JUNE BOOK NOOK: THREE MORE GEMS

Our “Book Nook” reviewer Abby Pinard returns with three more gems you may have missed or may want to pick up and re-read…

THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

by Saul Bellow, 1953

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It took me almost forty years to read “Augie March.” I bought the book in the late ’70s (cover price $1.95 and cover art worthy of Harold Robbins).

This was shortly after Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature and after years of listening to my father (also Saul, also a first-generation American Jew, and roughly Bellow’s contemporary) rave about the book.  (It was also years before Bellow became a curmudgeonly conservative, but that’s another story.)

The book sat on many different shelves for many years and was later joined by my father’s copy (cover price $.95 and thankfully without the art):

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But while I became acquainted over the years with virtually all Bellow’s fictional characters – Henderson, Herzog, Sammler, Charlie Citrine, Ravelstein and more – I never got around to Augie.  Until now.

I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”

And so Bellow, in 1953, announced his presence and his ambition, the first of the post-war Jewish writers to blast his way into mainstream American literature.

Augie March grows up fatherless amidst grinding poverty in “that somber city” but sees only boundless possibilities, a life in which he can be whatever he chooses if only he can figure out what he is meant to be.   All of Chicago — i.e., the whole world — is his, from dingy rooming houses and pool halls to opulent homes and rich, beautiful women.   He tries his hand at multiple enterprises, not all of them legal, many hilarious, while struggling to educate himself (reading, always reading) and pondering the great philosophical questions.

The novel is episodic rather than plot-driven.   Augie’s adventures range from hustling textbooks and babysitting a seasick prizefighter to training an eagle to hunt lizards in Mexico and drifting at sea in a lifeboat with a madman.   He is drawn into the schemes of friends, mentors, and lovers – he refers to himself as a “recruit” – but it’s never long before he is ready to move on, always seeking what he is intended for.

The Adventures of Augie March was the Great American Novel of its time and maybe of ours as well. With his exuberance, optimism, and passion for a life well and thoughtfully lived,  Augie is a hero for all time.

THE GRASS IS SINGING

by Doris Lessing, 1950

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Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died in 2013 at the age of 94.  The Grass Is Singing was her first novel, published in 1950 when she was thirty years old, had moved from Southern Rhodesia to London, and had had three children by two husbands.   Lessing wasn’t born in Africa – she arrived with her British parents as a young child from Persia – but her early novels were based on her years on her family’s struggling farm and her experience as a young wife and mother in colonial Africa with its rigid constraints based on race, class and gender.

While The Grass Is Singing reflects Lessing’s deep feeling of place, it is the least autobiographical of her Africa novels. It is the five-volume Children of Violence series that tracks with Lessing’s life as it follows the remarkable Martha Quest from adolescence through marriage, children, communism, and eventually to London. But The Grass Is Singing is a masterful work that unflinchingly exposes the brutality of the relationship between white masters and black workers and the fear and repression at its core.

The novel begins with the murder of Mary Turner, a farmer’s wife, and the arrest of Moses, her houseboy.   Mary was a thirty-ish independent woman in the city, with a job and a casual social life, when an overheard conversation rattled her equanimity and she determined to marry.   She accepts Dick Turner’s proposal and moves to his farm, which is forever verging on bankruptcy, and to a squalid life for which she is unprepared and unsuited.  Dick is an inept but stubborn farmer and overlord, unable to wrest any value from his land or his workers.   Mary is isolated, brutalized by the sun, and her fear of the natives begets increasing cruelty and confused feelings.   Neither is capable of intimacy or self-awareness, and their attempt to make a life within their constricted environment can only result in ruin.

This is an unrelentingly sad book with tragic characters whose destruction is inevitable.   There isn’t a light moment as Lessing depicts Mary’s desolate life, her psychological deterioration, and the dehumanizing effects of virulent racism.   The land and climate are brilliantly evoked, and the social and political concerns that permeate Lessing’s later work are presaged here. It’s a book that grabs you in the first chapter and doesn’t let go.

 

LOLLY WILLOWES

by Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1926

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British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner is best known for the short stories that appeared over decades in The New Yorker.   Even brief biographical blurbs usually reference her leftist political affiliations and sometimes her 40-year relationship with Valentine Ackland, a poet.   Lolly Willowes, the first of her seven novels, was published in 1926 and was a bestseller both in the U.K. and in the U.S., where it was the first selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

“Even in 1902, there were some forward spirits who wondered why that Miss Willowes, who was quite well off, and not likely to marry, did not make a home for herself and take up something artistic or emancipated. Such possibilities did not occur to any of Laura’s relations. Her father being dead, they took it for granted that she should be absorbed into the household of one brother or the other. And Laura, feeling rather as if she were a piece of property forgotten in the will, was ready to be disposed of as they should think best.”

