Back in April 2015, when I was still working for the Frontiersman newspaper, I met a man named Art Jennings, in the course of writing an article about local hospice volunteers (Valley hospice volunteers support chronically ill). Art was preparing to publish his books of memoirs — Life’s Lessons: Memoirs of Sex & Lies, Love & Death — and his editor asked if I was interested in reviewing the manuscript. The Frontiersman wasn’t in the habit of printing reviews at that time, but I agreed to write one they could use elsewhere.
Art passed away about a month later, and two months after that, his book was published by his wife, Jessie. What I had written ended up becoming the foreword of the book, and in December of that year, Jessie reached out to me to advertise a signing she had scheduled at a local bookstore (After many years, late veteran’s memories finally come to life).
So, for this week’s Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share Art’s story, and my take on it:
Review: Life’s Lessons a refreshing collection of mistakes and make-ups
Life’s Lessons is an honest account of the things we least like to to talk about, the stains we keep covered up for years after The Incident. With a fluid and unapologetic style of storytelling, Art gives his audience permission to say what they really mean, feel and think, however late in life. His off-color humor and revelation of the best and worst moments of his life paint an unrivaled picture of human existence.
To be sure, Art’s writings are not for the timid, happy-ending kind of reader. In Chapter 2 of Part One, “Sex and Lies,” Art describes “a well-hidden sexual underground” or club frequented by his stepfather, an apparent stepping stone into the depths of emotional damage and a future of dysfunctional relationships. Art’s almost accidental tendency toward sexual promiscuity follows him into the military, resulting in a tangled “family” of hurt individuals around the world. In this story, some wounds never heal.
But being a hard worker and a man of accomplished wit — though the reader will find a shameless fart joke in his text — Art finds some successes in his life, not limited to his artistic endeavors and fishing trips in Alaska. Art’s creativity pays off in the military, booting a bad battalion executive commander, essentially, with a “field sanitation” class, and his determination to do right after doing so much wrong eventually wins him back the love of his life, however fractured that love has been. “[She] meant everything to me and I vowed that if I had to spend every waking moment of every day for the rest of my life in therapy, I would not stray,” he writes in Chapter 9 of Part Two, “Love and Death.”
For readers who like a chronological storyline, getting used to the jumps and flashbacks and references in Art’s writings will require an adjustment. All Art’s anecdotes are punctuated with self-insight — even if there are no answers — and sometimes may seem disjointed. But isn’t that the way people tend to tell long stories about their lives anyway?
Having interviewed the author prior to his death, I can say for sure that Arthur Allen Jennings led an interesting life, worthy of publication. In his memoirs, perhaps we can find the courage to uncover the stains in our lives sooner rather than later.
Having interviewed the author prior to his death, I can say for sure that Arthur Allen Jennings led an interesting life, worthy of publication. In his memoirs, perhaps we can find the courage to uncover the stains in our lives sooner rather than later, and so ask — or give — forgiveness, wherever that leads.
Copyright © Caitlin Skvorc, 2015; Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum, 2019