Books

No matter where I am, what I’m doing, I always have a book nearby.

I’ve loved to read my entire life. Some of my best childhood memories are of the books my dad read to me — even long after I could read myself, we’d still read a book together almost every night. Many of those books are still among my favorites: A Wrinkle In Time, Watership Down, the Chronicles of Narnia series… I could go on but then this post will just be a list of book titles.)

I never leave the house without a book. (I also keep at least one book in my car so I’ll have something to read if I do forget to pack a book when I leave.) I’ve never gone a day that I can remember without reading something.

Nowadays I’m more likely to have my Kindle in my pocketbook than a hardcover. But the e-reader, as much as I love it and how often I use it, will never replace a physical book for me. There’s something about settling back and flipping through the pages that a Kindle just can’t replicate.

 

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Beneath the Pine Trees

Well, once I got started yesterday thinking about summer camp, I couldn’t quit. I’m still thinking about it. It’s July—I should be at camp! Forget this grown-up, nine-to-five office job stuff. (Plus it’s not really nine to five…it’s more like six-fifteen to six o’clock if you include the commute. (…Why do I do this every day, again? Oh, right. The paycheck.)) I’d rather be looking at the mountain view from the rock quarry than at the office parking lot…

Every year I’d fervently look forward to the start of the camp season. When I’d finally arrive, and step out of the car, and breathe in the camp air, heavy with the scent of pine trees, I’d always feel like I’d come home.The pine smell is everywhere at camp. Actually, the camp ground was full of different scents. The dining hall always carried a faint aroma of bread baking. We could anticipate the end of the daily hike to the swimming pool long before the end of the trail, just from the scent of chlorine. The stables always reeked of horses; the lake, vaguely of algae. Once a week we would cook outside, filling the air with the scent of campfire smoke. The arts-and-crafts cabin had a whiff of paint inside. And pine. No matter what else, there was always the scent of pine, blending with whatever other scent was in the air. The smell of pine always takes me back home, even now.

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Time Warp

Been awhile since the last update, hasn’t it? The day job sure cuts into my writing time when it’s actually busy! It’s settling back into a normal pace now… so I can finally start to shake the cyber-dust off these pages.

A few weeks ago, after a concert, I spent a night at my parents’ house. I slept in their guest room—which used to be MY room, years ago.

It felt like a time warp.

It’s an odd feeling—going back home, staying in a room that’s exactly the same AND completely different from how you remember it. Mom and Dad painted the walls. And the furniture is new. But it’s arranged pretty much the same way as I had it when I lived there. The new bed is in the same place as my old bed was. Sleeping there felt like staying somewhere I’d never been before, but also like I never left. Under the new paint, I could almost picture the posters and photos that I hung up years ago. It made me laugh to notice the dual phone jack where my old desk used to be—one port for my land-line phone extension, the other for my dial-up Internet access. 56 kbit/s! Now that was a high-speed connection! (Oops…I’m showing my age again, aren’t I?)

Feels odd, too, to describe visiting “my parents’ house” when for so long that house was home.

What makes someplace home? Ask any number of people that question and you’ll probably get the same number of answers. To me, I think, home is a place where I can be myself. Where I can get away from whatever is going on in the world if I need to. Of course I feel at home in my house, with my husband and my dog. But I have a few other homes, too—my parents’ house, my church, the library, the summer camp I attended every year growing up. I loved camp. It seems counterintuitive, almost, now. Most of the time, I can’t stand to be outdoors in the summer. And I wasn’t in great physical shape even when I was younger, so I always found hiking difficult, and camp had tons of hills—I once joked that there, most trails really are uphill both ways, coming and going. And I don’t like not being able to be alone sometimes, and at camp I’d share a cabin with seven other people. But for two weeks every year, none of that mattered. Growing up, camp was where I most felt at home. It was the only place I had a big group of friends and felt like I could be myself. Every year, as soon as I arrived, I felt like I had never left at all. It’s been more than a decade (really??!) since I last set foot on the camp grounds—but I think if I were to visit it tomorrow, I’d probably still have the same feeling that I’d never left.

Size Matters

My computer monitor at work died this morning. Suddenly. One second I was reading an e-mail and the next, the screen went completely black. So after turning the monitor off and on, then doing the same to my machine, and checking that the monitor was plugged in, and all of that, I finally called IT. The IT person couldn’t fix it, either. He tried the same things I’d tried and then finally he replaced it for me.

The new monitor is much bigger. It’s SO BIG. And WIDE. It feels like it occupies the whole desk. It feels like I could dive into the screen, or like the screen is trying to swallow me whole. I think the TV I had in my college dorm back in the day was smaller! Documents that used to fill the entire window now open in the center of the screen, surrounded by empty space. I’ve had to zoom in a lot more on websites to make the font big enough to read. My desktop icons are lined up now at one tiny edge of the screen. The rest is vacant space. (I’ll have to find some new wallpaper, I think. What looked nice on my old monitor just looks…dull, on this one.)

