Friday, December 26, 2014

E. Peevie's Not-To-Be Missed Book Recommendations from 2014.

Some of the books I read in 2014 were AMAZING. In case you're looking for ideas for what to read in 2015, here are the highlights, annotated:

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories 
by B.J. Novak

You know B.J. Novak as that guy from The Office who always looks a little fatigued, but who also looks like he could be Hugh Grant's younger brother. But if you read this book of short and very short stories, you will think of him as That Guy Who Can Really Write and Who Also Happens to Be On A TV Show. Because these stories! They amaze.

Novak's stories start somewhere familiar and end up knocking you off your chair with their originality. They deliver unexpected humor and on-point parody; they are clever and poignant and smart. Here's a great interview with Novak about the book and other stuff, in case you're interested.

Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

This suspenseful novel has more twists than a bag of fusilli. If you're like me, you'll need to take a swig of Mylanta every few chapters; or maybe take a break from reading to have a pot of Darjeeling and remind yourself that--thank God--mostly you can avoid dealing with sociopaths except in fiction and the occasional outlying relative. (Unless you can't, of course, in which case: sympathies.)

Gone Girl combines Stephen King-esque suspense with an insidious unreliable narrator a la Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal. I couldn't put it down.

by Lee Martin

Sam Brady leads a quiet, private life with his dog, Stump, until he decides to build a doghouse that looks like a ship. The doghouse attracts attention, which like the first domino, sets off a chain reaction. Sam's past begins to catch up to him. Martin presents Sam and his neighbor Arthur, his brother Cal, and other characters with vivid complexity. His storytelling reminds us that the small things matter. 

Lee Martin's quiet, observant, lyrical and surprising storytelling in this little novel has made him one of my new favorite authors. I will definitely be seeking out Martin's other titles in 2015.

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book has no right to be as fascinating, funny, beautiful, and compelling as it was. Nothing much happens--and yet by the time you get to the end, you feel like you've had a Literary Experience and you will never be the same.

I'm happy that Mr. Ishiguro has a new novel coming out in March, his first in ten years.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer

Foer's groundbreaking literary style would normally not be my cup of tea. It's borderline stream-of-consciousness, and my undiagnosed ADD gives me enough trouble tracking the characters and settings in a traditional novel, let alone one that has multiple POVs. And yet this story sucked me in and pulled me along. Foer captures the voice of his young male protagonist perfectly; it's poignant and funny.

Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor Frankl

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

In telling the story of his time in the concentration camps during WWII, Viktor Frankl asserts that we have the power to find meaning, hope, and purpose in the middle of our inevitable suffering. This book is an enduring and accessible classic.

Cutting for Stone 
By Abraham Verghese

It says a lot about this book that John Irving (another of my favorite authors) reviewed Cutting on Amazon: "This is a first-person narration where the first-person voice appears to disappear, but never entirely; only in the beginning are we aware that the voice addressing us is speaking from the womb!" 

I'll be reading this one again.

The Hot Kid
By Elmore Leonard

I picked this up because I binge-watched all the seasons of Justified (based on an Elmore Leonard novella, Fire in the Hole) this year, and wow. Elmore Leonard's tight, packed sentences sucked me in from the first page, and I don't even know how he manages to write such vivid characters with so few words. I will definitely read more Elmore Leonard in 2015.

The Seven Storey Mountain
by Thomas Merton

Started this one a couple of years ago; put it down for a long time; and finally picked it up and read it all the way through this year. There is nothing like a good conversion story to inspire your new year.

As the child of fundamentalist, Dispensationalist parents, I learned early on to mistrust any form of Christianity that was not exactly like my own. Catholics, to me, were not "real" Christians; in fact, most Christians were quotation-mark "Christians." I'm not proud of this. But as Kathleen Norris wrote in Amazing Grace (see below), “In order to have an adult faith, most of us have to outgrow and unlearn much of what we were taught about religion.” 

And Merton delivers a great pay-off, with great writing on philosophy and theology. He inspires me to love God more, and to examine my faith and practice more rigorously. 

