Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts...

I love October.  On the first day of the month, a friend’s daughter posted ‘Happy First Day of Halloween’ on her Facebook page, and I thought, yea, that works for me.  The trees put on their fall color costumes and the month ends with a holiday that celebrates candy.  What’s not to love?  Plus there are lots of scary activities to go explore.   

Which I did! 

Recently, I stepped out of my usual comfort zone and took in an evening ghost tour.  Pike Place Market is a famous spot that’s been around for over 100 years.  Though it is mostly a tourist attraction now, the Market has an rich old history, which was mostly what the tour was about.  Over the years, there have many interesting characters in and around the Market.  Apparently, quite a few have decided to stay in the form of spirits; just a little more color to add to Seattle’s tales.  

Fortunately, I did not come across any ghosts on my tour, at least to my knowledge.  Although I did enjoy hearing the rich stories of those who are supposedly around.  While I had been to Kells Irish Bar and Pub, I had no idea it was known to be haunted or that the building it is located in had been the Butterworth mortuary at one time.  Plenty of scary stories about Kells on my tour.  It makes me wonder how many people thought they had just had one too many when it was an actual ghost they had encountered. Would it make you stop drinking?  Or, would it be time to definitely order another?  Again, happy I haven’t come across any of these local legends yet. 

Kat Richardson is an author who delves into Seattle’s history when writing her paranormal mystery series set here.  Of course, she adds her own creativity and imagination but much of the basic underlying lore included in the books is based on real local history.  She adds the vampires, necromancers, witches and, especially in the most recent book, ghosts, but there are also some NSA/CIA spooks as well.  I’m not sure which is scarier…

The latest book in the Greywalker series, Possession, is a story based on the ghost tales of the Market area and our local waterfront.  Comatose patients around Seattle are being possessed by malevolent spirits.  They don’t seem to be related in any way other than the various weird behaviors each exhibits and the danger to their lives.  It is left to Harper Blaine, the Greywalker, to untangle this mystery before a lot of people die.  She has to this all while avoiding the evil government operatives before they discover what she is and how valuable her powers could be to them. 

A perfect book for anyone’s Halloween.  

Enjoy the candy and the costumes, along with a good book.  However, I would add that if you’re anywhere near Kells tonight, my advice would be to order a stiff drink with that side of ghost…


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nostalgia, aka, I Knew You When

PBS had an article about how nostalgia is good for you.  I decided to look online for a definition, and I found it defined as a “sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  I like to think of it as remembering a time when life was easier or at least simpler.  Then I ask myself, was it really easier, or is it just that I seem to filter out the more challenging times?

I’m a bit nostalgic when I think of one man I briefly spent time with in my youth.  He was one of the very few Italian men I have ever dated, that not being my usual style.  Yet I couldn’t help myself as he was just so darn good looking.  The fact that he was a culinary school trained chef was an added bonus.  Our relationship, such as it was, lasted about a minute, but we’ve kept in contact over the years.
What dreams, what egos, we have when we’re young!  We feel we are special.  The very essence of youth is the belief that we’re going to conquer the world and be unique and extraordinary.  Of course, each of us as human beings is special, but not quite in the way imagined.  Few of us grow up to be renowned.  

The book, The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, chronicles the lives of friends, each of whom has his/her own grand ideas.  They meet as teens and solidify their tight knit group during the summer of 1974 while attending at an arts camp in the New England woods.  There they perform and act out dreams of being dancers, actors and artists.  The kids, aka ‘The Interestings’, as they name themselves, remain close during the winter months and over the next couple of years. 

Many choices made when young, even the poor ones, generally allow for some reprieve.  Sometimes, however, there are choices that cause considerable and irreparable damage.  Such is the case with these friends.

