Do you remember when you first fell in love with reading? Better yet, do you remember the first real book that invited you into a completely different culture, emotional space, or time period? And for the introverts in the group, when was the first time you discovered that having a book in your hand is like hanging a “do not disturb” sign around your neck? Pretty fabulous, right ?! A book is an introvert’s best friend.
Books. Just the word conjures up a lazy afternoon, lounging somewhere comfortable with a good book and a hot cup of tea. But now that I think about it, for me that scenario meant I was on vacation, which until recently was my only chance to laze around with a book. But, thanks to COVID 19 shutting us all in, I’ve rediscovered the luxury of getting lost in a good read. I’ve also stumbled across some wonderful new-to-me authors and excellent book recommendations via Facebook book-club groups. My TBR pile is now teetering tall, and my credit card bill tells the story of the ease of online book purchases.
My personal love affair with books started before I ever stepped into my kindergarten classroom. I must have been about four when my mother first took me with her to the supermarket (Steinberg’s in Montreal.) The store—I’m forever grateful—ran an ongoing promotion: one give-away item for every so-many dollars spent on groceries. The giveaway included dolls and toys, but all I cared about were the gold-colored spines of the books lined up on the shelf: Cinderella, A Day at the Zoo, Pantaloon - the bakery dog. I remember how excited I was at the thought of picking out a shiny, new Golden Book. To this day I still have a few those well-used Golden Books stacked in a bedroom cabinet. On the same shelf are several books from the Bobbsey Twins series—birthday and Christmas presents—and one book that is a constant reminder of a childhood act of dishonesty.
Elaborate, you say? 'Fess up. Okay then. Here’s my confession. I was nine. A neighbor invited me to look through some old books he had stored in his basement. I remember walking down the basement stairs, trying to ignore the walls plastered with pinup girls and what were most likely indecent cartoons. As naïve as I was at nine, I was astute enough to pick up the vibe. I felt a bit uneasy, but the lure of a finding a new book outweighed any apprehension. But I’m wandering off topic, so back to the books. This neighbor, who really was a very nice man, loaned me a bright-red, hardcopy of Huckleberry Finn. So…did you pick up on the key word, “loaned.” Yup. You got it right. That’s the same book that’s stashed on the shelf in the secretary in my bedroom. In my defense, as weak as it may be, my family moved out of the downtown Sandy Hill neighborhood and into the suburbs shortly after the book loan, but yes, I still feel guilty to this day that I didn’t ask my parents to help me return that book. My book addiction overpowered my budding sense of ethics.
And since we’re on the topic of embarrassing book stories, I’ll share another, but only because I can trust you with my secrets. Right?! Years ago, a friend urged me to read a book she’d just finished: The Bridges of Madison County. We both fell hook, line, and sinker for the story line, and were utterly convinced that this tragic love story could be nothing less than the absolute gospel truth. So, old enough to know better, there we were, sitting on the floor of Bookman’s used book store with every copy of National Geographic pulled off the shelves, searching for that famous covered-bridge photo cover. In the book, that was the cover photo taken by the romantic hero, Robert Kincaid, a National Geo photographer. Sigh. We were so disappointed when we learned the truth, but that’s the power of books. They pull you into their world and make you want to believe.
I could go on about books ad finitum, but there is a cup of tea cooling by my chair, and my latest absorbing read, A Gentleman in Moscow, is patiently waiting for me to reopen the cover and continue on. So for now I’ll just leave you with links to a couple of my recent book reviews. My hope is that you’ll find something new to dive into and forget, if only for a while, the unsettled times we are all struggling through. Just remember to draw a fast line between fact and fiction.
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
2020 has turned out to be a challenging year, full of disappointments and adjustments. For me, this was supposed to be “the year of the book”. I had lots of ideas for ways to celebrate the much-awaited (by me anyway) debut of my first novel. But, with the exception of hosting the initial launch party and one public reading, everything from the Tucson Festival of Books, which meant two time slots for booth space, to several other venues and a planned release party, ended up on the chopping block. I’m sure most of you reading this can relate, as many of you have had to bail on vacation plans, cancel planned get-togethers, and rethink special occasions.
