Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More Bookish Things

I didn’t accomplish much last weekend, but I did clear out my one lonely bookcase. Yay for me! There’s one clean thing in my house, 378 things to go. I even dusted the bookcase AND the books (It’s amazing how much dust can accumulate over the space of a year). Then I examined the very top of the bookcase, a space I can’t see without some sort of height enhancement device, i.e. a chair. I haven’t looked up there in about three years. I discovered a landscape made entirely of dust. It was beautiful in its own way. There were mountain ranges and river valleys and low, sweeping plains. There was probably a wide variety of flora and fauna there too, but I didn’t look that closely before sucking it all up with the vacuum cleaner. I’m assuming that anything that could survive in the dust landscape will be just as happy in the vacuum cleaner bag.

During this cleaning I realized something that I’d never considered before. See, I have a shelf of “unread books” in my bookcase. In my mind, its contents are untouchable during the yearly purge. I mean, I’ve never even read them, right? No one can argue that I should get rid of any of them. But this year it occurred to me that there are some books that have been on the “unread” shelf for a long time. A looooong time. Some have been there for at least 5 years and I know a couple have been there about 8 years. Which led me to ask myself a couple of questions: a) Should I add an expiration date to my book purging algorithm? Should I assign each book a date by which it must be read or tossed? and b) Why have those books been unread for so long?

I’m undecided about a), but I think I have the answer to b). When I go to my shelf to find something new, I look for something that fits my mood at that particular moment. Sometimes I want “brain candy,” i.e. science fiction. Sometimes I want interesting non-fiction that shows me another way to look at the world, something like the Tipping Point. But usually I want a good story that keeps me turning the pages but isn’t too distressing. I seldom want a book that I think is going to piss me off or make me cry. And I’m pretty sure that’s the reason most of those books have been there for so long.

A large percentage of them are pre-2003 Oprah books, books that Oprah picked as her “book of the month” at one time or another. The rest of humanity then behaved like sheep and gobbled up the books without a second thought, because if Oprah says the book is good, then the book must be good. End of discussion. Baaaah.

Unfortunately, after finishing a few Oprah-selected books, I began to question her book-selecting credentials. What exactly were her qualifications anyway? Not that the books she chose were bad books. Some were extremely good. But they all seemed to have a rather gloomy undercurrent. Lots of really horrible things were always happening to the characters in these books. These characters were abused by the universe in every conceivable way. These stories left me with a metaphorical little gray cloud over my head. Sometimes they even made me cry.

I officially reached my limit in the middle of A Map of the World. I made it through the small child drowning, but by the time the main character was accused of molesting another child, I had reached my depressing literature quota for the year. I closed the book right then and there and dropped it, unfinished, on top of the donation pile. I don’t regret it. I’m sure it had an uplifting ending, but I didn’t have the emotional stamina to get there at the time. BTW, did anyone out there make it to the end? Did it have an uplifting ending?

Now suspicious, I reviewed the entire list of Oprah books. Every dreary, anxious, cheerless, heartbroken one of them. And when I was done I could only conclude that the Oprah Industrial Complex wanted me to cry and cry a lot. And then I got mad. I threw off my shackles and shook my fist in the air and announced to my television set thusly: “Let me tell you something Oprah, I don’t have the energy to cry about people who don’t really exist and I’m not going to do it! You will not control my emotional state! You will not!” And so that’s how I gave up Oprah books. The end.

Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. The thought of tossing anything unread causes me great pain, but I’m afraid that if I touch one of them, the melancholy will creep out onto my hand, crawl up my arm, tunnel into my ear and snuggle up against my pituitary gland for the winter. And we don’t want that, do we? No, we don’t.

So I’m putting it all on your shoulders, Internet. Does anyone out there have an opinion about any of these? Anyone feel comfortable assuring me that reading one of these books won’t make me want to slash my wrists? Anyone?

Songs in Ordinary Time

Breath Eyes Memory

We Were the Mulvaneys

Song of Solomon

Fall on Your Knees

A Lesson Before Dying

There are also a few other books on the unread shelf that are long past their expiration dates. They aren’t Oprah books, but I put them in the same category, because I know they’re sad. I just know it.

First Comes Love

Tuesdays With Morrie

The Notebook

The Five People You Meet in Heaven was on the shelf for a long time too, but in desperation I bought an audiobook version to listen to on one of my long drives to visit family. I had always had a feeling it was going to be “poignant.” I was right. Note: It is possible to sob hysterically and drive 75mph on an interstate highway, but I don’t recommend it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My Life with Books

For the first 35 years of my life I hoarded every book I had ever owned. He who dies with the most books wins, and I was planning on winning. I kept everything from college textbooks (you never know when you’ll need to solve a differential equation on the way to the grocery store) to self-help books to third-rate sci-fi. For a long time I even kept every copy of Omni magazine that I had ever owned. When I was an old lady and someone wanted to know what I accomplished in my life, I planned to sweep my hand along the edges of my endless bookshelves, finishing with a flourish like Vanna White, and then stand there with one hand on my hip and the other demurely indicating my vast library, the sheer bulk of the wood pulp speaking for itself. I would respond:

I have read all of these books. You may worship me now.

