A person can go to a nonfiction reading expecting part memoir and part travelogue and end up with something much closer to home.
Chop Suey was hosting Peggy Sijswerda, discussing her book "Still Life with Sierra: A Memoir." In quest of a fresh start, the author, her husband and young sons had moved to the Netherlands in the late 90s. They soon discovered that what they were hoping to find didn't exist.
It was the accidental death of their two-year old daughter that sent them first to a dark house in the Netherlands and then off camping throughout Europe seeking a new definition of home, but more realistically working through the grief process.
The reading got a late start due to Carytown being warm day-busy and swarming with people; no doubt attendees were struggling to find parking spaces. I happily parked four blocks away and enjoyed the stroll over.
When it finally began, and with a decent-sized crowd at that, the author led off by offering a box of Virginia Beach chocolates, she said, in hopes of bribing us to buy her book; I took a dark chocolate with cornflake crunch that was stellar.
There were several writers in the crowd, all curious about this kind of creative non-fiction, a genre spanning the likes of John Hersey's 1946 classic "Hiroshima" and Dave Eggers 2000 "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."
Sijswerda teaches creative writing at ODU and her book began life as her thesis in graduate school. She started the process of writing the story in 1998 and only got it published last August, significantly, the twentieth anniversary of her daughter's death.
And while she acknowledged the progress she had made in accepting the tragedy and folding it into who she is now, she also said that it's still very much with her.
As it is for anyone who has ever suffered a loss of that magnitude. To allow it to wholly define who you are means to give up on truly living and who wants to become that person?
Certainly not me.