It’s All For You

I often miss out on time limited events. I am either out of town or have  just breezed into another town a day or two too late to take advantage of something. Missing out on things I would have liked to attend brings out a separate category of chagrin. And powerlessness. Missing the event means missing the experience as well as the memories I would have made, along the feelings I imagine I would have had about both. Woe is me!

But this summer fortune and opportunity finally aligned in my life.  My husband and I took a road trip to North Carolina. He is partial to the Asheville area because he went to Montreal every summer as a child. And the area is so beautiful that even though I had recently been to Asheville with my girls, I didn’t mind going back with him. After all we wouldn’t be doing the same things.

As a special treat we decided to start off our trip with a weekend in Winston Salem to visit my sister. While on the way I heard on NPR that  the last day of Maya Angelou’s estate sale would be held….would be held….  did I dare hope… could it be….. THE SAME DAY I WAS ARRIVING IN WINSTON-SALEM!!!!!!!!untitled-325

Have mercy. All I had to do was get from Knoxville to Winston-Salem and join in line in time and I would be allowed to enter her home free of charge. Sadly, my sister had to work at the library that day, so I would have to do my best to represent without her. My husband and I  left Knoxville that  Saturday morning, heading toward Winston Salem at a disconcerting 65 miles per hour. My stomach churned with anxiety as I wondered if my husband knew what a risk he was taking by doing something as absurd as trying to stick so close to the speed limit. This was an eighty mile an hour journey if I ever saw one.  Did I want to stop for lunch? No. Did I need to stop to go to the bathroom. No. Did I want anything to drink? No, because then I might need to go to the bathroom. And I was not going to stop.

Eventually we did have to stop for gas and crawl through a traffic jam after a wreck on the interstate before heading straight to Ms. Angelou’s home. Because we were in a tiny Fiat we found a parking space in front of the house. My husband pulled up to the house and I leaped out of the car like a stunt car driver and into the line in her front yard. By the time he parked the car twenty more folks were behind me. Two hours remained of the sale.

For me, part one of the sale was the festive air outside the sale. This was no ordinary estate sale crowd, full of whiskered old men looking for yard tools, or bargain savvy couples looking for a good deal on a barely used mattress. No, we were all pilgrims who had come for the experience more than for whatever artifact might still be available at the end of the sale. Word passed down through the line that there was nothing left but books. Ah, we all nodded, pleased. To leave with a book would suit all of us just fine. About twenty minutes after I joined the line, a policeman walked to the back of the line and closed it. No more pilgrims would be admitted.

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A kinder, gentler estate sale crowd.

Ever so slowly we inched toward the house, chatting with one another to pass the time.  Two sisters had driven in from Raleigh for the sale. The couple in front of us had left their baby with a sitter to attend. Bottled water was for sale from several vendors. And this police lady wanted to make friends with my husband.untitled-117 I wonder if Ms. Angelou had found the city as welcoming? I hope so.

And then I was in! The instant camaraderie with my fellow estate sellers was somewhat dampened by the crush of all the seekers who had already gained entrance to the home. I admit that I briefly visualized myself shoving through the crowds, flinging aside fellow book lovers who formed inconvenient bottlenecks in the hallways. But then, there was Dr. Angelou’s gaze upon me almost everywhere I went. In my mind I could hear her say, “Slow down, young lady. we’re civilized in this house.”untitled-336

Don't you run in my house!

Don’t you run in my house!

Suitably chastened, I made my way through the crowded, overheated rooms.

At least SHE wasn't bothered by the heat!

At least SHE wasn’t bothered by the heat!

There really was nothing left except books and expensive art. But mostly books. And oh, what a wonderland of books. This woman was interested in EVERYTHING: poetry, history, fiction, publisher’s proofs, cookbooks, gardening, – heck, she had the entire Dewey Decimal system represented. The senses of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual richness struck me wherever I turned. Why, I lamented, oh why had I not offered  my services as a menial helper in order in exchange  for access to her books, or even to have had a chance to meet her, while she was still alive? Finally I descended into to her book packed basement which was full of even more seekers avidly browsing the shelves.untitled-118

I conducted a random poll of facial expressions in the basement and quickly determined that every person there wished the same things I did. It was too late now in this life to meet Dr. Angelou, so we would have to do the next best thing. We would all leave with a book she had owned. If we were fortunate, maybe we would happen upon  a book she loved, a book she had held in her hands while her brain arranged some fresh new wisdom to share with the world.

