Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman | A Review

Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she’d been living. Most significant, aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent, was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one’s life into the very best it can be. As she says, “In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it’s impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make.

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

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My Thoughts:

A simple comment I left on a blog post I enjoyed at Women’s Memoirs offered me a chance to win Alice Hoffman’s Survival Lessons. Luck was with me, and not too long ago a copy arrived in my mailbox.

A short but graciously filled book highlighting Hoffman’s experience surviving cancer, Survival Lessons shares the important things in Hoffman’s life during her battle with this evil disease. Not all things work for all people, but even if you glean only one tip to help you over the next hurdle, reading Survival Lessons will have been worthwhile.

Each chapter begins with the word “choose,” giving form and importance to the choices we have not only in crises like Hoffman’s, but in life itself.

Recently, my husband and I have faced health issues, more for him than me. This past week, when I read Survival Lessons, we had faced a trip to the ER and some startling news following a minor surgery the week before.

As I read these words in the chapter, “Choose Love,” I shared them with my husband and they bridged the myriad of emotions we’ve been feeling:

You may feel alone, but your husband, lover, girlfriend, or wife is going through this with you. True, they are not the ones with needles in their arms or surgeries to recover from, but they have to watch you go through these things. Which is worse: to be the person who is ill, or the one who has to watch someone he loves suffer?

Both are not too good.

My Recommendation:

I highly recommend this book for anyone facing any type of crisis in her life, or his. These choices Hoffman shares fit more than just the health part of who we are in this life.

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Meet Alice Hoffman:

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman’s first novel, PROPERTY OF, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become PROPERTY OF, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Read more at Goodreads

Simplify

When I posted here on December 31, 2012, I spoke to the need to recover balance in my life and family, specifically seeking God’s guidance in what He has in store for me.  Since then, I’ve posted only once — a book review of Morning at Wellington Square by Susan Wiedener.
I have spent some small spaces of time in quiet reflection, dabbling in my writing projects, and expended huge amounts of time on failing laptops and computer equipment and getting those replaced or repaired.  In so doing, I have been given in those special quiet moments a word on which to reflect in 2013:

simplify

By placing the word “simplify” at the forefront of everything I seek to accomplish, I’m hopeful that when I feel overwhelmed and uncertain about the direction I should take I’ll simplify.  By leaving something behind, perhaps undone for the time being, and allowing myself to find those quiet moments again.

But I must admit I’ve missed the blogging and writing community.  I need to write — it is where I find myself most at home and thriving in my own creative world.  My husband has his creative niche — art and design — and mine is the need to use language, words, communication to bring my world alive.

So, I’m easing back in to blogging and writing and will begin to be more active as time and life allow.  After all, simplify is my mantra for now.  I can make it as simple as I want.

Seeking Quiet and Invisibility

“It’s time to fall back in love with your artand practice invisibility.”
~ Don McAllister of Linchpin Bloggers

Not too long ago I wrote a series of posts on time management.  Wondering how in the writing world I could or would find time to build a platform, find my tribe and keep up with social media AND write my memoir.  Sadly, I have found the answer.  The source of the answer has been a huge cost to my family and me in two ways.

First, a vicious and devastating illness trapped my husband’s brother in a rapid cognitive and physical decline.  We spent many miles and hours traveling to help with his care beginning in January 2012 until his passing on November 19th.  And then we spent about three weeks after that assisting his wife with details of a service, the estate, and much more.

About the same time, we learned that the oldest of our three children, a son aged 41, has cancer.  A highly treatable form, testicular cancer, and yet the word “cancer” itself is unsettling, unnerving, unwanted.  Our emotions are still tied in bundles as we await a visit with an oncologist.

During the weeks since November 19th, I’ve had lots of time to think. While away from home at that time, our schedule didn’t allow for computers.  It meant a forced stepping away from blogging, emails, social networking, writing. Upon returning home, sadness has kept me away from all this during the last month. It’s amazing when forced to give up all these cyber-tools how comfortable we can become without them.

I’m not certain just yet what God is trying to tell me, and if you know me at all, you know my faith is in Him and His Word.  What I do know is the season of my life is changing.  I can feel it, but I can’t yet wrap my arms around it.  One thing is for certain — God wants more of me than I have given.

There are things in our family order that need to be tended to and I need to be there for those who need me.  Simply said, I need to be the wife and mother I signed on to be long ago.

In order to listen more closely to God’s guidance in this part of my life, I have decided to grant myself a season of retreat.  For the next three months — January 1, 2013 – March 31, 2013 — this blog will, for the most part, be inactive.  Starting now, I’m turning off comments.  I am eliminating such distractions as social media and blog comments from my days.

My season of grief and sorrow is fading but I am uncertain about my future as a blogger.  During the time that I am not here, I hope to continue work on two projects:

  • Drafting my memoir
  • Research into the orphanage system of this country during the late 19th and early 20th century in preparation for a book about my father’s life as an orphan

In addition, I have registered for a writing workshop, Beachside Writers 2013, in Yachats, Oregon (March 1-3, 2013).  A place to learn from experienced writers, a place to meet new writing friends, and a quiet place by the Pacific to reflect.

For the time being, I hope that some of the friendships I have made through my writing interests will continue.  You my contact me via email, or find me on this blog’s Facebook page, but otherwise I need to retreat into a quiet space and time with My Master and listen for His Words to direct my next steps.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (Book Review)


Perhaps the subtitle (A Memoir of Going Home) is what threw me a curve when I first put this memoir on my “to read” list.

You see if the title, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, precedes a hint at this Mennonite going home the reader may expect some facts about the Mennonite faith, what life was like growing up a Mennonite, stories of buggy rides (or am I confusing them with the Amish?).

But that is not what Rhoda Janzen has written.  Janzen, who is not only a writer but also a poet, teaches English and Creative Writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Using her expertise as a writing professional, Janzen weaves her story with nostalgia, humor, some facts about her family’s faith, talk about aging, and tops it off with a look at parents who have accepted the woman Janzen grew up to be.

I found Janzen’s book so engaging that at times I found myself chuckling out loud or uttering an affirmation of my agreement about “going home.”  A journey toward the home of your childhood as a 40-year old divorcee whose husband left her for a gay man he found on Craigslist isn’t paved with thoughts of warmth and welcome.

Yet Janzen’s deadpan, witty and wry humor makes it a journey her reader enjoys.  My recommendation is:  If you haven’t read it, do!

Change Means . . . Moving On!

Today I’m guest posting at Belinda Nicoll’s blog, My Rite of Passage, where Belinda has been sharing what change means.  Each Friday someone has told a personal story on change, rite of passage as it were, and what it meant in their lives.  Here’s where change started for me:
When I married my second husband in 1981, I envisioned living out our lives in Tennessee.  It was MY home state, where I was born and raised.  Other than two years living outside Nashville while in college, I’d never thought of living elsewhere.

I had been well-versed by my mother in the belief that one never “left home” — your immediate family implied here.  Her temperamental nature had also been engrained in mine.  It was understood that she was the matriarch and hers was the last word.

Fast forward to 1983.  A friend of my husband’s called from Oregon and offered him a lucrative opportunity in Portland.  We had struggled financially in the intervening two years, and the offer would improve our circumstances.  The choice to make a physical move was easy for the two of us.  However, there were contingencies to be faced.

You can read the rest here.