Rethinking Possible – Review

“For a family who knew so much – whose faith was so deep, love so abiding, and minds filled with mottos designed to keep us focused on the possibilities that were surely ahead – we knew nothing that could have prepared us for that kind of loss.”

Rethinking possible is listed as a memoir. A reflection of one woman’s journey into readjusting her expectations after life decided it wasn’t going to go along with her plans. But more than a story of her journey, there is a message of resilience and optimism that is stunning to read.

Becky Galli was raised as a preacher’s kid in the South. With two strong parents determined to raise their children with a sharp focus only on the possibility of life and a knack for finding the silver lining in any situation, her childhood was full of predictability and hope. Their family motto was ‘what’s planned is possible’ and they firmly believed it.

Even after an accident put her brother in the hospital, she believed he would make it, that he would achieve everything he planned. The shock of his death forever changed their family, tearing it from the solid unit they were to something different.

“I was in a life that wasn’t my own. Didn’t even have the wardrobe for it.”

It’s easy to get up after getting knocked down once, though, and life progressed for Becky according to her now revised plan. After graduating, she married and began to work on her career. With two type A personalities focusing on their life goals, they were determined that nothing would stand in their way. She even gave birth, on schedule, after Joe received his MBA and before she was 30. Everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t.

Galli faces several devastating hits when she learns two of her four children are disabled, and one developmentally delayed. The struggle of facing the extraordinary challenges in raising a family like that is remarkable, but had it’s costs. In her case, it was her marriage. As if divorce isn’t devastating enough, she was hit with a rare inflammation that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nine days after her divorce finalized.

“After all we’d been through, adventure had become our family’s euphemism for plans with uncertain outcomes. Forget plans; we mostly clung to possibility. Our lives had become one steady stream of rethinking possible.”

The most remarkable thing about this memoir isn’t the amount of tragedy in Rebecca Galli’s life, although she gets more than her fair share. The thing that moved me the most is that she isn’t a saint and she isn’t a victim. She does the best she can every day. Some days are good, and some days aren’t. But every day she does the best with what she has.

“You allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in your own self-pity. You are entitled. Go ahead, experience your pain. But don’t stay down there too long because you can drown, I’ve learned.”

Often when I read memoirs, I can feel a bit chastised. Not because of anything that the author did, or wrote, but because of the way they present their attitudes on life. Some days I throw myself giant pity parties of one. I try not to, but I do. And then you read about someone’s life and how optimistic, or cheerful, or stoic they can be about tragedy and trauma. Sometimes it’s inspiring, and sometimes it’s a bit of a punch to the gut.

But Galli lets you see the good and the bad. She vents. She questions. She wallows. And then she gets up. She finds a new perspective. She moves forward. I get that. I relate to it. I identify with it. She doesn’t always show herself in the best possible light, and so she feels real to me. She’s the woman I would want to call when life gets a little shaky. She may not have the answers, but you know she’s going to at least listen and try. She isn’t going to judge your pain or minimize how you feel.

“Life in all it’s unfairness can never take your attitude. That alone is yours to keep and change. No one does that for you. That is power.”

Life can often feel overwhelming. It can feel hard and big and just too much. There is laughter and happiness and the thousands of tiny moments worth living. But there is also pain, and with pain can come suffering. Galli was hit with a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. But she weathered each storm, and managed to accomplish some impressive feats regardless of the difficulty. She learned acceptance, and she learned that sometimes we have to accept things more than once.

“I found a new motto: ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional’.”

This book came to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Life can sometimes feel like you’ve been thrown into a cage match with no training or warning and are expected to somehow survive. You get up only to get knocked right back down. It is a constant barrage of learning, and adjusting, and accepting. It isn’t easy. But rather than make your struggles feel trivial in comparison to hers, Galli makes them relatable. She makes you feel understood.

And because she writes about her journey in such an honest way, you find that she makes you feel like you’ve just received the pep talk you needed. Her revelations about her own struggles are pointed and clear. Reading through this book, I felt like I was being cheered on, even though this wasn’t about my life. Galli gives you permission to accept life day by day, to be kind to yourself, and to realize that no matter what, you may never have all the answers.

