DISCONNECT FROM UNCERTAINTY and CHAOS

YES, the world seems a vast sea of uncertainty and chaos. We clench our teeth and hold our breath. We mutter about “how bad things are” and we worry about tomorrow. We wonder if it has always been “like this” or if the world is tilted in a vastly new direction of unseen consequences. And, often, our customary reaction to the next crisis (or shocking development) launches yet another cycle of concern, anxiety, or even … depression. All of this hand-wringing clouds our vision, though. We don’t see the rose in our path. Not really.

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“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
–Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden                                                               

Yes, we’ve heard this sort of thing before. And we know we shouldn’t let external events fog our inner vision. But … we do, don’t we?

At least most of us do.

I watch the tide go in and out with every new media story hyped beyond reason, and I marvel at just how easily we tend to give up our personal equanimity. And, for what, exactly? We literally have no control over 99% of what the media focuses on; our level of personal involvement is slim to none. Still, we watch, we listen, we react, while squeezing in our own precious lives around the edges. I guess I just don’t get it. Are we so bored that we are willing to pretend the nightly news is “truth?”

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“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

During the month of July … my suggestion is simple.

Refuse to be drawn in. Stay intent on your own life. Let most of it go by, because a reactionary posture is exhausting for one thing. It merely drains the life from your day … from your soul. At least pause long enough to realize that external events will always fall short of our expectations. And if you must turn to external events for entertainment purposes, please limit your gazing, inhibit your ruminating about any, or all, of it.

What good could it possibly do, in the end?

Yes, we need to be informed … to a point. Yes, we are concerned about the human condition … so we want to “know.” And, yes, we have issues that are close to our hearts for various reasons. All of this is understandable. But too often we are simply gazing at life from afar instead of staying focused on what is right in front of us. The cost is enormous. We feel agitated, annoyed, and perplexed. The peacefulness we felt is suddenly gone. We also put useless energy into a constant cycle of reaction. Step away in July. Step back and see if anything changes. 

roses“It’s amazing how confused and distracted and misdirected so many people are.”
–Stephen Covey

When I wrote ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place (first edition, ’99; second edition, 2014), I was already contemplating these things. I’d grown up with open spaces and generous landscapes that seemed “complete” and “life-sustaining” without anything more. This book, my first, resonates with me more and more each day.

“In a place where very little stands between an individual and his or her innermost self, the chances of a genuine encounter are greatly enhanced, and it becomes incumbent on a thinking person to do some soul-searching around the issue of happiness. Contemporary society, with its many bells and whistles, offers a different fare, and while it can create an image of abundance, its impact is faint, more like a mirage.”  —d.a. hickman, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place

Always_Returning-SmallAnd then when I wrote my memoir, not surprisingly, I found myself returning to my roots — geographically, spiritually, and emotionally. Loss is like that. It shakes us about like a rag doll, drops us back at the beginning of our remembered history. Without the simplicity of open spaces and poetic grasslands standing tall in my memory, I’m not sure how I would have had the courage to confront the greatest life mysteries … the ones that loss seems to suggest and point to. In a chapter called “The Way of the Sage”, I wrote:

“Windows open, we listened for a red-winged blackbird, relished the smell of fresh air, its absolute freedom as it connected with our weary, time-bound faces. Maybe we would spot a stunning blue heron in flight. It was the way of the sage. To perceive deeply, to acknowledge the divine oneness of the universe, our inherent, ever-changing role as imperfect life custodians. The life that we are … in countless forms. Temporary yet timeless. And when I am fully aware, not absorbed, or sidetracked, by the dictates of mind, time, or circumstance, I not only see beyond this paradox: I see into it.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning:
A Memoir of Time Undone

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SPECIAL NOTE: The Kindle version of The Silence of Morning will be offered at reduced prices from July 3rd through July 10th. Happy 4th of July everyone! And please remember that while uncertainty and chaos may seem like reality, only our inner dimensions tell a true, personal story. So if you prefer calm and knowing and peaceful, tune out the endless steam of external events for a while. It’s amazing what a profound difference this can make.

Paint the day … stay inspired … look for the deeper story of landscape, art, and daily life. Even the challenge of sorrow and loss can lead us to a deeper life story. –dh

My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog, can be found here WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, August 5th.

