A Million Ordinary Days by Judy Mollen Walters

I saw this book in the Goodreads giveaway list and was intrigued by the description. I requested a review copy from the author, and she sent it right away. The full novel far surpassed my hopes.

She included so many of the struggles that can face a family affected by a loved one’s chronic illness. At the beginning of the story we see a family that has learned to cope with Allison’s multiple sclerosis (MS )over the years in their own individual ways. Things are going as well as could be expected.

We can see the cracks start to appear when Allison doesn’t recover from a setback as quickly as she has previously. Suddenly she’s no longer able to fool her ex-husband, her doctor, and her daughters–one of whom has been estranged for several years. Of course, this change comes at the worst possible time. Her ex is in a new relationship that is quickly becoming serious and making him rethink his role in Allison’s life. Her younger daughter Hailey is in high school about to start looking at colleges and think of moving away for the first time. Her older daughter Melanie lived feeling like no one cared about her and gave her what she needed. She was an alcoholic in high school, and left as soon as she graduated. She looked like a healthy businesswoman living a life anyone would want, but her recovery didn’t help her find a life that made her happy.

Allison defined herself by her work, so her family suffered. So did her body. She had to return to school for social work when she could no longer function effectively as a physical therapist. Her career was so important that she kept going well past the point that it was healthy for her. I was frustrated at her care and compassion for her clients, especially Daria, because I wasn’t sure it came from a healthy place in her heart. It seemed she had a more effective parenting relationship with her clients than her own daughters. I wasn’t sure how much of the commitment to her career stemmed from her refusal to admit that the MS was getting worse. As someone who wanted to spend her career doing work like Allison’s, I saw that the relationship with Daria was too intense for the boundaries she needed to function with her limitations.

It was a conflict I understood well. Letting go of work was the last thing I wanted to happen. Everyone with a chronic illness or disability who has had to make that choice feels Allison’s pain at some point in the process. I’m glad she found a way to¬† balance her boundaries to have a full life, care for her daughters with her whole heart and to let a new man into her world.

Chronic illness and disability changed her life in ways she couldn’t fix alone. She had to work with them and allow people to help her. If she hadn’t gotten sick, I wonder what would have happened to her marriage. I suspect her commitment to her career might have eventually forced a crisis point in her relationships.

I’m also glad we were left with a hopeful ending instead of following Allison to her eventual final end. I think that is a good message to leave those of us struggling with illness and disability.

Release Day March 14.

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Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

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Every time I read this book, I find myself more challenged than the time before. When I first read it, I focused mainly on the “wrongful birth” issue which was at the heart of the novel. I still find myself horrified by the idea of saying that any person, no matter how severe their disabilities, should or should not exist. I struggle to put myself in the shoes of the mother who loved her child deeply and completely, but was able to see the idea of “wrongful birth” as an opportunity to provide for that child in ways that she knew she and her husband would probably not be able to do throughout Willow’s life.

Somehow or other the idea of accusing her dearest friend of something so reprehensible became acceptable in the name of a different kind of love. A love that bordered on controlling martyrdom. A love that no longer recognized someone she supposedly cared for so deeply as an individual. No one existed as an individual in her world anymore, especially Piper. Piper had helped her bring that child into being and had the place of godmother to Willow. She became a sacrificial pawn in Charlotte’s efforts to bring about her warped kind of justice.

As people with disabilities often do in storytelling, Willow became a symbol of something else. We see her through everyone’s eyes except her own until the end.

I love this book, but I love it differently than I did when I first read it. It wasn’t Willow’s story at all. I’m not sure if it’s actually about what I thought it was. Is this the story of a mother and her child? Or is really about a world where ableism is so deeply ingrained in the world that such questions are even raised?

The lawyers took a question about the treatment of a family of a child with a disability and turned it into a question about that child’s right to be born. Maybe it isn’t about their right to exist. Maybe it’s about their right to LIVE. The world seems to have a hard time with our right to LIVE.

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What Do You Need to Create Art?

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This right here is why creating any kind of art, including poetry and other kinds of writing, is so incredibly difficult to do. When you have a broken heart, it’s hard to feel the way you do, much less think of doing something constructive with it.

But the heart is where the deep creating comes from. If you don’t let yourself feel the feelings and work through them to be able to write (create art) about them, you might write something pretty, but with no emotion behind it. You can’t touch others’ hearts if you’re not wiling to touch your own pain and share it openly.

“Take your broken heart; make it into art.” What brilliant advice from Carrie Fisher. May we take those words to our hearts and live by them.

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It’s Not Just About Creativity

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I needed a prompt today, so I Googled “creativity quotes” and found this one. I had never heard it before, but it seems like a wonderful way to focus my intentions for the New Year.

I want to grow into someone I’ve never quite known before in 2017. I don’t want to lose the good parts (compassion, curiosity), but I want to become a creative person. I don’t just want to create things or blog posts or poems. I want to be creative. I’m trying to figure out exactly what that means. I want to approach my world with the kind of glasses that help me become that person.

Who will I be on the fourth day of January 2018? Who do I want to be? I want to be a brave person. I want to be vulnerable in relationships. I want people to see who I really am, instead of hiding behind some ways of interaction that feel safe, but keep me from the kind of emotional intimacy I long to find in relationships.

How can I get there? I wish I knew. I’m trying to dig deep through my writing. I sit here and wonder if I focus too much on myself or not enough. I want to be the person I want to find for myself.

It’s so hard to find my way. I feel like I can’t see the forest for the trees. So I’m going to try to cut through some of the crap to find what I know is there. The answers to me are there. I just have to keep cutting through the crap.

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Just Like Other Daughters by Colleen Faulkner

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This is my first read of 2017, and it’s a re-read of a favorite. I also re-read all the reviews before writing this. Some of the criticisms are fair. The ending is abrupt (no spoiler), Alicia isn’t the most likeable parent on the planet, and there are stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities rampant in the narrative.

However, life doesn’t always give closure when life happens. I guess that’s why an abrupt ending feels okay here. I know that many readers don’t like it when the climax comes so close to the end of the book, and you don’t even have time to catch your breath. But I do. It feels realistic when that happens.

Again, Alicia (Ally) wasn’t the most likeable or the most politically correct parent on the planet. Her counterpart, Thomas’s mother Margaret, was much more likeable. She was pleasant and cheerful and fully supportive of his inclusion in certain activities. But when it came to the relationship between Chloe and Thomas, Alicia was the more realistic parent about the limitations of these two individuals. Not all mentally challenged people are incapable of romantic relationships, but this isn’t a story about people in general. This is a story about Chloe and Thomas. It may not have been politically correct to resist their marriage, but Alicia knew her daughter. She knew what she could handle and what she couldn’t. I don’t think that Margaret realized the impact that this relationship could have on everyone.

At the end, who was affected the most by what happened? Not Margaret and her husband. Chloe and Thomas lived with Alicia during their marriage. Yes, there were things I’m surprised that Alicia didn’t handle differently (birth control being one of them). That came from her denial of the possibility of sexuality for someone with an intellectual disability. By the time she realized her mistake, she couldn’t take some of the actions she might have if she had dealt with it when Chloe was younger. (I’m not saying that those actions would have been the right thing to do, but they would have been alternatives that many parents might have considered.)

I’m not sure what I would have done in her shoes. All I know is that everything I know and believe about intimacy for people with disabilities was turned upside down for re-examination. I don’t know if it will ever look quite the same.

Now that’s a novel.

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Vulnerability and Intimacy

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. They always seemed to be an exercise in failure. I pick one word to guide my decisions in the coming year and to see how that word shows up in my life.

I had a therapy session this week where the discussion revolved around being authentic and vulnerable in my relationships with others. When I got home that day, I found a new blog post by Heather Plett that was the catalyst for my choice of my word for 2017. I chose intimacy.

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I’ve forgotten how to let myself be vulnerable too, so I’ll be digging into Brene Brown and other bloggers who are already masters at vulnerability. They must be masters at creating intimacy too. How do they do it? It really beats me. But I’m determined to build intimacy somewhere in my life. We aren’t created to be alone.

Do you have a word for the year? I’d love it if you would share with me. Happy New Year!

 

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Confucius Says by Veronica Li

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I discovered this book accidentally by a referral through a book group I generally don’t pay enough attention to. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Confucius Says is a heartbreaker of a novel. Some people reacted to the choice of the picture on the cover. I thought is that what he really looked like? It sort of resembled a Chinese rapper.

I generally don’t read books because of their covers. I read them for the stories between the covers. There was a culture clash between Eastern and Western beliefs about how to care for their aging parents. It looked like there was no way that both sides could come to an understanding of how best to do that. When Cary realized that her parents needed more care than she could provide and her husband issued an ultimatum, I wasn’t sure what would happen next. She had already been doing it for seven years, and I wasn’t sure whether there was a compromise that would work for Cary and Steve that her parents would agree to.

A pivotal point was definitely when the parents moved into the assisted living, and Cary realized how many people it actually took to help her provide support and care for her parents. I knew then that she had found that place she needed to get to so that she could supervise the care instead of trying to provide it all by herself.

There were some storytelling devices that worked really well for me. When the dog Laozi spoke his perspective on the changes each family member had gone through over the seven years, that part of the story was made more clear because it was someone speaking from the “outside” of the human family unit. Ming-Jen and Tak’s final scenes were lyrical and hopeful, rather than being a downer.

I learned about another culture by reading this book, and I learned how to see the world through others’ eyes. This book is a winner!

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