I flipped through book after book but not in the leisurely fashion I would have hoped. Should I purchase books I had already read but loved, knowing that the fact that It had belonged to Dr. Angelou would add an extra level of specialness? Or should I look for something new? And how many books did I need anyway? Shouldn’t I be choosing books for those folks not fortunate enough to be here today?

Everybody was choosing something!

Everybody was choosing something!

In the end I think Maya guided my choices. I paid for an armload of books, each of which had Dr. Angelou’s nameplate or signature inside. The sale was arranged so that after one paid, one exited through the house’s lovely grounds. I poked my head into the guest house and lingered on the patio. Each step brought me closer to the gate and the end of my personal glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman.untitled-351

untitled-341Once I left her home the experience lived on. My sister Ellen was the first to choose from the books I had purchased, opting for a book about the Harlem Renaissance. The next to choose were my daughter and son in law, who selected The Remains Of The Day and a volume by Thomas Merton. I set aside a book about Scott Joplin for one of my sons. I happily took the remaining book, a biography of a female painter unknown to me. As enjoyable as it had been to briefly own all the books, giving them away was even more so.

As a final unexpected surprise, and I can barely believe this is true, my daughter found an original, hand written poem by Dr. Angelou inside Thomas Merton on Saint Bernard.  I realize that I did not find the poem so it’s not really my tale to tell, but I choose to think the poem could have just as well been meant for me. After all, Dr. Angelou, who once thought Shakespeare was a little black girl,  did say, “The poetry was written for you. It’s all for you.”

We do all share in the beauty and wisdom of the written word. Such treasures are meant to be shared. If a little black girl in Stamps, Arkansas can feel that Shakespeare spoke to her, I can believe that Maya’s words and her world could be meant for me, a white middle class grandmother whose forebears wouldn’t have let her walk through their front doors. Even if I didn’t get to read the poem, which has been sent to her archives, I feel certain that she would have wanted to speak to me. She would have wanted to share her home, her work, her library and her legacy freely with people who would then pass the gift on to others. May we all be so generous.untitled-337

A Tale Of More Than Two Slippers

Before you read this I just want to whisper that though this post does mention France, that it is in no way a commentary on the recent tragedies there. Je suis Charlie.

Recently my life has reminded me a lot of the French Revolution, and more specifically of A  Tale Of Two Cities. It’s been the best of times. I am healthy, loved, housed, and employed, claims the most fortunate  of French peasants probably couldn’t have made. Yet the wagon wheels of Change have clattered their way to my gate, loudly demanding entrance. I have quaked inside my little fictional French hut, but in the end have had to open the door. I can’t say it has been the worst of times, but it hasn’t been pleasant. If you recall from your history studies, the French Revolution was a time of great upheaval. It took the storming of the Bastille, the Reign of Terror and I don’t know what all else, but in the end the monarchy and feudalism no longer existed.  Like the crusaders for change in France, I too have hoped to achieve lofty goals, except I have tried unsuccessfully to avoid the painful parts.

Here is what has happened. I have had to accept that in order to follow my creative pursuits AND be the grandmother I want to be that I must reduce my clinical social work practice considerably. And like the French Revolution, this has caused great chaos  in my psyche. I think it is all going to turn out fine, but the inner suffering has not been fun. And I’ve had to go about my daily business just as if there were not a shiny guillotine inside my head preparing to lop off  long standing therapeutic relationships and possibly my professional reputation.

In the midst of change we all seek inspiration from people who have traveled similar roads. At first, my situation seemed so unique to me that I just stumbled on alone. But after a time I found solidarity with the characters from  A Tale Of Two Cities.

