Let’s Take the Long Way Home

I just finished Gail Caldwell’s memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home(Random House, 2010). It is a book about two friends, and one of the friends dies, and it is sad. I didn’t spoil anything, the death is mentioned on the first page.

Both women are writers. Both women are addicted to alcohol but are sober. Both are obsessed with their dogs. Both are introverts. The one who died, Caroline Knapp, is the author of a memoir titled, Drinking: A Love Story. Now I suppose I have to go read that one as well! I’m always intrigued by stories of people who manage to triumph over addiction.

Above all, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is about female friendship. It’s about finding a friend you have everything in common with. And it’s also about unexpectedly losing her.

I read the book in less than 24 hours. It made me miss the intimacy of close female friendships. The kind where you call each other every day and know everything about each other. At this stage in my life I don’t have time for it. I love my friends but there’s not one of them I have the energy to talk to every day, nor them me. E-mail helps.

But I miss it. I didn’t realize how special it was when I had it. When I was single and unencumbered by the dude or the cute people.

This book reminded me how precious friendships are. And how precarious life is.

And yes, how totally healing it is to have a dog. I knew that, but it was nice to be reminded.

I can’t recommend Let’s Take the Long Way Home enough. It’s sad, but also life-affirming. Friendship affirming.

I loved it.

Dancing at the Shame Prom

I loved Dancing at the Shame Prom so much I couldn’t help but ask co-editors and contributors (both have chill inducing essays in the book) Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris some questions regarding how it came about and where they are going next. Hope you enjoy this interview, with Hollye’s responses first:

How did the book come about? What was the aha moment?

We wanted a title that was provocative, but not obvious. One that would make people stop and think. In a way, life is very much like prom night. When you’re young, you have these preconceived notions of how perfect and tidy it will all be. You envision yourself in the perfect dress, with the perfect date, like Cinderella at the ball. But then the actual prom happens and you can’t zip your dress because of the ten pounds hormones just gifted you with, you have a zit in the middle of your forehead, your date ditches you for the prom queen and you end up hitchhiking home, your boyfriend decides to confess to you that he’s gay, or maybe you confess to your boyfriend that you’re gay, you lose your virginity in the backseat of a car and it’s nothing like you imagined, you get your period at the dance, fill in the blank. The prom, like life, doesn’t live up to our fairytale projections, but … we’re here- so let’s dance!

Where did the book title come from?

Amy, wonderful whimsical mind that she is, just blurted out in conversation one day, “I feel like I’m at the shame prom!” We nabbed it for the title, then added the verb “Dancing” so people could see that this was not some maudlin book about wallowing in shame. This was celebratory.

How many submissions did you receive? Were writers just bursting forth to share, or was it pulling teeth to get people to submit such personal stories?

We invited over 30 women to write for us- they all said yes. Then came the very hard part of writing it. We lost a few engines there. Those who did write endured us prying, questioning, and pushing them to go deeper. Some got irritated with us (understandably). Some cried. Some threatened to quit. All wrote brilliant, raw, courageous essays that were worth every tear.

I think there is such value in releasing shame (and did so in my memoir), but it circles around and bites me in the butt often enough. Do you think we are ever fully healed, free of it once and for all?

I think healing is a lifetime process, like a spiral that grows smaller as we circle around.

Is there any value in shame? Might some in our society do well to have a little of it? Think….much of reality TV.

Shame, like fear or pain, has a message for us. It tells us, this is not right for you. If we take heed and act on the shame we are feeling, we will not suffer. If we bury it, and then drag that baggage around all our lives, shame leads to self-loathing, which will have us acting out in a myriad of self-destructive ways.

Do you think that as a society we are moving toward less secrets, less shame?

Good God- I hope so!

What’s next for each of you? Will there be a volume II?

This book is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long-lived movement. Amy and I teach workshops, “Righting your life through writing your life”.  In October we’ll be teaching in Woodstock, New York. In 2013, we’ll be in San Miguel, Mexico and Costa Rica, hoping to spread our message around the globe.

We will continue this conversation about shame by interviewing men, getting their voice in the mix, and who knows…maybe a volume two.

