The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 July 2013

Of hamster balls and grocery stores

What a co-ink-i-dink. From two different people through two different sources I came across helpful - and entertaining - information about introverts.

Also co-ink-i-dentally, I disregarded my inner voice of reason and went shopping.  The kind that involved large, sprawling, crowded stores - more than one.  I should have known better. For an introvert, the task of selecting the very best broccoli in a superstore amid a large and seething crowd is not only not fun, it is draining.  Exhausting. I bought a bath mat in one over-sized store, and groceries in another, and felt at the end of it just as if I'd been on the presidential campaign trail for a month. Too much visual information, too much stimulation, too much noise, too many people. Too much! I should have gone to my local and modest grocer, but I was tempted with the thought of exotic cooking oils, and housewares.

It's not that I don't like people, it's just that y'all wear me out! One of the helpful and entertaining articles about introverts I read described us as being in a human-sized hamster ball. That is our personal space boundary, and to us it is sacrosanct. We might invite you inside it, but if you poke at it without invitation, we will get cranky. (I become abrupt and take an actual step back.)

Poking might look like the lady I work with who peppers me with personal questions in a loud voice, and the large male patrons who loom over the desk, hands braced on the counter, fingers tapping, voice booming. In both scenarios, I become a figurative porcupine, curling up around my vulnerable underbelly, protecting myself against all comers with my spiney quills. Once in defensive mode, it takes a while to uncurl again.

Few people are welcome inside my hamster ball, but the ones that are tend to appear in it without me noticing. They've somehow got the knack of breaching the walls without laying a siege. I don't know how they do it... they must suck their own personal space up nice and tight when they approach me.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm totally antisocial because I'm not. I've had wicked good times at barn dances, amusement parks, Church basement socials, and Depeche Mode concerts - but then I stay at home and crochet for a few days, needing that time to process what happened and replenish the inner reserves.

Blogging is a hamster ball friendly venue. We can get to know each other at a very safe distance, and the rules are pretty much up to me. It's ideal, really, as long as I don't rely on it to the exclusion of real life with its contingent space-invading human beings.  It's good to be challenged, to be prodded out of my hamster ball.  And to get groceries from time to time.

28 July 2013

Of writing, and letters, and writing letters

Do you ever get personal mail anymore? A card or letter addressed to you without that little window telling you someone wants to slip their fingers into your wallet?

When you do – if you do – doesn't it make you smile?

Though separated by distance, writing a letter is like spending time with the recipient. They fill our thoughts as we write. They know that we have set aside time just for them in order to write the letter. I know that she will be able to read my thoughts, my stories when she has time, maybe over a cup of tea in the evening. She will be able to return to it again and again... so I'd better make it worth the reading of it!

I have one friend in particular I write long letters to. We were nearly half a country apart for many years with little opportunity to be in the same room together, and while a phone conversation would bring her immediately into my presence and was satisfying in its own way, writing a letter allowed me to set the scene, describe a humorous event, share snippets of something I'd recently read that I knew she would enjoy. I could picture her in the comfy chair she had in her kitchen window, cat in her lap, tea and cookies beside her. I knew she would laugh out loud, prompting her husband to ask to hear it, and she would share the letter with him.

Not only does she have the freedom to take her time with the reading of it, doing so as time and inclination allow, but I also have the luxury of time with the writing of it. I can put down the pen in order to look up that funny bit in the book I wanted to share with her; I can answer the phone when call display reveals my mother's number; I can go for a walk when I've been sitting too long and come back to it reinvigorated and freshly inspired.

A letter is a connection. I will hold the same paper you did. I can tell something of your mood by the state of your penmanship. I admire the paper you chose.

“What's so often missing in our lives today is the richness of shared humanity, those moments when we feel really connected to other human beings. The act of writing personal notes not only feeds our own soul, but also lets us share ourselves with other – offering hope, affirming life, connecting.

But let's clarify. Although we have the great advantage of advanced technology and electronic gadgets that keep us instantly and constantly in touch, we often feel a deep void that can only be filled when we take a moment to reflect, experience, and reach out for another. Ironically, the can come from something as old-fashioned and simple as writing a personal note.” (Personal notes / Sandra E Lamb)

Writing a letter is 'slow communication' and like other slow movements, it's an indicator of the desire for a more intentional life. It is a creative act, an expression of self. Women, being relational creatures, do poorly in isolation. We need to connect with others; the sending and receiving of letters is a beautiful way to establish that connection.