But today I really have something to smile about. Dancing Between the Beats is being featured on the WOW! Women on Writing website, on their blog page: The Muffin. I am just thrilled to be featured on their blog. This opportunity makes up for so many book-related events that were cancelled because of the COVID19 shutdown.
The book promotion includes reviews, a book synopsis, my bio, and best of all, an interview and a great giveaway which you can enter between July 20 and July 26. For me, interviews can be daunting. Give me a couple of glasses of wine and I’ll probably tell you more than you want to know, but in the bright light of day, you can ask me a question—even something as simple as “what’s your favorite movie”—and my mind goes as blank as a sheet of white writing paper. Blessedly, the interviewer gave me a heads up so I had time to ruminate.
Here's the link. Please click, take a few minutes to scroll and read. The interview is about three quarters of the way down. Whatever questions you've wanted to ask me can probably be found in those few paragraphs.
The hardest question to answer was about my inspiration for writing DBTB. Since I started the basic draft for this book way back in 2011, and so much had changed over years of rewriting and revising, it was an effort to wade backwards in time to the “whys” behind my writing and my process. It took quite a bit of grey matter prodding and introspection to pull up what I thinking when I banged out the first draft .
Click on the link, see what you think about the reviews, read the interview, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter box, to win a prize box that I’ve put together. You have six days to enter.
Thanks so much for sticking with me everyone. Your support is appreciated more than you could know.
And just for fun, here's a picture of a labyrinth someone created on the top of the hill above my house.
Back in the ‘80s, while interviewing for the position of administrative assistant to the director of R&D of an engineering company, I confessed I was an enthusiastic list-maker. Turned out my preoccupation with creating order via lists was exactly the quality my new boss valued the most in an assistant. Sometimes being an obsessive-compulsive control freak can work in one’s favor. Offering to wash my new boss’s Audi probably didn’t hurt my chances either.
So, yes, I admit it. I’m one of those people. I’ve been fixated on creating lists as long as I can remember. My mother once told me that I even made lists as a child. She didn’t say it with a smile on her face either. I think I might have been “helping” her organize her life at the time. My mother wasn’t nearly as appreciative as that R&D director, whose own boss would just shake his head at the number of projects I was juggling and keeping on target.
But back to everyday lists. Lists keep chaos at bay. Multi-tasker that I am, trust me on this one. Lists set attainable goals. When faced with an overwhelming project, breaking that large project into manageable bite-size pieces, and then ordering those pieces on a list, saves your sanity and narrows your focus. Mind fog will clear and the path before you will smooth. But the best part is the sense of accomplishment one gets as each finished task is crossed off, edging you closer to that finish line. I’ve even been known to add something I just finished to my list purely for the satisfaction of crossing it off. Did I really just say that out loud? Can’t take it back now.
For several weeks sheltering in place has cleared my calendar. No schedules, no appointments, no lunch dates, no writer’s group meetings, no dance lessons to work errands around, equals no need for a list to keep me on track and organized. But, here’s the thing: what I’ve learned about myself is that, no matter how minor the task, if it’s not written down, it’s not likely to get done. Without my lists I become an “it-can-wait-until-tomorrow” slug. I’ve discovered I need my lists to be productive, and I guess my need to feel productive is stronger than I thought. It’s that Protestant work ethic that was drilled into me from childhood: idle hands and the devil’s work.
Can you guess where this is going? Yup, back to the discipline of list-making. I wrote my list for yesterday, and by late afternoon I’d crossed off cutting back aloe vera stalks, learning how to use my new Kindle, writing a check to pay my VISA bill, throwing in a couple of loads of laundry, putting together a casserole for dinner, and hitting the plant nursery. Only then did I feel justified in joying a cup of tea and a reading a newly purchased book.
