I’m Fine

Piles of wooden fences and sawn limbs, a stack of warped wooden dressers, carpets and shingles, line the narrow street. Remnants of homes or the aftermath of tragedy, it’s hard to know what to call it. I drive slowly. My head lolls and my mind wanders, shoulder muscles go lax because I just can’t carry any more weight. Nagging questions roil in my brain. Why was I spared? What’s coming next? The fever is near, I can feel it coming like the drop in pressure that brought the storm. Those thoughts, new inklings are always just a mild distortion of the lies from the last panic. But still I don’t recognize them until it’s too late, until the weather has already shifted.

My focus begins to blur and I force my mind and my eyes to return to the present. The oppressive heat is like an admonition from the earth I’m killing. We’re all killing it. I’m killing her. She is patient and resilient, but these natural “disasters”, the silent clinging to summer in mid-October—it’s her form of passive protest. We are ignoring and driving gluttonous circles around Mother Nature’s sit-in.

There is no fresh air to free me from my mind prison, today. The kids are reading in the backseat and I start foreseeing a bleak future of catastrophic destruction in my own home, in the next hour. My stomach clenches and my heartbeat starts to pick up. I close my eyes briefly, behind the wheel. We’re stopped now, sitting in the garage. I want to take a deep breath, to swallow, to move on, but all I can do is half of any of those things. It always feels like a small suffocation. I wish I could cry.

I slap my hands hard against the steering wheel. It startles the kids. “Geez! Mom, you scared me! What are you doing?” Nothing, I’m fine. Everything’s okay. Let’s go inside now.

I press the button to open the trunk hatch. The stale smell of gasoline and too much heat greet me as I sidle along the narrow path from driver’s door to trunk. I heft the bags of carefully budgeted groceries. My shoulder pinches to remind me of my weakness. Today, I’m too aware of my weakness.

I set the bags on the floor of the kitchen. It could definitely be cleaner. I think I step in something slimy or wet. My shoe slides a bit. Disgust is fleeting, now. I walk back into the garage and call to the kids. Their little growing brains are buried in books. I doubt they even notice how hot it’s getting in that closed up car.

“Don’t forget to grab your water bottles. Please bring in some of those books. Yes, you can watch a show. If you want a snack, you may have an apple. No, I’m not going to cut it up for you; the apples are small. Okay, I’m going upstairs now. Really, you can come get me if you need anything, okay?”

“Yes, mom. Okay, mom. Sure, mom. Sorry, mom. I’m fine, mom.”

I carefully put away the groceries, each item in its specific place. Order is my sanity. I replace the bags to their rightful home on my way to the stairs. Do these stairs keep getting steeper? I round the corner at the top of the stairs and the panic seizes me by the throat and flings me against the wall like I’m some pathetic rag doll. I crumple in a small heap. I kneel on a Lego brick. God, how badly I want to cry, but I can’t. Right now, I can’t even muster anger or frustration. My assailant relents. I get up and head to my bedroom. I slip off my shoes, put them on the rack. I peel off my jeans, hang them in the closet. I’m dizzy, leery of the next attack.

I sit heavily in my desk chair as I’m slammed backward, pressed down by my shoulders, crushed under the weight. The thoughts come swiftly now—fears and reality colliding and mingling in a fever dream kaleidoscope. I feel it all, too much, too much. I want to breathe, to cry, to swallow, but I can’t. I do all of these things only by halves. I’m pinned and destroyed. Vitality is being ripped from me unceremoniously. I can’t fight. My freedom is gone. I can’t run. I’m trapped, trapped, pinned here. I can’t escape. Please, please, God, just let me die.

Then, in an instant, I’m released. I crawl to the bathroom, though I know I’m not really sick. I want to lay on the tile floor, but I think how gross that is. I pull myself up by the countertop. I see my face in the mirror. The telltale crease is a glaring omen between my eyebrows. There is no demon behind me, now, but no matter. The damage is done.

The thoughts, now, are acute. Am I still breathing? Am I still me? I hate myself so much. Why do I always give in? I’ll be nauseous for hours, maybe days. I’ll be shaking when my husband gets home. I just realize that my teeth have been chattering for some time now. My jaws ache. I’m shivering, half naked, violated and destroyed by my own mind. My body is sick. My brain is sick. But really, no really, I’m fine.

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 38

I’m starting to feel the effects of this book-buying ban—unfortunately, not positive effects on my budget, but effects like withdrawals and other symptoms of addiction. My family and I recently purchased a home and with that purchase, apparently, comes numerous unforeseen and often obscene expenses. I’m as strapped as ever. I’m only thankful for the book-buying ban at this point because it’s one less line item in my budget with a glaring red number in its row. Aside from that and perhaps on a deeper level, I’m struggling against the real urge to support authors and causes I care about, to continue building my library, to read as my little heart fancies.

