I Was Made for Another World

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I took these pictures on a walk last night, and while they are dark (it was past dusk after all), they put me in mind of Narnia.

Snow has a way of making me think of that magical place, especially when it covers the evergreens.

And Narnia makes me think of its author, whose writing always makes me pause. Especially when I consider this most magnificent quote I read for the first time yesterday:

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. ~C. S. Lewis

December Is…

img_3516I saw a post entitled “How to Survive Christmas”, and I thought it was the saddest title I’ve seen in a long time. Survive Christmas? What happened to celebrate Christmas? But, it is no wonder that if we are not careful we are reduced to a survival mode rather than a celebratory one.

The political climate has not enriched our sense of peace or hope. The inundation of advertisements do not contribute to satisfaction with what we have or what we’ll give. The pressure “to do” is perhaps greater now than it is at any other time of the year. If we are not careful, joy will escape us.

I thought of my goals for this season, goals which you may find helpful as well:

  1. Simplify. I wanted to put up one balsam fir, with white fairy lights, and the crèche my parents made for me when I was eight, and that’s all. We have a bit more than that in our home, including two little, felted snow girls with a reindeer, and a small collection of snowmen on the mantle. But simple is my favorite.
  2. Reduce my expectations. This used to be an enormous load for me to bear; my expectations for myself far exceeded what I was able to accomplish, let alone those I held for anyone else. Ridiculous. Instead of expect, I am now better able to accept, and it makes me so much happier.
  3. Focus on what matters. We might have different things upon which to focus. But, if those few things become the center, I will be less inclined to turn my attention to every other trivial thing demanding that I acquiesce. I will focus on Christ (advent, the church, the crèche), and I will focus on my family.

The End.

Except, not really.

img_3515Because I didn’t write anything about books, and that, after all, is why I’m here. This December I will be reading A True Novel by Minae Mizumura for the Japanese Literature Challenge 10 and for my own pleasure. Vishy and Nadia will be joining me I believe, and perhaps a few others. All are welcome, of course. Here is the blurb from the publishers:

A True Novel begins in New York in the 1960s, where we meet Taro, a relentlessly ambitious Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune. Flashbacks and multilayered stories reveal his life: an impoverished upbringing as an orphan, his eventual rise to wealth and success—despite racial and class prejudice—and an obsession with a girl from an affluent family that has haunted him all his life. A True Novel then widens into an examination of Japan’s westernization and the emergence of a middle class.

The winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize, Mizumura has written a beautiful novel, with love at its core, that reveals, above all, the power of storytelling.

Storytelling. Love. Christmas. All the things I want December to be.

 

I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

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Sixty-something Felix Funicello, cousin of the famous Annette Funicello, screens movies for the Monday night movie club which meets at the old Garde Theater in New London. He enjoys this group more than the college kids he teaches, before whom he can use film, celluloid, the real deal which come on old film reels contained in metal canisters. (How well I remember my early teaching days, when my team member and I would order movies for the upcoming week, thread them on the projector, listen to the repeating “thwap…” when the film ended and struck the empty reel before we could turn the projector off.)

Film is an appropriate medium for this narrator, a man who nostalgically visits his past whether it’s via an apparition or some hallucinatory trip. He reviews the film of his life by going back in time to 1959 when he is six, seeing Pinocchio for the first time with his two sisters, and then when he is twelve. The year is 1965, and the film shows scenes including rice paddies in Vietnam, Malcom X’s widow, Gale Sayers’ touchdown for the Bears, and clips from The Sound of Music.

These vignettes sharply mirror my own life, creating a piercing nostalgia and a recollection of times in my life which parallel those of Felix, a fictional character, until we come to the intimacies of his family, which of course are particular to him alone. (“All unhappy families are alike each in their own way,” as Tolstoy reminds us.)

I’ll Take You There  reminds us of life in the forties, fifties, and sixties; of families then, and of being a woman where your value depended on being beautiful and married, but certainly not pregnant and unwed.

In stark contrast to life in decades past is the one which women live today, inhabiting “a world dramatically changed by technology, globalization, and gender politics…” Women are far more empowered today with Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs in which to assert their feminism.

And yet, do we want anything far different than what our mothers wanted? Felix’s daughter writes in her blog, Invincible Grrrl, that we “rally around nonviolent problem solving, and we join forces against the immoral abuse of power.”

