Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini, Prince of Tides, et al. died last week, desperately trying to finish what would be his last novel.
At the time I happened to be reading his collection of essays called My Reading Life. One chapter is about the teacher who became his life-long mentor and substitute father figure. Another is about James Dickey, Conroe's favorite poet, though best known for the novel Deliverance. The chapter I found most thought provoking is a study of the influence of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind on the soul and psyche of today's South.
Conroy's writing is often brilliant. It can be captivating. It can be witty. Why, then does it sometimes become tedious?
The blame may fall on Thomas Wolfe. When Pat Conroy was in seventh grade he read and was enamored by the lush writing of Look Homeward Angel. Like Wolfe, Conroy became a geyser of words. By his own admission he gushes adverbs and adjectives. He writes everything in technicolor and wide screen. In the end we don't mind. We let him, because he tells such a good story.
I hope he got to his last book's end. .
A photographer named Brandon Stanton got the idea of taking his camera to the various boroughs of New York City and getting pictures of the local inhabitants. He put a collection of them together in a charming book called Humans of New York, writing a squib for some, noting the location of others. For some photographs he included the conversation that went on with its subject/s.
There's the fluffy-white bearded old man who said, "I look like God, don't I?" and the woman whose beads in her corn- rowed hair spell out words like wisdom and faith. There are wonderful pictures of children at play, teenagers 'hanging out' and street performers of all kinds.
One turbaned fellow dressed completely in red declared himself to be "The Sultan of Wisconsin." Wisconsin? A woman seen at the Waldorf Astoria is the epitome of elegance. And, as you might expect today, lots of tattoos are on show.
If you haven't seen Stanton's book, treat yourself. He also has a popular blog, and I understand he's recently been photographing overseas, putting faces to the plight of refugees. It's good to be reminded that we're all human.
Something about the sparkle of Christmas decorations sparks nostalgia. One of the earliest gifts in my memory was a baby doll made of rubber or a similar composition. We lived the following summer on a Michigan lake, and for some reason my sister Carolyn and I buried the doll in the sand. I suppose we gave it a mock funeral or some such flight of our imaginations. When it occurred to me a day or two later to retrieve the doll, she had gone all sticky and gooey. Calamity.
My sister Jackie was in seventh grade and I, in third, the year her class made hand stitched booklets. She gave me hers as a Christmas gift for my poems. I remember the feel of the parchment-like paper and the twine that bound the pages. I recall the care with which I copied in a Thanksgiving poem that included "a huge five (sic) pound turkey." My teacher must have had a good laugh.
It was probably the following year that the mail brought Jackie, Carolyn and me each a box of jewel tone stationery, deep red, dark blue and green with white borders, and little pens with bottles of white ink. I thought they were the coolest thing ever.
My family knew I was meant to be a writer.
More nostalgia. Over the last weekend son Mark was in his attic and found a bin of keepsakes. In it he found a copy of "Just a Moment," the little literary magazine that published my first short story in its winter edition of 1991-1992.
My family was right. Ah, memories.
When my daughter cooks, she dances. Her hands make a symphony out of chopping, peeling, squeezing, stirring. Her hands take flight.
Clare and her husband met while training at a culinary institute in Florida. Unfortunately, carpal tunnel forced Clare to give up any thought of a professional career. It limits what she can do at home as well, but nevertheless, cooking is her happy place.
Writing is mine. In the moment it is to enter another universe, to be outside one's ordinary self. Time is suspended, so intense is the concentration on the work. I remember once coming to and realizing to my surprise that the sun was going down.
Athletes speak of "getting in the zone." I imagine the feeling is similar. It is when we feel most alive, using all our gifts and senses.
I recently discovered a longtime writer friend has a first name most people would think feminine. It must have been a cross for him, growing up. I've always felt sorry for guys named Carrol or June or Beverly. That's a lot to live down.
Even if names don't elicit teasing, they carry a certain weight. Parents should consider that, with its many ramifications. It takes a strong person to live up to a very grand or uncommon moniker. I've had to spell mine for people a lot.
Almost all names, first and last, suggest a rhyme of sorts and are used to tease, something apparently inherent in human nature. Jeremy becomes "Germy" and Heather, "Feather." Paul inescapably gets "Pollywallydoodle all the day." As you could guess, my husband and children were plagued with "Holy Foley."
Then there are nicknames. Anyone with a name beginning with Ros inevitably gets nicknamed "Rosie" as I was for most of my youth. An overly serious child, I thought it sounded like a bubble dancer in pink tights. Too late I realized it would have made an ideal generic grandma name. Because I left that decision up for grabs, I now have to stop and think which family calls me what.
Not having a middle name seem odd to some. My mother, like her mother before her, whether short on names or imagination, felt females could use their maiden names for their middle initial. That wasn't nearly the nuisance to explain, however, as my brother-in-law had. His parents, even more sparing, gave him two initials only, resulting in some comical documents and Air Force dog tags. The simple J.T. became "Jonly Tonly."
Just as girls in the throes of puppy love will doodle dreamy pages of " Mrs. So-and-so", they almost always become discontented with the name they were given. It must be part of adolescence. I let a few people call me "Roz" although my name is pronounced with a long o. Briefly I tried on "Lin" or "Lindy" but they never fit. I'm reminded of the stack of '20s - '40s popular sheet music I have which my aunt inscribed with "Emily", having decided that the simple Ruth was just too dull for words.
Sometimes I think we have to grow into the names we were given. There's a line in a Jacques Brel song that says "If we only have love, we can use our own names." I rather like mine, now.