The Write Idea

01/23/2012

Falling Apart In One Piece

Since my current post on my new blog is a book review, I’m sharing it here as well:

Books about divorce have created a whole new genre of literature, it seems. I plan to review some of them here from time to time and wanted to start with one of my favorites: Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce. Morrison had recently given birth and bought a house and was in the running for her dream job as Editor in Chief of Redbook Magazine when her husband announced one night that he was done. She got the job and lost the husband.

Her memoir tells the story of the two years after the night that she heard the fatal news and how she coped and didn’t cope. She writes with poignant vulnerability, honest self-reflection and genuine humor of the ways in which her life turned upside-down and inside-out. With a literary symbolism she could not have manufactured, her basement begins to flood and her roof begins to leak the same month that she starts her new high-powered executive position while still reeling from her husband’s unexpected announcement.

Unafraid to describe the nights she lay on her kitchen floor, noticing the crumbs under the stove while flattened there from the weight of her grief, she takes us through the familiar yet exquisitely personal storms, internal and external, of living through a nightmare. In the end, Stacy emerges from the fog with her natural optimism intact. This is one of those reads that feels like a long phone conversation with a friend. If your friend happens to be a well-connected New York magazine editor, that is. But that’s the beauty of this story. Great shoes and a great career can’t save you from bad plumbing or the misery of loss. I laughed and cried and winced my way through it and recommend you do the same.

01/20/2012

Introducing …

Filed under: sacred separations — ljcollins @ 8:45 am
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My new blog. Which you will notice is on my new website, which I also hope you notice is selling my new book. 

07/19/2011

Memoirs Galore

This weekend I started three memoirs and finished one. First, the two I did not finish: finally getting around to Mary Karr’s Lit. Since I wasn’t wildly in love with The Liar’s Club, it took me a while to get to this one. Skipped right over Cherry. The other memoir is not one I would have found on my own, but I got it at a silent auction recently, along with a pile of other books by women authors, all donated by one of the wonderful local independent bookstores. Noelle Hancock has written one of that sub-genres of memoir where the author does something for a year and writes about it. Think Julie and Julia or the couple who decided to have sex every night for a year. Or Jesus is My Guru. (Oh, wait. That’s the one I’m writing this year. Never mind.) Anyway, Hancock has written My Year with Eleanor, in which she takes to heart Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-repeated quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” She sets out to do just that for a year and write about it. I’m up to her swimming with sharks in month two.

So, the book I did finish is Backwards Off the Curb by Chris McMillan. I was fortunate to meet Chris not long after I moved to Asheville and knowing her sense of humor, her foul mouth and her sincere spirituality, I have been looking forward to this book for some time. What I didn’t know was of her poor Savannah upbringing.

In this touching memoir, Chris weaves together the story of the year she got in a van and took a two-month leave of absence from her marriage, with stories of her Southern childhood, her marriage and her years in business. Moving deftly back and forth between adventures on the trip, such as her first encounter with a convent, and the earlier stories of her life, Chris writes with honesty and humor. From running away to get married in Paris at age twenty to running away from that same marriage 34 years later, she lets us see her vanity and fear and temper and dreams. Determined to find passion and purpose in spite of a childhood that inspired anything but, Chris shows us the characters who shaped her and the struggle she went through to reshape herself mid-life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, a story of spiritual renewal and feminist empowerment, laced with a great deal of humility and plenty of laughs. Chris emerges in her 7th decade of living as a delightful new writer. Congrats, Chris!

04/09/2011

Midlife Memoir

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 3:40 pm
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My father, a well-respected preacher with a mellifluous voice, and my mother, a genuinely Christian woman with an unflappably upbeat perspective on the world, raised my brothers and me in a small Midwestern town amidst conservative values. I became a minister, endured a difficult 14-year marriage, moved to be near my parents at age 43 for the first time in my adult life, and got divorced. So perhaps it is no surprise that I could not put down Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. Janzen was raised by a Mennonite preacher and his unfailingly cheerful wife, considered seminary before becoming a Ph.D. poet, and when her husband of 15 years left her, moved back in with her conservative parents at age 43 to the Mennonite life she had long since left behind. This book is a side-splittingly funny memoir of that experience.