But one tired day later I’ve decided to take a step back. I think Mom might have overdone drilling me with that whole guilt-inducing, Protestant-work-ethic thing. It’s like being forbidden dessert until one’s plate is practically licked clean. Sometimes pie for breakfast is okay. Right? So I just wrote my list for today, and it includes “time in the spa”. Maybe it’s okay to work in a line item dedicated to recharging. Maybe. My very meticulous mother must be rolling over in her grave.
(swim skirt floating in spa)
Remember when I was whining about the need to clear my calendar and slow down? Well that message was evidently received. April 29 marked the midpoint of my seventh week of COVID19 sheltering in place. I am now officially a slug. Anyone else growing out of their fat jeans? If I visualize receiving motivation to exercise, I wonder what the ethers will toss back? I’m guessing a brownie or two.
I’m going to share the gist of a Facebook meme with you, We’re all caught in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. Sort of sums things up, right? And here’s a quote I saw today on Twitter, Writing is cheaper than therapy. That quote used to apply to me, but since sheltering in place took over my life, gardening is now my therapy of choice. My ratty-looking fingernails are a testament to how often my hands either are buried in potting soil or raking gravel out of the way to end the life of a particularly stubborn weed. I’m deadheading like crazy, and tucking seeds for summer bloomers in between the spring annuals. My roses have never looked better, and my experimental vegetable garden has begun to show signs of a real harvest. What is it about seeing a tomato plant pop out little tomatoes that is so rewarding? I feel accomplished, and yet it’s the plant, not me, doing all the real work.
Social isolation means making a full dinner every day, trying out new recipes, baking too many desserts, relearning how to use the vacuum cleaner, and realizing we don’t own a bucket big enough to accommodate a mop. Giving credit where it’s due, D and I are sharing the housecleaning duties, but by the blurry view from the master bedroom, it seems we’ve both drawn the line at windows. Believe my sincerity when I say I’ve developed a new respect for cleaning ladies and a deep awareness of the limitations of my aging body. I could star in a commercial for Icy Hot, or maybe an AARP article entitled “The Top of the Refrigerator: Letting Go of Expectations.”
I admit, staying at home does bring out the nester in me, but every Domestic Diva has her line in the sand. Mine is sewing. I absolutely hate to sew! I gave away my sewing machine several years ago. Prior to that, half-finished sewing projects flew across the room more than once. Even back in high school, I hated the mandatory sewing classes for girls almost as much as I detested my typing class, but sewing won out on the frustration scale. But, being a conscientious citizen, I jumped onto the mandatory masks bandwagon and made D and I face masks! Hand-stitched face masks: blood-spotted from multiple finger pricks and anointed with curses fueled from pushing a needle through three layers of thick fabric with painfully reddened fingertips. I’m awaiting my good-citizen, housewife-of-the-year award.
In my quest to boost my aging immune system, I’m taking the new vitamins I bought rather than staring the bottles down, hoping absorb their contents telepathically. Can’t count how many bottles of expired vitamins I’ve tossed out pre-COVID19. I so hate swallowing pills, I actually have an expired container of Oxycontin in the medicine cabinet. And no, you can’t have my address.
A cleared appointment calendar gives me the luxury of time to read. I’ve finished several stunning novels over the past few weeks: books that pulled me into another place and time, living the lives of the characters. If you’re looking for a few engrossing reads to go with that cup of tea or glass of wine, give these a try: Before We Were Yours, Lilac Girls, The Winter Garden, and Little Fires Everywhere. Reviews posted on Goodreads.
So, I’m hanging in there, catching up with old friends via telephone, and learning to play digital card games with the kiddos on our phones. And, D and I are becoming more like our dogs: we roam the house all day looking for food; we are told “no” if we get too close to strangers; we get really excited about open doors and car rides (thanks for this one, Gerry.)
Stay well everyone.
Half hidden behind the drooping branches of a bottlebrush bush, I watch him doing pushups on the top of the wall. Even in the mild March sunshine, the blocks radiate too much heat to rest his abdomen on their flat surface. This guy is big: fat, in fact. It’s been a good spring for lizards. Early bug hatching and lots of tender weeds provide a plentiful food supply.
