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Alzheimer’s or Not, She’s Still Alice

May 18, 2011 6 comments

Alice is a fit and healthy fifty year-old Harvard professor when she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Still Alice is a first hand account of someone diagnosed with this disease far too young, and like any first hand account it educates us about perspectives. Smart and instantly likeable, as Alice goes through the stages of her disease so does the reader. Her loss of lucidity is evident as you are treated to the inner workings of her mind.

As Alice says in a lecture at an Alzheimer’s convention in one scene, just because they are living with this disease doesn’t mean the rest of the world should write them off.

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.”

And so this book is not only a great read, a personal journey of a beautiful character and her family, it also educates us about a terribly shattering dementia. I love learning as I read, it’s my favorite form of multi-tasking.

Life is no fairytale, and if diagnosed with this disease, it would be almost impossible to see any light. Yet the author manages to bring a touch of grace to a tragic situation. Relationships can evolve in curious ways, as happens to Alice. Without sugar-coating, this story illuminates that Alzheimer’s is not an ending, but rather a challenge which forces you to live your life differently.

In her first novel, incidentally written at Starbucks while her child was at school, Lisa Genova has created a touching story about a woman who endures this hurdle with dignity. She fights to hold on to the person she is, and lives in the moment as best she can.

I couldn’t put this book down, and when I did I was in a hurry to get back to it. The best books leave us with lessons learned in life, albeit through someone else’s experience. From Alice we learn to persevere, to enjoy the good, and to love hard.

And of course that lesson that never gets old – to live in the moment and for the moment.

Of Fervour, Dreams, and Books

May 18, 2011 10 comments

Something happens to me in bookstores.

Be them old, new, borrowed or blue, when in a library or other place heavy with book shelves, I feel like I am home amongst friends. Although I may have never graced those floors before, I see the old familiar titles on the shelves and I’m calmed. No matter how I felt before walking into the store, once across the threshold I am alive with possibility, awake with new meaning, open to new destinies.

If exercise or caffeine is not doing it, it’s my equivalent to popping an upper.

I feel like each book I’ve read is an old friend.  It may sound strange, but I have never guaranteed sanity. I see lots I recognize, oldies but goodies. Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’ubervilles, The Mill on the Floss, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye.

Oh yes, these I loved once.

I hear of people who have read Jane Eyre seventeen times – who are you and what do you do for a living? I would like to reread these just once, but the stack of books beside my bed is already impinging on the light from my bedside table. Rereading these classics would mean missing out on many others.

Night time reading

So many books, so little time.

Walking amongst the stacks I see many more that I long to spend time with, but haven’t found the opportunity –  yet. War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Freedom. Your time will come.

On the bestseller wall live more recent friends: The Thirteenth Tale, Through Black Spruce, Secret Daughter, Half of a Yellow Sun. We were intimate, myself and these words. I fell in love with them, and they with me, and we sailed off into the sunset. It was lovely.

Not entirely impervious to chick-lit, some of these titles holler to me, reminding me of a time when my attention span was thin and my reading time competed with sleep. The desire to sleep usually won, but when it didn’t I turned to The Nanny Diaries and Sophie Kinsella’s books for silliness and comic relief.

Even the children’s section displays buddies from days gone past, other cherished times. Watership Down, Oh the Places You’ll Go, James and the Giant Peach. Less time consuming and appealing to my children, I have been able to relive these classics. Fewer words but still big in spirit and meaning.

I have a dream.

It involves sitting and reading for a long time.

From Vegas and Beyond With Lindy Hughes

May 16, 2011 4 comments

She endured a midlife crisis and came away from it an author. Lindy Hughes, incredible mother, wife, and ballet teacher turned novelist, is my subject today for Motivational Monday.

Every parent of daughters west of the Rockies has heard of her extraordinary prowess as a ballet teacher. Her South African accent combined with her love for fairies has little girls falling over themselves to get into her class – they are legendary, and each of my three girls were lucky to be her students.

