Lesson Learned

It seems that of late, all I can offer is my weekly column:

I have learned a valuable lesson: never judge a book by its blurbs. Case in point: I just finished reading Elaine Liu’s “sort of” (her words) memoir called enigmatically “Listen to the Squawking Chicken.” I loved the book. I could not put it down. Loosely it is about her life and the effect that her mother has on that life. Very loosely. But I will get into more of that later.

On the back of the book, titled Praise for “Listen to the Squawking Chicken”, were these words from the magazine HELLO! Canada: “If you’re a fan of dry wit, self-deprecation and unintentionally touching mother-daughter moments, then this book is for you. I pretty much spit my coffee out laughing through the entire thing. And it makes you want to hug your mother a little bit tighter.” My first bone to pick with this quote is that it used the pronoun “I” yet there was no name attached to the quote—so are we to determine that a magazine can talk? But that is just me being finicky. I also did not find the book funny. Not at all. If I were drinking coffee, I would not have spit it out in laughter.

CBC Books also had a quote that was not attributed to a particular person. And the quote also called the book “A laugh-out-loud, surprisingly sentimental, self-proclaimed ‘sort-of memoir’ that is a loving ode to Lui’s loud, no-nonsense and always-right mother.” I did not laugh-out-loud. I did not find the book funny.

Jan Wong from The Chronicle Herald called it “A funny, new Chinese-Canadian memoir….” Again I did not find the book funny. Perhaps my funny bone is located in a much different place than the reviewers quoted on the back of the book. The Winnipeg Free Press also called it “funny”, and author Kevin Kwan said that the book “had me laughing till I rolled off the bed.” I know this is getting repetitive, but I did not fall off the bed laughing; I did not spit out my coffee laughing; and, I did not find it funny.

What is funny? Perhaps my definition is too narrow. Funny to me is light-hearted. And this book was not all that light-hearted—though in the writing of it, the author, in her truth, did not spare any detail—whether it be unflattering or not.

Now there are a lot of things in the blurbs that I agreed with. Author Jenny Lawson said that she “devoured the book in one sitting…. alternately cheering, laughing, cringing and gasping in horror.” I think she wrapped the book up quite succinctly in her assessment and I agree with all but one of her observations (and I bet you can guess which one). The Winnipeg Free Press, besides finding the book funny, also found it “honest, fearless…..smart, wise and irreverent”. The book was all that and more. The more is explained by Jan Wong in the rest of her quote: “Blending explanations of feng shui and filial piety (family loyalty) with frequent-flying f-bombs, the memoir offers counterintuitive, yet wise, parenting advice. Regardless of cultural background, anyone—parent or adult child—can glean lessons.”

Memoir is such a gentle sounding word. One conjures up memories of everyone sitting happily around the dinner table at Sunday suppers, going to Christmas concerts and applauding the efforts of those on stage, standing on the sidelines at soccer games with orange slices at the ready for snack time, and generally all “the feel good” moments of life. But a true memoir includes all the grit and grimness of everyday life, as well as the good stuff. And this book is a true memoir. It does not hide behind sentimentality, and when it is sentimental—it seems so by accident.

I appreciated this book, and felt the same as Kevin Kwan did at the end. When he composed himself (after falling off the bed laughing) he said that he rearranged his “living room furniture in a panic at 3:00 a.m. to achieve proper feng shui” and called his mother “out of pure guilt.” He said, quite rightly that “The Squawking Chicken (as Lui’s mother is monikered) could eat any Tiger Mom for lunch.”

So my hypothesis at the beginning of this column is flawed. You can judge a book by its blurbs, but keep in mind that what others think is “funny” may not be what you think is funny. This book is entertaining, enlightening, shocking, and makes you think about your own parenting techniques, but it is not funny!

What is your idea of funny?

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 1:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Talkin’ ’bout my generation

This is my weekly newspaper column. Things you should known:  Michael Bliss was born in my hometown, and is a celebrated author of national stature.   He was a History Professor at the University of  Toronto and is “one of Canada’s best known and most-honoured biographers”. Here is a little bit of his story entwined with a little bit of mine and our hometown:

“People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Why don’t you all f-fade away (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
And don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)”
~ “My Generation”, The Who

What is a generation? From my spotty research, a generation can be as little as twenty years or as long as thirty-three. When The Who sang “Talkin’ ‘bout my generation’, they were of the age group that trusted no one over thirty. That generation (of which I am at the tail end) is now over twice that age. And while many of us still hold to some of our “revolutionary” beliefs, the “trusting no one over thirty” philosophy has died a thousand deaths.

