Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin. What a fantastic read! I stayed up till 1 am turning the pages of this suspense novel set in Mississippi. I could hear the southern drawl of the characters, smell the mown grass and the stale beer. I sympathised with the characters and alternately loved or hated them. I will confess to reading this book out loud just for the pure pleasure and cadence of Tom Franklin’s writing.

Larry Ott lives in a small rural community as does his one-time childhood friend, Silas Jones. Silas is now the town’s sole law enforcement officer, and Larry it’s very own monster. Suspected of the abduction and murder of his teenage sweetheart, Larry has lived as an outcast in his own town. When another girl goes missing, Larry and Silas are  thrown together again and this time, the truth will have out….

Y’all wanna read this book and I reckon y’all might wanna read it out loud too. And if you don’t fancy a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken at some point during your read, then y’all haven’t been reading real good!

Barnes and Noble have a great Meet the Writer Video Interview with Mr Franklin available for free on iTunes.

Advertisements

Why I love this photo

I took this photo two years ago shortly after returning from visiting my family overseas. It was the first Christmas that we’d spent together in the eleven years since I’d married my husband and moved across the world to Australia. It was a wonderful Christmas, but on returning home I was weighed down thinking about the results of the decision we’d made to live in this sun-kissed land Down Under and the price that both my family and I have paid and continue to pay. I cried for the meals we don’t have with my parents and brothers each week, for the times my Mom is sick and could do with a hot cuppa in bed in the morning and a little mother-daughter time, for the hours my father and I would spend talking about and handing on books and discussing the merits of thick-cut marmalade. I wept for the distance between my children and their grandparents, itched jealously for the time they spend with my nephew and niece and grieved for the relationship they haven’t had the time to build with the amazing husband that I am blessed to have. I felt sick staring down the corridor of the rest of our lives knowing how unlikely it is that this will ever change.

On our last day before returning to work, we went to Victor Harbour, a beautiful little South Australian town not far from where we live, and I took this picture. Those are my three little angels there walking off into the scrub, the proof of this other life that I lead all the way across the sea from my family. They are my life’s joy and worth every second of the sadness that I feel. The irony is, that as they walked off ahead of me without pausing to look back, I realised that there was a loving mother standing somewhere behind me and taking a photo of her child heading off into life, not pausing to look back and see the hopes and dreams and fears that she holds for me. Except that now I was looking back, and seeing…

Every mother knows there will be a day that her children will not need her anymore. Some look forward to the independence and embrace it with open arms. Others fear it and cling smotheringly to their children. I hope that I will handle it differently. I see that day coming somewhere in the distance, and know that it is as it must be. I don’t want my children to live looking backwards but striding confidently forward into all that the journey ahead holds for them. I want them to discover their own paths and have adventures, even if it means that it will take them far away from me. But I want to know they are safe, that they are loved and surrounded by friends. I want to know they have the equipment they need to brave the journey and so I am planning  for that day, filling  them with words and memories that will make them secure and show them that they are loved more than they can imagine. We are actively building a friendship with them today that we hope will last into adulthood. I know that they cannot know themselves yet, but that they see who they are reflected in my face and in the way that I treat them and so I reflect their best selves back to them so that they grow into the best men that they can be, and I shout out from behind them that I believe in them, that I love them and that I am so proud of who they are…just as my mother has done for me.

Thank you Mom!

Life with a view…

I had an argument with one of my sons this weekend. He had been playing with his brother and inadvertently hurt him. The other boy, sobbing, choked out his brother’s name and told him, “That really hurt.” Fighting my instinct to jump to my injured child’s defence, I waited, expecting the other boy to at least apologise to his brother. Instead I he watched his brother hunched up on the floor and crying. It took great restraint to merely prompt a more appropriate response from the uninjured child. It took some persuading and the apology was given begrudgingly.

We spent the following five minutes in heated debate about the event. His steady argument and the eight words that have given me indigestion: I don’t see how that could have hurt.