Amazing Grace
by Kathleen Norris

This was a re-read from several years ago. I picked it up again as part of my preparation for a class I taught at church. It's definitely worth re-reading. In her writing, Kathleen Norris often calls upon the writings of the early church mothers and fathers to illuminate contemporary life and faith. No one else does this like she does; she's like the modern day Thomas Merton.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J.K. Rowling

I read the first four Harry Potters when I was on bedrest in the hospital, pregnant with M. Peevie. M. Peevie, you might recall, just turned fourteen, and when I told her I had not read the last three books, she was shocked and horrified. 

"Mom! You have to read them!" she ordered.

I told her I didn't really remember the first four, but she suggested I just re-read them. "It won't take you very long!" she predicted. She was right. They were great the second time around; and now I've started the fifth book, H. P. and the Order of the Phoenix.

To Be Near Unto God
by Abraham Kuyper

"...[w]hen clouds gather over your head, when adversity, loss and grief inflict wound upon wound in your heart, when the fig tree does not blossom, and the vine will yield not fruit, then with Habakkuk rejoice in God, because his blessed nearness is enjoyed more in sorrow than in gladness...". I am working on this. 

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, by Miroslav Volf: File this one under "Mostly Over My Head"--but still well worth the time and effort to consume it. 

Volf responded to Bonhoeffer's assertion that the church facing the Nazi regime was experiencing a passage through a foreign land, suggesting that outside of this context, "serious problems arise" from this perspective:

The fundamental theological problem with such an external view of Christian presence in the world is a mistaken understanding of the earthly habitats of Christian communities. It presupposes that the culture in which they live is a foreign country, pure and simple, a land bereft of God, rather than a world that God created and pronounced good.
...[I]t would contradict major Christian convictions to think that the world outside Christian communities is bereft of God's active presence. The God who gives "new birth" is ... also the creator and sustainer of the world with all its cultural diversity...Cultures are not foreign countries for the followers of Christ, but rather their own homelands...Christian communities should not seek to leave their home cultures and establish settlements outside or live as islands within them. Instead, they should remain in them and change them--subvert the power of the foreign force and seek to bring the culture into closer alignment with God and God's purposes.

This is all well and good, but I'm not sure what that looks like operationalized. And that is a whole other blog post.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saintby Nadia Bolz-Weber: See Merton, above.

This is our God. Not a distant judge, nor a sadist, but a God who weeps. A God who suffers, not only for us, but with us. Nowhere is the presence of God amidst suffering more salient than on the cross. Therefore, what can I do but confess that this is not a God who causes suffering. This is a God who bears suffering. I need to believe that God does not initiate suffering. God transforms it.

Driftless, by David Rhodes: Many beautiful sentences in this one.

Jacob lay on his back. The stars looked back at him from ten million years ago, their light just now arriving. He wondered if there were other places in the universe where the rules of the living did not require feeding on each other--where wonder could be discovered without horror and learning the truth did not entail losing one's faith.

The Complete Storiesby Flannery O'Connor: You could teach a class based solely on the metaphors and similes O'Connor uses to talk about the sun and sky:

The sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host, drenched in blood and when it sank out of sight it left a line in the sky like a red clay road hanging over the trees.
The sun was like a furious white blister in the sky.
The cows were grazing on two pale green pastures across the road and behind them, fencing them in was a black wall of trees with a sharp sawtooth edge that held off the indifferent sky.
The sky was bone-white and the slick highway stretched before them like a piece of the earth's exposed nerve.

OK, this post is already too long, so here are some honorary mentions from my 2014 reading list, with tiny reviews and/or quotations.

Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions
by Rachel Held Evans: Exactly.

Heart of Darknessby Joseph Conrad: "I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work,--the chance to find yourself."

Jewel, by Brett Lott: Sprawling. Well-drawn characters.

A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fireby George R. R. Martin: Loving this series.

Lolitaby Vladimir Nabokov: Beautiful writing; disturbing story.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth: The four categories were such a smart story hook, but honestly, it reads a little like a YA harlequin romance, especially once the kissing starts. This SNL spoof The Group Hopper was hilarious.

