Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This magnificent book is a novel about the human spirit, how it lives and how it dies.   It’s about World War II, and the mad attempt to build a railroad through Thailand in the service of the Japanese emperor. The British said such a railroad could never be built, but the Japanese said, “We will do it because we are endowed with the Japanese spirit.” And they did it, with the help of methamphetamine and 3000 laborers and Australian prisoners of war, many of whom died from starvation, disease or brutality. Years after returning to Australia, the protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, realizes that “to have been part of a Pharonic slave system that had at its apex a divine sun king led him to understand unreality as the greatest force in life.” Helping to build the Death Railroad wasn’t the only unreality in Dorrigo’s life. He sensed that the death of his spirit began in Thailand, where he felt compelled to play the role of the heroic camp doctor. After the war, he continued to live up to the expectations of others. He married a society woman he was never sure he loved. He fathered three children, but they remained strangers to him while he poured his energy into his career and the distracting pursuit of pleasure. He lost himself somewhere along the way.  The novel takes its title from a travelogue written in haiku by a 17th-century Japanese Buddhist named Basho, who took a long journey through Japan’s deep north to experience the beauty of this remote area and to sound the depths of his own spirit.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gifted Dreamers

Some people are experts at realizing all kinds of benefits from their dreams. The Bible tells stories of people who eluded danger because they heeded an angel's warning that came to them in a dream. These days we hear of people who go to sleep mulling over a problem and wake up with a solution.

Sad to say, I must not be one of those gifted dreamers.  Last September I  bought two pairs of earrings for our daughters at a little shop in Danville, OH. The older daughter received her pair at her birthday celebration in November. The younger one had no time for her birthday get-together in mid-Decmber, so the celebration was postponed until the last weekend in January. In the meantime, I somehow lost her set of earrings. When I looked for them in my "gift closet" the day before we all went out to dinner, they were not to be found. 

So I explained the situation to our daughter and gave her $20. If I find the earrings, you'll  have to give the twenty back, I said.  Ha ha, she said.

Last night I dreamed about the lost earrings. My inner Wise Woman advised me to look in the tall plastic waste basket in which I keep rolls of wrapping paper in the gift closet.  Of course! Why hadn't I thought of that? The earrings probably fell off the shelf into the basket.

Only they weren't there. So much for my inner Wise Woman. Maybe they'd fallen in my husband's messy bucket of aquarium supplies, which he keeps in the gift closet. Nope, not in there either. However, back behind the sleeping bags I found a special issue ("Guide to Self-Reliance and Country Skills") of Mother Earth News, still in its "Books-a-Million" bag. I'd bought it in 2013 to include in a gift basket for the church auction,   As the day of the auction drew nigh, I looked high and low for the missing magazine. Then, as now, my inner Wise Woman was no help at all. I finally went out and bought a second copy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I Am Mad at Blogspot

I feel like kicking someone. Someone named Blogspot, if I can find him or her.

I guess Blogspot is too good to be true. It's free. You can post any ol' drivel you want and Blogspot never flashes you a pop-up that asks, "Are you sure you want put this out there?" Instead, it accepts your work without comment and archives it so you can return to your favorite posts again and again.  I should know. I'm my biggest fan. I reread posts I wrote five or six years ago and laugh and laugh. Damn, I'm good!

Recently, I wanted to share a post I wrote in 2007 about the folly of having daily Bible reading in the public schools and making everyone recite the Lord's Prayer, whether they believed in Jesus or not.  I looked for this post, and it was gone. Along with two poems, "Arrowheads" and "WinterHaven." Plus a half dozen haiku and my mini-novella, Fatal Errors. I am not a prolific writer, but these verses and that silly story were my babies and now they are gone.

My bad, Blogspot, for trusting you.

Maybe there's a way to fix this, but I have no idea where to start. We're on our own here. The Help Desk is a users' forum, so most of us are stumbling around in the dark. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thank you, Ms. Ferguson

Our grandson, Andrew, hated school from the beginning.  In pre-school, he'd get so frustrated with coloring that he'd crumple up his pictures and cry. In kindergarten, he'd either hide under his desk in fear or knock it over in rage. In the primary grades, he had trouble sitting still, listening to the teacher and following directions.  Printing was difficult; cursive, impossible. Everything was a struggle and no one knew what to do. If only he would focus and try harder!

By the time he reached third grade at Saint Mary of the Mills Elementary School, he was having regular meltdowns. The staff would often refer to "kids on the spectrum" when discussing Andrew's unruly behavior. I had no idea what kind of "spectrum" they were talking about.  Around the age of 8 or 9, he was diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD. When he continued to struggle at Saint Mary's, the assistant principal recommended a nearby public school, Beltsville Academy. She told his parents that the school had a program for "kids on the (autism) spectrum" and that the teachers were excellent.  

He entered Beltsville Academy as a fourth grader. His homeroom teacher was Ms. Ferguson. Andrew was still balky, but Ms. Ferguson worked hard to overcome his resistance. When she found out that he loved everything to do with fish, she bought (probably with her own money) a small aquarium for the classroom. Every time Andrew accepted a new challenge (spending more time in a regular classroom, attending music and art classes, going to PE) she'd add another goldfish to the aquarium. Ms. Ferguson assured us that Andrew was very bright. How could she tell, I wondered. Then one day I realized that he was suddenly reading  proficiently. I cringed at the memory of the tantrums he'd have when asked to memorize a list of  "sight words" in first grade. Back then,  I was afraid that he would never learn to read. 

Here's a photo of Andrew with his clarinet. Resistant to the idea at first, he began lessons in September and took to it immediately. We are all amazed at his willingness to practice and the progress he's made. At the beginning of last Sunday's church service, he accompanied the organist in playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Almost the best moment occurred when he stopped midway. He grinned and announced, "Sorry, we have to start over."Apparently, his watch had gotten snagged on his clarinet. We were amazed at the calm, matter-of-fact way he handled this mishap. Ms. Ferguson would have loved to see this.

Recently, we realized we hadn't seen Ms. Ferguson for some time. When Andrew's mother asked the principal about her, she was told that this dedicated teacher had died last spring of cancer. The principal went on to tell  the story of the aquarium, which she said she'd shared at Ms. Ferguson's funeral.

Tomorrow night, Andrew will play his clarinet at Beltsville Academy's winter band concert. I wish Ms. Ferguson could be there. I can only say, "Thank you, Ms. Ferguson. What a difference you have made in our grandson's life."