Thoughts on Friendship and the novel The Hate U Give

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I finished The Hate U Give, written by Angie Thomas, two days ago and I am still mulling over the many themes in this novel. The protagonist, Starr Carter, spends her days in two worlds, the poor neighborhood she calls home and the suburban high school she attends. Her life, already full of challenges by the time she is 16, is upended when she witnesses the murder of her best friend.

I immersed myself into her world and its characters and I did not want to leave until I was done. The conflicts Starr must face, internal and external, forced me to consider my experiences attending predominately white schools and my role in social justice activism.

There are many themes here but the one I want to focus on is central to The Hate U Give; it is friendship. On page 265, Starr talks to her mother about a friendship that has gone awry. I know the page number because this was the one page I bookmarked right away so that I could come back to it. Starr ponders her mother’s advice and the friend with whom she is at odds, and asks herself, “Our friendship is based on memories. What do we have now?”

That question stood out because I have wondered if memories are really enough to sustain a relationship, at least a close one. When I think of my deepest relationships outside of my family, there are some similarities. Some began because we went to the same school, church, or worked at the same company. One might say proximity played a role because the relationships began because we saw each other often, almost daily, if you think of school or work, and we got to know one another. But it takes more than proximity to become friends. I’ve always been a little amused by people who think that someone they work with is a friend just because they see them in the office every day. It reminds me of a story a friend told me a long time ago; there was someone he often shared a ride with but he later realized that they were not really close, they were simply going in the same direction.

If being in the same place does not make us friends, then what does? I believe shared experiences, an open heart, and a willingness to learn from each other are essential to becoming friends. I might connect with someone right away because I like something about him or her, but attraction is not friendship, or at least it might not be.

My deepest friendships have generally been a surprise; I seldom saw it coming at the first meeting. It is like a gumbo or a stew. In the beginning it seems to be a collection of ingredients, a mishmash of conversations, events, and revelations, with the occasional misunderstanding that needs to be sorted out. Only over time does the flavor deepen, getting richer and more nuanced as we let things warm up.

The murder of Starr’s friend makes her question what it means to be a friend, to be loyal, and to stand up for what you believe. Starr has a big decision to make—retreat and be silent about what she knows, or open her mouth and speak the truth despite the inevitable negative consequences and challenges to her safety and relationships. I have had one or two friendships made closer by how someone supported me in a difficult situation, but not all have required that for me to know that the friendship was special. Very often, it was because of experiences, now memories, which we share.

In the most longstanding friendships, we not only have the old memories to go back to, but we create new ones by going through life together, or talking about what we are going through—the good, the bad, and the crazy. A memory may not be enough to sustain a friendship that has gone sour, but it can be the roux in the pot that holds it together when we cannot see each other as often as we’d like.

This book made the 2017 National Book Award Longlist and is a New York Times bestseller. I hope you’ll read The Hate U Give, consider what it says about social justice and friendship, and share it with others. It’s a YA (young adult) novel, which might cause some to pass over it. Don’t—the writing is excellent and Thomas tells a great story full of characters you will recognize, if your world is as open as it could be. If not, then read it to understand another side to the many issues which are being debated and legislated these days.

 

 

Ritual – Put the Keys in the Chrysler

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My father has always purchased Chryslers. I remember the green Plymouth Fury III that he drove to my friend’s house one afternoon to pick me up; it was not our first car but I loved the surprise of him showing up in a new one. Later there was a light blue gray Chrysler that he drove on his carpool days when I was in high school. For a few weeks until he got it repaired, the horn used to randomly sound off if he turned the steering wheel a certain way. The intermittent honks and beeps could have been embarrassing but I ignored my friends’ quizzical looks and acted as if it was the nervous tic of a car overly stimulated by chatty teenage girls. Continue reading

Thanks for Waiting…

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I took the month of August off from blogging and look forward to starting again next week. A little time away, with frequent walks and reflection, made for a fresh look at life and writing.

For those with family and friends in Texas and Louisiana, please know that many of us are trying to help in our own way. I am making a monetary gift to an organization that I believe can help faster than donating items. You are in my prayers.

 

Picture taken at Fernwood Botanical Garden

Summer Hiatus

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Hasn’t this summer been beautiful? It occurred to me that while some say it is half over, I still have several weeks to enjoy this season. I am going to take August off from blogging, and devote more time to my other writing and getting to the stack of books I want to read.

I’ll return after Labor Day, refreshed and ready to start the new (school) year. I’m not enrolled in school but August has always been my favorite planning season and feels like nearly back-to-school time for me.

