A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

Every once in a harvest moon, I come across a writer that knocks me over and rattles my creative cage and makes me think, "oh my goodness, there is someone out there that is reading my thoughts and WRITING THEM DOWN!"  Abigail Thomas is one of these writers.  I have been devouring her memoirs after revisiting A Three Dog Life for the second time after reading it for the first time almost ten years ago.  I was too young then.  Even after finally owning my divorce and accepting my soul, old and wrinkly, I wasn’t able to grab onto the nuggets of truth that I would find in the pages of that book.  The grief.  I was missing what it was like to experience real grief.  And now I get it.  And so I can’t stop reading this woman.

Throw in amazing word assemblage and a true gift for storytelling, and there you have the makings of a weekend spent snuggled in my chair with a couple dozen cups of tea.  I’m kind of obsessed with her.  Before I began writing this review, I decided that I would also write to her.  I’ve never had to the urge to write to an author before this.  Also, she’s in her seventies and I don’t want her to die before I’ve had the chance to thank her. 

Because this:

“I didn’t start writing until I was forty-seven.  I had always wanted to write but thought you needed a degree, or membership in a club nobody had asked me to join.  I thought God had to touch you on the forehead, I thought you needed to have something specific to say, something important, and I thought you needed all that laid out from the git-go.  It was a long time before I realized that you don’t have to start right, you just have to start.”

And this:

“When I was young, the future was where all the good stuff was kept, the party clothes, the pretty china, the family silver, the grown-up jobs.  The future was a land of its own, and we couldn’t wait to get there.  Not that youth wasn’t great, but it came with disadvantages; I remember the feeling I was missing something really good that was going on somewhere else, somewhere I wasn’t.  I remember feeling life passing me by.  I remember impatience.  I don’t feel that way now.  If something interesting is going on somewhere else, good, thank god, I hope nobody calls me.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, toothpaste is just so stimulating.”

I feel inspired and motivated to write again, and it feels like I am back to my old self.  I didn’t realize just how much I missed her.  Or how much I really do want another dog.

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Published This Year

Ahh!  I have read about six books in the last two weeks!!  It has been completely wonderful and I am trying desperately to document my favorite parts of each.  The first one I want to share...it's another memoir.  But in my defense, it is one of the most thought-provoking memoirs I have read.  While Gilbert's thoughts on marriage were the catalysts for reflections on my own relationships and marriage in Committed, Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air spoke to the side of me that is obsessed with that place where a person sees their reflection, and their humanity stares back in all it's flawed beauty, suffering, shortcomings and burdens.  

Remarkably, he is also able to highlight the pieces of us that are good and hopeful...the shreds of selflessness, sacrifice, forgiveness, and unbridled, plentiful love...not reserved for only those closest to us, but for complete strangers.  I found that I wanted to know him, and more than that, I wanted to emulate the parts of him that made him exceptional.  I highlighted so many passages I can not even list them all here...and there are countless authors that I will read because of his mention of them.  As a nurse, I felt a kinship to his heart as a physician, as a student of literature I drank in his vast knowledge of books, and as a human being, I wanted to thank him for being so completely honest and insightful and kind.  

At one point he was reflecting on his awareness of what his career as a neurosurgeon entailed and how much he respected not only his calling, but the people he treated - and the extreme responsibility of it all:

Before operating on a patient's brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end.  The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt.  Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another's cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

To say I recommend this book is an understatement, and if you are in the medical field, it is a must read.  

 

A Book Set In Another Country

I'm on day five of a six day stretch off from work, so in between games of Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Wii Bowling, and making meals, I have been reading my heart out.  It has been a much-needed trip home from all my travels through presentations, writing papers, and reading through nursing journals.  My classes will resume in February, so my retreat will be over soon - I am taking advantage of every little extra moment I have to consume my bookshelves.

