Today is my brother’s 50th birthday. I know I’ve said it before, but my brother has been the one constant in my life. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t have our times of conflict. I recall darts being thrown at my feet to encourage me to vacate his room and spats over typical sibling bullshit, but, ultimately, if I ever needed anything, I’m talking protection, advice, $, he gave it to me.
Having only one sibling, and about a half a parent, made for an independent life. There are times when weeks, maybe even months, have passed without my brother and I speaking. Like some sort of German standoff, I may have even consciously not called him just to see how long it would be until he called me. He always wins. It doesn’t really matter, though, because when I do finally break down and dial his number, he almost always answers.
The thought that there is only a single person in the entire universe who shared your childhood is sobering. Without my brother, I’m the sole keeper of legends and memories – a pretty weighty responsibility for the child with a reputation for being a bit wild. Even though our recollections aren’t always (ever?) identical, the comfort of knowing that he was there, we were in it together, is reassuringly grounding. The world feels like a safer place with him it.
Our mother complained that the boys in her family (and there were a lot of them) were treated better than the girls, they were considered “princes,” while the girls were more scullery maids. As a parent, she continued that tradition and, if you’ve ever met the Lilly boys, you know I’m guilty of the same thing.
On a Veteran’s Day a half century ago my brother was born. His uniform is more lab coat than camo, his throne the same stool he’s been sitting on for at least 35 years, but these details do nothing to diminish the fact that, to me, he is a hero and a prince. Happy birthday, TJM!
I read. A lot. On any given day, I need to be prepared to “booktalk” titles, both fiction and nonfiction, with students in grades 6-12. Intense, right? This year, so far, I’ve read 55 books with a focus on titles of interest to middle school kids. After a couple of realistic novels about 6th or 7th graders, I generally need to cleanse my reader palate with something a bit more satisfying and tasty. Something a bit, shall we say, Wild.
Yes, I know everyone read this book months (years?) ago while I was busy reading A Monster Calls, but that doesn’t diminish the impact this memoir had on me. There’s just something about a female firsthand account of trying circumstances which I find completely captivating. Imagine that.
Cheryl Strayed’s recounting of her solo hike along the Pacific Coast Trail is an absolutely inspiring work of nonfiction. I grew up in close proximity to the Appalachian Trail and have always been fascinated by the idea of trekking its length, but certainly not alone. The physical and mental strength required to complete an accomplishment such as either of these is remarkable to me. When you factor in the emotional state Strayed was in when she began her quest, her successful completion of her goal borders on the miraculous.
There were a number of passages in this memoir which caused me to pause, process and reflect, but none more than this:
“…it occurred to me for the first time that growing up poor had come in handy. I probably wouldn’t have been fearless enough to go on such a trip with so little money if I hadn’t grown up without it. I’d always thought of my family’s economic standing in terms of what I didn’t get: camp and lessons and travel and college tuition and the inexplicable ease that comes when you’ve got access to a credit card that someone else is paying off. But now I could see the line between this and that – between a childhood in which I saw my mother and stepfather forge ahead with two pennies in their pocket and my own general sense that I could do it too.”
Maybe I, too,
can will go Wild someday.
Other inspiring autobiographies by women:
When I think back to my teen years two things stand out distinctly – and I’m not talking about sex and cheap beer. No, in the small town where I grew up, a place with limited transportation options and even fewer entertainment opportunities, cruising (or walking) around listening to the radio (or cassettes) was our recreational past time. During my recent visit home, I discovered the familiarity I once had with the roads, be it on my two feet or four wheels, remains.
Decades have passed since I last resided in Greenwood Lake, yet the curves of the road continue to be as familiar to me as my own hand. I consciously approached the village from the east. I wanted to go over the mountain, the same mountain I had walked, hitchhiked and driven for years. While there have been some changes along the side of the road, particularly in Sterling Forest, the twisting and curving path of that black ribbon snaking through the woods and between rocks, hasn’t changed.
Driving over the mountain flooded me with memories. There was a fogged in night when my mother managed to negotiate the road with an open driver’s side door and the assistance of the double yellow line. I remember a late night return from work in a blinding snowstorm which caused my coworker (who was driving) to slide off the road and into a ditch. We were eventually rescued by a passerby whom we rewarded with bags of candy pilfered from the gift shop on the thruway rest stop where we worked.
At the top of the mountain there used to be a pull off spot to take in the view – and hang out partying. We used to claim that on a clear night the lights from NYC’s skyline were visible from that vantage point. I still like to think that they were. One of my most vivid recollections is from a wild night of drinking with a large group of people from town. When it was time to head back down the mountain, one of the guys decided he didn’t want to be in the car, he wanted to be on top of the car. I watched in horror, from the car immediately behind, as he climbed out of the moving vehicle and stretched his body long, arms extended, gripping the lip of the roof while traveling 50+ mph down the narrow and winding road. While he survived that escapade, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot a few short years later. In retrospect, maybe he was trying to kill himself even then.
I turned off the mountain prior to approaching the village. I wanted to drive down a different road, one I had frequently taken when I was in the mood to walk instead of hitchhike. It was a good decision. I was pleased to see that the area had remained essentially free of development and that the trees which stood vigil beside the road remained the most prevalent residents. I wondered who else might remember the year those same trees were devastated by gypsy moth caterpillars, the sound of the leaves being munched impossible to drown out even with my Walkman blasting Van Halen’s Eruption.
In my head, I can still hear both.
This is my first attempt at noting this weekly event so forgive me if I fail to acknowledge it appropriately. I’m a word girl and my crushes are literary, not literal and, since I’m a librarian, I’ll give them to you alphabetically.
