Friday, August 24, 2012

Eyes Right: Confessions of a Woman Marine

Oh I had big plans this month. I had three memoirs on my stack about life in the military.  August was going to be the month of the soldier.  The plan sounded great, the books looked fabulous, but life got a bit nuts this month.  Sleep took priority over reading.  Just putting one foot in front of the other took priority over reading.

Last night though I finally finished this slim little volume, confessions of a woman marine.  Tracy Crow waited the right amount of time to tell her story of life in the 70's and 80's as a member of the largely male marine corps.  She became a member of the public affairs office and spent her 10 year career snapping photos and writing stories of war and the preparations for war during the Reagan era.  Some of what she put herself through was truly harrowing.  She has a journalists sensibility for telling the stories of how she came to enlist, marine corps training, and how she broke into certain places to get her story (cause she was a woman and wouldn't normally be allowed in).  The narrative was lean and spare (just the facts m'am.)

The framing device was the story of how she was fired and almost court-martialed because of an affair she had with a colonel.  The affair was short and happened during a separation with her husband and the colonel himself was single, but the Marines considered her indiscretions conduct unbecoming an officer.  So on the same day she was promoted, she was also fired and had to pack her bags and move out on a distinguished 10 year career.

I was impressed by the order in which she told her story and the focus she gave the actual affair.  After alluding to it, dancing around the edges of it, telling us how she initially met the colonel, about packing her desk and her harrowing interview with the attorney where she refused to confirm or deny the allegations (what, you can do that?), she told the story of the affair in a few short paragraphs at the very end.  The sad tale of a very short time with a man she clearly loved and said good-bye to. She never saw him again.  He died 11 years later.

I can't get over how skillfully she ended the story and did not need to dwell on the actual affair.  It was the story but still it wasn't.  What the story was about was that she had a glorious career and it ended because of this affair.  She managed a little poker trick to avoid court martial and further avoid the colonel from being court-martialed.  Did he know what she did and how she saved them?

I think some readers might be dismayed not to get more of the salacious details of love, but truly she pitched it perfectly with respect to the man he was and what they may have shared for a short time.  Her telling of the tale felt unique and spot on. It will give me something to think about when choosing how to unveil a personal story. Available at the library.

So what did you prioritize this month?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

One hot afternoon during the era in which you've gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up in heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She'll offer you one of the balloons, but you won't take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You're wrong.  You do.  --Cheryl Strayed

I have always been an avid reader of advice columns.  I came of age reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers, loved the dry wit of Miss Manners, found special wisdom in consumer help columns and most recently, fell in love with the modern practical humor and wisdom of Dear Prudence.

I read them religiously, pose my own questions (in my head) frequently, and curiously wait to see what their responses will be. What will mine be?  What set of moral values do they set their standards by and do they follow them?  Advice columns are an endless source of story and inspiration.

As you may recall, a few months back, I read a great travel memoir by a new writer named Cheryl Strayed.  Her voice was clear and compelling as she told her story of backpacking on the Pacific Coast Trail, and I looked forward to her next writing.  I stumbled upon it this week in the bookstore and bought it without question.  (This is how much I like her writing.  I knew I would want to own it and keep it.)

Cheryl Strayed writes an on-line advice column under the name Dear Sugar.  Dear Sugar writes clear compelling advice to her readers (in response to letters of course) but also writes her own memoirs and tiny stories as a way of illustrating life lessons.  Nothing here is boring.  All her responses feel spot on and you sense her empathy and conviction through the power of her words.  I loved every letter and every response.  She eclipses any other advice columnist in beauty and compelling argument.  I am going to buy these by the bundle and give them as gifts for all occasions.  Marriage, baby, job crisis, death in the family, middle age is all right here. Look no further. These are real letters from real writers and her responses are her own: a collection of columns that is both help, self help and memoir.  Look no further for a great summer read.

This is the best book I have read this summer, and I put Ms. Strayed on my list of writers to see if I am ever able. She is so honest and forthright about her own failings and grief that you cannot help but love her.  The epigraph at the top of the page--written in second person--is her own story.

 You can borrow this from me but if you wait long enough, I might buy it for you.