Thursday Tidbit: Excerpt from That’s Life

This excerpt is from That’s Life: New and Selected Poems. Click here for more information and ordering links. I wrote this several years ago after visiting my brother and his family in Florida and dedicated it to one of my nieces. Click here for a recording of me reading it.

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THAT’S LIFE

For Ana

Oh you of thirteen years,
when told you can’t go to the mall
or sleep over with a friend,
please understand that’s the way life is.
If you grow up thinking
you’ll always have your way,
you’ll be sadly disappointed
so better put on your big girl pants—
deal with it.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Poetry of Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser


Dog Songs
Oliver, Mary
Copyright 2013.

It’s pretty obvious from the title that this collection of poetry and prose is about dogs. Some poems are from the point of view of a dog while others are from the point of view of a dog owner. There are blocks of poems about a specific dog. Amid the poetry is an essay entitled “Ropes.” Here, the author shares her experiences with a dog who could chew through any rope and climb any fence and loved to roam free.

I didn’t particularly care for Mary Oliver’s work until I found this book. The material here is straightforward, funny, and touching. I especially liked “If You’re Holding the Book,” in which Oliver explains that one of the things she enjoys seeing the most is dogs without leashes. It reminded me of the good old days growing up when there were few leash laws, and people didn’t have to worry about picking up after their dogs. If you love dogs, and even if you don’t love poetry, I highly recommend this book.

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Delights and Shadows
Kooser, TedCopyright 2004

The poems in this collection reflect on various aspects of life. The book is divided into numbered sections with the title of the first poem in each section being that section’s title. Some poems are inspired by paintings.

Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference at which Ted Kooser was the keynote speaker. One thing he said stuck with me. The title of a poem should set the scene.

Titles of poems in this collection, like “Walking on Tiptoe,” “Tattoo,” and “At the Cancer Clinic,” give the reader a general idea of what the poem is about. I especially liked “A Rainy Morning,” in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair pushing herself in the rain. I highly recommend this book.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Imortalists

The Immortalists
Benjamin, Chloe.
Copyright 2018.

In 1969, four Jewish children in New York City visit a psychic who tells each one of them the day he or she will die. These children grow up, all the while aware of their predicted death dates. The two youngest, Simon and Clara, move to San Francisco, where Simon, who is gay, becomes a dancer, and Clara becomes a magician, marries, and has a child. The next youngest, Daniel, marries and becomes a doctor, and the oldest, Varia, becomes a scientist.

I read about this book on an email list. One thing I didn’t like was the author’s shift between present and past tense. She uses past tense mostly for flashbacks, but at times, I wasn’t sure if she was flashing back or in the present. As a writer myself, I prefer the use of past tense only with flashbacks perhaps told in the past imperfect tense.

Otherwise, I found this book fascinating. I like the way the author explores the question of to know or not to know when you’ll die. It also makes you wonder if those children’s lives would have been different if they hadn’t visited that psychic and heard her predictions of when they would die.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Novel Brings Generations Together

Francesca’s Kitchen

by Peter Pezzelli

Copyright 2006

 

In Providence, Rhode Island, Francesca is an Italian widow who misses her grandchildren. She finds a job baby-sitting for Loretta, a single mother with a boy and girl in elementary school. Francesca becomes a grandmother figure to the children, who appreciate her culinary efforts. As an added plot twist, Francesca’s son Joey develops a relationship with Loretta, and Francesca becomes acquainted with Loretta’s boss. The book includes an interview with the author and family recipes.

I enjoy positive family stories like this one, but the pace is too slow. The author devotes too many chapters to the development of Francesca’s character as a despondent widow whose grown children live elsewhere. He also inserts too much description and back story in places where the story needs to move along. This is one of Peter Pezzelli’s earlier works. I may try one of his more recent books to see if his style has improved.

Despite the slow pace, some parts of the book brought back memories for me, like the scene when Francesca and the children are playing spoons, a card game my family used to play around Grandma’s kitchen table. I was right there in the kitchen with Francesca, as she prepared mouth-watering Italian delicacies and shared them with the children.

I like how the author uses this book to emphasize the importance of families coming together. I rarely see any of my relatives anymore. Maybe I need to be the one to bring everyone together once in a while, but that’s a lot of work. However, Peter Pezzelli says in his interview that if you take one thing away from this book, it’s the idea that any effort you put into bringing generations together is worth it. He makes a good point.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Tuesdays with Morrie

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Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson

by Mitch Albom

Copyright 1997

 

Years after graduating from college, sports writer Mitch Albom reconnected with Morrie, his former psychology professor, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He describes how he and Morrie spent the last few months of the old man’s life together. His visits were considered his last class with the professor. The only course requirements were to adjust the old man’s pillows from time to time and do other personal care tasks. Graduation was the professor’s funeral, and the final paper was this memoir. The author also describes his life during and after college and gives some biographical information about Morrie.

