(Needs a Title)

 

Lying in bed last night, he turned to ask what I was thinking about. “Vegetarians.”

I’ve been reading too much. I plunged headlong into JM Coetzee’s Disgrace earlier this week, spurred on by a friend’s disgust. This is generally a sure way to get me to do something. Say you hate it, I’ll hate it, the world must hate it – and I will love it to spite you, me, and the world. And that’s just what’s happened. I am sunk deep in this book. Coetzee has kept me up late, staring at the ceiling, considering vegetarianism. Cruelty and compassion. The many different meanings of the word ‘disgrace’.

This is how I drifted off to sleep.

And this is how I awoke, four hours later. I picked up Kirk Curnutt’s short stories thinking to shake off the solemnity. No idea why. I’ve read most of them already; they are not light-hearted. But I like them. In fact, I like each one better than the last. Kirk commented that they were dark and my first instinct was to disagree. They’re certainly not light though. What they are is thought-provoking. Hopefully Kirk won’t mind my reading some of Down in the Flood to you.

 

A dead man’s face tells you all you need to know about his life.              That’s what my dad told me the first time I was around to see the Chattahoochee bust the levee and drown up my hometown…

…I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the water, not on her face. There was just something so exposed about her, though; I couldn’t help myself. I mean, I couldn’t get over the fact that here was someone I’d twice touched, once in life and once in death, and she’d brought out more in me now than she had then. I couldn’t figure why. Maybe death, even after you’re dead, can still strip you down one more layer of vulnerability…

…Some nights, the ones I can’t sleep, I find myself wondering what expression I’ll be wearing when I go. I even go so far as to practice. Silly as it sounds, I’ll purse my lips together and clamp my eyes shut, real stone like, or I’ll just lie back and try to let the most peaceful, relaxed feeling I know stretch out my skin. I do it, I guess, because I want to believe that whatever I’ve been through in my life can’t be summed up in a sentence or two. I want to think there’s a mystery to me that’s beyond observation, a meaning that can’t be reduced by a glance from a stanger’s eye. Maybe there’s not, I don’t know. But for now I’ll assume that there is, just so I don’t have to deal with knowing somebody’s going to claim to read me as I’ve claimed to have read so many others. My story’s mine, after all, and I’m taking my secrets with me.

 

Much as I’m enjoying Kirk’s stories and much as I’m fascinated by Coetzee’s ability to affect me, I need some fun. I remarked to a friend the other day that this is actually the kind of fun I like. Serious, cerebral. And that’s true. But sometimes just plain FUN fun is better for your soul. To be made light.

Walking alone at night in a foreign city I passed buskers on the sidewalk. The song made me pause and smile. I’d never heard it anywhere but on my own ipod. I swung round and called out “That’s my favorite song! How did you know?” and walked back to drop the last of my coins in a battered guitar case. I was delighted. They were delighted. We laughed and sang and that was about all they could do in English, but it was fun. Back in my hotel room I turned the TV on and was immediately treated to an advertisement for iplayer. The same song! It’s everyone’s favorite – Everywhere! I laughed at myself. Cavorting around the world, adventure after adventure, yet clearly I need to get out of my own head more often.

Tonight I turned the music up loud and watched my daughters dance. The boy shook his head and tried to cover his own enjoyment in watching them. He didn’t last long. I put down my book and made him dance with me.

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Readers

 

My pixie is a reader! Well, technically she’s a writer; She only reads what she herself writes. She has no interest in reading published material. I’m still supposed to hold the book and read aloud while she relaxes, sucking her two middle fingers thoughtfully and picturing the story in her own way. Who needs illustrations? But she writes. She carries a little notebook pilfered from my desk and whenever inspiration comes she writes a word or two. The other day she announced “I’m going to write HOT” and she did. She knows all the letters and she sounds out whatever she’s decided to write. Her funny accent makes for some odd combinations, but when she says the word it makes sense phonetically. Four is spelled F-U-R, store is spelled S-T-U-R, and floor sounds distinctly French, as in F-L-E-U-R.

It was important to her to learn to write her siblings names as soon as she learned her own. She listed them in large, perfect print on an oversized sheet of paper. A bold border gave the list a poster effect and she taped it to the wall. “There” she announced. “Now you can stop calling us the wrong names.” It’s an easy mistake. Their names all start with the same letter. Try saying “She sells seashells down by the seashore” a few times. Try it when, instead of selling seashells, she’s stolen your lipstick and painted her sister’s face with it or systematically broken a dozen eggs to see what’s inside. 

My son reads voraciously. He reads before school, on the bus, at lunch, after school in the tree house, while swinging on a rope, at the dinner table if I let him, before bed, in bed… A week ago he came home from the book store beaming with three new books in his hands. Now he needs more. I came home with new books as well, but I’m still savoring Kirk Curnutt’s short stories in Baby Let’s Make a Baby and I’ve started War Music, which is Christopher Logue’s very fine account of Homer’s Iliad. It’s a book I’d like the luxury of reading straight through, all at once. It’s poetry, after all. The pixie picked it up yesterday and flipped through. “Your books are all filled up with words! Cool. S-E-E. See. Is this a story about the beach?” I was reminded of a quote by Victor Hugo: To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

Very cool indeed.