Diversity Conversation: Jeannette Walls and Nora Neill


Uploaded by GRCCtv on 27.10.2011

Transcript:
(music)
>> HI, MY NAME IS NORA NEILL
AND I TEACH WRITING IN THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
AT GRAND RAPIDS COMMUNITY COLLEGE.
AND TODAY, I HAVE THE ABSOLUTE HONOR OF INTRODUCING JEANNETTE WALLS,
THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF THE MEMOIR, "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
AND THE TRUE-LIFE NOVEL, "HALF BROKE HORSES."
AND TO START OFF OUR CONVERSATION TODAY,
JEANNETTE, I'D LIKE TO ASK YOU A LITTLE BIT ABOUT "THE GLASS CASTLE"
AND THE STORIES OF POVERTY THAT YOU SHARE.
AND I WONDER IF THERE IS A PARTICULAR MEMORY
THAT YOU HAVE WHEN YOU REALIZED THAT YOU WERE POOR.
>> YOU KNOW, NORA...
I THINK THAT THOSE OF US WHO GREW UP
IN SORT OF A STRANGE WORLD THINK THAT THAT'S NORMAL.
AND FOR MUCH OF MY LIFE-- I--
I DIDN'T NECESSARILY THINK IT WAS NORMAL,
BECAUSE MY FATHER WAS SO SHREWD, AND THINKING IT WASN'T JUST--
THAT IT WAS OUR CHOICE.
THAT WE LIVED THIS WAY BECAUSE WE WERE SPECIAL.
THAT REGULAR KIDS WEREN'T AS BRAVE AND STRONG AS ME--
THEY NEEDED THINGS LIKE PILLOWS AND STUPID PLASTIC TOYS.
HE SORT OF TAUGHT US TO FEEL SORRY FOR OTHER KIDS WHO LED A "NORMAL" LIFE.
AT A CERTAIN POINT IN LIFE, I REALIZED THAT A LOT OF KIDS POINTED AT US.
AND I REALIZED THAT IT WASN'T OUT OF ADMIRATION.
I THINK THAT I CLUNG TO MY FATHER'S MYTHS
BEYOND THE POINT THAT--
I SORT OF KNEW THAT HE WASN'T BEING COMPLETELY HONEST,
BUT I NEEDED TO BELIEVE IN SOMETHING OR SOMEONE,
SO I CLUNG TO HIS REALITY LONGER THAN I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE.
YOU KNOW...
I THINK THAT THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS I CALLED THE BOOK "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
IS BECAUSE, THROUGH ALL THIS POVERTY AND THIS CRAZINESS
AND SLEEPING IN CARS AND SLEEPING IN CARDBOARD BOXES,
DAD TOLD US THAT THAT WAS ALL TEMPORARY,
THAT ONE OF THESE DAYS, HE WOULD BUILD US A GREAT BIG MANSION OUT IN THE DESERT,
AND HE CALLED IT THE "GLASS CASTLE."
AND I CLUNG TO THAT NOTION THAT THIS POVERTY WAS TEMPORARY,
THAT ONE OF THESE DAYS, I WOULD HAVE A NICE PLACE TO LIVE.
AND I'VE COME TO BELIEVE THAT THAT HOPE, THAT DREAM FOR THE FUTURE,
IS AN INCREDIBLY VALUABLE GIFT.
YOU KNOW, IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE MY OLDER SISTER,
WHEN YOU BRING UP THE GLASS CASTLE, SHE SEES THAT AS SORT OF A BITTER MEMORY,
AS AN UNFULFILLED PROMISE.
AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT, IN TELLING YOUR STORY,
EVEN THOUGH IT'S NONFICTION, WE SHAPE OUR TRUTHS...
BY HOW WE CHOOSE TO SEE THINGS.
AND IN SITTING DOWN TO WRITE MY STORY,
I REALIZED THE DEGREE TO WHICH I BOUGHT INTO THE MYTH.
AND IF I WERE SMARTER AND SHREWDER, LIKE MY OLDER SISTER,
I WOULD HAVE SAID, "EH, IT'S JUST ONE OF MY FATHER'S B.S. LINES."
AND SO, IN TELLING THE STORY, DO I UNMASK MY FATHER EARLY ON?
AND SAY, YOU KNOW, "HE WAS SUCH A LIAR.
"HE WAS TELLING US ALL THIS STUFF
"THAT HE COULD HAVE NEVER POSSIBLY HAVE DONE FOR US."
OR DO YOU CLING TO THOSE BELIEFS THAT GET YOU THROUGH THE TOUGH TIMES?
>> YEAH, AND I WONDER WHY YOU THINK
THAT YOU CLUNG ONTO YOUR FATHER'S...
GLASS CASTLE LONGER THAN YOUR BROTHER AND OLDER SISTER DID.
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT YOU,
OR REASON THAT YOU CLUNG ON TO THAT?
>> YOU KNOW, THAT'S A VERY INTERESTING QUESTION.
I BELIEVE THAT I WANTED TO BELIEVE IN SOMETHING BIGGER AND GREATER.
I'VE ALWAYS BEEN SORT OF AN OPTIMIST.
I DON'T KNOW IF IT HAS TO DO WITH BIRTH ORDER,
AND MY OLDER SISTER SORT OF NEEDING TO FACE REALITY.
BUT MY YOUNGER BROTHER, ALSO.
I MEAN, TO THIS DAY-- YOU KNOW, MY BROTHER BECAME A COP--
AND HE SEES THINGS A LOT MORE BLACK AND WHITE THAN I DO.
AND WE'VE DISCUSSED A LOT MY TAKE ON THIS STORY,
BECAUSE IF ANY OF MY SIBLINGS HAD WRITTEN "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
IT WOULD'VE BEEN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT BOOK,
WITH THE FACTS NOT NECESSARILY BEING ONE BIT DIFFERENT.
BUT THE PERSPECTIVE WOULD'VE BEEN DIFFERENT.
AND TO THIS DAY, MY BROTHER AND I WILL LOOK AT AN OLD HOUSE,
AND I'LL SAY, "OH, WHAT A GREAT OLD HOUSE!"
AND MY BROTHER WILL SAY, "STRUCTURAL DAMAGE GOING ON THERE."
YOU KNOW, AND WE'RE BOTH RIGHT.
WE'RE BOTH ACCURATE.
BUT IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO FOCUS ON.
SO, I DON'T KNOW IF THERE'S SOMETHING IN MY BIOLOGY OR WHATEVER,
BUT I JUST ALWAYS HAVE BEEN AN OPTIMIST.
AND IN THAT REGARD, I THINK I'M A LOT LUCKIER THAN MANY PEOPLE,
BECAUSE I DO THINK THAT-- I THINK IT'S LESS ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE GIVEN IN LIFE
THAN HOW YOU CHOOSE TO VIEW THOSE THINGS.
I THINK THAT A POSITIVE ATTITUDE WILL GET YOU THROUGH A LOT OF THINGS.
MAYBE I'VE JUST INHERITED MY MOTHER'S CAPACITY FOR DENIAL.
YOU KNOW, I WOULD DENY THAT, BUT, UH--
(both laughing)
BUT I DO THINK THAT A LITTLE OPTIMISM
AND EVEN MAYBE A LITTLE DENIAL WILL GET YOU LONG WAY, YEAH.
>> SO, YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CHOOSE TO LOOK AT THE WORLD
FROM AN OPTIMISTIC PERSPECTIVE AND LOOK AT THE BEST SIDE OF THINGS?
>> I DO.
I DO.
BEYOND THAT, I DO THINK I WAS LUCKIER THAN A LOT OF KIDS...
WHO WERE RAISED IN SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES.
I MEAN, YOU KNOW...
I AM NOT THE ONLY POOR KID IN THE WORLD.
AND I'VE RUN INTO A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO--
YOU KNOW, SOME WHO COME FROM MUCH BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES THAN ME,
WHO TELL ME THAT THEY'RE STILL SO ANGRY WITH THEIR PARENTS
FOR NOT HAVING DONE A LITTLE BIT MORE FOR THEM.
AND, YOU KNOW, YOU CAN EITHER FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WEREN'T GIVEN
OR FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WERE GIVEN.
