Posts Tagged ‘books’

If Only

The other night, Jim and I watched The World According to Garp.  I read the book long ago and this was the second time I’ve seen the movie.  Watching it again, at this point in my life, seemed pertinent to two things that are nearly always on my mind but perhaps have been more in the foreground lately: parenting and writing.

My favorite thing about parenting was sharing as much of my knowledge with Mycol as I could and expanding his world to include as many experiences as possible.  I loved teaching him the academics, like reading and math, and I loved talking philosophically with him, at any age, in an effort to get him to consider the relationship between himself and the world.

When Mycol was 13, John Irving was on the schedule of presenters for the Drue Heinz Lecture Series.  Because I’d read nearly every one of his books, I was excited to go and hear him speak.  He was promoting his then yet-unpublished novel Until I Find You.  I took Mycol with me.  A prominent theme in many of Mr. Irving‘s stories is that of an only-child; a son, raised by a single mother.  At the lecture podium he spoke to the audience about the pros and cons of this relationship, which was again featured in the upcoming book.  He spoke about how only-children often get included in adult conversations, and in particular, only-children of single parents are likely engaged in even more still, because the parent relies on the child to be a sounding board for venting daily struggles they would otherwise dump on a spouse.  And to top it all off, Mr. Irving felt that this situation is most exaggerated when the only-child is a boy and the single parent is a mother.  So, there we sat, my 13 year-old son and I, in the Carnegie Music Hall, listening to John Irving talk about how the single mother in Until I Find You treated her son like an obligated boyfriend, and when I looked around the room all I could see were couples, not one single other pubescent child at all.  True, I’d wished my boyfriend would’ve gone with me, but I also felt glad that my son said he’d go when I asked him.  I was proud when he participated in things of that nature without so much as sighing, as if he really had learned to thirst for knowledge and new experiences (from me, of course!).  But when John Irving started to say those things, I felt like a spot-light was on us and I was flushed with embarrassment.  He’d called me out and announced to everyone that it was inappropriate to bring a child to adult programs.  After all, he was (is) John Irving.

Well, thank God, my son wasn’t scarred for life!

It reminds me of how my brother and I grew up in a house filled with books.  I am by far a more avid reader than he is, which I can only imagine is a direct result of the trauma incurred by Richard III when he was merely 3!

Then there is writing.  Another prominent theme in Mr. Irving‘s novels is a main character who is a writer.  A writer who struggles.  Authors are always saying the same thing about writing – that it is hard.  It is so hard to find the necessary discipline to keep at it, to not think everything you write is crap, to stop procrastinating by doing everything under the sun other than write something and just do it.  John Irving had a lot of athletic discipline as a wrestler.  I’ve been inspired every time I remind myself of what he used to do.  He used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and sit at his desk to write.  He set an alarm clock on his desk to ring at 8:30 am, at which time he would push away from his desk and lead the rest of his life, which was the life of a father, husband, wrestling coach, and teacher.  Whether he got anything on paper in those 3 hours was not necessarily the most important thing.

I have a slightly different clock than John Irving.  I don’t ever plan to get up before the sun rises, it makes my stomach turn.  But I am pushing myself, challenging myself every day to try harder, to do my best, and looking for inspiration.  Sometimes I think that I could pour all of my parenting energy into writing discipline and I may end up with yet another creation (besides my only child).

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Last year Yim and I were at Barnes & Noble and there was an author of children’s stories at the store signing books.  I cannot remember her name, but she was blind.  Yim, who loves to strike up lengthy conversations with everyone and at any time, got involved in a talk with the author and her husband on the discipline of writing.  I, who feel I must be in top form in order to get on with talking to strangers, reluctantly walked over to the three of them that evening.  I’d browsed the stacks long enough and I could no longer avoid the inevitable.  Yim would introduce me to the author and her husband and I’d be forced to make small talk when I was not even close to interested.  But as unfortunate as I felt at the time to have to put on airs of enthusiasm, I can now be grateful for the advice I was given.  That author, whose name I cannot recall, suggested that I read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott.  I remembered that title, Bird by Bird, and eventually looked up Ann Lamott online.  I watched a video clip of her speaking and I was intrigued because she is so strange and funny and smart.  So I bought the book, 6 months later.  Yim couldn’t even remember the blind author at Barnes & Noble by that time, let alone the book she’d recommended.  And then, as is prone to happen in my life these days, Bird by Bird sat unopened on my coffee table for another stretch of months.  Until last week when I finally peered inside at the first few pages and began to read.  Oh, so far I’ve only read the introduction and the first 28 pages beyond that, but I am enthralled and inspired.  Everything I’ve read thus far is true, true, true!  It’s uncanny.  Does she know me?  Or, damn, I’ve just realized that I am not special at all, but indeed, just like all the other writers or wannabe writers in the world.  Still, to read your thoughts put on paper by someone else, someone you’ve never met, well, it’s affirming.  I have excitedly told Yim about the book and what I’ve read.  When I am finished with it, I will pass it along to him.  In the meantime, however, I am glad to read to him interesting passages from its pages.  Just last night when we spoke on the phone, Yim shared with me his frustrations with writer’s block.  I asked if I could read to him over the phone, and when I got to this paragraph my eyes welled up with tears.  For the second time.  These words from Ann Lamott‘s book give me a feeling of awe and inspiration.  I said to Yim, “I must really love books!”

