A DAY FOR ALL WOMEN

At long last, Alice Munro, the woman and her words, awarded the ulti­mate lit­er­ary prize, the Nobel.

She has not spent her life long­ing for this, or for acclaim, fame, celebrity or the desire to obtain the trap­pings of a lux­u­ri­ous lifestyle.  It’s been about the work, about the per­fec­tion of each sen­tence, within each story.

She tells life­time events in para­graphs so still and yet so active with life that one read­ing is never enough.  I was given Dance of the Happy Shades by my mother. It was Munro’s first book; she was 37 when it was pub­lished.  I was 18 years old, and still remem­ber the story, as if I read it yesterday.

Through more than 40 years I have read every­thing she gave us, waited for each new story, col­lec­tion, book.  Ear­lier this year she announced she was fin­ished writ­ing, not tired of writ­ing, but done.  And it is a job well done, in a career she cor­rectly noted is hard work, not glam­orous activ­ity.  In Canada, away from the fancy par­ties, high-end din­ners, tele­vi­sions appear­ances and all the rest of the glit­ter that’s become part of the iden­tity of the suc­cess­ful writer, Alice Munro wrote, and wrote and wrote.  Her sto­ries make me think in a more nuanced and tex­tured way, have offered a wider world inside the smaller ones she detailed. She made me under­stand the nobil­ity of this craft.

Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize is a vic­tory for all women, not just writ­ers, pub­lished ones or oth­er­wise, but for all of us. Alice Munro gave women’s sto­ries impor­tance — our small and large deci­sions, tri­umphs and dis­ap­point­ments.  She encap­su­lated the com­plex­ity of rela­tion­ships, their inher­ent heart­break as well as life-affirming con­nec­tions.  She has done this as no other writer in my time.  Alice Munro’s sto­ries tell us that we mat­ter, that even if hid­den from the urban throb of excite­ment, women’s lives mat­ter — that we exist – that we con­tinue to hold our place in the con­ti­nu­ity of human­ity, that we are present in the moment itself.

And so, to Alice Munro, a thank you beyond the power of words to con­vey, for all you have given so many of us. Cel­e­brate with us as we cel­e­brate you. Your mod­esty and humil­ity have never failed to move and impress me, but this is your moment to soar. I am float­ing high above earth on a cloud that says… YES, YES … Alice Munro The Nobel Win­ner, a woman for all our lives, for all time.

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Year Two: Day 255 – A Decade + 1 Year

Today is Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2012, the 255th Day of the Year.

This is the 11th year since the attacks on the 11th day of Sep­tem­ber in 2001.

In Man­hat­tan the day began in a rou­tine way, the way week­days begin here, but for the fact it was a pri­mary elec­tion and that sky was a peace­ful blue. By the end of the morn­ing the day would be remem­bered for attacks and death — The World Trade Tow­ers. The Pen­ta­gon. A field in Pennsylvania.

In the days imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the tragedy, our city was a killing field and a cathe­dral. Things sec­u­lar seemed sacred. We were softer, kinder, and qui­eter. We were a wounded city. Grief was in the air, I could feel it in every exchange I had with another per­son, whether a friend or stranger.

I wrote these words then:

The first time I approached it was just at dusk. The steel skele­ton of what had been the mighty tower hung sus­pended as though it were a piece of scenery for a play. But it was too large for any theater’s stage, and the scope of the tragedy too mas­sive for the con­fine­ment of the playwright’s craft. It was a stark shard, and on that shard, as on the attacks itself, the nation and the world has attached much mean­ing and symbolism.” *

Eleven years later, the huge shard is gone. A grow­ing new tower is vis­i­ble from the end of the ter­race. Some feel the tower avenges some of the deaths by mak­ing a state­ment that we won’t be intim­i­dated. I don’t focus on the new tower. Instead I think of the pools of water, the reflect­ing waters that now stand where the base of the tow­ers once existed. Those waters and the names of each per­son lost that day are what I think of today. Water can be heal­ing and in sacred or reli­gious rit­u­als sig­ni­fies renewal, cleans­ing, rebirth.