But her rock star status amongst the five year-old set couldn’t insulate her disappointment that so many go through in their forties. She had never planned on getting married and having children, yet had done so and it naturally consumed her life. As Facebook launched and peers around the world caught up with her, she was mystified by her answers to what had become of her: how different they sounded from her grand plans of being a penniless writer.

Completely distraught, she had a very honest conversation with her husband, telling him she wanted to leave, that this life wasn’t intended for her. He asked her what her ideal life would look like.

I would be starving, sleeping on a floor somewhere in Paris, and writing, was her reply.

He pointed out she could do that here, in Vancouver, in their home. Sleep on the floor too if you want, but I’m not going to join you.

She agreed he had a point, there was nothing stopping her from writing except herself.

For the next three months, she wrote a fictional story about a middle-aged South African emigrant mother named Lucy who has an affair with her first love in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The story, she says, literally poured out of her.

Written with self-deprecating humour and just the right amount of poignancy, she self-published her book, It Never Stays in Vegas, through Amazon.

My book club read it, and Lindy gamely attended our meeting. Over wine and dinner, we barraged her with questions about the book, lobbing tougher questions as the wine flowed. She answered all of our questions in a straightforward manner, dealing with criticism as well as compliments. It was our best meeting ever, consumed not only by the book but also grander conversation about life and its challenges.

“Each life is just a story, and we CAN change things. Every day you are writing your own chapter,” she says. Writing her book was cathartic, and put her in a better space. “The world would be a better place if everyone would write their own book.”

She is in the midst of finishing her second book, Tutus, Tiaras and Tassels. This one is non-fiction, and is a collection of essays about lessons learned from the dance studio. Where Lindy is concerned, there is never a dull moment, and I am anxiously awaiting its release. Suffice to say this woman has chutzpah, but I can’t give anything else away.

“We must get over that fear of embarrassing ourselves,” she says, referring to the fact that everyone should live their best life, whatever that means for them. “At the end of the day, it’s just you on your deathbed, so you can’t let anyone else rule your life.”

I salute you Lindy, for making lemonade when life gave you lemons, for your fresh perspectives and your unflinching honesty, but mostly for going after your dream.

Secret Daughter – book review

January 4, 2011 3 comments
A chawl is a name for a type of building found...

Image via Wikipedia

I love traveling to India.

I’ve never been there in the flesh, but frequently visit through literature (The Namesake and The White Tiger were other recent trips), and I find its colorful saris, succulent dishes and chaotic streets intriguing and intoxicating.  My family knows when I am reading a book set in India – I offer them chai tea in the afternoon, and experiment with new curry dishes for dinner – my sweet potato and lentil dish the other night was particularly good.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s novel, Secret Daughter, shows us two sides of India: primitive villages, where its inhabitants struggle to feed themselves and dream of a better life, and the privileged urban upper class, who throw elaborate weddings and lead more fanciful lives geared towards shopping and entertaining.  The distance between the two India’s is gaping and shocking, the divide almost never bridged.

Gowda begins by detailing the chilling treatment of infant girls and women in these remote villages, where farming is a priority, and boys and men favored.  Our protagonist is Kavita, and readers are quickly seduced by her growing strength and resolve in the face of India’s pro-testosterone culture.

Halfway around the globe in San Francisco lives Somer, the other protagonist and voice in this book.  Through Somer, readers are introduced to the miseries of infertility, as she plummets to the depths of despair due to her inability to conceive.

These women are worlds apart in every way, geographically, educationally and culturally, yet their lives are brought closer together by the child Kavita risked her life to deliver to an orphanage, saving not only her baby daughter, but also Somer’s marriage and, perhaps, life, in the process.

Filled with courage and hope, the importance of family and love, and shedding light on modern Mumbai, this journey to India is a worthy trip; but remember to pack some Kleenex.

