Carpe Diem

I haven’t written anything with publication in mind for almost three years, but I have done a lot of writing, just because it remains one of the best ways for me to muddle through life. Every now and again, I discover, in the writing, something I want to share because it isn’t just about me, but about Life. How pretentious is that! But surely all writers plunge headlong into ostentatious territory with fewer inhibitions than those who are lucky enough to have escaped the need to chronicle their lives.

I’ve had two years of struggling with mood disorder – chemical imbalance, brain gone fritzy, medication a reliable crutch, and an understanding family propping me up. Then, a year ago, July 22, 2013, my only sister, my best friend, died. I won’t dwell on grief. Each of us deals with it in our own way. Life is ultimately about endings and loss – this, I learned and thought I was prepared to accept years ago. But that doesn’t lessen the pain and the great hole in the hearts and lives of the people who grieve. The human condition. And would we want to be without these feelings, carry on as though the candy bowl was still full?

On July 22, I visited the peaceful memorial gardens for the first time since my sister’s ashes were placed in a burial vault there. I’d attempted two previous visits, but backed away when I realized I was doing this because I felt I “should” rather than because I wanted to acknowledge the day. The inscription my brother-in-law chose for the plaque on that small vault was enough to make me glad I was there: “Lent by God to be Loved by Us.” Whether one believes in one God or another, in a Creator, in the the Universe, or whatever your belief in how it all began, we all arrive on the planet with a return ticket. In this difficult “first year”, I’ve tried to ride out waves of anger and deep sadness, with gratitude for having my sister in my life for all these sixty-six years. Not there yet, but faith keeps me moving in that direction.

Yesterday we had what has become an annual birthday celebration for my son, my nephew, and his daughter, who have birthdays within two days of each other early in July. This year we included Margaux, Stefan’s girlfriend of so many years that she’s part of the family, and her parents as well because Margaux’s birthday is also in July. Another difficult “first” but as I watched Sharon’s grandchildren flit about, and considered the love and the strength of the family, I was reminded yet again, that these are the times that matter. Time spent with the people we love, in the time we are given. Carpe diem. I’m determined to start each day with these enduring words from Horace’s Odes. And I gently offer them to you on this day.

Short Fiction: Be Still and Listen to the Heart Beat

Two quotes from Alice Munro in Robert Thacker’s book, Alice Munro Writing Her Lives have lodged in my mind during the time I’ve been reading this wonderful book:
“There is always a starting point in reality.”
“How can you get your finger on it, feel your life beating.”

Oh, to feel the heartbeat in a short story  when it insists on being written.

This seems like the right time for some promo for A Crack in the Wall (Oolichan Books 2008), my first and only book of short fiction. In spite of having ventured into the territory of the novelist with Running Toward Home and Delivery, in spite of having trod new ground with a braid of non-fiction/investigative journalism, fiction and memoir in The Boy, the short story still feels like homeland. Perhaps because so many of my stories began with a memory, with nostalgia, with moments in my life that have taken on a new slant now that I’ve traveled a considerable distance.

A Crack in the Wall has a special place in my heart, because it is a compilation of short stories written over a period of fifteen years, some of them published in literary magazines, two of them broadcast on CBC’s Alberta Anthology, which was such a wonderful opportunity for Alberta writers to hear their stories in another “voice.” I will never forget the thrill of hearing “Pins and Needles” read by the inimitable Stephen Hair (Theatre Calgary’s own “Scrooge”). The collection claims my affection as well, because it is rife with the voices of my family and stolen moments from our lives. My eldest son, each time I had a story published, would ask, “Are we in it?” And my reply, so often, “Of course you are, because there are children and mothers and all that I know about being a mother I learned from you.”

So why should you seek out this “old” book? http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall

1. Because it’s published by one of our fine Canadian small presses, Oolichan Books, who have been so good to this author through the publication of three books, each one beautifully produced and designed.

2. Because short fiction has reclaimed its place as a gem in the crown of fiction.

3. Because you can finish a story in the time it takes to commute to your work, or to feel blissfully ready for sleep, or to simply escape life within the circle of a story.

