The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins
Wordsworth Classics, 1993 edition

Unknown-1“I liked to see her hearty indignation flash out on me in that way. We see so much malice and so little indignation in my profession.” London Lawyer Vincent Gilmore was given the words, but every character in The Woman in White is generously written with bright, well-drawn personalities that move the story along, make them all memorable and are sociological comments for a reader to learn from over a century later. First published in 1859 this early mystery that is designated a classic became a television movie in 1997, though it was only recently that I had ever hear of it or the author.

As a contemporary of Charles Dickens and Herman Melville there

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales

are similarities with time period, story intricacy, style, and character development. Collins stands alone as a writer, however; he doesn’t need borrowed light from contemporaries. Inside a cavernous, well-appointed castle in the British countryside, by a village and a women’s insane asylum around the bend, he peoples a stage with characters that would explode most contemporary books.

Detail in Cardiff Castle.

Detail in Cardiff Castle.

There is a nauseatingly funny uncle charged with the care and marriages of two nieces (one smart, the other beautiful and prone to vapors), a large inheritance (of course), a soppy, altruistic but poor artist with true love, a manipulative well-connected man with huge debts in the neighboring castle, and his ever entertaining sidekick, an Italian count with the mind sharper than a razor.

The book’s title refers to a chance meeting of the soppy artist with a

British countryside.

British countryside.

delusional woman dressed all in white on her way to London. Collins used a similar meeting he experienced to inspire his complicated, interweaving story that takes the reader to London, Italy, and Central America as secrets are kept, marriages are promised, an evil, penniless scalawag (help me please, I’m falling into 1800 language) hides his bastard birth so he can marry the vaporing beauty who in a fit of honesty declares her love for the soppy artist but insists on carrying through with the wedding so she can please her dead father. What’s more, there is a secret that threatens to unravel everything, greed, an Italian Mafia, charming “foreigners,” and devious women.

Harper's Weekly

Harper’s Weekly

Oh yes, this is silly by today’s standards, but what Collins deftly did is force the question on women, “Why are you allowing yourself to be hemmed in and quashed by men?” The book was originally published as a serial in Harper’s Weekly and was meant to be read aloud. That makes it a bit repetitive as each installment must have digressed to bring the reader to date, but the story has merit as an early mystery novel. Besides, when was the last time you read a book that has a mountebank?

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Oprah De-Clutters, I Caretake

Ulrich SignatureOprah has raised millions of dollars for charity and had thousands of articles created in her honor as she de-clutters her life and possessions. All very laudable. I can understand wanting to breathe free of all those things. She’s gotten rid of vases, furniture, clothing, jewelry and memorabilia like a photo with MC Hammer. Maybe my signed 1990 paperback of A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a sorry comparison.

I was sure she was to be only admired on this topic. After all, de-cluttering is a new byword and I’ve seen newspaper articles telling exactly how to do it tucked right between department store ads for dinner rings and newly released $70,000 automobiles.

Then I saw this one page article in her March 2014 magazine and I stopped. There is a

Oprah's Italian tub!

Oprah’s Italian tub!

photo of Oprah’s prize possession. The divinely inspired bathtub, made for her and only her by Italian stonecutters who carved it from one piece of onyx. It sits, as you can see, in her bathroom, too beautiful to even pierce for water faucets as they sit to the side, waiting for a goddess.

She describes a last effort to save her prize possession as “facing down a design crew,” of thirteen people standing in her bathroom reminding her of the all white new bathroom she had approved. Picture this: There is Oprah with thirteen people in her bathroom that could fit how many? Forty? As I was writing … and she quivers in favor of her goddess one-of-a-kind tub in the whole world.

I knew then and there as I read that I would have a green tub in a white bathroom. What does she do?

Oprah answers, “Okay, take it out. That’s it. I’m done. I’m letting go.” We’re all supposed to clap here before commercial but not me.

Two months later she has an epiphany after talking with the evil de-clutterer Peter Walsh. She realizes she commissioned the tub when she felt like she had truly made “it” and the tub made her feel special. Now she knows she’s special and doesn’t need the tub.

My cabinet has a shelf and drawer on either side.

My cabinet has a shelf and drawer on either side.

Well, duh!

To explain why I am not Oprah and have a limited appreciation for de-cluttering, let me show you a treasure of mine. This cabinet was found in an antique store going out of business and I paid $725 for it. It is five feet long, twenty-three inches deep, and three and a half feet tall. I don’t know what kind of wood it is, but I was told it was made in the early 1900s. Oprah felt special owning her tub. I feel lucky and sure I live with a beautiful thing (as is my husband, but that’s a different story).

If I sold this there would be nothing to replace it with because I would have sold it to save

The handle.

The handle.

my granddaughters’ lives or to serve my husband a last meal that did not contain dog food because that’s all we had been able to afford since I had sold my signed book by Ulrich who coined the phrase “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” a phrase I’m sure Oprah appreciates.

