On Festivus and the Inconveniences of Taking the High Road…

On Festivus and the Inconveniences of Taking the High Road…

Once again, I missed Festivus. I love the part about “airing of grievances.” For I come from a long line of folks who never do that; we call our lack of rejoinders “taking the high road,” and, indeed, sometimes, most times, it is exactly that. Plus, we get to feel superior to those who thrash and get red-in-the-face in response to an insult, real or imagined.

I am one who finds it exceedingly difficult to air my protests, and though my spouse might deign to disagree, he doesn’t know the half of it. While I have no trouble letting him know exactly how I feel, it is the others, those further removed, yet not removed enough to make them be of no concern, who rankle while I’m practicing being above-it-all.

I have not made public my protests to those “deaths by a thousand paper cuts,” each by itself too trivial, too insignificant, to bring to light – slights delivered with or without a smile, insinuations, exaggerations, or sometimes outright lies. This is how I’ve tried to live my life, what I have advised those who have come to me with both workplace and personal issues. “Take the high road. It will pay off in the long run, and you will feel better about yourself.” And when they followed this advice, which most did, I was there to congratulate and cheer them on.

Now this is one of the great rewards of taking the high road – having someone (or many) know about it. To take the high road in total private – well, you have to have a pretty strong sense of yourself to take solace in that.

And I realized that is what is missing. What I want is someone to say “Wow, are you not great? You are taking the high road. You are the better person. You are a person of character!” That’s what I want to hear. All these years of raising an eyebrow and keeping my counsel, all these years of not reporting what the other person had said or setting the story straight. There are times I want to scream “there are things I know that I haven’t told you because it would hurt your feelings or change your mind about someone you think cares about you.”

But I haven’t, and I don’t think I will. I’m working on leaving all that stewing behind. It benefits no one, especially me. It’s unlikely that I’ll change my ways, and most likely that’s a good thing.

In the end it really won’t matter. In the end we’re all dead anyway, Festivus or no.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On the Death of a Sister…

On the Death of a Sister…

One of the few pictures of us together. See much love here? Me neither.

Maybe she loved me, later on, when I was always there to babysit for her children. Or maybe not. And now I wonder if I ever loved her. I thought I did, though perhaps it was only longing, longing to be special, longing to be beloved.

She was complicated. That’s one way of putting it. She could be charming; she could be kind. And she could be vicious, a laser-sharp cruel streak that makes my heart seize in its memory.

She was my sister.

I intruded upon her world after twelve years of having our parents to herself. The one she loved was our father. The one she hated, or so it seemed, was our mother. And the introduction of a fourth person to that troubled triangle disrupted whatever balance they had assembled over the years.

I was docile, loving,with a craving to please. She was confrontational, angry, seemingly immune to disapproval or reproach. She saw me as weak, a coward. Most likely, I was. I know I was where she was concerned.

Hostile, angry, prone to violent outbursts toward me, out of sight of either parent, she was a master of physical and verbal abuse. Not a fair fight, she a teenager, me a toddler, though she relished her victories.

She was not one to tell the truth. I think her lies made her feel powerful. And I never called her on any of them. I was afraid, afraid that if I did anything to displease her,including standing up for myself, pointing out her “inconsistencies,” that she would have nothing to do with me.

Which she chose to do anyway.

 “You will see her once more, but you will never get what you want.” A tarot-reader answered my question almost twenty years ago. She was right.

A decade ago, we met in a restaurant and sat across from one another, polite strangers. I complimented her hair, still thick and auburn after rounds of chemotherapy. It was a wig,she told me, with an air of superiority and a smirk that I had been so naïve, so gauche, to mention it. Or so I interpreted it. I noticed that her nails were ragged and unkempt, and curled my fingers to hide my manicure. We parted in the parking lot, she leaning away as I moved to embrace her. It left me off-kilter.The last time I saw her.

My wounds, most of them, have healed. And I see now that she also had wounds, deeper than mine, though I know that I will never fathom why.

Would that it had been different, we, victims of generations of puzzling family fractures. And I’ll always carry a sadness, somewhere, not too near the surface.

