Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Big 3-9

I am officially 39 today (and yes, I really am - this will be the only year I will be this age). In honor of this day, I wanted to share from a magazine interview. My friend LM, knowing that I'm an Anglophile, sent some pages from More magazine. (a new magazine for women over age 40) They had interviewed Emma Thompson (one of my faves). She said these words about aging,

"It's just lovely getting older. You know, I don't worry so much about myself really. I feel as though now there is no time for any of that, there's no time to kvetch about who you are, what you mean. That sort of self-doubt belongs to when you're younger."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ireland by Frank Delaney

Frank Delaney, something of an Irish historian, has written a beautiful, fulfilling and epic novel in his latest work, Ireland. This is his first book published in the States, and I certainly look forward to seeing more from him.

Ireland begins a few years after the end of WWII in a small Irish town. It is a dark and windy night when a 9 year old boy, Ronan, sees a Storyteller coming to his house. For his whole life, he has heard the mythic legend of a storyteller - how they preserve the history of Ireland with myths, legends, real and imagined characters, and sweeping stories that enthrall all who sit by the fireside of the Storyteller's host. This old man is said to be the last of the great storytellers, as Ireland comes into the modern age.

I thought at first that the place of Ronan was simply to provide a backdrop for the wonderful stories of this old man. The stories are so engaging that one forgets the backdrop is early 1950s Ireland. I felt as if I were truly there in the original ancient stories. Yet, as the book unfolds, the reader begins to realize that the Storyteller has "chosen" Ronan to succeed him, and that the stories of Ireland - as they proceed through history - shed light on Ronan's own story as he becomes a man and seeks to follow the Storyteller. The story of Ronan (quite interesting in itself) and the story of Ireland are intertwined beautifully. The book is long, yet I was wanting to read more at its end. I didn't want the story to end.

Delaney also provides a wonderful gift in his insights about stories - how the story of Ireland and of one man's life are mirrors of our own story. The story of Ireland is a meta-story upon which we can reflect and better understand our history, our present and our future. Delaney realizes that truth, even if not always fact, is the core of a great and transforming story. He understands how a person's spirit and truth are interconnected, and that story helps us discover more of ourselves in and through the storytelling. He writes on p. 559, "The one joy that has kept me going through life has been the fact that stories write us....And the way we all see our story...that's what we own, no matter who we are and where we come from....Indeed, our story is finally all any of us own..."

It's hard to imagine a better vision for a society so fragmented and so disconnected from our own stories. This is a must read. My grade - A

Monday, February 20, 2006

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes' latest novel, Arthur and George, was published at the end of last year. After reading a review in my favorite magazine (Entertainment Weekly), I anxiously awaited the arrival at the local library. I believe I was the first one to check out this new book.

Barnes gathered actual newspaper clippings, letters, journals, etc. about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the beloved Sherlock Holmes series), and in particular collected the writings about Doyle coming to the aid of a wrongly convicted Englishman, George. The story tells of these two individuals, Arthur and George, from boyhood until Arthur's death. The stories of these two men only intersected for a short while - thus the book deals with individual lives for the most part. There is an interesting twist in the life story of George - a twist George refused to acknowledge, but that Arthur knew was of great importance.

Barnes weaves a very interesting piece of historical fiction. He uses actual events and writings, but is very clear about what is conjecture and invention on his part (please pay attention, James Frey). The characters he creates are memorable - however near or far they are to reality. Barnes uses language beautifully, and the worlds he creates are fresh, full and real. The story of Arthur is especially rich and interesting. I could not wait to turn the page and discover where his life would lead. Even when Arthur was dealing with middle-aged malaise, it was still a compelling story. I had more difficulty relating to George - or even being that interested in his story. He is nowhere near as interesting a person or has such a full life as Arthur. It felt like Arthur were really the main character, and that George -instead of being equal in billing - was really one of the bit players in the life of Arthur. I was sympathetic for George, but had difficulty identifying with his character. I found myself reading quickly through much of his life story and wishing that it would go faster - just so I could get back to the story of Arthur. That said, I appreciated the technique Barnes used in creating this story and the interaction of these two men's lives.

Overall, it is a well written book, with an interesting story - even though the interest is primarily in one character. I definitely recommend a read - especially for anyone who has enjoyed Sherlock Holmes over the years. My grade - B

Thursday, February 16, 2006

China in the News

China has been in the news lately - and I'm not talking about Google and Yahoo. In recent years, a phenomenon has been taking place in the world of tennis. Tennis is growing the fastest in Asia. More and more Asians are picking up rackets, and tennis tournaments (even large scale ones) are coming to prominence in Asia, particularly China. In the last couple years, the Chinese women have invaded the top 100 of the Women's Tennis Association. The highest ranked is #31, Peng Shuai.

Peng has very recently spoken out about wanting more freedom. She wants to be in charge of her training regimen and tournament schedule (last year, the Chinese had their national tournament during Wimbledon and required their players to be in China). Peng also wants to split her prize money. In return, she will pay her own expenses (which can be considerable for a professional tennis player). In short, she wants some independence and not have her tennis career completely dominated by the state.

We've seen this kind of thing occur in the world of sports over the years. Let's hope Peng will be successful. I'm hoping China is too busy with internet difficulties to give her problems about her proposal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympic Importance

On Monday, 26 year old Greensboro native Joey Cheek won the gold medal in men's 500m speed skating. Cheek has not been one of the highlighted athletes and wasn't even expected to win a gold. He could have simply enjoyed the limelight and tried to turn that into mass marketability and money. But he chose to take his time with reporters in a different direction.

