book reviews

Repost: Pat Conroy’s last words– A Lowcountry Heart…

Here’s a book review from 2016. I am reposting it as/is. I really miss Pat Conroy, but I’m glad he’s missed out on the shitshow of COVID. Maybe it’s time to revisit some of his books, especially since they make me remember “home”.

2016 has been a horrible year to be famous.  So many great people have died, including Pat Conroy, who was (and still is) one of my favorite authors.  As much as I loved his novels, I probably enjoyed his non-fiction works much more.  In the wake of Conroy’s death last March, his latest book A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, was published in late October.  I have been reading this last work and remembering Conroy.

A Lowcountry Heart is basically a collection of Conroy’s blog posts, speeches, interviews and even letters he wrote.  It also includes tributes from friends, as well as his wife, Cassandra King, and the eulogy delivered at his funeral, which was open to the public.  I was one of his blog subscribers, so I had read some of the ones that were included in his last book.  Still, it was good to have the posts all in one volume.  I also appreciated the other aspects of this book, the speeches and letters Conroy penned.  I was particularly impressed by a letter to the editor Conroy wrote to a newspaper in Charleston, West Virginia after he received word that two of his books, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, had been banned by a high school.  A high school student had written to him in great distress and he went to bat for her.

During his lifetime, it wasn’t uncommon for Pat Conroy to take up a cause.  I remember in the mid 1990s, when female college student Shannon Faulkner was forcing Conroy’s alma mater, The Citadel, to admit women.  She faced scorn and derision from many people.  Conroy very publicly and enthusiastically supported her.  Ultimately, Faulkner was unable to hack it at The Citadel, but she did help make history and change the long single sex traditions at both The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute.

While I can’t say that books of essays and writings usually thrill me, knowing that these are Conroy’s last remarks make this final book worthy reading.  A Lowcountry Heart will not be my favorite Conroy book.  I think that honor goes to My Losing Season or perhaps The Death of Santini.  But it will remain a treasured part of my library as I remember one of the few fiction authors who never failed to make me laugh and appreciate the beauty of language.  What A Lowcountry Heart offers is yet another intimate look at the man behind the lush, vivid, colorful language so prevalent in Conroy’s novels.  

Some of the blog posts included in this book are particularly entertaining.  I enjoyed reading about how he became acquainted with his personal trainer, Mina, a Japanese woman who spoke little English and did her best to help Conroy reclaim his body.  Sadly, pancreatic cancer took him anyway, but Mina no doubt helped make those last months healthier.

I was lucky enough to get to hear Conroy speak when I was a student at the University of South Carolina.  He was actually filling in for Kurt Vonnegut, another favorite author of mine, who had just had a house fire and wasn’t able to attend.  Vonnegut died not long after I heard Conroy speak in his place.  I remember I had a healthcare finance exam the next day, which I ended up getting a D on.  I probably would have gotten a D anyway, so it was worth going to see Pat Conroy.  I will always treasure that memory, even if I didn’t get to meet the man in person.  He was every bit as real as he seems in his words.

I think I’d give this last volume four out of five stars, mainly because it feels a bit unfinished.  I recognize A Lowcountry Heart as one last gift to Conroy’s admirers.  I am grateful to have it available as a last goodbye from one of the South’s best writers.

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education, music, musings

Repost: There’s life beyond your senior year… confessions of a C student

Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.

Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood.  This is apparently a new development.  For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts.  I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money.  I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.

I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance.  March still has three days left in it.  Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college.  The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood.  Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it.  It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college.  Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.

I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college.  I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year.  It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.

I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student.  I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores.  I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing.  However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class.  I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers.  Consequently, I earned average grades.

My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance.  I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D.  I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have.  I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel.  I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD.  I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that.  I didn’t really know how. 

In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses.  I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented.  My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work.  I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.

When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level.  I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools.  I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools.  My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend.  She didn’t think I’d get in there.  She was right.  In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.

Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools.  The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time.  I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers.  My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters.  Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.

My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood.  I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways.  It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.

People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing.  My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young.  My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note.  But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing.  I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good.  So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try.  My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music. 

To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts.  I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class.  I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately.  Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition.  I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school.  That experience was truly life changing for me.  Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts.  It’s made me a much happier person.

It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me.  I only wish I had taken it sooner.  I might have majored in music instead of English.  I both excelled in and loved my music classes.  I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took.  By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes.  In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.

It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered.  Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there.  Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s.  My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s.  Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value.  I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.

