Curiosity drew me to Wild. My son mentioned that reading about Cheryl Strayed’s mom made him think of me. Her struggles gave him a deeper insight into who I was. My heart healed a little more that day. So, I wondered where my own reading of the book would lead.

My empathetic connection to Strayed’s mother was palpable. But what impacted me most about Wild’s intricate unraveling of lost-love-found was the fearlessness of the writing. The unvarnished, uncensored delivery of Strayed’s journey to wholeness showed, without a doubt, that she stands by her words.

I try to go one or two sentences beyond what I feel safe saying. Honestly, that’s where it’s at— one sentence that makes you bolt out of your chair because after you write it you feel someone lit your hands on fire. Why We Write About Ourselves

Wild was one of my favorite reads of 2017. The story hooked me, tore apart my heart, then allowed love to pour back in— what’s not to like? More importantly, Wild is now one of the handful of books like The Snow Goose that enliven my passion and commitment for my writing life.

While reading Wild, a small voice kept saying, “You could’ve written this book.” By the time I reached the end I knew it was true. Let me clarify. I do not, for a second, believe my writing chops are on par with Cheryl Strayed. I have also never hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. However, I have done time with Outward Bound, lost a mother, dumped a husband, and created a more harmonious life for myself. But these similarities to Strayed’s life are not the reason my inner voice said I could’ve written this memoir. The awakening of my still, small voice was brought about from unapologetic passages like this:

In the mornings, my pain was magnified by about a thousand […] I’d think: This is not me. This is not the way I am. Stop it. No more. But in the afternoons I’d return with a wad of cash to buy another bit of heroin and I’d think: Yes. I get to do this. I get to waste my life. I get to be junk.

And this:

I didn’t exactly want to get divorced. I didn’t exactly not want to. I believed in almost equal measure both that divorcing Paul was the right thing to do and that by doing so I was destroying the best thing I had. By then my marriage had become like the trail in that moment when I realized there was bull in both directions. I simply made the leap of faith and pushed on in the direction where I’d never been.

What I recognized from the passages above and could no longer ignore in my writing education was this: writing that transforms the reader does so because it transformed the writer first. However, that final state of peace or contentment only arrives after the transformed has been torn asunder. Once Wild showed me how to take the gloves off when dealing with conflict, I knew I was ready to do the same.

Wild may not transform every reader or writer, but I’m certain any time spent with this memoir will lead to self-reflection— something the entire planet could use more of these days. AND if self-reflection is where you end up after devouring Wild, my suggestion is to immediately pick up Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

My gratitude for the existence of TBT is as humongous as Niagara Falls, and the ceaseless thunder of those falls is the perfect applause for Cheryl Strayed’s ability to cut to the quick of every problematic situation set at her Dear Sugar feet. She is often irreverently funny, but the bulk of what she offers is straight from the heart.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS will endure as a piece of literary art, as will Cheryl’s other books, because they do the essential work of literary art: they make us more human than we were before— Steve Almond

Strayed, aka Dear Sugar, nurtures our humanity by showing us how to offer one of the most powerful acts of kindness: she listens, truly-uly listens. After brave souls expose the scariest underbelly of their lives, she absorbs every detail and weighs each nuance.

I love how for five long weeks hardly a day has passed that I haven’t thought: But what about Johnny? What will I tell Johnny? I love that one recent evening…I had to stop and put my magazine on my chest because I was thinking about you and what you asked me and so Mr. Sugar put his magazine on his chest…and we had a conversation about your troubles and then we turned off the lights and he fell asleep and I lay there wide awake with my eyes closed writing my answer in my head for so long I realized I wasn’t going to fall asleep, so I got up…

Now that’s magnanimous empathy. If each of us listened with as much openhearted compassion, the world would be a happier place. Even lovelier than the depth to which she listens, is Dear Sugar’s willingness to go the extra mile when she answers. Tiny Beautiful Things avoids the slap-dash, cut and dry advice reminiscent of the Dear Abby columns from my youth. Instead, after chewing on the heart-crushed words of an advice seeker, those dissolved particles lead Sugar to a deeper truth, which she shares only after the surface struggle of the matter has been addressed.

The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core.

Dear Sugar refuses to let the advice seekers avoid the crux of their problems because she knows the only way for them to find peace and live a bountiful life is to own who they are.