AND WHEN I FOCUS ON WHAT I WAS GIVEN,
I BELIEVE THAT MY PARENTS GAVE ME A GREAT LOVE OF LEARNING, A GREAT--
I CANNOT REMEMBER A POINT IN MY LIFE THAT I COULDN'T READ.
THERE WERE ALWAYS BOOKS AROUND THE HOUSE.
MY MOM AND DAD JUST MADE SURE--
YOU KNOW, THEY'D GO TO THE LIBRARY AND COME BACK WITH PILLOW CASES FULL OF BOOKS.
AND LEARNING WAS JUST SUCH AN ADVENTURE...
AND WHEN WE WEREN'T READING, WE WERE GOING OUT, EXPLORING NATURE.
MY FATHER WAS EXPLAINING GEOLOGY OR ASTRONOMY TO US.
AND I BELIEVE THAT IF YOU'RE GIVEN A LOVE OF LEARNING
AND A SENSE OF SELF-ESTEEM,
A SENSE THAT YOU DESERVE THE GOOD THINGS IN LIFE,
THAT THE REST IS ALL GRAVY.
IDEALLY, YOU GET THE FOOD AND CLOTHING AS WELL, I'LL ACKNOWLEDGE THAT,
BUT IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE TOOLS TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
AND A BELIEF THAT YOU DESERVE THAT BETTER LIFE, THEN I BELIEVE THAT THAT--
THAT, IN SOME WAYS, YOU'RE MUCH LUCKIER THAN KIDS
THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN GIVEN TONS OF RESOURCES
BUT NOT THE KNOWLEDGE HOW TO USE THEM.
>> MMM-HMM.
SO, IS THAT WHY YOU'RE ABLE TO PRESENT YOUR FAMILY
IN SUCH A COMPASSIONATE WAY-- >> (laughing)
>> AND A MORE OBJECTIVE WAY.
I MEAN, WHENEVER I'VE SEEN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FAMILY,
IT'S IN SUCH A COMPASSIONATE, ACCEPTING WAY,
WHICH IS SO COMMENDABLE.
>> (laughing) >> AND I'M WONDERING
IF THAT'S HOW YOU ARRIVED AT THAT PLACE.
>> WELL, YOU KNOW, IT'S FUNNY.
SOME PEOPLE SAY IT'S COMMENDABLE, SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT I-- (chuckling)
THAT I'M NOT BEING ENTIRELY HONEST ABOUT HOW TERRIBLE MY CHILDHOOD WAS.
AND I LOVE THE WORD YOU USED-- "ACCEPTANCE."
BECAUSE, FOR ME, THAT'S KEY.
SOME PEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME HOW I COULD FORGIVE MY PARENTS,
HOW I COULD FORGIVE THEM FOR THE UPBRINGING THAT I HAD...
BUT I'M NOT NUTS ABOUT THE WORD "FORGIVENESS" BECAUSE, TO ME,
THAT SETS ME UP AS A VICTIM, AND I DON'T SEE IT THAT WAY.
MY MOTHER COULD NOT TAKE CARE OF HERSELF.
HOW COULD I POSSIBLY EXPECT HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME?
I'M NOT SAYING THAT, AT TIMES, IT WASN'T FRUSTRATING.
AT TIMES, I JUST WENT, "MOM, GET A JOB!"
YOU KNOW, MY MOTHER WAS HIGHLY EDUCATED AND SHE COULD HAVE GOTTEN A JOB, BUT...
AFTER WE KIDS LEFT AND SHE BECAME HOMELESS,
AND I SAW THAT, YOU KNOW, SHE REALLY-- SHE DOESN'T HAVE THESE BASIC SKILLS.
SO TO ME, IT'S LESS ABOUT...
CRITICIZING HER FOR WHAT SHE DIDN'T DO,
THAN JUST ACCEPTING "THIS IS WHO MY MOTHER IS."
AND MY FATHER WAS AN ALCOHOLIC.
AND ANYBODY WHO HAS EVER LOVED AN ALCOHOLIC OR ANY SORT OF ADDICT,
I HOPE EVENTUALLY COMES TO THE CONCLUSION THAT, "LOOK, THEY MIGHT LOVE YOU, BUT..."
(chuckling) THEY HAVE-- ALCOHOLISM PREOCCUPIES THEIR WANTS
AND NEEDS AND DESIRES.
AND I WANTED TO BE ABLE TO FIX MY FATHER FOR A LONG TIME,
AND I HAD TO COME TO THE VERY TOUGH CONCLUSION THAT I COULDN'T.
AND AS MUCH AS I LOVE MY FATHER AND I BELIEVE HE LOVED ME,
HE WAS AN ALCOHOLIC AND I COULDN'T CHANGE THAT.
AND ONCE I ACCEPTED THAT AND I REALIZED,
"YOU KNOW, HE'S NOT ONLY NOT GOING TO BUILD ME A GLASS CASTLE,
"HE WILL NOT PUT ME OUT OF HARM'S WAY.
"IN FACT, HE WILL PUT ME IN HARM'S WAY,
"AND I HAVE TO REMOVE MYSELF FROM THE SITUATION."
AND THAT WAS A VERY, VERY TOUGH DECISION, A TOUGH REALIZATION.
AND I REALIZED THAT I HAD TO LEAVE HOME.
THE CONCLUSION I CAME TO WELL AFTER THAT, WAS THAT...
THAT MY PARENTS-- THE CHAOTIC LIFE THAT THEY LED, IT WAS--
IN A WAY, IT WAS THEIR CHOICE.
BUT I'VE EVEN BEGUN TO QUESTION THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF CHOICE.
IF PEOPLE DON'T HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES, IT--
WAS MY MOTHER HOMELESS BY CHOICE?
YOU KNOW, MY MOTHER NOW LIVES WITH ME.
I TAKE CARE OF HER... AND SHE WOULD BE ON THE STREETS IF I WEREN'T THERE.
SO, IS IT A CHOICE?
I MEAN, SHE LOVES HAVING A HOME.
SHE LOVES HAVE FLUSH TOILETS AND A PLACE TO WASH UP.
SO, SHE JUST-- SHE DOESN'T HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TAKE CARE OF HERSELF OR ME...
AND SO, HOW COULD I POSSIBLY FORGIVE HER?
FOR BEING WHO SHE IS.
"I FORGIVE YOU FOR BEING INCOMP--"
YOU KNOW, YOU JUST ACCEPT THAT THAT'S WHO AND WHAT SHE IS.
AND IF I CAN ACCEPT THAT THOSE ARE HER LIMITATIONS,
THEN I THINK THAT, IN OTHER AREAS, SHE HAS INCREDIBLE GIFTS.
MY MOTHER IS SO BRILLIANT.
IT ASTONISHES ME SOMETIMES WHEN I TALK TO HER.
SHE'S SO MUCH SMARTER THAN ME.
SHE KNOWS SOMETHING ABOUT EVERYTHING.
IF I TALK TO HER ABOUT ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL,
SHE STARTED RAILING ON ABOUT HIS AFRICAN AMERICAN ASSISTANT
WHO DIDN'T GET THE CREDIT HE DESERVED.
HOW DOES SHE KNOW ALL THESE THINGS?!
YOU KNOW, ONE TIME, WHEN I WAS TALKING TO HER,
THESE STUPID CARPENTER BEES STARTED FLYING AROUND OUR HEAD,
AND I WAS THINKING, "STUPID CARPENTER BEES.
"I GOTTA KILL 'EM, AND GET SOME POISON,"
AND MY MOM SAW ME LOOKING AT THEM, AND SHE SAID, "AREN'T THEY WONDERFUL?
"IT'S SORT OF LIKE HAVING PETS THAT YOU DON'T NEED TO FEED.
"THEY'RE SO FRIENDLY."
AND I WAS THINKING, "I NEED TO BE A LITTLE BIT MORE LIKE HER.
"I NEED TO ACCEPT ALL CREATURES FOR WHAT THEY ARE."
AND I SAID, "YOU KNOW, MOM, THEY BORE HOLES IN THE WOOD
"AND, YOU KNOW, THEY DESTROY THINGS!"
SHE'S LIKE, "EVERY CREATURE NEEDS A PLACE TO LIVE."
AND SHE JUST REALLY DOES ACCEPT ALL THINGS FOR WHAT THEY ARE.
