Going There

I’ve had Katie Couric’s memoir, Going There, on my to-be-read shelf for quite a while. It’s a heavy hardcover book, though now a paperback version is available. 

I knew of Katie — her first husband’s premature death and her resulting advocacy on behalf of cancer and early screenings. I knew of her time on the morning show Today, and her historic role as the anchor of the CBS Evening News

The book goes there.

But it goes much deeper than what I already knew. 

It gives readers a chance to see things from another vantage point. What is it like to witness a historic event, 9/11 for instance, and then have to report on it while simultaneously trying to process the horror and make sure your loved ones are safe? 

Katie Couric goes there, too.

There are so many moving passages, so many “wow” scenes. But some of the parts that most touched me were somewhat unexpected.

“I called the reporter at the Washington Post who’d edited my father’s obituary. ‘I wanted to let you know my mom died, and I’d love to have an obituary for her,’ I said.
“‘Well what did she do?’ he asked. ‘Tell me about her.’
“The question caught me by surprise.
“‘She did everything,’ I replied. ‘Raised four kids, who all went on to be very successful people. She was the heart and soul of our family. She was ahead of her time, volunteering at Planned Parenthood. She worked at Lord and Taylor in the gift department; she arranged flowers for weddings.’
“I’ll never forget the sound of silence on the other end.
“That’s when it really hit me, how undervalued mothers are in our society, especially the full-time kind. I was incensed that somehow my mom’s accomplishments, her amazing life, were deemed not worth writing about.”

“When all is said and done, though, I am my mother’s daughter, becoming more like her by the minute: when I neatly peel a pear and present the girls with the tidy slices on a china plate, or when I fix them lunch and declare, ‘A sandwich always tastes better when someone else makes it for you.’ Or when one of my children feels slighted or wounded, and I rear up like a Kodiak bear on its hind legs, ready to maul whoever’s crossed her. My mom may be gone, but her essence is very much alive in me.”

“Sometimes I’ll post a video in Instagram of me showing off my garden’s bounty — makeup-free, bedhead, still in my pajamas.
“Once someone commented, ‘Wow, she got old.’
“And all I could think was Aren’t I lucky?”

“Everyone has a story. I encourage all of you to preserve yours so that it can be cherished by those you love for years — even generations— to come.”

Mochas, Candles, and Pain

What they saw?

A regular customer. The woman who always orders a small mocha — hot (if it’s cold outside) or blended (if it’s hot outside).

What they didn’t see?

Me, carefully holding my cafe mocha, slowly walking back to my car, thankful that my sunglasses covered my teary-eyes. 

Because I hurt. And because I was sad that I hurt this much. Again. 

I had woken up that morning after having a fitful night’s sleep, filled with strange dreams. 

I dreamed I was telling someone (not sure who, in my dream I didn’t actually see anyone else) that my husband and I met in high school (true) and were high school sweethearts (not true — we were classmates in the same English class junior year). I told this invisible person that my husband and I have been married twenty-three years (true).

I also dreamed that I was doing some physical therapy. I had to sit in some sort of chair and use my legs to push the chair back. But there was resistance, which made pushing the chair difficult. When I woke up, my legs felt like they had gone through a workout. And in the midst of all that, I saw a monster truck. (I told you — strange dreams.)

After taking my son to school, I went to Trader Joe’s. The benefit of going on a weekday, shortly after 8 am, is it’s a whole lot less crowded. Fewer people means shorter lines, but also less exposure to any germs (even though I continue to double mask when shopping). But the disadvantage of going to Trader Joe’s on a weekday, shortly after 8 am, is that I don’t have anyone to help me shop, or load the car, or bring the bags into the house, or put everything away.

Which means I was hurting and feeling kind of down and that’s when I decided to head to our neighborhood cafe and get a mocha to bring home while I wrote. 

The mocha didn’t lessen my pain. Neither did the scented candle I lit (Black Cherry Merlot from Bath and Body Works) or the flowers I had bought at Trader Joe’s. 

There’s really only so much I can do in terms of managing my pain. 

So in the absence of true relief, I try to pay attention to the “little things,” the things that bring me joy, or peace, or comfort. 

Readers, what “little things” bring you joy, peace, or comfort? 

Book Lovers

Book Lovers by Emily Henry will always have a special place in my heart.

It’s the book I bought while on our family trip to Maui. I still have the receipt tucked away inside the front cover.

Plus, I had very much enjoyed Ms. Henry’s first two books, Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation. In fact, I was reading People We Meet on Vacation during our Maui trip.

But back to Book Lovers. There aren’t many books that I give a 5-star rating to on Goodreads, but this was one of them.

Here are just a few of my favorite passages:

“As different as we are, the second we start unpacking, it could not be more obvious that we’re cut from the same cloth: books, skin care products, and very fancy underwear. The Stephens Women Trifecta of Luxury, as passed down from Mom.
‘Some things never change,’ Libby sighs, a wistfully happy sound that folds over me like sunshine.
Mom’s theory was that youthful skin would make a woman more money (true in both acting and waitressing), good underwear would make her more confident (so far, so true), and good books would make her happy (universal truth), and we’ve clearly both packed with this theory in mind.”

“I sip my ice-cold drink and bask in the double-barreled serotonin coursing through me. Is there anything better than iced coffee and a bookstore on a sunny day? I mean, aside from hot coffee and a bookstore on a rainy day.”

“Libby and I used to joke that Freeman Books was our father. It helped raise us, made us feel safe, brought us little presents when we felt down. 
Daily life was unpredictable, but the bookstore was a constant.”

“As soon as the library’s automatic doors whoosh open, that delicious warm-paper smell folds around me like a hug, and my chest loosens a bit.” 

This, I think, is what it is to dream, and I finally understand why Mom could never give it up, why my authors can’t give it up, and I’m happy for them, because this wanting, it feels good, like a bruise you need to press on, a reminder that there are things in life so valuable that you must risk the pain of losing them for the joy of briefly having them.”

Julie and Julia

A few days ago, I was blindsided by the news.

Julie Powell had passed away.

I admit — my knowledge about Ms. Powell was largely limited to what I had read in her memoir, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, and what I had seen in the movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. 

I remember leaving the movie theater with my husband, and trying to decide what to go eat. (There really is no choice —  after watching the movie, you have to go eat.) I also remember my husband telling me I should start a blog, too.

At that time, my husband knew I enjoyed writing. He knew I wanted to write more. But he also knew that between my teaching career and our young son, there wasn’t a whole lot of extra time left for my writing.

But, because he knows me so well, my husband also knew that if I had a deadline, a self-imposed assignment, I would do what I needed to do to complete my assignment. 

That was the start of my first blog. A blog I called “Wendy’s Weekly Words.” A blog I published on Wednesdays to keep the W-theme going. A blog that was all over the place in terms of what I wrote about. 

Still, it got me to prioritize my writing time which got me writing on a regular basis. It led me to my current blog; the blog you’re reading now, which exists on my own website. 

And it all started from a movie that only existed because of the book that came before it.

And that’s the full-circle of this — words have power. The power to lift and inspire and encourage. 

The power to see a story unfold on-screen and think, maybe I could do that too

Julie Powell’s story did that for me. 

Rest in peace. 

Writing Out the Storm

There are some people who see little value in re-reading a book. After all, the world is full of books. There will never be time to read them all.

I am not one of those people.

One of my most re-read books is Barbara Abercrombie’s Writing Out the Storm: Reading and Writing Your Way Through Serious Illness or Injury. (Barbara holds a special place in my heart. You can read my tribute post, For Barbara, by clicking here.) 

Inside my copy of the book, is a print-out of a short email exchange between Barbara and me. I had written Barbara, thanking her for writing the book, and letting her know it had helped me put my thoughts on paper. That email was dated 2012.

This paragraph is taken from the back of the book:

This powerful and deeply inspirational handbook is for anyone coping with serious illness or injury — be it theirs or that of a loved one — who wants and needs to help themselves through the healing process. Offering her own experiences with breast cancer, as well as stories from other authors who have suffered from illnesses or severe injuries…

Though I have read this book several times, highlighting passages, marking pages with sticky notes, each read feels like a slightly new read. Each time I turn to this book, I’m surprised when a passage sticks out, a passage that in all my other reads had never really stood out to me before. 

That’s because I’m different. The book doesn’t change. But I do. Each time I read this book, I am a slightly different version of myself. And each time I read this book, I find writing prompts and quotes that speak to me and serve as inspiration in my writing. 

This time around, these are just a few of the sentences that jumped out at me.

Once you’ve heard the unthinkable, you know it’s possible to hear it again, or worse.”

“I’ve stopped fighting the diagnosis. I now fight the disease.”  

“I suppose it’s easy to be courageous when you don’t know you are doing so.”

Readers, I’m curious. Do you ever re-read books? Let me know in the comments.