My favorite things of 2010

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment
Arcade Fire at Rock en Seine, August 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

Drum roll, please.  I am unveiling my favorite things of 2010.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Who cares what her favorite things of 2010 were? Who does she think she is, Oprah?”  But reflecting on the year gone past is the thing to do this time of year, as we begin our slide towards 2011.  That, and think up new resolutions in order to break them in January.  This is what we humans do, we are mired in tradition, as predictable as sheep.  What better way to mark time’s passing then to reminisce over the last 365 days, and relive its highlights?

Besides, I have presents to wrap, and am in full avoidance mode, desperate for something to amuse myself.  You can resume your drum roll now.

Favorite event: Vancouver Winter Olympics.  If you didn’t experience it personally, it is difficult to explain the ground swell of Canadian pride that permeated from the pavement during these fantastic Olympic Games.  Finally, we realized it was cool to be Canadian.  We rocked those 2010 Winter Games.

En route to see the Canadian Women's Hockey team at the Olympics

Favorite album: Hands down, The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire.  This album can calm any storm and soothe any soul, yet also raise the roof and uplift spirits.  It does it all, from the lyrics to the message to its simple cohesion.  A triumph and a work of art.

Favorite concert: Arcade Fire.  The only thing better than listening to The Suburbs was watching Arcade Fire perform songs from that album live in concert.  Even our nosebleed seats couldn’t take away the magic in that stadium; they clearly had more talent in their pinky fingers than everyone in that audience combined.  Their rendition of Rococo took my breath away, the entire concert was larger than life.

Favorite bookThe Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.  My first time reading this timeless novel, and I was blown away by Wharton’s perceptiveness and prose.  I tend to rant and rave a lot about this book, but in this space suffice to say it is a classic for a reason, so read it, or reread it; as the case may be, it speaks for itself.

Favorite movie: A disclaimer: I see almost exclusively G rated movies, with the occasional PG film thrown in when feeling reckless, an environmental hazard of my jobSecretariat wins this race – watching a housewife overcome all odds to produce one of the greatest race horses in history is both a visual delight and a message I like to reinforce to my girls: we can do anything we set our minds to.

Favorite news story: The rescue of 33 Chilean miners.  The world watched this improbable rescue en mass; since when does a Hollywood ending actually happen in real life?

Favorite gadget: Garmin Forerunner 405.  This watch has revolutionized my running.  Being able to glance at my distance or pace takes the guesswork out of my workouts.  I set my intervals, and away I go – it’s like having a coach, but better, since it doesn’t care if I skip my workout when it’s raining too hard.

Favorite moment: Running the Boston Marathon.  I should clarify, my favorite moment came after I had finished, because it was, well, hard.  Nevertheless, an incredibly great experience that I will forever cherish.

Finishing Boston - Boylston Street was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs

Now if I were Oprah, a copy of The Suburbs, The Age of Innocence, and a Garmin watch would magically appear underneath your chair, and we would all be going to Boston for the 2011 marathon.  But sadly I can’t compete with the queen of television’s empire, my audience is woefully small (although extremely intelligent), and the only thing I can give you is best wishes for 2011: here’s hoping it has beautiful moments, untold pleasures and many miracles in store.

Yes, I am actually in a book club

December 17, 2010 4 comments
Book Shelf

In my previous life, bbc (before book club), the term ‘book club’ conjured visions of suburban women sitting around bitching about life.  I steadfastly avoided them like the plague: my life was enough of a cliche, joining a book club would be the icing on my cake.

Besides, I’m conscientious about using any term which includes ‘club’; its exclusivity annoys me.  I’m in, you’re out, it says, if you happen to not be a member.  I’m more of an “everybody’s welcome! the more the merrier!” kind of girl; Maritimers never want to hurt feelings.

However I do love to read, and miss those days spent in English literature classes, trying to make sense out of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell.  It was interesting to share ideas and concepts with others who loved books, examinations notwithstanding.  Keep the class, lose the tests.  That sounded promising.

Add to this utopia the ability to tailor your studying to include mostly books you have a burning desire to read, and assemble a group of people who will not cry “FOUL!” on the odd occasion life was too busy to finish the book, and you have yourself a book club, cupcake.

