Sunday, September 24, 2006

And in the beginning...

When I was about four – well, no, probably older, as I could read – I found a really old book up in our attic: The Bible Story (In One Syllable Words). The hard cardboard cover with its full-color illustration of Pharaoh’s daughter and her maid servants finding baby Moses in the reeds caught my eye amidst my brother’s old Landmark series books.

The book reeks with that distinctive old book smell. When you open it up, you can barely make out the faded cursive pencil scrawl that says, “Mabel Gardner’s Book.” I have no idea who Mabel Gardner is – or was -- or where this book came from. The title page states: The Bible Story. In Easy Words for Children by Mrs. Helen W. Pierson, author of “History of United States, History of England, etc., etc., etc., in words of one syllable.” This book is OLD. I mean, really old. There is no date in it anywhere, but the pages are yellowed and fraying at the edges. And the binding is shot. My guess is that it’s from the mid to late nineteenth century, and since it is a much used children’s book, it’s not in the greatest shape. The book is heavily illustrated with detailed, elaborate black and white etchings where everyone looks rotund and voluptuous, has long flowing hair, and more often than not wields a giant sword or knife and is engaged in some sort of violence.

Mrs. Pierson was kind enough to include the following caveat in her preface:

It has not been thought advisable, in this story of the Bible,
to adhere to words of one syllable quite so strictly as has been
done in some other works. Simple and easy words have been
used which a child can read, but in order to convey exact state-
ments these words are sometimes of two syllables.

The liberties taken with other histories cannot be taken with the
Bible. In places where the exact words could be used, they have
been used. Where they were difficult, they have been put in a
simpler form, but it is hoped that the dignity and beauty of the
words of Holy Writ have not been sacrificed.

As a young reader, I read this book religiously (forgive the pun).

But it is not the words, one syllable or not, that I remember or that made such a deep, lasting impression on me. Rather, it was the illustrations. I was fascinated, if not downright terrified, by them. They became the images that come to my mind first, naturally, to this day, when I hear certain Biblical names, places, or stories. The book is actually only the Old Testament stories, so I do not have these same images when it comes to Jesus and the New Testament. For this reason, perhaps, God and the characters in the Old Testament seem somehow more intimidating and powerful and – well, a heck of a lot… OLDER.

God appears in an illustration on the second page of text in The Bible Story, during the Creation Story. He is an old, white-haired, white-bearded intimidating figure in flowing robes. He looks like John Brown. He stands in the middle of the clouds with his hands raised and light rays pouring forth from his being. The caption says: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” He is authoritative and scary. He reminds me, albeit not in physical appearance, of my father.

God in The Bible Story did not seem like such a warm and friendly guy. I was scared of him. And his wrath (one syllable word for “anger”). Actually, in the bit about Adam and Eve -- you know, that part where they partake of the forbidden fruit, right before they are kicked out of the Garden of Eden – the book says, “And God was wroth with them.” I kid you not! It is right there on page 8. Sigh. People were always getting into trouble in The Bible Story, and there seemed to be a lot of fighting and bloodshed and big knives and swords.

Lest you think that The Bible Story (In One Syllable Words) really is in one syllable words – or those few two syllable words Mrs. Pierson knew God wanted young children to see, let me clarify that the book employs hyphens all over the place. While there is a plethora of one syllable words, the book uses multi-syllable words, usually no more than two but sometimes WAY more, by hyphenating them. Thus, for example, when Moses receives the Ten Commandments, which are called the “ten com-mands” and about which the author says, “We give them here in a short way,” number seven is referred to in the following way: “Sev-enth. Thou shalt not com-mit a-dul-ter-y.” OK. Fine. To a six year old kid, what the hell is “a-dul-ter-y”? Whatever it is, it has four, count ‘em, FOUR, not ONE, syllables. We know the book incorporates more syllables when it needs to, in order to stay true to the “Holy Writ,” so “a-dul-ter-y” must be one truly awful, horrific, terrible thing that NO human being would EVER want to com-mit.

Breaking big words down into their syllables really does not clarify their meaning. It might help beginning readers be able to read the words aloud, but meaning is left by the wayside. Still, as I said before, it was not the words in this book that left an imprint upon my mind. It was the illustrations.

Do I really think God is a deranged-looking, angry white man with an unkempt beard and long hair? No. Of course not. Is that the image that comes first and foremost into my mind?


