Story as Therapy

Dive from Clausen's Pier

Once upon a time, I read The Dive from Clausen’s Pier. I over-identified with the main character, Carrie, who was from Madison, like me. She went to the University of Wisconsin, like me. She had the same boyfriend through high school and college, like me. When we both left Madison, it was all tied up in feelings of loss and wondering who we really were. Leaving Madison helped both of us figure out who we were.

So, in the novel, when Carrie goes back to Madison for a visit and it becomes clear that she’s going to stay. I got angry. Very, very angry. I finished the book, put it down and did not pick it up again for almost 14 years.

It was with some trepidation that I picked it up off the shelf a couple of weeks ago. “I’ll just read until she leaves for New York. I’ll skim it, it’ll be fine.”

Much to my surprise, time from both the story and Madison gave me the distance I needed to appreciate what Ann Packer had to say about the city where I grew up, the patriarchy, stability, love, and friendship.

Don’t get me wrong: I put it down when she returned to Madison. I still can’t deal with her going back. It’s too… No. Carrie, you were on your way to happiness, a career in fashion (a thing you clearly love), a relationship that wasn’t based on you taking care of him. Just, NOPE. Stay gone. Stay yourself.

But that’s not the story. And that’s ok.

Clickbait headline: why is this book so inspiring?

lessons of hope


What’s it about?
Lessons of Hope is a gossipy semi-memoir of the NYC’s education chancellor in the 2000s. Joel Klein details his struggles with the powerful NYC teachers union, the reforms they undertook and why, and a bit about what it was like working for Michael Bloomberg. They nudged towards teacher accountability and constantly created smaller schools, sometimes even housing multiple schools in the same building. The other main initiative was creating strong principals who were allowed to be fully in charge of their schools. It was a very interesting read.

Why should you read it?
NYC is a special case. It’s bigger than other districts and has more needs to fill. Not all of the remedies will work for all school districts. But Klein’s passion and energy for better schools serving the children comes through loud and clear and is infectious. He emphasizes the need to prioritize the less well-off students. Children of upper-middle and upper class parents will be fine; poorer students don’t have that luxury. At one point he says, “You have to measure what the school brings to the children, not what the children bring to the school.” It’s easy to do well by bright, well-off children. It’s harder to do well by poorer children; that’s where schools can really make a difference. So: I like Lessons of Hope because of his passion and focus.