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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

The Country of Grief

Last week I was mistaken.  I did save another winner from the Soul-Making Keats, not just “In the Meantime” by Patricia Schultheis. Yesterday in discarding more paper, I came across “The Country Where I Live,” by a writer in Oakland, California.  Her creative non-fiction entry begins, “About five years ago, I moved to Grief.”   I remember first reading this as Greece, though quickly saw in the line below, “I moved not to Greece.”

What follows are five pages of an extended metaphor about a country where the author does not meet Mr. Fake Smile and Ms. False Cheer, or those climbing the Ladder of Competitive Suffering. This writer says the Country of Grief is multicultural, and this appeals to her, “although some people have the mistaken impression that the way so-and-so peoples and their ancestors grieve is better than, say, the way such-and-such peoples and their kind grieve. Like the People with Solumn Eyes are better grievers than, say, the People Who Wail. It’s one of my grief-ances…that in the Country of Grief, these biases arise.” (Microsoft 11, an Old Testament, unforgiving God, is going nuts with this writer’s playful grammatical deviance.”)  All five pages of this second-place winner would need to be read to appreciate the country she creates.

You wonder, perhaps, where I am going with this? 

Directly to A Balanced Life, a memoir by Patricia Schultheis. She, too, takes a reader to the Country of Grief, as well as other countries, plus ice rinks and ponds. This Maryland journalist, fiction writer & book reviewer, frames her memoir through a lifelong passion as an amateur ice skater. I use the term, but Patricia states in the Preface, “I’m always careful to say, I skate, never I’m a skater.”  

Her memoir like the sport, has forward and backward movement.  She uses present and past tense to uncover and reveal the patterns and connections in her life. In 185 pages, she skates through time, recounting her life through a voice both lyrical & metaphorical, and factual.   

Her winning SMK essay, “In the Meantime,” recounts meeting Mr. Mort(ality) at the time of her older sister Sally’s death in 1995 at age 55 from cancer. (When I turn 81 on June 5th, that day will be the 29th anniversary of Sally’s death. This is one of the mysterious connections I share with a woman I’ve not met in person.)


Shortly after her sister’s death, Patricia’s husband Bill developed cancer of the larynx, fought on for years, then died in 2008. They were married for over four decades; and she reflects that in skating and marriage and parenting, no guarantee of remaining upright, of not losing balance. Add to this the death of her parents.  Patricia’s memoir has nine chapters, and each begins with a pithy and provocative claim.  Here are three: Among sports, only skating records its own execution (5).  We are born fallen (6).  I have an affinity for blades (8).

Another motif in her memoir is use of a diary. The first entry is from December 4, 1974. Patricia refers to her diary as “a spillway for worries, daily observations” and she uses it for orienting a reader in time. Then following her husband’s death, she writes to Bill, not just herself.  In a memoir, a writer must create a compelling identity on the page, which Patricia Schultheis has done in A Balanced Life.

Next week I will relate what this memoir led me to do, related to the Kafka quote in the Preface: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”


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