Tuesday, February 23, 2010


My head is spinning right now and I veer between maniacal laughter and hot, cascading tears. After many days of leaving messages at several different phone numbers, I finally received a call back from social services. It was another fast lesson in how to feel like less than a human being who matters. I won’t even go into detail over the attitude I got after asking a few questions! I asked specifically about a program written up on NYC.gov regarding a Rental Arrears Grant for individuals in the legal possession of an apartment who may or may not be on public assistance. Unfortunately I cannot find anybody who knows anything about this program. Every city employee I talk to calls it the "one-shot deal". Supposedly, because I receive social security disability every month, if I am given the money to help pay my back rent through the one-shot deal program, I will have to pay it back in a year! The social services employee I was speaking to told me to find a less expensive apartment. It’s not like I am living in luxury right now. I need an apartment on the first floor or with an elevator and no steps up to the building entrance. That’s not easy to come by in this city. When I asked her where and how to find this apartment, since I only pay $1,000 rent as it is, she told me she doesn't have any information for me. I said the least expensive apartment I saw listed was $800 and it was on the third floor without an elevator. Her reply was, “But you'd have $200 to live on!” Hello?! That won't pay for my monthly prescriptions, never mind food. And I cannot walk 3 flights of stairs every day or every other day....

I said this is ridiculous and humiliating. She said, “You have to find a family member or third-party to help you or get a roommate“. Ti, from Book Chatter, had this great idea and kindly suggested it. I wish I could but my apartment is a studio and the one room really isn't large enough to divide into 2. I said so my only option is to be dependant on someone else? Like I already said, this is humiliating and extremely demeaning. This phone was not a great way to start the day! I have to remind myself that I didn't cause my health problems although it certainly feels that way many days.
I am looking at different jobs and thanks to some of you, such as Willoughby and The Bumbles, I have some good ideas. But finding a job takes time which I don't have a lot of. I am really afraid I am going to end up on the street without a place to live. My life has been a struggle for most of the years I've been a live and I'm beginning to wonder if that will ever change. Some of the problem now, too, is that I don't really believe in myself anymore and I need that confidence. I need to believe I have the right to a good life. It's difficult when you're constantly battling for self-worth. But it ticks me off that I feel embarrassed and wrong to be looking for help, especially since I just need the help until I can get regular work. And I'm not going to be able to get that work if I don't have somewhere to live. Ugh!

I want to thank all of you who left kind words and/or great advice for me a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about what was going on in my life. I meant to reply to all of you and I will I just have so much going on in my end and so many phone calls and emails and research I feel I have to do but I’m also just trying to get through the days which isn’t always easy. Please know how much I appreciate your friendship. I know prior to now my blog was primarily about books and cats but now it’s going to be about my life, too. I realize I will probably lose some readers because of that which I am truly sorry about. But I think it’s important that people know how difficult life can be for disabled people in situations similar to my own and how little this great country of ours cares. If I can help to get the word out by posting my story here, I will.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Eternal on the Water

Title: Eternal on the Water
Author: Joseph Monninger
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6833-2
Pages: 368
Release Date: February 16, 2010
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Beautifully written, emotionally-charged, character driven story about love and life and the power of the human spirit to accept what will be and joyfully celebrate what you have. You won't want to put it down.

Publisher: From the day Jonathan Cobb and Mary Fury meet on the banks of Maine’s Allagash River, they approach life with the same adventurous spirit with which they conquer the river’s treacherous rapids. But rivers do not let go so easily. And so for them, the life they love demands equally that they confront the most difficult of choices, and they vow, when time and illness necessitate, to return to the river together so that Mary can make one final journey. Set against the rugged wilderness of Maine, the exotic islands of Indonesia, the sweeping panoramas of Yellowstone National Park, and the tranquil villages of rural New England, Eternal on The Water is at once heartbreaking and uplifting—a timeless, beautifully rendered story of true love’s power.

My Thoughts: Eternal on the Water is the story of two people falling in love after meeting unexpectedly on the bank of the Allagash River the evening before they planned to kayak down the river. There is a connection, a bond between Jonathan Cobb and Mary Fury the moment they meet which they cannot ignore. So strong is their connection that a couple they have dinner with a day later thinks they have been together for years. But this is more than a love story. It is a story about truth and consequences, about freedom and beliefs, about commitment, loyalty and beauty.

A short time after they meet, Mary tells Cobb (she calls Jonathan Cobb by his last name) a startling secret and one that would make some men run as fast as their legs can carry them. Cobb asks some questions for clarification and to settle his thoughts and emotions. He also agrees to some of Mary's long-term difficult and painful but necessary (for her), plans. But he stays right by her side. He couldn't walk away from Mary even if he wanted to because now that he's met her he cannot imagine his life without her. Mary's secret troubles Cobb because of it's possible impact on their future. Cobb, like Mary, decides to make the best of everyday they have together.