Savor summer; I don’t want to hear any fussing about how much you miss it once winter rolls in.

Ramona

 

Working and Writing from Home – Five Easy Rules

You are not likely to find me writing in a coffee shop. I don’t drink much coffee and I need quiet to write. That rules out most Starbucks. And I will occasionally drink a coffee from Dunkin Donuts, but could never work there. That is where the sour cream donuts live and they often boss me around, telling me that I will be okay with just one. So I usually grab the coffee and run out, trying to ignore the donuts whispering at me from the case.

There is Le Pain Quotidien, my favorite spot. I can work there. Scribbling revision notes at the table, warm mug in hand, looking out the window to see the passersby, glancing around the room to make sure that the lunch crowd is not heading in, making me feel like I need to give up my table. And the food, organic and artfully presented, makes me believe that if I order, at least I’m doing my body good.

But the best place for me to work is at home, alone, in my office, perhaps with the TV or radio tuned to a classical music station. No jazz or lyrics, I am easily distracted.

Friends often ask me how I work from home, without anyone to talk to in the next cubicle, and with all the undone chores in plain sight.

It is easy. I follow the advice of my brother, who gave me Rule 1. He mastered the art of the home office decades ago.

Rule 1 – Don’t do anything during your at-home workday that you would not do if you were in the office. This means that I seldom do chores during the day, unless it is tossing in a load first thing in the morning, or washing my dishes right after lunch. You wouldn’t bring your cute lace undies to work and fold them on your desk, so don’t do that during the work part of your day if you’re supposed to be writing or working.

Rule 2 – Get dressed. Yes, I know that I may not see anyone except for the mailman, or a neighbor walking a dog, but I dress for myself. And unless I am taking a walk during a break to revise in my head, I avoid workout clothes, at least making an effort to put on a nice tee with comfy pants or a skirt, or occasionally a dress, just because I love dresses. I can guarantee that if I am sitting in a robe (or housecoat – now there’s a lovely 1950s word) at 11 a.m., one of two things will happen. I will get a call to meet a friend for a quick chat and be unprepared, or I will feel slightly sloppy until I am properly dressed.

Rule 3 – Have a game plan. The night before, I review my goals for the next day, so I don’t waste the first few hours of the day flitting around, trying to figure out what to write, read, who to call, or what I need to do to move forward on a project. If I know where to start I can at least get going, and that helps me be more productive during the day.

Rule 4 – Allow for breaks and serendipity. See rules 2 and 3. Sometimes I choose to revise while doing yard work, and I don’t feel bad about it. Or a friend who has an office job calls to see if I can get free for an hour. If it doesn’t completely throw off my schedule, I say “Yes,” (because I am already dressed and ready to go) and get on with my day after I’ve had a chance to connect.

Rule 5 – Learn your own rhythm. (Rhythm is a hard word to spell; I always want to add an “n” in there, making it something like hymn) Get to know your peak periods and when you seem to drag. Take breaks to move or get outside. And avoid the cookies. They are not your friends. Not if you eat them every day, every break.

I could probably go on but these are the five rules that have helped me, and I have worked from home more often than not over the last 20 years. If you have any great tips, please share them; they might help someone else get the rhythm of this thing.

Simplicity

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Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio – May 2017

I have been clearing my closets—of clothes I don’t wear, or outfits that represent a life I no longer live. I didn’t need so many white blouses; I am convinced that those many years of wearing uniforms in grade school could be part of the problem. There is something about the crispness of a starched white blouse that says I am ready to work, whether it is cotton, eyelet, or linen, long-sleeved or sleeveless. But I had accumulated more than I needed.

I walked around my home, rummaging through shelves, opening doors, and looking for items I kept but no longer appreciated. Anything that was in good condition became a candidate for donation, to Goodwill, the women’s shelter, or the homeless center. I want to streamline my life, prune it of the extraneous and unnecessary, so I can focus on the activities that matter to me, like my writing and wellbeing.

You might think that clearing clutter means that I no longer shop. To the contrary. In fact, my style of simplicity is informed by the notion that I am more thoughtful about what I purchase and would rather save more and wait to get what I really want and treasure, rather than buy something that I will tire after one wear or use. It means that because I don’t eat meat, I willingly pay a bit more for a luscious piece of fruit, maybe organic, because that is how I would rather spend my money. I saved for a new dresser recently and I am eagerly awaiting its delivery today, because it is the first one I have picked out for myself, even though I love the midcentury piece I inherited from my grandfather and have used it for decades. I chose this dresser, waiting for years until I found one I wanted, and that makes it special. My other dresser will find a place in another room; I will not give it away, not yet.