Yes, it is.

Even when I open and look at this book today, I start to tremble and feel fear. The God in this book is an angry one, and everyone always seems to be pissing him off. They have to drown, be turned to salt, wander around the desert, be swallowed by giant fish, and receive countless, unwarranted hardships (sometimes because they are so bad, and sometimes just ‘cuz). How am I, tiny little kid that I am, EVER going to measure up???

I am not. There is no way. No chance. I am hope-less-ly in over my head.

The angry old white man up in the sky is not happy with me. This, I have learned. This, I know.

So, even as I grow and mature and develop a more nuanced concept of God and the Divine, I am still haunted by this scary old dude in the flowing robes who looks down from on high. He is not a very happy God; he seems easily displeased. He is always testing people. I get the feeling I can never please him. No matter what I do, it will never be good enough.

And then, on the other hand, there is God’s son, who does not make an appearance in The Bible Story, but if he did, his name would be printed as “Je-sus.” He is not a scary, old guy with wild white hair and beard. He is more benevolent, more easy-going, more accepting. He hangs out with sinners, derelicts, prostitutes, and general riff raff. He travels around the land on foot, visiting people, and preaching in the flesh. He tells us to love and respect our God, our Father, but he seems to focus more on telling -- and showing -- us how we should treat one another. He does not scare me, he does not make me tremble. He makes me want to be more like him.

I am glad he did not make the cut into Mrs. Pierson’s Bible Story. I am glad she stuck to the Old Testament. I am glad I do not have a menacing, Rubenesque image of Jesus burned into my brain. Too bad I do for all of those other characters.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Beyond reading

I wore a little pin to work today – more of a lapel pin, actually. It said: “Books: I feel the need to read!” Which, of course, I do. And since I am a librarian, it seemed somehow professional in nature as well. Or endorsing. And about as vocally political as I get in a bumper sticker, pin sort of way.

I do so love to read.

And even more than reading, I love to recommend to others wonderful books I have read in the hopes that they, too, will find the same books as magical and moving as I did. There is a sort of risk involved in this, though. A kind of putting one’s reputation on the line, so to speak. What if – God forbid! – the person doesn’t like the book? It happens sometimes. But it is a risk worth taking.

As in today. I had recommended, several times and quite strongly, the novel Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos to a good friend of mine at work. Broken for You is an amazing piece of fiction, of art, a truly wonderful first novel.

I first read it several years ago as an advanced reading copy. While I was in library school, I worked part time at a small independent bookstore, a job I loved with all my heart but one that was like employing an alcoholic as a bartender during happy hour. I spent WAY more than I ever made. I am sure of it. Even taking into account the very generous employee discount. But that was fine with me. I was surrounded by books and people who love books and people who liked to read and I got to RECOMMEND books to people. My favorite part was hand-selling books to people and having them come back in and say how much they loved the books. I also liked talking about books and getting to read Publishers Weekly every week and poring over all the book catalogs that were always months ahead of time. Occasionally, we would spot a book that really looked special. Broken for You was one of those books. The bookstore owner was able to get an advanced reading copy, and we were all blown away by the power and beauty of this work of fiction. The characters came to life in a very real and very human way, and the manner in which their lives intersected was incredible. Broken for You was a beautiful, exquisitely written novel.

We pre-ordered a bunch. We just knew it would be a big seller. We hand-sold countless copies, even when it was in hardback. Broken for You was probably our top-selling book for quite some time, especially when it came out in trade paperback and we encouraged book groups to select it.

I bought several copies myself and gave them to people as gifts. I ALWAYS recommended it to people who were looking for a good book to read. I would mention it to others whenever I could, and I know I mentioned it in several library job interviews when I was asked about a really moving book I had read recently.

I was surprised to find that my friend at work had not read it, or even heard of it. She reads widely and is quite discerning. I recommended Broken for You unhesitatingly, but then began to worry she might not like it. What if she didn’t like it? Then what? Of course, that would have been her prerogative, but I just felt so strongly and so deeply that she would love this book. If she didn’t like it, then – oh, well – she didn’t like it.

But she LOVED it! I was thrilled and happy. She told me today that the book moved her in the way that Possession by A.S. Byatt or Stones from the River by Ursula Heggi had moved her. And that moved ME deeply. Because all three novels had meant so much to me.

