Category Archives: Media review for hope and healing

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: My Life as a Villianess, Essays by Laura Lippman

My Life as a Villainess, Essays by Laura Lippman

reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, April 2021

File this in “What I’m reading now.”

Or, “Indulging in my love of Laura Lippman.”

Or, “On beauty and aging.”

Or, “Laughing and self-awareness are good medicine.”

The funny thing about the title of this book is that the author, Laura Lippman, is just another ordinary aging woman – who happens to write about villain-esque women. Her popular psychological thrillers are great summer beach reading, winter recliner reading, weekend chores audio reading, or road trip radio reading. But her characters aren’t really villains, I’d say. They are typically women trying to make their way through impossible situations, and refusing to enter the “women be likeable” trap. Fiction based on truths. Her writing goes right into the villainess’ brains, and the brains of those in their lives. Like deep inside the folds of their reasoning, even to their reptilian parts. The action is the thinking. The thrill is how much we can relate, though we’d rather not admit to it.

However, this review isn’t about Laura Lippman’s fiction. It’s about her book of personal essays which by definition is nonfiction. Personal essays are like short memoir pieces, and if you know me you know that memoir is my favorite genre because it involves reflection of one’s life. Contrary to pop belief, memoir is not about an interesting life – it is about introspection. Memoir seeks to deconstruct and understand one’s self. I’d say the least so-called fascinating lives, make for the best memoirs. Because the most interesting parts of all of us is what happens inside of us.

That’s why I believe that a good personal essay or memoir can be a path to hope and healing. The reader learns they are not alone. For example in this collection Laura Lipman reflects on aging, body image, dieting, looks, and the endless demands on women’s appearance. Laura Lippman admits at age 60 – sixty! – she is still angsting on these things. If you are a female of any age or status who has ever walked through a grocery store magazine rack in the U.S. A., chances are you too angst on looks. We relate, even as we know it’s silly. The reader laughs because self-awareness can be funny. We also know the expectations for women are devastating. And then Laura Lippman brings it home and declares enough of all that. She declares herself gorgeous. Since her self-proclaimed declaration of gorgeousness, she says, she finds all women gorgeous.

The first essay in the collection, “Game of Crones” (ha! ha!), where Laura Lippman reflects on being an older mother, closes as such (language alert):

And maybe the next time — there’s always a next time, trust me — someone says, “Are you her grandmother?” I’ll say: “No I’m her great-grandmother, I’m eighty-(bleeping)-seven, but I look amazing for my age.”

I am old. I am 60. I am a 60-year-old woman with a third-grader. I am old. I am old. I am old. I am 60, my daughter is 8, and I will let her write the end of the story. What other choice do I have?

Hope and healing comes in many forms. Counseling. Education. Reading. Writing. Laughing. Sometimes hope and healing comes in the form of a pill as prescribed by a competent and wonderful medication provider. (For me, checkmark yes to all.) And sometimes it comes the realization that you don’t need to be fixed because you are enough. And you are gorgeous per my personal declaration, modeling Laura Lippman.

What are you reading now?

Terri Mork Speirs is the director of community relations at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: I Am Enough by Grace Byers

You are enough — tell the children, remind yourself

by Terri Mork Speirs, director of community relations

February 2021 — When I was 50-something years old I read a line in a poem that changed my life. The first seven words in Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese reads: “You do not have to be good.”

This book serves children and families served through the Center’s C.O.O.L., with thanks to the BWA Foundation

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

I’m sure I’d been taught in many ways from many people including teachers, family and friends. Yet that line in that poem finally convinced me in my sixth decade of life. I need reminders.

And so now I notice such lines when they happen by me for example:

  • Wherever I am, I am what is missing. ~ Mark Strand (posted as a reminder on my phone)
  • I’m imperfect and I’m enough. ~ Brené Brown (I’m all in for Brené Brown)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ Maya Angelo (my response: because it can! and: good book)

I think words and books have the power to heal.

As part of the community relations team at the Center, it is my privilege to engage with generous community members, and learn from esteemed colleagues. I get to help ask for donations and thank donors. And, I get to learn how the clinicians utilize the resources. It is especially fun discovering resources used for the kiddos served through C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life).

“I Am Enough” by Grace Byers is one of the recent purchases by our C.O.O.L. clinicians, with thanks to generous funding from the BWA Foundation. The book is used in telehealth sessions with children and families, and has been added to the Center’s lending library. (We hold the hope for a post-pandemic world when we can all access the lending library again!)

The book cover stood out to me for being so very cute, in addition to the wisdom of the title. And how awesome to teach “I am enough” to young ones, and to remind us old ones. 🙂

The video reading by the author, Grace Byers, is delightful.

You do not have to be good. You are enough. Repeat.