As I release some of my possessions I am also examining my use of time. I said no to a couple of projects and resigned from a board, and I decided that for this summer, I really want to have my family and friends here for visits, so I put these dates on the calendar first, rather than squeezing them in among obligations.

Curating my commitments has also led to more time for writing, which has become my priority after my relationships. Writing is also on my calendar; I schedule a block of time to write each day, Monday-Friday, leaving the weekends a bit more fluid. It is not a rigid schedule, of course I’ll change as things come up, but one way I honor my writing is by making time to do it. I will not finish the essays, blog posts or the book that are in me if I treat my writing with a “get in where you fit in” attitude.

It is a process of asking myself, almost daily, if what I am doing is going to lead me where I want to be—in writing, with relationships, wellbeing, etc. By pruning my life of excess, in my closets, unhealthy eating, junk news, I create a more open, expansive world, one that I hope is suited to helping me focus on my values, dreams, and goals.

Dominique Loreau, in her book, L’art de la Simplicite´, addresses this issue of examining our possessions and use of time to determine what we would discard, keep, or add to our lives. It is not about deprivation, but rather about being mindful of what we choose to own, do and focus on.

She writes, “It is better to live with high aspirations than mediocre realities.” Consider what inspires you to create a more positive life and surroundings, what assists you in the pursuit of your dreams. For me, it began with clearing my closets and my calendar.

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day – Treasures

This is for mothers everywhere, and for those who have poured their love, patience, and wisdom into the life of another person, whether it is your own child or someone who needed a gift that you were able and willing to provide.

Despite going to Catholic grade school and college, there was a verse in the bible that eluded me for most of my life, until a few years ago. It seems it would have been brought to my attention in religion class, Sunday school, or perhaps recited during the month of May. (I loved the month of May, with its songs that celebrated Mary. Those songs were among the most joyous of the ones I remember from grade school.) I stumbled on these verses during my own reading, and it was like that piece of sidewalk that juts up unevenly from the path and forces you to slow down and pay attention.

In Luke 2:19, after the birth of Jesus, it reads:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:51 says:

“But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary’s reaction came after she watched her 12-year-old son as he listened, questioned, and learned from the teachers in the temple. Even when Jesus was young, his mother realized there was something special about her child. She may have sensed that his path was not going to be easy, and that everything he was doing as a child would prepare him for the challenges ahead.

By the time I read these words my daughter was already an adult, and I knew what it meant to know that your child would have to go through prickly thickets in the midst of sunny meadows. But what really struck me was how my own mother, also named Mary, must have known the same thing about me. Surely there were times when she just watched, observed, being aware of what might be ahead, but allowing me to go my own way. That had to be hard at times, but she did it. I am grateful for her guidance and quiet wisdom.

On this day I want to thank all mothers who have to sort this out—when to step in, and when to intercede and step back—knowing that you cannot completely prevent a loved one’s suffering, but you can love them through it.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

New Book-Family Stories from the Attic

I am excited about the arrival of a new anthology that features one of my essays. Family Stories from the Attic, published by Hidden Timber Books, was released this month. My essay, Without Words, appears in this wonderful anthology that holds stories about what we learn from the items our loved ones once cherished enough to hold onto. My story is about a different way of coming to learn more about someone when they are no longer able to talk with you. Through the words of the 22 writers in this book, you will come away with what it means to be in family, and how many questions are left unanswered if we don’t seek the deeper meaning in these artifacts. If you are blessed enough to have family members around whose stories you do not yet know, spend a little time with them, ask them about their favorite memories, lessons learned, or people they loved growing up. Then be prepared to sit and listen.

I hope that you will consider picking up a copy of Family Stories from the Attic; it is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and some independent bookstores will soon be carrying it. I’d love to hear from you if you read it, and let me know how conversations with your family members are going.

Peace and blessings,

Ramona

Exploring Nice-In Pictures

My last post was about my trip to France to explore Nice and I wrote that I would share photos a bit later. I won’t show all of them; that is too much like having to sit and sift through a photo album of 100 poorly shot pictures of places and people you cannot make out. But here are some of my favorites—among them are the views from rooftops, of the sea, hills, and mountains, a sign in a bistro, and the balconies that I mentioned last time.

Enjoy!