Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Berg’


50-Year-Old Women

July 22, 2009

This one was recommended by Burroughs. Augusten, that is. My favorite author ever. I had to read it. It made me feel many things and I enjoyed the style a lot, it really read like letters and journal entries, which is what the book is made up of. And Augusten recommended it on his list of Books To Make You Feel Like A Kid Again: “The last book I am going to suggest has nothing to do with childhood, so at first it may seem an odd choice. But if childhood is the single time in life when it seemed our nerves were new and we could feel life itself against our skin and there was no dividing the day into segments, where there was only one long “right now” — then The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg is exactly the book to take you back. ” 
Well that’s all it took for me, after an explanation like that. I am always longing to go back to that time when it was okay to do nothing, where we’d get pleasure from seeing a ball go up and down in front of our eyes. On with the excerpts. A little background info, Nan is the main character, a 50-year-old who is running away from home. Italics mean she is writing in her journal, and regular means she is writing to her husband, Martin. 
After looking through my page numbers of excerpts, none are from the letters, only her journal entries. I wonder if that means anything. I am going to bold my favorite parts like the last entry. 

Excerpt #30:
 I have a picture to give you, too. Here is a forties photograph of a woman that I found in last Sunday’s paper. She is seated on the grass, wearing a suit and a hat, her purse centered in her lap. She is smiling, but her eyes ache, and behind her, I know this, her hands are clenched. She can’t relax. She has forgotten the grass. I kept staring at her, thinking, this is me. Checking my purse three times for keys before I leave the house. Stacking mail in order of the size of the envelopes. Answering the phone every single time it rings, writing “paper towels” on the grocery list the second after I use the last one. I too have forgotten the grass. But I used to do one-handed cartwheels and then collapse into it for the fine sight of the blades close up. And there was no sense of any kind of time. And I was not holding in my stomach or thinking what does my opinion mean to others. I was not regretting any part of myself. There was only sun-rich color, and smell, and the slight give of the soft earth beneath me. My mind was in my heart, anchored like a bright kite in a safe place . (9)

For this one, Nan just fell almost face-first into the cement sidewalk, and this man that was behind her runs up and makes sure she’s okay. They start talking. And this is Nan writing about it later.

Excerpt #31:
          I’ll bet his name is Willy or something like that, and he puts down beer in the VFW hall in the late afternoons, his hat pushed to the back of his head. I’ll bet he has many key son his key chain and that the fob is tacky and meaningful. Baloney must be in his refrigerator. His socks must be thin and cheap and the blue that turns purple, and he must not be strict about how many days in a row they are put to the task. 
          Our steps made such a fine sound on the roller-coaster sidewalks. Our conversation was so light and arbitrary and I felt like my imagination was off the leash and rolling in the grass that had turned bluish in the setting sun.
          I still feel that way now, that my imagination is free, that I have a red carpet unfurled before me like Dorothy’s yellow brick road and I can go on and on. Speak, this journal says. I’m listening to you. Go ahead and say anything. Confess. Exult. Weep. Nothing makes me walk away. Nothing bores me.  (31)

Excerpt #32:
On my twentieth birthday, I was out driving with a girlfriend and we picked up a man I have thought about a million times since. He sat in the back with his arm draped across the seat as though his invisible companion were along for the ride, too. My girlfriend and I were kidding around a little bit and he was laughing at everything we said and soon we were all laughing, it was the kind of thing where the laughter feeds on itself, where the sound of someone else’s snorting and wheezing keeps you going until you don’t even know why you started laughing in the first place – and you don’t care. It’s so good for you, that kind of hard laughter, so cleansing – you feel like your liver’s been held up and hosed down, your heart relieved of a million grimy weights. (91-92)


Truth or Dare

January 15, 2009

As anticipated, another excerpt from the same book as the previous entry.

The writing in this isn’t heart-stopping, it’s not witty, but it still made me smile the way you can only smile after reading something that affects you in whatever way. It’s even different than the way you smile when you’re woken up by sunlight shining on your face. (I know that might sound like a horrible way to be woken up, but when I was in Egypt, I slept on the shore in a adirondack chair. (Except it was the plastic kind where you can stick your feet in between the things…you know?) The air was the perfect temperature and humidity and I noticed the inside of my eyelids getting lighter and lighter, rich oranges and reds. I let the sun warm my face and kept my eyes closed for a little longer, that rare state between being asleep and being fully conscious.) Anyway, let’s get on with it. This book is a collection of short stories and this one’s called Truth or Dare. It’s about three 50-something year old women named Trudy, Joyce, and Laura. They all met in a Yoga Plus class and I guess I’ll put a tiny excerpt from the beginning of the story. 

