Deep Dive: Kim Fairley's new memoir recalls how she grew up “Swimming for My Life”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Kim Fairley and her book Swimming for My Life

Swimming was not just swimming for Ann Arbor author and visual artist Kim Fairley.

The sport was layered with physical challenges, abuse from coaches, and family expectations that exceeded what was reasonable, all of which she depicts in her new memoir, Swimming for My Life.

At the start of her book, Fairley shares an early, positive memory of swimming at the beach where she struggled in the waves and remembers, “The ocean reverberated in my head, but when I glanced up at Dad, I saw his pride: my daughter, my oldest.” Following that experience, Fairley’s parents encouraged her to join a swim team in third grade in Cincinnati where she grew up. While Fairley did not immediately love swimming even back then, her attempts to stop were not heard even though she tried to tell her father:

The 35th Annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival features seven Ann Arbor authors and many more Michigan and international writers

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Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival logo

The 35th Annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival features 31 authors in a mix of online and in-person events, November 6-18. Three of those evenings feature Michigan-based authors, including seven writers who live in Ann Arbor—two of whom we've interviewed recently.

Michelle Segar and Scott Hershovitz are the writers who spoke with Pulp about their new books, and they're joined at the festival by fellow Ann Arbor authors Ken Wachsberger, Ann S. Epstein, Julie Goldstein Ellis, Nancy Szabo, and Phil Barr.

Most of the in-person events are at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, but the Ann Arbor District Library will host children's authors Ruth Behar and Sarah Sassoon, and a local authors gathering will be at the new Ann Arbor shop Third Mind Books.

Get the full list of events below, with each author's event web page linked in the book title for registration and more information:

Now and Later: H.R. Webster engages in associative thinking to form her poetry in “What Follows” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet HR Webster and her book What Follows

H.R. Webster’s poems in What Follows scrutinize the space after trauma, in womanhood, around death, and when someone has gone too far.

The poet does not shy away from what is unfolding but rather turns an intent eye on each scene where “There is the calf’s share / blooming in my coffee” or “A killdeer faking it in the parking lot.”

In the poem “Ritual,” we learn that things commonly desired and sought after nevertheless disappoint because “It does not light / the growing dark, does not lift its wings in flight.” 

Webster’s collection implicates the discomforting present and its aching aftershocks. The titular poem confronts how “Death came and took from you a virginity you did not know you possessed, but guarded, closely.” The poem goes on to ask, “What fruit rots first.”

This question characterizes many of the poems that start at the moment when the experience begins to decay—sometimes right away: “On first dates men often ask how would you rather die, / I kid you not, drowning or fire.”

U-M researcher Michelle Segar lays out “The Joy Choice” in her recent book on sensible eating and exercise plans

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A portrait of author Michelle Segar is next to her book cover The Joy Choice.

Exercise and eating both come down to our daily choices, and it does not have to be as hard as it seems, says author Michelle Segar, a lifestyle coach and researcher at the University of Michigan. 

In her recent book, The Joy Choice, Segar details a new way to make these decisions, including diagrams that show how to apply her research-based method. She writes: 

Our choice is our choice. It no longer represents overcoming perceived deficiencies, following someone else’s rules, or being selfish. We make room for the unanticipated while still meeting our own self-care needs, simultaneously renewing our energetic resources for the people, goals, and projects we care most about. 

Segar’s Joy Choice strategy and decision tool were designed to assist you at the point when you and your eating or exercise plans run up against real-life interruptions. The genius of this tactic comes from working with, rather than against, the unanticipated challenges so you can keep making strides toward your target despite life’s unwelcome twists.  

One way that Segar helps address these “choice points”—the moments when you are faced with continuing to pursue your exact plan or changing course—is by identifying the ways that both internal and external issues could derail making your desired healthy choice. Segar calls these forces “decision disrupters.” An example of one of the four disruptors that she features is “accommodation,” about which Segar writes, “[T]here’s real science about the damage that can occur when our automatic and consistent go-to is giving other people’s needs priority over our own. As with most things in life, seeking balance and finding compromise is key.” While our decision disrupters may not be readily apparent, we can address them once we learn about them—and prevent them from upending our goals moving forward.

Segar calls “choice points” the “true place of power” because it is at these times when you can make a choice that aligns with your greater goals. Segar says:

When the exercise and eating goals we have selected (as opposed to those that have been imposed on us by society or others) align with our core values, needs, and priorities, they become integrated into and a natural affirming part of who we are. This in turn increases the value proposition for making choices that favor healthy eating and regular exercise. Because we no longer feel that we should make those choices, our internal conflicts with them are gone or greatly reduced, and so now we want to make them and make them more effortlessly. 

Making decisions that support your healthy behavior goals becomes enjoyably straightforward with Segar’s Joy Choice strategy. 

