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lifes-that-wayIntensely personal stories often illuminate universal truths. Writer and actor Jim Beaver’s memoir is one of those. In October 2003, his wife Cecily was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In an effort to keep loved ones abreast of the situation, Jim began sending a nightly e-mail to 125 friends and family members. These messages, eventually reaching an audience of nearly 4,000 and spanning a year, are the basis of “Life’s That Way”.

Jim writes: “I’ve attempted to flood the path with light where I could, and where I could not I’ve wanted at least to hold up a candle so that others coming this way might not stumble too painfully.” And indeed he has. The first 1/3 of the book traces the course of Cecily’s illness, painting her so vividly that her death in early March is a punch in the gut, even to the reader who met her a mere 125 pages earlier.

The remaining 2/3 of “Life’s That Way” deals with the aftermath in a way that is immediate and intimate. Beaver continues the nightly e-mails, processing his experiences, sharing the struggle of raising a young daughter alone and mourning his beloved wife. “I will bear this grief. I will endure it. I will reach a point where it doesn’t kick me down an abyss whenever I turn my back on it.”

As someone who still deals with the abyss of grief on a daily basis, I found this beautiful book wrenching and yet somehow hopeful as Jim Beaver weaves wisdom and humor into his story and their lives. I recommend it highly, not only to those who have faced such grief but to anyone who someday might. As Beaver so pointedly writes: “Some kind of Providence keeps us blind to the intensity of suffering so as to keep us sane, until that day when the suffering is our own or that of someone we love beyond imagining.”

But taking this journey with Jim, Cecily and their daughter Maddie has made me more acutely aware of the necessity for life beyond the grief. 

[You can find "Life's That Way" now on Amazon or GoodReads.]

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1113In Writing News - I’m one week and 16,000 words into the new novel. I owe much of that word count to a handful of Twitter friends, busting out word sprints of 20 – 30 minutes throughout the day. There’s something about the joint effort, even with virtual strangers, that is motivating. Because writing is, by nature, a solitary act, we can get mired in our own muck and talk ourselves out of exciting and productive work. I’m trying to keep myself accountable this time around – to myself, my NaNoWriMo buddies and most importantly, to my novel.

I had a serious slump on Friday, writing next-to-nothing and Saturday wasn’t much better. But today, I jumped over the stuck point and was able to push through three more chapters. With the exception of the nagging feeling that I’m telling the story from the wrong POV, I’m feeling good about the progress I’ve made and how the story is unfolding. My shitty first draft (a la Annie Lamott) is well on its way.

In Reading News – I’m 2/3 of the way through Jim Beaver’s “Life’s That Way”, a memoir spanning his wife’s illness and the aftermath of her death. Because it was written as a series of e-mails to loved ones as the events were taking place, there is a rawness to the writing that is wrenching. Incredibly engaging and some seriously brilliant thoughts on grief. 

To balance out the intensity of Beaver’s book, I’m finishing up Christopher Moore’s “Lamb; The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” and starting in on Diana Rowland’s “My Life As A White Trash Zombie”.

In Other News – My oven has been repaired, I’ve acquired a cat named Fraidy and I get to see my godchildren in Monterey next weekend. How about you?

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It’s a Book Meme. How could I resist? Feel free to link your own version in the comments.

Author(s) You’ve Read the Most Books Of:

Charles Bukowski, Louise Erdrich, Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, Chuck Palhinuk, Alison Bechdel, Sherman Alexie, Brendan Halpin, Michelle Tea, Anne Rice, Ivan e. Coyote, Diane Wakoski and of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Best Sequel Ever:

I’ve always thought that Memnoch The Devil was head and shoulders above Anne Rice’s other vampire tales.

Currently Reading:

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni and (despite my agnosticism) A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Water with ice for chomping unless it’s Bukowski and then it’s whiskey.

E-Reader or Physical Book:

Both, though I prefer an actual paperback book.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School:

Mouse from The 18th Emergency.

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

The Last Temptation of Christ

Hidden Gem Books:

The Joys of Yiddish – Leo Rosten

Silk – Alessandro Baricco

My First Kafka – Matthue Roth

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

Woman At Point Zero by Nawal El Saddawi changed everything Read the rest of this entry »

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Stuck“A father for six years, a mother for ten and for a time in between, neither, or both … a parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo…” Jennifer Finney Boylan’s parenting credentials are unusual to say the least, and her newest book Stuck In The Middle With You; A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders is extraordinary.

The book explores Boylan’s experiences as both father and mother to her two sons and as daughter and son to her own parents. Within that framework, she examines parental roles on a wider scale. The naked adoration and accompanying holy terror shared by most parents is evident and immediately relatable.

The flow of the book is broken up by three sections of conversations with other writers (Richard Russo, Ann Beattie and Agustin Burroughs among others) and a handful of other parents with extrordinary stories to tell. I expected this format to be jarring but found it quite the opposite as she weaves these conversations into her own narrative with a deft hand and they inform the bigger picture rather than detract from it.

I’ve read all three of Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoirs. My mother-in-law gave me a copy of I’m Looking Through You; Growing Up Haunted shortly after Ashlie died and we both read on through She’s Not There; A Life In Two Genders. Boylan’s quirkiness and honesty coupled with her ability to paint a picture so clearly that you can smell the coffee and taste the waffles solidified her as one of my literary heroes. That she, like my daughter and a number of dear friends, is transgender, is incidental.

Stuck In The Middle With You builds upon the foundation of Boylan’s earlier books, but doesn’t depend on them for context. Those who have read her previous memoirs will enjoy catching up, while those who are reading her for the first time may well be motivated to delve into the backstory.

I expected this to be one of those books I’d recommend to a small circle of friends – specifically my trans friends who are, or hope to be parents. As it turns out, Stuck In The Middle With You is one of those books that I’d recommend to every parent I know.

Throughout the book and explicitly in the afterward (a conversation with Anna Quindlen, Jennifer and Deedie Finney Boylan) the question arises whether Jenny’s personal transformation has effected her children negatively. In the deepest part of every parent’s heart, a similar question burns – How will my children survive my own failings or complications?

For me it is a question which will remain unanswered – unanswerable. Would my daughter have had a penchant for pharmaceutics if I didn’t drink so much? Would she still be alive if I’d paid more attention and guessed her true gender sooner? Does my son have a chance in hell of surviving this family and going on to thrive in the outside world?

Every parent has some fear they keep under wraps – that this thing or that thing in their lives will negatively affect their children. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about and yet Jennifer Finney Boylan dares to openly address hers, allowing us to do the same. She is not a parent with all the answers but she’s asking the right questions and that’s half the battle. This may well be her most intimate book and I recommend it with all my motherly heart.

[Buy it HERE and check out Jenny Boylan HERE.]

 

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Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over Tristine Rainer's “Your Life as Story; Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature”.

It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed. If I'd found it in the library, I'd have declared it “Exactly what I was looking for!” and clutched it to my chest while running for the check-out line. Instead, it was waiting casually to be remembered and rescued from deep shelves five feet from where I sleep.

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