Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Book Remains the Same

Did you ever, when you were growing up, identify very strongly with a character or a sentiment in a book?  Did you ever want to be Elizabeth Bennett, and fall in love with your Mr. Darcy?  Or is the falling in love bit just for girls? I have often wondered if boys sit around dreaming of meaningful love.  As I am not a boy, and my boy is sort of unusual, it may take me a while to hash out this particular piece of philosophy.  If they do, then what I have to say will be interesting to them as well.  If not, ah well.  I think girls/women can relate.

One of the magical things about books (or movies, or music, or art) is how the individual work of art remains intrinsically static and unchanging, but our perception of it alters with time.  Many authors of greater intellectual worth than I have commented on such a trend, but I always feel like their interpretations fall short of actually experiencing such a moment.  For all the new sensations of the moment, there is still the memory of past emotions.  The two converge in a strange mutation of realities to produce a feeling that is singular and powerful.

Today, I was watching Moulin Rouge.  Regardless of your feelings about the movie, personally, I have always loved it.  And it is a perfect example of the kind of mixed memory I am trying to convey in a grander sense.  When I first watched it, I was almost a freshman in college, just about to leave home for something more exciting, and I was in the throes of transition.  All kinds of transitions.  I had been dating a boy for almost a year -- all through my senior year of high school.  And I was just starting to realize that I was unhappy in the relationship, and that I wanted out.  Horribly, at the same time, I was starting to think more and more about another young man I had been spending time with in, I convinced myself, a strictly platonic way.  I shall not go into more dirty details on the relationships or what happened (it is in the past, and for once shall stay there), but as I sat down to watch this movie for the first time, I was in a state of barely contained emotional turmoil.  Battles raged in my soul, and in my 18-year-old mind I was the pinnacle of tortured love and suffering.  This movie was not a good choice.  I felt stifled, trapped, and hopeless in my current relationship.  And then I watched a movie about a couple madly in love who have to hide and skulk until they decide that it's worth risking everything to be open and free about their love and their relationship.  Oh yes, and then she dies.  Terribly tragically.  I sat there implacably transfixed, absorbing more than just the spectacle and sounds of the film.  I was Satine, I was unable to be with the man I loved, and my other relationship was nothing more than a sham.  I longed for Christian, in all his inexhaustible affection and passion.  I was a drama queen.  But trust me, it wasn't as bad as when I read Wuthering Heights.  Or Romeo and Juliet for the first time.  Or Pride and Prejudice. Or the dozens of other books which prominently featured a famous romance.

I watched Moulin Rouge again today, and again I felt those pangs of unrequited love from my late teens, the insistence of my heart to break free from its cruel shackles (okay, so I'm still a little dramatic), but I also felt something different.  I felt satisfied.  I saw Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman stare dreamily into each other's eyes, and I didn't long for their chemistry, I saw my own and my boyfriend's reflected.  I finally felt like a grown-up.  To me, being a grown-up doesn't mean having a car and a job and a checkbook and responsibilities.  Yes, that's part of it.  Yes, in today's society, that's what's typically accepted as being "grown up".  But what about happiness?  It is still a yardstick of success, and I know quite a few so-called "adults" who lack the one thing that truly matters in life.  I may have stresses, I may have worries, but I have love, I have basic security, and I have happiness.  I am a grown-up.  And the more I read (or reread) these love stories, the more I know that my original assumption is correct.  I have come to a good place in my life.

It's interesting, too, how your reactions change.  When I first read Wuthering Heights, I thought the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff was a tad disturbing (okay, very disturbing), but genuine and ultimately based in love.  Now I'm just creeped out.  I mean, he digs her up and is on the verge of plucking her out of her coffin so he can die in her arms when, all of a sudden, he hears her voice on the wind and decides to leave her planted in the ground.  And he goes on to live a tormented, mean life and makes existence miserable for everyone around him.  Likewise, the first time I read Romeo and Juliet, I thought it was sweet and ideal and so tragic and sad.  Now, I want to slap all concerned in the face.  I want to shout at them, "Where are your basic communication skills??"  I have become more practical.  And maybe for that reason, Elizabeth Bennett remains one of my favorite romantic heroines.  She is intelligent, reasonably logically-minded, and pragmatic.  But not so pragmatic she marries simply out of convenience.  No, she marries for love, and she marries who she wants.  But also, she marries the man she knows will be a good match and will make her happy for years to come.  Maybe this is why the second time I read Twilight I got so fed up I almost threw the book across the room.  (The first time reading it, it's like you're under the influence of a powerful drug.  You're excited, you think it's wonderful, and you're caught up in the romance.  The second time, the drug is out of your system and you can see clearly.  The characters are shallow, the writing poor, the romance thin and contrived.  You are disgusted with yourself and vow only to pick it up again for a good, hearty laugh.)  How can Bella and Edward be happy for the rest of eternity?  They're not good characters -- what are they going to do that whole time?  Thank god the apocalypse is right around the corner.  Or so Supernatural tells me.

