July 20, 2017

July 20, 2017
Mary and Dosey

Monday, August 27, 2012

School-Anxiety Dreams


Because I've worked in education for 25 years, I notice that in the fall parents seem happy and relieved and teachers are tense.

 

Though many teachers love their students and their work, teachers mourn the passing of summer's ease.

 

This fall, I'm not returning to school as an educator. In May, I left my job as a Literacy Specialist because my disabilities made the work impossible to do effectively. I'll go to the UW's Graduate School of Social Work to start my masters in social work, but for me being a student is not nearly as anxiety-provoking as being a teacher, so I feel calm.

 

My psyche, however, has not heard about the change, and it knows that in the fall I am to have school anxiety dreams, so I am dreaming my back-to-school dreams.

 

Every teacher I know has them. Some teachers dream that their teeth are falling out. I've never had that dream.

 

I dream that I can't find my classroom, or I'm teaching a subject that I know nothing about, or I forgot to put on my clothes for teaching this day. Sometimes I dream that I am trying to go to the bathroom and people keep walking in to ask me a question.

 

Perhaps I am having these anxiety dreams because I am mourning my loss.


I loved teaching. I loved the teenagers with whom I worked and their parents who were trying to survive the teenage years. I don't fool myself, though. It was stressful work--with the teenagers and with their parents.

 

This morning in my yoga class, my teacher Dawn talked about Svadhyaya, the practice of self- study, and she talked about her own self-study as the mother of budding teenagers.

 

"Sometimes, they just think I'm old and stupid, and I start to wonder if I am old and stupid. When they were young and thought I was wonderful, I thought I was, too. I miss that."

 

In the class of seven women, every woman nodded. An older woman said, "They'll grow out of their teens and think you're wonderful again."

 

Dawn didn't seem so sure. "Yeah," she said, "if I live that long."

 

Though I loved teaching teenagers, I was generally glad that we went our separate ways in the evenings and on week-ends.

 

The mothers of teenagers usually seemed to struggle more than the fathers, so I felt a special sympathy for the mothers.

 

I felt most for the illegal immigrant mothers of teenage boys when their boys got in trouble with gangs.

 

In my first fall working with students living in poverty, just after learning that a student of mine was found dead from a knife wound in the back seat of a car, another student's mother came, panicked, into the room.

 

She and her son were immigrants from Mexico. I don't know if they were legal or not. Her son, who was in my class, had not come home in three days. She knew that he was involved with gangs and drugs, and she was so terrified that she was visibly shaking.

 

"What do I do?" she asked me. I didn't know, so I asked an administrator who had come to the room to tell me about my murdered student.

 

The administrator advised this mom who couldn't speak much English to call the police and to turn in a missing persons report on her son. I could see this mother's fear. She would not be calling the police.

 

I felt especially sympathetic, too, towards the American-born mothers of American-born girls, as that relationship always seemed so tough on the mothers.

 

They didn't usually come with life and death struggles, but these mothers looked worn and worried. "What am I doing wrong?" some asked me.

 

Nothing. This tension seems to be nature's way of preparing mother and child for the child's independence.

 

"Just know that this is normal," I would tell them. "You're okay, and they're okay. All I know to say is to breathe deeply."

 

That's really all I know about dealing with great anxiety and great love, whether we're teachers or parents.

 

Breathe deeply. Observe your child and yourself. Love your child and yourself.

 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lost

I have been lost so often that I am good at it.

When I was seven, I was supposed to direct my grandfather to my ballet studio for my lessons, but I got lost, so we went home to pick up four year-old Sister Jen, who directed us to the right spot.

That was early in my life, when I showed an aptitude for being lost but was not yet so good at it. The adventure turned out fine, so it was good early training. 

I continued to build this skill as I grew up.

When I lived in Dallas in my twenties, I often got lost when I was driving, so I would follow the road that most cars were taking. If the three cars in front of me turned left, I turned left, too. I figured that even if they weren't going to my destination, they must have had some destimation in mind that might be even more interesting.

