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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Giving Up Versus Fighting On

I've recently finished reading two books whose basic theme was, "when things get tough, give up on life".  The first, "Broken Harbor" by Tana French, depicts a young Irish family trapped in a downward economic spiral and living in a  half-built development teetering on the brink of becoming a wasteland.  Brain wiring snaps and Dad and the two young kids are murdered, Wife wounded.  It's a peculiar "who-dun-it" and the resolution isn't pretty. The second book, "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes, takes us along on a potentially heart-rending saga of a care taker and her quadriplegic charge.  Basically, though, it's the story of a desire to be euthanized. The formerly robust and multi-talented young man can't face life in a wheelchair.

To me, giving up on life, no matter the circumstances, somehow seems so unfair to those who grasp so vehemently to keep it going, no matter the circumstances...

I think of my friend, Jean Witt, who tended his Alzheimer-afflicted wife for many,many years,   spoon-feeding her three meals a day at the end with the patience only true love could muster. This in contrast to the recent French movie "Amour" where both parties "give up".
I think of all our wonderful novels, fiction and non-fiction,  where the struggle to survive is the theme. I remember seeing a true story depicted in the movie "Touching the Void".  It recounts mountain climber Simon Yates' incredible effort to come back alive after breaking a leg and falling into a crevice, left for dead by his climbing partner.  He basically crawls for miles on his elbows after he manages to extract himself from a virtual ice prison.  Stories like this abound in literature and film and around us in our own daily lives. Heroes are plentiful  in war and in peace.

I know it's easy for someone like me, healthy and basically happy to say all this.  But, I mean, just one little good thing every day - the picture of a cherubic child's face in the Washington Post today whose father was receiving the Medal of  Honor or - yes trite! - that songbird out my window - makes fighting on seem worth it to me.

I  saw "The Impossible" last week which is about the South Asian tsunami and recounts the true story of one family's desperate efforts to survive and find each other against all odds.  I may sound like I'm part of the movie's promotional team, but it's a heart-warming,  tear-jerking story of endurance and love. I cried my eyes out, but in a good way.

There's a reason "It's A Wonderful Life" comes on every Christmas and has endured for 66 years.  If we give up, what's  left and what do we leave behind? Nothingness.  But if we fight on,  even if it's hard and means overcoming inner demons,  the rewards are never-ending. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sorrow and Joy for the Season

Two weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend whose daughter died in an accident while snorkling.  She was a lovely, active and engaged young lady, a senior at the University of Virginia and only 22 years old.   There were well over a thousand people there, some who knew her, some who did not but wanted to pay their respects.  The service was beautiful, both parents spoke concluding with the remark about how "thankful" they were - thankful to have had their daughter in their life, thankful for her life.  At the time, and sharing their grief, I thought "what could be worse than this pain?"  Now I know. Newtown was worse.

The only real comfort is seeing how good and decent  people have responded by the thousands, even tens of thousands to a horrible evil with an out-pouring of sympathy, condolences, prayer, peace and love. A poem quoted at the memorial service described the unconscionable in beautiful terms:
This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As freezing persons,
recollect the Snow-
First-Chill-then Stupor-
then the letting go---” 
Emily Dickinson
And yet we go on.  I've taken comfort during all the grim news with Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard" published in 1978.  This is a beautiful description of his trek with biologist George Schaller to the Tibetan plateau to study the unique wildlife of that region. In addition to his breath-taking portrayal of the vast loveliness of that area, the emptiness and serenity as well as the harshness of it, he includes us in a spiritual voyage and that too is uplifting.  One quote in particular seems appropriate for today:
"The wildwood brings on mild nostalgia, not for home or place, but for lost innocence -- the paradise lost that, as Proust said, is the only paradise. Childhood is full of mystery and  promise, and perhaps the life fear comes when all the mysteries are laid open, when what we thought we wanted is attained.  It is just at the moment of seeming fulfillment that we sense irrevocable betrayal, like a great wave rising silently behind us...'All wordly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings, in destruction; meetings, in separation; births, in death...' Confronted by the uncouth specter of old age, disease, and death, we are thrown back upon the present, on this moment, here, right now, for that is all there is. And surely this is the paradise of children, that they are at rest in the present..."
The Mayan prediction that the world will end today isn't all  wrong - it will end someday. So live and find joy in the present moment, forever!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


It seems the possibilities with technology and publishing are never-ending.  I happened to see an article in the Wall Street Journal last week describing a couple of online "libraries" where you could simply upload your publication and anyone could then read it digitally. Well, why not?  So I just uploaded One Fine Day to "Scribd" - so easy!  Costs nothing and with the "taglines" - fiction, love, coming of age - some who've joined this site may stumble across my novel and enjoy reading it. I hope so!

