Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Which Wild Wakes Up the Wilderness in Me

 
 
photo by Anna Reavis
 
                     “I couldn’t let myself believe it...and also go on breathing...”          
When I first heard of Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I  wanted to read it:  walking alone on the Pacific Coast Trail to try to outwalk the ghosts of your past and the pain inside you sounds  like something I would do or would have done, had I been childless at anytime in the past 20 years.   So last week, when I found it at my small local library, I grabbed it up and put Les Miserable on hold.

I had no idea how hard just getting through the first chapter would be for me.  That’s where I got to last Friday before I had to stop and regroup and decide if I was strong enough at this point in my life to read this woman’s words.  I thought I was getting a hiking memoir.  What I got in the first chapter instead was a reliving of my own mother’s death.  Strayed lost her mother in the same way that I lost mine (except that I was pregnant with my first child at the time) and at exactly the same time in her life.  She had the same kind of intertwined, how could I live without this woman, relationship with her mother that I had with mine.  I even remember struggling to stay awake with her nights, which is almost impossible in pregnancy, because I was afraid she would die while I slept, and then feeling guilty that I fell asleep.  The biggest difference is that I was with her, holding her hand,  when she died, a type of fullness and completion denied to Strayed, and for which I have been infinitely grateful because being present at the moment of death had been denied me when my brother had died a few years before, so already I knew how important it was.  It brought  to mind Sally Field’s speech in Steel Magnolias about being present when she brought her daughter into the world and being present when she went out of it.  This was the one person I knew who had been present when I came into the world.  I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to be there when she left it, no matter what was going on with my body at the time.    
The one big other difference is that I have never tended, nor even been to her grave.  I suppose that is a kind of denial:  denial through ignoring;  close your eyes,  and it isn’t there.  So because I have lived 20 years now in my self-inflicted forgetting,  being surreptitiously overwhelmed with this issue in a hiking memoir completely took me aback.   Here are some of the last words of the first chapter:  “Nothing could ever bring my mother back or make it okay that she was gone…It broke me up.  It cut me off.  It tumbled me end over end…I would want things to be different than they were.  The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods.”   What motherless child can read words like these and still breathe?  I think I am going to have to make myself finish this book.  Twenty years is long enough to live in forgetting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Breaking the Cloud Atlas Blog Jam


photo by Amy Brandon


“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul.  Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow?  Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’clouds.”  Zachry in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I’ve spent a month being paralyzed by the thought of trying to write about Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  How do you write about one book that is actually six novellas intertwined?  A book that’s not about any one thing, but about everything and nothing, the grand and the minute.   It slices life in fractals across time and space with six different genres and settings, with at least as many themes and plot lines, and with characters too numerable to track without notes. 

I enjoyed Cloud Atlas because reading it felt like working a jigsaw puzzle.  I had to keep notes to keep up with the whos and whats of the stories, and I had to get past a certain page, I think around page 25, before I liked it at all.  Am I a better person for having read it?  Did I learn anything?  Any great revelations for me? Maybe not, but it was entertaining in several different ways, well written, often funny, and kept my mind engaged throughout.  I call that a book worth reading.

“’He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him!  & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’
            Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”