Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘England’

No Other Choice

Secrets: In the shadows lurks the truth by Judith Barrow.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51GqVk8eBwLEach of the eight short stories in Secrets are very well written, and involve characters from Ms. Barrow’s novels. They include Nelly’s attempt to escape a convent with her baby, before it is given away; a nurse (Hilda) who has cared for her cantankerous mother for many years; Edith, who has been abused by her husband one to many times; Gwyneth, whose previous husband shows up unwanted, and unexpectedly at her new home; the fate of Alun Thomas, and his brother, who are conscientious objects during the first world war; Hannah and her son, reacting to the death of Hannah’s father; a fourteen-year-old and his friend joining the army during “the war to end all wars”; and Doreen, who has a baby during an air raid.

Most of these tales show the lives of women who have few options, or choices in their lives, and the extreme measures they take to be set free, and/or have some freedom (no matter how momentary it may be). Though the characters are taken from the author’s novels, each short story stands on its own, and could be a book entirely unto itself. The description of each individual, and their situations, are done with precision and care. By the end of the first paragraph readers have a good sense of who is who, what is going on, and the dilemma that is presented. This is no small feat. To weave together such a tight narrative is not an easy task for most writers. Ms. Barrow seems to do it with ease, and presents the primary protagonist with honesty, and empathy.

Having sympathy, and understanding, for the main character of a novel usually takes some time. To create an instant connection between the reader and the woman, or man, in a short story is even more difficult to do. I felt such a connection, regardless of the acts, or actions, they took, with every person in this collection. Doreen, Stan, Hannah, Alun, Gwyneth, Edith, Hilda, and Nelly, each had me rooting for them to triumph, get away from, or take whatever action was needed, to survive, or make sense of the world within which they lived. There are also a number of surprise endings.  Secrets is a book I recommend, without hesitation. Without a doubt, Ms. Barrow’s novels are just as well written, and well worth your time and attention.

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For All To See

Eating From The Cherry Tree: A Memoir of Sexual Epiphany by Vivien Ella Walden. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

513GeUVKRDLVivien Walden has been inundated with sex throughout her life – both for business and pleasure. It is her curiosity, experience, understanding and insight of such, that make this memoir come to life. Eating From The Cherry Tree delves deeply into sexuality, and looks closely at Ms. Walden’s family history, childhood, the times she has lived in (late fifties through the present), and the legal, cultural and environmental circles within which she has moved and been influenced by.

Yes, there are many descriptions of all kinds of sex imaginable (or not) within these pages, and… it is accompanied by astute psychological, and emotional awareness. There is a big difference between labeling someone by their profession, and getting to know them as a human being.

“Being a stripper, call girl, hooker, or madam, you have to know how to dance to the music, be a good actress, stand up to the toughest deal with the law, and paint your own picture for all to see.” Thus, a young Jewish girl from Salford, England learns from mentors, friends, and colleagues, how to get what she desires, make a living doing so, and travels far and wide to both entertain and find self-fulfillment. Though I’ve never experienced most of what the author speaks of, her descriptions are presented so realistically, that readers’ may feel as if they are in the room (or wherever the event is occurring), taking notes or personally involved. It can be quite visceral.

What surprised me most about this well-written memoir is the depth of emotion, caring, and connection that the author has, not only for friends, partners, and colleagues, but also for her clients. She has worked as an actress, stripper, hostess, call girl, and madam. In all her endeavors, she strives to do her best to provide release and comfort for those she serves, and support those that work with her. In the process, she also attained a sense of control and security. “I always regarded myself as more of a burlesque dancer than a stripper, although the element of ‘tease’ is key. It is the act of combining direct eye contact and body language to convey sexiness to the audience. In any event, taking my clothes off didn’t give me a feeling of power, charming the audience did.”

Eating From The Cherry Tree explores our needs, fantasies, and desires. What Ms. Walden has come to understand, and conveys so beautifully, is that most everyone wishes to be loved, touched, wanted, and affirmed for who they are. This is most evident in her personal relationships (with husband Billy, and other boyfriends, girlfriends, and co-workers), and when she experiences a life-threatening medical emergency and a car accident. There are times when she describes sex as purely a physical transaction; other times that are for her own pleasure, and many occasions when the two have coincided. Thus, this book (and the author) not only have an abundance of sex, but also an abundance of heart. Her profession is undoubtably one of entertainment and acting, but there is also a big dose of kindness and insight for good measure.

