Book review: Windswept — The Story of Wind and Weather by Marq de Villiers

Tornado5 NOAA 1

In almost every way, Marq de Villiers’s Windswept — The Story of Wind and Weather is a fascinating book. But I’ll be honest; without University of King’s College MFA director Don Sedgwick’s recommendation, I’m not sure that I would have included Windswept among my first-term must-reads.

Yet it proved an inspired choice. It brought to mind the Aubrey and Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian, and how one can sometimes find joy in unexpected places. There, I became fascinated with weather, and how everything from the lightest zephyrs to the darkest gales affected life in the days of wooden ships and iron men.

Within just a few minutes of starting Windswept, you know that you’re in the hands of a master craftsman, and often it was fun to just let the cadence of a few paragraphs carry you along like a fresh breeze across the starboard bow. And if I were just reading by chance or serendipity, I might not have looked for more than an entertainment, or the opportunity to lifted out of the mundane by thoughtful prose.

But this is a book best read with intent, so I consumed slowly and mindfully. My first conclusion is that de Villiers rich, effortless prose is anything but effortless. I am confident that every paragraph has been written, and then rewritten, and then polished until it shines like a mariner’s astrolab. By its very nature, Windswept demanded an experienced hand on the tiller. In the hands of less accomplished soul, some pedantic junior officer from the night watch, it would have been a boring regurgitation of facts. But this was riveting, detailed storytelling about a subject few people even think about.

With each chapter, I found myself more enamored with the story and with the vessel taking me on my journey. On one hand, the structure of Windswept was seamless, and seemingly guileless. It felt like a casual, relaxed conversation among junior officers in the mess but, having met Marq as a mentor my my MFA program, I suspect that Windswept is nothing of the sort. I am confident that this author has been poring over the charts, and that he plots his work meticulously, doting on every word and phrase. Nothing is wasted, nothing superfluous.

I felt the same about the book’s structure. Here, I felt like a midshipman, somewhat out of my element, looking from the mains’ls to the topgallants, trying to discern the complicated rigging, to find sense in the trim. I’ve found that’s not an uncommon feeling. I can’t always tell why this section of some book belongs in chapter 3, as opposed to chapter 7, but I found myself able to discern anchors that ground the narrative. With the nonfiction I’ve read this year, I’ve become far less beholden to a linear structure because I’m learning how repeating elements can provide handholds when scenes are capricious and the deck shifting underfoot.

Importantly, de Villier, winner of a Governor-General’s Medal for nonfiction, has a fine grasp of science, and I enjoyed his distillations — in areas where our expertise overlapped — for nonscientific readers. It’s very well done. About the only time my brows furrowed occurred when perusing the bibliography. On a few occasions, de Villiers sourced articles in the popular media that seemed less competent at handling the science than his high standards would suggest. It’s as if a graceful tack wasn’t handled deftly as one might expect from a ship of the line.

Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading more of de Villiers, especially Water — The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource and The Heartbreak Grape.

I would heartily recommend Windswept to all readers of great creative nonfiction. Everything is shipshape, like a barquentine under full sail, elegant and beautiful to the eye and ear as the wind pushes her to a sweet and rousing 12 knots.

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Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Pacific coast trail

None of us will get out of here alive.

We will all be beaten and battered by a callous world filled with unthinking, unfeeling people who care little for our suffering, except as it affects their own.

I used to think that I was singular, that my suffering was singularly intense and devastating. Now I know better.

At the 25th anniversary reunion for my junior high school class, I found myself in deep with old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since high school. A few had led charmed lives, but most of us carried a world weariness, and untold heartaches that were impossible to hide. Here was Tracy; the man she had married had been taken by brain cancer, and now hardly knew who she was. Over there was a kind woman who had been badly abused by her ex-husband. Both of George’s parents would pass away within four months of our meeting. Debbie longed to join us, but couldn’t find the strength because her daughter had just died.

It was difficult for me because, in my twelfth year of daily migraines, I was hanging by my fingernails, my hands bloody and raw. I was embarrassed by my circumstances. I was noteworthy only because I was still alive.

So I understand what it means to feel broken, and that’s why I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and couldn’t put it down. In her unfathomable pain, I found my own journey in this world reflected.

Wild recounts the adventure that Strayed undertook in the mid-1990s when, as troubled 26-year-old, she hiked alone along Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. To describe her life as a hot mess is generous. To describe her preparation as pathetically inept is kind. Her backpack, which she quickly dubs Monster, weighs half as much as she does, so she can barely hoist it, let alone walk any distance. Her boots are too small for her feet, and within days her swollen, bruised feet start dropping toenails to mark her progress. She grows so callused that her hips and shoulders resemble a tortoise shell, and she’s embarrassed to be seen naked.

Strayed has just lost her middle-aged mother to lung cancer, and that loss is consuming her from the inside. She adored and admired her mother — even through a healthy dose of youthful distain — and played the dutiful daughter with ferocity during her brief illness. Halfway into the process of growing into her own life, Strayed is shattered by the loss, then shatters what remains of her life. Within a year, her family disintegrates, she loses the good, strong man she married by engaging in serial infidelity, and starts shooting heroin with a roguish lover. When her journey begins, she still has purplish-yellow needle tracks along her ankle.

And yet, despite the physical discomfort over an arduous journey, nothing catastrophic befalls our heroine. She neither has to outsmart ravenous bears, nor does she drink contaminated water, and writhe in pain for days. Her most serious trials occur through her own stupidity and miscalculations.

And yet, despite the vast number of times I shook my head in disbelief, I enjoyed Wild immensely because I found the author quirky and charming. And that’s the real story here, how one lost woman knew instinctively how to find herself again by testing her body and mind in ways few of us ever do. I recognized her budding inner strength because I’ve made a similar journey through the proverbial baptism by fire. Discomfort and pain can become a suit of armor that protects from the slings and arrows of everyday life.

The longest journey must begin with a single step. In this case, the meandering trail was an internal journey that transformed a broken young woman into someone who could be a writer.

Cheryl Strayed proved tough and strong-willed, of course, or Wild would exist only as a short story. It’s a remarkable journey, filled with friendship, insight, and simple joy. I was pulling for Strayed with every step, knowing that she was too young to be so alone in the world. She’s somehow sympathetic and uncompromisingly honest, and many have been moved by her brokenness.