Admitting to a fondness for the handwritten note results in a spectrum of reactions from appalled disbelief, to rosey-lensed nostalgia, to enthusiastic glee. Many people think composing by hand is outdated and a waste of time – why not use a computer with spell check? (I edited an article recently in which concur was used when conquer was meant. Good job, spell check!)

Tired of defending my position with the good-old-days argument, I began to research the merits of handwriting (some of which research involved long, ranting conversations with my sister. We solve many of the world's problems in this manner.) but it turns out there are benefits to pen and paper, and even benefits to cursive over printing. Here are a few:

In school, notes taken by hand are remembered more clearly than notes tapped into a computer.

The physical act of holding and moving a pen (or pencil, naturally) engages the brain in ways typing does not. It involves areas of the brain used for thinking, language, and memory – not so with typing which entails one action to form a letter. Cursive actually uses both hemispheres of the brain.

The ability to spell well increases with handwriting over typing – its about muscle memory as well as time and attention.

Children taught to print are quicker to learn letter recognition and to develop certain learning centres of the brain. In fact, MRI studies have shown that children who have letter instruction have neural activity similar to an adult's.

It also helps develop fine motor skills.

Writing by hand is more beneficial for formulating ideas and expression.

Test takers who answer by hand typically score higher, with more complete answers.

The handwritten requires focus. Focus is good, especially for the distractable among us. We are more focused when we write because the reticular activating system is stimulated. Its job is to give more importance to what you are actively focused on at that moment.

When composing by hand, we tend to think first, write second. The order is often reversed when a keyboard enters the picture.

As for cursive over printing, the learning of it is much easier, and there are advocates for teaching children penmanship before printing. Think of a preliterate child giving you a story they've written. It is a page filled with loops, formed from bottom to top then back down, from left to right (mostly). The motion is natural and fluid with the pen not leaving the page until the end of the word. That is another benefit, as then spacing rules are clear – a novice printer leaves awkward spacing between letters and words clouding comprehension. Because the strokes are consistent, learning letter formation is much easier than when printing which has multiple starting points.


When it comes to every day life, there are undisputed benefits of technology. Email and texting have their place. But for the personal, the meaningful, the intimate, nothing surpasses a handwritten communication.

27 July 2013

Five sentence fiction: Limitless


I ache from the sweat-soaked hair tucked under my hat to the bruised and tender toes in my boots. I push the straining, quivering muscles of my legs to move me one step higher up the path, one step nearer my destination. My feet are becoming uncertain under me, slipping on loose rocks, tangling in fallen branches, sliding into deep depressions in the dirt. It is only my will that propels me forward, in the end, to the summit. And at last I know:

 I am limitless.

26 July 2013

St. Anne and Matthew vs Massimo

Have you ever watched The Wedding Planner? I saw it recently and got to thinking that as nice as the fairy tale is, the other story also needs to be told, the story of Mary's parents who met on their wedding day, grew to appreciate, then respect, then like, then love each other.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for romance and the grand gesture. What girl isn't? But doesn't it seem like we put too much emphasis on the romance and the gesture, and not enough on the respect and the like?

Couples with successful marriages - meaning those that last - will tell you it takes work, that love doesn't sustain itself, that it doesn't always feel good and isn't always easy. Despite the dreamy dates of courtship and the creative expressions of love, marriage ends up being about who does the dishes and how to squeeze the toothpaste. Not exactly fodder for a Hollywood romcom.

The wonderful thing is that despite the work and the negotiations and the daily life of it all, those successful couples will also tell you that it gets better with time, that love does endure though it is not the same as it was (it shouldn't) and that (as one wife has told me) she still loves the smell of his shirts when she does his laundry. That is a story worth telling.

This all supposes making the right choice in the first place, the right mate, the right spouse, the right partner.  In The Wedding Planner, Jennifer Lopez (Mary) meets Matthew McConaughey and he is pretty and successful, but belongs to someone else, and frankly, is a little spineless. Her father introduces her to Massimo who promises to keep a good roof over her head and love her more than anyone else will. Mary is attracted to Matthew - he seems the ideal, and fears she would be settling with Massimo though they share a common background, and family connections (more important than we give them credit for) and he fits in with her friends. She chooses Matthew.

