Poem of the Week: by Margaret Hasse via Alison McGhee

High School Boyfriend, by Margaret Hasse

You are hometown.
You are all my favorite places
the last summer I grew up.
Every once in a while
I write you
in my head
to ask how Vietnam
and a big name college
came between us.
We tried to stay in touch
through the long distance,
the hum and fleck of phone calls.

It was inevitable
that I should return
to the small prairie town
and find you
pumping gas, driving a truck, measuring lumber,
and we’d exchange
weather talk,
never able to break through words
and time to say simply:
“Are you as happy
as I wanted you to be?”

And still I am stirred
by musky cigarette smoke
on a man’s brown suede jacket.
Never having admitted the tenderness
of your hands, I feel them now
through my skin.
Parking on breezy nights,
in cars, floating passageways,
we are tongue and tongue like warm cucumbers.
I would walk backwards
along far country roads
through late evenings cool as moving water,
heavy as red beer,
to climb into that August.

In the dark lovers’ lanes
you touched my face
and found me here.

For more information on Margaret Hasse, please click here.

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Books: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver freaked me out from beginning to end. Every word, sentence, and page draws you into the head of Eva Katchadourian as she writes to her estranged husband about the story of their family and their son who goes on a murderous rampage.

Eva is a successful travel book publisher and entrepreneur, and her husband is an equally successful location scout. Pre-children they are the NYC couple you’re jealous of. They own a loft, she travels extensively to exotic locales, she runs her company and when she’s not doing that she and Franklin enjoy drunken soirees with their equally successful New York hipster friends. But the time arrives when the meaninglessness of their existence tugs at them and they decide to have a child.

Eva entertains motherhood reluctantly while Franklin turns into Daddy monster, a man who now only thinks about the needs of the baby. Eva from the beginning is diminished by her husband’s pivot to fatherhood and when Kevin is born she slides further into existential crisis when she fails to bond with her child.

Kevin, she believes, has it in for her, and as a child he poses a threat to her, her lifestyle and her marriage. His refusal to speak, until he delivers full and complete thoughts and sentences demonstrates to her the deviousness of his mind. He bides his time to agonize and frustrate his mother. At six she is still changing his diapers, awkwardly cleaning the poop of the too large boy who refuses to potty train….until one day he simply decides to do it. She thinks that all along he knows precisely what he needs to do but simply chooses not to in order to frustrate his reluctant and increasingly bitter mother. Kevin is smart and she knows it.

Meanwhile Franklin does everything he can to support and love the boy, driving a wedge between the once happy and in-love couple. Eva never loses the sense that Kevin is not what he seems, that he is one thing to his mother and another to his father. There is no one true Kevin. Kevin is a master manipulator incapable of being true to anything or anyone. And he is unkind,

By the time Kevin commits the ultimate horrifying crime you don’t know who to believe. Is Franklin right? Is Eva a monster who has nurtured her son’s cold animosity through her own dislike of the boy? And there’s Franklin who to me, never feels real or genuine. His “Hey Son let’s play” hits a false note every time. Does he counter his son’s oddness by overcompensating and creating his own version of Leave it to Beaver? And then there’s Eva….who’s distrust of her own child starts with her pregnancy and never abates. It’s hard to know who the real monster really is. Admittedly, I didn’t sleep much when I was reading this book. The question of who we really are and how monsters are created is at the heart of this book. I loved it and hated it at the same time. But I still think about the book and the fictitious Khatchadourian family, which makes it a provocative read.

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Books: Bill Browder, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

Bill Browder

The non-fiction I’m reading lately is proving to me that real life is weirder than fiction. The world really is a dangerous place!

Bill Browder, the author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice, discovers that his days of being a lucrative investment broker in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union is about to come to an abrupt end when he’s forbidden re-entry into the country he calls his home.

Through Hermitage Capital Browder becomes a prominent shareholder in numerous Russian gas companies, but his trail of research brings him in direct conflict with corrupt bureaucrats, law enforcement and Putin himself. His offices are raided, he’s accused of tax evasion and ultimately his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, is brutally murdered by the Russian state and a warrant is issued for Browder’s arrest.

Of course I’ve condensed hundreds of pages of this crazy story into three paragraphs so I’m not even beginning to do this book justice. Ultimately Browder turns activist in defence of Sergei and his tireless advocacy results in the passing of the Magnisky Act by Barack Obama. The act authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.

