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“Hang it All!”

14 Jan

I recently finished reading a book. It was a good book, well-written, kept me interested all the way through. But then I got to the last page. Only I didn’t realize it was the last page. I was reading on my Kindle and so there was no thickness of the remaining pages to clue me in. I knew from the “% read” at the bottom of the screen that I was nearly done. Knew too, that there was no Glossary or Tolkien-esque appendix that took up half of the book, but I assumed, as I pressed the “Next Page” button, that there would be an epilogue if not a short final chapter.

I read to the end of the page. I turned to the next. And the book was done. And I did what I have never done before. I shouted,

“You jerk!”

as if the author could hear me.

I am a person who likes her loose ends tied up. As a writer I keep a list of loose ends that I must not forget about. As a reader I do this too, only they’re mental lists and not separate files on my computer.

Loose ends Drive Me Bananas. And the loose ends in this book I read were HUGE.

I suppose you’re all dying to know what the book was. I debated telling you or not, but I guess I will because I’m not saying she is a bad writer, or that I disliked the book…I just HATED being left hanging!

I know, I know: it’s a writer’s prerogative. She or he can do whatever they like and if they like leaving their readers unfulfilled, well, fine. They have a right. For whatever reason, she wanted to leave the reader wondering, pondering, considering her book as we drive down the road to pick our children up from school. She wanted us to think. She wanted us to have lively discussions at book club – which I know we will! She wanted us to blog about it.

And so I say to Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, yes, you’ve made me think. You’ve made me consider Easter’s fate and the narrator’s future and the crotchety doctor’s wishes as I wash the dishes and fold the clothes and do other things that I’m too proper to write about.

And you’re driving me nuts.

So my question for you all is this: do you like loose ends that make you think? Or do you wish that all authors would tie their loose ends up in pretty bows that don’t stress you out and cause you to call them names when you reach the last page and discover THE END written in nasty, bold letters?

As my children like to ask, “Which would you rather?”

The Perfect Birthday

31 Dec

When it’s your birthday you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t like…right? That, at least, is what I always thought when I was a kid. It was always a total rip off when I had to go to school on my birthday…especially if my birthday was the first day of school following Christmas break.

If I stuck with that philosophy now my day sure would be nice. See, I’m turning 44 this week so I’m thinking that I ought not to have to do any dishes on that day. Nor should I have to wash (or fold) any clothes. I won’t wear my heavy coat when I leave the house because I don’t like my heavy coat. Never mind that I’ll freeze to death. I won’t sneeze because I hate sneezing. I won’t throw up because I really, really hate throwing up. I won’t answer the phone because I don’t like telephones. I won’t sweep. I won’t dust. I won’t water my temperamental plant. I won’t eat anything I dislike. This includes coffee that gives me heartburn and anything that will add to my waist line. But I will drink weak but utterly delicious coffee and eat cake.

Magical cake that has no calories.
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I won’t exercise. I won’t run the microwave and the toaster at the same time, thereby avoiding the deep, dark basement when I pop the breaker. I won’t do that. I won’t. I won’t clean hair out of the drain or wipe toothpaste out of the sink. Heck, I’ll avoid the bathroom as much as possible because, let’s face it, it’s not my favorite room. This means I won’t have to wash my face and my skin will be perfect. And my hair. That, too.

And birthdays are all about favorites.

I’ll talk to all of my dear friends I’ve lost track of over the past 44 years. I’ll go and visit all my favorite places. But I won’t suffer from jet lag. I’ll have all the time in the world to write and I’ll be focused, creative, and edit-proof. I’ll also spend hours on end with my family and my children will never squabble or argue with me, nor will they make messes. Or if they do, they’ll clean them up.

My husband will bring me breakfast in bed after I’ve slept in until I wake up on my own. My bedroom will be toasty warm from the fire my husband will light in my magical fireplace that only appears on my birthday and never leaves a mess behind itself.
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I will luxuriate in a bubble-filled bath with water that never grows tepid because a magical fire-breathing dragon is keeping it heated from below. And he won’t poop or stink up the space beneath the house ‘cause I wouldn’t like that and my birthday is all about stuff I like.

I’ll eat chocolate and read a fabulous book and have soup and everything I cook will turn out perfectly and even prettier than the photo in the cookbook. I will find an agent and a publisher and be famous, all in one day. But with none of the obnoxious stuff about fame…’cause no one wants that.

