Cover image for Solace : rituals of loss and desire
Solace : rituals of loss and desire
Sojourner, Mary.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scribner, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 191 pages ; 23 cm
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PS3569.O45 Z47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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NPR commentator Mary Sojourner, "a pithy yet sensuous, spiritual yet ferocious writer" (Booklist), delivers a powerful memoir about the joys of rejecting the pace, addictions, and false values of society...and learning to live without compromise.Twenty years ago, Mary Sojourner was a mental health consultant and counselor in Rochester, New York, a divorced mother of three, longing for her real work, her real home. She found it in Flagstaff, Arizona, in a remote two-room cabin that had no running water and only a wood stove for heat, but offered Sojourner everything she needed in terms of light, beauty, joy, and the perfect setting for writing and reconnecting.Solace is a book about obsession and release, and the lifelong search for balance in a world revolving around appetite and acceleration. Written in short, beautifully crafted pieces, the book carries the reader through Sojourner's life, from a restrained Catholic childhood to the excesses of her generation, through motherhood and divorce to her quiet, solitary existence in the Southwest, where she has learned the importance of living at the right pace.Sojourner's voice is as compelling on the page as it is on the radio -- lively, funny, moving, combining the outspoken out-of-stepness of Anne Lamott with the environmental activism and poetic prose of Terry Tempest Williams. In chapters with titles such as "God Is Coming and She Is Pissed" and "How to Leave: Leave," her vivid personality, passion, and sense of humor come through. This is a book for women everywhere -- those who recognize their own truths in Mary's life and younger readers who will find inspiration in her hard-won wisdom.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sixtysomething southwestern writer Sojourner, a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition0 and an environmental activist, explores the conundrums of women's lives in a set of autobiographical essays. Solace0 forms a mosaic memoir. Inspired by the high desert, Sojourner's prose is at once spare and evocative as she remembers how her childhood was seared by her mother's depression and redeemed, in part, by her discovery of the "shelter" books provide. A self-described "good bad girl," Sojourner taps into the source of her zeal for hard work and right action and her passion for the wrong men. Married, divorced, and the mother of four early on, she remembers the misery of women's lives prior to the women's movement. Possessed of a fiercely addictive personality, she recounts with humor and wisdom her struggles to steer clear of alcohol, gambling, and even the Internet, ultimately transcending the personal to illuminate the woes of our entire consumer culture. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

NPR contributor Sojourner writes about her life from a "scrap-and-wallboard" cabin with no running water near Flagstaff, Ariz. She shepherds readers from her difficult girlhood with a mentally ill mother through the birth of her children and her discovery of feminism to a mature adulthood pocked with unhealthy relationships to men, alcohol, her computer and slot machines. Along the way, Sojourner, originally from Pennsylvania, finds a love for the American Southwest, moves there, then chafes at all the other newcomers who she believes are ruining the landscape and the environment. The result is a book that addresses the author's addictions, environmental activism and progression of messy relationships. Alas, Sojourner does not fully develop any of these threads. Moreover, rather than illustrating her life with stories, Sojourner reports, without meaty narrative backup (e.g., she glosses over the collapse of her first marriage: "I had sleepwalked and jangled my way through the earlier marriage to the college poet and, in an act more merciful then [sic] I understood, left him and our baby. I had fled to a new man, and when he left, run straight into the second marriage"). The book vacillates between periods of despair and epiphanies that soon evaporate (e.g., as Sojourner is trying to quit spending so much time on the Internet and return to writing, she notes, "Words spilled from the pool of witness and recollection. And as they emptied out, I felt full. For a while"). Still, Sojourner's passion, prickly vulnerability and deep humanity are engaging when taken in small, essay-sized bites. (Mar.) Forecast: Sojourner's NPR fans may pick this up, along with the author's forthcoming (in March) collection of short stories, Delicate (Scribner, $13 paper 272p ISBN 0-7432-2970-3). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Walden, Thoreau declares his intent clearly: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." Few people in our fast-paced, technology-obsessed, and voyeuristic society take this paragon of deliberate living to heart. In this fiercely personal study, Sojourner, a commentator for NPR and a poet/writer (Delicate), amply demonstrates her choice to follow in Thoreau's venerable footsteps. She vividly depicts her journey of self-discovery and her deepening awareness of connection with her environment. Rebel, feminist, environmental activist, and writer, Sojourner transitions gradually from the familiar to the unfamiliar, speaking her mind in a style that is frank, thoughtful, and eloquent. Ultimately, her memoir beautifully captures a most profound lesson of life: it takes immense courage to learn to let go and keep letting go. To do otherwise is to resist living in our present. Short chapters and a conversational style delightfully illustrate the essence of grace. Recommended for public and academic libraries with feminist/sociological collections.-Dina Komuves, Collingswood, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter One: Soul-Kissing in Purgatory When does loss lead to desire? Desire to loss? When does a kiss become obsession? A touch the key that does not unlock, but imprisons? I think of a child who is rarely touched. Or told touch is a sin. I think of Catholic girls of my generation. I was fifteen. I was luscious. I sat paralyzed with shame in the Monday Religious Instruction class of a Catholic church in Irondequoit, New York. It was late spring of 1955 and that weekend I had allowed a boy to "go further." Which meant he had rested his hand uneasily on roughly three inches of the pleated tulle and strapless bra covering my young chest. His breath caught. "I love you," he said. I waited to feel something even better than his words -- there, in my armored breasts. "I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't have rushed you," and took his hand away. I was silent. Not from what he might have thought, but from disappointment. The boy was tall and lanky, with a blond brush cut and tender eyes. His first kiss had unsettled me for weeks. I wondered why girls were told that boys wanted something girls shouldn't give them till marriage. I had no idea what I wanted, but I knew that what moved in my body, what took away my appetite and made my nights wonderfully sleepless, was not the boy's, and would never be. It was fully mine. It lived in the same place as story. What bad boys wanted didn't matter. I was not alone. My girlfriends and I invited boys to Joyce's basement rec room. We drank her mom's apricot brandy, smoked her brother's cigarettes, slow-danced to "Unchained Melody" and were baffled -- and delighted -- by how boys managed to walk with that long, hard thing in their pants. The priest walked up to the blackboard and began to write. Commandment Seven. The boys in the class poked each other and grinned. We girls sat mesmerized, still as sacrificial maidens before the slaughter. The priest continued to write: Thou shalt not commit adultery. The boldest boy scribbled something on a piece of paper and passed it to the guy behind him. "I will explain this commandment," the priest said nervously. "You all know the soul is like a blackboard. A venial sin is like a chalk mark that can be removed with prayer and penance. A mortal sin is a mark that can only be removed by time in Purgatory." I waited. Aeons of gray Purgatory Time seemed to stretch ahead. "Now," the young priest said, "if a woman rides horseback and gets, shall we say, pleasure from it, she commits a venial sin." The room was silent. Everybody, sniggling boys and wordless girls alike, looked dumbfounded. "And," our teacher went on, "if the woman gets back on the horse for more pleasure, it is a mortal sin." Dead silence from a dozen normally rowdy teenage kids. The priest sighed in relief and rubbed chalk dust from his hands. "I hope that clears the Seventh Commandment up for you. Next week, we will discuss the Eighth." He dismissed us early. We did not burst from the building as we usually did. The boys walked slowly in silent groups. The girls held their books to their young bosoms and looked away from each other, and from the boys. My friend's mom offered me a ride, but I walked home alone. I felt shattered. It was hard to breathe. The light seemed even duller than our normal lakeshore gray. I knew exactly what the priest had been talking about -- impossible choices. Be good and give up the only physical warmth I'd been given in years. Be bad and give up my soul. Good. Bad. Good. Bad. I put one foot in front of the other. Good. Bad. By the time I came to Titus Avenue, I was trapped between good and bad. Between tenderness and sin. It was just past five o'clock and traffic was heavy. I looked to my left and thought, It would be easier to die. I lifted my foot to step in front of an oncoming car. Before my foot touched down, I felt an unsought and most welcome clarity move in me like a good strong breath. I jumped back. "No," I whispered. "No." In that instant, I left my father's church. I could hardly wait for my next date with my boyfriend. This time, I guided him. This time, when he apologized, I put my hand gently over his mouth and whispered, "Guess what comes next?" This time we moved in Animal Time, at the slow, slow pace of our wise young bodies, in what seemed an endless unfolding of pleasure. I became a good bad girl. An A student who loved her lover's mouth on her breasts. The editor of the high school newspaper who knew that power lay in words -- and in the way I could make a boy lose control. For the first time in my young life, I deliberately chose paradox, and in that choice, saved my own life. I was shameless. A girl on her way to being a difficult woman, a girl on her difficult way. A girl who could not have guessed at the way connection can become disconnection, especially when the connected one lives in a world that fears shameless women, a world that tells them their pleasure is not theirs. A girl who, if you had told her she would spend forty years doubting her body and using men's desire to keep a false faith, would have laughed in your face. Copyright (c) 2004 by Mary Sojourner Excerpted from Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire by Mary Sojourner All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

What Goes Around Comes Around
What Goes Around Comes Around Scheherazade: A Woman Tells Stories to Save Her
Red Canoe
The Morning in the Heart of the DarkSoul-Kissing in Purgatory
Kidnapped Using Smoke: Visible Vapor Given Off by a Smoldering Substance
The Windows in the Gypsy Wagon AreSheets of MicaGod Is Coming and She Is PissedChief of Police Nixes Naked New Yorkers
The Myth of the Vaginal OrgasmFast-Forward
Brother Blood/Sister Solitude
Burning Hunting Shelter, Finding Sanctuary Hunting Shelter, Finding Sanctuary
How to Leave: LeaveI'm Scared. I'll Do It
Heading Home
Big Window
Animal Time
Dead BillMinimum Wage Crack in the World EvDeathwatch
Crack in the WorldRazor Vision
Now Somebody Else Knows
What Comes Around Goes Around Drastic Measures What Catches You When You Stop Running
What the Simplicity Gurus Leave OutNever Leave Your Machine Medicine Doing Nothing
DailyOccupying Less
The Essential Spirit Line Road Time
Spirit LineGratitude