I Always Knew I Would Make It (And Other Entrepreneurial Fallacies)by Kate Koziol. This author is smart, funny, brave, and resourceful. And good at puzzling.

The Writing Lifeby Annie Dillard: Finally making my way through the best books on writing. This is a classic.

Whose Bodyby Dorothy Sayers: Can't believe it took me this long to read Sayers.

When You are Engulfed in Flamesby David Sedaris: Funny. Duh.

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens: Bleak, long. Very Dickensian, if you know what I mean.

That's it. What are you recommending from your 2014 reads?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Verbatim (reboot)

Edit: Sometimes when I'm missing Aidan, I go back and read blog posts about him so I can laugh and cry and remember his amazingness. Here's a post that captures an excellent example of his unique goofiness.

I was driving with A. Peevie, and I received a text from C. Peevie telling me that he had found a ride home from work.

"Text C. Peevie for me, and tell him, OK, good," I told him. Here is the actual verbatim text-versation that occurred:

C. Peevie: I got a ride.

A. Peevie posing as me: That's wonderful. What time do you expect to get home?

[Me to A. Peevie: That text sounds parental.
A. Peevie: That's how I wanted it to sound.]

C. Peevie: 7:30 or a little earlier

A. Peevie: Are you going to practice your dark magic?

C. Peevie: Yea...

A. Peevie: Good. When I get home I expect to see zombies attacking our neighbors. And I think you know which ones. Ass.

[Me: Ass? Why did you write that?
A. Peevie: I typed aargh, but autocorrect changed it.]

C. Peevie: Who is this?

A. Peevie: Dad.

C. Peevie: Immature? Ass.

A. Peevie: You know what a baby Amish person is called?

C. Peevie: No.

A. Peevie: An "Amlette!" Hahahahaha!

C. Peevie: -_-

A. Peevie: Aw schiznit! I spilled coke down my front!

C. Peevie: Im done. Im going back to work

A. Peevie: Darvit!

[Me: What does that mean?
A. Peevie: It's an Elvish swear.]

A. Peevie: I am secretly an elf.

Me, later, to C. Peevie: FYI, that was A. Peevie. In case u didn't figure it out.

C. Peevie: I didnt.


I am so grateful for the worlds of entertainment and communication that texting has opened up to my family. Seriously, I feel bereft just thinking of those early days of parenting, before we had cell phones, before we had texting, when we had to rely on our limited periods of face-to-face conversation to communicate our deepest thoughts and intimate feelings to one another.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dear Aidan (Can you hear me?)

Dear Aidan,

Can you hear me?

On your birthday tomorrow we will be grieving the loss of yet another milestone that we don’t get to experience with you. You would be seventeen. You would have begged us to let you get your driving permit soon after you turned sixteen, and would probably be ready to take the test to get your license if you didn’t have it already. You’d been looking forward to driving since you were twelve or thirteen and trouncing everyone in Mario Kart.

Your friends are juniors in high school. They’re starting to write college essays, go on college visits, and narrow down their post-high school plans. It’s wrong that you don’t get to have those experiences, too—although your dad and I always said that you’d probably end up living in our basement until you were 30. What I wouldn't give.

I recently opened the birthday present that Grandmom and Granddad sent for you for your 15th birthday. You never got to open it. We stashed it behind the chair in our bedroom, ready to pull it out on your birthday. It was a sweater. You would have politely thanked them for the sweater--and you would have probably enjoyed wearing it, too. You were often cold, and you liked wearing layers to keep your skinny self warm.

They had also sent a Beatles souvenir book from the Beatles store in London, which they had recently visited. You would have pored over it, reciting facts about the Fab Four to anyone within earshot, and jotting down catalog numbers for your Christmas wish list: an All You Need is Love watch, a 
collection of plush band members, or maybe 
the complete book of sheet music for guitar including all 203 Beatles songs.

