No one tells you this

I’d never been outside of Canada. When I complained about this growing up in our suburban house outside of Toronto, my father would helpfully point out that he’d once driven us across the border at Niagara Falls and then done a U-turn and driven us right back, so technically speaking I had, in fact, left the country. I was unmoved. Literally as well as figuratively. Unlike every other person I knew in Ontario, my family had not gone to Florida for winter vacation. We had not done the drive down I-95 to visit grandparents or go to Disney World. We didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo to take advantage of the cheaper American prices at the mall outlets. The MacNicols stayed put. Travel was for other people…

Growing up, nearly everything existed for me only in books, which had the effect of making all travel seem automatically rife with adventure and exoticism, no matter the reality. When friends complained about the terrible monotony of being trapped during spring break in the back of their parents’ car en route to Myrtle Beach, it fell on uncomprehending ears. To me, the concrete American Interstate held the same unknowable mystique as Paris. Perhaps it was less than surprising then that I cleaved on to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder the way I did: not only was she also an adventurous young girl, she was a real person; I could find the places she’d gone to on a map and know she’d actually been there, and that because she’d done it, perhaps I could do it, too. Eventually I found my way to those dots in real life along with many others, always slightly astounded that I had managed to manifest my own childhood imagination.

~ Glynnis MacNicolNo One Tells You This: A Memoir (July 10, 2018)


Book Review: HuffPost – ‘No One Tells You This’: The Triumph Of Choosing A Single, Childfree Life At 40

Who put out the fire?

I’m 1/3 of the way through Tara Westover’s book “Educated: A Memoir” and it’s a Wow.

For book reviews, check out:

“For eighteen years I never thought of that day, not in any probing way. The few times my reminiscing carried me back to that torrid afternoon, what I remembered first…Now, at age twenty-nine, I sit down to write, to reconstruct the incident from the echoes and shouts of a tired memory. I scratch it out. When I get to the end, I pause. There’s an inconsistency, a ghost in this story. I read it. I read it again. And there it is. Who put out the fire?”

~ Tara Westover, “Educated: A Memoir”

Highly recommended.


 

There is nothing, and there is not one bloody thing.

mary-louise-parker-aberash-daughter

In September, 2007, Mary-Louise Parker adopted a child from an orphanage in Ethiopia.  The child’s Uncle walked a distance that Parker stated she would complain if she had to travel to in a car. The journey was made with his children, three of which were under 10. The baby was carried on his hip. This excerpt is from a letter written by Parker (“Dear Uncle“) as a tribute to him.  In their first meeting, he said: “I hope that she will be taken care of, go to school and perhaps one day be something, a doctor.”


There are so many reductive adjectives used to describe those materially less fortunate, words the privileged use to anoint them. Words like proud, or graceful…It never rings true. Having seen what I saw when you brought me to the hut where my daughter was born, and introduced me to the people in your village, I felt like I was hovering over every judgment of my reality and yours, unable to land. None of the families I met were intact, everyone had lost children, parents, or a spouse. There was not enough of anything for anyone. The only bounty was in categories of suffering or possible ways to die. I didn’t feel them looking at me with distance, they all smiled and shook my hand.

I hid my embarrassment at how stupid I felt when I entered your hut and was alarmed by the darkness that swallowed me despite it being late morning. Of course I knew there was no electricity, no light would be there except for what might creep in through that ceiling of straw. I knew it, but I couldn’t fathom it until I stood inside with you and stared at an actual nothingness and my eyes adjusted to near black. There is nothing, and there is not one bloody thing. As you pointed at different parts of the hut that were designated for the cows to sleep, or the spot where your family of twelve eats when there is food, or where you slept, I saw spots with absolutely nothing in them. There was an absence of comment on your situation that made you seem twenty feet tall. It’s something I could never know if I hadn’t stood there, with you showing me what life is like on another planet where there is no complaining, or showing disappointment. [Read more…]

Dear Daddy

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Going up Sixth Avenue in a taxi, your grandson said, “Mommy, aren’t there so many amazing things in the world? Aren’t we so lucky to be alive?” That’s you in him, Daddy. He’s so like you, full of extremes and heavy on the dream space. Both kids put their fists up for each other and I know that would make you happy.

[…]

My children may never see me hunched over a checkbook and sense my mounting panic, or come home late and find me in the street armed with a shovel as I take the driver of a car by the neck when liquor is smelled on him. They will watch me make much of their victories and hold a grudge until my last breath if someone treats them cruelly. This is your family I am running here. I can’t take credit for more than remembering to point to you when I do something right and for continuing to put one foot in front of the other when I lose heart. We all miss you something fierce, those of us who wouldn’t exist had you not kept walking when an ordinary person would have fallen to his knees. To convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.

[…]

Most of all to you, Daddy. That’s you in me, the far-off gaze. The poems are you, as are the good deeds and the jars of candy I hide everywhere. You are what makes me indomitable and how I know to keep walking when I feel crippled in every conceivable way.