And so, my final thought for the day is: I have left the effervescent and apocryphal charms of Mr. Wickham, and have found my Mr. Darcy.  And I am better off because of it.

However, I never bothered to look for my Edward Cullen.  Because he's abusive and psychopathic.  Think about it. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Boy

As with any great story, mine has romance.  This blog is about two things, libraries and love, and I promised last time to sit down and write the story of my love.  Possibly the cutest part about it (and one of the reasons it fits so well into this blog): I met him at a library.  When we were 4.  During storytime.

The way my mother tells it, one of us convinced the other to climb under a table and not come out.  Our poor children's librarian, Teacher Dan, could not coax us out from our new hidey-hole.  So he made our mothers come in and get us.  And for her, evidently, it was very embarrassing.  I remember a very different version.  I remember that we both wanted to play with the same puppet, and we were fighting over the decision (and we each thought we so richly deserved to be the sole master of that puppet).  In the end, hoping to bring about a positive end to our quarrel, Teacher Dan made us share.  I remember thinking, "Yuck, he has a sweaty little hand."  But then we came out after storytime, me convinced I never wanted to see him again, and our moms had inexplicably become friends.  So, I decided to give him another look.  And now, I can't stop looking at him.

We were friends for quite a few years when we were little.  We recently found a home video of his fifth birthday party, whereupon my arrival he ran over to the camera and promptly introduced me to the camera as "his girlfriend".  Little did we both know that he was to be my first and last boyfriend, and I was to be his first and last girlfriend.  He was a fun playmate, always entertaining and fun, even if his little brother tagged along quite a bit.  I didn't mind.  He lived in a different city, however, and even though suburbia does tend to run together, he was in one school district and I was in another, and we began to see less and less of each other as the early years of elementary school whipped by.  Finally, we just stopped hanging out.

Years passed and I didn't think about him.  I was a junior in college, home for the summer.  I was depressed.  I had just spent six months going out with a guy I knew I had no future with, simply because for some sadistic reason I enjoyed it.  I say sadistic, because this boy was borderline abusive.  He never complimented me or was affectionate, he was vindictive, petty, and cruel, and he didn't really want to be tied down to a girlfriend.  He was fine with having someone to spend Saturday nights making out with, but he wasn't so okay with a label that might have kept him from dating someone else.  Should something else better come along.  Finally, when he told me we should break up for the summer because two hours travel was too much between our vacation cities (but that we could try again in August), I finally saw the light all of my friends and family had been trying to shine in my eyes for the past six months.  It hit me like a high-beam searchlight in a dark cornfield, and I was ashamed.  How could I have let him treat me like that?  I was smart, independent, and attractive, and I was going to go places.  I had decided on my career path, and I was taking steps toward it.  He had blinded me and allowed me to give up on myself.  He had systematically crushed the real me under the boot heal of some person who vaguely looked like me but in no actual way resembled me.  I broke up with him, and we have not spoken since.  Mercifully.  I went home that summer with my tail between my legs, hurting, vulnerable, and angry.  I dedicated myself to finding myself (for about the fourth time).  Maybe refinding would be a better word.  I was rediscovering what I had lost along the way, courtesy of the person my friends and I all referred to as "the Douchebag".  One night, I decided I was going to be cavalier with my heart, and I was going to flirt my way all through the small town I grew up in.

Enter Eric.  Vaguely dirty-hippie looking, elementary school reprise in a surprisingly cute package.  I ran into him casually at a tea shop at the local mall (which nevertheless has its own Wikipedia page. . .welcome to my hometown).  He recognized me (instead of the other way around), and spoke to me as if he was interested in what I had to say.  This was a bit of a novelty, and I used to know him in, like, third grade, so I thought "what the heck".  "Maybe this is just what I need this summer".  However, he proved to be unreliable on the setting up and keeping dates front (we never actually had one, he was so bad at it), so I discarded that option fairly quickly.  Now, don't go getting the idea that I'm a callous wench who dates around like it's nobody's business and I am a heart-breaker.  Nothing of the sort.  I was ungainly and chubby in high school, and it took me a long time to realize I was cute and fun and had something to give.  Even now, I still struggle with self-esteem and body image issues almost daily.  I guess it just comes with the territory of being a girl.  Anyhow, my mentality this summer was to just date around -- don't get serious, don't break any hearts, don't get your heart broken.

