Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Cure to Homelessness

     Don’t be alarmed. I have food, clothes, shelter, and a bed (though be it a shared bed). I’m not actually homeless---at least not by the common definition. But moving back “home” after four years of school, I don't feel at home. If anything, my home is in all of my boxes of things sitting in the basement (see picture). Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my family, but this house isn’t my home anymore…and neither is SVU. For those four years, it was my home and I probably have never been more attached to a home (as evidenced by the pool of tears that appeared when I left). Unfortunately, as Carrie Underwood would say (or sing), these were only temporary homes. So, here I am searching for my next temporary home and praying that this feeling of homelessness is not permanent. Here lies the perfect opportunity to prove to that lit therapy works. My cure for homelessness? Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

     Anyone who has read this novel either knows exactly where I’m going or is questioning my sanity. Are there characters more homeless than these? Each of the 9 sections in the novel is the name of a different place. Talk about temporary. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the main characters Oliver and Susan Burling Ward were the free-spirited, adventurous, traveling types. But it’s painfully obvious that Susan is the rooting type. As her grandson/the narrator says, “There was a real nester in that woman,” and her husband’s big dreams and constant job-chasing simply aren’t conducive to that. At the very least, I understand Susan’s frustration. Our hearts are homeless together. Sometimes, it’s therapeutic just knowing you aren’t alone.
     When I first read Angle of Repose, I thought that all of the cities Susan lived in were just stops on the way to her real home --- which I wrongly assumed would be the last “stop” in the novel. But as I was re-skimming, it dawned on me that there were moments when she was “home” even when she was in the throes of a strange city. Exhibit A: Boise Canyon. “Abandoned in its gulch, its garden gone to weeds, its fences down, its ditches drifted full, its windows out, [etc., etc., etc.] it would look like failure and lost cause. But while they were there it was a hopeful struggle, not lost cause, and for a while it was a little corner of Eden” (371). Exhibit B: Michoacán. I couldn’t find a good passage to prove it, but she was totally ready to be a Mexican mama. My point is this, if Susan could find that feeling of home in a run-down house in the middle of Boise or on a Mexican veranda, just maybe “home” has nothing to do where you’re at or even how stable/permanent the place is. Home is a feeling, an attitude. Here's the real kicker: we're in control of that feeling. Why else would one city be so homey to Susan and another so the opposite? Even when they are equally strange to her. I have to blame how open-minded or bitter she was at that point in time.
     Some of the last words in the novel are: “Wisdom is knowing what you have to accept.” What I, what we, have to accept is that life is full of temporary homes. Changing homes will always hurt. I think Susan would say (in much more eloquent language, if she could speak from a fictitious grave): “It’s like breaking a bone. When it’s time to leave, accept the pain. Think of me and know that you (thee) aren’t alone. Learn from my bad example and never forget that ‘a broken bone thickens in healing’ if you let it” (381). Well said, Susan, well said. But break it must...break it must.
Writing Song*: “Coming Home” by Gwenyth Paltrow and “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood
*I write to music. It’s usually one particular song each time, and I wouldn’t be a good music missionary if I didn’t share with all of you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Beginning

As much as I love writing essays, I hate writing the introductions. I just sit there glaring at Microsoft Word waiting for the words to appear. In my mind, those first words can destroy an entire paper. So, instead of moving straight to the middle, I sit for hours paralyzed with fear until something creative comes.  Not just something creative either---something perfect. Sitting here as a 3-day-old college graduate, I realize that how I write my papers is exactly how I write the chapters of my life. I’m sitting here waiting for my perfect beginning. I have tons of questions about where to go from here and how to start. I'm not sure when I'll find the answers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my answer will come as it has so many times before---from a book.
It’s the best English major secret ever kept, and my goal is to share it with all of you through this blog. The secret won’t mean a lot to you until you’ve seen it in action, so I’ll tell you now if you promise to keep reading. Ready? *in a whisper voice* Every question you ever asked has already been answered…in a book. Obviously, I’m not talking about one book. I’m talking about all of them. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find several answers in one book. And if you’re reading this you’re really, really lucky because I’m going to do the work for you! I’ll pick a different book/question combination each week and prove to you the success of lit therapy or “word therapy” as my friend Mary Locke calls it. The best therapy ever: free, fun, and can be done from the comfort of your own couch (not across from a shrink with a quizzical brow and a notepad).  
Special thanks to Dr. Cluff for reminding me of the truth of this idea and to Mary Locke for being my fairy godmother and blog design expert (Yay for pretty blogs!). She’ll also be a contributing writer, so this won’t be the last you hear about her!
By the way, feel free to write in questions or recommend books or share your own experiences. I certainly do not have the corner on lit therapy.