I sit quietly and lay my book down. Stilling the movement of the glider, I barely breathe as a hummingbird whirrs toward me. She hovers, taking me in, and then darts up and down the tall stem of a penstamon, drinking from each trumpet-shaped pink blossom. Her wings are a fast-forward blur, while her body’s a still life in concentration. I am surprised by the deep drone emanating from this tiny creature. She tips her hat to me before zipping away to sample the next stand of flowers.
Monarchs dart between the bees and the penstamons, stopping to feed on the blue ageratums and salvia leucanthas. The butterflies have arrived early this year. The red bloodvines they so love are not in bloom as yet, but they make do. Overhead a hawk circles, riding the currants. I wonder if he’s the same red-tail that thinks a wide limb of our mesquite is his dining table?
The garden is a crazy quilt of color: pale and hot pinks, white, a creamy peach, bright yellow, and a touch of burgundy. Wildflowers take root wherever they choose to propagate. The old saying “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” is never truer than in my desert version of an English garden. Three’s a crowd does not apply, and the hummers and butterflies seem to agree with me. I’m usually quite happy to ignore the spacing guidelines for both planting seeds and placing bedding plants, so they live shoulder to shoulder, one variety blending into the next. No social distancing in my garden.
A bee buzzes a little too close for comfort. This curious yellow- and black-striped boy lands on my hand, sniffing—if bees can sniff—my skin. I stay very still. As soon as his curiosity is assuaged and he lifts off, I move swiftly away. I’m not afraid of bees but treat them with cautious respect. Those that are Africanized have temperaments that are not to be trusted.
Not ready to go indoors, I settle into a cushioned patio chair and breathe in the sweet cinnamon fragrance of the hyacinths and the frilly, party-dress stocks. A breeze kicks up. This morning’s white, angel-wing billow clouds are now overrun by their grey-bottomed, cumulous cousins, who are striding across the sky from the south west: a portent of a storm moving up from Mexico? I smile, realizing I won’t have to stress about driving across town in a desert downpour. There’s nowhere I have to be. Social distancing has its benefits.
Mandated self-isolation has become a vacation of sorts. Two weeks in, and I’m relishing my cleared calendar. My soul feels more nourished than in longer than I can remember. My disappointment at events being cancelled has melted into satisfaction in having time to sit in my garden with a cup of tea and a book. Being still and watching sparrows flirt in flight and woodpeckers rip at the fruit on the hanger is a rare treat, but it shouldn’t be. I realize that my ambitious to-do list was becoming a self-dictated lifestyle of over-commitment.
The red-tail swoops down and lands in the largest mesquite tree: a thwarted attempt at hatchling stealing perhaps? A smallish bird, squawking and cursing, dives after the hawk, circles and then races away. The hawk shakes out his feathers, disgruntled but tenacious. He tilts his head sideways. I relate to the look in his eye. His focus on achieving his goal is absolute. He’ll bide his time and then take flight again.
For now my wings have been forcibly clipped but, once the feathers grow back in, I’ll be more judicious with my flight plan. I look forward to reconnecting with the friends and activities that enhance my enjoyment of life, but I won’t forget that, to rejuvenate, I need to occasionally withdraw into a shell of solitude. Social distancing just might have made me hit the reset button.
I swear, I’m truly trying to be more conscious of living in the moment, but to be honest, I’m failing miserably at it. The carousel is spinning so fast my surroundings blur, and I can’t focus. Not only is it difficult to stop to smell the proverbial roses, I can’t seem to slow down long enough to get the damn rosebush planted. And I mean that literally.
Now, I’m not letting myself off the hook, but I don’t think I’m alone here. Raise your hand if you feel like you’ve become too accustomed to moving through life at warp speed, and it doesn’t matter whether that pattern is an ingrained personal practice or a reaction to outside pressures. Like Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory, stuffing chocolate after chocolate into her mouth, we often fail to savor the moment we are in before mentally rushing on to the next.
This runaway train of thought pushed me off the tracks while I was signing a book. Almost the first question I get asked is, “What’s next? What are you working on now?” It’s a polite, innocuous question, right? It’s one I have asked. But when directed at me, I almost break out in a cold sweat.