Dear sister, I wish you well. I wish it could have been different.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Being a Writer Who Doesn’t Write…

Image result for image writer's block

On Being a Writer Who Doesn’t Write…

These days even calling myself a writer fills me with anxiety. I’m somebody who writes. Yes, I am. Just not much these days. Or should I be honest and admit that I’m writing nothing. I’m hoping that this piece, that writing this, putting my anguish out there for the world (or those few who actually read what I post) will do the trick, will get me out of my rut, will spark the engines. I could go on…but, for you, dear reader, I won’t.

I’d never used the term “writer’s block.” I always thought of it as too easy an excuse, one that could be used when it was just too hard to think of something to say, when “your imaginary friends” had other things to do, other writers to grace, or when you realized that what you wrote was just a word ragbag, too full of fancy adjectives, or synonyms, or Victorian phrasing.  I’ve experienced all those, but somehow was able to keep at it, knowing, deep down, that I could do better.

But for the last months, truth be told, I just had nothing to say. Well, that and a major dose of laziness. Each morning, I’d tell myself that at least I’d sit at the computer and do more than answer emails and read like-minded Facebook posts. And each day I would do only that. I still had nothing to say.

I couldn’t find a book that enthralled, and after binge-watching The Americans, no Netflix, Prime, or Acorn captured me. I was nothing but a mess.

And then the cloud parted, or at least became a bit more gossamer. I found books I liked – Tana French, Daniel Pink, Bill Bryson, H.L. Mencken, Lianne Moriarity. No pattern that I could discern. Some readings by author friends,. each in her own way nudging me back to the keyboard, if only to write that I cannot write.

And so here are 300 or so words. A start. And it really doesn’t feel that terrible. Fingers crossed that I will hear good news about the one story that I did write this summer and submitted for inclusion in a commemoration of a favorite author. And even if it is not accepted, I sense that my imaginary friends are on their way back to me. I will welcome them with maple tea and stale Krispy Kreme donuts. They tell me that combination is one of their favorites.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

I Hear the Economy is Good…

Image result for image poverty

I Hear the Economy is Good…

The economy is good. I heard it on NPR.

While our current president says that it has never been better, and while some may dispute that, none can deny that, yes, the economy is good. Or so they say. Not sure exactly what they use as a measure — jobs? the Dow Jones? So  there are more jobs, somewhere at least, and the stock market is high.

Now if the economy is good, then life must be good, and the president’s approval ratings are…what? And how/why do we determine how good life is by how the richest among us are doing?

I sit on the sidelines, knowing that, for now at least, I am secure. I have enough; I desire little. I have health insurance and my health. I have enough income that should withstand the vicissitudes of a fluctuating economy.

Yet I have lived long enough, and experienced enough, to know that all that could change in a flash. I have been jobless; I have worked in jobs that did not quite cover my meager expenses. I know the gnawing sense of worry that underpins life even when you are getting along. I haven’t forgotten.

And as we in North Carolina sit and worry about Hurricane Florence, we know that we can count on our president to show up and throw us a roll of paper towels; we know that we can count on those prayers from our Republican senators. So we do not worry. Because, as we all know, the economy is good.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off…

The_Great_British_Bake_Off_title

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off

I no longer enjoy cooking. My idea of a great meal is one that someone else has cooked. And as for baking, well, I was never a baker, for baking is essentially chemistry, precise measuring, all the while considering altitude and humidity. Too much like work, when you can purchase deliciously made sweets and savories all the while supporting local businesses.

So it’s odd that I’m now enamored with The Great British Bake Off. But it’s not the baking that has captivated me. No. It’s the people, both bakers and judges and then whoever those two jocular women are who insist on picking up spoons, asking questions while bakers are trying to concentrate, and, once, toppling over a carefully arranged stack of…something that looked like a cross between a pancake and a cookie. I’m fascinated by their actions and responses and love the way that the show’s producers/directors portray them. I’ve learned a lot from them, not about cooking, but about life.

So here are three life lessons I’ll share:

First:

Sooner or later someone will take your ice cream out of the freezer without your knowing it. They will neither admit this nor apologize. It will ruin what you are attempting to do. Now, the life lesson is that you must keep your cool, though your ice cream has not, continue with what you have left, do your best, and present your product with as much aplomb as you can muster. It will get your points for poise and dash. What you should not do is throw a fit and make a production of throwing your entire creation in the trash. You will be voted off for sure and will have to live with YouTube views for the rest of your life.