First, I sent my inner doppelgänger to do my dirty work. Just as Sydney Carton took the rap for Charles Darnay, some part of me managed to tell clients that my schedule will be changing, that I will no longer take their insurance, and that they may choose to continue their therapy with someone else. The changes in my life don’t make me guilty any more than Charles Darnay was, but it felt pretty dangerous anyway. I also sent the doppelgänger out to social events over the holidays because I was so preoccupied. Sadly, the doppelgänger refused to write any blog posts for me, but no one gets everything they want.

Second, I have kept careful notice of the whole process, not to keep score as did Madame  Du Farge, but in order to be as present as possible. When I was building my practice I never thought about what it would be like to dismantle it. Like a faithful servant I supposed all of that would be taken care of by my Master when the time came. And then I realized that I am the Master, so I had better pay attention and remember. I want to honor the hard work done through the years by many courageous clients.

Third, like Dr. Mornay when he was finally released from prison, I have isolated and tried to make shoes. Really and truly. I have tried for months to make one lousy pair of slippers.  When one is under stress even the most simple task can seem monumental. All through the fall I tried to make these VERY SIMPLE felted slippers, and time after time I failed. Want to see  the lineup?

My first effort can’t be shown because  THEY FELL APART while felting. Sigh. Bought more yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-13Wondered why they wouldn’t felt. Because I used the WRONG YARN. That’s why. Bought the correct yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-15Finished the first slipper. Why did it look so different from the previous ones? Because I forgot to double the yarn, that’s why. Started over with doubled yarn.slippers (1 of 1)-14Finished this slipper. Washed and washed until I realized that my brand new washing machine was just not going to felt. I would have to buy a felting machine. Felt like storming the Bastille. Bought felting machine. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-16Ripped the back of these trying to cram them on my feet. Why were they so little? Checked needle size. Wrong sized needle. Why, oh why, didn’t my doppelgänger know how to follow a simple pattern? Such are the trials of revolution. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-9Finally a pair of slippers that seemed  like reasonable candidates for felting. Now to felt, decorate in a low key manner, because one could not tempt fate with conspicuous frippery nor appear to be a member of the aristocracy, and apply fabric paint to the soles for traction.slippers (1 of 1)-17How about these understated beauties?slippers (1 of 1)-18And here are the soles after a few celebratory wearings.

I admired  my feet in my darling little slippers. I had struggled to make these all through the time I was wrestling with the changes I needed to make in my life. I could see the parallels. The past few months have  been the best in some ways, and the worst in others. Revolution has definitely been in the air. But today, my toes are  wriggling appreciatively in their new warm slippers. Everything is going to be fine.

The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

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Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

Overheard At The Book Sale

Hey everybody! I’m on my way out to the pool, but before I go, I know you want to hear about the  Friends Of The Library Used Book Sale. Because although everyone does not get to go, everyone SHOULD have the chance to go. Yes, I wrote about this last year. It was a popular post, but I know better than to try to recreate it.

I know you would have loved being there. I arrived at 10:00 A.M., accidentally grouping myself with the crowd waiting to be the first ones in. We streamed in when the doors were unlocked: the young, the old, the limping, the pony tailed, the bearded. Many thought to bring their own bags, for a bagful of books was priced at five dollars. And we early birds each had a game plan.

Mine was to head straight to the record albums. I did find a few, not as many as I had hoped, but I had to move on. Now I was free to drink in the heady air of the shelves. Nonfiction first. I already had a rolling cart, because as the pro that I am, I was not going to be held back by a handbag, despite its potential value as a weapon to procure the only copy of  Backyard Pests or Desserts From Around The World.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I found paperbacks to read in the swimming pool:DSC_0325

And some nonfiction that suited my fancy.

I'm in a World War I phase right now. Also I'm in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

I’m in a World War I phase right now. Also I’m in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

Though we were  a civilized crowd today, emotions ran a broad gamut. Would there be any decent classics left? And how about the selection of banned books? Endorphins and cortisol filled the room like a whiff of Midnight In Paris.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Tension was definitely in the air, but if one wanted to be sure, one could do what I did. I eavesdropped. Here is my report of the emotional scene:

Disappointment in the  the paperback fiction: “I been lookin’. But I ain’t found the first romance in here.”

Dang!

Dang!

Effusiveness, obsessiveness and  poor boundaries in the mystery paperbacks: “I’m a neat freak! Everbody wants to know how I keep my house so clean!”

I don't see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

I don’t see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

More obsessiveness  later from the same woman, apparently worried abut the effects of unauthorized reading on the populace, in the hardbacks: “Yes, but when you get started on one it really ruins your housekeeping, doesn’t it?”

Attitude of entitlement in the children’s section, from a middle aged woman, imperiously, to a volunteer,”Where are the third grade books?”

Affability and non competitiveness, or perhaps a pickup line  in the hardback fiction, from a man to a woman, Him: “I’ve seen quite a few Danielle Steeles in here. Aren’t you looking for those?”

Her: “Yes, I’ve got my list of titles right here.” Displays handwritten list.IMG_2836

Defeat, from the woman with a limp, to her friend in the science fiction, “Just take yer time, Charlene.  I’ve gotta take a load off.”

I feel her pain.

I feel her pain.

Hope, from one woman to her husband, over in the corner ” Let’s pay for what we’ve got and come back at 3:00.”

Determination, in the History section, from a little girl to her Mama, “Please just let me finish this row!” Mother agrees reluctantly. Girl finishes searching the row and grabs a book.

Mother,”Young lady, you have already got a set of Presidential biographies at home. You can’t find what you want so you just want to buy something.”

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

Generosity, from a man to his wife in the record department, “Honey, go ahead and get it. It’s got Cher on it!”

And from me, ambition to become one of the helpers at the sale. and not entirely for altruistic reasons. Me, to my husband, as we exited the parking lot, “I know that record volunteer was holding some records back. I saw him.”DSC_0323

Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source: starpulse.com

She’s such a copycat!
Source: starpulse.com

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.

Oops!

Oops!

4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407

The Book Of Life

My book club had its annual holiday brunch this Sunday. After feasting  merrily we got down to the business of choosing the first six  books to read in 2014. We wrote down the titles of books we might potentially read, and one or two people looked up each book and read us a synopsis. I sat among readers of all kinds: serious literary fiction readers, readers who hate romance, readers of “beach books”, and readers who will not even try a book that is more than 300 pages long.

books

Source:aonetwork.com

I listened to the comments of these women after each synopsis had been read. Some books were not chosen because of length. Less complicated  books were postponed until summer when apparently lighter fare is required. One author was turned down flat because his work was judged too inaccessible. None of these opinions disturbed me; after all, we must have some method of choosing what to read.

Another  type of comment, however, did stick with me. It too is one that is probably shared around the world at book clubs:  ‘”Oooh. That sounds boring. Nothing much happens.” “Yeah, let’s don’t read that one.” Because  my tastes in reading are not representative of the reading group to which I belong, I remained silent as I  often I am  in these discussions.

But I had things I wanted to say. Thankfully I can say those things right here in this blog. First I wanted to say that if the blurb of a book does not mention much action, then maybe the actions that take place are interior ones.  Books about characters’ inner lives are the books that I love more than any others on earth. I can think of many authors whose work centers on the meandering of the characters’ minds. Henry James, Richard Ford, John Banville, James Joyce, Ian McEwan are  but a few who come to mind.

Though I enjoy a clever  plot, I am more interested in the movement of the characters from within. How does the character struggle? How does he change? What does he grieve?  What must he let go of, or what will he not let go of despite the consequences? Does he feel his life is worthwhile, and how so? Naturally the characters’ quandaries  bring me to ask the same existential questions of myself, because as humans we share the same basic conditions, whether we are alive in 2013 or 1813.

quote-one-of-the-most-important-and-most-neglected-elements-in-the-beginning-of-the-interior-life-is-the-thomas-merton-347825

izquotes.com

My sister was at the book club because she was in town this weekend. Later that day we discussed the importance of the interior life. We decided that an outwardly uneventful life is not by definition one of quiet desperation. In fact, most of us live lives in which nothing all that dramatic happens. Rather, we experience a series of small events which, while  perhaps not meaningful to others, are the stuff of untold drama for us as individuals, and in the end they make up our lives.