And from Amy Ferris:

Hollye & I jumped off this amazing cliff together. We did. We held hands, and jumped… and in the ‘jumping off’ process, we invited many women – many friends – to join us. Most said yes. Many said yes … and some said yes, and then decided – after all – they didn’t want to jump.

It was too scary.

I completely and utterly understood their fear (the ones who couldn’t) only after having read all the essays.
I have layers of shame.
Layers upon layers.
Upon layers.
In (co) editing this book with Hollye, so much shame came up/manifested for me.
In re-reading the book, so much shame came up/manifested for me.
In hearing snippets … so much shame came up/manifested for me.

I hope, more than anything, that our lives – every single bit – give others hope and confidence and the sheer, absolute power to say, “I AM ABSOLUTELY, IRREFUTABLY… INVALUABLE.”

Thank you ladies! I am excited about the possibility of a book on shame from the point of view of men. I am so glad you made Dancing at the Shame Prom happen. This is a good, good thing you are doing and I wish you so much success.

Quote at the top from Monica Holloway. Her Shame Prom essay about infidelity was amazingly honest. My friend Jenny Rough also contributed a gorgeous essay about her journey with infertility and her ambivalence about adoption. Every story in the book was beautiful and heartfelt. The editors did a great job. There were no weak links.

May reading Dancing at the Shame Prom be the impetus for many to release their own shame.

Dancing at the Shame Prom

I just finished Dancing at the Shame Prom and I am feeling such a deep sense of gratitude for the women who brought this book to life and for those who contributed to it. I feel like the book is going to be the impetus for the healing of many. It’s as if there’s this outside persona we are all strutting around with, and then peel back a layer, not even a very deep layer, and there it is. Everyone is blanketed in shame.

This book shines a light on it, making the monster that lurks in each of us less scary.

Dancing at the Shame Prom covers eating disorders, childhood neglect, regret, hoarding, abuse, addiction, infertility, infidelity, family secrets, fear of not being a good enough parent, racial issues and more. But this book is in no way a downer. In the telling of the stories, there is a release that happens for the reader. A realization that we are all carrying so much, and an invitation to lay our own burden of shame down. Reading Dancing at the Shame Prom gives us an opportunity to look at each of our fellow humans with more gentle eyes.

Shame. Think about how it feels in the body. For me, it is hot. Contracted. It shuts me down. When I feel shame, I feel unworthy of love. Less than. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to hide.

What if instead of hiding our shame, we fessed up to it like the brave writers in this book? What if we set it free? Much of the shame we carry isn’t even our own. It’s been passed down for generations. What if we consciously made a decision to end the cycle and stop allowing shame to rule us. And then, what if we stop blaming and shaming the people in our own lives?

Dancing at the Shame Prom is released today. I am going to write a couple more posts about this book in the near future. The topic of releasing shame is so important! It’s the reason I wrote Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar. To release my own shame and in doing so, I hoped to help others release some of their own.

I hope you read Dancing at the Shame Prom. I hope you look at whatever shame you are carrying, take a deep breath, and give yourself permission to let it go. ‘Cause perfect child of God? You really ain’t so bad.

The Golden Hat

I simply couldn’t conceive of how devastating it would be not to be able to hear my childrens’ voices. Not to be able to communicate with one’s children, to hear them learn, grow, and express themselves verbally.

– Kate Winslet





When Simon & Schuster contacted me to ask if I would review The Golden Hat, I said yes, immediately. The book is Kate Winslet’s baby. The profits will go to support those with autism. I love Kate Winslet. I think she is one of the finest actors of our time. She does not have a child affected with autism, but became close to one while doing the voice over for a documentary called, A Mother’s Courage, aka The Sunshine Boy. As her friendship with Margaret, (the mother of a child with autism and the woman who made the film) progressed, an amazing thing happened. Margaret’s ten year old son Keli, who was non-verbal and profoundly affected by autism began to speak on an augmentative communication device. His first words,

I am real.

He was in there. He was aware. He was listening to everything. A physician had told the family to assume he had the cognition of a toddler. That doctor was dead wrong.

At ten years old, this mother finally “met” her child.