To accomplish this goal, I lived by some very important book rules. They were: 1) If I bought a book I had to read it, 2) If I started reading a book, I had to finish it and 3) If I read a book, I had to keep it. No exceptions. I couldn’t just buy a book and then not read all of it, and I certainly couldn’t throw a book away. That was just wasteful. I might as well stop recycling aluminum cans or water the yard in the rain. I might as well throw away chocolate. No, the books had to be stockpiled. Every single one of them.

Then Slag and I decided to cohabitate. Or really, Slag and I, plus all of Slag’s tools, decided to cohabitate. Storage space suddenly became a very valuable commodity in this house. Every item needed justification and negotiations were extended and heated. There were a lot of conversations like:

“No! This is my closet and you can’t put that box in here. This is my space and I might want to put something there later. I need all of it. All of it!”

“You already have the bigger closet in the bedroom AND the closet in the extra bedroom. I should be able to put this one little box here.”

“I need both closets because your office takes up the entire third bedroom and I have no place for my quilting supplies. You have an ENTIRE ROOM all to yourself.”

“But that’s for work. You can’t count space I need for work against me. Work space isn’t optional space.”

“You have FIVE computers in there and you’re only using two of them. There’s a lot of optional stuff in there.”

And so on.

Household tensions were high for several months while we both jockeyed to maintain possession of valuable space. Slag would sometimes break off negotiations and resort to surreptitious, guerrilla-like “closet space raids” while I was at work. Now and then I would open my craft closet and discover a dead printer or some boxes of office supplies in the back corner, semi-hidden behind a bundle of quilt batting or stacked on the very top shelf, the one that’s too high for me to reach without a chair. As if he thought I wouldn’t notice anything up that high. As if. Ha!

And then I’d work myself up into a self-righteous lather and start indignantly shoving the offending items out of MY closet and out into the hallway and then I’d just leave them there for somebody to trip over and break their neck, silently saying “I don’t care WHERE you put these, but you’re not putting them in HERE. This space in here is MINE and YOU CAN’T HAVE IT.” I showed him.

Eventually though, we both tired of the trench warfare. We realized that passive-aggressive nit-picking could not solve our space problems. It came to pass that we both had to reexamine some of the stuff we had been carting around for years. I clearly needed to reconsider my book rules.

It was really really scary. These were my BOOKS. What if I got rid of a book and then I WANTED IT LATER? What if that happened? Surely the earth would spin off its axis and we would all die and it would be all my fault. All MY fault, for getting rid of that book.

So I started out slowly, if only to maintain my fragile hold on sanity. At first I just went through all the old sci-fi paperbacks and tossed the ones that were really old and/or really crappy, planning to ease into the harder stuff later. I made several passes through the collection over the course of a few months, gradually working deeper and deeper into the sensitive meat of the hoard, the things I was really attached to.

I made up intermediate rules for myself along the way, things like Today unload all the self-help books that were pitched by their authors on the Phil Donahue Show or Get rid of anything you bought because you thought it made you look smart and so The Cinderella Complex and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare were ejected.

I finally settled on three guidelines. I could keep a book if one of the following were true:
  • There was a reasonable chance that I might want to refer to the book again in my lifetime. And it had to be a reasonable chance; a remote chance was not enough.
  • I liked the book enough to recommend it to others AND I was willing to lend or give it to someone else.
  • I had not yet read the book and there was a remote chance that I might want to read it someday.

With these three rules, I whittled the books down to what would fit in a single 6 foot, 30 inch wide bookcase. The rules have worked well for the last several years. I have been able to live within my book space allotment as long as I screw up the courage to do a mini-culling once a year or so. The next culling is scheduled for this afternoon. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Slag and I have just returned from our semi-annual trip to Hoosier-land. Here is some photographic evidence.

It’s a small town. A very small town. The edge of my parent’s yard is the city limit. And this is the road to get to their place, so almost everything in the picture is in the city limits. Though somehow it seems wrong to use the phrase “city limit.”

The trees were just starting to turn, so we didn’t get to see them at their most colorful, but it was still very nice. Here’s the view from the back deck at my parent’s house. It's the most peaceful place I know.

We did a little sight-seeing in the next town over while we were there. An old hotel there has recently been restored to its former grandeur. The building housed a junior college when I was a kid. I remember taking tap and ballet classes there. It was an old musty place then, and we liked to run around in the enormous domed atrium. Until the Astrodome was built in the 1960’s, it was the largest unsupported dome in the world. Now it’s all high-brow, and there are no small children running through it and yelling to hear to their own voices echo. You can read all about its history here, and there are tons of pictures of it here.