The most local of my crushes and the only dedicated nonfiction writer is Paul Grondahl. Reading Paul’s work in the Albany Times Union has taught me an incredible amount about writing, my community and life. I wish I knew how many stories of Paul’s I read before I began to recognize a consistency in my response to his words, to note his byline. His ability to present human beings in an utterly nonjudgmental fashion is truly an art and we in the Capital District are so very fortunate to have access to his words.
Recently, Paul visited one of the schools where I teach and hearing him speak only caused me to admire him more. He shared his experiences along with his suggestions for conducting quality research and when he spoke disparagingly of Wikipedia, I felt my crush deepen. Absolutely dreamy!
My longest term literary crush would have to be John Irving. I believe The Cider House rules was my introduction to his work and, captivated by his talent, I quickly read each of his novels. After many years, I recently reread A Widow for One Year and was once again charmed by Irving’s ability to convey a story about individuals and, for lack of a better phrase, the human condition. His characters are both blazingly unique and potentially our next door neighbors. It’s magical.
Of the three writers I’m crushing on, John Irving is the only one I haven’t been fortunate enough to meet. Yet. He’s kind of overdue for a new novel and I would love to catch him on tour, so if you happen to hear about him being around (and by “around” I mean within a 150 mile radius), please let me know.
And my final literary crush? You know – I love Richard Russo with an ardor that rivals Band Aid Penny Lane’s obsession with Still Water. Really. What that man can do with words on a page is remarkable and I can’t imagine ever growing weary of their sound. His novel, Bridge of Sighs, just might be my favorite book ever. The voices of the characters are so true and honest when they narrate and the emotions they share so raw, that I find myself rereading this book almost annually. It moves me.
Exactly what one wants from a crush, right?
Despite my attempts at processing the hundreds of distinct thoughts and images in my head following my trip to the past last weekend, my mind is still in a whirl. During my drive north, while I tried to assert a sense of order to all that had been stimulated in my head, I realized that the 30th reunion I had attended had prompted more questions than it had answered and I wondered if other alumni felt the same way. I wished that I were better in those sorts of situations, more open to approaching others and initiating conversations. I had wanted to feel a connection with those around me, a connection which ultimately I could only find in fits and starts.
I’ve attended each reunion planned by the class Dynamo, Robin. There have been four. If I take the time to consider what compels me to insert myself in an environment which doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable, my only conclusion is that I’m seeking something, some sort of resolution or denouement.
Kind of silly, right? What can be learned from surrounding myself by people with whom I shared a building, along with some experiences 30 years ago? I just don’t know.
High school was not four years of social activities and academic achievements for me. I was not present for much of it, figuratively and literally. I felt lost in the hugeness of the high school after the intimate experience of my Greenwood Lake education, going from a class of 65 to one of more than 400 in the blink of an eye. Cliques and expectations were well established and I flitted between groups (heads, brains, jocks) committing to none.
Each reunion has invoked a similar lack of ability to engage. I simply don’t know what to say to anyone. There are familiar faces, some from high school so long ago, others from social media, and flashes of memories race through my mind. But where does one start when it comes to covering the last three decades? And – to what purpose? My high school experience will never change and my future probably doesn’t include any of the people I struggle with to make meaningful conversation. If an opportunity presented itself – say a classmate was going to be in the Albany area and wanted to grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, I’d be interested. I’m just more comfortable interacting in a smaller, lower-volume setting. Perhaps that’s my take away, my conclusion?
I think this was my last reunion.
Written by Patrick Ness and beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay, A Monster Calls, relates the story of young Conor, a boy in England living in denial about his divorced mother’s health prognosis. At night Conor is subjected to a recurring nightmare of such horror that he cannot even verbalize the events he witnesses, while during the day he is repeatedly the target of the school bully’s attentions, a situation which he initially does nothing to address.
He begins to be, amazingly enough, visited by a monstrous yew tree. While he is initially fearful of this beast that leaves berries and spiky tree leaves in his wake as evidence of his presence, Conor’s waking reality is far more frightening. The nocturnal visits by the beast are ultimately the only time that Conor feels “seen” and he anticipates the monster’s call along with the stories he shares. As the novel progresses, Conor must learn to accept the questionable manner in which life doles out rewards and punishments, as well as find a way to once again feel present.
This book broke my heart. Of course, the parallels between the divorced mom and her (far more devastating) cancer battle struck a chord with me, but it was the thought of that child’s anguish and grief which absolutely wrenched me. I’m sure every parent in the universe shies away from exploring the thought of prematurely leaving their child(ren), but this book makes that sort of avoidance impossible.
Answering the monster’s call will most certainly ring a bell. Read it.
Last Sunday, while most of you were probably still snug in your jammies sipping coffee, the Lunar B*tches reunited in a parking lot up at Thacher. It was grey and wet and chilly, but the festive and costume-clad crowd pumped us up for our 6 mile trail run, the Squirrelly Six. I was glad that I had gone with 3 layers of varying thickness, along with gloves and a hat. The dampness was bone chilling and while the rain wasn’t constant, it was cold.
We hit the path at 9:35, due to a slight delay to accommodate those waiting in line for restroom facilities, and spent the next approximately 70 minutes dodging puddles and chainsaw wielding werewolves. The course isn’t made for breaking personal records, with bottlenecks and a couple of daunting hills, but it is made for fun. Because of the soggy conditions, caution was required when navigating the rocky, tree root-ridden paths covered in wet leaves. It was slippery and the downhill portions were the ones which I found to be most dangerous – and where I witnessed a runner go down, fortunately without injury.
This was the 10th year for this event and I definitely see myself continuing to participate in this uber fun race. Despite the weather and trail hazards, it was a beautiful run with lots of leaves still clinging to their branches. This year’s shirt may be the best one I’ve ever received – a bonus second only to hitting the trail with my favorite running girls.