Saturday, April 28, 2012

And so it goes

I returned to work this week with a new account and new hours. I'm working later, which has its benefits, and I finally have the whole weekend (Saturday and Sunday) off. Before, it was Sunday and Monday, and I did like that arrangement as it allowed me to handle chores I couldn't do during the week since I had to begin work so early. Bonus on both accounts: weekend and later starting time to get necessary chores done.

The new account is (at least so far) a good account. The doctors (even the foreign doctors) speak clearly with a few minor exceptions of motor mouth and mush mouth. I doubt that will ever change. The account itself is straight forward without a lot of "except in this case" situations. So far, I like it, and I still have my once primary, now secondary, account and it was at least familiar and workable. I've gotten used to the motor and mush mouths and the doctors who have trouble enunciating and pronouncing English words. I can deal. And I don't have to do the very complicated children's hospital account, which I did not like at all.

Mostly though, life after returning to work has been fraught with nerves and trepidation. Work should help the grief, but it really doesn't. Work takes my mind off things for a few hours, otherwise how could I function and do my job properly, but the grief descends like the clouds preceding a bad thunderstorm and promising tornadoes. C'est la vie. (That sounds so much nicer in French.) I still have moments when I break down and times when I drift numb in a sea of emotional ice. I suspect that will always be the case, although it will happen less frequently as time goes by and the loss is less fresh, less keen-edged. I've been through this before with Dad and other people I've known who have died. It gets easier, except when it isn't.

I have been wallowing a bit, as one would expect, but less and less. Books took me out of the real world and put me in places where someone else's problems and dangers consumed me. That's not such a bad thing. I did enjoy what I read, even if I haven't yet finished A Dance With Dragons yet. I had to take a break as it felt as though, good and engrossing as the story is, it was going nowhere at a snail's pace. I understand how the book earned so many negative reviews. It does go on a bit -- a bit too long. It's not that the characters are not as unique and engaging as before, but that it feels time to cut to the chase, especially since this is the second half of what was supposed to be a single large book. It's enough already. Let's get to the dragons and Westeros and removing the Lannisters from King's Landing already. It's time to bring things to a head. There are wights to battle and the winter that never ends headed up by glowing blue-eyed Others we have yet to see. Wights we've seen, but, again, let's cut to the chase.

In the meantime, I've a new shipment of review books that I have to open and read this weekend, but I have a weekend in which to do it, with a whole half day before the review needs to be written and sent in. It feels like a luxury of time and I intend to wallow in that instead, especially since the weather cannot make up its mind if it's winter, spring, or summer. We've had all three in the past 2 weeks. About the only constant is the April sprouting of the lilac hedge out front and the pervasive smell of lilacs through the open window morning, noon, and all night long. After a while, the pleasant scent of lilac becomes a stench, and the honeysuckle has yet to bloom. It will be in full scent by June, complete with the moths that appear at dusk and crowd around the blooms spreading pollen and getting their probosci full of nectar. The year turns and turns and turns.

Life goes on even when it feels like it should stop for a while, a galactic moment of silence. And so it goes.

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

I was fascinated by the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, and decided, as I often do, to get the book. I was not disappointed.

There were several changes from book to movie, like changing the Minister of Finance to an American army officer and giving Nobu-san back his arm, among other things, but reading the original did not take away from the experience of the movie. It is best in cases like this where the movie is good to treat book and movie as separate. There was no mention of Sayuri's danna or the trip to the island where Sayuri plans to make sure that Nobu-san does not become her danna as this was replaced by the American army officer. Again, it did not detract from the book or the writing.

Memoirs of a Geisha is written in a flowing conversational style that is more like confidences between new friends sharing their lives. This is mostly because Arthur Golden took Chiyo/Sayuri's story directly from the source and retained her style and voice. It was very well done and made the story move quickly. I often had a hard time putting the book down and got through the whole story in about 2 days even though I worked and did other projects as well.

I was captivated by the story and the details of life in a geisha district. It was different from the world I know, but not completely unknown since I have been exposed to Japanese culture through my father and our military travels. I already knew that geisha were not prostitutes but entertainers.

Where the movie excelled was in depicting the artistic moments of dance, the richness of the culture, and the beauty of kimono. The book did well to describe the scenes and kimono, but there is no substitute for seeing the real thing, and yet Golden did an exemplary job of describing the scenes and characters with rich detail that sparked imagination.

There is so much detail in Memoirs of a Geisha that reading it several more times will be a pleasure, gleaning every detail to its smallest moment. The book is rich in cultural detail and emotion and the story, although simply told, is one that crosses cultural boundaries. Who has not loved and lost only to find love again while bearing the anguish of possibilities hoped for that may never be realized? Memoirs of a Geisha is such a story and one that remains poignant and palpably real in the shifting landscape of a disappearing Japanese culture that had lasted for centuries. I highly recommend the book -- and the movie.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Power in the Words

A friend posted about a gift she was given because of something she wrote. The recent tragedy of my grandson's unexpected (and so far unexplained) death earlier this week brought people together to offer their condolences and we shared our grief in a very public way. The obituary about Connor's death brought strangers to the funeral home on Friday night and they brought flowers. They didn't know my son or his family and they didn't know Connor, but the words of the obituary reminded them (as if they could ever forget) that they lost a daughter 21 years ago when she less than a year old to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), what was once called crib death. They wanted my son and his family to know they weren't alone and that Connor had touched their lives, however briefly.

Words have the power to hurt and to heal, as well as to inform.

The friend who posted about her unexpected windfall as a result of her random post felt bad when I mentioned that I wish I had thought about posting that I was cooking and baking up a storm and always wanted a KitchenAid mixer, the kind that has all the attachments and add-ons, like a sausage stuffer and meat grinder, among others, so someone would send one to me. I was teasing about the post, but not about wanting a KitchenAid. My comment to her, however light-hearted, made her think she was begging by writing about her thoughts and actions and feelings. Not at all. That is what we bloggers do -- communicate. Through communication wonderful -- and not so wonderful -- things happen.

In her case, someone was given 2 KitchenAid stand mixers for Christmas and she decided that instead of giving one of them to the church or a charity she would give it to my friend. That was a lovely gesture and one that made my friend happy. She hasn't been happy for a long time and has been blown and battered by the storms of fortune -- or rather, misfortune -- for a few years. She has had it rough and the idea that what I said in jest made her feel bad about the gift she received makes me feel bad. It also reminds me that words have so much power.

In media like blogging and writing stories or articles, we reach millions of people. Not everyone will get what is said and may put their own spin on things that have nothing to do with the author's intention. Even though my words about my son were not accompanied by a teary-eyed and heartbreaking video, people responded with sadness, shock, and condolences. My friend responded to my teasing with shame and guilt. The words were just words, but the emotions sparked came from different places.

How many people can read a child's obituary and not think of lost future? If someone has lost a child, especially a small child, they bring their own grief to what they read and the emotions come back as fresh as the day they were born, even 21 years later.

When someone reads a comment meant to be light-hearted and they have been beaten up and thrashed by life, they bring something entirely different to the fore. In this case, my friend, who has had it so difficult for so long, felt guilt and shame that she didn't have the means to buy what she wanted and had to accept it from someone else. Her emotions do not negate the joy of having the gift but, like a whipped dog, she wanted to cower with her tail between her legs because doesn't feel like she deserves to have the gift in the first place. There are so many people who need what she was given more than she does and she felt unworthy, hence her reaction to my teasing with shock and shame.

She wrote that she had not realized she was coming across as a beggar. She wasn't begging when she wrote about the joy she had found in cooking and baking. She wasn't begging when she mentioned wanting a tool to make her task easier. She was writing about her life and enjoying having something that lifted her out of her sadness and misery for a while. Someone saw that post and responded by sharing what she had been given too much of. No one begged and no one looked down and felt superior because she could play Lady Bountiful. That's not how things work in the world, at least not this time in this world. It was 2 people who communicated, one expressing joy and the other responding with generosity and kindness. There is no better sense of communication.

But words can be lethal. They can maim and scar and destroy.

My son David Scott used to get into fights over words. He was fighting because someone had said something mean about me. He was a child and responded the way a child does with violence, and probably quite a few tears. He was defending me. I told him there was no need to fight for me over words. The words didn't hurt me or change who I was, and I was wrong.

While the words would have hurt me when I was a child, they didn't even touch me as an adult. I had become immune to the words, to slough them off like filthy rags. I had forgotten what those same words had done to me as a child when my mother threw them in my face and my siblings chanted them at me, when other children took up the chant and threw them at me like jagged rocks. They hurt. They dug deep into my flesh and struck bone, and that is how they felt to my son. The words were thrown at me, but they struck him, and I dismissed his feelings and his sense of pride for fighting against the kids who, at least in his mind, had hurt me. He was battling hyenas like a young lion cub and winning and looking to me, his mother, for praise, not dismissal.

It didn't matter how much I loved my son and didn't want him to fight and get hurt. What mattered was that I failed to recognize the gifts he gave me -- his battle scars and sense of pride in his chivalrous act. The words that failed to hit had wounded him and I rubbed salt into his wounds by not recognizing and applauding his valor and prowess.

Parents make mistakes, and I have made my share. Friends also make mistakes when they fail to recognize their simple teasing words can become weapons without realizing it.

I am sorry my friend took my words as chastisement when I meant them in fun. I apologize to my son for not recognizing his valor and strength and his unbounded love for me. I do not, however, apologize for these words. Take them how you will, but they are meant to show that words do have power, power to hurt and to heal. I hope this time their power is in the healing.