I’ll only add the following.

Gorgeous marble tiled floors inside the dome atrium:

Seating area in the ladies room: (Yes, I took a picture of the fancy ladies room. I am a bumpkin.):

Slag on the steps up to the “veranda.” Amazingly, he did not make that stupid face that always makes me want to smack him for this picture.

But he did make it for this one. I didn’t smack him because I already had one good shot and I was feeling kind.

The domed hotel has been restored largely because the owners acquired official permission to build a casino on the property next door to it. Naturally, we had to check the slot machines, just to see if they worked properly. I didn’t know you’re not supposed to take pictures in a casino. So I took this one (I don’t know the guy in the foreground; he walked into my shot uninvited.):

Almost immediately, a kindly old gentleman in a casino uniform appeared at my elbow and informed me that he would take my camera away from me if I took any more pictures. But he did it in such a friendly way that I didn’t give him any attitude or flip him off behind his back or anything. I guess posting the contraband here will be my only little act of rebellion.

P.S. The title of this post is the same as the name of a really creepy X-Files episode, which is what the word “home” always makes me think of, but my hometown isn’t like that. Really

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mall Memos

Dear 14-Year-Old-Boys Cruising the Mall on Saturday Night,

You don’t live in “the hood.” That outfit does not make you look “scarey,” or even “grown-up.” I know full well that your mom will be here in the minivan in a couple of hours to pick you up, so pull up your pants. You look ridiculous.

Dear Fashion Industry,

I present you with the following relevant data points:

  1. I am a 42-year-old, pear-shaped woman.
  2. I have plenty of money to spend on clothes.
  3. I do not want to dress like a hooker.
    Additional axiom: If I had an 11-year-old daughter, I would not let her dress like a hooker either.

See if you can deduce something from these, m’kay?

P.S. A tube top does not stop being a tube top just because you added a skirt to the bottom of it. You aren’t fooling anybody.

Thank you for your attention.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Well Crap

And here I thought I was being all witty and creative and original with the last post's title.

But no, I'm way behind.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I am uncoordinated. Clumsy. Physically inept, if you will. It’s always been that way. As a kid I threw softballs into the ground two yards from my feet. I flailed at volleyballs and hit them into the ground too, as I turned my head and closed my eyes. I could never catch on to those jump rope games, where you jump in and then jump out as the rope turns. I always got tangled up in the rope somehow. I could only manage a bounce or two on a pogo stick before I crashed into the driveway. I can’t whistle. I can’t make a yo-yo work. Hula hoops sadly spiral down my torso and end up on the ground while I franticly gyrate. When Slag asks me to throw him the car keys, I’m equally likely to throw them five feet over his head or hit him squarely in the eye. He doesn't ask so much anymore.

And so it has always been with video games too. When I was a kid, video games were a public thing. The games themselves were refrigerator-sized, flashing, blinking, clanging boxes with screens that displayed the progress of the game to any who cared to look and, in my case, laugh. Little kids snickered as I tried to eat ghosts that WEREN’T blue and gave my Pac-Men concussions by repeatedly ramming them into virtual walls. I just never quite got the hang of the joystick. The public humiliation meant I didn’t do much practicing in the 80’s, when everyone else on the planet was learning video game fundamentals. I just never got the fundamentals.

So now it’s 20 years later and for a time I thought technology had overcome my ineptness. That’s right, I encountered a gaming product that didn’t even HAVE a joystick (at least not with the base model): a Wii! Finally, there was hope for me.

After an especially entertaining evening of Wii bowling at a friend’s place, I actually initiated an electronics purchase. (I know, Slag was shocked too.) A Google search, a couple of mouse clicks, and voila: a Wii and assorted accessories arrive on our doorstep. I love the internet.

For the first couple of weeks, I was totally into it. I wasn’t very good, but for the first time ever, I was as good as everyone else! Everybody we knew sucked at video bowling and tennis just as much as I did. Isn’t that fabulous?? And so we were all entertained for several evenings, spent drinking and ridiculing each other’s suckiness and generally having a great time.

But then…everybody got better. Everybody but me. Naturally. I should have known that it was inevitable, but I was holding onto that last bit of hope. The last tiny little bit. Now it’s gone too.

Now everybody else can throw three strikes in a row and I’m still throwing gutter balls. Everybody else is returning blistering serves and line drives with no problem while my Mii flaps its racket wildly and falls down. And then we get to see it all again during the slo-mo replay after every point. I just LOVE the slo-mo replay.

I’ve taken to practicing in private while Slag is out in his pottery studio. I keep thinking that all I need is a little focused practice without the pressure of somebody watching. But even that isn’t helping. I spent an hour yesterday afternoon swearing and flipping off the TV before giving up and announcing to no one in particular that I am a grown woman and I certainly have more important things to do than spending valuable Sunday afternoon time shooting at stupid dancing bunnies. Because I do, you know. I definitely do.