Friday, April 19, 2019

BOOKED!

Spring has arrived bringing with it the end of the Literature/ Discussion class I take every semester at Temple University.  The five books assigned this semester were: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Third Hotel by Laura Van Dem Berg, Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward and Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange.


Of the five books, my favorite (and the favorite of most of my classmates) was Ward’s lyrical and haunting Sing Unburied Sing. It was a second reading for me, a story about a young African American woman named Leone who takes her two young children on a road trip across rural Mississippi to pick up their white father who has just been released from Parchman prison. There are ghosts in this story, one being Leone’s older brother who was killed in a hunting “accident.” The other is a teenage boy who is threatened with a death eerily similar to the death of a young Emmett Till, who was brutally and heinously murdered in 1955 in rural Mississippi.  


My second favorite book was Water’s The Little Stranger. It is a story about a young Dr. Faraday who is called to attend to a resident at Hundreds Hall, a once impressive English mansion that is now crumbling and in decline. It is home to the Ayres, whose ancestors occupied the house for more than two hundred years. But, the house and its current residents, seem to be haunted now, not just by a dying way of life, but by something much more sinister. So upset was I at the end of this story, I wanted its villain (or was he its hero? - only you can decide), indicted, if not in a courtroom then at least in the classroom.


And, as for The Third Hotel, it is a story about a secret so onerous it can only be found by reading between the lines van den Berg wrote. Indeed, it is so hidden that it was entirely missed by myself and every other member of the class, except one.

All in all, this semester’s selections seemed, at least to me, more intriguing and inspiring than those of any other semester, and I am looking forward to returning to class in September. In the meantime, I am hoping to spend the upcoming summer with the books that are piled high on my shelves, most of which I’ve been collecting at library sales and from “Little Library” sites.     


Monday, March 11, 2019

Boundless


I don't often see a movie and afterward, think of it as sweet. But that was exactly what the last movie I saw was. The movie, Stan and Ollie, was about the comedy team, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (also known as “Babe”), who took their careers from vaudeville to silent films, and then to “talkies.” 

As a child, I didn’t see a lot of movies for reasons I discussed in my memoir, Rude Awakening. So, I didn’t see many of their routines, and when I did, I just didn’t “get” slapstick. But as I watched actors Steve Coogan and John C Reilly re-enact the routines of these two song and dance men, I finally “got” it, especially one routine that their manager called “magic.” As I watched it, I realized I was both holding my breath and enthralled.

But, what really worked between Laurel, who wrote most of the material for the act, and Hardy, who was his first and most enthusiastic supporter, was the friendship and love they shared.

As the movie ended, words appeared on the screen telling us about the death of Hardy in 1957, and about how, afterward, Laurel continued to write material for the act until his own death in 1965. Why would he do that? I wondered. I, who wrote an entire book about someone who died, wondered, Why would he do that? Why, indeed?


Dear Elvis, my story about love and loss, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Serenity

It's been almost a year now since I've returned to the church of my childhood. It's become a good practice for me, a good way to start the week. It's a place where I can feel both exulted and grounded. But last week something different happened. 

Just before Mass, I saw my sister who's been a member of this parish since we were children. She teaches CCD. She volunteers to help wherever she’s needed.

Inside the church, I sat beside her. “I’m leaving a few minutes early,” she whispered as the Mass began. “I’m going across the street to help out.”

“To where?”

“It’s a shelter for the homeless. Do you want to come?”

I shivered. “No,” I responded, determined to stay inside until the Mass ended. But when my sister got up to leave, I followed her. “I’ll walk with you,” I said.

“Come inside,” she said when we got there. I followed her into the kitchen where a woman was stirring a large pot of food. “It smells good,” I said as she smiled. 

“Come with me into the dining room,” my sister said. Inside my mind, the words “dining room” conjured an image of a large mahogany table. Instead, I found an assortment of folding tables covered with pink- and rose-colored cloths. There were two women sitting at one of them. “This is my sister,” my sister said by way of introduction.

Oh my God, I thought when I looked at them, struck by their demeanor. They barely glanced at me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. They looked so forlorn. They looked so unloved. Why aren’t they in church, I wondered, asking for help. Later, I wondered why I wasn’t in church asking for help for them.

Their image stayed with me throughout the long and tumultuous week, a week of holidays and storms. Finally, at the end of it, I returned to church and got to my knees.

God, I said, did you see those women?

Did you? he answered.

Yes.

What did you see?

They looked - I stopped, unable to put my feelings into words.

What?

They looked lost.

Really? Are you sure that’s what you saw? Think again. Think back. What else did you see? 

They looked as though they had given up.

Given up?

Resigned. They looked as though they were resigned to their situation?

Are you?

I sighed. What should I do?

Do what you came here to do. Say a prayer.

I bowed my head. Lord, I said, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Okay, he said.

But it’s not enough, I told him. There must be more. There must be something else I can do.

Say it again, he said.


Dear Elvis, my story about love and loss, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My Secret Self

I went to the library on Friday to start reading one of the books assigned for the Literature/Discussion class I’m taking. The theme for this semester is “Haunted” because all five books assigned are stories about places or people that are haunted - by love, by the past, by a longing for something desired or for something lost.


The book I was reading, The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, is a story about a widow of five weeks who travels to Havana, Cuba to attend a film festival. It’s a trip she was supposed to take with her late husband, a film studies professor who specialized in horror.

Speaking of horror, here’s a quote I found while reading. “She (the protagonist, Clare) had this second, secret self that she didn’t know how to share with anyone, and when alone, that self came out into the open.”

Those words resonated with me, I think, because I, too, have a secret self who thrives on being alone, even on going out alone, especially to restaurants where she can sit in a quiet corner booth and feel, not just as though she is alone, but as though she is hiding, hiding from everyone and everything that puts demands on her. 

Most of the time there are few problems between my selves. When problems do arise, it’s because my secret self is a lot like Mr. Hyde, except that she’s a lot less evil - but a lot more mischievous. She’s also a tattler who likes to tell the world all the dumb things my other self does. She likes to write them all down and put them on the Internet for the rest of the world to read. 

But, getting back to the book, our protagonist tells us that while in Havana she “felt like someone had carved her heart out of her chest and then turned her loose to stumble through a dark forest on a frigid night.” I recognize that feeling. It’s grief. Which brings me to the reason I tolerate my secret self. It’s because it is she who absorbs all the pain my other self can’t handle.

Dear Elvis, a memoir of love and grief, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Friday, February 1, 2019

Five Years in Heaven


It was a little more than a week ago. I was listening to a song on the radio when I suddenly and inexplicably started to cry. Startled, I wiped my tears and went on until the next day when I looked at a calendar and realized the previous day had been the 22nd and five years since I'd heard a beloved friend’s voice.

Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of his death. By tomorrow I will have had five years of remembering and five years of forgetting, forgetting everything except the sound of his laughter and of his voice, and the way he always seemed to be listening for mine. 


I think of my friend often. He is my star, my light, my soul. I know that he is both in heaven and somehow nearby, listening to my laughter and my tears, encouraging me to go on living, laughing and loving because as he knows and has taught me so well, love begets love.
My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Tangentially vs Linearly



I recently became a member of a group called The Wine & Book Club, a group that meets once a month at an Italian restaurant nearby. During one of our meetings, we discussed Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I was excited to read this book because I had read Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, and loved it.

                               

During the discussion, one of the members mentioned John Irving and Ernest Hemingway and I had to admit that I had never read either of them. Which is a statement that may not be completely true because now that I think about it, I did once start a book by Hemingway.

It was a long time ago, 1960, and I had just entered a convent. During the first few weeks, the other postulates and I were often left with too much unstructured time. I was bored until one of the other girls let me borrow two of the books she had placed into her trunk and brought with her. One of the books was The Dubliners by James Joyce, the other was a book by Hemingway with a title I have long since forgotten.

We were all sitting (in silence) in a large community room one autumn afternoon when I opened the Hemingway book and started reading.  I was only a few pages into it when I came to a paragraph that contained the f*** word. I was so stunned and felt so guilty, I slammed the book shut and never opened it again.

Reading this post back to myself, I find that I have, as usual, gone off onto too many tangents. Unlike a friend of mine who, during the months that I’ve known him, has told me stories about himself and his life. And as I’ve listened, I’ve been amazed at how very linear his mind is, always moving from “A” to “B” to “C,” from the beginning of a story to its logical end without ever going off course, and as I’ve listened, I have most often stood there and wondered, How does he do that?









Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Mysteries and Syncronicities

There are, I think, too many questions, some of which I may never have an answer for. But what I do know is that God is here, right here, in the mysteries and synchronicities of my life.                    
                                                                      From my Journal
                                        

I was feeling poorly last Thursday, going through what I call my rat-in-a-maze routine. I was feeling unsettled, disconnected, discombobulated. Usually, I fight this feeling, but this time I decided not to. I decided to go with it. Let it take me where it wants to, I thought as I got into my car and started driving.

I ended up at a cemetery to visit my parents’ graves. Even though I hadn’t been there in a while, I had no trouble finding their gravesite. On the way, I noticed that most of the graves had Christmas wreaths on them. I hoped there was one on theirs, too.  There was. One of my sisters must have put it there. Many of the graves also had American flags on them, but my parents’ did not.

A few moments later, as I walked away, I noticed an American flag lying on the ground. I got into my car and headed for the cemetery’s exit, then changed my mind and circled back around. I picked up the fallen flag and looked around to see if I could determine where it belonged. When I couldn’t, I put it on my parents’ grave, placing it next to my father’s name.

I felt better then, but by the next day those feelings of disconnection returned. This time I drove to the church I had attended as I child. I felt better just seeing it. It had always felt like home to me. I went inside and knelt before the altar. I’m not sure if I prayed, if I said “please,” or “thank you.” Mostly I just listened to the silence.

When I left, I drove to the house where I grew up, taking the same exact route I’d walked as a child. After making a final turn, I looked at the end of the street where I could see the house in front of me. I drove slowly toward it, looking at the windows that belonged to my parents’ bedroom, and then at a window that belonged to the room where my sisters and I slept. There is some part of me still there, I thought, and I felt better. 

At home, I picked up the book I was reading, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and read these words:

“Packing up. The nagging worry of departure. Lost keys, unwritten labels, tissue paper lying on the floor. I hate all of it. Even now, when I have done so much of it…Even today, when…I am aware of sadness, of a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived. We have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Though two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. Nothing material...but something indefinable, a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood.

“This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. Today we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again. Even stopping for luncheon at a wayside inn, and going to a dark, unfamiliar room to wash my hands, the handle of the door unknown to me, the wallpaper peeling...for this moment, it is mine, it belongs to me...This is the present. There is no past and no future. Here I am washing my hands, and the cracked mirror shows me to myself, suspended as it were, in time; this is me, this moment will not pass.”

Last week, I reconnected with that “something indefinable,” in that house, in that church, and even in that cemetery. I was “home” again for a moment and it was the same, but it was different. I was the same, but I was different. Perhaps, I think now, everywhere is home as long as we are there, present in the moment, even if only for a moment.





My memoir, Dear Elvis, a story about love and loss can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE