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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Poem of the Week: Distant Regard by Tony Hoagland via Alison McGhee

This is one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read.

Distant Regard by Tony Hoagland

If I knew I would be dead by this time next year
I believe I would spend the months from now till then
writing thank-you notes to strangers and acquaintances,
telling them, “You really were a great travel agent,”
or “I never got the taste of your kisses out of my mouth.”
or “Watching you walk across the room was part of my destination.”
It would be the equivalent, I think,
of leaving a chocolate wrapped in shiny foil
on the pillow of a guest in a hotel–
“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.
Outside it is autumn, the philosophical season,
when cold air sharpens the intellect;
the hills are red and copper in their shaggy majesty.
The clouds blow overhead like governments and years.
It took me a long time to understand the phrase “distant regard,”
but I am grateful for it now,
and I am grateful for my heart,
that turned out to be good, after all;
and grateful for my mind,
to which, in retrospect, I can see
I have never been sufficiently kind.

For more information about Tony Hoagland, please read his obituary.

Thanks to Alison for sharing these beautiful poems far and wide.

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The Last Animals a Film By Kate Brooks

In The Last Animals filmmaker and conflict reporter Kate Brooks turns her lens to the killing of African elephants and rhinos – in this sweeping expose of this  under reported genocide.

As the single -digit population of Northern White Rhinoceros ticks closer to zero, Brooks outlines the  factors contributing to the current epidemic of highly effective poaching and trafficking syndicates, drawing startling connections between the illegal wildlife trade and international terrorism and border security.

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At the same time Brooks documents the heroic efforts of conservationists, park rangers, and scientists to protect these animals on the verge of extinction in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

The result is a potent plea for worldwide attention and action to combat the permanent loss of these majestic creatures.is a story about an extraordinary group of people who go to all lengths to save the planet’s last animals.

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The documentary follows the conservationists, scientists and activists battling poachers and criminal networks to protect elephants and rhinos.

From Africa’s front lines to behind the scenes of Asian markets, the film takes an intense look at the global response to this slaughter and the desperate measures to genetically rescue the Northern White rhinos who are on the edge of extinction.

About Kate Brooks

Kate Brooks is a world renowned photographer who has chronicled conflict and human rights issues for nearly two decades. She first began working as photographer in Russia while documenting child abuse in state orphanages. The resulting photographs were published worldwide and used by the Human Rights Watch to campaign for orphans’ rights.

Kate then proceeded to dedicate herself to co

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vering the post 9/11 decade through to the beginning of the Arab Spring; she is widely known for her extensive work across the Middle East and in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Kate’s photographs are regularly published in magazines, such as TIME, Newsweek, The New Yorker and Smithsonian. She also exhibits her work in museums and galleries across the globe.

In 2010 Kate was as a contributing cinematographer on the multiple award-winning documentary The Boxing Girls of Kabul. Her introspective collection of essays and photos In the Light of Darkness: A Photographer’s Journey After 9/11 was selected by PDN as one of 2011’s best photography books. Kate was then awarded a 2012-13 Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. There she began researching wildlife trafficking and the pan African poaching epidemic for the documentary film The Last Animals. Kate’s drive and passion for this project comes from the fundamental belief that time is running out and that we are at a critical moment in natural history.

Watch the movie here.

 

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Poem of the Week: The Nutritionist by Andrea Gibson via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

The Nutritionist, by Andrea Gibson

The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables,
said if I could get down thirteen turnips each day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away to where the darkness lives.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight,
said for twenty dollars she’d tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty and she said, “Stop worrying, darling,
you will find a good man soon.”

The first psycho-therapist said I should spend three hours a day
sitting in a dark closet with my eyes closed and my ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn’t stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.

The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth,
said focus on the out breath,
said everyone finds happiness
if they can care more about what they can give
than what they get.

The pharmacist said Klonopin, Lamictal, Lithium, Xanax.

The doctor said an antipsychotic might help me forget
what the trauma said.

The trauma said, “Don’t write this poem.
Nobody wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi dove into the Hudson River
convinced he was entirely alone.”

My bones said, “Write the poem.”
To the lamplight considering the river bed,
to the chandelier of your faith hanging by a thread,
to everyday you cannot get out of bed,
to the bullseye of your wrist,
to anyone who has ever wanted to die:

I have been told sometimes the most healing thing we can do
is remind ourselves over and over and over
other people feel this too.

The tomorrow that has come and gone
and it has not gotten better.

When you are half finished writing that letter
to your mother that says “I swear to God I tried,
but when I thought I’d hit bottom, it started hitting back.”

There is no bruise like the bruise
loneliness kicks into your spine
so let me tell you I know there are days
it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets
while you break down like the doors of their looted buildings.
You are not alone
in wondering who will be convicted of the crime
of insisting you keep loading your grief
into the chamber of your shame.

You are not weak
just because your heart feels so heavy.
I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth
with a red cape inside.

Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people
to just walk outside some days.
I know my smile can look like the gutter of a falling house
but my hands are always holding tight to the rip cord of believing
a life can be rich like the soil,
can make food of decay,
turn wound into highway.

Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says,
“It is no measure of good health
to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

I have never trusted anyone
with the pulled back bow of my spine
the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound.
Four nights before Tyler Clementi
jumped from the George Washington bridge
I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
calculating exactly what I had to swallow
to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down.

What I know about living
is the pain is never just ours.
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo,
so I keep listening for the moment the grief becomes a window,
when I can see what I couldn’t see before
through the glass of my most battered dream
I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin
don’t try to put me back in.
Just say, “Here we are” together at the window
aching for it to all get better
but knowing there is a chance
our hearts may have only just skinned their knees,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming

let me say right now for the record,
I’m still gonna be here
asking this world to dance,
even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet.

You, you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.

Raising your bite against the bitter dark,
your bright longing,
your brilliant fists of loss.
Friend, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my god that is plenty
my god that is enough
my god that is so so much for the light to give
each of us at each other’s backs
whispering over and over and over,
“Live. Live. Live.”

 

 

To listen to Andrea Gibson perform this poem, click here.

For more information on poet and performer Andrea Gibson, click here.

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