Ah, darling. I miss you. I hate that I can't know what you would be becoming, and see what new interests you would be developing, and how you would be changing as you grew closer to becoming a man. I want to make new memories with you, finish watching K-Pax with you, plan your new session of home school classes.

I miss talking to you, seeing you, touching you. You would hug me, hug all of us, SO OFTEN, like you could not get enough physical contact from the people you loved. 

Often I stand next to the table that holds your pictures, your poem, cards, and mementos. I re-read your poem, I look at the photographs of you and C. Peevie and M. Peevie, and I shake my head because it's not right that you are not here. It’s not right that we’re celebrating our own birthdays and watching each holiday come and go and taking family vacations without you.

M. Peevie just turned fourteen. You were fourteen when you left us--not quite fifteen, really. It's weird and impossible to get my mind around the fact that she has reached the same age as you, and in a short year will surpass your chronological age. This aspect of losing you, 
like many others, is confusing and surreal.

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night

The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief

I did not know I would struggle
Through a ragged underbrush
Without an upward path


Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.
― Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem

You used to talk about death and dying fairly often. "I'm afraid to go to sleep in case I don't wake up," you'd tell me in the middle of the night, and my heart would hurt. "Would you still talk about me if I died?"

The answer is yes. Some days, still, you're all I can think about, talk about, care about. Until we meet in eternity, darling boy, I hold you in my heart.

Happy birthday.


Monday, November 10, 2014


Hello to the upwards of seven loyal Green Room readers. M. Peevie here, for my annual birthday update.

nightvalelogo-web.gifI will be fourteen (fourteen-going-on-twenty-four, according to my mom) on Saturday, and I have invited a bunch of friends to my basement birthday party. The Doctor and Albert Einstein will both be there (in their life-size flat cardboard forms). I am nervous but also happy about my friends coming over. Nervous-but-happy is my near-constant condition, although sometimes I am nervous and cranky, depending on how tired and/or hungry I am.

(BTW, I hate it when I'm annoyed or upset and my mom tells me to eat something or take a nap. Yes, I might be hungry, or I might be tired, or both--but I'm also still legitimately annoyed or upset.)

School is going OK this year, except for the fact that I have one teacher that constantly misuses the English language. On the first day she used the non-word irregardless, and I instantly hated her. My mom has since informed me that irregardless may not be acceptable in Standard English usage, but it is, linguistically, a word. I do not care. It's ignorant. Don't judge me for being judgy.

I have another teacher who manages to make one of my favorite subjects boring. I love math. I read, or tried to read, a book awhile ago called Five Equations that Changed the World. It was really hard for me to read, because I was trying to understand it when I was only ten or eleven--but it presents math in a human context, which makes it more interesting. My teacher, on the other hand, presents math in a deadly dull context, and it's not acceptable.

I joined book club, writing club, and psychology club this year, which pretty much represents the things I love the most. Oh, and math team. Maybe I should start my own blog and write about these things. But who has time, what with Instagram (@MPeevie) and Pinterest, and all of my fangirl commitments.(I still fangirl the same fandoms as last year, but I've added a couple: Homestuck and Welcome to Night Vale.)

Probably the hardest part of my birthday this year is that I don't know how to think about being fourteen since my brother Aidan was fourteen when he died. How can I be the same age as my older brother? Also: I miss him a lot.

I almost forgot to mention that I started taking piano lessons. This is another source of great anxiety to me. I can never seem to practice enough, and everyone is always screaming at me to practice more and play perfectly! JK, no one ever says that. But I still feel nervous about it. I'm learning the Muse song Exogenesis (Part 3)--actually, I'm pretty much done learning it. It's pretty cool if I do say so myself.

Until next year, Internet (or until I start my own blog)...M. Peevie, out.

I Hate Everyone Too Crew Socks
P.S.: I startted writing this before my birthday, but didn't get it posted. So my birthday was a few days ago, and my party was fun and BONUS: I got lots of presents from my family and friends. I love presents. 