There are novels you come across every now and again in life that simply take your breath away, that move you in ways you didn’t expect, that change you somehow. You have to own copies of them, just because. And you recommend them – and give them – to others because you hope that they will be as affected by the books as you were. And you want to share that. You want to share something beautiful, you want to share the reading experience, the aha moment, the sheer magic.

Reading is such a solitary, private endeavor, but sharing good books with others and discussing them and reveling in the wonder and beauty of the written word is one of the greatest communal joys there is.

If you haven’t read Broken for You yet, whatever are you waiting for?

Monday, September 18, 2006

And so it goes

OK, and so it goes….

While my candle is busy burning from the inside out, apparently all of formerly frozen tundra Siberia is melting.

Due to global warming, of course.

I heard this all on NPR as I was “racing” home (difficult to do during stand-still rush hour traffic) to pick up my older son from football practice. He finished early, at around 6, which is the time I get off work, and he couldn’t understand why it would take me another half hour or so to get there.

He’s a bright kid. He’s in Honors Algebra II Extravaganza Super Duper Deluxe. Surely, he can figure it out. I mean, it’s not like it was one of those relativity problems.

Considering I was 30-45 minutes away – when there is NO traffic – I felt little sympathy for his impatience. It is not MY fault he finished early. And I cannot control rush hour traffic. I know, I know, hard to believe!

Last Thursday night was the High School Open House. Since I had never really BEEN inside the high school before, except to a few band/choral concerts in the auditorium AND because my child was a freshman – i.e., new to the high school -- I decided it might be a good idea to go and check it out. The high school, I mean. The Open House ran from 6:30-8:30 pm. I managed to leave work a little bit early so I could get there in time, and then I had to “report” to the auditorium for a briefing and to receive my child’s schedule. We were supposed to follow our children’s schedules (albeit in short ten minute blocks). So, there I was humping up and down three flights of stairs trying to find all of his classrooms. It was hot, it was crowded, but I was immensely relieved to know that my son must be receiving at least a minimal aerobics work-out each day as he ping pongs back and forth between floors one, two, and three – and the basement. I know he had Band down there somewhere. It was dungeonesque.

Amidst the throngs of parents, I spotted moms I actually knew, women I knew from the Middle School or from my own parental/mom activities, and it was kind of reassuring. Spotting a friendly face now and again, managing to sit with someone I knew in a classroom or two, getting in trouble for talking or not paying attention… that sort of thing.

I was rather stunned by some of the parents’ questions. Quite frankly, I think these people need to take huge mega chill pills, kind of like those newfangled gigantic M&M things. I mean, puhleeze! Come on! These people were totally deranged.

The math teacher showed how she posted homework for the whole week on Monday, so students would know ahead of time what would be due that week.

One deranged parent: “Couldn’t you post homework even further ahead of time so my child can work ahead faster?”

HELLO!!!!???? NO. OK. The answer is no.


Either your kid is a total geek -- or, more likely, YOU are! YOU, YOU, YOU! Your kid does not need to work ahead of the week ahead. He or she just needs to get his/her work done on time. OK? Fine? Happy?

Nah. Didn’t think so.

Second deranged parent: “If my child works ahead, does that mean he will have to teach himself the material?”


What planet do you live on??????????

Obviously, if your little genius kid wants to work ahead, he is going to have to teach himself from the book. Duh.

No. We will send special one-on-one tutors to your home so your kid can work at his own pace and finish Algebra II Hoity Toity Special Supreme I’m a Fricking Genius by October 1st.

I mean, YELLO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who ARE these alien pod people????????????

Doesn’t childhood go by fast enough???? Aren’t these poor kids going to be exactly where we are soon enough???? Can’t they just be kids while they are kids?????

Yeah, sure, I think they should go to school and be challenged and do their homework (although even the value of THAT seems to be in question now according to the CBS Morning Show experts!) and learn and become good citizens yada yada yada. But, for goodness sake, they are KIDS!!!! Let them be kids while they can.

Before they find themselves as grownups who never have enough time in their days and whose candles are melting from the inside out faster than they can say “Edna St. Vincent Millay!” and they can never pick their kids up on time because like the world exists and shit happens.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Burning candles

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.”

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles," 1920

If it is at all possible, I think my candle is burning from the middle towards the ends.

I realize that Edna St. Vincent Millay, wild party woman of the Roaring Twenties that she was, was making a very astute comment about living life to its fullest, albeit perhaps not in the wisest of ways.

