February 6, 2013 § 4 Comments
I’ve come to believe that I do not choose books.
Instead, the books choose me, or rather, the Universe picks the books, which in turn pick me.
When I look at the list of the last year’s reads, their purpose is so obvious (if it weren’t so late I’d go into all of that).
Today, my Libran curse, the zodiac sign that I was delivered into at birth, tipped and teetered on its metaphorical and literal scales.
Indecisiveness was painfully present. Do I run? Do I write? Do I cry? Do I smile? Do I believe? Do I quit?
Even the weather acted like a Libra, asking, “Is it winter? Is it spring?”
The biting cold morning turned just beautiful by mid-afternoon; freezing again when I went to collect the mail at sun-down.
In my headphones, I steadied myself by listening to the Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.
Chapter 16 was so illuminating, describing God and the Universe and religion and the answers, that I rewound and replayed it twice.
Piscine (the narrator and protagonist) decided (as a boy), to become a practicing Christian, Muslim and Hindu.
Upon discovery of this, his wise men, men with whom he’d secretly built relationships, who had taught him their ways, told him that he couldn’t be all three, that they have nothing in common, and that it was impossible for them to be practiced together.
And yet Piscine felt strongly that they could be; he loved God and wanted to know God, choosing to be Christened in church, praying to Allah on a small, rolled-out floor rug, and continuing to feel at home in Hindu temples like the first one his mother took him to as a baby.
He was not indecisive about this, the most sacred understanding.
In all of today’s Libran swaying, it was the only thing that made any sense at all.
How can that be?
Do you choose books or do they choose you? Have you read Life of Pi?
January 17, 2013 § 4 Comments
I’ve been listening to the debut novel Girlchild, written and narrated by Tupelo Hassman.
It’s the saddest, yet most intriguing story I think I’ve ever read. It’s sad, because of (Girchild) Rory D’s early suffering, the result of her place on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. It’s intriguing because Tupelo’s words and voice are so true I’m having trouble accepting that the author and the young heroine aren’t one and the same.
Ms. Hassman is that good of an author.
Last week I saw a doctor with lots of framed diploma’s hanging on her walls (eight golden-framed diplomas) who spent an hour and a half talking with me …all about me.
“Why was I there? How is my sleep? Tell me about your upbringing?” etc.
They were all the usual questions a doctor asks a patient sitting uncomfortably at the end of a very soft leather couch and I answered each inquiry to the best of my ability, glossing over stuff that’s so old it doesn’t seem relevant anymore.
Often I was surprised by doctor lady’s physical reaction to my half-hearted attempts to sound completely fine with things that may not be.
“Oh dear,” said the sad eyes peeking over the laptop screen. ”Not fair,” said the furrowed, but soft and caring brow.
When she spoke the words, “that’s trauma,” words to match the eyes and the brow, I was surprised.
Trauma? If you say so.
In one of the last chapters I listened to today, Girldchild was discussing the directions you follow to draw a bird, any bird. You begin with an egg shape, because all birds come from eggs and so they fit in that shape.
The chapter went on to discuss how if a bird begins in an egg, and lives its life still shaped like an egg, then maybe all of us are like birds, permanently shaped from the places from whence we came.
But she reminded the reader that inside eggs are also wings that give the bird the ability to fly. They fly away, but can’t ever fly far enough to lose their egg-like shape; the shape that made them to begin with.
“You bet your sweet ass,” would have been R.D.’s response had someone else spoken those very same words; had they come to the very same conclusion.
She might have been poor and abused, but those truths didn’t negate that Tupelo’s Girlchild kept putting one foot in front of the other, was blessed with a reader’s mind, and was right about more than most people whose lives began glossy and never stray from the pretty.
Even if she never escapes the trailer park, I think this is the equation for a life well-lived. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, only where your going (even if it’s only in your mind).
I hope I’m not wrong.
My sweet ass is betting I’m not wrong.
Have you read Girlchild?
May 3, 2012 § 11 Comments
Considering how much I despised the first five chapters of 50 Shades of Grey, it’s surprising (especially to me) how enraptured I became with the story.
It would be easy to assume that the highly sexual story line is what reeled me in and in all honesty it did add an element that kept me interested, noticeable by my sizeable smile and simultaneous open jaw sitting on the floor.
I knew my view had turned when I went from solely listening in my Yurbuds while heading out to run, to carrying my phone in my bra so that I could push play every time the kids left the room. I became hooked. Desperate to know what was next. Eager for the ride and excited for the journey.
In any language and on any continent this kind of reaction is motivation for a writer. Being so beguiling that the reader can’t put you down is the essence of the job; the goal. No one wants to write a snore.
When I was teaching fourth grade writing, we often spoke about the difference between telling the story and showing the story; the goal was always the showing.
In 50 Shades, so much was told using the same words et nausea that the writing appear labored and simple, even when the words themselves were sophisticated (thesaurus usage can be deadly).
