Saturday, June 30, 2012

good harbor: review

I was unsure about reading Anita Diamant's Good Harbor (man it hurts to spell the title like that) when I first read the back blurb. Two middle-aged (give or take) women who forge a friendship while walking on the beach? Sounds like a snore-fest. And yet, I love the beach. And some of my best conversations with girlfriends are on the beach. And, my mom did highly recommend it. And Diamant's earlier novel The Red Tent remains one of my all-time favourite books. And Good Harbor was more of a novella so not much of a time commitment. All things considered, what did I have to lose? 

Click to buy on
I'm glad I worked all that out, because Good Harbor is a short, honest, rewarding read that reminded me once again how essential honest female friendships are. The back blurb doesn't do justice to the depth, richness and complexity of the two friends' - cancer-fighting Kathleen and meaning-search Joyce - lives, but Diamant's skillful, sensitive writing more than makes up for that.

Good Harbor is so unlike, but equally revealing of the importance of women's relationships with each other, The Red Tent. Kathleen and Joyce share a connection through modern Judaism that seems almost circumstantial. Their real connections are through their struggles as mothers, as wives, and as humans. There are rich themes here of love, loss, time, mortality, faithfulness and forgiveness that Christian, Muslim, and atheist women - and probably men - can equally relate to.

As a story Good Harbor started a little slowly for me, but by the middle of the book I'd taken my familiar stance - reading late into the night, trying to stir dinner with a book in my hand, stealing moments away from my family to read just a few more pages. Slowing down to savour the ending. Grieving and celebrating and identifying with Kathleen and Joyce.

I've said many times how much more I respond to strongly written characters than I do to a tense plot; Good Harbour offers some of both, though in the end these ladies are women I want to know more of, and that's what sticks with me. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

in the toes

I think of it nearly every time I'm at a beach, and definitely every time my toes tingle on sun-baked sand. For me, the image is synonymous with summer, and is the clearest memory I have of my grandpa. 

It was a day when you could see the heat sucking steamy vapors out of Okanagan Lake and dancing on the sand. My cousins, sisters, our parents and I splashed and squealed in the water, and grandpa sat in his chair in the shade of a giant pine. His button down short-sleeved shirt, pressed pants and fedora was both anachronistic and comfortably familiar. I imagine he smiled a lot, watching his family enjoy rare time together. 

I wish I had a picture from that day - I
bet my swimsuit was AWESOME
At some point he beckoned a big cousin - or did we dare ask? - to come get some money from Grandpa and get us all ice creams. A small troop of us set out, not content to have our treat selected for us. The searing sand under our feet is a pain I can still feel. We walked as far as we could along the cooler water's edge before dashing across the stretch of beach to the ice cream cart.

We didn't know he'd leave us soon after - that gentle generous poet in the gentleman's hat. And yet he's always with me - in the ringing of an ice cream bell, a line of Irish poetry, the angle of a jaunty hat, and the sand between my toes.
Write on Edge Prompt:

It’s the first full week of summer here in New England, so to celebrate, take 450 words and write about sand. Whether it be beaches, backyards, or hourglasses, think sandy thoughts and come back on Friday to link up!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

on the other hand

I woke up on Tuesday and finally admitted to myself and my beloved that I am deeply unhappy. Not with anything in particular, just like a cloak I've thrown on and can't seem to shake. I'm not even really sad - I'm just unhappy - tired, and unhappy. I'm not seriously immobilised like I was last summer - this is a high-functioning unhappiness, an unhappiness with moments of sparkle and touches of laughter. This is probably not a surprise to the people around me, but I was in denial.

In some ways it just doesn't make sense. I don't want to change anything - work, STG, the love shack, etc. But, I'm deeply disappointed in myself - this is the life I said I wanted and I want to wake up with joy and gratitude for making it happen. It's frustrating that there was a time I didn't have the life I wanted, and yet  was frequently grateful and satisfied in it. 

Anyway, I'm contemplating my options for 'fixing' the problem - do I go to a doctor & get anti-depressants (they've never worked in the past)? Do I revive my alternative medicines - accupuncture, herbs, massage - that cost money, but seemed to work for me? Or some combination of those two things? Do I just need to move my body and lose some weight and stop being a whiner? Do I need to find new 'things' to bring me joy, or just remember who I am? 

This is not a post I want to write - it's just what I have to get off my chest so I can get on with everything else. But the other day UberCoach wrote on her Facebook status

"And suddenly, happy. Just there, no reason. I've missed that." 

