Friday, May 15, 2009

Those Secret, Sweet Spotlights Shining on Those Bookshelves

When I go out these days, it's either because we're all going out to eat, and I can't get polish sausage from Dickey's Barbecue at home; or it's because I have to go to the library, and that's every Sunday; or it's that rare movie I have to see in theaters, as it is with "Star Trek," which I didn't see during its opening weekend, but have to soon. I've been thinking that considering the price of tickets and how much work I have yet to do for this book, that waiting for DVD would be ok. But "Star Trek" on a screen far bigger than my 46-inch widescreen TV in my room would be more appropriate.

Late yesterday afternoon into the evening, the reason for going out was because my sister was going to cook at the incoming 7th-grader barbecue at La Mesa Jr. High, where she works in the kitchen there, and my dad works as the business education teacher. My sister also cooks at home, conjuring up omelets that seem to arrive from some part of the universe we haven't yet uncovered that may represent all kinds of humanly pleasures in one place. The dishes she brings home from her culinary class at College of the Canyons are equal to that.

There were hamburgers and hot dogs at this barbecue, very basic, and it was disappointing to find that the cheese was individually wrapped. I had hoped for some real cheddar, but this was your common backyard barbecue in a bigger setting. No salmon on the grill, no getting fancy with ribs or chicken. Hamburgers and hot dogs. Everyone likes them, both or one.

I got up a little after 2 p.m. yesterday, and naturally, the weight of work unwritten was pressing down on me. But I try to remember that when I'm actually doing the work, there is progress and doesn't seem so hard. It's just that divide between research and writing. Not so much when to stop researching and when to start writing, but if the research will immediately give me an idea of how to start each essay. So far, not clearly. I'm also trying not to feel so stressed over it. Yes it's my first book and yes, it's an accelerated schedule for a manuscript, but to take responsibility and work my way through it would show not only that I can do this, but that I can see writing other books too.

Not exactly a day I would want to go out, but after the frustration of quite a bad book called "Clown Princes and Court Jesters," which was the only book in which I could find solid information on silent film comedian Larry Semon, I was still recovering from that drained feeling I had. There are still books to read about Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle, books wholly focused on them. But for Larry Semon and silent film actor Robert Harron, there are many books to page through. This book didn't exude any passion on any of its subjects; it only presented information in a perfunctory manner. It didn't even feel like the two authors were interested in these figures.

It wasn't so much the book that made me want to go out, particularly since I had finished battling the book a few days ago. But any time I can support my sister and see her be what she likes to be, I do it.

The evening was designed to introduce income 7th graders to the campus and teachers and to have a little fun. I heard about Mario Kart being played in one of the classrooms, and games meant to reinforce communication skills, and snow cones being sold for a dollar, but that's as far as I cared. I was with Mom while Dad went to be the social being he always is at these things, not really bored since I had two books with me.

All three of us had cheeseburgers, Doritos (there was cool ranch and nacho cheese), chocolate-chip cookies, Sierra Mist (my Mom and I) and Diet Pepsi (my Dad). Not much to the evening after that, just sitting around and waiting in my dad's classroom. He talked to students and parents of students and I watched the end of NBC Nightly News and all of "Jeopardy!", and read a bit too. My dad's TV is near the ceiling, so you have to look up a ways to see it. My mom wasn't pleased at finding a collection of magazines in the library adjacent to my dad's classroom, because she could have read Dog Fancy and not have to have kept her head raised up as it was.

This turns out not to have been as interesting as I hoped it would have been, but there was one aspect of the evening that made it worthwhile to let go of most of my evening.

After leaving his classroom, closing the door and locking it, he proceeded to turn off all the lights in the library, which made it too dark to see in front of us to get to the office and out that door to the car. So I turned on all the lights, and Mom noticed the magazines, commented on not finding them earlier, and I left one light switch up, which was about three lights that formed a kind of spotlight over a corner of the library, in the fiction section against that wall, where authors were that have/had last names that probably begin/began with "E", "F", and "G." I immediately imagined putting a sleeping bag there and staying there all night amidst those books, all those names that could bring so much new life into my imagination. All those titles with so much possibility. It outshined even the view seen from the parking lot of the school, all the lights of that section of the valley, all the traffic lights and the parking lot lights, and the store lights, and the house lights. It's a maze of sorts, but also a view that makes one fall into silence with awe and reverie constant emotions. It's why I love the night. I get that view, and I get that spotlight over that section of books, like it's inviting me to stay for a longer time than I have. I wish I could have. Just to be among those books and nothing else in the world. All those voices silent when those books are closed, but ready and fighting to capture me from the first page. All those voices who don't know who I am and don't care, only that I might like what they say. All those worlds, all those lives. I've loved it since I was 2 years old. It was a reaction I should have expected, but I never expected it to seize me so fiercely. It's like the website I found through the blog Working with Words ( Planet eBook ( There, you can download "Around the World in 80 Days," "Anna Karenina," "Oliver Twist," and 59 other titles for free as .PDF files. I downloaded "Oliver Twist," "Gulliver's Travels," "Dracula," "The Jungle Book," and "The Odyssey," but I'm reticent about reading them for hours on this computer. I remember reading "A Tale of Two Cities" exclusively online for some assignment and I hated it. Not the book, but I just hated sitting here that long and soon it felt I wasn't engaged in the book, but more and more aware of it being such a slog.

I have a copy of "Around the World in 80 Days" that I just pulled out from a miscellaneous stack of things on my nightstand. It's a Bantam Classic paperback from January 2006, with a peach-colored background and a drawing of a big orange balloon with four smaller, but still large balloons around it, and two men are sitting opposite each other in its basket, with French flags hanging off six points. It's 194 pages, and I'd much rather read "Around the World in 80 Days" like this. It's why I will never buy a Kindle: I love the intimacy of books. Hardcovers are more imposing because of their size. They demand more. But paperbacks like this one, they're more inviting, more personable. That's not to say I only read paperbacks, because if I did, I'd be waiting quite a long time for countless books I want to read. Paperbacks seem to say, "Come on in. Take your time if you'd like. Put your feet up, and join us." I especially love in "Classic" editions the list of titles on the back that the publishing company in question also offers. Such promise and excitement (to me) to be found in those. And, as you might expect, I've been sniffing paperbacks for years. I love the smell of them, of that wood mashed into pulp and then made into paper, having come from god knows how many trees, all that history in that paper that we can only imagine. But imagining's good enough.

Amazing how a cluster of three lights shining as one spotlight on a section of books could inspire all this.