“What’s next?” Bloody hell, damned if I know. The truth is I’m still figuring things out, trying to wear the author mantle with style and aplomb rather than novice awkwardness. Any confidence I exude is a total smokescreen, easily dissipated.
I have, though, had some time to reflect on the “what are you working on now?” question, so I will tell you this: rather than working on new writing, I’m busy switching chapeaus. In today’s publishing environment, an author is required to wear multiple hats, including those of promotions and marketing expert, neither of which fit comfortably on my head. I find that instead of writing, I’m trying to wade through the deep pond an ocean) of gaining exposure for Dancing Between the Beats. I've learned to stand up in front of a room and read aloud, hoping that, when I look up, the room hasn’t collectively dozed off. I’ve also donned the cloak of the annoying doorbell-ringing peddler, nudging my readers to write reviews, spread the word, ask their local library or bookstore to carry copies, and post pictures on their social media accounts. Sheesh. Trust me when I say that this cloak weighs heavy on the shoulders of a somewhat reclusive writer.
The upside is that the stress of the promotions learning curve is more than balanced by the deep satisfaction of knowing my book is actually being read. I am deeply grateful for each and every book sale, every review, and every positive comment. Gratitude slides me into low gear long enough to pause, breathe, and enjoy the moment. But then, of course, my mind meanders off into “what’s next”, and I ponder whether to work on Book Two or retire quietly to my garden and the relative obscurity of writing blog posts.
Just so you know, I ran “what’s next” by the two dogs sitting by my feet, and I got a decisive, tail wagging, toe-nail tapping, full-voice “dinner, dinner, dinner." Dogs live definitely and joyously in the moment. Maybe it’s time for this human to pay attention and take a page out of their playbook. "Wine, dinner, wine, wine....treat!"
I unload the back of my SUV: stocks for my grandmother, pansies for my mother, snaps for me and a white geranium just because. In the garden, my focus narrows and my senses broaden. The frilly, pink stocks fill my head with a spicy scent that’s somewhere between cloves and cinnamon. My hearing zeros in on individual bird voices as they tease and court. They tell each other it’s spring, but our desert spring is coquettish—flirting one minute and withdrawing the next. Today the sun is warm, the breeze soft, and my backyard birds trust in the moment. I fill their feeder and scrutinize my over-planted garden. It’s going to be tight to find a few spots to squeeze in the newcomers and still have space to tuck in a few zinnia seeds here and there.
My eye catches a grouping of thumbprint pansies that need deadheading. As I reach between the blooms and pinch-off those that are spent, I’m hit with a moment of clarity. It stops me in my tracks. Gardening is the oddest juxtaposition of living in the moment and imagining the future. With every spent bloom deadheaded, I envision the new blooms that will pop out to replace it. Every seed planted is imagined as a full-blown flower or a broad-leafed summer squash plant.
In my garden I accept, without question, the saying "to everything there is a season". I know that deadheading keeps flowering plants strong and vigorous. Pruning results in refreshed rose bushes. Annual are meant to grow and peak, and then fade as the season changes. Seeds won’t germinate until the soil is the right temperature. In our tricky desert spring, trimming off woody stems too soon could mean frost-damaged new growth. Timing can be challenging. Humility soon follows impatience in desert gardening.
So many of our successes and failures in life involve timing. Understanding that love isn’t enough, and a relationship may not work because each person is in a very different point in their life. Knowing when to speak and when to stay silent. Holding on to a friendship that’s outlived its season or no longer brings joy. Recognizing when it’s time to change ideological direction, geographic location, or occupation. Recognizing that “until death do us part” sometimes means saving the marriage but destroying the people. Breaking away from the demands of others that drain our energy and absorb our precious days.
Timing and deadheading. I wonder if I can pinch off and toss away everything I beat myself up over: words both spoken and left unsaid, opportunities missed, a tendency to say yes when I should say no, difficulty standing up for myself and a need for approval I should have outgrown decades ago. Can I learn to deadhead without qualms to encourage vigorous and positive personal growth? Can old dogs learn new tricks? We’ll see. It’s not over ‘till it’s over.
