Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading Strout and Mattison

I guess I need to learn how to write a book review. I'm reading excellent books. Unfortunately for you, the better the book, the more hesitant I am to write about it in my slapdash way.

So you may not hear about Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge until the movie comes out. (Except that, oh yeah, it did win the Pulitzer.) I don't know if in fact a movie is planned, but this collection of linked stories would be a natural vehicle for Dame Judi Dench or, now that we know she can look bulky and imposing, for Meryl Streep. Olive Kitteridge is an old woman, married, then widowed, then lonely, then finding a suitable enough kind of love. If they make this film, it will win AARP's top slot in the annual films-for-grownups competition.

I'm really liking books about women like Olive who don't worry about being nice or good. Women who let themselves be who they are, even when people won't like it.

So, why isn't the name Alice Mattison on every reader's lips? Her books have been New York Times Notables, but I never heard of her until I stumbled on her novel, The Book Borrower, in Fremont Branch Library.

At least see the author photo. She may have uncombable hair -- clearly, it is difficult hair -- or she may have just refused to be bothered with combing it.

Anyway, the novel I finished with lunch today (one of my favorite kale variations) is The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman. It's about a woman (with one head) whose job is organizing others, their cluttered homes and cars, their conferences. She puts on a radio show about prostitution and a conference about murder. She has an affair. She becomes part of an amateur theater group that creates and stages a play with the same name as the novel. You could say that she is that two-headed woman; maybe we all are.

First line: "Nothing distracts me for long from sex." Arresting line, but what kind of woman is this? What kind of book? On page four, she describes her husband.
He was a lake I could swim in, in which the drop-offs and rocks were what they were, but the water was clean and not too cold, and there was intense pleasure to be found by swimming out to the center, turning on my back, and closing my eyes in the sun, whatever that means in terms of a guy.

I love that. Especially compared to what I loved in high school: "You are the sky of my stars."

Daisy is half good, she says. And this isn't one of those novels where our heroine changes too dramatically. By the end, when she's carelessly caused serious harm, she says, "I can learn, I can change -- but only so much."

I'm thinking that recognizing her own incapacity for perfection is why she can swim so contentedly among the rocks and drop-offs of her husband's lake.

Anyway.

Does this make you want to read Mattison? Maybe it's better to start with her novel, Hilda and Pearl. I wish I knew how to tell you about it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Place for Writing

I don't know why I'm so obsessed with being a) a good girl and b) a grownup, but this morning, the good girl is winning. Here I sit in my ergonomic pose in my ergonomic chair, both feet flat on the floor, lined paper angled just so, left hand holding the paper, right hand smoothly writing. The only thing missing is a hairband, an "Alice band," as the Brits say, smoothing my hair back from my forehead into a perfect pageboy. Oh, and probably it would be good if I were wearing a pleated skirt and cardigan sweater instead of my PJs with two fleeces on top.

Anyway, this is the excitement of my first writing morning in my new furniture arrangement, no longer slouched at my round dining table.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not the Moving Day I Expected

March 25, the day the sale on my condo closes! Uh, not!

Turns out the closing and the move are put off for a month, which is a disappointment, especially since I started packing to leave my apartment (granted, for a different apartment) in January. I'm dusting the packing boxes!

But now I know for sure I have five weeks to stay here. Somehow, having that definite date has energized me. I was letting things slide in the disorder, but I finally did a serious cleaning. I'm enjoying my clean house so much, I'm keeping up with the tidying. Plus, my mom's coming from Michigan to visit me for Easter, so I need to make up the guest bed.

Which doesn't quite explain why I spent a couple of hours today moving furniture.

It's prompted partly by dreaming of decorating my new place. There, I want to try making an office niche in the living room. Here in the apartment, my desk was in the distant guest room, and I've ended up using my dining table for a writing table -- which is great, except I like a peaceful meal and the table is always spread with paper. So today I pulled my desk into my living room. It's set up now by a front window, with my folding screen partly blocking it from full living-room view.