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THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER

THERE is something about summer that frees our spirits. Something that insistently beckons us to look at life and nature more closely, more intently. And, indeed, more extensively. The lake we’ve never visited. The trail we’ve never walked. The plant we’ve never grown. The important project we’ve managed not to “see” or acknowledge. The book we’ve never read. The artist we’ve overlooked. The recipe we’ve wanted to try for the longest time. The daring article or poem we suddenly want to write. You have your own examples, I’m sure.

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Feeling freer, less confined and withdrawn, we seem to almost merge with the spirit of summer.

Growing … doing … exploring … experiencing … creating.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But sometimes things happen that dampen our spirits, and we struggle to find our usual enthusiasm for summer’s endearing vibrancy. It can make us feel pretty miserable to want to do the usual things (or new things) without the energy or desire to make it happen.

Who hasn’t been there?

Unless you live a one-dimensional life on a one-dimensional planet … you’ve been there.

We lost our beloved schnauzer, Noah, in June of 2015. My beloved son, Matthew, in June of 2007.

So I’ve been wondering about this fanciful month of June. Why has it delivered such harsh blows amidst the greens and blues and pastels that flow like rain during a month when many parts of the world seem reborn. Promising, comforting, and certainly pleasant. And then I noticed a quote on a good friend’s (thanks, Cynthia!) Facebook page that gave me pause yet again.

  • “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ― L. M. Montgomery
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NOAH … the Zen master
SRS
NOAH                                                                       

If the world was always June … yes, there would  be the magic of nature … but, for me, there would also be poignant and powerful reminders of loss. Days very difficult to peacefully, and fully, remember; days when beating hearts grew still: the silence deafening. But June takes me there anyway, even as I resist, cringe, try to run away.

So do I turn away from the lovely month of June, or embrace it?
What would you do?

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.
The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Maud Hart Lovelace

To say I have mixed feelings about June would be true. The calendar, the season, draw me closer to events that feel “outside of time” … but the days of June also sharpen those painful memories anew, serving them up like a sad story ending one can never quite escape. Matt_FruitFarmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA_Matt_Lake

I guess the only thing I can do is broaden my view, allowing June to merge with my memories of summer, in general. By acknowledging the month of June as intrinsic to summer’s spirit, I can consider it from a slightly different vantage point. Reflecting on this … I am also reminded that summer’s spirit is not entirely blissful. When summer ends, it takes with it warm, carefree days, and announces the arrival of a new season. Cooler weather, a more subdued season, less fresh and invigorating. By framing June this way, it becomes part of a bigger story—one less focused on daily events, specific time frames, and so on.

  •  ” … the final twist descended like a malicious fire. An unyielding weapon and an uncompromising shot shredding time, and all variations of hope, as it penetrated and absorbed the utter fragility of a precious human life in a secluded meadow on a faded summer night. An unbearable image. An anguished landing during the seductive month of June–nature in full bloom–made death even more startling, incongruent. I wanted to hate the sixth month of the year.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

When painful memories surface, try to frame them anew … bring them into a slightly different light, look at them from a perspective that isn’t quite as personal. After all, nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected. Dreaded days on a calendar can be looked at in a broader context … allowing for space around the event, the moment, the feelings we instinctively shy from. So here’s to the breezy days of summer, the tantalizing mix of life and loss the season ultimately delivers. Matt and Noah, for me, you ARE the spirit of summer. ~

How do you feel about June, about summer?
Any complications around this particular landscape of time?
What memories do you shun, or treasure … or simply not understand?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, July 1st.

“Drugs and guns aren’t the real problems; they are only symptoms.
The deeper issue is the human condition, the trauma of life on this planet.”
9780990842361-Front-TheSlienceOfMorning13_RGB_300dpi_6x9“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, Leaving the Hall Light On
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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A WORD ABOUT WRITING

HAVE you ever written a long essay, a poetry collection, a book? I’m assuming nearly everyone reading this has written something of some length. It’s a curious process, isn’t it? Some love it, many don’t. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. To suggest it takes tremendous patience, dedication, skill, and trust is not doing the work justice, is it? Because, in all reality, it demands much more. Writing also requires the willingness to take every daily interruption in stride. Creating art via thought, intuition, and sentences takes enormous focus and concentration–a keen ability to listen for the words, the message–yet, in this world of constant “something,” interruptions are the norm.

