Friday, October 12, 2007

Books vs. Pointy Sticks

WARNING: the following is beyond unfunny. It's anti-funny. Don't worry, I can't imagine I'll be doing this very often.

Poor Juno. Stalking her at every turn.

But this time, it's a legitimate product of inspiration rather than scary-slurpy admiration.

Her post about reading unleashed all manner of wordstorm in my fuzzy head.

I used to be a huge reader. Way beyond the pale. I read seven to ten books *on average* every week. Trust me -- there were anti-social weekends where I'd plough through my seven to ten in a couple of days and rush head-first into five or six more.

People who knew me would ask how long it took to read a particular book (usually one with a high page count) just so they could shake their heads in wonder.

When I got my paycheck every month, I'd stop at the bank, then head to Barnes & Noble. I had to get a basket to accommodate my shopping.

Part of this was ritual; I followed a methodical, predictable and repeatable path. I visited certain tables, certain authors, certain sections -- some for specifics, some hoping for buried treasure.

I'd leave with a couple hundred dollars' worth of books.

This monthly trip, augmented by book gifts and loans§ from family and friends, kept me in constant literary kinesis.

I can't tell you how lonely it was.

I was living in a gorgeous, vast and varied world of clever phrases and breathtaking scientific achievement and (admittedly) pure trivia, and I couldn't share. Even when I could get someone to read a book on which I wanted to commune, they were invariably slower and had a life to fit the book among.

Six or eight months later, my cycle of panting desperation and bright-eyed anticipation faded to resigned curiosity, I might ask if they'd ever read it.

Often not.

Sometimes, "Oh, yeah. It was good. Thanks!"

The best days brought, "I really liked the part where the little girl licked the pig and turned into an alpaca."

Some days I felt like I was the only person in the world who knew about the secret life of dust. Semi-comatose people who can hear and understand, but can't move or talk? They know what I felt like.

The two greatest literary confabs of my life:

  1. When Brother, Dad and I realised we were reading the same book# at the same time for no particular reason. It was not the bestseller of the moment -- I think I may even purchased mine at a used book store. But we'd somehow all three of us got our hands on this book.

  2. When Dad semi-retired†† and I packed up all the Terry Pratchett Discworld books‡‡, in order, and dumped them on his desk. For weeks, we traded lines and impressions and giggles and it was so *good* to be able to talk books en masse and in specific instead of in the abstract.

Somewhere in here, I started knitting a lot. I complained, half-jokingly, that knitting really ate into my reading time. At that time, I didn't know knitting groups existed. I hadn't discovered knitblogs. Knitting was almost totally solitary.

Then Mom got sick. It wasn't such a big deal at the outset. Cancer is a big word, but we like big words where I come from. When she had a seizure and a stroke Christmas night and fell into a coma... well, then things changed drastically. Even more when she came out of the coma... then fought her way back... then spiraled down and off the mortal coil.

For two months§§ I worked full-time and Mom was a second full-time occupation. From hospital to nursing home to hospice I went, meeting or passing various friends and family members, cooking, cleaning, crying, talking, arranging, transporting, fetching, shopping, sitting sitting sitting sitting... you'd think with all that sitting, it would be the ideal opportunity for knitting or reading.

I just couldn't.

I'd knit a couple of rows or a couple of stitches and have to stop. I'd read 12, 25, maybe even 50 pages in a book and... well, "meh" doesn't begin to cover it, but it's the only thing that comes close. Sitting with my hands fiddling in my lap and watching Mom deteriorate was taking me to the edge of my reason, but it was better than knitting or reading.

When she died, reading and knitting were all but out the window.

I worked like a demon when I could ("Please send me out of town"), but even *my* boss made me go home sometimes.

And then I'd go to the bar, not for the alcohol, but because I was in social limbo: I didn't want to be alone, but I didn't want to make conversation or even pretend to care about anybody else's chatter. At the Coral Room or Patrick Carroll's I could be by myself without being alone.

It was most of a year before I read a book all the way through, slightly less to finish a big-needle, big-square, garter-stitch piece. I fought each task every stitch, every page of the way, but completing them got me rolling again.

A little.

A gentle roll.

These days, you may have noticed, I knit far more than I read. Books seem more like old friends than constant companions. I tell tales of our glory days together, but it's not the same. It's so past-tense. It's so distant. It roughs up my heart some days.

I think I'm still a little afraid to be alone too much and knitting is just more social. I at least have the TiVi on when I'm knitting.

I miss my sluttish relationship with books. I don't miss the loneliness.

I don't regret or resent knitting. But I look in the mirror or stare at the ceiling and wonder who the hell it is wearing my skin.

I do get laid more. Not sayin' there's a direct correlation, just sayin'.

OK, I'm done. Have a lovely weekend, friends, family and others.

FOOTNOTE (crossed): I don't think I can make y'all stand by while I lick the pig every day, so anything that brings forth more than four coherent sentences is a winner in my book.

FOOTNOTE (double-crossed): Scientific Method, as applied to retail consumerism. And you can't imagine how discombobulated I'd get when they rearranged my B&N.

§FOOTNOTE (swerved): The line was a little blurred on that sometimes. *ahem*

FOOTNOTE (paragraphed): If not literal.

#FOOTNOTE (pounded): Robert McCannon's "Boy's Life," which is a delightful book, BTW. You should check it out.

††FOOTNOTE (ddouble-ccrossed): Mom begged me to scour my library for Dad-worthy books. "He's reading two or three a day. I'm going to go broke trying to keep him out of my hair."

‡‡FOOTNOTE (doubble-crossssed): Among others.

§§FOOTNOTE (double-curved): I can't adequately describe how much longer it feels. Sometimes I think if there's one thing I could get back from those days, it's a sense of scale.

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