Because my mom is reading this is I will say that my favorite present was this pair of socks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Other Prayer

To Be Near Unto God by Abraham Kuyper is a series of devotional reflections on Psalm 73. Today I read number ten, "Seek Ye My Face," in which Kuyper meditates on the various ways and depths of experience of knowing God. He distinguishes between knowing God in a doctrinal and in a mystical way.

In looking at the language that we use to speak about knowing God or knowing another person, Kuyper says, “The face, the countenance speaks; speaks by its entire expression, but especially through and by the eye. The eye is as a window of the body through which we look into another’s soul, and through which he comes out of his soul, to see us, scan, and address us.” It follows, he suggests, that the “face of God” is a prominent image in our seeking Him and his seeking us: “…our walk with God could not be illustrated otherwise than by the privilege of being permitted to meet God face to face.”

In the sweaty, selfish, rude world that I inhabit, a world of physical realities like dirty dishes and sore knees and the smell of urine on the bathroom floor, I have to bring myself to a full internal mental stop before I can change gears and find meaning in metaphorical and anthropomorphic language about God. God does not look like George Burns. I get that. “The imagery which here must lend support remains wrapped in mystical dimness,” Kuyper wrote. “A visible face exhibits what is corporeal, and God is spirit.” We are merely using the image of a face.

Kuyper urges us to employ this image to put ourselves in the way of being close to God, close enough to see His “face”—so that “he looks at us and we at him”:

“The main thing is that we no longer satisfy ourselves with a conception of God, a scientific knowledge of God, or a speaking about God, but that we have come in touch with God himself; that we have met Him, that in and by our way through life He has discovered us to ourselves, and that a personal relation has sprung up between the Living God and our soul.”

In my reading and in my prayer, in my spiritual life, in every aspect of my life at this point, I am all-consumed with grief. I mostly cannot care deeply about anything else but about how much I miss Aidan. I find moments of delight with M. Peevie and Mr. Peevie, and rarer ones with C. Peevie because he’s not at home and often out of touch. But those moments are fleeting, and the minutes and hours in between are filled with either longing for Aidan and missing him, or intentionally trying to push that ache to the background so I can concentrate on something else. Trying to push the grief away is like trying not to notice that Benedict Cumberbatch just walked into the room. It's just not going to happen.

So when I read Kuyper, and remember that God is here, God is All, God is personal, and God offers me a relationship with Himself—I think to myself, I should try to act like I believe this, instead of behaving like a practical atheist. If I take this heavy burden to God in prayer, if I seek God’s face, maybe I will find some comfort there.

My prayers are so selfish and self-centered. Really, pretty much 98 percent of my thoughts, actions and words are selfish and self-centered. I’m just trying to get through the day without breaking up into a million Aidan-missing pieces.

Kuyper concludes this meditation with these words: 

“There is a moment in the life of the child of God when he feels the stress of the inability to rest, until he finds God; until after he has found Him, he has placed himself before Him, and standing before Him, seeks His face; and he cannot cease that search until he has met God’s eye, and in that meeting has obtained the touching realization that God has looked into his soul and he has looked God in the eye of Grace. And only when it has come to this the mystery of grace discloses itself.”

This makes me wonder, and hope, that perhaps if there is a God, He is somehow available to me, and that I might actually find comfort and relief by seeking His face. It does not make sense to my troubled, messed-up mind, which only wants Aidan and misses him and cannot fathom the egregious wrong of his sudden, traumatic, and premature death. It does not make sense that anything but Aidan can salve this wound—but I do believe, or at least I want to believe, that this is what God wants to do for me, and can do for me.

Maybe these words can be my prayer, because I have no other.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Flies, Fairy Tales, and Shakespeare

Somebody left the screen door open, and now our house is overrun with flies. I keep killing them with fat insurance envelopes and a TCF Bank flyer printed on sturdy coated stock. I wish I had a fly swatter, but thank gooodness we still live in a world where there's junk mail.

C. Peevie has killed a few flies also, and likes to brag about it. 
Brooke's Brave Little Tailor
He walked out of the bathroom and said, "I just killed another fly."

"Me too," I said. "I added three more notches to my belt this morning."