It also turned out that many other things they assumed about Keli were wrong. His preferences, his interests. All wrong. And guess what? He’s a poet. One of his poems is titled The Golden Hat, thus the title of the book and the foundation they have formed to help secure communities for those with autism to live in when they mature into adulthood. Any parent with a child on the spectrum has that nagging fear…what will become of my child after I am gone? The Golden Hat Foundation is working on that.

Kate Winslet schmoozed a whole bunch of celebrities into taking self-portraits with her own fedora in the shot. And that hat got around! Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Daniel Radcliff, Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Leonardo DiCaprio (of course), Rosie, Christina Aguilera, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Gwenyth Paltrow, Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman….this list is seriously just skimming the surface. There are so many celebrities in this book. She even got Steven Spielberg to take a shot of himself in the hat!  What’s great about the photos is they are not fancied up. They are taken with Kate’s digital camera. Accompanying the photos are quotes from the celebrities. They were asked to think about being trapped inside a body, unable to speak, what would they be wanting to say?

Some of the celebs clearly didn’t understand the assignment, their quotes don’t make sense. A couple didn’t offer a quote (Angelina), but most of them did. Many of the celebs used the hat to hide behind. I thought that was interesting.

When the book came in the mail it felt like a present, which I guess it was. I didn’t have to pay for it. It’s a gorgeous coffee table type book.  I sat out on the deck with a nice glass of lemon water. There was a balmy breeze as it’s been an unseasonably warm March. I let my own kids play on their iPods and spent the afternoon pouring over the stories and the photos and Keli’s poems and I couldn’t help but think of my mama friends whose kids are non-verbal. Betsy, Kathi, Jeneil, Kim, and so many others. All with different takes on autism. All with different ways of coping. All with so much love for their kids.

I closed my eyes and just sat there, holding all parents who are on this road in my heart.

Real familes. Real mothers. Real children, just like Keli.

They are real. 

I am Intelligent from Amothers courage on Vimeo.

*Proceeds from the book support The Golden Hat Foundation. I was not paid to write this review but as noted in my post, I did receive a free copy of the book.

Sunburned Faces, Part 1

Some of you who read this blog, probably read Jeneil Russell’s blog too. She writes beautifully of family life, autism, and faith, always faith. And she has this way of making you fall in love with whomever she loves. Her daughters Rhema and Hope. Her twin sister. Her husband. God.

Recently, Jeneil’s husband Brandon hi-jacked her blog and told her readers about a little booky she wrote a few years back called Sunburned Faces. Jeneil had never mentioned it on her blog! It is about a stint she served in Ethiopia, working as a volunteer in a medical clinic when she was barely twenty.

Jeneil is the rare writer who can whole heartedly, and steadfastly proclaim her faith, while never making anyone else feel wrong or threatened. She just knows what she knows. I subscribe to the now cliche’ “spiritual but not religious” notion, and I never feel judged or cast aside by Jeneil for not believing exactly as she does.

Sunburned Faces is amazing. First of all, she was twenty when she was writing it, and it is so well written! Secondly, she’s seen things most of us will never, ever see. I learned so much about that part of the world, just by Jeneil’s tiny peek into it. Also, because Jeneil wrote it, I fell in love with the characters in her book. One of them will be with me forever. I just know it. I do not say that lightly.

I read Sunburned Faces just before Christmas, and it was powerful to do so at that time. We have so much. We do. Many people in the world have so little. It was good to be reminded, to be mindful of our blessings. In the holiday rush, I’d have a little thought, “I wonder if we should have gotten the kids….this or that, or whatever,” and remember they lack for nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I’ll be doing a Q & A with Jeneil one day soon here.

If you are not familiar with her already, do check out her beautiful blog. And if you want a good read that will make you appreciate your own life more, order a copy of Sunburned Faces.

White Elephants

Great review for Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar at Chynna Laird’s White Elephants blog! I thought writing a memoir would bring up a lot of stuff, and it did, but releasing it has excavated more layers and levels of insecurity in me than I ever knew I had. As I continue to work through it all, it’s nice to receive a positive review from someone I don’t know.

Chynna’s White Elephants blog covers lots of well, “white elephant” issues. She also has a child with sensory processing issues and writes about that journey here. I appreciate that she took the time to read and review my book, and I look forward to reading more of her work.