Thursday, July 29, 2004

Books, books, books

$1000 in books. How could I resist? Like [info]elementalmuse I cannot understand anyone who spends $250K on clothes in a year, but I could happily spend (and read) that much on books. One of my favorite quotes is one I heard many years ago: I budget my money very carefully. First I buy books and with whatever is left over I buy food. Is it any wonder I am on every second-hand and first-hand bookseller's e-mail lists? Like Powell's Books?

Powell's is running an essay contest about your most memorable moment with a book (or books) in the last ten years to celebrate their tenth anniversary. I couldn't resist . . . obviously.

I am surrounded by books. I sleep with books. I work with books. I live with books. No matter how often I have moved in the past ten years (and I have moved a lot) books and I gravitate toward each other like comets toward the sun. I'm not sure whether I am the comet or the sun, but the attraction is irresistible.

Every time I vow to pare down my reading collection, and give away, box up, or sell books, I am struck by moments of joy, fury, excitement, horror, anxiety, the full gamut of emotions, all of which have come from private moments with books. I carry them in my bag, sometimes two at a time, to keep me company at restaurants in strange towns, hotel rooms on the road, or just for moments when I am drawn to an idyllic spot under a tree by a stream or some sun-struck spot at a weathered and aged rest stop picnic table.

Husbands and lovers have disappointed me, but never books. Even bad books have their moments of surprise, a sudden burst of brilliance in an otherwise dull trip. Each moment with a book is memorable, but the most memorable moments are those in the company of a new book or revisiting an old friend and discovering something previously missed. Such is the case with Lawrence Grobel and Helen Fielding.

"Endangered Species" by Lawrence Grobel was a peek into the thoughts and whys of writers like Saul Bellow, J. P. Donleavy, Norman Mailer, and so many other writers among whom I had yet to spend more than fleeting education-forced moments. I chose the book to read about Alex Haley and Ray Bradbury and was irresistibly attracted to the unread pages where I found new universes to explore, and a whole new crop of books to buy even though I promised myself I would keep things simple and patronize the library more often. High on Grobel's intriguing and wonderful interviews, I decided to eat less and buy more books--not a difficult choice.

More recently--this morning in fact--while re-reading "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" by Helen Fielding I broke into gales of laughter. Fielding had taken yet another book out of my reach, re-writing Jane Austen's "Persuasion". She beat me to the punch again. If I am not careful, she will steal "Mansfield Park" for Bridget Jones's adventures and I will be forced to find something new to write about and another book I must have.

Grobel and Fielding, and so many other writers, have shown me the errors of my ways. Books and authors I was forced to read in school take on new glimmer, a shimmering comet's tail that draws me onward into undiscovered country, providing me with more memorable moments and more companions for idyllic spots along the road or just because I cannot resist the gravitational force of a book I have not read or one I must own to read again and again like a comet drawn through a solar system of words and images and writers I have known and have yet to discover.

Are you game? I can stand the competition.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Words, words, words

I'm not sick of words like Eliza Doolittle who seemed to be angry at Professor Higgins and Freddie Ainsford-Hill and their words, words, words. Words fascinate me. They always have. If only words had a physical form I would be in heaven and the most promiscuous of all females who ever walked the earth, falling all over myself to lavish my attentions on words, words, words.

Last night, as I was writing in my paper journal (there are just some things I can't write here because my butt has already spread to cover my ergonomically correct desk chair) and noticing I had very few pages left and no new journal in sight (and no spare funds to buy another) to fill with musings, meanderings, and incoherent thoughts in my own personal shorthand, I was struck by the word catholic. Catholic has come to mean the Roman Christian church that grew out of Paul's teachings and an inability by the Roman empire to stamp out Christianity, but it original mean broad sympathies, tastes, and interests. Catholicism, and indeed Christianity, grew out of those catholic tastes, the Roman ability to conquer and absorb all religions, cultures, and societies in much the same way Christianity (as it is practiced today) grew out of Constantine's pagan roots and background, and indeed Rome's pagan roots, roots that continued to grow and flourish in foreign soils. For years I have said that the Roman empire did not fall, but changed its focus from military might to religious might and continued right up to the present day, just as the Vatican continues to control a very healthy percentage of the world, New and Old.

So many words; so little time to learn and internalize them all.

On Merriam-Webster Online, which today gave me the joy of conquering the dictionary devil, the word of the day is causerie, which is an informal conversation or chat and/or a short informal essay, such as my ramblings on LJ. Causerie makes me think of causeway, a raised way to get across water or wet ground, a dry path, much like the paths that crisscross in my mind from thought to thought and synapse to synapse. So, a causerie is a mental or verbal causeway.

And then there is static. Static can be the crackling chaotic sounds of radio transmissions, snow on your television set, or that little electrical shock that zaps people when the air is dry and you drag your feet across the carpet and touch metal or another person. A jolt that flashes sparks and miniature fireworks that can jump start a heart or fry a hard drive or generally interfere with smooth electrical impulses. But static also means stationary, unchanging, without variance, such as a static astrological sign, a sign that shows little variance or change, stasis, frozen in time and space. One more word that has completely opposite meanings, but such is the wonder and magic of words and language and meanings.

