Monday, November 26, 2007

"When I Was Young and Full of Grace"

I believe, when my aunt labeled the Wee Niblet "irrepressible," that she saved me at least twenty-three minutes of racking my brain to find the most apropos adjective for the little nutter. Indeed, without her astute assessment of him, I might have thoughtlessly described the lad as merely "zestful" or "bubbling."

What a mistake that would have been, for he and his occasional mohawk efortlessly infuse twelve thousand bubbles, with small lungs and a twisty straw, into piles of unsuspecting zest, shake them to the tune of a mambo, stir the concoction with Mad Maxian vigor, and top it all off with an olive (or rather, ten of them, pitted, each waggling on the tip of a grubby finger).

Niblet is four. Niblet has remarkable mojo.

It is rising.

Placing a call on his hot dog phone

His days begin when he rolls into our bedroom, climbs into the parental bed, and starts kneading my belly, elbow skin, and neck folds (there are no greater expressions of affection from this tactile preschooler). After a bit of a cuddle, he's ready to "watch," a half-hour that has him singing and dancing in front of the tv...unless his watching gets derailed by a pick-up round of "Animal School" with his Girl sister. When they play Animal School, she teaches; naturally, he is a student and sits in his assigned place among the penguins, unicorns, bats, and gorillas. So effortless is his popularity that he may run for Animal School Council (they need a new treasurer).

As he watches or plays, Der Niblet munches on his breakfast of beef jerky, pickles, and/or croutons. By 9 a.m., his visionary and entrepreneurial spirit has awakened, and we find ourselves making helmets that are half-alien, half-dinosaur. Generally, the purpose of the helmet is not specifically revealed, but we're amenable to pitching in because participating in the process means that we have license to make a whole lot of googly eyes and antennae--honest work that keeps us out of the meth lab. Plus, he needs an assist with the hot glue gun.

In between projects, there is some dabbling with chess, playing Camel Poop Care Bears with the neighbor girl, organizing his Pokemon binder, breaking eggs for the pizza dough, and cutting up National Geographic magazines. At some point during this agenda, The Boy Hurricane either makes a case for it being a pajama day or for wearing tights, a sportcoat, and a Frankenstein tie.

Best of all, while his given name is fairly unique in the U.S., setting him apart in any classroom or puke-ridden ball pit, he finds it unsatisfactory. Several months ago, as Niblet sat in his sweat lodge, toying with his ceremonial pipe, a new name delivered itself to our chap, a name that he, in turn, revealed to us. It is his true name, he maintains, and it should be the only one we use to address him.

It is Dinko.

Certainly, I slip up. Sometimes my mistakes slide by; sometimes I am quietly but firmly reminded of his Dinko-ishness. Sometimes he'd like to reprimand me for being so absent/neglectful/audacious as to not recall my own son's name.

But then he spots his little sewing machine or a bag of magnets across the room, and he's gone. I am temporarily off the Dinko hook.

Of course, when he trips up to me, three minutes later, holding a pop-up book about King Tutankhamun in hand, I'm back in the hot (glue gun) seat. You see, Dinko is adamant about the pronuciation of that dead pharaoh's name, and when I read it with its traditional inflection, the boy grounds me with a glare and an exasperated: "Maw-om, it's Too-kin-ham!"

Quickly forgiven once I apologize and practice, I am then invited over to his ever-evolving diarama of King Too-kin-ham's barge, where my finer motor controls are required--to tape in a few new loaves of bread and storage barrels. The whole thing is made out of grocery bags, chopsticks, and unfettered whimsy.

Dinko's days are full; he has many departments, from barges to monster-making, that require constant attention.

Frankly, we can't figure out from whence all this zany caprice stems.

Although the origins of his character are murky, it is clear that Dinko is a one-man goof troupe.

This, I believe.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Paging Ms. Chandelier...Ms. Crystal Chandelier. Your Prescription Is Ready."

There is a host of traditional names slapped onto mewling, unsuspecting babies in the United States when they're born: William, Emily, Alex, Susan, Mary. And we've all seen and heard those more creative names--some of which have cultural or familial connotations--such as Shaniqua or Anders. But then there's a whole other class of names out there: the out-and-out "Did Mama's epidural seep into her brain?" monikers.

I heard a story several years ago about a woman who was cooking in her kitchen when she went into labor. She ended up naming her baby "LaMonjallo" because the last thing she saw before she hit the floor that day were the words printed on the Lemon Jell-O box on her counter.

And then there was the time a friend of a friend of a friend (the most reliable of sources, and always just where I need her!) was in line at McDonald's, and in front of her was a kid who was cutting up, dancing around, bumping into folks. After rolling her eyes a lot, his mother finally shrieked, "Spatula! I have two words for you: BE HAVE."

No matter how you Ginsu up a name and the word "behave," however, the fact remains that the tags we use to identify ourselves on our homework, job applications, and ultimately tombstones, matter. A rose by any other name smells like garlic toast.

Feeling as I do about names--convinced of their importance and ability to shape lives--I found myself involuntarily snurfling with laughter and disbelief last week at the end of my Short Story class, as I read over my students' responses to an activity that had asked them to analyze their feelings about their own given names (as much as I like to mess with the kiddies and pack their hours with meaningless busywork, this assignment actually related to a story we'd read about a Chinese man who had to change his name during the Cultural Revolution). Part of the activity required them to explore optional names for themselves; that is, if they had to abandon their given names and choose new ones, what would they choose and why?

Gentle Readers, here is a cross-section of their answers, carefully vetted to give you a clear picture of the analytical abilities of our nation's next generation of leaders. They would change their names thusly:

"Probably something like Sydney because I have always wanted to go to Australia and I just like the name."

"Semore Butts--saw it on THE SIMPSONS, thought it was funny."

"My new name would be Hiro Nakemura. It's the name of an awesome and funny character on the show HEROES."

"I would change my name to Buddy. I think it would be kind of cool and funny if everyone called me by a slang version of the word friend. It would be like not having a real first name."

"I'd change my last name to Shanks and my first name to Adam. Shanks because it's badass and Adam because it flows with Shanks."

"If I were to change my name, I would change it to Jagermeister. I would choose this name because the meaning of it is 'hunt master.' I love to hunt things of all kinds. I think this name would be suiting for me. It is also the name of a rather popular drink. I also like to drink it. I could drink my own name. Not many people can say that. I would also have a nice looking coat of arms. It would be the picture on the Jag bottle. It's a big old buck."

By my calculations, President Jagermeister, Vice-President Shanks, and their Cabinet of Intellect will take charge of the White House in roughly 2037, ushering in a tenure of leadership that will make Americans long for the relatively-sensible logic and thoughtfulness of thirty years earlier.

This is your heads-up. They're coming.


Move to China; change your name.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Bear Feet"

In my last post, I jested, in closing, that I was going to go out and take down any bears that might be rummaging through our compost bin. I also reported that I wouldn't be able to eat any non-locally-grown bears, if it were to turn out that they had actually been transported, under the auspices of a wildlife witness protection program, into Minnesota from a different state.

As that post indicated, I have quite a repertoire of Dead Animal Humor, especially because one of my cousins waaaayyy up North here actually keeps his family's bellies full of meat throughout the year thanks to hunting and, more importantly, road kill.

Oh, yes, he does.

To aid him in his road-kill quest, he's got some contacts with state troopers; also, he lives in a remote part of the state where all 87 residents know each other's bank balances and underwear rotations, not to mention how they stock their freezers. With such connections, my cousin's meat needs are easily fulfilled. If a moose gets hit on Highway 1, the solution to such a public, bloody mess is, "Call Kurt." Or if a deer gets bonked, someone will inevitably stop by his family's cabin, knock, and holler out, "Deer kill down by Misty's place!"

After the call or the knock, Kurt collects his tools and any unsuspecting greenhorns he can wrassle into a crew, and he heads out, day or night, to begin the slaughter. And slaughtering a moose? A little bit bigger project than scrapbooking Junior's trip to the State Wrestling Championships. Indeed, butchering a moose is intense, heavy labor.

But, holy buckets of Bullwinkle, you can eat the thing for ten months, so it's worth the effort.

Right? Right? Right?

At any rate, you can see why road kill and compost bin humor trip so lightly out of my brain. Thanks to My People, I make up little vignettes like in my last post.

However. The day after I posted about out-of-state bears getting transported, a different cousin of mine (her eccentricity, by the way, differs from Road Kill Cousin's; her thing is that she's given all of her passle of kids "D" names. I'm glad she stopped spawning just after the birth of Baby Darby and before she had to resort to the moniker Baby Damnation) emailed these photos of a bear that was struck by a truck near Lincoln, Montana.

Dead bear. Funny, right?

Not so much.

In truth, it makes me sad. Look at that photo of the four paws at rest, in particular. There's something strangely human there. If, you know, that human weighed 800 pounds and was horrifyingly hirsute.

Certainly, being a good Montanan myself, I know James Gandolfini here is pretty much just stew meat topped off by some fly-fishing resort's new bearskin rug; despite that, I find myself wanting to knit the poor bugger some booties.

Note to self: learn to knit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Conversatin' Locally"

Two mornings ago, while Girl was at big-school and Niblet at little-school, Groomeo and I took an anniversarial, celabratory pole hike (basically, that means we were hiking but used ski poles, too; the arm workout gives the whole cardio aspect a boost. Personally, I enjoy it because I'm a much better skiier when there's no snow involved). Being on the Superior Hiking Trail was, of course, lovely, but it got even funner once night-owl Jocelyn woke up enough to allow for an interchange of words.

The first grunts I managed telegraphed to Groom this random question: "So when you coached cross-country [running], and you guys would do 'hill bounding' in training, what exactly did that consist of?"

His subsequent demonstration--perkily leaping up a hillside to the sound of my muted applause--had the effect of re-injuring his groin muscle, a muscle that both he and I take very seriously. For the last few months, he's been relying on yoga and biking in lieu of his usual daily running, just to give Groiny a break. But there, in the space of a hill bound, all his good takin'-it-easies were nullified.

As our hike got going, so did his groinal protestations. Being of Norwegian extraction, though, he did carry on for an hour and a half, stoically. It helped, too, that we had some conversatin' to distract from the pain.

His opener was:

"So when we go over to Kids' Godmamas' house (our kids have the benefit of two godmothers, a lovely couple at whose commitment ceremony a few years ago we were privileged enough to speak a few words. I generally do that anyways, but it's so nice to be invited to do what comes naturally) on Saturday night for their annual Friends' Thanksgiving dinner, their request is that everyone's food contribution be locally-grown, from not more than 50 miles away. With that in mind, and because neither of them hunts wild turkeys, we'll all be having wild-rice-stuffed squash."

Tripping over a rock but stopping the stumble with a well-placed pole, I mused on this. Of course, having a healty boho/crunchy strain in me, I could appreciate their choice. On the other hand, both Groom and I are a little tired of every concept, however noble, being packaged and marketed. Is it really different if it's the books of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver that nudge our choices, instead of Wal-Mart and Costco? Is it always necessary to distill every life choice onto a bumper sticker?

Okay, okay. I suppose it is--sometimes. Buried somewhere in that last paragraph, though, there is a point to be taken. I'm just not going to disrupt the good vibrations of any conscientiously-composting, homemade-pesto-making, light-treading human peace symbols who might be reading this by pressing it home. If you disagree, calm yourselves by soaking some beans, lighting some incense, locking in your dreads, and getting the tie-dye pots a bubbling. Just make sure your incense and RIT dyes were made within 50 miles of your home, O righteous leftist consumers of the world.

Suffice it to say, these friends of ours are good, deliberate, thoughtful women. Their Friends' Thanksgiving will be delicious and fresh, the food not contaminated with chemicals or petroleum residue. I like all that. I do.

"Hey, wait," I finally replied to Groom, "don't you always make some bready thing? How are you going to do that under those constraints? It's not like the rocky clay of Northern Minnesota is waving back and forth with wheat stalks."

"Yea," ma man affirmed. "It's a bit of a sticky wicket. Luckily, after a delicate negotiation with Godmama One, she and I reached a compromise: if I promise to only purchase hemp shirts for the next three years and wipe solely with Seventh Generation toilet paper, we can use wheat from a couple states over. The rest of the ingredients, we're going to have to scrabble together."

The brainstorming began. Noodly with gratitude that we wouldn't find ourselves spending the next two days pounding dried yarrow into a wheat-substitute, we easily decided that local eggs and butter would be no sweat. Speaking of sweat, we started immediately collecting ours on that hike, mopping it into a handkerchief which we later wrang out, ultimately dehydrating the liquid until a small pile of crystals remained. We have salt. Locally-grown and emitted.

But yeast. Where to get it? A-ha!