If Mary and Matthew were a real life couple, I believe that not long after the beautiful wedding, the reality of day to day living with the actual person rather than the idealized version would reveal the shaky foundation of their relationship.  On the other hand, perhaps Mary and Massimo, though more prosaic in their approach would end up being one of those successful couples forty years down the road talking about how it just keeps getting better and better with time. They wouldn't have had unattainable expectations, they would have entered into marriage knowing they had to work at it, and they would have given the other an opportunity to prove themselves. There would have been room for growth and willingness to grow together.

Am I reading too much into a simple movie? No doubt. Am I blowing sunshine up your shorts (I just watched Top Gun, as well) writing about marriage as a single person? You bet. It is, however, the Feast of St. Anne. I've prayed her novena these last nine days, and have been reflecting on men and marriage. I don't have any deep insights or surprising revelations. I do know that friendship is a key ingredient in a successful marriage, and I'm pretty sure Massimo makes for a better friend than Matthew.

25 July 2013

A Porch, two ways

Stretch, screech, slam

The day is measured by the thud and twang

Open and close

Of the old screen door.

Run, leap, sneak

The years pass by with the press of feet

Up and down

The wooden porch stairs.

***   ***

I would buy a house for it's deep front porch and an old, wood-framed screen door.

The porch would be L-shaped, and access both the kitchen off the short leg, and the front hall at the centre of the long leg. There would be thick, curvy corner posts and a substantial balustrade running the lengths, all in glossy white, with here and there dried nodules of paint where the previous owners hadn't caught the drips when they last touched up the faded bits. The main steps from sidewalk to front door are wide, and creak slightly, especially the third from the bottom which sags a little in the middle. The sound of enthusiastic feet thumping up and down those stairs echoes in the empty cavern under the porch, the sound of long summer days when school is out and freedom means adventures, and lemonade under the big oak.

The creaky screen door to the kitchen has a handle just big enough to fit your finger under, and you have to pull hard from outside to open the door. The coiled spring protests rustily and quickly snaps the door shut as soon as you let go. The screen mesh warps from true with the years of hands and elbows and knees pressing against it. The thud and shudder of the door closing can be heard all through the house, and mark the comings and goings of everyone under the roof.

The porch is home to soft summer evenings of iced tea in the swinging chair hanging from the ceiling. It is comic books read laying on your tummy, legs bent and swinging idly behind. It is pumpkins decorating the stairs in the Fall, and twinkle lights cheering the bleak winter nights. This porch welcomes friends and family to come in for fresh ginger cookies with a cup of coffee and a cozy chat. It is cousins playing Go Fish and grown ups sipping beer. It is where dad grills the steaks while mom hulls the strawberries and a cat follows the sun in hour-long naps. It is where we sit to listen to rain from the rockers and wave to our neighbours as they stroll by.

The porch is home.

24 July 2013

Dessert mentality

The title caught my eye and my imagination. And then I realized it actually said "Desert mentality". What a difference an ess makes!

But hang on a second. Maybe it should actually be "Dessert mentality". Instead of focusing on dry and dusty bleakness, why not reach for a little joy and sweetness right here and now? 

Because I'm having some difficulty with prayer, the misreading of dessert mentality inspired me to try to think of the devout life as something to anticipate and savour as I would a brownie. With chocolate sauce. And fresh raspberries.

The things that bring me closer to God shouldn't be the broccoli on my plate - good for me but hard to chew and kept for last. Prayer, contemplation, adoration, confession, Mass, study, fasting, are not onerous ordeals to be endured; they are opportunities and possibilities of joy and sweetness.

23 July 2013

You have only to keep still

Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today... The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still. (Gen. 14: 13,14)

How familiar, how comforting are those words: fear not! We come across them often in Scripture. Our Holy Fathers have been reminding us of them. It is good to remember them, to live by them.

That passage is from yesterday's first reading. The fear not bit was greatly appreciated, but what leapt off the page for me yesterday was what came next: the Lord Himself will fight for you.   The Lord Himself will fight for you!  You have only to keep still.

In other words, stop fretting. Stop with the faffing about, the second guessing, the worrying, the trying to force it.

