Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Author Ariel Gore: Non-Fiction Dynamo

As we gear up for the Book Worm Wednesday Blog Hop tomorrow (please come back for all the details and link up any non-fiction post you've written!) I'm sharing my thoughts on one of my favorite authors and her work, Ariel Gore...

I recently finished the book Bluebird, author Ariel Gore’s most recent release. It is a happiness memoir combining the best of extensively researched happiness theory, a panel of women ringing in on the topic, slated against Gore’s own experiences. Bluebird is something of a memoir where the reader gets an intimate view into what moves Gore’s happiness meter, but it also calls into question the “leading science” of happiness and what happens for the average person, or more specifically, for women.

I first came across the author when I was deep into new motherhood and by deep into I mean hanging on for dear life and searching for support. Why wasn’t I completely and utterly thrilled by my lot? I mean I loved my baby, but the crying, the fussiness, the constant neediness. No one told me it would be so hard. Or more exactly, why, even though my baby and I were inseparable, I felt so alone. Well, I sort of was, all alone. Not as alone as single parent Gore was as a young new mom, but nearly. My partner worked long hours and when he wasn’t working he was pursuing his hobbies. I don’t blame him; he didn’t know any better than I did how to be a parent or a partner of a parent. In the absence of nearby family he was pretty much all I had in the day to day. At twenty two with an infant, my relationship with friends changed. They weren’t interested in talking about diapers or, and this still gives me the warm fuzzies, what it was like when my baby smiled or that first giggle. And I may have smelled. Bad. Showers were in short supply.

When they joke there is no operating manual, it isn’t a joke. There simply isn’t. We find our way. And when we get lost we, or me, turn to books. I search for shared experience in the form of the written word. And boy did The Mother Trip: Hip Mama’s Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood bail me out. It turns out that although I felt alone, like so often happens, I wasn’t actually. In fact, mothers throughout history have had a similar experience. I just didn’t know it. And somehow, finding out about this secret society of motherhood made it a lot better. The Mother Trip gave a voice to my experiences. It was a revelation.

I read The Mother Trip three times and have it on hand should I ever come across a woman in need of a life raft. Aside from the content, Gore’s unique tone left me yearning for more. By the time baby number two came along, I was ready to supplement my round the clock feedings with something that would take me out of the reality of early motherhood and into someone else’s life, at least for the space of a few hundred pages.  Along came The Atlas of the Human Heart a memoir leading up to Gore’s pregnancy, which undoubtedly influenced The Mother Trip. The unique thing about motherhood, unlike some other life experiences, is it ends up influencing every aspect of the mother’s life, thereafter, forever.

In The Atlas of the Human Heart Gore takes us on her travels around the world during the years of her mid-to- late teens where she meets characters that could have starred in a novel and we, the reader get to better understand her, as best as an astute teen can understand herself. In this case, it’s quite a bit, but perhaps that is due to time’s gift of reflection. Looking back with wizened eyes and ears we see and comprehend things with more clarity than we may have when we were young and “in it.”

I offered this book to my sister, roughly ten years my junior, as she found herself on a journey much like Gore’s. Both visit the underbelly of the world and have an expedition revealing the splendor of being young and independent on the road. I lost track of Gore after that, perhaps, having attuned to life as a mother and swept up in the chaos and beauty of life with children. However, the dust eventually settled, at least temporarily and reading once more became a reality. That is books beyond Good Night Moon and Magic Tree House, books I adore, but you know.

In Bluebird Ariel Gore not only follows the thread of the study of happiness and how it relates to women, but also weaves history, including the ancient Greeks – their understanding of happiness had to do with being favored (or not) by the gods. And the Norse. Fun fact: the root happ is derived from the Norse word for “luck” or “chance.” She also mentions the US Declaration of Independence states that Americans have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Noted gov'nah.

Moving forward into present day there have been all manner of studies, journals, conferences, assemblies, commissions  movies, coaches for hire and of course books published, suggesting how it is we can attain happiness. In general it seems we are on the scent, eager, to find the magic pill or method or solution that will bring everlasting happiness. And although this can be seen as pursuing the pool of happiness much like the fountain of youth, Gore’s approach is different than the others in this category, at least of those that I have read, somehow more inclusive of me and my experience. Score for Ariel Gore. She argues, “Happiness like some central seed, is actually contained within the pursuit.”

This is not to be confused with joining the search party for the happiness pool. Instead the pursuit is found in daily life, it is already what we know, it just may require a few adjustments in our attitude, which is fortunate for us because we humans were gifted with the ability to choose our outlook, for the most part. After we do so it is important then we move into action, though that word is used carefully. This need not be something we approach with the prototypical American zeal of the aforementioned seekers of the fountain. The pursuit is defined as that which in our lives gives us meaning. Examples include creative work, relationship, community, nature and what resonates with us spiritually. But that does not preclude us from also seeking meaning in ordinary, daily work, like changing diapers. The act in and of itself may not bring happiness, but gosh, that baby sure does and therein lies the seed.

From what I understand of Ariel's Bluebird, sometimes finding the seed, that is experiencing happiness, involves what we call work, doing things that might be challenging physically, mentally and emotionally. But ultimately it is worth it. It seems happiness is here and has been all along we just need to adjust our attitudes and expectations in order to attune to it. The iconic James Dean said something along these lines, "The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results." Gratification is not exactly synonymous with happiness, but as closely related as two emotions could be.

I’m not sure when along this journey I will encounter Ariel Gore’s literary work again, it seems like her books always appear when I don’t realize I most need them. In the past this may have unnerved me, I would have worried, “What crisis will I be having from which I will need bailing out with a book?” But I feel sure that whatever book I find in my hands it will offer me more in the way of helping me to understand myself more deeply and that might just make me *happy.*


P.S. You can find Ariel 's blog and more here
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