Are you still there?

I’m still here, crawling out of winter. It is Easter weekend. Passover begins tonight. Tomorrow there is a full moon. A time of renewal, of coming through. It makes me think of some lines of poetry by Carolyn Kizer. It is the imagery that has been stuck in my mind for years, that I come back to again and again. From The Great Blue Heron:

As I wandered on the beach
I saw the heron standing
Sunk in the tattered wings
He wore as a hunchback’s coat.
Shadow without a shadow,
Hung on invisible wires
From the top of a canvas day,
What scissors cut him out?

Bring me the beach. Bring me the birds. Let’s begin anew.

More a reader than a writer

Over the holidays I was chatting with a writer at a party. She asked if I was a writer too, and I told her I used to write a lot, but that I’d become more of a reader. And then she asked me a question I’ve been rolling around in my mind ever since. “What do you do with what you read?” I stumbled then, and said something about internalizing the stories and escaping in them. What do I do with the stories I read? Why do I read them and why at such a voracious pace? And again, what do I do with the stories I read?

At the moment, between listening to an audio book on my commute to and from work, and reading print and e-books, I’m averaging two to three books a week. I haven’t always been a reader. As a child I pretty much refused to learn how to read and didn’t really, truly become a reader until middle school. I read some phenomenal things, and I read some things that I could have passed by. But even when wrapped in a story that isn’t what I was looking for, oh the joy. Even a mediocre tale can give me joy and sadness and every emotion in between. For a time, I’m somewhere else. And I guess that’s the why – I love to be engrossed in a story that isn’t mine. It’s my form of escapism.

But the what. I’d like to think that if I’d chosen a different path I could have been some sort of professional reader, to do something bigger with my reading. Alas, I’m here. I do use what I read to help me as a librarian, but in my current job not as much as I’d like. For now, I’ll have to answer this question with hope. What I do with what I read happens entirely in my mind and soul. I hope that I learn and grow from the people between the thousands of pages I consume. I hope that my mind expands and becomes more open to the variances of life. I hope that reading helps me to be a better person.

So. What do you do with what you read?

Letters

stampsTwo weeks ago today I had a most graceful moment with a flight of metal steps. The result is that I’ve been stuck at home in an enormous air cast ever since. No work, minimal time on my feet. I thought I’d be so much better with my time at home, but really I’ve done so very little. Probably because I can’t get around very well, but honestly. I’ve watched so much TV. So much. And I’ve read a few books. I thought I’d write more, but I spent a lot of time thinking about writing, not actually writing. And I realized how I first started writing. It was that form of communication, long since set aside. Letter writing. I had a pen pal. And then I remembered one of my favorite poems.

As a little girl I spent summers in the Adirondacks. Because I spent so much time there, I made friends with some kids that lived there year round. But it started with one girl. She was funny and energetic and had long, thick blond hair. I thought she was the best thing ever (she still is). I don’t remember if it was that first summer, or some summer after, but we began writing letters. My mom took me to the card store and let me pick out two packs of stationery, just for my letters, not anyone else’s. It was hot pink, I think, sort of in the Lisa Frank style. Who knows, it very well may have been Lisa Frank stationery, which would have made it that much more exciting. And we wrote letters for years. Even when we became teenage aliens and our parents had to limit our phone time to monthly calls because of long distance charges, we still wrote letters. At some point they petered out, but we still manage to keep in touch, mostly due to Facebook. But part of me wishes we still wrote letters.

There is something about a letter that is magical. The anticipation, the surprise, the unknown. And the contents of letters, this language that we use to convey emotion and thoughts and desires. Several years ago I got to meet my grandparents as young loves and sweethearts through their letters. As the last of 13 grandchildren, my grandparents were already in their later years when I spent the most time with them. I have wonderful memories, but they weren’t the same grandparents my cousins had. Meeting them at a young age through letters was heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. It gave me a whole knew frame for who they were. And I wonder, if the letters to my childhood friend in the Adirondacks survived time and moving and life, what would they reveal about us?