What brought the whole question of generation to my mind was the opening chapters of “Writing History” by local boy made good, Michael Bliss. In those first chapters he paints a picture of the town of Kingsville just a few years before my time—but a Kingsville I recognize if not wholly, at least in part. Born in 1941, Michael, depending on your definition of generation is a half to a third generation older than I, and seeing Kingsville through his eyes and memories is an interesting tutorial in (fairly) recent history.

One of my favourite passages in his book is one in which he describes himself as a small boy experiencing his town while wheeling around on his trusty tricycle. He lived on Main Street in the block between Division and Spruce in the beautiful brick home torn down to the chagrin of many a town folk to make way for new development. I remember walking by the house many a high school noon hour and seeing a sizable cat sitting on the front lawn. The cat was famous for sporting one green eye and one blue eye. At that time Dr. Bruner had taken over the medical offices where Dr. Bliss, Michael’s father had his practice at one end of the house.

Here is Michael’s tour of the block that was host to his home: “The centre of my world was our big brick house on a double lot on the north side of Main Street, half a block east of the Four Corners.” (I love how he capitalized the Four Corners, giving them their proper due.) “When I grew old enough to expand my territory by tricycle—like Matt Goderich in Hugh Hood’s The Swing in the Garden—I would turn right, pass by the Kingsville Fire Department, then Babcock’s Restaurant, then a tobacco warehouse in the old Methodist Church, then the Kingsville Hotel, and finally reach the post office at the Four Corners. When I turned left, I passed a half a dozen homes with chestnut streets in their front yards, then reached the end of the block at Spruce Street.” When he was a little older and “finally allowed to go all the way around the block on my tricycle, I would peddle very fast past the pool hall, a hole in the wall of one of the town’s oldest brick blocks, whose proprietor, grey and cadaverous, would sometimes be standing on its doorstep, seemingly afraid to come out into a world of breathable air.” (Just a personal note here—I had a green tricycle upon which I had many an adventure thus can so relate to Michael and his tricycle—it was a magical vehicle which took me where I wanted to go as fast as my little legs would peddle. Had I run across the cadaverous proprietor once though, I would have probably changed my route.)

I recognize a few of the places that Michael talks about but am fascinated by the Kingsville of yesteryear of which he devotes about a quarter of the book. His descriptions are rich with nostalgia; and in the words of author, David J. Bercuson, his memories about the small town where he grew up “have a canny sense of time and place…. (he) manages to put his readers inside his story”. He is a wonderful story teller—something I did not particularly expect from someone who has written such tomes as “The Discovery of Insulin” (which may be a page turner in its own right).

In his preface he says somewhat modestly: “Almost every life is interesting enough to sustain a book if you know how to write it and if there is one person curious enough to start reading.” I am not sure what took me so long to pick up this book. Finally and gratefully, I have started reading it at the urging of Mr. Simon Vreman who lent me his copy. Admittedly I am only on the beginning chapters, but seeing my Kingsville through Michael’s eyes is illuminating—it reveals some of the foundation upon which our thriving little town continues to build itself.

 

 

Published in: on May 6, 2014 at 11:23 am  Comments (17)  
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Ode to the Written Word

“Next time you’re browsing the shelves in a library, realize you’re standing in the midst of a family discussion.” ~ Kathleen Duey

“Books, the children of the brain.” ~ Jonathan Swift

‘I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have gone ourselves.” ~ E.M. Forester

“I am part of all that I have read.” ~ John Kieran

“A house without books is a room without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

A book is: “A garden carried in a pocket.” ~ Chinese proverb

“Choose an author as you would choose a friend.” – Wentworth Dillon

These are but a few of the quotes I have collected about books and writing–does one speak to you above the others, or do they reflect the chorus of your thoughts?

“There’s No Need to be Stupid About It”

“Trust people to be who they are, and not who you want them to be.” ~ Richard Templar

  The “period during which we function” known more familiarly as life, is full of contradictions. Richard Templar, author of “The Rules to Break” illustrates this clearly in his book. His Rule number 83 says: “Trust everybody”, while Rule number 84 on the very next page states unequivocally: “Trust no one.”

 Confusing?  On the surface, yes, but once he explains his concepts it makes sense.  He theorizes that, “Trust is a wonderful feeling, with all the love and security it brings, so why deny yourself? That way lies madness.” And who in their right mind would choose madness (although I have often thought of it as an interesting alternative to sanity.) But on the next page of his book, he says, “…I can contradict myself if I like”, telling us that “Trust is a personal thing, and it has a lot to do with nuances and intuition about the person in question. Trust people to be who they are, and not who you want them to be.”

