Archive for the ‘True stories’ Category
Are you looking for a beautiful new home?
Price Hill is one of Cincinnati, Ohio’s historic hillside neighborhoods. It has beautiful parks and some of the most expansive greenspace in Cincinnati, and is conveniently located just a short drive (or a longer walk) from downtown. Not far from the trendy and stylish Incline District you’ll find this large and beautiful home. Not so many years ago, it was someone’s dream home, or possibly their career-making investment. Now, it’s waiting for the right person to come and fill it with life again.
Technically, there are no ‘for sale’ signs, no real estate listings, not even any contact information. But, as they say, for a sufficiently highly motivated buyer, everything is for sale.
The big day- Catherynne Valente’s visit to my school.
I didn’t start out as excited as I had hoped. My students were so rotten yesterday that I didn’t trust them not to be obnoxious, and didn’t want to reward them with a treat like this, which, I feared, they wouldn’t appreciate anyway. Pearls before swine, was my thought, and also, I got a shitty night’s sleep, full of nightmares.
Then the organizer, knowing how excited I was (and is it really so odd, an English teacher who is well-read and gets excited about books? That makes me so sad), asked if I would introduce her. My first instinct was to decline, but even though I was absurdly nervous, I said yes, because fear is a stupid reason to not do things.
So I brought my kids to the theater, and there she was, and I said hello and welcomed her and tried hard not to drip squee all over her, though I don’t think I succeeded. I introduced her, and I was so nervous I was shaking, but that doesn’t mean I’m not glad. It’s not such a bad thing, for my students to know I have feelings, and that a good writer is worth getting excited and nervous about.
And she was fabulous. She talked about her experiences as a writer, and answered questions, and my students, bless every last one of them, asked good and thoughtful questions and were not obnoxious. Then I got my copy of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There signed, to put on the shelf with my new copy of Deathless and my unnecessary/totally necessary splurge copies of the Mira Grant books and read in my own sweet time and without rushing. And then I went back to my room and we went back to writing in-class essays about A Wrinkle in Time.
I’m glad that happened.
I got an email from the school librarian, last week. Would we be interested in bringing students to hear an author speak? Someone named “Cat Valente.”
I was the only person who knew Valente’s work, among our English teachers, so I was the only one who immediately replied to the email in effusive, all-caps delight. Hell YES, my students would be going to hear Cat Valente speak. ’Author visits’ are usually from people who are little-known, obscure, occasionally even self-published. But Valente? I already know her! I loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making! Also Palimpsest! Which my junior-high students are definitely not old enough to read. Now she’s touring to promote the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and she’s offered to speak to students at my school
I immediately started making arrangements to pull my students out of other classes so they can all go. I’ve often cancelled or rearranged my classes for other people’s field trips and performances, and never asked for anything in return. Now it’s my turn.
Today, I made photocopies of the first chapter of Fairyland, and my students and I read it aloud. Part of it, anyway. Valente uses lots of difficult words, and we spent time glossing them, understanding each paragraph. My students had some ideas about specific style techniques that Valente was using to create humor, and they were having fun identifying allusions to Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella. I passed out pre-sale forms, and I think several kids are planning to order signed copies.
It was absurdly fun, all of it.
I’m only concerned that when she visits, she will be flooded with questions about nitpicky details of the first half of chapter one. ”How exactly does the ring of diplomatic immunity work?” ”How can fairies confiscate and smelt iron, if fairies traditionally can’t touch iron?” ”How can I be sure I am not a changeling?”
Well, if she does school events, I’m sure she has a plan for dealing with the unexpected and the odd.
I am intensely excited about her visit. I think that my kids are, too.
I am twelve years old, and waiting for my turn to read the new Sweet Valley High book. My friend Ryan’s mom buys her the new book as soon as it comes out, every time. She has all of them, on her bookshelf, and they are in terrible condition. Broken spines, creased covers, dog-eared pages, food stains, rain spots- they look like they’ve been through a war.