The doorbell rings. The cell phone chimes. The dog barks. The cat wants attention. The nagging to-do list thwarts progress. The yard needs water. The shrubs need trimming. The floor needs vacuuming. The wall needs paint. The kitchen blinds need an update. The important phone call must be returned. The book you’re reviewing for a friend must be read. The delivery truck wants a signature for an item you forgot you ordered. The dinner must be purchased, planned, prepared. The new wine must be tried. The lawn must be mowed again; overgrown trees must come down, new ones planted. The article you’ve worked on diligently (the one with an urgent deadline) seeks a final paragraph late into the night when the speed of life slows down ever so briefly. The printer jams, and how long will it take to get it fixed; who can fix it? What about visiting an aging relative, the friend in the hospital, the neighbor moving to assisted living? Maybe you volunteer for a nonprofit; maybe you crave more time “to be” with the universe without any kind of agenda …

YET … a spring sunrise takes your breath away, and you must spend a few minutes gazing at it.
A memory takes you by the throat, holds you to the fire, as you dare to remember, deeply so, someone you’ve loved and lost.

In my case … the son I wrote about in my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING.

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As author Annie Dillard wrote in one of her many books: “It takes years to write a book–between
two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.” — The Writing Life (1989)

During the seven years it took to write and publish my memoir, the interruptions, the distractions and diversions, were plentiful. Even abundant! But a true writer somehow perseveres. Somehow believes so much in the journey, the book’s message, the pain and the joy of writing itself, that giving up isn’t an option. If you set out to climb a mountain, those who are serious about it … climb it. One way or another.

Music helped me a lot. Helped me delve into tangled emotions that weren’t easy to describe. When the book was in the editing phase, for instance, I often listened to a CD called Songbird Sunrise.

I like to get up around 5 a.m. and work when the house is still quiet, and somehow, the simple, sincere sounds of birds (in the spring and summer, you can just open the window, but I was editing and proofreading in the winter) helped me tune in to each sentence anew. When a book has been worked on for many years, it’s easy for even the sharpest eyes to skip over details. So I needed music that allowed me to really see each sentence … in the moment. I had to open an internal space for a task that many dislike, because the creative fuel that takes the process from a tiny seed to a full-grown tree is low by this stage of the process. Authors are exhausted when a book is completed. At least the authors I know. But a serious book project has many stages and phases and getting a first draft written is barely a scratch in the surface.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.
– Henry David Thoreau

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For perspective, I grew these hollyhocks back in 2008; they helped to inspire me to even begin the memoir. I remember writing about them in the book–how somehow, they also had fueled the journey. Beginnings are interesting, aren’t they? If you are a writer, what inspired you to take the first step … often the most critical of all? Sometimes it’s good to look back at those first steps to appreciate the hardships, the joys, of the climb. It’s also good to pause deeply when a project comes to fruition.

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
Ernest Hemingway

Most of the authors I know write because they care. Care deeply for the work, the ideas, the creative journey. For the deep and powerful personal commitment it takes to sustain the work … building invisible bridges from paragraph to paragraph, from chapter to chapter. In this blog post, I want to honor the work of authors. I can’t image a world without “us.” It would be a dark, futile world. One extremely short on inspiration, connection and understanding, and most of all, one with less beauty. For even from the darkest shadows, the deepest sorrows, beauty can be found. And shared.

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A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.
– Joseph Conrad

As I wrote in The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone: “Our minds rush to interpret events as good or bad, positive or negative, as we eagerly watch for the ‘good’ and, more cautiously, for the ‘bad.’ But when darkness descended into my world with absolute force and determination, abstract concepts became fiercely personal, and I was drawn to profound life questions as never before.”