And if I don’t want it, I won’t have to deal with it.

Because it’s my birthday.

And it’s supposed to be perfect.

Or, rather, it’s my birthday…and no matter what I do – or don’t do – it will be just fine. Because maybe our birthdays as adults aren’t quite as exciting as they were when we were kids…but still, it’s a birthday! And that, as they say, is far better than the alternative.

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Dear Mr. Sedaris,

24 Sep

Ok, so I’m still writing newspaper articles and ignoring my blog. That is why I’m giving you this, a letter I wrote several months ago, addressing David Sedaris, author of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. I have never actually sent a letter to an author before because I never cared enough. I shy away from controversy. I shy away from talking about my faith. But there are times when I get hot under the collar and reading this book was one of those times. So I’m posting my letter. I’m doubting that he’ll ever see it, but who knows? Maybe I’ll actually send it to him one day. But, for now, here it is for you…should you care to read on!

Dear Mr. Sedaris,

I bought Me Talk Pretty Someday several years ago, thinking at the time that it was some sort of tie-in to Roger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific – a sort of newly-popular version, perhaps, that I kept hearing about – a “Happy Talk” book that sounded to me, an optimist, like a good read.

I was not disappointed when I discovered that it had nothing to do with beaches, the Second World War, or sailors seducing young natives…or was it the other way around? I was a little bit disappointed that it had nothing to do with getting rid of gray hair, as that has been a recent torment in my life. I enjoyed the book and I laughed often as I read it – even reading bits out loud to my husband who, perhaps, did not laugh quite as hard as I did as I read them, but who, nevertheless, deigned to smile.

After reading that book I moved on to other books, not really even realizing that you had others published. I saw your sister Amy on television a few times and finally connected the dots that she is, in fact, your sister. She’s hilarious, by the way. She about gave me a side ache from laughing when she was on Martha Stewart.

Then, this spring, I saw that you had a new book coming out – and I loved the title from the moment I saw it. So, eagerly awaiting the day when my Amazon Wish List could take residence in my Amazon shopping cart, I bought Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls a month or so ago and began reading it last week, after finally finishing up the Percy Jackson books my son implored me to read.

I dug into your book, admiring anew your writing style and remembering how much I enjoy short, easy-to-read-between-making soup, doing laundry, filtering cold-pressed coffee, and-actually-drinking-it activities that consume my day. (That sentence may not have made a lot of sense, grammatically, but I hope you got the gist of it. Or is it gyst? I like that better, actually, but my computer says no.)

Anyway, I began reading it and was liking it until I got to the chapter, “If I Ruled the World”. Okay, okay, yes, you can write what you like and no one is forcing me to read and/or buy it. But I just was so sad and surprised by it because I didn’t see it coming. I mean, you crack me up – and so little literature does that well these days – and then you kinda punched me.

It’s like this: I love Jesus. I truly do. And I believe, fervently, that He is hugely misrepresented in our world today. He doesn’t make or want people to do so many of the things that they do in His name. People are running around saying and doing all sorts of stupid and hate-filled things in the name of Christ, and I imagine that it hurts Him deeply to see that happening in this world He created.

One of those irksome things – albeit a small one – is that people want me to “like” Jesus on Facebook! Come on! I like Jesus – but that doesn’t mean I have to lower Him to a Facebook button. Eww.

Jesus doesn’t need me to be His fan or even to defend Him. He can defend Himself. I’m not writing to you to convert you or to be weird or to fill your inbox with defensive dogma. I just want to tell you that I was so very disappointed by that chapter. I was not expecting to be insulted when I read your book…and yet that’s how I felt. I understand that it was done under the guise of humor…but it was so not funny. I guess I just think that if you knew Jesus the way I do, you might actually be surprised, ‘cause the guy I know is so much better than the image the world has forced upon Him. That guy loves you. Beyond imagination. I so wish you could see Him without the filter of the world’s garbage…

Oh, and yes, I noticed that you even capitalized your pronouns when referring to Him. Somehow that just made it worse.

What is your real view of Jesus, Mr. Sedaris? (I’d call you David, but that seems presumptuous.) How do you really see Him? Do you know that He loves you, no matter what?

