Tag Archives: Reading

Infused

spa

End of the work day and off to the spa. Today the snack is peanut butter crackers, four in a pack. They bring me water in a Dixie Cup and Rachel Ray is on TV, but only for a few minutes because someone asks for Dr. Phil. This time the needle goes in after only two tries with minimal wiggling to find the vein. I think the bruise will be smaller, more yellow than purple.

I sit in the same chair, my chair, at the end of the row closest to the door. For more air? For the possibility of escape? Maybe just habit. I negotiate a book between one arm hooked up to the I. V. and the other attached to the blood pressure cuff that periodically puffs up like an inner tube, checking on my status. Then I use my superpower. I tune out the chatter of the nurses, the bleating of Dr. Phil, the drip of chemicals, the flush of a toilet, the snoring of the man next to me. I read. I read and read and read. Nothing else matters. I am in a place I’ve been going to since childhood, a place of dreams and good vs evil and second chances and laughter and tears. A foreign place I immediately recognize. I am home.

This is my RA treatment. It happens once a month and while I know the drill I’m still uncomfortable every time. I’m usually the youngest person in the room. I want to put my legs up in my chair, the hospital version of La-Z-Boy, but I’m too self-conscious. I don’t want to appear overfamiliar. Like going into a friend’s refrigerator without asking. I am so rule-bound, even here. God forbid I have poor manners.

Rheumatoid Arthritis isn’t the worst. Not as bad as cancer or a brain tumor. Not as bad as really bad MS. It’s treatable, it can be slowed down, it has a long shelf life. I know there are people who suffer terribly with RA. I know that day could come for me. But right now a monthly infusion at the spa, a shot in my stomach that I give myself once a week, these are manageable things and it only takes a little work to not feel sorry for myself.

Because I can read, and write, and read writers’ writing about writing. Like Colum McCann’s Letters to A Young Writer. Ho no, I am not Young, and in fact I’m bordering on Old, but I still count. I can be brave now and then. I can carry a notebook and care about language and think someday I’ll be something.

And surprisingly enough, I can still blog. I can just open up my laptop after getting lost in the dessert for 6 months (was it longer? shorter?). I can say stuff and hope it lands somewhere. I can love you guys. Because you read.

What are you reading these days?

 

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It’s a Cold and It’s a Lonely Hallelujah

chipsForgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months since my last blog post.

Not that I have anything to write about.

I suppose I could rant about  Donald Trump but if I get started I won’t stop.

I could talk about this book I just finished that was the saddest story I have ever read. So well written you should run out and get it now. But so heart wrenchingly sad I can’t possibly recommend it. But the writing…I know, why did I even bring it up? Ok, A Little Life, but don’t blame me if you can’t get through it.

I could talk about eating clean. I want to eat clean. I bought a Prevention Magazine guide to eating clean in the check out line at the supermarket the other night, alongside a bag of sour cream & onion potato chips. I felt a little dirty buying the chips. I ate half the bag reading the magazine.

I could talk about the fact that The Good Wife is ending or that Elizabeth Keen is dead or that I really don’t like what’s happening to Callie & Arizona on Grey’s, but then you would realize that along with my dirty potato chip habit, I watch way too much television.

I could tell you about my daughter’s chorus concert this week. The auditorium looked like a bare threaded pair of suit pants on an old man. The solos lovely, pure, off-key here and there, heart-in-throat adolescent angst and glory. These sung by seniors – a farewell tribute. My daughter, only a sophomore, doesn’t have to face this yet. Doesn’t have to take the rose at the end of the concert and have something announced about her future in front of all of us expectant adults – the college they are going to next year where 30% will drop out, the majors they have chosen that 80% will wind up changing. Those 3 kids who were announced “still undecided” looked a little embarrassed but I clapped hardest for them.

Or maybe, since it is Mother’s Day, I could talk about what this day is like for us mothers who have lost their mothers. My mom died almost 5 years ago at the young age of 75, and I still have Mother’s Day cards in my bedside drawer that I bought for her. My mom would have loved my daughter’s concert, although she didn’t visit much. One of the things she said to me when I was taking care of her at the end (and she said this in a flat tone as she was taking some of the last steps she would ever walk) is that she loved me more than I would ever know.

But I knew. I knew all the dynamics that made it hard for her to show love and approval to me. I knew she didn’t understand me and my choices. I knew she was jealous of me in my youth, and later felt I could do better on so many fronts. I knew she chose other people over me – to visit, to listen to, to share her love. And I knew she knew I was angry at her and unforgiving.