We are here to build the house. It’s our work, our job, the most important gig of all; to make a place that belongs to us, a structure composed of our own moral code. Not the code that only echoes imposed cultural values, but the one that tells us on a visceral level what to do. You know what’s right and what’s wrong for you.

If you don’t come away from reading the advice of Dear Sugar believing you can accomplish your heart’s desire, and construct the life you long for, well, dear reader, all I can say is— read it again! Absorb it. Truly-uly listen. Chew on it and push yourself to step out of your comfort zone. It’s not easy, but Sugar reminds us of that too. And she shows us again and again, sometimes with examples from her own life, that doing the hard work of accepting the truth and forgiving ourselves and others is the only way to improve our lives because, “Nobody is going to give you a thing. You have to give it to yourself.”

Trust me, the one act of kindness you must offer yourself in 2018 is to read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar.  Once you’ve finished the love and hope you feared were lost will lift your soul so high, you’ll have no choice other than to tell all your friends to read Tiny Beautiful Thingsso they can spread the word as well.

SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL by Christopher Kennedy Lawford

If you ever shied away from writing a memoir because you couldn’t summon the courage needed to tell the ugly truth, you need to read Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s Symptoms of Withdrawal.

Let go of the myth. It is a lie. 

With tons of humor and a tongue that cuts faster than you can blink, Lawford shares the drug-addicted journey he embraced to cope with the unrealistic expectations of growing up under the Kennedy legacy and his own self-hatred.

An addict continually makes choices and takes actions in his life to support his self-hatred. This is what allows him to keep using. 

Once you’ve navigated through the waves of his withdrawal you may find you still don’t have the guts to tell the truth in your memoir. Or, you may discover you have a greater need to stop pretending you’re writing the truth and just lay your embarrassing ass on the page because it’s the only way to move on from the past that haunts you.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

I picked up Lawford’s memoir as soon as it was published. When I saw the title I thought, “How catchy, a phrase that makes you want to peek inside.” While reading it aloud to my Aunt just recently, I truly saw how Symptoms of Withdrawal reflects every aspect of Christopher Lawford’s life apart from his addiction. Now that’s title perfection.

Many authors prime the reader with quotes from poets or literature. It’s a way for the reader to be on the appropriate wavelength when they dive into page one. My general response to opening quotes is, “Gosh, I wish I could find a quote for my manuscript.” Or, “Interesting.”  Then I return to the quote periodically as I read to see if I’m truly experiencing what the author desired. Sometimes I don’t get the connection, my fault, and that’s okay. I’ll probably figure it out later in my life. Lawford gave me an understanding of his life story, without wiggle room, from this quote by Proust.

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. 

Proust’s thoughts provide the perfect mindset for this memoir, and also sum up the reason I prefer memoirs to biographies. The author’s interpretation, the why’s and wherefores of how his life unfolded allows us to check out the fit of their shoes and come to a more accurate conclusion about how we feel about them. Of course, the big question is, “Can we trust that the author is telling the truth?” In this case, yes. You’ll be as certain as I am as soon as you read Lawford’s Preface.

I grew up with the Camelot Myth. Lawford takes off the blinders so we can see the Kansas without Oz of his life. Because of his journey, his perspective is very different than what we might have come across had the events been told by Maria Shriver, or one of his sisters. My guess is this memoir is more hard-edged. I say, good thing, for it’s the edge of the sword that allows us to see inside to the truth.

Discussing the tragedies within his extended family, which formed the springboard for his downward spiral, could easily have made the pages of Symptoms of Withdrawal hard to digest. Fortunately, Lawford’s recovery went beyond detox to pure clarity. Otherwise he’d never be able to recognize the bizarre juxtaposition of life within the Kennedy family and the world.

In the summer of 1969, a year after my uncle Bobby died, Neil Armstrong took a giant step for mankind and my uncle Teddy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick. 

This kind of moment springs up again and again, and sparks a nervous laughter that is much needed for the journey. Lawford is a writer with something to say and he says it with unique flare.

What I love most about memoir is you hear the error of the person’s ways, come to understand where they went astray, how they came into awareness and what they did to find balance. Absorbing this process is inspirational and a reminder that to err is human, and the strength and courage to correct bad behavior is an innate right we all have the capacity to do, as long as we’re willing to get out of our own way.

It became imperative for me that if I was ever going to find out who I was, all bets had to be off and everything had to be up for grabs. I would have to let go of the absolutes and the identifications I had clung to.

