Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘memoir’

I Used To Cry

Mulatto: Daughter of America by Florencia LaChance.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61I3yFhCTTLOur oldest daughter moved in to our foster home when she was fourteen, and like Florencia, became emancipated at sixteen. She survived a similar childhood as Ms. LaChance, with her biological family. Working through years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, is not easy for anyone, at anytime. In Mulatto: Daughter of Americathe author describes one terrible instant after another. With self-determination, and the help of others, she makes it to college, motherhood, and a successful career.

Florencia’s worst, ongoing perpetrator, was her step-father Jim. He beat her, sexually assaulted her, and demeaned her in every way possible. To top it off, she was growing up in Maine, where people of color are rare and far in-between. “So many kids against me. I used to cry. Run and cry. It was too much – the abuse at home and then coming to cruelty at school. I was always, in Maine, the ONLY black person in any school or town I ever went to. In the whole school!” Shame and not belonging became deeply ingrained in her psych.

Along her journey, Florencia gets support and care from her older brother, Joey, and from different friends and mentors, including: Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Royal, Danielle Hardigan, Melody, and the Goodmans. She becomes a ward of the state, and is cycled through various foster homes for two and a half years. When she finally gets to Boston College, against all odds, she is confronted with how to make a living, raise her son Joshua, and simultaneously go to school – exhausting in and of itself.

Mulatto: Daughter of America is sadly a story that still takes place throughout our country. Abuse (in all forms) is pervasive. Though we think we’ve come a long way, by talking about it and confronting it publicly, it continues to fester in homes everywhere. Like our daughter, who went to University of California, Berkeley, and now has two children, Florencia LaChance is an accomplished technical grant writer and project manager, with insight into her childhood, and the ability to write about it for others.

Keeping Your Nose Clean

The Golden Fleece: The Diary of a Scientology Warrior by Michael Priv. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

FINAL_THEGOLDENFLEECE_6x9_front_for_web_JPGDon’t runaway from this book because of the word “Scientology” in the title. It is not only the best personal, and in depth, view inside the world of Dianetics, as developed by L. Ron Hubbard, but also an exciting and insightful fast-paced memoir that reads like fiction. Though The Golden Fleece is written, as lived, by Mr. Priv, it feels as if one is reading a religious, self-help, political thriller. The author is a skilled storyteller and writer. He writes how people think, and talk, and is good at pacing.

Whether events happened exactly as portrayed, or not, becomes secondary to being caught up in the story. After escaping from being essentially imprisoned by Scientologists, upon his return from Russia, Michael calls his parents. His mother says, “Never mind that, you scoundrel! Are you in any danger? Are those Scientology bastards chasing after you?” Michael replies, “Bastards? Mom, listen, there is Scientology, which is good, and there is a Church of Scientology, which is… Never mind. I’m all right, I’m at a liquor store in LA. They won’t find me here.”

Michael Priv describes himself honestly in the beginning of the book. In short, he was a real asshole. As he gets taken into Scientology, and finds that it actually works for both himself, and others, some of the edge to his style gets rubbed off. Their remains an active, can-do, individual throughout, who at times reminds me of the lead character in The Bourne Identity films (minus killing people). This is especially true during his time in Russia, and his interactions with the KGB, Russian mafia, Scientology organization, and Russian government crap.

After explaining the benefits, and the downfall of Scientology, the author explains why he stayed in the elite part of the organization for 18 years, and why living an ethical, clear, honest life makes all the difference. “So, is it at all important to keep your nose clean, even if nobody is watching? You bet your sweet bahookie. But only if you want to soar among the stars and be happy. Otherwise, you can always find an excuse for any transgression you can ever imagine. We are smart. We can explain away anything we want and then some. After all, this is the alley-cat world and we are only human, right?”

The Golden Fleece: The Diary of a Scientology Warrior goes far beyond what one might think it is. In fact, the title acutely portrays a good portion of what Mr. Priv lived through for 18 years of his life, as a “Scientologist Warrior”. There are excellent explanations of the terminology used in Scientology, and the organizational structure which it deploys around the world. It isn’t all good, or all bad. Their “Components of Understanding” are relevant, and similar to some other belief systems, with Affinity, Reality (agreement) and Communication (ARC), being the key. This is a good book, written by an insightful and very smart writer, who is in a continual process of being a good man.

