Monday, October 22, 2007

Written and Writing

It surprises me - even when it likely shouldn't - when I ponder the power of words. How I escaped to a vandalized summer camp and a pair of lovers who'd lost each other while Mom had a filter placed in her vein. On the drive home to tend to Mom's uncontrolled bleeding, I giggled over a woman who, finding herself obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, accepted a gift of a vacation where all attendees had to pretend they lived in Austen's time period. The alternative in both cases was sobbing terror so being engrossed in something - anything, really - was a gift beyond measure. When I was clicking between my audible library and goodreads shelves to write reviews for my few friends, I recalled with stunning clarity exactly where I was going, what I was doing and how I felt when hearing those audiobooks.

I found myself standing in Borders on Saturday, therefore, feeling confused and dismayed and a bit frantic. I had parked in a 15 minute only space and Friend had rapidly collected the items she wanted. She approached me, holding a bag and I shook my head.

"I can't remember what I've read!" I told her. "I keep picking up books and they sound familiar or not interesting and I don't know what to buy!" She shook her head in return and headed off in another direction while I continued to think that I couldn't leave a bookstore with nothing. I finally found a small novel and gave the cashier $5 before leaving. As Friend held the door propped open as she passed through, I cocked my head.

"I know I've read romance novels where a Scottish man from the past pops up in the present and falls in love with the woman who somehow summoned him." I told her. "But I don't think I've read this particular one." Yet it sits on my bookshelf, having been placed there for later.

I had better luck at Books-A-Million yesterday. I went immediately went to the children's section and picked out 3 Care Bears books. One had stickers! Then I turned right into a smaller aisle and waited patiently until a small boy drifted away from the Diego books. I pounced on those featuring Dora and pursed my mouth as I knelt on the floor to select the best ones.

I am charmed - easily and completely - at how little ones handle books. Little Cousin reached out a tiny hand as she had her head buried in Cousin's neck to accept the Care Bears book I gave her last night. She later found a spot to sit on the kitchen floor and spoke softly to herself as she turned the pages and considered the pictures. Little One is much the same when confronted with a new story.

"Can we read this?" She asks, then snuggles close to point out some feature of a picture, respond to a question (Dora is awfully inquisitive) or giggle when something funny happens (that big, red chicken is rather amusing). I'll sometimes find her curled up by herself, slowly turning pages and frequently telling what she remembers of the adventure out loud.

I loved books growing up too. I remember walking over and reaching up to turn the handle of the door leading to the hall closet. My books were on a low shelf and I would select a few before running to find Grandma or Grandpa to read to me. After Grandpa passed away, I'd often stay the night with Grandma. We slowly worked our way through Heidi - a chapter or two at a time - as we prepared to sleep. It's the first book I remember that had very few pictures. She would ask if I wanted to open my eyes to look at them as I rested next to her in bed, my body quiet and resting while my mind focused on a young girl and her life with her grandfather on the hilltop.

"You'll read to me someday." She told me and I smiled at the thought. We would often read together often for years longer.

At 16, I worked retail - a job I neither enjoyed nor for which I had any talent. I would coax myself into going with internal bribes of going to the KMart at the end of the shopping center to select a book when I arrived early. I would hurry back to the shop afterward, walking swiftly past the racks of clothing and boxes of shoes to the back. After passing through a set of swinging doors, I would turn left and take several more steps until I reached the small break room. I'd be alone there until the 5:00 clerks arrived and I'd finish several chapters before having to regretfully close the pages. I'd wander out to my section and start to straighten and hope for customers so I could push buttons on the register. Somehow, it helped pass the 4 hours to wonder what was coming next for the characters in my waiting book. I would drive home to finish the story before going to bed and would feel happy that I had a job that enabled me to buy the precious pages of text.

Yet I find myself unfocused much of the time lately. I make it through a few pages, but rarely find myself engrossed in a novel to the exclusion of all else. Perhaps my standards are growing higher. Maybe I'm too stressed and tired to summon the mental energy to appreciate novels - even the happy romances I favor.

Regardless, I find I've been reading more journal articles than anything lately. I finally revised my own paper tonight, culling some of the blatantly unimportant or redundant sections and finding an organizational scheme that seems to work. Given that Boss wants to meet tomorrow morning to discuss my recent work, Henry has written to ask if we can meet about the project we discussed earlier (how do you politely tell someone you did not and will not add them as an author and are shocked they even asked?) and I have an afternoon phone conversation planned with a potential employer whose very relevant paper I've not yet read, maybe that's the way it needs to be.


Anonymous said...

i'm sorry you're feeling unfocused.

i totally know what you mean about books and reading though! when i worked at a bakery during HS, I would anxiously await my 10 min break and lunch to read!

Alethea said...

Thanks for your supportive comments. I took the advice I gave you earlier and (1) slept and (2) ate and drank, and things are better. We'll revise and submit elsewhere.

If there is a lesson in here, I think it's that it's really useful to get someone completely out of your discipline to read your paper. The ones close by tend to be hypercritical of unimportant details but miss the big picture.

I think you're doing great in the face of fear for your mom. Reading has always been my great escapism, too.

Estrella said...

Reading ... how I love to be lost in the world of a special book! Hope you find some time to curl up with your new book soon.

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