I find myself in mid-life living life to its fullest, in the “my days couldn’t possibly be filled with anything more for me to do” sense. I am not sure whether this is good or bad, but it is definitely the way it is. With no change in sight any time soon.

Because I am someone who believes in moderation and who craves time to think and read and process what goes on in my life, I am not too wild and crazy about living life in the fast lane.

I am, quite simply, not one who “feels the need for speed.” Thus, I far prefer cross country skiing to downhill, for example.

As a single mom working full time with two active teenaged sons, I find that most of my days are spent on black diamond runs, however.

I do not “come home from work.”

I merely transition from one job to the next.

With two kids playing sports, our family often does not have dinner until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. On Friday or Saturday nights, after a football game, we might not eat until almost midnight. We DO eat together as a family, however, and for that I am quite thankful.

I find that I must be a master scheduler, planner, and juggler. My calendar looks like a road map of Germany. Thank God for cell phones so I can keep tabs on my kids and when they need to be picked up. Thank God my mother lives here and can act as chauffeur while I am still at work.

I am constantly on the go from about 6 am until midnight. I am not sure when exactly I am supposed to lead my life. But I guess this is my life.

I am not unhappy with it. I love being a mom, I am happy to see my kids busy and active and doing what they feel passionate about, and I love my job as a librarian. I am thankful that I can earn my pay, as meager as it might be, to support my family by doing something that I feel so passionate about.

At the same time, I am a limited resource. I cannot be in two places at once. I spend a great deal of my time going from Point A to Point B to Point C, taking my kids somewhere, watching them practice or play, or picking them up. For someone who might never watch football if left to my own devices, I find that football figures in my life seven days a week! That was a stunning revelation which hit me just the other day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love supporting my kids and cheering them on and watching them do what they love to do. But it does take up a lot of time.

And then there is all of the volunteering and fundraising that parents are expected to do to help support a team or organization. I feel it is only fair that all the parents pitch in to help, but it is hard to do sometimes.

I am not sure what part of the day I am supposed to take to think.

Maybe most people just don’t think. I am not sure when they would have the time to do so.

I am fortunate in that I don’t have to be to work until 10 am. Thus, I can get my kids up and off to school and still have time to go to the gym. My passion is swimming. I think of it as “physical therapy for the mind.” I love the solitude of swimming laps, where I can lose myself in my own thoughts and worries and fantasies for thirty minutes while my middle-aged body gets a great workout that doesn’t stress all those aging joints. And I don’t have to worry about traffic or being hit by a car. I can be alone with my thoughts, no distractions.

I have to admit, I don’t much like it when the pool is crowded and I have to share a lap lane. It is not so much that I am a selfish person – I willingly tell people to join me in my lane if there is nowhere else for them to swim. Of course, part of that willingness has to do with my hope that others will return the favor to me if I find myself arriving to a full pool. If given my druthers, though, I prefer to have a lane all to myself. I don’t think that is selfish, I think it is honest.

The only time I truly don’t mind sharing a lap lane is when my kids come swimming with me. We swim laps and hold mini races and have a great time together. Plus, I know that we are taking up a lane and no strangers will join us. When you are swimming alone, there is always that fear that the lanes will fill up and someone will ask to join you. Not that I would ever, ever say no.

I think what I dislike most about my days is the constant rushing around. There is no time to sit and relax and drink a cup of coffee and read the paper, for example. A simple pleasure of life. I need time in my life to process all that is going on – in my life, in the world, in life in general. But the world doesn’t stop for anyone.

There is no time to talk with co-workers and friends for more than a few brief moments here and there. I miss having lengthy conversations with friends. The ability to sit around for an hour or so in the evening over a glass of wine and good conversation would be priceless.

To talk with my own children, I have to take advantage of all those times where we are going to or fro. I also plan times for us to take walks together or they will come to the grocery store with me or to run errands.

We can never let our lives become so hectic that we lose our connections, our connecting. So much of life’s meaning comes from our everyday interactions with family and friends.

I am not meant to lead life on a highway during rush hour. I am meant to meander on a country road during the height of autumn, take long walks down the road less traveled, and cross country ski on a trail through the woods.

Right now, I don’t have much choice or say-so on the type of road I must traverse on a daily basis. But this afternoon I am going to go for a long walk through the woods on a glorious early fall day. Literally. Maybe my kids will even come with me. And somewhere in there I will fit in all the laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, cooking, and cleaning.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Observing vs. Inferring

It is 8:00.


I am just now starting to cook dinner.

I drove to my younger son’s football practice straight from work, thinking they would get out early (7:00 pm) since they had to report early (5:30 pm), ostensibly because of the home Steelers game opener extravaganza jubilee.


7:45 pm. And they were still going strong.

I, efficiency expert that I am, am cursing myself for having ASSUMED practice would be over early simply because it had started early. STUPID, FOOLISH WOMAN!! We all know what happens when we ASSUME….

I had planned ahead for tacos, so the key ingredients (box of taco shells, hamburger meat, package of taco seasoning) are all ready to go. I COULD have come home from work first, made the tacos, and THEN gone to pick up my son.

But, oh, no....

My older son finished HIS football practice early, so he called me at work. I told him to call his grandmother and she would probably come pick him up.

He was nonplused. “Why can’t YOU pick me up?”

I usually pick him up on my way home from work, take him home, fix dinner, and then go watch my younger son finish HIS football practice. Then bring him home, we all eat dinner, yada yada yada.

“I’m still at work,” I said. “I don’t get off until 6.”

“Yeah,” he said, “well, if I call Grandma now, she probably won’t get here til 6.”

I said, “Yes. But I don’t even get OFF until 6. I couldn’t possibly get to the high school to pick you up until about 6:45.”


At 6:00, just as I was walking out the door, my older son called me back.

“Grandma still isn’t here,” he said.

“Well, did you call her?”


“Did you talk to her on the phone? Ask her to come pick you up?”

“Yeah. At like 5:48. And she’s not here yet.”

“O.K. Well, I imagine she’s on her way. Did you arrange a place to meet?”

“Yes. That’s where I am. Can’t YOU come get me?”

“Well, I am just leaving work now. I haven’t even left the parking lot yet. I am sure Grandma will be there WAY before I can get there.”

“What if she’s not?”

“Well, if she doesn’t come in the next 15 minutes, call me back. O.K.?”


Apparently, she came within the next fifteen minutes.



Me in the kitchen, scurrying around, trying to fix dinner as fast as I can. I am starving. I am EXHAUSTED. My kids still have to do homework. The Steelers game is coming on. I am starving. I am tired. Did I mention that I was starving?

My younger son, who has just taken his shower after football practice, comes into the kitchen, plops down at the kitchen table, and proceeds to start writing in a binder. He tells me to pay no mind to him, he is just doing his homework.


Now, when your 12 year old son tells you that, what would YOU think????

I was a might taken aback, but… it was late, I was tired, and we were ALL starving. My son proceeded to scribble. And I proceeded to make dinner.

It ends up that he was doing his homework assignment for 7th grade science.

“Observing vs. Inferring”

Assignment: Observe someone or something living for 5-10 minutes.

(Oh. I guess I am a living thing!)

Write down every single thing they do on this paper. Fill this paper with observations. Don’t tell them you are observing them.

After you have many different observations, start making inferences and/or draw conclusions.

My son’s observations and inferences (verbatim):

“She is cooking dinner for my family. She seems as though she is in a hurry to set the table and finish cooking. She is watching the Steeler pre-game show. She is putting taco shells in the oven to heat them up. She’s microwaving ground beef. Now she is opening a can of salsa. She is cutting lettuce, tomatoes, and onions."


“Since she is watching the pre-game show, she will probably watch the game when it comes on. I noticed that she is cooking taco shells, ground beef, and vegetables so she is most likely cooking tacos for dinner. She is in a hurry, because she is very hungry and she knows we are hungry too.”


What REALLY happened………………….

Frick! I need to cook the hamburger meat. I hope it is defrosted! Screw cooking it on the stove; I am just going to microwave it. No one will notice the difference. Oh. Need to preheat the oven for the taco shells. 325 degrees. Turn the oven light on. I like it when the oven light is on.

Uh-oh. 8:00. Didn’t D tell me the Steelers game starts at 8??? I could fricking care less about the stupid Steeler’s football game! I am SO pissed I missed the news. The CBS Evening News. With Katie Couric. No less. Now it is fricking 8:00. No news on now. Except for Fox or CNN. Yuck.

What channel is the Steeler game on?





What the frick channel is this fricking – oh, channel 12. OK.

Where is the taco seasoning? I know I had taco seasoning laid out.