4. Because these stories are dear to me, and whether you know me or not, you will know me better having read about the cracks in my own walls.

5. Because if you do know me well, you may find yourself between the pages. But if you ask, I will smile and remind you that I write “fiction.”

6. Because A Crack in the Wall is dedicated to “the memories of my mom and dad, Martha and Morris Harke, who taught me to be still and listen.” A lesson I’ve cherished, and I hope you will too.

7. And finally, if reviews matter to you:

“…a gifted and compelling storyteller, she deals in ordinary people who lead ordinary lives, but by some unobtrusive narrative magic, her people become extraordinary.”
—David Carpenter, author of Banjo Lessons, Writing Home, Courting Saskatchewan and so many more.

“Refreshingly unpretentious, A Crack in the Wall draws out detail with an easy momentum that avoids the excesses of myopic realism. Humour, as in the collection’s opening sentence (“The old cat hunkers on the counter next to the aquarium, more interested in the bloated goldfish now than when it was alive”) produces gentle laughs. Simple and precise, Hegerat’s style elegantly explores the inner lives of characters struggling against expectation and inevitability —themes that are at once maddeningly complex and mundane.”
— Jeff Kubik in “Alberta Views”

From Author’s Lament to Unabashed Promotion

 

All right then. Here begins the lamenting author’s unabashed praise for her own work. With a whole lot of reasons why you need these books, because whether they’re your type of reading or not, you know someone in whom they’ll touch a nerve or spark a memory, or just stay a while in the heart. Today’s book:

https://newestpress.com/books/running-toward-home

Available through NeWest Press (via their website), your local indie bookstore by order, online from one of the major booksellers, and of course, from my favourite source of books – your public library.  Unfortunately, Running Toward Home, is not available as an ebook at this point.

 

Why do you need to read this book?

1. It was my first book, and is a collage of memory from my years as a social worker in Child Welfare. The book is dedicated to children in care, and in retrospect, I wish I’d included the parents of these children in the dedication. Tina, one of the four voices in the novel, is the character with whom I struggled the most. Eight years later, she still begs me to write a sequel to her story, but I have such a sense of foreboding around Tina’s story that I’ve closed my ears to her hissing demand.

2. This was my sister’s favourite of my books, and I only learned this a few months before she died. This was in a conversation about regrets over things left undone. I was totally drained, and told her that I didn’t care if I ever had another book. When she said, “Don’t you dare stop writing!” I heard the voice of my bossy big sister, a voice that had been absent for some time. Why, I asked her, Running Toward Home, this one that showed many of the flaws of first books? Because of Corey, that child whose future was left dangling. Because the story was open-ended, she said, she was able to imagine a happy conclusion. The endings to most of my stories, she claimed, were totally depressing.

3. Because of Barb Howard’s generous review: “From the warm-hearted parents, to the torn teen mother, to the social worker with an agenda, to wary Corey himself —Running Toward Home delivers the compelling details of a child stuck on a treadmill of government regulation and human vulnerability.”

4. And another from Dave Margoshes: “Three deceptively simple strands—a mother, a foster mother and a runaway boy—are woven together against a slightly surreal backdrop of the Calgary Zoo at night, when tigers and dinosaurs roam free. . . . Betty Jane Hegerat has written a small gem of a novel.”

4. Because of Chris Flodberg’s beautiful art on the cover of the book. This tiger, part of a series, a romantic rendering of cats, was first shown at the University of Calgary, and is now in a private collection.

4. Because of Robert Kroetsch who read the draft of the book that preceded the finished work when I was in his Novel Colloquium at the Sage Hill Writing Experience in 2003. Without showing me how, he showed me the way to breathe life into this story. Because of the note he penned in my copy of his own Badlands: “For Betty Jane because you are making the Calgary Zoo into a Canadian literary site. Thank you.”

5. Because I have just finished reading Running Toward Home. I cannot make myself read any of my published novels cover-to-cover once the words are permanently fixed to pages and bound into covers. Why? Because I would want to edit through eternity. But I’ve gotten over that silly inhibition. And you know what? This is a good story.

