Freedom to read

I’m on a reading kick. Does that sound ridiculous coming from a voracious reader? The truth is, I don’t always have time, make time, or sometimes I’m only in the mood for a particular kind of book that hasn’t found me yet. Thankfully, that is not the case now.

Sharing good books is not only something I feel compelled to do, it’s something I’ve been doing to make up a fair part of my living for the last 20 years. So in that spirit, here are some must-reads from me to you. They’re not all literary. Some are purely for entertainment value. I’m not going into major detail here, just a taste.

camilla-gibbThis is Happy, Camilla Gibb – Though I worried the topic would upset me, I knew the writing would get me through. When her partner left her early in her pregnancy, Gibb cobbled together a crew of people who would become confidants, friends and family to her and her newborn. It’s excruciating at times because you don’t often read depictions of raw despair, but is joyful in the end. And the writing is exquisite, as always. You’re right there with her, even when she’s not afraid to show herself at her non-best. The best memoirs don’t white-wash the truth in every single character and situation.

Sixty+Ian+BrownSixty, Ian Brown – Wit, insight and emotional truth are the three elements present in all Ian Brown’s writing. Here he takes all the cliches about getting old and either debunks them or explains why they’re true. A big revelation is that the brain begins to decline after 28. Brown captures his day-to-day obsession with aging, while pining for his younger self but never takes himself too seriously, except when he knows that a certain truth can be universally applied. The bits of the book that are the most revealing are those that involve his children and his feelings about his father’s life and death.

I’ve previously written about the book for TVO.org and produced a segment with Ian Brown for The Agenda with Steve Paikin: This is what 60 feels like / Ian Brown: Diary of a Sixty-Year-Old

tender-bar The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – A boy grows up knowing nothing much about his dad but he becomes fascinated with Dickens, a local bar in his hometown of Manhassat, New York. The story is of his life in and out of the bar, how the fellas there acted as mentors, sounding boards, friends and sometimes, bad influences. Moehringer is a seasoned journalist and writer and it shows – every word is beautifully, skillfully measured for maximum storytelling, entertainment and emotional lurch. This is by far the best book I’ve read in a very long time. ‘Course I do have a soft spot for men in search of fathers.

lowe

Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe – Don’t judge. I’ve been fascinated with him since we were in our 20s. Turns out he can write – not ghost written. The big reveal for anyone interested in his work in The West Wing is that he grew up with the Sheens and Martin Sheen was father-like to him. That knowledge gives his scenes with Sheen a richness that makes sense when you re-watch. I’m thinking especially of when President Bartlett tells him one day he could run for office and to not be afraid to do so. As the NYTs review I’ve linked to above says, Lowe must know that his ridiculous good looks and fame mean he couldn’t take the easy way out if he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and storyteller. And he doesn’t. It’s full of insights, humour and just plain juicy info about Hollywood of the ’80s and ’90s. He’s candid about his missteps, his alcoholism and his issues on The West Wing. His later life continues in Love Life.

alan cumming

Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming – See what I mean about fatherless sons? This follows the actor’s journey to have his roots chronicled for the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are — only it’s what’s going on behind the scenes as his brother and he confront his father with questions about why he abused them. A fascinating look at Cumming’s early life and its threads to his work in front of the camera.

This is his episode of WDYTYA.

Miriam-Toews-All-My-Puny-Sorrows

 

 

 

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews – One of those books you must read slowly in order to handle the emotion. It’s relentlessly sad, so thankfully Toews is adept at lightening up just when you need it. One sister is dying, the other is falling apart – their connection is unforgettable, especially as they grapple with how and when to die. A timely read as Canada figures out how to legislate assisted death.

The Vault: best of herkind.com/ Solo

Originally published February 8, 2010

A few months ago I went to a concert by myself. I do this a lot, go out alone. Sometimes I prefer it. I really didn’t think it was a big deal until I told a couple of people about the concert. Of course the inevitable question was, who’d you go with? The reactions surprised me.

Apparently it’s courageous to do something social on your own. Or, maybe it’s even anti-social!

I’ve often written about my intermittent loneliness and how I feel that it is something that, although difficult, can be overcome. The key is to learn how to not let it affect big decisions. I’ve let that happen and learned from it – I hope. The biggest one, I believe, was moving back to Toronto from Vancouver before I’d given my life there enough of a chance. I felt indescribably lonely and was susceptible to family and friends saying, just come home. It was a mistake, but one I am trying to make the best of.

These days I’m more willing to wait the lonely feeling out. To let it run its course, because I believe it always will.

I never felt lonely a day on earth while my mother was alive and because I believe my loneliness is attached to her death, I always think of it as situational. That she’s been gone 12 years doesn’t seem to affect my characterization of the feeling. It comes, it goes.