I also did not mention to the book club that I might have been a little sensitive on that day to the plight of the person with the uneventful life. I belong to a facebook group for those who graduated from my high school during the 1970s. The group/page was spearheaded by a woman I knew only to speak to in high school.   She was one of those people I walked past without a second thought. I don’t know who her friends were; in my teenaged hubris I was focused mostly on which boys boys thought I was how hot in whatever ensemble  I wore that day.

But when she invited me to the page I did remember her. I’ll call her Cindy. Cindy posted frequently with news of our classmates’ joys, trials, and tribulations. I gathered from her posts that she was single and worked in a hospital setting. Occasionally she would post something of a spiritual nature or request prayers for classmates with health challenges.  She mentioned that her parents were deceased and that she lived with her brother. I came to expect her regular posts about studying for a test, ( She seemed to also be a student.) having to work late or watching a football game. She was not one of those TMI sharers, just friendly and concerned for her classmates.

Right before Thanksgiving I saw a post from the page co- administrator that she could not believe Cindy was dead. WHAT????? I asked, along with several other classmates. Over the next few days some details emerged. Yes, Cindy was dead. Her brother, who is mentally challenged, found that she had fallen and passed out in the bathroom of the apartment where they  lived.  It is not known which event occurred first, or why, but she died.

Cindy’s brother’s church came to his aid. There were not funds for a burial, so the church had her remains cremated. Cindy’s life ended with no funeral or memorial service and no obituary. Cindy’s classmates are now in the process of finding out whether there is a fund for her brother’s care  to which we might contribute in her name. There has been talk among the classmates of trying to arrange a memorial service for her.

Though I do not expect a book to be written about Cindy’s life, if it were written I would be eager to  read it. What were the hopes and dreams of this woman who buried  both her parents, supported her brother, and died so young?  How did she find meaning in her everyday life? Was her life all that she had once hoped it would be?  What did administering  the facebook page mean to this woman who had so few resources that we could see? Or did she have a wealth of inner awareness and peace which sustained her and helped enrich her short life?

We will never know the answers to these questions.   Maybe Cindy was just a woman who lived and died like the rest of us. I guess nothing much ever happened to her. Or did it? Fiction at its best can only imitate life.

It's the small things that make up a life.

It’s the small things that make up a life.

It’s the Real Thing

Hi Everybody! The Magpie is BACK after spending November, the month of Thanksgiving, typing furiously as well as inaccurately, which I know how to do at the same time, on my NaNoWroMo novel. I seem to have come out the other side with few ill effects except for realizing that I had been washing my hair with conditioner and wearing my bedroom slippers with the cardboard inserts still inside. What will become of my little novel? Thanks so much for asking. At the moment I plan to correct the typos and save it as a PDF so that a few carefully selected persons can read it. After that, I don’t know.

Naturally the NaNoWriMo experience has changed me. I am flooded with gratitude to all the authors out there who have slaved throughout history to create imaginary worlds for me to inhabit. I cannot even begin to count how my life has been enriched from their efforts which have allowed me to   know unforgettable characters, to identify  with their struggles, and to become  a part of their lives. Do not  say their lives aren’t real. YES THEY ARE!  And how I have mourned when a beloved tale has ended, for I was not ready to say goodbye.

I have greedily taken in all these riches provided to me by hard working men and women of vision and perseverance just the way I imagine ancient Romans used to feast at their ….parties, as though there were no tomorrow. That is no problem in itself; I consider daily reading to be a necessity, not a luxury. Read, read, for tomorrow we may die, I believe the saying goes.

But where I find fault with myself is in my not having been able to  see what very hard work it is  for these authors to craft their collections of words and sentences. Previously, after polishing off a book, I would say with a dismissive sniff something like, ” This author has used the word magnificent five times already”, or, “I can see where this plot is going. Is this author trying to insult my prodigious intelligence with this elementary story?”  And here’s the most infamous one of all ,”I could have written this.” NOT!!!!!  Readers, I have  now seen the light. Even a so- so, run of the mill, no brainer story requires serious work!

My second big NaNoWriMo change is a renewed appreciation for those who read what I write. In today’s  WordPress forum, reading a post is even more work than ever because of all the buttons one must push to get to the original post, a procedure which, like a long line at the grocery store, gives one time to decide if he REALLY wants to read this post. I did not formerly take readers for granted; no, I have been thrilled to have anything of mine read. However,  while writing for NaNoWriMo I came to see how important it is for a writer to have some feedback from the audience. I found myself wondering how readers would react to the creative decisions I made. That is why I am so eager, even hungry, for someone to read my little NaNoWriMo and meet my characters. They’re real, you know.

When I finally hit the “validate” button on the NaNoWriMo site this year, I did not know what to do with myself. Suddenly it was December. It began to sink in with me that I am traveling a lot this December and that I actually just had one day to Christmas shop and had no ideas of what to shop for. My poor tortured spirit, so depleted after my monumental authorly marathon, rebelled. It demanded to connect to something more real, more authentic than chasing around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to purchase and give away material items to folks who don’t really need anything. Really, Christmas shopping is no substitute for the thrill of writing.

So of course, I grabbed for a very comforting something real: a book series that I have already read. I am sure you all have your favorite go-to, read-again books. But in the spirit of gratitude I am sharing one of mine. Who knows when you may need to take refuge from the unrealistic expectations and disgusting commercialism that make up the holiday season?

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Source:bookmarcsonline.com

You may be familiar with Louise Penny’s well written Inspector Gamache detective series which takes place mainly in a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines. Why do I love it so? The main draw for me is how the author draws me in and makes me long to jump in my car and drive without stopping the 36 or so hours it would take me to get to this ancient village, where all the inhabitants seem to be sitting by a warm fire, drinking hot chocolate and saying words in a sexy French accent.

Source:louisepenny.com

Source:louisepenny.com

If you were to join me in Three Pines we could stay at the Bed and Breakfast run by an engaging  gay couple, Gabrí and Olivier,  where we would be served gourmet meals while we discussed who could have committed the most recent murder. We might be interviewed by Inspector Gamache, the honorable, perceptive Head of the Sûreté de Quebec, who prizes above all the ability to listen in order to solve a crime. And his ability to quote poetry by heart is a definite plus. That evening we would be invited to the home of one of the local citizens, perhaps that of Myra Landers, the  caftan clad retired psychologist who runs a used bookstore. Other guests would include  foul mouthed Ruth Zardo, the eminent poet, and the artists Clara and Peter Morrow. Dinner would consist of a simple but hearty stew with a crusty French bread and local wine, followed by cheese, fruit, and coffee.

Source:wallpaperweb.com

Source:wallpaperweb.com

After all my NaNoWriMo frenzy,  nothing would have suited me better than to be taken into the arms of the Three Pines residents. Ah, how they would congratulate me for committing myself to the NaNoWriMo project; I would bask in their approval. After our dinner at Myra’s we would walk through the snowy white wonderland of the village, our boots crunching in the  silent snow. Gabrí, one of the Bed and  Breakfast proprietors, would be waiting up to serve us a snifter of brandy. Then it would be time to go upstairs to sleep in one of the antique beds with its crisp white linen. We would sleep soundly until awoken by the heady aroma of fresh baked croissants and maple cured Canadian bacon cooking on the stove.

Source;hdwallpaperstop.com

Source;hdwallpaperstop.com

I would love to say I would meet you in the town where my own novel takes place, but I don’t yet dare to have such lofty dreams. But if you are game, and want a cozy place to recuperate because of the holidays, or because you have taken the trouble to read my blog posts, I would love to meet you in Three PInes, Monsieur.( Or Mademoiselle, but Monsieur sounds so much more cosmopolitan.)  Come, let us begin to memorize some poetry to recite when we meet Inspector Gamache! Yes, he is real!