And I realised how much that's the only thing left for me to want - it was a celebration for my friend, and bit of a challenge for me.

I suppose this post contradicts last week's post about happiness being a shallow pursuit. On that, let me  again quote my dear old friend Walt Whitman:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

if it makes you happy ... who cares?

A dear friend of mine has been in a ... challenging ... relationship for a while. There are no bad guys and no victims, just a fairly complex relationship with some difficult circumstances. I've supported her when she says it's what she wants, and I've supported her when she says it's not at all what she wants. And yesterday, I said "all I've ever wanted in this is for you both to be happy." It was sincere, but it wasn't really the truth.

I realised this morning, with Sheryl Crow resounding in my head, that happiness is really among the least of my concerns - for my friend or for myself. Happy is, in most cases, a fleeting, somewhat vapid feeling that comes and goes like so many other feelings. 

Most feelings are nothing more than butterflies, if they are pretty ones we like, and moths, if they are icky, in their flickering ways. They're really not something worth getting all worked up about (which is ironic coming from the girl who is terrified of moths, but that's a story for another post).

Feelings may be universal, but they aren't real - they're nothing more than a convenient short-hand. So when I say 'I just want you to be happy', what I really mean is something so much more.

I mean, I want you to go to sleep at night sure that the good outweighs the bad. I want you to know that all the hard work actually makes everything else worth while. I want you to be confident in your choices, knowing that they are consistent with your values and will contribute to the future you want for yourself. When I think about it, I'm indifferent to individual happiness, and really interested in people continuing to grow, to learn, to succeed and to be content in life. 

It's also true in my own life; I often say that STG makes me happy, but that's hardly a worthy acknowledgement of what it means to me to spend my life with him. Happy is a DQ Skor blizzard (no, really!). Having the love and support and good humour of a giving, patient man - one who I can piss off, or be pissed off at, and know that the underlying care and respect are still there. One who encourages me constantly to be the most honest portrayal of myself I can muster, to break down walls rather than building them, to ask for and accept help, and to offer it in return. Well, it may not always make me happy, but it sure does make me confident in myself and in us. 

STG doesn't make me happy - he allows me to blossom. And that, at the end of the day, is what I really mean when I say I hope my friend is happy. I hope she blossoms. And that you do too. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

fate and the writing process

I really wanted to write tonight, and was stuck. I asked BB2, who happened to be sitting beside me, for a prompt, but he just shrugged. So I checked my inbox for the prompt that arrived this week - a prompt to write about 'fate.' But, still, it seemed ... nothing. 

So I twitter-whined about having nothing left to say. And I got twitter-encouraged. And I drove BB2 to meet a friend. 

And on the way back, I heard this ... an anthem. A challenge. A reminder. A way forward. Fate, pulling me forward through the magic of FM radio with a steady reassuring beat. 

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky

Some neglected part of my mind, the part that needed anthems and female power ballads to get through 1999, struggled to remember the next lines. 

Lovers, they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears
Stand up and be counted
Don't be shamed to cry

Oh yes ... 1999 ... and shame ... and tears and lost-ness. And that message that always worked for me

You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser
You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together
All I know, all I know, love will save the day

It's a great song. More lasting than those other songs that got me through that year. Less cheesy and over-done than the throw-back I Will Survive. Less angry than Alanis and her ode to bitches. More direct than a Fast Car. And less dangerous than the only thing guaranteed to make me smile, and laugh, and live la Vida Loca. 

Herald what your mother said
Read the books your father read
Try to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time
Some may have more cash than you
Others take a different view

Don't ask no questions, it goes on without you
Leaving you behind if you can't stand the pace
The world keeps on spinning
You can't stop it, if you try to
This time it's danger staring you in the face

I am wiser. And stronger than I knew I was. I am cool, though not often calm. And for the most part, I've given up solving the puzzles and made peace with not knowing. 

But still in the end, 

All I know, all I know, love will save the day.

And fate wins out, when you listen for it. 

Write on Edge Prompt: 

Even the most staunch advocates of free will may find themselves looking into the night sky and wondering if there isn’t some sort of cosmic order to the events unfolding in their lives. There’s something about certain moments that make the role of fate seem a little closer, moments where events seem to be led by something or someone we can’t see. 

This week, write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece where fate plays a prominent role. You can write from the position of a complete belief or absolute disbelief in the role of fate in our lives or the lives of our characters. You have 400 words to play with; come back Friday to link-up!
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