The characters make this story. Cobb serves as the narrator. We learn quite a bit about Mary and Cobb's life with Mary but as much about Cobb. Mary and Cobb are kind, loving, like-able people. Mary has always loved the outdoors and nature. She grew up to become a scientist and a teacher with nature as her laboratory and corvids her life blood. She's been fascinated by them, and crows in particular, since she was young. She studies corvids and researches their life and world. Mary is honest and charming with a quirky sense of humor. Her enthusiasm for life and her active imagination make every day a new adventure with her. Her love for Cobb is clear as is his love for her. It's as if their life started anew the day they met.

Cobb, a teacher at a prep school is more reserved than Mary with a tendency to sit-back, watch and observe. When they first meet, Cobb is on sabbatical from school and is researching and following Thoreau's trip down the Allagash and his travels in Maine.
Cobb shares Mary's love of the outdoors and the simple life beckons both. Over the course of the novel, they teach each other life-long lessons as well as little things about each other, other people and the world.

Nature is more than a backdrop in this story, it serves as a major character. Mary and Cobb spend more time outdoors than in enjoying it's bounty. The great outdoors is beautiful, honest and open, without pretension or airs. It teaches Cobb and Mary about life and shows them how to cope during the difficult times, how to ride out the pain and how to celebrate the joy and beauty of their life. The Allagash River, where Mary and Cobb meet, is their favorite body of water. It exemplifies the ups and downs of their life together, the joys and sorrows, the struggles they encounter as well as the many happy days they have together. Mary and Cobb set up their home in the heart of quaint New England and marvel at the passing of the seasons. They travel to the beaches of Indonesia and strengthen their bond in the warmth of the sun's rays and the calm, sparkling, blue water. They spend many days enjoying the rugged beauty of Yellowstone National Park while Mary studies the crows and they learn about wolves. And the rugged beauty of Maine, their second home, is part of them. It was there in the beginning and will be their in the end.

Joseph Monninger has written a beautiful story that still swirls in and out of my thoughts more than 10 days after I finished reading it. This book begins with the ending to the story which I found a little disconcerting, at first, but the positive, jubilant bend of the tale draws you in, only occasionally reminding you of the coming ending. Eternal on the Water is filled with symbolism that enhances Mary and Cobb's story. There are several mythological tales and folklore which underscores the lessons this story offers the readers. I think for those of us interested in hearing it, this story teaches us about life and love and how to live joyfully. I expect parts of this story will be with me forever. Eternal on the Water is a touching, compassionate love story and a captivating story about living and enjoying a life of simplicity and beauty.

I received this book as part of Barnes & Nobles First Look Program and found it a fantastic experience.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Talking to the Dead

Title: Talking to the Dead
Author: Helen Dunmore
ISBN: 978-0-316-19645-1
Pages: 304
Release Date: 2006
Publisher: Little Brown & Company
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Publisher's Summary: Long-buried secrets and resentments bubble lazily to the surface over a few short weeks when Nina, a London photographer and artist, goes to the English countryside to help her outwardly perfect older sister Isabel, who has just suffered through a difficult birth. Though the household--Isabel's husband Richard, friend Edward, baby Antony, and a local nanny--seems hermetically sealed against the world, past and present rear up to strike the sisters. "This house is stiff with things that can't be said," observes Nina. Stifling heat, menace, and memories radiate from these pages, keeping the reader on edge. Helen Dunmore, winner of the Orange Prize, heightens sometimes overly obvious drama with rich, sensual prose.

My thoughts: Helen Dunmore has written a riveting story about two sisters and the ties that bond them as well as drive them apart. Isabel and Nina were very close growing up, maybe too close. They know each other better than they know themselves. A painful tragedy in their childhood caused both of them, but especially Nina, to push the past away, choosing to forget much of it. But the difficult delivery and birth of Isabel's first child and the memories that come back to Nina while she is staying under Isabel's roof, bring the past back resulting in unintended and surprising consequences for everyone. Talking to the Dead is a tale of love, loyalty, manipulation, fear, anger and betrayal will stay with you long after you finish reading the book.

Nina is anxious to visit and help Isabel out after the difficult birth of her first child, Antony. When Nina arrives at the house, there is the expected tension between she and Richard, Isabel's husband, but Nina also senses an odd attraction that confuses and troubles her. Nina has always considered Isabel superior to herself, smarter, more sophisticated and more talented. She craves Isabel's approval as she always has and desperately wants to please her. This renders Nina awkward and uncomfortable around Isabel, unsure of how Isabel will receive her and if she will be able to please Isabel. Isabel, at first, is sweet and kind, very happy to have Nina staying with her. But it isn't long before Isabel turns selfish and manipulative. She enjoys controlling every aspect of Nina from her thoughts to her actions to what she says. Isabel appears not only aware of Nina's predilection but she capitalizes on it and manipulates her for her own enjoyment.