A quick trip to the drugstore after the hike solved that one. We loitered near the Vagisil, and when women approached, we called them out, convincing them to donate some personal samples. After a bit of intimate scraping, the bread can now rise.

Indeed, eating locally is really an issue of ingenuity. The hike hocked up a list of ingredients, along with an unanticipated joke, created as I struggled with too-long poles, one that we can use to amuse the crowd at the Friends' Thanksgiving table:

How many hearty Finns does it take to collapse a telescoping hiking pole?

Answer: None. It takes a Norwegian with a groin injury!

That's the kind of material that kills up here in the Northwoods.

Okay, I'm off now to check the porch for our weekly delivery of butter and bottled milk from a nearby dairy. And even though we didn't have a good year for basil, there's pesto in the freezer that needs thawing before dinner. After that, I'll carry out the compost--although if I see any bears out there, rooting through our old egg shells and carrot peelings, I fully intend to kill them and hoist them into the trunk of the car as an entree offering at the Friends' Thanksgiving.

They are, after all, locally grown.

Unless, of course, we discover they were tranquilized this last summer in Yellowstone Park for getting too near tourists at Old Faithful and then transported a thousand miles away to Northern Minnesota where they've been ekeing out an existence in our compost bin. If that's the case--frick!--the carcasses will just have to rot.

It's a matter of principle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"We Was Cute Once"

Two weeks ago, my husband, nearly 37 years old, lost his first grandparent.

Seemingly the most hale of his four living grandparents, his grandmother went into decline rather abruptly, with a kidney infection turning into congestive heart failure turning into pain and exhaustion that sapped her will to fight.

Her husband, a former bank president and World War II pilot, had been the one we'd all been watching. He is the one with Alzheimer's and untreated prostate cancer. He has been the one everyone's efforts have been concentrated upon for the last three years. Tacit agreement had it that he would be the first to go.

Yet he didn't. He hasn't.

Rather, his wife of more than sixty years belied expectations and, after painstaking caretaking of her husband, has left him behind, alone. Forlorn. Wishing for death.

Fortunately--although it didn't feel that way at the time--Grandpa had already moved to the Memory Care wing of the Senior Home a couple of months ago, after he was found by a state trooper wandering down the side of the highway. So his transition out of the immediate life of Grandma (known to our kids as "GGma") had already taken place. He was somewhat accustomed to being apart from her, down the hall, over in his new digs.

However, with daily visits and enduring devotion, they weren't really apart. As GGma's health became more grave, my father-in-law had to break the news to his father: "Mom is dying, Dad."

And the Alzheimer's? You know, that cruelest of diseases? It, of course, provided no mercy.

In this case, it meant GGpa--although unable to recall names and places--remained bitingly aware that his helpmate of decades was passing out of his life.

They had a private religious service together in her last days, led by their pastor. After it, GGpa was inconsolable.

Two days later, when GGma died--peacefully, comfortably, all wishes expressed--it was GGpa, with his unreliable brain, who sat beside her, lucidly, holding her hand, rubbing her cheek, even after she was gone.

The very image of them, there in the hospice, slices me in two.

Today, November 12th, would have been their sixty-third anniversary; yet after all that time, they were not a habit to each other. They were not one of those couples who sit in the Embers, indifferently eating their omelets, not speaking to each other, staring off into space. Rather, after sixty-three years, they had an active love for each other, feeling complete only in the other's presence. Even GGpa's advancing dementia couldn't diminish their interdependence.

It is from this perspective of ongoing conscious appreciation that I greet my eighth anniversary with my groom a day after theirs, on November 13th.

He is, quite simply, my all, my everything, my favorite and my best. There are at least 4.569 reasons that add up to the way I dote on him. Here, I give you five of 'em:

1) He is unflappable and uncomplaining. This is a much-needed and -welcome counterpoint to all my complaints and flap.