Here we are, not quite a week into the New Year, and both my holiday-inspired energy and my adrenaline surge from seeing my novel in print have receded. I’ve finally crashed from the high and I've flat-lined.This morning I slept late, made myself some scrambled eggs and coffee, and took everything and the dogs back to bed. I wanted just to veg in front of some mindless TV show. Can’t get much more mindless than “Married at First Sight.” Yup. That says it all.
By now my 2020 to-do list should be in place, but it’s not even been started. I can’t remember when I’ve opened a calendar on a new year without a firm set of written goals to guide me. And, yes, I’m one of those annoying people who crosses out goals and accomplishments as each one is met. It gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.
The end of 2019 was a whirlwind. In fact the entire year sped by in a blur. None of the miscellaneous personal projects on my 2019 list ever made it past the planning stages. Another year has gone by without me making an appointment for a general medical checkup. That particular “to do” was an undone leftover from my 2018 calendar. Maybe this will be the year of the checkup. I still hope to create childhood photo albums for each of my nieces. Hope is the keynote word here. And one of these years I truly will get those twenty-year-old kitchen counter-tops replaced. Another unmet goal was to learn how to use my new laptop and Windows 10, but I’ve let that laptop sit untouched for so long, my husband has taken it over. Sigh. We won’t even discuss the fabulous Canon camera he bought me that I have still to master. So much for the tasks left undone.
But—and this is big—I did finalize my manuscript for Dancing Between the Beats. One, big, bold cross-off. I’m starting 2020 with a novel in print, and (my mouth to God’s ear) will soon accumulate reviews. Huge! Another biggie was selling my fourteen-year-old Camry in early 2019 and buying a new car! If you haven’t read my December 2018 post entitled Kicking the Tires, give it a look. I tried hollyhocks in my garden last year, and they were spectacular (picture above.) I can also cross “Work with Watercolors” off last-year’s list. Well, sort of. I tentatively slapped some paint down and created a couple of small, starter, watercolor paintings. “Learn To Paint with Watercolors” will be added to 2020’s list. Unfortunately, “Lose Weight” will also shift over to the top of 2020’s to-do list. Without my lists I might just munch chocolates and read books all day.
However, as great as having goals might be, to avoid feeling letdown or unproductive, flexibility is the key. Resolutions, lists, goals etc., are much like the old adage, “rules are only guidelines”. Most of our disappointments are born out of unrealistic expectations. The new revolution around the sun we started on Solstice is a wonderful time to reflect and regroup, but life will always throw us curve balls. It’s up to us whether we lob them back, hit them out of the park, or let them knock us out. Either way, life goes on with us or without us, lists or no lists. Resiliency is the name of the game.
So, while I wish you happiness in the new year, I'll balance that wish with the hope that 2020 offers contentment, opportunities to grow, and enough successes to balance the inevitable disappointments. May we all still be here at the close of 2020 to optimistically wish each other a Happy New Year once again.
To answer the question, "What's it about?", here's a short blurb about the story line of Dancing Between the Beats. A bit more info can be found under the NOVEL tab. The book's narrative unfolds from three main perspectives:
Twenty-four-year old Paige Russell, still grieving the death of her single mother, defines herself as an orphan. Her obsession to find the father she never knew takes her to Tucson, AZ, where she settles in as the newest ballroom instructor at Desert DanceSport. But Paige’s newfound sense of belonging could be short-lived. Swirling under the glamorous surface of Desert DanceSport are rivalries and conflicts that threaten future of the studio, and Paige is hiding a life-changing secret of her own.
Studio owner Katherine Carrington is grappling with complicated cash-flow issues of her own making. As her stress level rises, her demeanor ricochets between controlling and neurotic. Katherine’s identity is defined by her ownership of the studio, and losing it would mean losing herself.
