Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Thanksgiving Day List

I am on my annual Thanksgiving week retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani and off the technological grid. Here is a post from 2013 (tweaked ever so slightly) that I hope you will enjoy.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. It is my favorite holiday. A quiet day to spend with friends and family. 

I am grateful everyday and don't really need a special holiday to remind me of the many treasures in my life. But I began a tradition long ago that I still practice. For years, I have begun Thanksgiving morning by getting up early, sitting quietly with a cup of coffee, and making an ABC gratitude list in my journal. I note the A-B-Cs down the side of the page and then quickly fill in with something that I am grateful for.

Apples, Baseball, Coffee, Dandelions

For instance, from last year's list, November 21, 2012:

Elvis, Friends, Goats

And, an oldie from almost 25 years ago, November 23, 1989:

Hope, Intuition, Joy, Kindness

If you love lists like I do, you've got to love making a gratitude list. I think the ABC list is carefree and casual and spontaneous. I simply write whatever pops into my mind and sometimes surprise myself.

Lemonade, Magic, Nightingales, Ohio River, Paris

You could also use the ABCs to guide your list to include only foods or animals or people. Or you could go for a list of totally non-material things.  One year I listed authors:

Quiller-Couch, Rhinehart, Simenon, Thirkell

Even a non-gratitude list will give you gratitude if you can just flip the list around.

For example, I may not be grateful for floods, plagues or pestilence, but I am grateful that I am not experiencing any of those right now. I may not be grateful for all the torn-up streets that plague the city right now – construction, utility company updates, repaving, bridges – but just think how thankful we will all be when eventually the streets are clear and smooth.

Umbrellas, Vegetables, Writing

It seems to me that having a grateful heart wards off resentment, envy, self-pity, and despair. Gratitude is the cornerstone of a spiritual life. And the only way I know to foster gratitude is to say “thank you” often.

Say '”thank you” out loud. Whisper it before falling asleep. Say it to your family and friends. Write it on your check to the electric company. Wave it to the stranger who lets you out in traffic. Write thank you every morning in your journal.

Buy a small notebook to keep by your bedside and every evening record those people, places, events, and things that you are grateful for. 

Take a few moments in the morning and start your day with gratitude. 

eXcellence, Yellow, Zinnias.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Which I Meet Poet Natasha Trethewey

Poet Natasha Trethewey

I got a little more than I bargained for at an author event Tuesday night at the library. I thought I was going to a simple poetry reading by Natasha Trethewey, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2007 and the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2014. Turns out the event was only held at the library but was part of Spalding University's Festival of Contemporary Writing. So not only were there local folks in attendance but also many of the one hundred students in town for the university's Master of Fine Arts in Writing 10-day low-residency program.

As usual, I took a seat in the front row. I have no fear of making eye contact with the speaker. In fact, I look forward to it. Ms. Trethewey was also sitting in the front row (usually an author is sequestered backstage before the event). So before she was introduced and took the stage I was able to snap an up-close photo of her. She was very gracious. 

Sena Jeter Nasland introduced the poet. Ms. Nasland lives here in Louisville and is the author of seven novels including Ahab's Wife, Four Spirits, and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette. She is the program director for the MFA in Writing at Spalding. We are fortunate to have her here.

Ms. Trethewey presented an academic paper titled You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history - a line taken from a lecture given by Robert Frost. The paper - interspersed with readings of her poems - examined the intersection of her personal history and the nation's history. When I tell you that Ms. Trethewey is the daughter of a black woman and a white man and that she grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s and '70s that will give you some idea of the thrust of her theme. 

And, the fact that her mother was murdered by her second husband when Ms. Trethewey was a college freshman will also hint at the dark emotions captured during the evening.

Her paper included quotes from writers, historians, and artists (I counted at least 20). Her gentle reading of her own words contrasted sharply with the sometimes disturbing underlying images.

Ms. Trethewey is a brilliant woman with a difficult history. Try as I might, I had no luck putting myself in her shoes. 

Like I wrote in the beginning, I got a little more than I bargained for.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

In a minute I will regale you with the story of the time I went sheep shopping, but first I want to tell you about the latest author to visit our library. Actually, there were two authors. There was James Rebanks whose book The Shepherd's Life examines his family's heritage as sheep farmers in England's Lake District. He was interviewed (or at least shared the stage with) Wendell Berry who, if not a national treasure, is definitely a Kentucky treasure.