AND IF YOU WOULD'VE TOLD ME, AT SOME POINT, THAT I WOULD SAY,
"I NEED TO BE MORE LIKE MY MOTHER,"
I WOULD'VE SAID, "YOU'RE CRAZY!
"I WANNA BE NOTHING LIKE THAT NUT!
"I WANNA HER OUT OF MY LIFE."
BUT SHE DOES HAVE THINGS TO OFFER, IF I ACCEPT HER--
THOSE THINGS ON HER TERMS.
NOW, MY BROTHER GOT TOGETHER WITH HER ONE TIME
AND ASKED HER TO APOLOGIZE FOR THE WAY THAT WE WERE RAISED.
AND I SAID, "BRIAN, IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
"MOM DOESN'T SEE IT THAT WAY."
AND SHE DOESN'T.
AND SO, IT WAS A LONG AND TEARFUL CONVERSATION,
WITH HER SAYING, ULTIMATELY, "I DID THE BEST I COULD."
AND I SORT OF BELIEVE THAT.
AND I'VE ALSO COME TO REALIZE...
YOU KNOW, MOM, NOW THAT SHE'S LIVING WITH ME...
SHE'S MORE SANE THAN SHE'S EVER BEEN.
SHE'S STILL A LITTLE LOOPY.
SHE'LL ALWAYS BE A LITTLE ECCENTRIC.
BUT I REALIZE THE DEGREE TO WHICH HER WACKINESS, WHEN SHE WAS RAISING US,
WAS TRYING TO ADAPT TO THE CHAOTIC SITUATION THAT MY FATHER HAD CREATED...
AND TO TRY TO PUT A POSITIVE SPIN ON EVERYTHING.
I MEAN, IT'S WHAT GOT HER THROUGH.
I AM VERY MUCH NOT LIKE MY MOTHER.
I AM VERY DIFFERENT.
ONE OF MY MOTHER'S FEW OBJECTIONS WHEN SHE READ "THE GLASS CASTLE"--
SHE DIDN'T READ IT WHILE I WAS WORKING ON IT,
BUT AFTER IT BECAME A BEST-SELLER, SHE READ IT.
SHE'S LIKE, "IT MUST BE PRETTY GOOD-- OTHER PEOPLE LIKE IT."
AND SHE SAID, "I'M NOT AS PASSIVE AS YOU DESCRIBED ME TO BE."
AND I SAID, "MOM, I WOULD NEVER DESCRIBE YOU AS PASSIVE."
BUT ONCE I THOUGHT ABOUT IT, SHE IS.
SHE JUST SORT OF LETS THINGS HAPPEN AND ACCEPTS THEM FOR WHAT THEY ARE.
I'M, ALL THE TIME, TRYING TO CHANGE THINGS AND MAKE THEM BETTER.
AND I COULD BE A LITTLE BIT MORE PASSIVE
BUT, I THINK, MAYBE SHE CARRIES IT TO AN EXTREME.
SHE DOES JUST GO WITH THE FLOW, AND THAT'S THE WAY SHE ALWAYS WILL BE.
>> YEAH, AND YOU...
MENTIONED THAT, AFTER "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
READERS WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR MOTHER,
AND THAT WAS WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO BEGIN INTERVIEWING YOUR MOM
FOR, WHAT BECAME, YOUR TRUE-LIFE NOVEL-- >> RIGHT.
>> "HALF BROKE HORSES."
AND SO, I WONDER IF THERE'S ANYTHING THAT YOU CAN ADD
TO WHAT YOU JUST DESCRIBED SO WELL ABOUT YOUR MOM
THAT MIGHT ILLUMINATE HER A LITTLE BIT BETTER,
BRING SOME OF THAT UNDERSTANDING THAT YOUR AUDIENCE IS REALLY SEARCHING FOR.
>> YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE REASONS I'M VERY DRAWN TO NONFICTION...
THE FIRST IS, I HAVE NO IMAGINATION.
(laughing) I'M TOTALLY INCAPABLE OF MAKING THINGS UP.
I TRIED TO FICTIONALIZE "THE GLASS CASTLE."
AND BEFORE, WHEN I WAS IN MY TEENS AND 20s, I TRIED TO WRITE THE STORY,
AND I WAS SO EMBARRASSED BY IT, I THOUGHT, "I'LL WRITE THIS AS FICTION."
AND I COULDN'T THINK WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO CHANGE.
I MEAN, ANY TIME I TRIED TO HAVE SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING THAT THEY DIDN'T,
I WAS LIKE, "THIS IS OUT OF CHARACTER.
"THEY WOULDN'T HAVE BEHAVED THIS WAY."
SO, I SORT OF-- I HAVE ONE LITTLE, SLIM TALENT IN THE WORLD
AND THAT'S DIGGING THINGS OUT.
SO, IF IT'S OUT THERE, I CAN DIG IT OUT, BUT I CAN'T MAKE THINGS UP.
AND I AFTER I'D WRITTEN "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
MY PUBLISHER STARTED PRESSURING ME TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK,
AND I WAS LIKE, "WELL, I ONLY GOT THAT ONE STORY."
AND PEOPLE WERE SAYING, "WELL, WRITE ABOUT YOUR LIFE NOW."
AND I'M, "NO, THAT'S TOO BORING."
I GOT SUCH A CUSHY LIFE NOW.
NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT IT.
BUT IT WAS READERS WHO KEPT ON SAYING, "I UNDERSTAND YOUR FATHER,
"I UNDERSTAND ALCOHOLISM, BUT YOUR MOTHER IS A MYSTERY TO ME.
"WHY WOULD SOMEBODY WITH THE RESOURCES TO LEAD A SOMEWHAT NORMAL LIFE
"CHOOSE THE LIFE OF CHAOS THAT SHE CHOSE?"
AS I SAID, I'M DRAWN TO NONFICTION
BECAUSE I THINK THE TRUTH IS ALWAYS OUT THERE,
IF YOU ARE WILLING TO DIG DEEPLY ENOUGH.
NOTHING IS TRULY A MYSTERY.
ONCE YOU KEEP ON DIGGING, OH MY GOSH, HERE IS THE EXPLANATION.
MY MOTHER...
IN HER CHILDHOOD, SHE LIVED ON 180,000 ACRE RANCH AND...
SHE HAD COMPLETE FREEDOM.
AND I BELIEVE THAT MUCH OF HER ADULTHOOD WAS TRYING TO RECREATE THE FREEDOM
THAT SHE HAD IN HER CHILDHOOD.
THERE WERE NO RULES.
THERE WAS NO STRUCTURE.
HER MOTHER-- MY GRANDMOTHER-- LILY, WAS A VERY DOMINEERING WOMAN.
AND SHE-- MY MOTHER REALLY SHAPED UNDER THOSE RULES, AND SHE WAS ULTIMATELY--
MY MOTHER WAS SENT OFF TO BOARDING SCHOOL, WHICH SHE HATED.
IT WAS A DISASTER.
SO, I DECIDED TO GO AHEAD AND TRY TO TELL THAT STORY--
THE STORY OF MY MOTHER.
THE STORY ENDED UP BEING ABOUT MY GRANDMOTHER...
AT MY MOM'S SUGGESTION, WHEN I PROPOSED THE IDEA, TO WRITE MY MOTHER'S LIFE.
MY MOTHER WAS ALL FOR IT,
BUT SHE SAID, "YOU KNOW, THIS BOOK REALLY SHOULD BE ABOUT MY MOTHER."
MY GRANDMOTHER, HER MOTHER.
SHE SAID, "BECAUSE SHE'S THE ONE WHO LED THE TRULY INTERESTING LIFE."
AND AT FIRST, I RESISTED, BECAUSE I COULDN'T INTERVIEW LILY.
SHE DIED WHEN I WAS ABOUT SIX YEARS OLD-- EIGHT YEARS OLD.
AND, UM...
I COULDN'T INTERVIEW HER, AND I THOUGHT THAT WOULD CREATE PROBLEMS.
SO, I'D JUST TELL LILY'S STORY AS THE BACK-STORY.
BUT THEN, THE MORE I INTERVIEWED MOM, THE MORE I REALIZED THAT MOM WAS RIGHT.
THAT LILY REALLY DID LEAD THE MORE INTERESTING LIFE,
LARGELY BECAUSE MY MOTHER'S SO PASSIVE.
MY GRANDMOTHER WAS SUCH AN ASSERTIVE, AGGRESSIVE WOMAN.
SHE WAS THIS GUN-TOTING, CARD-PLAYING,
HOOCH-SELLING, HORSE-BREAKING SCHOOL TEACHER.
AND SHE JUST-- YOU KNOW, SHE RODE, ONE TIME, 500 MILES--
WHEN SHE WAS 15 YEARS OLD, SHE RODE 500 MILES ON A PONY
FOR HER FIRST TEACHING JOB.
SHE HADN'T EVEN GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL.
SHE WAS A REAL TOUGH OLD BROAD, AND I SAY THAT WITH GREAT AFFECTION.
AND I ULTIMATELY DECIDED THAT, BY TELLING MY GRANDMOTHER'S STORY,
I COULD TELL MY MOTHER'S STORY.
BECAUSE "THE GLASS CASTLE," FOR EXAMPLE-- IT'S NOT REALLY ABOUT ME.
IT'S ABOUT MY PARENTS.
WHEN "THE GLASS CASTLE"-- WHEN THE MOVIE RIGHTS WERE SOLD,
HOLLYWOOD REPORTERS SAID, "THE ROLE OF JEANNETTE WALLS
"IS REALLY NOT THAT INTERESTING, BUT HER TWO PARENTS--"
(laughing) "THOSE ROLES ARE CATNIP FOR SERIOUS ACTORS
"LOOKING TO PLAY CHARISMATIC SCOUNDRELS."
AND I COMPLETELY BELIEVE THAT.
AND IF YOU WANNA TELL SOMEBODY'S STORY, YOU TELL THE STORY OF THEIR CHILDHOOD.
SO, I FIGURED THAT THE BEST WAY TO TELL MOM'S STORY
WAS TO TELL HER MOTHER'S STORY.
BUT MY MOTHER WAS REALLY THE ONLY SOURCE I HAD ON IT.
I TRIED TO DO SOME SORT OF CURSORY RESEARCH,
BUT SOME OF THE FACTS STARTED CONFLICTING WITH WHAT MOM TOLD ME.
AND WHEN I SAID, "WELL, MOM, THIS BOOK ON YOUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER SAID THIS,"
AND SHE GOES, "OH, THAT'S ONE OF THE LIES THE MORMONS TOLD!"
SO, YOU-- SO, ANY--
I WAS FACED WITH THIS DILEMMA THAT, I SUPPOSE, ANY HISTORIAN IS.
IT'S, "WELL, WE HAVE CONFLICTING TALES."
WHICH STORY DO YOU BELIEVE?
IF I WANTED TO WRITE A STRICT HISTORY, THEN YOU PROVIDE BOTH.
"WELL, THIS SOURCE SAYS THIS AND THIS SOURCE SAYS THIS."
SO, I DECIDED TO JUST WRITE MY GRANDMOTHER'S STORY AS A NOVEL.
I CALL IT A "TRUE-LIFE NOVEL."
I DID NOT DO ANY GENRE-CREATING THAT'S, UH, NORMAN MAILER--
"EXECUTIONER'S SONG" WAS CALLED A "TRUE-LIFE NOVEL."
AND PEOPLE ASK ME, "WELL, HOW MUCH DID YOU MAKE UP?"
THAT'S SORT OF NOT THE POINT.
IT IS A...
IT IS MY GRANDMOTHER'S STORY, AS IS PASSED DOWN THROUGH SEVERAL GENERATIONS.
AND I COULDN'T, IN GOOD CONSCIENCE, CALL IT NONFICTION.
THERE WERE A COUPLE OF PEOPLE THAT WERE ACTUALLY TRYING TO URGE ME
TO CALL IT NONFICTION.
BUT I WROTE IT IN FIRST PERSON BY SOMEBODY'S WHO'S BEEN DEAD
FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS, SO I COULDN'T VERY WELL SAY, "OH, THIS IS ALL TRUE."
I PUT A LOT OF THOUGHTS INTO HER HEAD.
BUT IT IS AS CLOSE TO THE TRUTH AS I COULD GET IT, IN LILY'S VOICE.
>> UM... (clearing throat) EXCUSE ME.
LILY IS AN UNCONVENTIONAL WOMAN--
>> OH, YEAH-- OH, YEAH. >> FOR THE TIME...
(both laughing)
WHICH IS PART OF THE REASON THAT SHE IS SO GREAT IN MANY MOMENTS.
I AM WONDERING HOW MUCH HER GENDER
INFLUENCED YOUR INTERPRETATION OF HER LIFE.
>> YOU KNOW, LILY WAS-- AS I SAID, SHE'S A TOUGH OLD BROAD,
AND I SAY THAT WITH GREAT AFFECTION.
AND A COUPLE OF PEOPLE WHO'VE READ "HALF BROKE HORSES"
SAID TO ME, "SHE WAS A HARD WOMAN."
WELL, YOU HAD TO BE HARD THEN.
AND ONE OF THE REASONS THAT I WANTED TO TELL LILY'S STORY...
IS THAT, IN SOME WAYS, I THINK SHE WAS SO EXTRAORDINARY.
SHE WAS SO...
RESOURCEFUL AND STRONG, AND SHE JUST WENT WITHOUT.
IN ANOTHER WAY, I THINK SHE'S ASTONISHINGLY COMMON.
I THINK THAT THERE ARE SO MANY OF US OUT THERE
WITH GRANDMAS AND GREAT-GRANDMAS VERY MUCH LIKE LILY CASEY.
AND ONE OF THE REASONS THAT I WANTED TO TELL LILY'S STORY IS THAT--
WELL, TOURING ON BEHALF OF "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE SAID TO ME, "OH, YOU'RE SO STRONG
"AND YOU'RE SO RESILIENT.
"I COULD NEVER HAVE SURVIVED WITHOUT INDOOR PLUMBING,
"AND ALL THE THINGS YOU DID."
AND I'M VERY FLATTERED BY THE COMPLIMENT, BUT IT'S NONSENSE.
OF COURSE YOU COULD.
BECAUSE AS MUCH AS I LOVE MY INDOOR PLUMBING TODAY...
(laughing) ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS LOOK BACK 100, 150 YEARS AGO,
AND NOBODY HAD INDOOR PLUMBING, PRETTY MUCH.
AND, YOU KNOW, I...
I LOVE MODERN LUXURIES.
I THINK THAT THEY'RE GREAT, AND WE'VE ALL GOT iPODS AND REMOTES AND THESE THINGS.
I THINK THEY'RE MAGNIFICENT,
AS LONG AS YOU DON'T START THINKING THAT YOU CAN'T SURVIVE WITHOUT THEM.
OSCAR WILDE ONCE SAID, "A NECESSITY IS A LUXURY ONCE SAMPLED,"
AND I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF TRUTH TO THAT...
THAT WE THINK WE CAN'T SURVIVE WITHOUT ALL THESE THINGS.
AND ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT HAVING A ROUGH CHILDHOOD
IS YOU KNOW HOW LITTLE YOU REALLY NEED TO SURVIVE.
SO, I WANTED TO TELL LILY'S STORY TO REMIND PEOPLE OF A TIME NOT SO LONG AGO,
WHEN, PRETTY MUCH, NOBODY HAD THESE RESOURCES.
AND READERS WHO THINK, "I COULD NEVER HAVE SURVIVED WHAT YOU DID,"
JUST THINK BACK A FEW GENERATIONS.
MOST PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THIS COUNTRY COME FROM REALLY HARDY STOCK.
AND OUR ANCESTORS CAME OVER FROM POTATO FAMINES,
OR TO GET AWAY FROM THE NAZIS, OR ON SLAVE SHIPS OR WHATEVER,
AND HAD REALLY ROUGH LIVES.
AND DID THE BACK-BREAKING WORK THAT YOU NEEDED TO DO
TO ESTABLISH YOURSELF IN THIS COUNTRY.
AND LIKE I SAID, I TREASURE THE LUXURIES THAT WE HAVE TODAY...
BUT JUST DON'T FORGET HOW STRONG YOU ARE.
AND THAT-- I THINK WE'RE ALL SO MUCH STRONGER THAN WE REALIZE.
AND THAT IF YOU CAN GET IN TOUCH--
YOU KNOW, A LOT OF PEOPLE TODAY TALK ABOUT GETTING IN TOUCH
WITH YOUR "INNER CHILD," AND I THINK THAT'S ALL WELL AND GOOD,
BUT I ALSO THINK WE NEED TO GET IN TOUCH WITH OUR INNER "TOUGH OLD BROADS"
AND OUR INNER "TOUGH OLD COOTS" THAT ARE OUR ANCESTORS.
TO THINK ABOUT, YOU KNOW, WE'RE ALL SO MUCH STRONGER THAN WE REALIZE.
AND ONE OF THE GREAT BLESSINGS OF HAVING A TOUGH CHILDHOOD
IS I KNOW HOW STRONG I AM.
I DON'T NEED TO PROVE THAT TO MYSELF OR ANYBODY ELSE.
WHAT I HAD TO ADJUST TO, WHAT IT TOOK ME A WHILE TO REALIZE...
YOU KNOW, I'M A FIGHTER AND A SCRAPPER,
AND THAT'S BOTH A CURSE AND A BLESSING.
AND THE BLESSING IS THAT IT HELPED ME GET THROUGH SOME TOUGH TIMES.
THE CURSE IS THAT I WAS TOO PREPARED TO FIGHT.
IF ANYBODY LOOKED AT ME CROSS-EYED, I WAS, YOU KNOW-- I WAS IN THEIR FACE.
"HONEY, YOU CAN'T--" YOU KNOW?
AND I WAS TOTALLY UNPREPARED
FOR HOW KIND AND WARM THE RECEPTION TO MY STORY WOULD BE,
AND HOW GOOD PEOPLE ARE, AND HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE STORIES SO SIMILAR TO MINE.
SO, I THINK THOSE OF US WHO'VE HAD TOUGH CHILDHOODS...
WE SORT OF THINK THAT THAT'S WHAT WE--
THAT THAT'S WHO AND WHAT WE ARE.
THAT WE'RE JUST THESE TOUGH PEOPLE.
BUT THE PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T HAD TOUGH CHILDHOODS,
THEY DON'T THINK THAT THEY COULD DEAL WITH IT.
SO, I THINK THAT EVERYBODY SORT OF NEEDS TO CUT THEMSELVES A LITTLE BIT OF SLACK.
THE PEOPLE WHO WERE RAISED-- SO MANY PEOPLE COME UP TO ME
AND SAY, "OH, YOU'RE GONNA HATE ME WHEN I TELL YOU THIS,
"BUT I WAS RAISED IN GREAT WEALTH AND NEVER WENT WITH"--
WHY WOULD I HATE SOMEBODY WHO WAS RAISED IN GREAT WEALTH?!
(both laughing) THEY DIDN'T CAUSE ME ANY PROBLEMS!
IT WAS MY MOM AND DAD.
YOU KNOW, "NO!
"NO, I GOT NO PROBLEMS WITH PEOPLE"-- PEOPLE--
IT ASTONISHES ME HOW HARD PEOPLE ARE ON THEMSELVES.
AND YOU KNOW, ONE OF MY MESSAGES IS "CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK."
IF YOU COME FROM, YOU KNOW, A TRASHY BACKGROUND,
THAT DOESN'T DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.
IF YOU COME FROM A PRIVILEGED-- WELL, OF COURSE IT DEFINES A LITTLE BIT.
TO SOME DEGREE, WE'RE ALL PRODUCTS OF WHERE WE CAME FROM,
BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A PRISONER TO THAT.
>> WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF-- YOUR ADOLESCENT SELF--
KNOWING WHAT YOU DO NOW AND HAVING THIS PERSPECTIVE?
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD SAY, OTHER THAN, "CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK"?
(both laughing)
>> YOU KNOW, I GOTTA HAND IT TO MY MOM AND DAD.
I THINK THEY GAVE ME PRETTY GOOD ADVICE ALL ALONG.
IF I COULD GIVE SOME ADVICE TO MY YOUNGER SELF, IT WOULD BE, "JUST TOUGH IT OUT.
"TOUGH IT OUT... THINGS WILL GET BETTER FROM HERE."
IF YOU WERE TO ASK ME IF THERE WAS ONE THING FROM MY CHILDHOOD I WOULD CHANGE,
THERE'S NOTHING.
I WISH MY FATHER HAD STOPPED DRINKING,
I WISH MY KID SISTER HAD HAD AN EASIER LIFE...
BUT THOSE AREN'T THINGS I COULD CHANGE.
YOU CAN'T CHANGE SOMEBODY ELSE'S LIFE.
THERE'S NOTHING THAT HAPPENED TO ME THAT I REGRET.
THAT BEING SAID, THERE IS NO AMOUNT OF MONEY YOU COULD PAY ME
TO RELIVE ALL THAT AGAIN.
(laughing) BUT I THINK YOU GO THROUGH THESE THINGS,
AND YOU EMERGE OKAY... IF YOU CHOOSE TO.
I DO BELIEVE IT'S A CHOICE, AND I BELIEVE THAT MOM AND DAD,
FOR ALL THEIR FAULTS AND THEIR FAILINGS-- AND LORD KNOWS THEY HAD A LOT--
BUT I BELIEVE THAT MY FATHER, IN "THE GLASS CASTLE,"
GAVE ME THE GIFT OF DREAMING.
AND MY MOTHER GAVE ME THE GIFT OF OPTIMISM.
AND LIFE GAVE ME THE GIFT OF REALITY.
AND I BELIEVE I WAS GIVEN THE TOOLS TO GET THROUGH.
I MEAN, I THINK THAT, RIGHT NOW, I AM PERHAPS THE LUCKIEST PERSON IN THE WORLD.
I JUST-- I GET TO GO TO COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
AND TALK TO STUDENTS WHO ARE READING MY BOOK.
MY GOSH!
I MEAN-- AND SO, PEOPLE ASK ME WHY I'M NOT BITTER AND ANGRY.
HOW COULD I BE BITTER AND ANGRY?!
I AM SO LUCKY.
WHY BE BITTER AND ANGRY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED,
IF YOU ARE WHERE YOU WANT TO BE?
WHY BE BITTER AND ANGRY ABOUT HOW YOU GOT THERE?
SO, THERE'S NOTHING THAT I NEEDED TO KNOW...
SOMETIMES, YOU NEED TO SORTA LEARN THESE THINGS AND GO THROUGH THESE TOUGH PERIODS.
I MEAN, I'M NOT TRYING TO WHITEWASH MY PAST.
I WOULD HAVE GIVEN ANYTHING TO HAVE BEEN A POPULAR KID.
YOU KNOW, BUT I THINK THAT, AS A WRITER,
SOMETIMES YOU GET GREAT MATERIAL THAT WAY.
PROUST, ONE TIME, SAID HE HAD THE WORST CHILDHOOD
OF ANY HUMAN BEING ON THIS PLANET.
AND THAT MAY BE TRUE.
AND LOOK AT THE GREAT GIFTS HE GOT FROM THAT-- THE INSIGHTS INTO HUMAN NATURE.
SO, YOU MIGHT NOT-- AT THE TIME, YOU MIGHT HATE IT, LIKE, "OH GOD--"
YOU KNOW, "I WISH I WERE ANYBODY ELSE ON THE PLANET!"
BUT THEN, YOU GET THROUGH THIS TIME--
YEAH, IT SERVES A PURPOSE, IF YOU LET IT.
>> MMM-HMM.
ANY OF US WHO HAVE SURVIVED CHILDHOOD
HAVE ENOUGH MATERIAL TO WRITE FOR A LIFETIME.
>> YEAH, I THINK IT'S A GREAT CURSE TO PIQUE IN CHILDHOOD.
(laughing) YOU KNOW, IF YOU HAVE GREAT TEEN YEARS,
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM THERE?
I MEAN, ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT HAVING AN AWFUL CHILDHOOD
IS YOU DON'T WANNA GO BACK TO IT.
YOU KNOW, YOU NEVER--
YOU DON'T HAVE ARRESTED ADOLESCENCE WHERE YOU, LIKE, "AWWW,
"THOSE WERE THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE."
"OH, THOSE ARE THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE!"
I'M HAPPY TO BE OUT OF THEM.
SO, LIKE YOU SAID, YOU GET GREAT MATERIAL FROM IT.
YOU GET INSIGHTS INTO HUMAN NATURE.
YOU KNOW, I WAS AT A BOOK SIGNING NOT LONG AGO,
AND THE WOMAN WHO WAS HOMECOMING QUEEN A COUPLE YEARS AHEAD OF ME--
SHE CAME UP AND ASKED ME FOR MY AUTOGRAPH.
AND WAS LIKE, "THE LOR-- THE WORLD IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!
"THE HOMECOMING QUEEN IS ASKING THE CLASS REJECT FOR--"
AND SHE COULDN'T HAVE BEEN SWEETER...
COULD NOT HAVE BEEN NICER.
AND SHE STARTED TELLING ME ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS
THAT HAD GONE ON IN HER FAMILY THAT I HAD NO IDEA.
SO, YOU KNOW, SOME-- YOU MIGHT THINK YOU KNOW THE STORY OF EVERYBODY GOING ON--
'CAUSE I REMEMBER HER GOING AROUND THE HALLS OF MY SCHOOL,
AND SHE WAS A CHEERLEADER WITH LITTLE FLIMSY CHEERLEADER SKIRT.
SHE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL AND I REMEMBER LOOKING, KIND OF, "GOD!
"SHE'S SO-- SHE'S PERFECT AND HER LIFE IS PERFECT!"
AND AFTER SHE TOLD ME SOME OF HER STORIES, WELL, IT WASN'T SO PERFECT, WAS IT?
AND I JUST THINK THAT THAT'S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER,
AND THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT I LOVE GOING AROUND
AND TELLING MY STORY.
IT'S TO REMEMBER, YOU KNOW, WE ALL HAVE STORIES.
AND, UM...
JUST DON'T ASSUME--
FIRST OF ALL, DON'T ASSUME THAT YOU'RE THE ONLY PERSON
GOING THROUGH THESE THINGS.
SHAME IS A VERY ISOLATING EMOTION, AND YOU THINK, "OH, NOBODY WOULD UNDERSTAND.
"THIS IS SO WEIRD."
AND ONCE YOU TELL YOUR STORY, YOU REALIZE,
"YOU KNOW, MY STORY MIGHT BE A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT FROM MY NEIGHBOR'S,
"BUT WE CAN STILL CONNECT ON SOME LEVEL."
AND THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT I SO LOVE
THAT STUDENTS ARE READING MY STORIES.
I THINK IT OPENS UP DIALOGUE ABOUT POVERTY AND HOMELESSNESS.
BUT I THINK A LOT OF KIDS ARE ALSO ABLE TO TALK ABOUT ISSUES
SUCH AS ALCOHOLISM AND BULLYING THAT AFFECT THEM PERSONALLY,
THAT THEY MIGHT BE A LITTLE BIT TOO INTIMIDATED TO DISCUSS,
THAT THEY MIGHT IS SORT OF INVADING THEIR PRIVACY
IF THEY DISCUSS IT IN RELATION TO THEMSELVES.
AND THEN, MAYBE, IF THEY DISCUSS IT A LITTLE BIT
AND CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE,
THEY CAN SAY, "WELL, I KNOW THIS BECAUSE I EXPERIENCED IT."
AND THEN, THAT CAN TAKE YOU OUT OF THAT ISOLATION OF SHAME.
>> YEAH, ONE OF MY-- MY STUDENTS HAVE BEEN READING "THE GLASS CASTLE"--
>> OH! >> AND THEY'RE VERY EXCITED
THAT YOU'RE HERE. (both laughing)
>> OH, THAT'S GREAT!
THAT'S REALLY WONDERFUL.
>> ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THEY SAID THEY LEARNED WAS THAT--
ABOUT PEOPLES' STORIES, AND WHEN THEY LOOK AT YOU
AND HEAR ABOUT YOUR ADULT LIFE-- THEY THINK THE SAME THING,
THAT, "OH, SHE HAD THIS STORY BEHIND HER.
"AND YOU SHOULD JUST NOT ASSUME THINGS ABOUT PEOPLE."
SO, I THINK THAT THAT MESSAGE IS REALLY CONVEYED THROUGH YOUR MEMOIR.
I WONDER HOW YOU FOUND THE VOICE TO SHARE YOUR STORY.
HOW DID YOU FIND THAT WRITING VOICE,
THAT PERSON TO SPEAK OUT AND MOVE PAST THE SHAME?
>> WELL, IT TOOK A WHILE.
THAT TOOK A WHILE, TO BE HONEST WITH YOU.
I...
AS I'VE MENTIONED, I TRIED A COUPLE OF TIMES TO WRITE MY STORY
WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, IN MY TEENS, IN MY 20s, AND IN MY 30s,
AND EVERY TIME, I'D WRITE A COUPLE HUNDRED PAGES
AND JUST THROW THEM AWAY.
IT WAS REALLY MY HUSBAND-- MY SECOND HUSBAND--
WHO'S ALSO A WRITER...
AND HE WAS THE ONE WHO REALLY URGED ME TO TELL MY STORY.
IN FACT, THE VERY FIRST TIME I TOLD HIM ANYTHING ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD,
HIS VERY FIRST REACTION WAS, "YOU NEED TO WRITE THIS."
HE LATER CONFESSED TO ME HE THOUGHT I WAS MAKING SOME OF IT UP
BECAUSE IT WAS SO WACKY.
HE THOUGHT, "EH, A LITTLE LOOPY THERE."
AND THEN, HE MET MY MOM AND HE SAID, "OKAY."
(laughing) "OKAY, SHE'S COMPLICATED.
"NOW, I GET IT.
"NOW, I GET IT.
"YOU REALLY MUST WRITE THIS STORY."
SO, I SAT DOWN AND I WROTE THE FIRST VERSION IN SIX WEEKS.
AND, UM...
AND IT WAS VERY, VERY BAD.
MY BAD WRITING DEFAULT MODE IS A SORT OF VERY STILTED FORM OF JOURNALISM.
AND, UM...
I CAME TO REALIZE THE DEGREE TO WHICH I USE WRITING
TO DISTANCE MYSELF FROM EMOTIONS.
MY AGENT SAID SHE READ IT
AND SHE FELT AS THOUGH IT HAD HAPPENED TO SOMEBODY ELSE.
AND...
SO, I SPENT FIVE YEARS REWRITING IT, TRYING TO BE HONEST.
AND I FOUND THAT WHEN, IF I WROTE IT AS AN ADULT LOOKING BACK,
I WOULD LAPSE INTO THIS SORT OF--
"MY MOTHER WAS OBVIOUSLY SUFFERING FROM FEELINGS OF INSECURITY, DUH-DUH-DUH."
AND I MADE THE DECISION TO WRITE IT AS A CHILD GOING THROUGH THESE THINGS,
AND THAT WAS THE WAY I FELT THAT I COULD BE MOST HONEST
ABOUT WHAT WAS REALLY HAPPENING.
I ALSO MADE THE DECISION NOT TO PASS JUDGMENT
OR TO TRY AND ANALYZE THE SITUATION WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING,
FOR A COUPLE OF REASONS.
THE FIRST IS-- A CHILD USUALLY DOESN'T.
I DON'T REMEMBER THINKING ABOUT MY PARENTS, "WELL, THEY'RE DOING THIS FOR--"
BECAUSE YOU ACCEPT THAT WORLD-- YOUR WORLD-- AS REALITY.
BUT MOREOVER, I WANTED TO LET-- MAYBE IT'S MY JOURNALISM BACKGROUND,
BUT I WANTED TO LET THE READERS DRAW THEIR OWN CONCLUSIONS
ABOUT WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF THE STORY.
SOME PEOPLE-- IT'S BEEN FASCINATING TO ME,
BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE WHO READ MY STORY
THINK THAT I HAD AN ABUSIVE AND NEGLECTFUL CHILDHOOD.
OTHER PEOPLE THINK THAT MY--
SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT MY PARENTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ARRESTED
AND THAT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM THEM.
OTHER PEOPLE SAY, "WELL, CERTAINLY, THERE WERE...
(laughing) "...FLAWS IN THEIR PARENTING SKILLS,
"BUT THEY ALSO HAD GREAT GIFTS
"AND THEY PASSED THOSE GIFTS ALONG TO THEIR CHILDREN."
AND BOOK CLUBS TELL ME--
THEY SAY, "WE HAD THE MOST HEATED DEBATE EVER ABOUT YOUR BOOK."
YOU KNOW, "I HATE YOUR PARENTS.
"MY BEST FRIEND LOVES 'EM.
"WHICH OF US IS RIGHT?"
AND THAT'S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE.
PEOPLE SHOULD...
IF TWO PEOPLE CAN LOOK AT THE SAME PRESIDENT,
AND ONE PERSON WILL SEE A HERO AND THE OTHER PERSON WILL SEE A VILLAIN--
THAT'S THE WAY LIFE IS.
THEY'RE LOOKING AT THE SAME FACTS
AND COMING UP WITH ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS.
SO, IF PEOPLE CAN BE LOOKING AT MY STORY AND SEEING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THINGS,
AND HAVE A HEATED DEBATE ABOUT IT, THAT'S FABULOUS.
AND IF PEOPLE CAN DISCUSS ISSUES OF PARENTING AND CHILDHOOD
AND POVERTY AND ABUSE AND WHAT DO PARENTS OWE CHILDREN
AND WHAT DO CHILDREN OWE PARENTS,
AND IF CHILDREN COULD BE DISCUSSING THIS AND BOOK GROUPS CAN BE DISCUSSING THIS--
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MAKES ME HAPPIEST IS, VERY OFTEN,
A PARENT WILL COME WITH A CHILD AND SAY, "WE DISCUSSED THIS BOOK TOGETHER
"AND HAD A REALLY INTERESTING, AND TOUGH CONVERSATION."
THAT SO EXCEEDS ANY HOPE THAT I EVER HAD FOR MY RAGGEDY LITTLE STORY
THAT PEOPLE CAN DISCUSS THESE ISSUES.
BUT FINDING THAT VOICE--
THAT WAS PERHAPS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WRITING MY STORY.
AND I THINK THAT GOES TO MY MOTHER'S-- WHEN SHE SAID, "JUST TELL THE TRUTH."
IT SOUNDS LIKE A VERY SIMPLE CHALLENGE...
BUT IT'S A VERY-- IT WAS A TOUGH THING TO DO, BECAUSE IN TELLING THE TRUTH--
I MEAN, WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
AND, UM, EVEN THOUGH IT'S...
EVEN THOUGH IT'S NONFICTION, THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO TELL THE TRUTH.
I COULD HAVE MADE MY PARENTS SEEM A LOT BETTER
BY NOT INCLUDING SOME OF THOSE DETAILS.
I COULD HAVE MADE 'EM SEEM A LOT WORSE,
BY NOT INCLUDING SOME OF THE BETTER DETAILS
AND INCLUDING A LOT MORE OF THE BAD STORIES.
YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE DECISION...
AND TELL-- YOU KNOW, I WAS 40 YEARS OLD
WHEN I FINALLY SAT DOWN TO TELL THE STORY.
SO, YOU HAVE 40 YEARS OF ANECDOTES.
WHICH DO YOU INCLUDE?
SO, YOU SHAPE YOUR TRUTH BY WHICH STORIES YOU TELL
AND HOW YOU CHOOSE TO TELL THEM.
AND...
HOW DO I DEPICT THESE INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED PEOPLE?
MY FATHER, WHO HAD SO MUCH GOOD IN HIM, BUT HAD SO MUCH DARKNESS AS WELL.
HOW DO I CONVEY THIS MAN WHO I LOVED SO MUCH, BUT I KNEW WAS SO DAMAGED?
AND MY MOTHER WAS AN EVEN GREATER CHALLENGE, BECAUSE...
(chuckling) SHE'S NOT AN EVIL PERSON.
AT LEAST, I BELIEVE SHE'S NOT.
SOME READERS THINK SHE IS.
BUT SHE'S CERTAINLY NOT GONNA BE AWARDED "MOM OF THE YEAR."
THERE WERE SO MANY STORIES THAT I COULD HAVE INCLUDED THAT I DIDN'T,
BUT THERE WERE A COUPLE THAT I--
THERE WAS A STORY THAT I TOLD WHERE WE KIDS WERE ALL HUNGRY
AND MOM HAD SOME CHOCOLATE HIDDEN...
AND I REALLY WRESTLED WITH WHETHER OR NOT TO INCLUDE THAT...
BECAUSE I COULD HAVE VERY EASILY LEFT IT OUT
AND NOBODY WOULD SAY, "HEY, THERE'S A PLOT HOLE HERE."
SO, I MADE THE DECISION, ULTIMATELY, TO INCLUDE THAT,
EVEN THOUGH I KNEW IT WOULD BE DEVASTATING TO THE PORTRAIT OF HER.
BECAUSE SHE DID THAT SORT OF THING A NUMBER OF TIMES,
WHERE SHE WOULD HIDE FOOD WHEN WE KIDS WERE HUNGRY.
AND I THOUGHT IT WAS VERY REVEALING...
NOT ONLY ABOUT HER, BUT ABOUT MY FEELINGS.
IT WENT A LONG WAY TOWARDS EXPLAINING SOME OF MY FEELINGS TOWARDS HER.
AND IT'S FUNNY, BECAUSE MY MOM DID, ULTIMATELY, READ THE BOOK.
SHE HAD NO PROBLEMS WITH THAT.
SHE... SHE TOOK ISSUE WITH MY PERSPECTIVE ON A FEW THINGS.
SHE SAID, "BUT I UNDERSTAND WHY YOU SAW IT THAT WAY,
"AND YOU HAD TO TELL THE TRUTH AS YOU SAW IT."
AND I THOUGHT, "THAT'S PRETTY DARNED FABULOUS."
FOR EVERYTHING I SAID ABOUT MOM,
SHE STILL UNDERSTANDS THAT BASIC SORT OF PRINCIPLE OF ART--
IF IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE I'M BEING TOO SELF-AGGRANDIZING--
THAT SO MUCH OF IT IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE.
AND IT'S NOT NECESSARILY THE WAY MOM WOULD HAVE TOLD THE STORY...
BUT SHE DOESN'T DISPUTE A SINGLE THING I WROTE.
SHE JUST SORT OF HAS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT TAKE ON THINGS.
AND IN FINDING MY VOICE,
IN FINDING MY REALITY OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING,
I HAD TO BE HONEST.
AND I THINK THAT'S WHY IT TOOK ME FIVE YEARS, IS BECAUSE...
HOW DID I REALLY FEEL ABOUT THESE THINGS?
AND SO OFTEN, I USE HUMOR TO DISTANCE MYSELF.
YOU KNOW, HUMOR AND PAIN-- THEY LIVE RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO EACH OTHER.
AND SOMETIMES, ONE USES ONE INAPPROPRIATELY
AND YOU CROSS OVER.
BUT THERE WERE THINGS THAT I'D SORT OF LAUGHED ABOUT MY WHOLE LIFE,
THAT WHEN I WROTE THEM DOWN, IT'S LIKE, "THAT'S NOT THAT FUNNY."
AND THERE ARE SOME THINGS, I THINK, THAT ARE GENUINELY FUNNY.
SO, HOW DO YOU TELL THESE STORIES ACCURATELY AND TRUTHFULLY AND...
I FOUND THAT, WHILE I WAS WRITING--
AND I TELL ASPIRING MEMOIRISTS NOT TO READ ANYBODY ELSE'S WORK WHILE YOU'RE--
YOU MIGHT LOOK AT MEMOIRS WHILE YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT TELLING YOUR STORY,
BUT NOT WHILE YOU'RE WRITING YOUR STORY...
BECAUSE THEIR VOICE WILL START INVADING YOURS.
I'VE STARTED READING "ANGELA'S ASHES" AT ONE POINT
WHILE I WAS WORKING ON "THE GLASS CASTLE."
I FOUND THAT BLARNEY STARTED CREEPING INTO MY (with Irish accent) WEE LITTLE BROTHER.
(laughing) NO, I NEVER GOT THAT BAD.
BUT I DID FIND THAT THE CADENCE STARTED CHANGING.
AND SO, YOU JUST HAVE TO BE REALLY, REALLY HONEST ABOUT,
"WELL, HOW DID I FEEL?
"WHAT WAS REALLY GOING ON AND HOW DID I FEEL ABOUT IT?"
AND IT WAS NOT AN EASY PROCESS.
IN FACT, IT WAS EXCRUCIATING.
IN FACT, THERE WERE A LOT OF TEARS.
THE FIRST TIME I READ MY STORY BACK, I WAS A LITTLE SHOCKED.
I WAS A LITTLE-- I WAS A LITTLE STUNNED.
I THINK WE ALL KNOW THINGS THAT WE DON'T REALIZE WE KNOW.
WE'RE LIKE, "DANG!
"SOME THINGS HAPPENED TO ME--" AND IT'S NOT THE BOOK I SET OUT TO WRITE.
AND THE WHOLE PROCESS OF WRITING...
IS THE PROCESS OF THINKING AND, IF YOU'RE LUCKY,
THE PROCESS OF BEING HONEST.
BECAUSE YOU LOOK AT YOUR WORDS AND YOU SAY, "IS THAT TRUE?
"AM I BEING HONEST...
"ABOUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AND HOW I FELT ABOUT IT?"
AND LUCKILY, MY HUSBAND, SINCE HE'S A WRITER,
HE CALLED ME ON A COUPLE OF THINGS.
HE SAID-- UH, HE READ AN EARLY VERSION
AND HE SAID, "YOU KNOW, JEANNETTE, IF YOUR PARENTS WEREN'T BUYING FOOD,
"HOW DID YOU EAT?"
I SAID, "I GOT BY."
AND HE SAID, "WELL, WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU GOT BY?"
I SAID, "I MADE DO."
AND HE SAID, "WELL, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?"
I SAID, "YOU KNOW, I JUST MADE DO."
HE SAID, "NO, I DON'T KNOW.
"YOU HAVE TO SPELL IT ALL OUT."
"NO WAY AM I GONNA TELL ABOUT DIGGING IN THE GAR-- UH-UH."
HE SAID, "YOU HAVE TO, JEANNETTE.
"IF YOU'RE GOING TO TELL THE STORY, YOU CAN'T BE LEAVING THINGS OUT."
AND I HAD NEVER IN MY LIFE TOLD ANYBODY ABOUT ROOTING AROUND IN GARBAGE FOR FOOD.
IT WAS ONE OF MY MOST SHAMEFUL SECRETS.
AND THE FIRST TIME I WROTE THAT SCENE, UM...
MY FACE WAS JUST BURNING WITH SHAME.
AND I HAD TO WRITE THAT SCENE ABOUT 19 DIFFERENT TIMES.
AND IT'S SO FUNNY... THAT SCENE--
I MEAN, I DUG FOOD OUT OF THE GARBAGE A NUMBER OF TIMES.
FOR WHATEVER REASON, IT WAS MOST SHAMEFUL WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL.
AND IT'S FUNNY-- NOW THAT I'VE WRITTEN IT, IT DOESN'T BOTHER ME.
A VERY WISE MAN ONCE SAID TO ME-- HE SAID, "SECRETS ARE A LITTLE BIT LIKE VAMPIRES.
"THEY SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF YOU, BUT THEY CAN EXIST ONLY IN THE DARKNESS."
ONCE THEY'RE EXPOSED TO THE LIGHT, THERE'S A MOMENT OF HORROR
BUT THEN (snaps fingers) POOF, THEY LOSE THEIR POWER OVER YOU.
AND I'VE JUST FOUND THAT TO BE VERY TRUE.
NOW, IT'S JUST SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED TO ME.
AND-- BUT BY WRITING AND CONFRONTING IT
AND LOOKING AT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED...
YOU UNDERSTAND IT A LOT BETTER.
AND BY READING MY WHOLE STORY BACK, I CAME TO UNDERSTAND MY SITUATION BETTER.
I HOPE THIS DOESN'T ALL SOUND A LITTLE TOO SELF-REFERENTIAL,
BUT PEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME, "HOW COULD YOU FORGIVE YOUR PARENTS?"
I THINK THE PERSON I HAD TO FORGIVE WAS MYSELF.
AND IN READING MY STORY BACK, I WAS LIKE, "DANG!
"NO WONDER I DID SOME OF THE THINGS THAT I DID."
AND IT'S FUNNY-- WHEN THE BOOK CAME OUT,
MY BROTHER AND I WENT BACK TO WEST VIRGINIA--
THE TOWN I GREW UP IN WEST VIRGINIA--
"PRIMETIME LIVE" WAS DOING A SEGMENT ON THE BOOK
AND THEY WANTED ME TO SHOW THEM THE GARBAGE CAN AT THE HIGH SCHOOL,
WHERE I DUG OUT THE FOOD.
AND THEY WANTED ME TO REENACT THE SCENES FOR THE CAMERA.
MY BROTHER SAID, "YOU WANNA SEE THE GARBAGE CAN WHERE I DUG OUT FOOD?"
AND YOU COULDA KNOCKED ME OVER WITH A FEATHER,
'CAUSE I HAD NO IDEA MY BROTHER WAS DOING THE SAME THING.
BUT OF COURSE HE WAS.
HOW-- HE WAS IN THE SAME BOAT THAT I WAS,
BUT THIS WAS NOT SOMETHING WE TALKED ABOUT.
WE DON'T COME HOME FROM SCHOOL,
"HEY, I DUG MYSELF OUT THIS REALLY GOOD CHEESE PIMENTO SANDWICH
"THAT SOMEBODY THREW AWAY!"
YOU KNOW, SO...
BUT THIS IS WHY I BECAME SUCH A BIG FAN OF STORY-TELLING, IS YOU REALIZE...
YOU'RE NOT ALONE IN THIS WORLD.
THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH SIMILAR SITUATIONS,
AND THEY MIGHT EVEN BE YOUR BROTHER.
AND ONCE YOU TALK ABOUT IT, YOU REALIZE, "I DIDN'T THINK THE LESS OF BRIAN."
I THOUGHT THE LESS OF MYSELF FOR HAVING DONE IT, BUT I SORT OF ADMIRED HIM.
AND I THINK THAT SOMETIMES WE'RE SO HARD ON OURSELVES
FOR WHAT WE'VE GONE THROUGH AND WHAT WE'VE DONE,
AND ONCE YOU TELL YOUR STORY-- THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO'VE COME UP TO ME
AND TOLD ME THEIR STORIES AFTER AN EVENT AND--
USUALLY THEY WAIT TILL THE CROWDS ARE GONE,
AND THEY'LL SORT OF SNEAK UP AND THEY'LL SAY,
"I'VE NEVER TOLD ANYBODY THIS BEFORE..."
AND THEN, THEY'LL TELL ME A STORY ABOUT THEIR CHILDHOOD.
AND VERY OFTEN, THEY'LL START CRYING.
AND THEY'LL SAY, "I'M SO ASHAMED OF THIS."
AND THEY TELL ME THIS AMAZING STORY ABOUT SURVIVAL AND TRIUMPH.
I SAY, "THAT'S A GREAT STORY!
"WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU BE ASHAMED OF THAT?"
AND THEN, I WOULD GO, "OH, YEAH, I WAS ASHAMED, TOO."
AND SO, THAT'S ONE OF MY MISSIONS IN LIFE,
IS TO GET PEOPLE TO CONFRONT THEIR STORIES,
TO NOT CARRY THEM AROUND AS A SOURCE OF SHAME,
BUT RATHER, AS A SOURCE OF PRIDE.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL SOMEBODY WITHIN THE FIRST TWO MINUTES OF MEETING 'EM.
"HI, I DUG FOOD OUT OF THE GARBAGE WHEN I WAS YOUNG!"
THEY DON'T NEED TO KNOW THAT.
BUT YOU NEED TO COME TO TERMS WITH IT.
>> THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR TRUTH
AND BEING SO HONEST IN YOUR WRITING,
AND FOR HELPING TO LIBERATE SO MANY PEOPLE TO SHARE THEIR STORY,
EVEN IF THEY'RE ONLY SHARING IT WITH YOU.
WE'D LIKE TO THANK JEANNETTE WALLS FOR HER TIME
AND FOR BEING SO OPEN AND HONEST WITH US IN THIS CONVERSATION.
THANK YOU. >> THANK YOU.