By Sandra Coopersmith
Everyone is a story waiting to be told.
With "White Rose: Stories of Love, Loss and a Dog Named Holly," Marian Silverman tells hers in an engrossing memoir reflecting the struggles, pain, insights and healing experienced on her life's journey.
"All we have is love," says Silverman. "Love is all there is."
She is a licensed family therapist, educational psychologist, and companion to Gracie and Tabatha, the two feline friends that share her Culver City condo.
This ultimately hopeful book introduces Silverman as a little girl who "didn't know I was allowed to say no," a theme resonating into adulthood and permeating her relationships.
And then came Holly Go Lightly, a Golden Retriever, the dream puppy she had yearned for but was forbidden as a child. Holly became her guide on the path to healing, a path zigzagging with precipitous switchbacks as they together played out all of her unresolved issues.
"Holly wouldn't let me get away with less than I could be," Silverman says. "She needed me to be in charge of her, and in charge of my life. She changed my life, as well as the lives of patients in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital at UCLA Medical Center.
" As a consultant for the People-Animal Connection program (PAC), Holly and I worked as a therapy team. She was a healer. She was also my heart. When she died in 2002, mourning that loss by writing was a tool for healing my broken heart. My grief work also led me to the current pet loss bereavement counseling I do, and www.yourpetloss.com is a site that honors my memory of Holly."
Writing was Silverman's way to be heard, a need essentially ignored within her family dynamic.
"I wrote my first story when I was seven years old," she said. "It was, of course, about my family, the only thing I knew. As a reader growing up, my favorite genre was always the short story, and I read all the great writers' collections of short stories." Authors capturing this avid reader's interest included Hemingway, Steinbeck, Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Turgenev, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, John Cheever, and Russian and French great writers.
In 1982 Silverman took her first writing class at UCLA extension.
"It was in the short story, which is considered fiction," she recalled. "We were to produce three complete fictional short stories. Well, I only knew about my own life, so they were all memoir disguised as fiction, which it often is. I had just had my heart broken and needed to write about that failed love affair. The original draft of 'White Rose' came from this experience of grief and loss. I find writing to be a great tool for healing, and recommend it to anyone in pain or experiencing loss."
Another story, "Good Luck, Paul, I Hope You Catch the Red Shadow," also originated in that workshop.
"It is a bittersweet homage to my brother," she said. "Both stories stayed with me for all these years, written on portable typewriters and stuck away in drawers."
Silverman continued taking writing workshops, producing more stories and shoving them into folders until the folders were stacked high.
"Working full time as a school psychologist and being a single mom often put my writing needs on the back burner," she explained. "Every 10 years or so, I would pull out 'White Rose,' rewrite and tinker with it, change the point of view and put it away again. And like early losses that we keep holding onto, I was never ready to let it go. Then with the digital revolution, I began storing my writing on the hard drive of the computer. There are a hundred stories still waiting to be sprung." (Note to Silverman: Please do.)
After writing three manuscripts that weren't working, Silverman returned to her first love, short stories, and pulled together those grouped in this compelling collection under Mother, The Men, Holly Go Lightly, and The Final Gift.
For those who are or wish someday to become parents, this book can be read as a cautionary tale of lifelong emotional scars created in childhood. Although Silverman left home as soon as possible, the lessons learned traveled right along with her. She was bad. She was defective. She was unworthy of love.
She had her toxic template.
For those who feel trapped in negative patterns of behavior, this is an opportunity to connect the dots formed early in life and realize that yes, the pattern can be changed. The cage door can be opened. Exit is possible.
And for everyone, it's a gripping and eloquent read, laced with wry humor. "Laughter was my survival," says Silverman. "Laugh or go under were the two choices."
Her message to aspiring writers: "It takes perseverance through hordes of roadblocks. Getting published is labor-intensive. Most writers just want to write, not do the grunt work to get it out there. I would say to new writers, just tell your story, whether in fiction, non-fiction or memoir. Just tell it. If you really need to be heard as I was, it will get written. It's just about the courage to do it. Holding your book in your hand will make it all worth it."
"White Rose: Stories of Love, Loss and a Dog Named Holly" can be obtained in print and as an e-book through www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. Copies will also soon be available through her website, www.mariansilverman.com.
On Sunday, March 23 a book launch celebration will be held at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA, hosted by Artist-in-Residence Terrie Silverman, the author's daughter. Doors open 1:30 p.m. with a reading at 2 p.m. and reception to follow. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 17.
An intriguing afternoon awaits those who attend so, to borrow a phrase Silverman frequently used with Holly –
"Go say hello!"