This book was featured not too long ago on BookDaily. I found it depressing, but what could I have expected from a book about a young man learning lessons about life and death from a dying one? In a way, Morrie reminded me of Bill, although Bill wasn’t terminally ill. Morrie always talked about his death. The only time Bill even touched on the subject of his demise was when he planned his own funeral.

Morrie said something that struck me as interesting. When you depend on others for everything, even wiping your bottom, it’s like being a baby again. You enjoy being cared for the way your mother took care of you in your infancy.

Bill often laughed when I cleaned him up after a bowel movement or inserted a suppository. At first, I thought he was embarrassed, but now I realize he was enjoying the physical attention. That was why he often asked me to scratch his back or perform other physical ministrations he couldn’t do himself. He was craving the attention his mother gave him because it provided comfort. Realizing that probably wouldn’t have made dropping everything and performing these tasks any easier. To learn more about his experiences in being a baby again and my caregiving adventures, check out My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Visit My Facebook Page.

 

Review: Me Before You

Me Before You

By Jojo Moyes

Copyright 2012

 

In 2009, Louisa, after losing her job as a waitress in an English village, gets a job as a caregiver to Will, a young, wealthy former business executive and daredevil who became almost totally paralyzed as a result of a motorcycle accident two years earlier. At first, Will is hard to get along with, but he eventually opens up to Louisa, and they develop a special bond. She soon discovers that in six months, he will go to a clinic in Switzerland where he will end his life.

After that, Louisa tries unsuccessfully to convince Will that life is worth living. She takes him out to a horse race, concerts, and even to the wedding of his former girlfriend. After he suffers a bout with pneumonia, she spirits him to a faraway tropical island where they spend ten glorious days. She realizes she has feelings for him which complicate her life since she already has a boyfriend, Patrick, a marathon runner. Louisa breaks up with Patrick and reluctantly accepts Will’s decision.

Having been a caregiver, I could identify with Louisa’s feelings of insecurity when she first starts the job and her sense of accomplishment when she gains more confidence in her abilities to perform many of Will’s personal care tasks. My favorite scene takes place close to the beginning of the book after Will suffers from a fever not related to the pneumonia he catches later. She snuggles in bed with him and sings him a silly song, and he tells her in no uncertain terms that she’s not the best of singers. It reminded me of times when I cuddled with and sang to my late husband Bill. Of course he loved my singing. As a matter of fact, he fell in love with my voice, thank goodness.

This book gives readers a negative impression of people with disabilities. Having a terminal illness and wanting to end your life before it gets too painful is one thing, but Will had at least ten good years ahead of him. Being wealthy, he could have been a philanthropist, funding research on spinal cord injuries or the development of adaptive equipment, perhaps opening a recreation or rehabilitation center for people with disabilities.

When I was single and employed and lived in an apartment building, one of my neighbors, Pat, was a quadriplegic like Will. She depended on others for help doing almost everything, but she never let that get her down. Before the accident that left her almost totally paralyzed, she was a motorcycle cop. Naturally, she couldn’t do that anymore, but she was able to use her computer to become involved in advocacy for the disabled and edit the apartment complex’s monthly newsletter. Like Will, she had her bad days, but she always worked through them. When my work hours were cut back as a result of my own disability, she was there for me, faxing documents to my attorney and other locations and providing encouragement and support.

When I got married and moved out of the building, we lost touch. I often wonder what happened to Pat. If she has left this world, I would like to think that unlike Will, she lived the last years of her life to their fullest.

My late husband Bill is another example of courage in the face of adversity. In 2006, three months after we were married, he suffered the first of two strokes that left him partially paralyzed. Like Will and Pat, he needed help doing almost everything, and he suffered from occasional depression, but I don’t think it ever occurred to him to end his own life, even if it was possible. For six years while I cared for him, he enjoyed listening to recorded books and ball games and used his computer to do email, surf the Internet, and even bet in a football pool. He also enjoyed talking on the phone daily to friends and relatives. Thank goodness for unlimited long distance. He was happy until 2012 when his body decided it was time to go. All this is detailed in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

As for Me Before You, I would like to have seen a more positive ending. After Louisa finds out that Will plans to take his own life, she visits the local library where she learns to use a computer. She does research and networks with quadriplegics and their caregivers.

I would like to have seen Louisa encourage Will to do the same. Perhaps Will could have met someone like Pat and realized that becoming almost totally paralyzed isn’t a death sentence. If you read this book, please take the author’s negative portrayal of a quadriplegic with a grain of salt.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds