The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Linda Gray Sexton and
Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

January 24, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Imagine being the daughter of America’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. The innate writing talent, the lesson skills taught, (see Passing It Along), and the absolute love of words shared. Now, on the other hand, consider growing up as Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) and being raised by this publicly revered mother who suffered from severe depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempts that required stays in mental institutions. These far too many absences that forced being shifted to live with grandmothers and other relatives, while causing you to wonder — on your mother’s return home — whether she would keep her promise and not leave again.

When Linda Gray Sexton was barely twenty-one, her mother successfully committed suicide and was — at least — physically gone forever. However, in her just released memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, the author takes readers on her own brutal journey of depression, pain, and overwhelming sense of loss that led her to three suicide attempts. Like her mother, Linda promised her children she would never leave them yet the bond to be with her mother again always proved (not quite) stronger.

From the book’s inside jacket flap:

After the agony of witnessing her mother’s multiple—and ultimately successful—suicide attempts, Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, struggles with an engulfing undertow of depression. Here, with powerful, unsparing prose, Sexton conveys her urgent need to escape the legacy of suicide that consumed her family—a topic rarely explored, even today, in such poignant depth.

Linda Gray Sexton tried multiple times to kill herself—even though as a daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother, she knew the pain her act would cause. But unlike her mother’s story, Linda’s is ultimately one of triumph. Through the help of family, therapy, and medicine, she confronts deep-seated issues and curbs the haunting cycle of suicide she once seemed destined to inherit.

Also you may read an Excerpt of Half in Love.

According to the author, the title “Half in Love” is taken from the Keat’s epigraph for the memoir which reads: “I have been half in love with easeful death, called him soft names in many a mused rhyme…” And, in relating this to her own experiences, Linda says “…it refers to being half in love with death, and then coming to be fully in love with life.”

In fact as she answered the question, The best age for you? in an interview from The Great Women Series, Linda said: “My fifties. I have come into my own and defeated my depression. I am writing again, conversing with other writers again. I have reclaimed my life.”

Now living with joy rather than pain, wouldn’t one wonder why the author chose to write about her past? Well, in the blog post — Why Write Memoir? — she addresses just that:

“It’s a difficult question. How do you protect the ones you love and still write about a topic you believe needs to be made public and to be discussed?

“In the United States today, someone kills him or herself every seventeen minutes, a million commit suicide worldwide annually, and suicide outranks homicide two to one. You could say that if you are depressed, your own hand is more dangerous than a gun.”

Startling and horrifying statistics, aren’t they? And yet they create the reason to read this book.

As Erica Jong praised: “A vivid and daring exploration of survival from the author of Searching for Mercy Street, Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity.”

Although the subject matter of Linda’s writing is not an easy read, it is fascinating as well as more important than ever. Early in the memoir she notes that during the 50’s, 60’s, and beginning of the 70’s — when her mother struggled with mental illness and lost the battle — it was a disease difficult to diagnose, treat, and medicate properly. Support groups were non-existent and families either tried to ignore or hide a loved one’s severe psychological problem.

However that was then and this is now so The Divining Wand asked why she thought modern medical and therapy strides aren’t making a difference in saving someone from committing suicide every seventeen minutes?

Linda Gray Sexton said: “I think there is still a stigma about mental illness and suicide that makes people reluctant to talk about it. I am getting scads of mail since the book was published from those who feel that someone has at last spoken up for them. I do think that there are strides being made medically in terms of psychoactive drugs, but it takes a long time for these things to penetrate the general population. Who knows what the statistics were a decade ago? And those statistics were undoubtedly colored by the fact that people were reluctant to let others know that their loved ones had died by their own hand. Even today, how many times do you read an obituary that seems extremely vague about the cause of death? We just have to keep plugging away at it, talking about it openly and continuing to support those who live with us, or to whom we are connected, to take their meds and see their psychiatrists. Don’t let depressed people fade out of your life.”

Hopefully the author’s brave and intensely compelling telling of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide will offer hope and help to others facing a similar situation. For those fortunate enough not having to deal firsthand with mental illness, may it give a better understanding and willingness for support. And to those readers who simply desire a truly brilliant book written — without pity — by a gifted author whose mind conquered all, this memoir is for you!

[On a personal note, I encourage you to take time to visit Linda Gray Sexton’s website. It’s enchanting, even if you only stop to look inside the writing cottage you’ll learn where and how this writer writes.]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Linda Gray Sexton on Passing It Along

January 18, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Although Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) is more than familiar with inherited traits — as her latest memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide profoundly showcases –, she is also well-acquainted with the gifts we receive from others. In today’s guest post, the memoirist/novelist writes about shared talents and cherished experiences that have enriched her life.]

Passing It Along

I am always struck by the way so many aspects of my life are rooted in the lives of other people, how they transform my experiences, moment by moment. Be they parents or children, mentors or professors, lovers or friends, they all have made a significant impact upon my growth as an individual, and I believe that I have had the same effect on them. It is a creative kind of sharing between us, very different from that which psychology and science say about the domination of environment and genes.

I learned how to write in my mother’s study, curled up on the old green sofa while she leaned back in her desk chair, her feet propped up on the bookshelf. Through her own experience as a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, she passed on to me a love of the word that formed the basis of my own desire to express myself this way. At twelve, I began to write my own poetry seriously, based on the methods she had shown me, creating draft after draft till I reached the most pitch perfect poem I could.

