treating my cancer.
Talking points: Dream of dying from cancer – young age.
: The real issue – fear of death.
Susan is there any advice you can offer listeners who may be undergoing their own cancer experience?
There are several things that were a tremendous help to me.
1. Find a program you believe in and are absolutely comfortable with. The holistic approach worked for me, but it may not for everyone. Do your homework, interview several doctors, make a choice and jump in with both feet.
2. Knowledge is power. Your doctors are full of good information and can offer excellent advice, but they are human. Don’t leave it just up to them, do your own research: ask questions, and check out book stores, libraries, and websites. The more you know, the better informed you will be to make intelligent decisions. You should be a major factor in the direction your health program takes.
3. Create a strong support team. Have a team of doctors, surgeons, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a therapist, support groups, etc, etc, and most important family and friends. It was very comforting to me to know that I wasn’t alone – there were people I could go to as resources to answer my questions, as well as people I could go to for physical and emotional comfort. My number one supporter was, of course, my husband. He stood by my side throughout the entire time, offered advice when asked, and supported me in my decisions (even though he didn’t agree with them all the time). It’s amazing, after a long tiring day of medical appointments, how comforting it is to know that your partner will be home, willing to listen to your issues and offering to give you a neck massage.
3. Go inside. A tumor is only the physical manifestation of a deeper issue. Go inside your psyche to discover the core issue of why the tumor appeared. I was lucky to meet up with a great therapist, who used a method called Guided Imagery and Music Therapy. The therapist guides you on a journey into your inner most issues, while you listen to certain types of music. The music comforts you and for some reason allows you to go deeper and bring to mind pictures, images and feelings. Again, find the method that works for you. This may not be it, but it certainly helped me work through a lot of old issues that were holding me back.
4. Stay positive. Believe that you are going to survive and come out a better person for the experience. A couple things that helped me stay positive: I read as many inspirational stories and saw as many inspirational movies about people surviving cancer as I could. Seeing other people survive, made me feel that I also could survive. It made me want to try harder and it really boosted my positive energy. I also tried to surround myself with positive people and avoided negative people who didn’t support my holistic choice. I had enough to deal with without also having to defend myself to them.
Scott as the husband of a person going through cancer, is there any advice you can offer other spouses in the same situation?
Yeah, don’t ride in on a white horse. I was very fortunate on the day Susan found out she had cancer. I had a therapist friend take me aside and ask me if I knew what my role was in helping Susan. Before I could say a word, she quickly said, “Scott, I know you well enough to know that you are going to want to ride in on a white horse and try to solve all of Susan’s problems by telling her what to do. That is not your role. This is Susan’s cancer. She needs to learn and grow from this experience, and for the most part she will want to make her own decisions. I’m sure she will want to hear what you have to say, but do not force your opinions onto her. Your job is to listen to what she has to say, support her in her choices, and most of all let her know that she is not alone.”
So . . . that’s basically what I tried to do – offer support, listen, and let her know she wasn’t alone. But it wasn’t always easy. My biggest problem was that I tend to approach an issue from the logical side, while Susan tends to come at it from the emotional side. At times it was real tough for me not to jump in and explain logically what I thought she should do. I quickly realized I had as much to learn from Susan’s cancer experience as she did.
At the same time you were going through the cancer, the market downturn, your house construction and the forest fire you were also helping your sister with her divorce. That’s a lot going on at once.
Yeah, it was a lot to handle all at the same time, but you do what you have to do. She’s my sister and she needed help, so Susan and I jumped in.
My sister has four children and she had been married for eleven years to a husband who had a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. In the public he was the nicest most generous person around, but behind closed doors he turned into an angry violent bully. When my sister filed for a divorce, her husband was really pissed off and in an effort to prove to her that he was still in control (at least this is what the therapist said) he proceeded to drag on the divorce for as long as possible. It ended up lasting four years.
Four Years! How can a divorce last four years?
Easier than you think. The courts (at least in California) are set up in such a way that anyone can drag anyone else into court. All they have to do is file a few documents with the court, have the papers served, and set a date. It doesn’t matter whether the accusations are true or whether the issues have already been discussed and ruled on before. My sister’s husband brought us back to court fourteen times. And then as I said, her husband wanted to drag the proceedings on for as long as possible – not signing documents, postponing meetings, agreeing to issues and then changing his mind, not responding to court documents, lying, and on and on. All my sister wanted to do was get the divorce over with and all her husband wanted to do was drag it on. It was very, very frustrating.
Statistics: It took one thousand four hundred and twenty-six days (three years, eleven months, sixteen days) from the time my sister filed for a divorce until the day we no longer needed the courtrooms and attorneys. We attended fourteen hearings, had four judges, five attorneys (two for my sister and three for her husband – six if we cont the time he represented himself), one family court counselor, two therapists, three psychologists, plus one psychological evaluation was performed. VERY FRUSTRATING!
Any advice for someone who may be caught up in a similar long grueling divorce?
Yes, first of all the court system is a very frustrating, time consuming entity. Try not to let it get to you – it doesn’t help.
1. Get an attorney you can connect with. Don’t be afraid to switch attorneys if you aren’t happy with your first . . . or second . . . or third pick.
2. Do your homework. Your attorney is there to guide you through the process, but it’s really up to you to defend yourself. Get your ammunition, your back up documents, your evidence, and your game plan in order. It will save you time and money and make your attorney’s job easier.
3. Drop the emotions. I know it can be tough, but try to keep your emotions in check. Provide only the facts and provide as much back up documentation as possible. The courts base their decisions on the facts of the case, not on the emotions.
4. Restraining Orders are your friends. When my sister obtained a restraining order against her husband, it was the first time in years that she could sleep in peace and wake up in the morning without worrying what her husband would do. If you need a spouse to stay away, don’t hesitate – obtain a restraining order.
What do you want people to walk away with after reading your book?
One of the reasons I wrote the book, other than as a love letter to my wife, was to share with others what we had gone through. If they see what we went through and how we came out smiling, maybe when they’re going through a tough time they can remember us and our trials and what we did to get through, and just maybe it will make their journey a little easier.
It would be great if this book could help someone else make it through some tough times and come out smiling.
Any final words?
To a person - my sister going through her divorce, Susan going through her cancer, and Susan and I going through the forest fire and stock market crash – to a person we all feel that these experiences have made us better people. We have learned, we have grown, and we are grateful for the experiences.
When will we see the sequel to LOOKS EASY ENOUGH?
It’s in the works.
Talking points : The continuing adventures of Scott & Susan
: The trails of trying to getting a book published
: Interviewing my eighty-eight year old mother – Growing up on the Great Plains during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
: Somehow tying the two stories together . . . looks easy enough!
LOOKS EASY ENOUGH would be a great movie . . . any thoughts?
It would be great to share our story with others by way of a movie. And yes we have fantasized a little . . . mostly Susan has! Susan would like Frances McDormand to play her and maybe Bill Murray or Kevin Spacey to play me. I have no idea.