Monday, August 31, 2009

Something about age eight

Last evening after supper, I was alone in the house putting away clean dishes, thinking. Grandma was outside on the patio watching Jeff and the boys toss the football around the backyard. I was drying things and putting them in their places, then loading the dirty supper dishes in the dishwasher, starting to fill it up again as quickly as I'd emptied it -- which wasn't TOO quickly, because I do most everything slowly and deliberately. I was thinking about the upcoming one-year anniversary of Papa's death.

When Kyle's basketball skills seemed to slip away from him late last fall and into the winter, I said to Jeff, "He lost his best friend." He also seemed to struggle with his spelling last year, more than I remember in earlier years, and in the start of this school year, his spelling errors have already caused me to e-mail his teacher to express my concerns and get her thoughts and suggestions. I can't help wondering if the absence of Papa from his life has affected Kyle's spelling too. The night that Papa died, Kyle told me through his sobbing, "Everything will be different now!" He was so right; I think losing Papa has affected every part of Kyle's world.

Kyle has a much closer bond with Grandma than before. This past year, they have clung to one another in their shared grief: Papa's two best friends, trying to survive without him, day by day, week by week. But Jeff is critical of many things, starting with sports, and I'm critical of some things, including spelling and indications of selfishness, and in a few ways Grandma is critical, too, though more likely to take Kyle's side than Jeff or I, when he feels he's been wronged. Papa not only loved Kyle unconditionally, but Kyle knew that Papa loved him unconditionally. He knew that Papa would listen to his complaints and love him anyway, and be patient with him as he tried to grow and learn, and try to teach him how to be better without pointing out his faults and shortcomings.

In a sense, it seems almost idiotic that I'd link Kyle's problems with spelling to his grief over Papa's death -- and it's been almost a year; some things are still impacted, surely, but spelling? But as I dried the cups and mugs, I thought about Kyle being eight years old when Papa died. I was about eight years old when the sexual abuse began, and I still struggle with emotions and situations that are linked with thse experiences, even some situations that are completely unrelated to the abuse but remind me of it in a deep, visceral way. Sylvia Plath was eight when her father died, and clearly that loss affected her in countless ways throughout her life. The things that happen in childhood -- things that happen to you, around you, and around those people closest to you -- sometimes live on as part of you. Especially the world around you when you're about age eight, old enough to start thinking about ways to stretch your small wings, old enough to start understanding "deep things," but too young to go far on your own, and still very much a child.

As I stacked the plastic cups together, I cried. It's been almost a year, and still it breaks my heart when I think of my Kyle, and how the loss of Papa might still be breaking his beautiful little heart.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Just making a note...

I need to shut down and get to bed VERY SOON, but am making a "mental note" of sorts before the day is completely over. When I woke this morning, I told Jeff I'd just had a bad dream. I didn't say what about. Later in the day, I kept thinking about it. What I remember is that I was getting ready to marry someone that I didn't want to marry. I might even have been in a fancy dress -- it might have been THAT DAY. I kept saying, basically, "I don't want to marry this guy," and no one seemed to care that I didn't want to. Finally I was trying to think of reasons I couldn't marry him, that would make some sense and carry some weight with other people.

When I woke up, Jeff was talking to me (I'd slept late, as usual -- and since it's after 1030pm, I predict I'll sleep late again tomorrow, thank heavens for weekends), and I remember being so glad I was married to Jeff and that it had just been a bad dream. But it kept coming back to my mind, and I started thinking the dream was almost like a template for one of the primary psychological struggles of my whole life: the feeling of being trapped.

I always tell Jeff, "Don't tell me what to do," and fifty similar things. It's like I've been doing this since I was eight years old, not wanting to go to school: I hate school, don't make me go. And in college and grad school, wishing I could read and write what I wanted and not just all the stuff that was assigned for me to read, study, write, take tests, et cetera. And of course, back again to my childhood, it's also about the sexual abuse: him telling me what to do, convincing me to do things I didn't want to do and shouldn't have done, that made me feel guilty and dirty and ugly and different. Something as simple as Jeff saying, "It's nice outside, you should go for a walk," causes me to revolt, to want to say, "Don't tell me what to do, I'll do what I want to do, you can't make me walk, you can't make me lose weight, you can't tell me what to feel or what not to feel, and dammit I'll get myself a Heath Mocha Frost if I want one!"

