SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel

“To drink coffee on my stoop each morning and gin on the roof at night…” – Will, commenting on what he loves about living in New York City

MUSICAL CHAIRS was an enjoyably quick and entertaining read and my first Amy Poeppel book. It has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and honestly – I was a little thrown off by the cute cover. My brain (…feeble as it is…) registered this as a YA book. I was wrong. 

As a musician nerd in high school and college, I enjoyed the perfect music-snobbishness in this book. Musical arts can be so high brow, each of us thinking we’ve rediscovered the most subtle art of listening to and participating in the creation of music. But the arts in New York City? Welllll, you’ve just raised the stakes even higher. Poeppel captured this tone with humor and accuracy.

Bridget and Will are the best of friends. They are two members of a classical musical trio in NYC. Will plays the piano, Bridget the cello and the position of violinist is an oft-revolving seat for newcomers. Taking some time off during the summer, Bridget heads to her family’s country home in Connecticut with hopes of romance and reading and quiet, lazy summer days. Through various happenstances, her two grown children end up moving home to find themselves and her anticipated summer love ends up breaking her heart and never arriving. While Bridget nurses her own dismay, her children bring their love woes to the table, topped off by home repairs and questions of her musical future just as her elderly father (a renowned pianist/composer) announces he’s getting married.  How will the summer play out??

The stories each evolve and intertwine with humor and accident and forgiveness. Secrets revealed. Grace offered. Relationships sway and strengthen.

small spoiler ahead…

As Bridget’s father, Edward, gives the toast at his wedding I resonated with it completely. My father (…also named Edward and a pianist – go figure) remarried after my mother died 11 years ago. He chose another interesting and fascinating woman (lucky him to strike gold twice). They have traveled the world and continue to explore and live interesting and fulfilling lives. 

Edward’s toast included these words:

Bertrand Russell said, “Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope, and enterprise, and change.” Edward discusses the musical score he wrote decades ago called Synchronicity and compared it to the Victorian dances of generations past. “Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography. Imagine a group of people come together and delight in the act of re-arranging themselves into new configurations. One person turns, leaving a space, upsetting the arrangement, but the other dancers follow suit and they all align themselves anew. For a moment they are all in motion, shifting and crossing over, until a new constellation forms giving way to a moment of equilibrium… before it all begins again.” 

This was such a beautiful example of the totality of our lives. There is balance, then upset, then a new equilibrium settles in. A grand dance. We are in constant movements of reinvention. This can be very reassuring when we are in the middle of the rearrangement parts of our life. It will fall into place again soon once the right people turn and sway into new alignment.

Lord Tennyson reflects: “Death closes all. But something near the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

Certainly an admirable goal in life: A work of noble note.

 

* Thank you, Atria Books, for this advanced reader copy.

 

A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum

I will admit, it makes me a little nervous to review a book that a) has been popular and critically acclaimed, b) promotes gender equality and c) (most importantly) is about a culture with which I have very little to no connection. So I step into my thoughts very cautiously.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN grabbed my attention very quickly and did not let go. Some reviewers have commented they thought it was repetitive, but I think the repetitivity was a significant part of the overall story. Two common phrases came to mind while reading this book: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon his children’ which is the biblical version of ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

Short review: I enjoyed the book and felt invested in each of the characters.

The longer version of my review involves a fair bit of cynicism (or is that discernment?) In general, any time I read a book that seems to rail against religious belief, I tend to wonder if the author is simply angry with the people involved in her particular religious story. Could the abuse in this book have happened in any familial situation? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. We see this generational abuse evident in other cultures as well. But certainly, the Arab community has the reputation of patriarchal dominance and female submission – at any cost. This cyclical abuse is not something that is just portrayed in movies, but we have heard the testimony of it from many who have emerged from its conservative stronghold.

I am certain that many Arab women can identify with the stories of the women we are introduced to in this book. Isra, Fareeda, Deya and Sara lived in the same way their mothers did – in Palestine and even after immigrating to Brooklyn. Many of their customs are based in the pursuit of family cohesiveness. But many are also driven by pride and the protection of community reputation. In A WOMAN IS NO MAN, physical abuse of women is widely sanctioned for generation upon generation. It seems to be an accepted aspect of life for females – another responsibility like ironing, cooking, caring for their children and the occasional beating from their spouse. The yearnings of the female characters to want more for their life and the lives of their children, eventually led to freedom for some. Others, to a deeper understanding.

