Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Prodigal Book

This month I went insane. And then I found a missing library book. I tell you that in advance because things get pretty intense between the two and I didn’t know if you could handle the suspense.

Isn’t it amazing how the little things can chip away at the fragile and misguided mass we call our sanity? It’s like all the worries in the world are made of an adhesive and they stick to our psyche. We then rip them off, one at a time trying to deal with each one, successively peeling away layer after layer of ideals, experiences, values and assumptions of who we think we are leaving a quivering, jellied lump of pure emotion and instinct behind.

This month was a record in a string of bad months. I overdrew my account by mistake – twice. A client yelled at me for something I couldn’t control, another employee loudly voiced her negative opinions for our website which she didn’t know I had created, an employee continually called out while another consistently showed up late. Eventually, this all culminated in me quitting my job, which is terrifying. I have another job lined up, but still. Stressful.

To make myself feel better I went to the library, a place that always makes things O.K. I hadn’t been there in almost 3 weeks so it was definitely time. I lugged my huge, sturdy library bag full of books to the counter and started checking in books with my friend, Caterpillar-Chihuahua lady (Translation here).  Maybe it’s the luck of the draw, maybe I’m cursed, but every time I check in or out with this lady there’s a problem. Either I have an issue with my card or a certain book or she has an issue with dealing with anyone who is in a better mood than her. Which is everyone.

Anyway, she checked in all of my books, looked at the computer, looked at my stack of books and then looked at me and said, “Youuuuuuuu arreeeeee miiiiiiisiiiiing ooooone boooook.”

So, this was an embarrassing situation, especially since there were people behind me and she had violated the sacred law of libraries by speaking in a very loud voice that everyone could hear, but then she compounded the situation by saying, “Yoooou ooooowe the liiiiiiiibrary fiiiiiftyyy dolllaaarsss iiiiif yooooou cannooooot produuuuuce thaaaat boooook.”
I thought this was curious choice of words. To produce something implies that I must create it. As if I was supposed to create a nest of shredded library cards and pop out the book like an egg. I stared at her imagining this scenario and idly wondering if they had a coop for this sort of thing when she said:
“Iiiiiiiiiiin addiiiiiiiitioooooon, youuuuu maaay noooot cheeeeeeck ooooooutt aaaaany mooooore booooooks untiiiiil youuuuu rettuuuuurn thaaaat oooone oooor paaay fooor iiiit.”

I was barred from the library! My escape! MY SANITY!! I left the library in a blurry haze. Tears threatened but I refused to let them spill. Chihuahua lady would probably lick them from my chin as others’ despair and suffering seemed to be her sustenance and my tears her lifeblood. Let her starve.
I started looking for that book immediately, starting in my car. Everything from the cab got moved to the trunk, and everything from the trunk got moved to the cab. Nothing.

I got home and terrorized my dog with my crazed and energetic display of domesticity, misguidedly believing that cleaning would bring my missing book to light. I started with my usual reading spots. Bathroom was first on the list. I looked through the stack of books, but not with much hope. Given that the book was about hands on sewing, imagining the practical application of the subject matter while in the bathroom was just too brutal.
Next was my reading chair, a green striped behemoth of a chair that my mother-in-law once referred to as “Dr. Seuss’s Throne”. I chose to take it as a compliment. It wasn’t there or in the cushions of the couch or in my sewing corner. It wasn’t at my work desk, in the kitchen or mixed in with my husband’s video games. The book had ceased to be.

The next morning, I received another call from an employee saying they weren’t coming in. The absolute injustice of being called at 6 am and being fed such malarkey on top of all the other crap I’d had to deal with was too much. My brain collapsed like a star and then went super nova. My emotions boiled over and projectile launched, splattering against anyone who was in their way. Other people’s problems were as ants and I was Godzilla, crushing them beneath my clawed feet and breathing fire on their stupidity.

I started throwing things to alleviate excess agitation, as I seemed to have an abundance of it, and it didn’t stop when I got to my car. I tossed the contents like a salad. Looking in through the windows must have been like looking at a blender. I was a whirling dervish and everything else was helplessly sucked into my vortex.
Finally I exhausted myself and collapsed against the steering wheel sobbing. Papers floated down around me, released from my frenetic energy.  One landed on my shoulder and I jerked away from it, brushing it off. It landed on the floor. Next to a book.    The. Book.