If there is an interesting thing about this book it’s just how nuts the whole story is. Like really? This is how the world of international investment and finance works? I guess so. And Bill Browder, is at the centre of it from the beginning when he saw the opportunity the Russian market offered to investors like himself and his wealthy clients. There is no question, he’s a driven guy. He’s either making crazy amounts of money or avenging his friends death. This man is a risk taker no matter what he does and there is something heroic if not a little crazy about this story.

The other “elephant in the room” is Russia. Russia is just a bit creepy these days with it’s wanting to take over the world by destroying western democracies. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg. I would love to have dinner and few drinks with Rob Mueller (I know, he’d never talk but one can dream). According to Bill Browder, Russia is a thug state. And that’s probably something we should all be just a little worried about. I give this book a thumbs up!

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Books: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

The Guardian UK wrote a great review of this book so for a more fulsome analysis of this funny tale you can go here. I’m mostly here to tell you that if you’re in need of something light, funny and poignant to get you through the dark winter months then this might be the novel for you.

The novel is the story of Arthur Less, a soon-to-be fifty, recently single, almost failed middling novelist, who escapes heart break by accepting invitations for literary engagements around the world. During his travels he rediscovers himself and the real meaning of love.

Arthur is pitiful, there’s no question about it. But there is also something about him that is so well….flawed, and human.  Arthur has no illusions about himself  which is why I found myself cheering him on, and crossing my fingers that things might go his way. 

There are funny parts all along the way but the German chapter made me laugh out loud for the entire piece. So all in all, well worth the read!

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Help End the Ivory Trade in Canada Today

If you are Canadian, you may be one of the many people who aren’t aware that that Canada allows the legal trade of ivory. Elephants will be extinct in the wild within 20 years if all countries don’t implement strict bans on the sale of ivory.

If you would like to ADD YOUR VOICE, click here to send your MP a pre-written letter asking to close the legal trade.

The federal Minister Catherine McKenna has already received a petition and a letter from Elephanatics. The petition is now over 300,000 and the letter was endorsed by 95 national and international scientists, conservationists and animal welfare organizations, including SPCA, Jane Goodall Institute, Born Free and Wildlife At Risk International.

The Minister has not responded.

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Kate Brooks, director of documentary film The Last Animals, states, “It’s absolutely imperative that every country on the planet enact legislation to combat the global wildlife trafficking crisis and stop stimulating demand for ivory by continuing to trade. I hope Canada will join the countries that are standing up for elephants and the rangers who put their lives on the line trying to protect them.”

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Several US states, France, China, Philippines, and the United Kingdom have banned the sale of ivory within their borders. The Netherlands will close its raw ivory market in 2019; Taiwan will ban its ivory trade by 2020; Hong Kong will follow in 2021; and Singapore is considering the most stringent ban to date.

It’s time for Canada to do the right thing.

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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

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I was looking for something to read and I found this book on my night table. I’m not a big consumer of non-fiction unless it’s news so I wasn’t sure how I’d like this. The good thing is that I really liked it. Erik Larson weaves a tale of intrigue, filled with historic details and characters that come to life under his pen.

The historic details lend themselves to suspense. A luxury cruise liner leaves its New York harbour to sail for Liverpool in May 1915. The ship would sail through enemy territory where German U-boats were sinking enemy ships. In spite of the warnings by Germany that the seas around England were a war zone, the Lusitania sailed to Liverpool with barely a thought that it would be the object of a German attack. Little did they know that the rules of war were changing.

Larson gives a vivid snapshot of the wealthy passengers including theatre folks and book dealers, and established wealth on board the ship. You get to know the families, and why they’re there, how the children occupied themselves, and how many tried to survive the sinking of the ship.

Chapters alternate between the different elements of the story giving the reader a 360 degree view of the unfolding of events that culminated in the sinking of the ship.   The strength of the book lies in discovering  the characters behind the historic fact. The reader is introduced to the Captain of the U-boat, the characters who occupied the office that decoded German war messages, Winston Churchill makes an appearance as does Woodrow Wilson.

If there is a weakness in the book it’s in the portrait of Woodrow Wilson who appears as a grief-stricken love-lost bumbling idiot. The author definitely seems to have it in for him! Aside from that I found the book a compelling and great read.