Laura’s relations dispose of her by depositing her in her brother’s comfortable London household, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, indispensable caretaker for her nieces and domestic companion to her sister-in-law. But after twenty dutiful years, Laura succumbs to the lure of nature and, to the horror and puzzlement of her family, moves to the village of Great Mop in the Chiltern Hills, chosen from a guidebook. On long, solitary walks in the woods and fields around Great Mop, Laura responds to the magical power around her and enters a fantasy world in which she makes a deal that offers her a life of her own.

“One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others…”

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s witty and lyrical prose is a vehicle for her subversive, satirical commentary on a world in which only by selling her soul to the devil can a woman become independent of the expectations of society and her family.   Delightful.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!

 

MEET MEMBER MARJORIE ROEMER: “It Feels Like Choreography”

MARJORIE ROEMER: “IT FEELS LIKE CHOREOGRAPHY”

A Profile by Sue Wurster

Marjorie Roemer
BOLLI Member, SGL, Study Group Support Committee Chair, Writer, and more…

Every August, a group of writers and teachers of writing gather at the Bread Loaf Inn near Bread Loaf Mountain near Middlebury, Vermont for a ten-day conference. The New Yorker has called it “the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the country.”  And this August, that group of prominent writers and teachers will include BOLLI’s own Marjorie Roemer.

Marjorie’s background as a teacher of writing is an impressive one, which includes her having served as director of the Rhode Island Writing Project and having been a frequent contributor to The Quarterly of the National Writing Project. Her scholarly publications have appeared in numerous professional journals; she has presented at a wide range of professional conferences; and, all along, she has taught.

At BOLLI, Marjorie’s memoir writing class has been a perennial favorite, with many participants, in fact, returning semester after semester.  (One class member has actually taken the course all nine times that it has been offered!) “I’m most relaxed when I’m teaching writing,” she says, “and after teaching everything from junior high through grad school, working on writing with this population is thrilling.” She explains that, in this setting, people write what is real, providing testaments to lives lived and reflected upon. “When we read and share, it is a stirring affirmation of our time of life and the wisdom that helps us to cope.”

And yet, writing and teaching writing were not Marjorie’s original path.  She actually started out as a dancer.

“I think I always danced,” she muses. “We did a lot of creative play in the neighborhood school I went to in Queens, so there was often a lot of movement.  I started lessons with Sophie Maslow at the New Dance Group when I was six.” Sophie Maslow, who danced with the Martha Graham company for nearly a decade, was, herself, a modern dance pioneer who founded the group. “Sophie did with us what modern dance teachers do with children—jumping over puddles, reaching up high for stars.  It didn’t seem serious enough to me, and I didn’t like it.  So I took ballet—and, to me, that was real dance! Eventually, when I was old enough to take the subway into the city, I studied at Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall, and on Fridays, after class, I would go to City Center to watch the NYC Ballet Company. When I was a high school freshman, I finally saw Martha Graham, and it was a revelation. I began studying at the Graham studio and then, later, I was back at the New Dance Group—this time, with a new appreciation for puddles and stars. And then, I went to Bennington, in part because of its famous dance department.”

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Marjorie in a piece she choreographed about a medieval lady and a bird.

After graduation, Marjorie studied at the Jose Limon company on a scholarship. Classes were not only taught by members of the company but often by Jose himself whom she remembers as “a tremendously elegant man who wore black tights and a ruffled white dress shirt when he taught. I never danced with his company but with Joe Gifford and my then husband Martin Morginsky who both ended up forming companies in New York. We taught and performed at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. And then, I had a baby, needed to make a living, and began teaching junior high school.”

After a thoughtful pause, Marjorie says that, “teaching feels like choreography to me” and that, to this day, she still gets that “on-stage, it’s-here-and-now, rush” before every class begins. “I feel like my whole life has been ‘provisioning’ as I have looked to find the rhythm and the shape of it. Looking at a class this way gives me a sense of how I might shape it–but how I might improvise at the same time.”

This juxtaposition of planning and improvising seems to be central to Marjorie’s thoughts about dance, about teaching, and about life itself. “That idea of working with ‘the chance thing’ is so intriguing to me…surprising yourself—shaping but maintaining some wildness.” The poet Stanley Kunitz, she points out, says that, “when you pay too much attention, the garden becomes a landscape.”

Today, Marjorie’s writing takes a largely reflective bent—as is evident in the following sermon she wrote and delivered recently at the UCC in Franklin.

