Wednesday, November 30, 2016

may they stay forever young

Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. For most of my childhood these four boys surrounded me. First at Sunday School, where for years I was the only girl in the class and, probably not that secretly, liked it that way. And then in our wee high school where age differences were less important than whatever bound us. All four of them were a year older than me, and I can't count the hours I spent pining after each one in his turn. They (and my sons) are who I think of when I hear this song

Ronnie was, in that sweet innocent way of childhood, my first boyfriend. When I went to his 11th birthday party I was not the only girl, but I did get to wear a tiara to set me apart. Our relationship consisted mainly of holding hands in Sunday School, and occasional walks during other church related events. When I "broke up with him" he gave me a darling bunny to try to regain my favour. I joked to Shiny about naming it Dale.

Ronnie moved away shortly after that. In my mind he is forever 13, protective, and slightly angry at the world. I'm not sure why angry - maybe I added that last bit after his mom died way too early. We were pen pals for years. And then that stopped. I often wonder where he ended up and if he's happy. I hope he is. I'm often sorry I never kissed him; by rights he should also have been my first kiss.

All four of these friends were special - Ron was a true and dear friend even after we both managed to leave that tiny town for university, find partners, and start families. Of the four, Ron was the one I had the most in common with. As is the way of growing up, we too eventually lost touch. It's only through the glory of social media that we have reconnected, shared stories of the challenges of our now young adults, seen the changes in once familiar faces. The smile is still the same though, as is the laugh that reverberated down the line when we finally chatted on the phone last year. 

Bobby (decades ago he requested we start calling him Bob. I can't) is the least clear to me. Tall and strong and blonde and quiet, I never knew quite how to talk to him. He had a way with horses that still stands out to me. Picture a cross between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, in soft focus and with a breeze blowing in a field behind him. Bobby was someone I worshiped from afar, if across the school parking lot or from the back of a church dinner can be called afar. We caught up once 15 years ago. I'm not even sure how he knew how to find me, and it might have been our only one-on-one conversation in 30 years of knowing each other, but it settled me. Recently divorced and unsettled, that conversation reassured me that I was going to be okay. I imagine that's how horses being trained by Bobby feel about him.

And then there was Dale, I'm not sure how Dale developed such an aura around him, but to me he always had the appeal of the slightly naughty charmer. It could have been his amazing grin. I remember him having his mom absolutely wrapped around his finger, and laughing with a bit of wonder at their interactions. He was sweet and inclusive in a town that didn't encourage that in boys and men. He was a flirt, though always within reason. My crush on him waxed and waned over 15 years. 

I don't remember where this photo came from. It could be one my Dad took and gave to me knowing of my lingering crush. Or it could be one I snuck under the guise of the yearbook club. Either way, it is how I always remember Dale - smiling, at ease, happy, 17. 

Dale died last night. I didn't know he'd been sick with pancreatic cancer - perhaps his wife didn't want to deal with the Facebook response while they tried to make the most of the time they had left. It was the first post I saw this morning - her loving tribute to the man she'd shared 22 years and three sons with. They'd been raising Dale's nephew as well, since Dale's sister died of breast cancer last year. 

My sadness is a quiet one. My heart aches for Dale's wife and sons, for his parents who will bury their oldest son, for his brother who has now lost both siblings to cancer. 

But for me, the post was a reminder. I often disparage that small town I grew up in. I do not look back on it fondly or think of it as a place of opportunity or support. I left at 19 and took little time to look back. When I returned for my 10 year grad reunion two bar fights broke out AMONG MY CLASSMATES. I miss very little of that town. 

And then I think of Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. I think of Shiny, Ali, and Brenda, and the teachers who saw something in me. I think of the parents of my friends and the friends of my parents and sisters. I wouldn't know them. I wouldn't remember them. They wouldn't have shaped me if I hadn't lived in that small town. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Norwegian Wood: a book club review

Haruki Murakami is one of those author names of mythic proportions that you hear mentioned as the inspiration for some of the top writers of the day, yet whose novels you may not know. Admittedly, I didn't. When the Newlywed announced Norwegian Wood as her selection for book club this month, I was excited to finally have a nudge to read the great Murakami. I was not disappointed.

Norwegian Wood is not a simple read. As is so often true of novels I sink fully into, it was more character than plot driven, and more poetic than prosaic. It lingers in the dark corners of life - mental illness, suicide, cancer, loss. And yet I felt comforted by it. I obviously can't read the original and compare it to the translation, but I can't imagine a more beautifully written story. It all started with this -

"All I knew about the well was its frightening depth. It was deep beyond measuring, and crammed full of darkness, as if all the world's darknesses had been boiled down to their ultimate density."