"You put the notches on your belt?" he asked. "I put them on my knife." I pictured him throwing a Bowie knife and pinning flies to the wall, their tiny legs flailing. 

He is apparently unfamiliar with the Grimm fairy tale, The Brave Little Tailor--so I sent him the link.

"Read it," I told him. "Clearly, your education has been sadly neglected."

"OK," he said. 

We both know he won't. You might want to re-read this clever story, however. It's more entertaining than I remembered.

The flies, however, who understood no German, would not be turned away. 
When he drew it away, and counted, there lay before him no fewer than seven, dead and with their legs stretched out.
His heart wagged with joy like a lamb's tail.

I could go on--but I'll just let you read it for yourself.

There are good reasons to read fairy tales even beyond the fact that they're entertaining.  Albert Einstein is questionably credited with saying, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Whether he actually said those words or not, the essence of the quote -- that developing the imagination is key to an educated mind -- correlates with his belief that "imagination is more important than knowledge." Others have extolled the value of the imagination for learning, success, and life as well. 

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night. --Edgar Allan Poe
Imagination rules the world! --Napoleon Bonaparte

You can find dozens of pages of quotes on BrainyQuotes, ThinkExist, and similar sites--but the chain of proper attribution on these sites unreliably begins and ends at "I read it on the Internet!"

I don't know how I got from a fly infestation to Shakespeare, but I leave you with these words from Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, 
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt;
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heavne to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Not Yet.

"Made his final transition."

"Crossed the river."

"Passed on/away."

"Went to be with the Lord."


A euphemism is "the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant" (Merriam-Webster). This website offers more than 200 euphemisms for death.

It's still hard, a year and a half later, to say the words, "Aidan died." They stick in my throat like a cinnamon challenge. When I say them, I have to clench my jaw and swallow to hold my facial muscles in place. I don't mind the tears one little bit -- but I hate my lack of control over the ugly, contorted facial expressions of grief.

But I refuse to make this unacceptable death more palatable with euphemism or spiritual platitudes. I don't want anyone to get the impression that there is anything right or OK about the fact that I have to live the rest of my life without seeing, touching, or hearing my son. Aidan, a fourteen-year-old boy on the cusp of manhood, gentle and kind, enthusiastic about learning, funny, quirky nearly to the point of diagnosis--this child died a sudden, harsh death; and we are left with memories, photographs, and flashes of PTSD.

Both C. Peevie and M. Peevie dreamed about Aidan recently; and both of them woke up sobbing into the reality that Aidan is gone. Euphemizing this death does not make it easier. In fact it makes it harder, in a way, by minimizing the harsh reality of our future without him.

I recently attended a funeral where the euphemisms, especially the spiritual ones, were on everyone's lips. There seemed to be a conspiracy to substitute spiritual bromides for real emotion and authentic grief. 

"He's in a better place," they said. "He's still with us; I can feel him."

At one point I offered my condolences to a relative of the deceased. He said, "It's OK. Everything is OK." 

I looked at him in disbelief. 

"No," I said, "It's not OK. Nothing is OK." 

Mr. Peevie echoed my words: "It's NOT OK," he said. 

I saw him two more times that afternoon, and both times he reiterated, "It really is OK."

I realized in retrospect that this was a coping mechanism--but at the time I felt so furious at those words I wanted to have a temper tantrum and say fuck a lot. 

I am still -- almost exactly one year and nine months later -- in the place where every death is Aidan's death, and every funeral is Aidan's funeral. Every grief, every sorrow, every loss is connected to Aidan in a way that I don't really understand. When the grieving relative said, "It's OK", it felt like he was telling me that I should feel that Aidan's death is OK. 

A few days ago the New York Times printed a letter in Philip Galanes' Social Q's column from a woman whose 18-year-old son died a year ago from an undiagnosed heart condition. She said she and her husband 

find it extremely distressing when people we haven't seen in the last year rush up to us at social events to tell us how sorry they are and how they 'just can't imagine' our loss. We know they mean well, but it makes us overwhelmingly sad and ruins festive occasions...What can we do to stop people from launching into their grief for us?