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RECALCULATING

A Sermon by Marjorie Roemer

I’m a retired English professor, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are not all memorized in my mind, in order 1 – 154. They are not even all entirely familiar. But one of them has always nestled in my thoughts, even before it had particular, personal meaning for me.   Sonnet 73. Here’s the first stanza:

                       That time of year thou may’st in me behold                                                                When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang                                                            Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,                                                    Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

The poem reflects on the waning of life, the time when most leaves are gone, when only a few yellow leaves remain. The branches that once were filled with birds are now bare, like the empty section of a church where the choir once was housed. The poem is about the November of life… that time of waning. Not the end, but toward the end.

Somehow, the poem always seemed resonant for me, but as my husband was struggling with brain cancer in the last year of his life, the words seemed more and more relevant, etched into my consciousness. Don died almost a year and a half ago, but the poem follows me around, stays with me as background music, a sound track for my life.

                       That time of year thou may’st in me behold                                                                When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang                                                            Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,                                                    Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

 So, now in my 76th year, I think about this November of life. There is much, always, to remind us about aging. The new aches and pains, the knees that don’t quite work the way they used to, the forgetfulness, the night blindness, the diminishment of some faculties, the many losses in our world, in our circle of friends, in our closest loved ones.

But perhaps nothing marks age for me as sharply as my incompetence with electronic devices. Four-year-olds can manage what I struggle with. My grandchildren need to be called in to show me, one more time, how to play the DVD, how to work the iPad, how to text. What is intuitive for them is not for me and seems to mark a dividing line between our lives. Even more significant than our differences in musical taste, or the TV shows we watch, or the movies that we go to are these differences in how we access information, place ourselves as receivers and senders of the pertinent facts about our lives.

If I manage to master one medium, they are already on to the next. I’m on Facebook, but they have moved onto to InstaGram or Twitter. I can manage writing on the computer, but I don’t blog, use wikis, crowd source, or podcast.

What I have finally managed to use is my GPS. For several years, I avoided it. That woman with the irritating voice always wanted me to get on 495 from exit 17 on 140 instead of the King Street exit 16. So, I found myself at odds with her from the beginning. I put away the device and said I’d get along without it, Googling directions in advance and printing out a map. But, recently, I’ve come to rely on the lady in the GPS. When I’m driving alone now and floundering, it is useful to have her tell me that in .2 miles I will be turning right. Or to have her let me know that I’ve got another 45 miles to go on this road and I’m likely to arrive at my destination just in time.

But if I have any idea where I’m going, that I want to come home on 495, not on 126, that I don’t want to drive through Framingham Center on this trip, that I won’t get off the highway at Forge Park . . . I hear that voice saying over and over again recalculating, recalculating.

It has become a new mantra for me . . . recalculating. As I move on to a life alone after 48 years of marriage, to a house without children in it, to a life after retirement, I find myself recalculating, taking a new path, making new choices in the November of my life. And in this “time of year thou may’st in me behold,” while there is no GPS to tell me where to turn or how many miles more I have to go, I have found remarkable guides along the way, a reminder that when you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the universe, it will respond, it will provide.

I began to search out supports. Suddenly, friends became more central to my life . . . the women’s group at the condominiums where I live, the people I know from BOLLI. Old friends. Things that were in the background of my life moved to the foreground. My children became essential to me in a way that was new. And I added some new things as well: painting classes at the Danforth Museum and attendance at the First Universalist Society in Franklin.

I did not grow up believing in a bearded man sitting in the sky keeping watch over my every move and listening to my every cry for help. But I can’t help but believe in some sort of benevolence in the universe, some way that the world can provide what we need if only we are ready to receive. I arrived at the church sort of unexpectedly, venturing tentatively one Sunday when I read there would be some Miles Davis music played. It was right down the street, easy to get to, easy to sit down, and easy to enter on the fringe of this community. The music was great. The feel of the place was interesting. Though the rituals were new to me, the feel of a sacred communal space was palpable. I stayed.

Eventually, I took a sermon writing class and found that the task of writing in a way that bears witness to your own experience while also offering some hopeful idea for others to grab on to was intriguing and challenging. For me, in this last year, the primary subject has been loss– how to deal with it, how to survive it, how to make something useful from it. Writing sermons offered me new ways to approach the problem. I’ve searched for images or situations that could name what I was experiencing. What I found was…Recalculating.

So, on my recalculated journey, what have I found? Certainly that there is love and support in the world that you may overlook when you are tightly enmeshed in your own self-sufficient, small cocoon. Possibilities for growth and new directions are there when you need them enough to seek them out.

