Tag Archives: books

All Summer in a Day [Memoir]

Mother dropped a thin brochure over the book I was reading.

“What’s this?”

“Dad and I were talking about you taking classes at the university with me. There’s a program for kids like you.”

“Kids like me? What kind of kids?”

“Precocious kids.”

I must have looked bewildered. “What does precocious mean?” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 11, 2012 in auto-biographical


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A Swiftly Tilting Backyard Shed

In the HOA-controlled master-planned country club neighborhood where I grew up, the maximum allowed size for a shed was 4×4 and no higher than the 10-foot cinderblock wall. Ours was 10×14, composed of yellow corrugated aluminum siding and as tall as our house. Ramshackled, unstable, and a few decades old, it was salvaged from an old rental property. For the privilege of having that eyesore in our spacious backyard, my parents were fined $150 a quarter, fees they probably never paid. The shed’s contents were intriguingly and creepily relic, from the decrepit lawnmower to my brother’s abandoned Charlie McCarthy ventriloquism dummy. I was afraid to step foot inside. There were tales of black widow spider nests and the interior of the shed was lined with 5-gallon canisters of propane, kerosene, and gasoline, all kept as back-up supplies by Dad “just in case.” Just in case of what I’m unsure.

But, if one turned a blind eye to the risk of scary spiders and scent of flammables, and ignored the crunchy-hot quartzite pea gravel and occasional lizard, behind the shed was a great place to hide. Strange? Maybe. But without a treehouse (without trees!) or a quiet place in the house that wasn’t overrun by siblings, pets, or siblings’ children, I had few options. I didn’t know any better and it worked.

Around this time I made the huge leap from Dr. Seuss to ‘real books,’ prompted to do so when I noticed the smile of encouragement on the librarians’ faces turned to an eye-brow raise of skepticism every time I brought my summer reading log to their desk. It wasn’t so much that they doubted my truthfulness as they probably expected a child my age should have advanced beyond books with simple sentences.  Hannah, the stereotypical old maid librarian at the local branch, took action and introduced me to the next age group in books. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on January 17, 2012 in auto-biographical


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Imaginary Characters

Most children are acquainted with a small cast of never-seen characters that occupy larger-than-life status: Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, God, and perhaps the boogeyman. My family had all these and more, with the Great Pumpkin and the Great Valentine also visiting my home on an annual basis to bring decorated mini pumpkins and foil-wrapped candy. There was also my brother.

At some point before my existence (approximately 6 B.M.E.), Antonius and Dad had a falling out that resulted in almost 15 years of alienation. There were still hints of Antonius, enough for a child of six or seven or eight to believe without a doubt that he was real. There was a framed photograph of him resting in a dusty corner of the house, behind a philodendron my mother named ‘Seymour.’ Family members would speak of him in hushed tones and only around holidays.  His existence was as credible and substantive as Santa Claus or anyone else, the only difference being I didn’t visit him annually in the local shopping mall for a photo opportunity. Via a sister, he gifted me a collection of Jane Austen novels and “The Secret Garden” for my eighth birthday.  Inside the front cover of each book was a different inscription: Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 29, 2011 in auto-biographical


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In my first post, I spoke to the intent of this blog which is to give me an outlet to express without getting bogged down with quality or structure, in the hopes that sharing would help manage my anxiety.  Granted, I’ve only given this blog a few weeks and I’ve produced more for this one in that span of time than I have for my others in months — this is progress, facilitated by virtual anonymity — but I’m anxious that I’ll hit a brick wall soon and be silent again.

A friend operates a blog (probably with similar intentions although he’s more trusting with sharing than I) who is working on chronicling his life using music for context.  His point is (paraphrased), “If someone looked at my iPod and wanted to know why I have this great diversity of music there, what would I tell them? What explains why I like X but also Y as well as Z?  Each one has a story.”

It’s a good schtick and it serves him well. He’s able to use his theme not only to tie together the threads of his life and memories but also speak to the timeless relevance of music — all this while making a couple well-placed digs at the commercial music establishment while he’s at it. That’s a lot of birds downed by a single stone. But I don’t recall having the same degree of attachment to music as my friend nor the under-current of righteous indignation at the increasing homogenization of music.  For me, music is an interest, not a passion and I’m not trying to articulate a commitment to a way of life.  Music is not the path that will help me understand me.  But books might. 

I’ve toyed with the idea of using books as a means of tying this blog together but have resisted for two reasons: (1) It felt derivative of my friend’s idea. (2) Not all my books are high-falutin’ works of lit.  In my sordid past, there are volumes of pre-teen serials, a brief dabbling in Westerns, a few zombie and vampire stories, and more than a smattering of smut.  These are books that are not part of my permanent library, to be sure.  They’re the written equivalent of Ke$ha.  Whatever would you think of me if you knew?

