Friday, April 27, 2007

A Few Observations

From Jacqueline

I’ve heard it said that writers are observant people, that we see connections where others just see ... whatever. I’m not sure I’d put it like that, though for my part I know that I can see something seemingly run of the mill and ponder it all day, then that same thing – the way a man on the train might lift his chin as he runs a finger around his collar, feeling the stricture of the tie that he hasn’t worn all weekend, or the way a child will ask the same question ten times over, and a parent who suddenly snaps, “I don’t know!” because he or she is at her wit’s end already – might be the focus for a paragraph in a book, or an essay. I heard a mother snap at her child on a train recently. The little boy wanted to know everything about everything he saw from the window, his little mind racing ahead with curiosity, then his mother told him – in a very loud voice - to shut up and sit down. My heart ached for him. I wanted to sit down next to him, look out of the window and have him tell me what he could see, because children can even see fairies if we let them.

I was a bit like that, when I was a kid, always had a lot of questions. Every two weeks I’d have to go to the out-patient department of the hospital, which was a two-hour bus ride away (and I am sure I’ve told this story before). The doctors were trying to see whether my lazy eyes - yes, both of them - could be corrected with exercise rather than surgery, and if not, then the exercises prepared the eye for a swifter recovery following that surgery. I was always very tired on the way home, but would never give in to my fatigue until after we’d passed a certain house. You could see a lot from the top of a double-decker bus, and what fascinated me was a certain room in an Edwardian villa close to the bus-stop in the village of Pembury. The room had a big bay window with a desk positioned so that the person who used the desk could look out into the garden. On the desk was a black typewriter, which always had a sheet of paper on the platen, and there were always mounds of books and papers on the desk. The room was book-lined, and had a fireplace at one end. And it always looked as if someone had just left that room. I had lots of questions about that room, and I remember one day asking, “Who do you think lives in that house?” to which my mother replied, “I think it must be a writer.” I coveted that room, wanted a book-lined room, a black typewriter and a desk filled with paper. I wanted to sit beside that fire and curl up with my books. “Then I’m going to be a writer,” I announced. And after that, my mother began buying me a sixpenny notebook every Saturday when we went into the local town to do the week’s shopping, and every week I would fill it with my “whatevers.” Now I buy boxes of laser paper at Office Depot. Heaven knows what I would be doing if my mother had said, “Oh, just sit down and shut up.”

Being a bit of a magazine-aholic, one thing I noticed recently, is the number of “green issues” on the magazine stands. Vanity Fair had a green issue (with Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover), Outside had a green issue, and so did Town and Country. You know things are getting serious when Town and Country goes for green. The interesting thing is that all of these green issues were half-filled with ads (no other way to publish a magazine these days, without that revenue), and were published on high-gloss paper that did not look as if it had been anywhere near a recycling machine. Perhaps the likes of Hermes, or those expensive mountain-bike makers, or the debutantes of Greenwich, Connecticut could not bear to see their wares on paper that has already been around the block, but I do think that if you are going to talk, you have to walk the path that your words just laid out for you – it’s not all about where your diamonds come from. I love Vanity Fair (the investigative journalism, the exposes, not the fluff), but before I even try to read it, I go through and pull out all the big ads, because otherwise I will throw the thing across the room trying to find the next page in the article I’m reading. Now, is that waste, or what? I’m glad the environmental issues that face our world are front and center stage at the moment, but there has to be more than rhetoric, there has to be action, and lots of it.