This is a quick read. I was shocked at how fast I read through it. Though the subject matter is heavy, Galli writes with a skilled levity that brings light and warmth to even the toughest of passages. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh, even when you want to cry.

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, or have gone through, this is a book that will reach everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stop and ponder the wisdom she offers. I know I will be thinking about her words for a long time.

Thank you Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Army Wife – Review

“There’s nothing better than welcoming your husband home from war — nothing except welcoming your sons.”

Army Wife is the perfect name for this memoir describing how being married to a soldier really is. Her voice really shines through in this telling memoir, and she strikes me a very fun and sassy woman. That spark made reading the book fly by.

Cody doesn’t hold back or glamorize her life as a military spouse, and later as a military mom. She fully admits to her doubt and frustration over moving and living alone during deployments. Fear as her husband and then her sons deploy into combat zones. Life in the military isn’t easy, and life as a military spouse isn’t any easier.

“Life is full of surprises, but I don’t think we fully understand and appreciate that until we are pushed out of comfort zone, backed into a corner, and tested in ways we don’t expect or anticipate.”

We are taken through the story of her life, from the moment she met Dick Cody forward. Cody writes with a fast paced cadence, sprinkled with a sharp sense of humor, a trait that I’m sure held her together numerous times. Strength is one thing. Being able to laugh at your trials is quite another. Perhaps she wasn’t laughing at the time, but her humor shines through in hindsight.

I was continually amazed at her emotional maturity and just how self-aware she comes across. She is very blunt and honest with her entire spectrum of feelings, talking openly about the honeymoon period that welcoming her husband often triggered to the struggle of readjusting to him in her daily life always triggered. And what shines through the brightest, is her knowledge of herself as an individual outside of being a mom or a wife. I think that awareness is what made living her (sometimes) tumultuous life possible. She never lost herself in the craziness and so she could weather any storm.

“But I never lost sight of who I was, as a woman and as a person. When they boys let home, I just had to shift gears and find my inner self again. (I think it was always there — I was just busy being a mom.)”

There are some heavy issues happening within these pages, and she doesn’t come across as flippant or superficial, but she doesn’t dwell on them either. If anything, Cody comes across as a woman that probably is a solid shoulder to cry on, is handy to have in a tight situation, and would give excellent advice. While her husband led an illustrious career, she doesn’t dismiss or forget that others were not as lucky. Her humility opens us up to a graciousness and gratefulness that is admirable.

One touch I really liked is her PS notes at the end of some chapters. She makes reference to the fact that often when her husband was deployed overseas, they couldn’t manage the time zones along with expensive phone bills, so letter writing became their primary method of communication. Letters that she still has to this day, that can bring her back to those moments in time just by looking at his handwriting. Those little PS notes felt like she was writing little letters to us in each chapter. They summarized and offered a more personal touch. They really made those notes feel like she was reaching across a table and grasping your hand.

But this book isn’t just about life as an Army Wife. It is also about life as an Army Mom.

“It was an important life lesson for all of us: we don’t always get what we want, and sometimes we have to change course.”

Reading the chapter on September 11, and how her boys were transitioning from their college lives into life as an active military member is emotional. It’s one thing to be a mom to soldiers during times of peace. It’s another during times of war. This time, she felt the sorrow of knowing people lost at the Pentagon, and the terror of her husband and both sons possibly deploying.

The reality of the her oldest’ deployment is once again told to us without restraint. It’s understandable that she feels angry at her husband for not going with him, combined with fear over what might happen and the lack of control. But it is a tender thing to read that for the first time her husband actually experienced what she felt every time he deployed. Every mother can understand that while watching her husband deploy was difficult; watching her sons deploy was excruciating.

“When you marry a soldier, you pretty much marry the Army and everything it stands for.”

Vicki Cody married a soldier. She married the Army and then she mothered it, both literally and figuratively. This book is her experience of that life. I’ve never been an Army wife, or an Army mother, but I expect that this is an honest and in-depth look at the reality of it.

While her life was filled with emotional ups and downs, it’s hard to deny it is an incredible one. Meeting First Lady’s and Presidents, living in historical houses, watching your husband on TV while he is a half a world away, meeting Wynona Judd and other celebrities; are all incredible moments for anyone to experience. Her life is her own, but is also intertwined with major historical milestones made very personal for her. But she didn’t simply sit and bask in her husband’s success. She worked hard to contribute to the support of not just his solders, but their families as well. It’s a fascinating journey.

One thing that struck me is not just how the Army is a massive network comprised of soldiers. We don’t really see that side of the Army in this book. Rather we see the network of civilians who support one another in amazing ways. Support groups, and newsletters, and monthly meetings. The human touch that makes living with all that fear and worry a little more bearable. You marry the Army, but that means you get a spouse in return.

Sometimes it’s easy to think of the Army as a nameless faceless entity. It’s easy to get lost in the political commentary surrounding that entity. Army Wife brings back the point that the Army, the Navy, the Air Force; they are all filled with people. Men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. These are people, who worry, who love, who are willing to face unknown threats anywhere in the world. This was the perfect book to read this weekend.

“I had come to realize that being a soldier is more than a job, more than a career; it’s an affair of the heart, a way of life.”

Thank you to all the soldiers and their families for your service. We wouldn’t be the country we are without you.

Thank you as well to Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me this book to read and review!

The Outskirts of Hope – Review

“During the height of the civil rights movement, my family moved to a small, all-black town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, where my father opened a clinic and mother Aura Kruger, taught English at the local high school.”

This book is a memoir, written by the youngest daughter Jo, but mainly told through the diaries of her mother Aura. At the time, the Kruger family was one of the only white families living in Mount Bayou. Aura kept journals from the time she lived there, so the book is built on those. Jo destroyed her own, but recreated her entries.

I have some seriously mixed emotions on this book. I understand that this is a memoir so this is her telling the story of her family. However, it comes across at times as very privileged and skates dangerously close to perpetuating racist stereotypes. Which is where I struggle, because I don’t think that was the intention of the author. Obviously no one intends on coming across as borderline racist, but I actually don’t even think they had racist views, privilege aside. It just comes across the way this is pieced together.

First, let’s touch on the privilege.

The first few chapters are from Aura’s perspective on her sudden move from a nice middle-class life in Boston to living in a trailer in Mississippi. The change is drastic, and according to her mother, she didn’t even have a vote. She simply went along with her husband, who decided this was what he wanted to do with zero input from his wife. Yes, it was the 60’s, but it doesn’t make him likable at all.

I had issue with how she complained, extensively, about her concern for where they were going to live. When offered that they should live in a “shack” like the rest of the town population, she nearly had a stroke. Coming from the perspective of someone who wanted to help end racism and bring change during this tumultuous time, she seems very self-centered. Even after she gets two trailer (not one, but two), and they have carpenters build them a connecting room, plush with all the luxuries of water, AC, power, heat and indoor plumbing, she never takes any time to consider how to help the town.

The most frustrating part of reading this, is that she makes friendships with people in this town. Yet, it’s never discussed or talked about how her family lives in drastic luxury compared with most of the other people. Or at least, that is how it comes across.

She mentions quite a few times her “worry” for their lack of heat, shoes, clothes that fit, etc. But, there isn’t any mention of her trying to do anything about it. She has connections to get three students full scholarships to an east coast college, yet she can’t raise money to buy shoes or clothes?

Which is my major problem with the underlying privilege of the book. She has her own views and standards, and insists on everyone meeting them. Take the three page example of teaching phonetics and the word ‘ask’ for a glaring example of that. Education was important to her. And I agree, and even see where she is coming from. But, shoes are probably an immediate problem she can help with.

Where we come near perpetuating racist myths is in Jo’s entries. Nearly every entry she talks about boys grabbing her and trying to reach down her pants. Of the 8 entries she has from her childhood perspective, 4 of them are about this type of molestation. She certainly makes it seem that every teenage boy in that town grabs her in inappropriate ways except for her three friends. Again, I understand this is her perspective, but she’s writing this from memory. If she didn’t want to perpetuate that racist myth, she could have worded these entries differently, or added a few that actually talked about other experiences.

