Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer reading

 (Not necessarily reviewed in the order read.)

In the summer of 1978 (I just realized -- 35 years ago??!! yikes... :p ), when I was 17 and heading into my last year of high school, I had a part-time job as a salesclerk at a small antique shop owned by my mother's hairdresser. The shop was attached to their house, several blocks from the downtown core, so it didn't get a lot of traffic. I was usually by myself, and so I spent a lot of time reading & listening to the radio.

Seventies music often gets a bad rap -- but that summer, there was actually lots of great new music to listen to -- from The Police, The Cars, Elvis Costello, Bob Seger and Van Halen.  The Rolling Stones released "Some Girls." Warren Zevon had a smash hit with the quirky "Werewolves of London." A saxophone player myself, I thrilled to the solo on Gerry Rafferty's single "Baker Street" -- I got the 45 & played it over & over.

 I was not yet especially familiar with this guy named Bruce Springsteen, but I loved the dark allure of "Prove it all Night."

And there was another darkly alluring song that captivated my imagination that summer. (I did not know until some years later that it too had been written by Bruce Springsteen):  "Because the Night" by Patti Smith. I had never heard of Patti Smith, but from what I gathered, she was a cultish punk rocker from New York.

New York City back then was a dark, forbidding, foreign, seedy, dangerous place -- especially in the eyes of a sheltered teenaged girl from a small town on the Canadian Prairies. It was the city of Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, and Saturday Night Fever. And if the New York factor wasn't exotic enough -- you could see the hair in her armpits on the cover of the album ("Easter") that the song was on (gasp!!).

(A few years later, when I was in university, the campus radio station closed down & sold off their entire record collection for a few bucks per album. I bought several, including "Easter." I may have listened to the whole thing a few times, but I primarily bought it because of "Because the Night" and don't remember much else of what's on it.) 

And yet. There was something raw and stark in her yowling voice, in the poetry of the words (she rewrote Springsteen's original lyrics for herself) and in the music that touched me, that left me wanting more when the song was over. 

All this is by way of preamble. ; )

This summer, I finally got around to reading Patti Smith's critically acclaimed memoir of her relationship with artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. I knew that Mapplethorpe had been a somewhat controversial artist, and that he had died young of AIDS, but I knew little else about him or his relationship with Smith.

Smith promised Mapplethorpe as he lay dying that she would someday write their story, and this book is the fulfillment of that promise. It's a story of young love, and loss, of coming of age and growing up, of innocence and decadence, of the late Sixties and early Seventies, of New York City, of poverty and self-discovery and art. It's about life at the storied Chelsea Hotel and the people Smith met there, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsberg, Jim Carroll, Bob Neuwirth and Sam Shepherd.

Smith arrived in New York at age 20, soon after giving birth to a baby boy & giving him up for adoption. While she could not afford art school, she hoped to live near one and work in a bookstore, which is where she first met Mapplethorpe.  A subsequent chance encounter threw them together again. The two became lovers -- but it didn't take long for Smith to realize -- well before Mapplethorpe was ready to tell her (or perhaps even admit it to himself) -- that he was gay. 

Most women, at that point, would have left -- but the two continued to live together, support each other, create art together (and still occasionally sleep together). They remained devoted to each other -- best friends, partners and soulmates -- although, as each became more successful, they eventually moved to separate apartments (albeit always close to one another, until Smith moved to Detroit to be with her husband).  As artists, they supported and encouraged each other and served as each other's muse. Mapplethorpe used to shoplift porn magazines and clip the images to use in his collage art;  Smith was the one who suggested he should start taking his own photos. Eventually he did, and the rest is history.

I have to admit I don't completely understand the whole "suffer for your art" thing. I like to think I have a bit of the artist/creative in me -- when I get writing, I can become absorbed for hours (it's hard to stop when the muse strikes and you're on a roll...).  But I guess I'm too practical & like my comforts too much to live in poverty for the sake of art, as Smith and Mapplethorpe did.  (Which I guess is why I studied journalism and wound up as a corporate hack, instead of living in a garrett & writing novels, as I dreamed of doing as a kid, lol.)  Their world was and is not mine.

