Monday, February 11, 2019

Get Educated

I’m not a fan of flowery book reviews that seek incorporate strings of superlatives, even though many of them are clever and well-written. Now that I’ve said that, I’m in a bind I suppose.

I just finished reading Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated and I’m feeling compelled to suggest that anyone who knows how to read and is a member of a family might consider delving into it.

It’s hard to put my finger on why I feel that way. Perhaps it had such a powerful impact on me because I read the whole thing in less than a 24-hour period. I’m glad I turned out the light 30-some pages from the end last night because it would have been difficult to sleep if I’d kept on reading.

Perhaps it is because these days, it is easy to google an author, observe the interviews she has given, and come away feeling as if you have some insights into who this person is.

Perhaps it is because I have longed questioned radical religion and been puzzled about the harm it is capable of causing.

Perhaps it is because I have these feminist leanings that recoil when I see how some members of the masculine gender view the opposite sex and feel compelled to exert  power in a frightening way.

Perhaps it is because I’m blown away by Westover’s skill as a writer and by her willingness to defy some of the conventions writers are asked to abide by if they are to be successful.

It’s a book that will make you think: about family relationships, the real nature of education, the role a set of beliefs play in a life, and the amazing resilience of human beings.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Into the hills

Slap skinny boards onto your feet. Strap a pack bulging with sleeping bag, food, and water onto your back and step, a little tentatively, into the wind scouring the high country, blasting snow into your face.
Ski with friends. They’ll plod along with you, keep you on the path, and join you to celebrate when you reach the sheltering hut, home for the next couple of days.

It’s hard to explain just how the special camaraderie always happens on these tenth mountain division hut trips every year.

In 2019 we were ten—a smaller group than most years but no less enthusiastic. We cooked for each other--pancakes, spaghetti, and cocoanut chicken curry. We told story after story. We read and snoozed and headed out to ski to a ridge in the distance. We gazed at the stars, shared a sauna, a snowball fight and a roll in the snow. We got up at 6 a.m. for a pre-dawn ski in a snowstorm and risked losing our way.

When it was time to leave, we hadn’t quite had our fill of this kind of fun. Blessedly, the wind was at our back as we trekked down hill. Bright sun, grey skies and snowflakes took turns as we headed toward home.

Too soon we found ourselves part of a long line of barely moving traffic and we knew why it was so important that we’d made this annual trip that has become a sacred 20-year tradition.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Cherry tree

There is this tree.

It sits in a corner of my front yard, close to the sidewalk. And these days, it’s showing its age. Bark is peeling away from the trunk making it look naked and exposed. Some branches have died making it look strangely asymmetrical.

Because it is January, and it bears not a single leaf, all its imperfections are exposed. Neighbors strolling by must surely wonder why I have not converted it into a pile of cherry wood.

That was the advice I got from tree trimmers a couple of seasons ago. Instead I chose to have it shaped a bit. “Let’s give it one more season,” I said.

And so it sits, hanging on for dear life. When spring comes, I know hundreds of little sprigs of cherry tree will sprout in the grass surrounding it, the tree’s way of reproducing itself.

I am content to watch this tree and to appreciate its determination to stay alive and to make sure that there will be cherry trees to take its place.

Spring will be here soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Nostalgia time

January 2019

Why is it that I feel a compulsion to go through files, notebooks and journals at the beginning of each year? I’m bad at throwing things away, so this effort is really quite ineffective. I just finished reading through a pile of letters my husband-to-be wrote to me in the months before we married in 1958. Qui
And now I’ve come across a piece I wrote in 1996, five years after he died. I find that it rings true to this day. This is what I said:

Dear Dave,

As the fifth anniversary of your death approaches, there are so many things I wish I could share with you.
Well. I can’t.
But I can hope that somewhere, wherever you are, you know these things.
I hope you know that it has been an endless five years and also, the time has flown.
It has been painfully lonely, and it has been filled with friends and family and lots of love, and people who care.
I have learned to live alone and like it.
I have learned to figure out my own taxes, and I still don’t like doing it.
I hate buying liquor for a party.
I’m not good at opening wine bottles.
Most of all, I hate putting the silverware away after a party. I’ve taken to just throwing it into the chest, instead of putting it carefully into the little slots.
Those things are your job, damn it!

But I’m doing okay.
I don’t sleep so well alone.
And sometimes I don’t think so well alone.
I miss chewing the fat with the neighbors. I just can’t do it the way you did.
I miss your unreasonable optimism, your point of view on things, your help in problem-solving.
Whatever you did or did not do, you always supported my spirit, and I miss that.

I hope you know about these kids of ours.
They get A-plus reproducing in the last five years. Two grandchildren have become seven, soon to be eight.
They have all moved into new houses or to new places.
They all have jobs that please and excite them.
You should also know that most everyone is sick of hearing me talk about them.
I credit you with so much of their success.
There never was a better dad.
I’m grateful.



Thursday, January 3, 2019

Words of Wisdom by John Kerry

It took John Kerry nearly 600 pages to write his memoir, Every Day Is Extra, published in 2018.  I picked it up because I was intensely interested in knowing his thoughts and attitude about the current administration. It took me quite a while to get from the dedication page—to his wife, children and grandchildren—and to the future, to the moving conclusion.

Those “to the future” words should have been a clue. Despite a lifetime of struggles, debating, cajoling, reasoning--standing up for strongly-held beliefs during difficult times, through devastating losses and exhilarating victories, John Kerry has never lost faith.

When he arrives at the present, after describing stints in the military, as a senator,  as a candidate for president, and as secretary of state, he doesn’t bad mouth anyone. He still believes in America’s capacity for greatness. His words remind us that, “Good people believed the world—at home and abroad—could be different and better. Citizens organized. People fought for something. We marched. We voted. We got knocked down and we got back up.”

He has observed hard-to imagine change and people who have bent history. He says the fight at home has always been a struggle and that is what makes him optimistic about today. He insists that America is good at confronting daunting challenges.

“I’m an optimist because America has a pretty good 242-year record of turning difficult passages into landmark progress. I’m an optimist because of the people I’ve met and what life has taught me,” he says.

In the moving paragraph below, he explains:

That’s why I wrote the book: to share with you that the abiding truth I’ve learned in my journey is you can change your country and you can change the world. You may fail at first, but you can’t give in. You have to get up and fight the fight again, but you can get there. The big steps and the small steps all add up. History is cumulative. We all can contribute to change if we’re willing to enter the contest for the future, often against the odds.

Thank you to John Kerry, who at age 75, continues to fight the good fight.