Reviewers have certainly gushed. “One of the most original, heartbreaking, and beautiful American memoirs in years,” suggests NPR Books. “An addictive, gorgeous book that not only entertains,” The Boston Globe opines, “but leaves us the better for having read it.” Dwight Garner, book critic at The New York Times, says that Wild totally unmanned him, and left him “obliterated” and “puddle-eyed.”

Frankly, I’m mystified. Though I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, I couldn’t quite figure out how Wild made Strayed into a celebrity, and brought the book to the Big Screen in a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. But it is a poignant book, filled with life and resonance. During one impossible scene where Strayed described euthanizing her mother’s cherished horse, I was moved to tears. The event is the very definition of heartbreaking.

Perhaps I’m judging this book by the four-star reviews on its cover, but it feels incomplete. I wanted the writing to be the loftier, and to glean more insight from a 46-year-old woman surveying her 26-year-old life. But it’s not there. This is very much like the book I suspect Strayed would have written five years after her adventure. It has passages of crystal clear beauty, followed by some unexpected longueurs where I zoned out.

Wild comes very close to something like redemption in the final chapter after Strayed ponders how her life changed in her search for meaning and acceptance. Tears filled my eyes at her soft, gentle epiphany, perfectly rendered.

But it was not quite enough for greatness.

After I finished Wild, I couldn’t help myself. I pondered the nature of Strayed’s celebrity. I know many writers who love her essays, and her Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus was weird and wise. Torch, her first book, was warmly reviewed by critics.

She seemed to be carving out a fine, if unspectacular career. So what changed?

Something every writer dreams about. Oprah Winfrey read Wild, and announced that Strayed’s memoir would be the inaugural selection of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Wild had a brief run on The New York Times’ Bestseller List before Oprah catapulted it to the number one slot for weeks, and it stayed on the list for months. It became a huge bestseller, and was eventually published in 30 languages.

Anything that brings nonfiction to popular attention is a very good thing, and I found myself wanting good things to happen to the young woman in Wild.

Now if only it could happen to a few more authors who deserve it at least as much.

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Book Review: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the beautiful

I’m wondering if the First World Problems meme owes its genesis to Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers — Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

Within two chapters, I was immersed in this teeming world, lying awake at night, sifting through the contrasts. Here I am, bitching because I’m scrambling like a madman to find enough money to attend a choice university, only to read about a teenager who had sliced off his hand, and even as his stump gushed crimson, he swore oaths to the heavens, promising not to make trouble for his employer.

Just so he could keep his job.

Here I am, complaining in fewer than 140 characters about incessant migraines, and then finding myself in the midst of a crisis about a half-crazy woman in Annawadi who set herself ablaze because when all the emotions of hopelessness and despair swirled around her, and only revenge separated out.

Here I am, saddened that I can’t take Kristina out for her birthday only to remember that the fortunate denizens of this Mumbai slum eat fish stained blue with chemicals from a toxic pond, while the less fortunate fry toads or rats when their traps are successful, and go hungry when they are not.

The stories, these stories! This is India. You can live a lifetime in these 250 pages.

With Boo’s spare, evocative prose, and detailed scene setting, I found it difficult to read Beyond the Beautiful Forevers without feeling sick to my stomach.

I’m not without a worldview and a broader perspective. In the course of writing Four Strong Winds, I cast an eye towards the Indian economy and what its effects on the planet will be. With 1.2 billion souls, most clawing their way out of poverty, the portents are ominous.

A decade ago, the mere mention of such sprawling and unfettered capitalism would have given an environmentalist like me the bends. But treehuggers are also social activists at heart, and we know that we have to lift millions in developing economies out of poverty. In India, a country where the per capita annual income is only $1,219 US, the need is beyond understanding. In 2005, 27.5 percent of India’s population lived below the poverty line. If you do the calculations, 332 million people barely survive. No wonder my heart bleeds.

But these are numbers. And while numbers matter, faces matter more.

The world I found in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers was a world of faces. Before, when I imagined India, my mind bounced endlessly, and my senses were fully engaged, but I was seeing the India of films. I would see beautiful saris on beautiful women, and a merciless pink-orange sun setting through smog as brown as cinnamon. Before, when I imagined India, I scented the spice of simmering curries, the tang of teeming bodies, and the fug of diesel fumes. I heard the merry cacophony trains and buses and rickshaws and rushing schoolchildren. It felt vital and rich and chaotic — but slightly blurred.

Now when I imagine India, I think of Annawadi, and I inhabit this slum. It feels so real to me, and no, I was not prepared for what I might find. The story weaves and dips, but largely follows the journey of Abdul, the slum’s best garbage trader whose unwavering commitment to his trade has lifted his family from poverty. But his family is Muslim and mistrusted, and success is perilous when tensions simmer. When one woman, in a fit of despondency, lights herself ablaze and falsely accuses the Muslims from her deathbed, the family suffers abuse beyond the conveyance of words. Three family members are arrested, tortured, ruined.

I couldn’t stop reading. I expected my fill of tension and worry, but helplessness roiled in me.

I expected honesty and decency among the poorest of the poor. As though those untouched by capitalism would be among humanity’s most compassionate because they know.

How contemptibly naïve. This is the village of the damned. A place where people scrimp and putter, where they scrape and scheme, and nothing ever changes. If you show kindness or compassion to someone less fortunate, then your kin would have less. Any sign of weakness — or success — brings danger.

Residents are constantly cut down, if not by circumstances, then by each other. They live in fear of corrupt police offers and government bureaucrats. One false note, one false witness, and lives are destroyed.

Everyone toils for years just for a whisper of hope, for the faintest glimmer on the horizon. In end, Abdul’s family finds decency still survives amongst the darkness and despair; at multiple trials, neighbors tell the truth even at their peril. The family has lost everything at the courts, but not their freedom. Somehow, they are the lucky ones.

In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the lives of the poor are disposable. When one thief dies, another rises to take his place. When a known criminal is murdered, his autopsy report is altered, and death by blunt force trauma becomes tuberculosis. People know how to die. While one actively chooses rat poison to end his misery quickly, another passively stops eating. Within a few days, the results are the same.