I also found it interesting/irritating at times in that, for someone revered as a feminist icon of sorts, Smith often reverts into the caretaker role for the men in her life (& not just Mapplethorpe).  Mapplethorpe was charming and talented, but he could also be cruel and irresponsible and self-centred. She put up with a lot of crap from him.  

Nevertheless. I liked this book. A lot. It's beautifully written, with a lovely, wistful tone. Heck, we all do a lot of things when we're in our teens & 20s that we wouldn't do (and shudder to think about) in our 50s or 60s.

Which is not to say we don't look back on those days fondly. ; )

*** *** ***

As mentioned above (& in previous posts), I was dimly aware of who Bruce Springsteen was by 1978. My pre-dh boyfriend had a copy of The River in his collection, but it wasn't until I met dh -- a huge Springsteen fan whose dorm nickname (emblazoned on the back of his official floor T-shirt) was "Bruuuuuucce"  -- that I really became a Springsteen fan.

In the years since then, I've read a lot about the guy, including Dave Marsh's books. But I hadn't read anything about him in awhile, and I decided to pick up Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin, which received good reviews when it came out last year. (The paperback should be out shortly.)

The author is obviously a Springsteen fan, and has done some good research on his subject. Springsteen's shortcomings, particularly as a band leader, are not ignored. He could/can be a hard taskmaster, and while band members are not overly critical, it's clear that they have not always been happy with the way things were handled.

The book is particularly strong in its account of Springsteen's family history and early days as a struggling young musician, which I very much enjoyed. (More recent years are more rushed through.)  Many Springsteen family members -- including his mother, sisters and aunts -- were interviewed for the book. (Patti Scialfa -- Mrs. Springsteen -- chose not to participate, and the book is mostly silent on the details of the Springsteens' marriage, children and family life. Julianne Phillips, the first Mrs. Springsteen, is also silent aside from a brief but gracious statement.)

Now, I thought I knew a lot about the guy.  I certainly knew about his troubled relationship with his father, Doug, which has been well detailed -- by Bruce, among others, in his stories and songs such as "Independence Day" and "Adam Raised a Cain."

But I was stunned to find that the book begins with the loss of a child -- an incident that reverberated through the Springsteen family for years & generations to come, To me, as a bereaved parent, it explains a lot about the Springsteen family dynamics and the home that Bruce grew up in.

The child in question was Bruce's Aunt Virginia, Doug's older sister, who was run over and killed by a truck while riding her tricycle at the age of 5, in April 1927, almost 20 years before Bruce was born. The loss devastated her parents (Bruce's grandparents), and Bruce's grandmother Alice in particular.  In her grief, the family's home life and structure disintegrated. Alice neglected Doug, then a toddler, to the point where he went to live with relatives for several formative years.

When Bruce was born in 1949 and introduced to his grandmother, "She clutched the boy to herself and for the longest time would not let him go."
She must have loved you to pieces, Bruce heard someone say not long ago. He laughed darkly. "To pieces," he said,  "would be correct."
Strangely enough, Bruce's sister, Virginia (Ginny) -- named in tribute to her aunt -- barely registered with her grandmother. "I thought I was doing the best thing calling her Virginia, but I wasn't," Bruce's mother Adele says in the book. "With Bruce, he could do no wrong."

"That was very caught up with the role I was intended to play," Bruce says. "To replace the lost child. So that made it a very complicated sort of affection and one that wasn't completely mine. We [Ginny and Bruce] were very symbolic, which is an enormous burden on a young child. And that became a problem for everybody."...   
Bruce remembers his grandparents' house as a strange, austere place, its cracked walls adding to an atmosphere already clotted with loss, memory, and regret. "The dead daughter was a big presence," he says. "Her portrait was on the wall, always front and centre." Fred and Alice trooped everyone to the St. Rose of Lima cemetery each week to touch her stone and pick weeds and errant grass from the little girl's grave. "That graveyard," Ginny says, "was like our playground. We were there all the time." 
The later years of Springsteen's career are given less ink... but the book deals sensitively with the deaths of E Street bandmembers Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Danny was the E Streeter who was with Bruce the longest -- he actually hired Bruce to be in his band first -- and I dare you (especially if you're a Springsteen fan) to read about his final, special guest appearance onstage with Bruce & the band in March 2008, dying of cancer (& knowing the end was near), and playing "Sandy" on his accordion one last time -- his personal pick for his swan song -- without reaching for the Kleenex box.  (I couldn't do it. I love "Sandy," and I bawled my eyes out. Apparently there are clips of the concert on YouTube, but I can't bring myself to watch.)