Keep still.

There is so much doing going on around us; so much making, producing, achieving, striving, reaching, wanting.

Stop.  Stand your ground.  Keep still.  The Lord Himself will fight for you.

22 July 2013

Of faffing and writing: the challenge

Right. I was spending nearly every waking moment of the day at my computer - and most of that online doing very unnecessary things - pretending to write (do comments on blogs count as writing?) And then my internet connection failed and then my computer died. Coincidence or Divine intervention? Whichever it was, I got out of the habit of internet idleness and found myself actually writing On paper. And reading! Real books!

But now I'm back online, and I see it happening already, only two weeks into plugged in again. I'm faffing about and wasting time, not to mention brain cells. Argh! So I am resolved to spend less time online. Not sure exactly how I will manage to limit myself, but it must be done.

And what is one of the first things I'm going to do?  Take up Jennifer Fulwiler's challenge over at Conversion Diary to write seven posts in seven days. Barmy? Yes. I'm looking for writing prompts and challenges and this is a good one. I also think it will help direct my time online, give me something legitimate to do while logged on. Let's see if it works!

So, first topic of the blog-a-day challenge:
Office supplies!

I love them. Honest and for true, deep down love. I can spend hours - and have done - browsing the aisles of a big name office supply store. When I left New Town, my work colleagues gave me a gift certificate for that store, knowing it would be put to good use. I bring my own pens and post-its to work, and have ensured everyone knows my policy: paws off. When I go to The Giant Book Store, I head to the journals and note paper, sometimes before even looking at a proper book.
So imagine my delight yesterday, when after sipping on a lovely-but-overpriced beverage from Herman Melville's coffee shop I wandered into the bookstore to discover this:

and this:

The company is called Poppin. Their tag line is "Work happy" and honestly, who could resist being happy with such fun, vibrant, well made, well designed tools to play...err work with? The products, according the box my new - and most excellent - 'Heavy Weight' pen came in, are: Dreamt up in New York - Very well made in China for Poppin. I'm a fan.

20 July 2013

Five sentence fiction - a first go

Lillie McFerrin Writes hosts Five Sentence Fiction - a writing challenge to write five sentences inspired by a one word prompt. The current word is wisdom.

Here is my little ditty inspired by Wisdom:

She hovers over the waters of creation, a Divine presence in the world. Sea and sky stretch to touch at the horizon; each blue, each seething, each seeking to rule the other. Fish, bird, and beast live to swim, and fly, and run, and in the doing are fulfilled. Man stands at the centre, where sea and sky meet, his purpose not merely to roam but to live – no, to be wholly and entirely alive. Wisdom bestows her gift on him; he quickens, and in the doing, is united with the Divine.

Sophia Wisdom of God

18 July 2013

St. Anne

St. Anne by da Vinci

St. Anne, St. Anne find me a man; find me a good man as fast as you can.

The feast day of St. Anne is approaching (July 26), and there is just enough time to pray the novena (I prayed day one this morning, will do day two before bed. Sometimes it's the spirit of the law that counts, folks!)

Though prayer has been a challenge of late (and by that I mean since Easter it's been just about nonresistant, but more on that elsewhere) I feel the need to do this.  I have a beautiful statue of St. Anne from the awe inspiring shrine in Quebec, St. Anne de Beaupre. For days now, maybe even weeks, I've been feeling nudges to call on her help.  So, while she is traditionally known for helping women who are seeking husbands, in true grandmotherly fashion, I think she and I will spend some quiet time together over a cuppa and some biscuits as we sort things out.

Not to say that I won't also welcome her help with the husband seeking.

The Novena can be found here, at EWTN

St.Anne-de-Beaupre, Quebec

17 July 2013

The author photo

We did a backwards display of books at work a few months ago, with the back of the books books facing out, showing the author's photo, challenging our patrons to guess who it was, based just on the picture of the authors they know so well.

Many of them are good for a giggle. Some try to look very scholarly, sober, and serious. Some try for seductive. Some just look silly with big hair and poofy dresses.

And then I came across this one. I tell you, it could totally be me, because this is exactly what I look like when I'm writing.
Laurell K. Hamilton - Affliction author photo

Of organs and backups

I used to have a line on my resume that said something about having excellent knowledge of, or proficient in, computers.