The final couplet of that Shakespeare sonnet is:

               This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,                                  To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Those lines haunted me as Don was dying. Mortality is certainly something we all know about. Still, we come, at certain moments in our lives, to know mortality more acutely, more directly. So it was for us when the surgeon said: “The surgery was entirely successful; he has fourteen months to live.”   For fourteen months, we lived with that life-sentence hanging over our every minute. And it was true . . . those moments became more precious because we knew that they were few, that they would soon be gone.

And if there is something positive to be wrested from this ordeal, it is that sense of mortality that gives meaning and savor to life. It is because it is fleeting that life is so very precious; it is because it is finite that we have to use it well. And, in the end, it is love which is the enduring, transforming action. Love emerges as the stave against obliteration, the defense against loss.

In her online column, Heart Advice, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has some advice that can be applied here. She says:

YOU HAVE A CHOICE

If you have embarked on this journey of self-reflection, you may be at a place that everyone, sooner or later, experiences on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, where you realize you have a  choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out.  That choice is presented to you again and again and again.

In my words:    We can always recalculate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE’S SENIOR MOMENT: Resilience

This month, we decided to focus on resilience–from an expert’s point of view…and from our own.  We hope these thoughts resonate with you as well–Liz and Eleanor

Eleanor and Liz

RESILIENCE

By Elizabeth David

“Resilient people are like trees bending in the wind,” says Beth Howard in her article The Secrets of Resilient People. “They bounce back.” In her article, originally published in the November 10, 2010 issue of AARP Magazine, Howard says that developing and nurturing the quality of “resilience” is key to whether or not we age well.

Resilient people, she notes, have some qualities in common which, most importantly, can also be learned.  The following is a summary of the steps and qualities she isolates as being central to resilience. Resilient people…

  1. Stay Connected: “Research bears out the importance of connection, and good social support. .Resilient people report increased quality of life and well- being regardless of their burdens.”
  2. Remain Optimistic: Finding positive meaning in caregiving and helping others enhances ones ability to bounce back after death or a significant loss.
  3. Avoid Negative Thinking: “Experts say negative thinking is just a bad habit though it may take some work to change your mindset.” Negative thinking is learned and can be unlearned. We don’t need to be “cockeyed optimists” to have an optimistic point of view.
  4. Nurture Their Spiritual Dimension: Those of us who nurture our spiritual dimension, whether through religion or other means, bounce back from normal depression more easily.
  5. Maintain Their Sense of Wonder: “They’re playful.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used to write that we should be childlike in developing our sense of wonderment.
  6. Give Back: “The benefit you derive for yourself is as great as that which you give to others.”
  7. “Pick Their Battles”: “tending to focus on things they have some influence over.”
  8. Eat Well and Stay Healthy: “Exercise literally helps to repair neurons in brain areas that are particularly susceptible to stress.”
  9. Gain Strength from Adversity: They find the “silver lining.”

When I interact with my BOLLI friends I often see examples of resilience that bring a sense of wonderment to my heart. As I am reminded of the above, so I hope that this will be food for thought for you in facing the challenges of life.

As we move forward together, may we all go from strength to strength.

 

To read Howard’s article, click here: “The Secrets of Resilient People”

TIMES OF CRISIS

by Eleanor Jaffe

With unnerving frequency, friends—especially male friends—are growing sick, having accidents, experiencing complications from illnesses and surgeries, and are dying.  Statistics have predicted this mortality jump among men while we women generally are outliving our male partners and classmates by some years.  Scant comfort for survivors.  We mourn our friends and comfort their widows.  We close ranks and try to hold one another closer.

Have you noticed?  Nothing in a good, long, traditional marriage prepares one for widowhood.  The division of labor and tasks, the other half of your memory, your partner in conversation, your bedmate — vanish.  And then there is just one, with the memories of two and only half the previous skills and talents.

A thousand or more miles away, my friend Tom has just died.  His wife Martha soldiers on.  I try to send comforts over the miles.  But if I, a friend, feel shaken, what does Martha feel?

All of us, we age mates, are on this road together–observing, experiencing, and comforting our friends.  The community that we have created and continue to create at BOLLI can be a sustaining and supporting one during our crises.  Our activities, courses, conversations, and shared experiences can provide new ballast during these senior years.  Let’s remember to support one another, and “be there” for each other.  Let’s connect, create new friendships, and reach out when needed.

 

BOLLI’S NEW BOOK CLUB

YES, BOLLI NOW HAS A BOOK CLUB!

Seems like such a natural for BOLLI, doesn’t it?   And yet, BOLLI’s Book Club has only recently been added to an ever burgeoning array of Special Interest Groups at 60 Turner Street.  Abby Pinard and Charlie Marz have been active in both the New Yorker Fiction Salon, focused on short stories, and the Poetry Circle.  Both are avid readers as well, and so, it seems as though it was a completely logical step to team up and lead a BOLLI-wide Book Club.   When asked about the forming of the group, the two had much to share.