A more appropriate apology followed and the two boys made peace with one-another quickly-it is one of the things I admire most about them-but the attitude behind those eight words plagued me all day. They lingered there just below the surface, irritating and infuriating me through the day (the attitude behind the words, not the boy), mocking and itching in the corner of my mind until the most amazing thing happened, a picture floated into my mind, a picture that might just be one of the keys to a healthy and happy life:

Imagine you are standing face to face with your best friend/partner/loved one. Imagine a mirror rising up between you . The mirror is facing you and hides the person opposite you. You are now looking at a life-sized reflection of yourself from the waist up. Now imagine that someone extends your hand behind the mirror and puts something in it. You cannot see what it is because the mirror is obscuring your view, but you can feel that  it has a comfortable, ergonomic handle and that it is lightweight. You swing it around a little to get a feel for what might project from the handle. It feels light and firm. It hits something. All you feel is a light vibration in the handle and the resistance of whatever it scraped against, but it does not hurt. Your loved one says your name and there is the hint of something in their voice that reeks of disapproval or shock maybe? You swing the object in your hand more confidently and this time there is next to no resistance and the third time, none at all. You have felt no discomfort and  little or no resistance, experienced no negative impact and, apart from the odd unusual sound from behind the mirror, there is nothing to concern you… Until you withdraw your hand and see that you have been wielding a small but sharp dagger, it’s point tipped with blood. When you peer behind the mirror, your loved one (if you are lucky) is nursing a wound somewhere out of reach or (if you are not) has disappeared.

Lesson one: When you cannot see anyone but yourself, you cannot see the damage you are doing, the wounds you are inflicting and the people  you are alienating. You cannot depend only on what you feel, on the feedback your own reflection gives you or the assumptions you make. This is true REGARDLESS OF YOUR INTENTION. We rarely hurt those we love intentionally, but we cannot judge the impact of our actions on intentionality but on outcome. This does not say anything about the kind of person you are, it merely acknowledges the success (or otherwise) of your actions. How many times have I unwittingly blurted out my opinions and preferences and even good news without considering the impact it might have on those closest to me. I have assumed that my loved ones will be happy for my success, convinced by my convictions and grateful for my advice looking only at my own feelings and my own reflection (responses) for confirmation that I have acted correctly. Sure, trust yourself and your instincts, but temper them and refine them in the context of the impact you are having on those around you!

Imagine now that you have dropped the weapon and have learned lesson one; you will never again act before you are sure of what is in your hand. But there are still so many dangers there.

Our children look to us to show them their worth, to praise their strengths, to show them who they are. They look into our faces and see themselves reflected there. They have no self-insight, they rely on ours. How much damage will I do if I see only me reflection, when my responses are tainted by the things I see in myself (both good and bad)? Am I handing down my limitations and insecurities? Am I reflecting their worth or my low self-worth? Am I praising their strengths or overlooking them because they are not my own? How many times have I rolled my eyes because my son is not as tidy as I am or because my husband takes twice as long as me to do the chores? What reflection do they see of their worth when I do that? What am I communicating when my three year old asks if I can play play dough with him and I tell him that I am too busy writing this to sit with him? Isn’t he more important than the screen I am looking at? [I did stop, by the way, and show him how precious he is to me. I hope you didn’t mind the wait too much! But if I want him to be my friend when he is 35, I need to build a friendship with him today, while he is 3, so that we have a history of being friends as well as family. LAst time I checked, just accepting a friend request from a person-parent or otherwise-does not build an actual friendship. Only time and play dough do that : )…]

When we look only at our own reflection, we can only see that which is before us. We are blind to the possibilities that lie ahead, the friendships that await, the beauty that lies within us. All we can see is a limited, one-dimensional, back-to-front image of ourselves. Anyone who has spent more than a few seconds in front of the mirror will know that the longer you look at yourself, the bigger your flaws become. The harder you study yourself, the more freckles and blemishes you see, the more hairs look out of place, the more you see that you want to change. I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution is to lose the intimate relationship with my own reflection and build one with my inner self, but not a relationship that excludes the feedback and impact of those around me, but that is tempered and moderated by them. My friends see fewer of my flaws than I do but also more of my strengths. My children value me more than I value myself and loving them has made me a better person. I wonder how many times I have missed the path at my feet because I was looking at myself in that mirror instead of at the path at my feet? How many job opportunities have slipped by because I didn’t thinkI was capable? How many opportunities because I couldn’t imagine them? Too many.