Mr. Galanes suggested a line to divert the conversation--but then took it one step further.

And for the rest of us, hold back, even though our hearts are pure. Sending a condolence note or even an email allows the bereaved to deal with our sympathy in their own time. Let them bring up their loss in conversation, not us.

All of this is very upsetting to me. If I see someone for the first time since Aidan died, I expect and hope that the first words out of their mouths are,"I'm so sorry about Aidan." Because guess what? This is in the front of my mind. All. The. Time. Someone expressing their condolences doesn't make me overwhelmingly sad because I'm already overwhelmingly sad. It doesn't ruin festive occasions because for me, there is already a damper on every occasion, festive or otherwise. We are never without the presence of Aidan's absence.

I find myself avoiding festive occasions not because I dread people bringing up our loss, but because I resent it when people avoid the subject. 

And this whole business of 'let them bring up their loss' is for the birds. I'm sorry, but it is. I will gratefully accept your sympathetic concern and your fond remembrances of my son. But I am not going to hijack the conversation at a social occasion by bringing it up myself. 

The letter writer, of course, gets to deal with her grief in whatever manner feels most helpful and appropriate to her. But please do not take Mr. Galanes' advice about avoiding the one topic that is foremost on the mind of any bereaved person. Say your words of condolence--and then follow her lead. Respect her choice if she says, "Let's talk about this another time." But chances are, she will be grateful you took the risk. For a brief moment, you will have given her a gift, and you will have made her sorrow a mite less lonely.  

Eventually, I hope, I will be able to keep my own grief separate, and allow others the comfort of their own coping mechanisms, rituals, and euphemisms graciously and without judgment. But not yet. Not yet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Unabashed: Five Shopping Days to Go

My birthday is a day when I unabashedly receive all sorts of love and attention and presents from my minions, as well as from my friends and family.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm unabashed about receiving love and attention and presents every day of the year. But especially so on my birthday, and during my birth-week and birth-month.
Aidan in costume. Can you guess who he is?

Last year was the first year since 2008 that I did not post a birthday wish list. I only wanted one thing last year. I still want Aidan back. But now, after spending a year and a half figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other--which is essentially what grief is--I have found that I can find moments here and there of peace and joy and contentment, even while my heart is broken.

So, with no further ado, and with a mere five shopping days to go, here's my 2014 birthday wish list:

1. Say Aidan's name to me. This is very simple. You don't have to have a script. I was texting my friend Soap about some assorted topics, and then suddenly I get a text from her that just read "Aidan today." I texted back "Aidan today what?", and she said, "I am thinking about him and wanted to say his name to you." I loved this. 

2. The recovery of the 200+ Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorists more than a month ago. I just heard that they've been located.

3. Diet Coke. I know, I know--it's bad for me. So is pollution, but I'm still gonna breathe.

4. A hanging flower pot for the backyard. It doesn't have to be this elaborate.

5. An agent or publisher for my almost-finished novel.

6. Good Lord Bird by James McBride. I despise and eschew our selfie culture, but I took a selfie anyway with my friend The Generous Listener (TGL) at #FFWgr because James McBride was signing autographs in the background. His book sounds like a delightful and completely new take on the John Brown story.

OK, that'll do it for this year. Happy shopping!

[Update: Apparently James McBride's people do not allow unauthorized use of James McBride's image on wildly popular personal blogs with upwards of seven loyal followers. OK, whatever.] 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hashtag FFWgr, Part Two: The Reading List

In case you missed part one, you can read it here.

I promised to put together a reading list based upon the books and authors I heard cited at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2014. I've organized the list list into four categories: books about writing, works of fiction, books about faith, other non-fiction, and poetry and poets.  The list that follows is only partially annotated because there were SERIOUSLY a LOT of books and authors mentioned. I got tired of annotating and linking. Sorry.

Books about writing

Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction
--This is a college textbook. Interestingly, Amazon only offers an option to rent the book for a semester; it's not available for purchase new. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for $43.98, or on EBay for $52.89.