My strategy didn't work out so well, as I generally ended up on a dark street in the middle of what seemed like nowhere when the car I was following turned into its driveway, but I used the strategy most of the five years that I lived in Dallas since I couldn't think of a better one.

In my final Dallas year, I bought a red Trek bicycle and rode it around town whenever I could. Sometimes I got lost. Very lost. And so I got tired. Very tired.

On one especially hot Dallas day, I rode several miles down Preston on my little red bicycle. If you don't live in Dallas and don't know Preston, imagine the busiest and narrowest four lane road you have ever been on. Then imagine that you're in a clothes dryer and the hot wind is drying you out. Pedaling in a hot wind down a narrow, busy street. 

I was dehydrated and a little loopy, so I wasn't terrified like I should have been. Miraculously, I lived to tell the tale.

Though getting lost on my bicycle excursions could be downright dangerous, I started learning the logic of streets, and directions didn't always seem so haphazard anymore. 

When I moved to Seattle, I came to love the bike trails and the bike-friendly streets, and I biked all over town, so I got to know my way around. Besides, north-south streets had numbers, and I could count. Also, I didn't get too lost because if I went the wrong way, I'd end up at some body of water and would know to turn back.

I was getting better at finding my destinations, but I was still most talented at being lost. Because I was good at being lost, whenever Ann and I needed to go someplace unfamiliar, I drove. Getting lost didn't upset me. It felt natural, so I was calm.

Then I had brain tumors, and now I can't bike around Seattle anymore. I can't drive either, but my talent at being lost still serves me well.

Now I catch the bus, but to catch the bus, it's very important to write down the correct bus number, the correct direction, and the correct address. I don't always do this.

Today, for example, I caught the #8 from home, heading towards Queen Anne, just like I was supposed to. I walked South on Broadway just like I was supposed to, and right outside of Seattle University, I ran into my friend Kim Thomas. Luckily, I was fifteen minutes early and I was almost to Pine, where the coffee shop I was heading to was, so I stopped to talk and to meet her mom and sister.

A gallant man wearing a black trench coat in the summer sun offered to give me a ride. He said that my glasses made me look intelligent. Then he offered to give me a kiss. I didn't want a kiss, but it sure was kind of him to offer.

Then I walked to Pine Street, but I couldn't find Cafe Vita at 1005 Pine Street. I walked up and down. I called information looking for the phone number so that I could ask how to get there, but the man on the phone said that he didn't have a listing for Cafe Vita on Pine. He said he'd connect me to someone else who was an expert, but I was on hold too long, and then I saw my friend Bethany, so I hung up.

Bethany was a teacher in the public school district where I last taught. She was pushing her son in his stroller. We caught up on school news, including the fact that neither of us would be in that district this year.

I said that I'd better go, since I didn't want to be late for the writing group at Cafe Vita, "which, by the way, I can't find. It should be right here."

"Oh," said Bethany, "you're on the wrong street. It's a block over."

Just then, my friend Karen walked up and said that she would walk with me there. I haven't seen Karen in a while, so we caught up a bit, and she shared the good news that Elliot Bay Book Company just bought a lot of the cards she makes with her drawings on front.

We walked a block over and parted at Cafe Vita. Though I was twenty minutes late, I felt good about such a delightful journey. I went upstairs to join the Writers' Group. Group members were already quietly into their own writiing.

I started my writing, too: "I have been lost so often that I am good at it..."

As I wrote, it occurred to me that this gift being lost also serves me well as I adjust to life after brain tumors.

I cannot travel through life in my accustomed way, but I am not panicked. I'll look around a bit, see if I stumble into a good friend and if I find some interesting spot.

I'll figure out something, and eventually I'll find my way.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dream or Vision?