 

A Story to Savor

5168cuV1J3LMy White Dahlia (A Lesbian Romance) by C. M. Blackwood. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

I’m bowing down with gratitude to the literary goddesses that brought this book to my attention. C. M. Blackwood is a damn good writer, and My White Dahlia is a hell of a good book. Weave together some of the best suspense and mystery novels with a first-rate romance, and you’ll end up with this gem, which takes place in 1949 England, in the town of Kingston. It doesn’t take long before you will understand and love these characters. It is with that knowledge, and the author’s ability to reveal their history and past experiences, that your own emotions will become entangled with theirs.

The heroine’s name is Adette Salazar. This tale is told from her point of view. While listening to her friend, Henry, drone on about what he knows about the famous novelist who just hired Adette to be her personal assistant, she realizes, “At the ring of that final word, I finally began to be curious. It was the first moment I market it. It was the moment I remembered as the starting point, through all those long months that followed.” As Adette becomes more familiar with her new surroundings, memories from the past threaten to diss-rail her and ruin all she has come to adore.

Flashes of Adette’s childhood in Georgia (USA), before she is taken to the UK to live with her Uncle Henry after her mother has died, arise at crucial moments within her caring for her now invalid uncle, her new job, and ever changing relationship with Dahlia Frobisher (her boss). Dhalia’s housekeeper, Edwina, and Dahlia’s literary agent, Archie Willoughby, are first-rate characters and supporting players in the drama, as are Susan Heyward and Jane Albright. Though the focus is on Adette and Dhalia, everyone makes a difference, and has an impact upon readers.

One of the reasons that Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time, is because she had a knack for understanding human emotion and motives, and was able to describe place, time, characteristics, thoughts, and actions, with such clarity and insight. Everything and everyone, seemed somewhat familiar, yet one never knew for sure who did what and why until the end. Ms. Blackwood is cut from the same cloth of storytellers. My White Dahlia should definitely be made into a film. When you read the story the reasons will become self evident.

 

32 Recipes for Joy

51jMFwLXU2LFinding Joy Around the World by Kari Joys MS.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Join the author, and people from around the world, as they describe what joy means to them, and how they came to find it. Kari Joys, “While happiness is often defined as the experience of well-being, satisfaction or pleasure in your life, joy includes those characteristics, but it also brings with it the qualities of spirituality, higher consciousness and true delight.”

Most all of those in Finding Joy Around the World have dealt with some kind of loss, trauma, or difficult situation in their lives (death, poverty, abuse, loss, etc.), and all of them share their story. Whatever they have lived through, or had happen, did not prevent them from still finding joy in their lives. In fact, many felt that their hardships are what helped them search for joy, and try to find some kind of meaning in life. Here is what some of the thirty-two people interviewed had to say:

Santosh Sagara (Nepal) – “Joy means mindfulness and peace within.”
Gede Prama (Indonesia) – Read and meditated to find joy.
Deb Scott (USA) – Experiences joy through prayer and volunteering.
Barasa Mayari (Kenya) – “Trust in God has been the anchor.”
Sylvester Anderson (USA) – “Never give up on yourself.”
Jayne Spenceley (England) – “Feeling expansive from the inside out.”
Hanneke van den Berg (Netherlands) – “Connections with myself and others.”
Sakatar Singh (India) – “Read good books and make friends.”
Ashleigh Burnet (Canada) – Believes meditation is instrumental.
Gimba A. (Nigeria) – Gets joy when he can “care for my children.”
Eugenie Areve (France) – “Love ourselves unconditionally.”
Bill Zhang (China) – “A state of feeling ‘good enough'”.
Marcia Conduru (Brazil) – “We are more than our ego.”

Ms. Joys noticed some common threads which ran through the responses from all those she contacted (or who contacted her). They are provided in a list of ten traits at the end. Some of the conclusions are that joy is experienced in the present moment; gratitude is a big component; it grows out of compassion for others; when noticing beauty of nature; and there is often a connection to the “divine”, or something greater than ourselves.

Many of the responses in this work remind me of my book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call, which is a compilation of interviews I did with fifteen people who had someone die, and then decided to help others in some way as a result. Some are well known, and others not so. This was written before the internet, so I did all the interviews in person across the USA and Israel.

Finding Joy Around the World is an inspiring mix of tales and observations, from a variety of people around the globe. Ms. Joys asks all the right questions, and lets the kind people who responded answer in their own words. Each person’s story begins with a quote from a famous writer, or person, which corresponds perfectly. Thus, Joseph Campbell is quoted before one of the participants shares their understanding and experience of joy. “Find a place inside where there’s joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”

A Bear Adrift

41CFkTe7CPL.jpgSnugs the Snow Bear by Suzy Davies
Illustrated by Peter Hall
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A sweet children’s book (for ages 4 and up), with a lot of animal characters, nice people, and of course the star of the show, Snugs, the snow bear. Snugs is not necessarily a polar bear, though he is off-white and lives in Greenland.