I moved two of the oil paintings that aren't yet packed, so they look better over the sofa. I removed an armchair, and put it in the guest room with a lamp. I made up the bed, and moved it to a different wall. I squeezed most of the loaded packing boxes into the large guest room closet.

I probably pulled a little something in my back; singlehood is not so good for rearranging furniture, but what can you do?

I feel better. I still am eager to move, but my redecorating is making me feel more grounded right where I am.

Which is so interesting. Basically, I'm all alone here; Mom isn't coming for the decor. So it's quite clear that all this effort is for nobody but me. Fortunately, I appreciate it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What It Taught Me

My friend in Edmonds, like me, likes to keep three fresh books at the ready at all times; you don't want to find you're stuck with a loser when the library is closed.

As we lunched the other day, I said to her, "I did a reading fast last week. No newspapers. No magazines. No books." I suppose I was hoping for awed admiration; after all, she knows how hard it must have been.

There was a long pause. Then she said, "Why?"

So I told her the history of it. And then she asked me if it had worked. Had it helped? What had I learned?

And it seemed to me that I had indeed learned something profound and helpful to me.

As I had made my lists of what to do instead of reading -- The Artist's Way Author Julia Cameron says, 'if all else fails, cha-cha' -- I realized that, though I was forgoing the "distraction" of reading, everything on the replacement list could also be considered a distraction.

Dancing. Singing. Meditating. Tutoring. Writing a novel. Volunteering.

And I thought, Oh. Everything is a distraction. Life is nothing but. The very President of the United States of America is just filling his days with what has grabbed his interest and imagination.

And this thought is helping me because, as you may have gathered, I am everlastingly tortured with the question of whether I'm doing enough to earn my blessed position here on Earth.

Every time I go through this calculation, I end up with this: There is no earning. It's all grace. Even Dr. Paul Farmer, say, in Haiti, is doing what he loves, even on the days he hates it. And I believe there are enough of us that, each doing what we love, the world works.

So. [Big sigh.] I feel better.

What do you think? Am I on to something here?

Friday, March 19, 2010

I Bike for Dance Shoes

I wanted -- needed, really -- to get new dance shoes this week; I left a dance early on Monday from sore feet. That meant going all the way to Lynnwood's Petticoat Junction. But driving all that way? Fifteen miles? I decided if I was going that far, I might as well invite myself to lunch at my friend's house in Edmonds. She likes to serve me food, and I like to eat it. We both relish the conversation. It's an ideal relationship.

Still, a long drive. What if I took the bus? It's out on Aurora Av, aka Highway 99. Wouldn't my good old neighborhood 358 get me out there?

I don't know what's up with Google Maps public transit maps -- I've bussed from K's to downtown before I moved to Seattle, so I know it can be done -- but they were routing me on three buses plus a taxi!

However, Seattle is one of the cities -- there are 12, I believe -- recently blessed with Google Maps for bicycling. Their route looked good; 10.9 miles to K's, another five or so to Petticoat Junction. So just before 11, I pedalled off into the sunshine and chilly breeze.

Which was in my face. With, in addition, the slight incline northward, I was tired by the time I got to K's. So we ate lunch for a couple of hours, a wonderful salad and homemade chocolate chip cookies with walnuts -- essential -- for dessert. Fortified, I carried on, all the way along that trafficky highway, and found the right shoes among several good choices.

By then, it was 3:45. I was 16 miles from home and had to shower, nap, eat dinner, and leave for Greenlake Bathhouse Theater by 7. Should I put my bike and myself on a bus?

And lose that downhill tailwind?! No way! At one point, still on Aurora, I was going 22 mph without pedalling. I was home by 5 and feeling proud.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whether -- and What -- To Read

This is a column Mary wrote for the Port Townsend Leader at the end of 2006.

Being a reader is important to me. It’s one of the chief ways I define myself. So I was taken aback to come across these words of Thomas a Kempis this year: “At the day of Judgement,” he wrote, “we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done.”