~ Mary-Louise Parker, ‘Dear Daddy’ from Dear Mr. You


I bought this book yesterday and I’m finding it hard to put down.

“A wonderfully unconventional literary debut from the award-winning actress Mary-Louise Parker. An extraordinary literary work, Dear Mr. You renders the singular arc of a woman’s life through letters Mary-Louise Parker composes to the men, real and hypothetical, who have informed the person she is today.”


See NY Times Book Review: In ‘Dear Mr. You,’ Mary-Louise Parker Writes to Men, With Lust and Rue.  “That Ms. Parker’s book is so seriously good seems like overkill. But it is…”

no cows to milk

pen-paper-writing

Sometimes you wake up at four in the morning
with all this energy and no cows to milk.
So you just have to get up and
figure out what it’s there for.
Use it or lose it.
If you’re lucky
some part of you will know what to do,
but it’s not the part that thinks its steering.
Make sure you have your notebook and a pen.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir


Photo: Anne with Where My Deepest Dreams and Desires Are Hatched

Sunday Afternoon: Dwindles to a wisp

fading-light-portrait-eye

When I was young, and for a long time afterward, Sunday afternoons were melancholy. I used to blame it on memories on my father retiring alone to his study to listen to classical music. I didn’t like classical music. It made me uneasy…I didn’t like the closed door.

But I think something else was going on. The span of a week is a reminder of the finite, even to the young. And powerful Sunday, which starts out fat and lazy, stretching endlessly ahead, dwindles to a wisp, and just like that, it’s over.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir


Notes:

me me me me me me

chocolate-chip-cookies

A couple of years ago my sister Judy and I were each given a box of truffles. The tiny print said two pieces contained 310 calories and there were six pieces in each box. We were seating in the bus heading downtown, quietly downing our calculations.  Judy was dividing by two and I was multiplying by three.  When she realized what I was doing, a look came over her face that was hard to describe. “I lost all hope for you,” she says now. The difference between us could not have been more clearly defined at that moment.  There are people who can eat one piece of chocolate, one piece of cake, drink one glass of wine.  There are even people who smoke one or two cigarettes a week. And then there are people for whom one of anything is not even an option.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir


Photo: jaimejustelaphoto

 

and a whole door to the past blows open

art-woman-red-remember-emotion

At unexpected points in life, everyone gets waylaid by the colossal force of recollection. One minute you’re a grown-ass woman, then a whiff of cumin conjures your dad’s curry, and a whole door to the past blows open, ushering in uncanny detail. There are traumatic memories that rise up unbidden and dwarf you where you stand. But there are also memories you dig for: you start with a clear fix on a tiny instant, and pick at every knot until a thin thread comes undone that you can follow back through the mind’s labyrinth to other places. We’ve all interrogated ourselves— It couldn’t have been Christmas because we had shorts on in the snapshot. Such memories start by being figured out, but the useful ones eventually gain enough traction to haul you through the past. Memory is a pinball in a machine— it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk— how did so much fit into such a small space?

~ Mary Karr, The Past’s VigorThe Art of Memoir (HarperCollins. 2015)


Notes:

Welcome to My Chew Toy

mary-karr-art-of-memoir

The book’s mostly shaped for the general reader, and while I hope it can help such a human hone an affection for memoir as a form, I really hope to prompt some reflection about the reader’s own divided selves and ever-morphing past. For everybody has a past, and every past spawns fierce and fiery emotions about what it means. Nobody can be autonomous in making choices today unless she grasps how she’s being internally yanked around by stuff that came before. So this book’s mainly for that person with an inner life big as Lake Superior and a passion for the watery element of memory. Maybe this book will give you scuba fins and a face mask and more oxygen for your travels.

~ Mary Karr, Preface | Welcome to My Chew Toy. The Art of Memoir (HarperCollins. 2015)


Mary Karr’s new book was released yesterday. I highly recommend her autobiographical series: The Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit: A Memoir)


Image: Oregonlive.com

My Truth

abigail-thomas

My editor turned it down. She wanted me to write a novel about that marriage, what went wrong, what went right, then friendship, illness, and death. But life doesn’t arrange itself conveniently into chapters – not mine, anyway. And I didn’t want to write a novel. My life didn’t feel like a novel. It felt like a million moments. I didn’t want to make anything fit together. I didn’t want to make anything up. I didn’t want it to make sense the way I understand a novel to make a kind of sense. I didn’t want anywhere to hide. I didn’t want to be able to duck. I wanted the shock of truth. I wanted moments that felt like body blows. I wanted moments of pure hilarity, connected to nothing that came before or after. I wanted it to feel like the way I’ve lived my life. And I wanted to tell the truth. My truth doesn’t travel in a straight line, it zigzags, detours, doubles back. Most truths I have to learn over and over again.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir


Notes:

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