Enter Adam.  Also a friend from elementary school, he was balding (ever so slightly), rough-and-tumble, and sweet.  I was in the Ace Hardware near my house, picking up some oddity or other, with my hair all tousled and my grimiest sweat pants loosely hanging around my waist.  Truth was, I had just rolled out of bed and decided to tag along with my parents.  There he was, enthusiastic and eager to ask me out.  We exchanged phone numbers, and unlike Eric the eternal procrastinator, Adam set up a lunch date.  I had a nice time, we talked, I enjoyed his company.  I thought perhaps there was something lacking, but he certainly was charming.  Maybe this could be a little more?  We went on a second date, and decided to put a cautionary label on things.  Then, my family and I went on vacation for two weeks to northern California.  I got a case of the blues, and though he tried to handle it, he in no way, shape, or form helped me out at all.  I decided two things on the way home: I was going to break it off with Adam the first chance I got, and I was going to look up more friends from elementary school.  Riding across some god-forsaken stretch of southern California, my feet propped up awkwardly on the seat in front of me, I asked my mom, "What was Philip's last name?"  The boy from storytime.  My friend, my companion, my partner-in-crime.  She answered with a long and heinous German last name that I instantly thought, "I can find that on Facebook."  A week later, I had friend requested him.

Enter Philip.  Philip.  I went out on a limb to find him.  There were several Philips who fit the bill, and I didn't know where he went to high school, just the general area where he lived, and though there was one likely candidate, his profile picture gave nothing away about what he actually looked like.  So I messaged him, with a hesitant note asking if he was the same Philip all those years ago.  He replied that he was!  And he wanted to meet.  How was Monday?  11 AM?  And did I like coffee?  WHOA.  Who was this guy?  He already knew I like coffee (wild but possible. . .it is Facebook) and he was setting up a concrete time to meet.  I was in.  We met at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf by my house, and that's when it happened.  I was standing at the counter, talking to yet another boy whose name will be forgotten by the long erosion of time, and he came up to me.  He had short hair, a plaid shirt, and glasses.  He was cute.  But I didn't want to judge to quickly.  And he caught me off guard.  So I took my time getting a good look at him.  We both got a cup of coffee, and we sat down to talk.  And we talked.  And we talked.  And we talked.  And I thought he was simply wonderful.  I began to get nervous, and to laugh weirdly, and to have the little sweats when you meet someone you like and hope they like you back.  But there was nothing I could do but desperately try to be myself.  And apparently he liked who I was, even though at one point, when I was playing nervously with my bracelet, I absentmindedly launched it across the coffeeshop where it clattered loudly.  I slunk up to retrieve it, but he was laughing and I couldn't help laughing too.  It was just too ridiculous not to.  We talked from eleven in the morning until four in the afternoon with only one five minute bathroom break.  He was so absorbing -- and adorable.  And I actually accused him of spying on my Facebook for information about me -- it fit so perfectly with who I was.  We both loved coffee, we were band geeks in high school, we had both come out of long relationships with crappy people, and we both wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest because we loved rain and trees and new places.  He dropped me off at my house, and we hugged goodbye.  And then the next morning he left on a three day camping trip.

But we didn't stop talking.  It turned out he was going on this trip with a new friend. . .that I went to high school with.  That kicked off a three-day text conversation that didn't end.  And along the way, we flirted, we talked about each other, we learned new things, and it started.  On Thursday, the day he was set to get back, I was a busy beaver.  I had just found out that I needed to have emergency gum surgery the next morning -- they were going to take part of the roof of my mouth and surgically attach it to the bottom front gum, to prevent further recession.  Yikes.  And I was spending all day with my aunt and cousin, making aprons.  I sent Philip pictures of my print, my process, and it was very exciting.  Then we decided to meet up that night -- and I was a mess.  I had been working all day long, I hadn't put on any make-up, and I was a sweaty August pile of girly goo.  I asked my cousin what I should do -- I really liked this boy and I thought maybe it could go somewhere -- should I put on make-up or not?  And she told me that if he really liked me, he'd still think I was pretty and would like me.  That clinched it.  Al fresco face for me.  Even more surprising to me was that he didn't mind at all, and even thought I was pretty.  He picked me up, again in a plaid shirt (little did I know this was all but his uniform -- how hot!), and I felt the sparks start to go.  We went and had coffee, and then around eleven or midnight went back to his house.  We watched silly videos on YouTube (that were actually funny, which is not something I experience on all my previous dates), and talked and laughed and fell for each other on his comfy bed.  Then, he kissed me.  And it was the most amazing kiss I'd ever had.  "I've been wanting to do that all evening," he whispered, "I've just been waiting to get up the courage."  "I've been waiting for you to do that all evening," I whispered back, exhilarated and thrilled.  He walked me to my door, and we kissed, and he promised to come over right after I got home from my appointment the next day.  He left, and I went to bed, barely able to sleep before my 8 AM appointment.