Crap! Meat is almost done. I don’t even have the veggies cut up yet. God, I hope M didn’t eat all the shredded cheese! WHERE is the cheese? Oh. Here.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Meat is done!


Crap! Don’t even tell me we don’t have any salsa!!! Surely I bought some at the store last week.

(Digging through cabinet.)

Ah! Salsa. Great!

(Horrible bleating noise comes from the TV)

“What the… HELL?”

I turn and look at the TV. Some weird country dude singer is wailing about something.

“This isn’t the Steelers game!” I say.

“It’s the pre-game show,” my son, the diligent student says. “The game doesn’t start until 8:30.”


Then WHY am I watching this crap?????? I think to myself.

I start digging in the refrigerator for a tomato and lettuce and onion.

“Where the FUCK is the onion?”

That is a rhetorical question.

I start chopping up tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.

Can’t find clean spoons for the salsa and the sour cream. Steal my spoon off the table. Grab a dirty spoon out of the dishwasher and wash it off.


I almost forgot the cheese.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Oh, crap, the taco shells are done. Don’t want them to burn.

We have a mix of taco shells. Some are regular shells, left over from the last time we had tacos, while others are the “stand up” taco shells that my anal retentive family LOVES but which I can’t always find in the grocery store. I decide the kids MUST start with at least one regular shell. Because they are young and pliant. And my mother and I are old and tired and set in our ways. And regular taco shells fall over and break and make a big fucking mess! And I just don’t need that in my life right now. Or to have to listen to my mother bitch and complain about her tacos falling over and falling apart, either. I need peace, I need quiet, I need…FOOD! I give my older son, who HATES vegetables and only eats tacos with the meat, cheese, and ketchup, three of the regular taco shells since he doesn’t eat “real tacos” anyway and he needs to bear the taco shell cross so the rest of us can pile on all the fixins with abandon. He doesn’t even notice. Is just thrilled I gave him three whole tacos all at once instead of making him get up and fix his own each time. Because that would be like… work.

Some woman is WAILING in the background.

I realize it is someone singing the National Anthem.

I look at the clock. It is almost 8:30. Bloody hell!

Being totally unpatriotic, I continue with the making of the tacos.

Fireworks. Cheering. Cut to incredibly loud, obnoxious commercial.

“TIME TO EAT!” I yell.

People flock to the kitchen. People flock to assemble their tacos.


Don’t they know I am… STARVING?????

People are jibber-jabbering at the table. Bickering. Fooling around. The TV is blaring in the background. I HATE it when the TV is on when we are eating. I ALWAYS FORBID IT. Explicitly.

It is the Steelers.

Season opener.

Home game.

Announcers calling plays. Whistles. Cheering. My kids and mom bantering at the table.

“Could we PLEASE give thanks to the LORD our God?!?” I finally say. ( Clearly, the ONLY person in charge here.)



Everyone digs in.

The end.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

I did something last night that I haven’t done in…

oh, I can’t even remember the last time I did something like this!

[Certainly it was B.K. (before kids) and was probably as long ago as high school or even middle school.]

I read for almost six hours straight.

I wish I could say I read an entire book from cover to cover – I did finish the book I was reading – but the truth of the matter is that I started on like page 150 (which had taken me probably four weeks of pre-bedtime reading to get to) and then read to the end, which was over 500 pages.

The book wasn’t even really all that great. Enough to hold my attention. I kept expecting it to get better. And then I got to the point where I was determined to finish the damned book once and for all so I could move on to another one. NOT that I always feel compelled to read every book I start. Because I don’t. This was a second novel by an author whose first book won the National Book Award a few years ago. I had really liked that first book, although, to be perfectly honest, the book had three parts and Part One was far superior and more well-written than the latter two parts. I found out later, and with little surprise, that the author had written Part One as a novella and then been told: “Great! Turn it into a book.”

Which she had. By adding two more parts. The whole was all well and good, but the first part really shone. In my mind, anyway.

The author writes very character-driven stories, which I like. And you feel like you get to know the crew of characters quite well as you go along. The second book actually had a character from the first book in it. But he was not one of the major-major characters.

It annoyed me at first that 9/11 appeared in the book. I am not sure why. Maybe because we are coming up on the five year anniversary, and it is not something I like to think about a lot of the time. It makes me wonder if people were annoyed in the mid to late forties when Pearl Harbor figured in the plot of a work of fiction.

