The Healing, Indeed

March 21, 2012

“Polly Shine comes on the plantation not only to heal the body, but to heal the soul.”  -Jonathan Odell on the beautiful heroine of his recently released novel, The Healing.

The above quote from Jon’s interview this morning with MPR’s Kerri Miller.

Several years ago I read The View from Delphi by Jonathan Odell, an author who grew up in Mississippi and eventually found his home in Minneapolis, something we have in common.  Elements of that novel were deeply familiar to me and I longed to connect with its writer.  Two years later, I finally hunted him down at The Loft Literary Center.  Being the gracious Southern gentleman he is, he later joined me for coffee and we shared the satisfaction that Mississippians crave in their own special way – connection by abject friendliness and the telling of stories.

That day over coffee was the beginning of a friendship and a continuation of stories I longed to hear, stories of growing up in a place full of both great beauty, terrifying cruelty and the complex continuum between the two.  I found the person I KNEW must have written that novel – a man of huge heart, filled with a zest for life and curiosity of the human spirit, lifted to the light by compassion.

Now as I read his current novel, The Healing, it is no surprise that the characters are rich and strong and complicated.  But what sets apart this novel from everything from The Help to To Kill a Mockingbird, is its complete absence of the very thing it is about – black and white.  Its shades of grey are an old and dense photograph of the flora and fauna that is the garden of mindsets necessary to perpetuate oppression, corrected only by those wise and brave enough to tell the truth.

Bias is an American story of racism, a human story of ignorance and selfishness.  The better we understand the ills of our nature, the less likely we are to continue our past sins.  This novel is required reading for the degree of Doing Better, for the hope of that very Healing.    The MPR interview alone corrected a story I heard throughout my childhood, the Cinderella-like success of Leontyne Price.

Congratulations Jon on the beginning of what I am sure will be a smashing success.


March 18, 2012

Regected Riter

The day I graduated from High School was the happiest day of my life, because though I was a nerd, I was a nerd of words.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, that’s not toast I’m surrounded by, it’s poorly drawn books.  The color’s in squiggles because it’s the past.

ANYway, it was the happiest day because though I was a wordnerd, I was not a test nerd and though I could write a killer essay, I sucked at taking tests.  Especially in math.  Or science.  Or SATs.  Or multiple fill in the blank choices.  And when I graduated High School I realized


But um, wait, AG, what about college?! I can hear you say.  Didn’t you have a post where you claim to have an MFA in Theater?

I do have an MFA.  And I did go to college.

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The F Word

March 11, 2012

My daughter is especially self conscious about her body, very picky and specific about the parts she doesn’t like. She’s 6.  Given her tendency I knew this day would come and it would suck.


One of her favorite buddies called her “fat”.  She is not fat, but believes she is. When she finally told me what had her so upset, she collapsed in my arms and sobbed.  And sobbed.  I wanted to sob, too.

I remember being called ugly when I was her same age. I remember being certain it was true.  For years.

Since the day I became a mother of girls, I knew I had a lot to learn about putting them on the path to a good self-image.  How could I train them to be resilient in this world where looks matter and where meanness is common, especially in youth?

Many of us have an idea of the worst version of ourselves.  At any age, another person finding that same conclusion is painful.   The notion that such a conclusion could hold truth is … defeating.

That day my daughter and I had a long and teary conversation.  I was stunned at how well she articulated what bothered her and how she felt.  Nothing got fixed.  We only shared the pain of being judged by others, and acknowledged that it was a part of life with which we all must deal.  In that moment I knew she had what it takes to figure out this hard but certain part of life.

Since then I have wondered, and worried, how she was going to find her way and how I could help.

Two days later I was to attend an event with my sweet friend Mary, one that required dusting off a pretty dress.  I had one all picked out, conservative but flattering.  There was this other dress in the closet, same color, but more…form fitting.  But no, too fitted, not appropriate… nah.  It is the only off the rack dress in existence that was made for my peculiar figure, but…nah.

As my conversation with my daughter from Thursday lingered, I thought of something I have known for some time to be true.  The only time my kids do what I want them to do is when I set an example.  Ask any parent, one of the most humbling experiences of parenthood is seeing your child copy your behavior.

I can’t teach my children how to feel good about themselves.  I can only practice it.  As I approach 40, I have the gift of knowing myself well, bad and good, and finding the comfort in my own skin.

So I said, Fuck It.

I cranked up Pink on the iPad, slapped on that tight dress and got more in touch with big hair and makeup than I had ever before outside the state of Mississippi.  And I danced the night away with a room full of people I didn’t know and a fantastic band complete with saxophones.  I had a grand time.

Dear daughters and dear son, happiness doesn’t lie in a tight dress or heavy makeup.  Happiness lies in doing what brings you joy regardless of the opinions of others.  Happiness lies in being true to yourself.

Bringing Up Bebe

March 4, 2012

ImageBehold the next big thing in parenting, Bringing Up Bebe:One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman.

The only review I read before laying my hands on a copy was by a woman who seemed opposed to the premise at first glance.  And while the reviewer makes many valid points, they were hard to hear over the defensive and smug tone of her piece, which some might say is très Américain.

No one culture or group has the corner on good parenting.  If one did, there would not be such a wide variety of styles among best-selling parenting books.  But you don’t have to look hard to find anecdotal evidence of permissiveness, fueled by an uncertainty of knowing the right way to raise a child.  The reason this book is flying off the shelves is many of us are unsure of how to handle our children.  Otherwise we wouldn’t bother reading it or the many before it.

My own upbringing was very close to what Druckerman admires among the French.  I greatly benefited from unprecedented freedom surrounded by firm boundaries – both a reflection of my parents’ confidence in me.  I fully intended to do the same for my children.  But in the simmering stew of exhaustion, insecurity and the clamor of varied ideologies, I lost my way. Recently, a talented friend of mine interpreted perfectly my state in the image at left.

By nature of divorce and resolving my own difficulties as a parent, I have found my way to a more mature interpretation of my own upbringing, slowly more certain in my philosophy of life and parenting.  It just so happens that this book says it better and applies it more broadly than I have to date.  Just in the course of reading it, I feel more relaxed as a parent.

For all the comparisons of ideas and tactics, the biggest difference this book highlights is the confidence level of women in France versus America and our collective responses to guilt, detailed in the chapter “The Perfect Mother Doesn’t Exist”.  I don’t know how accurate this author’s account is, but I would love for my children to grow up in a society where women revere self-care and manage guilt with the rational understanding of humanity’s limitations.

This is worth a read for any parent.  There is no downside to exploring another culture.  We just all need to put a check on our inclination to put any one of them on a pedestal.

**Special thanks to Paula Castleberry for permission to use Haggard Mother of 3.  You can “like” her work on facebook or peruse her merchandise on CafePress.**