 Templar argues that “The fact is that you must be a trusting person in order to feel at ease with yourself and life” BUT, and this should be the underlying advice to anyone who takes on life as a hobby: “…there’s no need to be stupid about it.” He says that he has friends that he would trust with his life, but he would not “necessarily let them look after my cat.”

  What is a contradiction? On one hand contradictions can be ambiguities and paradoxes; on the darker side, they can be inconsistent and illogical. Ambiguities are hard to define in that they express uncertainty—or “something that can be understood in more than one way”. Paradoxes are enigmatic, puzzling, even mystical. They can readily be defined by one of my favourite sayings: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Inconsistency and things that are not logical are harder to contend with and make trust all that more difficult.

 Templar is right on both counts—but I can simplify his wisdom down to a few words: Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.

Writing Wednesday is Back and Inspired by Carl Sagan

In order to create Carl Sagan from scratch...

(Photo credit: lawndart)

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. ~ Carl Sagan

books

books (Photo credit: brody4)

Magic ~ something I have long been looking for and it has been right there in front of me all along. Sagan is right–books are magic—and they are a magic that is available to everyone!

This quote has to be my all time, hands down, forever and always, FAVOURITE. It speaks to my very core. Sagan says exactly what I believe about books—that thay transcend time; that they are a conversation that never ends; and they are the very thing that “binds us together” and are “proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

I found the quote on one of my favourite blogs mybeautfulthings, and I have to thank her profusely for providing this inspiration. Many times I think writers wonder what the point is– if adding another book to the number that are already out there is worthwhile—but Sagan answers these questions beautifully.

Books put you “inside the mind of another person” and by doing so give comfort, teach you something, and provide you with another point of view, or one that agrees with what you already think.

I am inspired now to keep writing,….

What inspires you?

Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm  Comments (40)  
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A Day in the Life ~ Or My Last Birthday Post Until Next Year–I Promise!

 

Casino Velden Panorama

Casino  (Photo credit: geek7)

  I do not have a gambling problem. But I have got to say I just love playing the slots. In the past ten years I have been to the casino three times (big spender, I know).  And I have joyously bet my $20, five dollars at a time—first on the penny slots, then the nickel, the quarter, and yesterday I went all out—I tried the dollar slots.

            I could be wrong, but is there any rhyme or reason to the slots? I just sit there and hit the buttons—but I have noticed that if you hit the higher buttons you tend to win more. Now, let us be clear here, you are not going to win a lot with $5 bets but the dollar slot machine actually had one of those arms you could pull—seriously, I had me some fun. Yesterday, I ended up winning back all my $5 bets.

            I did notice that a lot of the people at the casino were a lot more serious than I. They seemed to concentrate on what they were doing, and I am sure they have some method to their madness. My madness is my method when I play the slots. Now, you can laugh all you want, but when I won $20 on the quarter slots, I was happy as could be. But it really doesn’t take a lot to amuse me.

            To be honest, I understand how enticing gambling can be—but I am no high roller. I find I am not attracted to losing money. Nor do I have any talent when it comes to any kind of gambling other than pushing buttons, or in the case of the dollar slots—pulling the arm of the one-limbed bandit. The casino is colourful, noisy, gaudily classy, and a fun place to be if you come out ahead (or even).

            Yesterday was the end of my birthday celebrations—which were numerous and fun. So what do I do to celebrate my birthday? Well, I eat cake—and right now I think I am in cake withdrawal. You can never have too much cake. Well, actually you can—I am finding my jeans just that little bit harder to button up lately. What do I do on my birthday, besides spending (and winning back) $20 at the Casino? I go to bookstores. How boring is that? Actually for me, not boring at all—I have always loved books—and they are just about the best gift anyone can give me—so I always end up with either a gift card or a little gift money with the stipulation that I must spend it on me. So I do, and generally it is at the bookstore.

            So yesterday, I bought three books—a writing book, a book about prayer, and a book just to read—covering the gamut of what I am interested in. Now, this was a big birthday—one I was not looking forward to as I am a bit reluctant to admit that I am 29 now for the 31st time. But hey, the cat is out of the bag. The eagle has landed. The cows are out of the barn. And you know~it is not that bad.

