Saturday, May 22, 2010

Old School Romance

I'm not sure how it happened, but I managed to get through a whole lot of literature classes without ever reading Jane Eyre. My high school Brit Lit teacher chose Dickens over the Bronte sisters. In my undergraduate work, my two favorite English professors specialized in Medieval and Renaissance literature and American literature. I don't think I read any nineteenth century British lit when I was an undergraduate.

Finally, in grad school, I met Emily Bronte through Wuthering Heights. I liked the novel immensely, so it makes sense that I would like Charlotte's Jane Eyre, but I just never got around to reading it.

My eldest son, a high school senior, was assigned Jane Eyre this spring. When I saw the book sitting on my kitchen table, I cringed. When eldest son reads (which, to my everlasting sorrow, isn't often), he chooses fantasy. Getting him through a Gothic romance was going to be a challenge, painful even.

And it was.

I'll spare you the gory details, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the audio book, the chapters I read aloud. Suffice it to say, he needed the English credit to graduate, and I was going to get him through that damn book if it killed us both.

A strange thing happened as I dragged my son through the 400 pages of stilted, sometimes overwrought, nineteenth century British prose. I realized I liked it. A lot.

Okay, I should qualify that last statement. I did like the book, but it totally started in the wrong place. Charlotte Bronte would never have sold that novel as is in today's market. Go out there and read agent and editor blogs. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants all that back story slowing the plot down and losing readers twenty pages in. And yes, all you purists out there. I know that living Jane's horrible childhood helps us understand the woman she becomes, but it's boring. The story doesn't get interesting until Jane leaves school as an independent young woman and arrives at Thornfield Hall.

But I digress. I realized I had been drawn into the plot when I was reading the chapter in which Jane saves Rochester's life when his bed mysteriously catches fire. My son was laying across his own bed, head hanging off the end, bemoaning being held prisoner while I read aloud. I was trying to figure out why Grace Poole would want to kill Rochester when I heard my son's voice.

"Mom! Earth to Mom! Are we going to do this or what?"

He was apparently listening enough to notice I had stopped reading aloud. I didn't even realize it. I guess I wanted to read faster than my mouth could form the words. Normally, I like reading aloud. I'm pretty good at it. I do it in my classroom to generate interest in whatever we're reading. Given the choice, my son would rather listen to me than the audio book, but the story had sucked me in, and I wanted to read for my enjoyment rather than his.

Bronte built the romantic tension between Jane and Rochester beautifully. When Jane thought Rochester was going to marry Blanche Ingram and she would have to leave, I actually shed a tear. I felt her pain. The major obstacle to Jane and Rochester's romance is a doozy, and when it was revealed, I had to put the book down for a day. Since I hadn't read the book before now, I'll assume there are others out there who haven't and might, so I won't give too much away, but overcoming that obstacle was hard for the characters. Because I was invested in the characters, it was hard for me.

The hallmark of a truly great book is one that stimulates my intellect and touches my heart. Jane Eyre did both. Jane was a heroine you could root for. She was a strong, independent woman who wouldn't compromise her core values even when sticking to them meant leaving the man she loved. She understood that happily ever after can't be built on a lie. I have nothing but respect for Bronte. Writing those scenes had to be painful. No tears in the writer. No tears in the reader.

The thing about those tears, though, is that the shedding of them makes the happily ever after so much more satisfying because it was hard won. I felt the joy at the end as keenly as I felt the pain that came before it. The only thing that would have made it better was if Bronte had included a love scene at the end. Yeah, I know. It was the nineteenth century, and the poor woman had to publish the book under a male pseudonym, but it needed that last love scene.

Of course, then I would have had to read the thing aloud to my eighteen year old son, so maybe not.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ode to Friendship

I've neglected the poor blog as of late. May is always overwhelming, and having a senior approaching graduation (Hallelujah!) has made it more so. Snowmageddon has us in school until June 9th, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When life gets crazy, good friends are essential. I wish for every person out there a friend like Linda....someone who says something completely outrageous at least once a day. Today, I made fun of her as she struggled to climb into my SUV. Her response...yelled across the parking lot...

"Getting into your @#$! car is like climbing Mt. Everest. I need a @#$! Shirpa to get in this @#$! thing!"

Then I was laughing so hard I couldn't get into the car.

Every Tuesday night we watch Glee and text through the whole show like a couple of teenagers. I've included a few excerpts below, exactly as they appear on our phones.

