A Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones: A Rambling Review

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It is a rare book that makes me care about the characters before the end of the first act. A Thousand Rooms, by Helen Jones – this book, had me crying before I’d even read ten percent.

Repeatedly.

And not just a little. I had to put it down more than once in order to not alarm my family.

What begins as a tale about a woman dealing with her own post-existence, turns into a story about society’s different takes on the word Heaven, how we cope with loss, and the different forms love and acceptance takes along the way. While I may have cried in the beginning, there were reasons to laugh too.

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But what I found most intriguing about the story was the idea that a soul could be stuck waiting for a ride that doesn’t come like a child left to sit on the curb while they wait for their absent-minded parent to realize it was their day to pick them up from school. When the protagonist, a young woman named Katie, having piggy-backed her way with other recently deceased, finally reaches her heaven, I found myself more angry on her behalf at those who were expected to greet her on the other side than relieved she’d found her peace and as a result less able to accept the zen of the place even though the author, Helen Jones’ writing remained superb throughout. I realize now I expected a larger confrontation – even if it was in Heaven.

It probably didn’t help that it’s been a rough week at the office.

I returned from an extended holiday weekend to learn that there had been three deaths. One, a colleague’s ninety-five-year-old mother whose life could be celebrated and was for its fullness even though the loss still hurt. Another’s mother, a seventy-seven-year-old teacher, counselor, and fellow writer whose cancer, thought to be in remission, spread rather than retreat. And then, as there seems to be truth in the saying that these things tend to happen in threes, a member of my team, who at the age of thirty-one, was simply gone one morning for reasons that have not been determined and reasons I will not speculate on here.

We have journeyed across the globe, reached for the stars, explored the seas, and discovered particles within particles of matter. And yet, time or more specifically, the length of our time, a quantity that is so intimately and individually ours, remains one of the greatest unknowns. Per the first line A Thousand Rooms, “you don’t wake up expecting to die.” At least, most of us don’t.

Between this book and the past few days, I have been reminded yet again of the importance of surrounding yourself with the people and activities that bring you joy, the reason to value the experience over the thing, the call to be mindful, and why it is so very important to appreciate the everyday.

So if I am hugging my babies a little tighter right now, so be it. I am sure they’ll understand in the end. But to be clear, when my time comes – whoever, whatever, you are on the other side, I expect you to be there for me and waiting.

 

Why I don’t mind being compared to a piece of meat

The Hamburger: An American Tale - www.alliepottswrites.comI was working in Hong Kong when a client from the United States came to tour factories and visit the corporate office. After a day of meetings, we invited him out to dinner, which he accepted. My colleagues, being the polite hosts they were, asked him if he had a preference. He suggested TGI Fridays, a US-based casual dining restaurant featuring American dishes. I guess after the long flight and the day of tours, he wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous.

I didn’t necessarily blame him. While I do try to eat as the locals do when I travel and pride myself on being willing to try most foods (excepting those starting out as animals I view as pets), I’d been working there long enough for the novelty to have long since worn off. I decided to take advantage of the situation and ordered something I’d been craving.

Hong Kong and China had recently celebrated Handover day, also known as the day in which the British government turned control of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) to China. There had been parades in the streets. Some were pro-China while others called for greater independence and a truer democracy.

While we waited for our dinner orders to arrive, the client asked my colleagues how they viewed themselves. Did they consider themselves as Chinese or Hong Kongers / Hong Kongese? I got the feeling that this question might fall into that area deemed outside of polite conversation – like asking about a person’s salary or political leanings – but I will admit I was intrigued to hear their answers.

Most at the table answered that they viewed themselves as Hong Kongers, but chose not to elaborate. Our orders arrived – mine being a burger with a side of fries. Perhaps the client sensed their discomfort, but he couldn’t let the topic go. As the others focused on their food, he turned to me and asked, “How about you? What does it mean to you to be an American?”

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A bag of chicken feet – not what I am used to seeing in a hotel snack tray

I picked up my burger, allowing the juices to run down my fingers as squeezed the buns together – an act that you really don’t appreciate until you’ve been eating with chopsticks for weeks. The smell of its greasy goodness filled my nose as a drop of tomato sauce (it’s sooooo not ketchup elsewhere so let’s not even pretend it is what it’s not) slipped onto my plate below. “This,” was all I could say, enjoying the sensation of my teeth cutting through the soft bread and breaking through the crispness of the lettuce as I bit into its side. It would only have been more delicious had it been a slice of pizza.

I’m not sure my tablemates, even the other American, understood my point.