There is so much here that is poignant and heartbreaking. Boo has the strength of a journalist and the heart of poet, and both were required to see this project through. She has the bonafides. As a former Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post and a New Yorker staff writer, she has long labored to tell the stories of America’s poor. When she fell in love with an Indian, her focus shifted to the world’s second-most-populous country.

The story of the Annawadi slum took years to tell. At first, the pale blonde was a suspicious interloper. But within a few months, they thought nothing of this Westerner accompanying them on their daily toils, or asking them the same questions repeatedly in the search for truth.

At first, I found the coolness in Behind the Beautiful Forevers an odd choice. Boo’s prose is lyrical, her descriptions and imagery masterful. Her characters are so finely drawn I feel I might recognize them on the street. But it seemed as if she kept her distance. I wondered, at first, if this was a function of language difficulties, or because she missed important events in the timeline, and so resorted to reconstruction. But now, I feel differently. The distance I find here conveys the truth that exists between people who are hurting and broken. Everything feels meticulous and considered; nothing seems exaggerated. I doubted nothing that I read.

In the end, I learned that Boo was anything but unaffected by her years in Annawadi, for she returned with her healthy royalty cheques to make a difference. I admire her more than I can say.

Every year, if I’m lucky, I’ll read a sumptuous book that moves me so deeply that think about it for a long time. The tapestry woven by the complicated lives seen in Behind the Beautiful Forevers has done that, and more.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers is a triumph in every way — it’s intelligent, thoughtful, and brimming with rawness and humanity.

I found such power in these stories. As a writer, I will aim higher.

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Flight of the Griffons — by Kate Inglis

Flight of the Griffons

Kate Inglis has destroyed my street credibility in the rough and tumble Dartmouth neighborhood where I live. Three times in the last fortnight, while waiting for the bus to whisk me away to my writing residency at the University of King’s College’s MFA in creative nonfiction program, Flight of the Griffons made me cry.

That’s not just the sign of a very good book. It’s the sign of blessedness.

Flight of the Griffons is, by every measure, a rip-roaring and rowdy juvenile adventure and a very tall tale that will delight readers of every age even as it tackles the most serious issue of our day: the destruction of Planet Earth by capitalism gone awry. At the same time, Griffons portrays the unconscionable plight of Canada’s First Nations with both grace and delicacy, and I will be eternally grateful for the author’s decision to write this modern parable.

Flight of the Griffons is Inglis’s sequel to the bestselling The Dread Crew, and it exceeds the original in every way. That’s no small thing. While we enjoy spending some time with the old Dreads, a motley crew of land pirates who know how to have a good time, we’re quickly immersed in the latest adventures of Missy Bullseye who was, for me anyway, the most intriguing character in the first book.

What can I say? I love Missy. I mean, I really love her. She has the heart of a swashbuckler and the soul of a poet. She’s profoundly deaf, but skilled at reading lips — and emotions. In the best traditions of juvenile fiction, she is afraid of nothing, repeatedly proving that she is resourceful, quick, and inventive. I was beguiled. Girls, and more than a few boys, will want to be just like her.

Missy’s adventure with the Griffons begins when the head of the pirate union co-opts her into spying on a blacklisted crew that has fallen off the radar. Nobody is sure what the Griffons are doing, though rumours abound. With pluck and ingenuity, Missy finds her way aboard, and starts spying for the Chief.

But the Griffons are not anything like she expects, and Missy quickly learns that these renegade pirates, under Captain Rasmus Krook now serve Mother Earth. Travelling around Western Canada in a jury-rigged Hercules transport plane, they wreak havoc on the suits who wish to crisscross Canada’s pristine hinterlands with oil and gas pipelines.

I won’t give more away. But I will say that, in the tradition of authors like Roald Dahl, Flight of the Griffons is a wonderfully seditious read. Kids will love it.

Better still, Inglis writes beautifully, and her second offering is both lovely and lyrical. I love Inglis’s sense of humor. Throw in a handful of whimsical, old-school illustrations by NSCAD-trained Sydney Smith, and you have the makings of a fabulous book.

I just hope this isn’t the last time we see Missy Bullseye. She does terrific work with the Griffons, but she needs a ship to call her own.

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Author Jennifer Zobair Answers 25 Questions

Jennifer zobair photo
I want to tell you about Jennifer Zobair, the author of Painted Hands, but first I’d like to talk about Andika.

Andika was a student in the kid’s karate class at that I taught at the University of King’s College ISKF for a decade. His parents were Muslims from Indonesia, and always treated me with the utmost kindness, calling me Master Richard (even though I’m not a karate master), and bowing low before talking after class. His father was doing his post-doc work at Dalhousie, while his mother raised the children in their traditional home. They bought me sweet, touching gifts every Christmas. 

Andika loved karate. And by that I mean to say he loved it. From the very first class, he wore a smile as big as an sunny September sky. His ability to focus on lessons and advance through the ranks was remarkable and, in a class filled with wonderful children, he shined. He never missed a class that I remembered.

Until 9/11. 

At the end of that Wednesday class, I asked my 30 or students to sit naturally.  I told them that something horrible had happened because some crazy men had wanted to hurt innocent Americans. 

And I said when something terrible happens, people look for easy answers. They look for someone to blame. And I said that narrow-minded people all over the world would be angry at Muslims just because they’re Muslim.

And then I told them to think about Andika.

“Have you ever seen a cuter kid in your life?” I asked. I could see my students smiling, nodding, and chuckling because it was true. Andika was adorable. Everyone in the class really liked him. 

People are going to be angry about what happened, I continued, and they’re going to be furious at Muslims. They’ll be mad at people like just like Andika and his parents. People who are kind and generous and wonderful.

And that I said that over the next months — probably even longer — Muslims like Andika would be targeted by people who were racist and cruel. And I told them we might not be able to change the world, or stop planes from flying into towers but, if we have the courage to speak and act when we see injustice, we can stop a few innocent people from being hurt. Even people who were living in Halifax.

People like Andika.

And that’s a big reason why I am so grateful to Jennifer Zobair. 

