I couldn’t come to grips with writing a new post this week. Something or Someone advised me to step back and take a self-care breather.
So, I’ve pulled this one from the 2015 archives, brushed it up a bit, and offer it to you on this Easter weekend in 2020. The memory is one of my childhood favorites. It always comes to mind during the week before Easter.
One Easter Sunday stands out in my mind above all others. The year 1950. I was around age four. Dressing up was a highlight to most little girls, especially around Easter.
Easter meant a visit from the Easter Bunny with baskets filled with eggs and jelly beans and always a chocolate bunny. And it almost always meant new clothes. This particular Easter meant a new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. I was proud and excited to wear them. I thought Sunday would never come.
Finally, Sunday came. Up early to check out what was left by the Easter Bunny, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then dress for church.
That’s when it all fell apart. I heard Mama and Daddy talking. Well, maybe arguing.
“She cannot wear those shoes. Can’t you see it snowed last night?”
Oh, no! Mama was telling Daddy I couldn’t wear my new shoes. If I hurried, I could get dressed and have my new shoes on before they finished.
“Honey, the snow isn’t that deep.” Hurray for Daddy! But Mama was having none of it.
Finally, Daddy saved the day. He told Mama if she felt it was too messy to wear the new shoes, he would carry me from the house to the car, from the car to the church, and reverse his plan when it was time to come home.
I’ll never forget wearing those shiny new shoes. But above all, I’ll never forget how loved I felt when Daddy reached down with his long arms, picked me up, and carried me to the car and into church that morning. I like to think it was Daddy’s way of showing me the unconditional love of God.
The compulsively readable, behind-the-scenes memoir that takes readers inside the Obama White House, through the eyes of a young staffer learning the ropes, falling in love, and finding her place in the world.
From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir by Beck Dorey-Stein Published by Spiegel & Grau (July 10, 2018) Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir/Politics/Obama White House Source: ARC provided by NetGalley Format: Kindle, 352 pages ASIN: B076NSTK6F
FCC Disclaimer:I received a copy of an ARC from NetGalley via the publisher in exchange for an honest and fair review. Opinions expressed are my own.
In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein was just scraping by in DC when a posting on Craigslist landed her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate DC outsider, she joined the elite team who accompanied the president wherever he went, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forged friendships with a tight group of fellow travelers–young men and women who, like her, left their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president. But as she learned the ropes of protocol, Beck became romantically entangled with a consummate DC insider, and suddenly, the political became all too personal. Set against the backdrop of a White House full of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters, and discovering her voice in the process.
“[C]ompulsively readable” describes From the Corner of the Oval so well. Once I started reading this memoir I couldn’t put it down.
Beck Dorey-Stein writes with the pen of a former English teacher. She writes descriptive scenes and characters. Her authenticity shines through and seeds of humor drop along the way.
Unlike Dorey-Stein, I’d never think of using Craig’s List to find a job. Dorey-Stein thought nothing of it. And she ends up working as a stenographer in the Obama White House. Work days include trips around the world and across the country on Air Force One.
Eager to make friends and fit in, Dorey-Stein finds herself tangled up in a romance. She shares stories of love, heartbreak, and sadness. Not overlooked are work-related stories from the White House. I found the romance somewhat distracting. Yet I accepted it as part of life for any 20-something no matter where she worked.
This is not a tell-all book from behind closed doors in the White House. It is Dorey-Stein’s story of landing the job and learning the ins and outs of the White House. She also meets famous people and travels the globe. Dorey-Stein lives the stories we read and watch in the media.
I applaud Dorey-Stein’s first published work as well-written and engaging. For this reason, and the humor woven throughout, I highly recommend From the Corner of the Oval.
Meet the Author:
Beck Dorey-Stein is a native of Narberth, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Wesleyan University. Prior to her five years in the White House, she taught high school English in Hightstown, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and Seoul, South Korea.
‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option…Unmissable’ New York Times
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
Book Details: Title:When Breath Becomes Air Author: Paul Kalanithi Genre: Memoir Publisher: Vintage Digital Published: February 4, 2016 Format: Kindle edition, 258 pages ASIN: B0165X8WN2 Source: Purchased
“Amid the tragedies and failures, I feared I was losing sight of the singular importance of human relationships, not between patients and their families but between doctor and patient. Technical excellence was not enough. As a resident, my highest ideal was not saving lives—everyone dies eventually—but guiding a patient or family to an understanding of death or illness.” (Paul Kalanithi, Loc. 836; emphasis mine)
Paul Kalinithi was a lover of many things. Among the loves in his life were his wife, Lucy, and daughter, Cady; the patients he treated as a neurosurgeon and the people he worked alongside; his extended family; and words. Kalanithi’s love of words is what makes his memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, so special.
Kalanithi’s path didn’t always point toward medicine. There was a time when he wanted to be a writer. As we all know, circumstances and life can change what we believe is our goal one day by the time the hands on the clock circle 24 hours. And so it was for Paul Kalanithi.
On his way to completing his residency in neurosurgery, he and his wife, also a physician, are startled with Kalanithi’s diagnosis of lung cancer. However, the disease itself is not the focus of this memoir. Kalanithi shares with us the transitions he felt growing inside himself as a husband, father, and yes, physician as he journeyed through his own surgeries and treatments. It was as if he had dual vision seeing everything through the eyes of a physician and a patient.
Lyrically written with philosophical thematics, Kalanithi grasps the changing days of his life with both hands and shifts his focus from professional to familial. As a patient being treated by other physicians, his insights into what is important about treating his patients becomes a similar focus for his family life. This is what he hopes to pass along to his readers.
Not to read Kalanithi’s memoir is a loss, in my opinion, for those who pass it by. Passages include sadness, tragedy, and loss of various kinds. Yet, Kalanithi also shows us wisdom, wit, and beautiful language in telling his story. I highly recommend
I highly recommend this memoir to those who enjoy reading the genre, especially for those interested in writing memoir, and to those who are either beginning a similar journey or have someone in their lives who is.
Rating: 5 stars
Random House Trailer:
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. Paul grew up in Kingman, Arizona, before attending Stanford University, from which he graduated in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, winning the Lewis H. Nahum Prize for outstanding research and membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, during which he authored over twenty scientific publications and received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research.
Paul’s reflections on doctoring and illness – he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2013, though he never smoked – have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Paris Review Daily, in addition to interviews in academic settings and media outlets such as MSNBC. Paul completed neurosurgery residency in 2014. Paul died in March, 2015, while working on When Breath Becomes Air, an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
The prospect of reaching my eighth decade (in the minds of some aging, in other words) in February never bothered me. I looked on the process as part of my life cycle and enjoy catching up each year for a couple of months when my husband is only eight years older. Like most others, I celebrated this birthday with Bob and our son and his wife over dinner at a favorite restaurant with much chatter and laughter. Then we went our separate ways.
It dawned on me in the next few days my husband would turn 79 in April, a year away from 80. That rocked my foundation much more than did my own changing decade. Was it because the 80s tend to be a downturn for some, or that he is in poor health? Neither of these things apply to Bob. But somehow a shift change took place within me.
Perhaps it related to the fall I took in January. Yet those injuries were healing well, and I felt like normal was on the horizon. A writing workshop the last weekend in February was coming up. Bob was going along to meet some of my writing friends and enjoy a couple of days at the coast. Life couldn’t be better, or so it seemed.
Fast forward to that weekend in Yachats, Oregon, and suddenly 70 looked worse than I first thought. I left the conference early to come home and nurse unexpected and unexplained severe back pain. As always, it took several days and doctors’ visits to decide the cause of the pain, and then it was another few days before treatments would begin. Today is two weeks after the injection to ease the pain, but the medication has not been as efficacious as hoped. It may take another or maybe two more injections. Boy, was I suddenly feeling old!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE…
A trip to Tennessee scheduled in May takes us to our grandson, Michael’s high school graduation with honors and a bright future ahead. Our plans are to take Amtrak to Chicago and then drive the rest of the way to our destination. Departure is scheduled for May 16th. I want to feel better by then. When I began thinking about this post, it was the sense of joy I felt about Michael’s accomplishments and the solid young man he is. His parents are due much credit for raising him so well. That is what brought me to this writing place I call my blog to share my thoughts with you.
