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Melissa Coleman at Powell’s

June 7, 2011

A Classic Portland Moment at Powell’s

Author Melissa Coleman fulfilled a lifelong dream yesterday when she stopped by Powell’s Books to read from her new memoir This Life Is In Your Hands. She lived in Portland and Hood River from 1999 through 2002 and visited the bookstore often during that time. She told herself she would be there reading one day.  “So it’s really cool to be here and have the dream come true, so thank you!” Coleman said to a room packed with fans.
Her memoir captures her family’s alternative lifestyle as back-to-the-landers living on a farm without electricity, running water or phone on a remote peninsula in the late 60s.  At one point Coleman broke into song – the Gilligan’s Island TV show theme song: ”…no phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as it can be,” because she said she related to its lyrics. “That was our life.”
Coleman threw some love Portland’s way when she said, “I grew up a total non-conformist but it wasn’t cool back then – it was just weird.  It’s so great that it’s really cool to be weird now – especially in Portland.  Why I think Portland is so great in so many ways is that there have to be those weirdos who do these things when it’s not cool and when it’s kind of bizarre and no one knows why they’re doing it.  My dad was one of those people.  He had this crazy idea to go live in the woods and grow his own food, build his cabin by hand and have my mom have me in the cabin at home in 1969 when people weren’t doing that kind of thing.”
“After we left that life, I always felt like it was so weird and I put it away in a little drawer and just forgot about it.  There was a tragedy that happened and so maybe it was even more something that I wanted to just put away and not think about and not talk about.  A lot of people in my life didn’t know the story.  It was too hard.”
On how she got back in touch with those memories, Coleman said, “I was lucky when I moved to Portland.  I was just starting to get comfortable with who I was.  I was in my thirties and and I got to hear Ursula Le Guin talk once and she said, “It’s in your thirties that your life starts to compost and become – like my dad called compost – black gold.  This junk goes in and comes out – something that grows plants.  I was in this workshop with this amazing guy, Tom Spanbauer, who is an amazing writer and teacher and all of a sudden this thing came out – this story from my childhood.”
Coleman said that, “What I got out of it is a really beautiful and amazing childhood when I finally opened that drawer that I kept closed for so long.  It was such a gift to get back and that’s what I wanted to share in this book.”
This Life Is In Your Hands is a beautiful and touching memoir and is for anyone who ever dreamed of living off the grid or for those who actually lived “the good life.”  It’s full of vivid imagery that brings her family to life, and recounts without holding back, the price her family paid for choosing this life style. Coleman shares their triumphs and their tragedies and shows us how she came out the other side.  Chock full of nostalgia for another time with a powerful narrative, it is a truly magical read.

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