We follow the lives of the four who remain close over the next four decades.  There is Jules, the financially challenged girl from the suburbs, who though not very pretty, has a wonderful wry sense of humor and who also very much wants to be accepted as part of the group.  Ash, delicate and pretty, is the one whose parents held high expectations of and who seems to have easier access to life’s opportunities.  Jonah is the beautiful and talented boy with too many secrets.  Then there is Ethan, a child of divorce, who was not blessed with good looks or money but was blessed with a fantastically creative mind.   

Two others were there at the start: Cathy, the energetic and lively dancer, and Goodman, the compelling yet complete screw up, but both are more like ghosts who float in and out of the story…important, yet distant.  It is the other four we get to know and watch how their friendships change over time.

I recognized the patterns of life over those forty years and how each character found, stumbled and then found themselves again.  No one escaped without pain, but all were that mix of ordinary and extraordinary that we all are.  There are the expectations of youth, followed by a change of plans when we recognize we must give up our initial, yet unrealistic dreams.  These are followed by other life changes in our thirties and forties and then again in our fifties, each decade bringing its own challenges and benefits.  I know there will be more transformations in the future but both the book and I only have only come this far.  

Recently, when I was visiting my family back east, I stopped by my friend’s restaurant.  He and his cousin made a terrific meal for me and later on, he and I met for a hot beverage.  We are now in our late fifties and, like others our age, there’s more family stuff to deal with.  Age has crept up to us both.  For me, it is the added weight; for him, it showed in the tiredness around his eyes.  Yet, he’s still handsome and he still has that quick smile.  It was good to see him to catch up and reminisce.   

We are not close friends.  We have lived separate lives over the last forty years but it is the nostalgia of shared history and friends that occasionally draw us together and keeps us in touch.   

We filter out what hasn’t gone well and celebrate what has. 

For we still survive when others have not…


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask me no secrets, I’ll tell you no lies…

The word secret has definitions that are a variation on a theme.  There are secret paths, secret societies, secret recipes, and in one movie, there was even the secret that was in the sauce.  Essentially, though, a secret is something that is kept from knowledge or view. 

In the early 1900s, a little girl is left alone and abandoned on an Australian dock, her small suitcase her only companion.  That she came in on the ship from England is known but everything else about her is a mystery; one which we uncover in the book The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  The author takes us through three separate time periods simultaneously, each revealing a little more of the story.  While there are gardens and fairy tales, there are also some dark secrets. 

Kate Morton does family secrets well.    

Secrets, we all have them.  Some are pretty minor, like who ate the pasta out of the fridge (who me?); others are a little more daunting and life changing.  Most people are fascinated by what someone is holding back and the reasons why they do so.  Why else would the tabloids be so popular?  

Inside our families and groups of friends, there are always secrets and aspects of life that are not shared outside the circle.  Even within ourselves, we too each have secrets we keep close.  Some call it our shadow side; Billy Joel called it "The Stranger" in his song.  It is a part of us we rarely share with others, or if we do, very few, and certainly not all of what’s there. 
Sometimes, we’re the keeper of secrets that are not our own.

In the book, The Secret Keeper, also by Kate Morton, another family is revealed as we uncover layers of surreptitious lies over various time periods. 

Dorothy, aka Dolly, is a happy go lucky loving mother and wife who never talks about her earlier life or family before marriage, other than to say her family was killed during the war.  One day, someone from that unknown past shows up.  Her eldest child, Laurel, then 16, sees her mother kill the man.  To the police, Laurel has backed up her mother’s version that the man had attacked her, but she knows it wasn’t what she saw.  What led to that encounter, or frankly anything about her mother’s life in London, has never been discussed.  It is not until 50 years later, when a war time photograph of her mother and a friend elicits a queer reaction from the now frail Dorothy, does Laurel’s curiosity set her off on the journey of discovering answers to her many life-long questions.  Who was the man who showed up at the farm and why did her mother stab him?  How does this relate to her mother’s life during the war? And just who is this other women, Vivien, and how does she fit into her mother’s story?  

How much do we ever really know about our parents before we existed?  What secrets have they potentially held back?   Could they possibly have had a life before us?   

Then I wonder, just what will I say when my friends’ children begin to ask me about their parents?   
As my father would say, I think I’ll just make that chapter a mystery…


Friday, January 4, 2013

It's a Family Affair

Somewhere I read that the holiday season is close to ten percent of the year, starting around Thanksgiving and ending around New Year’s Day.  That’s an awful lot of good cheer and perhaps, way too much time spent with or thinking about family and all that goes with that.  
For some this year, this past season has been exceptionally challenging due to various circumstances, some fairly horrific.  In general, it can be pretty stressful for many, even if it is a happy occasion.  There’s all that extra stuff we do to make the holiday happen.  Decorating, buying and wrapping presents, cooking, sending out cards (though in my case, at least the cat writes the annual letter), and then there's all the extra socializing and traveling many of us do.  It’s all a little tiring and when, finally, New Year’s Day does come along, a lot of us are ready to shut the front door and hibernate for a while. 

Hibernating for me means watching all that I've recorded on the DVR, from Downton Abbey to Fringe, along with a few shows I’d be embarrassed to admit to viewing.  Suffice it to say that those other shows catch my interest for more than their high minded nature.  Need I say more?   

It is also the perfect time of year to nestle into my well worn leather chair, a cat on my lap and a cup of tea by my side, with a good book to read.  Though, isn’t it always a perfect time to do just that?  At least this time of year I don’t feel guilty about not working in my garden. 

So what to read? 

Well, if you’d like to read about a family more screwed up than yours, I’d recommend Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann.  Here, we see a family through the eyes of five main characters, each in his or her section.  The story covers a period from the mid 1940’s till the late 1960’s, and though not everyone’s story is from the same time period, they do overlap.  There is a murder at a central point, yet the book is more about family relationships and life choices.  Much of the story is told during the time when everyone is sharing a home on Martha’s Vineyard, a place I've always loved.  Though in this book, the Vineyard is not quite the summer paradise I recall, it’s a bit more Hitchcock.   

I’m not certain I actually liked the book but I was drawn to the characters, all very well created. That alone was worth the read, even if the family was a bit creepy.

Another interesting family, if I can stretch the word a bit, was that of the characters in The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere.  A single woman in her thirties in 1950 rural Tennessee, already dealing with the loss of her mother, stumbles across a brutally abused child in need of a savior.  Though the town is somewhat divided by her choice, which many think is the wrong one, it is a choice that helps two lost souls find a way to help each other.  As vile as certain aspects of this book were, I liked it more than Klaussmann’s book.  Perhaps because it is an uplifting story of how some choose who will be their family, even if their choices mean there are other aspects of life they may lose along the way. 

How does that song go?  Girls just wanna have fun!  After the last two books, that’s what I needed.   

Nobody puts the fun in dysfunctional family life like Janet Evanovich does in her Stephanie Plum novels, the most recent one being Notorious Nineteen.   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t read these for the plots (pretty much unchanged) or for the scholarly writing (not); it is for the laugh out loud break from reality that has me addicted, that and one or two characters I wouldn’t mind knowing a little better.  While I don’t actually know anyone like these people, her books do sometimes remind me of the small Eastern city (aka Scranton) I used to visit when I was younger.  I can think of a number of people there who would fit right in, including a few from my own family.  That makes it all the more entertaining!

I guess with all the holidays just passed, I have family on the brain. What is family, after all?  Is it just those individuals we are related to by either blood or law?  Or is it those we have added to our life along the way?  Perhaps it is a bit of both.   

Something to ponder while I choose my next book, maybe a good murder mystery would be a good choice after this family affair.  Even if there’s still a wreath on the front door, I'll be sure to lock it and put out the hibernation sign in case any of the crazier members of my extended family decide to decamp on my porch.

Mind you, it may be that they think I’m the crazy one…