Thursday, December 31, 2009

Together, Alone

This beautifully-written memoir by the multi-talented, Susan Wittig Albert is a wonderful meditation about what it means to live in the world. Her mature sensibility of "place" as more than just the location where you are takes the reader into various understandings of an individual's lived experience of history, contemplation, meditation, writing, silence, spirituality and choice.

She writes about the deliberate choices she made in mid-life, from college professor and administrator to full-time author and gardener. Her concern with the natural environment of where she lives in the Texas hill country--the plants, trees, waterways and fauna--seems to have deepened over time. She has a healthily fearful appreciation of the limits of what the earth can do, and give, and likewise has many insightful thoughts on the matter. The second half of the book was mostly about Albert's experiences of going to a "silence" retreat in a remote corner of southeast Texas (Kenedy County), which allows her to craft some beautiful set pieces on the natural history of the area. I had no idea there were nilgai running the plains of Kenedy County!

The other theme of the book is about understanding one's individuality; for example, her own place in a marriage, in doing work of her own. Albert's perspective on this seems to be influenced by certain Eastern philosophies and religions, but this is a neutral observation as she is not at all preachy or condescending, nor does she posit her own views as somehow superior to others.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable, informative read by an author whose sensibilities I appreciate more and more with every book.