Art and Life, Intertwined

Book Crossed Lovers, 1997

I have always measured my life in books in the same way we categorize events by the song we were listening to at the time.

1990 – Riding around Badger Lake on my dirtbike with Robin, my best friend, hanging off the back balancing a ghetto blaster, while my dog Midnight tore up the road behind us? It could only be John Cougar Mellencamp ringing out loud in that memory. And what was I reading at the time? Cynthia Voigt, Norma Klein, Stephen King, and as many weird and dark accounts of para-psychological misfits as I could get my hands on. I liked strange, oppressive, scary or sad things in my art. I still do.

The other day, Deanne, a friend and book club buddy, nominated me for a book challenge, which involves posting a picture of a book you love every day for seven days on facebook. What fun! I started scanning my bookshelves and digging through old boxes. I had dozens of books I wanted to share, but in the end I picked mostly recent loves and one old childhood favourite – The Secret Garden. I read it 18 times if I read it once.

As I dug about in my pile of books, I came across a forgotten pair.

Literary Criticism, 1996

This pair of books were purchased separately in early September, 1996 by myself and Asher. When we bought our books at the Acadia Bookstore we did not know one another. But this particular novel was one of many on the list for the Literary Criticism course that Asher and I were both enrolled in as a requirement for our English degrees.

We met on the first day of class. I was walking up Linden Street, carting a backpack full of groceries. He was jogging lightly down the street in boxer shorts and a t-shirt, on the way to the corner store to get a newspaper.

When I saw him I did a double take, and not just because he was running down the street in his underwear. He just had an aura. He was happy, he was comfortable. I just knew he was a good soul. Of course, as we neared one another, I was faced with the unnerving prospect of running into him head on. I felt very Meg Ryan as I swerved one way on the sidewalk. He, true to script, swerved the same way. Our eyes met, we giggled, and then we both swerved the other way. We stopped, laughing, and he hopped aside while performing a gallant sweep of his arm, indicating the direction I should take.

I went home and told my roommates about this interesting young man I had met on the sidewalk. I still remember them laughing as I told the story.

Two hours later, I walked into Literary Criticism. Guess who walked in behind me? We looked at each other and grinned and both said, “You’re the girl/guy I ran into on the sidewalk earlier!” He sat next to me and the rest, as they say, is history.

But back to the pair of books. We were assigned certain books to critique and given approximate dates to be prepared to present on. We never quite knew when our professor would call on us. It was a very serious seminar class and there were so many smart people there. They were always ready to present. Asher and I, getting to know one another, were not so interested in the class. We were probably really annoying to the other students. And, as the term went on, we got a little lazy. Or, at least, Asher did.

I will never forget the day Asher was called on to critique Loitering with Intent by Muriel Sparks. He ambled up to the podium and held up the book. “Flirting with Intent,” he said, “was a very interesting read.”

I felt my face grow bright red as his freudian slip registered with the rest of the class and a few people tried to suppress giggles. Asher, either not noticing or caring, continued to rate the book on a scale of 1 to 10. I felt myself slipping lower in my seat. But, Asher, always cool and calm and unconcerned with impressing others, continued by soliciting the class as to their opinions of the book. He ran a nice little discussion, thanked everyone and returned to his seat. “Well,” he whispered to me as our professor glowered at him over his glasses. “I think that went pretty well.”

He never did read the book first nor last. I did read it, and I honestly remember nothing about it. Yet, when I came across this pair of books, unenjoyed and uncelebrated yet kept for many years, the sight of them brought me right back to that fateful class. Asher and I sat there that year, getting to know one another, and we had no idea what was ahead of us.

Asher cooked fajitas and played Buddy Holly on the guitar on our first date. I wanted to impress him so I called my friend, Jude, and said, “what do I pick up to go with Fajitas?” to which she replied, “Corona, of course!” Oh, she was so much more worldly than I was! I could always, can still always, count on Jude.

We are 18 years into our marriage now. We have been busy. At one point, in the span of five years, we had three babies, moved three times, changed jobs four times, and completed two masters degrees. We have also spent a lot of time building traditions, some of them as simple as our morning coffee and chat. We spend time with our kids and our friends and families. We work hard, but we have fun together.

We never thought we would be dealing with a cancer diagnosis this early on in our lives. But, as hard as this must be for him, Asher doesn’t step back any more than he stepped back from that long ago book critique. He just does what he has to do. He doesn’t agonize over things, or wonder, “why.” That carefree, boxer-wearing, newspaper reading, comfortable-in-his-own-skin guy, he just takes life as it comes.

Dad practices piano everyday, and sometimes I like to relax and listen.

I was telling Asher over our coffee this morning that I am starting to feel this difficult time peeling away from me like the skin of an onion. The first, toughest layer is shedding off. I will get there.

But I will be looking back on this time and remembering my dad playing piano to me while I lay on his couch hooked up to my chemo pump while my mom makes me tea. I will remember how Dad and Mom and I shared books together, and these books will go in my collection and I hope I will run my hands over them in 20 or 30 years and think of this.

Minimalists would like me to toss these books, but I never will. I will never toss any of my books. I am doomed to forever carry these books around and someday, hopefully a long time in the future, my loved ones will be forced to sift through them and get rid of them, or decide what to keep. They will not know the stories of all of my books, any more than I know all of the thoughts and memories etched in their hearts, but they will know some.

Like any work of art, each book tells more than one story – there is the story the author laboured over, and the story of the life of the reader.

Why do writers write? Why do writers share their innermost thoughts, their perspectives, their observations? Even a work of fiction reveals so much about the way the author sees the world, or moves in the world.

Why do I share things in a blog? I have asked myself this question many times, and I’m sure people wonder why I put this out there. But, for some reason, I am compelled to. Mostly it is because I hear from others who have experienced similar things or who simply enjoy reading it. This connection feels so right. It is humbling and empowering at the same time.

When you write for an audience, you share ideas and experiences. You start a dialogue. You leave something outside of yourself in the world and you hope it will resonate with just one other person. Your onion skin sheds off, and you become lighter. Awareness can be raised, and changes can come about.

Deanne, the same friend who nominated me for the book challenge, gave me a book about writing through trauma just before my surgery. It was a catalyst for me. It was one of the many perfect gifts I have received lately, not the least of which is your time, dear reader.

I want to thank you. Your time is precious, and I am so glad you lingered here with me and my ramblings for a little while.

27 thoughts on “Art and Life, Intertwined

  1. I remember a conversation with your Dad. Your parents were renovating your room in the basement -at least that is how I recall it. It was in the staffroom, but your Dad and I found platonic intimate conversation everywhere. A proud father said, Janine is growing so quickly, and before we know it, she will be gone from our home. I cannot imagine how difficult your cancer diagnosis was for him…for your Mom…for Asher…or for you. What I do know is that beauty and intelligence surrounds you. As we age beauty becomes more important but it has little to do with physical image. I am grateful our paths crossed. Is the piano a new hobby for your Dad? Thanks Janine…I read with cherished shared memories.

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    1. Oh, Flo, it is so nice to hear from you. I shared the piece about the Karma Kafe today – so inspiring!! I will be coming to visit soon!!!
      Yes, this has been so difficult and unexpected for all of us but, like all things in life, you just deal. And try to grow some good out of it.
      Dad played the piano as a child/teen and had recently starting taking lessons again. He is doing well and coming along.
      It is really so great that we are in touch and I really look forward to a chat in person. Thank you for reading and for the sweet staff room memory – I will share with Dad.😊💗

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  2. It is so good to hear from you, dear friend. I’ve been waiting for your next post—in part because you so eloquently expressed your anger and frustration in the previous one. I was a bit concerned.
    I’ve appreciated them all, but this one is truly special. You talk about peeling the onion; I see more of the butterfly emerging from the cocoon. You are moving away from your illness and reclaiming your life, though I assume the infusions continue.
    This is a delightful remembrance of young love that has blossomed and endured, and it is so much more. Of course you feel compelled to write: you are a writer at your core. Your friend who offered the encouragement did a favor not only for you; we are all enjoying your work and benefiting from your keen and often wry observations.
    Take good care, Janine, and Write On!

    Cheers from Team Janine,
    Annie

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    1. Annie, thank you so much. It is so nice to hear from you. You are right that I am moving away from my illness somehow. I was paralyzed for most of the summer but lately, though my chemo will continue for 5 more rounds, I am waking up. Emerging.
      Thank you for your encouragement and beautiful words. You are so kind and I know we are very like-minded. I love your posts.
      Take care, Annie, and thank you so much for your support!! It means so much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And thank you for your kind words about my posts. I think you’re right that we are like-minded: I felt a bond the very first time I visited here.

        All good wishes,
        Annie

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  3. I always smile as I read your blogs, Janine. Great messaging intertwined with sweet memories. You’re an inspiration and truly a gifted writer 😊. Thank you for sharing your gift with us as you navigate “a year of weather.”

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  4. Good morning, beautiful Janine. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, real love story. I have been blessed with life long friendships and wonderful memories whose beginnings were at GFA High School and because of your Dad and Mom and family. You and Asher and your family are an extention of those friendships. I love all of you ❤️ This world needs you. I pray for your continued recovery. Hugs…

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  5. When a person writes something down on paper for other people to read it’s just like, a never ending story.. Somewhere, someone can relate to what is being written.the story will a timeless piece It’s nice to stop or slow down every once and a while to reflect on our own lives, as bad as we think we have it, there is always a person who is going through harder challenges. The way you write and how you say it really shows how pure and real you are. Puts a big smile on my face. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your writings. ❤️❤️

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  6. Thanks for this piece Janine. As you point out, it’s often the little things (like running into a guy wearing boxers on his way to the store) that come to have so much meaning in our lives. I look forward to your next article.

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    1. Hi Gerald, Why do I feel like you also have run places in your boxers?!
      The little moments in our lives really do make it, you are right😊. Thank you so much for reading! It really means a lot.

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  7. This, as all of your writings, have been amazing. As I read them, I can hear your voice speaking the words. You have always be an inspiration to others to do their best and try to help whoever we meet in life. You have first layer peeled and the others will follow. God Bless. ❤️❤️❤️

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  8. Another one of your works in the art of story telling…beautiful ! Also, now we know how you two beautiful people met……so romantic even if he was in his boxers…lol….picture of this so suits “laid back “ Asher..lol..
    Our thoughts and prayers are always with you as you continue on this journey! Love you…ABea & URod💞

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  9. Yay to the power of books, writing and you!
    Far from rambling, your storytelling is warm and inviting❤️. Recently I’ve heard artists described as those who “reawaken us to the genuine, but too easily forgotten value of our own lives”. You and your writing embody these words and are a gift to us readers. Looking forward to more!

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  10. This is such a beautiful essay! You and Asher are lucky to have found each other and the story of how you did borders on magical. Each time I read one of your posts, I say this is the best one, and the next one surpasses it. I am glad to hear you are doing well. I have started sharing your posts with a friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Looking to your next essay. Bethanie

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