 

An Author’s Lament; With Promise of an Upbeat Sequel

Someone on the Writers’ Union forum posted a link to this interesting piece into a journalist’s journey into self-publishing yesterday. http://nyti.ms/1w2v6Gg — from “I Was a Digital Bestseller!  by Tony Horwitz from the NY Times, June 19 2014. Not a lot of resonance for me in the piece because journalism, actually making a living from writing is a different sack of cats from my quest to write fiction that will live on in the annals of Canlit. But this small excerpt from the article lit my fire: “FIVE months ago I published a short book called “Boom.” Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.”

Absolutely true. Most authors know that their books will not only lose money, but they themselves will subsidize their ephemeral creation. Small regional presses are often described as “not for profit” businesses. Shouldn’t that be enough of a clue?

I’ve taught many introductory creative writing courses, facilitated workshops, mentored new writers, and I always make it clear that if anyone is there because they’re looking for the road to fame and fortune, they’ve come to the wrong person. I am not the guardian of that secret map.

After 20 years of courses, encouragement, publication in literary magazines, an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, four books, and essays/stories in several anthologies – still no vacation home in Tuscany. As for fame, I’ve been shortlisted for a number of fine awards, and with that come validation and the chance to party in good company. But no reward to deposit in “income from writing.” Still, I count one of the greatest benefits of my writing life in the number of good friends I’ve made. In fact, it’s often our “woundedness” as authors that bring us together over coffee or wine for affirmation that what we do is not about the money. When one of us wins an award, scores a fine contract, we have the chance to celebrate, to be the cheerleaders, knowing that when it is our “turn” the cheering squad will be there for us.

Why, then, is it so difficult for so many authors to be their own cheerleaders? I know a few authors who don’t shrink at all from self-promotion. Who, when the opportunity arises, or they create the opportunity themselves, will hold the book aloft and shout, “I wrote this! This is a fine book! Buy it and both of us will be rewarded!” I am one of the other sort – the author who quietly enters book clubs with her bag of “car stock”, leaves it inconspicuously beside her chair, and at the end of the evening, if the group feels receptive, pulls the bag forward and mentions, just mentions, that she has copies of the book being discussed as well as copies of her other books if anyone is interested. Then goes home wishing she’d asked the host in advance for a table on which to display her books and a bit of help in promoting them.

A few weeks ago, I attended a book club appreciation night at one of our fine indie bookstores at which each staff member recommended a book for the fall lists the book clubs were putting together. I was delighted that The Boy was among those recommendations. Okay, I told myself, this is an opportunity you will not ignore. I plucked a copy of The Boy from the display and inveigled my way into every cluster of conversation going on in the room. Polite smiles from some corners, congratulations from a couple of others, and a few groups who simply looked annoyed at my intrusion.

Feeling rather humbled, and just a little embarrassed, I made my way back to my husband and the good friend who had come along to the event. They gave me the affirmation I needed: Of course you should introduce yourself and the book to everyone in the room! You’re the only author of any of the recommended books in attendance. Get over it! It’s your job to sell your books now that they’ve had their brief flash across the heavens.

So far, no invitations to any of the book clubs at that event, but a swift kick to remind me that unless I do more promotion the books of which I am exceedingly proud will dwindle to a shadow on a bookstore shelf, remaindered along with hundreds of other fine books that died too young.

I knew all of this, of course, because I’d met the indomitable Susan Toy just before Delivery was launched in 2009. She came to a reading that I was participating in and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Susan. I’m your sales rep.” “Really? I didn’t know I had one.” “Well you do, and we need to talk about how to promote your new book and the previous two and whatever else you have in the works.” A meeting a few days later, and Susan was off and running with ideas and contacts that took me to libraries all over central and southern Alberta, and as many book clubs as I could fit into my writing life.

Susan has moved on, although she continues to promote mine and the books of other authors from her exile on the beautiful Caribbean island of Bequia. But lately, I’ve been hearing her voice in my ear, and she’s telling me that the books will only die when I stop breathing life into them.

