In her new e-book, author Litsa Dremousis uses her personal experience to examine the risk-taking behavior inherent to mountaineering.
Most people would wither when faced with the string of bad luck local writer Litsa Dremousis has encountered.
When she was 24 years old, she was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (the disease previously referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), besetting her with crippling pain and fatigue. More recently, five months after she met her fiancé, and five days after he proposed, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor (it turned out to be benign) which required surgery.
And then there was the loss in 2009 of her best friend and former boyfriend, T.J. Langley, a prominent local actor, and avid mountain climber, who died while scaling Luahna Peak, above Boulder Pass, in the North Cascades. And that’s after he’d survived a gruesome grizzly bear attack in 1999 at Yellowstone National Park. He lived because he’d hiked four miles to the road while holding what was left of his face to his head, and made national news in the process.
“He was extremely safe within the context of doing something extremely dangerous,” she said, sitting in Top Pot Doughnuts on Capitol Hill. “No amount of experience will trump an avalanche or loose rock.”
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She’s put the story of her life with T.J., whom she calls Neal (after Neal Cassady), in a 10,000 word e-book published by Instant Future (the newly minted e-book imprint from Portland-based micropublisher Future Tense Books) that’s part memoir, part-reportage. It both unearths the emotional swings of loss (anger, grief, solace) while also looking at the science of climber’s brains, which it turns out, are addicted to risky behavior. The book is aptly called “Altitude Sickness.”
After his death, she started taking notes and researching the neurobiology of climbers. “I was trying to figure out what compelled him to feel the most alive while he was risking death,” she said.
Dremousis was fascinated by the psychology of extreme climbers, who were undeterred despite the risks, discovering that they share similar traits to drugs addicts. “His friends who found his body that had fallen a thousand feet and lying there for four and a half days … they still climb.”
Dressed in a beautiful, emerald green jacket, her hair a sprig of dark curls flecked with gray, she’s cheerful, despite her daily hardships — she often writes lying down in bed and walks a mile to mile-and-a-half on crutches daily. “I have low moments, of course,” she said. “I’ll cry.”
Born and raised in Seattle by a boisterous Greek family full of attorneys, she briefly went to law school before realizing it wasn’t for her.
“The beauty of doing something you hate very young, you learn life is finite,” she said.
Excepting that detour, Dremousis has long been a fixture on the local literary circuit. She’s frequently appears at readings around town, appearing at Lit Crawl, Hugo House and Elliott Bay Books, and counts everyone from Sherman Alexie and Diane Mapes to Ma’chell Duma LaVassar among her long list of friends who’ve stood by and supported her over the years (“Anyone who is kind of a wuss, it just weeds them out,” she said of her many trials).
For her next act, she’s working on a second collection of essays (most of which she said deal with sex and death), and finishing her novel, “Low Blood Sugar,” eight years in the making (“Assuming my health doesn’t kill me first,” she said, flashing her sardonic humor).
Still, she takes it all in stride.
“My dad’s mom died of tuberculosis during World War II, my mother’s mother was 48 and died after being in a coma for two years after a massive stroke,” said Dremousis, who is 48. “Comparably, I’m way ahead of the game.”