Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheat Sheet for Life

 Katrina Kittle is one of my favorite authors. She has four published novels thus far, each one taking a "big" issue and skillfully weaving together a story with vivid characters and poignant subplots that deepens understanding and evokes reflection.  She had me with her first book,  Traveling Light, about a woman, her much-loved dying brother, AIDS, and the question of who we are and why we make the choices we do. Over an eighteen month period, I'd lost a brother-in-law, a teaching partner, and a fellow doctoral student to AIDS. Katrina got it all exactly right: the frustration with the disease, the disheartening lack of compassion juxtaposed with the extreme kindness of others, the pain and heartache, the grief, and the lessons experienced.

The Blessings of the Animals

Her latest book The Blessings of the Animals is about the end of a marriage, grief, healing, family, and the powerful role animals can play in our lives. Having recently experienced extreme betrayal and divorce... this one hit home too. A dear friend invited me to her book club meeting where Katrina was the guest author while we discussed this book. The facilitator had unique discussion starters. Katrina's books are laden with rich nuggets that inspire mind forays out of the current story. This passage, about an interaction between the protagonist's teacher brother and one of his students, is one of them.

"Nobody gets the good stuff all the time...Remember that." He wished he knew something more comforting to offer. He wished... he could spare them, his students: that he could pass them the cheat sheet for their future lives. 

 The facilitator posed the question, if you could provide a cheat sheet for life, what would you share?

Mine was "Face what you know." I've learned, the hard way, that ignoring the elephant in the room leads to heartache. That while it is difficult to face unpleasant truths, it is better to face them right away as delay increases the cost and wastes precious time. Your body is recording and experiencing the problem even if you are not allowing the thought to surface. I mistakenly thought that focusing on the good meant ignoring the bad. I know now that you can celebrate the good and still name the difficulties and treat them with loving kindness. Problems are not failures, but ignoring them will lead to failure.

Katrina's was, "Always make make new mistakes." As soon as she said it I felt my gut clench. I've been trying to not berate myself for the mistakes I made with my ex, for tolerating too much for too long. For taking care of him and his needs while sacrificing my own. I kept hoping that he would see what he was destroying and join with me to rebuild. And so I became afraid of hope and afraid of making more mistakes that were detrimental to my physical and emotional health and well being. I learned that hope can be life affirming when I hope for myself, for what I can choose. Pinning my hope on someone else is  giving away my strength. Hearing "Always make new mistakes" turned another page. Mistakes are part of life. The trick is to make new mistakes. To be trying new things that may or may not work out perfectly but are still learning experiences. What I was afraid of was making the same mistakes. As I realized that, I felt my gut unclench and my center fill with... hope, peace, possibility. Yep, this definitely goes on my cheat sheet.


  1. An excellent recap. I appreciated Katrina's time and especially the open, honest discussion among our three-in-one book club. Thanks for joining us.

  2. You are so wonderful, Judy! Thank you so much!

  3. I'm still trying to decide what would be on my cheat sheet: stay awake, smile, be here now. I'm not sure. Thanks for getting my mind moving this morning.

  4. Thanks so much for welcoming me into your vibrant discussion group! It is rare to have the author present during the discussion so this was definitely special. Your questions/discussion points were amazing.

    Katrina, I am looking forward to reading your first soon-to-be-published young adult novel. You inspire us all!

  5. Lori, I know you'll choose what is right for you. Be here now is always good!