Excerpt #10:
The three of them are relatively new friends, having met a month ago, when they all signed up for Yoga Plus! in a just-opened studio. They were in the back row, next to one another, when the teacher told them to assume a certain pose and shout out, “I love my beautiful face!” (This, Laura assumed, was the “plus” part.) None of them shouted it. They said it, but they didn’t shout it. When they assumed another pose and the teacher told them to shout out, “I love my beautiful rectum!” they all burst out laughing. “Focus!” the teacher said, but they couldn’t stop laughing, and finally they left and went across the street and had lunch, where they agreed they might have said, “I appreciate my rectum.” (161) 

Is it a little strange that I’m reading a book about 50 year old women? This isn’t the first one, let me tell you.  Anne Tyler’s The Ladder Years is the same kind of idea, even though it’s just one women in one story as opposed to many short stories. I’m 17, I’ve never had a boyfriend except the unmentionalbe joke of a two month relationship in seventh grade, I don’t even know anyone, not even my mnothers friends, who have joined Weight Watchers in an attempt to better their view of themselves. Yet, I can relate to every character in every story. Really, highly enjoyable. 
But really, every age has its “crisis” right? Except for the first decade – it’s bliss. Only we’re too young to know how amazing it is, so the next decade is missing your childhood, wishing times were simpler, and then towards the end it gets to be “who am I? what do I want to do with my life? Where do I want to go to college?” and all those other cliche daunting questions. 20s, I’m not entirely sure what the crisis is. Maybe once you get the questions from the decade before answered, you start second-guessing and doubting yourself. It all evens out by your 30s, hopefully. But then the middle age crisis sets in, suddenly you’ve realized a third of your life is over and you’ve done next to nothing. You look at your stomach and hips and realize that your worst nightmare has come true. I think I’m kind of melding 30s and 40s together. Your hair grays, things in your body are harder to operate, you need reading glasses…

Where did THAT come from? Let’s get back to the three ex-Yoga Plus! participants. They dare each other to call one of their old boyfriends up and meet them again for lunch or dinner, whatever is more convenient and timely. I’ve chosen to type up Trudy’s story, even though they’re all very touching and humorous. If I skip a couple sentences or interjections from the other two as Tracy tells her story, I’ll put ellipses. (Alright so of course I ended up typing the whole thing. The specificity is really important and I found that any time I’d omit two or three sentences it’d ruin the flow. Plus, the author herself uses ellipses a couple times so that could get confusing. If you’re too lazy or impatient to read through the whole thing, it’s your loss. Give it a try first, you’ll realize how easy your eyes gobble up the text, enjoying every letter. It really is a nice story. Go to the library and read the whole thing, including the twelve short stories!)

Sure, why not advertise the book again. The entry NEEDS a picture and I cant think of anything else. Plus, I did go and switch the large print for the regular print so this is being meticulously accurate.

Sure, why not advertise the book again. The entry NEEDS a picture and I can't think of anything else. Plus, I did go and switch the large print for the regular print so this is being meticulously accurate.