  • Being drawn to profound life questions is utterly important. A tremendous gift … when understood and acted upon over time. So, despite Matthew’s loss, ultimately, there was beauty in my path … a path suggested by the white and pink hollyhocks that stood tall before me while I sat on our deck to study them, to seek solace in their upward flight — their show of color, their subtle optimism.
  • The light of life may not look like we think it should; it may not be the light we think we want or need. Fortunately, as an author, I was willing to explore what I’d been given, was willing to deeply consider the profound mysteries we are born into. Mysteries lodged in silence. And ambiguity. My memoir somehow penetrates that silence, however, as I initially survive its fierce echo after my son’s sudden death, and then when I realize I must, one day, embrace it.
  • Even though I wasn’t remotely prepared for the curious demands of loss, I dared to wonder: who is?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
― Robert Frost

Pay attention to beginnings. Dare to wonder about the most perplexing life mysteries. Care deeply about humanity and your work. Find the stamina to go the distance. Authors are stunning athletes in a world that often misses this reality. Believe in what you want to explore, and discover. Know that being an author, a writer, is one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do. And clearly, the most rewarding. You set out on this rocky path armed with very little, knowing almost nothing. Yet, you are filled with a sense of possibility. Guided by questions, random thoughts, a shaky desire to create something out of nothing. And … you understand courage, you know patience, and you believe in magic. Deep in your soul, and this might be quite surprising to some of you, you even know what it is that you must write before you ever set down the first line in a book. Become one with that place of knowing. It will lead you through the early morning, the late nights, and well beyond those who don’t understand, or value, your mission. And that is a where you must be, and stay, to find your story — the one with the potential to reach the hearts and minds of others. Godspeed. — dh

If you are a writer … what has sustained you?
What has helped you face the blank page, the muddled page, the final page?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, June 3rd.

I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
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HOW … do we better understand the human condition, the quest for inner peace?
HOW … do we tap into the deeper mysteries, embracing challenge and loss as we go?
HOW … do we distance ourselves from a malcontent culture focused on excitement, escape, and excess?
AND … despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … commit to sustained personal growth?
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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EYES OF NATURE

Nature quietly teaches us < Happy Earth Day > that nothing is as complicated as we try to make it. And yet, given the paradoxical realities of life, everything is more complicated than we assume or imagine. How do we navigate such treacherous waters — avoid the extremes, the habitual reactions, the angst and anxiety that flow from ineffective and counterproductive personal patterns?

Acknowledging paradox is an excellent initial step, but that takes awareness and presence and mindfulness, doesn’t it?

If we don’t realize that we’re always standing right in the middle of the yin and yang of things … how can we hope for insights or change or anything more than the status quo?

Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.
— Rene Daumal 1908 – 1944

We started this year focusing on smallish changes with life-enhancing potential. So here’s another idea along those lines — observe the paradox of any challenging situation before doing anything else. Sense the dynamics at work around you that aren’t remotely personal. Pause deeply. Step back. Reflect. Consider. Accept contradiction, confusion, the pull of opposite yet, complimentary, forces.

Just this can make a big difference in our perceptions, our judgments, and our attitudes. Even in how peaceful we feel.

  • Nature can be extremely helpful in this context. Look away from what is troubling you, annoying you, distracting you … and look into the eyes of nature instead. A budding tree. A flower in bloom. A breeze against branches. A sky that looks like infinity. When we step away from the conditioned mind, it’s easier to acknowledge a deeper reality … then paradox becomes more obvious. And we can see into situations and challenges and opportunities with a fresh sense of creative possibility. Perhaps … with greater wisdom, acceptance, and understanding. Maybe even compassion.

A good friend of mine shared these lovely spring pictures recently. She referred to them as the “night and day of tulips,” which seemed to fit this blog post quite well. The yellow ones, nearly three feet high, seem filled with light and spirit; the purple ones (queen of the night) are intense, moody, compelling. One gardening site described this variety of tulip as velvety, deep maroon-black blooms on sturdy stems.

  • However you describe themthe key is to pause long enough, look deeply enough, to describe them at all.
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©dacotahkromes
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©dacotahkromes

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Jack Kerouac

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C. S. Lewis

IF… you’ve noticed the repetitive nature of most conversations, along with the habitual way of perceiving the world, you’ve probably wondered how any of this ever changes. Only when there are internal changes … does the world begin to “look” different. Only by deepening our life experience can we see the paradox that is always before us. So whatever you do … try not to let a dysfunctional, malcontent culture define you. Your own innate sense of life meaning is a far better guide than a hyped up, heavily glamorized, artificial (and struggling) society. Choosing to tune it all out and look within … is the gift of a lifetime. –dh

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, May 6th.
I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
If you missed my recent interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
here is the link to
We Need Memoir.
Thanks again, Richard!