In the night, a man with a white beard wearing a monk’s robe appeared at my bedside. He looked like Sean Connery in the 1986 film The Name of the Rose. He did not speak. He held out his hand, palm up, wide sleeve draping from his wrist. In his palm was my ipod. Or maybe it was my eye-drops. It was something small.
I recognized that he did not belong by my bed in the night, and I was both afraid and angry that he was there. “Who are you?” I yelled.
Beside me in bed, Ann patted my thigh. “It’s okay,”she said, “You’re having a dream. You can go back to sleep.”
“It’s not okay,” I told her. “Who is that man by the bed?”
“There is no man. You were dreaming.”
“Don’t you see that man?” I asked, pointing in the robed man’s direction.
Then, more awake now, I looked again. “Oh, he’s not there. Sorry. I had a dream, but he was so real.”
In the morning, I wondered again who he was and why he was there. Was he a vision or a dream?
The man’s name was Sri Krishna. Though I knew his name, I did not know who he was. Strange.
Last night before going to sleep, I read the first few chapters of Ekreth Easwaran’s Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation, and Indian Philosophy. Easwaran explains the Gita’s opening chapter, a scene of armies facing one another for war, and two men in the middle space between them. One of the men, Arjuna, a practical man, seeks wisdom from the other man, a philosopher, about what to do in this moment before battle.
The philosopher’s name is Sri Krishna. The same name as the man in my dream. Hmmm.
Easwaran explains that the Gita's battle symbolizes a person’s internal battle between the true Self and the temporal self. “In Ghandi’s view,” Easwaran writes, “the real battlefield is one’s own life, where the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, rages from birth to death.
Easwaran explains the Gita’s central concept: “We don’t know who we are. We don’t know what we are as human beings, so we are divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we behave like separate creatures engaged in a struggle for survival with the rest of life. Yet at some deep level, we also know that this image of ourselves is inaccurate: that we are not separate from nature but part of a much larger whole, motivated not merely by personal survival but even more by love, ideals, beauty, a sense of right and wrong—values that can’t be denied without losing something of our humanity.
When I awoke in the morning after my dream, I thought, “I need to start reading lighter material before I go to sleep.”
Then, when I checked my email, I had a poem from Little Brother Matt that spoke to much the same theme. (I love poems from LBM!)  Derek Walcott’s poem “Love After Love” is about this divided self coming back together in celebration:
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
The coincidence of this dream and this poem, of their common theme and call for internal wisdom, surprised me.
Then in yoga class this morning, my teacher Victoria read this poem from Rumi:
When you fall asleep,
you go from the presence of yourself
into your own true presence.
You hear something
and surmise that someone else in your dream
has secretly informed you.
You are not a single “you.”
No, you are the sky and the deep sea.
Your mighty “Thou,” which is nine hundredfold,
is the ocean, the drowning place
of a hundred “thou’s” within you.
Like Sri Krishna and Derek Walcott, Rumi writes of the divided self. Perhaps Rumi is writing about Sean Connery coming to see me in the night, and Sean Connery has something to teach me. Perhaps Derek Walcott would say that Sean Connery is me. But why the ipod or the eye-drops?
I have been feeling pretty peaceful, so what do I have to learn?
I hear echoes of Yoda to Luke in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones:
"Much to learn you still have...my old padawan... This is just the    beginning!"
Maybe this cloaked man was no dream. Perhaps he was a vision. Chivo! I have always wanted to have a vision.
I wonder what I am to learn from this.
To be continued when I know something more.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paradise


Ann and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary on “the mountain,” as we Seattle folk call Mt. Rainier. We stayed at the Paradise Inn because fifteen yards from the front door is access to a dozen hikes that are paved, so I can walk on them with Ann’s help.

The mountain was out, which means to us locals that the sun was shining, the sky the bluest blue you’ve ever seen, and the mountain was in full view, not obscured by clouds as it often is.

Lupine, purple mountain flowers with vertical flowers, were in full bloom. So were white avalanche lilies, magenta and orange Indian paintbrush, and bear grass, a white flower on a stalk that looks something like a giant q-tip. There were daisies: yellow and purple and pink. And white lacy flowers whose names I don’t know and tall green somethings that were preparing to bloom. And tiny purple what-nots blooming in the rocks. And greens: bright spring greens, dark evergreen greens, grass greens and leaf greens.