So I think my bad dream came from a very deep place inside, and it troubles me, but also causes me to think in a way that might help me to know myself better. And yet, it does trouble me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BBAW, and how I feel like a poser

I recently gave in to the hype and signed up for a Twitter account. Yes, it can be addicting, especially those first couple of weeks, but I don't think I've gone overboard with it. One thing I've found is that book bloggers -- those people whose blogs are about books and reading, and/or include mostly book reviews -- are very active on Twitter. I've been hearing a lot lately from them about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, or BBAW for short, which is scheduled for September 14-18, 2009.

The first BBAW was held just last year, and was the brainchild of Amy Riley - also known as My Friend Amy. Amy and her fellow book bloggers found it to be a great experience, and now plan to hold the event every September. There's a ton of work that goes into it. One main thing is, there are a lot of categories for awards, and bloggers and their readers submit nominations for these categories. When nominations close, all the lucky bloggers who were nominated are notified by e-mail. Then there are Panels for the different categories, and the Panelists check out the nominated blogs and/or specific entries and decide upon a shortlist (which seems to be between three and five, I don't know if there's a maximum of five or six, or what). So there's a deadline for nominations, a deadline to volunteer for Panels, a deadline to decide on the shortlist, and a deadline to come up with a winner for each category.

There are also giveaways. Many book bloggers have book giveaways on a regular basis, receiving one or more review copies of books, reviewing them, and then offering them to other readers via their blogs. Giveaways are highlighted during the BBAW event, which makes good sense -- though of course it adds to the workload of all the bloggers doing giveaways, and to those on the administrative side of BBAW who list the details before the big week, so blog readers can see what fun stuff will be available.

So I was seeing all these posts about BBAW on Twitter. Last week, I was surprised -- VERY surprised -- to receive an e-mail saying, "Congratulations, you've been nominated for a BBAW award!" I went, "Huh? Me?" I didn't think it was possible. I don't consider myself a book blogger. Heck, I don't really think of myself as "a blogger" at all, but just as someone who has a blog and writes whatever on there, sometimes. The reason I chose the title "All the parts of my life" for my blog was to give myself the freedom to write about whatever's on my mind and anything I've been doing. (And because it's one of my favorite poetry quotes.)

I've started following a number of book bloggers on Twitter, and have also added several book blogs to my Google Reader subscriptions in the past four to six weeks. And I have to say, I'm amazed and impressed by the amount of time and effort these people put into the endeavor. (I think most are women -- there are male librarian bloggers, but I don't think I've seen any male book bloggers yet.) It's not just off the top of their heads: they need to READ BOOKS, and then write about the books, and sometimes they talk about publishing and the book industry, audiobooks and e-books, sometimes they have interviews with authors, and they manage those giveaways, plus they design their site, have to keep up with comments -- it sounds like a full-time job! Since getting the e-mail about my "nomination," I've started WISHING I could be a book blogger, but then I think about my everyday life and of course I ALREADY have a full-time job, and really there's no way I could do it, and do it WELL.

So yeah, I feel like a poser. But, I was nominated in the category "Best Blog Name," which is actually kind of cool. I don't think I'm a book blogger, but I appreciate that someone likes the name of my blog enough to nominate it. :-) In return, I'll give credit where it's due, to the REAL book bloggers, and will follow and read more of their bookish musings.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The life of my mind

Last evening, while walking on the treadmill, I finally watched a BookTV program I recorded in May. It was an episode of After Words, with guest interviewer Sara Nelson (author of the wonderful So Many Books, So Little Time) talking to Elaine Showalter about her new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. I've seen this book at TSCPL, and would love to read it, but it's something like 600 pages long, and I just don't see myself able to read a book of that length (except maybe a novel) anytime soon.

Thankfully, I was able to devote close to an hour to watching the program (half an hour on the treadmill, another 25 minutes till the end). It made me want to read the book, particularly because of the way Sara Nelson described it -- I got the sense it was more "readable," less theoretical than much literary criticism, that it reads more quickly and easily than one would expect, for a book that size. I was also pleased to hear Elaine Showalter say of the many books that she read during her research, that her primary question while reading was, "Am I enjoying this book?" She was trying to read them as a "normal" reader would, rather than as a scholar or literary critic.