Aging playboy Marcos Stephanos, dance master and studio manager, is too distracted by the disarming new-hire Paige to focus on the warning signs of Katherine’s erratic behavior. Will his nonchalance cost him his career? Top dance instructor Tony Moreno finds flirting with Paige so tantalizing he misses practice sessions with his ambitious, professional partner, Sylvie Goldstein. Instead of burning up the floor with Tony, Sylvie is smoking with resentment against her unwitting rival, Paige.
Will misunderstood intentions and ego-driven altercations force the exposure of secrets and betrayals at the studio so many call home? Who will adapt and who will retreat when expectations clash with reality, and the status quo suddenly shifts?
Laced with humor, Dancing Between the Beats offers an insider’s view of the world of ballroom dance, along with a smattering of off-beat insights about relationships.
I grew up part of a small, somewhat dysfunctional family—parents, paternal grandmother, one sister. By the time I was into my sixteenth year, we’d lived in two cities and four neighborhoods in Canada, and had made the big move from Canada to Arizona. After I married at nineteen, my family’s moving and shifting continued.
But home to me—the place I grew up—will always be the redbrick house on Harris Place in the suburbs of Ottawa. The neighborhood was so new, old farmhouses and fields of sheep were interspersed with tracts of new homes. As neighbors began move in—many Air Force (RCAF) like my Dad—everyone seemed anxious to get settled and establish friendships. Families intermingled, and both kids and adults were in and out of each other’s backyards and homes on a daily basis. My Godparents moved close by when I was ten, quickly becoming part of our family. Our six years in City View were the closest I’ve ever experienced to being part of a large, extended family. (Remember this extended family thing.)
Introspection is everything. It doesn’t always take an analyst’s couch to recognize the past events that shape us, and acknowledge how they complicate our emotional base even decades down the road. I remember one Sunday afternoon picnic in particular, prior to our move to Ottawa. There we sat, our small, well-mannered nuclear family, sipping tea out of thermoses, eating sausage rolls and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, while my parents did their best to ignore the rowdier, usually Italian, families nearby. I behaved as expected, but so wanted to be part of those animated groups: everyone shouting and gesturing, kids one notch below out of control, squirming against the hugging and laughing that accompanied their being scolded. At seven-years old, I quietly I decided I would marry an Italian. I didn’t.
Which wraps around, in a very convoluted way, to my point, that tricky tenth commandment—ENVY—the most recent rock in the road tripping me up on my journey to self-actualization. I’ve always been proud (pride, another trip-up) that being envious was simply not part of my nature. And when it comes to material things, I still believe that to be true. I’ll never envy your spacious home, sports car, or four-caret diamond, but I’m not as unburdened by jealously as I’d like to think. But more background is needed for context.
My parents immigrated to Canada from England after WWII. My father’s parents followed six months later, but the rest of their very large family remained in Britain. Considering the state of England after the war, I’m sure my parent’s decision to start over in Canada was a good one, but there were unforeseen ramifications to their choice. Moving so far away from home meant that their future children would never experience the support of extended family. We’d grow up without cousins, aunts, uncles, our other set of grandparents, and we’d never recognize behaviors and characteristics in the context of DNA. Jetting back and forth across the Atlantic simply wasn’t done back then. Thirty-one years would pass before my mother would see her own mother again.
So what does this autobiographical ramble have to do with the sin of envy? As I recently followed Facebook posts about family celebrations, past and planned, reading cousins’ posts about their shared childhoods, memories of weddings, funerals, and even their everyday lives, I felt that unbecoming shade of green creeping over me. The upside of Facebook is having a window into everyone’s world, but the downside is feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. That sure sounds a lot like envy to me. Yup. Hard to admit. Not pretty, is it?
So shaking myself off, I’ve decided that when all the human homing pigeons start posting about taking off to join relatives for big traditional holiday gatherings or milestone birthdays, where they will be surrounded by a dynasty of children, grandchildren and loving lifetime friends, I will make every effort to turn the color wheel from green to rosy pink. I will count my own blessings, which are plentiful. I will remind myself that every large family isn’t The Waltons and, as my mother used to say about close friends, “The fewer people who know your business, the fewer there are to gossip about you.” Maybe she had a point. There’s always an upside.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's