2) He knows how to communicate with me in Jocespeak (woe to those who consider it a dead language!). I am, you see, a person who can get dramatically derailed during a slow bend down to tie her shoes. But with Groom giving me directions, I get it done every time. For example, when I go out to run an unknown route, he is smart enough not to tell me, "Turn right at Oneida Street," but instead to break it down thusly: "When you see the big rock on the righthand side that looks like Richard Nixon with his cheeks waggling, turn right. After that, you'll run for about the length of time it would take you to sing the extended dance remix of 'Tainted Love', and then you'll take a left." Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

Similarly, when we were recently up the road at an important crossroads for migrating raptors (Ye Olde Birds of Prey), a place we go to often in the Fall, and he was off hiking with friends while Niblet and I hung around the main vantage point, resting our weary paws and awaiting their return, we got to witness the release of a big bird. It was tossed up into the wind above the overlook, and the whole thing was cool. When Groom and Friends returned from their hike a few minutes later, I tried to describe the bird to them. "Was it a hawk?" they asked. Weellllllll, er.....yea? I could tell them that it had parentheses-like curves around its eyes, and its beak looked rather like a bracket (<>). And, for big sure, it wasn't an owl. So what kind of hawk had it been? "Like, not small," I reported with authority. Groom knew then to ask, "Was it bigger than a package of Double Stuff Oreos?" "'Bout the same size!" I reponded, gleefully. That answer, coupled with a photo I'd taken, narrowed it down. Due to his patience and bilingualism, Groom discerned, "It was a red-tailed hawk. See in the photo those red markings?" Not at all sure how they looked like my beloved Oreos, I nodded agreeably nevertheless.

The bird is released

3) He sighs gently and happily when I rub his wrist.

4) He raises our children with consistency and patience, yet he loves it when I point out the benefits of storing them in the freezer.

5) He has always and ever made me feel like my foibles increase my charm. Were I more perfect, he would love me less.

For all these reasons, plus twenty-thwifty kamajillion others, he leaves me agog.

In an ideal world, he and I will die together, when I'm 104, and he's 101. We'll be on a hammock together, eating truffles and staring at the branches up above us in the sky, when suddenly our hearts will simultaneously stop beating.

The world not being ideal, this will most likely not be the case, although I am having a truffle fridge installed at the base of our biggest tree, just as a nod to possibility.

Alternatively and more realistically, then, I wish for a death like GGma's.

Indeed, my acute and illimitable hope is that, in fifty-six years--better yet, in sixty-six--when I am at long last diminishing and facing the Great Beyond, it will be with my constant and enduring companion sitting next to me, knowing me as no other, stroking my cheek as I exhale one last time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Coyotes; Time As An Abstract"

NPR runs a weekly audio essay entitled "This I Believe" in which average folks hold forth on an issue or idea that they hold dear; NPR describes this segment as a forum where people "...from all walks of life share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives."

Since I walk and have a life, I must also have philosophies and values, ja? And dammit, but I've held back with my personal views long enough on this blog. It's time to cut loose.

Thus, I've decided I will occasionally feature my own "This I Believe" posts, from time to time, especially when blogging time is at a premium, and I need easy filler. My "This I Believe" posts are just me vamping a bit (again, not something we're familiar with on this blog).

But let's keep that vamping part just between you and me, okay?

Shake on it?

Cool. But your palms are a little sweaty. Are you hiding something?

After much consideration and vetting (I had to toss out gun control and the death penalty--too thinky for this hollow noggin), I have arrived at this week's issue of deep passion:

I believe pillows, like my belly, should be fluffy.

When punched and scrunched, a good pillow should change shape. A good pillow, after the fashion of my husband, should give and give and give and then, to top it all off, be a little more flexible.

I detest a hard pillow. Those unforgiving ironing-board-like pillows that never take on an indentation, even when brass knuckles are applied with great force? They're just mean.

And after my early thirties and a particularly-bad break-up, I made a solemn vow that never again would I allow Mean into my bed. Whether a wolf in sheep's clothing or an ironing board in a pillowcase, I will not abide the mean.

The thing about an adamantine pillow is that it hurts me, even when I've been nuthin' but good to it. I give it flannel and jersey; I speak to it gently; I lay the freshest of heads upon it. But then, during the night, it gives me, in return, a bloodied cauliflower ear. It makes the side of my head feel like a lugnut has been soldered on during dreamtime, and I do have ever so difficult a time hanging earrings off a lugnut.

Hard pillows, those compressed anti-downers, need to be fired. Take away their jobs; put them in the incinerator; glaze them and shove them into a kiln--but fire them.

This, I Believe.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"That Michelangelo: Some Sort of Mutant Turtle, Right?"

I have profound deficiencies in my knowledge of art. Sure, I recognize dogs playing poker when I see them, but beyond that, my high-priced liberal arts education is artistically pockmarked. Certainly, I can enjoy the shadows of Rembrandt. I groove on the dribs and drabs of Pollock. I've even heard of that DaVinci dude (it took a group of Navaho speakers to break his code, right?). But I lack a comprehensive, well-developed overview of art.

This, I blame on cheese curds. And Long Island Iced Teas.

See, when I hied off to college and could have enrolled in and attended a host of mind-expanding art classes, I was otherwise occupied. As a Montanan transplanted to the Midwest, I was too busy taking my first delectable, delicious, delicate bites of deep-fried cheese castoffs to sit in a darkened room taking notes about delectable, delicious, delicate brushstrokes put to canvas three hundred years before. At the age of 18, I wanted the immediate, in-the-moment, contemporary gratification of the crisp-but-melty cheese curd. Once the curds were swallowed, I headed not to a class on masterworks; rather, with my digestive system well-protected by a coating of grease, I headed next door to the town bar for its Wednesday night tribute to the perspicacity that is rum, vodka, tequila, gin, triple sec, all capped by a splash of cola: the Long Island Iced Tea.

Frankly, I was too busy bringing on heart disease and killing brain cells to consider how Chinese sculpture might have toppled a dynasty.

So I'm a little dumm about art junk stuff.

Imagine, then, what a revelation Frank Gehry was to me last year, when I toddled in to the couch and turned on the tv, balancing on my arm the adult version of curds and Tea : a glass of wine and some pita chips and hummus. At that moment, PBS was broadcasting a documentary entitled SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY. With my hands too full to turn the channel, I had no choice but to sit down and swoon into the rapture of his work.

Who the frick knew? Who knew, I ask you?

Okay, as it turns out, a large part of the populace knew and is well acquainted with Gehry, as he's one of the most-ballyhooed modern American architects. His work is big-time stuff around the world. I can hear you "fa-fwa-fooing" now about how you've been versed in Gehry since your cloth-diapered Mother Goose years.

I, however, had spent my formative years with my head too deeply dropped into the works of Pearl S. Buck...and then into a bottomless cup of have any idea that a guy was out there, coming up with such visions, and getting paid to produce them.

And really, that's the part that continues to inspire a certain faith: Gehry has created a very singular vision, one outside of traditional form, and people with money have gone for it. I'm not at all used to people with money putting their dollars behind ground-breaking, convention-flaunting ideas.

I, for example, once pitched a "rolling Halloween pumpkin, for when the candy outweighs the kid" to Proctor & Gamble, and they laughed me out of the conference room. I'd even bought a new black pencil skirt for the presentation, but they didn't so much as compliment me on it as they showed me the door, those corporate rat bastards.

My resulting cynicism lumped out-of-the-box thinkers like Jocelyn and Frank into the same Pile of Woeful Neglect (we're located, in the card catalogue, just after the Pile of Wondrous Nightshades).

And yet that PBS documentary reminded me that sometimes, in this world where big money generally fuels sure bets and more of the sames, the deep pockets can open up for genius and awe.

And on days when I cannot breathe due to the frustration I feel about our president,

Or I am tempted to wrap my fingers around the throat of a bully who has called my 4-year-old Niblet "ugly" and "fat,"

Or I mourn that my students at the college have never left Minnesota, even though we live a 10-minute drive across a bridge from the next state,

Or I keen for parents standing at the open graves of their fallen children, having to close out the sounds of protesters chanting and holding signs about "Fags in the Military,"

Or I rage when the best people I know have their hearts ripped open by failed love,

Or I see The Backstreet Boys on Jay Leno,

I find solace in the knowledge that an artist like Frank Gehry not only exists but is rightfully heralded for designs that push us all out of the safe and easy.

Let's raise and clink our curds in his honor.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Epically Myopic"

There's a reason why I'm legally blind and why, when I'm not wearing my glasses, I mistake the coat closet for my husband. Sure, there's the whole genetics thing. And, okay, maybe I like hugging fleeces and puddle boots. I won't even delve into the illicit dalliance I've been having with a pair of fingerless gloves. It'd make you blush.

However, the fact that my first lover was a book--and what a skanky pleasure-seeker I've become since that first!--is also responsible for my sketchy eyesight. Indeed, many of my best friends are books, to the point that I feel some of them owe me Hallmark cards imprinted with messages like, "Sorry We Sucked Away Your Eyesight and Good Posture, Sis." In particular, I think GONE WITH THE WIND, which I read 26 times in the fifth grade, and THE GOOD EARTH, which I alternated with GWTW that year, owe me at least a lunch at Applebee's (they can present their Hallmark envelopes to me over the Tequila Lime Chicken).