I am really glad to be a librarian, and I think it's the profession that makes the most sense for me, the best way to earn my "bread and butter," so to speak. But as I told Becky a few months ago, when we went to visit the library at Fort Leavenworth, if I had my way, I'd just read and write every day -- and I'd read more novels than anything else.

I was very lucky, last Sunday in Boston, to meet "in real life" a woman I'd only known online and by e-mail: a fellow librarian and book lover who is ALSO named Marie. (Her blog is called "sweetness, sweetness," and I think that's taken from a Sylvia Plath poem. We have a lot in common!) We spent a while chatting at Dunkin' Donuts (one of the five million in Mass.), then went to a fantastic bookstore that neither of us had been to before, called McIntyre and Moore, in Porter Square. We both gravitated toward novels, but I admitted to Marie that I wish I had the time, patience, and simple brain power to read some psychology and philosophy, and a lot more literary criticism. So although I'm more likely to choose fiction or poetry from my "to be read mountain" than anything too abstract or theoretical, I'm often drawn to those kinds of books, and sometimes buy them or check them out from the library, even though I realize that I won't have the time to properly read them until I'm retired. (Yes, that's over 20 years away.)

For example, there was a book that caught my attention months ago that was on my (comparatively short) list of "books that are probably way over my head that I'd likely buy anyway if I ever found them." Well, last Sunday, in McIntyre and Moore, I found it, and couldn't help exclaiming, "Duuude!" which Marie heard from a couple aisles away. It's called Strangers to Ourselves, written by Julia Kristeva. It was in the literary criticism section, but even from the jacket description, you can tell it's not strictly lit crit.

(description copied from Amazon, but I think it's taken from the book jacket)

This book is concerned with the notion of the "stranger" -the foreigner,
outsider, or alien in a country and society not their own- as well as the notion
of strangeness within the self -a person's deep sense of being, as distinct from
outside appearance and their conscious idea of self.
Kristeva begins with the personal and moves outward by examining world literature and philosophy. She discusses the foreigner in Greek tragedy, in the Bible, and in the literature of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the twentieth century. She discusses the legal status of foreigners throughout history, gaining perspective on our own civilization. Her insights into the problems of nationality,
particularly in France are more timely and relevant in an increasingly
integrated and fractious world.

As you can tell, this is not a breezy or potboiler kind of book. If I had a day completely free, I would start reading it and see how far I get. I also found, totally by chance in an unsorted pile, another title that had grabbed me more recently, and had to buy that as well. This one is psychology: Strong Feelings: Emotion, Addiction, and Human Behavior, by Jon Elster. When I was at Smith, I participated a few times in a group of survivors of sexual abuse. While some women talked about not remembering, and not allowing themselves to feel anything deeply, I remember saying I was the opposite way, "I am emotion."

The books that examine the intersections of life and literature; books that seek to explore the workings of our minds as well as our brains; books that might help me see myself and others more clearly -- these are the kinds of books I want to find and read, beyond novels and other imaginative literature. A few titles from my "watch list," books that sound interesting enough for closer examination:
The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change;
Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State;
Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature;
The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: a Philosophical Journey into the Brain;
Modern Liberty and the Limits of Government;
The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life;
Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World;
Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.

You get the idea. Ever since I started getting the Labyrinth Books sale catalog, my watch list has ballooned with these kinds of titles, which sound both fascinating to me and hugely challenging to read. Back in library school, I was talking with one of my friends one day about what kind of library I might work in when I got my degree. She looked at me closely and said, "I can really see you in academia." Strange for a high school dropout, but in a way she was right. If I had access to a university's resources and the time for self-directed study, the life of my mind could be amazing and constantly growing.

Back here on earth, I'll try to wrap this up so I can actually post it tonight. (I started writing it before work, at about 745am, and now it's after 11pm and I'm getting tired!) Many many thanks to Marie for meeting me on Sunday and introducing me to such a great bookstore. Both our meeting and the store were like hot fudge added to an already good ice cream visit. :-)