If it weren't for technology, my novel - sweated over for years - would be nothing more than pages gathering dust on my desk as agent after agent rejected it [annoying how this is the only profession where they can get away without responding to inquiries AT ALL if they are not interested; I mean, at least respond so I know you got my query.....grr].  I digress.

Between working with Fastpencil who worked step by step with me to design the book and put the novel into salable form, and Createspace who helped market it online at Amazon, there are fantastic new methods for seeing your work in print or up digitally.  Of course that doesn't gurantee sales but it's still a nice feeling to hold your own self-published work in your hands and/or see it out in the "cyberworld".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Soul Train

I am reading Cheryl Strayed's [is that her real name?!] account of walking the Pacific Coast Trail alone, Wild.  Though it's not great literature and I could have used a little less hour by hour detail, it is a feat, both the walk and the book, and she deserved enormous credit.  She did what many lost souls [me sometimes] long to do - set a goal, a physically near-to-impossible one, and achieve it through sheer force of will.  She was a sufferer and sought relief and self-understanding by taking this on.  Though I haven't finished it yet, I know she succeeds [I think she's been on Oprah...] so I hold her in awe.

Another author recently caught my eye and I'm surprised I'd never heard of him - and he certainly deserves far more recognition than he's received from the general public - George B. Schaller.  He is a naturalist whose latest book, Tibet Wild, is one in a long string of books chronicling his efforts to conserve and protect  endangered species. The list of his accomplishments is outstanding - gorillas in the Congo, lions in Tanzania, jaguars in Brazil, pandas in China and now the wildlife of the remote Tibetan Plateau.  He has worked with all manner of governments and in some of the most hostile places on earth and achieved amazing results. I can't wait to start in on this book and then his A Naturalist and Other Beasts [2007].
 In addition, Peter Matthiesen's The Snow Leopard, [National Book Award in 1978, I think] is an account of his trek with Schaller in 1973 to Nepal to study the rare blue sheep and  the beautiful snow leopard. It is also, in a way,  a journey of the soul, as Strayer's is.

  I admire all of them!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thoughts During Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has destroyed many homes and communities and certainly upended lives, but I have no doubt that people  will pull themselves together and rebuild.  The human spirit is too robust and will never acknowledge defeatism.  And, of course, this can't compare with the agonies suffered by so many others, in all  wars and on into today.  Courage and resolve are the cornerstones of survival in adversity.  And Americans have that in spades. So many others were never given the chance, erased from history. Even at this very moment, atrocity abounds.   But it's in our human nature to look forward not back when confronted by hardship. And that is as it should be.

I wrote about my visit to Poland last time and wanted to write a little too about Hungary which was part of that trip.  Both countries' histories are difficult - but most especially Poland's as I tried to indicate in my last post.   The second part of my August  trip after Poland [and Slovakia] was to Budapest and the areas around it and along the Danube.

Hungary was under Turkish domination and the Ottomans for many years, 1541-1718; she too, as Poland, suffered from being invaded and carved up through history but became a powerful entity as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for the years 1867-1918.  Much of the beautiful building took place during this time in Budapest. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the wrong side in  World War I- her fear of Russia made her join forces with the Central Powers, essentially the German Empire. As a losing power in that war, her territorial losses were huge.

Hungary also suffered during World War II; she chose to be on the German side, so she chose wrong twice.  But at the beginning of the war, Nazi Germany promised she would regain the territories she had lost,  so she collaborated.  When she saw by 1944 that the Axis Powers would probably lose the war, she sought a separate peace with the Allies. The Nazis responded by occupying her.  After that, the Final Solution was put into effect in Hungary as it had been in Poland and all across Europe. Between 440,000 and 600,000  Hungarian Jews and others were deported to concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz, aided by the detested Hungarian police.