I had a free moment to myself at Costco yesterday (I know, I’m living the dream) and I allowed myself a brief browse at the book table. It was a mistake, clearly. Only just that morning, I had read a fascinating headline about a never-before-published 87-year-old work by Zora Neale Hurston, a brilliantly gifted author whose best-known book is a particular favorite of mine. What should appear on the table at Costco, but a neat stack of this gorgeous work of history and art, the day before its posted publication. I visibly clutched at my chest, audibly drew in breath—it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine—and then I walked away. This is the first time I was actually sad for leaving behind a potential purchase.

Here’s a little background for my (wholly justified) reaction. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was never published for what is perhaps one of the reasons Zora Neale Hurston was never given due recognition for her talent and power in storytelling. The thick and authentic dialect was just too much for publishers to get beyond. But, thanks to Hurston’s refusal to edit out the flavor of the language, there is preserved in her works a dynamic and essential part of her own culture. The story in Barracoonis based on interviews Hurston conducted with Cudjo Lewis, the man widely believed to be the last African man alive at the time who had been kidnapped from his home, shipped over to America, and forced into slavery. I really want to read this book.

It’s moments like these that challenge my resolve the most. Is it really worth it to stick so stubbornly to this fast? Am I doing more harm than good by holding on to my money? I honestly don’t know. I’m in a bit of a moral quandary, but the achiever in me is staying strong because I committed to this. I guess I never really thought about the potential consequences or loss I would feel in what is ultimately a selfish endeavor.

Here’s an excellent review of Barracoon at 4Columns.

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 35

One of the coolest features of my new city is that almost every public park is home to a Little Free Library. As the parent and teacher of two elementary-aged kiddos, I spend a lot of time at parks. I do consider it my civic responsibility to organize and maintain each of these Little Free Libraries, you know, after I browse them. When my kids and I arrived at the park today, I came prepared with a box-full of books to donate. What I wasn’t prepared for was finding the library already filled with what can only loosely be described as a variety of Amish romance novels. That’s right, a Little Free Library brimming with bonnet rippers. I think I laughed out loud when I saw it. Hopefully anyone who comes looking for Beverly Lewis’ The Atonement won’t mistake it for the Atonement that I brought to the party.

Anyhoo, there is something really satisfying about giving away good books. I keep the ones I love, but duplicates or ones I didn’t love usually find a new home. Through this process of the book-buying fast, I’m learning that my desire to buy books is fueled more deeply by a long-term goal of collecting and building my own library. When I donate books, I’m still working toward that goal, like weeding the garden. Further toward this cause of cultivating a thriving library-garden, I finally added books to the shelves in my living room. I still have a shelf-less room where cardboard boxes filled with my books live, but I’m making progress in nurturing my library. Even (and maybe especially) when I am not buying books to add to it, this progress feels really good.

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The Living Room – with books!

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The “Library” – also with books (in boxes)!

 

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 23

Most days, I believe that my life is actually some mild version of a dystopian horror. Well, today it feels somewhere between eerie and uncanny…because there are no books coming in the mail. Not a one. Nothing used or new or even won. *shudder*

I’m starting to feel the effects of this fast—not quite to the deep, empty, aching hunger pains yet, but certainly past the stomach growling phase. What’s more, now that I’m almost a month into this fast, I’m wondering if I could do it with other consumerism-saturated areas of my life. Time to have a good think and look full-on at the reflection that’s been staring at me in the mirror. I’m starting to see that this is about so much more than books.

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 15

I met a fellow reader last night! Eureka! When I asked her what good books she’s read lately, she answered with Red Clocks, which I read just last week and loved. I so appreciate moments of reading serendipity like that. She happens to also be a writer—more specifically, a poet. Her favorite poet (lately) is C.D. Wright, in case you were wondering. I mean, I obviously was. I looked up C.D. Wright and it turns out she’s won the Man Booker for one of her poetry collections. Later that evening, I saw a new Litsy connection post about some eerily prescient Allen Ginsburg poems. Naturally, I had to look up his work, too. Well, needless to say, I was tempted to buy some books of poetry. It isNational Poetry Month, after all. But, I didn’t buy any. I just added those beauties to my wishlist, with possibly overblown hopes that I’ll receive maybe one of them for my upcoming birthday.

Right, I do understand that merely adding things to my wishlist isn’t much of a display of strength when it comes to a total book-buying ban. But, but, um, well, baby steps?

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 10

We’re having our house painted on the interior—the whole thing, so my personal space has been utterly invaded by strangers. It’s…awkward. I’m a busy person. I don’t like to stop moving much, unless I’m engrossed in reading. These days of being housebound, but unable to move freely in and out of my familiar chores and routines (and the rooms of my house, for that matter) have been taxing. I feel like an unwitting participant in some strange thought experiment to see how the body reacts under unusual types of stress. I think the worst part of it all is that I’m sitting here, mostly in one spot while the painters work diligently and tirelessly, painting my house. Well, no, that’s not the worst part; I have two children with cabin fever who are driving me to drink. It’s been raining and cold for two days straight, which means they’re cooped up inside with me. We can’t even go out and tend the garden or go for walks. It’s intense. But how is all this related to my book buying fast? Well, the one thing I could most certainly do with myself while all this painting and children bouncing off of each other and the walls nonsense is going on is BUY BOOKS! Oh, it would be such a soul soother. But, no. I’m going to stick with the plan, whatever trial comes about. I really believe that I have something to learn from this.