            I have finally started reading Zoomer magazine, and it is actually a great mag (it is geared to people 45 and up). The first article I read was written about people like me who do not feel or act their age (I have always been a late bloomer, and ever so slightly immature). I have now embraced my age—and as many have pointed out to me, the alternative is not all that attractive (well, it might be, but I am not ready to call it quits quite yet).

            I have not received a discount because of my age yet—but I remember a woman in a writers’ group I belonged to writing about her “first time” getting a discount. She was not ready for it yet, but when she started to see the dollars adding up—it became a “good thing” as Martha would say. So as I continue this journey called life, I am thinking that any discounts I get I can use for my next trip to the casino—where I intend to take life by the horns and play the dollar slots—this time with a ten dollar bet!

This was my newspaper column for this week–I promise not to talk about my birthday again until next year. Bliss is accepting your age at any age – what do you think?

Published in: on April 30, 2013 at 9:15 am  Comments (35)  
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Future Bliss

Rosebud

Like this Rosebud, I am still waiting to bloom.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 A service has been invented through which you can send messages to people in the future. To whom would you send something, and what would you write?

This is a timely prompt from lovely Michelle at WordPress, as I have not been looking forward to my upcoming birthday in April. I  have come to the realization that I will not be wandering this little place called earth for as many years as I have lived thus far. I am going to be 60 (sob, groan, ackkk!) and I am fairly sure I am not going to live another 60 years.

When I was younger, 60 was not something I could  easily imagine–and when I did, I imagined that I had “arrived”; that I had reached my ultimate goals; that I would be ensconced in comfort.

It is not so much the age of 60 itself that has me bummed out–it is the fact that I only have so much time left to “arrive”.  I am fighting the feeling that the book is closed and that my goals are unattainable, so I am going to write this letter to my sons in an effort to give them advice, and me some hope:

Dear Adam and Tyler;

As you read this, I am a vibrant 80 year old. I did not reach some of my goals until later in life, as I have always been a late bloomer. But along the way, I learned that even if I did not feel like I had been a “success” in the normal sense of the word, I reached success on many levels.

I found love with your dad; I found my maternal instincts as soon as I had you guys (it was an amazing transformation by the way as I did not know that I really wanted children until I had them); I worked at jobs I did not like; I worked at jobs I loved; I had a business of my own and learned that I would rather buy books than sell them; I learned how to be a “mother bear” advocate for you guys; I tried to learn to let go (even at this age, I am probably still struggling with that); I learned that family and friends can get you through anything; that losing your parents is rough but their voices stay with you; I have learned that success is not just financial (though it does make it easier); and I have learned that you should never give up.

As the two of you progress down the sometimes smooth, sometimes wretched path of life, keep in mind that in the end it is all worthwhile. You have seen your parents struggle, and now you see us comfortable in our own skins. Even though we are eighty, we live life as if there is no tomorrow, because as we all know, there may not be.

Live life well and fully. Enjoy good times even in the bad times. That old saying~this too will pass~is true, even though some things we would rather go away, do not go away fast enough.

You are loved, and my best successes!  ~ Love mom

I know that this letter to my sons twenty years down the line has fallen into cliché but I do not care–clichés are there for us to use–and sometimes they do the job. I am looking for my bliss today–in twenty years I am certain I will have found it and put it to good use.

What would you say to your loved ones from your place of bliss?

 

Published in: on March 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm  Comments (58)  
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The Bliss of “Did”

Just Do It

Just Do It (Photo credit: AMANITO)

Today’s prompt from Michelle: Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda: Tell us about something you know you should do, but don’t…. brought Shel Silverstein’s poem, “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda” immediately to mind:


Layin’ in the sun,
Talkin’ bout the things
They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.

Reading to Kids

Reading to Kids (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a great fan of Silverstein, having read three of his books of poems supposedly for children (but really for all of us) to both of my sons so many times, I cannot even venture a guess as to how many times we cuddled together, me reading, and they transfixed by his words.

We all should and could do many things and we would have except for…..so many things. But how about the many things we did do? I think those should count for something.

I vote for forgetting about woulda-coulda-shoulda and just concentrating on the “dids”—that sounds much more blissful to me. How about you?