My personal takeaways are:

  • that well-researched  non-fiction can be fabulous and all the more interesting because it happened.
  • In war people will  be pawns.
  • Details are important like knowing how to put your life jacket on properly. Many people lost their lives unnecessarily because of this.

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Random Musing: “Little Things” 2018 Highlights

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My list of 2018 highlights….

Little things

I’m grateful to end my day with Dave in bed beside me and Bean beside him. In preparation for sleep we accuse the other of snoring and how beatings will ensue. Then like synchronized swimmers we insert our ear plugs and don our eye bras, kiss each other good night and drift off to sleep but not before I hear the train across the water which reminds me of long ago.

I am very thankful for my friend  Anna who  agreed to help me rescue the crow even though I knew she’d rather have gone to the  mall like she had planned:)

If I’m lucky enough to make it to 96 I hope I have as many renaysances as my wonderful friend Inge who is full of impish delight, humour, wit and generosity.

Last year I did the Polar Swim to raise money for elephants. Dave and friends stuffed me full of waffles, cheered me on and then warmed me up when I came running out of the ocean. For a nanosecond I felt like a coddled elite athlete. So thanks for my Olympic moment guys!

I was dispatched to Vietnam by work and randomly thrown on a bus with a bunch of fabulous nutbars.

After a massage a young Vietnamese woman hugged me. That hug collapsed oceans of difference between us.

Summers here now mean smokey skies. But on Salt Spring the smoke was laced with the scent of heavily ripened black berries. If I remember nothing else I hope to remember this. Late afternoon naps with Dave and Bean. Slow walks down the winding blackberry lined road. Early morning, mid-afternoon and night time swims in St. Mary’s Lake with my family.

I have a small circle of guy friends. They keep it light even when you’re stuck in a car for 6 hours straight trying to get through the border to a baseball game and have to  pee or you’ve been having a bad day. They’re like “Sit down. Bee-atch! Grab a drink and  chill yourself out. “They spiral it up. So thanks boys.

My sister-in-law, reminded me of the time when we were 18 and we had climbed to the top of a barn and drank wine for hours. Unfortunately (mostly for Alison) this was the exact moment I discovered my terror of heights. We still can’t figure out how we got me down but I imagine it was something along the lines of her  carrying me down on her back with a glass of wine in one hand and a smoke in the other. I think this best sums up our lifelong friendship.

I love  little conversations. The big ones are like major parentheses. They’re always there. But the little ones get me through it all. My sister and I are fierce in the morning. We hurl made up song lyrics at each other, frequently trying to rhyme our almost impossible to rhyme names. “Mia bom bia is a tree-aa. Oh ya- ah. “We rage at traffic and shake our fists at the sky. I regale her with my Seinfeldian office life. And  when the sads hit we listen, or get feisty. Humour is a fishing rod for our sads. There’s no sinking to the bottom of the ocean when you have the option to be hauled up by a life rope.

There’s a poem that Alison McGhee shared by a man called Tony Hoagland. I’ve read this poem over and over and over again and each time it makes me emotional. But here are a few lines that I hope will encourage you to read the poem in its entirety.

“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,”
I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop,
and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go
forward like water, flowing around obstacles
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing
with my long list of thank-yous,
which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind,
and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard
as if grateful for being soaked last night
by the irrigation system invented by an individual
to whom I am quietly grateful.”

This “hotel of earth where we resided for some years together” is such a beautiful image. My own “hotel of earth” is given meaning by the little things. Sitting with my brother and his wife in our living room.. The years of knowing each other gives way to ease of being that’s earned through time and forgiveness and just plain having fun together.

This year we got rid of stuff. We’ve emptied our house of things gathered over the years. We are down to the essentials. I feel like it leaves more room to fill the house with more living of us,  rather than living of room. This is the place where Dave makes me laugh, where sometimes we dance, where we spend countless hours jut staring at Bean. “My gosh, she’s just so cute.” We say to each other over and over again.

This year, I hope like Tony and his beautiful poem that I go forward like water and flow around obstacles and second thoughts. I hope to remember all minutiae and the moments in between. I am eternally grateful to everyone who is a part of my hotel of life but mostly I thank Dave and Bean who carry me through the seasons with their steadfastness and love.

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