This is, overall, a very readable & enjoyable book about one of America's great rock & roll legends.

*** *** ***

I was a little disappointed with My Way, the memoir (with the same title as the famous song he wrote for Frank Sinatra) by Paul Anka. I've loved many of his songs over the years -- and, of course (point of patriotic pride) he is Canadian. ; ) And there is no doubt that the guy has been around & has some great stories to tell.

Unfortunately, the telling sometimes leaves something to be desired. My main problem with the book is that it like a verbatim transcript of a taped conversation. Which is all fine & good -- in a memoir, you want to sound real & have an authentic voice -- but the book rambles all over the place and repeats itself in many spots. (I lost track of how many people he described as "my good friend" or "my very good friend.") It really could have used a good edit. Maybe I'm just being picky -- it's my job to notice these things -- but it did spoil my full enjoyment of the book somewhat.

And while Anka obviously has some stories to tell -- and tells many, well -- there is obviously a lot he is NOT telling. For a guy who spent so much time in Vegas but claims to have stayed away from the mob figures who ra the place, he sure knows a lot about them.

And while he's happy to spill about the flings and foibles of the Rat Pack and others, he is less forthcoming about his own personal life, which includes two wives, five (!) daughters and one son.  While I understand his desire not to bad-mouth the mother of his young son, I do think he could have been a little more forthcoming.

If you are an Anka fan or enjoy reading about Vegas in its heyday, you will like this book. Otherwise, try to borrow a copy, or wait for the paperback.

*** *** ***

During my visit to my parents last summer, I read (and found myself cracking up over) a book by a self-proclaimed Strident Feminist from Britain, Caitlin Moran, called "How to Be a Woman" (which I reviewed here). 

Moran is back with a collection of her columns for the Times of London, called Moranthology. Among other topics, she attempts to become a World of Warcraft expert, interviews Keith Richards and Paul McCartney (not together), goes to a sex club in Berlin with Lady Gaga, deconstructs Downton Abbey, and waxes rhapsodic about Sherlock & its star, Benedict Cumberbatch (I am also a big fan and loved her take on it).

I like books like this -- collections of columns -- because you can dip in & out at random, reading whatever interests you first, and not lose track of plots and characters. And Moran is (still) hilarious to read. Do not attempt to read this in a public place, unless you don't mind strange looks as you desperately try to stifle your giggles.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Living a taboo: Breaking the silence in NYC

Our tribe is gathering! ; )

If you live in New York City, or will be (or can be) in the area on Sept. 27th, you are invited to check out The Cycle:  Living a Taboo.  Pamela at Silent Sorority is organizing this public forum, in conjunction with the documentary she is co-producing about infertility, ARTs and childlessness. She's outlined details of the upcoming gathering in a recent blog post here. Some excellent guest speakers in the lineup.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it -- but I am looking forward to hearing all about it from those who are there!  Let me know if you go;  I'd love to hear all about it!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The TIME article: What's wrong with this picture?

(I started writing this post a few weeks ago, right when this story appeared... I've lost track of the number of related stories I've seen in other forums, as well as some of the points I was intending to make (!) -- but I've decided to publish what I have now anyway. Let me know of any other gems you find.)

What's wrong with this picture? It's the illustration for Time magazine's recent cover story on "The Childfree Life."  Perhaps stereotypically, an attractive, smiling (smirking?) young couple basks on a sandy beach. Because, you know, if you don't have kids, you have all this TIME and MONEY to just laze around in paradise, right?