Linda: Victor just called im going to have to rewind from the beginning. Hang on while I play catch up

Me: Doesn't he know better?

Show opens in an 80s flashback. Picture Neil Patrick Harris with braces and a mullet.

Linda: Love the braces

Me: And the hair

Linda: It's been 45 days since I sang a showtune

At this point, I'm watching live, about 5 minutes ahead of Linda watching on DVR. Neil breaks into an over the top version of Billy Joel's Piano Man.

Me: Oh shit! You have to catch up!

Linda: Shit! (Don't you love a friend who cusses out of solidarity without really knowing why?)

A couple of minutes later...

Linda: Im on piano man love neil

Me: That's when I said oh shit (The cussing mystery is now solved. Whew!)

Linda: ok im about 2 min behind now

Mr. Shu and Neil break into a dueling rendition of of Dream On.

Me: AEROSMITH!!!! (Neil Patrick Harris singing an Aerosmith song...good times.)

Linda: Ok hang on maybe next commercial we'll meet. They are at auditions.

Linda: Ok dream on begins

Me: I love that song.

Linda: Yeah...Ok caught up. Btw...victor is coming to ky for the is my f...OMG he's walking..i was wondering when he was going to ditch the chair (Yep...she literally stopped mid-text when Artie stood up.)

Me: He's dancing! I'm gonna have to come to the festival.

Linda: Wait...this has to be a dream sequence

Me: Ya think?

Linda: Ok I'm slow to suspend my disbelief

Me: I like that about you.

We continued texting until the end of the show. Linda threw election results (It's primary day in Kentucky) and commentary in with her comments about the show. Again, hilarious, but while I'm willing to put Linda's opinions on Glee issues out there, her political views are her own.

At the end of the show...

Linda: a texting phone blitzed out on me after i tried to send you a lengthy message. Im a spent heap

Me: Spent means it was good though, right?

Linda: Was it good for you too??

Me: It always is.

I'll say it again. Everyone needs a Linda in their life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Many Waters Cannot Quench Love

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

As my new sister-in-law, Emily said: WORD.

Emily and my brother, Allen, got married last Saturday, May Day, in Nashville. Yep...Nashville. Last weekend. Well, actually, Franklin which is a community just south of Nashville on the Harpeth River. They planned a beautiful outdoor wedding in a picturesque garden with blooming flowers, a coy pond, and a gazebo right out of a romantic movie.


The weekend weather started promising, a kind of mean tease considering what was to come. Friday was gorgeous, eighty degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Bruce and I took advantage of it. We loaded up the boys early and hit Nashville in time for lunch. We went to Roberts Western World, a honky tonk on lower Broadway.

My boys listen to hip-hop and hard rock respectively, so a honky tonk was an alien landscape for them. The look on my eldest son's face as he listened to the folk singer on stage alternated between disbelief and horror. Torturing him musically provided serious amusement (as did the folk singer's lyrics). I was very glad to see on Roberts' blog that they came through the flood mostly unscathed, and the music hasn't stopped.

The weather remained glorious for the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner. At least Emily and Allen got to practice in the romantic gazebo. A few high clouds were drifting in as we left the rehearsal dinner, but it was still warm and pleasant.

Then Saturday came. Holy cow! We woke early to a torrential downpour, a downpour that still hadn't stopped when we left Sunday afternoon. I have never seen it rain so hard for such a sustained period of time.

Bruce and I ran to a nearby mall Saturday morning with my stepmom, Patricia. We had each forgotten a few vital wardrobe pieces. As we drove into the mall parking lot, we saw the first of dozens of submerged cars we would see that weekend. A Lexus was parked in a corner of the lot that formed a water-filled depression. Water had risen to the doors. We shook our heads in collective disbelief, but shook it off as an anomaly. We should have gotten a clue.

The rain continued all morning. We drove back into Nashville to my brother's house for a brief visit before he had to leave for CJ's (the wedding venue). The drive back to Franklin was hairy. Traffic slowed to a crawl as visibility was down to just a few feet. We were lucky, though. Two hours later the interstate shut down. We found a fun little Cajun place for lunch and got drenched. Then we got drenched again when we went back to the hotel.

To this point, the rain had just been an annoyance. I mourned for Emily's romantic gazebo wedding and my hair which was permanently fuzzy, but I didn't realize we were on the cusp of a major disaster. The first inkling came when Patricia called me while we were getting dressed for the wedding. She and Dad had left early and discovered the main road between Cool Springs, where our hotel was, and Franklin, where the wedding was, was closed due to high water.