A lot of the book was set in NYC, so 9/11 affected most of the main characters in a variety of ways. None of the main characters were in the Twin Towers or were firemen/policemen, etc, but some characters’ whereabouts were unknown to friends and family for a period of time. It was interesting to read the takes/impressions/feelings/experiences of people in the city who were not directly affected by the two planes flying into the World Trade Center. I thought that gave a different angle/twist to the whole scenario, and one I haven’t heard/read much about before.

It made me remember watching the whole series of events transpire on TV and the subsequent feelings of shock and fear and disbelief that I experienced. I was all the way up in Alaska at the time. Even up there, people were frightened. Because they stopped all air traffic and closed down the gates to the Army base where we lived and there was a general feeling of fear and uneasiness and a belief that the terrorists could strike… anywhere. So, to have actually been in New York at the time. Wow.

By the end of the book, I felt like I had gotten to know most of the characters quite well. Some I got to know better than others, and sometimes I got to know characters I didn’t think I would get to know that well better than the ones I first thought I would. Some of the characters I really didn’t care so much for. And some of them grew irritating and I switched allegiances or sympathy. The book ended up all too warm and happy and cozy for my tastes. And too unrealistic. Kind of like a Lifetime channel movie. Life just isn’t that tidy.

Which brings us back to… messy.

I am not sure why I felt compelled to read for five and a half hours. I think because I could. And in normal life, I can’t. I NEVER have five and a half hours to do anything I want to do. I had also gotten to the point where I was driven to finish the book. I didn’t have to get up early the next morning or go to work, as it was to be Labor Day. So, I could afford to stay up until 2 am reading.

I got in bed at 8:30 pm. I kid you not. That in itself is unheard of. I told myself I was going to read for at least an hour. Maybe even two. A special treat. Woohoo!

Living on the wild side.

My kids were busy doing their own things, so they weren’t demanding anything of me or my time. Although both did come in and out of my room several times to use the computer, ask me questions, tell me something, give me a hug, ask for something else, use the phone, tell me about a video game, look up something else on the computer, crawl in bed next to me and ask for another hug, and tell me they were going to bed.

I absorbed, or embraced, the interruptions as they weren’t really interruptions. Not like I had to get out of bed and go pick someone up from somewhere at some particular time. Which is what I normally have to do. Several times over.

It was just a long stretch of… READING.

And I didn’t even fall asleep!

That in itself is a miracle.

Normally, I like to read before bed. These days that means I will crawl into bed, open up my book with good intentions, and then fall asleep in five to ten minutes. Because it is so late, and I am so freaking exhausted. Hence, the reason why I was only on page 150 after about four weeks of reading the same book. And couldn’t quite remember all that I had “read” or even who all the characters were.

It was a total luxury to be able to read a book for hours on end. And be able to follow the thread of the story and get to know the characters. And come to like some and dislike others and change allegiances several times over.

It was nice to know that for once I wouldn’t have to get up early. I wouldn’t even have to set an alarm! For once, I wouldn’t have to get my kids off to school or some sport or activity and me off to work. Nobody in the house had to get up early. And there was nothing in particular I – or any of us -- HAD to do the next day. I wasn’t worried about how I was going to fit everything in or make sure I got someone to this place at this time and someone else to this other place at this other time and then pick them all up again at a whole variety of times, some of which might – or probably would -- overlap. And which frequently made me wish, quite earnestly, that I was Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched and all I had to do was wiggle my nose and I could be wherever I needed or wanted to be at any given time.

So, I am thankful for Labor Day and for a day off. Period. Last year I had to work on Labor Day. My kids were off school, of course, and I felt guilty all day long at work. When I got home, I hurried to make a picnic and fit in some traditional Labor Day/end of summer celebrations. Like… making s’mores.

This year: we all got to sleep in, and then we went on a long bike ride, threw the football around, raked some early leaves, and had a cook-out and picnic. End of summer rituals.

Day off from school.

Day off from work.

It was heavenly.

Labor Day.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


While we’re talking about “normal,” let me share one of my odd quirks. One of many, I can assure you.

I have a huge need for balance in my life. And a sense of balance is not always achieved by simply “staying in the middle.” Thus, one extreme must be matched by an equal and opposite other extreme, or else I feel… unbalanced. My Beast Squad Leader made us recite a squad motto of “Moderation is the key!” I took this motto to heart and, in fact, am an advocate of a slightly different take on moderation: “Moderation in everything, to include moderation.”