But as I feel myself come closer to the brick wall, I remember that this blog is an exercise to help me come to terms with me, not for my anonymous readers (few, if any, though they are).  I think that allows me a few concessions.

So books it is and we’ll go with that plan until it’s no longer the plan.

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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Thoughts


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Where’s the Yellow Brick Road?

Not to thumb my nose at dogs, but books are every person’s best friend.  That was particularly true for me as a child (if only because there was so little competition for the title).  My dad keeps a file folder (several, actually) of little ribbons, letters, drawings, and accomplishments of mine throughout the years.  There’s a separate Ziploc bag in said folders of my reading ribbons earned from the library’s summer reading program.  Well before I hit the age of reading chapter books, the children’s librarian switched me over from the “number of books read” program to the “number of pages read” program because I blew through it so fast.

It’s easy to be passionate about reading, particularly as a home-schooled kid with no routine and little parental oversight, in a time when technology hadn’t yet permeated every iota of our existence.  We had televisions in most rooms, operated by an actual clicker, but woe betide the child who turned it on MTV or anything that hinted of pop music or fashion. The evening news, variety shows, and as many musicals or westerns as we could handle were our standard fare.  As Dad threatened, verbatim, if we watched anything else he would pull it out of the wall so fast, our heads would spin.  I remember when our area got “the talking phone book, where you let your fingers do the walking.” My teenaged brothers and their friends would call the recordings for the local adult stores just to hear the sultry or playful voices.  This had to have been the cheapest kind of jollies a teenaged boy afraid to have porn in the house could have.  Point being, we were all pretty easily entertained and fancy schmancy technology toys were scarce.

Books were plentiful, though, and I soon realized that if I eschewed the summer reading programs and didn’t write down what I read, I was effectively uncensored. (Duplicitous acts like falsifying reading program logs never occurred to me, nor did I think to not take full credit for every book read – so I just stopped participating.)  For a long while, my favorite books were the ones that were formulaic – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, and Harlequin novels.  (Yes, I progressed quickly to the section of the library that I probably shouldn’t have been in.)  I enjoyed the variety of serial novels that routinely concluded within approximately 180 pages with the plot and subplots resolved neatly and the slate wiped clean for the next book.  The stories were comfortable. I knew the characters would receive their just desserts at the end, love would reign triumphant, and the dark side of the force would be held at bay by the persistent spirit of mankind.

As my reading tastes broadened and matured, it has held true that stories hold to the common themes of some kind of character on some kind of quest that concludes with the character accomplishing something at the end (even if it’s just a greater understanding of self).  Even if the bad guys/gals win, there’s still a certain thread of inevitability that the omnipotent author shares with the omniscient reader like a little inside joke.  In a well-written book, we feel the steady pulse as the plot unfolds around a central theme and we collectively are carried to conclusion. Part of what makes a reader’s experience enjoyable is that all elements are carefully organized as plots, subplots, themes, and scenery or history.  Obfuscating details are eliminated.

By contrast, there is life.  Life contains a lot of white noise.  It’s not just distracting. it’s emotionally exhausting as well.  In stories, we,  the readers, know even if the characters do not,  what the focal points are and what to ignore, with the aid of the author, of course.  But life doesn’t facilitate this single-minded focus.  There are lots of shiny things to distract us, as well as impulses, emotions, temptations, and pressures.

In a way I’ll go into more in a later post, this “white noise” is a lot of what causes my stomach-ache.  Was I “fated” to be where I am today?  Was I meant to be a mother? Am I supposed to be with my husband? Are there other things I should be doing with my life, ways that I could feel more enriched, more fulfilled, and less stomach-achy?  Do I cut my losses and change, knowing it’s hard but hoping some day I’ll look back and think it was the best decision I ever made?  Or do I maintain the status quo because that’s the right thing to do, and then hope that these feelings, frustrations, and desires pass?

If I’m Madame Bovary, it’s so clear that my interests will lead to unhappiness.  If I’m Anna Karenina, it may lead to happiness if only I can temper my irrationality although I may leave havoc and heartache in my wake.  If I’m Scarlet, my decisions are actually indicators of persistence and an unwillingness to compromise.  If I’m Jane Eyre, loyalty will be my hallmark and I shall not stray.

But I’m not.  I’m me and my life has no re-write potential, and there’s only once chance to do it right.  That makes my stomach hurt.

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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Thoughts


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