Monday, September 26, 2016

Memory

Memory is an ephemeral thing. Recently I ran across a plain brown notebook. I had written across the front of it: Trip to Rome, March 2000. Seriously. Sixteen years ago. Of course I remember the trip. It was wonderful. Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world (not to name-drop, but it is). The first time I saw the Colosseum was through the smudged window of a bus many years before that 2000 trip. I put the notebook aside after glancing through it; I wanted to savor it later. I remembered the trip, the feelings, but not the details.

I tried to find that notebook to refer to while writing this blog. I couldn’t. It’s somewhere, and it will turn up, but what I did find were numerous other notebooks. Snippets of my life. Morning pages, poems, story ideas, other trips. Although many were not finished, were cast aside or interrupted, they each represent moments in time. My moments. Maybe when taken together they would represent a microcosm of who I am. I wonder if, a hundred years from now, if the notebooks survive, what some great-great-great would surmise about my life. Would it be of interest? Would these scribblings represent? Would they misunderstand? Understand?


What I know is, if we don’t write it down, and sometimes even if we do, so much is lost. There is a magic about life, about its colors, shapes, smells, sounds, emotions and experiences that defies words. Defies description. But when we read about it, sometimes, just sometimes, we live it again.


“The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
                                         ― Eden Phillpotts, English author and playwright or
                                           -W.B. Yeats or 
                                           -Bertrand Russell

Sunday, September 11, 2016

SEPTEMBER BOOK SELECTIONS- PREP & GOLDBERG VARIATIONS

Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld is an examination of the rarified atmosphere of the ultra-exclusive, private prep-schools that funnel the children of the very rich or very connected into Ivy League schools. Lee Fiora, the female protagonist is an exception, a scholarship student.

Lee’s observations form the core of the novel. She is revolted by and fascinated by her fellow students in equal measure. It is painful to watch her struggle to fit in and her obsession with the school’s golden boy. Ault, the fictional prep school she applies for and attends turns her former at-home personality of being easy, relaxed and out-going into one of being withdrawn, shy and agonizingly uncomfortable. It’s as if she moves through the world without skin.


Sittenfeld’s coming of age story has been compared to Catcher in the Rye. You cringe at her inability to see outside herself. You want her to be older, wiser. You want to sympathize, yell at, shake and protect her simultaneously as she tries to navigate her life. You remember adolescence.



Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs centers on three cousins who travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico to meet with their estranged, super-wealthy grandmother at her invitation. The name comes from Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations. Inarguably one of the most famous pieces of music ever written, it contains music that moves from soft and moody to intense and lively and everything in between. 

The title refers to the three cousins and Gloria, the grandmother. Extremely different and yet somehow meshing. Gloria is an extremely unsympathetic character. A hard and bitter woman, she brings the three there, after ignoring them their entire lives, to pick a successor to manage her vast fortune. She is in for a shock.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Don't Worry

You would think I would learn from experience. But no, not so much. Maybe needing reminders is just the human condition. I think so.

So, I was watering my beloved plants. Love the plants, not the watering. I was a bit out of sorts because something I had wanted to do for pleasure (go to an afternoon movie) had been sidetracked by a serious of unforeseeable events. I wanted to at least accomplish watering the plants so I would feel the day had not been completely lost. Then I remembered something. I remembered another day, a kind of déjà vu thing, when I was also watering plants. I actually wrote about it in my blog almost exactly two years ago. On that afternoon, two years ago, I remember stopping and picking up a book of poems by Mary Oliver.

I wrote:

Instead of being in the moment like I’m always preaching and noticing their (the plant’s) beauty, I’m rushing through the task with a vengeance. What stopped me was this. As I was waiting for the trays to fill with water, I was reading a Mary Oliver poem. Her vivid imagery reminded me that life is a series of moments. Why living in the present moment is such a difficult task that needs constant reminding, I do not know. I do know it’s best to take care and not let those moments slip away. Enjoy them when you can. See them. Be there.”

