These Study Guide questions are grouped to match the book's sections.
Questions are below the links.
1. Where is Hestia’s House?
2. Identify and discuss the symbols of transformation throughout
3. Discuss the overarching theme of “home” which permeates
the book, from the Dedication page to the last word of the book.
4. Name all the vehicles and other modes of transportation
throughout the book.
5. How is life like a journey? What are some other literary,
historical or contemporary journey stories that you know?
6. Sometimes we let ourselves “go whichever way the wind blows”
and sometimes we get blown off our deliberately set course. But a life
journey is not always to a place. It can be to an ideal, to a state of
awareness, or to a spiritual, psychological or physical state of
being. What is the journey of your life?
7. Both in a general sense and as pertinent to his life, what is
the author saying with the patriotic themes and images?
8. How is running a metaphor of life?
Part One / Time
Travel in the New Millennium
1. What is the connection between Orson Welles, the Todd School
for Boys and the Woodstock Children’s Home?
2. Name at least 3 “claims to fame” that Woodstock, Illinois
Part Two / The
Woodstock Children’s Home
1. Describe the tone of Chapter 2. Discuss the “two on the
swing” segment at the end of this chapter. How can this segment be
both innocent and erotic at the same time?
2. Discuss the fun and play activities of children growing up in
the Chicago area, in the fifties and sixties. How are these activities
different from, or similar to, activities of kids growing up in the
South or other regions?
3. Think of at least one play or fun activity from your
childhood: Hold it gently in your hands and stare at it. Turn it
slowly over and over again, savoring every facet of your childhood
memory. Bring the memory up to your face and smell it----hear it. How
did you feel as a child, at this play or fun activity? Then do
something to frame that memory, such as writing a story, an essay, a
poem; or drawing a picture, or composing music. Your children will one
day very much appreciate your “framed” memory.
4. Why was learning to drive a car and getting a drivers’
license, on the first attempt at age sixteen, so important to the
author? What is the symbolic significance of driving?
5. Discuss the tragic story in Chapter 4, of Bud losing his arm.
Why did Bud channel his anger into self-destructive behaviors? Was
there anything or anyone who could have saved Bud? Did the Children’s
Home, or anyone, assume appropriate accountability? Why or why not?
Would this tragic scenario play out differently in today’s society?
6. Discuss the compulsive “virginity tests” imposed on the
teenaged girls. How might this experience have affected the girls?
Would this form of punishment be acceptable in today’s society?
7. Discuss the Home kids “tagging” for money in downtown
Chicago. Would this be appropriate in today’s society?
8. Discuss the examples of rules from the Rule Book. Do
the rules seem fair, or overly oppressive? Could kids of today, even
kids in a Children’s Home, be able to “make it” financially and
socially, living under these rules?
9. How and why was the author allowed to own a car at age
10. Compare and contrast the house parents: the Gearhearts, the
Beattys, Mr. Leeds, and the Rev. Redding, and Ms. Dorothy (from
11. Describe and discuss how the author inserts his life into
the concurrent stream of historical events. How did the historical
events of the fifties and sixties affect him?
12. Do children have any rights? Is today’s understanding of
children’s rights different than that of years ago?
13. How accountable and responsible should society hold parents,
for the care and proper rearing of their children?
Part Three / Parents
1. What is the author’s purpose in detailing his mother’s
ancestors as “first families” in the Philo, Ohio area, and also
that his mother’s paternal uncles fought in the Civil War?
2. Does anything about (the author’s mother) Joy’s childhood
seem as though it could have negatively affected her adult
development? Or is her personality and behavior a result of her genes?
3. Discuss “Poem Within a Poem”: Compare the inner poem “Commitment,”
which was written by the author at age fourteen after finding his
mother in a mental institution, with the outer poem—which is his
present day recollection of that incident and commentary of his poem
4. How might the experience of a fourteen year old Home kid
finding his mother in a mental institution affect him or her?
5. How did the death of (the author’s father) Paul’s mother
Esther while giving birth to him, and his subsequent, related
epilepsy, affect Paul’s life?
6. How did Paul regard his father, Forest?
Part Four / Early
Childhood in Chicago
1. Why couldn’t Paul and Joy make it in Chicago? Can you
specify any circumstances or attitudes, etc., which put them at risk
for failure? Or was it all just fate?
2. If Joy had lived at or near home in Ohio when her father
died, would she have also had a “nervous breakdown?” Why did Joy’s
father’s death affect her so traumatically?
3. Compare and contrast the author’s early childhood with his
parents in Chicago, with that of his experience of living through high
school graduation in the Children’s Home. Do you think it was better
to have lived in the Home, or with his parents, or in a foster home,
or with relatives?
4. How and why did the author survive his childhood? Are there
any universal characteristics of a child or adult survivor?
5. How do children learn to read the thunder? How do children
cope with the thunder they “know?” How do children adapt, in order
to live with the thunder?
6. Name at least two pleasant memories from his early childhood,
of occasions shared with his family, which the author
7. How does the author reveal his father as more fully
dimensional? What incidents or facts in Part Four, and on page 21,
indicate more positive characteristics of Paul?
Part Five / Ground School
1. Why didn’t the Children’s Home, or the Agency which
placed him there help the author to get a college education?
2. What was the cause of the author’s agoraphobia? How and why
did the crippling agoraphobia finally leave him?