After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim.  I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia.  Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”.  Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student.  I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here.  In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky.  I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.   

I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college.  I don’t envy them at all.  They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with.  Life has gotten super competitive on many levels.  I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation. 

It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days.  So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff.  Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people.  We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden). 

I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard.  And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing.  I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.

I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me.  It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars.  These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter.  So take heart.  There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year.  You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

A musical project I completed at the time I wrote this piece. Lately, I’ve focused more on playing guitar than singing. I’m better at singing than guitar playing, though.
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complaints, disasters, healthcare, music, politics, poor judgment, rants

I’d like to propose a toast– to difficult and unpopular decisions…

This version of “Ladies Who Lunch” suits my mood today…
And so does this one…

In contrast to my bubbly mood yesterday, today I’m feeling kind of flat and bitter. I think the constant barrage of bad news is getting me down. So are mean spirited Trump supporters.

Last night, I got a comment from someone who didn’t enjoy a post I wrote in November 2020. The person wrote that I made stupid people seem smart. I checked StatCounter to see how long he or she spent on my blog. It was a grand total of about two minutes. Nevertheless, the person was moved enough to send me an insulting comment. I’ll admit, it irritated me. I did not publish the comment. I trashed it, after sending the person a very short and profane emailed response.

I actually wish I hadn’t done that. My temper got the better of me, as it sometimes does. The wine helped. I should have just ignored the comment and been grateful for the hit, especially since the person obviously doesn’t know me and was just lashing out. Next time, I’ll try to do better.

I did give some thought to turning off comments, though, just because I’m tired of dealing with the type of person who screams about personal freedom, but can’t respect my personal freedom and perfect right to express an opinion on my space. Oh well… I guess I touched a nerve. Obviously, that person isn’t very confident in their support of the orange turd if something I wrote moved them to take the time to call me “stupid”.

I’ve been reading a lot of comments about Afghanistan. A lot of people are blaming Joe Biden for what appears to have been a disastrous departure from a country the United States has occupied for twenty years. I, for one, don’t blame Mr. Biden. We were there for twenty years. At some point, we had to leave. Biden merely carried out actions initiated by Trump, whom I seem to recall wanted us out of Afghanistan last year. I suspect Biden will be a one term president, so he’s doing a lot of unpopular but necessary stuff. Like any good and caring leader, he’s making difficult and unpopular decisions. I prefer Biden’s method to Donald Trump’s “seat of the pants drunken uncle” approach to solving problems.

Leaving Afghanistan was necessary. I doubt most of the people who are armchair quarterbacking could do better, anyway. And… for the record, I KNOW Trump would not have done better. But I will concede that mistakes were definitely made, and some statements by both Trump and Biden have aged like milk. It’s very interesting to me, however, that so many Trump supporters are upset about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the heartbreaking images on video, but they still don’t give a flying fuck about the crisis at our southern border involving people who are fleeing violence and oppression in their homelands. Also, I don’t see many of those people cheering that some Afghans actually were spirited out of the country by our military. I guess a lot of those folks are fine with empathizing with people who have brown skin, as long as they come from distant countries.

The Afghanistan news was paired with news about COVID-19. My grad school alma mater, The University of South Carolina, currently has an interim president in Dr. Harris Pastides. Dr. Pastides was formerly president of the university, as well as a professor in the Arnold School of Public Health, of which I am a graduate. This morning, I read the news that he is going to require face masks in buildings. People are really pissed, even though Dr. Pastides, who is an epidemiologist by training, is eminently qualified to make this call. I read many comments from people who wished they hadn’t written a tuition check. All I can do is shake my head at the stupidity. I hate the masks, too, and would certainly hate them in South Carolina in August. BUT… since many people still refuse to get vaccinated, I can see why Dr. Pastides made this particular difficult, and unpopular, decision.

This news didn’t go over well with a lot of people. There was much non-sensical bitching going on. I think it’s very sad when you can tell a person’s political leanings by their responses to public health mandates. That being said, I do sympathize. I’m glad I am done with school, and anything else that would require me to wear a mask all day. They do legitimately suck, even if they help control the spread of sickness.

I absolutely don’t deny that masks are a pain in the ass. They’re inconvenient, unpleasant, and uncomfortable, and they need to be ditched, pronto. I won’t even insult people by saying that wearing them is “no big deal”. Obviously, to a lot of people, having to wear them is a big deal. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be putting up such a fuss. And I absolutely agree that people should have the right to express their negative opinions about the masks. In this situation, it’s more important to me that people simply cooperate and comply than have a good attitude. Having a shitty attitude is understandable, under these conditions. I’ll drink to that!