Interestingly, even with the fields of black dots that float around as a daily part of my vision (the optometrist says it's something about snapped, er, filaments), I keep reading. Often, I read crap chick lit. Other times, I read really good chick lit. Interspersed is a wide variety of other genres. I'm an equal-access book whore.

Naturally, some books have separated themselves from the pack of dust-covered johns.

For at least fifteen years, there has been a book I've called my "favorite." Doing this is specious, really, as I can't possibly have a favorite book, when so many are so excellent and do so much so well. However, when people have asked for book recommendations, I've often coughed up the title ANGLE OF REPOSE. I love that book because I love Western stories, and I love books that don't read like "litt-ra-choor" but rather like rousingly-good tales of human beings being human, and I love what Wallace Stegner does with words. In fact, ANGLE OF REPOSE stands out in my reading life because its pages marked the first time I ever wept while reading, wept from the sheer beauty of the prose. Stegner's use of language awed and astonished me; he broke my heart open with it.



I'm feeling a bit disloyal to the memory of one of America's greatest-ever writers, this Stegner, because he's just been edged out. First, he gets killed tragically in a car crash; then, fourteen years later, this novel of his, so long my favorite, finds itself getting slid over on my make room for a newcomer.

Thanks to a gift from one of my best galpals, this last week of reading has caused me to fashion (down in my basement smithy) a new Golden Bookmark to plug into the pages of The Interloper: FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel.

Damn, people, but it's a great book. It's great so jarringly that I found myself complaining to Groom the other day, as he waited for his turn to read it, "I just don't have the right words to tell you how richly and complexly this book is affecting me. I don't know how to articulate my respect for what this Bechdel broad has done." And seriously? I think we all know that even when I can't figure out quite what I want to say, that rarely stops me.

This book has stopped me. I, em, not have way when it comes to analyzing its successes.

Certainly, it's a memoir. And I do love me a life story.

But it's so much more than that. For one, it's a graphic novel.

And, honeychile?

I don't like graphic novels.

I'm pretty sure, somewhere deep in my closet, I have a buried t-shirt that reads "Graphic Novels: How The Robotics Club Amuses Themselves When the Batteries Burn Out in Their Light-Sabers."

Sweet Marmaduke, but I don't even like to read the comics in the newspaper. Just give me some good words, and save your stinkin' pictures.

Unless, of course, you're Alison Bechdel, and your pictures enrich and support and elucidate the writing in ways I hadn't thought possible. On each page, in this amazing book, I found myself reading the text and then diving into the accompanying picture panel for the next beat, urging the rhythm of the story to continue.

Plus, Bechdel manages to tell her story both in linear and circular fashion, coming back on the chronology several times, as she unfolds her realization that she is a lesbian and learns that her father, too, is homosexual.

In the midst of these fairly heavy life events, Bechdel dazzles with her vocabulary (I had to holler loudly one day as I read, "Thank you for using 'prestidigitation,' Smart Dyke Lady!"); her wryness (count how many times the can of Pledge appears in panels, as she hammers home her father's neatnik issues); her unflinching approach (a few libraries in the South, finding their patrons unable to appreciate cartooning of masturbation and girl-on-girl, promptly yanked this book from their collections); her appreciation for how literature can inform understanding of life (for her continued lack of patience with college classes fueled by the pretension that is literary analysis, I kiss her Carhartts).

I'm not necessarily recommending that you gallivant out to the book store or library and grab this book. It might not be your style. Maybe you don't read much. Maybe you have other priorities, like seeing which couples are "safe" on DANCING WITH THE STARS or, um, playing solo fooseball, racing back and forth from side to side to make the little men spin. Or maybe you do read, but you just like your Louis L'Amour.

So read it or not.

All I know is that I, a prodigious book-devourer, have had the enormous pleasure of apprehending, this past week, that my best reading isn't behind me; that there are whole new ways to read that I've never before relished; that, at age 40, I am still plenty limber enough to kowtow before an author of greatness.

As I lay here on the floor before her, clutching her book to my bosom like a talisman--and wondering why I don't bother myself to chase after the dust bunnies with a broom more often--I tell you this:

Alison Bechdel has left me humbled and breathless.