3. Discuss the “facing down the demon in the car” segment,
in Chapter 12. Is that an example of a good way to confront fears and
phobias? Could that type of direct confrontation of fears be too
psychologically risky for some?
Part Six /
Move to North Carolina and Gender Odyssey
1. The epigraph of Chapter 13 is Dante’s quote: “In the
middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood
where the straight way was lost.” Write a poem, story or essay about
such a time in your life. How did you forge a path?
2. Discuss the author’s poem “Song of the Prisoner of
Chillon”. (This poem was influenced by Lord Byron’s lengthy poem,
“The Prisoner of Chillon”) What does the narrator’s “voice”
in the author’s poem symbolize? Discuss the ambivalence of
3. Discuss the story in Chapter 14 of Caeneus, the Greek warrior
from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, who was born female and so named
Caenis. Why is this story ostensibly significant to the author?
4. What are some other mythical stories of contra-sex
5. Are there any animals which change sex? Is there some
biological, adaptive or environmental cause or reason for them to do
that? Or do they change sex because they are tired of their own sex
and just want to try the other?
6. Discuss the author’s poem, “Freedom Flight.” In the
poem, the author is looking at an old photo of himself in his previous
female persona. The words in italics are used to show his thoughts.
Does it seem the author is paying tribute to his anima, and to
women in general?
7. All men come from women. Do you agree with this? In what ways
do men come from women?
8. How do you interpret Jesus’ rebuke of Simon Peter (on page
168): “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that
she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every
woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
9. Compare and contrast the tone of Chapter 17, with that of
10. After he was thrown out of his apartment into the street, as
a result of the Ex Parte eviction, the author states in Chapter
17, “that there was never a time in my life when I was closer to
losing it.” Why was this event so psychologically significant to the
author? Why would he feel this way when there had been many other,
more horrendous abuses that he had already endured as a child and
11. The author confesses that he has no sure explanation for why
he “picked himself up and continued to move himself along.” Why do
you think he did?
12. Do you agree with this statement? “I absolutely understand
why some people choose to drop out of society. Everyone has their
13. Do you agree with this? “No one is really altruistic; one
always has an ulterior motive to altruism, even Mother Theresa.”
14. Have you ever been in a situation where you were angry,
disillusioned, cynical, depressed, without hope and yet you “carried
on?” Can you explain why you carried on?
15. Discuss the poem, “Eye of the Shaman.” What is a shaman?
What is the shaman “seeing?” What motivates the narrator in the
poem to shoot? How do William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through
the Dark,” and Winslow Homer’s painting “The Fox Hunt” inform
the author’s poem “Eye of the Shaman?”
Part Seven / Return to Time
1. What does the recollection of the old dinner bell at the
Children’s Home symbolize?
2. What do you think was the purpose of the foot-square, framed
cut-out hole in the wall, in the office in the Children’s Home’s
old Harrison House building?
3. What is death being personified as, in the poem on page 233,
“What the Shaman Knows?” Why would a shaman have both a masculine
and a feminine perspective?
4. Discuss the author’s use of the literary device “stream
of consciousness” beginning on page 235 of Chapter 19. Compare to
James Joyce’s use of the same, in the last chapter of his book Ulysses.
5. How does the repeated use of the word “yes” contribute to
the “Otherworld” segment in Chapter 19?
6. Discuss the significance of the “Otherworld” journey in
Chapter 19, and (the underworld journey) in other odyssey stories,
such as Dante’s Inferno, Homer’s Odyssey and James
7. Why did the author need to make a trip to the “Otherworld?”
How did this trip advance his psycho-spiritual growth?
8. What is the significance of the author’s grandfather
Forest, to his own life? What is the author’s attitude toward his
9. On page 241, the author quotes Athene in Homer’s Odyssey:
“No one really knows his father.” What does that mean?
10. What does this phrase mean? In nomine Patris et Fillii et
Spiritus Sancti. Why does the author say this at the end of the
Part Eight / A Wounded Healer
1. What is a “wounded healer?”
2. In the poem, “Myth of Me” what is the significance of the
lady in the lake giving the sword to the narrator? Who is the “old
man” and what does he represent? Who is Calliope? Who is
Melchizedek, and how does the narrator identify with him?
3. The last line of the poem says, “…and I still have the
sword.” What is the sword?
4. Do you agree that the grey-white pigeons atop the nine-floor,
steel and concrete Duke Hospital building must surely be the
spirit-doves of the souls of patients who had died in the hospital?
5. The words of the poem, “Intensive Care Unit” are in
italics to show thoughts. Whose thoughts are these?
6. The epigraph for Chapter 21 is from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s
poem "Ulysses." What does Tennyson mean by: “…all
experience is an arch…?”
7. Do you know of anyone who “has never owned a home, nor did
his parents ever own a home?” Have you ever known anyone who longed
for a sense of home? What must that feel like?
8. On page 260, what stories do the names of the pets in Hestia’s
House: Toto, Zeus, Argos and Calypso come from? What is the name of
one other pet in Hestia’s House?
9. Do you agree with the author that the quote on page 261 (from
Emma Lazarus’s poem "The New Colossus"), which begins
“…give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free,…” “capture(s) the essence of the American spirit”?
10. Do you agree with the author’s last sentence of the book,
“And so I am America’s child. America is my home.”?