I would hate for readers to come away from this book with a distaste for the Quran or any form of organized religion and cultural traditions. Mostly, I would regret that any reader walk away with the idea that the traditional family structure is not enough to satisfy some women. And yet I also want to honor the inherent struggles of ancient customs and cyclical abuse. Overall, I hope a curiosity is raised in readers that would encourage us all to research further into what it means to be a Palestinian Muslim woman and or an immigrant from the old country, asking ourselves, Is this one woman’s story or does it mirror many Arab-American stories?

This felt like a quick read and one in which I was engaged to the point of thinking about the characters throughout the day. I applaud all authors that can foster that kind of relationship between reader and character. The book’s ending seemed abrupt. I was left with many questions about what happened after and did they survive. But that’s the point of a good story, right? Do we need to know all the answers? Is our imagination given the freedom to finish the story as we would hope to see it end? I commend Etaf Rum for championing women and allowing the reader to peek inside an unfamiliar world.

I’m glad these stories are a part of my understanding now. They have widened my worldview. I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that you read it as one author’s tale and not a collective assumption that all Arab-American families are the same. Rum will take you gently into a world you may know very little about. Let your curiosity guide you throughout the book and even more so after closing the back cover.

Seasonal Affect Reorder

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

With over 3 million cases each year, winter depression is a recognized affliction that many people suffer from.

A helicopter crash that takes the future from young, ambitious lives does not help with the heavy feelings of dread.

I believe myself to be a fairly resilient person. Looking back over my life I see times that could have dragged me under, but through stubborn determination I stepped past the pain and into the future. I’ve found a certain amount of suppression is necessary in life.

But this helicopter crash is staying with me. In my mind. In my ready tears. I am not going to wax eloquently about my love for basketball or my love for Kobe Bryant because that wouldn’t be true. I nominally follow basketball and while I recognize Kobe as a tremendous basketball player, I don’t know much else about him.

My mind remains around his wife and other daughters. The spouses and family members of the other people killed in such a tragic way. But ultimately, the heaviness I feel is my own mortality. We all collectively feel it when something like this happens. The brevity of life. The delicate nature of relationships and how quickly they can vanish. What were our last words to them? Were we on good terms? Did I tell them I love them enough?

A little over a year ago, my husband and I moved away from our hometown. From family and friends. We had the opportunity to move to California and experience a new part of the country – so we took it. We have done our best to delve into all the adventures that surround us in this beautiful part of America. It has been renewing and filled with thrills and awe-inspiring views.

But it has also been isolating. Friends and family that I assumed were close when we lived in Kansas City are absent now from our lives. Unless I contact them first, our relationship would dwindle into nothing. And so I have chosen to allow it to do so in many cases. Not unlike a dating scenario, I have said to myself, “They’re just not that into you, Greta.” 

I have been deeply grateful for my father’s weekly phone calls. I call him or he calls me. We complain about politics and commiserate over this or that. He tells me about their latest adventure. I tell him about ours. It’s a two-way street. But most days, I just have the company of my husband to talk to. The occasional neighbor during the summer as we work in our yards. Thankfully Scott’s schedule has changed that will allow us to attend church more regularly and that will help build relationships.

But what to do with the relationships I considered solid when living in close proximity? Does one ever get used to letting those evaporate into the ether of time and location? How long is too long to pursue them? I don’t have those answers yet.

I am thankful we made a trip to our local garden center when we did. I excitedly brought home cut flower plants, dug deeply into the dirt of a raised flowerbed and watched as the rain washed them and soaked their tender roots.

After being mesmerized in front of the tv on Sunday, watching the horrific scenes and news unfold about the helicopter crash, I eventually turned it off and went outside. I cut a few snapdragon and ranunculus and anemone buds to watch them unfold inside the house as an attempt to reorder my affect. I harvested some lavender buds to enjoy their calming scent.

That evening I readily picked up the ringing phone to hear Dad’s voice. We talked about the Chiefs and the Impeachment Hearing and a trip Scott and I have planned this week. We talked about the beauty of a Madagascar boys choir that was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. We talked about the way celebrities can have such a strong influence on everyday people’s lives.

In a world of texting and social media comments and likes – there is nothing like hearing the voice of someone who is still actively pursuing a relationship with you. It doesn’t have to be a phone call every time. But reaching out and connecting with someone is a powerful way to say, ‘I’m still into you. I still care.’

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I am sincerely interested in your thoughts about adult relationships with family and friends. I’m interested in hearing about your experiences of moving away from everything and everyone – and how you started over again. Please comment below or send me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.