For All To See

Eating From The Cherry Tree: A Memoir of Sexual Epiphany by Vivien Ella Walden. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

513GeUVKRDLVivien Walden has been inundated with sex throughout her life – both for business and pleasure. It is her curiosity, experience, understanding and insight of such, that make this memoir come to life. Eating From The Cherry Tree delves deeply into sexuality, and looks closely at Ms. Walden’s family history, childhood, the times she has lived in (late fifties through the present), and the legal, cultural and environmental circles within which she has moved and been influenced by.

Yes, there are many descriptions of all kinds of sex imaginable (or not) within these pages, and… it is accompanied by astute psychological, and emotional awareness. There is a big difference between labeling someone by their profession, and getting to know them as a human being.

“Being a stripper, call girl, hooker, or madam, you have to know how to dance to the music, be a good actress, stand up to the toughest deal with the law, and paint your own picture for all to see.” Thus, a young Jewish girl from Salford, England learns from mentors, friends, and colleagues, how to get what she desires, make a living doing so, and travels far and wide to both entertain and find self-fulfillment. Though I’ve never experienced most of what the author speaks of, her descriptions are presented so realistically, that readers’ may feel as if they are in the room (or wherever the event is occurring), taking notes or personally involved. It can be quite visceral.

What surprised me most about this well-written memoir is the depth of emotion, caring, and connection that the author has, not only for friends, partners, and colleagues, but also for her clients. She has worked as an actress, stripper, hostess, call girl, and madam. In all her endeavors, she strives to do her best to provide release and comfort for those she serves, and support those that work with her. In the process, she also attained a sense of control and security. “I always regarded myself as more of a burlesque dancer than a stripper, although the element of ‘tease’ is key. It is the act of combining direct eye contact and body language to convey sexiness to the audience. In any event, taking my clothes off didn’t give me a feeling of power, charming the audience did.”

Eating From The Cherry Tree explores our needs, fantasies, and desires. What Ms. Walden has come to understand, and conveys so beautifully, is that most everyone wishes to be loved, touched, wanted, and affirmed for who they are. This is most evident in her personal relationships (with husband Billy, and other boyfriends, girlfriends, and co-workers), and when she experiences a life-threatening medical emergency and a car accident. There are times when she describes sex as purely a physical transaction; other times that are for her own pleasure, and many occasions when the two have coincided. Thus, this book (and the author) not only have an abundance of sex, but also an abundance of heart. Her profession is undoubtably one of entertainment and acting, but there is also a big dose of kindness and insight for good measure.

 

Your Son Can’t Hear

61Q3NRycOJLA Mother’s Heart: Memoir of a Special Needs Parent by Eichin Chang-Lim. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A clear-sighted, perfectly weighted memoir with balance of experience, insight, and observation. A Mother’s Heart doesn’t stray into un-associated material, and stays right on track, as Ms. Chang-Lim explores what it was like raising their son, Teddy, who is severely hearing-impaired. From his first days as a baby, up through the present (with Teddy now in his 20s), the author conveys the joys, frustrations, and what she has learned being the parent to her son, and her daughter (Victoria).

Upon hearing that her son couldn’t hear, the author writes, “Although the diagnoses was not a surprise, I was still sad and angry. I was angry that the whole universe did not show a shred of remorse for my son’s deafness. I was angry that my husband seemed so calm and in control. I was angry that I blamed myself for my son’s disability.” What she discovers is that her son’s hearing loss was a result of a disease called Waaredenberg Syndrome, though didn’t help much knowing when it came to his educational and social adjustments.

Most everything a parent of a hearing-impaired, or deaf, child needs to know, is either discussed, or mentioned in these pages. Chapter include headings such as, It’s Okay to Cry; A Support System Is Crucial; Early Intervention; Spouse Communication; Motherhood vs. Career; and Choosing the Right Special Education Placement. None of these issues are over-dramatized, or indulged in, nor are they skimmed or minimized. There is just the right amount of honesty, information, and personal frustration shared for readers to easily relate.