Both men respect the land, honor community, and at the same time are fiercely independent. It was a pleasure to be in their company. 

Mr. Rebanks doesn't sugarcoat his role as farmer. His book follows the arc of the seasons: baling hay for winter's feed, moving sheep from mountain to valley, attending livestock auctions, shearing the herd, tending to wounds, birthing the lambs. 

It is relentless and grueling labor, but it is work that his family has done for generations. It is a life that he loves.

Sheep farmer and author James Rebanks.

Before attending the event I read about half of The Shepherd's Life. The book is broken down, not into chapters, but numbered dispatches that are part memoir, part history of the Lake District and his family's life there, and part instruction manual on How to Raise Sheep for Fun and Profit. 

OK, not so much Fun. And really, not so much Profit either.

I found him to be well-spoken, funny, and very sincere. I look forward to finishing his book. His voice is in my head.

And now for the sheep shopping story.

A friend of mine and her family live on what is known as a 'hobby farm.' She comes by that life naturally as she was raised on a dairy farm. Her children were all in 4-H. The farm was home to chickens, a couple of goats, and two sheep. 

The time came - this was a few years ago - to add two more sheep to the flock for a 4-H project. I got it into my head that I would go with them and buy a lamb for myself. I figured I could keep it on their farm, pay for its upkeep, and visit it now and again. 

So we all piled into their green Honda Pilot and headed to the nearby sheep farm to see what was on offer. 

I was immediately disabused of the notion of the fluffy lambs that populate children's books. We met the lambs in the barn and their woolly selves were matted with straw, thistles, and stuff that I won't mention. Not a pretty sight. 

Not so cuddly after all.

Since then, when I visit my friend's farm, I give a cheerful wave to the three sheep in the meadow (one of the original flock, Grayson, has since died) and I smile at the memory of that day and my rude awakening to the realities of sheep.

Mr. Rebanks has my full respect.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Meet Archy McNally

Image result for mcnally's secret

I am happy to have recently made the acquaintance of bon vivant Archibald McNally. I call him a bon vivant because he fits the definition to a T: a person who enjoys a sociable and luxurious lifestyle. Archy is a private investigator and head of the Department of Discreet Inquiries for his father's law firm McNally and Son. 

Although Archy is in his late 30s, he continues to occupy the third floor suite of his parents' estate in Palm Beach, Florida. His father, Prescott, has adopted an Old World Persona - in dress, mannerisms, and speech. His telephone books are bound in leather and he only reads Dickens. Archy respectfully calls him 'sir'. Archy's mother spends her days tending to her collection of begonia plants. 

The McNallys and other denizens of their bespoke world are the creation of author Lawrence Sanders. I don't know why I haven't discovered Archy until now as the first book in the series, McNally's Secret, was published in 1992. It has to do with the theft of valuable stamps from Lady Cynthia Horowitz, a wealthy society matron and neighbor and friend of the McNallys. Before the end, though, Archy is faced with solving a homicide.

In the second book, McNally's Luck, Archy encounters a catnapping, the murders of a poet and his wife, and is introduced to the spiritualist world.

Archy is the narrator of these breezy, witty mysteries. I like him. In some ways he reminds me of Bertie Wooster. They both are fellows of independent means, they have servants who take care of the mundane chores of life, and they both belong to private clubs (in Archy's case, the Pelican Club). Bertie's car is two-seater (most likely an Aston Martin) while Archy sports around town in a fiery red Miata.

Although Bertie can't seem to get away from women in his life - aunts included - Archy is a bit of a playboy. They both have a quirky fashion sense that is not always appreciated  - Archy's father often raises an eyebrow at his son's colorful outfits, and Jeeves casts many a disapproving eye on Bertie's sartorial choices.

Archy keeps a nightly handwritten journal of his investigations and refers to his notes often. He finds himself sharing clues with his pal and police detective Al Rogoff. He enjoys good food, a tasty daiquiri now and again, and has a sunny disposition.

Archy McNally is just the fellow you want to escort you around the upscale shops and boutiques of Palm Beach's ritzy Worth Avenue. And, being the generous soul that he is, he might just surprise you with a shiny bauble or two.