Book Review: Palo Alto

Palo Alto: StoriesPalo Alto: Stories by James Franco

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up in vacation off a B&B bookshelf because I’m interested in artists who work in more than one field and because I was born and raised and raised my children near Palo Alto, but a world away.

Writers sometimes write to process their experiences. This appears to be Franco’s motivation for penning this memoir turned short story collection. I found myself having difficulty sorting out the voices of the different disaffected teenagers as they told their stories. It occurred to me that this may be the point. Perhaps disaffection speaks with one voice. Rich or poor, male or female, perhaps dissatisfied and disconnected speaks with one voice.

I also wonder how Franco overcame the soullessness of the aimless existence he portrays to achieve acclaim as an actor and then to enter an MFA program and write a book. That’s the story I’d like to read.

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Assisted Living: Dividing lines

vulturesWhen you move in to give assistance to an aging parent, the dividing lines between parent and child, yours and mine, begin to blur. At the same time, the divide between cultures and generations sharpens.

No matter your situation, whether you are nobly stepping up to your responsibility or bravely wrestling control away from a parent who does not recognize their peril, you are bound to feel like the bad guy at some point.

The role reversal is uncomfortable. You look for ways to respect the dignity of the person whose life you are raiding. You try to involve them in decision making, help them feel a sense of power and control they no longer have, and you run smack into the problem that brought you to this place. Grandma can no longer make a decision. Any decision.

Case in point, it appeared that the neighbors had been using grandma’s closet at their personal recycling center. Her closet was stuffed full of torn, stained size 14 clothes. (She is a size 6.) Before I caught on, I sat her on the bed, whipped one article of clothing after another out of the abyss, and held it up. She had one of two responses.

“I might wear that someday.”

“I don’t remember who gave that to me, so I better keep it.”

I sent her to the kitchen to eat her lunch and began making heartless decisions. Into the trash went the “gift” clothing. I set aside the lovely suits she no longer wears to give to the consignment store, but when time got tight and I pictured someone in town showing up at her church in her clothes, they went in the dumpster. 

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The Adult Orphan

journalBecoming an adult orphan is among the inevitable rites of passage.  The day an adult’s last remaining parent dies is a somber occasion.

In addition to the emotional cocktail of sadness, relief, gratitude, and other feelings, your position in life changes forever:

Your generational cover is blown.
You vie for position as the family matriarch or patriarch.
You become the memory custodian.

How will you record precious memories of the past for future generations to ponder? Stop by Mari’s Journal Writing Power Blog and read more.

To process the drama I had been through I did what many of my boomer generation are doing. I wrote a book.

photo credit: Bob AuBuchon via photopin cc


Assisted Living: Tough conversations

Once you decide that someone you love and feel responsible for requires assisted living, you are in for a tough conversation. All previous conversations have been theoretical. This conversation will be highly emotional.

Even if your relationship is one of love and respect, you will likely encounter resistance in the form of silence, tears, anger, and accusations (not necessarily directed at you, but it is human nature to cast about for someone to blame.)   When she wasn’t feeling confused and scared, grandma felt happy and secure in her apartment, surrounded by friends and neighbors. She looked out her window and saw the church her grandfather helped build, right next to the park where musicians gather every evening to play gospel and bluegrass. “Tell me this,” she asked, “why do I have to move?”

We reminded her that she had had a fall. We pointed out that she was no longer able to get to the store, or the doctor, or the senior center. We expressed our concern that she wasn’t taking her medication and our fears for her safety. We did not use the word “cognitive impairment” or confront her directly with the truth. She was no longer able to manage her life.

Here are some thoughts to help you through the conversation.

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Book Review: the Living Room

The Living RoomThe Living Room by Robert Whitlow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend gave me this book and and said she thought I would like it because I’m a novelist. The process through which Amy received her inspiration did intrigue me, as did her interactions with her agent and the publishers’ perfidy. I do wonder though if it is only authors who find these interactions interesting.

I found Amy’s angst over whether to share information she received intuitively (for lack of a better word) with her co workers to be believable. When people are on different wavelengths it is difficult to communicate. Sometimes it is best to hold back, or at least wait for the right time. She was justified in feeling uncomfortable.

I agree with other reviewers about the teacher/student relationship. That raised a red flag for me immediately. I found myself getting annoyed when the truth didn’t come out until the very end of the book. If the author had spilled the beans earlier, an important issue could have been addressed. Instead, we are left to wonder how much damage was done and to hope and pray that Megan will get therapy.

The best part of this story is coming to realize how likely people are to misread situations. The author was skillful in taking us down a path despite misgivings we may have had about the direction things appeared to be moving.

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