So I walked over and picked up a book of poems by Mary Oliver called Felicity. A different one than before, actually. Immediately my mood changed. I was calm. I once again was reminded of the beauty around me. I didn’t worry about the past. I didn’t worry about the future. I didn’t worry about what I did or did not accomplish. I did not anguish over the meaning of life. For that moment, I was in the moment.  


Some people have the gift of seeing. And they share that gift with us. Mary Oliver is one of those magical people.



“Things take the time they take. Don’t Worry.”
-from a poem by Mary Oliver

Thursday, August 18, 2016

FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016

I made my first choice for favorite Book of the Year in August 2015. So, for consistency, my year will continue to run from August to July. My book selections this year:

August 2015:  The Winter Sea- Susannah Kearsley & Dream Lover- Elizabeth Berg

September 2015:  Minnow- James E. McTeer

October 2015:  Shine Shine Shine- Lydia Netzer 

November 2015:  A Spool of Blue Thread- Anne Tyler

December 2015: A Tale For The Time Being- Ruth Ozeki

January 2016:  The Secret Place- Tana French

February 2016: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress- Sijie Dai

March 2016:  My Name Is Lucy Barton- Elizabeth Strout

April 2016: The Rake’s Tale- Bettie Williams & The Killing Floor- Lee Child

May 2016: The Secret Chord & The People of the Book- (both by) Geraldine Brooks

June 2016:  The Short Drop- Matthew Fitzsimmons

July 2016: Eligible- Curtis Sittenfeld

This has been a good year. Lots of good books made this a difficult choice. As usual, more books were read or listened to on tape than I reviewed, but the ones above made the cut. I decided a while ago that I was not going to disparage another author’s work. If I don’t like it , I won’t review it. That being said, my favorite book this year was, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.


This novel has stayed with me. Truly beautifully written, the finely drawn characters and unique story are memorable and haunting.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

AUGUST 2016 BOOK SELECTION- THE INVENTION OF WINGS

This month I went from light to heartrending. I have only once before had such a visceral reaction to a story. That novel was the brilliantly written Kedzie, St. Helena Island Slave by Bonnie Stanard which I highly recommend. Interestingly enough, it was about the same subject matter.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a well-known book and deservedly so. Several years ago, it was an Oprah book selection, a surefire jettison to bestsellerdom. But I didn’t choose it for that reason. In fact, I frequently find that I have to follow my own instinct on what I choose to read. I am often disappointed by what is recommended by friends. Reading is just so personal, isn’t it? I started listening to it as a book-on-tape and quickly found I had to own the paperback.

The story takes place during the pre-Civil War climate of the early 1800’s in Charleston, South Carolina. It traces the relationship between Sarah Grimke, the white daughter of an upper-class plantation-owning family and Handful, the slave girl that was her “gift” upon the occasion of Sarah’s eleventh birthday. The novel is based on the real life of Sarah Grimke who became one of the first female Abolitionists and a pioneer, along with her sister, Angelina, as a women’s rights advocate.

Growing up in the south, I have been aware of the heinous history of slavery all my life. Kidd’s writing is sheer poetry, but the detailed descriptions of the repression and casual brutality sickened me and left me overwhelmed with grief and a new awareness. Perhaps because of all the recent, violent events, there is new understanding that we are a long way from healing the scars of racism that were the result of slavery.

Sue Monk Kidd quotes the words of Professor Julius Lester: “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”


I recommend this book if you think your heart can take it. 


Friday, July 15, 2016

So Simple Revisited

This month I am reposting a blog I wrote almost three years ago to the day. It was about Elie Weisel. His spirit continues to be a gift to us. In honor of him and his work: 

I am not ashamed to say that I adore watching Oprah Winfrey. I may not be globally considered the most intellectual of thinkers to admit this, but I suspect I am not alone. It’s not so much the celebrity interviews and Master Classes, although I enjoy those as well, but her conversations with the great thinkers, philosophers, teachers, humanitarians. She does us all a great service by allowing us to hear them.