Cheek came from a family where money was by no means rampant (and supporting an Olympic hopeful not an easy task), but it was a family where they believed they should help others who were in need. They gave money, time, energy and effort to help local and global efforts. At Cheek's press conference, he said he didn't really want to talk about the sacrifice and the great moment of winning a medal - he wanted to talk about the people of the Sudan. He highlighted the very difficult situation there, and then said he was giving his winnings ($25,000 for a gold medal - a healthy amount of money for a struggling and fairly unknown athlete) and any future winnings from any other medals he might win to Right to Play, an organization helping Sudanese refugee children in Chad. He challenged the sponsors to do the same. So far, Nike has accepted that challenge.

Cheek is hoping to hang up his skates and go to college. Harvard rejected his application for early admission. Let's hope they will realize the value of a person who sees the value in helping others and taking his moment of fame to highlight people in need.

Honorable mentions to Bode Miller, who with his family has always done and given a lot to those in need; and to 19 year old Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White - the snowboarding genius and my son's hero - for saying that all this fame stuff is kinda cool, but family is the most important thing (Sonny Boy and I watched the interview together - hope it gets through that thick 11 year old skull!).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Vagina Monologues

Last night, UNCGreensboro hosted a production of The Vagina Monologues. UNCG has a great theatre department, and the monologues were truly well done. A couple of my friends/coworkers participated, as well as other staff and a number of students. The event was in observance of V-Day. V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Eve Ensler's award-winning play The Vagina Monologues. More than $30 million has been raised over the years to help in these issues. The 'V' stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

The play itself is really a mixture of two things - the celebration of being a woman and a woman's sexuality (instead of the guilt or shame that seems to go along with being a woman); and the stories of women who have been abused through violence, especially sexual violence. Each woman's monologue is based on true stories. Some are very humorous. Others bring you to the point of tears. It is a very powerful production that men and women alike should see.

One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. Let's do all we can to help combat it. Let's do all we can to help girls and women be proud of who they are and the wonderful bodies God gave them.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Garden Angel by Mindy Friddle

A week ago I was able to attend my Asheville Book Group. There were a couple new members (since 3 of us moved to the Triad last summer), and one of them is Valerie (see about her book). We read The Garden Angel by Mindy Friddle, someone Valerie knows. She was able to set up a speaker phone call with Mindy so that we could talk with her about the book, ask questions, and have her comments and insights. It was a really good evening - I wish I could always talk with the author of books I read.

I must say up front that I really liked this book. (I am a little amazed that I've read two works of fiction in a row that I really liked!) Mindy has written a true Southern novel, but one that thankfully does not fall into the melodramatic Oprah versions of Southern fiction. Mindy provided some great insights into what really makes Southern fiction - not just a setting, but how that setting permeates the characters. The basic story is this - a young woman named Cutter (who lives in a very tiny drive-thru town near Greenville, SC in the late 1980s) is desperately trying to save her grand and historic home. Every real estate agent should read the techniques Cutter uses to keep potential buyers from being interested in her home! (some truly hilarious pieces) Mindy does a great job combining humor with the serious issues of life. Cutter becomes friends with Elizabeth, a woman dealing with free-floating anxiety. Cutter's younger sister is also having an affair with Elizabeth's husband, a man who is the sister's college professor. The book deals with how Cutter and Elizabeth try to maintain or find roots in their lives - how they try to move forward in the midst of what seems like overwhelming odds.

I don't want to give away more of the story. The characters are full and compelling. The story feels real - it is funny, sad, poignant and interesting. I asked Mindy if she knew what would happen to the characters after the story ended - she did not. Yet it's so well-written that one can't help but imagine what the future holds for them. I recommend picking up the book and having a good read.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


The mind is a very funny thing. It develops and develops to a point, and then for many of us it stops working as well or perhaps just gets jumbled around some. Memory is especially a funny thing - how come my brother and I remember things so differently? Why are some things blocked from my brain and other things cannot be removed (like every single year for 22 years remembering the birthday of my first love, even though we haven't been in touch for 20 years)?

I am back in Asheville for a day and a half. It just worked out for me to come on my way (kinda) from a business meeting out of town. I saw Granny first thing when I got back into town yesterday. She's 91 now and has been in a nursing home since mid-November. It's a really nice place and it's where she needs to be. Granny was present when I was born - we lived with her until age 10 - and then she has always lived very near or very close to us. She likes to say that she helped raise my brother and me. Granny didn't recognize me initially yesterday - I said "Granny," and she knew a grandkid would say that and came up with my cousin Brenda's name. It's okay - it didn't really make me sad - she seems happy and talked about my children for a long time during our visit (her favorite story about 15 times over - she loves reruns!).

Then today I have been visiting friends. I saw my beloved mentor, Ashley, still recovering from that terrible car accident last summer. I am still so thankful she is here and doing so well - even though there is still so much left in her recovery. I've seen some other friends during the day and will even get to go to a Book Group meeting tonight.

I am so thankful for all the dear friends I have up here - and know I will continue to have - but memories and friendships are continuing without me. It's just the way it is. It doesn't mean that I won't continue with my friendships - we certainly will continue. But memories of me will be more rare and far between. And I wonder when I'll be able to see my friends without wanting to cry - tears of happiness to be with them and then tears of regret that I am missing so much of their lives and they are missing so much of mine.