Tag Archives: fear

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas Flag

Ah, Texas.  Where do I even begin?  First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston.  To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston.  Go figure.  My Texan friends tried to warn me.  Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.

First, there was Austin.  In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December.  I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU:  good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love.  It really was as simple as that.  As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.

On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident:  a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light.  While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed.  Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me.  What if he had been with me?

The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials.  I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash.  Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day.  One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.  While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer.  Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.

My mom, of course, was on the next flight out.  When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer.  We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh.  Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time.  I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.

Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed.  I needed a new place to live yesterday.  I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion.  Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet.  I started there.  In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work.  I am still in touch with Karen today.

I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more.  As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered.  Not so much with Houston.

So many friends tried to warn me about Houston.  I wouldn’t be happy there.  It started off well enough.  My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible.  I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials.  Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed.  It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me.  In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell.  Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads.  Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t.  When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department.  By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave.  I won’t go on and on about Houston.  There isn’t that much to tell:  Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man.  I think that about sums it up.  We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.

I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas.  Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas.  I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments.  As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out.  If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well.  I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.

Stay tuned for part two …

Texas

The Clash

Girl

I’ve been meaning to write a post about infertility since this past fall – September, in fact.  On a perfect September Monday evening the stars aligned, and I had the greatest time catching up with an old friend over dinner.  This particular friend and I are almost exactly the same age, and frankly, we are old enough to have been through some serious garbage.  Even though she is married and has a wonderful young daughter, she still knows exactly what it is like to struggle with infertility. Over dinner, the conversation naturally turned to foster care, adoption, and infertility.  I will never forget what she made me realize that evening.

First, know that I’ve known that there is virtually no way I’ll ever become pregnant since I was 10 years old.  I am not going to be one of those women who adopts and then miraculously wakes up pregnant one day. In fact, that is another topic I will discuss shortly.  What I failed to realize, and what my friend made clear so eloquently, is that having a biological child doesn’t automatically “heal” infertility or change everything.  It made me realize just how many women I know who don’t quite have the families they envisioned. My friend’s daughter is an only child, and that was not the plan. Another good friend has two beautiful little girls and wanted a third child.  I could go on.

I once read that no one ever quite gets over infertility.  It is a process – and there is no end. One day he or she may be fine, and the next, it all comes flooding back.  In fact, you can read my response and the original article here.  So true.  So very true.

Somewhere along the line, I think society makes this expectation that infertility is somehow “fixed” once a person adopts or becomes a foster parent.  “You can always adopt.” I am not exactly sure where that comes from, but it is completely inaccurate. Women who struggle with infertility and have a biological child (or even children) don’t even register.  Yet, they struggle just as much as the rest of us for whom biological children won’t happen.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t wonder where I went wrong or what I could have done differently.  Maybe if I had been more clear with my ex, he would have been more open to adoption – or I would have moved on much earlier.  For the record, I told him before we ever really dated (we were friends first), so none of it should have ever come as a surprise.  Maybe if I had done x, y, or z, i would have adopted by now. Frankly, I need to stop beating myself up. But I also need to acknowledge that not a day goes by that these thoughts run through my head.  They are at the heart of what keeps me going and keeps me fighting for the family that I want so badly.

Unfortunately, our society and even some well-meaning people do not help.  I am tired of being told that “it will happen” one day when he or she knows nothing about my medical history. Nosey, but usually well-meaning, people seem to ask the most intimate of questions. As I have said before, not being asked when I will get married and/or have kids is one of the absolute best things about being single.  I am tired and frustrated by assumptions that seem to be everywhere. All of us need to be more careful. Unless we know the details, we have no idea what a person is truly going through at the moment.

And then there is religion.  For years, my cynical nature made me skeptical of anything having to do with organized religion.  By the way, I am completely comfortable separating organized religion from my personal belief in God and Jesus Christ.  I am not angry with God; I know He has a plan. I am angry with how insensitively we treat anyone in the church who isn’t a part of a traditional family unit.  My views toward organized religion may have changed somewhat, but the church can and should do better. It doesn’t have to be related to infertility, although that is what I will discuss here.

Again, well-meaning Christians may tell those struggling with infertility that he or she is praying or that “miracles happen all the time.”  Both are absolutely well-intentioned; however, what if she doesn’t get her miracle? What about cases of infertility that cannot be remedied by current medical science?  What about the woman who is alone and plans to adopt on her own? What about the woman who is still struggling after she and her husband do have their miracle baby? What about men who struggle with infertility?  I could go on. Instead, we just need to try not to jump to conclusions. Yet, it is so easy to do.