In recent weeks, I’ve been present online some, and I’ve pulled together book reviews over at Puddletown Reviews. But I’ve not attended to any writing on my memoir, not much on this blog, and my newsletter needs my attention.
Joy is found in doing the things we love. Whether it is writing, painting, photography, music, crafting, or something else, that which we love brings us an ever-present joy, if we allow it. Creativity isn’t work in my mind; it is a place I love to enter not knowing what I’ll have produced when I come out.
It occurred to me while writing this post that joy moves us along to gratitude. Think about it:
Initially, my writing process followed my thought process. As this post begins, I sound somewhat in the doldrums over aging and what comes with it. Note especially that as we age it becomes harder to recover from injuries, surgeries, and illnesses. And it takes more time. Time grows long and boring, until we think of someone or something special.
Almost instantly thinking of Michael and his graduation turned my thoughts and feelings to ones of joy. My thoughts had been centered on my pain and how much I want to either be better than now or have the pain resolved before our trip in May. Now, thinking of the joy of our trip and writing about Michael pushed me forward to a place of gratitude.
And arriving there, I pause to give voice to my gratitude.
⇒Physicians and processes for healing and helping those with health needs ⇒A patient and helping soul mate and best friend who has helped me through pain and recovery more than once, my husband ⇒The gift of friends and family who support me in my writing, both in real-time and online ⇒Special times shared with family far away, like graduations, weddings, new babies. ⇒The joy of seeing a grandchild grow into a solid young man with a strong background given to him by his parents ⇒The gift of writing itself which called me to sit today and write this post from which evolved the beautiful process of movement from my realities to joy and on to gratitude
WHERE HAS YOUR WRITING BROUGHT YOU TODAY? WHERE MIGHT IT TAKE YOU NEXT? WHAT HAVE YOU LET IT EXPOSE FROM WITHIN YOU? PERHAPS YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SHARE. IT’S YOUR TURN–GO RIGHT AHEAD!
Gratitude is talked and written about a great deal as we approach Thanksgiving. I listen and take part but wonder if gratitude isn’t meant as an everyday occurrence. Isn’t there always something in a day you are grateful crossed your way?
Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. ~~ William Faulkener
When I wake in the morning, it is simple to open my eyes and thank God for:
Good health, both mine and my husband’s, as well as our ability to care for our home and ourselves.
Another day to write, create, communicate, think, see, hear, breathe, and live and love.
Our thriving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Our marriage and life together.
Our home and our ability to continue to live here.
Our days are spent in our individual work areas seeing each other only at lunchtime when I’m reminded of:
Bob’s patient and forgiving nature.
Many storms, big and small, survived surrounding jobs, finances, children.
Mutual understanding and encouragement of the other’s creative gifts and talents.
Satisfaction found in our morning devotional time.
And lastly, when I think of our many freedoms, I give thanks for:
Freedom to practice our religion of choice where, when, and with whom we choose to worship.
Freedom of speech allowing us to verbally express or write our thoughts and opinions freely and without fear.
Freedom to vote.
Freedom to seek medical care where and from the physician I choose.
Freedom to gather in public places to enjoy friends, family, neighbors, and more without fear.
My friends, we are truly blessed in many ways. If you doubt that is the case, then look for a moment at the lives of those who are not living as we do:
The hungry and homeless.
Children and the elderly suffering from terminal illnesses without the benefit of good care and insurance.
Friends and acquaintances who complain aloud to others about their spouses or significant others.
Those going through separations and divorces, especially families with children.
Victims, both male and female, of domestic abuse and violence, and children who are victims of abuse.
Those struggling with mental illness who either harm themselves, their families, or innocent others.
