Category Archives: weighty issues

I Heart Art

I made a little mermaid.

When I was working on my Masters degree in Adult Education, I had to take a class in the Psychology of aging and one of the things that stuck with me most was Erik Erikson’s observation that as humans age, they have an increasing need to create and nurture things that will outlast them. I’m definitely at that stage, and I recognize it not only in my concern for raising my children to be good people, but also in my pressing need to write for posterity and to create things of physical beauty.

A few months ago, I registered for an online fiction writing course through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Then I forgot all about it and developed an obsession with printmaking, spending all my free time hacking away at linoleum blocks and reading up about different techniques. And I discovered that when I was doing this, I had no need for writing. I started reading books about printmaking and took a renewed interest in the Japanese prints that the P-Dawg’s been collecting. While at the Cleveland Museum of Art last weekend, I found myself studying the themes and composition of the paintings instead of just viewing them from a purely aesthetic standpoint, as I always used to. Now that the online fiction course has finally started, I’m up to my eyeballs in writing assignments and all I want to do is carve linoleum.

What is happening to me?

I’m guessing, “mid-life crisis.” I suddenly feel as though I have no time to waste in trying my hand at all the things that interest me, of which, it turns out, there are many. But with each passing year I fear more that I’m doomed to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. It’s possible that my interest in printmaking is just a phase like so many others before it, but it’s like I said to my mom the other day when we were looking at some photos of the Lithuanian countryside, “I cannot help now but to see the world though the eyes of an artist.”

And my mom was like, “That’s great, but don’t quit your day job.” By which I can only assume she meant sporadic, not-for-profit blogging.

In the age of social media, I’ve noticed that more and more, with each online profile we fill out, we’re required to define ourselves succinctly. I’ve narrowed most of my bios down to “writer,” “wife,” and “mother,” but I still don’t have a published body of work to show for that first moniker. (I did complete my memoir about growing up as the daughter of immigrants stuck between two cultures. I just don’t know if it ever will – or even should be – read by a wide audience.)

And now I’m left wondering if there’s ever a definitive point when a person’s authentic self emerges, or if it’s okay to bluster around for a lifetime searching for it.

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Between Shades of Gray

I grew up with a vague understanding of what had happened to my grandmother’s family in Lithuania during World War II. I knew about the deportations, the cattle cars, the labor camps, the huts they built out of scavenged materials to protect themselves from the Siberian cold.

I knew my great-grandparents had perished there, but the whole business of Siberia had always been a kind of abstract tragedy, cloaked behind the lyric prose so characteristic of my people, its brutal details fused together under the penumbra of a single, sorrowful word – Sibiras.  But it’s only now, after reading Ruta Sepetys’ best selling novel, Between Shades of Gray, that I begin to fathom the details, imagine their sufferings, and understand their quiet grace.

As much as I wanted to read it, I was reluctant to pick this book up at first. I knew it would be emotionally challenging and I was afraid there would be too many parts I’d have to read with my eyes closed.  But once I started, I couldn’t put it down – and I don’t remember the last time that’s happened. I read Between Shades of Gray in one sitting, and when I reached the last word, I closed my eyes and sat very still, the way you do during the ending credits of a movie that’s moved you to your core.

Between Shades of Gray is the story of a Lithuanian art student – Lina Vilkas – and her struggle to survive in conditions that just keep getting worse after she is abducted one night along with her mother and younger brother during Stalin’s Purge – the mass deportations of thousands of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Finns to prisons and slave labor camps in Siberia in June of 1944.

Intended for a YA readership, the story is told in short, straightforward prose, though it’s anything but simple, and deals bluntly with the gray ethics and stark reality of war. The details and imagery are so deftly rendered that even when they are unbearable, it’s not possible to look away. Despite the heavy subject matter, there is nothing cloying or overly sentimental about the way Lina tells her riveting tale.

That’s what makes it so good.

In a feisty, compelling, and believable voice, the fictional character of Lina Vilkas speaks for thousand of real people who were silenced or frightened into silence, and whose tragedy has been largely unknown to the world.

Please consider reading this book.

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In Which I Pick a Fight with my Personal Trainer

I joined a new gym earlier this week and got suckered into a personalized fitness assessment.

“So, what are you going to make me do?” I asked the consultant after we made our introductions. “I better not puke.”

He led me to his office and we started with an interview.

“What are your fitness goals?”