As we walked up a path one morning, I overheard a five year-old boy say, “Mom, this is heaven.”

Yes, it is. Paradise is the right place for us. We have always loved the outdoors and have sought new ways to hike since my neurosurgery.

Ann and I saw a deer, a marmot, a chipmunk on the trails. We saw a mama deer and her fawn on the side of the road. Last year we watched a black fox hunting. You never know what you might see there.

When I stopped to rest on a rock and Ann went ahead to scout out the trail (Could I make it any further and would it be worth it?), a man with a full white beard and skinny legs, looking like he’d walked right out of the Old Testament, stopped to talk.

Hi name’s Stephen and his wife died of brain cancer last year. They had been married forty years. He was no longer in touch with his daughter. He seemed sad, but at peace in this paradise.

“How are you?” he asked me when he stopped.

“Great. How are you?”

“Blessed,” he told me.

I ignored the conservative implications and said, “Yes, we are.” Because, really, we are blessed, and I don’t want to give that adjective over to the religious right.

Stephen had read a lot of information about the ill effects of meat and potato chips. He’s a vegetarian, he said, but when Ann returned, and he looked hungry, we offered some of our sandwiches and potato chips. He ate our turkey and cheese sandwiches. He liked the potato chips, too.

He said something about our husbands. Then he asked, “Are you two married?”

Ann responded, “Yes. To each other.”

“Are you puttin’ me on?”

“No. I’m not putting you on. We got married in our church.”

“Well, I have a sister who was a nun who is liberal. I’m ultra-conservative.”

The conversation continued, pleasantly. He may be ultra-conservative (I’m not sure what that is), but he shared our love of this place and a kindness that accompanies such beauty.

At one point, Stephen said, “If you go off the trail, you might get kicked out of Paradise.”

I heard his theological pun and responded both literally and theologically: “I don’t think they kick people out of Paradise.”

We talked some more. Then he went his way and we went ours. I wonder how he is now, and I wish him well. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy Gnu Year

Five and a half years after my first brain tumor and 2.5 years after my second one, I learned that my brain is stable (yep), which means that I have no tumor growth. Yea! That makes this a happy gnu year, or happy new 6 months (until the next MRI) anyway.


There are no fireworks (I'm not a fan of fireworks since they usually mimic bombs, and scare the neighborhood dogs--and veterans, I'm guessing). There is no countdown on t.v. I will not attempt to stay up until midnight--on the East coast. Though the rest of the world's not drinking champagne, for me this is the most joyful kind of gnu year.


Because it's my New Year, and I am amused by the word "gnu" (Why is that g there? That's a conundrum for the Cowboy Poet to sort out), I wanted to learn something about gnu (or is it gnus?)

Wickedpedia says that gnu is just a weird word for wildebeest. Because the gnu is itself such a bizarre looking creature, gnu seems to me to be a better name than wildebeest. You know, because it looks like it looks.

Ann and I saw thousands of wildebeest, or gnus, when we were on the Serengheti two years before my brain surgery (in the year 2 BBS).

Our safari group rounded a dusty bend in our jeeps and witnessed a river of these odd looking animals dashing one way, then having some one gnu at the front of the line get spooked, and all of them turn around and charge back the other way, a gnu river now flowing upstream. It was like watching a waterfall begin to fall up.

I went to Wikipedia (my favorite source for all things unimportant) to see what Wikipedists had to say about gnus. I was surprised to read:

GNU Listeni/ɡəˈn/[1] is a Unix-like computer operating system developed by the GNU project, ultimately aiming to be a "complete Unix-compatible software system"[2] composed wholly of free software. (Wikipedia)

First, I have to admit, I misread the sentence, and thought that this was a Unisex-like computer. Well, that got my attention. I didn't know that computers were sexual, and then what would it mean to be Unisex-like? Okay, so I re-read, and I was wrong about that.