The main inside photo makes the point even sharper -- the same couple, seated under a beach umbrella, clink glasses, while a family of four trudges by the beach. The poor dad is towing a supersized wagon filled with toys, beach balls, an inflatable pool, etc., followed by the mom and two kids trailing behind. Yep, life is just one big beach party when you don't have kids....

The buzz on the story started the week before it actually appeared on newsstands, and I was dying to get my hands on a copy. Online, the cover story link goes to an excerpt only;  if you want to read the full story, one way or another, you have to pay. However, there are several other related pieces online, which you can find here -- including a poll where you can sound off on various issues related to childfree living.

So, as you can tell, I was irritated by the stereotyping on the cover. And while the article does make a vague nod to the fact that not all women who want children wind up having them, the focus is primarily on the childfree by choice segment, which I also found irritating.

On the bright side, the TIME article has ignited broad discussion across the blogosphere and Internet about childless/free living, and why so many women and men are living without children.  Here are just a few of them:

*  The NotMom (whose target audience includes all women who are not mothers, for whatever reasons) takes a positive and generous view of the article, noting that "Childless and childfree women are officially news".

"When I first saw the mag’s cover headline, I thought, “Here we go – another spotlight on women who happily chose childfree life with no thought to the rest of us who didn’t.”  I’m happy to report that’s not the case."

"The article is primarily about the by-choice crowd, but I’m betting almost every NotMom will find herself somewhere in its detailed stats and stories."

*  Amanda Marcotte makes a good point in Slate, asking "Where Are the Men in Child-Free Trend Pieces?" (also noted by Mary Elizabeth Williams in a Salon article sarcastically titled "Time discovers some people don't have kids").  Many men don't have children either, for various reasons, but any media discussion of childless/free living tends to focus almost exclusively on the female perspective.

After all, many women don't have children either because (a) they don't have a partner in their life and don't want to go it alone, or (b) the men in their life don't want to have children (or may have children from a previous relationship and don't want any more). Often the men say or hint that they want children early in the relationship, and change their mind later, leaving the woman to make the difficult decision: which does she want more, the man or a child (never mind that she will have to find another man who is willing to have children with her, get pregnant and bring the pregnancy successfully to term before her fertility ebbs -- if it hasn't already...).

The best responses, naturally (IMHO), come from women who are childless/free-not-by-choice themselves, and who recognize that the picture painted by the story is not a full one:

*  Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie wrote "The Truth About the Childless Life" for Huffington Post. Notkin says the story "presumes that the decreasing birthrate in America is mostly due to a choice by many modern American women and men to be childfree, i.e., to remain childless by choice. After all, with all the choices available to women -- the gender the piece correctly identifies as the one that carries the brunt of societal negative attitudes towards childless people -- it's assumed by many that we've made childlessness a choice."  This assumption, of course, is not correct in all cases and, in many, adds to the heartache that many women without children feel.

*  The always-reliable Pamela of Silent Sorority neatly dissects the shortcomings of the Time piece in a post titled How About a Time Cover Story on Women Who Aren’t Moms or Childfree?  "Nothing like being made to feel invisible to make you want to wave your hands, whistle and declare in your outdoor voice: “heeelllllo….we’re over here!” " she writes. "Living between the two worlds — the moms and die-hard childfree — can often times be downright weird." Yep.

*  The New York Times' Motherlode blog uses the TIME article as the jump off point for a conversation around the question:  Can Parents Stay Friends With the Child-Free?  Some interesting points in the discussion (including a few contributions from yours truly!).  (Some other recent Motherlode topics of interest:  Fertility Diary: Baby Envy (Fertility Diary is a new regular feature by guest contributor Amy Klein) and "Take Back" Your Pregnancy? With Caution.) 

Did you read the TIME article? (or any of the others I've lined to here?)  What did you think?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Summer reading: "Kicking & Dreaming" by Ann & Nancy Wilson

I was 14 years old in 1975, and at the top of my Christmas/birthday wish list was "Dreamboat Annie, the debut album by a new band called Heart, whose songs "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You" were dominating the radio.