I had to take it out.

It used to be true.  I used to be the person on staff people would come to for help with formatting, saving, finding, for setting up equipment and simple trouble shooting.  It is no longer true. The world of technology has done a Millennium Falcon leap forward at warp speed, and I was left behind, barely out of training wheels. Not only am I clueless much of the time as to what to do, but I sometimes don't even understand the language. True, modern gadgets are good about asking questions like, "Are you absolutely certain you want to dismantle the network and reboot it in Hungarian?" giving you the opportunity to freak out, yelling, "What the heck does THAT mean?" before having a complete and utter melt down at your cubicle.

A few months ago I went from being a smart phone retro snob (meaning I thought smart phones were stupid) to being a smart phone owner.  I did it because the iPhone was going to be cheaper than updating my unreliable old flip-phone ($40!!  I am a bargain hunter, hear me roar!) and it turned out to be a life saver because at the same time, my old laptop gave up its ghost - twice - so it was put out to pasture. My lovely new toy prevented me from going completely cold turkey with the technology withdrawal. I've seen people in technology withdrawal.... it ain't pretty.

A week and a half ago, I finally gave in and bought me a new laptop. She (I'm thinking of calling it Margaret, after Leo's secretary from The West Wing) is a little slow, and what with the new Windows 8 business, and opting for Open Office rather than Word, I feel a little like a North American driving in Britain-- nothing is where it should be and I'm not sure how to handle the clutch left-handed.

Anyway.  This morning I wanted to set up iTunes on Margaret, and got a message an update should be installed. I kept clicking though the prompts until suddenly there was a message saying the update failed and I would lose everything, and did I want to return to factory settings? All media would be gone, contacts wiped out, etc., but Apple should give me the opportunity to rest those in the process. There was no option to go back 15 minutes and call the whole thing off, pretend it never happened. I would either unplug and have a blank, unusable shell of a phone, or leap into the dark.

I leapt. I could feel my heart in my throat. It didn't feel good. The next five minutes were pretty scary - on par with that time I went bungee jumping. I should have gone to confession first then, and I should have done a back up first now. What is it about hindsight that makes it so perfect?

All this to say, it worked out ok. I seem to have what I need on my phone, and I even signed up for yet another thing I don't really understand and probably will never use - mostly because I don't know where to find it. What a relief!

Honestly. I have discovered that though I label myself a luddite, and mock all this reliance on technology (especially when the computers go down at work and we revert to checking out books by writing numbers on a piece of paper) I admit the potential of losing my phone had me in a panic. I'm sure I could taste my heart it was so far up my throat. I suppose the responsible thing to do is to learn how to use it properly.

And the first thing I'm going to learn is how to make a backup.

14 July 2013

Cookin' down under


I've been in Melbourne with the contestants of Masterchef Australia. More accurately, the contestants have been in Melbourne; I've been in Sohoe watching them online.

Perhaps you've seen the American version, full of a bouncing, face-scrunching Brit judge and trash-talking amateur cooks. In that version of the franchise the three judges are highly critical and often unkind. I don't enjoy shows where the participants are demeaned either designed by the show or through their own behavior.

Masterchef Australia, on the other hand, tends to have lovely contestants honestly keen to learn as much about food as they can. Yes, there are a few out-sized egos - and a few nutbars - but they tend to be supportive of each other. The three judges are kind - though honest - being almost mentors to the contestants.

Australian cuisine as shown in this series is very appealing, with an enticing blend of classic French and Italian influences and then Asian and Middle Eastern flavours. Fantastic! And inspiring! Of course I'm too busy watching episode after episode online to actually do any cooking myself, but I'm inspired.

There is a rhythm to the episodes: a set challenge, either individual or team, followed by either an elimination round or a chance to cook for immunity.  These people aren't cooking mac-n-cheese either.  They do actual restaurant cooking with the prep, working the line, running the pass... the whole shebang. They've cooked against Heston Blumenthal, Curtis Stone, Jamie Oliver. They've been judged by Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay. They've had to catch and butcher their own ingredients. They've had to make selections from the pantry blind. (That was a fun challenge. One of the women wanted to do a dessert, so she wanted to find flower, sugar, milk, eggs. Take a moment to imagine in your mind what those ingredients would feel like as you groped for them along the grocery store shelves.  She came out of the pantry with a basket full of minced meat, sausage, and prawns.) Then there are Master Class episodes where a top professional chef walks us through specific techniques and recipes. For people who want to expand their repertoire, that's like learning how to bend the ball from Beckham himself!

Another reason I'm enjoying the show is the accent.  There is nothing on earth that sounds like an Aussie talking at full speed.  Have you ever heard one say, "No"? I'm sure they have 17 more vowels than the rest of the English speaking world does. I know they're speaking English, they just use words I've never heard before.

The cooking down under almost makes up for the sharks and snakes and spiders.  Almost.

10 July 2013

The books of childhood

A book just crossed my desk that made me think of 'Where the red fern grows'. Have you read it? It remains on my list of books that had a powerful impact on me as a child.

We read it as a class in grade 8 (eighth grade if you're American), one chapter per week. The story was compelling - a boy and his dogs, full of adventure - so I read ahead. It was one of those situations where you can't help yourself so you zoom through the book, but you really don't want it to end so you lament seeing the last page approaching. I remember finishing the book so clearly. It was early evening, my parents were in the living room, and I was sitting on my sister's bed. She was playing legos or something. My heart broke. It really and truly felt as though it broke in my chest. The ending was so sad, so gripping, I didn't think I'd ever get over it. I cried so hard my dad come in the room t find out what was wrong.

There were other books in childhood that linger to this day: The Little white horse, The Little princess, Anne of Green Gables - all for their hint of fantasy and magic (not spells and potions, but wonder and delight). They fed my imagination and my desire to create stories that could bring the same experience to others.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as well as Jane Eyre were important reading moments because they were my first foray into 'grown up' books. Oh, how Mr. Rochester infuriated and beguiled me! LOTR blew my mind wide open - the vastness of Tolkien's creation still astounds me.

When I was very wee, I had a set of books in Dutch about a little man who lived in a tree - a hole in the bottom of a tree trunk, not up in a tree house in the boughs. I love the woods to this day because of those books. I'd dearly love to track them down. I wonder what a Google search of "Dutch books about a man in a tree" would bring up?

We talk about books a lot here, but do tell me what are your strongest memories of childhood reading?

The little man in a tree is named Okkie Pepernoot. He's a one hundred year old elf (brownie? dwarf? Not sure on the translation). I found the series of books on the National library of the Netherlands' website, here
Somewhere there is a picture of me, about 3 years old, sitting in a little wooden chair in a courderoy jumper, white tights and knitted slippers, reading one of these books (I remember a white cover with red lettering) and a very serious scowl of concentration on my face.

05 July 2013

From the library

It's been a while since I've done any real cataloguing, so who knows how out of the loop I am. I'm just catching up on forthcoming changes with the shift from AACR2 to RDA (the world of librarianship is nearly as exciting as that of covert ops - just look at our acronyms!)

I have noticed a subject heading that makes me chuckle:
650 00 $a Immortalism $v Fiction

Immortalism?  Huh. Is that something you can study? A code to live by like relativism and conservatism? "Hi, I'm Tess, and I'm an immortalist." 

Just watch out for pesky typos that turn you into an immoralist.

And, from the humour files:
Early yesterday afternoon, a woman entered the library, and before we could see her, we heard her as her voice boomed out to fill the building as she said, "This is a VERY small library. There are some libraries that are 20 or 30 times bigger than this!"

Turns out she was touring around a young girl from Nunavut and wanted to reassure her that Ontario does have large libraries.

It's not the number of books you have that counts, but how you use them, right?

The obligation of writing

The creative urge is a wondrous thing. Bringing something into being that wasn't anything at all before is, well, miraculous.  Though my creations are constructed of words and not cells and chromosomes, I feel a little in awe of the results.  Not because they are good... I can see their faults and weaknesses. But because they came from in me. That story, that poem, that fragment, or vignette was in me and I brought it out. It took its form through me.

Awe inspiring and humbling all at once.

In one of the Peter Wimsey books, Harriet Vane explains to Peter that she understands her new husband's responsibility to use his gifts of solving crimes, just as a man with great strength uses his skill to help people, or a skilled healer helps people get well. Peter's insight and logic are his noblesse oblige.  Peter turns around and tells Harriet that her ability to write entertaining stories is her noblesse oblige. Her gift is also valuable, a contribution to the quality of life of those she shares the gift with.

That, too, is rather awe inspiring and humbling.

It's time to dig up some old ideas I've got resting in a WIP file and set them free.
My thanks to KR for the prompts and suggestions!

Point of view: Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham and Isaac is a powerful one, a sobering one. It is a story of faith.

The details are familiar: God calls a righteous man, and asks him to give up his son in the most appalling way imaginable. Abraham accepts, and obediently embarks on a three day journey with Isaac (3 days - no detail is left to coincidence in our story of salvation). As they approach the site, Abraham asks Isaac to carry the wood which is to be the means of his own death.

We are told that Isaac was bound in place and his father was about to deal the death blow. An angel of the Lord intervened, preserving Isaac's life.

Abraham had earlier told Isaac, "God will provide" and indeed He did, for in a nearby thicket was a ram, which Abraham used to make an offering to the Lord. That detail gets me every time: God overlooks nothing, and He provides everything.

Reading this passage again yesterday morning, I wondered what Isaac's story is. Hearing the account emphasizing Abraham's heroic demonstration of faith and trust, the lesson for us is clear. But what does Isaac have to tell us?

03 July 2013

Small Island – Book review

The Great Reading Project

It is finished. With much moaning, plenty of avoidance, and at times even a penitential spirit, I have fought my way through 438 pages of Andrea Levy’s Small Island. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

The small island of the title refers to Jamaica and England – and I think it could also refer to us as individuals, we who work at keeping ourselves apart from others.

One of the ways we do so, and a major theme of the book is prejudice. ‘Small Island’ is rife with it. It is demonstrated by the Americans against the blacks (the ‘n’ word is used jarringly and often) by the British against ‘the darkies’, and also against other Brits of a lower class, and among the Jamaicans against other Jamaicans with a darker skin or a less refined accent.

Each one of the characters (except Arthur, a mute father-in-law) exhibits prejudice or harsh judgement. Each of them, in fact, is unpleasant, unsympathetic. It takes a bold and confident author to allow her characters to be who they are and not endow them with some borrowed amiability.

While I often wanted to put the book down for good, now that I’ve reached the end, I’m really glad I persevered. Taking the story as a whole rather than four chopped up narratives, I can appreciate Levy’s skill at capturing dialect, invoking a mood, unveiling a character. There are also beautiful passages of prose, and a few very humorous moments such as this:

This was war. There was hardship I was prepared for – bullet, bomb, and casual death – but not for the torture of missing cow-foot stew, not for the persecution of living without curried shrimp or pepper-pot soup. I was not ready, I was not trained to eat food that was prepared in a pan of boiling water, the sole purpose of which was to rid it of taste and texture. How the English built empires when their armies marched on nothing but mush should be one of the wonders of the world. I thought it would be combat that would make me regret having volunteered, not boiled-up potatoes, boiled-up vegetables – grey and limp on the plate like they had been eaten once before. Why the English come to cook everything by this method? Lucky they kept that boiling business as their national secret and did not insist that the people of their colonies stop frying and spicing up their food. (pg 105,106)

I didn’t like the structure of the novel. Each character narrates his own portion, sometimes in the past, sometimes the present. One event might be told twice from two different perspectives, which admittedly was interesting. More than halfway through the book, the fourth character appeared. You’d think that would be too late to have an impact on the plot, but apart from his own story which didn’t encourage me to hold him in affection, his appearance was when the story really took off for me, and I started to root for the sorry cast of characters.

Glad I am to have come to the end of it, and glad I am to have read it.

So far so good for the GRP!

Next up: Gift from the sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (replacing her Bring me a unicorn)


Small Island  - Andrea Levy
Inferno – Dante
Heart of the matter – Graham Greene
The Snakepit – Sigrid Undset
Sound and the fury – William Faulkner
Man and woman – Alice Von Hildebrand
The Cloistered Heart – Nancy Shuman
Invisible man – Ralph Ellison
Masterful Monk (series) – Owen Francis Dudley
Shepherd’s castle – George MacDonald
Last light – Terri Blackstock
84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
Bring me a unicorn – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Unlocked – Karen Kingsbury