Bummer!

Nevertheless, there will at least be moments between the doings of your life when you need a good book. You need recommendations. When I was an innkeeper, I published an annual list of “best books to read at the inn.” To make the list, a book had to be both so well written that you wanted it to last forever, and so compelling that you couldn’t wait to get to the end. Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides leaps immediately to mind.

For what it’s worth, I reviewed my journal from the last year to see what I read. Here are some favorite books from 2006:

The Woman at the Washington Zoo, Marjorie Williams. Williams died of cancer in 2005. She was funny and smart, and wrote political profiles for Vanity Fair (which I never look at) on folks like Barbara Bush and Bill Clinton and Al Gore. In a piece on Tony Coelho, former congressman and political advisor to Clinton, she shows us one of the tragedies of American politics: a man with the brains and vision to make a difference, seduced away by the game of politics and the thrill of the immediate win. She gets to the heart of the political life, so what she says matters even if you’re thinking, “Tony who?” She writes too about feminism, marriage, and parenting, about her cancer, and about dying when you have two little kids.

Mountains beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder. This is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a brilliant man from an economically marginal and eccentric family. He excelled at Harvard medical school even though he showed up only on the first day of classes to get books and assignments, and on the last to take exams. (I thought that only happened in nightmares.) He spent the intervening months -- and most of his life since then -- in Haiti working with the poor. He’s awe-inspiring and annoying, compassionate and driven. I’m so thankful he is working this hard for Haiti, and that I don’t have to work alongside him.

The Assassin’s Gate. Author George Packer shows us the Iraq war from many viewpoints: an Iraqi expatriate; a frontline soldier; an Iowa insurance man trying to understand if his soldier son died for any good reason; and the neo-cons at their idealistic best, and worst.

Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders, Mary Pipher. Helpful to anyone with aging friends and family, or anyone getting older: right, that would be all of us. She quotes Oscar Wilde: “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old but that one is young.”

Those are all non-fiction, but I also love novels. Some of my favorites this year were Spending, Mary Gordon; Queen of the Underworld, Gail Godwin; The Widow’s War, Sally Gunning; Missing Mom, Joyce Carol Oates; Everyman, Philip Roth; and a British police procedural, Cold Light, by John Harvey.

But the best was Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter. I picked it up for a buck at the library on Orcas Island on my bike trip, one of my best buys ever. It’s about a small-time crook from New York relocated to Spokane in a witness-protection program during the Reagan-Carter presidential election. Vince is scamming credit cards, keeping up with the election news and debates, and excited about voting. It’s funny, suspenseful, and thoughtful. Walter’s latest is The Zero, another original, set in the immediate political aftermath of 9/11.

I could go on, but I don’t want to get in the way of your important deeds. No wait, the more I think about it, the more I get it. Of course, on the Day of Judgement, we may not be talking books, but after that? All eternity? That’s a long time. We better get reading.

Back to the Books

A week ago, I accepted a challenge: No books for a week. No reading, really. No online New York Times.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. In Week Four, she prescribes reading deprivation. "For most blocked creatives," she says, "reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own."

I'm not sure I consider myself a "blocked creative," but I did feel I was using reading as a tranquilizer, an anaesthetic. So I stopped.

The first few days, I honestly thought I'd rather stop eating than reading. I got out a paint-by-number rainy city street scene to work on, but was daunted by the requirement that you combine paint colors; I wanted easier. So I listened to Madame Butterfly one evening, all through dinner and beyond. I paid attention to cleaning up the kitchen after cooking, felt quite a surge of aesthetic pleasure about the curve of my stainless steel mixing bowl. I got out a year-old knitting project, and even enjoyed correcting all the twisted stitches I made (although it's sock yarn, and I have a new appreciation for how huge my fingers are, compared to my small stitches.)

It seemed that I had plenty of time. So I figured I might as well do my 20-minute meditation as I used to do. One day, I did it twice.