We are all a mess of good intentions gone bad and repeated tiny heartbreaks balled up with hope. I miss my mother like my arms have been taken away, like I’m wandering the streets of the place I grew up and no one recognizes me or even speaks the same language. I can’t stand that she left so soon, before we could figure it out just a little bit more.

I told her that I loved her. I told her it was ok to go. But I wish I told her I forgave it all. I wish I said, I understand you. I understand.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there trying, hoping, loving. It is practically impossible to get it right. There will books written about you. My Name is Lucy Barton, for starters. It is impossibly sad and beautifully written (another one!) and about a mom and a daughter and I think you should read it. Elizabeth Strout is my hero.

So many times I come back to this blog and promise to write more and then wind up at my default of silence. So no promises today. Just a few words. A few book recommendations. And a shout out to my mom. XO

 

 

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I Shall Wear the Bottoms of my Trousers Rolled

e74cd0b699ff04ed2d01dff3ca86736dAnother birthday here and gone. Essentially nothing has changed. The same wish list that’s scribbled in my high school journals persists:

1) Have better posture

2) Loose weight

3) Become a Broadway star

4) Figure out the meaning of life.

Is it weird that I think a few of these things are still possible?

I saw someone the other day who I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years. She claimed I hadn’t changed a bit. Should I feel good about this? They say as you get older you don’t care what people think about you but I find that just isn’t true. I still can’t go out of the house without mascara. I am getting more, not less socially awkward. And just the other day my daughter and I saw two old ladies wearing sequined baseball caps and ordering Tuna Melts at the local Newport Creamery. Adorable, yes, but if I start wearing sequins to Newport Creamery just put me in the nursing home.

On the other hand, I do feel less pressure to complete a sentence when I’m talking. People just nod and carry on. There is a certain fog that rolls in at my age, not always unpleasant.

But I do feel a bit untethered. My sense of home has unraveled. I have no bucket list to speak of. There is no plan for retirement and no driving goals.

Except reading. I can’t stop reading. (The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, anyone? Holy crap!)

And then there is the writing. Which is about so many things, like time and faith and luck. And at my age you realize more acutely than in earlier years, that these things do in fact, run out.

But I am pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic, depending on the day. And what this means for someone my age, is that you just keep at it. We are, after all, if not Broadway stars, shining stars.

So here’s to birthdays coming and going. Shine on.

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I’ve Looked at Life From Both Sides Now

Opposites_attract_by_stella_marina
I just finished reading two books that couldn’t be more different: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. Here’s how this happened. I had no intentions of ever reading the Semple book because the cover looks like Chick Lit and I had never heard of her. I passed by that book a thousand times in Target and on Barnes and Nobel tables and never gave it the time of day. The only reason I read it was because a group of woman I work with were out together drinking a lot of wine and decided it would be fun to start a book club (mainly to have an excuse to get together again and drink a lot of wine). I am not out to this group (they know I’m a lesbian but they don’t know I’m a writer).

Someone, I’ll call her J. (yes, yes, her first name starts with J), pulled out her iPhone and looked up the ten most popular books for book clubs. She’s practical in that way. No one there had read any of the books. I had read seven of them. Eyebrows were raised. Wine was gulped. Suddenly I felt like I was in 4th grade and some popular kid was calling me a brain in a way that meant, weird, strange, unattractive, and looser. I felt nervous and exposed. I wasn’t prepared to reveal my true self, to rip off my cape and put on my Clark Kent glasses.

So I joked it off. Called myself a book nerd. I’m sure the word writer never crossed my lips.  After looking at the covers of the other 3 books (damn that iPhone comes in handy) the group decided on Bernadette. At the time I had just started reading The Stone Diaries. I always wanted to read it because 1) it won a Pulitzer, 2) years ago I picked up Swann in a Harvard Square bookstore and loved it, even though no one I know has ever read it, and 3) I was shocked to learn on the inside flap of the book that Carol Shields died in 2003 at the age of 68 and I thought how did I not know this and then I thought, I might be 68 before I even get a book published.

And thus, I was reading two books at once. Semple’s book was a wild ride from start to finish. Told through emails, letters, and the narration of Bee, Bernadette’s 15 year-old daughter, it is full of pop-culture, modern angst, and laugh-out-loud material, taking on everything from Microsoft to TED talks to the Rockettes. Shield’s book moves with intensity and the details of daily life from Manitoba in 1905 to Florida in the 90’s sometime, following her main character through birth, childhood, marriage, motherhood, work and old age. Reading these books was like the difference between taking a shower and taking a bath. And I loved them both.

Carol Shields takes point of view and blows it to smithereens. I was amazed by this, and by her attention to the details of life and to her ability to reveal depth and insights about her characters and her gorgeous way with words. And Semple pulled off the impossible – using high stakes humor to uncover moving, human moments, pain and ultimately redemption. I think these two books should be taught side-by-side in some writing guru’s workshop on an island in Puget Sound where you pay an obscene amount of money and get fed organic meals and hear a New York City agent tell you how to market a mash-up of these books, and someone famous reads poetry in front of a giant screen showing old episodes of Ellen.

Or just read them both when you get a chance, preferably at the same time. But don’t tell anyone in your book club.

Do you have any opposite pairings of books you love?

 

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October 1, 2013 · 11:28 am

Febuparty

Groundhogs DayFebruary is nonstop entertainment. First there’s Groundhog Day where grown men dress up like Lincoln and cuddle with the poor animal. This year the critter predicted an early spring. Who cares? I want it to tell us a few other things that might actually be useful like will we ever balance the budget, who wins best screenplay this year, and what the hell are Funyuns made of and why did I ever eat them?

Then there’s the Super Bowl, unplugged. Wow. That really threw a wrench into our snack schedule. Do you watch it for the game or the commercials and half-time show? Or do you take Tylenol PM and pull a pillow over your head?  My spouse surmised that the only thing missing from Beyoncé’s half-time show was the pole, and yet my 13-year-old daughter walked away saying, she seems like a good person, like she’ll be a good mom. Huh? This must be the key to Beyoncé’s success but it hurts my head to think about it.

If you are on the east coast like me, you had the pleasure of finding Nemo. I sat and watched the snow fall from my desk in the dining room (I know, strange place for a desk but it migrated from the basement for the winter). The storm was relentless, surreal, beautiful, and ferocious. A huge tree limb sits across the street like the bones of a prehistoric animal. The snow, seductive and heavy, had its way with this branch. The tree just sat there and watched, knowing it didn’t have a chance. My daughter stuck her ruler in the bird bath to see how much snow fell, but the storm was a gypsy whirling and dancing and twirling her scarves back and forth and around and around. A tiny stub of the ruler was left peeking out but there was actually almost two feet of snow when Nemo finally left us. Many households lost power and had a very rough go of it, but we were pretty lucky. The propane gas that fuels the stove ran out but we cooked in the microwave and crock pot, my spouse grilling in the garage, a flash light strapped to her head like a Minion. She also shoveled us out and helped a number of neighbors too because she is that type of person. You know, the one who will pull over if someone is in trouble or pick up a stray dog and find its home. I’m the nervous type, certain the person in trouble is really an axe murderer or that the dog has rabies.

After such a dramatic start to the month you would think we could just put our feet up and rest but that is simply not the case. Still to come are Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Valentines Day (which is also International Condom Day, and I am not making that up), Presidents Day and Purim. And if that’s not enough I already watched the Grammys (I could absolutely leave my current life and follow Mumford and Sons around like Penny Lane in Almost Famous, although truthfully, at this point I am much more like the mother played by Frances McDormand in that movie so it might not work), and the Oscars coming on the 24th. I rarely go to the movies these days so I have no idea who to root for, but I will still watch them, celebrating with Prosecco or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I did see Silver Lining Playbook because of Matthew Quick. I’m a sucker for a writer-who-took-risks story. I haven’t read the book but will, because I think I can learn something. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot more of this month. Reading to learn as opposed to reading for pleasure. Luckily, the pleasure sneaks in regardless, and I have read some amazing books.

So much crammed into our shortest month. How are you celebrating?

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Say It Ain’t So

The libraries are closing.

I know other things are closing too. Factories, big box stores, music/art/sports programs, restaurants, movie theaters, entire shopping malls.  I know half our towns are broke, people are out of work, our  house isn’t  worth what we bought it for, Zuckerberg lost a few billion dollars, college graduates can’t find jobs,  health care feels like a bonus and people can’t retire until they’re 80.

But the libraries are closing.

Perhaps the economic crisis is only part of the reason. Should we blame Kindle, Amazon, self-publishing, e-zines, Ask.com or Wikipedia? Are people just too busy to go to the library? Have our attention spans become too short? Is there a backlash in our tolerance for librarians? Are children suddenly developing an allergy to the smell of all those books in one place?

Maybe I’m to blame. I am a reader. If you are a reader you know what this statement means. It is a primal part of who you are. You have read so many books that their words, their stories are part of the way you look at life. Years and years of these books have layered inside you, like sedimentary rock. They are your foundation. You can’t imagine your life without books, without reading.

So I hate to admit this, but it’s true. I hardly ever go to the library anymore.

Then why in the world am I bemoaning the loss of a place I rarely use? Am I just being sentimental? Maybe libraries will show up in movies some day and we will laugh at them, like watching Michael Douglas strut through the streets of New York in Wall Street with a mobile phone the size of a toaster.

I think my attachment is so strong because that is how I became a reader. I loved libraries, felt at home in them, at peace. I also felt excitement and freedom and safety at a time in my life when there wasn’t a whole lotta of that going around. I loved the smell of paper, the hushed silence, the maze of stacks, the little drawers in the card catalog. It was like stepping into an alternative world. A world where stories lived. Where stories waited for me. Where it felt like anything could happen.

In Rhode Island Dunkin Donuts thrives, along with nail salons, strip clubs, and pizza joints. I happen to frequent 2 out of 4 of these places (unless you know me well, you will have to guess which), yet I honestly wouldn’t care if they all started closing. But not the libraries. I want to be able to go there if I need to spark those old feelings. I want other people to discover themselves there, to become readers. I want to be able to get free books when I’m retired and broke. I want to sit at a table and write, surrounded by thousands of stories whispering, you can do it!

Maybe this weekend I’ll go to the library. Before it’s too late.

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Canned Laughter

I read Betsy Lerner’s blog pretty religiously and she tends to throw out a question at the end of each post to get everyone yakking which I think is genius because it takes the pressure off of her. I try to do it sometimes but it feels awkward, like having a conversation between stalls in a public restroom. Today she wanted to know about everyone’s favorite Hard to Categorize (HTC) books, as these are the ones she is most drawn to and also the ones most difficult to sell. I usually read everyone’s comments and even at times post a response. But today I thought, holy crap, I’m illiterate.

Now don’t get me wrong. I read all the time. I read Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich and Jeanette Winterson and Amy Bloom and Richard Russo and Jane Smiley and Michael Ondaatje and Joan Didion and Alice McDernott and Michael Cunningham and Dorthy Alison and Ann Patchett and John Irving and Michael Chabon and Eudora Welty and Wally Lamb and Margaret Atwood and Mya Goldberg and Junot Diaz and AS Byatt and Anne LaMott and Pat Conroy and Jane Hamilton and Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling and Dr. Andrew Weil and Betty Crocker. You should see all my books. I’m an obssessive compulsive reader. I have blackouts in bookstores and leave with hardcovers that for gods sake are NOT ON SALE!!

But when I read the responses to Betsy’s blog my throat twisted up like the cord on a hairdryer and my eyes started to blur, then to water, then to flutter at half mast. I barely recognized a single author. What the hell was everyone talking about?! I thought I would just humorously post that I didn’t recognize any of these writers, and ha ha aren’t I stupid. But I didn’t recognize any of the writers and felt so stupid!!

So after trying to calm myself by breathing into a plastic CVS bag (which after a few moments felt suffocating and ecologically irresponsible), I just closed out of the blog and went back to my day job. And I thought, well there goes that. What kind of a reader, writer, literary icon am I going to be if I can’t keep up with all these amazing and ridiculously well-read people? I suddenly feel like an old rerun on TV. I am The Dick Van Dyke Show instead of Mad Men. I am Murder She Wrote instead of The Killing. I am terribly unhip and irrelevant. Who do I think I am trying to write and get published at my advanced age? Who in the world would read anything I write?

Have you been here? At the bottom of your own masterfully crafted pile of dung? I’m there now and it’s not pretty. So I decided to get in front of my computer and shovel out. Just write about what happened, like an addict at a meeting. Hello, my name is Marie and I’m a self-loathing writer. Give me my bag of chips and I’ll go home. But first, let me tell you a story…

And so it goes. I get back up and start again. I put my slip behind me, shrug off the insecurity blanket, and hit the keyboard running. Well, maybe walking, no shuffling. But at least I am here. I am not giving up yet.

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