(The band was American, but living in Vancouver and, since the album was recorded and produced there, it qualified as "Canadian content" under recently implemented rules governing Canadian radio airwaves, thus guaranteeing heavy play.) 

I don't remember if I got it for Christmas or my 15th birthday shortly afterward but I played the album to death -- it still remains a favourite on CD, and I still turn the radio up loud and sing along when the classic rock station we listen to plays one of its songs.  :)  I don't think the novelty of two girls playing rock & roll really registered with me back then -- but I did like having a female voice to sing along with, and lyrics sung from a female perspective, for a change.

I saw Heart in concert a few years later, when I was a university student. I believe it was in the summer of 1981, at an all-day outdoor concert at Winnipeg Stadium. They were the headliners, & I remember that Ted Nugent (back when he was better known for his music than his politics), Blue Oyster Cult and Loverboy were also on the bill. (Through the magic of Google, I've found the name of the one other band on the bill -- The Rockets -- and the exact date -- August 1st, 1981. Gotta love Google, lol.)  It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day, blue skies with fluffy white clouds rolling by. I bought & changed into a souvenir white tank top with a lace frill along the scoop neck with the Heart logo on it in red, & got thoroughly sunburned by the end of the day (the importance of sunscreen not yet part of our consciousness, and even if you did wear it, it was probably an SPF 4 or 8). I think that was when it first struck me just how unique and amazing it was to see two women playing straight out rock & roll onstage. Ann had that killer voice, of course, but I think I was most amazed by her younger sister Nancy, playing guitar just as well or maybe even better than any guy I had ever seen. 

Earlier this year, Heart performed Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" as the members of Zeppelin were honoured at the Kennedy Center. The clip was widely circulated on YouTube, with cameras focusing on a misty-eyed Robert Plant watching in the balcony. I already knew Heart could do an amazing Zeppelin, because they finished off the concert that summer day in 1981 with a note-perfect rendition of "Rock 'n Roll," which I still rave about to friends, 30+ years later. 

Here's a YouTube clip of Heart doing that song live in 1978, a couple of years before I saw them:

*** *** ***

I hadn't realized that Heart actually made a name for themselves doing Zeppelin covers very early in their careers, until I read Ann & Nancy Wilson's joint memoir, "Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll." I started the book in the lounge at Pearson Airport as dh & I waited for our flight home to visit my parents, and I finished it a little more than 24 hours later. : )

The book is written with alternating voices (she said/she said), plus the occasional interjection from other family members, friends and bandmates.

Ann, Nancy and their older sister Lynn grew up in a military family. Because they moved around so frequently, the sisters became extremely close. Music and singing together was always a part of their lives.

And then, in 1964, came the Beatles. Like many teenagers of the time, Ann & Nancy were both transfixed by the band during their legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. But they soon noticed a critical difference:  while all their friends wanted to marry the Beatles, Ann & Nancy wanted to BE the Beatles.

The book traces the rise of the sisters' musical careers & personal lives and loves -- there really was a "Magic Man" -- and attempts to answer the question of what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Tales of outrageous sexism abound.  There are also fun vignettes about the sisters' encounters with rock stars from Freddie Mercury and Elton John to Stevie Nicks and John Mellencamp, a memorable proposition from brothers Eddie & Alex Van Halen -- and even, yes, their early hero, Paul McCartney.

ALI issues figure in the later pages of the book.  Nancy actually left the band for awhile to pursue motherhood via IVF with her husband, writer/director Cameron Crowe.  The decision to take a break from music put a strain on her relationship with her sister -- and her marriage eventually ended under the strain of infertility treatments & miscarriage -- but Nancy did eventually become the mother of twin boys via donor eggs and a surrogate, rejoin her sister onstage and finally find love again with a new husband.   

Ann has never married but, in her 40s, she became the adoptive mother of first a girl and then a boy.  She also became a den mother of sorts to the grunge bands that sprang up around Seattle in the 1990s.