I finally decided to discuss infertility yet again thanks to a jaw-dropping blog post that discusses the clash between infertility and foster care.  With the exception of the author’s discussion of her daughter Lil Red, I could have written this article, especially regarding pregnancy.  I expect that once I do adopt, I will feel much the same way she does towards her daughter.  Her post touched me in a way that I can’t fully explain. You can read it here.  I am so glad that I live in a time where women can truly express how they feel towards topics such as infertility, loss, pregnancy, etc.  I can’t imagine not being able to express all of this.

I am not other.  I am not sick.  I am definitely not less-than.

Waiting for Baby Bird – Infertility and Foster Care:  The Clash of Both Worlds

A Different Perspective:  Is This Why We Don’t Talk About Infertility?

Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde:  The Lessons of Infertility

Made

New Beginnings

Every New Begining

As a child of the ’90s, this will always be a line from “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

It is strange to think that everything tends to happen at once, but at times, it does.  Right now, I am facing a fresh start in my career, my personal life, and pretty much everything else.  It is exhilarating to think of all the possibilities ahead.  I know that I have talked about fresh starts ad nauseum here – in fact, one of my favorite writing instructors pointed out that it is a consistent theme in my writing – but there are a few things I have learned over the years.  That is what I want to focus on here:  what I have learned and the future.

First, it is time to let some things go.  They no longer fit into the vision I have for my life.  Now is the time to put them to rest and focus on what’s ahead.  For me, that means letting go of experiences that left me feeling less than.  I won’t detail them, but I have had my share in both in my career (business and education) and my personal life.

Enough.  I can’t hold on to any of this anymore.  I am forced to forgive people who may not even how deeply they have hurt me.  I doubt that I will ever get the opportunity to discuss the issues in person.  Even if I did, I could explain my perspective until I am out of breath and he or she may still not get it.  It doesn’t matter.  I lost sight of my worth and that is entirely on me.

Second, it is time to act.  Finally.  It is time to act.  Over the last few years, one thing or another stood in the way of acting in different parts of my life.  There isn’t anything holding me back anymore.  Nothing.  In fact, that’s been true since this past summer.  Unfortunately, that fact took its time to fully sink in.

We are our own worst enemies.  Stay tuned.

One Life.jpg

Book Review: “The Stage is on Fire” by Katie Steedly

The Stage is on Fire Book Cover

It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular.  Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that.  At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book.  I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book.  The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world.  That said, it is not for everyone.

Let me start with what’s working.  Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful.  She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home.  In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.  Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.

I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common.  We both taught at some point.  We are both writers.  Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life.  In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times.  I could go on and on.  In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending.  It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.

There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.

  1. Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate.  In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin.  She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure:  Get back up and try again.  She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
  2. She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
  3. It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed.  Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me.  I only wish I had written it.  Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time.  Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
  4. Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon.  A marathon.  Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part.  She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education.  Yet, she did it.  She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.

Oh, and dating.  It is worth mentioning.  Katie is far more adventurous in the dating  world than I will ever be.  At the time, she had yet to meet the right man.  I get the impression that that may have changed.  Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.

There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover.  It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays.  I believe they are largely in chronological order.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much.  Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home.  It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays.  Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page.  In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.

Now to discuss what isn’t working.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all.  I almost put it down.  It became far too political for my tastes.  It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning.  I get why she wrote about politics.  It became an important part of her life at that point in time.  I don’t believe it was handled very well.  I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate.  No one has a monopoly on political truth.  No one.  I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement.  I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.

Politics aside, I am happy I read the book.  I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing.  Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible.  For that, I am truly grateful.  I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire.  I will be coming back to it as I continue to write.  You can find her website and blog here.

travel lost

Dreaming Big

Bold and Brave

I am not sure when I settled, but I did.  Why am I content to shortchange myself?  Anything can happen.  I need to remind myself of that simple truth daily.

It is time I figured out exactly what I want.  The thing is that what I truly want are things out of my control.  How do I balance that with working towards other goals over which I do have some control?  This is the type of question that keeps me awake at night.  I am no longer content to sit on the sidelines and let things happen.  I would love to know precisely when I stopped trying.  As much as I hate to admit this to myself, I never stopped caring.  I did stop trying.

The sad thing is that I’ve always wanted to do it all:  wife, mother, teacher, business owner, and writer.  I am not even a wife or mother yet, and still the other three on my list give me fits.  My sister Erica thinks I am nuts for wanting to teach and help take over our parents’ seasonal business.  She points out that things are much different in education and our business when compared to the days when our mom balanced both.  I agree.  Still, Erica underestimates me.  I can and will have it all – just not all at once.