Excerpt #11:
“Okay, so as you know, I called Don Christianson. But before I tell you about our lunch, I have to tell you about when I dated him. I was twenty-eight years old and thinking about marrying Jim, but I wasn’t quite sure. I signed up to take this adult education class in dream interpretation, and that’s when I met Don. He was really handsome, but he didn’t have much of a personality – real quiet, not at all witty, which Jim was, and I was very much attracted to witty guys. To mean guys, too of course, which Jim also was.
“Anyway, in the class, we were supposed to report our dreams every week, and then we would all talk about them. What was really interesting was that, after a while, you saw a pattern; people would dream about the same kinds of things over and over. It got so that you would have been able to tell who had had the dream without anyone identifying themselves. All of us were working out different things: my dreams showed I was obviously ambivalent about getting married, and Don was struggling with whether he should quit his job and pursue his art full-time. He kept dreaming of fish, and then he begun to paint them.”
      “Say, he was exciting,” Joyce says.
“No, but his paintings were absolutely magical,” Trudy says. “He brought them to class. They were watercolors of all these different kinds of fish, and I had never understood until then how very beautiful fish were. I told Don I wanted to buy the lesser amberjack from him – its colors were all these muted pastels: apricot and blue and pink and silver – and he said he’d give it to me if I’d go out with him three times.”
“Bold for a shy guy!” Laura says.
“I know. |And I really didn’t want to go out with him, but I wanted that painting. So I said okay. For the first date, he took me out to dinner to a really nice French place – I was way underdressed – and then, just as the sun was going down, he brought me to this tiny little park by the river which I had never seen. It was called Lucy Wilder National Park, and it had a lovely wrought-iron entrance with the name on it, and it was about the size of my living room. I mean, tiny, tiny park! With all these pretty flowers growing all over the place! I put a whole bunch of them in my hair, and they kept falling out, I remember Don said, ‘And the forecast tonight is intermittent flowers.’ I told Don I’d never even heard of this park and yet I lived only a few blocks away, and I asked him how he’d found it. He said, oh, he just walked around and he found things. He found things, and interesting things happened to him all the time, I really should hang out with him, and I’d see.”
“Sounds like a pretty cool guy,” Laura says. “What did you not like about him?”
“Trudy shrugs. “I just didn’t like him. Who knows why? Sometimes you just don’t like someone even when you should. You can’t force these things.”
“It’s pheromones,” Joyce says. “You have to like their smell. I saw it on the DIscovery Channel.”
“Anyway,” Trudy says. “On the second date, when he took me to an art gallery, I all of a sudden got really annoyed. I thought, I don’t need you to show me art.  I started being really nasty to him. He would say something about a painting, and I’d say nothing back. He asked at one point if I’d like to go sailing with him for our third date, and I said no, I hated boats, but the truth is I love to be on a sailboat; it’s one of the most peaceful things in the world to me. I just kept on getting nastier and nastier, and finally I decided it wasn’t worth it to go out with him again, the hell with the panting, the hell with fish. So I told him, I said, Look, it’s pretty clear this is not working for me, so let’s just cut bait now, ha, ha. And he got all sad and put his hands in his pockets and nodded and said, Okay, that’s okay, he understood, thanks anyway for going out with him the two times I did. There was another couple in the gallery, and they were giving me the stink eye something fierce – of course I deserved it. And I just wanted out of there, so I said I’d get myself home, I was thinking I’d take the bus. He took my hand and said, ‘I’m sorry this didn’t work out,’ and I snatched it back and said, ‘Yeah, have a nice life.’ ”
“Boy, you really were terrible to him,” Joyce says.
“I know,” Trudy says. I know. And then, listen to this, I turned on my heel and started to strut out of there and fell down. I don’t know what happened, I think the floor was really slick or something, but I fell down and broke my ankle! It hurt like hell and I started crying. And Don picked me up and carried me out of there and hailed a cab because it was faster than walking to his car, and he told the driver to go to the nearest ER. He waited for me to get seen, and the whole time, I was bitching about how much it hurt and how I didn’t have any insurance and I didn’t have any money. Not a word about ‘Thank you, Don.’ When they called me into the treatment room, eh asked if I wanted him to come in with me, and I said, ‘No, I do not.’ Then when I came out, he was gone. The nurse at the reception desk said he’d left a note for me. I still have that note. He had paid the bill for me, and his  note said, “Think of this as something one friend does for another. Repay me as you can, and you can start by taking care of yourself in every way.” 
“Are you kidding?” Joyce asks.
Trudy shakes her head. Tears tremble in her eyes. “And I never paid him back one cent. I dropped out of the dream class, and I never saw him again. And I was sitting around one day and I thought, “I’m going to find Don Christianson and apologize to him and pay him the money. I remember the amount exactly, it was two hundred dollars and eleven cents. So I called a few numbers and found him, and he was such a sweetheart, still; just so warm, and he said of course he’d like to see me, in fact he had something for me.” 
“The fish painting,” Laura says. 
“No,” Trudy says, “it wasn’t that. That’s what I thought it was going to be too, but it wasn’t that.” 
“Is he married?” Joyce asks. 
“So was it his wife he had for you? Did he want to show you the beautiful and kind person he ended up marrying who is a much better human being than you?”
“Thank you,” Trudy says. 
“Well, I mean, I’m just looking at this from his point of view. How sweet vengeance would be for him.”
“I met him at Paisano’s, over on the East Side. And his wife didn’t come, but his kids did. Two beautiful adult children, a boy and a girl, wonderfully good-looking, and obviously they just loved their dad to death. But it was more than that. They were very solicitous of him, and all of the sudden I thought,
Oh, God, he’s sick. He didn’t look sick, except that he was quite thin, but then he was thin all those years ago, too. But he ate almost nothing, and finally he revealed that he had stomach cancer, and it wasn’t going too well. His kids just sat there when he told me this, being quiet and supportive – I mean, you could feel their love, and a kind of pride they had in him. I was wondering what he’d told them about me. I don’t think he said anything bad; they were awfully nice to me. Anyway, he said the treatment hadn’t helped and he was basically terminal now, just kind of trying to enjoy his last days, and he was so glad I’d called. He asked his children to get the car, told me he was sorry but he really had to go home now – I think he was starting to hurt. ‘Oh, that’s okay,’ I said, ‘thank you for coming,’ and I reached for the check and he tried to take it for me and I said, ‘Don’t you dare, I still owe you for that hospital bill.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and imagine how much it is now, what with all the interest.’ And then eh said he hoped I hadn’t felt bad about him paying that bill, he’d had a really good job, it had been no problem for him to pay it.” 
Joyce wipes a tear off her face, then laughs at herself.
“Oh, get ready, there’s more,” Trudy says. “He said, ‘I told you I had something for you.’ And of course I was wondering where he had hidden the fish painting. But he reached in his wallet and pulled out a pressed flower. It was one that had fallen from my hair that day in the park. He put it in my hand and said, ‘It would mean a lot to me if you’d take care of this.'”
“Oh, God,” Laura says, and now there are tears in her eyes, too.
“What did you do with it?” Joyce asks, and Laura hopes Trudy didn’t throw it out.
“It’s being framed,” Trudy says. “I found the most exquisite framing for it, and it will be ready on Monday. I’m going to keep it by my bed to remind me to…Well, to remind me to be careful. You know?” She swallows. “So. That was my date.”
“Will you see him again?” Joyce asks in a blubbery voice, and Trudy says softly, “I don’t see how.” (192-196) 