Today I only had a bit of time to watch an episode of Super Soul Sunday with Elie Weisel. I knew of him, of course, and even missed an opportunity to hear him speak due to unforeseen circumstances. What an incredible spirit:  Humanitarian, author, teacher, human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner. She talked with him about his recent brush with death and serious open-heart surgery. He expressed his thoughts upon being faced with death and said, “I have so much left to do, to read, to write, things to tell my loved ones, friends to embrace, conversations to have. I wasn’t ready.” 

I thought, if after all he has accomplished, he feels he has just begun, I need to be listening. Instead of feeling that a person’s “time” has passed, perhaps it is just beginning. Instead of winding down, it’s really all just preparation for what is ahead.

I constantly am reminded that every day, every moment can hold a lesson.  Even the face of this man moves me. In spite of man’s many missteps, he believes in humanity.

“Whatever you do in life, think higher and feel deeper. Life is not a fist, it is an open hand.”

          -Elie Weisel


Sunday, July 10, 2016

JULY 2016 BOOK SELECTION- ELIGIBLE

If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, chances are you will like this month’s book selection, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

My summer reading continues to be on the light side. I noticed this novel advertised as a new release in a magazine and was curious what a present-day retelling of a favorite tale would look like. The story is a take-off of Pride and Prejudice with modern sensibility.

There are still five unmarried sisters, a frivolous mother and a vague father. The male love interests are still present. The catastrophic and thoroughly modern situations the girls and their suitors find themselves in diverge wildly from the original. As a result, Sittenfeld gives us a wry, tongue-in-cheek commentary on contemporary dating, reality TV, gender identity and courtship. This is a fast, easy read and great fun.

Recommend.




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Contradictions

Happy Summer!

I’m not trying to be morose here, but I have questions.

Contradictions. One definition is: a direct opposition between things compared; inconsistency. Inconstant: Changeable. Variable.                                                              

Sometimes it seems like simply too much. We know, on an intellectual level, if we think of it at all, that we will lose people during our life’s journey. But that doesn’t prepare us. I guess I thought I would be old and gray and past caring. Funny that.

Contradictions. I wasn’t prepared for the asymmetry. The suddenness. The inexplicable. The random nature of well, nature. How is it that some people endure a long multitude of diminishing illnesses that lead to the inevitable… while others, too, too young vanish in a breath? And every permutation and combination in between. No one is assured a set journey. A set amount of time. It’s inconstant. Inconsistent.

In every single case the people remaining are in shock, grieving, trying to process the loss. I don’t get it. Is this some cosmic decision made before we are born? A decision to suffer…or not…for our soul’s growth? For someone else’s? That maybe makes sense.

When I was young, I desperately wanted to know what the future held. Now I know why most of us don’t have that gift. It would not be a gift. There was wisdom in that.

So what I say to myself every single day is: Be present. Pay attention. Be grateful. Don’t complain. We have Light and Dark. We have Joy and Sorrow. We have right now. Right 
Now. 

Possibly a Jack Kornfield interpretation of the teachings of the Buddha. Either way, it’s good, yes?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

JUNE 2016 BOOK SELECTION- THE SHORT DROP

Because I have spent the last several weeks traveling, I carried my Kindle for convenience sake. When I’m home, I still prefer a book in my hands but this gave me a chance to peruse the free downloads I have accumulated. My first read I will not discuss because, although I did finish it, I decided early on not to give bad reviews.

My second read, The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons was a real surprise. I have to admit I chose it thinking it was an easy one to let go. You know, read a few pages and delete? I was hooked from page one. What is even more surprising, this, like The Killing Floor (my April selection), is not my usual genre. Gritty, action adventure can be fun if done well. And this one, Fitzsimmons’ FIRST (published at least) novel is terrific. It is well-written, multi-layered, with complex, mostly well-rounded characters.

The novel centers on the mysterious disappearance of a young girl that has attained mythic status in the ten years since its occurrence. Gibson Vaughn, the anti-hero protagonist has a deep connection to this girl. As an infamous computer hacker and former marine with his own tragic past and a bleak present to contend with, he is given the chance to find out what happened to her.

