I do not need plot. Or suspense. Or mystery. I love reading about the minutiae of life. The way someone enjoys doing the dishes by hand in a sink full of hot soapy water. Or the description of laundry hanging on the line, with the underwear on a back line hidden from sight. It does not matter that I do not particularly like to do the dishes by hand; or that laundry hanging on the line is not as soft as that that comes out of the dryer. The mechanics of a dishwasher and dryer are much less romantic than the hands-on versions of the same tasks. Mind you I would not want to give up either my (hard won) dishwasher or dryer—but life can be lived without these machines.
I just finished reading a book that had no specific plot, manufactured suspense, or made-up mystery because it was about a real life. Written by Rebecca Barry, “Recipes for a Beautiful Life”, and subtitled “A Memoir in Stories” traces her life lived taking care of two children, managing a marriage (and anyone who has ever been married, knows the institution needs constant management), while trying to plug the leaks in the roof of her new old home. And, oh yeah, she is trying to write a book at the same time.
This book is the result of a journal she kept from October 27, 2008 to January 2, 2012, with an epilogue dated Mother’s Day 2012. The book she was writing while she was keeping this journal was shelved. She thought it had no soul and took it out of the running to be published—much to her publisher’s relief. This book, a memoir of a few short years of her life is full of soul.
On the back of the edition I have are several testimonials—each one giving Barry a glowing and much deserved review. I am only going to quote one, for it sums the book up precisely and beautifully. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” says: “Barry’s prose is a delicate, beautiful balance of wit and yearning. She is an artist of the everyday heartbreak.” My only quibble with Gilbert’s assessment is that the book not only presents the “everyday heartbreak”, it also offers everyday joys. We all need joy to break up the sorrows, and Barry provides us with this reality check. Life is not just a vale of tears; it is also full of delights. We often forget that.
I could overwhelmingly relate to this book and to Barry’s essence, which says a lot because it represents a stage in my life that took place two decades ago. I enjoyed reading about her struggles, her disappointments, the things she was grateful for, and her successes. And she made me realize that we do not give our successes the accolades they deserve. We take them for granted, as if they do not take a lot of hard work and heartache to achieve. It is both similar to and the opposite of labour when you are having a baby—you forget the pain when you see the wonderful outcome, and instead count fingers and toes. (Personally I do not think anyone ever forgets the pain, but who wants to stay mired in that memory?)
Barry gave voice to the most profound statement I have ever read and something I can totally relate to. She said: “….in spite of the fact that I love the idea of self-improvement, I get a little annoyed by the notion that I should actually change any of my behaviour to make it happen.” (This is so me!)
She also makes a wonderful case for finally giving up on something, though it took her a long time to come to that realization. There are some things that are not meant to be. We can be as stubborn as we want about them, but they are in the end, not destined to see the light of day. She came to the conclusion that the book she had put so much stolen time and effort into was not the book that she wanted to put her name to. So many of us are afraid of giving up on something (fill in your own blank) but failure is not giving up; failure is not seeing the truth in a situation.
At the end of her memoir, looking over her life, she closes the book with these words: “This, I thought, is heaven.” Heaven is a slippery thing. Your definition of heaven is probably not the same as mine, but any rendition of heaven has to include bliss, and is there anything more wonderful than feeling blissful?
Do you agree that sometimes we have to give up on something in order to achieve something else?