> What made you decide to start the group?

Charlie: I wanted to be in a book group in which I had some greater control over the choices made.  Not that we’re not completely open to others’ suggestions, but I did want to be able to exert some significant influence over what we might read. I didn’t want to do it alone and thought co-leading with Abby, one of BOLLI’s most voracious readers, would make it more interesting and enjoyable – for me and for those who attend.

Abby: It was an easy decision for me when Charlie suggested it. I love to talk about books almost as much as I love to read them, and I knew there were many BOLLI members who would be ideal companions. I had gotten to know Charlie in the New Yorker Fiction Salon and the Poetry Circle (also venues for lively discussion), and I knew his leadership would elevate any discussion.

> Have you been in other book groups?  

Abby:  I’ve never been in a private book group, but, after retirement, I started attending a drop-in group at the library led by a wonderful professional book group leader (yes, there is such a thing). I came to trust her selections and particularly enjoyed the books I would not have chosen on my own.

Charlie: I’m in a non-fiction book group.  Mostly, we don’t talk about the month’s selection.  Almost every conversation becomes a discussion of politics, more often than not the Middle East.  I thought it might be time to find an opportunity to actually talk about interesting and provocative contemporary literary fiction.

> How did you go about choosing the books that you have chosen for the group thus far?

Charlie:  So far, they’ve been a mix of books we’ve read and felt would be good for discussion (Stegner’s Crossing to Safety) and books from our stacks of books we’ve not read but that have been well received (Schlink’s Homecoming and Erdrich’s The Round House).  We’ve also tried to focus on work that is relatively accessible (i.e. in paperback and without long wait lines at the library), relatively short (200-300+ pages), and by important if sometimes overlooked writers.

Abby:   We also wanted to mix things up: something old, something new, some challenging, some less so,…

> What plans do you have for the future of the group?

Charlie:  Our hope is that we will continue to meet monthly throughout the year and that there will continue to be a group of 15 – 20 who find the books selected and conversation sufficiently interesting to trust our choices and to return as often as possible.

Abby:  What he said.

> So, what are some of your all-time favorite books?

Abby:   Here are a few, spanning many years–The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, the four “Rabbit” novels by John Updike, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, anything by Philip Roth,…

Charlie:   Hard enough to remember what I read last week.  I suppose McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, early John Irving, McKewan’s Atonement

Clearly, these two have excellent taste, and each gathering of the group is sure to be an animated and engaged one.  Come once–come regularly.  And enjoy!

 

 

MEET MEMBER MARGIE ARONS-BARRON: A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

Meet Margie Arons-Barron, accomplished “wordsmith” and enthusiastic BOLLI member.

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BOLLI freshman Marjorie Arons-Barron is president of Barron Associates, a communications consulting firm, and a blogger at www.marjoriearonsbarron.com

If she looks familiar to you, it could be because for 20 years she may have been a guest in your living room, telling you what to think about anything from the local sewer bond issue to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. You may not always have agreed with her. Even her husband doesn’t. Not all the time anyway.

Margie is well known for her long career as editorial director at WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate. From 1979-1999, she also produced and often hosted Five on Five, back then the nation’s longest running, locally produced public affairs discussion program.

Margie has been honored with numerous awards, including three New England Emmy Awards and, for five consecutive years, the National Award for Excellence in Television Editorials from the National Broadcast Editorial Association.

Prior to Channel 5, Margie was an associate producer of PBS Television’s The Advocates (which, she confesses, was the most fun she ever had at work); a national political affairs writer for The Boston Phoenix (she’s glad she’s no longer covering national conventions); a reporter for WGBH-TV’s Ten O’Clock News and political editor of The Newton Times. (Covering the local scene is hardest of all because you end up in the CVS line next to someone you’ve just criticized in print.)

Margie is a passionate overseer emerita of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a director of the Mass. Broadcasters Hall of Fame. An honors graduate of Wellesley College, she received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Regis College.

Margie joined BOLLI last summer. Contrary to some critics of her editorials, she jokes, she has never written fiction. At BOLLI, she is now writing fiction and also memoir. She’s loving all her courses and exhilarated to pursue interests sidelined for nearly 50 years as she pursued a career and raised a family. Her two sons and five grandkids are still what she is proudest of. Her husband and best friend, Jim Barron, is an attorney and consultant and is writing a book with a working title of The Greek Connection, to be published next year by Melville House.

Margie wrote the following piece in response to “A Hole in the Bucket” Writers Guild prompt earlier this year.