Overall though, they just aren’t very likable. I think the biggest piece of enjoying a memoir is actually enjoying the people you’re reading about. I didn’t like the husband at all. He seemed cold and indifferent to his wife and children and never noticed their struggles. Either this portrayal didn’t do him justice, or he simply cared more about helping people other than his own family.

Aura doesn’t come across as very likable frequently either. She seemed spoiled, privileged, slightly arrogant and very self-centered. She complains about how her husband is oblivious to her unhappiness, yet seems absolutely just as clueless about her own children. The scene where she made her injured daughter get out of bed to create a “scene of familial tranquility” is absurd. Her attitude is described as Pollyanna positive but seems to be very passive-aggressive instead. She complains but then tries to spin it after complaining. It gets old.

Yet, when Jo revisits the town decades later, the scene she paints are like reading an entirely different book. People remember her cleaning tables for pinball money, and she seems to have good childhood memories. Yet, all that was recreated was the bad. For someone trying to bridge the gap in race relations, painting living in an all-black community as terrifying and miserable probably isn’t the right angle to take.

Her students even had more powerful stories about how she helped them. These memories from the students takes away from the self-righteousness and savior type attitude, and highlights more of what they remembered. It makes her seem actually more giving and helpful than she made herself sound. The journal entries were maybe focused on her own view of what was important, but again, perspective matters.

Of course, her own encounter with a boy who assaulted her left a bad taste in my mouth. But, that whole last section of the book was infuriating all around.

 

It’s probably not surprising that I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I would have preferred to read a book that was less reliant on only journals and memory, and perhaps had included some of the impressions the students themselves had. It would have taken more of the white savior feel out of it, and made it more in depth and meaningful.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for a copy to read and review as part of your pop up blog popportunity!

Finding My Badass Self – Review

“As adults, most of us have forgotten how to be silly. The first rule of going outside our comfort zone is learning to laugh at ourselves.”

Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares is a novel in which one woman, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, undertakes a year of pushing her limits in order to discover who she is and what she is capable of.

To really appreciate and understand this book, it’s important to know that this book is a series of blog posts from the authors blog. When she turned 52, she created the 52/52 project. 52 experiences as a 52 year old woman, all designed to test her limits and really push her outside her comfort zone.

As a reader newly discovering this author, the book did feel choppy and was hard to read as a book. I can see the appeal as a weekly blog, as each piece focuses on one task from her list. In book format though, there’s nothing to tie the pieces together. She even mentions that she often interacts with her Facebook group, so the weekly experience of discovering what she is planning and experiencing would be far more satisfying than reading in this format.

Formatting aside, the entries themselves were fun to read. Stanfa-Stanley is funny and I can picture my mother doing these things with much of the same commentary and horror. Who wouldn’t simultaneously laugh and cringe at the prospect of taking your elderly mother to a nude beach?! Or to the shock of getting a brazilian wax for the first time?

It might be easy to dismiss some of these challenges as tepid or fairly modest. It’s not as if everyone will find zip-lining or going for a hot air balloon ride as thrilling or limit pushing. And some women may even think a wax is an easy Tuesday appointment. Again, I do think having the context of the blog and Facebook page is helpful in relating to the author in these cases.

She does give context at the beginning of the book, explaining what sparked this journey. And it does help to remember this while reading the posts.

“Regardless of our motivations, at some point we decide to either continue sighing at the status quo of our lives or else we open our minds and our arms to embrace change. I chose change, albeit with trembling hands and a wavering mindset.”

Not every challenge was necessarily frivolous. Getting a colonoscopy, for example, is probably something most people are hesitant or fearful over. Being able to admit to this fear, and to complete the task anyway, perhaps can help someone else do the same.

And, not every challenge was accomplished, or accomplished the way she thought. Her plan to sing onstage with a band happened. But rather than the well-practiced and rehearsed version she was planning, it ended up being spontaneous. And, her attempt to complete a ropes course ended before it began. I did like that there was still a lesson to be learned, even in failure.

“Perhaps acknowledging our limitations is an essential part of self-discovery. Maybe we learn just as much about life and about ourselves by discovering our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Maybe we succeed in growing even as we fail.”

