Saturday, February 4, 2012


Hold on about the painting… I’ll get to it later.

The past couple of years I have been reading a lot of memoirs. Most are by women with some experience in life and two are even by Texans who left the state for the northeast. Naturally they deal with loss, sense of place, marriage and family, addictions and the usual gritty and difficult situations of middle age. Some readers may want to stop here, but if you can relate or just want to experience some excellent writing, here are my favorites in the order I read them.

Lit by Mary Karr. Karr grew up in southeast Texas, affectionately known as the Golden Triangle. I lived there, too, when I worked at Lamar University in Beaumont. It is an oil refinery culture and the flares from the wells make for a spooky type of nightlight. Lit follows two previous memoirs and tells the story of Karr’s trek to New England and New York and subsequent descent into alcoholism. But she is a brave and strong woman and her tale of overcoming this disease and making a good life for herself and her son is mesmerizing and powerful.

Woman Alone: A Farmhouse Journal by Carol Burdick. I stumbled across this book in the Bar Harbor library while looking for the new biography of Pearl Buck. Its stark cover showing a red barn on a snowy day, seen thru a window with an amaryllis on the sill, caught my attention. Burdick, in her late 40’s and on the heels of a painful divorce, has moved home to take care of her ailing parents. Reeling from her situation, she spends time each weekend at the family cottage writing in a journal. In this special journal I will try to censor my heaviness and merely report those things I do and see and hear, noting the small sensations and accomplishments which help to buoy a sinking spirit, restore an eroded ego. Good advice for those of us who rush headlong from one thing to another and a practical approach to living in the moment.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. A Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and former book editor at The Boston Globe, Caldwell is from Amarillo, only 100 miles from my old stomping grounds. Her first memoir, A Strong West Wind, compellingly speaks of both her need and difficulty in leaving Texas and her struggle to make a new life for herself in New England. (Yes, in respects both positive and negative Texas might as well be a foreign country.) Her recent book tells the story of her deep friendship with another writer and is a testament to the profound and extraordinary bonds of women. So many times in reading this book I was reminded of my own close relationships with my female friends.

The House By the Sea by May Sarton. This New England poet is equally well-known for her many journals. In this one she goes out on a limb, moving from a beloved town in New Hampshire to a friend’s big, empty house by the seaside in Maine. She chronicles the ups and downs of her health, writing, loneliness, gardening, social life and ageing. Particularly touching are her notes about a dear friend’s Alzheimers disease and the comfort of her pets.

In thinking about why I like to read memoirs I’ve come to the conclusion that I respect and am moved by how these writers have taken the time to honestly look at their lives. I suppose this blog is my own small attempt to do the same, which brings me back to the painting…my dear friend Kate painted this for me. It was inspired by a photo of when I was about 6 years old, taken in my grandparents’ back yard. I’m holding a trout that I caught in New Mexico, while wearing a Sunday dress. Can you see that my slip is peeking out from the dress? That is authentic, as are my super short bangs, courtesy of my mother. In the photo my grandmother’s black cat is rubbing against my leg, VERY interested in that trout. If I had to sum up my childhood, that photo, which speaks volumes about a loving family, vacations in the mountains and the importance of pets, would just about do it.

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