It was being vigilant in keeping my head firmly fixed straight ahead from the  allergy/vertigo attack of this week which forced me  into being still long enough  to remember a gift from a friend.  Little did my friend know that her wonderful gift arrived in the middle of a  hurricane-like event.  I was in the cross-hairs of a broken 16 year love affair;  neither one of us knew exactly how to end it. And, in true Donna fashion, I got  mad and made the cut… clean and swift.

It wasn’t until I got to Vegas-Baby and became virtually bed or chair ridden  before I  even realized the gift from a friend was packed.  The gift: Pat Conroy’s  new book, My Reading Life. It has served as a resuscitation of my writing soul.

As a dyed-in-the-wool southern girl raised on a family farm, born of  two well-educated, resourceful parents with generations of delicious family  history to  entice a fanciful, writer-to-be into a lifetime of love of history, it was  only  natural for me to become an avid reader. First, it was my sister’s timely  introduction to me of the Classics Section of the Buckhead Library  (specifically, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy) that spurned me  onward to bigger-than-life European history such as that of Catherine the Great  and,  eventually, to racier biographies of famous and infamous people like those  in The Nympho and Other Maniacs. It was their stories that made my  ancestors’  journeys burst with life… resuscitating them to breathe again  through me.  Their struggles for religious freedom or desire to invent a  bicycle brake or to be the best American Impressionist was the cause and effect of my destiny to fall in love with a Southern autobiographical writer with a sprinkling of historical fiction.

It’s in my genetic structure. My paternal grandmother was a published writer of  the little known grubbers of the west… the real people who clawed the dirt aside  to only discover more dirt. The men and women she wrote about did everything  to keep the lifestyle they desired alive and would not settle. I like reading about that  kind of character. It pushes me forward in a way nothing else can. True stories  about real people struggling at all cost to make their dream come true.

Back in the mid 1960’s, as I struggled to become a published writer  of  poetry, I,  instead, found myself a single mom. At the age of 18, I was thrown head  first  into  sleepless newborn nights and forty hour work weeks. It didn’t stop my  drive to  read or write, however. It brought me to my knees in such a way that I  joined no less than five book clubs to get the variety of exposure for which I  longed. I couldn’t get enough knowledge. I went to college after work so I could  realize my dream.

My son, Carl, was both my inspiration and my albatross. After he’d go to bed, I’d  read. As life dealt its traumas, I’d write. Oh, I wrote happy things too but not in  the prolific manner as the mortified moaning of lost love which exploded from  my  soul.

The first signs of my devoted love of Pat Conroy’s writing came with the reading  of The Great Santini sometime in the early 1980’s during a nasty divorce. It was  only natural. We shared the same father. Although my  father didn’t fly  Corsairs, he did fly during WWII and had enough of that “Patton”   disciplinarian in him to make  us all (including Mom) stand at attention with  the greatest of fear seasoned  with  a healthy dose of Dad’s demanded respect.  Yep. Conroy and I were cut from the  same southern cloth distributed with the  cattle feed… coarse outer  surface and smooth inside, stiff to look at, sturdy yet  easily destroyed with the  wrong cut.

My reading of Conroy’s painful parental expose’ was followed by The Lords of  Discipline. This book painfully exposed what southern gentile thought was the  right  way to bring up a gentle man… military school… break ’em hard school of  hazing and harassment. Fortunately, my family couldn’t afford that kind of  expense for  my biological brothers but that didn’t exempt them from early  military  service  that served the same purpose.

I guess we girls were lucky in some strange mind-bending way of logic because  we were “only” subjected to one ogre’s demands… of all kinds.

But, it was within those wonderfully torturous pages of  The Prince of  Tides where Conroy spilled his southern guts that held me tightly in his talent. I  studied each page with highlighter and crimped corners knowing the suffering  this author endured to expose this story. Conroy grips the reader to expose the  truth about many Baby Boomers in the Deep  South. Yep. We were a secret  society of abused, tortured souls forced into silence  from domineering  patriarchs. And, from one who instantly recognized the  “road less traveled” in  action, I saw truth.

Therapy teaches you that truth can only be revealed through exposure to a bright, shining halogen light on the darkest corners of a tortured soul. For that, one must have a  deep, burning desire to exorcise those real and imagined nightmares from the  soul. Conroy bravely, humbly and willingly thrust his whole being into that process and I will love, admire and respect him for a lifetime. I also applaud and thank him from the bottom of my heart as I have used his example in his book to help free loved ones from their prisons of darkness.

Interestingly enough, Conroy is actually a generation ahead of his time, to my  way of thinking, because writing with full disclosure is right in line with  Generation “X” group  thinking… at least the ones with whom I have had the  greatest exposure and  connection. My thirty-something nieces (daughters from  anotha’ motha’) and daughter all have been seekers of the bright light. It’s  taken them years to understand where to aim it and what to do with the  information it reveals, but it was their desire to speak of the unthinkable, do the  unthinkable  and express it in new ways that lead me to my own acceptance of  the concept. It was the “X” factor that raged from  every walk of life from artist to  lawyers to musicians to therapists who joined in  Conroy’s quest. So, was Conroy the catalyst or was his work a process of synergistic thinking from the universe. Hmmm. Delicious thinking.

See what I’m tawkin’ ’bout? Word.

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