I am not a feminist; I am not a loud voice claiming what ought to be my rights as I don’t see them as anything less, or more, than anyone else’s. In fact, brazen women tend to annoy me, just as brazen men do. I prefer to stand by a person’s character rather than their sex, so for that, this book’s theme of feminine ideals didn’t intrigue me as perhaps was intended.

Instead, I was captivated by the look backward through time, eras that I well remember living through at my mother’s side. It is those memories, portrayed by Wally Lamb so vividly, that intrigued me as a reader.

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It’s A Cruel World

The line at the post office wasn’t long at first. The two clerks were each busy with someone taking what seemed like an inordinately long time. “Incompetence,” I thought to myself. “It’s in every government office I’ve ever known.” But as I waited I began to watch, and my attention was drawn to the customer with several bags the sort of which you get at Target; the opaque, flimsy, crackly kind.

The counter was covered with these bags. And stacks of small bills. And cellophane wrapping tape. And coins. “$40.75,” I heard the clerk say, and then the customer turned around to the counter behind which I stood, grimacing as he searched his pockets. I smiled at him, and saw that he was a person with special needs. “I got it!” he said triumphantly, while the line behind me shifted their collective feet.

“Maybe I should put some of this stuff in the box,” he said, and proceeded to shove the items from his bags into a white Priority Mail box. They were Cubs World Series memoriablia, being unceremoniously crunched into a box which surely would not bode well for the hats at the bottom.

When the box was finally all taped up, he help up a card. “I forgot this!” he said, after which the clerk slammed down his hand, and reopened the box.

“Should I put it in?” the man asked timidly. “Yes, you should put it in!” the sales clerk shouted.

The box is now taped shut for the second time, and the amount owed is pronounced. “$45.75,” says the clerk.

“But! But, you told me it was $40.75,” the man replied, clearly quite anxious.

“That was before you put it in this box!” said the clerk, holding up the priority box in comparison to the plain brown cardboard one off to the side.

“I want to speak to the manager!” the customer said, and was promptly told he was speaking to the manager.

“Excuse me?” I said. “Is five dollars all that is needed here?” They both turned to look at me.

“Here,” I said, giving the clerk the money, “here is a $5.00 bill. Please mail his package.”

Because I wanted to weep at the insensitivity far outweighing the incompetency in this situation.  The postal worker couldn’t summon up an ounce of patience? He couldn’t clearly explain the shipping costs, or even help the man pack his box? No one waiting in line could be patient while waiting for this man to send off his important package?

We cry at the injustice of Syrian refugees, and can’t even lift a finger in a public place to one of our own, a man who clearly needed some compassion. A little understanding. Five bucks. That’s all it took to solve his problem tonight. May all his worries be few.

May we all share one another’s burdens.

Thinking About These Days Following The Election

Out on the playground are children of every kind: the timid ones, the athletic ones, the popular ones, and the bullies. Most of the time they are able to play together nicely. But sometimes there is anger and hitting and name calling and tears. Hurt feelings arise to such an extent that they need an adult to intervene.

What surprises me is that no matter how large or strong or brave a child seems, underneath he only wants one thing: to be loved and accepted. When I have heard each side of an argument, let each child speak from his perspective without being interrupted, I can usually alleviate the woe between them. I can bring them to a mutual understanding of one another.

I wish I could do that in a much larger sense, in terms of comforting the masses. The anger and the pain I’ve read on Facebook and Twitter has made me want to delete my accounts and hide. As if hiding helps anything.

What I see is an enormous wound, people who feel misunderstood. Unappreciated. Scared. If only there was a salve that could be applied, a balm of healing or hope. I know that it is too simplistic to say let’s love one another. That feels like a Coke commercial from the 60’s, a black and white montage of teenagers singing about peace.

But, a divided house cannot stand. And we are one nation, indivisible. For that reason, I will not involve myself in judgement or blame. I will not believe that one group of people won and another group of people lost. I will believe, in my own trusting way, that we are  a nation of people who ultimately love one another and that love is capable of covering a multitude of sins. It is the only stream from which I will drink.

The Trespasser by Tana French

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It starts slowly, and continues that way, almost painfully so. But then, as only Tana French knows how to do, you are suddenly caught up into dialogue and characterization that is so compelling you must continue to the end.

Is beautiful, Barbie-like Aislinn killed by a random stalker? By her date, Rory, for whom she is preparing dinner? Or, by a detective from within the police force itself? What matters, perhaps, is not who committed the murder as much as how we get there.

