My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas (American Lives)
by Tracy Seeley

Published: 2011-03-01
Paperback : 208 pages
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Sure, there's no place like home--but what if you can't really pinpoint where home is? By the time she was nine, Tracy Seeley had lived in seven towns and thirteen different houses. Her father's dreams of movie stardom, stoked by a series of affairs, kept the family on edge, and on the ...
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Sure, there's no place like home--but what if you can't really pinpoint where home is? By the time she was nine, Tracy Seeley had lived in seven towns and thirteen different houses. Her father's dreams of movie stardom, stoked by a series of affairs, kept the family on edge, and on the move, until he up and left. Thirty years later, settled in what seems like a charmed life in San Francisco, a diagnosis of cancer and the betrayal of a lover shake Seeley to her roots--roots she is suddenly determined to search out. My Ruby Slippers tells the story of that search, the tale of a woman with an impassioned if vague sense of mission: to find the meaning of home.  

Seeley finds herself in a Kansas that defies memory, a place far more complex and elusive than the sum of its cultural myths. On back roads and in her many back years, Seeley also finds unexpected forgiveness for her errant father, and, in the face of mortality, a sense of what it means to be rooted in place, to dwell deeply in the only life we have.

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chapter two
The Good Land
I shiver in the backseat in the corner against the door. I hold my cheek against the cold metal until it hurts. I hold myself very still. I am five, and we are moving away. My father drives. My mother sits next to him and says nothing. I will not look at them. Instead, I stare out the window and hear the car tires slub, slub, slub on the red brick streets. My chest hurts. The narrow dark windows of my school slide by—window, window, window, window. I can’t see in. But I know that Mrs. Little’s kindergarten is going on without me. The children are using quiet voices, cutting paper and coloring, reading ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. The title My Ruby Slippers refers to Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard of Oz. How is Seeley’s journey both like and unlike Dorothy’s? What does she discover or learn?
2. At the beginning of the book, Seeley writes that after she left her home state at 17, she “shucked Kansas off like the skin of a cicada.” What motivated her to disown Kansas? What eventually changed her feelings about it? What ideas did you have about Kansas before you read the book?
3. How do cancer and her lover’s abandonment change the nature of Seeley’s journey? Why do you think these are not the most central stories of the book?
4. During her cancer treatment, Seeley learns and practices meditation. What does it teach her? What role does it play in her experience on the road?
5. Early in her journey, Seeley hears a Ute elder say, “When you live in a place for a long time, you think that way.” What do you think this means? Does it ring true in your own experience?
6. In the course of telling about her trip back to Kansas, Seeley recalls early memories of her childhood there. What were some of the most compelling or interesting memories for you? Which ones helped you understand her character and concerns?
7. When Seeley finally reaches house #13, the one she lived in for nine years, she decides not to knock on the door. Why? Does this make sense to you?
8. Seeley suggests that our sense of place deepens when we know its stories, especially the stories of those who lived there before. What stories did you find most interesting? What did they add (or not) to the story?
9. What does Seeley celebrate about Kansas? What does she criticize? Did you learn anything new about Kansas? How is it different from the place you live? (And if you live in Kansas, did it seem the same place you know?)
10. Seeley writes that when she first began writing her book, she intended to keep her father out of it. Why do you think this didn’t happen? What do you think about her relationship with her father? Why does he become a more prominent character than her mother?
11. In Chapter 8 (“What the Prairie Teaches”), Seeley tours the Land Institute and learns about agricultural research into prairie ecosystems. How do the things she learns add to her understanding of a sense of place? How important is this episode in her journey?
12. What is the significance of the ten days Seeley spends in Matfield Green? What has she learned from being there? What does it offer?
13. In the Coda, Seeley has moved to yet another new address, this time in Los Angeles. How does she react to this? How has that response been shaped by the journey she took back to Kansas?
14. At the end of the book, Seeley also reveals that her cancer has metastasized to her bones. What do you think of her response to this?
15. Did you relate to Seeley in any way? Is her experience universal?
16. How would you characterize Seeley’s writing? Is there a specific passage that you found especially interesting/compelling/moving/insightful?
17. Did you gain (or not) from reading my My Ruby Slippers? What will you take away?
18. Has reading My Ruby Slippers made you want to know more about the place you live? If yes, where would you want to begin?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Tracy Seeley:

MY RUBY SLIPPERS began when I was about 20, when I found a list of the 13 houses I’d lived in before I turned 9. Something about that list intrigued me, one address after the other, written in my mother’s hand. I wondered what it had been like for her to live through all those moves, and how we ever ended up in Kansas, where we had no roots or family.

That list sat around for a really long time—and then when my parents died, I decided to make my trip. But then cancer intervened, my lover left me for someone else, and I became intrigued by the parallels between all these forms of displacement. Too many childhood moves, my father’s leaving, the unsettling fact of mortality, a lover’s abandonment—they all seemed versions of the same thing. And because I’d recently taken up meditation, there seemed an interesting relationship between learning to maintain my inner peace in the face of crisis, and learning to feel at home where I lived. The more I wrote, the more those threads wrapped around each other.

I hope MY RUBY SLIPPERS will encourage readers to enlarge their own sense of place and deepen their knowledge of the place they live: its history, the stories that abide there, the people who’ve lived there before, the character and ecological limits of the natural place, the people who live near them now. That’s part of being at home in the world. Knowing—deeply knowing—where we are.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "My Ruby Slippers"by ajdolph (see profile) 08/09/11

Most book club members found it hard to get into. There were some interesting parts (the history of Kansas, specific areas of Kansas) but overall it did not keep our interest.

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