This was a fun read. If you are a fan of Heart, of women in rock & roll, or of strong women &/or rock & roll generally, you will enjoy this book.

Since this book was written, Heart was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Doing the honours was Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, one of Ann's young grunge band protégés, who appears in the book.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Survived ; )

I survived. ; ) The weather held, the party is over & done -- 40 people in my backyard last Saturday -- and I think it's safe to say it was a success. While it was mostly a blur for me -- running back & forth between the kitchen and the yard, keeping the chip bowls & drink coolers filled -- the guests seemed to have a good time. They loved the food (catered) & if they noticed the slightly dilapidated condition of the shed in the corner of the backyard, they had the grace to refrain from commenting (at least to me). ; )

I took Thursday & Friday off from work to complete party preparations -- and Monday to recover, lol. Sunday I was mostly comatose on the couch -- so tired! -- but we did some fun things on Monday. Since I was only just recently off for two weeks before this, it felt like I'd been away a long time when I returned to work today. (Eight days and counting until the next long weekend, lol...!)

*** *** ***

Last Wednesday night (before two days of party prep), I didn't go straight home from work. Instead, dh met me in the city and we went out for dinner and then over to the beautiful Royal Alexandra Theatre to see 1960s blue-eyed soul group The Rascals in their reunion show, Once Upon a Dream. As I wrote a few weeks ago,  their "Groovin" album was one of the first I ever owned when I was about 7, and -- since I was a little young to see them back then (not to mention in the wrong place -- I don't think they ever came to Saskatchewan in the 1960s...!), I couldn't resist the chance to witness the original four band members together again after 40 (!) years.

Dh came with me -- albeit without much enthusiasm -- he claimed not to know who these guys were. He perked up when I told him I thought I spotted Steve Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and The Sopranos, and the show's producer) & his wife sneaking into the back beside the sound board just before the curtain rose -- they showed up onstage for a curtain call, so I was right!! 

Of course, both of us wound up having a blast (and I couldn't resist the opportunity to whisper "I told you so" in dh's ear... he just grinned). He recognized more songs than he thought he knew, and he was blown away by the drummer, Dino Danelli, still amazing to watch after all these years. Felix Cavaliere is still an awesome soul singer, and we both got a huge kick out of singer Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish, who were clearly having a blast. Whatever the problems that drove these guys apart, they seem to be enjoying being back together, doing something they love and connecting with their fans again.  They were fabulous. : )

Perhaps the passage of time has lent them a new perspective. And maybe it's because I'm getting older myself, but I find it inspirational, not only to connect to the music of my youth but to see these guys and what's still possible when you're pushing 70.

As Rod Stewart pointed out in his recent memoir (which I reviewed here), "There is no template for growing old as a rock star." Last year, rhapsodizing about another band from my youth, The Raspberries (who also reunited briefly a couple of years ago for a few shows), I wrote:
When I was younger, my friends & I used to snicker at Mick Jagger, who once famously proclaimed he would rather be dead than 40 and still singing "Satisfaction" -- and then continued doing so, well past 40. These days, he is pushing 70 and is STILL at it -- but I'm the one who has changed my tune.  If the Stones, the Raspberries, and other bands from the '60s & '70s still have the stamina & the chops to be doing what they did in their early 20s, & still doing it reasonably well, more power to them. It's great to see a great band not only get back together, but truly kick some butt while they are at it. ; )

The Globe and Mail reviewer helpfully pointed out that, originally known as the Young Rascals, they are "absolutely not that any longer" -- but then, neither are most of their fans (dh & I were probably two of the younger people in the crowd...!). 
As the Rascals went, so did the sixties; the People Got to Be Free singers are a living, breathing allegory for its era. They were young, then they were not, then they were gone. Now they are back, with Van Zandt hoping that, with the band’s resurrection, the generation’s make-a-better-world optimism might offset today’s cynicism and discord... And as a soul-warmed audience exited, the house system blasted the Rolling Stones cover of Time is on My Side. For a couple of hours, it was.
Said the Toronto Star:
Ultimately, the true value of The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream is realizing that you’re only as young as you feel: that even though time is fleeting, age is only a number.  
And The Rascals’ number, as a solid performing entity, is far from up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

GRAB(ook) Club: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I love to read -- but no matter how much you love to read, or how many books you read, period, there will always be some books that, for whatever reason (so many books... so little time...) you just haven't gotten around to reading.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was one of those books for me. I've never seen the full movie, either, although I've seen bits & pieces. (In reading the book, I realized I had actually seen more of the movie than I had thought.)