Those living under a government where religion is dictated.
Those living where they are not allowed to think or speak freely.
Those living where there is no democratic form of government and no freedom to vote.
Those living where to gather in public may mean arrest or death.
Those living in all parts of the world under some oppressive force over which they will never be able to climb out of poverty, homelessness, hunger, poor health, lack of education, and more.
Those who immigrated to our country illegally and then brought children into the world who are American citizens, and all of whom are the object of much anger, debate, and confusion in our government and within our population.
Refugees, whether from Syria or elsewhere, fleeing war-torn lands governed by a dictatorship where no one cares about who is hurting, dying, and leaving their homeland. Looking to other countries to take them, hopefully with help to return them to a peaceful homeland, they stand at the door and literally knock hoping not to be turned away. All while fear and doubt exist on both sides of the door.
Have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving!
If you feel so inclined, please leave a comment about how you’ll be spending Thanksgiving, what you feel thankful for, or why you struggle with the concept of gratitude. We speak openly and freely here, so please share your honest thoughts.
As my writing and blogging gained momentum, I would see the phrase “creative nonfiction” used to classify an essay which, to me, was clearly memoir, or a book similarly characterized. For the life of me, I could not understand the need for separation of the two.Until . . .
I began to dig for an explanation of differences between creative nonfiction and memoir. What I learned is vastly important to how I’m refashioning my latest revision.
As I combed the Internet, local libraries, and writing publications, I found an online and in print magazine, Creative Nonfiction. When landing on a new or unfamiliar site, the first place I visit is the “about” section.
To my surprised pleasure, I came upon an article entitled “What is Creative Nonfiction?” written by Lee Gutkind, lovingly referred to by “Vanity Fair” as the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”
Gutkind begins his articlewith the following:
The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonﬁction, deﬁnes the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories well told.” And that, in essence, is what creative nonﬁction is all about.
And Gutkind’s words clarify what creative nonfiction is–“true stories well told.” Aren’t we told to share the truth in our memoirs? Isn’t it the truth we are seeking as we write about our lives?
I suppose I should have been satisfied with Gutkind’s definition, but I kept digging. Discovering a site hosted by Barri Jean Borich, I read with interest her post entitled “What Is Creative Nonfiction?” In her opening paragraph, Borich provided an extension of the answer found in Gutkind’s article:
There are many ways to define the literary genre we call Creative Nonfiction. It is a genre that answers to many different names, depending on how it is packaged and who is doing the defining. Some of these names are: Literary Nonfiction; Narrative Nonfiction; Literary Journalism; Imaginative Nonfiction; Lyric Essay; Personal Essay; Personal Narrative; and Literary Memoir. Creative Nonfiction is even, sometimes, thought of as another way of writing fiction, because of the way writing changes the way we know a subject. (Emphasis added.)
If we take the two definitions and combine them and agree with the simple use of the word “nonfiction” to mean we only write what is true, not fictional, we have the beginnings of creative nonfiction. But what about the word “creative?”
Just because we write nonfiction and tell true stories from our lives’ experiences does not mean we cannot and should not be creative in the process. The best memoirs I have read were filled with creations as delicious as a cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Others took me down dark, painful paths into lives of abuse and suffering, but they created the darkness for me, the reader, to experience and reach and understanding of the writer’s story.
Never let it be said a writer writing creative nonfiction cannot paint a beautiful scene or imagine the garments and buildings of ages past in his/her family’s life.
Even though we write nonfiction, our true stories must be “well told” as Gutkind suggests. And as Borich states a lot of what is written as creative nonfiction “depends on how it is packaged” and “who is doing the defining.”
The only caveat to using your creativity in nonfiction writing is not to stretch the truth of your story.
We cannot overstep our bounds in using creativity to make up incidents which never occurred, or statements never made, or whatever else you could invent.
Are you finding opportunities to “paint” while you write your memoir or some other piece of creative nonfiction? Do you see other ways the two words, “creative” and “nonfiction,” come together to define the genre or form we are writing? Let’s find out in the comments section below.