Meditation has always slowed me down. It's probably the reason I haven't cut off any fingers in the kitchen. It taught me to take a deep breath before getting upset. I guess it's why I'm not so frantic and urgent about getting myself moved from the apartment to the new condo, as the delays continue. I've been chuckling to myself all week about the ludicrousness of dusting my packed moving boxes!

As I write, it's 10 am. I'm allowed to read now, but I haven't jumped into a book yet. Eight of them, along with the new Atlantic, are awaiting me on the coffee table. What I hope for is balance. Reading back in its rightful place. Me in charge of reading, not reading in charge of me.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

A friend and I took advantage last night of Seattle Shakespeare's pay-what-you-will option to see Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really wanted to go, but I guess in the back of my mind I figured either it might be a snooze -- so hard to grasp those meaning-rich iambic pentameter lines -- or too, too "updated" in its hot contemporary setting.

In fact, we left the theater saying, "I'd see it again!" (And tonight, it can be done once more as pay-what-you-will.) The contemporary update worked. Every character had a cellphone, and young Julia was in the grip of Twilight fever. The text was Shakespeare's, only tweaked occasionally, like in one spot where Shakespeare's line is "as if," but our character says it as teenagers say it today. No boring moments, lots of laughs, gender comedy in unexpected directions. and food for thought: We walked out discussing whether Valentine was a fool or just a wonderfully mature and forgiving human being.

Highly recommended.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing a Novel on the Bus

As I mentioned, I'm on a reading fast: no books till Wednesday. According to The Artist's Way, this should open up my own creativity.

And I did plot out a novel on the bus yesterday. I was riding on the 49 from Cap Hill to downtown with a friend who was telling me about recent revelations about the pope's possible complicity in placing abusing priests in parish roles. I knew nothing about this (possibly because I haven't been reading even the New York Times for 5 days!), but when my friend raised the idea that the theme of this story is "power corrupts," I thought maybe it's not so simple as that.

I said, "In matters like this, where I want to know the whole truth, I turn to fiction." Which he thought was a pretty good line, since we'd just come from Seattle Asian Art Museum where poet Red Pine had read from his translation of the Tao Te Ching, which has all kinds of opposites.

Anyway, I said I'd like to read a novel where we follow closely three characters: Maybe not someone as high as a pope, but a bishop, say, in a position to place priests, one of whom is an old and beloved friend, of whom it is almost impossible to believe the awful truth about his alleged behavior with children. And that priest-friend, who loves God, but has found it difficult to keep his vows of celibacy, a man for whom truth has become so tenuous and elusive that he hides the truth of his own behavior from himself; and a child from a troubled home, for whom a luminous experience of God was a lifeline, who is being betrayed by that priest.

I think the best novels are the ones, like The Killer Angels and House of Sand and Fog, where you're on each character's side, but alternately. Not everyone can be right, but when you see the world from a character's deep insides, you get understanding rather than judgement.

Which is not to say that abusive priests should not be judged and removed from positions where they can do harm. Absolutely, children should be protected. But it seems important too, to seek understanding.

But that's easy for me to say, having never myself or my dear family been harmed by a priest. You may say it's cheap compassion. And you may be right.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Down

I do try to be upbeat in what I write here, and usually I am upbeat, but I'm sure it's no surprise to you that not every day is hunky-dory. And since I'm fighting the discombobulation of having one foot out of my rental apartment, and the other foot -- uh, nowhere, yet, I'm not at my best.

Not even a Town Hall outing has its usual charm. March has been a slim TH month, so I was excited to go on Tuesday. But I have that emotional shadow thing going on, so I ride the bus, and nobody looks nice or interesting, and the views out the windows just blur by. I did like the lecturer, though the content seemed a bit slim.