So to end this Author’s Lament, here’s the pledge I’ve made to myself (and to any authors I can influence as well) to rip up the DNR order on every single book. Stand by for Part Two: Utterly Uninhibited Authorial Promotion of Fine Books.

Why Launch This Book in a Church — Part 2

In case you missed Part 1:  http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/4101547/1497/

 Saturday, April 26.  Sixty people, Owl’s Nest sold out of their copies of a family of any other name; Exploring Queer Relationships, a beautiful mix of church community, writing community, LGBT community, and a lot of conversation when the readings were done and we moved on to book signing and munching. (Only one complaint on the refreshments:  “Where are the egg salad sandwiches?  Lutheran church gatherings always serve egg salad sandwiches.”)

I was as honoured to share this celebration of the anthology with Dale Kwong, as I was to be included in the book with an essay from a parent’s experience; perspectives from both sides of “coming out” and what “family” really means.

The Q&A provoked insightful (sometimes difficult) questions to answer, but answer them we did.  This was a thoughtful, perceptive audience, wanting to know more than our brief readings disclosed.  The book will provide them “more” and so many more stories.   I wanted the dialogue to go on and on and I know that it will.

So many comments, but the two that for me truly answered the question “why launch this book in a church?” :

“Stained glass windows, butterflies, quilts destined for people in need, and just the aura that surrounded us made me finally understand why you wanted to have the launch at your church, and why you make that your home.”

“You know that I have no church connection at all, never have had, but at the readings on Saturday I felt that everyone there, and the book, were blessed.”

Check with you local bookseller.  If they don’t have a family by any other name: Exploring Queer Relationships on the shelf, tell them it needs to be there.  Same with your local library.

IMG_1509 IMG_1513IMG_1538

 

Why Launch This Book in a Church?

Book Launch

a family by any other name: EXPLORING QUEER RELATIONSHIPS

 Saturday April 26th 2:00 PM

Lutheran Church of the Cross

10620 Elbow Dr. S.W.  Calgary

 

I think, in fact I know, from several comments I’ve received, that the venue for this book launch is a bit of a puzzle to many who’ve seen the promotion or received invitations. Why hold this celebration at a mainstream Protestant church when so many Lutheran congregations are still rejecting, or conflicted over the Human Sexuality Resolutions passed by the National Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in 2011?

Why on earth include a statement of welcome on the invitation that says:  Come as you are, with an open mind and heart. God will stretch and renew us, for we already know storytelling transforms us.

Has the shunning and the pain inflicted by churches – in the name of God – on the LGBT community not been enough to render such an invitation and the venue offensive?

In fact, that welcoming statement is part of the invitation Church of the Cross has extended to all the other Lutheran Churches in the city (none of which are affirming,) other churches within our southwest community, and to affirming Anglican and United churches in Calgary.

But again, back to — why the church? The short answer (the long answer is in my essay) is that my story ends in this place.  A selfish motive, and a suggestion that was initially questioned by my friend and reading partner for this launch, Dale Lee Kwong.  But Dale, gracious and accepting woman that she is, handed this over to me and I am grateful both to her, and to Touchwood Press and Bruce Gillespie who, if they had reservations held them back.

The open arms with which Pastors Laura and Phil Holck responded to my request to hold the launch in the sanctuary at our/my church sealed my conviction that this was the place we needed to be.

I contemplated removing the mention of God’s renewal on the promotion that will go out to other communities for fear of offending potential audience members who are atheists, agnostics, non-Christians.  But then I remembered that the secular world is far ahead of the Christian church on many issues of acceptance and inclusiveness.  Respect, do not judge, accept one another as we are, are some of the basic tenets that keep my faith alive.

The readings and the Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower will be held in the sanctuary and I am praying for a Saturday when the stained glass windows are streaming with light.  There will be refreshments – basic requirements of both launches and all Lutheran events. There will be books for sale. An anonymous donor has offered to contribute $2 for every book sold to the church’s Families in Need fund or whatever other cause our pastors can suggest that speaks to inclusiveness.