Snugs is set adrift when the ice he is on has melted, and goes towards Iceland. On the way he is discovered by a boat (ship Prince Eleanore) and the crew and passengers help him out. It is here that he meets Carla and James, and their grandmother (Mrs. Merryweather) who live in the Isle of Wight (England).

Snugs the Snow Bear combines some beautiful events (the Northern Lights, and visiting sites in Iceland) with the realities of global warming and its effect upon humans, animals, climate and the earth in general.

At first, I was taken slightly aback by the animals (some magical moose, etc.) and people (including Captain LightOwler and Rosanne) being able to talk to one another, and understand each other, but after awhile that concern faded into the background and fit with them all having to live on the same planet.

Sensual Robin and Miriam

51l1u-uPg1LUnmasking the Knight by Terri Lyndie.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Come with me to the Kingdom of Mercia, in 911 AD England, and read about the love of Gisella and Ranulf. Sounds of Lorena McKennitt’s mystical music floated in the air, and visions of unicorns, magic, and misty meadows filled my vision, as I read Unmasking the Knight. Memories of the Robin Hood film Robin and Miriam, with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, flirted with my mind.

Gisella’s friends, Nesta and Drogo, warn her that Sevarin, the druid prophet, will soon insist on choosing a husband for her, if she does not do so herself. Gisella wants no one but her childhood friend, kindred spirit, and love, Ranulf, but he was lost years before when taken by the King’s army, or so she believes. Here is a brief scene of Ranulf desperately waiting for a rendezvous with Gisella.

“The air was cool, and a low mist had settled upon the moor. Crickets sang a continual melody in the inky beyond. Ranulf could make out the silhouette of the stone circle jutting up in the grassy field but there was no sign of Gisella. Fog bellowed, a figure seemed to appear, and then…”

This sensual first novella, by Terri Lyndie, is a surprising treat. It didn’t take long to read, but took me quickly to a lovely land of longing, and romance. The characters are lovely, there bond is strong, and the emotions and environment are weaved skillfully into the story. Unmasking the Knight isn’t the next War and Peace, but it never pretends to be.

I Carried Them With Me

geigerExcerpt featuring Nicola Geiger. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Born and raised in Germany, Nicola Geiger lived in a young girl’s dream world; a luxurious home, close friends, material goods and parties galore. By the end of World War II she was homeless, without possessions and absent her loving family. Her father, mother and one-year-old son died shortly after the war began. When she was eight months pregnant with her second child she was raped. The child died at birth as a result of the trauma. She was interrogated and tortured in Poland, lost many close friends, and her dear husband Rudolf disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Since her losses during the war, Nicola persisted in reaching out to others. Immediately after the war she worked with the International Red Cross and assisted refugees. After studying in England she moved to the U.S., met her second husband, fought against McCarthyism and became involved in the civil rights movement. When they moved on to Japan, she became active in visiting the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, waged campaigns for world peace, and fought for the rights of Koreans who had been enslaved and abused by the Japanese. When her husband died she decided to move to the Philippines. There she fought for democracy and the overthrow of the Marcos regime.

Ms. Geiger:

First of all, my two children died. One was a baby and the other was when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was raped by twelve Russians. The child didn’t survive. It died right after birth. Fortunately, they found me in these ruins in Berlin. A lady heard me when I cried out for help and she took me to a Red Cross hospital. Then my husband disappeared and I never knew what happened to him. My father died a horrible death at the beginning of the war, which was said to be an accident, but it wasn’t – his legs were cut off while he was visiting a factory. Friends died and the absolute, total destruction of everything from the bombing. It was an enormous amount of simply taking in the losses.

Such losses can never be replaced. You’re totally wiped out . . . your associations and surroundings . . . furnishings that were two hundred years old, furniture, everything . . . so then you realize you are totally alone.

I was very active in helping refugees after the war. I moved to England where I studied theater. I came to America at the time of McCarthyism, where you were better dead than red. I was not going to stay in America one day longer with such attitudes and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met my second husband. He was a scientist who’d worked on the Manhattan Project. He was really an extraordinary person.

I was very involved with anti-McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. I had never been told, “This is a Jew and this is a German.” I grew up in a socialist family and my father was extremely enlightened, as was my mother. My father was a Buddhist. He sat in the room where I was born and had prepared a meditation mat next to him so I could be put beside him upon birth.