There are many reasons for me to be so, because Jennifer has been a kind and supportive friend since we first met during an ill-fated writing competition two years ago. She offered many valuable comments after reading Secrets of the Hotel Maisonneuve, and organized a bevy of writers who combined their talents to help me survive the financial burden of neurosurgery last year.

And she’s done something extraordinary. For people like Andika.

Jennifer’s written a lovely book about smart, sophisticated Muslim women who are navigating the fraught world of a post-9/11 America. Painted Hands is poignant and nuanced, and provides a deep insight into every day lives that suffer from subtle and overt racism. She’s a gifted writer, and her ear for dialogue is first-rate, so you really feel this story.

So, in these days of racist talk radio and and media bullies, Jennifer Zobair’s allowed us to know, for a brief time, a world too few of us have tried to understand. 

I think her own words tell it best, in this brilliant article for The Rumpus.

I understand that multicultural fiction does not exist simply to speak truth to bigotry. And still this is, for me, part of its importance. It is not as good as actually knowing someone, but it is close. If you love Celie or Shug or Kimbili or Sethe, I believe you are going to have a harder time seeing African Americans as “other.” If you experience the love between Jack and Ennis, it is exponentially more difficult to see love between gay people as different from love between straight couples.

Of course, these are often also big, beautiful, breathtaking stories with stunning voices and plots and characterization. But my heart clings to this: It is harder to hate a group of people when you know people from that group.

This is my truth.

It’s mine, too.

Please welcome Jennifer Zobair to Telling Stories.

About Painted Hands

Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir and her best friend Amra Abbas have thwarted proposal-slinging aunties and cultural expectations to succeed in their high-powered careers in Boston. What they didn’t count on? The unlikely men who shatter their friendship, including a childhood friend who turns out to be more traditional than he let on, and a right-wing politico with career-threatening secrets of his own. When the personal and the geopolitical collide, and a controversial prayer service leads to violence, Zainab and Amra must figure out what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.

About Jennifer Zobair

Jennifer Zobair grew up in Iowa and graduated from Smith College and Georgetown Law School. She has practiced corporate and immigration law in New York and Michigan, and has been a strong advocate for Muslim women’s rights. She is married to a fellow Georgetown Law graduate who happens to be Pakistani-American, which means she knows her cumin from her coriander and that the dry cleaner is lying when he says he can remove that big blob of henna from your favorite white pants. She lives with her husband and three children in the Boston area.

Painted hands2

Author Jennifer Zobair Answers 25 Questions

1) What was your favorite book as a child? What is your favorite children’s book?

My favorite book as a child was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (which still has the power to make me cry, by the way.) My favorite children’s book now is The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, which is just so beautifully written and important.

2) What is your most marked characteristic? Does it help or hinder you?

I’m pretty sensitive, and I think this helps me feel a great deal of empathy for other people. But it also means I don’t have the thickest skin.

3) Which quality do you most like in a man? 

That he’s a feminist, that he’s fully committed to women’s equality and self-determination, that he’ll fight for those things. Bonus points if he calls himself one.

4) Which quality do you most like in a woman?

True compassion, and the ease and confidence with herself that it requires. Women who embody one of my favorite Alice Walker quotes:
 

“I think that’s what I get from these older women, that sense that every soul is to be cherished, that every flower is to bloom. That is a very different world view from what we’ve been languishing under, where the thought is that the only way I can bloom is if I step on your flower, the only way I can shine is if I put our your light.”

5) What is your favorite memory?

When I was pregnant with our third child, my then-five-year-old son, Tariq, secretly arranged to have my husband’s sister help him get flowers to give me in the hospital. I was sitting up in bed the morning after giving birth, holding our new son, and my husband was holding our two-year-old daughter in the chair next to me. Tariq rushed in with this enormous vase of flowers, all smiles and little boy cuteness, and proceeded to dump his gift on me, soaking the entire bed. He felt awful, but it was one of the sweetest things ever, and I just remember thinking I have everything I need right here.

6) Describe the best meal you’ve ever had.

The best meal I’ve ever had is any masala dosa I’ve ever eaten in any Indian restaurant anywhere. I’m addicted.

7) What’s the best book you’ve read in the last two years? The best movie you’ve seen?

The best book I’ve read in the past two years is Christie Hodgen’s Elegies for the Brokenhearted, which begins with a sentence that is more than 150 words. It’s brilliant. The entire novel is devastatingly brilliant. The voice is masterful. It’s the kind of book that makes you certain you can never write another word, because it will fall so far short, and yet also makes you want to go write something immediately.

The best movie is Silver Linings Playbook, which I love more every time I think about it. It’s a tough story in parts, and also just so smartly funny. The two lead roles are played flawlessly, and the script makes me so envious as a writer.

8) What characteristic about yourself would you most like to change?

If you put this question to people who know me well, they would all answer in unison, “Worrying!” It is definitely an issue for me and I’d love to get better about it.

9) What always make you happy?

My children.

10) What always angers you?

Injustice, particularly when predicated on bigotry.

11) At this moment, where would you most like to be?

Wherever my kids are.

12) Tell me about a boneheaded mistake you make in writing Painted Hands?

I said “and then” excessively in the original manuscript. My agent pointed it out to me, that this was my “writer’s tic.” He was very kind about it. He said everyone has one. When I reread, naturally I was mortified. 

13) What has social media brought to your life?

For the most part, it has been an amazing experience, connecting me to talented and generous writers, many of whom have become dear friends. I couldn’t have made this journey without them.

14) Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why? And fictional hero?

I don’t know that I think of characters in these terms, but my favorite fictional female protagonist is Celie from The Color Purple. The distance she covers from the beginning of the novel to the end, in terms of seeing herself as valuable, of believing she has the right to speak—to the God she believes in, to those around her, to men—is so great my heart soars. 

My favorite male protagonist is Ennis del Mar in Annie Proulx’s short story, Brokeback Mountain. I’ve read it countless times and now all I need to do is get to the penultimate sentence of the prologue–”If he does not force his attention on [his dream about Jack], it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong”–and my heart is breaking.

15) Who are your three favourite composers (or musicians)?

Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, who composed some of my favorite songs like Closer to Fine, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, especially for Alive, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who sings the male vocals to Teri Ore, which is played during a wedding in my novel. In looking up his name, I discovered that he worked with Eddie Vedder on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. I have to admit that this kind of blew my mind.