Yesterday, I journeyed through Yeonmi Park's In Order to Live.  Monday nights are our Story Time evenings at the library, so while the kids played in the Children's area, I browsed the What's New section.  This woman's beautiful face kept drawing my attention, and while I walked past the book several times, I finally picked it up to read the blurb on the inside of the dust jacket. I knew I must read this book.  (Side note about dust jackets: They are a conundrum.  I love them when I am purchasing a book because I love the crisp sound they make when you crack open a new book and flip to the back to read about the author.  But once the book is home, and I start to read, I loathe them.  They slide all over the place and hang off the back of the book, or your children take them off and you find them stuffed in the toy basket or the dryer.  So I started to throw them away and streamline the look of my shelves, but I felt guilty, like the poor person who writes the blurbs and the author's bio was doing all this work just to be discarded like my daily banana peel.  Then I was curious about what the history of the dust jacket was, and I learned that in the early 19th century, they were just that - protection from dust and dirt during delivery - and once in the reader's hands, the paper covering was thrown away.  So I stopped feeling bad about it all and continued to pitch them.) 

I will be ordering this book, because if Ms. Park receives even pennies in royalties because of me, I want to support her.  When I was strutting through high school with my sad little teen dramas and begging my parents for that $60 sweater from Abercrombie, she was a little girl starving.  While I graduated and moved to Tennessee and then moved back home after wasting an obscene amount of my parents' money, her mother was being raped and beaten and they were both sold into human trafficking.  I am privileged, I am blessed and I am grateful for the life I was born in to.  However, as a teenager and young adult, I was oblivious to the world around me.  I was materialistic and self-centered.  But I want to believe, had I heard stories like this then, had I read the pages of her life while I was finding myself, I really have to believe that I would have stopped for a minute and smacked myself on the back of the head.  I don't take what I have for granted these days, because I know what it's like to lose people you love, and I know the work and sacrifice it takes to obtain a sense of security.  But I don't know it like she does.  I never will.  I don't know what loss is, what strength is, what determination is, what pain is, what joy is.  And while I know that it wasn't my choice to be born in America where I have always been free, while she was born in North Korea where no one is free, I know that I can make the choice every day to be thankful for my blessings and to be cognizant of others' struggles by choosing not to be extravagant, materialistic, and wasteful.  What does a person really need in life? 

So yes, I started and finished this one in a day, and by the end, my five-year old was asking, "Mommy, when are you going to stop reading that book?!".  But when she is fourteen and whining because she doesn't have anything to wear and her hair is too curly, I am going to wrap up this book in some beautiful paper, tie it up with a sweet pink bow, and tell her to read it for a healthy dose of perspective.

A Memoir

Well...I finished my first book of the 2016 Reading Challenge, and let me tell you...

When I pick up a book from a used book store, or a book swap, or a garage sale, I cross my fingers and make a wish that it will be a treasure.  I hold high hopes that this book has found its way onto my shelf for a reason...that I was meant to read it in order to enrich my life and that it will give me that validation I am yearning for that, Yes! I am on the right path.  So much PRESSURE! ;)

This just happened.

Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love was very popular quite a few years back, and while I do own the book (another used book haul), I have yet to read it.  But what made me reach for this one when I saw it was the fact that I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak at a photography conference (imagine that) a couple years back and she blew me away.  The natural gift of storytelling this woman possesses captivated me.  I wanted to own everything she had ever written.  And then I flew back home to Cleveland to my husband and my two children with their sweet faces smooshed against the windows of the car at the airport pickup, and I realized that I probably wouldn't have much time for actually locking myself in my bedroom and reading all the books she had ever written.  So when I saw this bright *orange cover screaming at me (TAKE ME HOME!), I snatched it up anyway.  This is the first book I have actually read of her's, and it will not be the last.

Let me preface this next sentence with this: I love my life and if I had not been through everything in my past I might not be where I am today.  But this book would have come in handy around the year 2000.  I am so convinced that I was meant to read this book that I am making my husband (not much of a reader) read this book.  There are so many wonderful reflections on relationships and marriage, and there are countless examples and testaments of human tendencies and pitfalls...I seriously want to buy this book for every person between the ages of 17-30.  This isn't to say that I agree with everything the author has to say regarding marriage - we are very different people in some respects (we could be the same person, in others).  But the beauty of this book is that the commonalities and differences between human beings is explored and examined and poked and prodded and dissected - the outcome is that our happiness is directly affected by the choices we make.  We are not victims in marriage (or divorce).  Happiness doesn't happen to us, we must be activists in our own contentment.

Anyway...read it.  And if you hate it, you can send me your copy because I know some people who could use it.  AND!  If you read it and you want to talk about it, leave me comments on this post.  I would love to chat about it.

On to my next book! :)

* The cover is now blue, FYI.