So I looked forward to (finally!) having an excuse to pick up this book before any of the others in my to-read piles (plural).  And it didn't take long before I realized why this book is considered a modern classic -- and why Atticus Finch is considered one of the greatest heroes of modern fiction & movies. I could not help but envision & hear Gregory Peck as I read along. :) 

There is something for everyone in this book:  it's a coming of age story and a morality play.  It's got mystery, history, racism, feminism, and even a tinge of Gothic horror. It's sometimes thought of as a children's book, and it's narrated by a child (or at least an adult looking back on childhood), but it covers some decidedly complex & very adult issues.  Which makes it a great selection for a book club discussion. 

Here is my question:
Atticus emphasizes to Scout the importance of reserving judgment until you have walked in someone else's shoes. All of us in the ALI community have probably wished that some people would have followed that advice and walked in our shoes before offering us their judgment or opinions on our personal situations (!).  But can you think of a time when you found yourself trying on someone else's shoes and considering a different perspective?

My answer: 

There are many times when something has happened in my life to make me look at someone I know in a different light. 

For example, as I've mentioned recently, we're getting ready to host about 45 (gulp) of my husband's relatives this weekend at an annual family get-together. I've been thinking back to the first time I met them all -- and I do mean all. It was my future BIL's 21st birthday, and dh decided it was time for me to meet his family.

We were both at different schools in southern Ontario, but met up on the train & headed into Toronto one very hot July Saturday morning, 30 years ago last month. Every single aunt, uncle and cousin from both sides of dh's extended Italian family turned out to celebrate BIL's birthday -- his 21st, his first since his & dh's mother had passed away, several months earlier (before I could ever meet her) -- and, I strongly suspect, to inspect the mangiacake girlfriend. ; ) 

Italian families were pretty rare in the small Prairie towns where I had grown up. And yet, there was something endearingly familiar in the large family gathering, everyone around me laughing and talking in a language I couldn't understand. I had flashbacks to my childhood -- dozens of aunts, uncles & cousins crammed into my Ukrainian grandparents' tiny farmhouse, speaking in Ukrainian while the smell of cabbage rolls permeated the air. 

When I got home that weekend, I called my mother & told her I had never given it much thought before, but I had a whole new sympathy for what it must have been like for her when she first met my dad's family. Even though they grew up only 20 miles apart, it was quite a different atmosphere from the largely Scandinavian community where she had grown up.

I can remember when Nia Vardalos's movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" came out, and reading article about why it was a huge hit among all kinds of ethnic groups -- it was because everyone has a family and could relate to some aspect of the story. Needless to say, I could relate. ; )

My dad's sister told me she loved the movie too, because it reminded her of bringing home her Scottish boyfriend. You know the scene where Toula's male cousins teach Ian Greek phrases that aren't quite what they seem? Apparently my dad & his brothers pulled the same stunt on my aunt's boyfriend (my uncle-to-be) 40 years earlier.

That's just one example that I could think of.  Now, tell me your stories. : )

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for To Kill a Mockingbird.  You can get your own copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee at bookstores including Amazon.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mid-August odds & ends