I had such high hopes for the evening improving my outlook! And they were dashed! So I got home and pulled out The Woman's Comfort Book (Jennifer Louden), and read -- well, I can't find the exact spot now, but it was the part where it says, 'Get under the covers and focus on your favorite thing in your bedroom.'* And I'm thinking, 'But I don't have any favorite things in my bedroom,' and Jennifer must have been listening, because there was a parenthesis (as I recall) that said, 'Don't have anything? Well, get something!'

Because I keep thinking I'll be moving any minute, most of my paintings are boxed up and the picture mounts with nails have all been pulled. So I went into what once was the guest room, which now is the staging area for the move, and exhumed a painting. And set it on my bedroom bookcase. Better.

Another thing. A few days before, I had gotten the idea that I needed to rearrange my living room, now, even though I'll be moving soon. I have the idea that looking too entirely out the window is making me feel less anchored than I want to feel. It's not easy moving heavy stuff when you live alone, but I wrestled my sofa bed into a different angle. Now I look more into the room, across to my bookcase, which also holds my stereo components, and a slim black lamp I love, with a red silk shade, and the Cow Beach thermometer my ex and I got for a wedding gift 28 years ago.

And I'm trying even more ideas to get my psychic feet back under me. I picked up my copy of The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron), which I've been desultorily working my way through, and read with horror that Week Five is a reading fast! Stop reading!

I'm doing it. I'm halfway through Day Three. I'll tell you about it.

*I realize this phrase can be construed to be funny, and I'm leaving it that way, because can't we all use a laugh?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Here. I. Am.

These are the words I say to remind myself of the moment I'm in. Because I'm having trouble paying attention.

And I'm not alone. It seems like half the people I talk to are, like me, on a diving board of some sort. For me, it's condo hell. It's a scene repeating itself throughout America (at least) of willing buyer + willing seller = annoying delays, and possibly worse.

My condo was supposed to close on March 25. I have been half-packed since mid-January, when I thought I'd be moving to another rental. I've already given a month's notice twice at my apartment. Mom is coming for Easter, and I had hoped to be settled in my new place.

So it's limbo for me. But much worse limbo for friends I spoke with yesterday, who are losing their home, and maybe their fallback commercial real estate they thought they could sort of camp in. And of course it's at just this moment that their teeth need crowns and the old Volvo needs work. These are the folks we thought this doesn't happen to, people with graduate degrees who have always worked hard and are only in this spot because of investment decisions they believed to be prudent.

I called another friend for advice on whether to jump in to my new place as a renter until closing. She happened to mention two sets of friends in common, both of which are going into a second year living in places they no longer want to live, because they can't sell their million-dollar homes.

So, lots of us are living in limbo. In fact, we all are, but to some of us, it's obvious.

But as R and I agreed on the phone last night, it's not the moments that are bad. You can almost always handle your moment when it's upon you. It's the prospect of the disaster that brings you down.

And for people like me, lucky enough to simply be waiting for my new condo, the problem is that I'm looking forward so hard I'm missing my present life. So I repeat: Here I Am.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Be Nice. Work Hard.

In November, I read Be Nice, Work Hard, a wonderful book on teaching kids. Today I finished reading Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, by Rafe Esquith, the Los Angeles teacher whose "be nice, work hard" objective is at the heart of the other book.

I picked it up at Fremont Branch yesterday, and, except for dancing last night, just read and read. I took a break at lunchtime to write a letter to my son-in-law Andy, recommending the book.

I thought of Andy because I remember, when I was visiting them recently, he was trying to help Parker [my seven-year-old grandson] put spelling tests in perspective: yes, it's important to learn how to spell, and no, missing a word on a test is not a disaster. According to Esquith, missing a word is a good thing if you take the time to figure out why you missed it and how to get it right next time.

In fact, in Esquith's classroom, students analyze multiple choice tests, in math, for example, to figure out what mistake of calculation you'd have to make to choose each answer. He thinks you've got to feel okay about making mistakes to learn anything.

This book also has a lot of good ideas for family-time activities, which I know Andy and my stepdaughter are emphasizing. And he'll love the chapter on baseball, which I believe is one of his favorite sports.

