Monday, January 6, 2014

Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding

Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling
HarperCollins; 1/7/2014
Hardcover, 288 pages

ISBN-13: 9780061710247

A powerful, lyrical memoir of self-discovery full of warmth and wry humor—a book that combines the soul-baring insight of Wild, the profound wisdom of Shop Class as Soulcraft, and the ad venturous spirit of Eat, Pray, Love
When her college-bound daughter leaves home, Lynn Darling, widowed more than a decade earlier, finds herself alone and utterly lost. Freed of her parental responsibilities, she has no idea what she wants or even who she is. Searching for answers, she leaves her apartment in New York City and moves to a cranky little house in the middle of the Vermont woods, her only companions, a new dog and a compass. There she hopes to develop a sense of direction—both in the woods and in her life.
As she finds new ways to get lost in her own backyard, Darling meditates on her past and on the challenges that aging poses to love, work—not to mention fashion—and the way she sees herself. She has just begun to chart a new course for the future when an unexpected setback unsettles her newfound balance.
With rare insight and remarkable honesty, Out of the Woods reveals how honing the skills of navigation—literal and metaphorical—smoothed one woman's path through the uneven course of life. It is a story at once universal and deeply personal—in the words of writer Geraldine Brooks, "both a compass and a manifesto for navigating the often-treacherous switchbacks of the second half of life."
My Thoughts:

Very Highly Recommended
Lynn Darling explains in the introduction the genesis of why she wrote  Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding:
"I was forty-four when my husband died and fifty-six when my daughter entered college. I was getting old, and I didn’t know how to do that. So many people seemed to do it badly, and yet every once in a while, I would see something in the eyes of an old woman that intrigued me—a kind of triumph, a knowingness. I wanted to know where that look came from. I wanted to gather the tools that would enable me to grow old with grace. (Location 96)

She creates for herself a “metaphysical” list of tasks she needs to accomplish for this next portion of her life: “get sense of direction; find authentic way to live; figure out how to be old; deal with sex; learn Latin.” This is a wonderful way to introduce her memoir of a certain time in her life while she overcame certain hurdles and challenges. Not only does her daughter, Zoe, leave for college, but Lynn moves out of New York City to an eclectic, ramshackle house in Woodstock, Vermont. 

Lynn shares her struggles with her solar power system, getting a puppy, making friends with her new neighbors, walking in the woods, fighting cancer, gaining her sense of direction, and making peace with her choices. This is her honest reflections of where she feels her life is going and how this journey of self-discovery veered off in a different direction once she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment. 

Since I can identify with Lynn in several ways (although by all outward appearances not in similar ways at all) I appreciated the struggle she found herself in and the steps she took to deal with her new situation. It is hard to see your children move on and no longer need you. It is also hard to deal with changes in your life as you age.  I think Lynn  is right when she contemplates charting this new course and decides "Perhaps in the end that is what wayfinding amounts to: learning how to allow for accident, and make way for blessing." (Location 119) 
Almost all of us can find ourselves wounded in some way and seeking the blessings that are also there, amidst the pain and accidents.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins via edelweiss for review purposes.


I chose the house in spite of its warts but because of them, because the house’s cranky unfinished state reflected my own. One life was over and another was beginning, and I was no longer any of the things I had been, no longer young and not yet old, and because I had to figure out everything all over again, everything—from where to live, to how to dress, and who (or even whether) to love, because I had no idea of what to do next, and the middle of the woods seemed the best place to get one. I thought that I would see things more clearly from a place that had no part in my past, the way you climb a tree to get a perspective on the surrounding terrain, to put a name to the strange country into which you have wandered. I moved to the house at the end of the road to make a new home, a new life, and it was only later that I would see that I had gone to ground, the way an animal does, because I was wounded and beaten and in need of retreat. (Location 65)

Growing old meant inevitable loss, yes, but that wasn’t all it meant. Perhaps there wasn’t anything to be done but to live through this time, to take possession of my grief, to claim sovereignty over my own sadness. (Location 1543)

Who was this woman who was no longer lashed so tightly to the world of men; what did it mean to be finally getting old, to live alone, to be invisible in a way that I had not been since I was a teenager? I was nervous, but I was excited as well. “You only begin to discover the difference between what you really are, your real self and your appearance when you get a bit older,” Doris Lessing said in an interview in Harper’s in 1973. “ (Location 1637)

We were lying: my mother had never been happy for more than twenty minutes at a time. She ran on fury and worry and the neediness that children who have never been properly loved carry with them for the rest of their days. (Location 2876)

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