Tag Archives: memoir

Memoir as Bewilderment (workshop with Nick Flynn, Omega Institute)

Last week I participated in Nick Flynn‘s workshop, Memoir As Bewilderment, at the Omega Institute.

The workshop and the work that happened there is still sinking in. Magical. More when I can…for now I’m just full of gratitude.

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The Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod

The+Telling+FrontThe Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod, is beautifully-crafted and necessary. Woven with her own elegantly written story of child sexual abuse, Zolbrod includes statistics, achieving balance between narrative and resource. Anyone wanting to understand this complex issue will benefit from reading The Telling. Its journey is a deft navigation through the intricacies of the human psyche. In form, the memoir works as a whole and as a series of exquisite chapter-essays (some stand easily on their own.). As a parent, writer, teacher, and survivor of child sexual abuse, I found Zolbrod’s book inspiring and comforting in each cell of my body. One thing that sets this book apart from the traditional survivor narrative is the space Zolbrod gives to examination of the abuse narrative itself—interrogating the notion that abuse and its aftermath must always have one dominant effect on the soft tissue of the spirit. (Life is never quite that simple, as Zolbrod describes.) Zolbrod is unflinchingly candid, while also paying attention on the page to the nuances and boundaries of her various roles (woman, writer, mother, editor, former child). Sometimes it feels like she is looking through a prism at her past (and the issue of sexual abuse) and she is keenly able to discern from all sides, a kind of cumulative truth. In particular I loved reading about how she steers through her past as a protective but not overprotective mother.

There is oxygen in this book. The fact that there is a writer in the world who is doing this sort of soul investigation (and that we have the privilege of reading her generous work) gives me hope for our future.

Obama: The candor and poetry of not (yet) being a president

As I consider Barack Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father, which we are discussing in a class I’m teaching at Antioch University McGregor, a couple overarching things tug at me. I am going to try to leave current politics, approval ratings, and Nobel peace prizes out of this.

The first thing: Throughout, Obama writes with such candor. Having been elected president four years after the 2004 edition was published, I find it fascinating to read his thoughtful and (I assume) unvarnished critique of the power centers, and the role of president and government. The type of openness Obama presents in these pages is blankly missing in the speech and rhetoric of so many politicians. When he first wrote this book, before 1995, he couldn’t have dreamed how his life would unfold. Something in that is refreshing.

The second thing: There is a poet in the White House. In some ways, Obama seems like a frustrated poet, but so much of his writing is pure poetry, too much to note here. One that sticks out: the end of the passage on p. 315, talking about a waiter in Kenya:

“And so he straddles two worlds, uncertain in each, always off balance, playing whichever game staves off the bottomless poverty, careful to let his anger vent itself only on those in the same condition.
A voice says to him yes, changes have come, the old ways lie broken, and you must find a way as fast as you can to feed your belly and stop the white man from laughing at you.
A voice says no, you will sooner burn the earth to the ground.”

The flow, and construction, to me, it’s simply poetry.

I keep thinking back to a speech I saw on C-SPAN when Obama was first running for president, where he talked about the importance of various subjects in school… “And poetry,” he added. At that moment, my husband (who is also a writer) and I agreed, “He’ll never get elected.” And yet…

In this book, his poetry is in his words, and his focus, the corners where he chooses to shine a light. So often, the book reads like a novel. So I keep thinking: what are the implications for us creative people, many of whom have spent careers feeling marginalized and invisible, to have someone who understands doing the job of the president?