AADL hosted Segar for a reading on June 24, a video of which is included at the end of this post. This fall, I interviewed her about The Joy Choice

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reaches for poetry “when argument fails, when there can be no objectivity, when things have become personal”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait photo of author Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is next to her book cover for You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s new book, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, begins with desire and dreams and concludes with anger, love, and home. In the pages in between, the expansive lyric essays travel broadly from Kathmandu, which is “the ancient city of my youth while I am disappearing into summer, fire, and sea,” to the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts where “we discover the museum’s stash of old film reels.” The essays consider how to have one’s own dreams, embrace identity, experience violence against identity, and engage with family (not to mention ex-family members). 

Leaving a place and leaving a marriage become both a backdrop and an integral part of the essays. In “Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu,” Wang writes:

Human Nature: U-M prof Scott Hershovitz talks philosophy with his kids in the book "Nasty, Brutish, and Short"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Scott Hershovitz alongside his book cover for Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Author photo by Rex and Hank Hershovitz.

U-M professor Scott Hershovitz divulges conversations with his two young sons and connects those chats to philosophical concepts in his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids. Among the topics are swearing, sports, racism, and religion.

Hershovitz delves into both questions that his children raise and questions that he and his wife, Julie, face as parents. What makes the book so approachable is that the conversations are set in humous, relatable, day-to-day scenarios. For example, the subject of individual rights emerges when one of the children, Hank, takes ages to decide what to have for lunch after being offered a quesadilla or hamburger:

Shirley Ann Higuchi tells her mother's tale and the bigger story of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII in “Setsuko’s Secret” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shirley Ann Higuchi and her book Setsuko's Secret

Shirley Ann Higuchi illuminates a dark time in U.S. history in her book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.

Through the lens of long unspoken family stories, Higuchi recounts how Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and businesses, then forced to live in one of the 10 concentration camps created during World War II as the result of unfounded security concerns. The memories and trauma of that time are still felt today. 

Higuchi, who grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan, will speak about her book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm. She is a lawyer for the American Psychological Association, a past president of the D.C. Bar, and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which operates a museum on the site of the former camp.

In Setsuko’s Secret, Higuchi writes of the camp where her parents met, Heart Mountain:

In U-M prof Jacinda Townsend’s “Mother Country,” one woman claims another’s daughter and perpetuates family patterns

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Author Jacinda Townsend and her book Mother Country

“Some people wanted freedom, she thought, and others wanted safety. She’d never find the two in the same place.” 

This reflection by the character, Souria, in Mother Country weighs the impossible choices that characters make—or are forced to make. Jacinda Townsend’s new novel examines the repercussions of human trafficking, the implications of family bonds, and cross-continental ties. Townsend is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan. She is also the author of the novel Saint Monkey.

In Mother Country, when one mother, Souria, loses her child in Marrakech, another woman, Shannon, becomes a mother, gains a daughter, and brings her to Louisville, Kentucky, even though the events leading up to the switch—and also following it—are problem-ridden. Shannon learns, “The right thing never felt like the good thing.”

Souria’s and Shannon’s lives intertwine in ways made more visible by chapters that alternate between narrating their two separate lives. Later on, the perspective of the daughter—once known as Yumni, then as Mardi—emerges, as well as that of Vlad, who is Shannon’s husband. They all are cognizant of their missteps in life, but there is no turning back to change them. For example, Shannon, who often gets high to blunt the lingering pain from her near-fatal car wreck, perceives her flaws, yet cannot remedy them: 

The book “Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously” plays with the poetics of the Ann Arbor indie rocker's lyrics

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kelly Hoppenjans and her book Takes Herself Too Seriously

Author photo by Autumn Dozier.

What makes a poem versus a song?

Setting the words to music may be an obvious answer, but the difference between the page and the studio are more complex than that. 

In her new book, Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously: A Collection of Poems, Music, Lyrics, and Some Real Arty Shit, the indie rock singer-songwriter and graduate student at the University of Michigan draws attention to the lyrics from her recent Can’t Get the Dark Out EP and the divergent forms of poetry and lyrics.

As she told Pulp, “To me, lyrics and poetry are separate forms, and the process for each is quite different.”

Let's Go Boo: Ben Mathis-Lilley’s witty "The Hot Seat" looks at U-M's 2021 football season from a fan's perspective

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Ben Mathis-Lilley and his book The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride, and Occasional Games of College Football

Ben Mathis-Lilley author photo by Christopher Beattie.

One of my favorite parts of Slate senior writer (and rabid longtime Michigan fan) Ben Mathis-Lilley’s new book, The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride, and Occasional Games of College Football is a list of fan site comments during U-M’s second game of the 2021 season.

After noting that U-M beat Washington 31-10 that night and that the Wolverines were never, for a second, tied with or losing to the Huskies, Mathis-Lilley shares three and a half pages of these in-the-moment fan perspectives. A few cheery examples: “We’re going to get killed by any offense with a pulse.” “Passing game is atrocious.” “We are not good.”

Of course it’s possible to spot a team’s flaws even when they win, but the pronounced Debbie Downer-ness of this running commentary, shared while a convincing Michigan win on national television is unfolding, makes you wonder: What more could Michigan football fans want? Good lord, would anything make us happy?