If ever I get around to writing a memoir, I will have Christopher Kennedy Lawford to thank. His raw honesty and ability to see the humor of his disastrous choices has shown me that balance is truly possible, as is change.

Symptoms of Withdrawal is one addictive read.


Haruki Murakami’s name fluttered into my world several winters back during a New Year’s Eve Party. The man singing his praises, Greg Pierce, was in the midst of writing the stage play for Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. What a title: it Ping-Pongs around the brain daring you to forget it. I bought the book the next day thanks to on-line shopping.

It was a love-hate relationship I was never able to work through. I appreciated Murakami’s attention to detail. His ability to make the preparation of a spaghetti dinner fascinating and even curious is an outstanding feat. He may be the master of arousing curiosity for the mundane elements of life. I couldn’t stop wondering, what does this mean? Where will this lead? Then he’d slam me with the historical point of view of the novel and lose me. Still, I trudged on, that’s how deeply his curiosity-hooks dig in. I had to learn the fate of all the characters. I was relieved to find out. I also understood a significant amount of time would need to pass before I revisited his writing.

Here’s my confession. I did not pick up Murakami’s memoir on my own. My son, a huge fan of Haruki-san, as his Japanese fans refer to him because he is such an accessible guy, nudged me.

After reading a biography about Murakami that explored the how and when his novels sprouted from his life, my son said, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was probably the worst place to start my relationship with this Japanese author.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was the starting place my son suggested and I’m glad I accepted his advice. Running is a straightforward examination into how Haruki Murakami started to run, why he keeps running, how he trains for his annual marathon and what it means for his work as a writer.

Although I never made time to train for a marathon, I too, was a long distance runner. So, much of what is talked about is something I’ve experienced. But you don’t have to be a runner to appreciate what he shares. He draws you in with keen observations and details that reach deep into your gut.

The trees are barren of leaves, and the thin branches scrape against each other in the wind, rattling like dried up bones. 

Then he hooks you with his dedication to perseverance.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. 

Now I understand how Murakami can take the mundane and turn it into something magical. He has no choice in the matter for he is 100% attentive to whatever he chooses to focus on in his life.

No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative art.

The mundane may be the way Murakami enters a story, but what he ultimately shares is the pain within the underbelly of life.

When we are writing to create a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down in all humanity rises to the surface. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it, because otherwise no creative activity in the real sense can take place. 

This toxin of humanity is what I was unable to digest in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I’m sorry I wasn’t ready to receive the lessons that were within the story. I could go back, but having absorbed What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I believe it’s more important to move on, ride the forward momentum of his work and grow as a reader and writer.

Haruki Murakami’s memoir on Running is an extraordinary example of how delving into a specific area of a person’s life can reveal so much about character. Maybe this is another reason his characters create such curiosity for the reader, because he’s able to pinpoint the jugular of obsession in each one. Now, I will have to read more Murakami. I hope you give him a whirl as well.

Discover how far you’ll run to follow your dreams. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

STILL WRITING: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

A book that knocks other books off my shelves and receives five bookmarks instead of four, is a book that slingshots me back to my own page while I’m reading. The author of this kind of book churns up characters, or reveals truths about their own lives in memoir form that are so sharp, my own images and realizations will not quiet until I can get them down, black on white. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro is such a book.

Still Writing is a book about craft imbued with the intimacy of a memoir. Dani Shapiro covers her life as a writer and writes for her life. The latter is the way she inspires those of us in the trenches to carry on.

When I read Slow Motion, I realized the most important element of writing was missing from my manuscript. That element was me. I’d been so worried about my protagonist’s relatability and complexity, so focused on skipping the boring parts, pushing the protagonist to extremes to promote change in order to keep tension on every page, I forgot to fuse myself into the character. Without crawling inside my character and getting in sync with her rhythm, readers found my protagonist tiresome, the quintessential dishrag.

To find my way into the character wasn’t easy. Many days I wrote and scratched through more sentences than I kept in my manuscript. What kept me going was the wisdom of Dani Shapiro’s experiences.

Practice involves discipline. But is more closely related to patience. 

The more I tuned up the channel for patience, the more I was able to lower the channel for gimmicks and purple prose. Within the silence of patience, it was much easier to fall with my character into the abyss of the empty white space and rise up hand in hand with story.

Practice and patience isn’t all Shapiro writes about. Still Writing is an excavation into what she has learned as a writer from the beginning and how she plans to continue.