Janzen, who spends most of her time writing poetry, shows that she is a natural storyteller. There isn’t one of her relatives, neighbors or friends I didn’t wish I could meet after her hilarious accounts of their encounters. The Mennonite Lunchbox Hall of Shame is practically worth the price of the book (especially since she includes the recipes at the end). And being a bit of a religion nerd, I fully enjoyed her short and sassy history of Mennonites in the appendix.

While the book made me laugh uproariously at times, it’s also a poignant and honest telling of the stinging pain of midlife trials and the blessings of family who keep on loving us in their own quirky ways. Janzen clearly loves the parents who took her back in when her life crashed to an undignified halt. And boy, could I relate to that.

I feel almost too connected to the subject matter to say anything objective about this wondrous little book. I’d love to hear from others whose path may not follow hers quite so closely. Did you still relate to her? Did she make you laugh out loud?

02/17/2011

Eat, Pray, Marry

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 4:31 pm
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Two weeks ago I heard Liz Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, speak locally. Sponsored by Asheville’s wonderful Malaprop’s Bookstore, the speech was moved to a large auditorium at the University of North Carolina-Asheville to accommodate the crowd of several hundred (mostly) women. Let me just say that before reading EPL I was convinced I wouldn’t like it. I read it to understand what moved other people about her spiritual journey, not because I expected to be moved myself. I assumed I would find her spiritual exploration shallow and ungrounded.

Instead, I became a fan. The fact that I was a recently divorced woman when I read it may have had something to do with my reaction. I’d also like to think that I’m a discerning enough reader simply to appreciate her good writing. The girl can write, after all. But really, I loved that she let us in: she spoke of her neuroses and self-absorption and self-doubt and anger and fear and hope and love with an honesty that allowed me to sink and rise along with her emotions. Through her love of travel I flew with her to Italy and India and Indonesia, experiencing the different pace and sights and smells of each country.

So now she’s written another book: Committed, A Love Story. Actually published a while back, this book tour celebrates the paperback edition. Readers of EPL will remember that she finally succumbs to loving again near the end of her stay in Bali, having fallen for an older Brazilian man, also divorced, who gently courts her.

She does not, however, succumb to the temptation to marry. Quite the opposite, as we find out in this book. She and her beloved, Felipe, vow never to marry each other, having each been torn up by their experiences of divorce. They establish a two-continent relationship which is going just swimmingly until Homeland Security steps in and arrests and deports Felipe for misusing his temporary visas. Thus begins a journey for the two of them, internal and external, toward a legal marriage that will be recognized by the government and allow them to continue their relationship.

Liz, still being the lovable neurotic we met in EPL, can’t just consider this issue of marriage in isolation. She decides to plunge into months of research on the subject, its meaning across cultures and history, its meaning among her own family and friends, and its meaning among its promoters and detractors. The book, then, weaves the author’s all-consuming struggle to face her own marriage demons with the intellectual task of understanding what marriage actually is.

I found the result to be an enjoyable read, mixing fascinating cultural and historical tidbits, disturbing statistical reports and provocative philosophical questions with her own sweetly self-absorbed love story. It does not carry the emotional punch of Eat, Pray, Love (maybe because I’m not considering marriage any time soon?), but it does provide a good ride across southeast Asia and the history of marriage.  And it saves me reading books like Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History, from which she liberally quotes.

So, to the talk then. Gilbert charmed us. She read a bit from the book and then opened the floor to questions and responded with that kind of off-hand, self-deprecating humor that one might use in a group of women friends. She easily laughed at her own foibles, the bizarre reality of her overwhelming success, seeing Julia Roberts play her on the big screen, and the terror of making her TED Talk. At the same time, she spoke of her work as a writer with reverence. She admitted to having chosen this work as a vocation when, as a teen, she lit a candle, promising to devote her life to the careful work of writing. Gilbert still feels writing to be a “holy calling”.

She described her routine of getting up early, around 5 am, and devoting the first part of her day to writing and research. Then, by about 1 pm, she says she isn’t good for much else but staring at a wall for the rest of the day. But while she believes in the hard work of staring at a blank page every single day, she also knows that the Muse makes a difference. “People say that the work is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, and while that may be true, you can’t dismiss that 1%. That would be like throwing out the pearl for the oyster shell.”

When writing about yourself, I suppose it helps to be likable. And Gilbert is immensely that.

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