-The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted And Other Small Acts of Liberation by Elizabeth Berg


It’s been a month and one day!

January 4, 2009

I did have some excerpts from books I’ve already returned to the library that I wanted to post…but you have to realize it takes a certain amount of effort to first of all, get up, because when I read I am in my most comfortable state. Then write the page number in a place you look at a lot, which would be my student planner (only this would be vacation so you know why I didn’t want to look at that. In the end I just enjoyed the passages by myself.) 

2009 started 4 days ago now and it is surreal, to say the least. It doesn’t really feel like it yet because I don’t write the date that much unless I’m at school. But this is it. The months left for me in high school are numbered. Surreal. Things I will try to do are on my Facebook.

Today’s passage is from a book recommended by Augusten Burroughs, my favorite author. READ HIS BOOKS, you will want to be his best friend. I fell in love with the memoir field of writing thanks to him. 
I have to say I feel pretty cool reading a book recommended by someone as amazing as him. (Read his books to find out why). 
Anyways, this book is the type where the pages fly by because it’s written in such an inviting manner, like the author is one of us, not some pretentious well-spoken narrator whose goal is to confuse you, like say The Scarlet Letter. (Sorry for the classics lovers out there.) I smile at every other sentence and some pages, every sentence. I’m leaving the title unknown till the end of the passage. The main character has just bought too many donuts to eat. She is giving herself one liberating day where she eats whatever she wants, and to hell with her Weight Watchers program. For just one day.

Excerpt #9 :
I got in my car and I opened the coffee and had a deep whiff and a taste. Actually, I guess I have begun to prefer milk in my coffee because the cream tasted whoa. Next I opened the lid on the box and had a good whiff of the donuts. And then I looked around and there was no one so I ran my tongue along every single surface of every single donut. Man. It was sexual in a way, but more yeasty and better. Then I sucked the filling out of the Boston Kreme mixed with al ittle chocolate frosting. I dipped the powdered cake in the coffee and had one bite; ditto the chocolate-frosted. I went on in this manner until I would say about a third of the donuts were gone. And then I am sorry to say I threw the rest away. I would like to say I ate tidily and cut off where bite marks were and gave the rest to a homeless person along wit a couple of finskis, but I did not. I threw them in the garbage,where maybe later they were found by a homeless person anyway or at least by pigeons, who, depending on where they live, can actually have it pretty good. Though sudden violent death is alwaysa  problem for them. But probably they have no attachments, which helps.
        I was pretty full, so I went for a walk in a park to make room for lunch. It was a nice day and there were joggers, with their determined, miserable faces, and lovers lying in the grass thinking it would last forever. There were lots of dogs and one was a bulldog puppy, which, please, has cornered the market on cuteness. The owner was this very thin woman who looked sort of bitchy, which, think about it, most very thin women do – even when they smile, it’s like grimacing. Fat people are often miserable too, but at least they look jolly even though it’s really mostly them apologizing like, “Sorry, sorry, sorry I’m taking up so much room,” “Sorry I’m offending your idea of bodily aesthetics,” “Sorry I’m clogging my arteries and giving a thumbs-up to diabetes.” And spilling over airline seats, which, come on, even for skinny people those seats are ridiculous. Metal girdles. (6-7)

-The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg

Yes, I picked the picture with the Large Print ad on purpose because that is the copy I’m reading. It was the only copy they had; the 4 regular copies were all checked out and I got into this state where I NEEDED the book. So I’m reading what is intended to be for those who  need reading glasses AND enlarged text. To be honest it feels a little childish. Maybe I’ll put the regular copy on hold. More excerpts from this coming soon, I’m sure!