Frankly, it kills me when people give up on their dreams.  Why should I give up on mine?  I do not care if my plans are hard.  The best things in life are hard.  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  I wish more people realized how much potential lies within everyone.  We would all either be much happier – or lost in sorrow when we realize what we could have had if only we hadn’t given up.

If you are betting against me, be prepared to lose.  I am far from done.

Rumi Quote

2019: Old Ends and New Beginnings

2019

Ah. 2019. It is off to a good start, even if it wasn’t exactly the start I expected. There is so much going on that I am just now writing about the new year nearly two weeks in. After an incredibly interesting and complicated 2018, I may just get the opportunity to finally move forward with long-term goals I’ve been working towards over the last five years or so. Here is the update.

Russell Canoe Livery – Those of you who know me know what a big role the canoe livery plays in my life. Garrett and I will soon be the owners. I’ve spent almost all my 38 summers working and playing at the campground.

I’ve wanted to computerize our operations since I was a teenager. After slowly putting things in place over the last several years, we can finally take online reservations. Last year I took control of our website and overhauled it. I’ve also built active Facebook pages for both our main location in Omer and our Crystal Creek Campground. At this point, I am proud of what I have built from nothing. Stay tuned as I still have to tell the story of the extensive damage we experienced last year.

Not even two weeks into the year and one of my projects for the canoe livery this year is largely finished.

Teaching/Education – With my teaching certificate in hand, I am now looking for a full-time teaching position for the 2019-2020 school year. I am certified to teach social studies, Spanish, and business classes at the secondary level (grades 6-12). I have experienced extreme highs and lows in my teaching career thus far. Fortunately, I now have a much better idea of what I am looking for in an employer in the education sector (school district) thanks to my varied substitute teaching experiences. With apologies to Dave Ramsey, I will always have the heart of a teacher.

If I do indeed land a full-time teaching position this fall, I will formally start my teaching career exactly 40 years after my mother began hers. My resume and portfolio are updated and ready to go!

new beginnings

Church – My family’s church, which I attend regularly during the school year, is about to fundamentally change. It looks as though we will end up with a fundamentally new church when the process is all said and done. The building and many of the people will remain, but there is uncertainty regarding everything else.

I am excited. When the dust clears, there may be more opportunity for me to become involved. I am all about new beginnings.

Personal/Family – This fall I intended to begin the process to become a foster parent with the intention to foster to adopt. Unfortunately, I know enough about the process and similar situations that I found myself wondering if this is truly what I want to do. I want to be as clear as possible: Becoming a mother is a non-negotiable for me.

While I may consider other forms of adoption, I need to go through the process to become a foster parent. If nothing else, I will have everything together when I am ready to pursue any form of adoption.

On a personal note, there is nothing holding me back from a new relationship in 2019. Finally. I finally came to terms with the fact that I may have to do this all alone. So what? If I meet the right man, great. If not … there are way too many other things I need to do in my life.

House – Most of my things are actually in my home after being stored for so many years in my parents’ pole barn. I am slowly getting things where they need to be and how I like them. The next step: remodeling! That will have to wait until I get my career on solid ground; however, there is nothing keeping me from planning (or dreaming).

Genealogy – At the end of last year, I solved one of the biggest questions I had with regards to my family history. It was as simple as asking the right question in front of the right person. I am so close to solving another. So close. The second question has led me on quite an adventure. Once I have a definitive answer, I will share it here. It is quite a story – and it deserves to be told.

As you can see, there is so much to look forward to in 2019. It is shaping up to be a year of completing long-term projects and pursuing new beginnings. I hope to share it with you all. Stay tuned …

humble and kind

Happiness

Happiness 1

I am not quite sure what shifted in my life over the past few months, but I can feel it.  I am happier than I have been in years.  It makes no sense on the surface.  This summer, quite frankly, I was miserable beyond words, and now, I am far from it.

Nothing major changed.  I am still single (more on that later), I am only slightly closer to starting the family I so desperately want, and my dad still hasn’t fully retired from the canoe livery.  My teaching career is not yet off the ground, and I am not yet a published author.  It just doesn’t matter that much anymore.  I am working toward the items I listed above, with one notable exception:  a relationship.

In fact, finally letting go of the idea that I should be in a relationship may be responsible for my new-found happiness – and my renewed focus.  After finally fully addressing my feelings for one man in particular and letting him know exactly how I feel (it wasn’t going to work), I just didn’t care anymore.