I was very involved in the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties and I worked a great deal with children in theater in order to empower them. I find theater to be a tool that is very useful. During the Vietnam War I continued in the civil rights movement. We lived in Philadelphia. There were sit ins from Baltimore up to Washington, women strike for peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I was really involved with my whole heart then. When my husband went on sabbatical we went to Hiroshima Japan where he did research on atomic bomb victims, whom I worked with as well.

The Japanese had resettled two provinces in Korea and brought Koreans to Japan as slave laborers. In 1905 America and Japan made a treaty in which America took over the Philippines and Japan took over Korea. The Koreans were very badly treated, so I worked a great deal with Koreans in the Hiroshima area and in Kyoto after my husband died. I worked extensively with the Japanese peace movement and with the liberation people in Korea. For a couple years I moved to the Philippines because of my health. I lived with European journalists there and entered into the movement to oust the Marcos regime.

There was never a time when I wasn’t involved. It hasn’t been from an intellectual place. It really came from my own deep understanding of what life is about. The work I did was because I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to live in that light which takes away the occasion of all wars cruelty and control. I really understood, through my Buddhism, that I am the one that must work on myself . . . my ego. This is what I successfully did, in great part because of my experience with suffering.

Two of the major exercises which were brought to me when I was young, were to go over my day at night and decide what was harmonious and what was not. My parents did not speak of bad and good; they spoke of harmony and disharmony. They presented it in a way, because I was very small, that I was very much empowered. If I had done something, thrown a stone or fought with someone, I could go to that person and make it right or more accurately, harmonious.

My parents always used the bell. (She rings bell) The bell was used for settling down. My mother was not a Buddhist, but she saw how its values worked and she and father’s parenting was always together. There was also an enormous group of friends with whom we’d celebrate the change of the year. People would come together. Every weekend there would be music and poetry. It was an extremely interesting and wonderful life I grew up in.

I don’t really know how I managed to survive (the war), but I can tell you what happened. When I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I thought, “I can change the world!” Don’t we all think that? I was nineteen when my father died on September 6, 1939, just six days after the war began. Then there was the attack on Poland and a few of my friends were killed. Then began the registration of food and nobody could travel on trains. Everything was regulated. My father was against Hitler and had voted against him in the election. Did you know he came into power with only thirty-three percent of the vote? A year after Hitler became chancellor he assassinated five thousand people, many who were homosexuals, gypsies (and political opponents). Five thousand people in two days! They were all rounded up.

When these things happened I really understood that I had no power; that I had been living in a fantasy; thinking my life could make a difference. I really understood that I was quite powerless, even though I knew many important people. I could go to them but they could not help me. I couldn’t say, “Let’s stop the war.” Then from my own view of the world, because of Buddhism, I really grasped, not so much understood, it really was a grasping, that I was responsible for myself and how I would live and what I would do in the midst of all that was going on. From 1943 on, when the totally destructive air raids came, I really lived day to day.

Why didn’t I have any feeling of revenge? I think this is fascinating. I thought it was futile to do so. I felt that to have these emotions were only hurting me. They didn’t give me any peace. I had feelings, not so much of revenge, but of anger and more anger. I wanted to lash back. But I began to understand very quickly, to grasp, that that would only hurt myself. I had to fight to really center down and my bell helped me with that. I centered down and did my Metta practice every day. Metta is a Buddhist meditation for loving-kindness. That was the thing to do. In many ways it’s a great mystery that I could do it. I think it had something to do with all the wonderful people I’d encountered through the years. The German people were not bad people. The people I’d been born in to were fine people. In human kindness and helpfulness I encountered many wonderful people.

So, I did my Metta practice. I didn’t deny my grief. Indeed, I felt it! I tried to commit suicide on my birthday on August 3rd, 1945. I took pills and my friends with whom I was staying came back home after I’d taken them. Luckily they’d forgotten something. I don’t speak of it very often. I was tired. I was so tired of knowing about evil. I was so tired that I wanted to rest forever. It’s really amazing all the things that went on around the world.

When I recovered, woke up and was back in the present, I was really grateful that I had lived! My time was not yet up. Indeed, I realized that I had a task. And each time someone died that was close to me; I carried them with me in their spirit. It’s like they’re marching with me. I’ve demonstrated and manifested in my life what most of the people who died would have done.

Post Script: Nicola Geiger died peacefully, after a long illness, on July 31, 2006.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

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