Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Mentor: A Memoir" by Tom Grimes

Published: 2010
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3
Reviews: Goodreads

My reading journey has led me to the world of memoirs.  I remember seeing this book last year and made a mental note.  During a Border's closing sale a few months ago, it was purchased and added to the ever growing TBR pile.   I picked it up before going on a 2-day business trip last week, thinking it would be a perfect airport-airplane read while providing some food for thought - a good choice.  

This poignant memoir is about the impact of a mentor, Frank Conroy, director of the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop on a fledgling writer, Tom Grimes.  It also offers a glimpse into a writer's life and if accurate, it is a lonely, difficult, anxiety ridden, insecure life.  Why would anyone want to do this?  I ask the same question when reading articles about people who want to run a marathon in every continent or about a 51 year old man who recently biked from California to the East Coast in 11 days - why??  I guess it is a calling or maybe a better description - an obsession.

Meaningful quotes below:

Grimes' reasons for writing:
Writing was my center of gravity.  If I quit, I'd implode.
It's my way of controlling my world and my emotions.  I focus on sentences.  For several hours a day, nothing else matters.  I live inside language.  And while I'm often frustrated by writing's difficulty, I am also at peace.
Writing is a necessity.  I exist on sentences.  I forget my sense of failure.  I forget time. I forget that I'm aging.  I forget that one day I'll die.  Revising sentences is an act of hope, and connecting to the reader is the only leap of faith I'll ever take. 
I never want to die and when I'm writing a novel I believe I never will.  
I can relate to some of Grimes' feelings.  About how writing is a centering activity and a way to work through intense feelings.  I've had to rely on writing to survive our personal earthquake, the suicide of our beloved 17-year old son.  In the aftermath, during the wee hours of the night, words flowed from pen to paper.  Into my journal, then onto Josh's blog.  Then onto this reading blog.  And over 2 year later, I have not stopped.  I try to be as true and uncensored as possible - about what I am feeling and thinking.  It has been a lifesaver.

Difficulty of a writer's life:
The ground a writer stands on is no firmer than water.
I've chosen a profession and life that promises to humble me.
The six months I'd spent hunched over my desk in a small cold room near an ice-glazed storm window had ended.  I felt as if I'd ascended from the ocean's frigid, black floor, broken the water's surface and taken a deep breath.  A world did exist apart from the intensity of making sentences and the anxiety of scratching my way toward an ending.
Interesting thought about the connection between writer and reader, as imparted to Tom by Frank.
A reader must feel the continual, but unobtrusive pressure of the writer's soul behind every sentence.

Very good example of "show, don't tell".  Grimes is in the locker room of a pro baseball team, for research purposes. In my book, I underlined the adjectives and circled the verbs. 
First they pulled long, white socks above their knees and secured them with navy blue stirrups.  Next, they hoisted jock straps over their hips, stepped into spandex shorts and then reached inside them to snugly place a hard rubber cup over their testicles.  They tugged short-sleeved Mets T-shirts over their heads, slipped into immaculate white, blue and orange pinstriped uniforms, and then knotted the laces of their polished black cleats. 

Tom's very graphic, intense description of his sister's attempted suicide.  Horrible.  She tried to disembowel herself with a carving knife.  This didn't work so she plugged in an electric carving knife and slit her left wrist.  The noise woke up her husband and two young children.  When the boys saw her covered in blood, "she seemed to be wearing a horror mask. The boys began tearing at their hair, trying to rip it from their skulls.  As he dialed 911, they ran into the dining room and circled it's table, shrieking."

When Tom was diagnosed as clinically insane - his haunting, descriptive metaphor:
I felt like an eggshell that had been dyed with vivid colors, then pinpricked and drained.  It may appear solid, but beneath its decorative surface it's hollow and nearly weightless.
Read Frank Conroy's critically acclaimed memoir, published in 1967: Stop-Time

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