Each chapter begins with a perfect quote, such as E.M. Foster’s, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, to have the life that is waiting for us.” Ms. Chang-Lim didn’t plan on having to confront the realities of having a hearing-impaired child, but she has done so with grit and grace. An especially helpful portion is a segment her daughter writes about growing up with her brother Teddy, and how the attention he got effected her, and their relationship as siblings. Whether you have s child with special needs, or not, A Mother’s Heart speaks volumes for mothers and fathers everywhere.

Stars Rising and Falling

51KWV913P1LMy Stars Are Still Shining: A Memoir by Amina Warsuma.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Amina Warsuma has experienced abandonment, bullying, abuse, jealousy, drugs, rape, destitution, wealth, celebrity, insight, care and compassion in her life, so far. In My Stars Are Still Shining she shares these childhood, adolescent and adult events, reactions, and consequences with complete honesty and understanding. Nobody is vilified, or perfect, including herself. I found her life to be both fascinating, and instructive.

The story begins with the background of the two women who had the most influence on Amina – Miss June and Miss Billie. She describes there lives growing up in Mobile, Alabama, how they ended up in New York, and how they came into Amina’s life. She shares there relationships, families, ups and downs, and personalities. Once that foundation is set, she takes the reader into her confidence and explores her own beginning years, and the mother (Virginia) who was so often absent.

“We were at Miss June’s no more than 10 minutes when my mother said, ‘I’m going to the store. I’ll be right back.’ She exited Miss June’s apartment and day after day, Miss June and I waited for her to return. A week passed and my mother was nowhere to be seen. My mother disappeared for 5 years.” Similar occurrences took place throughout Amina’s life, including moving from one house to another throughout New York City.

This is a fascinating book. It is part historical (about the South in the last century, and New York City and Harlem in the 40s, 50s, and 60s); part autobiographical (as the author grows up and comes into her own); and part biography (about Michael Jackson, and her longtime friendship with him and his family). Amina has endured many things, and flourished as a model, writer, actress, producer, and dancer. She reveals herself with both objectivity, insight and emotion. Don’t hesitate to get a copy of My Stars Are Still Shining.

Review of Teaching the Cat to Sit

9781451697292‘Teaching the Cat to Sit’ by Michelle Theall
Reviewed by Sara Rauch
21 May, 2014 Lambda Literary

Michelle Theall’s new memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, brings some big topics—God, sexuality, abuse, loneliness, love, family—to the page. It’s a rocky ride, full of contentious conversations, frank disclosures, and plenty of struggle.

Teaching the Cat to Sit presents two interwoven narratives: first, adult Michelle’s struggle to get her adopted son baptized in the Catholic Church, her decision to pull him from the Catholic school he attends, and the ongoing battle to win her mother and father’s acceptance. The second narrative begins with Michelle’s youth—a journey that leads her through abuse, her grasping to understand her sexuality, a brush with a pedophile priest, her first relationship with another woman in college, her attempts to “turn straight,” her coming out, her leaving her home state, and the healing process that eventually leads her to her life partner. A lot happens in this book—and Theall moves through the circumstances of her life with remarkable dexterity.

Theall writes with compelling honesty about loneliness—in fact, the title of the book comes from a line she overhears her father say to her mother on that topic—and the feeling she so plainly articulates has real resonance. And while her loneliness hobbles and confuses her as a young adult, her ability to be alone is ultimately what heals her.

God plays a big role in Teaching the Cat to Sit. And this isn’t just any God; this is the Catholic God—not exactly touchy-feely, not exactly a paragon of acceptance. And those with major chips on their shoulder in regards to the Catholic Church and its treatment of gays may balk at some of what Theall says. But ultimately, Theall’s grappling with the God of her youth deconstructs a very real barrier between public and private. God is, on one hand, such a personal choice, and worship, while often done in public, is arguably one of the most private acts we humans do. For Theall, having been forced to keep secrets for most of her life—to protect herself, to gain her family’s love—privacy has too long meant silence. And the breaking of a silence she is no longer willing to bear becomes the ultimate act of bravery, one that threatens to crack the delicate acceptance she’s gained from her family.

