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Book Bag

DIVINE RENOVATIONS

By Janice Beetle

Off the Common Books

janicebeetle.wordpress.com

This memoir by veteran area writer Janice Beetle is an emotional roller coaster, describing how she unexpectedly met the love of her life, only to lose him several years later — ushering in a period of intense grief and almost physical dysfunction from which she feared she might not recover.

Beetle had been married for 15 years when, in 2002, she and her husband hired a carpenter, Ed Godleski of Hatfield, to do some renovations in their Florence home. For Beetle, who was 39 at the time, the world was about to turn. She felt an almost instant attraction to Godleski, a spiritual connection that seemed to indicate “that Ed was in my house for something other than renovation.”

Indeed: Within several months she moved out of her house, leaving behind her two daughters and her husband, and she later became involved with Godleski, who was also in love with her. The two weathered the breakup of their respective marriages and built a life of emotional connection that Beetle says she hadn’t had in her first union.

But that’s only one part of “Divine Renovations.” In 2010, Godleski was stricken with lung cancer — and after just a few months, he died. Beetle was traumatized and soon became consumed by thoughts of suicide: “I survive the first week without my husband by planning my death.”

Beetle, who now lives in Easthampton and runs an editorial services company, eventually came to accept her loss, but it’s been a rough journey. Yet it’s an honest and poignant one, too, in which family and friends help as they can and she reflects on what Godleski has given her: “Ed’s gift to me was learning how to love and be loved. It was learning how to give and cherish and adore, and then give some more.”

Janice Beetle will read from “Divine Renovations” Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. The event requires purchase of the book or a $5 ticket. Beetle will also read Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at a private home in Florence, but the event is open to the public; email the author at beetlepress@charter.net if you’d like to attend.

DIAMOND HIGHWAY: A TIBETAN
BUDDHIST PATH IN AMERICA

By Tony Cape

Off the Common Books

Chogyam Trungpa was a unique figure in the world of Tibetan Buddhism, a charismatic leader who brought his teachings to the Western world but also courted controversy by smoking, drinking and sleeping with some of his students. He also played an important role in the life of Tony Cape, whose memoir, “Diamond Highway,” focuses on a 10-year period in the 1970s and 1980s when Cape became one of Trungpa’s kusung, or personal attendants.

Cape, today an English teacher at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley, has had a colorful life himself. Born in Wales, he dodged bullets and bombs as a young journalist in Northern Island in the early 1970s, and he later taught writing at Bard College and Yale University; he’s also written a number of praised spy novels.

In the mid 1970s, though, he was a restless young man looking for meaning in his life, hitchhiking across the western United States, where he joined a Buddhist community in Boulder, Colo., led by Trungpa. Cape was quickly drawn to the meditation master’s aura: “To be in his presence was to feel an elemental benevolent power that conferred a unique sense of privilege and obligation.”

Cape would go on to become a devoted member of Trungpa’s community, studying Buddhism and meditation and becoming one of his personal attendants in Colorado, Vermont and New York City. The experience gave him deep satisfaction and a greater understanding of Buddhism, though Cape does not shy away from discussions of Trungpa’s controversial practices, nor some of the more mundane aspects of the search for enlightenment: “Meditating for a week alone in a cabin is extremely boring.”

In “Diamond Highway,” Cape also offers a candid history of his long struggle with serious depression, something that plagued him during his time with Trungpa (who died in 1987) as well as more recently. He says he’s written his memoir in part to share his memories of Trungpa but also to try and help those with depression: “I offer my own experience as an expression of solidarity with all those whose lives have been touched by this appalling affliction.”

Tony Cape will read from “Diamond Highway” next Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.

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