Oh, I feel like there is so much I could say, but I won’t. It’s hard to talk about Jesus – hard to know the right words. It’s like trying to describe your imaginary friend whom you’ve known since childhood – BUT HE’S NOT IMAGINARY…just kinda invisible. And yet not. And He’s powerful. And beyond comprehension. How does one describe THAT? How does one describe what one truly believes, based on experience, one enormous book, and a lifetime of faith?

Faith is hard to clothe.

Anyway, I guess I’ve said what I wanted to say and probably – as is usual for me – in far too many words. It’s 10:34 at night and I probably won’t ever send this, but, then again, maybe I will just to let you know that you make me smile so very often…which is why I wish so hard that you hadn’t punched me.

Sincerely,
Gretchen O’Donnell

PS – I wish I’d known your sister “Gretchen” when I was growing up – I needed all the Gretchens I could find just to not feel like it was a freakish name!

PPS – I could totally relate to your colonoscopy experience as I myself find all the irritating preparations worth the ten minutes of blissful drug-induced waking up afterwards. Does this mean I have an addictive personality? Or does that mean that people are addicted to my personality? I’ve never been sure of that, but the fact that not everyone who meets me fall madly in love with me, perhaps proves the first thing true and not the second.

PPPS (Sorry, this is getting ridiculous) – I have to admit that I skipped your poem at the end of the book. Just couldn’t take anymore. I apologize. Then again, I don’t apologize at all. I’m a bit of a prude, I suppose, but I’m okay with that.

Suddenly Everything Seems Possible + Ice Storm Photos

23 Apr
This is what we woke up to the morning after the lights went out.  All the following ice photos are from that first day - all taken through our windows.   The snow photos were the second day, mostly also from our windows.  Finally, on the third day, we went outside as a family and saw the damage first hand.

This is what we woke up to the morning after the lights went out. All the following ice photos are from that first day – all taken through our windows. The snow photos were the second day, mostly also from our windows. Finally, on the third day, we went outside as a family and saw the damage first hand.

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The climbing tree, broken branches frozen to the ground

The climbing tree, broken branches frozen to the ground

Surveying the backyard.

Surveying the backyard.

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The pine trees were like Narnia - only the bad, evil witch part of Narnia.

The pine trees were like Narnia – only the bad, evil witch part of Narnia.

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A few shots around town.

A few shots around town.

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The golf course.

The golf course.

Not exactly a safe place to play right now.

Not exactly a safe place to play right now. I have heard many reports of eye injuries as people clean up the branches all over town.

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Yes, this is a power pole.  Or should I say, was.

Yes, this is a power pole. Or should I say, was.

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Nothing but splintered remains and criss-crossed lines.

Nothing but splintered remains and criss-crossed lines.

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Horray!

Horray!

Our saviors from Wadena.

Our saviors from Wadena.

And so the clean up begins.

And so the clean up begins.

I apologize for not posting these photos sooner…I couldn’t look at them without feeling ill. Seriously. I had to avoid them for a few days to get a little perspective.

The following is what I wrote on Wednesday morning, after the lights came on the night before. Allow me add that the power was back out on Wednesday night for a few hours, but that was because of a tremendous thunderstorm and lightning hitting a transformer…just what we all needed, right? It is Monday night now, almost one week later, and again we’re having snow and wind like crazy. It has been a wild couple of weeks that I really don’t want to re-live. On the good side, people were safe and there were very few injuries – mostly the injuries came later with damage to eyes when people were out cleaning up fallen branches. There are some streets that look like tunnels, the piles of branches are so huge. This will take weeks to clean up…months, perhaps. And years to get back our trees.

HOW MANY TIMES DO WE FLIP ON A LIGHTSWITCH WHILE LOOKING FOR A FLASHLIGHT WHICH WE NEED BECAUSE THE LIGHTS ARE OFF?!!! I think that everyone has done this in their lives.

So many switches were on in our house, and that’s how I knew the power had come back on because there were suddenly lights!

We’ve put away the flashlights. The dishes are gently rocking on the Anti-Bacterial setting in my dishwasher. A load of towels is “cooking” on high heat. I turned on my electric blanket last night, just because I could.

But the TV? You know, I kinda didn’t mind not having the TV on. Not having the internet bummed me out, I admit. But I really don’t have to compulsively check Facebook every half hour in order to be happy.