Everything we write will be flawed […] all we know […] is how to write the book we’re writing. All novels are failures. […] All we can hope is that […] we won’t succumb to the fear of the unknown […]not fall prey to the easy enchantments of repeating what may have worked in the past. 

I don’t believe anyone has taken the pressure off of perfection better than that. I can write freely with that outlook. When I read those words my courage rises and a desire to experiment grows. One of the reasons Still Writing is powerful is because Shapiro is able to articulate our fears and crush them. The fears still exist, I don’t believe fears disappear, but Shapiro shows us how to manage them and keep writing.

And what about those sagging middles? Better than providing steps to take, or outlines to follow, Shapiro challenges us to go to the place we’d much rather run from: the truth and heart of the matter.

Middles challenge us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle—often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration and despair—that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts of the process. Just as in life. 

Each page of Still Writing offers insights into how one writer found her way. Many of the tidbits of advice Shapiro offers have already found their way into my daily practice. But what I love most about this memoir on writing is how she encourages writers to discover the story that forces them to show up and write.

To write is to have an ongoing dialogue with your own pain. To scream to it, with it, from it. To know it—to know it cold […] You are facing your demons because they are there. To be alone in a room and the contents of your mind is, in effect to go to that place whether you intend to or not. 

I didn’t want Still Writing to end. Shapiro’s thoughts feel like mine only sharper and clearer. She feels like my pen pal, best friend and muse. She makes me want to be a better writer. Her story is mine and yours; because Dani Shapiro is Everywriter. Benefit from her experience, embrace it, let it guide you back to the page and let the lineage continue. Then celebrate, for today we’re Still Writing.

THE DEATH OF SANTINI: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy

The Death of Santini is Pat Conroy’s memoir about his love-hate relationship with his father. For those who have read the book or seen the film The Great Santini, it may also feel like a sequel—picking up where the autobiographical novel leaves off to show us what happened to the family members who were raised under the iron will of an extreme Marine. Within the first few lines I discovered The Death of Santini is a memoir, a sequel, and more importantly, a reference for how writers are born and shaped out of personal trauma.

I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own story has been my theme[…]It is both the wound and foundation of my work. 

Many writers, such as Jodi Picoult, have written superbly about writing about what you don’t know. Stretching one’s knowledge and imagination is a vital part of becoming a writer. But I believe, especially when a writer is starting out, the best gift you can give yourself is the emotional support to write honestly about what you do know without censoring. Unless we can embrace truth on a personal level, we will never be able to do so on an imaginary plane. For what is a writer, if not an overstuffed container of emotions and questions that must be channeled through a story in the hope of finding closure or enlightenment.

If I was going to be a truthful writer, I had to let the hate out into the sunshine. 

Truth—the essential ingredient for any written form that is destined to last. Find your truth and the readers will come. But Conroy learned, like the Greeks before him, that truth needs an imagination as much as tragedy needs comedy, to ensure life is portrayed in believable proportion.

My portrait of my father was so venomous and unforgiving that I had to pull back from that outraged narrative voice, and eventually decided to put the book in third person. But even then, the words flowed like molten steal instead of language[…]to make my father human, I had to lie. 

Of course, many writers have the opposite problem. By shying away from flaws they create overly sympathetic characters and the result is whining boredom. After reading The Death of Santini, it’s clear that one of Conroy’s strengths is his power of observation and ability to recognize personal flaws.

You sock me in the face and I’ll beat, the living shit out of you and toss your body in the casket with Tom, I said[…]sorry that the words had flown out of my mouth. 

His personal experience reminds him to allow his characters to say the most horrible things when they are under stress, for this is human behavior. Conroy’s portrayal of the human condition in all his stories is one of the reasons his books resonate with so many readers.

At one point Conroy says his mother always made him feel as if he was living inside a badly lit, moss-draped Southern movie. The facts within this memoir show he may very well have done so.

I was the oldest of seven children; five of us would try to kill ourselves before the age of forty. My brother Tom would succeed in a most spectacular fashion. 

I don’t know if I’ve seen a more powerful hook in the beginning of a memoir. The information sets the mood and peaks our curiosity. Conroy reinforces this hook, with particular attention to himself at least nine times. Each reference to his personal instability deepened my concern for him as a person and a writer. And I looked forward to learning how he was able to move through these dark moments of his life while he continued to write.

