Don’t Fall Down

On one of the last and hottest summer days in “The Great Gatsby,” Daisy asks, as the bored elite lazily sit around fanning themselves, “What shall we do with ourselves today, and the day after that?” To which Jordan, Daisy’s best friend, answers, “Don’t be morbid. Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

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If you read my “Pretty in Pink” back in July, you may remember that I alluded to “The Great Gatsby” in that blog too. It is my favorite book. When I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel during my sophomore year in high school, not only did I highlight this line, I put a star next to it…and didn’t think about it again. Until about six years later, when the words came rushing back to me: I was closing up the pool where I’d been lifeguarding into September weekends when a sudden cool wind rustled the trees. A few orphaned leaves danced into the air, then hung for a moment before dropping into the water – which I had just finished skimming. Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall… I would be graduating college at the end of this academic year, and I thought, This is an unmistakable sign that change is coming – for me, for the trees, for us all. (Twenty-one year-olds are dramatic. And if you’re wondering why I remember this, it’s because the dramatic 21-year-old me kept a very dramatic diary during this time, which the older nostalgic me likes to read every so often.) I have returned to that line again and again during losses of love and loved ones, and when I started my own “chapter two” with a new marriage and new career.

Anyway, the reason I know I put a star next to that highlighted line is because during that second career as a high-school teacher of English, I stood with that tattered book in my hand at the head of a classroom and looked out into a sea of faces, asking if anyone had, after last night’s reading, highlighted that line, and if so, why? A few had, and almost all had put a question mark on the page instead of a star. I am tempted to go online and see how literati may have interpreted those words, but I don’t want to. I like mine: After the heat and stillness of summer (literal or metaphoric), it’s the nip in the air that gives us goose bumps, shakes our bones – reminding us that we are alive. In the face of life’s crispness, we must be resilient because, as the dropping leaves remind us, nothing stands still or unchanged for long.

But don’t be morbid.

Many of us love the autumn, but few of us love the “collateral damage” as Nature begins preparing for winter, or favorably view this season’s metaphor in the cycle of life. My mother used to listen to Frank Sinatra sing “It Was a Very Good Year” and I still remember… But now the days grow short/I’m in the autumn of the year/And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs/From the brim to the dregs….

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Yikes! Turn off that station and tune in (below) to some pick-me-ups for the fall.

1. Life starts again, and so does school. Some continuing education classes run for a few weeks during the semester and seats may still be open at your closest county college or continuing education programs at local schools. Also consider Michaels’ crafts classes. (You may see me in the Wilton cake-decorating workshop.)

I need help.

I need help.

2. Decorate and reincarnate. Last year, while raking, we found a knotted branch that had broken off our maple. It was…dead. But after drying it out and spiraling a piece of antique fabric around it, it has experienced a rebirth as an ornamental valance in our living room. We’re on the lookout for more this fall so we can do the entire downstairs in “early bark.”
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3. Pluck up. Ecclesiastes reminds us there is purpose in everything. And a time for…pumpkin-picking! Visit a local pumpkin patch, and bring home a gourd or two…or seven.
LINUS AND SALLY WAIT IN THE PUMPKIN PATCH FOR THE GREAT PUMPKIN TO APPEAR

4. Trick or treat! That’s right, dress up. Better yet, dress up as a superhero. But do it on Halloween or people will stare.
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5. Be blue. I am not a climatologist, so I’m unaware if there’s any scientific background to what I’m about to say: The fall sky is not the same sky you see in spring or summer. Step outside and take it in, be in it. It’s also not the same blue you saw when you were 21. And that’s probably a good thing.
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And if you do plan on falling down, here’s the only place to do it….
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Happy Autumn!

Life by the Book

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The sky was a little gray when I set out on my very first by-myself walk to the center of town. There would be streets to cross, and I’d practiced long how to look both ways. My memory insists this was the summer before I turned 8, and in those days, in a small town, 8 was plenty old enough to make this maiden “voyage”. My destination was the new bookstore, and I wanted to read “Charlotte’s Web.” How grown up I felt, handing the clerk the $5 bill Mom had given me, and getting change. This was, obviously, a long time ago.

It was only a few minutes into my return trip that the darkening clouds lived up to their threat. Lightning fractured the sky and thunder rumbled. I slipped the book under my shirt and ran, jumping over rivulets and puddles, and rounding the last corner to see Mom on the top porch step, waiting.

But instead of going inside to dry off, I plopped into one of our wicker chairs, pulling my knees to my chest, and broke open the spine of my brand-new book against my bent legs. I remember the first scene, with Papa getting the ax because he needed to take care of the runt born the night before. I remember the sound of the rain pelting the porch roof, and the belief that little Wilbur would be protected.

When I’m not working as an educator here at A Woman’s Place (AWP), I publish nonfiction. But for pleasure, I read fiction only. Because pretty much always, fiction ends happily. And if you were to check out my profile on the online book club Goodreads, you will see I prefer books about women (probably because I am one), but specifically about women who, despite odds or obstacles, come to live a flourishing life.

Here, in the AWP Education and Training department, we are all avid readers, so I polled my coworkers, Christina Baer, Christine Ferrante, and Liesbeth Bisschops, about their favorite strong-women books. Together, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, this list of our favorite female-centric fiction (or nearly fiction) titles from the last decade: “The Paris Wife,” by Paula McLain; “Fortune’s Rock,” by Anita Shreve; “Ahab’s Wife – or, the Star Gazer,” by Sena Jeter Naslund; “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” by Khaled Hosseini; “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” by Lisa See; “The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Red Tent,” by Anita Diamant; “The Tea Rose,” by Jennifer Donnelly; “Room,” by Emma Donoghue; “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins; “The Time In Between,” by Maria Dueñas; and “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett. (Did you catch the two “Wife” and “Secret” titles? Mmmmm.)

When I think about my own history of loving books, it begins on a rainy day on a porch in a safe and loving home. According to our Mission Statement, A Woman’s Place envisions a society where all individuals are safe in their relationships and can flourish. Safe physically and emotionally. Sadly, there are too many women, men, children who are not flourishing because they are not safe. We always make sure to acknowledge callers to our hotline as being strong, courageous in taking that first step in taking back their lives. And what keeps us doing what we’re doing is holding onto the belief they will come to be protected, hoping that in real life, their stories end happily.