In the classics section, she had picked up a copy of The Magic Mountain and recalled the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, when she read it, how she lay in bed hours after she should have gotten up, the sheet growing warmer against her skin as the sun rose higher in the sky, her mother poking her head in now and then to see if she'd gotten up yet, but never suggesting that she should: Eleanor didn't have many rules about child rearing, but one of them was this: Never interrupt reading.
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For all it's problems and difficulties, life is mostly a wonderful experience, and it is up to each person to make the most of each day. I hope you are successful in your life, but look to the heavens and the earth and especially to other people to find your real wealth. Wherever I am, wherever you go, know that my love goes with you.
She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks. Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have. It seems to her that life is like gathering berries into an apron with a hole. Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive. We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead.
When it's new and important, you have to rest in between times. And anyway, even when I like a person there is a weariness that comes. I can be with someone and everything is fine and then all of a sudden it can wash over me like a sickness, that I need the quiet of my own self. I need to unload my head and look at what I've got in there so far. See it. Think what it means. I always need to come back to being alone for a while.
There are random moments - tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children's rooms - when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.
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I am thinking about the way that life can be so slippery; the way that a twelve-year-old girl looking into the mirror to count freckles reaches out toward herself and that reflection has turned into that of a woman on her wedding day, righting her veil. And how, when that bride blinks, she reopens her eyes to see a frazzled young mother trying to get lipstick on straight for the parent/teacher conference that starts in three minutes. And how after that young woman bends down to retrieve the wild-haired doll her daughter has left on the bathroom floor, she rises up to a forty-seven-year-old, looking into the mirror to count age spots.
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You don't do so well with marriage. I don't think you've begun to realize all there is for you to love. And I know you better than anyone & here's what I know about you: You have so much love to give! But I feel like you're all the time digging in the tomato bin, saying, "Where are the apples?
I was downstairs, reading." " Now?" I strained to see her face. She was smiling, it appeared. "Yes, now, " she said. "It's nice, sometimes, to read in the middle of the night. The sky is so dark and soft-looking outside the window, all the stars out. You have just on light on, you know, and it seems to pour onto the page. Makes the book seem better. You are this little island, just up alone with a book. And you heard the night sounds of the house... It's so interesting to me, that sound. Time. The measure of it.
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I just want to say one thing. If I ever write a novel again, it's going to be in defense of weak women, inept and codependent women. I'm going to talk about all the great movies and songs and poetry that focus on such women. I'm going to toast Blanche DuBois. I'm going to celebrate women who aren't afraid to show their need and their vulnerabilities. To be honest about how hard it can be to plow your way through a life that offers no guarantees about anything. I'm going to get on my metaphorical knees and thank women who fall apart, who cry and carry on and wail and wring their hands because you know what, Midge? We all need to cry. Thank God for women who can articulate their vulnerabilities and express what probably a lot of other people want to say and feel they can't. Those peoples' stronghold against falling apart themselves is the disdain they feel for women who do it for them. Strong. I'm starting to think that's as much a party line as anything else ever handed to women for their assigned roles. When do we get respect for our differences from men? Our strength is our weakness. Our ability to feel is our humanity. You know what? I'll bet if you talk to a hundred strong women, 99 of them would say 'I'm sick of being strong. I would like to be cared for. I would like someone else to make the goddamn decisions, I'm sick of making decisions.' I know this one woman who's a beacon of strength. A single mother who can do everything - even more than you, Midge. I ran into her not long ago and we went and got a coffee and you know what she told me? She told me that when she goes out to dinner with her guy, she asks him to order everything for her. Every single thing, drink to dessert. Because she just wants to unhitch. All of us dependent, weak women have the courage to do all the time what she can only do in a restaurant.
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The best thing that can happen to me when I'm writing fiction is to lose sight of the fact that I'm writing at all. It's as though I enter into a kind of trance. I know I'm writing, but I don't THINK about it. I just let my fingers type-it's as though the feeling comes out directly through them, bypassing the brain altogether. When that happens, I feel completely transported. There is nothing else like this feeling, very little else is more important to me. That intimacy I feel between myself and my work is what makes me feel at home on the earth. I am basically a shy person, basically a loner and an outsider; and I have been all my life. But when I achieve the kind of connection I can through writing, I feel I'm sitting in the lap of God.
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Hey. Know what happened to me today?" He sits back and crosses his arms, smiles. "No. What happened to you today?" "Well, I decided to take the bus to work instead of driving? And I got on and I sat behind this woman who started crying. She was very quiet about it, just every now and then she would reach up and wipe away a tear. She had this kerchief on her head, this ratty old flowered kerchief, but it was clean and it was tied very neatly, you know. And she had her purse on her lap and she was holding on to it like it was hands. At first nobody else seemed to notice she was crying, but then everybody around her did. And it got very quiet. And then finally this man got up from the back of the bus, and he came up and sat next to her and put his arm around her, and he didn't say a word, but just stared straight ahead with his arm around her and she kept crying, but it was better now, you could tell, she kind of had a little smile even though she was still crying. And I don't know if he even knew her! I think everybody was wondering the same thing: Does he even know her? I guess he must have known her; otherwise she probably would have leaped up and started screaming or something, but you never know! You just never know, it might have been someone whose heart went out to her because she was crying. And he decided he would comfort her. And she let him. And I think it was a kind of miracle. A living parable or something.