Hatred took down the tow­ers. Soft­ness in Man­hat­tan is in short sup­ply again. We’re almost as we were, and that’s not nec­es­sar­ily good. There is war, blood­shed, vio­lence and hatred in every cor­ner of the globe. My speck in the uni­verse – this island of Man­hat­tan — is part of a larger national polit­i­cal drama unfold­ing as we near the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Eleven years after 9–11, the rhetoric is angry, mis­lead­ing, and accusatory. We are shown maps with red and blue states as the news com­men­ta­tors excit­edly chat­ter about the close­ness of the race to the White House. I see divi­sion. I see any­thing but a United States of Amer­ica. I wish it were not the case that tragedy seems to be what binds us and not compromise.

Heal­ing Waters. Waters Heal.

I think of the lives of all who died that day, not just their man­ner of death. I think of the many new can­cers now dis­cov­ered and named because of the poi­son that went into the bod­ies and sys­tems of the first-responders and oth­ers at the site. I think of the gen­tle water and all the words that can’t be said on a memo­r­ial stone of what con­sti­tutes a mass grave. May each name be for a blessed memory.

May we find peace in the world and on our shores. May we retreat from prej­u­dice, intol­er­ance and the arro­gance of assum­ing we are always right, and the other per­son is always wrong.

Tonight I will go the far cor­ner of the ter­race and look to see if the white beams of light are being dis­played this year, as they usu­ally are. The ghost tow­ers I call them each year. But even if they are not, I will see the light of hope that we will move for­ward in a way befit­ting a coun­try founded on lib­erty and free­dom. And dream we can move into a decade of compassion.

* “From the Shards” by Alida Brill in To Mend the World, Mar­jorie Agosin and Bet­ty­Jean Craig, edi­tors, White Pine Press, 2002

©Alida Brill/From This Ter­race 2012

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YEAR 2: DAY 235: SUMMERING THROUGH

Today is August 22, 2012 the 235th day of the year.

I last reported (that’s a fairly glib use of the word) to you From This Ter­race on the 11th day of a newly minted year. Although I wrote with hon­esty about reach­ing a place where I wasn’t wait­ing, I think I must have been wait­ing, as we all do. It’s the human response to life’s chal­lenges and per­haps an indi­ca­tion of hope for change.

I’m not recant­ing. I’m con­fess­ing I couldn’t live up to the ide­al­ized higher self I thought I had come close to touch­ing in the heady days of early Jan­u­ary. At least I glimpsed what I thought I could achieve. Then many things col­lided at once. The temp­ta­tion to push aside what I felt wasn’t essen­tial over­took me. And silence ensued, and did it ever last. 224 days of it. The Stone Sage Lion began to roar at me and that’s quite a feat.

Silence is a writer’s best friend, or so I’ve been told. The great Russ­ian poet Anna Akhma­tova said that there was only one lux­ury a writer could not live with­out — the abil­ity to be absolutely alone. I’ve been mostly alone in the days of this year — if not always in actu­al­ity, a still soli­tude has taken up res­i­dence in my brain. It’s not felt like a lux­ury, but more a defeat occa­sioned by ill­ness and life choices. It’s made me think about silence and soli­tude. It’s made me remem­ber the writer and scholar Car­olyn Heil­brun who spoke about soli­tude being some­thing one craved only if one did not have to endure it all of the time.

Sum­mer is a silent time in my part of the world. Sup­press your laugh­ter. In fact, my Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hood is quiet because peo­ple go away. They “do sum­mer” and I don’t “do sum­mer” any longer. Sum­mer was never my friend but I pre­tended we were inti­mates. Even­tu­ally, the pre­tense gave way to the real­ity of my life. I stopped being a truth-evader. Sum­mer and I do not get along well. We’re not a good match – I think of us as a con­stantly quar­rel­ing cou­ple. So rather than win­ter­ing through as Rilke com­mands in his son­net, I’ve sum­mered through. I’ve decided what’s essen­tial is to com­bine silence with con­nec­tions, even if those take the form of sus­tained email con­ver­sa­tions with friends. I still believe C.S. Lewis was right when he said that we read to know we are not alone…but I now add my foot­note to his com­ment … I think many of us write to know we are not alone. That is surely the case for me.

So, am I wait­ing for some­thing? Yes, I am. I am wait­ing to learn how to let go of extreme expec­ta­tions for myself that blind­side me to the small­est plea­sures of a day. Early this morn­ing, I was awak­ened by the sound of birds in the mid­dle of this com­pletely urban land­scape. They were rum­mag­ing through the terrace’s hang­ing flower boxes to see if by chance there was a tasty morsel for them to enjoy for break­fast. They were chat­ter­ing to each other, and to me.

From This Ter­race is Open…again…finally.

©Alida Brill/From This Ter­race 2012

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YEAR 2: DAY 11 — WELCOME TO 2012: NO WAITING REQUIRED

Today is the 11th Day of 2012, the 2nd year of From This Terrace.

“The high­est activ­ity a human being can attain is learn­ing for under­stand­ing because to under­stand is to be free.” — Baruch de Spin­oza (1632–1677)

So much of what we do and think about involves wait­ing. We wait to grow up and wait to get a job only to spend years in jobs wait­ing to retire. Once we are grown up many of us want to be young again and will do many expen­sive and dan­ger­ous things to look as young as we did when we were wait­ing to be older.

We wait to fall in love with the per­fect per­son, often over­look­ing the love that would have lasted. Then we wait to get a divorce or wait to find the next flawed com­pan­ion or spouse con­vinc­ing our­selves that it will be the right one, only to wait for them to make a mis­take or miss a step. So we can wait to start our lives over once again.

We wait for mir­a­cle diets or mir­a­cle cures for what is wrong with our bod­ies. We wait to have chil­dren or once we have them wait for them to grow up and leave us alone. When they do, we wait for them to call us, spend more time with us, or come back home. If they come back home, we wait for them to get a job and move out. Some of us are wait­ing to go to heaven when we die, but if we become ill will sub­ject our­selves to almost any­thing in order not to die.

A lone leaf on a branch.

It seems the human con­di­tion is about wait­ing for some­thing other than what we have or wait­ing to go or be some­where other than where we are — in life, in the age cycle, in the world, in rela­tion­ships and in our careers.

I can’t help but won­der what the cal­cu­la­tion of time lost wait­ing would tell us about the way we have spent our time allot­ted on this planet. Surely it would tell us that too often we have failed to find joy in the moments. The eter­nity of now is a con­cept much under-appreciated but one that forces me out of the wait­ing room of my life.

For 2012 I decided not to make res­o­lu­tions I’ll only break in the first month. This year I didn’t promise myself once again I would stop watch­ing very late night tele­vi­sion com­pletely. I refused to con myself into believ­ing I had eaten my last over-the-top choco­late or that I would give up car­bo­hy­drates. I’ve stopped writ­ing down exactly how many pages I will write each day or how many friends I promise to see this year.

Most impor­tantly, I’ve stopped wait­ing for the per­fect life to occur because despite all that is dif­fi­cult … maybe, just maybe, my life is per­fect, as it is. It’s all in the definition.

Here are my thoughts on Not Wait­ing for 2012:

I am not wait­ing to get well.

I am not wait­ing in fear that I’ll get sicker.

I am not wait­ing to be loved and under­stood in pre­cise and rigid ways.

I am not wait­ing to die.

I am not wait­ing to suffer.

I am not wait­ing to change oth­ers or myself for the better.

I am not wait­ing to be sur­prised by 2012’s goodness.

I am not wait­ing to be dis­ap­pointed by 2012’s events.

I am liv­ing. Just liv­ing because it is a full and com­plex job.

I am resolved to enjoy liv­ing in each moment of each new day.

Wak­ing up each morn­ing to start liv­ing over and over again each day until I say good­bye to 2012.

And won’t wait in order to begin again, begin anew.

Because I am not wait­ing I am free.

I am present.

“Eter­nity is not some­thing that begins after you are dead. It is going on all the time. We are in it now.” Char­lotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935)

©Alida Brill 2012

 

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