Published in: on February 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm  Comments (61)  
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~ One ~ Happy New Year! ! ! ! ! ! ! ~ Resolution 2013 ~ Finding My Bliss

12 O'Clock - FuijiFilm Finepix S2950

12 O’Clock – January 1, 2013 (Photo credit: ladytimeless)

What a party we had–I will do a synopsis of it soon–but the food, wine, music, and entertainment were fantastic and the hundreds and hundreds of guests incredible!  Now if I can just get Robin to come down off the table, and Vanessa to move over in the kitchen we will have breakfast. While I am waiting for the bacon to cook, I am going share my resolution and a few random thoughts with you:

In the past I have made serious resolutions; quirky resolutions; philosophically based resolutions; and finally refused to make resolutions on the grounds that doing so might incriminate me. This year I am trying a new tactic in the hopes that I will not be one of those statistics that they come out with every year saying that 92.4% of people give up on their resolutions 3.4 days after making them.

Today I resolve to find my bliss. I put it somewhere and I am sure I am going to find it again. I found my brother’s missing Christmas gift the other day (only five days after Christmas) so I am sure I am going to be able to find my bliss. So what is bliss? I figure it is something that I can probably spend the rest of my life discovering as it takes on so many guises: happiness, contentedness, serenity, delight, harmony, and in some corners blessedness. Now wouldn’t it be nice to be blessed?

The Encarta Dictionary says that bliss is “complete happiness” or a “state of spiritual joy”. I am thinking here that I may never need to make another resolution again—just finding my bliss will encompass all those things I want to accomplish. Losing those five pounds that I lost and found again? Bliss. Eating healthy? Bliss. Being content with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book? Bliss. See how it works? No more having to bother to make a resolution every year—this one encompasses all.

~Looking Back to Look Forward~

One of my favourite columnists is Mitch Albom with the Detroit Free Press. He has written some books, and from the sales figures, he is a pretty successful author. But, I find that he writes best in column form. He is succinct, pithy, and at times amusing. His column from Sunday, December 30th is one I am saving, and I am going to share a couple of paragraphs that really spoke to me, and I hope you will find engaging as well.

He said, “When all was said and done, 2012 was completely different from years before it, yet very much the same, because certain things are true no matter how long we live.

English: Mitch Albom was autographing for his ...

Mitch Albom 。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News stories come, news stories go; nothing is as great as it sounds and nothing is as bad. Technology is replaced by more technology; celebrities replace previous celebrities; science discovers something, then searches for something else.

And the only thing that truly affects your year is how you lived within your own house, how you treated and were treated by your loved ones, and how you helped the people and community around you.”

Then he asked the question: “Judged by that, how was your 2012?”

I think that if we take his observations into account, we are equipped to handle 2013 in perhaps a more thoughtful way. I know that I am guilty sometimes of not treating the people I love most in the most loving way. They get the brunt of my frustration and they do not deserve it. They are the people who are here for me, and will continue to be in my corner. So, in addition to finding my bliss—or actually as a part of finding my bliss, I am going to try to treat my loved ones the way I want to be treated—in effect passing the bliss around a little more.

Mitch is right–the only thing that truly affects us is how we live within our own house and how we treat our loved ones and the community we live in.

Happy 2013, and may you all find your bliss, however you define it!

Wishes Come True

Gift Card Holder Ornament

Gift Card Holder Ornament (Photo credit: ecokarenlee)

I told everyone in my family that if I did not get a gift card from Chapters for Christmas that there would be trouble. My husband took me seriously. Apparently he did not want trouble. On the Christmas tree was a pretty little card, and inside was the sacred gift card. I love going to Chapters (or any bookstore if truth be known). In fact I once owned a bookstore, but an unexpected but happy pregnancy, a second premature child (who is now a healthy 6’1″ college student), and a number of other factors led to its closure–but the point here is that I love books–buying them, borrowing them from the library, and most of all, reading them. I did not particularly care for selling them though.

Anyway, we got up early this Boxing Day morning and made our way into the city to the nearest Chapters, about 30 miles away. There was a winter storm brewing and threatening to blow its way here by noon, so I wanted to be back in my warm and cozy home before it got here. Target time to take off was 8:30; we made it out of the house by 9:00 a.m. Not bad in my books.

I used my card well and purchased “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe and “The Mindful Writer” by Dinty W. Moore who promises that it is filled with “noble truths of the writing life.” Because they were hardcovers and 30% off, I shared the rest of my card with my family, buying a book about vintage guitars for my oldest son, and a motorcycle mag for my husband.

We got home just as the storm was starting–the wind is blowing right now and the snow is coming down a shade past gently and we are going to get four to eight inches. I know, I know this is Canada, so I guess we are getting between 8 and 10 centimetres–but I am still old school.

Hoping you all are having a relaxing day after all the excitement of Christmas, and are warm and cozy if it is cold out, and cool and happy if you live somewhere warm.

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