Despite knowing the concept was a sound one, I continued to resist.  It would take up valuable time and energy, two things I was perennially short of.  I steered wide and clear.

So when my friend Ruthie invited me to hers, I naturally and quickly responded that they weren’t my thing.  Ruthie, knowing me well, persisted, demanding that I elaborate exactly why they weren’t my thing.  When I couldn’t, I found myself staring at an email the next day with the details of the next meeting.

A few weeks later, cursing Ruthie for getting me into this situation, I arrived on the doorstep for my first meeting, armed with a bottle of wine and a carefully annotated and sticky-noted copy of the book.  I didn’t know anyone except Ruthie, and I felt like the new kid in school, which is something I had never experienced in my life.  What if they hate me?

Like any well-designed storyline, where the insecure heroine finds her groove in the end, this club I had so adamantly resisted became my most treasured evening out each month.  It is an incredible group of warm, savvy and adventurous women.  Whoever hosts chooses the book, so sometimes I am forced out of my comfort zone to read books I never would have otherwise, but am always glad I did in the end.  (Well, except for Blindness.  Sorry Ruthie.) I have slowly come to know all the members, and would jet off on a girls weekend with any of them in a heartbeat (hm, idea.)  We drink wine, eat like queens, and bitch about life.

And sometimes, we even talk about the book.

Categories: Books Tags: , ,

The Happiness Project – one cynic’s review

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment
Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

New Yorkers are synonymous with hustle and bustle.  The term itself conjures up an image of thousands of foot soldiers stalwartly making their way up Fifth Avenue, like an army of ants returning to their queen.

I only have one friend who calls New York home, but I imagine its inhabitants to be “Type A” people, each with long “to do” lists that they keep beside their beds in the event they think of another thing they may want to accomplish in the middle of the night.  I know this is a stereotype, but it seems to be backed up by portrayals of New Yorkers in many books, shows, and movies, so I’m sticking by it.  (Hollywood doesn’t lie.)

So in reading “The Happiness Project”, although interested in this noble cause: finding happiness; I couldn’t quell the idea that author Gretchen Rubin had put “get happy” on her to do list, and was going to go to any length to achieve it, no matter that happiness is actually an intangible aspect of our beings.  This year: happiness.  Next year: wealth.

By December, the month she had decided to put all eleven methods of getting happy into play, I was so worried she was going to have a nervous breakdown that I couldn’t grasp whether or not she was succeeding.  I read on just to make sure she didn’t drop dead mid sentence from the sheer effort of forcing herself to do all of those things on her list (that didn’t necessarily come naturally to her).

Aside from this niggling feeling I had throughout the book, Rubin makes some valid points about steps you can take to improve your mood.  Strangely, I had just written a post about reducing clutter entitled “November: a new year begins”, wherein I felt so much better after ridding closets and drawers of unused items.  Likewise, the first month of Rubin’s project is dedicated to organizing and cleaning her apartment of clutter.  I agree that putting in this time and effort is well worth the reward, and can contribute to an overall sense of achievement that translates to happiness.

Another aspect of her happiness project that resonated with me was her determination to “Be Gretchen”, and ascribe her personal happiness to her own unique personality, and not base it on what she feels she should be doing.  For instance, she feels like she should love going to jazz clubs, but in actual fact she doesn’t; so she rightly learns to listen to her true self.

But the absolute most important point she hit upon was that we are all happier when in stages of growth.  Continually evolving as humans and expanding our horizons is of utmost importance when measuring happiness.  Whatever way you achieve this – by taking a course, learning a trade, reading a book, taking up an instrument, traveling to a new place – your overall well-being will stand to benefit.

Applause has to go to Rubin for her efforts to make the world a better place by sharing her Happiness Project.  If she has helped one person, and she undoubtably has helped thousands if book sales are any indication, it has been a worthwhile project.

That should make her happy.