But happy back to school, everyone, and even if you’re not going back, may discovery and growth lie ahead!
In the summer of 1972, I moved to Boston. I’d just gotten my degree in sociology, a subject I chose because I hoped to be a social worker and make the world a better place. Most of the courses baffled me (think statistics) but I loved the case studies, which were a little like short stories. My minor was, of course, English, but as it turned out, neither degree prepared me much for anything practical.
My college roommate had moved to Boston with her boyfriend and said I should come, too. We shared an apartment with two other couples, and I was definitely the odd one out. I didn’t even have a real bed. At night my roommate (that saint!) and her boyfriend would go to bed and I’d lie on the couch for a long time, pretending to be mesmerized by my novel but really just trying to keep my eyes open until a decent amount of time had passed and I could creep into their room and fall asleep on a mattress in the corner.
I worked at a restaurant where the cook was A Dirty Old Man. I was so lonesome. I had no idea what came next. It was the Fourth of July weekend and the city was empty as my heart. Another one of my roommates told me I should go to the art museum. At least it wasn’t hot there.
And so I met Paul, a fellow gallery wanderer. John Lennon glasses, a ponytail–he was so handsome! We talked about books and food, two topics destined to become recurring themes. He was a conscientious objector, which impressed me mightily, and had lived in Boston for a while. He knew the lay of the land, and we walked out of the museum together, so he could show me the sights. We wound up in Longwood Mall, an enchanted place.
Two hundred or so years ago, some visionary planted it with a variety of beeches–European, weeping, copper–and they are glorious. On a sunny day the light dapples their silvery trunks and pitter-patters among their leaves. These trees offer you a seat, they invite you to step inside and have yourself a day-long daydream. Some are dancers, some heavy-footed elephants. You long to be a sparrow, and call one home.
How, after just a few hours, could Paul understand me better than I did myself? Walking among those trees, I was the happiest I’d been since I got to Boston. Of course I fell in love with him. He gave me those trees.
A few weeks ago, celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary, we walked there again. I said, We should have gotten married here. He said, Who knew, that day? And it turned out he didn’t just mean who knew it was the beginning of us. He also meant he’d had no idea, that summer afternoon, that the beech grove even existed. He’d stumbled upon it. He’d never been there before that day, either.
Who else would bake you a book cake? This one was from Lois of Paragraph Books in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where I did a reading and signing last week. It was too gorgeous to eat but uh, somehow we did. And it tasted as delicious as it looked. Thank you, Lois! Thank you, booksellers, booklovers, and bookeaters everywhere.
A recent article in the NY Times pointed out how many great writers have been not such great human beings. Personally, I’m willing to overlook a lot in exchange for a novel that cleaves that inner frozen sea. In the case of the writer George Saunders, this isn’t necessary. Not only is he one of the most original, witty and incisive writers working today, he’s a big-hearted human being, too.
If any proof beyond my opinion is required, just read the graduation speech he gave this spring at Syracuse University. Here he is on how to view success:
“Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
On what he regrets most in his life:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
On his hope for us all:
That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
For the full speech, click here http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?_r=2&
***Reading and loving Kathi Appelt’s new book, “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Scouts”. Here’s one of my favorite quotes so far, “They say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but the same is not true for courage. As it turns out, when courage strikes, it almost always begets more courage.” The same’s true of kindness or generosity or, of course, hard-heartedness.
***Touring our daughter and her boyfriend (who’s never been to Cleveland) around town. It’s a little like writing–seeing something through fresh eyes makes you realize and question your own assumptions. Patrick in turn introduced us to a wonderful bookstore he knew through on-line connections, and I only wish it had a website so I could link to it. Suffice it to say if you’re ever in Cleveland, bee-line it to Guide to Kulchur on the west side.
Here we are in Wendy Park, an urban oasis at the foot of the Cuyahoga River, putting on our Cleveland–you’ve got to be tough faces.
***Another daughter and her artist/architect friends just completed a Kickstarter campaign to do an installation in Lisbon, Portugal this fall. Kickstarter is so cool! It was thrilling to watch them inch and leap toward their goal as people contributed anywhere from $1 to over $500. I’ll be backing other campaigns in the future for sure–see delight # 1 above.
***And since this seems to have turned into a Daughter Post, I’ll just brag a tiny bit more and say that next week we get to attend the “white coat” ceremony of our third girl, who’s halfway to becoming a physican assistant.
***Hoping your summer is yielding its own pleasures!