Saturday, April 30, 2011

In Honor of National Poetry Month

I have been remiss this month in not mentioning that April is National Poetry Month.  I spent some time reading and writing poetry this month and I participated in National Poem in your Pocket Day which was April 14th by passing out a poem by Pat Schneider which I will post at the end.

I also wrote a villanelle for a friend who has terminal cancer.  I wrote the villanelle using lines from his caring bridge website where people expressed their love and heartbreak and memories.  This site and the sentiments it generated created so many wonderful lines that it prompted me to create a found poem for my friend which I mailed to him.  Here are a few stanzas:

From this day forward every morning
at some point between 7:00 - 8:00 a.m and 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
I will hold you in my heart and thoughts.

Your openness to this most current process
The next stage in your life journey
Will take you from this day forward every morning

I don’t understand why the powers that be let nasty people walk this earth
and yet take away the beautiful people.
this thought I will hold in my heart and thoughts

I'd love to hear how you celebrated National Poetry Month?  Did you read poetry?  Write poetry? Share poetry?  Find poetry?  Here is the poem in your pocket that I promised.  Pat Schneider is a favorite of mine.

The Patience of Ordinary Things
It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

A sweet, sad and ultimately very thought provoking memoir written by the father of a severely disabled boy.  Walker Brown has a genetic mutation resulting in a syndrome that only about 100 people on the planet have.  Walker cannot speak, does not eat food and is fed through a G tube, wears diapers and must wear protective gear as he constantly hits himself and beats his head into the wall.  He is very small for his age and cannot communicate through any discernible means.

Ian, his wife Johanna, and the older sister Hayley spend 13 years caring for Walker round the clock until the parents finally find a suitable group home for him.  Ian then embarks on a journey to discover what, if anything, his son's life means to him, to the community and to humanity.  Surely there must be some answer as to what his life means?

The author travels around Canada and the US meeting other families with children that have this syndrome. He travels to California to meet the geneticists who first confirmed this condition and understand how a mutation on a gene can occur to create the condition.  He goes to France to meet advocates for the disabled, philosophers of disability studies, and to visit communities of severely disabled.   He looks at his own heart and mind and reactions to people like Walker and he takes a cursory look at how the severely disabled have been treated in the Western world throughout history.

I was fascinated by the picture he painted of his life, his marriage and his unending love for his son.  He thoroughly examines all the ethics at work in studying genes that produce disabled humans, the ethics of how we treat the least of all in our care and the philosophies behind how to treat these children.  It was all wonderfully enlightening.  A fascinating look at people who we don't like looking at or even being around.

I am humbled by the questions Mr. Brown raises and by his own love for a child who most of society will always see as lesser. I really understood the love he described for his son, and his own interest and passion for helping and understanding the disabled helped me understand a bit more about being a parent.

If you are interested in my copy of this book please let me know and I will pass it along.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Secret Gift by Ted Gup

I learned two important things while reading this interesting story of a suitcase full of letters discovered in the author's mother's attic after her death.  The first thing is that we should all be careful not to throw away valuable letters, postcards, photos and newspaper clippings. Everything you save and hold is an entry into an amazing story like this one.

Ted Gup discovers a suitcase of letters written to a mysterious person named B. Virdot.  B. Virdot was his grandfather who had promised the residents of Canton some Christmas cheer during the depression.  The letters Mr. Gup found all asked for a small piece of that cheer.  They open a fascinating portal to the ethos and history of that very sad era in American history.

The letters and story made me curious about how my own grandparents from Erie, Pennsylvania made it through the depression and led me to the secong thing I learned which was my grandparents story of survival during the depression. My mother told me that they bought their small plot of land and the material to build a small house. They added rooms to the house as they could afford them. They also planted fruit trees and a large garden.  They had a chicken coop filled with chickens.  So even in the years when my grandfather only worked one day a week, they owned their home and land and had food on the table.  My mother noted that in addition to thier own kids (two) they also took care of two other family members.

What windows do you have on another era of time?  What secrets do your suitcases hold?  These are good questions to ask the people we love who lived through that time.  Mr. Gup did a great job of tracing the letters writers and their stories through the ages and learning about and understanding his own grandfather's story.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why do we read?

