Entering The Blue Stone
Molly Best Tinsley
Fuze Publishing, LLC
May 15, 2012
What happens when one’s larger-than-life military parents–disciplined, distinguished, exacting–begin sliding out of control? The General struggles to maintain his invulnerable façade against Parkinson’s disease; his lovely wife manifests a bizarre dementia. Their three grown children, desperate to save the situation, convince themselves of the perfect solution: an upscale retirement community. But as soon as their parents have been resettled within its walls, the many imperfections of its system of care begin to appear.
Charting the line between comedy and pathos, Molly Best Tinsley’s memoir, Entering the Blue Stone dissects the chaos at the end of life and discovers what shines beneath: family bonds, the dignity of even an unsound mind, and the endurance of the heart.
One of the challenges in crafting memoir is maintaining the focus. Out of the seemingly infinite stuff in your life, you have to isolate one theme or occasion and then leave out any details, no matter how interesting in and of themselves, that don’t contribute to it. For example, in Entering the Blue Stone, my tragi-comic account of my parents’ crazy final years, one of my two brothers makes only brief appearances. Even though his struggle with bipolar disorder was a central issue at many stages of our family life, it was a different story, unrelated to decisions we had to make and the bizarre events we had to weather in trying to ease our parents’ departure from this world. So when asked about the research I did in order to write this book, I have to say that really my process was more a matter of paring facts away than gathering more facts to add. Of course, faced with our father’s Parkinson’s disease and our mother’s dementia, my sister, brother, and I did a certain amount of research about these diseases and their treatment, but our purpose in doing so was to take care of them better, not to write a book.
Much the way a visual artist carries around a sketch pad to capture the unusual gestures, shapes, and patterns she notices around her, writers are always taking notes on life: capturing people, places, and things in words and filing them away for future use. We get in the habit of keeping a record of our own emotions and sensations— because the most unpleasant experience has its “good side” if we convert it to fuel for the creative process. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gritted my teeth to endure a difficult situation while a voice in the back of mind is reassuring me, “At least you’ll be able to use this as data for your writing.”
So when my siblings and I were thrown into a vortex of incredulity, panic and pain; when our family situation was plummeting from difficult to impossible; when it felt like the end of the world—I was actually coping with the chaos by keeping notes. I kept a record step by step of our search for a care facility and then our adaptation to one frustration after the next–the scenes, the dialogue, the unexpected sweet times, the inevitable bad. When I drafted Entering the Blue Stone, I drew on these notes. Because the circumstances were so surreal, I wanted to create an almost documentary tone in recounting them. No hysteria, no exclamatory outrage—just the facts. They would speak for themselves. As I said, I did this for myself, to maintain my sanity. But I also sensed that our experience, while a riveting story (I’ve been told the book is a page-turner), could provide a cautionary tale for others facing the same crisis. If it begins as an account of what-not-to-do, by the end, I was allowed an insight that has enriched my life ever since.
About The Author:
Air Force brat Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emerita. Author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), she also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing) and the textbook, The Creative Process (St. Martin’s). Her fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been read and produced nationwide. She lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland.
Interesting post! I applaud you for taking what you learned in dealing with your own family’s situation and writing a memoir that will no doubt be beneficial to others facing the same situation.
Thanks, Maria–I think my ultimate purpose was to assure others in similar situations that they weren’t alone. I was so fortunate to renew strong bonds with my siblings.
Molly, thanks for featuring another Molly today 🙂
Thanks, Molly, for inviting me to blog. p.s. Love your name!
It was my pleasure, and I love your name too 😉