16) Who is your favorite painter?

Ismail Gulgee

17) Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to cook vegan Indian food that tastes as good as that found in the best restaurants in New York City.

18) How would you like to be remembered?

As a good mother, as someone who tried to be kind to people, as a person who stood up for the right things.

19) What has been the most exciting part of being published?

I have to say getting the offer from my agent and the offer from my editor rank pretty high up there. Both made me shriek and then cry. Holding the final book was pretty amazing, too. Okay, truthfully?. The whole process has been ridiculously exciting. 

20) What is your greatest regret?

That my grandparents aren’t here to celebrate Painted Hands with me. They would have been so proud and excited.

21) Aside from your book, of what accomplishment are you most proud?

My children. I don’t know how much of the credit goes to me, but they are just really compassionate, engaged, amazing kids.
 
22) What is in heavy rotation on your iPod?

Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, Mumford & Sons, Sheryl Crow, Fun. “Teri Ore” when I want to feel close to my novel.  Also? One Direction. Because my 12-year-old daughter knows my iTunes password.

23) When was the last time you wept?

I’ve probably cried since then, but the last time I wept was in April, while watching the interfaith memorial service for the Boston Marathon attack victims.

24) What is your guilty pleasure?

Mountain Dew. And Dance Moms. But I’m trying to quit at least one of those things.. 

25) In what way do you hope your life will change now?

I hope it doesn’t.

******

BOOK GIVEAWAY: A random commenter will win a signed copy of Painted Hands. Be clever!

Follow Jennifer Zobair on Twitter • Like Jennifer’s Facebook page

Buy Painted Hands at: An Indie BookstoreAmazonBarnes & NobleChapters & Indigo

Reviews of Painted Hands: By Sarah Hina • On Telling Stories • At She Knows

Jennifer Zobair on the web: The RumpusDrey’s LibraryTed Fox is AwesomeLascaux Flash

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Painted Hands — Book Review

Painted hands

Can I admit that I was dubious?

I read the first chapter of Painted Hands with skepticism fully engaged. Second chapter, too. But somewhere around the third or fourth chapters, Jennifer Zobair’s Painted Hands transformed my doubt into something akin to astonishment. I was reading a book about attractive, accomplished women juggling careers and families and husbands and lovers, and enjoying that book immensely. 

I didn’t expect to do so. Sure, Jennifer Zobair’s a friend, and I admire her way with words, but I started Painted Hands hoping — at best — to maybe enjoy a book that was outside my comfort zone.

I ended up loving it — and wondering how in the hell that happened.

It begins with a tight storyline and accomplished storytelling, and then combines several imaginative characters, and a deep, yet gentle immersion into a lovely, colorful and occasionally opaque culture that most of us know too little about.

The plotting in Painted Hands is intricate, but not to worry, for the author keeps the pace brisk and fluid. The story follows the lives of three Muslim women — Amra, Zainab, and Hayden – during a volatile time in their lives. The stories weave together gracefully, like the gorgeous henna designs lovingly painted on a South Asian bride’s hands on the day she is to marry.

Amra, the book’s sweet center, has worked for years to garner success, and now sits on the cusp of partnership at a prestigious Boston law firm. But when a childhood friend returns to her inner circle as a successful and handsome businessman, she’s not ready for the waves of emotion that engulf her. That he finds her charming, but doesn’t know about the sacrifices she’s made to have a career, is just the beginning of their story. He also carries secrets, including a more traditional view of Islam than she expects.

If Amra is the novel’s sweet center, Zainab brings fire and spice. She’s the book’s most complicated character, and her scenes spark with electricity. She’s working a Massachusett’s election campaign for a smart, but incautious, post-feminist businesswoman who actually answers questions from the media. Zainab must be brilliant and occasionally ruthless to keep pace, and she’s constantly switching play books to keep her candidate in the race. At one point, she turns to a highly-educated — and occasionally racist — right-wing radio host for a favor, and finds that Chase Holland is far more complicated and intriguing than he appeared at first blush.

Hayden is the book’s lost soul, the woman who makes many wrong decisions, and through whose eyes we see a vision of religion as filtered through a fundamentalist prism.

I found so many things to like in Painted Hands. The story is smart and topical, and the characters are richly, and lovingly drawn. I loved seeing Islam through Jennifer’s eyes, and learning more about what it means to be a Muslim in America today. It all works seamlessly because Zobair’s prose is subtle and refined, and so many scenes are touched by nuance that you might very well want to read it again.

****

Read Sarah Hina’s review • And She Knows Beach Reads review

Buy Painted Hands at: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BookstoresChapters

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Bound for the University of King’s College

Kings Library with logo

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was recently accepted to the Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction program at King’s. This is the essay I submitted with my application. If the fates are kind, I’ll have another degree and a nonfiction book in two years.

In 1990, King’s College President Dr. Marion Fry presented me with the Governor-General’s Medal for academic achievement. Sixteen years later, I tried to sell that medal to buy firewood to heat our home.

I was desperate — the desperation wrought by unrelenting physical pain. Over the previous 13 years, I had suffered unforgiving daily migraines, and my descent into hell was nearing its grand finale. Barring a miracle, I knew that I had maybe one or two years to live. 

In the early 1990s, after graduating from J-school, I felt blessed with opportunity. I was writing entertainment features, and food and wine columns for The Halifax Daily News, and freelancing for several magazines, including enRoute, Wine Access, and Endless Vacation — the world’s largest travel magazine. I sold everything I wrote, and started looking for work at bigger newspapers. Then, my body betrayed me.

I didn’t make the sale that cold, damp February day because the money was a pittance. The pawn shop owner offered me $150 for the medal bearing Ray Hnatyshyn’s likeness; I needed $500. So I stashed that hefty pewter disc in my sock drawer, reserving it for an even darker day that seemed just months away.

