A Bit of Earth
By Wendy Crisp Lestina
Genre: Memoir; humor
A 160-page memoir, A Bit of Earth, begins with the author's dream-encounter with her father, a Marine lieutenant who was killed on Okinawa during the last days of World War II--and ends with reconciliation and healing. Told in 23 essays, the story is focused on Wendy Lestina's lifelong spiritual mandate from the father she never knew: "Life a big life, as big as you can make it, big enough for both of us." A tough challenge for a woman, and one that Lestina tackled with varying degrees of success (she was the editor-in-chief of a woman's magazine in New York and the spokesperson for a national businesswomen's organization) and failure (several marriages, loss of friendships, unprofitable business ventures).
The tale, which takes place in a small farm town in far northern California; Los Angeles; Pasadena; New York City and its suburbs; Portland, Oregon; and the prairie village of Bricelyn, Minnesota, weaves through nearly seven decades and criss-crosses the country. The story follows the historical context of the second half of the 20th century, but Wendy Lestina's adaption to the cultural changes for her generation in that time is not typical. As one reviewer writes, "There's never a predictable moment as Wendy ventures far and wide, only to return to her ancestral home bearing the gifts of a life well and truly lived." Another reviewer noted, "Wendy shares her big life of small moments, bringing us wry, canny thoughts and deadpan laughs." This is brave memoir in which the author never presents herself as victim or hero, but rather as a woman who's willing to take risks to search for what's real and lasting -- and to find in that search, an abundance of love and humor.
What surprises did you come across when writing the book?
How much I recalled once I began to write the details of a certain episode, whole conversations came back to me, even what people were wearing, what the interiors of the apartments, houses, offices, looked like. It was like falling through a black hole and finding myself in an exact moment of time. I could feel the nubby mauve fabric of a costume I wore in a play I was in; names came back to me; prices; weather; music; food. The mind is a fascinating repository of every moment of our lives, as it turns out... all we have to do is perform the exercises to unlock these treasures--and not fear what, or who, we will find there. That is what stopped me from writing a memoir until I was over 70—I was afraid of who I am and who I was, and what people would think. (And so I clung to the mantra, adapted from the wisdom of the first psychologist I visited, when I was 25, who said, “Wendy, do you know how often other people think about you? Four minutes a week.”)
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play yourself?
People say that I resemble Meryl Streep. That's a pretty good start. Another choice would have been Carrie Fisher, as she played Marie, Sally's best friend in “When Harry Met Sally.” That role, written so brilliantly by Nora Ephron, is close to the mark.
Anything you would like to say about writing? Encouraging words for potential writers?
I'm not sure if all writers struggle for voice, but it has been the most difficult aspect of writing for me, not in the least because I have the gift/curse of being an excellent mimic. While this skill is especially valuable for entertaining public speaking, at which I have had a measure of success, it is an obstacle in the path of authentic passion. It helped me to have an outstanding editor who is also a lifelong friend. She knows my true voice and I trust her blunt criticism.
Advice for new writers?
Tell the best story you can tell. Don't think about sales or money or fame or reviews. Whether you're writing fiction or creative nonfiction, write for your characters, give them life and freedom and send them out into the wild unknown of your story. Ramble around, meander, listen to yourself write.
Astonish and delight us.
About the Author
Wendy Crisp Lestina is the author of five books: When I Grow Up I Want to Be 60 (Penguin/Perigee, Spring 2006); Do As I Say Not As I Did (Penguin/Perigee, 1997); From The Back Pew (2003); Old Favorites From Ferndale Kitchens (1994); and the best-selling 100 Things I’m Not Going to Do Now That I’m Over 50 (Penguin/Perigee, 1995).
Her career has been as a magazine editor (Savvy, Datamation, among others) and a public speaker (as the spokesperson of the National Association for Female Executives). She has appeared on dozens of national television programs, including Oprah!, The McLaughlin Group, the Today Show, and Good Morning America. Her op-ed pieces have been published in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Portland Oregonian, and heard on Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Since 2004, Wendy has directed over a dozen documentary videos, including Saving the Queen, produced under a grant from CalHumanities; and Letters Home, which won the Western History Association’s Autry Public History Prize in 2011. Her weekly newspaper column, “From the Back Pew,” has won three national awards for both “most serious” and “most humorous” from the National Newspaper Association. In 1997, Middlebury College (Vermont) awarded her an honorary doctorate for her work “on behalf of women and children.” She holds a B.A. (English) from Whitman College (Washington).
As a volunteer, Wendy served eight years on the national board of directors of United Methodist Communications (Nashville). She was a seminar leader in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (New York); she coordinated nonprofit fundraisers in New York and Humboldt County. She is now the president of the historic Ferndale Cemetery Association.
Wendy and her husband, John live on the family farm outside of Ferndale, California where they are hosts of an Airbnb that serves dinner.
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