 I stared at the book on the floor. Apparently my strenuous efforts to sake the car apart had dislodged it from beneath the seat. I hesitantly reached for it, fearing I was hallucinating. I picked it up and all of my stress and anxiety evaporated. It was like finding the Holy Grail. Nothing else mattered, all of my problems were solved, and I would never have to worry again because I had found my missing library book.
I drove to work still basking in the glow of relief. It was like being reborn as a new and better person in a new and better situation. All because of this one book. Yes, I was still on my way to a terrible job, but I was on my way to a terrible job with my book that once was lost and now was found, and that made it the most valuable book on Earth.

And then I locked my keys in my car when I got to work.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writer's Block

I’ve been having some pretty serious issues trying to come up with a blog post. It’s been what, a month and half since I last posted?

  To be honest, I’ve been purposely ignoring this whole writing nonsense. I’ve been filling my time reading. Thank God there are people out there who can stick to writing in order to actually finish a book so that I have something to read. I could never write an entire book. All of my writings together might make a nice little pamphlet…

But now my reading has taken on a vengeful edge.

 It started as me justifying my reduced output of writing with, “Eh. This book is boring. They don’t want to hear about this.”

 Then it became, “Man that book was great! Let’s not ruin the experience with a freakin’ book report.”

 Now it’s progressed to me scrunching up on my reading chair, screwing my face into a child’s pout and whining,  “But I don’t WANNA DO IT!!!! And I’m going to read this book and not write about and I’m going to ENJOY IT, JUST SEE IF I DON’T!!!”

 At that point my husband avoids eye contact and backs away slowly.
The problem is now I’m starting to feel guilty about not doing what I set out to do. Like when I think I’ll get up early to work out and instead oversleep by 30 minutes. Except worse ‘cause who cares about exercise, am I right?

  I decided to take some advice to jumpstart my writing from the people who actually possess patience, perseverance and discipline and I stumbled across this little gem that illustrates the crux of my problem;

“Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.” - Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold was an 18th century British poet and critic. He was very respected and admired, but I’m not sure if it’s because of his writing or his fabulous mutton chops.

  His quote made me realize the reason I’ve been having so much trouble coming up with a post recently; I haven’t had a thing to say. The books I’ve been reading have been if not great then at least adequate, none of my library books are overdue and I’ve had plenty of free time for reading.

 So since there’s been nothing unfortunate or bizarre happening in my reading life, I haven’t had anything to write about. I could have just written about how hunky dory things have been, but that would have been the most God-awful, G-rated, Mayberry read ever.
 As another great, Maxwell Anderson said;

“The story must be a conflict.”

So, I’m sorry to break it to you, but my life’s been just fine lately. So I’m basically writing this post to tell you I have nothing to write about. If I want some respect and admiration I’m going to have to grow some mutton chops.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You're the limit

There’s a term in fishing called “Limiting Out”. It refers to catching the full amount allowed by law of any particular fish. Having been fishing on a number of occasions, I doubt anyone ever actually reaches them, so I am forced to assume that these limits are printed strictly as a comedic element in the fishing manuals, which are pretty dry reads otherwise.

Anyway, I was at the library recently and I brought my most recent pile of new finds to the check-out counter. The lady at the counter (who always makes me think of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland because she elongates her vowels), ran my card and said,

“I’m sooooorryyy, youuuuuu seem to haaave reaaaached your limiiiit.”

This woman also has the unfortunate habit of blinking rapidly as she speaks, creating a completely contradictory effect to her slow pattern of speech. All of these things together are very distracting, so for minute I didn’t even hear what she said, imagining instead her as an excitable chihuahua whose speech has been impeded by a stroke.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Your cheeeeeeck oooout limit. Youuuuu haaaaave reached iiiiit.”

This was news to me. Sure there was a plethora of books in the backseat of my car and on the tank of my toilet, but most of those books I had only read once. The ones in the bathroom I hadn’t even finished yet, but short of resorting to medicinal inducement I’m not obliged to spend as much time in the bathroom as I do in my car.

“What is my limit?”

“Youuuuu are alloooooted 50 booooks at any oooone tiiime.” Blinkblinkblink.

I had limited out! And at 50 books! Rather than be chagrined I was elated! Surely this was a rarity! I should be in the paper! Maybe not front page, but at least under “Notable Achievements”, my name and a picture of me surrounded by all 50 of my books.
“No!” people would gasp “50 books all at once? And you tried to check out more? Inspirational.”
My visits to the library would change drastically. Red carpets and private access to an exclusive room where only the best and brightest books were held. Library staff would whisper to the other patrons “Do you know who that is? That’s Tiffany, she Limits Out!”

