Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Rogers Park Story (featuring: Tonight, tonightish)
In my classroom (and now my office), I display the sign above for all to see. More than a cheesy gimmick used to make students bear their souls, it is a representation of my deep-seeded beliefs about the importance of each person’s experience. This began when, as a young adult, I encountered two books that transformed my views about storytelling. While I had previously lost myself in the fantasy worlds of Madeline L’Engle and Lloyd Alexander, I discovered that the candid and often brutal truth expressed in memoirs could help me find myself, and in turn, my own voice. The books that utterly changed my life were Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (who sadly passed away recently) and The Color of Water by James McBride. Both books depict complicated and fragile relationships between parents and children. By completely opening themselves up, their ordinary experiences became something much more profound and unique. Their bravery in sharing their stories constantly inspire me to consider my story worth telling. This week I received a turbo-charged, pop-culture infused reminder of the power of one voice in the form of Nathan Rabin’s epic memoir, The Big Rewind: A Memoir brought to you by Pop Culture.
Better critics than I have summarized The Big Rewind and reviewed it with stunning accolades. The world is in love with this memoir and it’s not hard to guess why. By seamlessly blending the universal appeal of pop culture and the universal experiences of disappointment, rejection, and depression, Rabin speaks to each one of us. Rabin is a wordsmith whose balances self-deprecating humor with uh, other kinds of humor. I can imagine that his book could be used as a springboard towards a very fine Wes Anderson film starring Owen Wilson as Nathan and Bill Murray as the Chabad rabbi. Like Wes Anderson's tangled tales, this memoir is both absurdly comic and terribly tragic. While sharing truths about his troubled life, he makes us laugh about our own foibles. Not only do the anecdotes give me hope about my own twisted life, but the very setting brings out shrieks of pride and excitement. Rabin brings Chicago's Rogers Park to life with specific details that made me feel like I was in on a communal inside joke. (Adam Langer uses a similar device in his novel, Crossing California, which Rabin actually references. Apparently Langer subbed at Mather while Rabin matriculated there... it's a small, small world.) From eating at the Kosher Dunkin Donuts on Devon to going to the zoo in Indian Boundary Park to attending Dewitt Clinton Elementary School and then Mather, I can tell we walked the same streets, and shared some of the same experiences. Rabin overcame tremendous odds against him and ended up working for the best fake paper in the world, The Onion. In his final pages of his memoir, he sums up a truth that we all need to hear: "I would never have a ... normal life. And that was perfectly OK. In fact, it was beautiful" (337). His words reassure me that my imperfect life is worth sharing with the world. I have a story, too.