I tell you what does make me happy, though. Three men from Wadena, Minnesota – a town about 5 hours north of here – who restored our power last night, just two hours shy of one week exactly from when it went out. (The oven clock came back on and read 9:06 – it picked up right where it had left – almost as if time itself had stopped. As if the past week never happened.)

I looked up Wadena on my newly-restored internet and discovered that this town of 4,000ish suffered a terrible E-F 4 tornado three years ago. In other words, these men know what it is to suffer at the hand of nature. They know what it’s like to need help from others. They came down to my town so that they could give back what they received.

I told them, “Thanks for leaving your homes and your families to come down and lend us a hand.” They shrugged and mumbled and waved for my camera.

I am not usually given to dancing. But I danced last night.

Suddenly everything seems possible.

Betrayal

23 Oct

I have written the opening lines of this post several times in my head over the past week. I have questioned and prayed and cried. I have wondered whether or not I ought to even write it. Are there things so sacred that they ought not to be written? Things that, in the writing, are depleted by the very act of putting them into words? Or is it just that I, as an imperfect being, am frustrated that nothing I say can begin to touch the truth of a life which was…but is no more?

I am not a painter. I am not a sculptor, or a carver of fine wood. If I were I would attempt to remember through my art, to present a portrait of my cousin that could be admired, touched, hung on a wall or put on a pedestal for all to see. Even then there would be limits: her hair was not quite like that. Her fingers were surely longer: a pianist’s hands. How can I portray her laugh?

My medium is less tangible, but no less imperfect: words.

Andrea loved words. She handled them correctly, used them honorably, and her conversation was intelligent and enlightening. I always enjoyed talking to Andrea and she always made me think. I only wish we could have talked more often, and for many more years ahead. She would comment on my blog from time to time, and I cherish those comments – never wasted words, always seasoned with grace.

Andrea’s sense of humor was dry and sharp, much like her mother’s. I didn’t realize how alike they were until, in recent years, I read letters from them both and saw how closely they resembled each other in viewpoints, in political ideas, in tone of voice. Their letters – or e-mails as the case may be – are ones I sit down to read with a cup of tea and a smile. And it is they I am thinking of when I proof-read my Christmas letter each year, knowing even as I do so that I probably have a few errors which they will notice but be too kind to point out.

Andrea wrote about her visit to the plastic surgeon after her mastectomy. She had me doubled over in laughter as I read, describing his harem of nurses, his words of assurance that her new chest would be gorgeous and compelling. She could laugh at herself, her world, her cancer.

When I was eleven or twelve, Andrea came from Ohio to spend the summer with us on Orcas Island, Washington. Living so many hundreds of miles apart had done nothing to encourage relationship, and, while I’d met her several times over the years, I didn’t really know this cousin who was eight years older than me and I didn’t really know what to expect when she moved into our house for three months. After all, I already had two older sisters; did I really want another one?

Turns out, she enjoyed spending time with me! She even wanted to make cookies with me and didn’t mind me hanging around! She helped me with stuff, she laughed and giggled and schemed with me. She even led me in a culinary triumph: Hot Dog Cookies, just so she could help me trick my dad, her uncle Dave – or, as the cousins all called him, “Jungle Dave”.

The cousins. I’m the little one on the end…Andrea is five over from me. This is most likely the first time I met Andrea…though, to be sure, I don’t remember it!

Together Andrea and I taught Dad that if he asks for Hot Dog Cookies, he’s going to get them. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like Snickerdoodles with a slice of hot dog hidden inside.

I’m pretty sure he even ate one.

After that summer it was back to sporadic sightings of each other, but every time I saw Andrea, I was glad: our grandparent’s 50th anniversary, and later their 60th, family weddings and reunions. She even came to Minnesota for my wedding, and once, she came for work. My husband and I drove over to Rochester to see her that time, about three years ago. We had lunch and we talked about her cancer – briefly. It was easier to not talk about it. Easier to believe the doctor’s words that, while chronic, it shouldn’t be fatal.

That was bone cancer, I think…after the breast cancer and before the brain cancer. Before she couldn’t see to read, couldn’t walk, couldn’t play her piano. And it was before she got married, if I remember right. Andrea waited a long time to find the man who was perfect for her. She told us about him at my parent’s 50th anniversary, when we all met at the Washington coast to celebrate.