But I was misled. Conroy is forthcoming about his dysfunctional family. He shares how his ability to tell tales stems from his mother’s natural ability to lie. He has no reservation in pinpointing his sibling’s craziness or their incapacity to support each other emotionally with specific scenes from his past that illustrate his father’s inability to express love to his family. But Conroy never once shines a specific light on his personal struggle and triumph over his own demons. He sets us up, but never pays us off.

Or maybe his evasion is the biggest hook of all. I’m sure Conroy’s computer is filled with stories and I plan to stay tuned, and you can catch up with The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

DEVOTION: a memoir by Dani Shapiro

If you’ve ever been in a class where the material was over your head, chances are you prefaced a question with, “This may be a stupid question, but…” And the teacher encouraged you by saying, “There are no stupid questions. There’s probably a lot of other students in the class wondering the same.”

In Devotion, Dani Shapiro has asked all the questions we have wondered about and been too afraid or embarrassed to voice, or explore. By sharing her quest for spiritual answers she opens the door for others to pick up their bravery and journey forth.

Devotion is a personal journey that resonates universally because it embraces a massive phenomenon—our society’s inability to be comfortable with our own thoughts.

I wasn’t hearing my own breath. I was always either stuck in the past, or obsessing about the future, while the present heaped its gifts on me, screaming for attention.

When silence knocks we run in fear of what we may find when we come face to face with what’s inside of us. 

Some powerful piece of my identity withered like an underused muscle.

As I accompanied Dani Shapiro on her journey each page was a wake up call for being present and I was grateful. Thankful that Devotion wasn’t a how to book on finding religion, or a step-by-step guide for developing faith. Shapiro offers no concrete answers.

The moment you say ‘I have got it’, you have lost everything you had…the moment you say ‘I am satisfied with that,’ that means stagnation has come. That is the end of your learning…let me do what I cannot do, not what I can do. —B.K.S. Iyengar

Shapiro’s willingness to live with the questions of faith reminds us that our questions are our fuel—they keep us alive and active. The quest outweighs the answers in importance because who we are, where we are going and what we need is always shifting. 

Moving through fear is its own leap of faith.

After reading both of Shapiro’s memoirs I am ready to leap anywhere she goes. She writes with a clear authenticity that is unmatchable. In Devotion, she jumps from one memorable moment to another, she’s all over her life. It could be chronologically confusing, but her investment in each event deepens our trust and we never doubt the end will provide illumination.

Those who have read In Slow Motion know that Shapiro’s backstory is not idyllic. Her references to the past in Devotion could’ve reeked of self-indulgent woe, but her attention to clarity allows the backstory in while keeping the present journey crisp and lively. Whether you look at the content of the memoir or the craft in her writing it’s impossible to miss the underlying theme of choices that runs through Shapiro’s life—another constant that resonates through all our lives, which we often spend too little time examining. Maybe it’s time to start asking the tough questions.

Choose Devotion.

SLOW MOTION: A Memoir of Life Rescued by Tragedy by Dani Shapiro

I encountered Dani Shapiro by leafing through a Kirpalu magazine. She wrote an article about the risks of the writing life.

There is only one reason to [write]: because you have to. Because a still, small voice inside of you is insisting that you have a story to tell. If you heed that voice, it will lead you to scary places, and to beautiful ones. It will show you yourself, and what matters to you. It will be your beacon and your mirror, your torture and your salvation. It owes you nothing, but it will teach you everything. 

I fell in lust with her for this. I’ve heard similar thoughts from Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron, but something in Shapiro’s voice resonated in a deeper way. Possibly because I’ve been on this writing journey for what feels like an eternity, and only at this moment, do I sense enough courage rising to jump into a ring of fire—one that will either purify and expose my true nature on the page, or snuff out the embers for the rest of my life.

The article in Kirpalu sent me to Dani Shapiro’s blog. Her posts are raw and insightful. I treasure them, like a child savors Halloween candy, reading only one entry a day. I’ve been doing so for over a month now. Soon I’ll come to the end of her archives, but I won’t experience sadness for I can reread. Her posts are so layered with truth and nuance, like Shakespeare, they will provide fuel for years to come. Whether she’s specifically examining writing or a moment in time, what she shares soothes my own frazzled nerve endings that cry for expression. She’s my means where by I reconnect with the page.