Once Ryan reads the book, she lends it to everyone who wants to read it, all the kids whose mothers can’t or won’t buy it. How many of us are there? I’m not sure. I’m not first on the list, but I’m not last, either, and the books don’t usually look as bad when I read them as they will when they finally come to rest on the shelf in her room, next to Barbie’s Dream Townhouse. Maybe five girls? Possibly ten? Might even be more.
It’s all very exciting, and as we get our turn, we eagerly discuss the latest episode, and the teen dramas of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Our own lives are nothing like Jessica and Elizabeth’s lives. We aren’t flawlessly beautiful. We rarely go to school dances. A few of us have boyfriends, but it isn’t like the relationships the girls in Sweet Valley have.
I didn’t even like the books that much, not half as much as the others. I had no desire to be a prim princess like Elizabeth, or a slightly naughty ‘bad girl’ like Jessica. I wanted to be Lietenant Uhura. Or maybe Robin. But I never missed my turn to read the latest Sweet Valley High book, anyway. I liked being able to join in with the other girls in talking about a book we’d all read.
I’ve never gone back and tried to read one of those books now- I haven’t picked one up since junior high school. I am not optimistic about how well they’ve stood the test of time, or how readable they’d be to a person with adult tastes. I’m content to leave them as a memory. But a fond one.
Totally true conversation I had in a store selling interior decor, while wearing a wrist brace:
Shopkeep: Hi, welcome.
Shopkeep: Oh, how did you hurt your hand?
Me: Well, I don’t think I should admit that I sprained my wrist by reading too much. So instead, I’ll tell you that I hurt it while I was fighting ninjas. You see, the ninjas had kidnapped a basket full of kittens, and I had to rescue them…
Shopkeep: Oh, what kind of kittens?
Me: Um. Siamese.
Shopkeep: Oh, how cute! I like kittens. I’d like to get one.
Me: Um. I didn’t really hurt myself fighting ninjas. There weren’t really any kittens. I just sprained it.
Shopkeep: Huh? (Looks confused, backs away nervously.)
Me: (backs away nervously also)
Girard, Pennsylvania was a small town, and the best thing in it was the What-Not Shop, the best junk store in the world. At least, it seemed like the best junk store in the world to my eight-year-old eyes. It’s been closed for years, the building used for other purposes, so there’s no way for me to go back and be disappointed. So the What-Not Shop will always be as I remember it.
It was absolutely crammed with … stuff. Old toys, dishes, clothes, furniture, bizarre knick-knacks. Whenever I read a story that features one of those stores, where you might buy a magic lamp with a genie inside, or a cymbal-playing monkey that wants to kill you, or a haunted guitar, the picture in my head is of the What-Not Shop
But the truth is, the picture in my head of most of the shop isn’t very clear. The part of the store I can still see as clearly as if I were there is the little battered bookshelf where the old pulp magazines were kept. Faded squares of cheap, yellowing paper, with lurid covers and tantalizing titles. Science fiction magazines, horror magazines, anthologies with names like ‘Hitchcock’ and ‘Serling’ on the covers. While my mother did whatever mothers do in junk stores, I made a beeline for the bookshelf, and sat cross-legged on the floor, reading.
I don’t think I ever bought one. Sorry, What-Not Shop proprietors. I suppose it’s my fault you went out of business. What can I say? I was young, I had no money. But on the dusty floor of your weird little shop, I found amazing, terrifying wonders, things I didn’t understand but couldn’t put down.
I still remember one story clearly. It was about trashmen whose job was picking up and disposing of unwanted infants, and a girl about my age who was put out with the trash. I remember she had a conversation with the trashmen, and was a strange, wise child, and I read it understanding that she wasn’t going to survive this tale.
Part of me wishes I could find and re-read that story. After all, it made a deep impression on me and stayed with me for years, so it must be a classic, right? My google-fu is pretty good, but I’ve never even tried to find it. Better to leave it in the past, than be disappointed. So many things from our childhood age so badly.