After the war, occupation by the Soviet Union [again with collaboration by Hungarian "secret police"] continued a reign of terror which is well documented at Budapest's House of Terror:

Budapest was bombed by the British and Americans and the city was severely damaged.  The misery didn't end then, however, as the Soviets occupied the country from 1947-1989, the "Communist times" as they are referred to. Thousands died, political prisoners and others, at the hands of the Soviets and the secret police in those years, especially after the 1956 uprising which was quashed.  The photo is of the Museum of Terror, the very spot on the elegant Andrassy Way where many interrogations, torture and hangings took place.
Today, as a member of the EU, Hungary's problems are mostly economic and Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  As with Poland, the human capacity for rebuilding, both the social fabric and culture as well as the physical  is incredible and admirable. One wonders if Syria and other Middle Eastern countries will be able to do the same in the years and decades to come.

But for me, visiting Poland and Hungary as well as Auschwitz [and later The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.] truly made me realize what the terrible numbers of lost lives during the 20th century's most horrible period means - the awful silence of 6,000,000 Jews and 6,000,000 others and the loss of their contributions to society.  It's hard to imagine how different the world might be today.

So Hurricane Sandy should not be a cause for despair when looked at in the scheme of things.  Everything is fixable! Except the dead.

Monday, September 24, 2012

No Discipline!!

I can't believe I've let my blog languish for over two months - I mean, if anyone is finding me through the book website and actually reading me, I should be consistently out here!  I guess I'm still afraid and more than a little unsure of what I'm doing here.  My main goal, as a writer, is to promote my novel through social media and it takes discipline to sit down here and think of something, anything, useful to say or report on. No excuse!  I appreciate the few people who have somehow found the book and posted a "like" on my book facebook page [from as far away as the UK and Australia! - who are you?!]  I take solace in knowing I DO have a book out there, it's not going away, Amazon's createspace has helped make the process incredibly "doable", and there's no real rush. Hey, it will be out there for a long time to come and slowly, even slowly is OK, someone here or there will find it and spend a few hours in their lifetime reading it and [hopefully] enjoying their time with it. That's enough to make me feel content.

On another note [not an excuse], I spent part of August in Poland and Hungary - two vastly different countries and peoples but both equally interesting.   Poland has a truly tortured past, ravaged through the centuries by Swedes, Turks, Hungarians, Teutonic Knights, Mongols, Russians - you name it - and, most devastatingly, by Nazi Germany. Lastly, she was occupied by the former Soviet Union until 1989.  Polish people are fiercely independent and proud of their country; the extraordinary combination of Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul secured the road to independence for that country. The resilience and human capacity for recovery in the Polish people is unrivaled - Warsaw, a city left in ruins by the Nazis, has been beautifully rebuilt and its Old Town is one of the loveliest areas in central Europe - incredible.  The Nazi death camps decimated Polish Jews but almost 3 million other Poles also perished in the camps. [No wonder Poland reacted so vehemently to Obama's stupid mistake in calling them "Polish" death camps!]  They have NOT forgotten a thing that happened in the sorry 20th century! A remarkable people - dour on the surface but profoundly humane on the inside.  I was fascinated and awed by the people.  So much to learn from their history and their tough spirit! Below is Market Square in Warsaw, rebuilt as it existed before the war.

Comments on Hungary next - a far different story!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little of This and That

I just know one day [ha ha] One Fine Day will find a wider readership and be enjoyed by many more people as time goes on.  I periodically see a new "like" on my book facebook page and it always makes my day!  I've tried to expand my facebook image a little in hopes that more people will take a look at the book.  Hey, it's practically free and [pardon me] it's a much better read  than "Shades of...".

I've also entered the twitter world a little more even though I'm not at all sure how or if it helps get the word out.  It's all great fun though.  I really want to work on a second novel but fear I can't really justify doing that if novel #1 doesn't get more readership.  I will say, I'm getting tiny royalty checks each quarter [imagine] and that's always a thrill.

My next big trip is to Poland and Hungary in August so I've bit the bullet and started  James Michener's "Poland".  If anyone has read him, you know what a slog he can be, but he certainly does his research and tries to bring history alive through his fictitious characters.  I still keep Churchill on hand [now on Volume III - "The Great Alliance" ] as he has such a wonderful way with words and a wry humor.  It's so inspiring to read how dire the situation was for Britain in 1940-41 as Germany not only bombed day and night but tried to cut off life-lines by mining ports and U-Boat attacks on shorelines.  This was before the Soviets turned against Hitler and before the US could commit much in terms of aid.  In spite of these dreadful times - and Churchill's passages bring the turmoil to light as fresh as today's news - the British never doubted they would prevail.  It remains an incredible story.  I can't wait to dig into it again.

Also reading Alan Furst's new novel, "Mission to Paris" about the same time period in Vichy France, but much will take place in Poland, so it's taking me there too.