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When Suzie introduced Helen, she told the audience that one of the best things about books is that they are an interactive art form: that while the author may describe in some detail how a character looks, it is the reader's imagination that completes the image, making it his or her own. "That's why we so often don't like movies made from books, right?" Suzie said. "We don't like someone else's interpretation of what we see so clearly." She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they soothe the soul-"like comfort food without the calories, " she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one's fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page. She talked about how people complain that they don't have time to read, and reminded them that if they gave up half an hour of television a day in favor of reading, they could finish twenty-five books a year. "Books don't take time away from us, " she said. "They give it back. In this age of abstraction, of multitasking, of speed for speed's sake, they reintroduce us to the elegance-and the relief!-of real, tick-tock time.
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Now he understood. After a while, pain simply stopped. It was as though your mind was able to create a firewall beyond which it would not let you venture. You had to have a break from your anguish, or you'd go crazy. It was the psychological equivalent to fainting when physical pain became overbearing.
I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they'd slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.
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If I could just have him until the day was over. Just a few more hours. But he was gone. I clasped my hand tightly over my mouth and felt a trembling that started deep inside move out to make all of me shake. I had a mighty impulse, it truly was mighty, to rise to my feet and howl. To overturn the chair and nightstand, to rip at my clothes, to bring down the very walls around us. But of course I did not do that. I pulled an elemental sense of outrage back inside and smoothed it down. I forced something far too big into something far too small, and this made for a surprising and unreasonable weight, as mercury does. I noticed sounds coming from my throat, little unladylike grunts. I saw that everything I'd ever imagined about what it would feel like when was pale. Was wrong. Was the shadow and not the mountain. And then, 'It's all right, ' I said, quickly. 'It's all right.' To whom? I wondered later.
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Well, anyway, her death changed our lives for the better, because it brought a kind of awareness, a specific sense of purpose and appreciation we hadn't had before. Would I trade that in order to have her back? In a fraction of a millisecond. But I won't ever have her back. So I have taken this, as her great gift to us. But. Do I block her out? Never. Do I think of her? Always. In some part of my brain, I think of her every single moment of every single day.
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Well, most women are full to the brim, that's all...We are, most of us, ready to explode, especially when our children are small and we are so weary with the demands for love and attention and the kind of service that makes you feel you should be wearing a uniform with "Mommy" embroidered over the left breast, over the heart...If a stranger had come up to me and said, "Do you want to talk about it? I have time to listen," I think I might have burst into tears at the relief of it.
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It's amazing how smart the body is. Though maybe we could do without loving. I think it's overrated, and I think it's too hard. You should only love your children; that is necessary, because otherwise you might kill them. But to love a man? It's overrated, and it's too hard and I will never, ever do it again.
I remember once when we were moving, driving across country, and it was raining so hard, the windshield wipers going fast and squeaking, and then: nothing. It stopped. I looked out the window ahead of me and it was clear. I looked out the back and there was the rain, still going. Nobody said anything, but there it was, a near miracle, a rain line, a way of seeing just where something starts, when usually you are just in the middle of it before you notice it. That's how it feels to me now, to not want to be like (that) anymore. I see the line.
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There are people who have never studied writing who are capable of being writers. I know this because I am an example. I was a part-time registered nurse, a wife, and a mother when I began publishing. I'd taken no classes, had no experience, no knowledge of the publishing world, no agent, no contacts ... Take the risk to let all that is in you, out. Escape into the open.
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I wondered what my father had looked like that day, how he had felt, marrying the lively and beautiful girl who was my mother. I wondered what his life was like now. Did he ever think of us? I wanted to hate him, but I couldn't; I didn't know him well enough. Instead, I wondered about him occasionally, with a confused kind of longing. There was a place inside me carved out for him; I didn't want it to be there, but it was. Once, at the hardware store, Brooks had shown me how to use a drill. I'd made a tiny hole that went deep. The place for my father was like that.
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Outside, the rain sometimes comes down so hard, we have to talk louder, and it feels like a miracle that the roof holds. It makes for a coziness and a gratefulness, too, that you have the choice to not be out in it. You can sit at the table and look out the window and not have to feel what you see.
The things that brought me the most comfort now were too small to list. Raspberries in cream. Sparrows with cocked heads. Shadows of bare limbs making for sidewalk filigrees. Roses past their prime with their petals loose about them. The shouts of children at play in the neighborhood, Ginger Rogers on the black-and-white screen.
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Everybody complains about getting older, but I find it such a rich time of life. There are negative things about it, I suppose, but more than that, I'm finding it to be a very positive experience in which growth suggests itself in a much more alluring way than it did when I was young - isn't that funny?