Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Love Warrior": A Memoir of Rock Bottom, Redemption, Infidelities and Finding Your Spirit

Meet Basil, our new "office pug." He didn't quite understand the concept of sitting with a book, but he'll get the hang of it.  

"So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn't sit for even one, that's the journey of the warrior." - Pema Chodron "When Things Fall Apart"

Avid readers of Glennon Doyle Melton's blog "Momastary" already know the ending to the story of Glennon and her husband Craig's marriage.  In Melton's latest book "Love Warrior: A Memoir" (selected as Oprah's most recent Book Club pick), she delves into her painful past to make sense of the devastation of her marriage.

I don't want to spoil too much about this book because it's worth a read.  Melton has legions of devoted fans that may have gotten hooked on her truth waterfalls from her popular blog or from her other New York Times Bestselling book "Carry On, Warrior." Melton has a way of connecting with her readers.  She's an Amy Schumer Trainwreck meets Brene Brown's power of vulnerability meets Gloria Steinham.  She's not afraid to write the whole ugly truth and she's not afraid to own her story of pain and renewal.  She's a highly sought after speaker, and her TedTalk is one of my favorite of all time.  I like that she is real and unfiltered.  That she writes like a friend telling another friend about her pain and occasionally her joy.

Unlike the collection of essays about parenting in "Carry On, Warrior" that had a charming, playful parenting bent, "Love Warrior" is serious business starting with Melton's slide into bulimia and alcoholism.  As a young girl, she finds bulimia in attempt to keep herself small and beautiful.  Even after a stint in a mental hospital, she never shakes the habit of binging and purging.  In high school and college she turns to alcohol to numb herself from intimate relationships.  It's easier to be numb than to feel deeply.

When she meets Craig with his dashing smile and his charm and good looks, she can't believe he is truly interested in her.  Their relationship is anything but simple.  After she gets pregnant and he takes her to an abortion clinic, she leaves her alone to recover while he goes out for the evening with his friends.  The second time she gets pregnant by him and she finds herself at rock bottom on the bathroom floor, she decides that she will have the baby with or without him and that she will turn her life around with or without him.

He decides to stay and marry her.  She decides that the can stay and that she will marry him.

That should be their happy ending, but when you have two people - one that only communicates and feels with his body (Craig) and one that only communicates and feels with her head (Glennon), there are bound to be issues, especially when both of them have addictions and secrets and sordid pasts, but only one of them has chosen to be real about them.

What follows after the discovery of Craig's secrets is a story of how love can pull us together and tear us apart.  How marriage can be lonely and hopeful all at the same time.  How you can marry someone and be with them for years, but never really know them and when you do get to know them how you may not want "for better or for worse" with the person you thought you married.  It's a story about finding yourself at rock bottom but finding a way back to who you were truly meant to be.

I loved so much of this book especially that Glennon has a way of writing that speaks to her reader's soul.  There were also parts of the book that felt a bit sermonized for me.  You need to be okay with all of her God and Spirit talk to fully appreciate her journey.  At times the dialogue is so stilted that it was painful.  I can only imagine that those real life conversations were just as hard between her and her husband as they tread the delicate path of finding true intimacy with each other after almost losing each other and the family unit that they built.

As she tries to heal from her brokenness Glennon finds yoga as a way to get present in her body again.  She finds God as a way to reconnect with her spirit.  She learns to breathe.  She learns that she is a warrior - a love warrior.

The first 75% of the book had me completely hooked, but at times the long sermonizing and repetition of the second half of the book felt like too much.  It's not that I think she is wallowing in her misery (because she's definitely had a hard go of it and she has so much to teach the rest of us), but I wish there could be some joy from time to time.  Yes, the story is one of hope and overcoming incredible sadness to try to reconnect with yourself and your marriage, and so that entails a bunch of questioning without a bunch of answering.  I get it.

If you are like me, by the end of this book, you are rooting for both sides of the marriage - Glennon and Craig.  You hope for them individually and hope for them together. Avid readers of Glennon's  blog, "Momastary" already know what becomes of their marriage, but I'll save that for you to find out.

Friday, September 2, 2016

'Girls on Fire': A Vicious, Seductive Look at Mean Girls at Their Worst

Hamlet does not enjoy taking photos with books.
 Our new "office pug" will be joining our family on September 11th.  We can't wait for our new baby! 

"Girls today thought they could do anything.  Girls burned bright, knew what they wanted, imagined they could take it, and it was glorious and it was terrifying." 

It's Labor Day weekend which for many of us marks the last burst of sunshine laziness that we'll revel in before the sky gets dark earlier and then we descend into the gray days of fall through winter.

When you go on your last grasp of summer fun vacations, be sure to take along a page turning book to enjoy while you bask in the September sun.

I devoured Robin Wasserman's first adult novel 'Girls on Fire' which is the latest "It Girl" in a long line of psychologically deranged thrill rides about girls with big issues: Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Good Girl - just to name a few of the "Girl" books I have read.

The novel takes place in the early 1990s in Battle Creek, Pennsylvania and centers around three girls: Hannah (who becomes Dex) - a non descript outcast whose loneliness draws her into an obsessive friendship, Lacey - the intriguing, Kurt Cobain worshipping, rebel, new girl, who does what she wants despite an abusive step father who she nicknames "The Bastard" (I kept imagining the girl version of Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club), and Nikki - the beyond popular, mean girl that everyone wants to please despite the fact that even her boyfriend's recent suicide hasn't softened her hard edges.

Wasserman's writing is as vicious and seductive as the girls in this book.  She captured my high school experience in the early 90s.  I had friends who worshipped Kurt Cobain.  I ate Snack Wells cookies believing they were good for me.  I thought Kirk Cameron was hot.  I remember mall dates when walking into Express to buy jeans felt grown up. I remember Benetton back packs (Nikki's dog's name is Benetton), and I remember Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign.  The undertones of Satanic cults were everywhere in my small rural, PA town, so much so that I chose the topic Satanism as my 9th grade term paper topic.  I remember the advent of the grunge scene. Wasserman's cultural references took me back to that uncomfortable time in my life, but to the darker side that I never succumbed to, or that never existed, or that I never knew existed.

I know teenagers are messy (and were messy), but are they this mean? Did Wasserman merely take the stereotypes of girls and present the dystopic vision of what really goes on at high school parties, or out in the woods, or in their beat up used cars, or down by the lake, or behind the closed bedroom doors?

As a high school teacher for 15 years, I know that high school girls are intense, but these girls are violent, horrifying train wrecks that I like to think are not the rule but the exception.

'Girls on Fire' never lets up.  It burns with a hungry, dark insatiability as Wasserman switches the perspective - past and present, Lacey to Dex and even throws in some thoughts from the parents who might even be sadder stereotypes than their desperate daughters.  The power of the novel comes from the suspense that builds and the "truth" of Craig's suicide as well as the fate of Nikki, Dex and Lacey. It would be cruel of me (crueler than the attitude of the girls in this book) if I revealed any of the unraveling.

Although the girls never rise about their labels nor do their character arcs give you any type of hero worth rooting for, more than likely you will find yourself caught up in the fire, burning through pages to see the inevitable, unrelenting destruction.  I was seduced and saddened.  Thrilled and let down.  Disgusted and worried.

When I closed the book at the end, I uttered one word, "Damn."

I rethought my high school experience and my obsession with the movie 'Heathers,' how I loved reading Stephen King novels, how I listened to Metallica, Joy Division, The Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and Kurt Cobain. It reminded me that we all have a bit of darkness inside of us.  Most of us, though, know how to stay in the light.