Unexpectedly, I received my miracle. Seven months after visiting the pawn shop, I learned about a new theory swirling around neurology circles. Recent research suggested that, in rare cases, anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, and stronger prescription arthritis drugs create the very symptoms they should alleviate. My new neurologist didn’t ask any questions at my first appointment. Instead, he explained my medical history to me in a new way: an initial diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis predicated by sports injuries and their resultant surgeries, the increasing dosages of anti-inflammatory prescriptions, then stronger drugs as the inflammation and pain deepened. The pattern devolved into headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and, finally, overwhelming daily migraines.

My neurologist persuaded me to go cold turkey. He changed my life.

And so the next day was better. And so was the day after that. The migraines remained, but their frequency and intensity diminished perceptibly. I could again find some small pleasures in living a quiet life.

I tried to pick up the pieces. 

After my ordeal, I was shaky. During my illness, I had been unable to hold a traditional job, unable to support myself, unable to make plans for the future. 

Now I was debilitated by anxiety and uncertain of my skills. You may have noticed that severe physical pain extinguishes language. Hit your thumb with a hammer and, at best, you’ll bear that injury stoically. More likely, the pain will express itself in a deep curse or inarticulate yelp.

Overwhelming pain had stripped writing from my life. It wasn’t just exhaustion, nor some manner of depression. The truth is that I could find nothing left inside of me during those years. No words. Pain had dammed my creativity at its source and I had written nothing of consequence for more than a dozen years.

With fewer bad days, I began tapping the keys again. First, hesitantly, on a blog called Smart Like Streetcar. Then a few professional pieces. Writers I admire and respect sent compliments on my stories. Eventually I found full-time minimum wage work as an online writer, then at a call center. On the side, I wrote a book for young adults that eventually won an Atlantic Writing Competition for unpublished novels. 

In truth, I only had about 18 good months. Then the migraines returned with a vengeance, accompanied by searing facial pain, and deep fatigue and weakness. My doctors were mystified. A new endocrinologist soon discovered that a supposedly benign, harmless pituitary tumor diagnosed 20 years before was nothing of the sort. It had grown dramatically, and was remodeling my sinus cavity and threatening my optic nerves. I was running on empty, my body devoid of hormones. Tweaking my medications failed to control the growth, and a 12-month experimental drug trial made things worse. So I underwent five hours of brain surgery to remove the little bugger, now enormous and threatening my sight, and my life.

The pituitary is a delicate, sensitive gland, and the surgery caused complications. I spent four days in intensive care, another four in the neurology wing. I have lost all hormone function permantly. But I also found something unexpected during my ordeal. Devouring several issues of The New Yorker in my hospital bed rekindled my love for long-form journalism. I became curious about a new MFA in creative nonfiction program at King’s, and doing more work to realize my potential.

Decades of illness bring introspection. I’ve thought a lot about the world, and my place in it. I have never been satisfied with easy answers. I disliked reporting news because barebones facts trumped nuance and color. Because a fair and balanced 800-word article was chopped in half when column space was limited.

I want to tell real stories, and I’m good at it. This master of fine arts in creative nonfiction is the degree I would have chosen in 1989 had it been offered. I want to write books that consider important topics, books that will be read and discussed. I want to write the sort of book that Canada needs right now.

I am also mindful of my need to get it right this time. I will be 54 years old when this program begins in August, and I’m not sure how many do-overs I have left. The MFA program offers the opportunity to work with incredible mentors and make strong industry connections. 

It’s brilliant degree, and it will serve me well for the rest of my days. It gives me the chance to write my way out of two decades of misfortune.

So I am looking forward to King’s again, and completing the circle that began with my journalism degree. This time, I plan to do ever better.

And that excites me.

Posted in Books, Life, Politics, Publishing Industry, Wall-E—The Neuroendocrine Tumor, Writing | 5 Comments

Maritime Magazine: In His Head

I am so far behind on things that I never posted a link to a radio documentary called In His Head on CBC’s Maritime Magazine. You see, it’s all about me.

We all get headaches from time to time, but for most of us, it’s an issue that goes away with a couple of aspirin and a good sleep.

Richard Levangie has had headaches, migraines actually, almost daily since 1993.

Christina Harnett brings us Richard’s story of loss – and gain – over the last twenty years.

See what you think. Christina did a great job.

Posted in Life, Pity Party | Leave a comment

Author Joanne Lessner Answers 25 Questions

Joannelessner

Our friendship was cemented over a great bottle of wine.

Which is a preposterous statement, when you think of it, because we haven’t met in the real world, and I no longer drink. Nevertheless, it’s still true. When I read the premise behind Pandora’s Bottle, Joanne Lessner’s first novel, I was certain that we’d get along.

If you’ve been reading Telling Stories long enough, you may know that I used to be a wine evangelist. For years it was my greatest passion.

So I know that the famous bottle of wine in Pandora’s Bottle really existed. Thomas Jefferson was a learned statesman before he became president and, as ambassador to France, he amassed quite a wine cellar, including some legendary bottles of first-growth Bordeaux that he inscribed with ThJ. Two centuries later, one bottle of Chateau Lafite became the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold — to the Forbes Collection.

Elsewhere, a similar vintage of Chateau Margaux became the most expensive bottle never sold. That bottle was broken by a clumsy waiter at a Margaux tasting in New York, so no one ever learned if it was ambrosia or vinegar. The insurance company was still out $225,000.

[Spoiler alert!] Lessner imagines the first ThJ bottle meeting the second bottle’s fate, when an awkward, quirky millionaire treats a working-class secretary, who happens to be the love of his life, to a special night centered on a $500,000 bottle of wine. Various stories weave into the narrative as the wine event of the century unfolds, and the story entertains at every turn.

But what surprised me most about Joanne is what I learned after reading Pandora’s Bottle. She has absolutely no background in the restaurant or wine industries. I’m a former professional in both, and I was duped. Even better, Joanne told me that her introduction to the food service business happened over an afternoon at a popular New York restaurant.

And that’s why I’m keen to read the adventures of Isobel Spice, Joanne’s new series of mystery books, which debuted with The Temporary Detective last year, and Bad Publicity in April. If she’s half as good with the cloak-and-dagger stuff as she is with the world of rarified wines, I will be entertained.

I also think that it’s incredibly cool that Joanne enjoys an active performing career and, with her husband, composer/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, has co-authored several musicals, including the cult hit Fermat’s Last Tango and Einstein’s Dreams, based on the celebrated novel by Alan Lightman. Her play, Critical Mass, received its Off Broadway premiere in October 2010 as the winner of the 2009 Heiress Productions Playwriting Competition.

So please welcome her to Telling Stories and, while you’re at it, introduce yourself to Isobel Spice.

About The Temporary Detective.

Phones, light typing…and murder.

Think breaking into show business is hard? Try landing a temp job without office skills. That’s the challenge facing aspiring actress Isobel Spice when she arrives in New York City, fresh out of college and deficient in PowerPoint. After being rejected by seven temp agencies for her lack of experience, Isobel sweet-talks recruiter James Cooke into letting her cover a last-minute vacancy at a bank. New to his own job, and recently sober, James takes a chance on Isobel, despite his suspicion that she’s a trouble-magnet. His misgivings are borne out by lunchtime, when she stumbles across a dead secretary in a bathroom stall. With her fingerprints on the murder weapon, Isobel sets out to prove her innocence by investigating the crime herself. While learning to juggle phone lines and auditions, she discovers an untapped talent for detective work—a qualification few other office temps, let alone actresses, can claim.

About Bad Publicity

In the world of PR, there’s only one crime worse than killing a deal—killing a client.

Aspiring actress and office temp Isobel Spice finds a warm welcome at Dove & Flight Public Relations, thanks to her old school friend Katrina Campbell. However, the atmosphere chills considerably when Isobel unwittingly serves an important client a deadly dose of poisoned coffee. Her stalwart temp agent, James Cooke, rushes to her aid, but balks when he learns that the victim was the fraternity brother who got him expelled from college. News that Dove & Flight is being acquired by an international conglomerate quickly supplants the murder as the hot topic of office gossip, but Isobel is convinced the two events are related. When all roads of inquiry lead back to Katrina, Isobel is forced to consider the possibility that her friend’s killer instincts go beyond public relations.

Books

25 Questions with Author Joanne Lessner

1) What was your favorite book as a child? What is your favorite children’s book?

I adored Little Women. I was also a huge Nancy Drew fan, which will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s read The Temporary Detective. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan, although I would say those books are almost in a category by themselves.

2) What is your most marked characteristic? Does it help or hinder you?

Okay, there’s no way this isn’t going to sound obnoxious, but I’d have to say it’s that I’m smart. (Told you.) But honestly, it’s probably the first thing people notice about me and often comment on—for better or worse. When I was eighteen, a director said to me, “You’ll never be an ingénue, because you look like you know too much.” Obviously, it’s helped me in many ways: I have a quick wit, and I tend to grasp situations quickly and clearly. But for a creative artist, being brainy can be a hindrance. Your mind wants to control everything, but the best art comes from a willingness to let go. My acting teacher used to remind me constantly to “check my brain at the door.” It’s easier for me to let my instincts take over as a writer. It’s still scary for me as an actor, probably because people are watching me as I’m doing it.

3) Which quality do you most like in a man?

Sense of humor.

4) Which quality do you most like in a woman?

Generosity.

5) What is your favorite memory?

That’s an impossible question! But I’ll go with the first moment I laid eyes on my firstborn, Julian. He was looking around the room, silent and covered with muck, with these enormous eyes taking everything in. He was just checking it all out, with a little smile on his face. In that moment, I felt a flash of what it means to be divine, to give life. It was an extraordinary thing.

6) Describe the best meal you’ve ever had.

On our honeymoon, my husband and I splurged and went to L’Esperance in Vézelay, France. It’s one of the most highly rated and most expensive restaurants in the world, and the food and setting were really special. After 22 years, we still laugh about the moment when my husband reached for the wine bottle, and the sommelier dashed across the room and cried, “Non, non, monsieur! Zat ees my job!”

7) What’s the best book you’ve read in the last two years? The best movie you’ve seen?

Best book: Cloud Atlas
Best movie: The King’s Speech

8) What characteristic about yourself would you most like to…

I have a habit of interrupting people when I get excited or if I agree with them. I need to work on simply listening.

9) What always make you happy?

Hearing my kids crack up.

10) What always angers you?

Intolerance.

11) At this moment, where would you most like to be?

Curled up in bed, taking a nap.

12) Tell me about a boneheaded mistake you made in writing The Temporary Detective.

In describing Doreen dead on the toilet in an office bathroom, I wrote that Isobel could see Doreen’s feet sticking out from under the door of the stall. My 11 year-old daughter, Phoebe, happened to glance down at that page and piped up, “Doreen must have freakishly long legs if they’re sticking out that far.” Suffice it to say, spatial relations were never my strong suit.

13) What has social media brought to your life?

Facebook reconnected me with a group of theater camp friends with whom I did a very memorable production of Sweeney Todd in 1982, playing Mrs. Lovett. Twenty-seven years later, we mounted a revival in New York, and it was a fantastic and uniquely rewarding experience that couldn’t have happened without Facebook. What I love about Twitter is connecting with like-minded people I would never have the opportunity to meet in real life. I feel like I’ve made true friends on Twitter. Like you!

14) Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why? And fictional hero?

My favorite heroine is Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. She’s smarter than all the men and sexier than all the women, and it’s her ability to foresee the consequences of other people’s actions and think on her feet that saves the day. My favorite hero is Mr. Darcy. Do I really need to explain that one?

15) Who are your three favourite composers (or musicians)?

My husband, Joshua Rosenblum, Mozart, and Gilbert & Sullivan. But mostly my husband. He is a brilliant composer and nothing gives me more pleasure than performing his music.

16) Who is your favorite painter?

I picked three composers, so I’m picking three painters ☺ John Singer Sargent, Alphonse Mucha, and Renoir.

17) Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could dance. Specifically, I wish I’d learned to tap.

18) How would you like to be remembered?

As a wildly creative, fun, energetic, loving, happy, funny, loyal and big-hearted person. And possibly as a little bit taller.

19) What has been the most exciting part of being published?

Hearing from people how much they enjoy my books. That never gets old.

20) What is your greatest regret?

I wish my husband and I had traveled more in our twenties, after we were married and before we had kids. Not so much because of the kids—actually, we love traveling with them—but because traveling in general was much easier and less expensive. In retrospect, the world seemed more accessible in the 90s.