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.  What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.  Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean;  they show us how to live and die.  They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life — wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat.  And quality of attention:  we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention.  An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.  My gratitude for good writing is unbounded;  I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.  Aren’t you?  I ask.”  — Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird

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Last night I finally went to a Storytelling Night with Yim.  He’s been asking me to go almost as long as he’s known me and somehow it has never worked out.  So after dinner last night I drove out to Border’s Bookstore and met up with him.  I didn’t expect that all of the stories would be children’s tales, but the best thing happened!  Storyteller Barbara Guger told the Brothers Grimm fairytale Snow White and Rose Red.


As a child, I had a Tale Spinners album (I think it was Tale Spinners) with Snow White and Rose Red on one side and The Goose Girl on the other.  I listened to this story so many times that when I heard it told again last night I recognized every bit of it, and it was just as wonderful as ever.  I realized that I had a vivid picture in my mind of every scene in the story; a result of the effects of listening to a story and using your own imagination as opposed to watching a story play out on screen.  I loved every word of it.

I feel really good today because I have gotten a lot of things done in the past week and therefore I am extra confident that I will accomplish even more in the week to come.  I’ve made my lists and systematically crossed things off.  I’ve managed my time wisely.  My motto is “If I rest, I rust.”  I have gardened with Yim, broken bread with the Italian Ladies Social Club, cleaned the house, renewed library books, cooked delicious, whole food, written, brought good company and lunch from Pho Minh to dear friends recovering from illnesses, gone to Storytelling Night with Yim and his boys, had the roof repaired and entirely resealed, and started a new home improvement project myself.

In the coming weeks I hope to post all about the Easter holiday with my family, the garden that Yim and I have started, and I’d like to review all of the remodeling and decorating efforts I have made over the past 2 years.

Yesterday I started to remove the wallpaper from the entry hall with the stairs to the second floor.

My goal is to paint the walls a light gray, re-shellac the woodwork where needed, and pull up the carpet.  So far I think the floor beneath the carpet is in good condition, but we shall see.  This wallpaper has been the worst I’ve ever removed.  It is not vinyl, washable, cloth-backed paper.  It is glue-backed paper and it is stuck like skin to the wall.  First, I perforate the paper by running my utility knife in a criss-cross pattern all over the area.  Then, I spray the wall with a warm water and vinegar solution.  After it sits for about 10 minutes I start to go at it with my scraper, trying to pry up edges and pull back the sections as well as I can.  Mostly the paper starts to peel in layers and I have to re-spray and re-scrape until it is all gone.  The upstairs hallway has the same paper and I’ll get to work on it once this hall is finished.  I can’t wait.

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Shovelful by Shovelful

And just like that, it seems that spring has come to our fair city.  Suddenly, I am able to rise and shine a little earlier and with more energy, it seems.  I am excited for the day and the possibility that I will shed my coat and hat in the warmth.  Crews of people, neighbors, city employees, the teenagers from the church next door, have been out along the streets, armed with shovels, attacking the enormous piles of snow that rise 10 and 12 feet high.  They throw shovelful by shovelful onto the pavement to melt.

The snow in my yard will just have to melt on it’s own, but the plant-life isn’t going to wait any longer to push through and bud.  Walking around the house today I noticed the Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) poking through the snow and leaves in the shady side-yard.

By the end of March, they will look be full grown and by April they will be in bloom.


Now here is why I ran back in the house and grabbed the camera:

That is one of my hydrangeas.  It can’t wait to grow and I can’t wait to see it!