It was enough to move the conversation along to other, less hazardous topics, and gave me the opportunity to savor my dinner relatively uninterrupted. However, the point I was trying to make was this – America is a big juicy hamburger. It’s huge. It’s two to four times larger than any health professional worth his or her license would recommend you attempt to consume every day in a single sitting. In fact, some might recommend abstaining altogether, but that can be hard to do as a burger’s flavor tends to carry over into other dishes, especially where cooking utensils are shared, reminding you of what you could have ordered.

It’s full of fat and salt and can absolutely break your heart if you let it. And yet, when done properly, it can be the most delicious mix of protein, carbohydrates, and side of salad.

American symbols - www.alliepottswrites.com #fourthofJulySure, you might get a less than ideal burger experience from time to time. Meat cooked too much, or not enough, stale bread, the unexpected pickle, or vegetables left too long under the sun. You might be embarrassed to find an errant piece of green on or tooth later in the day, or frustrated by a lodged string of meat that simply won’t be chewed and go away. You may occasionally be made to feel like a glutton for eating the whole thing, but that’s the risk and price you pay when you stick with it versus picking something else from the available menu.

 And yet, I find myself ordering a burger again and again, especially after a period of travel, because a burger feels, quite simply, like home to me. It’s not just a meal. It’s memories of cookouts in the back yard and at family gatherings. It’s the choice we have to stay where we are or the opportunity to eat on the run. It’s the freedom to experiment with new combinations of flavors or make the best of what we are given. Whether you prefer to make it gourmet or with what you can buy with pocket change or use beef, bison, turkey or veggie, a burger is a variety of taste and experience. But above all, a burger can represent optimistic possibility.

I’ve eaten terrible burgers over the years, but I’ve savored some great ones too. I know a burger’s flavor is never certain, but I’ll keep risking the order anyway. Because I also know a bad burger’s taste lasts only so long and all it takes to make the next the best it can be is a bit of patience, a source of warmth, and a great mix of ingredients.

And that is a dish worth celebrating.Happy #fourthofjuly - www.alliepottswrites.com

 

 

Mary Poppins is a superhero and other words worth knowing

I’ve grown to associate the summer with the superhero thanks to the plethora of movies featuring masks, spandex, and last-second rescues. But not all stories of the summer involve vats of radioactive goo or other experiments gone awry.

This story started out years ago – almost nine to be exact.

I’d been promoted shortly before learning I was also expecting. Not to worry – while the timing might have been less than ideal, it was all going to my master plan. I was going to have it all and there wasn’t anyone out there who could stop me. Whahahahahah.

It turns out I was wrong. There was a person who could stop me. That person was me.

Just be you.... No one else can do it better... Not even Batman! #quote #quotes #comment #comments #moor #doctahlove #theloverevolution #raphaellove.com #lifechoices #muscle #win #tweegram #quoteoftheday #funny #life #instagood #love #photooftheday #igers

aka – What my youngest wants to be when he grows up. Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com

Thanks to a series of regrettable mistakes, my eldest son was less than a year old when I found myself in desperate need of a dependable care provider for the third time.

I saw an ad online for a stay at home mom located near my home, and though I liked the idea of a public daycare with their known holidays, trained professionals, and proven curriculum, the lack of balance in my bank account and paid time off, made it all too clear we no longer had the luxury of being picky.

I noticed all her references were from out of state. Desperate times…, I thought as I nervously dialed, but every single one told me the same thing. If she has an opening, hire her. You won’t regret it. Yeah, we’ll see.

The day of our scheduled interview, I brought Kiddo along as if his newborn senses could somehow detect dangers, bad auras, or other half-truths. We started with the story about her most recent move from Maryland and why they, as Iraqi immigrants, had chosen to move further south. Kiddo cooed, rolled, or did something cute and our conversation turned to the matter at hand while she cuddled him and gave him a toy – exactly, how would she care for my son?

The short answer was – like one of her own.

However, in the years since that initial hire, the longer answer also proved to be – much better than how I might have cared for him alone. I’ve since come to suspect that she was less than forthcoming about how she’d come to my town during that initial interview, but then again, if you were interviewing Mary Poppins, would you really trust a person who claimed to have arrived by umbrella? Especially in today’s modern climate? Of course not.

She taught my children responsibility as well as courtesy. When her sister visited from overseas, she gave them the opportunity to experience cultural sensitivity too. Then when my youngest was slow to start walking, she attended his physical therapy sessions with me so that she could ensure his weekly challenges were part of their daily routine. They were lessons I might have taught, but I know myself to say it wouldn’t have been with the same degree of unquestionable patience.

So I will forgive her for the omission regarding her method of transportation. While she might not be a superhuman (unless you are like me, and consider the ability to care for five children under the age of six for eight to nine hours a day without going mad, a superpower) she is still a super human to me.