Dear Evil De-Clutterer Peter Walsh and Very Rich Person Oprah, do you ever consider average people caretake? They hold the beauty others created to make a peaceful home with the few valuable things they can afford and when their life is over they want a daughter-in-law or a granddaughter to care about it, and if they don’t they want them to find another caretaker. Please don’t cavalierly say you are now past the attachment when you are merely replacing one beautiful thing for another. Is someone else caretaking that green onyx tub? Can I?

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Education of a Kabbalist

Kabbalist Rav Berg
The Kabbalah Centre, 2000
UnknownThis promising book of less than two hundred pages was a bumpy read that alternated between being interesting, informative, repetitive, and also an invitation to the reader to follow studies in centers located worldwide. I have always been intrigued by the Jewish religion because of its age and deep roots in world history. Equally, I’ve been dismissive of it because of its clannish inbreeding that seemed so similar to the young organized religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) I grew up around. To me the attitude of both churches “reek of elitism,” as Berg wrote of his church. He is attempting to be more open and inviting.
Berg documents his years of study under master teacher Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein

Temple in Jerusalem.

Temple in Jerusalem.

during the tumultuous time in Jerusalem around the 1967 Six Day War. He begins brusquely by stating a few facts and then plunges into a Kabbalah definition of the Messiah. I understood Messiah to mean the one who returns to save the world from destruction, such as Jesus Christ. Berg writes that the “Kabbalah teaches that humanity itself is the true Messiah. When humanity achieves a level of spirituality that merits our redemption, that redemption will have already been realized by the spiritual transformation that has taken place.”
I found this an interesting twist and worth thinking about. It is also belief in this definition that has led Berg’s establishment of The Kabbalah Centre around the world. He is bringing teachings out of the shadows and following what he was taught to make The Kabbalah and its teaching more accessible. This, he believes, will help the world achieve the level of redemption that will save us all.
The book is an odd little blend of esoteric teaching, cool, near boring description of daily life during his tenure with Rabbi Brandwein, and a sprinkling of platitudes. “Pay in advance for a future debt,” jumped at me as a platitude, that is now reduced to the popular phrase “pay it forward,” but then I reconsidered. The phrase has been repeated so often in the current popular culture it is now a platitude, but a few years ago when this book was published it wasn’t. I’m never against giving someone earned credit, so perhaps Berg is seeing some results.
Curious readers who want an easy introduction into The Kabbalah’s teachings would enjoy this book. If this was a break-out book to bring The Kabbalah into mainstream consciousness, it did so with well-planned baby steps. Serious students of comparative religions would find it simple. There’s an interesting tale that gives understanding to the concept of the religious desire to suffer more and worthwhile ideas about the psychology of hate and desire. It is packaged in an easy to read book and I’m sure it has brought more people to The Kabbalah Centre.

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Losing Faith in God is a Hero’s Journey Step

“. . . it swept away my last belief that there might be a Being of some kind out there who truly loved and cared about me—and that my prayers might be heard, and even answered.”

A recent photo of my mother in her garden.

A recent photo of my mother in her garden.

The first time I heard someone say a similar sentiment about losing faith after a crises in life was when I was in college and truly beginning to try and hear what other people said. Besides the anger that great literature and ideas were kept from my fellow high schoolers and me, I was surprised at other people’s opinions, ideas, and beliefs who hadn’t been raised by my mother.

There were adults who actually believed God would just roll over and be available to solve their petty problems. Some were even serious that God was on their side during a football game. That was really, really evident whenever my school, The University of Utah, played Brigham Young University. Oh dear god, that was a lesson in religion.

The above quote is written by Eben Alexander, M.D., in his book Proof of Heaven. UnknownHe is a neurosurgeon who writes of his near death experience and explains how it changed his faith. His story is written efficiently and falls in the class of books that either you believe it or you don’t, but he’s adding his story to the accumulating genre of NDE.

His story is typical of faith stories that everyone has read, seen in movies, heard from their friends, and been told in church. It is the skeleton of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s theories on death and grief. Joseph

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Campbell describes it in the hero’s journey as the basis of every full human story written or told. Very basically, there is belief or life as normal, a trauma, and then the inevitable steps of the journey or recovery.

Trauma is usually shortly followed by a questioning or total loss of faith that results in emotions similar to Alexander’s. In fiction writing it’s in the first third of the book. In life it’s common within the first weeks or months.
So why was I so surprised for so many years when I heard this sentiment of God’s desertion?

First I wasn’t familiar with the pattern of the hero’s journey. A reasonable study

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

of it will show we are a planet of almost seven billion people living variations of the same template.

Second, and this is where my mother comes in and I have to thank her for it, she taught and I’m glad I listened, that God loves everyone. It stuck in the literal mind of that seven-year-old I was then. The belief did not leave room for me to be the center of God’s attention attention at the expense of others though I was still included in the party. I also think since I had experienced the leaving of my father and the loss of California’s sun that resulted in cold basement living, I already knew males were a bit remote and the world could be Utah cold.

My beliefs and ideas have modified and changed since then, especially about men and sunshine, but it all gave me a good practice working up to adulthood.


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