Somewhere in time, there’s a little girl named me, sitting on the dusty floor by an aged bookshelf, oblivious to everything else in the shop, raptly turning the yellow pages of a pulp magazine.
I made my first library when I was a teenager. I dragged all the brick-and-board bookcases to a corner of the basement, and arranged them in an ‘L.’ I brought all the books I could find to my corner- most of them were theological reference books from my father’s seminary days, with mystery novels of my mother’s. I cleared the corner of all the various bits of basement flotsam and jetsam, and dragged in an old rug and a battered chair. The chair was red. Then I settled myself on the chair, in my little ‘L’ of other people’s books, and felt as comfortable as I had ever felt in my house.
“Your father doesn’t quite see your vision,” my mother sighed, as I finally gave up on dragging out the various sundries that Dad would dump into the empty (to his eyes) corner of the basement, and let the basement library moulder. By then, I had a part-time job, shelving books at the public library, and I could afford to start filling the plastic bookshelf in my room with a truly appalling number of Star Trek paperbacks.
I would only allow myself to carry one box of books to college with me, a terrible rationing, because that’s all I could fit in the car. Over the course of a school year, I’d gradually crowd my roommates out of all the available shelf space in the dorm room as I accumulated books. My favorite bookstore was The Book Place, Johnson City, Tennessee. Half new, half used books, pleasantly musty in aroma. When I tried to revisit during the college reunion, it was empty. I blame Barnes and Noble.
Everywhere I’ve ever lived, I’ve surrounded myself with books. It makes me feel relaxed and comfortable, having them around me. Even when a bookshelf collapsed, dropping fifty pounds of dead weight on my pillow ten minutes before bedtime, I wasn’t deterred. Nor was I discouraged by the occasional news clippings, sent by friends and family, about people who had destroyed their houses with the weight of their books.
I can only aspire to owning enough books to damage my foundations. Maybe someday.
A roommate, a colleague at my first job, brought a friend to visit our tiny apartment. He stared in disbelief at my
collection (honestly, it was only three bookshelves, though they were shelved two-deep to save space.) “I don’t think I ever saw that many books in one place,” he told me. Then he immediately tried to impress me, to show me that he was intelligent, too, by explaining something about UFOs and the pyramids that he had learned on the Discovery channel. Oddly, I was not as impressed as he had hoped.
Finally, last year, I made my vision reality. I hired a good carpenter and had my spare bedroom remodeled into a library. This time, the books are all my own, lovingly collected over decades. No more cheap plywood shelving, little danger of life-threatening collapses. The comfy chair I had custom-built at La-Z-Boy (after all, it needs to swivel AND recline), and I chose the rug pattern myself. It’s a little paradise, and it’s a rare day that doesn’t start or end with at least a few minutes of happy reading there. So now I am perfectly contented, finally owning enough books and a satisfactory place to put them. Or so you might think.
But I wish I could still hang out, once in a while, in the dim and dungeon-like basement library of my adolescence.
Also, I’m running out of shelf space already. Time to buy more cheap plywood bookcases, and fill up the rest of my home.
Totally real conversation I had in the movie theatre bathroom after seeing “Super 8”
Spoilers abound. If you haven’t seen “Super 8” by now, you probably don’t care.
My friend: “The monster ate all those people!”
Me: “The monster was just misunderstood and scared and angry. He didn’t eat anyone.”
My friend: “Tell that to the sheriff.”
Me: “He didn’t eat the sheriff! He picked up the sheriff and tossed him aside. The monster just wanted to go home; he didn’t eat anyone. Okay, he did smash that one air force guy’s head into smushy bits against the window, but he totally deserved it.”
Total stranger: “Oh, what movie did you see?”
Me: “Tree of Life.”
Total stranger: “Me too! Boy, that was a hard movie to understand wasn’t it? There was so much to think about.”
Now, I haven’t actually seen “Tree of Life,” but… did I totally get the wrong impression about what that movie was about? Because the previews didn’t look like there were any sheriff-eating, air-force-guy-smooshing monsters in that movie.