I went into full panic mode...which is a nice way of saying I turned into a raving lunatic. For an hour or so, I believed I was going to miss my brother's wedding. I threw dress clothes at my kids and barked at them. I abandoned all attempts to tame my humidified hair (forever immortalized in the wedding photos). Bruce went to the car supposedly to pull it under the portico, but mostly, I suspect, to get away from his temporarily insane wife.

Thank God we keep an old Rand-McNally travel atlas in the car. The GPS was so completely flummoxed as we ignored her directions that we had to turn her off. I'm pretty sure I called her a bitch and told her to shut up. A combination of the map and Patricia's instructions got us around the closed roads and to the wedding on time. The drive was sobering, though. Lawns had become lakes, drainage ditches, rivers. Cars were stalled and submerged on side roads already flooded and impassable. I've never been more thankful for my big, honkin', gas-guzzling SUV than I was last weekend.

By the time we got into CJ's, I was damp, fuzzy-headed, and frazzled, but glory, hallelujah, we made it!

Plan A (romantic garden and gazebo) had been abandoned early in the day. Plan B (covered pavilion) was considered and abandoned as the rain fell sideways and created a river inside the pavilion. Plan C put the wedding in the foyer of CJ's. In spite of being cramped and a bit hot, it was, hands down, the most romantic wedding I've ever been to, and that includes my own.

Every great romance requires the hero and heroine to overcome obstacles and earn their happily ever after. Allen and Emily found each other after September 11th sent them both back home to Nashville. Allen had moved to Austin a year earlier for work, and Emily had moved to New York, looking for adventure. Standing on a bridge between New York and New Jersey as the twin towers crumbled was more adventure than she wanted. The tragedy brought them home, and within a year, they were dating.

The first time I met Emily was at my mother's funeral. Imagine having to meet your boyfriend's family under those circumstances. I liked her immediately, and even in the midst of my grief, I knew she was perfect for my brother. Emily and Allen have met every obstacle, one particularly major, with grace, and more importantly, together.

When Allen said he would have swum to CJ's if necessary, I believed him. The garden wedding would have been nice, but both my brother and Emily knew the only thing that really mattered was getting married. Their happiness was contagious, and everyone crammed into that stuffy foyer was joyous. I cried from the first note sung by one of Emily's bridesmaids right through the recessional. Even my eldest son admitted to getting misty during the ceremony. The love was tangible.

I finally got to meet my brother's eclectic group of friends, and it was obvious that they have all been inspired by Allen and Emily. The best man, Bob, made me cry with his toast at the rehearsal dinner. (Have I mentioned I'm a total sap for romance?) Bob is an accomplished chef. He works regularly in New Orleans and Maine. He also regularly takes off at a moment's notice to some remote part the world. He is a man of many stories, including one in which he flirted with Laura Bush. The story is his, so I'll skip the details. I will say it involved chocolate. Bob can also claim two paintings of Clint Eastwood on the wall at Roberts. They're right by the door if you go.

Bob noted in his toast what a good friend Allen had been to him and how Emily was cut from the same cloth. His words were simple and spoken from the heart, and he made me proud to be Allen's sister. I felt the same way when his friend, Zach, spoke at the reception. Zach plays guitar and has travelled the world on tour with Kenny Chesney.

Zach said, "I've been to a lot of weddings, but I've never been happier to be at a wedding than I am to be here now. Emily and Allen were meant to be together."

The thing about happily ever after is that you don't just earn it once. You have to keep earning it for the rest of your life. The obstacles never stop coming, and they don't get easier to overcome. I feel certain Allen and Emily will weather any storm life throws at them with the same grace they weathered the storm that threatened to ruin their wedding, but didn't.

The vibe was so happy and positive that the rains couldn't quench it. Only one road was open out of Franklin when we finally left, but our joy for Emily and Allen wasn't dampened. The next morning it was evident the rain had gone from epic to apocalyptic, but even the seven hour drive home (it normally takes three and a half) didn't make us sorry we went.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Do the Write thing for Nashville

I spent last weekend in Nashville attending my brother's wedding. A blog is forthcoming on that. I simply haven't had time to put it together yet. While I was there, I had a chance to see some of the devastation. Just getting out of town with closed and flooded interstates was a challenge.

The writing community has put together an online auction with all proceeds going to flood relief in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The auction and all the particulars are here at Do the Write thing for Nashville.

If you are a reader, there are some very cool signed books and ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) donated by authors.