Kevin Woster’s essay on his Divorce Bike (that’s what he calls his 30-year-old two-wheel trail machine) includes an inspiring note on the importance of reading books—real books:
There were no self-help books involved in my passage through divorce and its emotional aftermath. I tried a few of them at the advice of friends and found them to be mostly unreadable and almost entirely unhelpful. I’m sure they were useful to others, however.
I found other books that managed to be helpful without calling themselves that. Poetry books. Books of essays. Compelling novels. Well-crafted stories of trauma and loss and recovery and redemption, sometimes told without mentioning trauma and loss and recovery and redemption.
And there were poems and essays about lost loved ones and found strength, amazing flowers and postcards to friends, herding cattle and fixing fence. You know, stuff that really can help you, if you’re paying attention.
Stanley Kunitz helped me. Mary Oliver helped me. Ted Kooser helped me. Linda Hasselstrom helped me.
I received page after page of counseling through literature, sometimes while absorbed in wild places with a fishing rod nearby. At other times I was alone at home or alone in public, slumped in a booth of a late-night cafe where the lonely and lost tend to gather to peer down into porcelain cups and consider what went wrong [Kevin Woster, “Pedaling Down the Road to Recovery, and Stopping to Fish Along the Way,” SDPB: On the Other Hand, 2019.10.04].
Self-help books—a genre whose very name entails a contradiction (if it were self-help, you’d write it yourself) can’t be much good. Do yourself some real good: read a good book.
Linda Hasselstrom’s “O Holy Night On The Prairie” is a holiday read for the ages. https://windbreakhouse.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/o-holy-night-on-the-prairie/
People cope with divorce differently. My choice (and ultimate salvation) was spending most evenings after dark perched on a five gallon bucket alongside my beloved Little Sioux River,hoping the fish wouldn’t bother me. Nature at night is a wonderful healer.
Sights, sounds and piece of mind…..PRICELESS.
A few months ago Cory had a post about Phyllis Dai-Cole’s book “Beneath the Same Stars,” which is a novel that describes the experiences of Sarah Wakefield, a white woman taken captive by the Sioux during the 1862 war with the US in Minnesota. It is a novel based on Wakefield’s actual letters coupled with extensive research about that terrible war, which included the simultaneous public hanging of 30+ Natives in Mankato (I even recall seeing a public monument there celebrating this mass execution back in the 1960’s and early 70’s – I don’t know if it is still there).
Anyway, I read it this summer and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history leading up to that horrible event. It is well researched, well written and hard to put down.
Some self-help books are helpful to some. I mostly don’t care much for them.
There are as many ways to recover/heal as there are people. Art is probably my favorite, but books are good too. Linda Hasselstrom and Mary Oliver are wonderful choices to soothe a sore heart.
Thanks, John Tsitrian, for reminding me of that essay. And thanks, Kevin Woster, for the acknowledgment of that aspect of my writing. I would never presume to offer advice to others on surviving divorce and other losses, but know that the methods I found to survive do flow through my work. And I can think of no greater honor than to be mentioned in the same sentence with Mary Oliver, who has been a rock for me as well.