Thus, if – or when – I am called on to do or be something that is, to me, an extreme, I feel a huge need to balance it in some way by going in the complete opposite direction.

A prime example would be my wardrobe for the past week.

This week marked the first week of classes for the Fall Term at the university where I am a librarian. It also marked my university teaching debut. Sure, I have given presentations and classes before, but I have never taught a college course before. This term I am one of the instructors for the core Information Literacy course that is taught to all incoming freshmen, and I will be teaching four sections, or about 140-150 students.

I really wanted to make a good impression on our first day of class. I wanted to come across as professional and serious and respectful of my students. Thus, I decided to dress more formally and professionally than we librarians usually do in the academic library setting. Normally, we wear kind of business casual, or even more relaxed than that. While teaching my first classes of the term, I decided to wear a suit. I wanted to look smart and professional. In essence, I wanted to be a grown up.

I taught classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And on each day I wore a different suit. That pretty much exhausted my suit repertoire, which I had acquired gradually over the past year or so by taking advantage of massive end of season sales. I mean, I am a librarian; we don’t make tons of money. Plus, I was starting from scratch. As a former full-time, stay-at-home mom, I really didn’t need a lot of business suits. And even though I was a senior Army wife for quite a few years, the dressing up that military wife meetings and Army functions required was usually either “Sunday best” or ball gowns. There was no real need for the business or professional look.

If I say so myself, the suits I wore this past week looked sharp. I am not so sure about the person wearing them, but the suits themselves were tailored and classic-looking: slacks with matching jacket and nice blouse. I even wore panty hose (albeit knee highs), which I LOATHE with a passion, and nice shoes. While I got lots of compliments on these suits, I also got a lot of ribbing from my co-workers because I usually dress far more casually. But the suits did make me “feel” more professional and more… grown up. And that affected my persona as I was standing up in front of a class of 35-40 freshmen in a positive way. It helped me exude what I imagined to be the right mix of professionalism and authority to go along with my natural sarcastic, quirky sense of humor.

The hitch with wearing more formal attire is that I can only stand it for so long. It feels so… unnatural. Perhaps it is because I am simply not used to wearing business suits to work – and thank God I am not a man and do not have to wear a tie! Or perhaps it is because I am not by nature a very formal person.

I am naturally more casual, more relaxed and laid back – in the way I dress, not in what is going on inside my head. (“Angst” could be my middle name!)

In order to maintain a sense of equilibrium this week, I had to balance out the wearing of the suits on one day by wearing something WAY more casual the next:

DAY 1 – navy seersucker suit with white blouse

DAY 2 – blue jean skirt, t-shirt, LL Bean cotton knitted vest

DAY 3 – beige suit with pink blouse

DAY 4 – blue madras plaid Lands’ End sundress that has to be at least 10 years old and has a tiny magic marker stain on it, t-shirt, and sandals

DAY 5 – white suit with black and white print blouse and red pumps

I can – and did! -- dress formally and appear more business-like and professional on my teaching days. I can do pretty much anything demanded of me for a limited amount of time. But often at a cost. Wearing business suits for three days took a huge toll on my psyche. Dressing in suits makes me feel self-conscious and ill at ease. To counter this, I had to go completely the opposite direction on non-teaching days. Just kind of let it all hang out with loose-fitting, très casual wear. It made me feel more “balanced” somehow.

I know that makes absolutely no sense logically. Or rationally. But we are not talking about logic and reason here. We are talking about feelings. It made me FEEL better to wear really casual clothes on the days after the business suits. And the feelings were genuine.

I suppose the person on the inside stayed the same throughout the week. She was just more comfortable on some days than on others. Basically, I saw it as dressing for different roles or purposes within my same job. I still approached how I actually did the job in the same basic ways.

I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about clothes. In general, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about clothes. I like to look professional, sure, but I also like to wear clothes that are comfortable and functional and casual. I think society expects us to dress differently for different occasions or purposes. At the same time, no one told me to wear a suit; I just chose to do so because I felt it was the right thing to do and served a certain purpose. For me.

I wouldn’t want to wear a suit every day.

Maybe I would get used to it.

But I doubt it.

Today I am wearing faded, grubby old jeans and a well-worn t-shirt.

Feels like heaven….