I think this book should be on grandparent nightstands as well. I read a blog for car-free families the other day on how to get little kids to walk places. Recommendation One was grandparents, who have the time and patience to walk places with kids, and to do the things in Esquith's book. Choose good movies for kids, and watch with them, and talk about them. Do exciting art projects and science experiments. Plan budgets together and study up for family vacations to exciting, educational places like Washington DC.

Esquith has a sense of urgency about education. He believes there are things kids need to know, and they want to learn them. I remember once, as a volunteer in local schools, discussing with a teacher my idea that kids enter a grade with an expectation that, by the time they leave it, they will have achieved certain new skills, and that their days should be so ordered. I was told, "Kids don't think that way." Well, Esquith thinks they can.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Women Being Brave

I'm not sure when or why, but at some point, I decided not to be scared, if I could possibly help it. I just refuse.

In Port Townsend, you could say, it was easy: small town, strong sense of community. Good practice for city life.

And I wanted to feel just as comfortable out at night alone in Seattle. I was encouraged to discover Bus Chick's inspiring blog with her thrilling tales of riding buses at all hours in party dresses and high heels.

And in my neighborhood, with mixed single-family homes and small apartment buildings just a block off Fremont Av, people are out. I never really feel alone walking home from a late bus.

But I don't want to be stupid, either. I don't aspire to a black belt in karate, but some basic self-defense skills seem like a prudent thing to acquire. So I signed up for Joanne Factor's Self-Defense Basics for Women, offered by ASUW Experimental College. It's just three hours and $38 plus the registration fee. I went Wednesday night.

In all Seattle, the UW campus is one of the places I feel most vulnerable. You hear stories. Plus, it's confusing to find your way at night. This was at South Campus Center, off the beaten path in a building apparently designed more for auto access than human. I, of course, was walking from my bus stop. I made it.

I was the only student over 30, and most were nearer 20. I was struck first by the timid posture I saw. If I were looking for victims, I'd be tempted. By contrast, a late-arriver looked straight and strong: her body language said, "Don't even think about it."

Lots of giggling too. These gals just hadn't had time to come into their sense of themselves as big powerful women who deserve respect. But that's why they were there.

We got to practice the power of NO: percussive, with eye contact. We practiced decisive hits -- decisive because the results will buy you time to get away. We learned easy ways to slip unwanted holds.

Joanne showed us a video reconstruction of an interview with a pre-law student in a fraternity, describing how he and his friends targeted young women on campus, inviting them to parties and encouraging them to drink, then raping them -- though he didn't call it rape. She emphasized our responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other by not getting into situations like this, but she also said something that has been echoing in my mind: Lots of people get drunk at parties and are not raped. What's missing? A rapist. The one essential ingredient of a rape, she said, is a rapist.

She said there's a move on in California to enlist men in stopping party rape setups. "Cock-blockers," two of the college girls said knowingly, nodding and smiling. I'm thinking, Geez, they've got a word for it? And it didn't seem like a term of approval, as it should be.

We talked about listening to our guts. We analyzed behaviors so we could get it straight in our minds, what was acceptable to allow into our lives, what wasn't.

Words. "Can't you take a joke?" "Lighten up." "I didn't realize you were such a prude." We don't have to explain. We just have to say no. It helps to have some phrases ready. "You're in my space." "I'm not laughing." "Get out." Choose one and keep repeating.

Making excuses. How much of women's lives is about making excuses for guys? When I was in high school, my boyfriend was 6'6", a star athlete, all-around nice guy, went to church every Sunday, and hurt me. Once he grabbed my arm so hard in a school hallway, he tore the sleeve off my blouse.

And what did I think? I thought about his difficult home life. His mom was an invalid. His dad was big and, I think now, probably mean.

But that was his problem. I shouldn't have let it become mine.

So much of it comes down to believing we get to decide.