21) Aside from your book, of what accomplishment are you most proud?

My kids, who are 11 and 16. They’ve completely out-evolved me.

22) What is in heavy rotation on your iPod?

Confession: nothing. Because I review CDs and live performances regularly (for Opera News), I don’t listen for pleasure as much as I used to. But there’s always music playing in my house, often live, so my life has a soundtrack even if I’m not composing it.

23) When was the last time you wept?

A woman was hit by a car and killed on my corner last year. I heard the impact from several blocks away. It was deeply upsetting in every way.

24) What is your guilty pleasure?

People magazine.

25) In what way do you hope your life will change now?

I would love to see one of my novels dramatized either for movies or television. Both books have had nibbles, so I’m crossing all available body parts.

Joanne Lessner’s book page on AmazonBarnes & NobleChapters and IndigoAmazon Canada

Follow Joanne on Twitter • Like her Facebook page

Other interviews with Joanne — At Reuters (Pandora’s Bottle) • Mystery Writing is Murder (Temporary Detective)

Posted in 25 Questions, Author, Author, Authors and Promotion, Books, Entertainment | Leave a comment

Five Funerals and a Wedding

Tara at 3

Funerals

Some dates are etched by memory. For many, it’s a shared experience. I remember exactly what I was doing when Challenger exploded. When the Twin Towers fell. When Canada beat the Soviets in the final hockey game of the Summit Series in 1972.

But sometimes, the experience is singular. This one happened to me on Saturday, May 26, 1979, just before 5 pm. It had been four days since my father died — two weeks after his 58th birthday — and just one day after his funeral. That morning, we buried my aunt, who had Down’s Syndrome.

I was reeling. Over the preceding six months, my family had known such loss. It started at Christmas when the boyfriend of an aunt, a man I really liked, died on the train enroute to Halifax. It continued in the New Year with a dear neighbor. Then one of my high school friends. Then my favorite uncle. Now my father.

Five funerals in five months.

I was stoic, but I was just 19 and scared shitless. I had not cried. Not upon learning of my father’s passing. Not when I saw my inconsolable mother after she arrived home from her shift at the hospital. Not when I saw my four sisters weeping openly. Not when I learned more about my father at the funeral home during his wake than I had known all of my life. Not when this wooden coffin was lowered into the ground on a despicably cold, rainy day.

But that Saturday, I was shaky. We had guests dropping by all afternoon, and I just wanted some peace and quiet. My mother had asked if she could nap in my bed and, forgetting she was there, I entered to find her prostrate on the floor, sobbing pitifully. My sisters were hovering, trying to be helpful, but the house was raucous with cleaning and cooking and organizing.

Finally, I retreated to the cozy chair where I studied for exams in high school and university, and tears flowed silently. My 3 year-old niece —the only one of the grandchildren to meet my father — found me, and ran to her mother.

“Come Mommy, come. Uncle Richie is crying.”

My sisters rushed to hug me, to offer their love and comfort. But I asked them to leave me alone.

And I gathered Tara up in my arms, and held her to my chest, and we rocked. And I cried until I couldn’t cry any more.

Tara and ryan1

Weddings

I had such a special relationship to that kid. We did everything together after I discovered that I loved being an uncle. We went to movies. To pancake breakfasts on Sunday mornings. I babysat her as often as I could and enjoyed the experience so much that I tried to replicate it after each of my eight nieces and nephews were born.

So I felt honored when Tara asked me to perform her wedding ceremony in April when she married Ryan Hinderaker, the love of her life. Thanks to the generosity of family, we were able to travel to Mexico to share something that my family sorely needed after so much heartache the year before.

This time, the experience was shared.

The ceremony began with a quote from Rumi.

Welcome, my friends.

The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.

They’re within each other all along.

Welcome to this most sacred day in this most beautiful place. We’re here for a very fine purpose.

As you all know, Tara and Ryan are already married in the eyes of the state, but the real ceremony is this one, for their love is being celebrated by all of you, and the joyous embrace of dear friends and devoted family will make memories this weekend that will keep them warm well into their golden years.

I am grateful to see so many radiant faces, for Tara holds a special place in my heart. Her mother, Linda, was living at our house when Tara was born, and watching her grow during those four precious months changed my life forever.

I knew she was special.

I am here to tell you that she was magical from her first moments. I was determined that we would be close, and watching her grow from a precocious kid to an amazing and talented woman has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

After an arduous search, we were so pleased when she met Ryan, who embodies all the fine traits that characterize America’s heartland — perseverance, warmth, steadfastness and tranquility. A man after my own heart. That he navigated his first Levangie Christmas with such unflappable grace speaks for itself.

We live in a hectic world. We lead bustling lives. Yet this wedding has made each one of us pause and take a breath. We come here with one voice to praise the greatest aspect of humanity: our capacity for love, our ability to find fellowship in an uncertain world. Weddings make us quiet, and they make us happy. They make us consider our own lives, our daily struggles, the many sweet joys and whispering sorrows that mark our days.

I want each of you to understand something vital. The real reason we are here.

Each of us here today has a role to play. By making this journey, we pledge our support. In the years ahead, Tara and Ryan will need our kind words, our friendship, our love and, yes, our shoulders to cry on, because no one gets out of this world alive.

And thus we are here not only to witness their vows, but also bestow upon them our own benedictions.

[Become the Reverend Al Green] So I ask all of you today to answer two simple questions. Do you bless this union with your hopes and good wishes for a long and happy life together?

We do.

I can’t hear y’all! Do you bless this union?

WE DO!

And do you promise to support and strengthen this marriage by lifting Ryan and Tara with your love and concern?

WE DO!

Say it again! I can’t hear y’all!

WE DO!!!

[Softly] I am a writer by training, so my days are spent pondering small things that carry deeper meaning and intention. So I am asking for the wedding rings to pass through this gathering. Hold the rings for a few seconds, think about your own happiness and the best wishes you can conjure for this lovely couple, and then send good thoughts and unreserved blessings to speed them on their journey together. Then pass the box along to your neighbor.

Again, I say: welcome, friends. Tonight will be brimming with wonderment and magic…

And you know what? It was all that and more.

Posted in Family, Life | 5 Comments