June 22, 2012: “Lost in Place” by Mark Salzman

June 22, 2012

I love finding books at the library that just sort of jump off the shelf at you. Such was the case, last week, when I found “Lost in Place” by Mark Slazman. Mark is a Renaissance man after my own heart. I know of him from a previous book he wrote: “Iron and Silk” about his travels through China while teaching English and learning kung fu at the hands of Master Pan Qingfu. One of my former students knew I was a big fan and generously bequeathed a rare signed, hard-bound copy of that book that I cherish. I also own the indie film of the same name which stars Mark as himself. Mark Salzman is an author whose autobiographical stories are rich with experience, characters, humor and honesty, so I knew what to expect when I picked up “Lost in Place” What I did not expect to find, was hope for the youth and parents of our time.

I do have a slight problem with the full title of the book “Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia” which feels like a publisher is putting a label on Mark’s book to make it more palatable to American readers. This is kind of missing the point. Mark’s life is far from “absurd.” “Unique”…sure, unconventional”…maybe, but “absurd”…no. Without a doubt, the story of Mark’s life, while having its genesis in probably the most mundane environment possible…suburbian Conneticut, is far from traditional. Truly an artist, as a teen Mark had pursuits of music (the cello) and martial arts. Choosing probably the most awful martial arts teacher imaginable (one who swears at and beats his students, drinks and smokes pot during class, and just generally acts like a total jerk) Mark’s perseverance and success in martial arts say more about himself than any guidance he had at this point of his life. His mother is a concert musician and so offers some guidance to his music, but typical of American youths, Mark rebels constantly against her. It seems parents could be the worst people to aspire to be a muse to their young, when it comes to music. She does inspire Mark however, and he searches for that muse in others. It is that searching for inspirational teachers carries Mark through not only his college years, but also later in his travels through China in “Iron and Silk.”

The youth of today may not like “Lost in Place” although it is one that would be beneficial for any teenager to read. They might not like it, because the book addresses a teenage experience from one of their parent’s generation. It’s funny that “Romeo and Juliet” gets re-made almost every year, and that is not a problem, but maybe the distance of fated 14C. teens is more easily swallowed than those of the last generation. Mark’s book has all the pain, insecurity, challenges and desires of modern teens, but most important, the book manages to convey that these experiences are not unique, that others have gone through this before…and ulimately can come out OK.

I can easily imagine parents grinding their teeth at Mark’s story also. Where were the parents when Mark was choosing this lame-ass instructor? Were they oblivious to the abuse Mark suffered at his hands? It is clear that Mark’s parents gave him enough slack to allow him to make his own decisions, and this by itself, is a laudable parenting move. The most important thing is that they seem to be always there when he needed them…and in the most loving way imaginable.

“Lost in Place” does not shy away from the travails of the teenage experience. It addresses drugs, bad decisions, bad mentors, bad friends and ultimately, great loss. It also encourages teens to follow their hearts and passions. I can’t think of a book better suited for an American family to read together, if such a thing is possible. I think Mark’s story would offer a vehicle of discussion between generations. Most of all, the book gives the important idea to both teens and parents: “Others have traveled down this path. You are NOT alone!”

As for Mark Slazman, all’s well that ends well for him: a successful author, Yale graduate, skilled martial artist, cellist, linguist and calligrapher, he may have been lost in place at some point in his past…and the road goes forever onward…but his experiences have led him…well, hopefully to be found by you at the next trip to the library!


One comment

  1. Ah, so YOU are the source of the Mark Salzman recommendations! For years I’ve wondered how I know of his books (and life), when no one else I know has heard of him. Aha!

    He’s led an inspiring life — but somehow is humble enough in writing about it that I cannot hate him.

    Now I’m going down memory lane…
    do you still listen to John Gorka? 🙂

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