Memoir: Two You’ll Love

DSC01793“Through my identification with another girl who could write what I couldn’t begin to think, I discovered a way to break out of the socialized story into something else, something new … my own voice.  I began to see how the story that gets one person through offers a map that gets more of us through. And when we reveal details that we think are excruciatingly personal, we discover the universal.” 

Christina Baldwin,
Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story.

There is nothing like reading about another person’s journey through life to get you thinking about your own. In the last couple of months I’ve been reading memoirs as a way to nourish myself as I make my way putting my own story on paper.

I  read memoir to learn how others navigate the slick, shiny surface of a frozen pond, the choppy waters of a summer storm, and the deadly tornadoes of a desperate mind.  I take heart that I am not alone and that others have tasted similar sorrows and the same joys that I have. By immersing myself in another’s personal story, I discover new ways of loving my own life and being comfortable in a challenging world.

Two memoirs that I’ve recently read and that stand out for me are, Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, and Don’t Call Me Mother, A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, by Linda Joy Myers.  Both are greatly influencing me as I work my way through reams of blank paper, telling my own unique story.

These two stories are as different as night and day, but what they have in common are mothers, and individual journeys through grief and acceptance of loss, during which both authors discover themselves and their own power to give voice to who they were and have become.

In both memoirs, brutal honesty and courage rule out what could be dark, lifeless memoirs about victims of circumstance. But these are inspirational as well as universal and healing. Not all of us can take on the wilderness as Strayed did to find herself, or the stubborn revisiting of the past and family that Myers put herself through. But through them we can all find our own ways to bring our stories to life, finally living in peace and acceptance of where we’ve been.

In her story, Strayed, revisions her life and losses as she limps her way along a strenuous wilderness trail, finding wholeness in her bruised and battered body.  Myer’s narrative follows her from abandonment to breaking generational patterns of abuse and becoming the mother that she always wanted to have.

Both books were impossible for me to put down and I can easily see myself reading them again as I move along my own path. For those who are interested in stories about personal growth and are written by women who found their way past major challenges, I recommend them highly.

Truth Or Consequences In Writing Memoir

IMG_0687“I was sitting at a beach with my notebook, and I’m thinking about how to get back into [writing] and what matters to me, and I just sort of self-destructed at Brothers & Sisters. I had written about personal events that implicated other people in some way, that I hadn’t taken into account the consequences, and I found myself very much like the character in my play … a writer who is a dangerous creature.”

“And I had a note to myself, ‘play about daughter of a famous family who writes a book about her growing up in this family,’ something like that; ‘the danger of telling the truth that turns out to be a lie.’”  — Jon Robin Baitz, playwright

This past weekend Bill and I went up to the Arena Stage in Washington, DC to see a show.  Every year we buy a half series of season matinée tickets, jump in the car and make the two and a half hour trip up and back in one day.  It’s a great way to get out of Dodge for a short period of time, cleansing the mind of huge and trivial pursuits, and giving us a taste of city sophistication. Though Charlottesville is a pretty sophisticated place it doesn’t hold a candle to being in the capital, where like it or not, it all happens, good, bad and indifferent.

The only persons who know where we are and our cell phone numbers are family members and whoever is looking after our dogs and cat.  And we don’t usually hear from any of them. The only huge drawback is the trip itself, which involves sitting in the car and the theatre for about eight hours in one day.  Not my favorite thing to do, especially if the show doesn’t grab me, which sometimes happens.  My body gets stuck in its seated position and as the years go by it gets harder and harder to get my muscles to get myself upright and walking again. If the theatrical production we see doesn’t stimulate my mind, my entire body will start asking questions like, “Why do you insist upon doing this to me?  Don’t you know that the more you sit, the shorter our life span will be?”

This past year has been a fairly good season for us in which we saw, Pullman Porter Blues (great music, so-so otherwise), Metamorphosis, and Good People, both stellar in almost every way.  Should you want to know more about them go to Bill’s blog, at View In The Dark, for his reviews and his interesting theatre chatter.

But in my mind, the best this year is the last of our series, Other Desert Cities, by Jon Robin Baitz, who created Brothers & Sisters for ABC.  And if truth were told I wouldn’t mind seeing it again and often, and I think I’ll even read it.  A very rare thing for me.

