Wednesday, October 11, 2017

On Readin’ and Writin’

“They” say that if you want to be a writer you must be a reader.

Well … I guess I am that. A reader, I mean. At least when judged on the basis of frequency – the writing comes sparsely and sporadically.  I read about a book a week, sometimes more.  I am indiscriminate in my reading only having a penchant for fiction -- especially the fictional likelihood of historical or real events. I am the worst when it comes to knowing authors -- to my shame and their chagrin. I pick books from the canvas pop-up tent at the library book sale and from the musty shelves at Goodwill. I actually DO judge books by their covers; I pick them because of the way they look, the way their titles sound rolling off my tongue and even, sometimes, simply because of how a book feels in my hand.

I panic -- like someone out of “Hoarders” on TV -- when I have less than a dozen tomes awaiting, like patient pets, by my bedside. If, on a trip to the doctor’ office, I’ve forgotten to bring a book with me, I’ll read every last magazine in the waiting room. I have even resorted to reading candy bar wrappers and cast-off drugstore flyers when no other words are available to lay my eyes upon. I love words. But, more than that, I love the images they create in my mind. A candy bar wrapper, for example, can instantly conjure up the mental image of a laboratory where chemicals combine with cocoa, white-coated lab technicians smell, taste and research variations on a product in an effort to hit on the perfect mouth feel for the latest Hershey company offering.

But these wrapper-conjured images, as important as they are, pale by comparison to the places I travel and the people I become through the skill of someone’s prose. An olive orchard in Italy becomes my own, a train ride in China becomes my trip. I become the Queen of England one moment and a prairie wife the next. Time travel and shape-shifting are not only possible, they are my diet; consumed with relish and motivated by an unappeasable appetite. I am the tattooed lady on Coney Island. I am the super sleuth navigating the back alleys of Marrakech.  I am a lover in Paris and a beloved in Alabama. I am a murderess in Iceland and a condor feathering its wings to catch the thermals over the majesty of the Grand Canyon. I dip and soar and weep in the clouds of my down comforter, pillowed by the magical words of an author’s skill at arranging words into stories that transport me, inform and educate me, entertain and enlighten me.

Ah … that enlightenment element … How I wish I could tell you of the wisdom contained in in the humblest of bound pages! It is a treasure hunt to find these nuggets but the search is often rewarded. Sometimes a wise author urges me to embrace humor (I have been known to giggle like a school girl in my solitary reading) and to look to the absurd to cushion the trials of everyday life. Sometimes an author will take me on a much-needed vacation to a place that refreshes my soul. Sometimes the philosophy of the author comes through with startling gut-punching clarity and lets me own it. 

“What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.”  (from “Animal Dreams” by Barbara Kingsolver)

You see?

I am envious of the skill, in awe of the research, intrigued by the plot twists and the lives and minds behind them. I love these authors’ willingness to share. If the seed of the Great American Novel has not taken root in the soil of my writing, I can at least write about reading.

“Sometimes I’m asked what my advice would be for emerging writers, and it is always simply, to read.” (author Hannah Kent)

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (the oh-so-wise Dr. Seuss)

Read I will continue to do with much frequency. And write too – even if sparsely and sporadically.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Forget Friday the 13th ...

I am not superstitious.  I Am NOT superstitious.  However, I do not walk under ladders, a faint shiver of shame creeps up my spine as I am aware of a black cat crossing my path, and, if I enter an appointment on my calendar for Friday the 13th of any month, I wonder if the appointment will have dire consequences.

2017 has not started out well.  As one son put it: “We are only a week into the year and it feels like we are a year into the week.”  It has been plagued with enormous distress in our little quaint Vermont community as the first homicide -- yet unsolved --  burst our bubble of safety.  Couple that with medical concerns in the family, alternate subzero temps and rain creating icy falls and dented fenders.  One can only hope that like the month of March that is known to come in like a lion and leave like a lamb, this year of our Lord 2017 will leave in a more gentle and benevolent manner than it arrived.

With this background, I was, on Thursday the 12th, terribly aware -- shamefully aware in my non-superstitious nature -- that the next day would be a Friday the 13th.  How then did it happen that, while eating my favorite morning treat, crusty sesame semolina toast with a smear of butter and a dollop of organic blueberry jam, I lost a tooth.  Yes, it was lost … gone … not to be found … swallowed with the crunchy crust. Fake tooth that it was, there was no pain except to my vanity … how could I go out in public without smiling?  And how could I smile with that front tooth missing?

The day progressed with the local school bus going off the road in icy conditions and a massive power outage that crashed all that computer-driven technology in our businesses.  With no way to scan prices or ring up sales, we reverted to the pen and paper method of trying to stay open and record sales; sometimes guessing at prices or relying on running back and forth to check shelf labels with head lamps and flashlights.  And, when the power did come back on, the computers did not.  And this Friday the 13th occurring on Thursday the 12th ground down to a blessed end with frayed nerves and fatigue.

But here is the lesson: My dentist’s office got me in in a matter of hours and replaced the lost tooth. Who knew that they had a drawer of “emergency teeth” and a crackerjack technician to restore my smile?

No one was hurt in the school bus incident and people in the tiny little town were more tolerant and understanding of the road crew and their hard work in difficult conditions than usual.

Customers were grateful we were open at all. Help at the store stayed on past their shifts and restored the technology with the help of our IT company so that, by closing, we were fully functioning again. People altered their schedules to adjust without a complaint or second thought.

Bad luck?  I think not.  It is not the day; it is the support we give each other in major or minor crises that dictates how any given date on the calendar goes. As 2017 begins to roll out its days, of that I am absolutely sure -- evenif my spine still tingles a bit when a black cat crosses my path.

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