Her blog stimulated my itchy book-buying-finger. I placed all her books on my wish list, except for her first memoir: Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy arrived in the mail last week.

What is Voice? How does a writer find it? Develop it? If a writer’s voice is elusive to them and unrecognizable to others is there any point in writing on? These are the questions I’ve wrangled with over the last few years. They’ve ignited a nightmare that haunts every rewrite, and makes it impossible for me to quit. Dani Shapiro speaks of her own doubts and fears, but I’ll go to the mattresses with her if she says she ever struggled with voice.

Reading Slow Motion is like a child falling into a conversation with an imaginary friend—the transition is so effortless you can’t imagine living your life without her. Her writing is so personal, with every nugget of emotional and physical pain laid out on display, I want to crawl inside her body and wrap myself around her heart.

When I think of anything that’s ever harmed me—cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine, Lenny—they’ve all had one thing in common: revulsion, the nausea that I’ve had to fight past before I could take them in.

Shapiro’s willingness to expose the inner workings of her heart and mind make me realize what my own novel writing is missing—me!

Slow Motion centers around the family tragedy that forced Shapiro to shift her trajectory and become the writer she is today. But her story is much more, it’s a poem for life. Her words flow with tenderness and ebb with jagged reality. Her realizations and choices prompt us to place a magnifying glass up to ourselves and ask, Is this, in fact, how we want to live our lives? Is this not the mark of a powerful poet—someone who places the focus on what we have missed and urges us to stay present.

It was clear that I needed to wrestle my past to the ground. I needed to pin it in time, to capture it as if it were a wild animal that I could domesticate—or at least put behind bars.

Dani Shapiro wrote these words for an essay in the Los Angeles Times after her memoir came out. This passage reflects the action of the book better than I ever could. Each page shows a small conquest or defeat along her journey. The courage it took to endure what she did and share it with us is a testament to Shapiro’s devotion to her career as a writer, and an inspiration for all of us in the trenches.

Slow Motion: A Memoir of Life Rescued by Tragedy.


When 9/11 happened people were devastated, shocked, broken physically and emotionally from the loss of loved ones and jobs. But the general sentiment all around me was akin to Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. The consensus was that New Yorkers would move through the tragedy and come out stronger because Americans do not accept defeat.

After Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, people were devastated, shocked, broken physically and emotionally from the loss of loved ones, homes and jobs. As with 9/11, many people around the country and the world stepped up and leant a helping hand to New Orleans. But I was taken aback by the sentiment around me concerning this tragedy. Henry V must have been on vacation. Rallying the troops was replaced by skepticism, judgment, and lack of empathy. Here is what I heard: New Orleans will never bounce back. The destruction was too massive. What a stupid place to build a city—under sea level. Why go back when this sort of thing could happen again and again?

I wasn’t born in New Orleans, but I lived there for six years. It’s the city I call home. When I heard people putting New Orleans down, my gut reaction was to slap them upside the head until compassion and reason returned. Instead, I continued to work on my novel, set in New Orleans, with the hope of communicating the love I have for a city that is like no other. Many residents of New Orleans have written memoirs and documented the catastrophe that occurred on August 29, 2005, but I don’t believe anyone has done it better than Chris Rose.

 You’d have to be crazy to want to live here. You’d have to be plumb out of reasonable options elsewhere.Then again, I’ve discovered that the only thing worse than being in New Orleans these days is not being in New Orleans.

The love New Orleans residents have for their home, in my humble opinion, is greater than anywhere else in the States. I believe this to be true because how a person connects with New Orleans has nothing to do with reason. You Get the city on a visceral level. And Rose shares the Get factor with perfection.

1 Dead in Attic is a collection of the columns written by Rose for The Times-Picayune—the good the bad, the ugly, the anger and the hope that permeated the city—throughout the first sixteen months after the Storm.

The people you see here—and there are many that stayed behind—they never speak her name. She is the woman that done us wrong.

For those of you who didn’t live through The Thing, the book is a tell all that reads like a memoir. Rose’s observations of what transpired, politically, culturally and personally are acute with a black humor edge.

You know how you can feel around here, walking the afternoon streets in the thick of the summer—you feel like the walking dead, only the walking dead don’t have any worries and aren’t waiting for a call back from Entergy, Allstate and FEMA.

Chris Rose is a jazz cowboy determined to lasso readers—from The Great Elsewhere—and hold them hostage until they get with the program and understand that New Orleans is an essential ingredient for the wellbeing of the world.

