Anne Notations

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tanned and well-read

Tans are a health risk, yet here I am, well tanned and loving it. Mine is a gardener's tan, golden-brown except for the white spaces representing tank tops, shorts, and Crocs.

My enforced vacation from work has had an upside: being home during a summer of unusually spectacular weather, being outside where I love to be. Also, for the first time in years the house is in pretty good order – no clutter accumulating in my little home office/sunroom, which stayed buried in Stuff for most of our first four years here until I cleaned it almost to the bare walls this spring. I tidy the living room and kitchen before heading to bed every night so that when I come down each morning, I like what I see and have that feeling of ahhh that a clean, neat living space evokes.

It's mostly about feeling in control of some portions of my life. Pulling out incipient weeds that poke through the mulch is like casting demons from a holy space. Pinching sucker shoots from the crotches of my tomato plants is performing life-enhancing surgery, and I have the sweet little fruits to prove it. One of our dogs now responds to my voice commands, after months of training him to "Come," to drop that forbidden dead crab "Out!" of his mouth, to "Leave it!" when we walk by something yucky or even see another dog on the walking path, to instantly drop "Down" and stay there as I prepare food in the kitchen. I did that; I taught that sweet dog to obey.

Since May I've taught Melinda and Kevin to drive, with all the nerve-racking excursions that implies. I've done freelance work, too.

Most recently, I've decided to address some of my physical complaints by trying a low-sugar, gluten-free diet with the accent on lots of dark green vegetables, plain Greek yogurt, fish, chicken, eggs, rice crackers, and nuts. Already I've lost six pounds and cleared up my chronic IBS. Even my complexion looks better. At Dr. Crisafulli's office yesterday, my blood pressure was a lovely 130 over 74. I'm not thinking of this as a "diet" at all, no sir, because I always fail at "diets". It's a way of eating that takes into account my body's sensitivities.

Michael and I have been relaxing and having some fun together on his visits home. After 36 years of marriage, I still get that flutter when his car pulls into the driveway. I still run to kiss him when he walks in the front door. I describe him as "hot" – in the good, modern sense. Not a bad thing for two old geezers, eh?

Speaking of "old," I recently finished a novel, Emily, Alone, by a favorite writer, Stewart O'Nan. It's a sequel to his earlier book, Wish You Were Here. We catch up with Emily Maxwell, a cultured, self-reflective widow in her 70s, living alone (save for an aging dog) in the family home in Pittsburgh. Emily and the late Henry's children and grandchildren live in other parts of the country, and she has come to rely on her sister-in-law, Arlene, not only for companionship but also to give her rides – Henry's huge old boat of a car being too intimidating for Emily to attempt driving. Emily and Arlene's friends, many of them in their 80s and 90s, are dropping like flies, and attending funerals has become a staple of their social life. Over and over, mortality stares Emily in the face.

I like this book and read it quickly, which puzzles me now because not much really happens in it. It is a book about characters with only the barest of plots to move the reader along to the end. O'Nan does a remarkable job of getting into an older woman's head and heart; Emily has her quirks and stubbornness, but you end up liking her and wanting good things to happen. During the course of the book, she reviews events in her life, plans for her eventual death and the disposal of her house and belongings, and works earnestly at maintaining relationships with her difficult, recovering-alcoholic daughter Margaret and her calm, Henry-like son Kenneth.

I'm not sure this is a book for everyone, but as I plod along toward my 60th birthday this fall, I found much in it that made me nod in recognition, wince in apprehension, and stop to review the course of my own life and what it may be like 10 and 15 years from now. Certainly women of middle age and older would find it a rewarding read. I never hesitate to recommend O'Nan's work, and I can say the same now for Emily, Alone.

O'Nan's ability to write sympathetically from the viewpoint of an older female protagonist reminds me of Jon Hassler's lovely fiction series about Agatha McGee, a crisp spinster living in the fictional small town of Staggerford, Minnesota. Agatha turns out to be far more complex and interesting than her starchy Catholic persona would suggest: she takes in outcasts, travels alone to Ireland, and carries on a long-distance love affair with a man who is not what he seems. If you'd like to meet Agatha, start with Staggerford (which sets the stage in brilliant, plot-rich fashion), then read A Green Journey and finally (and least, in my opinion), Dear James.

I have quite the stack of books I'm mowing through this summer – another blessing of this interval between jobs. Reading is perhaps my oldest, most constant friend on this life journey. Thank God for writers who transcend gender and genre to take us inside everyday people's lives to remind us both of our universal human condition and of each individual's complexity and worth.


  • And don't forget the plethora of reading treasures at your local public library. I bet the staff there can make even more suggestions!

    By Blogger Michael A. Golrick, at Tue Jul 19, 11:51:00 AM EDT  

  • You brought me O'Nan and I love his"powerful" simplicity. I am happy to hear if tans hot Michael and nesting as you have had such a rough time if it. Thank you for your reviews brought to our (as in "you and me") Hamlet. You keep rocking Babe and I am not talking about a rocking chair but in a Jack White way!! Xo

    By Blogger Cheryl Leigh, at Tue Jul 19, 05:30:00 PM EDT  

  • At first, I found the detailed exploration of each character's thoughts and emotions interesting. About a third of the way through the book, I wondered if it would go anywhere. Although O'Nan does an excellent job of painting a vivid picture with his writing, I was disappointed with the lack of a real storyline.

    By Anonymous Italia, at Mon Jan 30, 11:53:00 PM EST  

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