There are good men out there. And if you can't find one, single is not the worst choice you can make.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Riding Tandem

On Saturday, I had my first-ever tandem bike ride. Clipped in to the pedals. Lesson One: If my pedals aren't turning, he can't turn his either. Since our first efforts were, of necessity, on a slight upward slope, I had to learn fast or we would have fallen over -- there was no coasting mercy to be had.

On the back seat of a tandem, you can't see stop signs or red lights or corners or bollards. The guy in the driver's seat controls the brakes. "Stop" means stop pedaling, a command distinct from "Put your foot down," when the bike is coming to a halt. When the driver leans right, you have to go with him. If you compensate left, the bike won't turn.

Thank God my driver was a skilled, calm, patient man. After 20 miles or so, I said, "Tandem is all about surrender, isn't it? I just have to trust you."

He says it's communication. True, but I have to trust he knows what he's talking about. He says some couples can't ride a tandem, like some can't race a sailboat together. He says boats and tandems just become another venue for the same old fight.

During my Monday phone conversation with my mom, I told her about my tandem experience. Mom said she wouldn't be able to do it. She remembered trying to ride behind my dad on his motorcycle, and she just couldn't lean with him on the corners. She was too scared.

Funny, because I would have trusted my dad. I have good memories of paddling a canoe with him as a storm came up and he calmly, capably talked us to safe shore.

It's funny to think of my mom as a big chicken, because she has so much courage. She didn't like to fly with Dad, either, in a small plane. For all I know, she was scared in the boat he built in the backyard.

I've been cycling lately with a few new men, and I think, Thank God for men. Men are brave. My dad once had to save us when the woodstove chimney caught fire at our house. Once there was a fire in the boat motor, our whole family in the boat out in the middle of the lake. Dad somehow got a rope around the motor, so he wouldn't lose it, and then lowered it into the water to smother the fire.

I can be physically brave when I have to (I guess), but I'd rather not. Men don't seem to have to steel themselves for it the way I do. They have more fight than flight in them. Sometimes it's too much, but sometimes it's just right.

I'm remembering a night when my ex and I were sleeping in our RV, parked in Mom and Dad's yard. Our bikes were outside, possibly not even locked up in what we thought was our safe neighborhood. We heard some little noises outside. I lay there, listening, wondering, thinking, hoping it would just go away.

Suddenly, Jon was on his feet, yelling and cussing and ordering whoever was out there to get the ____ away from those bikes, you ____!

We heard scurrying away.

"Geez," I said, after a moment. "Did you have to use that language?"

"Yeah, I did," he said. "I wanted them to know there was a big mean ____ after them if they didn't get their hands off those bikes."

"Oh," I said. "Okay."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Too Much Reading!

Yesterday, I read from morning to night. I finally took my walk at 9:30 pm, when I finished Game Change, the book about the 2008 presidential election, which my friend Sue left here Sunday in case I wanted to read it, which I didn't, particularly, until I got through the first sentence.

I made myself take a break late yesterday morning to call Mom.

She said she had been worrying a little bit about why she reads. She had roasted a turkey Sunday night for a dinner with good friends, two of them just back from a trip to Thailand with excellent slides and stories. Even so, she said, she would occasionally during the evening think of how, when they went home, she could get back to her book.

She was reading a big old book, she said, called Through a Glass Darkly, with many references to Scripture and steamy sex scenes. She figured it was going to be predictable, but she wanted to read it anyway, and it turned out to be not so predictable after all.

I asked if it was the book itself that made her feel guilty for reading the day away. "Would you feel the same," I said, "if it were Gone with the Wind, say, which won a Pulitzer?"

"Oh, Gone with the Wind!" Mom said. "I still remember feeling guilty about that one. I was in school. I'm sure I had homework, and I needed to be awake for classes, but I couldn't stop reading to go to sleep."

I'm not sure I told her I was in the grip of a similar obsession. I'd only started reading a couple hours ago, at that point.
 


All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies