Monday, October 25, 2010

Pat Conroy

It's not often that a writer can truly change your life, turn on the lightbulb on your shadow side and yet, this is the role that Pat Conroy's books have had in my life.

The first of his novels I read was 'The Prince of Tides' upon a bookseller's recommendation.  I bought it on a Friday night and finished it at 3 in the am on Sunday morning.  I couldn't stop reading it, but when I finished, I walked it out to the dumpster and chucked it.  It was the first and last time I have done so in my life.  Several years later, after my mother died, I started therapy.  Judy listened for several sessions and her first real comment was 'Your family reminds me of that one in 'The Prince of Tides''.  As hard as it was to believe, I also had to check it out. Sure enough, I found many, many similarities to my family.  My mother was the beautiful, redhead Southern belle (although she never remarried after my parents divorced) and my father greatly resembled psychodynamically the father in the book.  I was the oldest, though female, I have a sib who is mentally ill and another who bucks the system.  I myself have issues with trauma and depression.  The same was true of his earlier books; he captured neatly his own hell and that of my family. 

Since then I have read everything but 'The Boo', his cookbook and his latest book, "My Reading Life'.  His books have validated that it is possible to survive almost anything, although one may be scarred in the process.  In many ways his books have validated the strength of the human spirit. 

However, they also demonstrate the cost of honesty:  his family was torn apart by his book, 'The Great Santini'.  His mother's side of the family protested it, he lost contact with his father for many years.  It also affected one of his marriages enough that the marriage ended in divorce.  'The Prince of Tides' damaged his relationship with one of his sisters.  One also has to suspect the great pain the books cost him when writing them.

In his books before 'South of Broad', one gets the feeling that he will never be able to resolve some of these family issues and that they will forever plague them.  Since I identify with the books so much, this has always been hard to note.

However, the tone of 'South of Broad' is very different.  He has a loving, gentle father.  His mother is not so sexy or as much of a social climber as the mothers in his other books.  While terrible things happen, they are things that can happen to any of us (no wild tigers, convict rapists, etc.). 

Most importantly, the main character, Leo, is able to appreciate the goodness in his life without the desperation the main characters have done in the past.  He can see people as a whole, good or bad, in a more balanced way than previous characters.  And finally, he is able to reconcile and forgive with his mother and father.

I hope the tone of  'South of Broad' means that Mr. Conroy has been able to find peace in his life and healing, if not a cure.  I hope the scars have faded.  I wish him peace.

And I have the same hope for myself.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


For a long time I've know I had too much stuff; I've been told that for an even longer time.  Most of my adult life it has been very hard to get rid of most anything and I've devoted considerable energy to replacing things I've lost.

At some point after I started taking the current mix of antidepressants, the idea at least became feasible, although it was shortly after that I had to put most things in storage while my then landlord was having work done to the house.  And, this last move, I did not have much prep time, so once again, I packed things I may not have otherwise.

I've never had any insight into why......why do I keep these things, especially when they are broken, have no sentimental value and I know I will never use it?  Now, not all my things in storage are like that.  I have some very lovely things like my grandmother's china, a set of silver, some antique quilts, quilttops.  But alot of it is just....stuff.

I just got it.  I've been reading Shari Gaynor's 'Creative Awakenings'.  One of the artists featured, Suzanne Simantais, struggles with the same issue.  She said some things that switched the light on:

'That's why it's so sad and so difficult to get rid of all this stuff.  It feels like I'm abandoning the dreams that go with it.' 

(I thought of Langston Hughes' poem, 'A Dream Deferred' when I read this.)


'Now, six years later, I am miserable where I should be happy.  Not only am I drowning in clutter, but I am also disappointed, even embarrassed, that in no way does my home reflect my true self...Wait, let me rephrase that...This mess does reflect the current state of my mind.  I see that in addition to dejunking my environment, I must declutter my brain and ditch the thought patterns that have created the situation.'

'And there's the real problem that lurks beneath all this hoarded stuff:  perfectionism.  Not only do I hesitate to toss stuff, I hesitateto use it because I fear wasting it.  I am afraid I'll be unable to create the desired outcome, so I don't even try.  Perfectionism causes clutter, throughout my environment and inside my head.'

and finally

'I chuck the least attractive....and return two to their drawer.  Hey, it improves he situation by one-third.  I choose to be proud of this small step.'


After contemplating these words for about a week, today I got rid of

-two arm chairs
-two throw cushions
-a store display 'spinner'
-a bag of clothes
-30 gallons of recyclables, mostly paper
-30 gallons of garbage,

all out of my living room.  Now I will have room for my grandmother's rocking hair and the red cabinet.  I can bring in the two houseplants because there is enough room.  And my cat can stretch out on the floor.

I also wiped down most of the hard surfaces in the room before I totally pooped out.

It feels good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Memorable Monday

Felt good after swimming yesterday.

Today was special because I got to pet a dog and hold a baby.

Also, I have a client, 89 y.o., who has been estranged from her two children for most of their adult life.  The oldest  re-connected with her several years ago.  The youngest, she would never talk about and said she would never tell the oldest about the youngest.

Recently she admitted she would like to know what happened to the youngest.  I asked if she would like met to try to locate her if I had some 'free time' at work.  She said yes.

I sent out three letters Friday to possible individuals--and hit the bull's eye.  Today I got a call from the youngest child, who has been searching for her mother for years and years.  She was in tears to know her mother was still alive.  I told her that tomorrow or Wednesday, I would let the client know about our conversation.

Not only would I like those two to re-connect, I want to re-connecct the two siblings.

Maybe it is in the realm of possibilities.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Crocheting is my creative focus this fall.  I've been crocheting off and on since middle school.  I used to do very fine thread crochet, but cannot due to nerve damage in my dominant hand. After that, I gave up on it for years.

I started again this fall as I saw some of the new ways of doing things come out; enlarging traditional patterns (think exploded crochet by Doris Chan), old motifs reworked, freeform crochet. 

Americans frequently have  a hard time quieting down enough to meditate because we are so focussed on doing.  There is a book I have which I can't wait to re-read called " Zen and the Art of Drawing" if I remember correctly.  It confronted this issue and used plein air and life drawing as a compromise solution.  By focussing on an item or scene or person, one could achieve some of the same benefits as meditations while doing something.  Looking back, I think the writer was trying to accomplish the predomal state of entering 'flow'.  Flow itself cannot be engendered just because someone enjoys the state. But by practice and discipline, one can reach the predomal state more frequently and easily, thereby allowing for the more frequent occurence of flow. 

But for many of us, the predomal state of quieting physically and mentally is  enough.

Crocheting is one of many ways I can bring on the predomal phase.  It occupies my intellect enough so I don't have thoughts wandering into icky places and I end up with something useful and beautiful.

Currently I have a mini-poncho going out of fingering weight marino wool that is handdyed green and lavender.  I am also working a traditional, thread doily up in yellow 'Sugar and Creme' cotton yarn.  I am hoping it will be large enough to make into a shawl or shrug of some kind.  Pictures later.