It isn’t that I am completely giving up on the idea of ever being in a relationship.  No, it is more than that.  Maybe I am finally learning that there is nothing stopping me from what I want out of life.  I know what it is like to be in an awful relationship, how destructive it can be, and how it can slowly erode over time without one even realizing it until it is far too late.  I also know what it is like to continually wonder if you should let your true feelings be known.  In this case, this person’s friendship meant so much to me that I did not want to jeopardize it.  That is what I feared most:  that he would no longer be a part of my life.

For the first time in 15 years – actually, most of my adult life – I am not in a relationship nor do I necessarily want to be in one.  There is no one in my life I would like to date, and I am fine with it.  Finally.

So far, my little “yes” experiment has been a success.  You can read more about it here.  There is so much to do and so little time.

Happiness 2

Book Review: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl

I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis per my sister’s recommendation.  Actually, it all started with the meme above.  I then found out that my sister loved the book.  Of course, it immediately moved to the top of my to be read pile.  I love the fact that I belong to a family that shares and recommends books!

Here are a few gems from the book and my thoughts. There are many more I could share here, but I will leave you to discover them yourself.  I highly recommend the Kindle version of the book as it allows the reader to highlight important passages without defacing a physical book.

Sometimes choosing to walk away, even if it means breaking your own heart, can be the greatest act of self-love you have access to. – Page 53.

This just seems to sum up the process I put myself through this summer.  The sad part is that I should have definitively learned this lesson years ago.  I wish everyone, women and men, knew this before heading off to college – or shortly thereafter.  It ultimately would have saved me so much time and heartache.

I knew I was letting my fear control me, that the worry about giving my heart away again only to have it stomped on kept me from taking a next step.  In the midst of such heartache, it’s hard not to worry.  I cried so many tears, thinking, Lord, why would you put this desire on my heart if it wasn’t ever going to come true?  And, God, if we try again, you’re not actually sending my heart out to be slaughtered, right? – Page 108.

Oh, have I been there!  More than once.  There are times when I still wonder how I will ever be able to trust again.  It is not easy to pick ourselves up and try again.  Yet, we must.

I want you to see someone who kept showing up again and again, even when it was tearing her apart.  I want you to see someone who kept walking in faith because she understood that God’s plan for her life was magnificent – even if it was never easy.  And even if it wasn’t easy, she was bold and courageous and honest even when the truth was hard to share. – Page 173

I admit, lately I have struggled to have faith that God does indeed have a plan for my life.  I am currently slogging through it all to figure out exactly what that plan is.  If I am meant to have a family of my own, why haven’t I been able to make it work yet?  Why is that the big unnegotiable of my life if, indeed, it is impossible?  I ask myself questions similar to this all the time.  Ultimately, it is not my timing, but God’s.  It will eventually work out.  Until then, I just need to be patient and keep working.  It will never be easy.

As you can see, I loved the book.  It is a great example of a book that came into my life at the exact time I needed to read it.  I happened to read it just as I was struggling with these questions.  While I would recommend the book to every young woman I know, it doesn’t mean I think the book is perfect.

If fact, in one sense, the book left me feeling unsettled.  It is a feeling I get whenever I get too involved in anything related to religion.  What no one seems to address in organized religion – and Rachel seems to unintentionally fall into this – is that not all women will end up married and become mothers.  Singles in the church, particularly those no longer in their twenties, seem to get left behind.  Whether explicit or implicit, the focus always seems to be on marriage and family.

While I think Rachel was right to spend much of her book focused on marriage and motherhood – after all, this book shares her life experiences – she doesn’t address what happens if you do end up alone.  She doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the possibility even though she goes out of the way to address situations not her own.  This may not be true, but it appears she assumes everyone will end up married and a mother.  A simple acknowledgement would have served the book well.  Then again, maybe I am reading way too much into this and too sensitive.  It doesn’t matter.  The book itself is great, and I highly recommend it.

By the way, I love how she addresses adoption in this book.  I am so glad I read this book before I started the adoption process.  Her family’s story related to foster care and adoption is not an easy one, but it does have a wonderful outcome.  In the end, that is all that matters.

rh dreams.jpg

Regrets

BB quote 1

This post is not about politics.  Instead, it is about what is important in life.  In the wake of Barbara Bush’s death, I keep coming across this quote.  It sticks with me, and I can’t help but realize this is how I have tried to live my life thus far.  I hope one day it will pay off.

This quote is the reason why I moved back to Michigan after falling in love with Austin, Texas and even beginning my career in Houston.  It is why I moved back to Omer, Michigan to help take care of my grandmother.  It is also the reason why I can’t imagine living far from family, even if it would greatly benefit my career (and social life) to do so.