I kept reading, and came to the section on Harvesting Gnus. Intriguing. I read:
Wildebeest are killed for food, especially for biltong in Southern Africa, which is dried game meat. Biltong is a delicacy and an important food item in Africa.[4] It has been found[by whom?] that the meat of females is more tender than that of males, and that meat was the most tender during the autumn season.[9] Wildebeest are a regular target for illegal meat hunters because they are relatively easy[vague] for hunters to kill. When preparing the wildebeest, the carcass is usually[weasel words] cut into 11 pieces. The estimated price for wildebeest meat is about US$ 0.47 per kilogram.[21]

So of course I started wondering who was making all of those comments in brackets. Some relative of Mr. Spellcheck, I'm guessing. The voice is pedantic, wanting to know who found the meat of females more tender than that of males (isn't it always that way? Duh.) Then I got to "weasel words." I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound very nice. And my mama always told me, "If you cain't say anythin' nice, don't say anythin' atall."

That's all the news on gnus for now. Happy gnu year to you, too, whatever the newness is in your life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Looking Back

July has been, for me, a month of looking back.

In literature, the most famous cases of looking back are metaphors, cautionary tales of people who looked back out of nostalgia or mistrust and therefore were punished. In the Bible, Lot's wife looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah as she fled her home. Lot's wife (sometimes she has a name, but mostly she's just "Lot's wife") calicified into a pillar of salt for her crime.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus went to Hades to retrieve Eurydice, with the admonition that neither should look back until they were in the living world. Orpheus looked back and--poof--Eurydice got zapped back to the Underworld. Much has been made of his suffering, though it seems to me that she suffered most.

In early July, Ann and I visited friends in Western North Carolina. Some of these friends I haven't seen in 25 years, and I loved meeting them again, in this different stage of our lives, and knowing again how much I like and admire them. Meeting them again, I looked back at the children that we were and at the adult that, at the time, I thought I would be.

My church friend Heather used to have long brown hair; now her hair is a beautiful (and short) bright white. Heather always let me know that she admired me (especially for my thick auburn hair and my cooler than cool self--though I'm pretty sure that she was the only one who thought so.) She also admired my family in our1970s  surburban ranch-style home (especially my mother's white shag carpet--yep, it's still there.)

When we were children, Heather was so busy admiring me that I'm not sure she noticed me admiring her. She was smart and clear-headed: no malarky, it seemed to me, about trying to fit in. Heather's still smart. She's a lawyer and a writer (I most admire fiction writers--how do they dream up worlds and people like that? Check out her first novel, Under the Mercy Trees.)

Ann and I visited Heather and her family in her suburban home--no white shag carpet as far as I could tell but polished hardwood floors. Her red-headed husband made pizzas in a pizza oven he built himself and served beer made from hops he planted himself. Her red-headed daughter kept an impressively messy room. (She would have fit in at our house when my siblings and I were growing up.)

Heather is living the life that I imagined I might live (except being an author--I couldn't imagine such a fine thing for myself.) She seems happy. I am happy for her, and I was glad to watch myself and to see that I felt no envy.

I look back at early visions of the person I thought I would be, and I feel compassionate about my younger self and how little I knew. Heather seems to be living a good life for her, but it's not for me.

Ann and I also visited high school friends May and Paul and younger students Kirin and Mark. May and Paul are middle-class hippies. They teach second grade and live on what my sister calls "the commune" with May's younger sister Kirin and her husband Mark, both of whom also attended our Broughton High School and our Pullen Memorial Baptist church.

Kirin's a gynecologist who works primarily with Latina women in the area, and Mark was a prison minister in the U.S. and Cuba, but now he's looking into buying cattle for the commune's meadows. (I started to call him "Farmer Mark", but I don't think he liked that.)

May and Paul have two daughters, and Kirin and Mark have one (named "Joy", appropriately as far as I could tell.)

A lawyer, two teachers, a doctor for Latinas and a minister for prisoners: these are my peeps. In each of them I see a path I might have taken.

 As I met them as adults, I look backed to the turns in my journey where I went in different directions than I had thought I would.