“Goals? I guess I’d like to lose ten pounds and stop being afraid of the resistance training machines.”

Next he wanted to know what my current exercise regimen was.

“I don’t have one.”

“Are you sure? Bike riding? Swimming? Walking the dog?”

“Nope.”

He made a few notes and then asked me to tell him what I eat in any given day from daybreak to sunset. I couldn’t believe my luck. There is nothing I love more than itemizing my food intake, but rarely do I come across anyone willing to listen with genuine interest. For example, when the P-Dawg comes home from work and I say, “Do you want to know what I ate today?” he always says, “No.”

I began to happily recount everything I’d put in my stomach since Monday. At first J.B. (that’s my fitness consultant) thought I might not be eating enough, but then I owned up to the occasional ice cream cone or glass of wine with dinner.

“How often do you have a glass of wine?”

“I don’t know, a couple times a week maybe? What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?””

“That’s bad” J.B. said. “Real bad. Did you know that a glass of wine is no better than a slice of cheesecake?”

“Are you kidding me? No it isn’t.”

“Yep, it is.”

“No it isn’t.”

“It’s true. I read it in a mens’ health magazine.”

“But how do you figure? Wine has no fat, and less calories per serving than a Coke!”

J.B. was relentless. “It’s converted into fat once it’s in your system. It’s like a sugar surge your body doesn’t know what to do with.”

“There is no way it can be as bad as cheesecake.”

“Well, it is.”

“That’s the most ridonkulous thing I’ve ever heard in my life and I refuse to accept it.”

There was an uncomfortable silence as J.B. and I stared each other down across the table, and then I said, “I’m just sayin.”

Next we walked over to the physical assessment area, where I had to stand on a scale.

“Can I take my shoes off?” I asked J.B.

“No,” he said, “I’ll subtract a pound.”

“I’m pretty sure my shoes weigh two pounds.”

J.B. gave me a stern sidelong glance, and I got on the scale, which showed a different reading from the one I’d gotten at home that morning.

“I know you probably hear this all the time, but I think your scale is slightly off” I said to J.B.

After that, he measured my BMI, strength, flexibility, and endurance.  I had to pull on some weights with all of my might and this is just between you and me, but they didn’t budge. I did pretty well on the treadmill, but I bombed the flexibility test, which was clearly rigged because I can do a cartwheel.

Afterwards, J.B. showed me a big fancy printout which said I was 39, and not 37 like I always thought. But if I signed up for more P.T. sessions, J.B. felt sure he could whittle me back down to 27 in three to five months. He also said I reminded him of his sixth grade teacher and he figures my kids will be taller than me in two to three years.

Depite all of that and the cheescake debacle, he was a pretty nice guy and I signed up for a month of sessions.  I start Friday, wish me luck!

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I Don’t See Dead People, But I Wish I Would

I subscribe to a daily writing prompt, but I never do it. Putting that much thought into what I’m going to say, rather than just writing about my supermarket trials and tribulations, causes nervous beads of sweat pop out all over my brow. Today’s prompt, however, was to write about what I’d like to dream tonight, and I didn’t have to think much about this one at all – I want to dream my grandmother. But I don’t just want to dream about her, I . . . want her to visit.

There have been many reminders of the transiency of souls lately, in real life and on the Internet. Consequently, as I always do at times like these, I’ve been ruminating about the sweet hereafter. I like to think that I don’t need hard, empirical evidence of an afterlife, but I often find myself seeking out hints. I’ve been devouring books – about people who’ve had experiences that help them believe, and about NDEs (Near Death Experiences), during which individuals claim to have physically died and gone, if only for a moment, to another place which confirmed (for them) that there is something more.

I think it’s fascinating. And while I’m inclined to believe that some of these experiences are drug induced or fabrications, I think that many are authentic. And I get a little jealous. Because I’ve been waiting for a dead person to visit me for years. (Just kidding! But not really.) When I’ve really looked, I have picked up on signs that help me believe. There are things that have happened surrounding the deaths of my grandparents and uncle which, if I detailed them here for you, would seem inconsequential, but have proven mystical for me. Alas, I can’t say that I’ve ever glimpsed anything truly otherwordly, and I just want a little peek beyond the Veil.

Have you ever felt the presence of a loved one who has died in a dream? Have you had any experiences that have given you good goosebumps? I’d like to hear about them.

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