Last year, Yim and I wanted to plant a garden, but we could not organize ourselves in time to put it in the ground.  I also wanted to finally get those laying hens I’ve yearned after for so long, but we had to decide that for the time being, other things were more important.  Given all of that, we have had gardening on our minds since September!  So, about a month ago I started gathering information.

I picked up the Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac at the local book store and have studied the monthly guidelines.

Zia said she just can’t stand people who have to do everything by the book.  My grandfather had an almanac hanging from a nail in one of the joists in his cellar.  It was from 1964 or something.  He never bought another one.  He never even used that one, I think.  I bought the almanac because I think it’s neat, and I trust that it’s guidelines are accurate.  I also realize that there is a wisdom that comes from the experience of raising a crop year in and year out that cannot be relayed between the pages of an almanac.  And the “seasoned” gardeners are telling me about it.  Every time I say something like, “I have to start my indoor seedlings this weekend,” someone whose “grown peppers since they were 12” tells me it’s too early.  I come from a long line of folks who have grown crops for their own consumption.  My entire life I have been around large gardens that produce so much harvest that it must be shared.  I get bushels of tomatoes, peaches, zucchini, garlic, and kale from Zia.  I am friends with people who like to throw some tomato plants and peppers and herbs into the ground every summer, but my family has grown nuts, fruits, and berries in addition to a wide range of vegetable crops.  I have grown successful gardens myself, that produced more peppers, Swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers than I knew what to do with.  But it’s admittedly been awhile.  And I bought the almanac.  We’ll see what happens.

Yim and I have determined where the garden will go in.  We are putting it in his yard, which means that I am going to be spending a lot more time over there this summer.  Hello, suburbs.

We started composting around Christmastime.

This week we are going to mark out the territory and till and fertilize the soil.  A few days ago we thought we’d have to clear snow first, but it has been melting so fast, there’s hardly any left on the grass in his yard.  I got my rubber gardening boots, though, because it’s gonna be muddy to start with.  Once the soil is well enough drained, in go the seeds!  We researched local unmodified organic seeds and found a seller.  Unfortunately, they were inundated with orders and had to stop taking new ones until April.  And I could not wait.  So we went with a make-do blend.  Anything we could get organic we did, and anything we couldn’t, we didn’t.

Oh my God, I am so excited to plant these and watch them grow! First things going in are the beets, cabbage and lettuces.  I’m starting the peppers indoors, and it should only be another 6 weeks or so until the other crops go in.  We intend to can things in late summer; dilly beans, pickled cukes, maybe a giardiniera.  We’ll make raspberry jam for jarring.  I’ll try to foster the herbs indoors when the weather turns cold again.  We did not buy zucchini and kale, as Zia has more than enough for all of us.  Speaking of Zia, when she saw the bag of seeds that we spent our money on, she could not curb her enthusiasm to give us what for.  But she quickly shifted gears after her jibes and said that she should take some of our “organic” seeds and plant them herself and we could have a contest.

On your marks.  Get set.  Go!

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Good Night, J.D.

Last Monday Yim and I took an urban hike because it was a beautiful day outside and I had to return this book to the library:


This book was lent to me.  I had no idea about it before last month.  But I am a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s oevre.  In fact, I hold his oevre in high esteem.

And so I did enjoy this work of historical fiction by Nancy Horan, because she breathed life into the tragic events that scandalized our American architect’s reputation.

The other thing is that I have always wanted to re-read The Catcher in the Rye and since J. D. Salinger died recently, I have been extra anxious to open the book again.  Now, mind you, I don’t want to read it again because I loved it so and am terribly sad that such a great author has died.  I want to read it again because either I didn’t get it the first time around or I just didn’t like it.  And I want to, once and for all, put this to rest.  I mean, if I didn’t get it does that somehow make me un-hip, man? Like, am I some kinda square ’cause I ain’t down with the book that rocked the worlds of young Americans on the verge?  Or, conversely, if I simply do not like it, does that mean that I am confident enough to go against the grain of the “Rye”, and simply admit that I am unimpressed by the antics of yet another strange-o Capricorn male? (Sorry Dave and Ed – still love you guys)  So I searched and searched but could not find my copy of the book on my shelves and our urban hike to the library became also a quest to find another copy.

Bingo!  One copy left at Townsend Booksellers and she’s mine now.  I will read it soon.  Now that I have possession of it, it seems less urgent.  Besides, I am already involved with some other book right now.  I will add that I read Salinger’s obituary in the New York Times and realized the resemblance to the fictional character, Max Fisher, from Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore.  No surprise, since I understand The Royal Tenenbaums is based on the Glass family.

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