Set in the living room of the well-connected Wyeth family, who live in the desert community of Palm Springs, this family drama caught my attention for it’s references to writing memoir and truth.  Something many of us who are involved in the genre of memoir deal with every day as we put pen to paper. In this theatrical production, daughter, Brooke, comes home for the holidays for the first time in six years. She brings with her the manuscript of a book she has just sold and will soon be on bookstore shelves.

Intended to be a novel, her story turns into a memoir during the writing process, as she deals with the suicide of her brother, with whom she was very close.  Her parents, old friends of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, and the darlings of Republican politicians, far and wide, plead with her to wait to publish the book until after their deaths, claiming the consequences would damage too many lives.

I won’t go any further in telling the story and the secret that eventually comes out, as I hope all of my memoir writing friends and everyone else for that matter, will go out and see this heart-wrenching drama when you have a chance.  It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012, and will hopefully continue to make its rounds in regional theatres across the country.

The Music Of The Wild

DSCF0109“There is language going on out there –the language of the wild.
Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning
derived over eons of expression. We have yet to become fluent in the language —
and music — of the wild.”  

Boyd Norton (Serengeti)

It’s that time of year, when along with flowers and blossoms, I awaken each morning to a sunrise chorus of bird song.  I throw on my dirty clothes from yesterday and take my dogs out for their early morning walk.  Birds of all kinds are singing … robins, a wood thrush, jays and chickadees, the drumming of a woodpecker. I love the sounds of spring along with the visual bliss that each day brings as new flowers open, bringing color back into the winter weary world … green leaves unfurling, yellow forsythia, and pink cherry blossoms … later, snow-white azaleas bloom in my garden.

Way back in 1984, I spent twelve days and nights in Kenya, on a photo journey with eight other photographers, under the leadership of Boyd Norton, who wrote the quote above. I will never forget that trip and the music of the wild as we journeyed through the Masai Mara and the Serengeti Plains. Every night we ate dinner around a watering hole, in the company of elephants, zebras, and giraffes. We fell asleep in our tents to the sounds of life and death going on all around us.

Along with the tapping of rain on the roof, the wind in the trees, the rumble of a coming storm, and the ocean heaving itself against the shore, the language and music of the wild, brings me peace and the knowing that I am only one tiny speck in the greatness of our universe.

My photos from that trip still lay hidden in one of the boxes in the attic.  One of these days I will break them out and share some of them with you. But, it won’t be the same as being there, away from sirens, jack hammers, and the roar of jets overhead … the sounds our very own species projects out into the world.  But thankfully we also are the makers of music …  the humming of a harp, the voice of a soprano,  and the magical weaving of notes performed by a symphony orchestra … all of it comes from the heart.

The Courage Of A Seed

Water Lily Seed Head, © Joan Z. Rough

Water Lily Seed Head,
© Joan Z. Rough

“In nature, we are quietly offered countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which ultimately is an awakening beyond our imagining.  All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see.  We call this process seeding and this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life of light that we call Spring.  As a seed buried in earth can’t imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt or a mind filmed over with despair imagine itself loved or at peace.  The courage of the seed is that, once cracking, it cracks all the way.  To move through the dark into blossom is the work of soul.”

Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen, Staying close to What Is Sacred

 Last Sunday, found me shuffling through a pile of books that I had started reading and put aside because something else called to take their place for the moment.

I had started reading Mark Nepo’s, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen, in early December.  Wanting to preserve the sweetness of the experience of reading Nepo’s words, I opened it daily, reading only a few pages or even just a few paragraphs at a time.  I would ponder what I had just read, savoring the wisdom, as I might a raspberry lozenge that I don’t want to dissolve on my tongue too quickly.

Obviously, it was slow going and in the midst of total chaos and my failed time management in February, I set it aside until things calmed down and I could once again tap into the richness of Nepo’s writing.

Sunday, I opened the book slowly to the page where I had left off, starving for a shot of spiritual wisdom. I sat in my reading chair, while a chorus of birds sang just outside my window, and read the words above.

It was like a homecoming … finding a long-lost relative who I haven’t seen in years.  I was awed by the words and found myself rereading them over and over, filling up the empty spaces in my heart that had been drained over the past month or two.

I am so ready to begin reading just a bit of this book again every day … without rushing, so that the words settle in my soul and I again carry within me the courage of a seed.

What are you reading?  Do you have a book that you cherish and read only a few sentences at a time?

Living All The Way

Amaryllis, © Joan Z. Rough

© Joan Z. Rough

“This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.” 

Terry Tempest Williams