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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Comforting Friendships

Oasis Feature: Friendship and Books

Do you order books and forget which books you've ordered? I do. I also make a habit of immediately reading every book I order- that way I won't stockpile and feel driven to persevere through the pile until the task is done. Now that books are so accessible online, I try to pace my reading. I have spent long periods of my life just living to get back to my book-for example, my entire 18th year was spent in a fiction-soaked haze. (While I was being hazed in the Navy.) No plans. No conversations-and I mean no dynamic conversation because my mind was focused on the book. Eventually, recognizing my escapist tendencies, I cut myself off from reading most fiction (except classics). I needed to learn from what I read, come up with a plan of action to solve my real life problems, and live in the moment.
Recently, I read The Wednesday Sisters (Meg Waite Clayton), and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I saw the book at Borders in Plaza Las Americas, and was drawn to both the title and the cover design. I picked it up but hesitated to buy it. I thought I might order it online. Coincidentally, the next day I had contact with the author through She Writes, and immediately clicked over to Amazon to order the book.(I consider chance events to be a sign!)  However, later, I couldn't be sure if I had ordered it.

ConfessionMy covert-okay I admit it-sneaky book reading happened innocently enough. 

After a long airplane journey, I waited  in Plaza until someone could come by and collect me. Since I had so many hours to kill before their arrival, I thought, why don't I look for the book and read a bit? I enjoyed reading The Wednesday Sisters so much that I forgot I was tired and hungry. When my company arrived, I reluctantly set the book down. I had such a pleasant time! I was hooked. Still uncertain as to whether I had ordered the book, I started making excuses to stop at Borders where I would willingly wait to be picked up. I read as much as I possible while in the store. I confess, I purposely mis-shelved the book so that I alone could find it. (I made sure there was a copy left in the correct section in case someone came in to legitimately buy the book.) I couldn't stop thinking about the characters. I made excuses to wait at Borders. I even took the bus. No easy task in Puerto Rico because the signs haven't been updated to reflect the new bus numbers. Is the T-3 the same as A-3?  (It is.) Another day, I took the train, which left me a good 20 hot-and-humid-walking-minutes away from my goal. One day, I persevered through the pouring rain, negotiating a heavy book bag and over-sized umbrella just so I could make it to Borders. As I persevered through the torrent, I visualized that hot cup of Earl Gray tea with milk and honey- and most importantly- the book. A week later, my husband found an unopened package in our cavernous mini-van.  Oh this arrived while you were away. I think it's a book. Umph!

What is so special about this book?

The story centers around a group of women who happen to meet at a local park, and eventually decide to start writing together. All of the women have different personalities but share an interest in reading books and the Miss America pageant. Watching the pageant together over the years brings the women together, and provides a set-point frame to highlight changes within the women, and within society as a whole. However, it is the meaning of sharing life through friendship that gives the book it's profound emotional impact.

It takes place in California and reminded me of the time I spent in Alameda, a little town across the Golden Gate Bridge. My personal experience with an area near the setting helped me to visualize the surrounding houses and the park where the women met. I thought deeply about the era the book covers, and wondered how life was for those who weren't right in the middle of the struggle for change. I went to a State college in Southern California, and most of my professors were involved in some aspect of the 60's- either they were involved protests to end the war in Vietnam and/or fought for equality of rights for women and other minorities.  (Remember when women were referred to as a minority?)

My professors were about nine years older than me, and I often wondered if I had been born too late. I admired the commitment of people who fought for civil rights during the 60's. Even though I am a veteran, I still appreciate people who stood against the war. I believe that their fight was against the decision makers in government and not the soldiers. I also knew people in the military who were against the war but when you're in the military, you do what you are told to do. It's part of your duty to follow orders.You don't decide which wars to support. Clayton brilliantly captures the ordinary woman's feeling of being caught in opposing ideas.
She brings alive that time of change for those on the fringes of the action, and shows how it impacts the ordinary lives of five women. You experience how it might have felt to grow up at that time, and realize that your life could be about more than getting married and raising children- that it might also include a space for a mother who wants to be a writer, for example.

Mother's Aren't Always Satisfied 

I was a young teenager when one of my aunts ran away from her her husband and children. It was shocking. Unheard of ! What kind of a mother leaves her children? Later, she was reunited with her children but she filed for a divorce. It mystified  her husband. Why would she leave? Didn't he take care of her and provide her with everything? He became enraged and then bitter that she had left him. To this day, he continues to hold onto his "anti-woman's-libber" grudge. I can't be angry with my aunt. She was the only person around who knew that books were important; and she gave my sisters and me the best books for gifts. She could discuss the mysterious Kierkegaard , and I remember my uncle hating her passion for study. He ridiculed her elevated conversation, and her love of books. Reading Clayton's book made me remember how difficult it was for women such as my aunt to find a way to thrive.

Even in the 70's, it was challenging for women to negotiate a new place in society. It's easy to forget. When I was in the Navy, the sailors wrote "Bitch go home" on my locker. They wrote vulgar comments about me on the bathroom walls, stole my coffee cup and clothes from my locker, taped up torn out pornographic pages from magazines and wrote my name on them. I know that not all sailors actively participated in this behavior, but I also know they all knew who was involved.
A few years after I was out of the military, I ran into the blond, soft spoken, beautiful and thin young wife of one of the Sailors that I had served with. She was widowed after her husband's motorcycle crashed somewhere in California. When we talked, she offered me an apology because her husband was the second class petty officer who secretly led the other Sailors on a vendetta to make my life miserable. I asked her why he did it, and she said he hated you because you were a woman in the military, and that was a man's job. 