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READING GORNICK & SHARPLES

I’ve just finished reading two intriguing books, both memoir, both rich in personal meaning and nuance. One author writes about her life in New York City–specifically, the streets of the city and how human contact is often her goal; the other author writes about her son’s bipolar diagnosis and eventual suicide. At first glance the topics sound dissimilar. Yet, life and death issues, along with passages of noticeable clarity amidst emotional chaos are found in both books.

  • Style and structure vary tremendously, however, making for striking examples of how memoir can be successfully written from different perspectives. Popularized expectations of memoir are extremely limiting, but from a literary standpoint, memoir can flow from the soul. Coming to life effectively in an abundance of customized, highly creative ways.
  • Vivian Gornick is actually a bit of an expert when it comes to this genre. I fist discovered her work via her wonderful book The SITUATION and the STORY: The Art of Personal Narrative (2001, Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

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“The question clearly being asked in an exemplary memoir is ‘Who am I?’ Who exactly is this ‘I’ upon whom turns the significance of this story-taken-directly-from-life? On that question the writer of memoir must deliver. Not with an answer but with depth of inquiry.”

I took her words to heart as I completed my memoir last August, reading her book to determine if I had gotten reasonably close to this lofty goal in The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone. I imagine most other serious memoirists have studied Gornick’s work, as well. I agreed with her about the need for “depth of inquiry” in any solid memoir. A story is just a story without soul-searching; a situation just a situation without depth and contemplation and vivid questions to guide us.

But the Gornick memoir I’m focusing on here is The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). I first learned about her new book on author Richard Gilbert’s Draft No. 4 Blog — immediately, I was intrigued. Gilbert, the author of SHEPHERD: A Memoir, holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College, Baltimore, and teaches writing at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Gilbert formerly served as marketing manager of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, where he also helped acquire books.

The second memoir I want to discuss today is Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide (2011). Author Madeline Sharples is also an advocate for improved mental health services. Her mission since the death of her son is to raise awareness, educate, and erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide in the hope of saving lives. She’ll be participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness overnight 16 to 18 mile walk in San Francisco on May 21 for suicide prevention and awareness. Her memoir tells the steps she took in living with the loss of her oldest son–first and foremost that she chose to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother, and writer. She hopes that her story inspires others to find ways to survive their own tragic experiences.

full-halllight-1I interviewed Madeline here in SunnyRoomStudio in 2012, in a post called Look Again. While working on my memoir, I noticed she had written about her son’s suicide, and this encouraged me to keep working on my book. Both of our sons died at 27 years. Paul and Matt both struggled with serious issues for several years before succumbing to what many might consider inevitable. Clearly, life is a challenging endeavor for everyone, but for our sons, it was a toxic battle with life and death issues. So when it came time to decide on a cover quote for my memoir, I knew exactly who to ask. Though our path into grief and beyond tragedy was necessarily different, there are unavoidable similarities. Shock, despair, self-doubt, a purposeful search for truth, plus the inevitable discoveries and insights that arrived like gifts from another world.

In returning to my look at Gornick and Sharples in the context
of their respective memoirs, several things come to mind.

Gornick (author of 12+ books) writes in brief passages without a single chapter break in her latest memoir. When I first began reading The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir … I wondered where she was going with the narrative, if anywhere at all. Drama and tension were understated (which I liked), but I also felt like I may have dipped into her private journal by accident. Scenes are lightly fleshed out, if at all. And dialogue was scattered to nonexistent. A certain chronology was there, as if lightly sprinkled atop subtle story layers. I liked that, as well.

  • When I wrote my memoir, I wanted to avoid mainstream genre guidelines. I didn’t want a book about my son’s life journey to read like some kind of thriller. I wanted to respect his journey, and mine. And I was seeking the substance of the story, the universal, core message–the deeper story of loss, struggle, and hardship–that would resonate far beyond a single brief lifetime.