Later…

It seems the gods are working in my favor, today. At about 6pm, the doorbell rang. Eager husband and children all scurried to the door to find—shock and awe—a package addressed to me. “Mo-om, it’s books for you!” Ooh, really? That’s exciting! I don’t know what it could be. By this point in my fast, the stream of pre-April book orders has slowed to a trickle. I wasn’t expecting anything today. But, miraculously, books arrived on my doorstep. The return address read “The Hachette Group” and the padded envelope was ripped at the side, leaving space for two hardcovers to spill out in my lap as I knelt in the entryway to open it. With loved ones standing over me, my facial expression shifted from confusion to surprise to elation and back to confusion again in the span of a few seconds. Did I pre-order this? Did I win a giveaway? Did a Litsy friend send this to me? On the day of release, I received Madeline Miller’s new book, Circe, along with a 75th anniversary edition of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and the cutest little ceramic replica of that famous Greek-inspired New York coffee cup. I was stunned.

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Fortunately, my sleuthing skills are up to snuff and it only took some quick googling and email searching to find the source of the mystery gift. Apparently, I entered a giveaway back in November of last year—and won! What a delight. After a day spent in stubborn resolve against boredom-induced book-buying, I feel like I was rewarded with a most beautiful gift. Did I mention how much I had been longing to get hold of a copy of Circe? The hype is real! And I also must mention how perfectly timed the reception of Mythology was. I’ve been slowly adventuring my way through Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey and kept thinking how I really needed to brush up on my mythology. Et voila! I’m a bit overwhelmed by the serendipity of it. I’m feeling all sorts of grateful and joyful right now. And one thing’s for sure—I am going to be ready to teach that homeschool unit on Ancient Greece in May!

My extra special thanks to the Hachette Book Group, Little, Brown and Company, and Black Dog & Leventhal for the tremendous giveaway.

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The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 8

Today, I walked right through the mouth and into the belly of the beast. I went to Barnes & Noble. I needed to pick up a specific type of notebook for homeschool (Leuchtturm1917, dotted; known for it’s utility in the internet-sweeping phenomenon of the Bullet Journaling craze) and knew that B&N was the best place to get it. So, I put on my brave, big-girl pants and marched in there with my loins girded and an expression of steely resolve on my face. Okay, really, I was wearing jeans and my loins were about as vulnerable as ever. Oh, and I smiled at every person I passed. BUT THE POINT IS, Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion was 30% off and I didn’t buy it. In short, I survived and didn’t break my fast after just the first week.

I think it’s almost totally irrelevant that my eldest daughter, Lucy, accompanied me to the accursed temptation pit and ended up purchasing two books with her allowance cash. I say “almost” because I think it’s totally relevant to include her purchase in this post, but not because I experienced a vicarious thrill or anything…

Anyhoo, Lucy bought:

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl—the first one, because it’s a favorite and she’s waiting to buy the second one when they release the paperback version. Sensible kid.

The 600-Story Treehouse—I’m kidding, that’s not a thing. It’s more like 72 stories*, I think. But, really, how long will the author/publisher perpetuate this premise to the tune of $14/copy? I don’t know. The kid likes it and she has spending power, so there you go. I will say that I think she may have been influenced by the slightly older girl with a distinctive cool vibe who reached right past Lucy to grab her own copy off of the shelf. (This little scenario only serves to support a theory I have about how the friendly peer pressure of Litsy is going to single-handedly revive the publishing industry, if it hasn’t already.)

*Wrong again. It’s The 78-Story Treehouse.

Note: all the links in this post will take you to the Barnes & Noble website, just for fun. They’re not affiliate links.

The Great Book-Buying Fast, Day 4

Wait, it’s only the fourth day?! I feel like a champion of temptation resistance. I’ve deflected fastballs and curve balls and all sorts of other, er, balls being hurled by the universe directly at my face. I haven’t succumbed to the pressure of even browsing for books, not even once in four whole days! Well, three whole days and a half-day since it’s only one in the afternoon. But, still! It feels like an eternity. All melodrama aside, I really have been impressed by the frequency of times I’ve thought about purchasing a new book. I’m planning to go to the library—the free, public library—and I think about browsing the small books-for-sale section they maintain. Seriously. I’ve thought about books I could buy for my kids, books I could buy for myself, for my husband, for myself, for my mom, for friends, for myself. The trend is pretty obvious. But what’s most remarkable to me isn’t the sheer quantity of time I apparently spend on thinking about book acquisition, it’s the ease with which I dismiss those thoughts with a simple reminder to myself of my current, non-negotiable position of book-buying abstinence. Today, that’s what I find impressive—not how difficult this “fast” is, but how quickly I’ve shifted my mindset about book buying. I guess I’ll have to wait and see if the trend continues…