Fast paced and surprising, this one was hard to put down. I am definitely a fan. I’m looking forward to his next one, Poisonfeather, due out in the fall.


Yes! Read this one.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Connections

Lifelong friends are a rarity, aren’t they? As I listened to two of my dearest friends on a three way call recently, (One of the times I really love technology) I was reminded of so many years and shared experiences. We live on literally opposite ends of the country but their voices remain as constant as our laughter.

There is a lot of talk about family in our lives and truly that remains my constant and my barometer for values, integrity, love and loyalty. For some people family is their barometer for “what not to do.” I was truly just lucky. Unfortunately, my family is spread across the nation, from coast to coast. Just like my two oldest friends.

When I think about my daily life, I honestly don’t know how I would function without my friends that are here. Some people drift in and out but a special few are steady. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but I see them frequently. A dinner, a brunch, a shopping excursion…. All really just an excuse to talk. Sometimes to complain about daily things, ask advice, share time. Almost always, laughter and appreciation is involved.


I think I have said this before, but I believe one of the most sacred and meaningful parts of life is in your relationships. They take a little care and nurturing, but are so worth it. I don’t take them for granted. I acknowledge them and am grateful.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MAY 2016 BOOK SELECTIONS- THE SECRET CHORD & THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK

I submerged myself in two works by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Geraldine Brooks this month: The Secret Chord and The People of the Book.

I was first introduced to the work of Brooks through a book club’s selection of Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. I no doubt would have never picked up this book on my own, because of its subject matter. That would have been a great loss to me as since then she has become one of my favorite authors. Brooks is a master at the art of historical fiction. She says she loves a structural framework of historical fact and from that she builds her story.


The Secret Chord is a novel about King David told from the point of view of his soothsayer, Natan. It begins with David's conception, follows his difficult childhood and years as a common shepherd, describes his garnering fame by slaying Goliath with a slingshot, and charts his years as King. The tale is not linear but moves back and forth through his life to help us understand the man as Brooks depicts him. Brooks does not glorify David in the least. He is shown with all the violent and ruthless choices he made along with their sometimes devastating consequences.


The People of the Book is another work of historical fiction based on the real, famous, ancient illustrated manuscript, The Sarajevo Haggadah. The story follows a rare book expert as she is called in to verify, restore and preserve this incredible work. During her examination of the text she discovers ancient artifacts within the manuscript which provide clues to its journey of survival of more than five hundred years.  Each artifact, a butterfly wing, salt crystals, a wine stain, a white hair, has its own story  within the story. This is beautifully constructed fiction that again travels back and forth through time.


I have to say, this is not light reading. Perhaps it was more difficult because I was experiencing both books simultaneously. In particular, the violence of the past and the heinous acts done in the name of religion have stayed with me. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like historical fiction, no one does it better than Geraldine Brooks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mermaids and Other Things

When my daughter was little, she loved to pretend she was a mermaid when she was in the bathtub. We suspected there were often faeries and elves in the woods surrounding our house. She even made a series of drawings of faeries…. Crystal Faery, Shadow Faery, Rainbow Faery, etc. She loved a fantastical movie called The Last Unicorn.  Another favorite was The Sea Prince and The Fire Child which was based on the ancient Greek legend of Sirius.

We loved the sense of magic in the world. Together with my son, we went exploring for treasure and looked for rocks full of precious gems. We called it “Deer Walking.” I don’t know why. Always hoping we would see a deer, I suppose. We made enchanted princess tents in her room and she even had her own pair of red Ruby Slippers.

Did this belief in magic make her impractical? Full of whimsy? Not at all. If anything, she is the most no-nonsense and pragmatic of humans. She is good with money and wise beyond her years. Not only that, but brave, fearless, strong and true. The secret of believing in magic is that it shows you possibility…. sparks your creativity….gives you options… lets you know the world is never just black and white. My daughter explores every corner of her creativity. She never limits herself.

