Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Memoir Bender

The Pacific Crest Trail (from Wild by Cheryl Strayed - my favorite of all the memoirs I read on my bender

Before I handed in my resignation letter (which is the teaching world's nice way of saying quitting letter, but who wants to be a quitter, right?) I went on a reading bender.  I felt a bit like an addict with my drug of choice being memoirs.  I wanted to shoot up at every chance I got.  I escaped into the stories of women dealing with life.  We all deal with it differently, but some have more to deal with and they write about it for people like me to feel better about their own not so tragic life stories. 

I am thankful for the strong women who wrote the following memoirs that showed me a way into my own dark places while I tried to sort life out before resigning from my 15 year English teacher profession:
*This beautiful memoir moved me (not to mention Ruta's edible writing style that left me breathless).  Domenica's struggle to grow and evolve despite her mother and because of her mother made me think of the power of our own will.  I was devastated with her as her mother neglected her and loved her the best she could. When Ruta slid into addiction, I found myself trying to tug her out of her abyss, and in a way helped myself know that the changes coming in my life were not a way down the rabbit hole, but a way back to a new sense of reality in my life.

*I heard Christina Parravani on NPR on the way home from work one day reading from Her.  Terry Gross asked her about the rape scene.  Parravani describes the rape of her twin sister in great terrifying detail.  She took parts of her sister's journals to reconstruct the whole, violent scene. She utilizes an almost dream sequence approach to the moment that changes her sister forever.  I was moved by the relationship between the sisters and how sometimes love cannot save the people we hold most dear. After reading this story, I realized how beautiful our connections with the people closest to us are, and how they are there to be our support system in our darkest times.

*I'm not surprised to find out that Yuknavitch is a Ken Kesey disciple and in the same writing group as Chuck Palahniuk.  As it said on amazon.com, "this is not your mother's memoir." Yuknavitch's style surprised me, punched me in the face and ultimately made me love her and her story of finding her identity and voice.  I loved learning about Yuknavitch's journey and how took an unconventional approach to writing, her life path and love, but she found so much success. This inspired me.

*I tore through this memoir and didn't want it to end.  I loved every second of Cheryl's Pacific Crest Trail harrowing hike.  It made me remember my own days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and finding myself in those rocky, breathless ascents and descents.  I loved her style, her story, and her ultimate victory over nature and herself.  I never wanted this book to end, because it taught me how when we make up our minds to do the impossible, we can achieve it. Even when Strayed doubted her hiking and camping abilities, she never questioned her will to survive and achieve her goal of finishing the trail.

Then, I hit a road block.  After Wild, I requested Paul Auster's book Winter Journal thinking I would keep the momentum of my memoir bender flowing.  My high came to an end with his deadening voiceless, chapterless, 2nd person memoir.  Yuck.  I read the first 20 pages and gave up.  

Sad to see my streak was over, I searched for a new book - maybe fiction this time, to occupy my brain as my teachinig world was being stripped around me.  I started packing away my classroom, and each day I removed 1 or 2 bags of books as I walked to my car.  My classroom got lighter, as my home office/ guest room got heavier.  The weight of the books reminded me of the heavy loads I carried on my shoulders for the 15 years I was in the classroom. My students' home lives, my curriculum, my department's ineptitude at getting along, the sneers from across the hallway, the daily 3pm exhaustion of talking all day long - so much energy required to motivate 100 teenages to love reading and writing every single day.  

And I had an idea that I needed something funny like David Sedaris's new book of essays, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.  I love Sedaris and even had the chance to see him at a theater in York, PA shocked that his following in this area is so huge for a sell out crowd.  I laughed so hard that night as he unassumingly read from his new book and from his journals (diaries).  I liked Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, but didn't love it as much as Me Talk Pretty One Day which made me laugh so hard on the train ride to NYC that people around me asked what was so funny.

Switching from the humorous, I went right for something that sounded somewhat sad, but looked really good (it reminded me of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom which my 11th graders almost always choose as one of their favorite books of all time). I found the book The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe which recounts his mother's battle with pancreatic cancer and the books he and she read together during that year. I loved his adept ability to apply the book themes to what was happening with his mother's treatment. I loved learning about his mother and what an incredible person she was, and I loved their tender relationship.  

I searched amazon.com for something new to get me through the very last week of school and I found a final memoir escape for my last few days in my empty classroom. The last week of school brought an abundance of rain. The deluge felt like monsoon season. It rained steadily even moving graduation into the gym. On my last day surrounded by empty shelves, empty desks, empty closets and an echoing white walled no personality room, I loved that when I got home that day, I could travel to Paris by reading Eloisa James's memoir, Paris in Love. I read the reviews for this and some people compared it to eating chocolate - a beautiful addiction of sweetness. For me it was more of a light snack, told in her Facebook posts during her year living in Paris, this book gave me small inspiration bursts of life in one of my favorite cities in the world. I could see James walking the streets of Paris loving it - feeling at once an outsider and an insider. The style she chose of the short Facebook posts followed by longer essay like chapters helped me in my focus-less state while I tried to sort out the stacks of books now inhabiting my guest bedroom and clogging the already cluttered laundry room in our basement. 

Around this time, as Eric and I sat down to figure out his new travel schedule for work, we decided that we would engage in our own sort of book club. Each month when he traveled out of town we would select a book to read together that we could write about and blog about, kind of like a he said / she said discussion on our views. We chose a few of the classics that I haven't read already: 
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Night by Elie Wiesel

And, we settled on reading something completely different for the first selection: Dan Brown's latest installment of Robert Langdon's Raiders of the Lost Arc-ish approach to art history and symbology, Inferno. We chose this one because it is topping the best seller lists, and both of us read a few of Brown's other books. Eric and I had some great discussions as we read The Da Vinci Code. I went on to read Angels and Demons, and Eric read The Lost Symbol. Although Brown's books are not my favorite, sometimes I like to step down from my literary ivory tower and read what the masses read.  

Stepping away from real life in my favorite genre of books, memoirs, sometimes is hard for me, but I was ready to delve into the world of Robert Langdon again. I checked the reviews before I started and was pleased to see that out of the over 4,000 people who read the book so far, few were giving this book bad reviews. That is until I talked to my mom about Eric and I starting an "Eric is out of town and we want to stay connected through literature" book club and that our first selection was Brown's Inferno. She shook her head and mouthed the words "you'll hate it" to me. I grimaced, but told her that I had to wait and see because Eric was leaving the next day and I had already purchased it to read on my iPad, my first ever ebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment