I fell in love with two Asian stories this week. “One Forgotten Country” by Catherine Chung and the other the film, “Snow flower and the Secret Fan” based on Lisa See’s book. The boss just put in this wicked cool Samsung flat screen in the salon. As I fall asleep when I try to watch movies at night and haven’t been sleeping past five for the past month, I got up early and watched it in the salon. What a treat. The New York Times ripped the movie apart but I loved the message of women loving each other for who they are not for who they want them to be. We can all learn a lesson on better loving. So many quotes stick out from both pieces of work but I especially enjoyed these:
The world is always changing. Every day it's changing. Everything in life is changing. We have to look inside ourselves to find what stays the same, such as loyalty, our shared history and love for each other. In them, the truth of the past lives on. Lisa See
Joy stops time. Joy can stop time with the force of its insistent, incomprehensible weight. Catherine Chung
You might see me surrounded by others, laughing uproariously but there is loneliness here. Others might not see it but at moments of need it can stun me how isolated I am from people who share my passions.
It is my nature to seek aloneness. It helps me revive. It allows me to ruminate. It allows me to write.
I lived alone. I traveled alone. To be alone is not loneliness. But when I am unable to commune with those who share passions, questions, stimulating discourse please…Or worse when I’m absolutely flattened by sadness on whom do I lean?
As in any work setting, you have limited power as to who stands next to you. But in this setting one is often stuck out in the middle of nowhere (a beautiful nowhere but still nowhere) with only your crew mates for company and an educated populous is not a requirement. Can they perform a job, which is technical, often mind numbing, at times unrelenting and has the potential to endanger your life? Hm? A transparent, inquiring heart not on the skills required list. Even if I am the one doing the hiring there is no guarantee I won’t want to whack the person overboard three months later.
So at times this life is lonely.
I hurry to assure my reader that I have others with whom I can share the burdens of this life, just a phone call away. But here? Not in this world of yachts and service. No, not here. Books? History? Psychological Inquiry? Morality? Ethical living in a corrupt world? These I ponder alone.
Maybe that’s better? Who needs to hear me babble?
And really, how much do I enjoy the inconvenience of people anyway?
That’s my old tough heartbroken heart....
Barbara Kingsolver to the rescue
After two dismissal audio book listens, David Ellis’s Company of Liars & Catherine Coulter’s something, I was desperate for a refreshing distraction. In walks Barbara Kingsolver with Pigs in Heaven. Let the Mormom Tabernacle choir sing. Cleaning toilets, making beds, creating meals and living with others requires pleasurable distraction. This audio book is a breathe of delight.
A study by PNC Advisors, a wealth-management firm, shows a surprising pattern among Richistanis when they’re asked how much money would make them secure. They almost always answer that the amount they need to feel secure is twice their current level of net worth or income. Those worth $500,000 to $1 million said they needed $2.4 million. Those worth $1 million to $1.49 million said $3 million. And those with $10 million or more said $18 million. In other words, people’s definition of ‘rich’ is subjective and is usually twice their current net worth.
But I love flipping quickly to the section on books and the monthly missive titled ‘books that changed my life.’ Every month a luminary offers up five or six books that changed their life. Given that it is Oprah most are women. Every month I read this column and ponder, ‘what books would I chose?’ What books would I consider life altering? Normally, the spotlighted books are profound, deep, ‘hard’ books, i.e. nobody picks a John Grisham novel. John Grisham novels and their ilk do not alter your life; they offer a respite from it (which is a highly valued attribute in my opinion). My first thought this a.m. continued my pondering last night, what books would I choose? For someone who reads voraciously this is too difficult, especially because I have no bookshelf to reference. Books are also precious during particular times and moods so one book at this moment would not offer insight tomorrow – is this a version of ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear?”.
One book that crosses all boundaries is the Bible, (alright all you eye rollers just stop). The truth is that the Bible did change my life but not in the way many would assume. It’s the only book I continue to read repeatedly not because I ‘have to’ but because I my soul hungers for it. Another book that ‘changed my life’ was Let’s Go Europe. It was the Bible for my first foray into foreign adventure. Books have always been about educating me how to live, where to go and how to think. Let’s Go is a literal passeral into Europe. Every time I see it in a book store a delighted smile springs up, what a great adventure it offers. Usually Oprah’s guests pick a book of poetry but I can’t. How embarrassing to admit that reading poetry does not do it for me – listening to poetry by the writer now that is when poetry flowers. The whole slam poetry contest thing jazzes me as it offers an opportunity to hear poetry from raging, passionate poets. One more book comes to mind today, it’s a ‘story’ book, the Secret Life of Bees. It sticks with me particularly b/c it’s told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl/women and one line that sums up something so profound, “people who saying dying is hard have never tried really living.” Isn’t that true?
What books changed your life?
I seek books that send me to another space and time. It does not always work out but sometimes there are books that create an internal sigh. A place of rest and an attitude of gratefulness as they remind you of the love so present in your life. The Friday Night Knitting Club is such a book. It’s like a warm cuddle from someone you love. You will not learn a practical skill or broaden your educational horizons, you will simply relax and enjoy. What a treat.
Robb’s Dad (Johnny) and his stepmom (Susan) came to play in January. Robb and I were thrilled to have visitors and esp. these. What a treat to hang with family in our current area of residence. It gets lonely here with just us two as we both love that family and friends connection. Johnny and Susan took off on a cruise to the islands but spent a few days wandering around FT L before departure. Johnny ran into 85 on the cruise and I so hope to have his mental and physical dexterity when I hit 85. They love my most favorite adventure, which is going to the bookstore and poking around the stacks. They buy and I write down titles to retrieve later from the library. If I ever see Ben Franklin, I will give him a huge smooch for creating the lending library. The space and money he saves me, oy vey! Johnny is up on all the new books and we threw back and forth the latest book reviews in the New York Times. Johnny also queried my religious beliefs on the concept of soul. It is good to rip open my mind again. It reminded me of how much I enjoy studying theology and pondering the deeper questions of how we should live. They invited back to Salt Lake City where they live. Susan is a doctor and works long hours as the head of a huge complex dept at the University Hospital – not too sure which one. I want to visit to see pictures of Robb with a mountain man beard, oh my goodness – just say no to facial hair. Why would he ever want to hide that cute face?
Beyond the Body Farm
So much of what I read is sick twisted death stuff. Why do we love this? CSI, Law and Order, Criminal Minds is what I watch and what I read mirrors these good guy pursing bad guy story lines. Even the lousy reviews did not keep me from putting the new Patricia Cornwell on hold at the library. Forewarned is great but even a lousy Patricia Cornwell is better than much of the schlock out there. Recently I finished, Beyond the Body Farm. The author is the original Grissom (CSI: Las Vegas). The Body Farm is the research facility that answers those haunting questions of what is the manner of death, time of death and sometimes even who the heck is this person? They catch the bad guys – who doesn’t love that? Dr Bill Bass is the guy who began the research facility is the go to guy for all the high profile, weird, odd cases that come up. The book is a recounting of some of the strangest. Why does this stuff fascinate me? Some people say it is because death is the ultimate mystery? Nah, it’s just cool to know all this esoteric stuff about maggots!
Did anyone read this? I saw the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed but the book, oh the book. It is a radiant picnic lunch of luscious ripe peaches, marvelous cheeses and fruity red Shiraz. Frances Mayes is a lyrical writer. Her descriptions of Tuscany flood the senses with golden sunshine and the pleasure and richness of homegrown ‘real’ food. If given the opportunity who wouldn’t want to transform a 100s year old farm in Tuscany? Who wouldn’t want to grow bountiful herbs and shop for only the best of what Tuscany has to offer? At times, my heart ached so deep with longing I had to shut off the IPOD and force myself to breathe.
Dead Center by Shiya Ribowsky & Tom Shachtman
“Dead Center: Behind the Scenes at the World’s Largest Medical Examiner’s Office” by Shiya Ribowsky and Tom Shachtman
Former Director of Special Projects,
New York City Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their loyalty to high ideals, and their regard for the laws of the land.”
William Ewart Gladstone 1809-1898
Up until this week, I’ve not read any books on 9/11. That day is still too painful, too devastating that I shunned the myriad of books in print. When I picked this book up at the library, I was not aware that 9/11 stood at the center of this narrative. A story of how people live is always what interests me the most and that is what called me to this book. Tell me why you do what you do, your job, your marriage, how do you manage life in all it’s complexities, tell it in a compelling way and I’m there. Medical science, detective tales and yes, even murder touches a twisted curiosity in me, this book offered a handy combo. Recently, I read “Better” by Dr Atul Gawande – fascinating narratives on the ever-complex practice of medicine. Practice being the key word. These types of books hold my attention but Dead Center offered unique insight into a place portrayed in countless detective shows, the Medical Examiner’s Office. Does anyone else remember, Quincy? We’ve moved onto CSI in TV land a particularly fanciful look at the world of crime but obviously the ratings reflect a collective conscious interest in these topics. Dead Center tells the story of 9/11 from the perspective of one person involved in the colossal effort to identify the victims. He does not start there but that is the heart of his tale. Upon the first anniversary of 9/11, only 500 of the victims had been identified despite massive efforts. What struck me was the dedication, selflessness and all consuming effort by employees of the city government, who often do not have sterling reputations for effort. In the end, these dedicated professionals were able to identify over 80% of the victims. It would not be everyone’s choice for a Sunday afternoon read but I’m glad it was mine.
“My life in France by Julia Child” was my audio book de jour as I whipped up dinner. The book’s focus is on her memories of moving to France with her husband who was in the State Department, her discovery of cooking a la francaise and the development of her two initial mastery works. What a personality and what commitment. Her reminisces are a delightful and immensely encouraging. She admits to her continual practice that was certainly not always perfect. She also empathetically states that a cook should NEVER apologize for her efforts even if she realizes it’s less than her best. This I try to remember as I know I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever would be. On the edges of her story are political developments – McCarthyism (frightening) and cultural phenomenon – TV (perhaps more frightening?). What stoo d at the center of the oeuvre is her relationship with Paul Child her husband of so many years. It was truly a partnership of like minds and like loves. What a gift. I have a few DVDs of hers on reserve at my library. Do you know she could debone a chicken leaving it completely intact in less than 12 minutes? Now that’s something to see.