We were so happy for Andrea. They got married not too long afterwards. Two years ago? Three? Either way, it wasn’t long enough. Not long enough when you say your vows, believing that, “till death do us part” will still be a long way off, a distant and aged event you both can enter into, wrinkly and bent, but willing because you’ve led a good and long life.

She led a good life, yes. But not a long one.

It’s not fair. It’s all wrong.

The fingers that played are still. The voice that laughed is quiet. She told her family that she was looking forward to seeing her brother, also gone far too soon from a terrible disease. I think to even say such a thing was to acknowledge that she knew that hope, that intangible, wispy miasma, was gone.

Or, rather, is it this way? Was it hope which allowed her so say such a thing? Hope, faith, whatever you want to call it. She knew – as much as a human heart can – that she’d see her brother again someday because she knew Whom she had believed.

Faith in Jesus is what held Andrea together. When she wept, when she questioned “why”, when she cried out to Him that this was not what she wanted, it was faith and faith alone which enabled her to face death, knowing that it was not the end. It was merely a change in viewpoint. A new piece of sheet music upon her piano. A new word – or whole strings of words, of understanding – to add to her vocabulary.

“Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. The sting of death was destroyed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We will see Andrea again.

Yes, Andrea’s body betrayed her. But her God never will.

I Philosophize About Epiphanies

16 Oct

When I began this blog a friend asked me, upon hearing the title, “But what if you don’t have any epiphanies one week? What will you write about then?” I refrained from smiling but I admit I thought, “You aren’t a writer, are you?”

The truth is, a writer can write whether inspired by some huge revelation or not. I can write about the big stuff, yes, but I can also write about the normal moments of life. The day-to-day events that create me far more than the big things. Because, while big things may mold us faster, it’s the daily stuff that makes us able to face those big moments with grace.

While the huge “Epiphanous Moments” may not come every day, every time I sit down to write (or stand at the sink and get to thinking or drive into town while pondering) I have moments where life becomes a little more clear, where things clarify themselves into coherent thoughts or sentences and I have to run to the computer to jot down my revelations (or write them on the back of a business card if I happen to be in the car, all while keeping my eyes on the road and upholding the law).

I think that most of us have small moments of realization all the time. I will think about some decision I have to make: let’s say, to dye my gray hair or not. I ruminate. I puzzle it out. I consider. This may take anywhere from a few minutes or hours to weeks or months. Then, quite suddenly, I know. I have decided. And, of course, I want to act NOW. I get on the phone and make the appointment. Preferably for that very day, though, in the case of haircuts, that never seems to work. (In case you’re wondering: I haven’t yet decided about my gray. I’m still too freaked out to decide. I do know I need a haircut, though.)

Yes, those small decisions or epiphanies, if you will, happen all the time. But I do certainly have huge epiphanies, too. Take the moment that I knew for sure that I wanted to marry my husband. We had been talking about the “M” word and I knew that he (being the researcher that he is) had bought a “secret book” about marriage (Saving your Marriage Before it Starts, by Les and Leslie Parrott) which he wouldn’t tell me the title of lest it freak me out. We’d talked about the future, about kids and life together, but he hadn’t yet officially gotten down on one knee…which he eventually did exactly 17 years ago next month, in the snow, in the gazebo (and camp) where we had met. I totally knew what my answer would be at that moment…thanks to the thinking I had given to the issue prior to that event…and The Epiphanous Moment that came as I stood by my computer one evening and suddenly JUST KNEW.

“Yes,” I said to myself, watching him as he worked on the computer. “Yes.” I hadn’t been contemplating it just then…it just smacked into me from the blue. “YES! This is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.” There. Decision made. No regrets.

I remember that moment clearly – though it was not romantic or memorable in any other way. It was a decision reached after the question had been left to simmer on the back burner of my brain. It was a decision made in a normal moment of life, knowing that I wanted all the rest of my normal moments to include him.

I did not know the moment was coming until it came. Such is the mystery of the epiphany. It is untouchable/unforcable/ unforeseen. And it is jolly good when it comes.

And that, my friends, is why I blog my epiphanies. Even if it’s a lesser decision – to dye or not to dye – I can write about it. I can make it work. I’m never at a loss for topics. The huge epiphanies may not come every day…and that’s okay. Just like my decision to marry The Sailboat King…I want my blog to include the normal moments in life.

I want to stand by my computer and say, “Yes”!

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