Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Books, Illusions and Change



Recently I got it into my head that I should start reading (or in some cases re-reading) the classics. I started with Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. Weighing just a few ounces under two pounds I was shocked when it dawned on me I’m getting too old to read books like that. War and Peace? Forget it! Ya, ya, I know I could have ordered the Kindle versions, but I wanted to be able to underline passages that I knew would be elegantly written and worth going back to from time and time. And e-readers don’t feel as good in your hands. My poor, aging hands! Have I mentioned lately how much I hate seeing my once perfect fingers start mutating and conforming to the wanton will of arthritis? I’m not a vain person but when I see my three crooked fingers and the blue veins on the backs of my hands, so characteristic of the elderly, I can’t help but be annoyed by how we get time-stamped as we age. 

In this 1940 Wolfe novel he wrote: “The voice of forest water in the night, a woman's laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children's voices in bright air---these things will never change.”  I read that and then I got lost trying to figure out what the heck does a “cricketing stitch of midday” mean. A Google search can usually help me figure out what my own brain can’t crack, but with ‘cricketing stitch’ I came back from the hunt more confused than when I started. Does it have to do with the game of cricket or the sounds of insects or something else? I wish I’d been born with a silver spoon in one hand and an Oxford dictionary in the other! Or better yet, be born with a brain that doesn’t give a wild fig in the forest about figuring out the mystery of words. Maybe in 1940 ‘cricketing stitch’ was a common term that got lost in time like ‘rottenlogging’ and ‘canoodling’ which, by the way, pretty much mean the same thing.

The meaning of words and how they change over time always brings me to my favorite quote of all time. It’s from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It comes half way through the book when three of the characters are discussing the fourth chapter of Genesis and how the differences in the way a single word was translated effected the various directions religion took. "'Don’t you see’, he [Lee] cried. ‘The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in the ‘thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel---‘Thou mayest’---that give a choice. It may be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

Another book that should go on my quest to read/reread the classics is anything written by Virginia Woolf. Can you believe a self-described feminist like me is even admitting that I’ve never read her? But to quote screenwriter and director, Quentin Tarantino, “Every writer should have a little voice inside of you saying, tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.” So between this revelation and the one about me hating my aging hands, I’ve revealed my quota of secrets for today. I have more hidden under the carpeting which is probably why I’m afraid to get hardwood floors installed. Yes, now I’m just getting downright silly. 

Back to books: I’ll also admit that I’ve never even read Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (That title, by the way, he supposedly got off a public bathroom mirror, scrawled in soap and it wouldn’t leave his mind. Reportedly it's meant to be a metaphor for being afraid to live a life without false illusions.) I do know the answer to that title if taken literally. I'm afraid to read Virginia Woolf which is why I haven’t done so. I should care about her place in the history of womankind, but I just don't. I just care that we gotten as far as we've come. That title taken metaphorically, however---well, aren’t we all afraid of living without our false illusions? If illusions were teddy bears, I'd squeeze the stuffing out of mine and their button eyes would fall off.

And that brings me to a quote of Orson Welles: “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendships can we create the illusion for the moment that we are not alone.” I think widows, especially, hear a ring of truth in that statement. When the illusions comes down and we have to reinvent ourselves without our life partners we flounder at first, then we start taking baby steps toward accepting our aloneness (not to be confused with loneliness). Aloneness in time becomes like pair of comfortable old shoes. People might even tell us we need new shoes, that we’re not meant to be alone. Even Mother Nature tells us that---sorry Orson---and that’s when a good book comes in handy. The characters come alive and while we’re reading that book we’re invested in their pursuit of whatever will make them happy. And as they search we learn things about ourselves. We learn that we create our own stories and if we want anything to change, we are the only ones who can make that happen---illusions to the contrary, or not. ©

12 comments:

  1. Very deep today. Way deep. We are all alone so much of the time, but I've never been lonely. I'm happy about that.

    I also love to get lost in a good book too.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The distinction between being alone and being lonely is an important issue. I could write a whole blog entry on the topic.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I love your blog.

      Delete
  2. I have never been lonely when alone. I have "felt" lonely when in a group of people, however and...my first marriage. I am not lonely now and happier than I have been in years because of my being alone. BTW--my once, beautiful long fingers now look like my great grandmother; gnarled from arthritis--bumps and crookedness. I think this upsets me more than any part of my aging face or body!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too, Judy, on the fingers! I wonder if that's because we see our fingers more than we do our faces.

      I've felt lonely in a crowd before, too. It's an awful feeling, isn't it.

      Delete
  3. I LOVE my alone time. And I get cranky if I don't get enough of it. Kinda like sleep. I LOVE nine hours, but can make do with eight. Less than that I get cranky.

    Arthritis? Oh my feet have been hit first! UGH. The liver spots are taking over the hands and just the past few weeks have I felt the familiar stiffness of arthritis.

    I think we should all go back and find photos of ourselves when there were no varicose veins, or much cellulite, and no bumps and bulges, and no arthritis and clear vision.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We could take those old photos and have them made into masks we could wear when we look in the mirror.

      I have arthritis in my feet, too, and pretty much all my joints. I don't take a lot of meds for it but I really should be. I'm not excited about getting started with those.

      Delete
    2. I know we would feel a LOT better IF we took Aleve or Advil several times a day. But then you have to think about liver damage. I do have to take something about once a week ...

      I LOVE the idea of masks! Let's have a Halloween party and people have to guess!

      Delete
    3. My doctor claims I'd have to take Aleve or Advil by the handful to cause liver damage. Still, I never take more than two a day and mostly it's just one at bedtime.

      Delete
  4. Well, I'm a card-carrying feminist and spent a career founding and teaching in women's studies programs -- but I never learned to like Virginia Wolf. Her stream-of-consciousness style just doesn't appeal to me. In truth, the only Virginia Wolf books I ever read were the ones assigned to students when I was team-teaching with Virginia Wolf lovers. I started To the Lighthouse more times than I can count, but I never did get to the lighthouse.
    I'm giving both of us permission to be feminists without reading Virginia Wolf! -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your permission to skip reading Wolf is the best give I've in a long time. And I really mean that!!

      Delete
    2. I became a feminist when I took a Women's Lit class and we read...To the Lighthouse! I don't remember a thing about it now, but that and all the other books we read, and the feminist professor I had, changed my life in one quarter of college. I'm forever grateful, but I've never read another Woolf book. :)

      Delete
    3. Isn't that something that a professor could change your life like that. I had one, too, who did that for me.

      Delete