Nina begins having vivid memories and dreams of her childhood in her parents house shortly after she arrives at Isabel's home. We see the relationship between Nina and Isabel when they were little girls and are privy to events of their childhood through Nina's dreams and memories. As the days and weeks go by and Nina struggles to bond once again with Isabel, she remembers more about her childhood. She recalls her artist parents, more focused on their work than on their children. Isabel and Nina turned to each other for love, comfort and care, as a result. Isabel, the older sister, took on more of a parenting, nurturing role for Nina who worshipped Isabel's every word and deed. Nina was extremely loyal to Isabel and trusted her completely. As a child, Nina believed there was nothing Isabel couldn't do to the point of magical acts that transcend reality. Isabel counted on this loyalty and worship and learned hot to control and manipulate Nina to get it. But the delicate balance in the household is threatened by the birth of Isabel and Nina's little brother, Colin. The girls are shocked to see their mother become the doting parent she's never been for them. While Nina is confused and doesn't understand what's happening, Isabel is perfectly aware of what her mother is doing and doesn't like what she's seeing at all.

Isabel's new baby, Antony reminds Nina of her little brother, Colin, and stirs up these painful, long forgotten memories. As an adult, Nina understands more about Isabel's behavior and her parents. Nina also trusts her memories and her knowledge more now than she did as a child. One night Nina recalls the terrible tragedy that befell the family when she was still a little girl. Her memory of the incident shocks her and she tries to talk to Isabel about it. Isabel disagrees with Nina and remembers things differently, forcing her version of events on Nina. But Nina isn't the same little girl who worshipped everything Isabel said and did. Mixed in with her love and adoration of Isabel there is anger and jealousy.

Nina's feelings for Isabel start to change. She is suddenly confused and troubled by her older sister. What she once thought of as love and caring she now reluctantly sees more as manipulation and a selfishness on Isabel's part. Feelings of anger and jealousy towards Isabel crop up as more memories, thoughts and feelings buried deep inside Nina bubbling to the surface. She is angry one minute, scared and fearful the next. Nina lashes out at Isabel in her anger and painfully betrays Isabel in ways that can never be taken back.

This book is full of tension and raw emotion from the start. The characters, particularly Nina, Richard and Isabel are real and very flawed. I found Isabel particularly difficult to like. She comes off as extremely selfish and manipulative rather than appreciative of the people around her, all more than willing to do whatever will make her feel comfortable and allow her to rest. As the story progresses, some light is shed on Isabel's behavior. Unfortunately, those around her who should love her and care for her are always too wrapped up in themselves to see what Isabel needs and give it to her.

I liked Nina for the most part and I felt badly for her. But when she betrays Isabel I saw a very different Nina and one I'm not sure I like very much! Although I understood why she wanted to hurt Isabel, I find it hard to excuse what she did. But the emotions and behavior started long ago in the sister's childhood. Richard and the nanny, Susan, can't completely understand the dynamics between Nina and Isabel because they weren't there all of those years ago. Poor Richard. He's such a successful businessman but at home he cannot seem to make his wife happy. He just wants her to be happy and comfortable and he wants to be loved. Like so many men, he doesn't get it, he doesn't understand why the women are behaving as they are or what it means.

This is a beautifully written book about how the past is never really forgotten. Things that happen when you're young can have a huge impact when you are an adult. This is not a happy story, not even with the birth of the baby. It's a very painful, sad and surprising story. It's a story about flawed human beings who are too wrapped up in themselves to really understand what the people they love are trying to tell them. But it is a very real, very human story. Relationships are difficult and wonderful and troubling. Love can make people do things they would never imagine themselves capable of until something happens and it's too late to change it.

Helen Dunmore's writing is beautiful. Her use of language and the imagery contrast sharply with the emotion expressed throughout the novel. Here are a few passages I thought were wonderful:

"I'm under the fig tree, with it's big leaves all round me like hands to keep off the sun. There are plenty of figs this year, and for once they're going to ripen. Their warm, spicy smell fills the shade where I sit. It's half-past two and the sky's white with heat. In this weather you sit out the glare, waiting for the long light of evening."

"Slowly, slowly, I push open the door of Susan's room. I make no sound. The pale curtains are drawn, and the room smells of the new pine furniture, and baby sleep. He is rosy with the heat, his hair damp, his fist up to his face. He is sleeping on his side, and Isabel has put a rolled up towel beside him so he can't turn onto his face. I creep right up to the cot. His weight dents the mattress. He looks more solid than I've ever seen him. Already he's changing, filling out, and that fist by his face looks strangely mature."

"He was a handsome man, our father, and five years younger than my mother. He was fair, with the same eyes as Isabel, the same golden skin, which was creased by the time I knew him. By some reckonings my mother was lucky to get him. He drew people round him, because he was funny, because he had a way of making you feel that you were something new and delightful he'd just discovered, and above all because there was something lost and pained in him which people felt without knowing quite what it was. He seemed to need you. My mother didn't seem to need anybody much."

Helen Dunmore won England's Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996 for Talking to the Dead, the year's best novel by a woman writer. this is the first of Helen Dunmore's books that I've read but it won't be my last!