I want to live a life with a view. I am not a view. I need to look somewhere else!

There are an excessive number of question marks in this blog because I have an excessive number of questions that remain unanswered. I think there will be many more hours spent thinking about this amazing analogy. I hope some of them will be yours too!

Precious

I watched this movie last night.

I watched it and I cried.

I cried and I raged and I cried some more.

Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, this screenplay visits some of the darkest and yet, most ‘real’ places I have been taken to by a work of fiction. It is the heartbreaking story of Precious (played by Gabourney Sidibe), an obese sixteen year old and the crucible of abuse and worthlessness from which she must rise.

I was blown away by the gritty, no-holds-barred look at the realities of this illiterate teenager’s life- hated by her mother, raped and impregnated by her father, rejected or ignored by society and cut off from the means of improving herself- and her slow and painful journey to a more hopeful place. Having said that, the horrific abuse she suffers is more implied than seen (though you see more than you’d want to) and the director(Lee Daniels) has cleverly woven the fabric of Precious’ own fantasy world to mask, as Precious herself does, the visceral shock of seeing this girl ripped to shreds at the hands of those who are supposed to love and care for her.

Gabourney Sidibe is heartbreaking and believable as Precious, no small feat when you see how little she herself resembles the character in all but the physical sense. Mo’Nique gives a harrowing performance as the mother and Paula Patton shines as Ms Rain. Mariah Carey plays the social worker and Lenny Kravitz makes an appearance as Nurse John. There is little or no ‘dressing up’ of this story and the actors themselves remained largely unadorned (Mariah Carey performed with no make-up at all or with bags added under her eyes to make her look washed out and tired) and the result is a gut-wrenching, documentary like feel that lets you know that this work of fiction is art imitating life, that thousands if not millions of young women face these realities each day, hate themselves this much, long for a better life with this much passion.

Precious moved me, woke me up, healed me even. This movie was amazing. Shocking. Precious.

Beautiful shorthand

Some people are afraid of spiders, snakes or tiny microbes that live in the soil.  Me? I’m terrified of loneliness- probably because I spent the first half  of my life feeling very lonely. Today I find myself surrounded  by a wealth of incredible friends who have grown from being tenuous acquaintances and friends-of-friends to the kinds of friends I’d lay my life  down for.

I spent the day with some of these friends yesterday, some of us in the hot Australian sun barbecuing lamb and snags for lunch, and others huddled around the laptop in their PJ’s  in cool Canada. It was a perfect day!

While our combined children showed each-other treasures over Skype and husbands and wives shuffled between positions at the barbie and feeding the aforementioned children, to catching up on all things Canadian, I marvelled to myself at the beautiful shorthand that decades of friendship can bring: the one-word catch-phrase that sums up an ongoing frustration or a two sentence short-hand for how a health condition is progressing, the knowing shrug that the kids don’t notice but that communicates parental concern or pride at how the girls are settling in their new home or how the boys are still peeing in the pot-plants. I love that we can tell each-other how we believe in each-other, how we can cry together and laugh till our sides hurt because we have built a friendship over time and circumstance that has come to be both a lifeline and a refuge, a place to thrash out differences of opinion and to share common joys and common pain.

I wish I could have told that lonely little girl that all this was waiting for her, but she wouldn’t have believed it anyway. This beautiful shorthand, this immense treasure that has stockpiled over the years, is one of my deepest joys…and, when friends move away, one of my deepest sadnesses.

Thank God I live in the days of the internet and mobile phones, where all I need is one brief moment each day to connect and the shorthand does the rest….

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“What if you only had one day to live…Sam Kingston is dead. Except she isn’t…this is a story of a girl who dies young, but in the process learns how to live. And who falls in love…a little too late.”