Second:

There will always be someone who will want to help, sometimes officiously, even though you prefer to be left alone. They will huddle over you, they will talk to you, they will clean up what they think should be thrown away. Often it should not be. It will not matter what you say to them. And finally, as they turn to leave, they will brush against your carefully constructed skyscraper of pancakes and gingerbread. It will topple. They won’t know this because by this time they are bothering someone else. When this happens, and, to be sure, it will, though it may your ego that is toppled rather than cakes, just pile them up again as best you can and go on with life. After all, it’s only cake, or, in most cases, your self-esteem. Under no circumstances, throw whipped cream, raw eggs, or scatological insults at the perpetrator. That will only mark you as an hysteric. Time later for tears and tantrums in the privacy of your own home where, I  hope, there would be doughnuts, suitably purchased from a local bakery, certainly not a shop that specializes in doughnuts.

And, third,

There will always be a beautiful, green-eyed, gazelle of a 20-year-old, who will present her bakes with quivering lip and tear-filled eyes. She will say, her voice catching, that her work is terrible. She will enchant at least one of the judges, who will comfort her. Such comfort will involve making sure she moves to the next level, and then the next. You will seethe and try to hide it. It will give you a major migraine. But do take comfort, eventually – though we may not be around to see it – a better baker will prevail, and that person will win based on the baking, not his ability to line his/her eyes with a color that makes those green eyes even more hypnotizing. However, even though she will not win, she will be the one everyone remembers. There is no getting around this, so when this comes, and it comes to all of us, I advise finding a good book – Jane Austen, Barbara Pym or somesuch writer who appreciates excellent women.

For that is what most of us are. And, really, would you trade it?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

There Are Places I’ll Remember…

thereareplaces

Earlier this week, a treasured friend sent me this flag. She had I have shared decades of holiday travels and experiences, and even more decades of being kindred spirits. We are truly sisters from different parents.

I was touched by her gesture, moved to tears remembering us as young, not-quite free spirits, willing to undertake any situation because it was an adventure. I think we are still pretty adventurous; I’m not so sure about the young part.

I can’t get these Beatles lyrics out of my head. Each time my mind plays that simple melody, those simple, but haunting, lyrics, I cry. It was written in 1965, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that time. Our hearts had been pierced by John Kennedy’s assassination – the astonishment that such a thing could happen in our country, and few of us could fathom where our involvement in Vietnam would lead. It was the mid-60s;  we still had dreams. A simpler time, when the excitement of a US visit from the Beatles made us shriek with joy. Remember joy? Or maybe we were just young.

I’m missing those days, those feelings. So perhaps it’s not just places we remember.

Here are those lovely lyrics – I wish you a day of fond remembrance.

In My Life
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life– I love you more
Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul Mccartney

A British Review of Echoes from the Alum Chine…

9781483466828_pap.indd

A Discovering Diamonds review of Echoes from the Alum Chine by Cynthia Strauff

Family drama, 1900s, Baltimore

On March 7, 1913, the steamer Alum Chine explodes in the Baltimore harbor. Charles Sherwood, the founder of the company that insures the steamer, is among the first to hear the blast. As he struggles to keep calm, Charles suspects that if it is the Alum Chine that has been decimated, he is now in the midst of a nightmare. While he attempts to cope with the consequences that include his son’s diffidence to the calamity, the disaster touches two other families. Helen Aylesforth is the imperious matriarch of her family whose stern demeanor belies her love for those around her, including her daughter, Cantata, who is married to Nicholas Sherwood. The Corporals have served the Aylesforths for generations. Among their six-member family is Lillian Gish, Helen’s shy, forgotten, and observant granddaughter who must somehow find her place in the world, despite the chaos around her.”

This is a story of ordinary people coping with extraordinary consequences, two families, of how they lived life in Baltimore in the early years of the twentieth century, and had to get on with that life even though enormous things were happening all around and to them.

The description of the period and of Baltimore itself is very well written – as a social history this is an excellent novel.

Do you need constant action to make a novel an interesting one? Echoes From The Alum Chine has a gentle and sedate rhythm to it, the relationships between the two families is interesting, how they cope is interesting … as a depiction of family drama in the pre-World War One era of American life, this is an interesting read.

*****     *****     ****

Well, even though the reviewer confused just whose grandaughter my lovely Lilian Gish was, we now know  what at least one British reviewer thought. And I’ll take it, happy to see that at least one copy has made it across the pond.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com