Anne Notations

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scout's honor

It's been a wild and crazy roller-coaster of a move from Providence to Warwick this past week. In the process, bits of flotsam have emerged from the discouragingly large sludgepile of our belongings.

Here's a snapshot, c. 1967-1968, of our Mattapoisett Girl Scout troop. There I am on the right in my dorky green uniform, tarted up with Yardley's silver lipstick and black eyeliner. (Can I just add that I was having a rare good hair day?) I remember most of the troop members' names, too - a veritable hit parade of 1950s standards: Debbie, Jane, Rhonda, Susan, Corinne, Ruth, Anne. Michael-the-girl, behind me, was considered a bit of a bohemian.

I stuck with Girl Scouts through high school, although frankly I was too much of a princess to get behind the camping scene. How would I set my hair in the morning? What if someone heard me going to the bathroom in the outhouse-like loo?

Nearly 40 years later, I remember the Girl Scout pledge: "On my honor I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Girl Scout laws." I swear I did not have to look that up. It's one of those early mantras, like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer, that stays with you for a lifetime.

Were you ever a Scout? A Campfire Girl? What?

Friday, July 20, 2007


Twenty years ago this month we left our home in the seaside town of Little Compton and moved back to the East Side of Providence.

Today we are leaving our Providence home (sold at last, thank the Maker, and to a wonderful family with young children) and moving to our new bayside home in Warwick.

In those twenty years, we bought and renovated two houses, laid to rest our three old dogs, watched my stepdaughter enter Brown and graduate, lost my stepson to drugs, gained three adopted children from Colombia, surprised ourselves by conceiving a fourth child nine months later, became a family of practicing Catholics, lost all four of our parents and all but two remaining aunts (one for each of us), ceded custody of our troubled oldest adopted son to DCYF, proudly married off my stepdaughter Leslie to her long-time boyfriend Jon, brought home Daisy the supermutt from the Providence pound, watched with pride when our second-oldest adopted son prevailed over learning disabilities and the wreck of his first three years of life to graduate as an honor student from an excellent high school, became grandparents to the wondrous Caroline, and began, a few years back, to yearn for the seaside life once more.

All week I have been a mess of last-minute fussing, anxiety, regrets, excitement - the whole spectrum of emotions that comes with major change, even change one has chosen. I'll truly miss living here in this congenial part of the city, this college town. I'll miss the nice lady who owns the dry-cleaner two blocks from us, the fellow dog-walkers I chat with in the mornings, the local library just down the street, my favorite cashier at Stop & Shop. (Her name is Kathy, and she is a peach.) On the other hand, I don't want to sound too much like a native Rho Dislanduh, to whom a short distance like 15 miles - the extent of our relocation - might as well be a trip to the moon! And I'll be working here four days a week, so it's not as if I won't keep a bit of the East Sider in me.

Our phone service has already been cut off; the Internet and cable TV are next to go. We won't be back online until sometime next week. This part I actually look forward to: involuntary detox from the barrage of information, communication, and noise that pours into our home through various smart boxes these days.

It's been an amazing twenty years. Here comes the next chapter. Hasta la vista!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Rewind. Press Play.

Why, asked someone on a list I administer, do we re-read favorite books? Why, indeed?

After all, we know what happens. We know the twists and turns of plot. We know the ending, for heaven's sake! Isn't it a waste of time to re-read something when so many other books are waiting for us, and our lives are so starkly finite?

I don't think reading literature is ever a waste of time. Engaging in the act of reading is like going to another place, changing our scenery. It makes our neurons fire in an entirely different way than does, say, watching the news or talking on the phone or walking the dog. This, to me, is A Good Thing for body, mind, and soul.

More to the point of the question at hand: Returning to a much-loved book is simply pleasurable. I'm a big believer in the power of hedonism; the evolutionarily-encoded yen for stuff that feels good is a key human motivator. Perhaps we raced through a novel on our first reading, yanked headlong by a compelling plot, and now we can savor details and nuances we missed. Maybe it has been many years since we've read a book, and what we've experienced and learned since then forms a new chemistry with the text, expanding our appreciation. Sometimes I revel in a particular writer's syntax, the way she molds and caresses words and makes characters - imaginary or real - come alive.

What books have I re-read? The old standby of junior-high reading lists comes to mind: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which never fails to break my heart. Similarly, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. There are good reasons why these books are perennially assigned reading, people.

Surely by now I have re-read the six volumes of Dorothy Dunnett's epic historical-fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles, set in 16th-century Scotland, France, the Levant, and Russia, five or more times. I will always be grateful to my friend Kathy for introducing me to this saga in the early 1980s. The books - laden with perverse characters, obscure old languages, and encyclopedic literary references - aren't for everyone. I'm honored that Kathy considered me someone who would find them thrilling.

Ellen Gilchrist's short stories, particularly those about her alter ego, the flame-haired belle Rhoda (now collected in a single volume), are irresistible repeat reads. In the nonfiction realm, I read Annie Dillard's slim meditation Holy the Firm so many times, its softbound pages are falling out from wear.

Jon Hassler's several novels set in the fictional midwestern town of Staggerford stand up well to subsequent readings, as do André Dubus's short stories and essays. The "Ender" sci-fi books by Orson Scott Card proved themselves re-readable just this year; I purchased them used on so that Kevin could enjoy them as I had, and found myself sucked right back in. I can tell, somehow, that I am working myself up to re-read the copy of The Lovely Bones that I loaned to Melinda this spring. As for Barbara Kingsolver's short stories: yes! There are a few stories in the annual "Best Short Stories" anthologies that I go back to, principally a witty, poignant gem by Lorrie Moore called "Terrific Mother" (in the 1994 "best" volume). I think I have read it at least a dozen times.

Clearly, I could go on and on with this list. Merely typing these titles makes me want to dive back into some of them.

Do you ever re-read books? Which ones are worth a second glance?

Friday, July 06, 2007

My three stones

This afternoon I've been sitting on our (Providence) back deck under the green market umbrella, enjoying the soft breeze, some lukewarm tea, and a book that just came from eBay. I would feel lazy and guilty but for the fact that since Tuesday night - after a week's "vacation" from work spent moving things to Warwick and putting them away - my body has been pummeled by a fiendish rotovirus. So I need these hours of recovery in the shade, and I am thankful to feel well enough to read again.

What I'm reading is After This, by Alice McDermott (2006). She is a wonderful writer, and if you haven't yet read her Child of My Heart, perhaps the perfect summer novel, please do so now.

Back to After This, which is, above all, about family. This passage speaks strongly to my own feelings about parenthood - the weird simultaneous joy and burden of it all:

"(John's) love for his children bore down on his heart with the weight of three heavy stones. There were all his unnamed fears for them, and hopes for them. There was all he was powerless to change, including who they were."

My own three heavy stones - now ages 21, 16, and almost 15 - hold more power over me than I ever could have imagined. Scarcely a waking hour goes by that I don't think with concern about one or all of them. Yet they shine in my life like gold.

What are you reading this summer?