At college, I learned about expository writing, from professors and grad students alike, and began to hone my critical—rather than my creative—skills. This new sense of style came to me in my classes, an ability to craft explication de textes, as well as verse, and to write with absolute adherence to more formal language. Then, at my own hand and computer, I discovered more still as I began to write both fiction and memoir, as well as book reviews and teaching both younger and older students to pay attention to structure and their choice of words.

I combined all I had learned about the craft of writing of every sort, and then learned to plow slowly through whatever I was creating in order to grow as a writer. And whenever someone asked, I happily gave away all I had learned, to readers, listeners and peers alike.

The opposite has been true for me as well. How often, sometimes without even knowing it, we give to those who are older and wiser or just plain different than us in their outlook or experience. My sons, along with their friends, have taught me so much: how to work the internet, and how to post on Facebook; how to hold down a job that requires sixty hours a week, and how to date in this brave new social world. And I hear professional writers and younger voices as well: how to look at a book in a new way either through a review, or a blog; how to craft a better idea that engenders a bigger audience.

There was a time when I helped my mother to grow in just this way. During college vacations, I brought home books by writers whom I was exploring in class, and we would once again hole up in her study—but this time it was I who read favorite authors to her, I who taught her all I knew about writing and reading. T.S. Eliot, Wordsworth and Tennyson, Ezra Pound. With no college degree of her own, she would marvel at all I was learning and thank me for bringing this new knowledge into her writing room.

Once, as we sat outside a doctor’s office, waiting for my results of a crucial examination by a specialist in gynecology, she supported me through the dreadful vigil. My predisposition for a particular cervical cancer came from a drug she had taken as she had tried to prevent a miscarriage while she was pregnant with me; but when I turned twenty-four, I had a different problem, of another sort than the one we had anticipated—infertility.

She sat with me that day, in unspoken empathy, knowing that she might have passed on to me a deadly condition and blaming herself, though no responsibility could really be assigned. We were two different but united women, each with our own issues: guilt and fear.

And as we sat there waiting, I read aloud to her from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in a quiet voice that took into consideration the other patients sitting around us. Nevertheless, my mother grew excited and then enthusiastic and then, at last, emotionally moved. She had never experienced Woolf before. We distracted ourselves from the threat of the medical issue before us, and she marveled at the rhythms and the words that this other woman had chosen to bring her vision into life, words that I now offered up to my mother as we held hands and I spoke them out loud.

When I was a child, she had passed onto me an enduring and immense gift: the love of language. That day I gave back to her a gift of the education in literature that she had never had. It was a special kind of communication, one woman to another. It was a mutual inheritance, from her to me, and then, in reverse, from me to her. I know I treasured the exchange. I am certain she did, too.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and The Weird Sisters. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Linda Gray Sexton

January 12, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Novelist/Memoirist Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) celebrates the release of her latest memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, as she celebrates her triumph of life.

Linda describes the memoir in her own words:

The book is about struggling with the cycle of suicide that ran through my family and how I came to terms with it, understanding at last this mental illness and suicide did not have to be my only inheritance.

And then here a few of the glorious Reviews for HALF IN LOVE:

“A vivid and daring exploration of survival from the author of Searching for Mercy Street,” Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity.” ⎯Erica Jong

“Like her mother, Sexton can create a startling intimacy with her readers. She comes before us emotionally naked, explaining the pull of self-cutting and suicide in a tone that’s unsettling direct…This book looks into the workings of the suicidal mind in a way that isn’t easily forgotten, raising provocative questions about how we approach and treat the severely mentally ill. Sexton paints suicide as a deadly disease mechanism: only the care of other people can save its victims, but those victims become experts at driving other people away. ‘The bare bones fact,’ Sexton writes from her own grueling experience, ‘is that no one wants to deal with a suicide.’”The New York Times Book Review

“In this stark, affecting memoir, Sexton picks up where she left off in her 1994 tell-all Searching for Mercy Street…with a compelling candidness…in the end, we’re rewarded not by Sexton’s inevitable listing toward harm but by her resilience in the face of it.”San Francisco Magazine

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide for Monday, January 24, 2011 but, until then, let’s meet the author through her brief official “bio:”

Linda Gray Sexton is the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. She has written four novels, and her first memoir, Searching for Mercy Street, was published to widespread acclaim. She lives in California.

And now the opportunity to get to know Linda, upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Mother, Wife, Friend, Memoirist, Dalmatian Lover, Reader, Shopaholic.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: “Don’t let the bastards win.”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: My arms around my sons; a loving man by my side; my dog tucked in behind my knees; a book in my hands.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Being in an airplane as it crashes.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Florence, Italy

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Virginia Woolf

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Nelson Mandela

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “Are you sure?” and the f-word.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: To be a chef the caliber of Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, or Alice Waters.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Raising sons (26 and 28) to adulthood and teaching them to be empathetic men.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Oversensitivity and talking about myself too much.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Sensitivity and the ability to listen.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Three suicide attempts.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: A dog who lives at my house.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Generosity.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Lily Briscoe in Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse.”

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Martina Navratilova; “I admire everything you’ve accomplished, particularly because you were such a strong role model for women my age.”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Parents who don’t control their children in restaurants and airplanes.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Sailing and going to dog shows.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Psychiatrist

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Empathy, courage, kindness.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Artisan Bread with goat cheese.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Simon and Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
Bob Dylan’s “ Forever Young”
The theme song from the film “Out of Africa”
Rachmaninoff’s “Variation on a Theme by Paganini”

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: I change my mind about this constantly. Current favorites would be:
Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint

Linda Gray Sexton invites you to join her community of fans and learn more about the author’s writings and life at her official website. It’s an enchanting virtual visit to her world — a place to be explored for hours.