There are moments when I wanted Theall to slow down, to let me in and show me a little more of her internal struggle—but a book of this scope, covering as much ground as it does, can make that sustained interiority difficult. Some of the moments Theall presents, especially her encounters with wildlife, allow us a telling window into her state of mind—those moments of understanding, of transformation and acceptance, are very powerful.

Read entire review and more at: LAMBDA LITERARY

I Like Writing About Sex

Donna Minkowitz: Growing Up and Writing It All Down
Posted on 15. Dec, 2013 by Sarah Burghauser
From Lambda Literary

Donna-MinkowitzThis past October, former Village Voice contributor and activist journalist Donna Minkowitz released her hot-blooded new memoir, Growing Up Golem (Magnus), about her struggle with the inhibitive physical condition RSI, her injurious family history, and the intimacy of abuse.

In an email exchange with the Lambda Literary award winner, Donna discussed the roles of fantasy, identity, and writing sex in Growing Up Golem.

I’d like to start with a quote from your book: “I have never felt particularly Jewish or lesbian. I identify much more, I say, as a sort of sexy, holy kid on a motorcycle. The kid may be male. He’s an effeminate boy with long hair. I think he has pork remnants on his fingers.”

When I read these lines I began to wonder if you consider your book to be more of a queer memoir? A Jewish memoir? A disability memoir? Or something else entirely? In other words, is there a particular part of your story that you see as the northern star? A theme more naturally fertile or interesting to you as a writer?

The reader should bear in mind that I’m saying these words at a very particular moment in the book; this is not always how I feel. (In the book, I’m saying those words as a member of a panel on “Jewish Lesbian Writers,” and of course I immediately feel the ways I don’t fit in that box.) Actually, I find I’m feeling both more “Jewish” (in terms of culture, not religion) and more “lesbian” as I get older. As to the rest of your question, the book is all of them and more! It’s also a memoir mixed with Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s impossible to separate the different aspects of it, just as it would be impossible to separate me into the queer Donna, the working-class Donna, the fantasy geek Donna and so on. Which is appropriate, because it’s a book about becoming whole.

When you read your book now, do you still see the Donna Minkowitz in the book as yourself or as a character? How much distance do you have now, or did you have during the writing process, from the “protagonist”?

Someone said about memoir, the writer must know more than the narrator, and the narrator must know more than the character. So there are really three Donnas here, the writer, the narrator (the voice telling the story), and the character (the person described as going through the events in the story).

I needed to have a great deal of distance during the writing process, because I think the whole point of doing a memoir is to really observe yourself and attempt to write about yourself with some insight. That’s only possible if you try to step away and really look at the things you do.

But of course, it’s also me. The Donna in the book does all the things I did, and goes through the same travails.

The sex scenes in the book are very powerful–the writing really stands out in these scenes. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of writing sex, specifically with this character?

I like writing about sex, and in particular, writing about real sexual and sensual experiences. Partly because I think the reality of sexual experiences is often elided in writing into something less ambiguous or ambivalent than sexual experiences often feel. All of the emotions and sensations you may feel at a particular time of having sex – fear, discomfort, and annoyance or anger, as well as excitement, ecstasy, connection and fullness – need to be written about. The other piece of it for me is that I just really like to convey sensual experiences of all kinds through words. I think descriptions of touch and smell can be some of the most lyrical writing there is, and I think they can give memoir more of a concrete base; a base in the physical world.

In reading, it seemed as though a lot of your healing and processing through your abuse happened during the actual writing process. As a reader I felt like I was watching your thoughts unfold before me. In the moment. Did it feel raw writing it? Does it still feel raw now? Or was this the effect of a highly calculated and arranged tone/approach to give readers that illusion?

I would say it’s almost entirely an illusion. I’m glad you felt like you were watching my thoughts unfold before you in real time, but that was definitely an illusion! I worked on the book for eight years, and almost all the events in the book had been over for a long time before I wrote about them. I mean for the book to feel raw – that was my goal. It is almost a book about feeling raw, as though you don’t have a protective outer layer. The main character doesn’t, or at least she starts out that way. One of the many meanings for “golem” in Hebrew is embryo… one of the newest, rawest and most vulnerable things there is. “Golem” also means fool, and it is partly a book about starting out not knowing how to run your own life, and then perhaps gradually learning how.

Read entire interview and much more at Lambda Literary.

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