 

A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

by Margie Arons-Barron

Tick. Tock.  Tick. Tock.  Warned the grandfather clock in the living room. Liza was running late. Nothing had gone right this morning. When the alarm went off, she wasn’t sure where she was. It took her a while to get her bearings. As her feet hit the hardwood floor, it suddenly came to her. She and Henry had an appointment at ten to take care of something legal. Was it their mortgage? No, they hadn’t had a mortgage for years. Update their wills? Yes, that was it. They were meeting the attorney–Asa what’s-his-name?–at the law offices because Henry had had an emergency appointment with the dentist to glue a crown back in his mouth. Liza and Henry had been together since they were children. After 45 years of marriage, it was patch, patch, patch.

She went to the closet and grabbed a pair of grey flannel pants with an elasticized waistband along with a tailored shirt. Was this grey or blue? It didn’t matter. Where were her socks? Maybe the ones left rolled up last night in her weather-beaten running shoes would do. She pulled them on and struggled with her shoelaces. Maybe it was time to go Velcro, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. It just didn’t look dignified. Finally, she was dressed.

There were two pink post-its on the bathroom mirror. “Brush teeth.” Which she did. “Put on lipstick.” She applied it as carefully as she could, her hand shaking slightly. Eyeliner and mascara were a thing of the past. She did the best to smooth her hair, noticing the widening band of grey at the root line. She’d have to do something about that. Maybe next week.

Tick. Tock. Tick.  It was 9:30. Henry had told her to take a cab to the lawyer’s, but, she figured, she still had time and wanted to drive. Where were her keys? Not in her purse. She looked frantically on her dresser, on her desk, in the front hall, in her coat pocket. Did Henry hide them? He really didn’t want her driving anymore. Neither, for that matter, did their son Malcolm or daughter Christine. But Liza was determined. She raced through the bureau drawers, then headed for the kitchen. Utensil drawers? Not there. Pots-and-pans shelf? Nope. She opened the refrigerator, and, there on the top shelf, were her keys. This was crazy. What had she been thinking? Had she also left a bottle of milk in the medicine chest?

Liza started to tremble, tears tumbling silently down her softly lined cheeks. What was happening to her? It was one thing to forget people’s names, especially if she hadn’t seen them in a while. She had done that for years. She remembered a concert reception when a familiar looking, elegant woman came toward them, smiling broadly.

How are you?

Fine, and you?

It’s wonderful to see you. It’s been too long. (What was her name?)

Do you know my husband, Henry Snodgrass?

“Nice to meet you, Henry, and do you know my husband, Burt?”

They parted five minutes later, Liza still unable to recall the woman’s name.

Lately though, things had gotten worse. If Henry hadn’t reminded her it was meal time, she would have forgotten to eat. Sometimes she had gone out to walk and had difficulty finding her way back home, though they had lived in their quiet Victorian neighborhood for nearly half a century. She had double paid some bills and neglected to pay others. So Henry had taken over the household finances, and Liza had raged against the loss of control. Some days, she just didn’t want to get out of bed. It was warm and safe, and she didn’t have to confront the myriad frustrations that plagued her daily life.

Tick. Tick. Time was running out. It was almost ten o’clock. She’d have to call a cab. As she reached for the phone, it rang. An unfamiliar voice asked, “Is this Liza Snodgrass? Ma’am, this is Captain Lynch at precinct 4. Are you the wife of Henry Snodgrass? Ma’am, I’m afraid there’s been a car accident. You’d best come to the Emergency Room at the General.”

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

A garbled sound rose from deep inside her.

What was he saying? What did it mean?

BOLLI’s New BOOK CLUB

BOLLI’s New BOOK GROUP

With Charlie Marz and Abby Pinard

 We’ve compiled a selection of diverse and fascinating novels for your post-semester enjoyment. Read the book, bring lunch, and join us for a lively discussion!

Tuesday, June 7 at 10:30 in the Blue Room

Homecoming

Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink (author of The Reader):   A thought-provoking novel about a German scholar’s search for the truth about his father’s role in World War II.

 

Wednesday, July 6 at 12:30 in the Blue Room

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: A deeply affecting portrayal of enduring marriage and the lifelong friendship of two very different couples.

 

 

Tuesday, August 9 at 12:30 in the Blue Room

The Round HouseThe Round House by Louise Erdrich: The National Book Award winner about the struggle of a teen-age boy to come to terms with violence and injustice on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation.

 

For more information contact Charlie Marz (cmarz@rcn.com) or Abby Pinard (apinard@snet.net).

THE BOOK NOOK: THREE GEMS

At BOLLI, we spend a great deal of time talking about books–in class and out.  Recently, a large bookshelf appeared outside the Purple Room, bearing a BOLLI BOOK EXCHANGE sign.  The shelves are already full–and changing daily.   Here, on our blog, we have an opportunity to share some of our “good reads” with each other.  Book lover Abby Pinard kicks off our monthly “Book Nook” Feature with the following items.  (Be sure to leave a comment!  And feel free to send your favorites as well.  Send to: susanlwurster@gmail.com)

HONEYDEW

by Edith Pearlman, 2015

Honeydew

Where has Edith Pearlman been all our reading lives? Right down the road in Brookline,  turning out sparkling gems of short stories that are filled with strikingly intimate observation and precise language and that capture a life and a world in just a phrase. This is Pearlman’s fifth collection — she is now near eighty — and she was little known until the last one, Binocular Vision, was showered with prizes. Better late than never.

The lives of four young women are shaped by a parlor game as the mother of one of them has them pick from a hat the names of the men they will marry, assuring them that men are “interchangeable” and they will be “happy enough.” The headmistress of a girls’ school, pregnant with her married lover’s child, tries to help his daughter, a brilliant and desperately ill anorexic. A middle-aged real estate agent, contemplating a second marriage that will secure her financial future, is shaken by what she finds in the chaotic home of an annoying neighbor.

Many of these characters who have known loss and disappointment have learned to adjust their expectations, have found that they can indeed be “happy enough” as they navigate complex relationships and surprising turns. Edith Pearlman is generous to her characters, gives them the gift of quiet determination and moments of grace.

If you love short stories, read these. If you don’t read short stories because you think only a novel can deliver the satisfaction of fully developed characters you care about and stories that stay with you, read these.

THE 6:41 TO PARIS

by Jean-Philippe Blondel (translated byAlison Anderson), 2015

641

I seldom buy, borrow, or otherwise acquire books I’ve never heard of. But once in a while, I take a flier. This was one of those times. The 6:41 to Paris caught my eye two different bookstores in Cambridge and the second time I took it home. It turned out to be a happy diversion for a cold winter day.

Two people who haven’t seen each other since a nasty breakup twenty-seven years ago find themselves sitting side by side on a crowded early morning train to Paris. Neither acknowledges recognizing the other but both are drawn into the past and roiled by still-raw emotions. Cécile is still angry. Philippe is still embarrassed. Neither of their lives has turned out as might have been expected when they were twenty.

There’s no fancy prose in this short, competently translated novel, thankfully without romantic drivel. In alternating chapters, we are made privy to the thoughts and reminiscences of Cécile and Philippe and each gradually becomes a fully realized character.

I liked this slight book. The lives and feelings of these two people felt real. And there’s a natural tension as the train rolls toward Paris. Will they speak to each other? What could they possibly say? Nicely done.

 

THE LOST:  A SEARCH FOR SIX OF SIX MILLION

By Daniel Mendelsohn, 2006

Lost book cover

The two teenage girls at the right in the back row in the picture below are my paternal grandmother and her sister. Their parents and grandfather are in the front row. The picture was taken around 1900. A few years later, my grandmother, rebellious and politically inclined, left the small town in Poland and came, alone, to the United States. She was one of the very few members of her family to escape the Holocaust.

Lost fam photo DOWNSIZED

Like many American Jews, I don’t know precisely what happened to my relatives. Daniel Mendelsohn didn’t know what happened to six members of his family who he heard spoken of in hushed tones as a child. His effort to find out took many years and took him all over the world in a frantic effort to interview eyewitnesses before they died.

The story he tells in this book is both personal and common to millions of people. It is beautifully written, sometimes tedious, often suspenseful, always heartbreaking and indispensable in commemorating what has been lost.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

 

OUR SCENE-IORS PRESENT: “THE DINING ROOM” by A.R. Gurney

The Scene-iors end-of-term staged reading presented on Thursday, May 19 was, indeed a hit, and, for the first time, BOLLI members who may not have been in attendance, can see a variety of photos of the production–provided by Bunny Cohen and Allan Kleinman.  (Let your cursor hover over a picture to see its caption.)

Welcome to The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney!

The group would love to see your comments–use the box below!

MEET MEMBER KAREN WAGNER: DELAYED DEPARTURES

BOLLI Member and Poet Karen Wagner
BOLLI Member and Poet Karen Wagner

Karen grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and attended Pennsylvania State University, graduating with her BS, MA, and Ph. D.  in Geophysics in 1969, 1972, and 1976.  Dr. Wagner went to work for AMOCO Production Company in their research lab in Tulsa, OK and simultaneously became adjunct professor of mathematics at Tulsa University from 1977 to 1980.  She also continued competitive fencing in the tri-state fencing league. She transferred to Houston, TX to work for a production division of AMOCO in 1980 where she both continued competition fencing and became an avid catamaran sailor. In 1982, Karen began working for Natomas Petroleum International out of San Francisco where she actively traveled and worked the Bahamas and South America. During her time in California, Karen became a wildlife vet technician working for the Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum on weekends. In 1984, she returned to Houston, TX to become Product Development Manager for Borehole Seismic work at Schlumberger North American Headquarters. This work took her to Europe, Alaska, and Japan. During her extended stays in Japan (where Schlumberger had a research lab on the outskirts of Tokyo), she continued to play kendo which she had begun studying under Darrell Craig at the Houston Budokan.