My youngest son, LT, graduates from her care this week, an event prompting this post. I am overjoyed at the idea I might actually find an extra dollar or two in my savings at the end of each month, relieved at the thought of an extra minute or two at the end of my daily commute and proud of how my son has grown under her loving care. However, I can’t help feeling I’m losing a bit of my support system and a piece of my family, which has added a sadness sprinkled with an ounce of terror too.

I thought – there has to be a word to describe what I am feeling, but maybe it simply hasn’t been translated into English yet. So I looked it up.

found words like:

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Emotion Wheel – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • Hygge (Danish) – that trendy word for the feeling you get when you are cozy and sitting around a fire and everything is just the way it should be
  • Boketto (Japanese) – a word meaning that wistful feeling you get when you gaze out of a window and imagine the world on the other side and all its possibilities
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – the anxious/panicked feeling when you are expecting visitors anytime and can’t stop thinking there is something else you need to do to get ready while checking to see if they’ve arrived every sixty seconds. (I know this feeling too well).

and some which made it into the English language, but are not as well known like:

  • Vellichor – that wistful, nostalgic feeling some of us book lovers get when we go to a used bookstore or old library and imagine the story behind how a book came to be on the shelf.
  • Occhiolism – the feeling that comes from the awareness that your perspective is limited.
  • Sonder – the realization that each person you meet (and even those you haven’t) has a story of their own and life just as full of uncertainty, experiences, and mixed emotions as yours.

This chapter in our lives may be ending, mine, LT’s, and hers, but I know it is also a beginning for us all too. As LT readies for kindergarten and my needs change from daycare to day camps, I know that there is probably another family out there in need of help, hoping for a last-second rescue.

And to that family – I know the woman floating in via umbrella looks highly suspicious. I do. But if you find she has an availability, hire her. You won’t regret it. Believe me. Superheroes are real. This I know.

Friendship Toast - #Proverb #Quote - www.alliepottswrites.com

Over There – An American’s experience at the London Blogger’s Bash

OVER THERE - An American's experience at the #BloggersBash - www.alliepottswrites.com

Earlier this year, my hubby surprised me with tickets to attend the Annual Bloggers Bash in London. For those of you not familiar with the event, it’s an international get together and conference for writers of all interests, sizes, and platforms wishing to network as well as learn about how to take their writing and/or blogging to the next level. I’d seen the videos from prior events. I’d read the testimonials about connections made and the impact the event had made on others’ lives. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to get to go. I felt like Cinderella finding out she would be able to attend the ball. I was so excited – nervous about traveling to another country all on my own – but excited all the same.

Then . . .

Well, then there was an event in Westminster and the news broke with stories about women and children exiting a pop concert being targeted in Manchester followed by others about shoppers and pub-goers on London Bridge, and my nervousness took on a slightly different flavor. I wasn’t the only one to wonder what might happen next. I saw a message from another attendee suggesting the event might not still go on in light of recent events.

The response from one of the event’s organizers was simple – as long as London is open, the Bash will go on. I should have expected nothing less from the land of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. And so, on I would go as well, coincidentally packing my bag while a bit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the song, ‘Over There’  played on the radio. Yes, I thought as the music played, the Yanks were coming. I would show my grit, do my bit – over there.

I might say a prayer, but I was prepared for over there. While the idea of traveling solo still made me nervous, it wasn’t my first visit to the British Isles. I’d taken a bus tour with my husband a few years before. It was a trip that started in London, took us up through Scotland, across to Northern Ireland, down to Dublin, and across the water once again to Wales, where we visited Cardiff Castle.

WWII poster in Cardiff

I found this cautionary sign rather amusing at the time. Where’s the trust?

Tunnels beneath the castle grounds had been converted into a museum dedicated to the Welsh soldier and featured exhibits from over three hundred years of conflicts. As we walked into an area detailing World War II, speakers hidden in the walls played radio broadcasts of the times broken up with the sounds of air sirens and bombs falling. As I looked at posters and read placards I could only imagine what it must have been like to live through times like those while being told to keep calm and carry on while chaos and fear played so loudly in the background.

And yet carry on they did, with a stiff upper lip, going on to produce many of the smiling faces and open arms which eventually greeted this relative stranger from across the ocean without fear or hesitation. As I was welcomed out to meals and into homes as if we’d known each other for years, I reflected on just how appropriate the conference’s theme word of the year – connection – really was. I might have met them first as allies, as it were, in the field of writing, but we departed as friends. (You can ‘meet’ many of them or learn more about the event itself here courtesy of Hugh’s Views and News.)

While we got to better know each other over books, blogs, cocktails and chocolate cake, I found it interesting to hear the most recent attacks referred by the locals as “that business on the bridge,” when our American headlines read terrifying things like ‘Britons Reeling’ and ‘London on Lockdown.’ Neither US headline was true as evidenced by the thousands of people who filled the London streets as I walked around town or by the banners proclaiming “London is Open” as part of a campaign following the EU referendum (also known as the Brexit vote). This is not to say the people I met weren’t concerned about safety nor viewed the loss of life as any less tragic, they just weren’t beaten by the news or willing to hide away in their homes.

The contrast in our headlines was also a reminder about the power our words can bestow or take away from events as well as people. Which is why it is all the more important we use our words wisely and never, never give in to fear.

While I may not be able to attend the Bash every year, I hope my reasons in the future will be limited to economic or scheduling ones rather than the alternative. We live in a world made smaller thanks to constant connection which is good and bad. It may at times feel less safe, but that is because news travels faster now. The fact of the matter is there have always been those who wish to strike fear into the hearts of others, which is all the more reason to go out there – explore, connect, to expand your worldview and find strength in numbers. To keep calm and carry on. For while it may be difficult to overcome fear, it is harder still to live a lifetime of regret.


While I loved meeting so many, I’d like to extend my thanks to Sacha, Geoff, Ali, and Hugh in particular for their incredible generosity as well as their hospitality. Truly, while I may have suggested in this post that it was my duty to attend the Bash, know it was my pleasure and privilege to do so as well.

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Dinner with a side of distress Part Two – Flash Fiction

It is time once again for another installment in my Writer’s Toolbox Flash fiction. For those not familiar with The Writer’s Toolbox (affiliate link) exercises, I pull out three sentences at random which have to be used as my first, middle, and closing lines. Additionally, I must utilize three descriptions, also pulled at random from a stack of cards. Due to the random nature, I do not know how the story will end. I apologize for the shift in point of view, but rules are rules.

Story to date: Bill, a somewhat socially awkward paleoclimatologist in our distant future, learned that his sister has gone missing. Their father, a high ranking official, living and working in the orbiting space station, has come to Earth requesting Bill’s help tracking her down. Click on this link to read the first part of the story in full.


Dinner with a side of Distress - www.alliepottswrites.com

background image courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

After only two months, Helen decided to become an exotic dancer. She’d tried to make it off the random tips the male patrons threw her way as she delivered drinks to their tables, but the wad of cash in her pocket at the end of the night was nothing compared to the stacks of bills the other ladies took home. She closed her eyes and thought of the space station even now spinning like a top over head as it circled the Earth. If tossing her clothes at some drunk strangers meant being able to afford a ticket on the shuttle sooner, so be it. It wasn’t like she was going to bump into any of the club patrons again once in orbit.

As she made her way toward the back office, she saw her manager, Devin, smile knowingly. “You finally ready to get into the driver’s seat?” he smirked, offering a drink. Devin was under the impression he had a gift for comedy. Helen hid her disgust by tipping her head and letting the bitter taste of Woody Allen’s kiss wash over her tongue as was tradition. Helen was fairly certain not even Devin knew the origin of the club’s signature drink’s name, but it didn’t stop him from keeping a ready glass on hand. She wasn’t the first girl to make this walk of shame. Nor would she be the last.

After her the first shift of her new career ended, Helen made her way outside into the narrow alley behind the club. The eight inch heels Devin requested she wear during the show, had wrecked havoc on her arches and toes. She held the more sensible shoes she’d worn prior too making her decision in hand, preferring to go barefoot that force her feet to withstand another minute of agony. The wine of a lost dog, a puppy by the sound of it, startled Helen. She turned, but couldn’t locate the animal in the darkness. It must be behind the dumpster, she thought. Unable to resist an animal in need, she crouched down as she looked for the pup.

“It’s not my fault the plane was two hours late,” a male’s voice coming from a yard or so behind her almost caused Helen to jump out of her skin. “What was I supposed to do?”

“You were supposed to stick around and finish the job. That’s what you were supposed to do,” Another male replied.

“Don’t see what you are getting all upset about. Thought the whole point was to take the girl out while the captain was in his meeting. Whole plan falls apart if he’s on ground when it happens.”

Helen heard a slap of skin on skin. “Idiot. You and your big mouth are going to get us both on his list one day.”

“What was that for? It’s not like anyone’s around but a bunch of drunks and hookers.” The first man whined as Helen tried to make her body as small as possible in the shadows.

“Doesn’t mean they don’t still have ears,” the second man argued.

“Yeah, but who’d believe them? Especially not after the thing he does with the newspaper…”

 


Will Helen’s first day on the new job also be her last? Who is the ‘he’ the men are referencing and what is he planning with the newspaper? Will the Writer’s Toolbox ever allow me to close a story without a cliff-hanger ending?