Some Way Outa Here:
A Personal Story of a Time that Transformed America
I liked the title right away, having always looked for opportunities to say, sometimes loudly, sometimes under my breath, “I’m outa heah!”
And the sixties and seventies were, after all, the decades of my own coming-of-age; I even spent a fair number of those years across the Bay from San Francisco.
Mark Lauden’s request for a review arrived, with his manuscript, on the 3rd of January 2016. Two other books had landed on my desk since the year turned, and I was feeling overwhelmed by the work load and by what at that moment seemed the absolute (and typical) foolishness of my having once again volunteered for more than I could do.
I am always reminded of Isaiah who, in response to God’s question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” leaps from his seat to shout, “Here am I, Lord. Send me!!”
Oh, of course. Send me.
Then, at some moment between January 3rd and the 16th, I lost the manuscript. I lost it so thoroughly that I forgot I’d ever had it and sent an emergency email to Mark Lauden requesting a copy. I had, as I told him, the images, fact sheet, and plot summary he had sent but not the actual book. He sent it by return email, with a gentle reminder in the form of a sentence which began, “If you run across the version I sent you on January 3. .”
And so I do, once again, what I swore only a week ago I would not do: add another book to the queue.
Mark Lauden, welcome to my Queue.
Mark Lauden is a storyteller who is equally at home writing about the recent American experience or looking into the future. He is fascinated by the evolving connections between our personal, political and technological lives. He writes following one rule, paraphrasing a far greater writer: “the story’s the thing.”
Mark is also an architect and technologist who lives in San Francisco, in a house he built a long time ago. He has recently created software visual storytelling, for home solar energy planning and he is currently developing virtual reality technology. His first book was The Architect’s Guide to Computer-Aided Design (Wylie, 1988), published as Mark Lauden Crosley. When time permits, Mark plays guitar and sings in an obscure rock and roll band called Partly Foggy. He has three daughters who survived their childhood intact and are now pursuing eclectic careers of their own.
Some Way Outa Here begins with a preface, in which Mark Lauden resists the temptation of the overrated, and often unnecessary, statement of purpose–a kind of declarative summary of what lies ahead–and, instead, shows us exactly what he then proceeds to do–with great skill–for the remainder of the manuscript. To my fairly keen reader’s eye, he never once tells us what it is he is doing. He simply does it.
“WHEN I WAS 16 YEARS OLD, three men circled the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. I watched transfixed as they broadcast pictures of the earth from their distant viewpoint, grainy black and white images of our planet from afar. They read from Genesis to an audience of a billion people, words that were profoundly beautiful even to a boy like me who disdained religion.
The astronauts returned with a color photograph of the earth rising over the surface of the moon: It may be the most important photo ever taken. From that moment on, we could all visualize ourselves together in the blackness on a small, lovely planet. The photo, on a cover of Life magazine, graced my wall for years.”
If author Lauden doesn’t need to tell you, then neither do I. I will tell you that this very effective juxtaposition continues until the end of the book, seldom failing to make its point.
And making its point without once telling us what that point is.
It is hidden in plain sight everywhere, beginning with the book’s subtitle: “A Personal Story of a Time That Transformed America.”
Some Way Outa Here, divided by both dates and chapter titles (that anyone of that era would recognize) begins in “July 1969: Explode Into Space”:
“’I HAVE TO WARN YOU. After you look at this, the world will never be the same again.’
‘Really?’ Abby looked at me in the dark night. I could see her smile—a little skeptical, but willing—in the starlight.
Abby and I were accustomed to changing each other’s ways of looking at things. We were two soon-to-be high school seniors, lying in a field on a summer night, discovering things together.
‘Oh, wow, that’s not a star, is it?’ she gasped. She could somehow gasp with a slight giggle.”
But fewer than four pages later, Lauden gives us:
“A WEEK AFTER our Jupiter-watching, the entire world’s attention was focused on the moon. It was a fat crescent in the sky, but most of us were watching on our television screens. My parents and I huddled around the TV as a crew of astronauts descended toward the surface of the moon.
We listened, mostly. There were fuzzy black and white pictures from the spacecraft as it fell moonward. The tense voices of the astronauts and flight controllers took over from Walter Cronkite.”
To belabor my point a bit, a later chapter, “November 1969: Volunteers of America,” opens with this description:
“ON A COLD NOVEMBER MORNING, I met Julie at the bus stop. We were headed for Sansom Street.
Waiting for the bus, we admired the leaflets CoR had printed. They were slickly professional, featuring a photo of a broken baby doll on a plain gray background. The text announced the concert information, and explained CoR’s mission concisely: ‘Providing medical treatment to the wounded and burned children of Vietnam, one child at a time.’ They looked like small posters, almost too good to give away. ‘That’s pretty heavy,’ she said. She would have rather seen something festive, like the now-iconic Woodstock poster. ‘But it sure gets your attention.’
It was nice to be going somewhere together. She looked good in tight jeans and a fleece-lined bomber jacket over a loose sweater. She wore dangly peace symbol earrings. We settled onto the bus, and I asked her if she was having trouble getting away, after her month in seclusion.”
And now I will assume that all readers of this review, and of the passages from the book, will have no doubt as to the book’s primary strength–this tightly woven cloth that is both personal memoir and the chronicle of a decade.
The personal stories are sometimes so familiar that they seem like one’s own memories, as when Lauden describes a small encounter with his mother after his innocent evening under the stars with Abby.
“My mother was waiting up, as usual, even though it was late. I walked in carrying my telescope. . .
‘Oh. Abby O’Brien wanted to see the stars. Jupiter, actually. She liked it.’
My mother liked Abby. Everyone liked Abby.
‘Why that’s wonderful!’ She suggested I take her again and show her the moon.
‘Sure,’ I grumbled. My mother was eager for me to have a girlfriend. I was not happy about that. I didn’t have a girlfriend, hadn’t had one, and would have liked to. But I didn’t like it that she cared, or that she told me so. The only reason I ever told her about dates was my compulsive honesty about using her car.
About girls, not so much.”
Is there anyone who hasn’t been through a conversation very like this one?
Is there any mother who hasn’t been a little too eager for her teenage son to find a girlfriend, or liked a potential girlfriend just a bit too much? Is there any mother who hasn’t skirted that line between enthusiasm and intrusion? And is there any adolescent, trying those wings for the first time, who doesn’t recognize himself in Lauden’s concise description–“I was not happy about that. I didn’t have a girlfriend, hadn’t had one, and would have liked to. But I didn’t like it that she cared, or that she told me so.”
As the mother of a now middle-aged son, I defy any mother of any son to read this small description without cringing.
And as the writer of a book review, I look back at the vast amount of space taken up by these long passages from the book. I always aim to provide a “taste” of a book, but this one seems to defy my attempts at commentary. I am reminded of a time in the classroom, many decades ago, when I was trying to explain a particularly complex writer. I wasn’t succeeding. I stopped talking, opened the novel, and said to the class, “Just listen.” They got it immediately.
I would like to say about Mark Lauden’s memoir, “Just read.”
Is it a perfect piece of writing? It is not. There is sometimes too much about adolescent romance, sometimes dialogue that doesn’t quite ring true, sometimes unnecessarily contrived vocabulary, like “moonward.”
Is it a very good piece of writing? It absolutely is.
It ends as it began: under the stars.
Mark Lauden, thank you for being in my queue!
Some Way Outa Here will be released in February of this year. Keep an eye out; you don’t want to miss it.
Contact Mark on his website, marklauden.com and subscribe to his blog
Follow him on Twitter: marklauden@twitter