Don’t Mess With Sister

My father’s favorite childhood memory, retold many times around the dinner table, was his besting of the nun who tried to give him a good rap across the knuckles for his misbehavior in second grade. Hands out, ready for punishment, he swiftly lowered his hands just as the ruler descended, causing Sister to whack herself instead of him. Not many can boast of escaping Sister’s wrath (and he never reported on what happened afterwards). In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof – We Are All Nuns – and Maureen Dowd – Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns – offered their opinions on the Pope’s confrontation with the nuns, who are “accused…of worrying too much about the poor…” It isn’t hard to predict who will win.

In addition to recounting the legendary but truthful tale of Sister Rachele of the Congo who managed to “browbeat a native warlord into releasing the great majority of girls” who had been kidnapped from her Ugandan Girls’ School, Kristof offers this caution:

“…the Sisters may be saintly, but they are also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian archbishop….once asked a convent {to} supply two nuns for a community literacy project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop. ‘The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,’ mother superior told him later, ‘I cannot disobey him in that.’ She added: I will send you three nuns.'”

Having had the personal experience of being indoctrinated by nuns through twelve years of schooling – with some memories that are scary, most benign, a few endearing – I wondered about fiction – who wrote about nuns? I remember two books I’ve read and enjoyed – how about you?

Related Article: Vatican Reprimands US Nuns

The Quality of Life Report

Meghan Daum may be the L.A. Times equivalent of Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.  Her political columns are witty and acerbic, attacking idiosyncracies with the smile and parry of  Jon Stewart – funny with underlying truth.  Although I have sworn off memoirs, I read her latest book – looking for that humor and zing.  Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House did not disappoint.

 Daum refers to using the royalties of the novel she wrote while in Nebraska – one of her many places to live – to ultimately buy a house.  I found that novel – The Quality of Life Report.

Although fiction, the book matches some of Daum’s brave revelations about her personal life in her exaggerated memoir – you write what you know?   The character Lucinda Trout might have been having the same adventures as Meghan Daum, but I had read the nonfiction sequel, and Lucinda was (mostly) fiction.

In the novel, after a visit to Prairie City, Nebraska to cover a news story on drugs, and noting the difference in rentals – 1000 square feet for $400 a month compared to her New York 400 square foot rental for $2000 – Lucinda Trout creates a documentary project that would have her feeding reports on “the quality of life” from her on-site experiences over a year from Prairie City.

Lucinda’s New Yorker sensibilities confronted with rural life of coyotes and truck stops give Daum the opportunity to demonstrate her cynical humor as Lucinda explores her new surroundings.   Mason Clay, a combination Sam Shepard/Brad Pitt, grain elevator operator with three children from three different women, becomes the love interest – an echo of the Nebraska “ex boyfriend” Daum often references in her memoir.

While the book was funny in places, it didn’t hold the same interest for me as “Life Would Be Perfect…”  I had been fascinated with Meghan’s real adventures; when I read them as pieces of a fictionalized venture with Mason – not so much.   But I still like Daum’s style – maybe the next book will reel me back in.

Can Yoga Make You Fat?

Notwithstanding the place of Yoga as the way to nirvana, even some followers admit that assuming the warrior pose may not be for everyone.  Maureen Dowd in her article for the New York Times- How Garbo Learned to Stand on Her Head  – uses her familiar humor and sarcasm to frame the advantages and disadvantages of yoga in her review of William Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Myths and the Rewards.

Dowd notes that she was surprised to find that yoga can cause injury as well as cause weight gain with the lowering of metabolism.  Nevertheless, yoga still maintains its place as the premier source of relaxation for some, including rock star Sting, movie diva Greta Garbo, and Dowd herself – who uses it as a substitute for chocolate to relieve stress.

As for me, I’ve found the perfect way to practice the art of peace and tranquility with few possibilities of injury – Yoga in Bed – Asanas in Pajamas.   I still have my chocolate too – helps to maintain the balance.

Read my review of Yoga in Bed – Asanas in Pajamas – here

Steve Jobs Day

Steve Jobs haunting face appeared every time I turn on my Apple computer, until finally I changed the default page.  Today is Steve Jobs Day; promoters are suggesting you wear a black turtleneck and jeans; you might also want to go barefoot.  Accolades to this genius who revolutionized communication are still seeping into the networks, but Maureen Dowd’s recent column on Jobs’ family background – Prospero’s Tempestuous Family – inspired me to find a new author – Mona Simpson.

Money can buy secrecy or reinvent a public face, but evidently, it still doesn’t buy happiness.  Dowd summarized Steve Jobs’ background as an illegitimate child abandoned by his college student parents to adoption in the fifties, and then his search for them in later years to find not only his mother, married and then divorced from his birth father, but also a sister, who had become a novelist – Mona Simpson.

In Mona Simpson’s roman à clef, A Regular Guy, Steve Jobs is disguised as Tom Owens.  Like Jobs, he dropped out of college, created a multimillion dollar business at a young age, and abandoned his own illegitimate child – a daughter.  Within the first 50 pages, Simpson had already presented a chilling image of the protagonist – a brilliant entrepreneur who carefully constructed his emotionless life; the prose and the story were gossipy but not compelling to read.

Walter Isaacson, biographer of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, has his biography of Steve Jobs ready for publication this month.  It will be interesting to see how much of the family drama he includes.

The Day the World Stood Still

After I stopped going to an office, everyday is pretty much the same – except Sundays – when I can spend sometimes a whole day reading my New York Times.  I can browse through the Book Review and take notes on books I want to order from the library; I can laugh at the political cartoons in the Week in Review; I can fantasize about the 36 hours somewhere in the Travel section; and commiserate with Maureen Dowd on her latest Op-Ed piece about the decline of pretty much everything.

I don’t do the crossword puzzle, but I always like to read the magazine.  The week just doesn’t start right without my freshly pressed paper.

This Sunday, the New York Times did not make the flight from LA to Hawaii for delivery Sunday morning – and I am still recovering.  Sure, I could read it online – not the same.  Eventually, I got a copy – after the Monday issue – but the week had already started – and it seemed like old news.

To quote a college student who prefers paper to digital –  without my paper,

“I’m …like a chicken without a head…”   and waiting for next Sunday to start the week right.