I read that sentence and fell in love with this book. There's nothing like a well turned metaphor to capture my heart and mind: 
  • “I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
    “How much is a lot?”
    “Like a spring bear,” I said.
    “A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
    “You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
  • "How much do you love me?' Midori asked.
    'Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,' I said.” 
But there's more to Murakami. An insight into humanity. An understanding of life and love and death that is simultaneously scary and sad and encouraging and enlightening: 
  • "What happens when people open their hearts?"
    Cigarette dangling from her lips, Reiko clasped her hands together on the table. She was enjoying this.
    "They get better," she said.
  • Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that
  • “Letters are just pieces of paper," I said. "Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish.”
  • She's letting out her feelings. The scary thing is not being able to do that. When your feelings build up and harden and die inside, then you're in big trouble.”
  • "Person A understands Person B because the time is right for that to happen, not because Person B wants to be understood by Person A."
    "So is it a mistake for me to feel that I want to be understood by someone - by you, for example?"
    "No, it's not a mistake," answered Nagasawa. "Most people would call that love ..."
And then there's the sheer poetry:
  • “Colors shone with exceptional clarity in the rain. The ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green, the people wrapped in yellow looking like special spirits that were allowed to wander over the earth on rainy mornings only.” 
  • “let the wind change direction a little bit, and their cries turned to whispers.”
  • “Everything was too sharp and clear, so that I could never tell where to start - the way a map that shows to much can sometimes be useless. Now, though I realize that all I can place in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories and imperfect thoughts.” 
  • “The world was big and full of weird things and strange people.”
  • In the pale evening gloom, when the soft fragrance of magnolias hung in the air, my heart would swell without warning, and tremble, and lurch with a stab of pain.
No list of quotations though, however long, can sing you the music of this novel. It's like hearing a beautiful chord from a song and thinking you know the melody. 

Norwegian Wood resonates, through the softening haze of remembrance, with the culture of the time and with anachronistic memories from earlier times - The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and other classic American novels. The Doors and The Beatles (obviously) and music and art great and minor. 

When a book is beautiful and full of poetry it lends itself easily to gentle conversation and pure, simple, satisfying food. The Newlywed provided both in her first time hosting book club. The most sumptuous ramen buffet of unctuous broth, fresh vegetables, and perfectly poached eggs. Warmly spiced pots au chocolat. A smooth, friendly Malbec.

Maybe it's only because this is the first book in several months that I've completed before book club. Maybe it was the intimacy of our small gathering or that I needed to be among people who love and appreciate me. Whatever melange created this evening, it was exactly what a book club evening should be. 

Friday, November 25, 2016


Today marks the beginning of the UN Women programme's #16days to end violence against women and girls. You know where I stand on this. You know I am 1 in 3. You know because I have posted about it over and over again in the 6 years of this blog and the previous 4 blogging elsewhere. But do you know why my speaking out doesn't matter? Because I am 1 in 3. Because whatever happened to me changed how you listen to me. Because unless men stand up for women other men don't hear it. 

I've learned the depth of that last truth in the last few months. After spending years living with men who suffer from deeply-denied chronic low-grade misogyny, I've suddenly had the experience of being spoken up for. It's sad, really. Most men I know are not creeps or jerks. And yet most men I know speak of women as if we are only bodies. No no, don't go yelling "not all men" at me - most men, some of the time. 

Of course the slightly better ones are pretty good at keeping it hidden. Even someone as vile as Donald Trump wouldn't have talked about "grabbing pussy" if he knew the microphone was on. No, most "decent" men keep those thoughts behind closed doors. The vehemence of the reaction to Trump's outing last month seemed so out of proportion to me, until I realised how in denial most "decent people" are about these things. A very "decent" man who supposedly loved me and supposedly respects women not that long ago said "I'd be such a manwhore if pussy wasn't so hard to get." So please don't tell me Trump is an outlier. He's not. And that's the real problem. It's easy to point fingers at someone reprehensible. It's harder to call out a guy who's "not that bad."

Let's get real. Someone (in fact, many someones) is perpetrating this violence. The 1 in 3 stat isn't pulled out of thin air. And I'm tired of it. I am even more tired of it since I've experienced the opposite. 

I recently posted on Facebook about my experience of being with someone who thinks I am worth more than my body:
. . . I've only recently experienced what it means to have a man call another man out on his inane remarks about me and it's hard to find words for what it meant to me. 
I've never thought of myself as someone who needs protecting, but a man who treats me as less than human isn't going to listen much to my protest of his treatment. A sexist douche will only listen to another man. The impact of that support for me was feeling safe, valued and seen. The impact on the jerk was, it seemed, actually realising he was a jerk. And my hero? Well, he seemed to think that was just common decency. It's not. It's not common at all. But maybe it will become so.
It's really great, for me. I have a fallen for a unicorn - a man who values me beyond what I can do for him or what pleasure I can give him. It's quite lovely being us. But how does that change the world? How does that stop someone else from becoming part of the 1 in 3? And why does it feel like it's the same small group of us raising our voiced while the stat remains unchanged?

I ... I'm stymied. Why do we have to keep having this conversation? Why does the UN have to raise money to protect women and girls? Why should it be a relief to me to have sons instead of daughters because I think sons will be safer (they haven't been, but ... I thought they might be)?

I have no more words. Click this infographic from UN Women if you want to know more. And then, before I break into tears or cursing, and for the sake of all that is good in the world please DO SOMETHING!

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