  • Thank you for your comments, good wishes & virtual hugs on my last post about Katie, 15 years later.  
  • Since I only got back to work on Aug. 6th after two weeks off (including a long weekend) -- and I will be off again for three days next week -- I decided not to take Aug. 7th off.  Huge mistake. It was horribly busy at work, I was stressed thinking about the upcoming party we will be hosting and all that needs/needed doing, and I was still in a post-vacation daze, nevermind trying to cope with the dead baby daze stuff. I had e-mails piling into my inbox one after the other and I just could not keep up. I was floundering. I was making mistakes. I was cursing like a sailor under my breath, something I seldom do anywhere, let alone at the office.  Needless to say, my mind was not on my job that day -- and it needed to be. And then, as the cherry on top of the sundae of my day, I forgot to swipe my transit pass before boarding the train home that night. (Luckily I remembered in time, and managed to go all the way back downstairs into the terminal, swipe my card, get back upstairs to the train and still get a seat before the train left).  Lesson learned. Never again. (And hopefully not something -- i.e., working on Katie-significant dates -- I will have to worry about for too many more years.)
  • Dh picked me up at the train station & we headed straight for the cemetery after work. He had already bought the traditional bouquet of pink roses.
  • The two weeks prior, we were visiting my parents -- being lazy, reading lots of books (if not blogs), eating fresh garden vegetables (yum!) and being royally entertained/enchanted by The Princess. We have many memories of her mom (Parents' Neighbours' Daughter) at the same age, and now here she is, a little Mini Me, history repeating itself. I will never have my own Mini Me or granddaughter to marvel over, but this is probably the next best thing. : )  We are grateful.
  • My parents (72 & 74) are making noises about selling their house & downsizing to something smaller, perhaps a condo, in the next few years. My mother has been talking about this for awhile now, but it was the first time I heard my dad admit that their big (and immaculately kept) yard is becoming too much effort for him. It made me enormously sad. I don't like to think of my parents getting old(er) -- they can still run circles around me & dh ; ) -- but I have noticed them slowing down ever so slightly in the past few years.  Also, although it's not the house I grew up in, they have been there for 30 years, and I did live with them there for about a year, after I finished university but before I got married. It's a nice house, and there are a lot of memories there.
  • It also made me nervous, because I still have a ton of stuff from my childhood & school days at their house that I need to sort through and either toss or bring here before they do...!  
  • The royal baby arrived while we were there & we got to watch little Prince George's first public appearance live on TV. I am an unapologetic monarchist, and I loved seeing the continuity of family and history playing itself out yet again. I loved that Kate wore a polka dot dress in tribute to the mother-in-law she never knew, and I loved that she didn't try to disguise her post-partum belly. But I was relieved to have an end (if only temporary) to all the hype.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, while I was visiting my parents, a young mother in the nearby city apparently drowned both her children in the bathtub and then disappeared. They found her body in the river a few days later. She had been diagnosed with postpartum depression. You may have heard about it;  it was widely covered in the Canadian (if not the American) media.  My aunt knew her family -- they were from the a small town close to where she lives and are related to her sister-in-law -- and of course, in small towns, everyone knows everyone anyway -- and did some baking for the funeral reception. So very sad. :(
  • Dh & I went to see a financial planner, as part of his severance package. The good news is that we are still on track for a Freedom 55 retirement for me, if I want to retire then. I may stick around one more year to make it an even 30 years with my company (assuming I don't also get a pink slip :p). Dh had run the numbers over  & over and was certain it was do-able, even after his release from work, but it's nice to have neutral third-party confirmation that you're on the right track.
  • Less than one week to go until the big party!  We have been busy getting ready -- albeit not as ready as I would like. :p  My impatiens died a horrible death while I was on vacation & I spent this weekend digging up the scrawny remnants  -- so much for my plans to dazzle my guests with my gardening prowess. Hopefully the food will be good enough to distract them. ; ) The weather forecast looks good. Fingers crossed & knocking wood that it continues. I have a big back yard but I do not have room for 45 people in my house!
  • Future posts in the works (in draft form or in my head): reviews of the two books I read before vacation, the four books I read during and the book I've read since then ("To Kill a Mockingbird" -- next week's selection in Melissa's GRAB(ook) Club).
  • I've also been musing about the recent TIME magazine article on The Childfree Life and the ensuring media & blogger buzz. So much good/interesting stuff out there! little time...!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

15 years later

It (still) sucks. :p   Miss you, little girl. :(