I’m also as tired as anyone is of all the virtue signaling and constant bragging about adherence to the rules. But we can’t ditch the masks until the virus is under control. And the more people protest and refuse to cooperate, the longer it’s going to take, and the crankier and bitchier I’m going to be. If that means people think I’m stupid, so be it. I think telling a truly stupid person that they’re “stupid” is also pretty stupid, isn’t it? 😉

I read that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19. As an official Texas resident, this is relevant to me. Abbott says he feels fine for now. He’s vaccinated and is getting treatment– Regeneron, which is what Trump got last year when he got the virus. It’s designed to keep people from getting really sick. But he’s been doing his best to keep allowing Texans to spread the virus as he also denies women the right to have abortions. I look forward to voting against him in the next governor run.

Ironically, here in Germany, things actually are getting to be more normal. Yesterday, there was a notice in our local Facebook group that our village is going to have its first wine stand since March 2020. Bill and I loved attending the wine stands during the spring and summer of 2019. We missed them last year. It’s awesome to see that they will be returning this week, although everyone has to bring proof of vaccination, testing, or recovery from the illness. But see, what I love about Germany, is that people seem to be more community minded and cooperative. And when people work together, things are better overall. This summer, we’ve enjoyed things that we missed last year. I’m glad to be in a place where people have compassion and common sense. It means we can dine out, travel to neighboring countries, drink wine in public, and maybe take in a concert or visit a museum. Those are activities that make life worth living.

I relate… what a lovely song this is! Right down to the glasses of wine and bathrobes! These are my kind of ladies.

I suppose the return of the wine stand is reason enough for me to be less crabby. I do like “Ladies Who Lunch”, though. I may try to learn that song today. The first time I heard it was when I was taking voice lessons. An older woman was learning it and our teacher, Ron, was advising her to be more of a “bitch” as she sang it. Now that I’m a legitimately bitchy middle aged woman who lounges in caftans and enjoys cocktails, it may be time for me to give it a go. Edited to add: Here it is– your own knotty singing this song.

I completely forgot about “Ladies Who Lunch” until I saw it performed in the awesome film, Camp. I first watched Camp when we lived in Germany the first time. I downloaded it off iTunes just for shits and giggles. Now, it’s one of my guilty pleasure films, whenever I need a pick-me-up. Actually, I get a little wistful watching it, wishing I could be young again and go to a musical theater camp. Ah well. Maybe reincarnation is a thing. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to come back to this world.

Anyway… if I had any friends, maybe I would be a lady who lunches. I don’t have any friends. I just have dogs who adore me. They’re probably better company, anyway. They don’t mind that I have and express opinions, and they don’t care how profane I get. I hope the person who was offended by my “stupidity” is happy with his or her choices in life. I’m glad I’m not where they are, at least. And I hope I never encounter them again, since they think I’m so stupid. One wonders why a person would feel the need to leave a comment on such a “stupid” blog, anyway.

So here’s to making difficult and unpopular decisions. I’ll drink to that! I’ll drink to most things, especially nowadays.

This was shared by a Trump supporting friend. I am tempted to respond that I do, and I did, … and I am somewhat happier for it. I’m definitely healthier for it. But I don’t want to deal with people from my hometown who are still pining for Donald Trump. Seriously… I get being conservative, but Trump is a fucking moron.
If you haven’t seen Camp, you’re missing out.

Ooh… Edited to add! Here’s a response from Steve, the anal drip who called me stupid yesterday. He’s charming AND articulate, isn’t he? I definitely don’t think I’m the stupid one, so I think I will send his response to the round file.

Steve Jenkins6:21 AM (3 hours ago)
to me

Hey fuckhead…I was hoping one of you dumbfucks would respond…I forgot to save your site.

Since you are a fuck up, how does one fuck oneself?  I know you’re an expert even for a dumbfuck.

On Tuesday, August 17, 2021, 08:07:28 AM HST, I wrote:

Stay off my blog.

Go fuck yourself.

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book reviews, silliness

A pop up book about phobias and other bizarre things…

I love to find new and bizarre stuff. I’m lucky enough to have a number of friends who like to read and listen to music. I also have a very indulgent spouse who doesn’t mind when I occasionally make purchases of odd things. Like, for instance, at Christmas, I bought Bill a juice strainer with a replica of Angela Merkel’s head on it. I also bought him an egg separator that had a nose on it that allows egg white to pass through the nostrils like snot and a Margaret Thatcher nutcracker. I have a Donald Trump toilet brush in my bathroom. Hell, just a few weeks ago, I bought a baseball cap with an old picture of Mister Rogers on it, flipping the bird with both fingers.