Even with email, and texts, and social networks, I’m still terrible about keeping in touch with people who aren’t a part of my daily life. I am guilty of not making the time. I have entire conversations with people in my mind as I wind down at the end of the day. But I can’t tell you the last time those thoughts reached the person they were meant for. Perhaps I should take out a pen and some paper when that happens. Would it be strange to start sending letters again in this digital time? Maybe if I start writing letters again, I’ll be moved to really write again. Maybe not though. But it can’t hurt to try.

If you’re interested, find a copy of Carolyn Kizer’s The Way We Write Letters. “But don’t go home tomorrow. Write me instead from the meadow. Turn on the poem & the light.”

Over a year

Image

Photo by Amsterdam Museum

It’s been over a year since I’ve last posted. And so much has changed, and so much has stayed the same. The words have begun to back up, so here goes.

I started a new book today (TransAtlantic, Colum McCann) that begins with a quote that really got me thinking. It’s been stuck in my mind all day. “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is,” Eduardo Galeano. There are so many things happening, big things that will shift our future and rise up in our past for examination, that can be looked at through the filter of these words.

“The time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.” A short list: gay marriage, climate change, economic recovery (or non-recovery depending on your outlook), unemployment, women’s rights, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, Syria, Egypt, healthcare, immigration, and the list goes on. I don’t particularly care what side of the issue(s) you land on right now. But look up at that quote again, and then look at this list. We are fighting the same fights over and over again. Some of these issues have existed since man first began to organize communities. Many people are very upset at the state of our nation, and by extension, the human condition. And rightly so. There is anger and despondency to name a few, and I suppose what I’m aiming at is a little bit of hope for those feeling this way. Keep believing, and keep working towards whatever goal you have. Help your friends, family, neighbors, and total strangers when you can. In the long run, wherever we end up, history will refuse to shut its mouth. Perhaps I’m naive, but the thought gives me hope.

Faking It

When I left my last job I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hadn’t had time off in years, and it didn’t feel right. People kept telling me to enjoy it, to relax. But really. Me, relaxed? Right. So I picked up my volunteering hours and got a part time job working at a local fitness center. It has kept me busy and adds a little bit to my bank account. Win-win, right?

Sneakers

by jamjar - Flickr

Except kind of not really. Because while I had been a member there for almost two years, and forced myself to work out several times a week, working there has made me a bit of a fraud. I got the job because I needed one and my boss understood, needed part time help, and liked the idea of having another woman working the floor (I bring the number of women working the floor to a total of 3). I also knew the equipment and wouldn’t need a ton of training. But here’s the thing. Most people who work in a fitness center are really into fitness. They are personal trainers, they’ve gone to school for it, they live it. And I’ve been asked if I’ll become a certified trainer, and if I’m really into fitness, and this is my favorite – what is my fitness history? And I hedge around the truth and create statements based on lies of omission. And I feel terrible about it, but I’d feel worse outright lying about it.

I work out not because I love fitness, or because I enjoy it, or because I feel that it has to be a way of life. I work out because I don’t want to get fat, and because I’ve found that the endorphins released during exercise take the edge off life. So no, I’m not going to become a certified fitness trainer. But I really admire the people I work with that have made fitness their life. I just don’t have it in me.

So I go to work and I smile and nod and chat with members and make sure no one is about to maim themselves with equipment. And when my shift is over I force myself through my workout. Then I realize I’ve made it through another day, faking fitness. And that makes me laugh. Life can’t be all bad when it makes you laugh, right?

Okay, So I’m Nosy

I enjoy wondering about the lives of others. I find nothing as entertaining as catching half a conversation when I’m out to dinner or standing in line at the grocery store. I have spent large quantities of my life people watching. When the weather gets warm enough for night-time walking, I like hearing what people are watching on TV or half of a phone conversation as I pass by. I know this makes me sound like a terrible person, and totally creepy, but I promise you I’m not. What I love above all these things, though, is a great biography or memoir to take me into the life of another. I know, I know. There has been a flood of  let-me-tell-you-my-horribly-boring-or-downright-lie-life-story memoirs on the market and some biographies are so dry they make you cough dust. But like with most things, in with all the trash are the treasures.

I most recently finished reading Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier. I’m usually a speedy reader, but with biographies, or really, non-fiction in general, I take my time and work my way through it. Daphne du Maurier took me longer than usual. Parts of her life broke my heart and brought me down. I needed to take a few days of space before I could pick it up again. And this is one of the reasons why I think EVERYONE should read biographies. It’s not just about being nosy. It’s about being dropped into another persons world for a little while.

D du M was a wonderful writer and woman, a troubled soul, a wife, lover, friend, daughter and sister. I think the power of reading about the life of another is that it helps to ground us in our own present life. D du M lived her entire life with a “boy-in-the-box” inside her. Only in one relationship in her life was she able to truly be herself and let the boy out of the box. Sadly, it was not her relationship with her husband. This made me break apart inside. But it reminded me that living in a society that (sometimes) lets a person be who they really are is a relatively new thing. And it made me grateful. It made me thank the stars that I won’t necessarily have to choose between being a wife/mother and work. That having a career won’t necessarily  turn my marriage on its head. That while society and the culture I live in have ideas about who I should be and what I should do, I have a greater freedom to be me. This is the power of biography. In reading about the life of another, we can learn more about ourselves and the world we live in.

Please don’t take my boy-in-the-box anecdote about D du M as the only thing to be found in her biography. She had a childhood filled with magic and confusion. Her father’s best friends were writers and thinkers and notables like J.M. Barrie. She was a fiercely shy free spirit that struggled to find a place to belong. A free spirit that married a military man. She wrote astounding pieces of fiction and non-fiction and found that without the act of writing, her full life was nothing she wanted or could handle. She had a rich life of travel and friends and letter writing. The story of her life moved me.

So the next time you’re looking for something to read, give a biography or memoir a try. See what happens when you’re transported into another time and place and life. I’d love to think that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Sleep to dream

I’m having trouble sleeping and I’m reading a terrible book. These are the things concerning me right now. Forget everything else.

I am a person that requires more sleep than most. I also am at my best when I have a fairly consistent schedule. But for the first time in a super long time I don’t really have to get up early in the morning. So I’m staying up late (past 11pm). Apparently, this is a terrible idea. I feel all fuzzy when I wake up and I’m having super vivid crazy dreams. Usually  I sleep so soundly that I don’t remember them. I’m not doing anything crazy before bed. Typically just a crossword and some reading. But this morning right before I woke up I dreamed that I was the protector of dogs. As in the rescuer of all dogs everywhere. I wasn’t a very effective one. I didn’t have anything to defend myself or the dogs from the (there was only one in this world) dognapper, and I had no cell phone or a way to let other people know I needed help. So I just started screaming like a banshee and my friend Christina showed up and used her cell to call for help. I don’t know why she couldn’t have fought the dognapper. She’s tough. And she was wearing neon sneakers. Where does this stuff come from? I need to stop staying up so late. It’s clearly affecting my ability to be prepared to defend all dogs everywhere at night.

And tonight I’m kind of dreading going to bed. Not because of the bizarre dreams, but because I’m reading a book that I don’t like at all. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again. Once I start a book, I have to finish it.  I’m really killing myself this time, because I knew I wouldn’t like it before I started it. Why even read it the, you ask? Because it’s part of a series. Thankfully there are only three books, but since I read the first one I also have to read all three. I say that I “have” to read the book like my life depends on it. No, I’d live just fine if I didn’t read it. My heart would continue to pump blood through my veins. But I’d go nuts wondering how the terrible story ends, or what becomes of the irritating and grating main character. Which is where I am now. I dislike the main character and really wish I didn’t care what becomes of him. But I do. And it’s making me put off going to bed early like I know I should.

It’s only 10pm. Any guesses on what I’ll dream about tonight, if I ever get to sleep?