Sunday, July 21, 2013

divisadero: review

This isn't the first time I've read this book, so I was thinking I'd just get to update the review. Only apparently I forgot to review it the last time. That I had already read it once is about the highest praise I can give a book. Nothing in my 'too read' stack appealed at the moment I was looking for a book, and I hadn't yet picked up a copy of my next book club book, so I just needed something to get e by until I got to the bookstore. No doubt part of why I love Divisadero so much and why I wanted to read it again is because, of late, I've been obsessed with San Francisco, and the title just glowed at me. 

I have read a lot of Michael Ondaatje's writing, and I expect I'll read a lot more. While Divasdero is not The English Patient, it is richly poetic, deeply human, and constantly shifting. Reading any Ondaatje is  like watching the sun reflecting off the sea. If you haven't read any Ondaatje, start here or with In the Skin of a Lion. If you start with what you think you know because of the movie, you will be lost in comparison instead of in Ondaatje's incredible skill with language. You would be ripping yourself and the writing off.

The story is split between California and France, between now and then, between sisters and fathers and dreams and realities. It is painful and peaceful and enthralling. There's a slow air about it - like laying in a stream and letting the water wash over your skin, the language flows past you. There are moments of high tension, but they are balanced with moments of small beauty - Buddhist flags fluttering in a breeze, the way a cat is always present but rarely visible, the buzz and hum of insects in a summer forest.
... there was water nearby, and as soon as he assumed that, he began to smell it in the air and stood up, lifting his face to the sky. He bustled forward and within moments came upon the small lake. He stripped down and slipped into the water, all the scratches and bites on him covered now in its coolness. 
DISCLAIMER: If you click on any of my book links and choose to purchase from Amazon via that link, I get a small dividend.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

no words

I can't sleep tonight. My bed feels off - the sheets writhing with imagined insects, my skin hyper-alert to every cat hair and dust ball collected on the sheets through the day. It's too warm, and yet lacks comfort. And my brain. My brain is recounting all the death that seems to be every where I look of late. So close, and getting closer. 

My Grandma's death in May was a respectable death. A tolerable one. We who loved her knew she was ready, had her faith and a long life well lived to guide her on her way. But since then ... it's just loss after horrible unsupportable loss. 

Local children being snatched from their mother's arms by cancer - Justin Plunkett. Baby Molly. And friends of friends being robbed of their hope and dignity before finally giving up their lives to cancer. Nearly every day on Facebook it seems someone new is mourning someone stolen from them. Babies and children, or adults in the prime of life, all with much living left to do.

And tonight my sons' cousin - my former nephew and one time adorable ring bearer - is being kept alive by life support machines. At 31, this husband and  father of 2 young sons had what we think at this point (and I may not have the most accurate information) was a massive heart attack while on summer holiday visiting his mom. His young wife performed CPR for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. 

I ... I have no category to put this in. Someone who was once dear to me, but through the violent disruption of divorce has been severed from my family tree. And yet he is close kin to my sons. It's a bizarre situation allowable only in this broken-down modern world. How do I offer condolences to my one-time sister-in-law who watched her only son fall to the floor? How do I console the niece-I-no-longer-have on the devastating loss of her protective big brother? Will a card sent with her cousins contain any meaningful solace?

And then there's that other issue. How do we keep death at bay? How do I keep my own sons safe? How do I stop that worst of nightmares of outliving a child? 

I wrote earlier tonight

death feels too close these days
& like only living fully will keep it at bay
I crave softness for my loved ones and 
compassion for the world

... but that will not help me sleep. Sleep is for those who haven't seen the death peering in the window. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

things I learned riding my bike to work today

Today was my first time riding my bike to work. It's part of my summer fitness program I outlined over on The Mountain Bike Life (and that I've honestly been hit or miss about ... I'm drinking a g&soda as I write this).

Here's my favourite thing about riding my bike today, besides not being stuck in my car; along the way, I had a total of 73 minutes to think about life, love, and bicycles. Here are some of those thoughts:
  • I am the only one on my bike. Other people have different bodies, different bikes, different histories, and different lives. They may be bigger, faster, smaller, slower. They may have less stress. It doesn't matter. I am the only one on my bike
  • Sometimes I will be the slowest person on the trail. Sometimes EVERYONE (yes, even the very large woman in the dress slacks, cardigan, and work shoes) will pass me. Sometimes I will catch up to them at the light, only to be left behind again. But I am the only one on my bike. 
  • If I quit now, this is as good as it gets
  • Water is like my helmet - I need it on EVERY ride
  • I can follow the map or ignore the map; I'm still going to have to climb some hills at some point
  • When I get to work, I'll still be me - the pretty wicker basked needs to include makeup and jewelry, not just a change of clothes
  • Look around, smile and enjoy the ride
  • Roads with the word 'rise,' 'summit.' or 'heights' in the name are not the roads for me
  • I am, at different times, a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian; try not to be too hard on the other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians
  • This might not be my best bike ride ever, but I'm on the bike, so it's still a win

Friday, July 12, 2013

wondering. creating. moving forward.

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
I've been pondering for a while now how I can live a life that inspires me, and I've been checking out people who have the lifestyle I think I want, and trying to learn from their experiences (while keeping in mind the Joseph Campbell quote above).

Along the way, I came across this conversation between Chase Jarvis and Chris Guillebeau, and this statement from Chris really resonated for me "living a balanced life is not the goal; living a fulfilled life is."

And I think. Okay - that's a view of success that works for you ... but am I really willing to do the work that it takes to live a dream life?

As I've mentioned before, I am not ungrateful for the great life I have. I have a love, a home, an education, a family, and a job that I am proud of and thankful for. Yet there's some burning essential part of ME that does not get expressed in my life, and this is not okay with me.

Anyway. Pondering. Not so much writing, of late. But pondering.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What the Body Remembers: a book club review

So I've (very excitedly) joined a book club. Tonight was our first official meeting, and I've been waiting until after the meeting to post this review. We don't have a name for the club yet, but when we do I'll probably update the reviews so that you/I/we can track what's a regular book I just happened to read and what's a book club book. And without further ado, away we go ...

by Shauna Singh Baldwin
NOTE: This review may or may not contain spoilers. It depends how you look at it. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again and again and again - I love novels of the South Asian diaspora. Particularly those by Canadian-South Asian writers: Ondaatje, Martel, Bisoondath. But also those scattered across the globe - Roy, Mistry, and always always everything and anything by Rushdie. So you can imagine my excitement when my new book club chose What the Body Remembers by Indo-Canadian Shauna Singh Baldwin as it's first book choice. It did not disappoint. 

What the Body Remembers stands apart in many ways because Singh Baldwin is that rarest of Indo-Candian authors. She is a woman. And the story she tells is rich with women. Sikh women. Muslim women. English women (who really don't represent their people well, but are probably accurately portrayed). The ocassional Hindu women. Veiled women who find their own source of power and agency within a culture of men who 'see them only out of the corners of their eyes.' This obedient, complicit group of women is somewhat foreign to me, but made understandable in Singh Baldwin's capable hands. 

What was also unknown to me before I read this book was the history of the partitioning of India and Pakistan when the British left India in 1947. The violence of that rending. The idiocy of its handling. The  murder and mayhem that followed in the wake of the British exodus. The sudden turning of neighbour against neighbour and brother against (half) brother. Yes, I knew there were riots and unrest after the British left, but I didn't know the full extent of that massive disruption on everyday lives. 

Though really, that's not what the majority of the book is about - or maybe it is. Most of the book follows Roop, a village girl with big dreams. Her childhood, her marriage, the rules that govern her life as a wife and mother. It was fascinating to me. I will admit a fair swath of ignorance about the cultural difference between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim Indians - even having studied two terms of World Religions at university. Singh Baldwin masterfully highlights the vast similarities between not only these religions but also their shared similarities with Christianity and Judaism.

Perhaps if more people remembered the similarities, the violence in the vacuum left by the British wouldn't have happened. Perhaps if more people focused on similarities now, the violence we do to one another wouldn't continue to happen. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

small things

Small things seem to be slipping through my fingers. Small things like a month passing since I last wrote, or staring at the computer screen and not remembering what my job is.

Last week my friend Kevin sent me this poem about small things. I was so wrapped up in my own small world of small things that I didn't realise at the time that he is its author, not merely its forwarder-on.

I like it. A lot. I thought you might as well.

Small Things
By Kevin Aschenbrenner

This. This is what you can do.
In the face of another’s pain.

Small things.

Bring flowers. Or wine.

Or both.

Make pots of tea that go cold.

Talk about the pain.

Talk about anything but.


If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.

If you are particular about the pain, it’s easier to bear.

Small things.

The bigger someone’s pain, the more important the small things.

Look them in the eye.

See them.

Show up.

Be present.

That’s small stuff that’s not-so-small stuff.

This. This is what you can do.
In the face of another’s pain.

Through the small things, you anchor them.
You stand behind them, gently holding their belt loops
While they lean into the pain,
So they can go through it,
But not get lost.

It’s the small things that tether us to life, that bring us back.

And we are all keepers of the small things.

Which is good to know, when we don’t know what to do
to comfort another’s sorrow.

Just remember the small things.

Kevin is a friend, a blessing, a writer, and a Catholic. He's writing to Pop Francis every day.
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