Lauren Oliver has woven this interesting and compelling narrative about a senior high school girl who has the world at her feet when she is killed in an horrific car crash. Samantha is caught somewhere between life and death and has to re-live her final day on earth, waking up in her own room on the morning of the accident time and again.

I devoured this book and was utterly sucked in to Sam’s life and her circle of friends with their complex emotional lives. Reading this book was like being sucked backwards into high school again and the confusing intensity of teenage emotions and social dynamics. This is not a book only for teens though! What Lauren Oliver has written is utterly believable and the reader is dragged through the worst day of Sam’s life discovering with her the truths to which she has  been blind and the love that she has almost thrown away.

Though the book hovers around the concept of the inevitability of Sam’s death and her inability to prevent it, there is a beautiful thread of hope that runs throughout. Oliver gently unfolds the story of this one girl’s desperate need to make sense of her life and find meaning in it. I laughed, I cringed, I cried, I grieved, I screamed, I chewed my nails and blushed when she feels the first stirrings of love. I loved Sam and turned each page to see if she managed to change her fate and hold on to the love she has finally discovered. You will too!

 

Malady-based on the latin ‘ill’ and habitus “having as a condition’ ergo an illness that inhabits.

‘The small seed of despair cracks open and sends experimental tendrils upward to the fragile skin of calm holding him together.” Judith Guest in Ordinary People
I used to like this image, until I watched someone I really care for cracked apart by the tendrils of despair, watched them battle the darkness as it made its insidious way through that outer calm and into their core. I’ve since come to resent the parasitism it implies.
Despair feeds on the living, sucks the life right out of them and leaves nothing but the air of indifference. It is not a quick death, but a long one and littered with the detritus of anxiety and panic attacks, fear and the feeling of hopelessness.
BUT…just because one feels hopeless, does not mean one is without hope. Poetic as Judith Guest’s image is, I think it is wrong. Despair is not a seed that has been planted in us awaiting germination. No, it is an external malady, a tendril that feels its way towards that fragile skin and burrows in when it meets no resistance. Most of us feel it’s first tentative touch and the second, colder one that follows. The solution is to run, hard and fast, away from it- all the while surrounding yourself with light (phone a friend, get outside for a walk, stop the thought train!).If we don’t, its first tiny incision will follow, that and the first dewing drop of blood that marks it’s point of entry (the knot in our gut, the downward spiralling of our thoughts, the feelings of inadequacy). The infant plant feeds on that first drop of blood, trailing its path inward to the source.
We cannot afford to lose time now- treatment must be aggressive and swift if we are to halt this vampiric shoot on its journey inward-capture those thoughts and challenge everything those voices say (everything will be ok, you are not a failure, this is not the end or even the beginning of the end, everything does not depend on whatever happens next, it is not ‘too hard’, ‘too much’ or ‘too late’). Pray, talk to a trusted friend, ask for help, drink lots of water, eat healthy food, feed your soul and starve your fears…get moving…that little plant Despair is rooted in one spot, we are not. Move and it remains tethered to the spot, pulled unwillingly away from us and its poison along with it (though we may need to bleed a little while to wash it out). We do not need to do it alone- a family member, friend, teacher or mentor can help unstick us from the spot, can pull us forward and steady our first tentative steps. But know this, the sooner we move, the easier it will be. The younger the shoot, the weaker its hold on us.
What if it makes its way inside-all the way inside? What if it sucks out the life and swallows the light? There is still hope…hope is the tiny seed that is planted in us, that was planted in us at  creation, that is there because we were made in the image of God. Hope is the tiny seed in all of us that can germinate-even in the absence of light-and send its roots into the hard rock of a despairing heart splitting the rock apart and holding it together at the same time. Hope is the plant that grows upward towards the sun drawing it’s warmth and light inward, dispelling the darkness, restoring the life.
The immunisation against despair is simple: fill yourself with hope, surround yourself with light, move when you feel it approaching, and never ever invite it in.

Previous Older Entries