Reading Memoirs: Spying on Hope


Recently, I read a couple of memoirs that I absolutely loved. The first was I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, and the second was his follow-up memoir, depicting his eventual happily-ever-after-(so-far), called The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir. I really recommend them both so that you have a greater scope of just who Josh Kilmer-Purcell was/is/wants to be/will always be, but if you only read one, I, personally, recommend the second over the first. That’s probably the first time you’ll see someone say that, but here’s why:

I Am Not Myself These Days is a beautifully written love story about how love isn’t always healthy even when it’s got good intentions, and love doesn’t always last, even when it’s something special that will never live on this earth again. It’s about how fairytales, modern varieties at least, don’t always last. The Bucolic Plague, however, is about a real relationship that weathers storms, that trembles on the edge of destruction by forces from within, and manages to right itself because, heck, it might not be the most ‘romantic’ thing in the world, but these people have built a life together, an entire world together, and it isn’t right without the other one in it. There were points in The Bucolic Plague where my chest ached with sadness and empathy for the struggles Brent and Josh were going through together (and apart). Having been with my spouse for over twenty years, I can attest to similar gut-wrenching seasons myself. And the fairytale isn’t in the dream, but in the way you pull through the nightmare, and come back to life together, loving the small things you’ve created as a team, and loving even the things you hate in the other person.

Brent and Josh’s story reminds me of a song lyric:

Watching you go is like spying on hope,
ever onward with more to burn.

– Dar Williams

Reading The Bucolic Plague was truly like spying on hope, the kind of hope we all want to have, and can have if we dig deep. It’s such a joy to read about that kind of hope, pressing onward, never running out of steam, and during the bleak time when it looked like their hope might have been at an end, they pushed onward, and found more to burn. Again, I highly recommend the book.

Does anyone in your life remind you of spying on hope? How do they inspire you?

The Writer


I was rifling through Rilke’s The Rose Window yesterday, and played that silly game I sometimes indulge in where I close my eyes, ask for some sort of important information about a specific subject in my life, then open the book randomly and read. Yesterday, I asked for some insight on writing, and this is what came up for me.

The Reader

Who knows this stranger who has turned his face
away from life to live another life –
which nothing interrupts except the swift
and forceful turning of each printed page?

Even a mother might not recognise
her son, lost in the world that lies below him,
steeped in his own shadow. What can we know –
who live our lives so governed by mere hours –
of other lives he may have lived and lost
before he looks up, heavy now and burdened

with all the matter which his book contains?
As children rise from play and look around
his eyes now turn to all that lies outside,
towards the world again made manifest;
but yet his face, for all its discipline,
will never while he lives change back again.

— Rainier Maria Rilke

Having spent the last several weeks absorbed in other worlds as a writer, I found it interesting that Rilke chose to address the phenomenon of losing time and gaining unsharable, unknowable lifetimes from the point of view of the reader. I’d love to hear from readers whether or not they often face the accusatory questioning that writers face regarding valid uses of their time. I obviously am both a reader and a writer, but given that writer is my primary identification, that is the place that most outsiders attack with questions of validity. “But if you’re not published yet, how can you call yourself a writer?” “How can you justify the time you spend writing when you haven’t been paid a dime yet?” “What about the state of your house? Are you sure you’re an actual grown-up? It doesn’t appear so. I mean, a quick look around this place proves that!” Okay, so maybe those are my inner demons judging me more than anyone external, but I still suspect those are the kinds of things that people (family) think about me and writing on a regular basis. Who does it help? What does it do? Why can’t we read it?

(Because it’s chock full of explicit sex of the gay and het variety, Mom. And while I know you love the m/m romances and get behind the sometimes kinky-lovin’ in them, there’s something a bit different about saying, “Hey, Mom, I wrote this sex scene!” It’s just…hinky. To me anyway. Much less showing them to my mother-in-law and her bridge friends! Yikes!)

And yet this is what I write. This is my shadow, or my bliss, or some combination of both being written out on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Which brings me back to my question – why wouldn’t I? What’s in it for me – creating other worlds with people in them who don’t exist, where they have a ton of sex, and laugh, and cry, and fight, and screw some more? Obviously it’s something compelling because I keep coming back to it, despite how lonely it can be, despite how it can cut me off from some of the people who matter most in my life, because it isn’t something that they will get to share.

I found within this poem the age-old question that all writers are asked, and all writers occasionally ask themselves: Why? Why do you spend your precious time dallying about in a world that doesn’t exist, and ultimately may never be shared with another human being, or with those human beings that matter most?

It’s a question that, for the writer, can often be answered with the inexplicable explanation: “Because I must!

Why do you read or write? Why do you walk in a world that your mother/spouse/children/grandmother can’t know? And do you, as Rilke suggests, come back changed or altered from your time spent there? Or do you feel that you return relatively unscathed? At times I feel like writing is better than therapy for me, though that is probably because I’ve never had a decent therapist, and I feel like I return from each encounter with creating another world somehow stronger, better, and able to fight for who I am, who I want to be, and to embrace healed parts of myself that maybe I hadn’t even known were wounded. At other times, when the house is adrift with the giant socks of my husband and the small socks of my child, the laundry is backed up, and I turn my back on sleep and dishes alike, I think it’s a sickness that I could well do without. But then, like any addiction, I feel positively ill at the idea of letting my sickness go, or turning my back on it. Which brings me back to its role as healer in my life and how it brings me more in touch with my true nature, and while the house may be a wreck, my soul is getting strong.

What about you, dear readers and fellow writers? How often do you ask yourself the question why? How often do you have to validate or justify your  choice to spend time in imagined worlds with characters who don’t exist outside of our minds?