I would be a kind and benevolent ruler of the library. Allowing everyone access in the next 2 years or so. However long it took to finish reading all the books without having to wait for transfers or languishing on a waiting list for some despot to return a book I wanted to read.

“Aaaaand it appeaaaars a feeeew of theeeem are ooooverduuuue.”

I’ve worked out an extension program for my overdue books, but it’s only for a week. I hope my husband can hold it that long.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I've read it to tatters

The book “Caravan” by Dorothy Gilman, is by far, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. I found it on my mom’s bookshelf and promptly stole it outright. (I’m still not sorry.) I have read that book until the cover is cracked, the spine is boiled-noodle soft and the entire middle section, pages 37-114, have gone AWOL like renegade soldiers. I’ve started storing it in a manila envelope instead of trusting it to hold together on the bookshelf.

Dorothy Gilman in general was an incredible story teller (she died earlier this year). She came up with original and hilarious concepts, but the thing that I love about her books is the characters. Each of them is so strong, in a lot of different ways.

One is a perky, elderly woman who, fed up with geraniums and volunteering, applies for a job as a secret agent…and gets it. But instead of being kitschy and stodgy (Lookin’ at you Miss Marple), Mrs. Pollifax reveals great depths of ingenuity, humor and enormous emotion. Despite the impossible situations she finds herself in, she is incredibly human and relatable. I daresay I find myself loving her like a grandma sometimes.

But of all the Dorothy Gilman books I’ve read (14) my absolute favorite is Caravan. Following the life of a 16 year old girl in the early 1920’s, this book is about A LOT more than just growing up. The main character, Caressa, marries an older man and very quickly is whisked away to Africa with her linguistics studying husband. Very soon, she finds herself stranded in the desert, captured by native tribes, sold as a slave, pursued by bandits, even the object of affection.
This story is touching on so many levels. The things that Caressa faces are terrifying, but she accepts and deals with them with such charisma and even humor that it makes me ashamed when I get pissy over the grocery store being out of wasabi flavored seaweed wraps.
It isn’t just Caressa that I love. The entire story is rich in the history and culture of Africa and humanity in general. It’s a striking tale, spun beautifully and timed so perfectly that it seems like a poem each time I read it.

It’s become something of a routine for me. I’ll go 2 or 3 months, just boppin’ along, living life and then I’ll have the Terrible Week. The Terrible Week consists of a series of incidents ranging from slightly annoying events (flat hair) to full blown anger inducing rage-makers (flat tire). Overall it makes for a soul-shattering, energy-sapping bad week, where the only thing keeping me from a triple shotgun homicide is my daily Frappuccino.

When I get like that I head instinctively for my bookshelves. I run my finger along the familiar titles, looking very studious indeed, searching for that perfect book, a mixture of humor, adventure and romance. A reflection of my own flaws and an example of what I should strive to. An elegant, beautiful, soulful book that will calm and center me. Eventually, I stop pretending to look and reach for what I wanted all along; a tattered manila envelope holding 256 pages of the best story I’ve ever read.

In this manner, another triple shotgun homicide is avoided.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Titanic is a verb

I just read the most heinous book. Just really, really bad.

I had chosen it because it was about the Titanic. It ended up being nearly as disastrous as the ill-fated boat itself. It sank so bad it “Titanic-ed”. Boom. I just turned one of the worst maritime disasters into a verb. Too soon?
I should have been tipped off in the beginning, when there was a startling lack of contractions and an overabundance of manners from the main character; A young girl in the 3rd or 4th grade.

The main plot was something along the lines of the girl’s distant relative who died on the titanic and was now haunting the girl in an effort to solve some mystery. I stopped paying attention to the story itself about ¼ of the way through and started counting the number of snacks the characters indulged in. Seriously, every chapter at least one character would say “Hey! That big plot point you’re in the middle of? Let’s stick a pin in that and have a small but highly nutritious, low calorie snack.” I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how the line was written. This book was obsessed with reinforcing the importance of a solid meal schedule.

And speaking of reinforcing, anytime something happened and a new character came in, the whole scene would be recounted in full detail. THE. WHOLE. THING. A full 20% of the book was just a copy and paste of the opening scene being retold to different characters.

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I read the whole thing. Every boring sentence of it. It was apparent that the book was intended for a much younger audience, but I read through doggedly out of spite. Or masochism, I’m not sure which.
The fact that it was intended for a younger audience didn’t make me feel better though. 70 years ago kids were reading Little Women and Freckles in 4th grade! Not this watered down, meaningless dreck! Maybe the reason people get all the way through school without learning how to think for themselves is because they don’t have to anymore. Books have been diluted to a politically-correct, curriculum – approved, formulaic imposters of what literature used to be.

Needless to say, the best part of the book was clicking “Delete From my Device”.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

B and V

A few days ago I got an awesome package from my sister in Germany. Inside was a Betty and Veronica comic.

Oh yes.

I read those.

Really they’re a throwback to childhood. My sisters and I had hundreds of Archie books that we literally read to pieces.
Probably a great deal of my naiveté comes from those comics. In Riverdale there aren’t drugs, alcohol or sex. The sauciest thing that happens is some heavy kissing between Archie and whichever girl he’s with at any given moment. Every episode Archie bounces between his two main squeezes Betty and Veronica, and every episode there’s a huge blowout about it. But then, in the next episode everyone’s cool.

There’s either a steady stream of weed coming in or a rampant lobotomist running around Riverdale, despite its squeaky clean rep.

If you’ve never read a Betty & Veronica or Archie comic, let me fill you in on the characters:

Betty – Volunteering, honor roll, goody two shoes who is so head over heels for Archie it borders on neurotic obsession.

Veronica – Insufferable rich snob with no grip on reality who, for some reason, attends a public high school despite her father’s apparent quad-tri-double google-nair status. (Imagine Kim Kardashian if she was into Gingers.)

Archie – Red haired bumbler who somehow has snagged 2 insanely hot chicks despite his proclivity for the words “gosh” and “swell”.

Jughead – A gluttonous woman disdainer whose binge eating habits are interrupted only when he is giving Archie advice. Given his penchant for handing out philosophic advice and feverishly eating everything in sight, there’s a good chance he’s the one handing out dimebags at the end of every episode.

Reggie – A self-centered, self-obsessed chauvinist who chases Veronica but never really catches her, unless she’s using him to make Archie jealous.

I realize I’ve made them sound like the worst examples of humankind, but stuff like that sells. Just watch an episode of Seinfeld.

Anyway, my sisters and I ate those things up. When we were assigned to cleaning the bathroom we would fan out a series of comics on the tank of the toilet for any guests. We considered it just an extension of our hospitality, not realizing it advertised us as unabashed bathroom readers to our friends and family.

I’m not sure what the draw was either. The artwork was subpar at best and the jokes were Clorox clean. But every road trip was accompanied by a stack of them. I think it’s because the comics became nostalgia the moment were read them. The characters and responses were so predictable it became funny. Think Mel Brooks humor, but in cheaper paper form.

All in all, those characters had really great lives. Incredible weather, awesome teachers, an old time soda shop, even the odd adventure or two. I wouldn’t mind dropping by for a while and living there. I’d just have to visit Jughead a few times to appreciate a lot of Riverdale humor….

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nicole's Promise

“I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

This is the oath that my little sister took just over a year ago. It is also the oath that she will be fulfilling in 5 days when she ships out on deployment. When I first heard this oath it was at her basic training graduation and I was so proud I could hardly stand it. These were the most eloquent, powerful words I had ever heard because she was saying them.

Now they are the most difficult, damning words I’ve ever seen for the same reason; she has said them. And now she will honor them.

I’ve discovered a different kind of pride in her. At first it was a nebulous sort of pride; sure I was proud of her for enlisting, but it didn’t extend to all the unknowns that come along with military life. I was just proud that she made it through basic.

Now my pride is extending to the fact that her strength runs deeper than just surviving pushups and sleep deprivation. She’s approaching this deployment with much more coolness than anyone else in our family. She’s so nonchalant about it that it’s had a sort of numbing effect on the rest of us. Sort of like “Yeah I’m deploying, and…?”  She talks about it like it’s a brief business trip she’ll be taking instead of active duty in a rather hostile country. It’s made the rest of us stop freaking out before we even get to start. (If you had met my mom you’d realize how big of a deal that is.) Instead of reaching out to everyone else for strength she seems to have an excess of her own. She’s even lending it to the rest of us.

She isn’t facing her deployment with brash over confidence, just courage. The kind of courage that doesn’t know what’s coming, but knows that it will be faced head on according to duty. She is doing this because she must; it’s as simple as that.

So, I will endure knowing that my sister is very far away in possible danger for the same reason; because I must. I take too much pride in my sister’s strength to tarnish it with my fears. The original giddy pride I had for my sister is changing into something much more substantial and intense: Respect.

Read through the Airman’s Oath again and realize the meaning behind the words and promises in it and realize the kind of person it takes to agree to this oath and then uphold it. More people than just my sister have taken that oath and more than just she deserve the respect that should go hand in hand with it.