Media review for hope and healing — Notes from a Trip to Russia by Audre Lorde

Armchair adventure in pandemic

by Terri Mork Speirs, Director of Community Relations

Purchased from Beaverdale Books

Notes from a Trip to Russia is the first chapter in a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde called “Sister Outsider.” The 23-page essay is actually a travel journal of observations from a two-week trip she took in 1976. Much fun. Delightful. I laughed out loud at some of her musings as it reminded me of the oddities (odd to me) I’ve noticed in faraway places — the sensory overload, the brain puzzles, the joy, the unexpected self-awareness, the attempts to write it all down.

This first chapter of “Sister Outsider” seemed almost unexpected diversion from the main reason I’m reading this book. It is the current choice of a book club my friend Billie Wade and I co-lead for the Center’s Antiracism Learning Group. We join together through stories and discussion. If you would like to join our group, please send me an email (tspeirs@dmpcc.org) and I’ll add you to the list. (We anticipate starting this discussion cycle in February.)

The late Audre Lorde is a celebrated and influential writer, authoring 12 books and serving as New York State’s poet Laurette 1991-1993. Her searing line “Your silence will not protect you” is oft quoted. The respective essay is also in this book and it opened me up as though the author was my personal spiritual director and somehow knew what I needed to hear.

But the essay at hand is different. It’s raw like how you might journal while riding a cheesy tour bus. It is Audre Lorde, American gawker. That’s what makes it fun: the fairy palace skyline, the reverence of old people, the lack of men, the higher ceilings, the “vodka, which flows like water, and with apparently as little effect upon Russians.” Surface travel observations are usually huge generalizations, of course, yet somehow the reader knows that she knows that. She’s just writing what she immediately sees and thinks.

To me, one of the most downplayed observation was how cotton is picked in Russia: “It feels strange and familiar at the same time. This is cotton country. Miles and miles of it, and the trainloads of students were coming south from Moscow on a two-week vacation to party and pick coon. There was a holiday atmosphere all around.”

Stunning. Like we did it all wrong in the U.S.A. Why didn’t we make cotton-picking a festival of friendship instead of brutally torturing dark-skinned people to get free labor for centuries? She does not ask that question. All she does it tee it up for the reader.

Audre Lorde is not passing off Russia as some kind of utopia. All countries have their shortcomings, she concludes. However, she also notes that Russia has the largest reading population in the world: “Everywhere you go, even among those miles of cotton being harvested in the Uzbeki sun, people are reading, and no matter what you may say about censorship, they are still reading and they’re reading an awful lot.”

Happy travels!

Media review for hope and healing #1

The Heart Hunger for Wildness by Diane Glass

reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, Director of Community Relations

January 2021 — I am a believer that storytelling is a powerful path to hope and healing. Stories remind us that we are not alone in our joy and pain, whatever they are.  I am pleased to offer thoughts on what I call a genre-bending book that blends poetry and memoir — reflections on one’s life in lyrical form. In this sleek new book of poems, author Diane Glass shares her life’s perspectives that are deeply unique to her yet universal to all of us. (For many years Diane has served instructor for the Center’s PrairieFire program.)

One of the many things I love about this slim volume is the clever ordering of chapters that clusters the poems into three themes: hunger, heart, wildness. And how the themes circle and flow within the chapters, and page to page. Her subjects range from the simple to the simply unimaginable. Her verses call us to pay attention, sometimes with proposed solutions placed cleverly in plain sight right before us. As if that’s how it works in the real world.

For example the last line on page 26 asks: “How do you want to live?”

The first line on page 27 seems to offer the perfect answer: “Curiosity.”

Ah, curiosity, what an antidote to pandemic and quarantine. But how to cultivate it when it can be hard to simply think? As one with self diagnosed covid-brain (extra short attention span), I like the white space poetry offers. I like the choices of short or shorter reads. I like the puzzle-like experience of reading out of order, and not worrying if I don’t immediately understand. I like being amazed when I do. I like that knowing that sometimes chaos can turn to order. And most times, it’s OK to just sit with the chaos.

Throughout the book, the author’s vivid imagery is at once lyrical and arresting, such as: “Take care of my plant, my stepson wrote in careful script in his suicide letter on the kitchen table of his apartment.” (p. 48) The four poems related to this line are like chapter-ettes of the full poem entitled “The Botany of Grief.” It is an exploration of suicide loss in plain words. The series of poems stunned me for both the beauty and sadness. How can there be both at the same time?

Her poems seek to make sense out of the nonsensical. Suicide. Illness. Racism. Divorce. While somehow weaving in the joy. Nature. Dancing. Wonder. New love.

You can read when you can. You can read one page. You can read ten pages. Put it by your favorite chair and pick it up a week later. You can remember that you are not alone.

Give the book to yourself, or to someone you love.

*

Diane Glass, author and PrairieFire instructor

Diane Glass brings a writer’s astute attention to detail and a spiritual director’s ability to probe the depths of meaning in everyday experience in her new book of poetry, The Heart Hungers for Wildness.

From the power of soup to change the world to the land’s willingness to talk with us if we listen, her poems testify to the joy of following the heart’s wild longings.

Along the way, she shares sorrows as well—losing a stepson, facing illness, living out the pandemic. You will come to better understand your own life passages and possibilities after reading this book.

Available at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.