Suffering and joy come in twos, according to The New York Times best-selling author of “The Glass Castle,” Jeanette Walls. Walls discussed her novel Sunday afternoon with a packed auditorium at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC).
“You take something unpleasant and flip it around, and the other side is a blessing, too,” Walls said. “If you don’t take the good that comes with all of that experience, it is just a bad experience.”
Walls’ memoir “The Glass Castle” has been a New York Times best-seller for almost seven years, and has sold 4.5 million copies in the United States alone, according to the PAC website.
It is a story that describes her childhood growing up in the American Southwest, and then in a mining town in West Virginia.
Andrea Hockett, 52, was in the audience watching Walls speak about her life and her book.
“Her story is one that will make you laugh, cry and hold your breath,” Hockett said. “She is phenomenal.”
Walls came from a family of two siblings and two negligent parents, “who managed at once to neglect them, love them and teach them to face their fears,” the PAC program stated.
Walls graced the stage with a collected composure that was relaxed, but strong. Immediately, she began her talk with an anecdote about her mother.
“I thought I had made it,” Walls said, referring to her career in journalism before writing her memoir. “I had been on television and interviewed people like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. One day I was on my way to some fabulous event in some fabulous designer clothes and my taxi got stuck.”
She seemed to almost be boasting about the life she used to have, working as a journalist who wrote about celebrities. But as she said after, that was the person she used to be.
“I glanced out the window of the taxi and I saw a homeless woman rummaging through the garbage,” she said. “When I got a good look at her, I realized it was my mother and the emotion that overwhelmed me was not love for my mother, it was fear.”
Walls explained that she was afraid she would be found out, that someone would discover the truth about her past.
“When I got home that night, I paced around my apartment and I looked in the mirror,” she said. “I didn’t particularly like the person I saw.”
That was when Walls decided she was going to tell the truth: Her mother and father were homeless, and Walls was practically raised the same way, running from the cops and acting as a squatter with her parents and siblings until she was 16.
Her story is one of resilience and one that is often hard to understand in ways of forgiveness.
“People ask me all the time how could I possibly forgive my parents for the way I was raised,” she said. “But it’s less about forgiveness and more about acceptance.”
Walls went on to explain that she came to the conclusion that she wasn’t going to sit around and wait for her mother to become a traditional mother, because that wasn’t the person her mother was.
“You can love the person for who they are, or you can not love that person and you might not need them in your life at all. It’s not an easy process.”
Lena Friedman, 54, appreciated Walls recapturing her story and telling it in such an authentic way.
“We’ve been in the same book club for 15 years,” Friedman said, referring to the other women she was with. “And to see her recapture her experience was just amazing.”
Walls’ experiences were not all heartbreaking as she described one memory of her father.
“I was 5 years old and we had no money for Christmas presents and my father took us out into the desert (one) night,” Walls began. “And my father had each of us look up into the sky and choose whatever star we wanted. I chose Venus. Dad had to explain to me that Venus was not a star at all, it was just a planet. And he said, ‘What the hell, it’s Christmas. You want a planet, you got a planet.’”
Her father’s gift of the planet Venus is still her most treasured gift today, Walls said.
Sue Haas, 60, who was at the event with friends, loved Walls’ demeanor on stage and her speaking ability.
“She was very positive and uplifting,” Haas said. “A great presence and speaker.”
Walls’ life and experiences are examples of great lessons in dealing with pain and suffering in a positive and uplifting way.
“Everything in life is a blessing and a curse, but it is entirely up to us, which side we choose to focus on,” she said. “Life has been so good to me, such a blessing. Life is beautiful.”