I feel so honoured to have my story, a mother’s story, included in this anthology that at times I’ve felt that I should just be grateful and quiet. Quiet does not come naturally to me. And I have been reminded by the wise and comforting Dale, that the acronym is frequently LGBTA, the A standing for allies.  I am an ally and so is my church. We will welcome you with open arms.

I suggested to Dale that maybe opening with a prayer for peace and justice would be appropriate and maybe a song that I love on that same theme could close the event. Here, she finally asserted herself and in retrospect, I know she was right on this call.

But this is my own page, we are not in a church and I do want to share a verse from that hymn, “Light Dawns on a Weary World”: “The trees shall clap their hands/the dry lands, gush with springs/the hills and mountains shall break forth with singing/ We shall go out in joy/and be led forth in peace, as all the world in wonder echoes shalom.”

Shalom,

Betty Jane

 

Oblivion

I have avoided writing all but the occasional book review  for most of my writing life, and writing a theatre review has truly never crossed my mind. But after seeing “Oblivion” workshopped at the U of C yesterday, I’m going to set aside my reluctance to do a review for which I have no credentials at all, and give you my play-goer’s reaction.  Unfortunately, today was the last performance of Oblivion, but I have no doubt at all that there will other opportunities to see this play, so I’m urging you to remember the play and the playwright — Oblivion by Jonathan Brower.  Store it in one of the accessible files in your brain even if all you can recall when you hear it mentioned again is that it was highly recommended.

I attended the play primarily because the playwright, Jonathan Brower, will be moderating the Calgary launch of A Family by Any Other Name; Exploring Queer Relationships, at which Dale Kwong and I will be reading, and which my home church will be hosting.

Oblivion: A Workshop Production, introduces Tim, a gay man raised in the evangelical church who is struggling with the inner conflict between his faith and his sexuality while contemplating a radical vaccine that would eliminate his ‘religious gene.’

For a more lengthy description of the play and playwright visit the Gauntlet’s website: http://www.thegauntlet.ca/story/reconciling-faith-and-sexual-orientation

But here’s the story from the perspective of this member of yesterday’s audience:

Tim, the young gay man portrayed in the play is torn — in fact, his church and his friends in the secular world, are pulling so hard in opposite directions that I believed so completely in the character that I could feel those arms grabbing/pulling/insisting.

There is the religious world, an evangelical pastor, Quinn, who runs a program to restore people like Tim (who is on the “Path to Perversity”) to heterosexuality, insisting that this is the only way that he will remain acceptable in God’s eyes. Quinn admits that Tim’s attraction to other males will never go away, but he will simply have to suppress it either through celibacy or in a relationship with a woman.

The secular world, embodied in Tim’s friend, Simone, insists that the only thing standing in his way to becoming the person he’s meant to be, is the hurt that his church has inflicted on him, and the faith that he continues  to cling to.  She has found the answer for him; an experimental vaccine that will rid him of his “religious gene.”

The play brings remarkable authenticity to the disparate influences in Tim’s life.  It also sensitively portrays Tim’s relationship with Morgan, the one person who understands what’s tearing Tim apart and whose love for Tim is stronger than either of the two sides working so fiercely to claim him.

The vacccine, of course, only heightens Tim’s suffering and confusion. Simone will not be pleased with Tim’s response, and Quinn, by the end of the play is on her knees weeping, pleading with God  Because I am a Christian, and I understand very well the struggles of the church in accepting and affirming, I appreciated and was touched by the anguish of Quinn’s prayers in the end, pleading with God to show her what’s she done wrong in failing to bring Tim back into the fold.

For me, this play was perfectly balanced.

As the mother of three children I love with all my heart, Tim’s struggle reminded me of our our daughter’s coming out and the deep well of courage she tapped into in doing so.

As a Christian, a member of a church that wrestled with acknowledging that sexual orientation is not a choice, with accepting the iblessing of same-sex marriages, and with affirming these beliefs by ordaining clergy without prejudice toward sexual orientation, I anguished with Quinn in her pleading with God to help her understand.