How many times was she going to say his mouth fell in a hard line? How often did we need to be told that she had an inner goddess who hid behind chairs and sofas and under blankets? Yes, I understand he looked at her speculatively and with grey eyes. Biting her bottom lip? Got it. The symbol for the power struggle
But it may have been E.L. James’ master plan. Her brilliance as a writer being kept secret until she was ready to share.
The choice to make Anastasia’s voice so repetitive was in direct opposition to the voice that was exposed when her innocence was being challenged.
This was where the real beauty of the writing came alive and convinced me of Ms. James’ true talent in the authoring department.
Granted, the scenes in the red room of pain, the bondage, the frightened girl who became totally immersed and connected in the moments of her fear revealed deep emotion mixed with gut wrenching descriptiveness highlighting some really glorious writing.
It was enough to make me forgive those wasted first chapters. Maybe they weren’t wasted after all.
Last night I started to read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.
Four pages in, I have a picture of Aibileen. Through the story showing and Aibileen’s dialogue (shortened sentence structure, double negatives and misplaced use of words) I have an idea of who she is. I like her immediately. Read the first four pages and you’ll like her, too. Kathryn Stockett created a new and interesting character with a voice I want to hear.
I should probably apologize to Ms. James for my initial incertitude toward to her book. I still wish she hadn’t used the C word so much and feel like s.h.i.t would have been just as appropriate. It would have saved me from my personal challenge to count the word in question, pulling me out of the story thirty two times, give or take a few.
I went to be last night working out the first lines (of one of my books) that will be written in it’s own time.
It will go something like this…
I was handed to my mother three days after I was born. Wrapped in a pink blanket she carefully pulled me from the hands of the lawyer, anxious to leave before Loretta had a chance to change her mind. I was bald and pretty, despite the ears that were far too big for my head. My brown eyes looked up at my new mother, whose own brown eyes matched mine exactly.
I couldn’t have known then what I learned all those years later. That my beginning was a gift and that I was saved.
I couldn’t have known the truth. I wouldn’t have believed it had come written in ink and pinned to my clothes.
I was the lucky one.
My older sisters, just two and three, waited in a run down house halfway across town as I was being given away. They knew nothing of me. They knew not of their mothers’ illness. They didn’t have a chance. Weren’t granted even a molecule of a future.
January 13, 2012 § 5 Comments
Grace shuffled in at 1 a.m. with her footsie pajamas trailing behind her and her underpants around her ankles.
“Mom,” she said, “the pee won’t come out.”
I followed her into the bathroom where I watched her scoot atop the potty. She was so far forward that her little tush wasn’t over the hole, making it impossible to go. I pushed her farther back, but there was still no sound.
I whispered, “Listen,” as I turned on the faucet. Voila’, she peed!
As I snuggled her back into bed I thought about potty training. Her first night out of diapers she wet the bed, but immediately realized she’d had enough of that funny business. Every night after that she would wake me to tell me she had to go. Only recently has she started the night-time ritual on her own. Her sister took a bit longer to get trained and the plastic sheet stayed on her bed a few more weeks, but overall, potty training my kids was easy.
From potty training to marathon training, I began to think about my upcoming fifteen mile run on Saturday and how it won’t be bearable without an audiobook. I’ve visited iTunes a hundred times and have settled on The Hunger Games, but it’s $26.00 price tag has made it difficult for my finger to press download.
The younger Martha would have had no problem pushing that button, listening to it once and then sending it to the trash to save room in my iPod. The younger and very single Martha used to go grocery shopping with no qualms about the price of milk or yogurt or ice cream or chicken. The married Martha has gotten used to questioning the cost of the little things.
I have been wife trained without even knowing it!
After almost seven years of marriage, Brian’s frugality and deep held belief that we have much more than we need, was not something that I accepted had rubbed off onto me at all.
As Grace began to doze, her breathing soft and deep, I pondered what influence I’ve had on my dear husband. As I sit here and write, I still remain uncertain. What deep held beliefs of mine has he adopted? If I can’t think of any, does it mean that he doesn’t really love me? Does it mean that I picked wrong?
Maybe it’s not that complicated.
Maybe husband training is simply like potty training in boys; they take a lot longer, but eventually get it, which makes mommy’s life much easier. You just have to trust it will happen and try not to give up.
January 1, 2012 § 8 Comments
Upon my return from a relatively slow and only mildly painful 14.2, I found my kids playing on the back porch in the warm sunshine and fresh air. It felt more like Spring yesterday, the last day of 2011, rather than a late December Winter day. Perfect conditions for running and for kids in need of time outside of the house.
After a quick shower, where I washed off the salt and loudly exhaled the tension that had gathered in my body, the girls and I settled on my King sized bed with the flowered sheet covering us up. Grace sat on my left with pink eye and a cough; Sophie on my right with her ducky mask fully flowing, Albuterol and Pulmacort on high. Another pediatric virus has come for a visit. I flipped open my laptop in an effort to write, but my brain cells like my energy were running low. The girls watched t.v. and I soon dozed off between their two warm bodies.
My biggest fear about my first fourteen miler was the boredom that seemed to be creeping in as my running time got longer. In an effort to thwart such boredom, I requested book suggestions in my last post, but hemmed and hawed about which to choose.
In the end, I picked a book called The Lovers by my childhood friend Vendela Vida.
When I was in the sixth grade my family and I moved from Miami to San Francisco where I started at a new school. Burke’s was (and still is) private and all girls, with uniforms of navy pleated skirts and white middy’s appliqued with navy blue stripes.
Vendela was one of three girls with whom I walked to school. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since the eighth grade.
Aimee lived near the entrance to Baker Beach, the furthest walk from my house which sat a few in from 30th Avenue and California Street. She was the one I related to most and the one I’ve happily reconnected with on facebook. We were partners in crime and by the time we were in high school our names were synonymous; Aimee and Martha, Martha and Aimee.
Aimee would walk to Vendela’a house, which sat a top a hill overlooking the opposite end of Baker. I actually can’t remember if she walked to Vendela’s first or if she walked to Samantha’s and Vendela met her there (since I wasn’t along for the trek) but for the purpose of this post I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
What I clearly remember is Vendela’s mother and their kitchen. Once, when sucking on a piece of hard candy in that kitchen, I inhaled it into the back of my throat and started to choke. Vendela’s mother sprang into action, performing the Heimlich Maneuvre. It all happened so quickly; my desperation for air, that frightening moment of gasping breath to the freedom of deep inhalation. One never forgets their first Heimlich.
Samantha’s house was two block’s down from mine and the last pickup before they got to me. Samantha is an attorney now, but what I recall so clearly was her drawer full of alligator shirts and her brand new baby brother.
The three would meet me at my door and we’d walk the last couple of blocks together. The one time I recall a different arrangement was when we decided to cut through the Lonergan’s yard, only to wind up being flashed by some weirdo. Like the first Heimlich, one also never forgets their first penis.
When I found out about a year ago that Vendela was a successful novelist, whose screenplay with her husband was made into the movie Up and Away with Maya Rudolph, I had a rush of emotions over the news. I was thrilled to hear about her success. It seemed that all my friends from that time had experienced great successes. Like Samantha and Vendela, from what I googled, Aimee graduated Berkeley and has had a remarkable career herself.
There was something about the fact that Vendela made her way in the area of writing, though, that excited me, but also sent pangs of sadness through my own soul.
I remember listening to her work from the desks inside our classrooms. I remember thinking she was talented and always enjoyed what she wrote.
The sadness came from my own disappointment at the fact that even though I had always been praised for my own writing, I had done nothing with it. It was the one thing that consistently brought me joy, yet I ignored it in search of something else, something more. My life after my time at Burke’s (and my first two year’s of high school) had spiraled out of control, beginning with the death of my father.
When learning about Vendela’s success, I couldn’t help but face my own inadequacies; my own flailing through life, uncertain as to who I was, uncertain as to what I should do, disheartened by my incapability to finish many of the things that I started. I wondered for decades if my father had not died, would my life have been more predictable and easy? For too long it was a hard pill to swallow that I was not dealt those cards. Thankfully with age, a lot of yoga, and some mellowing, I’ve been able to better understand that life happens exactly as it should.
And also, maybe I wouldn’t have anything to write about today if things had continued as they had when I was fourteen; sheltered, a little spoiled, unaware that my own path has its own value despite the sadness and confusion that shaded the good stuff.
Fourteen. Interesting age and mileage.
As I stood in the middle of my street yesterday waiting for the Garmin to detect a signal, I paused to look at the book title The Lovers on my iPhone. There was her name below it. My pulse, detected by my watch, was elevated before I’d run a step.
I pressed play.
For the next three hours I listened to the story of Yvonne. I kept thinking how Vendela wrote the way a painter paints; her words like brush strokes of the most beautiful colors. It was amazing.
My legs turned over at a comfortable speed and I hardly noticed my miles; eight, nine, ten.
It’s usually about ten that I start to feel the pain of the run, but as I listened to the story I was more excited to see what would happen next than worry about my tired body.
Eleven, twelve, thirteen floated by. With one mile left I wanted the run to be over, but wished I could keep listening until the end of the book.
All day yesterday and into this first day of the new year I continue to feel like Yvonne is waiting for me. My plan was to save the final three-hour read for next Saturday’s fifteen miler, but like a kid who knows the Christmas presents are hiding in mom’s locked closet, I might have to peek.
As 2012 begins, I am still unsure about a lot.
I don’t know how many more viruses my girls will encounter this year or how many more mustard containers might be tossed through the air in a fit of rage. I can’t predict the future, though I’m not sure I really want to know all that it holds.
Despite life’s uncertainty, I feel clear about my own path and the decision to continue to write. There is something energizing and grounding about the knowing; about the certainty that what I am choosing for myself is what I am meant to do. It’s taken me longer than most to get to this place and it doesn’t even matter if I’m any good at it.
The action and acknowledgement that I am following my own dream is what makes it right.
Here’s to you finding and following your own dreams!
Happy New Year to you all!