I might decide to wear this in public at some point.

A few weeks ago, my former shrink was posting about something on Facebook and one of his friends– a psychologist colleague, I suppose– recommended that he read The Pop-up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenburg and Matthew Reinhart . Or maybe he suggested it as a gift. I was very intrigued by the concept. I was also kind of repulsed by it. I have a phobia of mushrooms, so the idea of a book that had one popping up at me was a bit horrifying. Fortunately, mycophobia is not a particularly common phobia, so it didn’t rate an entry in this book, which isn’t very long and takes a minute or two to “read”. I looked for a link to mycophobia, having actually written an article about it myself some years ago. Unfortunately, all of the articles I found had pictures of mushrooms on them, and frankly just the sight of mushrooms gives me the willies. But at least nowadays, I don’t freeze up and scream the way I used to when I was a child and found them growing in the yard.

I see The Pop-up Book of Phobias is out of print now, and I probably spent a lot more for it than I should have. I was still pretty delighted by it when it arrived last night. The art is well done, and I loved the way the artist managed to convey the concepts in “3-d”. Check out these photos. I didn’t get a photo of all of the entries, but this is basically the gist of the book. My copy was very well used and appeared to be much beloved by the previous owner.

I really appreciate the ingenuity and creativity it took to come up with these concepts and put them in a pop-up format. Just the engineering of the paper alone is impressive. How long did it take to come up with a method to arrange the paper in such a way that the snakes and spider pop up like this? The clown page is especially intriguing, as the main one has creepy eyes that open as the pages spread.

Looking on Amazon, I see that Matthew Reinhart has done a few pop up books, including one called The Pop-up Book of Nightmares. That one appears to be widely available, even though it’s been out since 2001. Since Bill has been studying Carl Jung and analyzing his dreams, maybe that would make a good present for him on the next gift giving occasion. It definitely makes for a fun gag gift, if not a pricey one. The one drawback is that it’s not much of a book in terms of reading material as it only consists of 22 pages. But it might be fun to glance at as you drop your morning deuce. Or it might be fun for the coffee table, although I would recommend not taking it to the bathroom if you’re going to put it on your coffee table. Accidents happen.

I was glad to get the book yesterday. It was a nice distraction from the news of the day. It seems like there’s very good to report, and the overall mood is ugly as COVID continues to wreak havoc worldwide and people continue to fight over public health measures. I’ve seen a lot of rude, callous, mean-spirited comments and behavior on both sides of the issue. It makes me wonder if people really are as horrible as their behavior online indicates.

Add in “healthcare professionals” who take it upon themselves to post disinformation about vaccines and/or inject people with saline instead of a vaccine, and you have a truly ugly situation brewing. I might be able to get onboard with people who simply wish to avoid the vaccine. I don’t agree with their opinions, but I can kind of understand the concept of “my body, my choice.” But it really is criminal when a nurse decides for her patients to trick them by injecting them with saline instead of giving them a vaccination that they requested.

Also… I am quite baffled by “healthcare professionals” who keep insisting that COVID-19 is not as bad as it’s being portrayed in the media. I know the journalistic mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads”, but how is it that some doctors and nurses are so exhausted and upset about the virus and some are claiming it’s not so bad? Seriously, a self-proclaimed master’s level nurse at a level one trauma center posted on the Facebook page for the University of South Carolina, claiming that this is all a big hoax. My guess is that he’s lying, either about his “credentials” or where he works. I wouldn’t want an unvaccinated nurse taking care of me, to be honest.

My public health and social work master’s degrees were both earned at the University of South Carolina. Former President Harris Pastides, who was teaching in the Arnold School of Public Health when I was attending, is back to being the interim president, because Bob Caslen, who was Pastides’ successor, was forced to resign. Dr. Pastides is well-informed about the COVID situation and is promoting vaccination on campus. He was a tremendously popular president. It’s nice to see him back, doing the right thing. Too bad so many people are making the vaccines political.

Anyway… I’m glad it’s Friday, at least. I am expecting to get new guitar strings today… and I have a feeling I will be trying to put them on my guitar instead of practicing. I hate this chore, but I think it’s time to do it. Maybe I’ll be back later… maybe not.

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