In Morgan’s steadfastness, I saw my daughter and her partner’s deep love for another and the commitment to their marriage.

I offer Jonathan congratulates and thanks for creating this important piece of theatre, and applaud the wonderful actors who brought it to life. Bravo.

Jonathan we will be blessed by your company on April 26th.

No matter more where you stand– gay or straight, believer or non-believer — I  urge you to read A Family by Any Other Name, and what better place to buy your copy than at the Calgary launch.  Don’t trust the files in your mind, write this one down:

Book Launch: A Family by Any Other Name   Saturday, April 26  2:00 PM at Lutheran Church of the Cross 10620 Elbow Dr. SW

Readings by Dale Lee Kwong and Betty Jane Hegerat.  Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower who we hope will be an active contributor to the discussion.  Refreshments.  Book sales.  We expect the audience to include members of the LGBT community, members of the hosting church, and other affirming congregations as well those in churches who still struggle. As always, we expect members of the writing community, who support one other in inspiring ways. Imagine the opportunity for discussion. Come.

Head vs. Heart

When I was in the throes of writing The Boy, I told my sister that this was a challenging book to write, not just because of the subject but because I’d been convinced that in order to tie the fiction and non-fiction together, I needed a third thread — memoir.  And I was terribly uncomfortable writing about myself.  She looked at me wisely, as older sisters are prone to do, and said that she had always had the feeling that I was hiding in the heart of all of my fiction, and how was this different.

In its own difficult  way, adding the personal to that hybrid has helped me to get past the boundaries I’d  built into my writing.  Personal essay, or simply “spilling my guts” (as I’ve described it to my family) in posts like this seems to demand to be written.

When I saw the call for submissions for A Family by Any Other Name, edited by Bruce Gillespie and forthcoming from Touchwood Books in April  http://www.touchwoodeditions.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781771510547  I didn’t hesitate to write about my reaction to our daughter’s coming out, or the way in which it challenged my faith.  I sent the essay to Elisabeth before I submitted it and asked if she and Barb would be comfortable having this story out in the world.  Of course, she answered, but you know, you made me cry.  I believe she said the same thing when I asked for her reaction to a very short piece of “fiction” that I was hoping to include  in my collection of short stories, A Crack in the Wall.  When I look at both pieces now, I see myself perhaps even more clearly in the fiction, which sprang from my surprise that my heart had a different reaction to Elisabeth’s coming out than my head. The essay, writing as myself, from the heart, helped me follow the path to the point of “Finding My Grace.”

Simply because the book and the story have been a long time relegated to “back list” status, I think “Stitches” needs to come into the light one more time.  So here, with my thanks to Oolichan Books for permission to reprint is “Stitches.”  http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall

Stitches

 

 

There is a knot in the thread. So close to the end of the hem, the woman pauses to tug each stitch through the fine cloth.

These are her mother’s hands, her grandmother’s hands. Always stitching.  Christening gown, plaid jumper for first day of school, red velvet Christmas frock, graduation dress, wedding gown, christening gown. Sewing the lives of daughters. 

          The girl on the floor squares her shoulders, braces palms on either side of blue-jeaned legs and drinks a deep breath. “I have to tell you something,” she says on the exhalation.

          The fabric puckers. “I wish I had a finer needle, and lighter thread,” the woman says. “I wish you’d asked me to do this when I got here yesterday instead of when I’m halfway out the door.”    

          “Mom! Will you just listen?”

           The daughter’s voice stumbles over words. The mother’s vision blurs. She crosses her knees to bring the work closer, head bent to the needle. Measures her stitches smaller, tighter.

 She wants to cover the soft lips with her palm, to say No telling is needed. While you were at your class this morning I did what visiting mothers do.  I tidied and snooped. But it seems she’s sewn her tongue to the roof of her mouth. 

 

A photo frame lay flat, folded, face down. It’s usual position, upright, drawn in clean lines on the dusty desk top. She’d picked it up and tilted the glass to the sweep of window in this twenty-second floor student apartment, sunlight turning the faces in the picture to spangles.