Before I make a recommendation for a book these days, I ask first, are you a reader?  I am always perplexed that there are so many non-readers out there.  They don't display books in their homes, take books along for plane rides, refer to what they are reading, nor are they interested in my recommendations.

Reading for me is a hunger, knowing that there are stories I will never get to read makes me wildly uncomfortable, going to a bookstore and being inundated with hundreds of ideas which I can only skim makes me sad.  I am constantly trying to figure out how to carve out more time to read.

Whenever I post about a book I have read here, it is because I have finished it, and if I finish it it is because I enjoyed it, and I feel like it taught me something about how to write or how to be a better person.  It is unusual that I finish a book that I don't particularly care for.

I picked up Perfection from the bookstore after Christmas.  Its prominent place on one of those must read tables caught my eye every time I walked by, and after three or four times I took the bait: a memoir about a woman whose husband dies and then she discovers he cheated on her big time.  I really don't know what I was expecting.  The writing was not really magical or thoughtful and I did not particularly care for the narrator that much.  Yet, I felt compelled to read this long ghastly story of death and betrayal.  Nothing new was revealed about life as a wronged widow,  and I never did come to feel real compassion or warmth for the author.

So why did I finish it?  Was I attracted to the lurid story?  Was I waiting for some big reveal that never came?  Perhaps the story is better than I give it credit for?  Perhaps, as a writer, I read this to understand another way to tell a story?  A different style, a different arc of the pen?  How would I have told this story differently?  What advice would I give her if I had been in writing group with her?  I can't honestly say why I finished it.  I can recommend it if you are going through something similar or are interested in all types of memoir: learning how someone else tells a story.

How about you?  Do you finish all books you start?  What happens if you are reading a book you no longer enjoy?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Very Personal Story

We're all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult.  I think that's the whole of the answer.  We make our way, and effort and time give us cushion and dignity. And as we age, we're riding higher in the saddle, seeing more terrain. 

So it's an epiphany after all.  You have it in your hand the whole time.

-- from Half a Life by Darin Strauss

This book has a plain dark cover with a gold embossed title on it.  The pages are made of thick paper.  It's heavier than regular books.  Its subject matter is very somber, and it is all very sad.  This book made a couple of must read lists from 2010, and I picked it up because every where I turned it seemed to be there. 

This personal story (what he calls it, instead of a memoir)  is about a  man who looks back to age 18 when he accidentally hit and killed a girl, one of his peers, on her bicycle.  This horrendous act haunts everything he does from that day forward until he has his own children and then he decides he must get help.  He both finds a decent therapist and embarks on a mission to write his story, to share what happened to him 18 years, half a life, before.

I found the writing to be simply magnificent.  I kept writing down sentences and phrases that seemed the very essence of what good writing is all about.  He definitely gets what it means to tell a tale, turn a phrase, describe a crisis, and capture what torment he had been through for all these years.  Forgiveness is nothing unless you can forgive yourself, it seems.

I highly recommend this readable, sad, cautionary tale as a decent lesson for anyone who has been haunted by a questionable action or wonders how to shake off the dead ghosts.  It is a truly remarkable sharing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Please read this book and tell me what you think!

I just finished The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read/ideas I have even come across.  Mr. Levithan doesn't present a chronological picture of a relationship, rather he presents an alphabetical list of definitions as if from a  dictionary.  Each word and idea is written like a short prose poem and all add up to create this marvelous kaleidoscope of a story about two people in love. 

It reads as a kind of puzzle, and I guarantee you will fall in love with this couple and want them to stay together.  She: wild and crazy and fun. He: stable, down to earth, and pragmatic.  They fight and split over an affair?  Or do they stay together?   IS she an alcoholic?  Pregnant?  Does he stay or does he go?  Please read this and let me know what you think.  I guarantee it is an absolutely a breathtaking look at love and a perfectly fascinating relationship especially with the patchwork observations.

Here is one of my many favorites:

Juxtaposition, n.

It scares me how hard it is to remember life before you. I can't even make the comparisons anymore, because my memories of that time have all the depth of a photograph.  It seems foolish to play games of better and worse.  It is simply a matter of is and is no longer.

I have been interested for some time in interesting ways to organize thought and writing that are beyond the usual first to last chronology. This is a brilliant example of of a non-linear story.  If you read it let me know what you think.  Please.