Know Thyself

Lineage

“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.”

Shirley Abbott

In the 1960s and 1970s,  a generation of young men and women coined the term “I’m trying to find myself.”  This quest for self-discovery (often stimulated by the use of soothing “herbal” supplements) was an earnest attempt, on their part,  to  find answers to such questions as “Who am I, really?” and “What should I do with my life?”  For some, the questions remain unanswered… which is probably why so many Baby Boomers suffer mid-life crises.

It is my firm belief that the answers to who we are (and why we are the way we are) – as individuals, as a society,  or as a nation – can only be found by learning more about our history.  To understand  the present and attempt to mold the future, one must have a clear understanding of the past.

To find out who we are, we must begin at the beginning.  Where do we come from? Who are the people who came before us, and before them? 

What are our roots?

If you like puzzles, as I do, this is when it starts to get interesting.  Tracing your family roots is like meandering through the pages of an epic story, only it’s your story. Your history.  It can be fascinating, enlightening and sometimes even shocking.  When you begin a genealogical study, you could very well open up  a Pandora’s box full of surprises.  My theory is:  it’s always better to know, than not to know.

I’m in the process of completing my maternal family tree. There are still a few missing pieces, but I hope to fill in the blanks soon.  Once that is complete, I will begin the research on my paternal roots.

And then, I will have chronicled the story of my life – from past to present.

My only wish is that I could have met each of these men and women whose blood courses through my veins, whose facial features I bear, and whose character traits I may have. 

I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m on the other side. 

Oh, what a reunion we shall have!

Some links that you may find interesting:

Image via sherrymonahan.com.

heatherfromthegrove’s non-fiction spotlight for today: “Drinking with Men” by Rosie Schaap

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Monday, July 22 – Saturday, July 27

NON-FICTION

 @ heatherfromthegrove!

Enjoy some good summer reading.

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 24book "Drinking with Men" by Rosie Schaap.

“But my attraction to bars is less governed by the laws of physics than it is by the rules of romance: I prefer one bar at a time. When it comes to where I drink, I’m a serial monogamist. Still, although loyalty is upheld as a virtue, bar regularhood—the practice of drinking in a particular establishment so often that you become known by, and bond with, both the bartenders and your fellow patrons—is often looked down upon in a culture obsessed with health and work. But despite what we are often told, being a regular isn’t synonymous with being a drunk; regularhood is much more about the camaraderie than the alcohol. Sharing the joys of drink and conversation with friends old and new, in a comfortable and familiar setting, is one of life’s most unheralded pleasures.”

Rosie Schaap, Drinking with Men: A Memoir

I want to nip any and all erroneous assumptions in the bud. This is not the memoir of an alcoholic. Drinking with Men, Rosie Schaap pays homage to all the bars, pubs, and taverns that she ever frequented, the interesting characters who sat with her around the bar, and all the stories (joyous and tragic) that they’ve shared.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, partly because Schaap is an engaging storyteller who has clearly collected a treasure trove of humorous and poignant anecdotes in her years as a barfly… and also because I can identify with much of what she has experienced. To this day, when faced with the choice of having my meal in a restaurant’s  main dining room or eating at the bar, I always choose the latter.  It’s all about the people and listening to their stories, some of which can be quite compelling.  The wine and spirits are secondary.  It should be noted that many a barfly has been known to sip non-alcoholic drinks like San Pellegrino or Perrier, with a slice of lemon or lime. 

Kudos to Rosie Schaap, who incidentally writes the “Drinks” column for The New York Times Magazine, for she has written a memoir that is as thoughtful as it is witty. It’s the perfect summer read to enjoy, while relaxing by the pool or on the beach, and sipping your favorite libation… whether it be regular iced tea or a  Long Island Iced Tea.  Cheers!

heatherfromthegrove’s story spotlight for today: “Oscar and Lucinda” by Peter Carey

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Let’s wrap up fiction week, here @ heatherfromthegrove, with a love story.

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“She held out her hand, like a man. He hesitated, then took the hand and shook it. It was very warm. You could not help but be aware of the wild passage of blood on the other side of its wall, veins, capillaries, sweat glands, tiny factories in the throes of complicated manufacture. [He] looked at the eyes and, knowing how eyes worked, was astonished, not for the first time, at the infinite complexity of Creation, wondering how this thing, this instrument for seeing, could transmit so clearly its entreaty while at the same time—-Look, I am only an eye—-denying that it was doing anything of the sort.”

Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda

What better way to enjoy a summer weekend than to curl up in your favorite chair and read a love story?  Written by Australian author Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda is a satire about two star-crossed lovers in mid-nineteenth century England and Australia. Growing up in a strict, religious (Plymouth) household, the shy young man rejects his father’s religion in favor of the C of E (Church of England), and becomes an Anglican priest.  Lucinda is a headstrong Australian heiress who is a feminist before her time. She buys a glass factory, in the hope of one day building a church made from glass and transporting it (intact) to the Australian Outback. Oscar and Lucinda meet on a ship, en route to Australia and discover they share a common vice:  gambling  (he, the racetrack; she, a deck of cards). When they arrive in Australia, neither one fits well in their social circles and the two “outsiders” form a bond.  The wickedly witty gambling duo make a wager that unleashes a series of events that affects the course of their lives.  The wager?  Lucinda bets Oscar her entire inheritance that he would be incapable of transporting the glass cathedral (without any breakage or damage) to the Outback.