I appreciate The Wednesday Sisters because it offers a  perspective on how important it is for women to support each other. It makes me aware of how much society has changed. It reminds me to value friendship, and know that genuine friendship, including complete acceptance,  is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

Click the Amazon link on the sidebar to buy your own copy of Meg Waite Clayton's, The Wednesday Sisters.

Have a lovely week and remember to celebrate your friendships!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Visit from Earl While I was Away

Beauford Delaney, "Throw it in the Creek" c. 1938

Oasis Reflection;
Turbulence and Change

 I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, “Look.” I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, “Look again,” which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.*  James Baldwin, Paris Review 1984

A lot has been happening lately, and life events are encouraging me to look in new ways.

The painting above references the folk wisdom that if something gets bad enough it should be thrown away, "Throw it in the creek." This is a disturbing thought, because I keep thinking of the Bosnian girl whose brother filmed her throwing black and white puppies in the river. You wonder how could those puppies be bad? I'm making an unsettling connection, but I've just returned from taking my daughter off to college. I don't know quite what to do with myself right now; however, I am delighted that she got into a good school and that she is enjoying her new life. Ultimately, that is what makes me the happiest. Still, we don't realize how our daily lives are shaped by our loved ones until they are away.
My college girl entering Mystic Pizza
While I was off the island of Puerto Rico, Sr. Earl, the hurricane, came to visit. My husband called me during the storm, which he was driving through, and gave me a blow by blow (pun?) account! I hear the loud wind while I yell, "Don't talk to me! Drive! You might get hurt!" Then he says, "All the lights are gone. I can't see the road." Finally, I told him I couldn't take the stress anymore- and it was making me not hungry-so please hang  up the phone. Oh, I know how bad that sounds! But it was such a surprising response from me that he did get off the phone.

I was at Mystic Pizza when he called. Do you know the restaurant in Mystic, Connecticut? It was the location of the movie, Mystic Pizza with Julia Roberts. The movie features three teenage girls who all work at the pizzeria and are trying to figure out what to do with their lives; one is reluctant to marry, another attracts the son of a wealthy family (Julia Roberts), and one is saving up for Yale University. I kept thinking of the story, while we were looking around the area. I never realized that Connecticut was such a sea oriented society. We stopped at the Portuguese Fisherman, and had a very large breakfast! (but no seafood!) It's only open for breakfast and brunch. (I think it should be called a diner now instead of a restaurant.)
Waffles cannot be contained on the plate! Huge serving sizes!

The entire area seems to be patriotic and though I may be mistaken, it also seemed conservative. The flags were at half-staff because of an officer who was killed in the line of duty. (I first wrote half-mast but I think that term is best used on ships.) When I was seventeen, I served in the US Navy for four years and I think that this coastal area of Connecticut could be called a Navy town- only it's Coast Guard all the way! I felt that familiar but distant feeling of being around many people who are connected to the military in some way, either business or family. Veterans were proud of their service, and one waitress talked about her boyfriend overseas. Everywhere, the presence of the military was strongly felt. I asked a group of young men for directions and one carefully groomed man stopped in the middle of the road to make sure I got the correct directions. A car honked at us for making them wait, but I just thought that guy was so helpful with his southern accent and polite manner, he probably was in the Coast Guard, (Yes, I know all servicemen are not gentleman- I was in the Navy, after all!)
When I arrived home, the yard was full of hurricane debris; branches and abundant piles of long pine needles. It smelled a bit like Christmas. It took a half day to clean up the yard. I was thinking about hurricanes as I raked and washed.  

A hurricane moves in a wide circle, the outer rings bring light rain, and as it picks up strength winds blow and bend trees. If it passes directly over, there is a time when it's profoundly hot, humid and the wind is still. It's a false calm because the storm is getting closer, but if you understand the hurricane's process, you have time to organize for the next ring of wind and rain to arrive. Usually, it's light rain again but then quickly turns into a dangerous storm. In the mountains, trees fall, mud slides, and a telephone pole may fall. But an amazing thing happens- you find the nicest people out on the road waving flashlights and yelling to passing cars (and complete strangers) that the road is blocked. "Slow down! Turn around! Be careful!" And though you cannot hear them, you know they must be warning you of approaching danger because they are risking their own lives while standing out in the storm. You slow down, see the telephone poll, and turn around as my husband did on the night that Earl brushed passed Puerto Rico. He was saved from a car crash because of those people shining their dim flashlights and yelling to save a stranger with all of their might.
The windy rings of change are turbulent, too, but don't you love it when you find heroes along the way? It's in the difficult times that we know how best to serve each other.These were my thoughts as I cleaned up after the storm. I'm having a storm in my life, but it's good. I have so much to celebrate and be thankful for!
Waiting at the San Juan airport.

Thank you for reading Oasis- I'm sending you good thoughts.

*Thanks to writer, Cynthia Newberry Martin, for the quote and inspiration.