In the mid 1980’s with the oil bust, Dr. Wagner switched careers from oil  to radar and moved to the Boston area to work for the MITRE Corporation.  She spent 13 years working on different projects including ground penetrating radar and over-the-horizon radar. She continued her martial arts training at a Uechiryu Karate dojo studying under Walter Mattson. In 1999, Karen began working for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. She worked on the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS), the Stealth Bomber weapons load, and the Ballistic Missile Defense System. She became a Raytheon Six Sigma Expert along the way.

After 35 years in high tech, Karen left Raytheon in 2011 and began a sabbatical that involved BOLLI and the pursuit of all things relaxing. Along with several colleagues, Dr. Wagner became an SGL for the “Science Sampler: Five by Three” which gave students introductions to eclectic topics in science and ran for four semesters.  After taking a writing course with Marilyn Katz Levenson, Karen discovered a talent for poetry which she pursues to this day in the BOLLI Writers’ Guild.  She has been a contributor to the last two issues of the BOLLI Journal. A sample of her poetry is included here, entitled “Delayed Departures,” about a pirate ship chasing a Spanish galleon.

DELAYED DEPARTURES

Fog

slinks around corners

shaves edges dull,

spills over ground

erases feet,

blows over fingers

my hand is

shadowed

inches from my face,

sets me adrift.

I rock in a sea of

foam and gull screeches

my memory sets sail

for a port of pirates,

mates swing

from the highest yardarms,

treasures of the high seas

await the daring;

we sail with the tide

to chase the rich galleon.

He strides the upper deck

under the Spanish flag,

scans the harbor

for the rowboats and crew

overdue at the bells

the riggings undone

an anchor to raise

while the weather encroaches.

My spyglass is blind,

in banks of mist,

there is easy prey

set low in the water

in a ship heavy with

doubloons and ornaments,

booty for a cavalier’s ransom,

and still I bide my time

until

I can count my fingers,

count my gold.

 

A SENIOR MOMENT: From Eleanor Jaffe

FRAYING AT THE EDGES

Reflections on The New York Times Special Section, May 1

Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer's
Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer’s

The New York Times published a Special Section on May 1 of this year. Fraying at the Edges is about Geri Taylor,  a New Yorker, newly retired, aged 73.  If she lived in the Boston area, she certainly might have been a BOLLI member.   Her appearance, career, her interests, and her marriage(s) all easily correspond to our own.  Geri is a woman in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and what distinguishes her from others with this disease is that she has taken a pro-active approach to coping with her failing memory.  She knows full well the trajectory of Alzheimer’s, but right now, in the beginning stages of her disease, she and her husband find strategies that enable them to cope with their new realities, to plan for the future, and to each find pleasure and satisfaction in the here and now.

Geri is aware of her growing deficits, her need to plan ahead, her slowing down, and her physical changes—like walking in her sleep, like having an unsteady gait, like having less of an appetite. She said, “Alzheimer’s brings on apathy is what I find. Years ago, I definitely had more of an ego. Now I don’t have an idea of myself. And so I have less of an ego. Frankly, I don’t care what people think of me. I’m more in a survival mode, one foot in front of the other. Don’t spill the coffee.”

After participating in a support group for several years, Geri and a few other members advocated for a new kind of group, workshops where people with Alzheimer’s could “swap strategies” for living with early-stage memory loss. (There ARE simple strategies that work, like putting glass doors on kitchen cabinets so one can see where particular items are stored.) Advocating for and initiating a workshop is an amazing accomplishment for people whose executive functions and memories are slowly but surely deteriorating. But it DID get started. This new workshop, with the sponsorship of the Alzheimer’s Association in Connecticut, is called GAP, Giving Alzheimer’s Purpose.

The “Times” supplement is well worth reading.  Geri is a remarkably positive role model. The article, indirectly, also shows how friends and family can help someone with Alzheimer’s maintain a sense of self.

Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer's
Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer’s

After all, according to this article, “Alzheimer’s is a disease that strikes an American every 67 seconds.” It may not strike you or me, but, almost inevitably, it will strike someone we know and love.

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