Tag Archives: memoir

Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

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A celebration at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Randy Christensen, M.D., autographs a book.

As we approached the table where pediatrician and newly minted author Randy Christensen, M.D. was autographing copies of his book, we joked about being his “groupies.”

The book-signing event in the airy, natural light-filled lobby at the new patient tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the second event in the past three weeks that multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint and I have attended in support of Christensen, his new book (Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them) and his work with the Crews’n Healthmobile, a collaborative effort between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day Centers.

Vicki and Randy at a March luncheon where he was the featured speaker.

Groupies? Well, certainly admirers. Vicki, who interviewed Christensen for a story we published in January 2008, has followed his journey with great interest. She even read an advance copy of his book, which is a memoir about his work spearheading medical outreach to homeless teens, and wrote a review that will appear in our upcoming May magazine.

I am looking forward to reading my own copy, which I purchased at the PCH gift shop and which is inscribed, “Thanks so much for your support!” by “Dr. Randy.”

The event, which carried on throughout the day and early evening, was a true celebration. Many of Christensen’s coworkers and medical colleagues from around the community were there. Everyone was beaming. Some were wearing handmade bracelets mimicking the one adorning the book jacket. Teresa Boeger, a child life specialist and director at PCH (with responsibilities encompassing The Emily Center and the gift shop, too),  found a couple of extra bracelets, which she promptly gave to Vicki and me. With the “Ask Me Why I Hurt” message so relevant for the hospital’s young patients, I would expect to see a lot more of these around the hospital in the days and weeks to come. Vicki urged her to market them at the gift shop, with proceeds benefiting the Crews’n Healthmobile.

Michelle Ray, who sought medical help from the Crews'n Healthmobile while living at a UMOM New Day Center, came to offer her support. Michelle, now the mother of a 4-year-old, is studying to be a nurse. Christensen is her child's pediatrician.

Before we left, we took a quick tour of the new Crews’n Healthmobile, a big upgrade over the original vehicle (which Vicki wrote about visiting in her Health Matters blog).

When Vicki first interviewed Randy, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about writing a book. And yet he first talked to Vicki he told her about the young woman who wore a bracelet saying “Ask Me Why I Hurt.” As I listened to the interview again recently, I got chills. The larger purpose behind this man’s life, work — and now, his writing — is plainly clear.

Listen to Vicki’s 2008 podcast.

Randy and Amy Christensen. Amy is also a pediatrician.

The Crews'n Healthmobile and staff. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

With Randy at the PCH gift shop. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

What’s on my nightstand

I used to be very linear when it came to reading. I would never start a new book until I’d finished the one I was on. Lately, I find myself engrossed in several books simultaneously; all seemingly distinct and yet, for me, inextricably linked. Here’s what’s stacked on my nightstand:

Out of Africa by Isak Dinessen

“Out of Africa” is my all-time favorite movie. I could watch Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in their romantic flight over the pristine landscapes of Kenya a million times and never tire of it. I can hum the soundtrack for that sequence without a moment’s hesitation. But I’d never read the memoir by Isak Dinessen that inspired the movie. My husband, who knows how much I love the movie — and how interested I’ve become in all things Africa since my trip to Ethiopia last summer — bought the book for me at Christmas. I love that the author’s real first name is Karen and that she was born on April 17 (our wedding date) in 1885 (exactly 100 years before my son Andy was born).

The Best American Magazine Writing 2010

It was Andy who gave me the next book I’m enjoying. As a writer himself (he works for POLITICO in Washington, D.C.), he knows how valuable inspiration from the great writing of others can be. Former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham wrote the introduction to this volume of what has become an annual collection of the country’s best, as selected by the American Society of Magazine Editors. I love the way he describes his fervent belief that, regardless of where the magazine industry is headed in this fast-changing technological world, “the love of story is what endures through the storms and crises.”

INFIDEL, by Ayaan Hirshi Ali

This one is a loaner from my mom, with whom I often swap great books. She knew I would be interested in it, partly because the author spent some of her early life in Ethiopia. Her description of what it was like to undergo female circumcision (at her grandmother’s insistence!) made my skin crawl. Her escape from a forced marriage and the stifling roles facing women in her strict Muslin community is inspiring.

Lanie and Lanie’s Real Adventures by Jane Kurtz

I became a fan of author Jane Kurtz last summer, when she stumbled upon a blog I’d written about getting shots for my trip to Ethiopia and responded to let me know she’d grown up there. I immediately subscribed to her blog, “The Power of One Writer,” then purchased (and read) all of her children’s books that are based in Ethiopia.

I discovered that Jane also has authored two books in the American Girl series. Her character Lanie was the “Girl of the Year 2010” and is a naturally curious adventurer amid the wonders of her own backyard.

I never had a daughter, so I missed the whole American Girl experience. Jane’s books are giving me a taste of it. And her blog posts, many of which focus on her continuing efforts to provide books to the children of Ethiopia, inspired me to make the first of many modest but heartfelt contributions to the Ethiopia Reads program.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz

The full title of this formidable book is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing.

Sounds like kind of a downer, right? The author, who has treated children who have undergone all sorts of horrific experiences, describes what happens to the brain when children undergo extreme stress — and how innovative treatments are helping them overcome early trauma to live happy, healthy adult lives.

I ordered this book after seeing it mentioned in one of the many international adoption newsletters I am following as I continue my research for a book about the deGuzman family’s Ethiopian adoption story.

It showed up in my mailbox the same day I talked to a man about the son he and his wife adopted from China two years ago — a child who proceeded to scream nonstop all the way home on the airplane and for the next four or five weeks afterward. The toddler, who had been left in a crib, basically untouched, for the first 18 months of his life, was developmentally delayed. He couldn’t walk. He was hypersensitive to stimulation — unexpected touch, sights or sounds. With the loving support of his determined parents, and the intervention of physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, he is now doing well.

I’m eager to read about others who were that lucky.