One of the books I’ve read most recently is Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia by Kate Whouley. The book is a memoir of her experience with her aging mother as her mom declines into Alzheimer’s. Although that sounds sad, she manages to put a positive spin on the experience, and one that I found enlightening to read.
About the Book
Whouley isn’t shy about explaining that she had a difficult childhood and a tough time relating to her mother. However, she doesn’t dwell on this aspect and instead just introduces it as background information for a theme that the really resonates throughout the book – the theme that the past and future don’t really matter for the Alzheimer’s patient who is really in touch with the present moment.
Whouley shares how she learns to adapt to her mother’s repetitive questions and cycling thoughts by treating each time that she says something as important right in that moment and that moment only. Of course, people with age-related memory loss do remember some of the past, sometimes getting mired in it, but I still love that Whouley makes this great point that the loved ones can benefit from letting go of their attachment to the story of their relationship with the person and just trying to thrive in the present moment with him or her.
At the same time, Whouley doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of this experience. She discusses the challenges – financial, emotional – matter-of-factly but not without emotion. She gives a very balanced, honest, personal perspective about what it’s like to live as the decision-maker for an aging parent.
Whouley is a musician (hence the title of the book) and she weaves stories about her musical life into the story of her mother’s aging. It’s an interesting approach to personalizing a story that in this era is so universal.
A few favorite parts:
I recently read Borderlines: A Memoir by Caroline Kraus. This moving book tells the true story of the author’s experience of losing her mother in her early teens and how that grief made her ripe and raw for enmeshment in a mostly platonic relationship with a woman with borderline personality disorder. It’s intense and interesting and sometimes funny.
I always bookmark my favorite lines that stand out in every book I read. There were a couple from this one:
“Looking back, I see San Francisco as a curious siren. Almost everyone I was about to meet had migrated west for their own vague reasons, following some strange instinct that promised hope. It was a place that seemed ripe with possibility.”
“There is a particular kind of depression of the spirit sometimes associated with the deep introspective stage of transition and change. When this occurs, the Bear is a reminder that there is a prallel between depression and the natural state known as hibernation, when involcvement with the outer world is minimized in order to focus more energy on the inner processes necessary for a successful transition.”
“Memoir is, fundamentally, a literary investigation – a mystery that is cracked by re-creating dialogue and translating settings and action into words. But these are the vehicles to truth and not in themselves the end. There are the facts of this story, and then there is what I make of them. The curved lens of memory adds its angles to the process, shaping every setting, stretch of dialogue, and scene. But the aim of memoir – to transcend personal experience – is a corrective voice to that lens. In the end, the most distilled, captured “truth” is what the author has gleaned, with earnest motivations.”
A few weeks ago I rediscovered the joy of reading. It’s not that I’d exactly forgotten it. And I certainly hadn’t stopped doing it. But mostly lately I’ve been reading for work or for school so when I was looking to do something “relaxing” as downtime I’d turn on the TV. I got pretty TV-obsessed for awhile there. But then the school semester ended, I didn’t have my new textbooks for the Spring yet and I remembered that I actually really like just taking a few hours, shutting out the world and immersing myself in a book. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot.
One of my recent reads was Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller. It’s the story of a girl who grew up in a home with parents who were hoarders. It’s her story of getting away from that in her own life and yet having it always kind of trail her. It’s the story of having secrets in your family and learning to share those secrets with the world. It’s the story of having fallible parents that you love anyway, parents you learn to set boundaries with and then cross your own boundaries for because life shifts things sometimes. It’s a sad story but a story of strength and a touching story with what basically amounts to a happy ending. I liked it.
I love memoirs. I could read nothing but memoirs for the rest of my life and probably be satisfied with my reading world. Of course I do read other things but there’s something about memoirs that just capture me. I like the first person story. I continue to believe that we each have a really unique experience and perspective of the world. And yet there is also something that ties us each together as humans no matter how disparate our experiences. And so I believe that in the sharing and telling and hearing of stories something magical happens, a sort of growth of the collective unconscious. Through reading memoirs I understand others better and understand myself better as well.
This book did give me some food for thought (don’t they all?) The author notes that people didn’t ever used to know what hoarders were; there wasn’t a recognized name for it. Now we all know and it’s due in part to the popularity of reality TV series like the show Hoarders on AETV. It’s a show I’ve watched a lot; I’m fascinated by the stories of the lives that play out there and how they do and do not relate to my own experience of life. The author at first couldn’t bring herself to watch those shows. Then she sat down and watched them and felt pain, knowing that a lot of the people watching the show were just voyeurs who couldn’t possibly understand. I find that I think about reality TV shows like this the same way that I do about reading memoirs, as a way to get insight into the stories of others to better understand the human world around me. But of course the shows are sensationalized and short and I wonder if there is a large difference between my experience of learning about people through TV vs. learning through memoirs. I’m still gnawing on this thought …
What memoirs have you read and loved? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!
I just finished reading a memoir that was a quick read but one that was really interesting. I love memoirs because they give you insight into someone else’s way of life but also tend to provide things that you can relate to in order to make the story feel like your own. That’s exactly the case with this memoir which is technically about growing up in the grips of a spiritual cult but ultimately about learning how to figure out who you are outside of the experiences you had growing up.
The woman who wrote the book, Jayanti Tamm, was born into Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual cult. Because procreating was forbidden but she was born anyway, he determined that she was brought into this world as his Chosen One. Growing up, she held a special place in the cult that placed a barrier between her and the rest of the world. She didn’t ask her parents or teachers for advice or material things; she had to ask her Guru.
As you can imagine, she eventually found herself disillusioned with the cult beliefs that she had been brought up to believe. Most of the memoir is about the experience of growing up in the cult and the transition from being an unquestioning child follower to a confused, unsure, questioning young adult.
Towards the end of the memoir, Tamm leaves the cult for a time and ultimately is kicked out of it. What we see here is the inner turmoil that one goes through when leaving behind the ways of childhood. Of course, most of us have not grown up in situations so extreme as cult life. Nevertheless, many struggle in smaller ways to reconcile their adult beliefs with what they were taught as children. That’s how this book manages to be relatable to us even though it’s specifically about cult life.
I have just finished reading an interesting book called Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish. It’s one of those books that is really simple and quick to read but which takes a little bit of time to digest. I’m not even really sure that I liked the book exactly although I did think it was thought-provoking.
The story is a first-person tale of a female artist who fell in love with the “folk art” of the Amish community. She decided to pursue this interest by working her way into the hearts and homes of a small group of Amish people. The story is her story of the experience of living temporarily with this group of people and what she learned from doing so.
I’m not sure that I liked the book per se. I got the impression that either the facts of the story were exaggerated or the truth was played with a bit or maybe things just weren’t explained clearly enough to make them seem believable. I’m not saying that the author was lying but that a lack of direct truth was conveyed in the writing somehow.
Despite this, I do think that the concept of the book is interesting. It’s basically a look at how many of us in modern society idealize a simpler way of life and think that its what we want. Indeed, we do want parts of it – the sense of community and the appreciation of daily tasks – but we don’t truly want to give up our modern lives. The book looks at how to combine the best of both worlds if that’s possible. Interesting and worth a quick read to see what you think of it.