The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body
Ice Cube Books, ISBN-13: 978-1888160437, $20.
Buy a signed copy through Caryn. Available at Ice Cube Press, and Amazon.
Links to Reviews and Press: Library Journal (starred review), Publisher's Weekly, Oncolinks review by Alysa Cummings, Story Circle Books. Chosen by the Midwest Booksellers as a Best Pick.
A marvelous storyteller, a wise woman, and a teacher in the true sense of the word, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg takes us on a challenging yet ultimately joyful journey that leaves us fundamentally changed. Anyone who reads this memoir (and you must!) will never forget it. ~ Harriet Lerner, Ph.D, author of The Dance of Anger
Looking in and looking out, poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg makes connections between cancer and our world-out-of-balance, between language and healing. Written with honesty, compassion and surprising humor, The Sky Begins at Your Feet reports Goldberg’s journey as she navigates through the landscapes of illnesss, and in the process reveals much about the healing potential of writing ourselves whole. ~ J. Ruth Gendler, author, Notes on the Need for Beauty and The Book of Qualities
The Sky Begins At Your Feet is as personal as a missing bosom and as expansive as the holy earth. In this sensuous, trenchant memoir, the poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg shares the life she lived and the truths she found as she, enfolded in family and community, confronted breast cancer and carried on. Real, wise, and wry, it's a treasure. ~ Stephanie Mills, author of Tough Little Beauties and Epicurean Simplicity
Embraced by the wide expanse of the Kansas prairie, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg recounts the seasons of her cancer diagnosis and recovery with a finely honed blend of honesty, poignancy and wry humor. She reminds us that serious illness can re-awaken us to life’s beauty, deepen our respect for the fragile balance between our lives and the earth’s, and find our salvation in love of a supportive community. This is a book which will surely inspire anyone whose life has been touched by cancer. ~Sharon Bray, Ed.D., author of When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer
The Sky Begins At Your Feet is a powerfully honest and inspiring story about facing our ultimate fears and surviving. Mirriam-Goldberg's account of her personal journey - and of the unique community that gathered around her - will stay with you after you close the pages of this book. ~ Katherine Towler, author of the novels Snow Island and Evening Ferry
Given the way illness can dull our capacity to attend to even our most basic needs, The Sky Begins at Your Feet gives a reader, with startling clarity, what Buddhists call a kalyan-metta, a spiritual friend for that journey. Mirriam-Goldberg, with a poet's attention to detail and a reporter's determination to get to the real story, offers us a deep consideration of the way illness and her response to it, awakens her -- and could awaken us -- to a whole range of connections: community, family, the natural world, body and the mysterious inner landscape of being human on this earth. ~ John Fox, author of Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-making
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg contributes to the invention of a new genre of medical non-fiction – narrative medicine. The narrative is well written, rich, poignant, entertaining, tragic at times, uplifting, sad, and triumphant – all that we want in a great story. I recommend it for anyone, but especially for health professionals who need to experience the other side of breast cancer. For the medical audience, it's definitely a must read. - Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., author, Coyote Medicine and Narrative Medicine
Excerpt: Chapter One: Getting Lost
We were completely lost in the Flint Hills of Kansas, and I didn’t care. All we could see were the wide expanse of hills, sky, cows, and the occasional rock, skeleton of a windmill, or fragmented stones from pioneer homes. I stared out the front passenger side window, marveling at the lush green rising and falling in all directions, hardly any power lines because there was so little for the lines to power. The land looked surely as it had appeared for hundreds, thousands of years. Tall grass sloped all over itself on what felt like the top of the world, and everywhere the wind conspired with the sun to make the grasses gleam. It felt like being at very high altitude, only instead of mountains, windmills.
Expansive as galaxies, the Flint Hills lay down all directions like long, lanky bodies rolling away from or toward each other. “The sky begins at your feet,” writes essayist Anne Herbert, and there’s nothing like wandering around the center of Kansas to prove this, and also to find out how easy it is to get lost in the sky.
Early this March morning, the sun illuminated the curves of the land and long shadows of trees and rocks in such a way that we let ourselves get lost without a second thought. My friends and my nine-year-old daughter and I were driving all over Chase County, looking for the ranch of a woman we were to visit. We planned this trip the day before on a whim to make local contacts for the Continental Bioregional Congress we were helping to organize at a nearby camp the following fall. Now we were driving eight miles in the vibrant hills down the wrong road.
A Reader Response
I tend to not read memoirs centered around cancer or illness, because I tend not to be a terribly compassionate person, and my thinking is usually that people who write such books are probably drowning in vats of self-pity. And yet, with that type of thinking, I could have easily missed out on this gem of a book. I am so glad that I didn't. Even though I am 40, I have never known anyone with breast cancer, so I was very surprised how much this book resonated with me. I cried from the beginning to the end. I don't think that was Goldberg's intention, as most of the book strikes an upbeat note, but I found myself incessantly sobbing nonetheless. I don't know why I was crying, or who, exactly, I was crying for. I think that the author has a way of opening herself up and presenting her vulnerabilities in such a way that the reader feels exposed as well. The book reads like a personal journal, but it's introspective without becoming mired in existential naval-gazing. It is clear that Goldberg isn't interested in having a pity-party for one, and she reacts to her breast cancer in much the same way that she reacts to anything unpleasant in her life. She is going to deal with "it", and then maybe she'll take a nap, and then she'll deal with the rest of "it" if need be. She relies heavily on her friends and family, but they seem to be both willing and able to be there for her. We should all be so lucky. The Sky Begins At Your Feet is a book about cancer, yes, but it is also a book about family, and friends, and a job that inspires you, and a political cause that motivates you, and kids who keep you grounded, and happenstances that fall into your lap and teach you things. It is about the mundane and the miraculous, the minutiae and the profound. It is about living your messy life, and drowning in chaos, and then the scent of lilac smacks you in the face, and says, "Snap out of it! You are making it harder than it has to be." I really loved this book. I think that I love this book for reasons that won't come to me until later. I will be sending my copy on to an old friend who will enjoy it as much as I did, and then she will pass it on to someone else. I hope that the word gets out and those who have the means will buy this book in droves--it is that good. ~ Alicia Webster, goodreads.com