In addition to their careers, they're all parents, another path I thought I'd take.

At the beach later in the month, I saw my siblings and their families and saw again people living lives much like a life I envisioned for myself but have not lived.

I love my nieces and nephews, and for a long time I was sad that I would not have or adopt children of my own: not because I'm a lesbian (plenty of lesbians have kids these days) but because I long-suspected that I was living with some undiagnosed health issue, and I was afraid that I would not be able to care for children. (I was right: at 43 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that had probably been born with me).

Of  course, my mom is a mother, too, and she says she wanted moterhood for her life, though it seems to me that though my siblings and I can be charming, we must have often been a pain. Still are.

It's odd: though I am happy to know my friends and family, and though I do love kids, I do not envy the parents I know or regret the roads my life has taken.

Margaret Mann talked about this kind of grace at a recentLesbians Over 40 meeting. Margaret is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, because of something that burst in her spine. She's had a double mastectomy. She was reading from her book, A Dramatically Different Life, and talking about her philosophy, a way of living her life informed by her Buddhist theology.

 "I am an old, biracial lesbian in a wheelchair who refuses to suffer wishing things were different," Margaret said. "The whole point of my book is that you get to choose whether or not to suffer....You will suffer to the same degree that you wish things were different."

That's wise, I think. The wisdom was in her words and in the lightness and humor of her spirit. I think she's right, but I'm not refusing to suffer. I'm just refusing to die in my living, and I'm not suffering, either.

I think Margaret's wise, and though I'd love to be wise, I think I'm just lucky. And perhaps a little wise to see it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Falling

In Monday's yoga class, I fell for the first time since neurosurgery damaged my cerebellum over five years ago.

I did not fall gracefully or ethereally, as if I were in the divine presence. I was attempting a variation of one of the warrior poses, and I toppled off of my yoga matt onto the yoga center's hardwood floor. The warrior next to me gasped, "Are you okay?" and I could only laugh at myself sprawled so indelicately on the floor in front of her.

I have feared falling these last five years, and the fear is not frivolous: I cannot see well and my body lurches to the side from time to time as I walk. I do not want to lurch in front of a moving car or skin my knees and my chin on the pavement in front of me. I do not want to give myself another injury to deal with. I do not want to be reminded of how limited I am.

Monday's fall was the best kind of fall. Though this fall wasn't graceful, it was joyful. Before I fell, I was concentrating on stretching into the pose instead of concentrating, as I so often do, on avoiding a fall. I was so focused on this moment that I did not feel myself start to fall, and I did not try to catch myself. Somehow, my body knew what to do. It knew how to fall. And so I fell gently. I did not tense my body into a gasp or bruise myself trying to stop from falling.

I just fell. Lightly. And I laughed.

My yoga center's focus this month is Svadhyaya. (The translation I've liked best is being "the witness" who learns who we are through observing ourselves and learning from the poets who speak to us.)

I am learning from my body, again, who I am. And I am learning again that my body is wise, that I can release my need to control with my mind. I am learning who I am and that I am okay.



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I take it back

Sunday, I wrote about Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club, the engaging story of growing up tough with a "Nervous" mom.  

I listed Karr's memoir among my top nine, but today I'd like to take that ranking back. Now that I  have read more, I no longer list it in my top nine. I know it's a memoir classic, and I should love it, but I just don't.

Much about the memoir is excellent. Karr writes beautifully and compassionately about a difficult childhood with a mother who burns all of the family's possessions in a bon fire and shows up at her children's door with a butcher knife that she believes she has used to kill them.

I admire Karr's style, her ability to witness herself as a child, her honesty about difficult love, and her pain.

The story is just so hard. In its unabating pain, the story reminds me of the film Boys Don't Cry, a film where even the few moments of potential joy are so filled with danger that I cannot breathe.

I want the memoir I'm writing to be honest about hard times but essentially joyful. I wonder if I can write as convincingly about joy as she does about pain. 

