A Bookish Conversation with Nadia Natali
Nadia Natali, author of the memoir, Stairway to Paradise: Growing Up Gershwin, published by Rare Bird, Los Angeles, 2015, and The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Zen Retreat Center published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA, 2008, is currently working on a second cookbook titled Zafu Kitchen Cookbook.
Natali, a clinical psychotherapist and dance therapist, specializes in trauma release through somatic work. She earned a master’s degree from Hunter College in New York City in Dance/Movement Therapy and completed another masters degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in somatic psychology at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. Nadia is a registered practitioner of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (RCST) and is also a certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) who trained with Peter Levine.
DanceMedicine Workshops is Natali’s creation where participants move through their trauma with dialogue and dance. She also offers the Ojai community, DanceMedicine Journeys. In addition to her private practice, Nadia and her husband offer Zen Retreats at their center.
Born into a famous family that was riddled with dysfunction, Nadia Natali made the choice to turn her life inside out and step away from fame and fortune. Against her parents’ consent she married an artist and moved to the remote wilderness in California. It was there that she found grounding as she and her husband raised and homeschooled their three children and opened a retreat center. As she gathered her own momentum, she enrolled in a doctorate program finally becoming a clinical psychotherapist specializing in psychosomatic work. She and her husband live in Ojai California.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Nadia! Can you tell us where you are from?
I am from Ojai California and lived here for 36 years. I grew up in Westport, Connecticut.
Q: How did you come up with your title?
I chose the first phrase, Stairway to Paradise: which is the title of a Gershwin tune. It alludes to my life’s challenges, and the steps I took up and down the stairs looking for paradise. The second part, Growing Up Gershwin, was suggested by a good friend and I liked it.
Q: They say you can judge a book by its cover. Can you tell us a little about your cover and who designed it?
I think you can tell a lot about a book by its cover since the writer chooses the design and that reveals a great deal. The person who designed my cover was an editor who suggested a particular photo of me from the book. I felt that it said a lot about who I am in my memoir. The rest of the details where finished by the publisher.
Q: Can you tell us something about your book that would make me run out and buy it?
Anyone interested in George and Ira Gershwin would be curious; my mother was their sister but I think what is more interesting is how I needed to rise above the fame and genius in my family to find my own voice and authenticity.
Q: What was your most favorite chapter to write and why?
The chapter on the fire that went through our property was my favorite to write. It was intense to live it and I felt I was able to bring that into the writing. I actually got really excited as I wrote it.
Q: Are there any messages in this book that you want the reader to know about?
I mention the messages in the next question.
Q: Why did you feel you had to write this book?
In writing this book there were three levels that I found I needed to weave together, but didn’t know it until I finished the book. The first is the story of me as a young girl caught up in the life of fame and money in my family and how I leave it behind hoping for a life with significantly better values. The second level is the need to become authentic. This part was not independent from the story, but an ongoing search beneath the surface. As I eventually found my voice I learned I had to go through more levels of finding the next truer voice. I learned that there are layers upon layers of truth. And lastly, along the way I found my most effective work as a therapist, a dance psychotherapist, which evolved independently of the other levels but had uncanny parallels. My work is somatic, experiencing body sensation as a message, like a signal as a way inside and a way to help reorganize the nervous system to heal trauma.
Q: Now, some fun questions – What deep dark secret would you like to share with us?
I told many secrets in my memoir but didn’t tell of the time I peed in my pants in fifth grade math class. I particularly remember getting caught between my class leaving when the bell rang, and the next class of older kids coming in and having to get up with the other students seeing my wet bottom and a puddle on the floor.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I don’t like to travel just for the sake if it, but love to go where there is a project or someone to see. In that case it is not the place but the reason.
Q: Are you a morning person or a night person?
I’m a morning person.
Q: Are there any members in your family who also like to write?
The only person I’m aware of was my uncle Ira who wrote the wonderful lyrics to George’s songs.
Q: As a child, were you a dreamer?
Oh yes, I dreamed of fixing everyone so there would be peace and happiness in my family.
Q: Last but not least, the magic genie has granted you one wish. What would that be?
I would wish that everyone would learn to feel compassion for all others. I am so concerned about the future of our country and the world and believe the only way is if we could realize we are hurting ourselves when we hurt others.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview! Do you have any final words?
I believe that writing or any work one does if done all out, touches the same common ground. That ground is The Mystery revealing itself through each of us as we engage in our passion.
About the Book:
Title: STAIRWAY TO PARADISE: GROWING UP GERSHWIN
Author: Nadia Natali
Publisher: RareBird Books
Growing up as Frankie Gershwin’s daughter, the sister of George and Ira Gershwin, was quite a challenge. I didn’t have the perspective to realize that so much unhappiness in a family was out of the ordinary. But I knew something was off. My mother was often depressed and my father was tyrannical and scary, one never knew when he would blow up. I learned early on that I had to be the cheery one, the one to fix the problems. Both sides of my family were famous; the Gershwin side and my father who invented color film. But even though there was more than enough recognition, money and parties I understood that wasn’t what made people happy.
As a young adult adrift and depressed I broke from that unsatisfactory life by marrying Enrico Natali, a photographer, deeply immersed in his own questions about life. We moved into the wilderness away from what we considered as the dysfunction of society. That’s when we discovered that life had other kinds of challenges: flood, fire, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. We lived in a teepee for more than four years while building a house. Curiously my mother never commented on my life choice. She must have realized on some level that her own life was less than satisfactory.
Enrico had developed a serious meditation practice that had become a kind of ground for him. As for me I danced. Understanding the somatic, the inner body experience, became my way to shift the inner story.
We raised and homeschooled our three children. I taught them to read, Enrico taught them math. The kids ran free, happy, always engaged, making things, and discovering. We were so sure we were doing the right thing. However, we didn’t have a clue how they would make the transition to the so-called ‘real world’. The children thrived until they became teenagers. They then wanted out. Everything fell apart for them and for Enrico and me. Our lives were turned upside down, our paradise lost. There was tragedy: our son lost his life while attempting to cross our river during a fierce storm. Later I was further challenged by advanced breast cancer.
It was during these times that I delved deeply into the somatic recesses of myself. I began to find my own voice, a long learning process. I emerged with a profound trust in my own authority. It became clear that everyone has to find his or her way through layers of inauthenticity, where a deep knowing can develop. And I came to see that is the best anyone can offer to the world.
Enrico and I still live in the wilds of the Lost Padres National Forest, a paradise with many steps going up and down, a life I would not change.
ORDER YOUR COPY: