March 2010

An examined life worth living

By Phyllis Theroux
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Phyllis Theroux’s captivating new work, The Journal Keeper, is a multi-dimensional pleasure. It brings to mind Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait, in which Rockwell shows us three images of himself: from the back as he works, in the mirror where he is observing his own face and on the canvas where he is rendering an interpretation of his image. Likewise, in The Journal Keeper, Theroux also offers us a multilayered view of herself that is at once whimsical and profound.

She is the writer simply writing, chronicling her life as it is lived, offering her observations, thoughts and reflections: “Yesterday afternoon, the sun shattered a jug of hydrangeas into shards of light on my dining room table. It was there for anyone to look at but I only did so in passing, the way a king glances casually out the carriage window at his kingdom.” She is the spiritually awakened writer, looking back over a lifetime of journal-keeping and realizing “a hand much larger and more knowing” was often guiding her pen across the page. She is the writer writing about writing: “It is like drilling for oil, having the faith that it is down there. But beyond or beneath that faith is the commitment to dig, whether the oil is there or not.” She is the writer/teacher, encouraging others to keep their own personal “ship’s log.”

And because mothers and daughters so often reflect each other, Theroux’s relationship with her aging mother adds yet another dimension to the narrative. On her mother’s 85th birthday, contemplating the loss she must inevitably face, she writes, “She is such a continual gift, when I imagine her gone I cannot quite see myself there.” Theroux’s account tenderly paints a portrait of her remarkable mother in her final years, displaying her own gifts as a caregiver and best friend in the process. But whatever her subject—growing old, spiritual growth, life in a small town, her students and teaching life, even a new romantic passion (at 64! Break out the old Beatles record!)—Theroux is able to reach deep inside and step outside herself with inspiring aplomb.

Linda Stankard lives multi-dimensionally in Rockland County, New York.

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The Journal Keeper

The Journal Keeper

By Phyllis Theroux
Atlantic Monthly
ISBN 9780802118974

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