That's my goal: sharing an experience of joy that's deeper than the pain.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nine Good Reads


Looking for a good summer read that's engaging and not vapid? A good beach book for someone who likes a good story? Try these memoirs that have inspired me has I write my own memoir:
One early memoir, Thoreau’s Walden, tells of Thoreau’s reflections on his experiences in a little cabin by a little pond. As a teenager and young adult, I was inspired by Thoreau’s passion for seeking the truth. That passion inspires me still. If you read the book or saw the movie Into tthe Wild, Thoreau's writing inspired McCandless to go into the wilds of Alaska, an inspiration that led to his death and to an excellent sound track by Eddie Veder.
Another early memoir, Elie Wiesel’s powerfully slim volume Night, invited me into the young Wiesel’s central question: Can there be a God of goodness when pain and cruelty hold such sway in this world?
Both texts integrated storytelling with reflection on larger questions; both were about circumstances and the thinking about those circumstances. I hope my book combines storytelling with existential questions. I hope my book is about fear and courage. I hope that it is about doubt and faith.
With my freshmen students in my last year of teaching high school English, I read and studied Luis Rodriguez’s excellent memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA. When Rodriguez was a teenager, he began writing the story of his involvement in gangs and then his separation from gangs. He finished the memoir as an adult when his son began getting involved in gangs, but the story was not powerful enough to keep his son, who is now serving a life sentence for manslaughter, out of prison. A colleague told me of a freshman in her remedial reading class who was reading Always Running, though it was significantly above his reading level. When she asked why, his eyes swelled with tears, “I want to learn how he got out.” Though Rodriguez’s son did not learn this lesson from his father’s story, other children do.
Though I’ve never been involved with gang life, I learned about a life and struggles different than mine when I read Rodriguez’s book. I hope that my memoir, too, will be helpful for others who have had my struggles and will help those who have not had such struggles connect with a story different than their own.
I have also loved Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, especially her reminiscence of a simple moment, patting a puppy, and being present. Dillard’s call to be present has guided many of my adult moments, and I have tried to integrate this call in my life and in my writing.
Patti Smith’s Just Kids, her portrait of the young adult relationship between her and Robert Maplethorpe, the relationship of soul mates, made me cry out of my right eye, an eye that hasn’t otherwise teared in the four years since surgery.  I hope that my story of soul mates, of Ann and me, inspires tears, too, though perhaps these tears will be tears of joy.
I love Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black, Kerman’s story of a year in federal prison, and I hope that in my memoir I am able to tell stories that connect others to my experience and my vision in the way that she has connected with me.
I probably seemed a little crazy as I laughed my way through David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day on a cross-country plane ride. Lots of people make me chuckle, but only David Sedaris makes me hee-haw. Though Sedaris writes personal essays, not officially memoir, he draws on his experiences growing up with an eccentric family in North Carolina, just as I do.
When I was visiting a colleague’s Language Arts classroom one day, the students were reading a Sedaris essay, and I told them that David Sedaris and I had gone to first grade together (In 1970, we went to E.C. Brooks Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, but I don’t remember him, and I doubt he remembers me.) I asked the knot of students that I was talking to, “Do you ever wonder who in your class might turn out to be famous?” One girl opened her eyes wide and whispered, “I think about that all the time.”
My first yoga teacher, Denise, told me that my writing reminds her of Anne Lamott’s writing, so my partner Ann read aloud Lamott’s memoir, Traveling Mercies, for us to share. Though Lamott’s struggles are different from mine, she has a sense of humor about herself and her journey that I admire. Her writing, like mine, combines humor and storytelling with reflection on God and love. She, too, wonders how best to live her life. I am flattered by the comparison.
Now I'm reading Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club, the engaging story of growing up tough with a "Nervous" mom. Mary Karr's older sister argued that young Mary should trade her little dimes for something much larger, and therefore surely more valuable, like pennies. I made the same argument with my Sister Jen when we were young, and I enjoy the number of connections I find in this classic. 
From teaching English, I believe that the best writing teachers are the writers who inspire us, and for these mentors I am thankful. 
Let's make it a top ten. What do you recommend?