Kenneth Burke, Permanence and ChangeA Grammar of Motives.
--the latter work offers the dramatistic pentad, a model for analyzing narratives to understand human motivations and predict behavior. The five rhetorical elements include act, scene, agent, agency (or method or means), and purpose (or motive). 

A]ny complete statement about motives will offer some kind of answer to these five questions: what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)." -Kenneth Burke

Annie Dillard*
--Mr. Peevie presciently gave me The Writing Life for Christmas, so I will be starting there.

Sol Stein, On Writing
Just reading the description of On Writing from Stein's own website makes me want to drop everything and read it, and while I'm reading it, start revising my novel-in-progress.

Works of fiction

Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman
--I think I need to read more Margaret Atwood.

Raymond Carver*, Cathedral Stories,*, especially the short story A Small Good Thing; What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
--Carver's name was invoked at least three times during FFW.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
--I'm embarrassed that I have not read this yet, and I just downloaded it to my Kindle for zero dollars and zero cents.

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
--If it took Harold Bloom three times to make it all the way through Blood Meridian, I don't hold much hope for my own ability to do so any time in the next century. But it's on the list anyway, because Bloom says McCarthy "has attained genius with that book."

Flannery O'Connor*, the short stories Good Country People and Revelation
--I have the complete short stories downloaded to my Kindle and ready for my summer beach reading; and I just read Good Country People for free here. Read Revelation for free here.

William Faulkner, Barn Burning, A Rose for Emily
Read Barn Burning for free here. Read A Rose for Emily for free here.

Ernest Hemingway, The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber

Khaleid Hosseini, The Mountains Echoed

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
--Here's a switch: instead of reading it, listen to it!

Barbara Kingsolver

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Guy de Maupassant, The Necklace
--You probably read this one in high school, but in case you want to refresh your memory, you can read it online here.

John Steinbeck, The Chrysanthemums

Joyce Carol Oates, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

Mark Twain

Anne Tyler, The Beginner's Goodbye

Books about faith

Walter Brueggemann
--There are 68 publications listed on his Wikipedia page; where is a beginner to begin? That's not a rhetorical question, Internet.

George Herbert

--You can (sort of) read The Temple, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations online--but you may need a stronger prescription in your glasses when you're done. It might be worth it. 

Julian of Norwich
--Read the complete Revelations of Divine Love online here, as well as excerpts from the Revelations.

Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism
--From the Amazon book description: Turner "argues that the distinctiveness and contemporary relevance of medieval mysticism lies precisely in its rejection of 'mystical experience,' and locates the mystical firmly within the grasp of the ordinary and the everyday." A quick look tells me I'll need to read it with my dictionary at hand.

Karth Barth

Frederic Buechner

Andrew Krivak, A Long Retreat

C. S. Lewis*, The Screwtape Letters

Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

Walker Percy*, The Second Coming

Eugene Peterson

Jan Richardson

Teresa of Avila

Other non-fiction

Henry David Thoreau
--I read Thoreau's essay The Last Days of John Brown because FFW speaker James McBride's new book, National Book Award Winner The Good Lord Bird tells John Brown's story from a brand-new perspective. I was delighted to see Thoreau refer to his neighbors as pachydermatous--which he used in reference to the thickness of their heads, not their skin. Awesome.

Mary Karr, Lit, The Liar's Club
--Stephen King wrote this about Mary Karr's writing: "I was stunned by Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality--she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years."

Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Rural Life
--Interesting. The Rural Life is a weekly column in the New York Times about life on a farm and boots getting stuck in mud and stuff. Some people think it's a little pretentious and condescending.

Michael Perry

Poetry and Poets

Maya Angelou

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Mary Oliver

Ron Padgett, Center of Gravity 

Lucy Shaw, The Crime of Living Cautiously


So now we have a reading list for the next two years--until FFW 2016 gives us another one.

Which of these books and authors have you already read? Which are you going to look for the next time you head to Myopic? (Shout out to M. Peevie--that's her favorite bookstore.)

I'm starting with Flannery O'Connor.