Have you ever crossed paths with someone you just knew would be a cherished friend, if only a few circumstances were different?
For me, Kathleen Buckstaff is one of those people. I’ve only met her once, to my recollection. So I don’t really know her that well. And yet I know her.
This month, I am celebrating with her the publication of “Get Savvy: Letters to a Teenage Girl about Sex and Love.” She hopes her latest book, a true labor of love, will help young women understand and more confidently navigate the blurry boundaries between appropriate romantic sexual interaction and sexual aggression.
It’s a tough topic, and one she meets head on by weaving her own unsettling story among anecdotes, advice and hard-learned lessons she gleaned from interviews with more than 60 other women — from students to psychology experts.
When we met, Kathleen and her family were living in Phoenix, in a sprawling ranch-style home on Missouri Avenue. She had taken on the challenge of hosting a birthday party for Piya Jacob, then the principal at Desert View Learning Center, a small, private school my sons had the privilege of attending from kindergarten through fourth grade.
Kathleen’s children, though much younger than mine, were also Desert View kids. Once you connect with this school, you become part of a big extended family that goes back for decades. You instantly trust any member of that family. You know you will have much in common. That night, especially, we shared a mutual sense of love and gratitude to a woman whose vision had shaped the richly textured learning our children were fortunate to experience in their earliest and most formative years.
During the gathering, I went off down the hall in search of a bathroom. I glanced into a small bedroom to my right and found myself completely captivated. Kathleen had claimed this space for her writing. It was brightly lit and golden hued, filled with inspiring books and writing materials. It opened onto the backyard patio, and I could imagine Kathleen sitting here with the doors open, taking inspiration from a warm spring breeze.
It was, I could tell, a sacred space. This was a woman who revered the writing process and had made a tangible commitment to her presence in it.
Fast forward to the spring of 2013, when I learned that Buckstaff had published “The Tiffany Box, A Memoir.” By then, her family had moved to northern California, but she was still closely connected to friends here. I bought a copy of her book and couldn’t put it down. It is a moving tribute to motherhood and to the bonds between mother and child that transcend time, temperament and even tragedy.
“Get Savvy” is a much different book that also documents a powerful emotional journey. For Kathleen, that journey undoubtedly brought plenty of cleansing tears along with many contemplative sips of tea, the help of a gifted therapist and lots of long walks with her beloved dog. For the rest of us, reading it can bring memories of our own traumas — big and small, sexual or otherwise — to the surface. It’s not always an easy book to read, but it’s an easy one to personalize to your own experience.
Kathleen’s goal is to help women listen to and honor our own self-protective instincts. She wants us to love, nurture and respect ourselves, and demand the same from everyone with whom we interact.
I was flattered when Kathleen contacted me this spring to ask if I would do an early read of her manuscript and consider writing a review. I was dumbfounded when I found my words on her book’s front and back covers.
My life experience is vastly different from Kathleen’s, but I’ve learned that trauma is trauma, and we all experience it in some manner and to some degree. We need focused self-nurturing, and usually a period of sustained professional help, to overcome it. Kathleen is brave to share her story, and I know it will resonate, because it comes from a place of wanting to help others find peace.