That is only the beginning.  This quote also contains the reason why a ten-year relationship dissolved.  It helps to explain decades of worry regarding how I will ever create a family of my own, as well as my struggle to do just that.  In short, it is why I get up every morning.  It is my why.  If someone ever wanted to understand the craziness that is my life at times, all he or she would have to do is think of the implications of this quote.  I choose to try and avoid such regrets.  I still have them, but I imagine not quite so many as others.

When I think of the elder Bushes, I think of their marriage of 73 years.  Frankly, I can’t imagine being that in love.  Unfortunately, I have no frame of reference.  I also can’t imagine facing that large of a loss in life.  It saddens me.  My maternal grandparents were married 56 years.  At this point, my parents have already been married 40 years.  At 37, I am beginning to wonder if I will ever meet the right man.  If I don’t, I won’t be the only one missing out.

On a lighter note …

BB quote 2

Book Review: Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin

I enjoyed reading Marlena.  While it contains components of a YA (young adult) novel, I would classify it as emerging adult.  Fair warning:  Lots of drugs and sex involved.  The good news is that the drugs, and to a lesser extent, sex, drive the plot.  They are necessary to the plot, and fortunately, do not glamorize the consequences of either.  By the way, when I mention drugs here, I am including alcohol.

I didn’t read Marlena with a set purpose in mind.  It wasn’t a book club pick or anything.  In fact, I discovered it by browsing a selection of online books available through my library’s website.  It just sounded good.  It is ultimately a tale of two best friends growing up in a dull northern Michigan town.  It took a while for me to get into the book.  The protagonist, Cat, isn’t the easiest person to get to know.  Also, in the beginning, I didn’t get the fixation on drugs.  She clearly understands right from wrong, but she is fixated on her new best friend Marlena and making the worst possible choices for her life.  By approximately a quarter of the way through the book, I was hooked and found it difficult to put down.

Cat, at least the older, wiser version in the novel, nails what it is like to grow up, to love and lose.  There are so many powerful lines I found myself highlighting them in my Kindle copy, forgetting that it is a library book.  Below are a few of what I consider to be the most powerful lines in the novel.

Close enough to being a writer, isn’t it, working at a library? – Page 45

As an aspiring writer, I loved this quote.  Ultimately, Cat is a writer, but it took her a while to find her voice.  Her empathy for other young women is clearly demonstrated later in the novel in her approach to difficult young library patrons.

For so many women, the process of becoming requires two.  It’s not hard to make out the marks the other one left. – Page 96

This passage really made me think.  I thought of the friends, male and female, in both high school and college, who helped to shape the woman I became.  It made me think of what I wrote about W.M here in particular.  There is something to be said for reconnecting with old friends after years apart and seemingly nothing (and everything) has changed.

I think it’s pretty common for teenagers to fantasize about dying young.  We knew that time would force us into sacrifices – we wanted to flame out before making the choices that would determine who we became.  When you were an adult, all the promise of your life was foreclosed upon, every day just a series of compromises mitigated by little pleasures that distracted you from your former wildness, from your truth. – Pages 129-130

This struck a nerve with me as well.  First, I vividly remember being terrified of dying young as a teenager.  Both of my parents lost close relatives as teenagers, and those stories stayed with me.  Second, the fact that “time would force us into sacrifices” continues to be at the forefront of my mind.  I have always tried to find a way to leave as many doors open as possible.  There is just too much I want to do in life.

I was always aware, in some buried place, that girls my age had just entered their peak prettiness, and that once my pretty years were spent my value would begin leaking away.  I saw it on TV and in magazines, in the faces of my teachers and women in the grocery store, women who were no longer looked at … – Page 143

I so desperately want this not to be true, but it is true.  I loathe this fact about our culture.  Hopefully I will live long enough to see it change, permanently.

Before that year I was nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be. – Page 250

Thinking back to what I was like at ages 15-16, I like to think I was somehow stronger than Cat.  Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case; I could closely identify with Cat in the novel.  It makes the novel much darker.  There is a fine line between the successful teenage Cat and the degenerate.

I would recommend the book, especially if you love to write or like reading about love and loss (or even friendship in general).  Is the story sad?  Yes, but it is also full of hope.  It does seem that Cat is at least trying to deal with her loss, with varying degrees of success.

I know I have talked about this before, but I am convinced the right books find me at exactly the right time.  While I certainly wouldn’t call Marlena great literature, it addresses certain topics I would like to cover in my own writing.  I will be rereading this novel.