Miranda Hersey: Reading Between the Lines

Updated: Jan 13, 2019

Miranda Hersey is a life-design coach, writer, and editor and author of the illustrated journals Life By Design, The Power of Quiet, and Press Pause, all published by St. Martin's Press.

When I sat down to write about my career as a writer and editor, I decided to write a story. A true and highly personal story. Because for me, what I do is who I am. In the words of photographer Annie Liebovitz, “I don't have two lives. This is one life.” Caveat: While you may find my pronoun choice annoying, in this story I refer to myself in the third person. You know, Bob Dole style. (Admit it. The name Bob Dole sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it?)

Our story opens in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1966. A young woman named Juliet is trying to find her way. Juliet, who was adopted in Cornwall, England, as an infant and raised in Massachusetts by stern alcoholics, is in search of self—and in search of home. She finds her first real family in the theater community. She lands a job working as the property mistress at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. There she meets a handsomely bearded lighting designer. After several months of dating, the dashing lighting designer observes that the theater world in London is booming. “I really wish I could work in England,” he laments. “Well,” says Juliet, thinking of her dual citizenship, “If you marry me, you can.” (This may or may not go down in history as the least romantic proposal of all time.)

The couple marries, flies to London, and sets up home on the River Thames in an old pilot boat. They find jobs in the theater. A year later, seeing as they are barely making ends meet, they decide to have a child. The night Juliet goes into labor, her husband is in previews for The Tempest. He rushes from the theater to Charing Cross Hospital, where, at the 9th minute of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month in 1969, a daughter is born. In homage to the Bard, they name the baby Miranda and take her home to the boat on the Thames, thereafter ensuring her lifelong fondness for the smell of diesel.

Unfortunately, while Juliet is on the river tending to the baby, the lighting designer goes on a months-long touring show—and discovers that he is unequal to his marital vows. Upon his return, Juliet summons every scrap of self-respect she can muster, and issues the lighting designer a brave ultimatum: “It’s the other woman, or it’s me.” After a few moments of awkward silence during which no one knows where to look, Juliet packs her bag and sets off with the baby.

The next five years are a financial struggle for the mother and daughter. They spend a year in Munich, Germany, before returning to England and renting a one-room flat above a petrol station in Surrey. Ultimately, Juliet takes Miranda back to Boston, where she supposes survival might be easier. Shortly after arrival, however, Juliet’s mother falls asleep in bed while smoking and burns the house down, her cats and herself included.

Steadfast in her quest for home, Juliet finds a rent-controlled apartment in the upscale town of Brookline, MA, and, undaunted by the bedroom painted black, the kitchen with eight layers of peeling wallpaper, the water-stained ceilings, or the oven that hasn’t been used for years due to the cockroach colony in residence therein, sets to work making the place a home. And she does. Miranda has a happy while solitary childhood, absorbed in books, dance, art, theater, and piano while developing a heavy reliance on her library card, college-ruled notebooks, and ramen noodle soup.

Juliet becomes a self-taught computer programmer by day and a talented, compulsively creative artisan at night. Years later, Juliet finds her birth parents, is warmly accepted by both, and learns that her father is the internationally recognized painter Peter Bell. This discovery is deeply affirming.

Miranda is smart enough to leave high school early to attend college, but she isn’t smart enough to stay there. She quits school and moves to Paris, where she pursues an acting and commer-cial modeling career. It is 1990, and IM Pei’s glass pyramid is under construction at the Louvre. Unfortunately, Miranda’s fondness for croissants, pain aux raisins, and three-packs of Milka chocolate bars begin to interfere with marketability. When her agent not so subtly asks if she’s been gaining weight, Miranda decides it’s time to go back to Boston. She is 20 years old.

During the next decade, Miranda marries an engineer, has three children, goes back to school, and begins publishing her work. And always, she reads. When in doubt, she reminds herself that she shares DNA with John Hersey, the Yale professor and Pulitzer-prize winning writer, her first cousin twice removed. She elbows her way into an editorial job at an independent trade publishing house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, buys her first copy of the Chicago Manual, and teaches herself the complexities of the comma splice, the dangling modifier, and the restrictive clause. She becomes the managing lay editor of a linguistics journal published by the University of Michigan and MIT, exchanging peer-reviewed articles with Noam Chomsky.

During the following decade, she divorces the engineer, publishes a few more things, finds a bunch of new clients, sets up shop as Pen and Press, marries a college sweetheart, has two more children, becomes a certified creativity coach, goes vegan, and decides that the weather in New England is really getting long in the tooth.

After relocating to idyllic Bainbridge Island, Miranda divorces the second husband, buys a dreamy little house in Winslow, publishes three books with Castle Point Books/St. Martin’s Press, finishes a novel, embraces sobriety, and takes up the bass guitar. She surprises herself by meeting a man with a brilliant mind and unfailingly gentle soul, and vows that the third time’s the charm. In the warm and unwavering embrace of her island friends and community, Miranda blissfully imagines growing old in 98110, wrapped in the knowledge that she is finally home.

Find Miranda online at mirandahersey.com and penandpress.com.