          A triptych of two girls. No. Two women. In the first frame both squint solemnly into the distance, in the second they smile their secret to the camera, and in the third unabashedly into one another’s eyes. Telling this mother what she already knew.

 

The girl is still again. So quiet the room, the sound of the last stitch piercing the cool skin of fabric is audible.

          How to keep the wrong words from exploding. Bouncing off the wall of light and ricocheting around the room.

How to say thank you for telling me.

          When she stands to gather her girl into her arms, the dress refuses to slide free, dances instead from where she’s stitched it to her lap.

          In a minute she will pick up the scissors. Snip her daughter free. Stitch by stitch.


 

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However did I come to have so many wise friends?

Please don’t read this post and think that I’m calling up to you from the basement of Despair.  It’s all about seeking and I hope there will never cease to be mysteries, puzzles, or simply questions.  That I will never believe that I have found all that I need to know. And while it all sounds rather glum, these wise words that resonate for me are almost always part of an encounter filled with joy and laughter and gratitude for the countless blessings for which I give thanks.

I am blessed with a circle of many wise friends, and have gleaned so many simple bits of advice from them and various other sources that  apply to life in general, and some to life more immediate.  hey pop into mind at times when I need to be reminded, so I decided that I would keep a list, and I decided because my webpage hasn’t has any random musings in … oh, at least a week, that I would share them with you.

It has been pointed out to me by a very wise woman I was fortunate enough to find when I first realized that I was suddenly in a dark and frightening place, that I seem to have been “gifted” with a walloping  measure of compassion. Our brains, she said, are like big sponges.  They can absorb a whole lot of both the big and the small sorrows we experience, or for which feel empathy our friends, or sometimes for people we’ve never even met, just heard about, or read about.  I have no doubt that herein lay my motivation for choosing social work as a career.  And herein is also  one of the roots of a period of anxiety and depression over which I feel I’m finally gaining some control. Or as much as I need.  That need to be in control … what a curse.

So to keep it simple, so many words that have helped:

Grief is like a  Russian matryoshka doll.  You open the fresh grief, and nestled inside is another and another and another.  (from my wise friend, Catherine Fuller)

 Put on your own oxygen mask first.  (another of Catherine’s)

Anxiety is a feeling looking for a home. (I can’t find the original source, but cautionary advice from someone who has helped to keep me on my feet)

Grief is normal, natural and necessary.  And so are tears. (this one from several wise ones)

Remember that healing in grief is heart-based, not head-based.  (from the same wise woman who cautioned about anxiety’s home-seeking)

To those who tell you to “get over it, we all have bad times” or “it’s been months now, surely you’re not still weeping” use whatever expletive feels best in telling them to get lost.   Advice to myself from experience and giving myself permission to say exactly what I feel.

From my aunt, who I watched move graciously around the room after my mother’s funeral, consoling, and urging everyone to eat – the answer in my family to a lot of problems—when I asked her how she learned to do this so well.  “It’s just through experience, sweetheart, and I’ve had a lot of experience. You will too.”

It seems to me that at least part of this life is learning to let the anguish, grief, horror, and sorrow  of life wash over us — or maybe through us — without letting it claim us. …I’m sure the ebb and flow of these days is part of a deep river of mercy….and that all will be well. (from Pastor Laura who is there to help me find the peaceful place in my heart when I so often need to go there)

 “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  ― Anne Lamott from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

And finally, from Robert, and each of my three wonderful children who regularly ask, How are you doing, Mom? And who really do want to know.

 Oh, I know there are books full of the obvious bits of wisdom that suddenly leap off the page at us as profound, but for now, this is what I feed on in that tradition of my family that for every trouble of sorrow, there is a casserole, an apple pie, or a loaf of bread to be delivered.  And as long as I show no signs of lack of appetite, please know that I’m “okay.’  🙂

The books that will never be culled from my bookcases

 I have been in a down-sizing mood for the past year, ruthlessly working my way through the house and discarding anything for which we have no need and I know with certainty we never will, those things I’ve saved to pass on to my children which they tell me they will never want – how many sets of china, crystal and silverware can a family continue to accumulate?  That fine china never breaks like the “everyday” dishes, because it’s only brought out for use on special occasions.  I find the notion that the tea cups in my china cabinet are bound for a longer life than I am rather creepy. So they have now been moved to the kitchen cupboards for everyday use, and the everyday dishes have either to the bin, or moved on to the a thrift shop.

With clothing, household items, the task has been easy. I have an egg slicer that came to me in a box of kitchen castoffs from a friend of my mother’s when I was setting up an apartment for my first social work job in Lethbridge in 1969.  Yes, it still works.  No, I can’t remember the last time I felt compelled to create perfect egg slices.

 But the hardest of all has been the culling of books. For a very long time, I held the book as a sacred object.  Once I owned it, I had a lifelong responsibility to care for it even if I didn’t like the book. Some were easy to pass along to friends, some I took to my writing classes and put them out on a “take away whatever intrigues you” table.

But to throw a book in a recycling bin?  What disrespect for the months, years I imagined the author labouring over his work. Still, I gritted my teeth. Some were easy; the university sociology texts, a text used in a 200 level course in Logic. I’m still baffling over why I chose to take that course.  Modus ponens and modus tolens notwithstanding, I doubt that I’ve ever applied those principle of logic to my live.  And the musty old paperbacks that threaten to crumble in my hands when I opened them?  Into the bin.

 I am now down to three bookcases that passed the simple test—can I imagine myself or someone in my family reading these books?  The answer is yes, for some a more resounding yes, but both of my sons, when they come home, are often on the prowl for books to read. To my delight, they seem to share my tastes in literature and have even asked to keep some of these books for their own bookcases. My librarian daughter has not only a whole system to draw from but a library in her own home.  It is to her that I am able to recycle newer books that can either be accepted as donations or go into the library book sale bin.

 What brought on this frenzy of de-cluttering?  A need to open up space around me and let the light in. I’ve come through a difficult two years of being unable to focus on much more than physical tasks. A time when even reading anything with a dark undertone  filled me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. A time when I’ve skipped through most of the morning paper to Life and Arts, and a time when I’ve forsaken Peter Mansbridge, and automatically turn off the car radio when disaster, atrocities, suffering make up the news.

 In a long and round about way, I’ve reached the point of this post — even my writing skills are rusty from lack of use.  Unable to face any book that would take me into the darkness, and even those that I suspect might catch me unaware, I’ve returned to the books on my shelves that I love and that I hope I will be re-reading for years to come.

What have I been reading?  Many books by well known authors who never fail to delight,no matter how many times I go back to them.  But also, and more importantly, the books of friends and acquaintances that have ended up in dusty corners after the typically short life of most of the fiction published in this country.  I will leave you to your own selections from the work of Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro et al.

Among the books to which I returned this summer, here are some by authors you may not know. I urge you to seek them out. Beautiful books that deserve be hunted down and read by new audiences:

Limbo by Jacqueline Honnet (Turnstone Press, 2005)

Sightlines by Leona Theis (Coteau Books, 2000)

I’m Frankie Sterne by Dave Margoshes (Coteau Books, 2000)

In the Misleading Absence of Light by Joanne Gerber (Coteau Books 1998)

The Quick by Barbara Scott (Cormorant Books 1999)

They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That by Lois Simmie (Greystone Books, Douglas and McIntyre, 1987)

Nothing Sacred by Lori Hahnel )Thistledown Press 2009)

Into This Room poetry by Sharon Drummond (Blackmoss Press, 2001)

 I was tempted to give a capsule description of what I love about each of these books, but decided you don’t need that.   Just trustme , and you will be rewarded. And these books will get the attention they so richly deserve.  Of course there are others, and my apologies to my friends whose books are not listed here, but you’re likely still my in “to re-read pile”.

So perhaps I’ll conclude with “to be continued”.