A new book called Lonely by a Canadian writer, Emily White has got me doubting myself and wondering if I’ve caught the bravado bug I sometimes accuse others of having, the ones who are unwilling to admit their loneliness.

White bravely tells of her chronic loneliness which she  felt most of her life, but intensely so for about 3 years in her mid-30s. Three years! Chronic? Oh dear.

I have to admit I read the book with much fear. In fact, in parts my heart was beating so fast I felt sure I was having a full out panic attack. Her early life mirrors my own: feelings of separation, isolation, too much of a gap of age and temperament with siblings, parents at odds with one another, their evident loneliness, a mother who held me a little too close to fill in the spaces for her. Hell, even Emily White’s first boyfriend had the same name as mine. Has my loneliness been with me my whole life? Could feelings of loneliness and isolation be the reason I have so few memories of my young life?

I looked up from the book at the prints decorating my bedroom – it’s not the first time I’ve wondered why every single one of them depicts a woman alone.

Picasso’s Blue Nude, hangs above my bed

Has loneliness so shaped my life that it’s the reason I am middle-aged, single, with no safety net, a tiny social circle and indistinguishable social life and, worst of all, no kids? Did I somehow make this happen? And collect the art to reflect it back to me each day upon waking?

Do people look at me walking down the streets of my neighbourhood and say, there goes that lonely woman. Always alone. (no wonder I feel giddy when I can go into a local coffee shop once in awhile accompanied by a – usually male – friend. Phew, they will know I have friends and maybe even a boyfriend!)

White makes a case for loneliness as an affliction caused by genetics and nurturing. She believes we are wired through DNA to be lonely. And that sometimes our loneliness mirrors that of our parents, in her case mostly her mother. Because she wants it more out in the open, she believes it should be listed in the updated version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), due to come out in 2012. This, she says, would ensure it gets properly funded for research and treatment, the natural progression of this being medication.

Now, I haven’t done the exhaustive research she has but I disagree.

I think loneliness is a periodic state of being that visits itself upon each and every one of us at various times. Let’s face it, more people live alone now and gone are the days of close knit communities and extended families. The key is learning to understand how it affects you and what to do to work through it. After all, we’re supposed to grow and learn in life. Sometimes my loneliness is acute and it feels like nothing can alleviate it. Since I’m pretty comfortable alone it’s not being alone that triggers it. It’s being alone when I don’t want to be and feeling like I can’t connect with anyone. It’s that feeling that there’s no way to communicate my deepest feelings that makes me the loneliest.

Admittedly, the biggest reason is not having a one and only – which isn’t necessarily a love partner, though that would be nice. And I’m trying to find a way to understand how to make that very neglected part of my life work. But, just one or a few good companionable, compatible, supportive friends would do the trick.

I have friends like this, but they are mostly busy with their lives of husband/wife, active young family connections. Or they’re too far away to connect with very often. I’m a natural sharer and sometimes feel unbelievably bereft, and afraid for my future with no safeties in place. Also, being alone so much means that my nurturing instincts can go numb with disuse, or worse, get misplaced on someone entirely inappropriate. Something that can catch me unawares if I’m not careful.

Emily White thinks this type of dulling of the senses is a result of loneliness. She also offers up plenty of studies, although they are relatively small ones, that show how loneliness affects heart health, and is implicated in dementia. These pieces of information are nothing short of terrifying to me and the surest way to get me to try any outlet at all towards connection.

White says lonely people are reluctant to tell their families and friends that they are lonely. It’s true. Most people end up feeling responsible for how you feel and it only serves to turn them further away, not closer. I prefer to just bare down and get myself through it. But I’m also not afraid to say it’s a pretty big part of my life right now. But that really is my challenge, not anyone else’s.

I do know how to reach out and I enjoy sociability. I welcome it, when I’m feeling up to it. The truth is, through many years of therapy and 5 years of living away from home, I discovered the original me and that person requires more time and space, which usually means plenty of solitude of the chosen variety.

Most lonely people I know -whether they admit to being lonely or whether it’s something I sense – are creative, singular,  and as I like to call it, living outside the much touted “normal” lines. I can’t really complain about feel lonely when I bring it on by leaping out of my life every five years, at least.

My worry is that I will always do this and never settle down and that my innate (not genetic though) loneliness causes me to do this.

Perhaps I will never know. It’s not a worry I really want to take on. I prefer to believe it’s a badge of maturity to learn to live with loneliness. or should I say, live it out.

But I certainly have no intention of taking a pill for it. Nor will I stop my solo, apparently oh so courageous, outings to concerts and social gatherings.