Magic doesn’t have to be mythical creatures or gossamer stories of legends. Magic can be the way sunlight hits the top of trees in the morning that takes your breath or how wind makes the underside of leaves turn silver. The perfect uncurling of a bud. It can be the softness of spring sun on your shoulders, the touch of a hand in comfort. The smell of a newborn. It can be the silence of just being.

Now my daughter has become a mother, I hope she will teach her children about unicorns. I suspect she will. She’s practical that way.

I choose to honor the magic in life. And I still believe in the possibility of mermaids.

                                   Artist: Toss Chandler
                                   A most magical human being

Sunday, April 17, 2016

APRIL 2016 BOOK SELECTIONS- THE RAKE'S TALE & THE KILLING FLOOR

This month I took a break from my usual type of reading selection and struck out into new genre territory. I read The Rake’s Tale, an historical romance by Bettie Williams, and The Killing Floor, a thriller-crime-suspense novel by Lee Child. Why? For fun. And it proved to be great fun.

First, I chose The Rake’s Tale because I have met the author and found her to be charming and articulate. I could immediately see the Austen influence but also, surprisingly, the wonderfully-wicked, comedy timing of a well-done Shakespeare production. This is a racy, lusty, entertaining tale and the author has true skill in storytelling. This is definitely not my normal literary choice but I couldn't put it down. The printer made some editorial errors which is a shame in such a well-written book. Maybe these could be addressed in a second printing? Otherwise, well-done. I would read anything she writes. Recommend.


The Killing Floor was a dramatic departure from the first book. This is book one of the famous Jack Reacher novels. For the uninformed, Jack Reacher is the action hero who has attained mythic status. Handsome, tall, intelligent, resourceful and ruthless, he is every fan’s dream. I have to say that Lee Child can definitely spin a good tale. I found myself staying up until all hours just to finish one…more…chapter. While pulled along by Child’s storytelling skill, I found myself literally gasping at the horrific and somewhat casually depicted violence. If this doesn’t bother you, you will no doubt love this series of twenty books. From what I understand, although published later, The Enemy and The Affair predate the character’s life before the events in The Killing Floor. Kudos to Mr. Child for his successful series but I’m more of a James Bond fan in this genre. Still violent, certainly, but not quite so graphic.

Monday, March 21, 2016

For Sadie


My dog is not doing well. She is fourteen, close to fifteen and has been a joy to us literally her entire life. So as sappy as it seems, I’m writing this as therapy for myself. As a way of preparing myself for the inevitable.

She was almost four months old when we got her. She was prancing around the yard behind the trailer where her owner lived. Her father/sire was a big, magnificent red golden. He put his paws up on the fence, where he was held, to greet me and was nearly my height. Kept in a separate pen, Sadie’s mother was probably a mutt, and very sweet and tired. I tried to comfort her. Tell her I would take good care of her baby. Sadie was the last one of the litter. She no doubt would have had a similar fate had we not adopted her. A life of giving birth to litter after litter.

We see a lot of cute videos about animals on youtube and facebook these days. It seems we all feel that unshakeable bond. Elephants, pandas, birds, cats, goats… just about every living creature that has been a pet you can think of. What’s it about? I think it’s about their innocence, their loving nature. Their dependence on us, their ability to give freely without guile. Their loyalty. Their companionship. We talk a lot about unconditional love, but here it’s more the rule than the exception. Unshakeable sweetness. All of those things, and so much more.  

Two times, many years ago I had life-threatening illnesses. Every afternoon, I would have to lay down to rest. Sadie would climb up on the bed, back up to me and literally lay across me. It was if she was giving me healing treatments. It worked. She never did this any other time before or since. She knew. How? I don’t know. But it worked.


My good girl is still with me. I don’t know for how long. But every moment, I will try to give her what she has always given me. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

MARCH 2016 BOOK SELECTION: MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON

Reading taste is so personal, isn’t it? Books that blow me away barely register on the “okay” scale for others. For example, Elizabeth Strout, who authored this month’s book selection is one of my favorite authors. I shared another book by her, Olive Kitteridge, that I LOVED with a fellow book lover. Their response was sort of, “eh, not so much.” It did win the Pulizer Prize for literature. I’m just saying.

For some books it’s just the characters, some the language, some the storytelling. For me, Strout does it all. Her observations of people and life just leave me astonished. The things we all notice but don’t register…. She notices, she observes, she crafts, then renders beautifully on the page.

This novel is created as the main character, Lucy Barton, a writer, shares memories of her life with us. It begins with a recounting of her long and unsuspected stay in the hospital for a mysterious infection following routine surgery. A surprise visit from her mother sparks a series of memories that take us back and forth through time from her difficult childhood forward.

I love strong female characters. The one thing that makes this character unique and endearing is her guileless inability to recognize her own strength and resourscefulness. We visit some dark places with her but it is never done gratuitously. The novel reminds us of the complex and often not fully understood connection between all of us and our families of origin. Sometimes loving. Sometimes not.


Recommend.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Advice to My Younger Self

I know this has been done to death, but I want to do it for myself. So here goes. Here is my best advice, so far (Ha!), to my younger self.

Everything Passes.
I don’t mean to say you forget everything. Quite the contrary. But it does lose the ability to annihilate you. Given enough time, for most things, you gain perspective. Give it time. Breathe.

Don’t Waste your Life.
Okay, I don’t mean you can’t relax and read a book for a day. Of course you can! I just mean, don’t waste time on frivolous time-sucking activities that lead nowhere and literally give nothing back. Some past transgressions come to mind…

Hmmm…. Daydreaming about someone you have a crush on. (I was a lot younger and so dumb). Total waste of time.

Spending the whole day trying to cope with email and/or Facebook. I still struggle with this one. Life was a lot simpler when we didn’t have these distractions. Time yourself. Fifteen minutes a day… just a thought.

Warning: Social Media is coming. Don’t be intimidated by it but don’t be swallowed by it.
Oh, and watch out for TV. There are more and more interesting programs than you can imagine. History, Art, Drama..You will end up watching others do what you wish you could do.

Sometimes, guess what? The laundry can wait.

When you can, Plan Your Day.
This is a relatively new activity for me but it works really well. First I try to do the gratitude practice. You know, say three things you are grateful for. Then, just in your mind, go over what you want to do that day. More often than not, it actually works. You can’t predict unforeseen emergencies, phone calls, etc. but it can give structure. Lists work as well but I have to say, this is better. Otherwise, you will tend to float from one activity to another.

Give Yourself the Day Off Once in a While.
Does this sound counter-intuitive to what I just said? Well, it’s not. Everyone deserves a little free time. It’s hard to come by when you are juggling a job, bills, maybe a relationship, maybe children. But do it. You choose. It could be as nice as a weekend away. More realistically, it could be a day of watching mindless TV. For me, it’s spending a whole day reading.

I said once in a while. (It’s addictive.)

Be Present.
Enough said.

Be Still at least Once a day.
Give yourself a moment with your thoughts when you are not rushing around. It centers you. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable when you realize you are not accomplishing anything, but that’s valuable, isn’t it?

Look Up.
I’ve said this before but LOOK UP from your damn phone, tablet, computer, whatever. The world is really beautiful. Look for it.

Exercise Every Day.
Trying not to proselytize. I don’t do this either. But when I do, I’m glad. My body thanks me. Just a fifteen minute walk will do it. It won’t give you a perfect body but it’s a start.

If At All Possible, Make Your Life’s Work Something You Love.
It will make the difference between a good life and a joyful one.

Surround Yourself With Beauty.
Music and flowers, art, nature… whenever possible.

Be Kind.
Always. It doesn’t matter whether it is acknowledged or not. This may be the most important one.

Pay Attention to Those You Love.
They won’t always be there. You have now.

No Rules.
Strive to be flexible.

The Best Parts Of Life Are All the Little Moments Added Up.
Not only is this true, it’s profound.