Words have given me much over the years, but right now, besides giving me food for thought and essays and pleasure, words have built a causeway to my father and his mysterious past. His past is not mysterious in the sense of secrets, but in the sense of not knowing as much about him as I think I should. One of the most important people in my life and it has taken me nearly fifty years to find out the truth behind the hints and stories. I spoke to him earlier after my mother informed me he had just finished writing me another long letter. I can hardly wait to read his small narrow script, decipher his handwriting and learn a little more. I feel like a trail blazer, an adventurer pushing back the frontiers where be monsters. Like an uncharted territory, the mists are being burned off by the sun of interest. Okay, so a little flowery, but this is how I feel.

So many mysteries are mysterious because no one has ventured close enough to walked thru the obscuring mists into the strange lands and build the causeway and join in a causerie, braving the static shock of recognition to remain static long enough to find all people have catholic tastes in one way or another.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Oh, well

I have been immersed in music and magick and all sorts of reading, but not much updating on my journal. I am fast becoming MIA like [info]mentalfuse. I will do my best to write more frequently, but when I get on a track like finding out the real story of a woman who lived and died before I was born and where the biggest Teflon pan in the country can be seen, you can see my dilemma.

I subscribe to a lot of literary magazines and sometimes I can't quite understand why those stories are published rather than some of the stories I submit. It isn't that I don't get some sort of recognition, but I'm getting really tired of long personal rejections. I'd almost rather have an impersonal form rejection because it feels like get an F+ or an A-. It's a mixed message. Almost a D and not quite an A or a B. Personally, I'd rather see concrete, no nonsense grades and responses. I know editors don't have a lot of time and need to streamline their correspondence, but if an editor takes the time to type out a three-page letter, either consider personal correspondence or tell me simply what is wrong and I'll fix it. Something to work on when I am inundated with submissions and queries for my own magazine.

Did it ever occur to anyone, other than me, that Madonna did a good job of portraying Eva Peron in Evita? Of course, it could just be that I love the music and the songs. I have a thing for Andrew Lloyd Webber and I don't care if that makes my tastes pedestrian, but I can see how I would choreograph the musical numbers and the stage placements. Some of my past coming up to bite me in the butt. There was a time when I seriously considered acting, before pregnancy and the decline of my physical form into a breeding cow instead of a strong, curvy, corn fed female. Ah, well, life holds many surprises. I danced in several plays, The Music Man among them, and acted several leading roles before an unplanned and completely surprising pregnancy played havoc with my body and my life. I wanted to write screenplays and plays and indeed even rewrote the second act of A Christmas Carol (the musical version of Dickens' story) when I was in junior high school. I've played several pretty interesting roles, all of which came rushing back at me when I was at the checkout counter of the grocery store this afternoon.

I passed a bin of DVDs sale priced at $4.99. I didn't expect to find anything good, and mostly I was right. I did manage to find one gem, Our Town with a very young and innocent looking William Holden and a fresh-faced Martha Scott, who starred opposite Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur as his mother. I played Emily in Our Town in high school and some of the motifs and themes remain with me today. I had to watch the DVD as soon as I got home, but had to respond to the two calls I noticed on my Caller ID from Beanie earlier today. She's taking an English class in college and I'm helping her with a How-To essay.

Needless to say, my dark chocolate chunk ice cream was melting and I hiccuped my way thru some fried chicken livers while she read what she had written so I could give her my editorial opinion. I was a bit vague and confusing, but my mind was on other things at the time: melting ice cream and my new movie.

When I finally got to see the movie (having pushed OK on the remote several times to keep from having to watch the animated DVD egg bouncing all over the screen), I was greeted with fresh visions. I forgot how young and eager William Holden looked or that Emily didn't die in the movie as she did in the play. I remember dying in the play and sitting in the graveyard near Mother Gibb and Mrs. Soames who enjoyed my wedding to George Gibb. I don't remember having a choice to fight back the specter of death and come to with a new baby in my arms and George looking thru the door to make sure all was well. Still, it is one of my favorite plays and now I can watch it whenever I need a fresh perspective or just a walk down memory lane.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything and nothing. The whole thing is a mental train that keeps stopping at every little station along the way. Literary stories have some deeper meaning and I thought of a family going on vacation with a daughter in college who just graduated, guilted into the trip by one last family trip together, and having to go see the biggest Teflon pan in the country. The thought occurred that the manufacturer gets more out of each little tourist who stops to see this technological marvel than if they had taken the same amount of material and made a lot of smaller frying pans. You can sell a normal sized frying pan once, but you can sell the country's biggest Teflon frying pan forever. It isn't good for anything but giving something for people to stop and gawp at when they're on pointless family vacations just so they can be together for a few days or a couple weeks. More mileage for the manufacturer and a family's relationship with growing children. Makes sense to me, but I wonder if it will make sense to an editor with money they need to part with.

Oh, well, I have run on long enough and it is time. I'll shut up now.

That is all. Nothing to see here. Disperse.