Another thing I’ve noticed lately, is the number of articles, essays and books out there written by doctors, of the medical variety. There’s Jerome Groopman, Atul Gawande (that’s him in the photo below), and Lisa (whatever her surname is, who writes in the New York Times magazine), all telling their stories of medical cliffhangers, of life and death, and of what it means to have those two things in your hands. Years ago, the only doctors who published were in the problem pages of women’s magazines, then came the vet craze started by James Herriot. The “I can cure your ills” books were around even before Dean Ornish, but now the surgical memoir seems to be the thing of the moment. I recently read Atul Gawande’s new book, “Better,” and thought it an amazing book. I was riveted, not only by accounts of his own “doctoring’ but by his reflections and research. I wondered why these books are drawing an audience – that they are good reading is undeniable – and I have come to believe that it is because of the hope and faith that are contained within. There is so much in our world that seems hopeless, so much death, hatred and such a lack of understanding, that to read about those who struggle to save life, whether that life is in a battlefield hospital in Iraq, a medical center in New York, or a dusty village clinic in India, is inspiring. Gawande, like Groopman and “Lisa,” tell us stories about what it means to get blood on your hands to support life, not to extinguish it. I could read a whole lot more along those lines.

And finally, to end my week’s musings, April marks the anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in the Great War. It was also known as the Dardanelles campaign. It was one of the most tragic of all the battles of the Great War, taking the lives of thousands of men from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and France. And because of the “Empires” those troops also came from places such as Senegal, from Nepal. And there were also the soldiers from Turkey and Germany. Great losses were suffered in particular by the ANZAC troops, and Marianne, one of Naked Authors most faithful fans, has written about the campaign in her blog: Go there, lest we forget.

You could also rent one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made: Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. Keep the Kleenex handy.

See you all next week – and have a wonderful weekend.

I think you all know by now what to do with the envelope icon below ....


  1. Hello, Jacqueline. Many, many thanks to your mother for that.

  2. Oh, how lovely of you to say that, Mims - thank you!

  3. Yes, I believe your mother deserves a huge group hug for encouraging the fledgling wishes of her wonderfully talented daughter. So many kids miss out these days: their schedules are so full up with must-do/learn things that they don't get to have any quality time with their parents. Everyone is rushing around far too much these days. And yes, unthought-out words, reactions, and rash actions can have future consequences down the road.

    Thanks for the plug for my ANZAC Day post on my blog, Jacqueline!! :-) I've been re-reading your books and they took on special meaning this last week. Can you believe that I've actually started using a couple of Maisie's techniques to centre myself? Had my first yoga class last night. And I'll love it even more when my muscles stop protesting as much. :-)

    Today marks the 25 anniversary of my joining the Royal Australian Air Force. I was only seventeen, but did my six years and moved right along.

    So who won the award last night? I'm down to my last fingernail to chew on...

    Cheers, you lot. :-D

  4. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, Marianne. There's a church close to where my aunt lives in England, and it's called the Gallipoli church - it was built to commemorate the many servicemen from around the world, particularly the ANZAC troops, who gave their lives in the battle.

    I have no idea who won what. I only remembered yesterday that it was the Edgars this week (been a bit busy, have barely had time to check the blog), and have just emailed Patty for news of our team. I'm sure she'll let us all know soon enough.

  5. Thank you for your interesting post!
    I thought perhaps you may find this related post about new article by Atul Gawande interesting to you:
    Longevity Science: The Way We Age

  6. You are an amazing person, Jackie.

    Back in the mid-to-late sixties there was a TV special entitled "Sit Down, Shut Up, or Get Out." It was about the growing impatience of teachers with inquisitive students--grade school, I beleve. Most poignant.

    Then, of course, there are the single parents, or the child's- night-out with a parent, who take their child[ren] out for dinner, but spend the entire time on their cell phones while the child gazes blankly around or tries to keep busy by playing with the food.

    We certainly have come a long way.

    Tom, T.O.

  7. Hi Tom,

    Yes, I've seen those parents with their cellphones - it makes my skin crawl. It's one thing to correct - with compassion - a child who interrupts a "live" conversation, and quite another to continue yakking to a machine when there is a small human being who would love your company right there in front of you.

    I just love the "wonder" of childhood, I love the fact that kids see things that adults no longer see, and I hate the fact that so much of what we shove in front of them - from TV, on billboards, etc - is nothing that a child with an active imagination should hold in their mind's eye.