Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Regrets

Some of my newer readers may not have read posts about our boat.  Times are tough, and it seems extravagant to have it, but we bought it when times were good.  It has been a gem of a boat.

One of the wonderful things about owning a boat is that it's always waterfront.  For the price of a slip, you can live anywhere in the world.  We've kept ours in North Carolina.  A couple of weekends ago we decided to move it from Southport to a new marina.

It takes much longer to float than drive so the first night we stayed at the original marina where we kept the boat.  A lot has changed at Wrightsville Marina since we bought the boat in 2001. Many of our boating friends have sold their boats, and most of the beautiful Carolina fishing boats don't go out much any more.  Normally this time of year the transient dock would be full of large yachts being moved south for the winter, but that weekend there were only a couple of boats from Holden Beach.

My husband took the boat and I took the car. I had time to visit with my aunt and uncle who live on Wrightsville Beach.  They have been boaters all their lives, living for a period of time on one, and it is the two of them who inspired us to try the boating life.  As we ate breakfast, I told them that I felt bad that we had been extravagant during the boom years instead of saving money for these lean times.  I expected my uncle to agree and was prepared to be contrite, but he surprised me by saying, "Aren't you glad you did it?"  I've thought about his question since that morning, and I have to say that I am glad we did it. That boat has given me a place to go where I can completely disconnect from my worries and obligations, and has taken me places I would never have seen had we not had it.

We are once again docked in Oriental NC, a place that I love.  I've said before that it has the feel of the 50's at the beach and there is so much water to explore in the area.

In an earlier post, right after 9/11, I told of going to the boat for a few days to get away from the television.  I was in shock - we all were - and one afternoon we went on a cruise down the waterway at Wrightsville Beach. I said, "God, give me a sign that it's all going to be all right," and when I looked up, there was a cross way over on the land. It was a tiny bit of hope in the great waters of the tragedy.

Soon, it may be time to sell the boat.  I'm going to enjoy every minute that I can on it, filled with gratitude that I have been able to use it all these years. That it has brought me comfort, that it has taken me to places so devoid of people that they felt primordial.That I have met people I might never have met, that I was able to share the adventure with friends and family. That I've danced with my husband on the back of the boat. That it has seen me through one crisis and another and another. That I've been rocked to sleep by rain and waves and that the sun has shone down on the Coatimundi and me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Very Long Time

This past Saturday marked forty years since I went out on a blind date with my husband.  Like this year, it was a Saturday night.  I had had a blind date the night before, and when my sister and her friend called to ask if I would go out with him, at first I said no.  They pushed, told me I'd really like him, and I gave in.

He called me at the dorm, and after saying hello said something that I now know is very uncharacteristic for him:  "Let's boogie!"  Ooooo-kay, I thought.  He was a half-hour late.  But he was the cutest thing in the lobby that night so I put my anger aside.

We had a few dates over the fall semester but I was dating someone else too.  My husband's hometown was twenty minutes away from mine while the other guy's was four hours away.  That short distance proved to be an advantage for my husband over the Christmas holiday and when I got back, I broke up with the other guy.

He gave me Fleetwood Mac's "Bare Trees" album for Christmas.

We dated and then lived together for the next seven years.  When he took a job in my hometown, I said that we would need to get married to stay together.  So that's what we did.  And now it's forty years and three beautiful daughters later.  BAM!

We are almost complete opposites, but it all comes together in a very complementary way.  When I panic, he's cool as a cucumber.  When he looks on the dark side, I shine a light.  He's suave in a crowd while I'm self-conscious.  He's quick to see someone as shy and leave them alone while I see a shy person as a book to be opened.  With our daughters, he helped me loosen the reins when I wanted to pull in.  I like to get all the news from them while he just lets them know he's thinking about them and loves them.  He sings and plays instruments, I'm a great groupie.

In some ways we're more alike than we used to be.  He used to be the daring one, but once I realized that there are more ways than one to have courage, I realized that I am daring too.  I majored in history and political science and now he's a nut about how the past and politics form the present.  We both love being on the water and riding bikes.  We work together.  We love to travel, even just for the day.

I'll say this now:  It hasn't been easy.  There have been times when one or the other drove or walked away "for good" or said words that the other thought they would never forget.  There have been lean times and family crises and grief and all the things that people experience in this life.

For exactly two-thirds of my life, we have stayed together.  And though I'm not sure exactly what he meant when he said, "Let's boogie" that night, I do know that the past forty years have been a dance.  Thank you, Amanda and Vicki, for insisting I go on that blind date. You were right on the money:  I like him alot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Today I remember a friend who should have turned 60 today.  We lost a lot. 

He left a lot too.  An incredible legacy of music and art and an example of how to face adversity.

You can honor him and carry a little piece of the beauty he left by ordering this amazing recording of his original music.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Best Ones (Books that is!)

It's getting to be that time.  You know, that time when we start thinking about Christmas, when the ornaments and tree lights sit right next to the costumes and fall leaf wreaths in the stores.

I'm all about giving books for presents.  And I'm all about trying to foist my choices for best books of the year on others!  So here are my recommendations for the best book presents of the year:

1. 2012 Pen/O'Henry Prize Stories:  I read this collection every year and I have to say that this is one of the finest of them all.  One of the stories, "The Hare's Mask," by Mark Slouka, will haunt me for years.

2.  Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed:  More than a collection of advice columns, Strayed's book is essays on life.  Every person on your list will see themselves in these columns.

3.  The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson:  Adam Johnson went to North Korea to research this novel about an anti-hero named Pak Jun Do.  This is a look into this country that will chill you, but Johnson also brings humor to the story.

4.  The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker:  In this dystopian novel, the earth begins spinning more slowly on its axis.  Days and nights lengthen and life changes in ways that no one could imagine.  

5.  The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka:  A fictionalized account of the journey of "picture brides" - women who were brought from Japan to San Francisco early in the last century.

6.  Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Meghan Mayhew Bergman:  Humans and nature are woven together to create these beautiful short stories. Bergman is a writer to watch.

7.  The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Roarke:  As compassionate a book on terminal illness and death and grief as you'll find these days.  I've given this book to more people than I can count, and they all are grateful.

8.  Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon:  One of my favorite writers, (his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is still high on my list too) Chabon has done it again!  Using a used record store called Brokeland Records and a quirky cast of characters, Chabon brings us into the world of Archy and Nat and their midwife wives.

9.  Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes:  Based on a true story, this novel reads like non-fiction.  One veteran of the war told me it was the most chilling and realistic novel he had read about Vietnam.

10.  And my #1 best book read this year is...TA DA...In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin. Helprin wrote another of my all-time favorite books and war novels, A Soldier of the Great War.  This new one is set in New York City after World War II.  I fell in love with every one of the characters and the setting of old New York was a fabulous backdrop for the story.

So, shop on and shop local, my reading friends, and if you decide to buy a book or two for yourself, just say yes when the salesperson asks if you want it gift-wrapped.  You can always use the paper for something else.

PS Mark Helprin, Karl Marlantes, Michael Chabon, Meghan Mayhew Bergman, Adam Johnson, Cheryl Strayed and some of the Pen/O'Henry editors have all read at my most wonderful local bookstore, Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh.  I am so fortunate to have them in my city!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Show and Tell

Anyone who has ever written a story has heard the admonishment, "Show; don't tell."  Don't say the person ran to the mailbox, show how she ran, what expression she had on her face; have her think about what she expects to find there.

The other day, another way of looking at "Show; don't tell" occurred to me.

I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend who had recently suffered a loss.  I asked her how she was doing and she told me.  I listened, but in the back of my mind and then out loud I shared an experience similar to hers.  My intention was to let her know that I knew how she felt.

After we went our separate ways, I realized that she probably didn't want to hear me talk about my loss.  She wanted to talk about hers.  And there were ways to show her that I empathized without butting in on her story.

One way is through body language.  I could look her in the eye, nod my head, touch her in a comforting way if I thought she would be comfortable with that.  I could ask questions from my deep knowledge of the type of sorrow she was experiencing that would show her that it was safe to talk because she was with someone who had been there.  Questions like, "That was hard, wasn't it?" and "It's different when you lose a parent/sibling/spouse when you're old/young, isn't it?"

I could find out what she needs from me and other friends, drawing on what I needed.  "Can we bring food, go out to dinner or a movie?" It wouldn't be too much "telling" if I said, "I loved getting cards/calls; do you find that comforting?"

The bottom line is this: who can really understand another's sorrow or illness?  If you were to ask the five children in my family to talk about my father's death and what it meant to them, you would get five different stories. You might even wonder if we're all talking about the same person!

Mostly I think that when people are having troubles--and they seem to be more common as I get older--they just want someone to listen. They want to talk about their loved ones months, years even, after they're gone. They want to enjoy the care and attention they felt during an illness when they're feeling better.  They want to think that what they feel is important.

I'll end with a wonderful quote on listening that I have on my refrigerator:

"Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand."
                                                              -- Dr. Karl Augustus Menninger