In an age where social media encourages us show only our success, it is important when someone is able to be honest and show the failure as well. And maybe that’s what makes this journey, and these posts as relatable as they are. Some things were fun and funny. But even when they are cringe-worthy or humiliating, Stanfa-Stanley shows us anyway. She lets us laugh with her and cry with her, and honestly, this is the bravest thing of all.

Overall, the book was entertaining. However, I think it could have been a little more compelling if, instead of simply compiling these blog posts, the author gave us more context into each post instead. Who helped come up with these challenges? What limits specifically was each designed to push? Were any chosen by other people, and if so, who? These types of thoughts and explanations would have added more dimension and depth. While the book was a fast and funny read, I would have really enjoyed it if it offered more than what I could get from already published posts.

This book did make me curious to find her blog and her Facebook page, as they do seem like an interactive group of people willing to push boundaries and find themselves. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press, for sending me this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

 

My Life to Live

Most everyone I know grew up watching soap operas. At least, they watched them in the way we watch what our mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers watched. Reluctantly since if we didn’t, we wouldn’t watch anything at all. So, willingly or unwillingly, we all knew the plots.

My mother watched All My Children religiously. She taped them every day and watched them either that night or over the weekend while my dad escaped to do dad things. There were others, but Erica Kane and Pine Valley were practically family in our house.

When I saw that the creator of the show had written a memoir, I was curious to read it.

Agnes Nixon led an incredible life. It wasn’t just that she was a woman writer in a time when that was practically unheard of. It wasn’t even that she created two successful shows that ran for four decades. Those are amazing accomplishments to be sure, but she achieved these milestones in spite of facing multiple obstacles and set backs.

One of the most interesting parts of this book was reading about her initial writing process. She includes one of the scripts she wrote for radio that launched her career. I’ve never given much thought to how writers had to evolve their writing to meet the new demands of television before. Things like timing in plot, dialogue and even having to consider visual effects were considerable changes. It was fascinating to read how she learned from each change and had to work to adapt her writing to meet these new demands.

Having grown up with these shows, I honestly had never given much thought to them. I had never considered how provocative, or how socially aware and cutting edge they actually were. They seemed silly and outlandish. People got married and divorced. They lied, cheated and stole. They faked deaths and kidnapped their rivals. They encountered bizarre medical conditions. They were outrageous and dramatic. That’s what I remember.

What I didn’t remember, partly because some happened before my time, were the plot lines bringing attention to racial tension, the war in Vietnam, abortion, drug addiction, child and domestic abuse, and so much more. They were one of the first shows to have an actor play a gay man coming out. And to his High School class no less.

They put banners at the end of episodes directing their audience to resources based on the subject matter, and were very successful in increasing programs and awareness by doing this. They increased awareness for drug addition, AIDS, Diabetes, and more. Nixon and several actors playing the roles have won awards, or been given recognition for their work in these areas. Social impact went hand in hand with these daily episodes.

Nixon talks quite a bit about how she watched things happen in her childhood, and throughout her life, social issues that made her feel helpless. She wanted to bring these subjects to light. She wanted to give people a chance to change their opinions or learn something new. This was her motivation. And she was constantly listening and learning to stay relevant to the times.

That sort of determination shows exactly what type of woman Agnes Nixon was. It is true that she had an incredibly supportive mother and an aunt who pushed her to reach for the stars. She married a man who was ahead of his time in his unwavering support of her career. But she faced the constant criticism of her father and numerous obstacles from men in the industry.

Yet, she still pushed forward and carried on, going back to her belief in herself and her willingness to work hard. One of the best summations of writing I’ve read is when she said, “the biggest element of successful writing is the ability to get the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.” Make yourself write. Do the work. Simple but true.

Another, and this one more profound, was her opinion on criticism. “I didn’t mind the criticism; it meant our show was helping people voice their opinions,” she wrote. To be able to choose to air risky and controversial topics is one thing. To accept the criticism without taking it personally is phenomenal.

I didn’t know what I expected when I picked up this book. A fun trip remembering some of my favorite characters? She gave me that. But she gave me more too. Lessons and reminders on how to be a writer. Lessons and reminders that everyone will have an opinion of your life. But the best lesson and reminder was this: “We only have one life to live, and we have to try to make the most of it.”

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I’ve included links below.