From GORNICK: “New York friendships are an education in the struggle between devotion to the melancholy and attraction to the expressive. The pavements are filled with those longing to escape the prison sentence of the one into the promise of the other. There are times when the city seems to reel beneath its impact.”

gornick memoirBook notes on Amazon

A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time …

A contentious, deeply moving ode to friendship, love, and urban life in the spirit of Fierce Attachments: A Memoir (Gornick, 1987) …

Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist …

Gornick was born in the Bronx in 1935. This memoir was released when she was 80. She clearly has mastered the art of brevity. Odd Woman is 175 pages. Yet, there is obvious substance, as well. And there is clarity, along with an ability to notice the undercurrent of life. Consider her observations:

“Release from the wounds of childhood is a task never completed, not even on the point of death.”

“My mother had heart surgery. She emerged from the operation in a state of calm I’d never known her to possess. Criticism and complaint disappeared from her voice, grievance from her face. Everything was a matter of interest to her … .”

Madeline, in contrast, lives in California. But New York was part of her son’s story, a place where his ability as a jazz musician began to solidify. Yet, Paul also seemed somewhat adrift in New York because of an emerging bipolar disorder, indirectly reminding me of Gornick and her story of the streets, the people, the place, and how these influences shaped her as a woman, a person, an author. The role of “place” is an interesting theme in many memoirs. Madeline’s son makes several cross-country trips trying to outwit his mental health and nurture his considerable ability and musical ambition at the same time. And then there was his love life.

  • Gornick walks the streets of New York City to find herself, her friends, and to encounter humanity in its many guises. Missions of personal exploration are everywhere in memoir. Most authors … urgently wishing to explore life meaning and purpose.

From SHARPLES: “I think the reason I felt so little grief about Mom’s death was because I compared it to Paul’s. She lived a long life, and she made her own decisions about wasting it the way she did. I felt no remorse in that. It was all her choice. The only bad part was all the people she affected along the way with her miserable attitude and sharp tongue.”

  • Gornick also writes about her mother — their ongoing relationship and snippets of their unique history.

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I took this picture when walking through the cemetery where my grandmother is buried. Living nearly 99 years, Anna was a beacon of light in my life. I wrote about her in both of my books, because her memory looms large and bright. Still.

What memoirists choose to write about varies tremendously. The way our stories come together also varies. In the end, though, we are all writing about the mysteries of human existence. And that is why memoir is such an extremely important genre. What could be more important after all than the relationship between the deepest life mysteries and the delicate unraveling of human lives?

On the back cover of my memoir, I posed key questions that felt extremely important …

How do we better understand the human condition, the quest for inner peace?
How do we tap into the deeper mysteries, embracing challenge and loss as we go?
How do we distance ourselves from a malcontent culture focused on excitement, escape and excess?
And despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … commit to sustained personal growth?

When I can pick up a memoir that touches any of these subjects, I’m pleased. These are things I want to know. These are subjects I find compelling and hopeful. On page 279, I wrote: “As my awareness expands, I peer ever more intently through the veil of time, daring to inch my way beyond a murky trail of human suffering. In moments of deep silence–vast, comforting–I also sense I am intrinsic to a captivating fantasy, a sacred play of infinite energy. Aren’t we all just riding some incredible wave?”

thesilenceofmorning14-HiRes

I’ll leave you with that question — that sense of infinite possibility. And since we’re also talking about the power of small changes this year, why not consider picking up a book that has been on your “to be read” list for way too long. I always feel a noticeable sense of gladness when I finally get to a book I’ve been wanting and waiting to read … ♥

Until my next blog post on Friday, April 22, I hope you are reading at least one memoir … if not several. When it comes to literature and the hubris of a superficial celebrity culture, a strong memoir, in welcome contrast, artfully reminds us of the true nature of the human condition in insightful, memorable ways. A world born of connection, yes, but we are also a world sustained by understanding, compassion, peace. IF we are to be sustained at all.

By the way, I’m reading another memoir, and will bring back a few remarks to SunnyRoomStudio. Patti Smith writes in her 2015 memoir, M Train, “How is it that we never completely comprehend our love for someone until they’re gone?” If you’ve already read this book, or any of the books covered in this blog post, please share a comment about one of them. Readers are always looking for their “next book” …

The failures of other genres to provide an emotional connection with
some of their characters and narratives gives memoir a toehold.
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman

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