A thoughtful collection about how writing essays “is to be haunted by our own lies.”
In the title piece, Tisdale (Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom, 2006, etc.) wrestles with “the ethical dilemma of writing about people who have no say in what we write.” This question seems especially urgent when she writes about her family: her father, an industrial arts teacher, volunteer firefighter, and alcoholic; her mother, who taught music; and her brother and sister, with whom she has strained relationships. Her sister, she writes, “is especially angry about my newest book,” in which she feels unjustly portrayed, “and she is also just angry.” “What is fair for me to say about others?” asks the author. Truth or lies, she believes, are “all just stories; like snow falling, they cover everything up. Family, for most of us, includes lifelong agreements about what is not said.” Many essays focus on Tisdale’s three children, especially her middle son, a rebellious teenager with “a brief career as a juvenile delinquent.” The author meditates on the “stupefying losses” of watching her children outgrow babyhood and the heady responsibility of being “the giver and taker of the world” to them. Some essays discuss her experiences as a nurse. Outstanding among them is a beautiful, quietly meditative piece on her work at an abortion clinic where “weary, grim moments” are countered by her feeling that she offers “solidness” to women in need of her strength. Abortion, she writes, is “merciful violence” that requires “a willingness to live with conflict, fearlessness, and grief.” Less moving is a piece set in an oncology unit, in which reportage overwhelms narrative. Tisdale also looks at women’s obsession with thinness; the phenomenon of Disneyland; and the culture of high school, where the atmosphere is “like some three-dimensional model of chaos theory.”
Compassion and empathy inform these gracefully wrought essays.