Thursday, October 29, 2009

More social media -- but I think I'm wiser now.

At my mom's funeral service, as I was getting a sympathetic hug from my great-aunt Joyce, I heard her ask close by my ear, "Are you on Facebook?"

I avoided joining Facebook for a really long time, for many reasons. One, I have a MySpace account, but I hardly ever go to the site anymore -- I'm a little embarrassed to have a page on MySpace. Second, we're not allowed to access Facebook at work. I'm totally fine with that, as I have plenty of work to do! Social media is often a distraction, and we don't need extra distractions at work. Third, a Facebook account would distract me, and take time away, from OTHER things I need and want to do during my busy outside-of-work everyday life.

So why did I sign up? Well, for one thing, I've always liked my great-aunt Joyce, and she's a great-grandmother for crying out loud, and if even she is on Facebook, chances are that some 90% of the people I know and want to keep in touch with are also on Facebook. (My best friend, Marie P. in Maine, doesn't currently have internet access at home or work, but bought a laptop and created a Facebook account, and can use wi-fi at the library or coffee shops to get online and stay in touch.)

Second, I've been listed on Classmates and on Reunion (oops, excuse me, it's called "MyLife" now) for a long time, but rarely do anything on there, because you have to pay for a membership level that actually allows you to contact people. I realized recently that if I think of old friends from high school or college that I want to get back in touch with, if I see them on Facebook, I can send a note or "Friend" them for free. There's a no-brainer for ya!

Third, as I noted in the title of this post, I think I'm wiser now than I was when I got a MySpace account. One of the reasons I signed up was because several cast members from The Office had MySpace pages, and they actually kept them updated themselves! I mean, Jenna Fischer, better known as the Pam half of "Jim-and-Pam" or JAM, Jenna Fischer had a MySpace page! I sent a comment to the guy who plays Toby, and he actually wrote back! I had just fallen for all things Office, and there were Office castmembers and Superfans on MySpace that I could connect and laugh with. It was FUN!

But where was I? Oh yes, how I'm wiser now. There are a lot of fantastic people on MySpace, but there were very few people I actually knew in real life. The people I'm "friending" on Facebook are all PEOPLE I ALREADY KNOW. They are friends, relations, or professional colleagues who maybe aren't honest-to-God "friends," but people with whom I am friendly. (I do consider some of my librarian colleagues to be my friends as well.) So there's the main difference: on Facebook, I can be a Fan of The Office or Patty Griffin, but I plan to be Friends only with my friends. :-)

Friday, October 23, 2009

24 Hour Read-a-thon -- on the 24th!

The 24 Hour Read-a-thon is new to me -- like Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I first heard about it from the book bloggers I follow on Twitter. I thought it would be cool to do, but then life got busy (who am I kidding? My life is always busy!), and now the event is practically here, and I never did sign up as a reader or cheerleader, or make any plans to participate. But we don't have any basketball games this weekend, or other big commitments, so I hope to spend some time with books, both print and audio. (Being in Massachusetts over last weekend means a double dose of housecleaning to do this weekend, so I definitely need to find my next audiobook ASAP!)

Wishing my fellow readers a very merry bookish weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's been 8 days; do I feel sad enough?

Not long after midnight on October 14, my mother quietly passed away into the next world. I spent hours on the phone with people -- family, and the funeral director, and various nursing home and hospice staff -- and got the arrangements made, and I flew to Boston early last Friday. I spent some time in South Station with a late lunch, paper and pen, and my memories. I took a train down to Mansfield, where my cousin Valerie (and her three kids) picked me up; I stayed with her, Chris, and the kids in Taunton, and they always make me feel welcome. We had a short service on Saturday morning, and although my mother was going to be cremated, I'd wanted to have her embalmed so I could see her that last time, so I could say goodbye to more than an urn of ashes. (My father was not embalmed, and was cremated before I got back to Massachusetts. I wanted some closure this time, dammit.) The service was simple, but I believe Ma would have liked it, and so I liked it, and am proud of myself for it, I feel it was just right, and fitting for her.

During Kyle's basketball game earlier tonight, I said to Jeff, "It's only been eight days. It seems like I'm not sad enough. Do you think there's something wrong with me?" He sort of shook his head, sort of shrugged. "Are you worried that I'm taking it too well?" He said no. Then I said, "Oooohhhh, you're just too worried about yourself and your own problems." (I wasn't accusing, just direct.) Yes, he admitted that's probably true.

The week of October 5, we just got more bad news than we ever wanted. On Monday the 5th, Jeff reported to work as usual, and barely more than an hour later, he called to tell me he'd been laid off; his position was eliminated. Thankfully he has severance payments for a couple months, so we're holding steady, but it's still quite a shock, and we're both concerned about what he'll do next.

On the afternoon of October 6, my mom's hospice nurse, Sherry, called to let me know my mom had "had a decline." I had gotten a call from the social worker, Jerilyn, but couldn't talk because I had someone "shadowing" me from another agency that morning. Jerilyn and I didn't talk until Wednesday, and by then, one of the facility's nurses had called me and was ALSO using the word "decline." In talking with Jerilyn on Wednesday and Thursday, I began to accept that my mom had turned that last corner. She was moving down a straight path toward death, and she had accepted that. She said she'd been seeing my father for a few weeks, that she was ready to go home.

I am not crying, right now. It's very strange. I have cried, during her last hours, and during this past week -- even today, a little bit -- and you and I both know I'll cry again, many times. But I know that she is at peace, and she is with my dad. My mother was not a happy person ... but I believe she is happy now. I also feel that my mom and I really didn't leave anything "unfinished." Our relationship was good, in the last couple years. I had come to accept her as she was, to understand her shortcomings; and I knew that she loved me and was proud of me.

I could share more details about the last pages of my mother's life, and the service we had -- and maybe I will write more of those things down in the coming weeks or months, at least for myself, so I have a record of the timeline. But I also think that my relationship with my mother, and the ways that our lives have intersected in spite of my wish to NOT be like her, is truly an odyssey, an epic. I could write hundreds of pages about her, and about us together; she was one complicated woman. So, I wanted to post about her death, but I don't want to dwell on it too much, or at least not here in my blog. To properly present my mother, I would need far more time than I have in my daily life, and far more space than a blog page should consume.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Discovering a mesmerizing novel: Florida

Last spring, I bought two books by a new-to-me author from the clearance shelves at Hastings. Her name is Christine Schutt, and I'd never heard of her. Besides the clearance price of $2.99, I remember two other things that drew me to the novel Florida: first, that's also the title of a Patty Griffin song I just adore, and second, among the collection of review quotes was one from John Ashbery. Now, Ashbery is a poet - one of the most respected living poets in America, with a career reaching back over 40 years. Unless it's from an author who writes both poetry and fiction (Margaret Atwood jumps to mind), you don't usually see praise from poets on the covers of novels. Ashbery called the book "an amazing achievement," said it had "the same brilliancy of close observation that distinguished her collection of stories Nightwork." Since Nightwork was also on the clearance shelf, I bought that, too.

After I finished reading Daphne, and before I received my copy of my book group's October selection, I decided to give Florida a try. High praise, apparently a "National Book Award Finalist" according to the seal on the front, and just over 150 pages -- just a quick novel in between my other reading "commitments."

I can't express how much I enjoyed the language in this book. The plot is quite straightforward, but the real pull of the book is young Alice's narration, her descriptions of what happens around her, and how she feels and reacts. As she grows older, her voice becomes more mature, more "knowing," but there is always a sense of dreamscape about things, a tension between what is real, what is believed to be real, and what is wished for.

I need to share some passages that struck and moved me.

I believed then that any gesture I made was felt; I believed I could make the unhappy happy just by my attentions.
"I think you're pretty," I said with my fist around the money of a compliment, but the veiled crone asked, "Who taught you to lie like that?" (p. 25)

"The reason we are rich," Aunt Frances said, "is because I am frugal."
Uncle Billy disagreed. He said, "The reason we are rich is because we are rich." (p. 41)

My father is a name and the black oily roots of hair in damp, creased places. My father is a cutout--stark, defined--a standard man as seen by me from behind. (p. 82)

The passing scenery is passing. (p. 82)

I was glad to be the one leaving--for camps and schools and college--but my intention was always to come back. (p. 83)

The urge to loll in a warm place is the same wherever I go. (p. 100)

I wander in bookstores; the fear of doing something ugly and private in front of everyone no longer seizes me. I have to summon it up for a fright, and I forget to summon it up. I am happy, happier. The newness of books for the young I teach, the way they read them as if no one before had ever rightly read them or understood them, the press and the pressure of loving books, a book, a book of poems, a poem and the poet who wrote it, and then the sorrow to discover the poet is dead! "We can only meet in air," says the dead poet. We mourn them, the students and I; they live on in their verses. I am the go-between in this romance, stalled in the clogged hallway between classes, in the breakup between classes. Even before they speak to me, they are out of breath and urgent and surprised by an older face close up. (pp. 152-153)

Last weekend, I returned a book to the library, and decided to stop by the Booktique to browse a little while. There's a bookcase with clearance items just inside the door -- fifty cents each, and usually nothing I want, but at that price I gotta look them over. When I saw the name Christine Schutt, and a title I didn't have, I snatched it up, and knew it was a wonderful day.