Saturday, October 18, 2014

Recent reading

After reading "The Gift of Wings" by Mary Henley Rubio earlier this fall -- probably the definitive biography of L.M. Montgomery (which I reviewed here)  -- I dove into two other Montgomery-related books that had also been languishing in my gargantuan to-read pile.

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942 as edited by Mary Rubio & Elizabeth Waterston, is the final volume of Montgomery's journals written before her death in April 1942, and the one volume that I hadn't read previously.

In some ways, I wish I had read this before tackling "The Gift of Wings," just to round things out  (also, that's the order in which the books were published).  On the other hand, Montgomery self-edited her journals, and barely wrote a thing during the last two years of her life. She is not always specific about what is happening, making sometimes cryptic references to certain people and events. In that respect, it was helpful to have read Rubio's book first, as she fills in some of the critical blanks and sheds new light on Montgomery's journal entries. (I did have to go back to "The Gift of Wings" at certain points while reading the journals to remind myself what the heck she meant.) 

As much as I love Montgomery, and as fascinating as it is to get a glimpse into her personal thoughts and feelings (however guarded), I have to admit, this is not a happy or cheerful book, and in some respects it was probably the hardest volume of the journals to get through. As it begins, Montgomery and her family had just moved from Norval, where her husband had lost his job as Presbyterian minister, to retire in Toronto. While Montgomery mourned the loss of her home in Norval, where she had led a mostly happy life, she begins on a hopeful note: her lovely new Tudor-style home in the suburb of Swansea was the first she had ever owned, and she was now closer to the intellectual and social circles of Toronto she desperately wanted to be part of.

But her husband's mental and physical health continued to deteriorate;  and she obsessed over her two sons -- their educations and love lives in particular. (Who said helicopter parenting is a 21st century phenomenon??)  Her oldest son, Chester, proved to be a huge disappointment to her, getting kicked out of engineering school, barely squeaking through law school, knocking up a girl from Norval, secretly marrying her -- and then running around with other women (and that's just for starters...!).  Her younger son, Stuart, was in many respects the "golden boy" of the family, but Montgomery frets over his studies as well, and especially over his ongoing friendship with a Norval girl she deems highly unsuitable.

It is difficult -- and, yes, sometimes a bit monotonous -- to follow as Montgomery tries desperately to keep up appearances and hold everything together, spirals into depression, ceases writing her journal all together -- and then dies at the far too young age of 67. The final entry is heartbreaking in its brevity and despair.  If you are a big Montgomery fan, though, and have read the other journals, you will need to read this to complete the full picture of this amazing author's life.

*** *** ***

About five years ago, Penguin Canada began publishing a series of 200-page books, written by notable Canadian authors, about "Extraordinary Canadians." Emily Carr, Lord Beaverbrook, Lester B. Pearson, Big Bear and Nellie McClung were among the first subjects, followed by Norman Bethune, Stephen Leacock, Mordecai Richler, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Glenn Gould, Rene Levesque, Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin,  Marshall McLuhan, Tommy Douglas, Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, Wilfrid Laurier and (yes) Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Extraordinary Canadians:  L.M. Montgomery was written by the novelist Jane Urquhart. While not as thorough or detailed a biography as Rubio's "The Gift of Wings," this is a great basic introduction to and appreciation of this beloved Canadian author, set in the context of her times. It also details her ongoing impact on Canada and on writers, both Canadian and generally -- including a lovely personal story about Urquhart's mother.

(These were books #13 & #14 that I've read to date in 2014.) 

*** *** ***

Some other recent reading of note:
  • As I commented to a few childless-not-by-choicers online, when people ask me why we didn't "just adopt," I think I'm going to start handing them a copy of this Toronto Star column. The blog it refers to/links to is also interesting reading for anyone thinking of adopting through the public system in Ontario.
  • A recent New York Times article noted the rising number of books & blogs designed to help parents "[navigate and transition] through the emotionally rocky waters of becoming an empty nester.”  (!)  The amusing part for me was seeing how many of the suggestions could just as easily serve as advice to couples navigating and transitioning through the emotionally rocky waters of accepting a childless life after infertility and loss -- such as transforming the child's bedroom (intended nursery) into a crafts room and finding a new community through social media.
  •  Loved this piece from Huffington Post, "The Other Quiet Mom," which (appropriately) popped into my feed on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. So familiar, and it describes me to a T:   "Few ever realize how frequently and repetitively other mothers tell their "stories from the front" -- of pregnancy, labor and delivery, newborn gazing, breastfeeding -- unless they are one of the mothers who must master how to avoid tears just to be able to stay in the room...  stories that end with "and then they couldn't find the baby's heartbeat" generally stop a conversation. So these recollections tend to be kept inside, ratcheting up the aloneness that feels like it can smother a mother who has lost a child."  
  • Much has been written over the past week about the move by Facebook & Apple to offer egg freezing to its female employees as part of their benefits. There was a lot of good reading on the subject to be had, but I wanted to point out one article that appeared in today's Globe & Mail.  While I have my doubts that today is the "golden age for working mothers" that careers columnist Leah Eichler describes, I was intrigued by her theory that "Infertility treatment might be the new maternity leave." (Caveat: this was written from a Canadian perspective, where -- compared to the United States -- most working women are guaranteed a fairly decent maternity leave.).  
While pushing egg freezing is rife with ethical complications, this move suggests that the physical act of bearing children will be more discussed at work. This change couldn’t come soon enough. While many companies laud their generous maternity benefits, we almost never discuss the no-man’s land before the baby, when many women yearn for that little miracle but their bodies have other intentions. Undergoing fertility treatment has none of the glamour of pregnancy, yet it can take up much more time and energy, not to mention have a huge impact on your wallet. Many of us, myself included, keep these painful episodes to ourselves but they can affect our professional lives in a major way. So it’s time to bring infertility out of the closet at work...  
Despite the prevalence of infertility, few companies or workplaces appreciate the impact it has on their employees, [author Reva] Seth said. 
“IVF and infertility are what maternity leave was two decades ago … and just like we needed to have discussions and best practices on pregnancy and maternity – we now need to do the same with IVF and infertility,” Ms. Seth said.


  1. I work in the university system and there are lots of grants whose eligibility requirements are X years after phD, but X+1 if you have had a baby etc... and even though I know it would be impossible to regulate and it would involve admitting things that most of us choose never to admit to our work colleagues, I do find it frustrating that lost pregnancies and infertility treatments which, in all honesty, have a huge impact on work productivity, creativity and positivity, are not recognised as legitimate reasons to need just a bit of extra time to develop our careers.

  2. I'm glad you commented on the Huff Post article "The Other Quiet Mom." It's a lovely article.

    And I've learned so much about L M Montgomery through you. Thanks for the education.

    Still thinking on the "infertility treatments are the new maternity leave" issue.

    I confess though to not being very sympathetic to the empty nesters. When I saw this title “The Empty Nest: A Mother’s Hidden Grief” I felt like saying "Oh boo hoo! You raised a child who is healthy and happy and has left home as they should, and now you're grieving? Do you really know what grief is?"

    I know I should have some sympathy - I can understand that life has changed, and that they will miss their child - but it is hard! A friend's mother used to cry every time she talked to her friend on the phone, and try to guilt her to coming home. It did nothing for their relationship, or for either of them in accepting their new lives. Fortunately not all parents are like this. A good friend - and devoted parent - turned her son's room into an office almost as soon as he was out the door.