The next day, when I fresh from the doctor's, my mouth numb in ways I didn't think was physically possible and with a wad of cement the size of a quarter attached firmly to the roof of my mouth, he came over.  And he brought a plant (I love plants) and some jello.  My mom left for work, and we snuggled down on the living room floor (the couch being difficult for a 6'3" man like him to negotiate sometimes), and we watched all my favorite girly, feel-good movies, namely Music and Lyrics and Help! and he loved them.  And we kissed a little, and we snuggled a lot, and somewhere between all of that I decided that I had never felt this way about anyone before, and I wanted him to stick around.  So when we were lounging out on his car, in the way that was to be our signature move for the rest of my time at my parents' house (so still today), I asked him to be my boyfriend.  And he said yes.  And, to date, it was the best day of my life.

Just when I had decided not to look for love, it hit me smack in the face.  I was blessed with the most kind, compassionate, smart, cute, funny, and thoughtful man on the planet.  He helped me find who I was, he is supportive in every way I could want, and his snuggles are the best I could ever hope for or want.  I went home to find myself, but really, I found more than that.  I found my other half.

Stay tuned for further installments -- he's still adorable, and I love him more than life itself, so there will be further installments.  Just wait.  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Volumes of Happiness

My name is Karen, and I decided to begin writing about two things that have profound meaning for me: libraries and love.  Oh yes, and when the two overlap.  Because I love libraries.  And my love loves libraries.  . . .Yeah.  So here’s how it all started.  I am fresh out of college, got myself a new job, and am doing the typical “what shall I do next” dance.  I live with my parents (surprise suprise) and I spend most of my time planning.  But in between planning, I read.  See, I work at a library.  I am a “page assistant,” so I am the person who does all the varieties of little jobs that help the library run smoothly.   I check books in, I put them away on the shelf, I go pull books for customers, and I help small children find the Olivia books.  I have a pretty great job.  The only problem is I love to read.  And I am easily interested in a book, even if I won’t ever actually get to the end of it.  My hopes are high, possibilities are endless, and I want it.  Now, where the real sticky part comes into play, is that about four hundred books cross my path every day.  And while a large portion of those are picture books (which if I really, really want to I can read right there in about 90 seconds) or books I’ve already read or have no lasting interest in, there is that other portion that looks intriguing.  Beguiling.  A book with an unusual cover or title and a snappy jacket synopsis is like a siren call.  I dutifully put it back on my cart and shelve it so the regular customers can have a chance to see it, then the first opportunity I get, I swing back, snag it skillfully from it’s proper place, and slide it through our self-check out machine.
As it stands, I only have five books out right now.  Three of which are biographies, oddly enough, but that’s for another post.  I just cleaned off my shelf, but at one time it is not anomalous to see upwards of twenty books gracing the various free counter spaces in my house (which I should mention are actually few and far between).  You see, a further truth of my life to make it to this confessional is that both of my parents are librarians and my father enjoys nothing more than collecting books, CDs, and movies.  I will not go into detail about our house or his collection, but needless to say we could open our own library.  (However, his T.E. Lawrence collection is particularly impressive and would garner interest from the most elevated of scholarly universities.)
Yesterday was no exception to my incorrigible habit of book borrowing.  It’s almost like my own version of kleptomania.  Bibliomania.  Yikes.  The pick for yesterday:Pioneer Woman: From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.  It is the memoir of a woman’s metamorphosis from slick city-girl to ranch wife in the back-woods prairies of Oklahoma.  Or should I say, “back-prairies”. . .  Anyhow, this book caught my flitting attention in the back room from all the other volumes of potential excitement, and I decided (after a much too lengthy ten-minute perusal of its pages) to check it out and to spend the evening reading.  Which is exactly what I did.  The book is based on a blog this woman posts with the same name (to which I will, of course, include a link, but be warned: it is far and away much nicer than my own).  And, as trite and tired as it is to say, it got me thinking about starting my own blog.
So here I am: I am here to write about my daily adventures as someone who loves books and works with books every day, but also about the love of my life.  We just happened to meet in a library.  When we were four.  But I’ve said too much already.  That is for the next installment.