Told in a long flashback, this enchanting story is about two people who were truly meant to be together.  And we, the readers, fall in love with them – vices and all.

Other novels by Peter Carey:

* adapted into a film (1997, USA) by the same name; directed by Gillian Armstrong, and starring Ralph Fiennes (as Oscar) and Cate Blanchett (as Lucinda).

** adapted into a film (1986, USA) by the same name; directed by Ray Lawrence.

In addition, he has written a large body of work: short story collections, uncollected short stories, juvenile fiction, non-fiction and screenplays.

heatherfromthegrove’s story spotlight for today: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

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Monday, July 15 – Saturday, July 20

FICTION

@ heatherfromthegrove!

Enjoy some good summer reading.

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“He doesn’t know which is worse, a past he can’t regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there’s the future. Sheer vertigo.”

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

The creative and gifted mind of Canadian author Margaret Atwood unleashes itself yet again in the dystopian  novel, Oryx and Crake.  Written in 2003, it is the first in a trilogy in which Atwood takes us on a speculative journey into the future.  The story begins after a plague destroys civilization. The main protagonist, Snowman (formerly “Jimmy” before the world collapsed),  struggles with surviving in a world where he may be the last living human and coping with grief (and memories) over the loss of his best friend Crake, and the beautiful, evanescent Oryx , whom they both loved and coveted.  We learn more about Jimmy and his past, through flashbacks, and are drawn into his post-apocalyptic quest for answers.  Guiding this solitary man through his journey are these human-like, green-eyed Children of Crake.  As they travel through the wilderness which was once a great city, they see hybrid creatures (wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks) roaming the forest, and we later come to realize that these cross-species are the result of genetic engineering. 

It would be remiss of me to reveal more. I don’t want to spoil the story for you. 

I have read most of Atwood’s novels and this one roped me in from the get-go, and prompted me to read the second book (in the Oryx and Crake trilogy), called The Year of the Flood. Loved it. Her third installment, MaddAddam, will be released in early September (I’ve pre-ordered it).

Dystopian fiction is not for everyone.  In fact, I was ambivalent about reading Oryx and Crake but I am glad that I did.  It propelled me into a world of “what-if’s” – told by the award-winning storyteller par excellence, Margaret Atwood.

Other novels by Margaret Atwood:

adapted into a TV movie (2007, USA) by the same name; directed by David Evans and starring Mary-Louise Parker, Shawn Doyle and Susan Lynch

** adapted into a film (1990, USA) by the same name; directed by  Volker Schlöndorff and starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Aidan Quinn

*** adapted into a film (1981, Canada) by the same name; directed by Claude Jutra

In addition, she has written a large body of work:  children’s books,  short fiction, poetry, anthologies, television scripts, E-books,  and non-fiction.

heatherfromthegrove’s story spotlight for today: “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” by Alexandra Fuller

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Monday, July 15 – Saturday, July 20

FICTION

@  heatherfromthegrove!

Enjoy some good summer reading.

♦ ♦ ♦

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“My mother has no patience with questions that begin, ”What if.” But I spend a great deal of my time circling that insensible eddy. What if we had been thinking straight? What if the setting of our lives had been more ordinary? What if we’d tempered passion with caution? “What-ifs are boring and pointless,” Mum says. Because however close to irreparably deep madness my mother had gone in her life, she does not now live in a ruined, regretful, Miss Havisham world and she doesn’t wish any of her life away, even the awful, painful, damaging parts. “What-ifs are the worst kind of post-mortem,” she says. “And I hate postmortems. Much better to face the truth, pull up your socks and get on with whatever comes next.”       

 — from Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller

The title of this book lured me in … and I was not disappointed.  This is a love story — a daughter’s ode to her mother.  It’s a real-life account of  a family’s resilience and loyalty, love wrought with pain and hardship, passion for land and country, a near descent into madness and the uphill struggle to regain some semblance of sanity — all told against a rich, vibrant canvas that was and is the untamed beauty and brutal violence of Central and Southern Africa.

Alexandra Fuller writes this candid and insightful family memoir from the perspective of both observer and participant.  She is a gifted storyteller whose beautifully crafted words and wry sense of humor caused me to tango between bouts of laughter and tears, as I read this book in one sitting.

As a writer, I admire this author’s talent and unabashed honesty. 

As a reader, I was enraptured from page 1. 

I intend to read this book a few more times, just to savour it.  I have also gone on to read what Nicola Fuller of Central Africa refers to as her daughter’s “Awful Book.”  (Note: You’ll have to read  “Cocktail Hour …” to  know what I’m referring to!!)

This book is a must-read. 

Other books by Alexandra Fuller:

Getting lost inside a book

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“I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a movie fadeout, the real world evaporates. I’m alone, inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world.” 
― Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore

The great outdoors is my “reading room” this summer.  Whether lying down on a carpet of grass, sitting cross-legged on a terry cloth towel by the beach, or curled up in my comfy patio armchair — nature provides the perfect ambience for reading.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of fiction week, here at heatherfromthegrove. Each day, from Monday through Saturday, I’ll be spotlighting one novel/author. Summertime is ideal for catching up on all the books you’ve been meaning to read.  I hope that you will find my recommendations helpful and I would love to hear back from you, with some of your own favorites!

Cheers,

Heather

Image via guardian.co.uk (photograph: Kevin Mackintosh/Getty Images)