I am caught up in the thought process of Antoinette Conway and Steve Moran, sweating it out in the interrogation room, feeling Antoinette’s isolation and insecurity not quite covered up by the bravado with which she likes to cloak herself.  I search my life for the likes of Steve, her trusted partner and dependable colleague, and find that I, too, am not entirely alone even when I feel that way acutely.

I like the power of Tana French’s novels; they are never contrived, or trite, but look beyond the mystery to the core of each character. Who seem so very real to me.

 

New Book from Haruki Murakami: Absolutely on Music

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About the book:

“A deeply personal, intimate conversation about music and writing between the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author and his close friend, the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Haruki Murakami’s passion for music runs deep. Before turning his hand to writing, he ran a jazz club in Tokyo, and from The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” to Franz Liszt’s “Years of Pilgrimage,” the aesthetic and emotional power of music permeates every one of his much-loved books. Now, in Absolutely on Music, Murakami fulfills a personal dream, sitting down with his friend, acclaimed conductor Seiji Ozawa, to talk, over a period of two years, about their shared interest. Transcribed from lengthy conversations about the nature of music and writing, here they discuss everything from Brahms to Beethoven, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould, from record collecting to pop-up orchestras, and much more. Ultimately this book gives readers an unprecedented glimpse into the minds of the two maestros.”

Absolutely on Music is available now for pre-order; it will be published November 15, 2016. Just one more thing to be thankful for this month.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away.

Shirley Jackson sets the mood straight away, bringing us closer and closer to Hill House as one of the four guests, Eleanor, drives there in the car she has taken against her sister’s wishes. Eleanor seems unable to stop herself from going, and early on we suspect one of the reasons lies in the line she keeps repeating in her mind:

Journeys end in lovers meeting.

A sweet sentiment, this, with which she can easily deceive herself. Three fourths of the way through the book she finds herself on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke, the heir to Hill House, and she tries to draw him into a romantic conversation, into revealing his affection for her. But at the end of their discussion, which is quite matter of fact, she thinks to herself, “All I want is to be cherished.”

Maybe, more than a house of ill porportions in which walls seem to shift and doors close of their own accord, what is scariest about Hill House is the loneliness of Eleanor.

Her desperation is so acute that I suspect she imagines they form some sort of family: Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora and Eleanor herself, all living in Hill House to discover what sort of paranormal activity might be taking place there. There’s even a cook, Mrs. Dudley, who reminds me strongly of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, presiding over Manderley.

When Dr. Montague’s wife comes, she sits with planchette (like a Ouja board), and discovers that someone named Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell (it tends to repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes out all right) wants a home, and with this summation I concur. Eleanor doesn’t want messages from beyond, or ghostly encounters; she wants a friend. A home. Peace.

Peace, Eleanor thought concretely; what I want in all this world is peace, a quiet spot to lie and think, a quiet spot among the flowers where I can dream and tell myself sweet stories.

Eleanor does find peace, in a shocking way. A respite from her loneliness, or a respite from the evil in Hill House which has gradually overpowered her, whichever side you chose to see. For far more than a simple ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House speaks to the shadows and darkness ready to grasp at any of us.

IQ by Joe Ide

I can’t be diminished by people talking no matter who they are…

This is one of my favorite kinds of books, one with a tightly woven plot, spot-on dialogue, and best of all, a character with character.

How I admire IQ, Isaiah Quintabe, a young man making up for his past sins with the strength of his intellect. A young man with the voice of his dead brother, beloved guardian, speaking in his ear to remind him of all he’s been given and all he owes.

If you like courageous men of character facing the hardships they have endured, while solving a case set in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of Los Angeles, this is for you.

I Am Loving These Short Stories (and the way they are delivered)!

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Normally, I’m not much of a short story fan. Just when I get involved in the heart of the story, or the characters, it seems to end.

But.

From October 11 until December 30, you can have a daily installment of a beautifully written short story delivered to your email inbox free.

You can read it while in line. You can read it between chapters of a novel you’re deeply immersed in. You can read it just before bed. The point is, I suggest signing up here.

If you’re like me, you’ll be glad you did. I’m already eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s which is from Thunderstruck & Other Stories, a collection by Elizabeth McCracken.

WINNER OF THE STORY PRIZE • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD