Book a Ride

A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough…People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination.


– Doris Lessing

I forgo my usual lunchtime inertia and go for a walk instead. It helps that the sun is peeking out today. It helps that I decided to quit bitching and do something about my stalled commitment.

This walk is no stroll across campus. I’m on a mission.

The downtown library is 1.5 miles from my office. My empty shopping bag flops against my side as I pass the fire station and the Thai restaurant. The library door is narrow but opens into a space as capacious as an easy chair. Preschoolers chatter. Glass up to the ceiling lets the day drift in and wander.

The stacks seem to lean ever so slightly in my direction, meeting my momentum. I weave first through  biographies and then head to the 323s.

The collection I slide through the scanner includes Sylvia Mendez, Mahalia Jackson, Sun Ra. Picture books, bright covers, gritty stories that betray a hidden gleam. Into the bag. Cesar Chavez. A walk up Lincoln’s steps. Elizabeth Cady Stanton catches a lift. So does Toussaint Louverture.

Reading does not equal action. Reading does build the momentum towards it. It opens the hood. It invites a look inside.

I hike the same 1.5 miles back to my office. An afternoon of spreadsheets and graduation planning is waiting.

Sun warms my face. The overstuffed bag presses into my shoulder. It is uphill all the way but the climb feels like something else entirely. Like a neglected engine when it finally hums awake. Like when a latch pops and the light streams in.


 

 

69. Things I Can Tell Myself: One Small Truth

I am not going to read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday.

Never mind that he’s on deck for a Monday evening book group at the Unitarian church right up the street. And I have two full weeks until then, which is more than enough time. And it’s an opportunity to talk ideas and raw human family concerns with like-minded, world-eyed liberals right here in my community.

And that I want more than anything to disrupt this aching lonely purposeless robotic toil-consume-pick up-drop off-sort-pay-do-it-all-again-tomorrow middle aged existence by weaving myself into a project bigger than me, and attending this group is one simple step towards a richer life.

Because that’s a lie.

I want other things. This I want, yes, but only as much as other things, not more than. Maybe even less than, if I’m really honest.

My 7am Zumba is a few notches higher. That’s why, instead of reading past 11pm, I turn off the light and quiet myself down.

Also higher on the list? Long, meandering walks through the neighborhood with Noodle.

Making my own hummus from scratch is up there too.

Drawing crayon doodles on the envelopes into which I fold letters to Bug at camp. And scritch-scratching in my journal. And tip-tapping here: All higher.

Also whirling through loops and riding over soft plateaus in nighttime phone conversations with My Mister. And deadheading the basil. And transplanting the peppers. And mining the deep vein of creativity when the tough tasks come calling during my 8 hours.

Lunchtime yoga. That’s higher too.

If I really want that book club and the currency I imagine it carries — I mean, if I really want it — the choice is simple. Kick Jared Diamond up to the top of the list. Let something further down fall off.

And here I am, standing at the local library about to wave my key-card under the scanner. I look at what I’ve got. An Alice Munro collection of short stories, a thin volume of poetry exercises, a Stewart O’Nan novel called Last Night at the Lobster.

And Jared Diamond.

I think, What would it hurt to just take him home? Maybe if he’s there on the bedside table, I’ll pick him up. He might enthrall me. Just imagine how edifying, how engaging that discussion group! Fourteen days? No problem.

But why do this to myself?

Why this relentless work to repair, mutate, improve?

(Or prove?)

Somehow, I still fear the call chorusing through me is a siren’s song. The desire I drive so hard to override must be Peter Pan at the window, stunted id and stars for eyes.

Somehow, I am still trying to get this growing-up thing right. And still doubting that the woman right here in this skin is actually enough.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

I’ll do better (because doing better seems to be so damned important) if Jared Diamond makes his 512-page case somewhere other than my bedroom. I set his down on the re-shelf cart.

The moment I do, two quick but powerful currents rush past from opposite directions. The first says, Rock on, Girl! You’re free of that pointless assignment!

The second one is harder to decipher, but I still manage to catch its gist. It says, There goes another chance to be a person of substance. Have fun playing in the shallows, my friend.

And because my father earned a PhD, lists dozens upon dozens of publications on his CV, and spends a good chunk of his weekends reading not only the entirety of the Washington Post but a good portion of the works of nonfiction reviewed in its “Book World” — because of all of this, I am forever falling short of the mark.

That mark written on the bones of ghosts.

That mark mapped in disappearing ink.

I beep through the library checkout with only poetry, short stories, and a novel. As I do, I take a deep breath and tell myself the true small truth. This one has nothing to do with Jared Diamond.

It is this:

I will never be my father.

The heart shivers, resists, cries out for the comforting lie.

Then lets go.

I carry home my works of fiction and image. I walk my dog, slice peaches and cherries, talk on the phone with My Mister, then come here to write.

Fiction. Image.

Lyric. Story.

(So much closer to nonfiction than anyone let on.)

Something alights outside my bedroom window. It calls softly.

This song, I’m learning.

This song, mine.

 

 

Deposed

It is almost 6:30 pm. Congestion on 66 West backs it up all the way to Falls Church. After a grind of a day, a co-worker saves me a metro trip by letting me hitch a ride back towards home. My car waits near the station, a stack of overdue library books in the trunk alongside a bag of clothes destined for Goodwill. Somehow I will have to make room for the giant sack of special Active Maturity dog food I hope Target has on the shelf because PetSmart is in the wrong direction. The dog’s bowl has been empty for nearly two days.

In an hour, friends will be gathering for Team Trivia at the bar. As for dinner? The leftover apple banging around in my backpack will have to suffice. As we sit in stop-and-go traffic solving the problems of the world, my phone rings.

Noisy air when I pick it up. Then, “Mommy?”

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

“Can I stay with you tonight?” His sing-y, plead-y voice spills into the car. Sweetness bomb. My friend rocks from the blow.

Continue reading “Deposed”

Happy 100 Days: 51

The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.

Because the Headless Horseman came up in conversation and we followed the winding thread down to the river of memory

Because my kid asks a gazillion questions about everything

Because between us, we pieced together enough of the story to make us hunger for more, and somehow Bug knew that the dastardly figure could not cross the river to give chase to Crane

Because I searched my neural archives for the rest but could only call up fragments

Because my job gives me free access to mountains of books at multiple libraries, and anything that strikes my fancy is in my hands in the blink of an eye

Because Giovanni wandered with me through library stacks and remembered Sleepy Hollow when all I could recall was “Ichabod Crane”

Because my parents filled the house with books when I was little

Because the picture of the smouldering horseman haunts me still

Because Washington Irving crafted one of the most memorable descriptions in American literature

Because of all these strange blessings and more, there is a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow open next to me and much to be thankful for on this November night.