 We are the music. We are the food. We are the dance. We are the tolerance. We are the spirit. And one day they’ll get it. As a woman named Judy Deck emailed…If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom. 

Other than Hell or High Water by Joy Castro, no other book as ever made me so homesick. Rose places his heart and conscience on every page. His honesty about the shattered mess the city was left in, the anger and violence that rose out of it, while little things like a working traffic light infused hope, and his own spiral into depression shake the roots of the readers souls until we want to cheer for everyone who stayed and came back to the community that for a long time was…

…held together with duct tape and delusion. 

There is no soft-spin on any topic. Rose exposes the crispy edges, the fear and the sorrow. But in the end he is the voice of hope, which is the true spirit of New Orleans.

We’re Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain. We’re trapped in an Escher print, walking down steps that actually lead up, down straight paths that lead us full circle…

But don’t pity us. We’re gonna make it. We’re resilient. After all we’ve been rooting for the Saints for thirty-five years. That’s got to count for something. 

1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina will make you cry, laugh and book a ticket to New Orleans. Thank you, Chris Rose.

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

I believe in signs just like Mos Def’s character in 16 Blocks. The Universe sends signs to guide us from the time we are born. We miss out on a lot of signs when we’re young because we’re busy screaming for attention, or struggling against the flow of life. But once we reach a certain age, which is different for everyone, the signs offered to us are unavoidable. The ones we need the most are the ones we listen to because they fall on our heads like Chicken Little’s sky. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird cracked open my skull.

I was loading my tote with essentials for a two-hour train trip to New York City: cell, money, gloss, lotion, pens, paper, highlighters and books. I finished In One Person the night before so I snatched up Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs from one of my TBR piles and Bird by Bird fell out of another. I bought Lamott’s book on writing three years ago and never even took a gander. So why did it fall? The time was ripe.

I opened Bird by Bird as the train rolled out of the station. By the time I returned home, in the early hours of the next morning, I felt less alone, more grounded in purpose and eager to tackle the next phase of rewrites on my WIP.

Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.

We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

Nuggets like these remind us to trust ourselves. We are all uniquely formed with a specific point of view that needs to be shared. The passions that connect us with other people in the flesh do not need to be hidden on the page. Our passions need to be plumbed. When we dig deep enough what we write will find its audience.

Anne Lamott recognizes our need to acknowledge who we are, encourages us to share our truth and gives those of us who need it, permission to take all the time we need to grow into ourselves and find our voice.

Bird by Bird is one of the best gifts I have ever given to myself. Not reading it for three years is the bonus. A month ago I reread the latest draft of my WIP. While the second half holds promise, the opening needs a funeral. As an acting coach and an Alexander teacher, I remind my students that the end of one thing is the beginning of the next. Trusting this natural segue eliminates false starts, forced emotions and leads to a natural, vulnerable truth. I know this and yet, the thought of beginning my novel again, made me wonder if a lobotomy might be a better choice at this juncture in time.

Then Bird by Bird fell out of my TBR pile.

If you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they are not.

Is there any better way to say, “kill your darlings to make way for the truth”? Thanks Anne Lamott. Thank you for inspiring the writer in all of us.

Unleash your passion with Bird by Bird.

ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned writer this memoir was written for you.

In an age when the publishing market changes on a daily basis, it’s easy to get sidetracked by social media networks and blindsided by craft books that promise to enhance everything from your understanding of plot to honing the ever important logline.

A writer can have a meltdown just trying to determine which blogs or books will best serve him. And if, like me, your journey to publication has yet to reach fruition, you may often feel bogged down by the weight of finishing the manuscript—especially when you’ve moved beyond the first few drafts. If either of these states drag you into despair save yourself with a shot of Stephen King’s On Writing.

It’s a no-nonsense book filled with humor, heart, honesty and the best writing advice around. From honoring The Element’s of Style’s rule, “Omit needless words,” to King’s own mantra, “Write a lot and read a lot,” we learn how this prolific writer evolved and still thrives through his love of story.

King’s passion for writing is undeniable and contagious. I’d wager On Writing has sparked more writers to return to the page than any other craft book.

You can enjoy it in print where you can highlight and take notes, or you can listen to King’s narration of the audio version. I’ve done both and will continue to do so because there is nothing better than a good story.

Write On and Write Strong with On Writing.

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