It makes my entire office feel different. Like the computer is watching my every move and demanding my attention. HI THERE! I AM YOUR MONITOR! LOOK AT ME!

I’ll get used to it in a few days, I’m sure.

Going Back

I’ve been thinking about going back to school. Planning to, actually, and the sooner the better. I’ve been admitted to a college in the area; I just have to work out the practical/financial side. I’d already be there now if I could afford it.

But another thought has been occupying my mind the past few days—of the college I left more than a decade ago. I started to idly wonder, “What if I could go back there? Finish what I started back then?” And the thought would not leave me. It took root and began occupying most of my brain and my dreams at night and wouldn’t let go.

I don’t know why it’s taken such a strong hold on me. I know I’ve been prone to restlessness lately—which is nothing new for me, but lately it’s even more so than usual—fantasizing about taking to the highway, the life here be damned. Enough with the nonstop ringing of the office phone, and the scan pile, and the commute (at least an hour one-way, and that’s if traffic is light that day), and trying to fit my actual life into the (only) two and a half free hours at the end of the day, before I have to go to bed and get ready to do it all again, then again, then again—enough of all that. Just drive. Hit the highway and just drive to wherever it takes you.

But I’ve always had that urge to some degree or another—to just drive, leave everything, start over somewhere new. Usually it passes. And I would never really, actually do that, no matter how much I want to in the moment. Thinking about going back to my first college—probably just a different spin on the same urge.

I’m remembering everything I loved about the place. Because I did love it. Before everything that led me to leave, I loved it there. The camaraderie with the others in my classes. Sitting up all night with friends and talking for hours. The all-night study sessions at the 24-hour diner near campus. The weekends we’d drive to nearby towns and listen to bands play in bars and in tiny, hole-in-the-wall clubs.

And I think about my life now, and my life then, and I think, I could go back. They do have other “non-traditional” students there. And this time would be different. I’m not 19 anymore; I’d have a lot more figured out this second time around then I did back then. I have plenty of experience, with college work and with real-world, nine-to-five work. And this time I wouldn’t be trying to “do school” while watching my whole world implode. This time I wouldn’t just eke by in my courses; I’d kick ass and take names. I’d finish the English degree I started then, and maybe, maybe, when I finished, I’d be a tiny bit closer to at least one piece of the life I could have had. If only I had stayed.

That’s probably what’s driving this urge, now that I think about it. What could have been. Maybe it’s not about wishing I had a degree from that school so much as it is about wishing I could turn back the clock. Because I’m not 19 anymore. Maybe that’s what I miss—not the place, but the time. The feeling that the world was just out there, waiting, and anything was possible. And when the bulk of my time is spent is sitting in this office, typing invoices and running sheets of paper through a scanner, the thought of retreating from the “real” world for a year or two—sitting in an ivory tower, studying literature and writing stories—sounds wonderfully appealing.

I’m sure these thoughts will pass, too. Eventually. Just like the thought of saying “fuck this” and driving away from it all always passes. Money and distance make it—well, not a completely impossible plan, but a challenging one at best. And I haven’t forgotten why I left.

And yet—what if I could make it work?

What if?

A Corner of a Room of One’s Own

There’s a book I read a few times as a child, called Evan’s Corner. Evan lives in a small apartment in the city, but he longs for a space of his own. His parents allow him to choose a corner of their apartment to be just his.

I just recently set up a new studio of sorts. Actually a cheap knock-down, assemble-it-yourself desk from Wal-Mart (which looks surprisingly nice when put together). The new desk, an old desktop computer from the back of the closet (which I’m already planning to replace, because damn this machine is slow), my iPad for background music, a stack of writing books. One corner of our very-rarely-used guest room is now a dedicated writing room.

On the face of it, the urge to do it just hit me from nowhere. If you really are planning to take this writing thing seriously, you need a dedicated space. Why not the spare bedroom? One of those ideas that pops into one’s head out of nowhere, then proceeds to occupy every thought until it’s done. And when I started planning how it would look, how I would set it up, I got much more excited about it than I expected to.

But it wasn’t really out of nowhere. Now, sitting here in this new corner, I realize that. It wasn’t a random desire; it came about because this little studio I’ve created, this corner of the extra bedroom is the part of the house that’s mine. And I realize that for a long time, I’ve been feeling like Evan did in the book—longing for a space to call mine, instead of ours. I’ve come to realize that I need that. And I’ve really not had it since we moved into this house. A room of my own. My old writing desk was in our basement, alongside the TV and right next to the room where my husband writes music and rehearses with his band.

Shared space just feels different. Even when you’re alone there, it carries a sense of the other person. Not so with a room that’s mine alone. Here at this desk, it’s just me and my words. It’s a much different type of solitude.

It’s already made a difference, having a space of my own, dedicated just to writing. I’ve already been more productive in this space than I ever was at the rec room desk. I’m sure it won’t be a magic bullet; I won’t be writing a new novel every weekend. But I finally have a place just to write. Just to be.

12 Years

This day in 2001 was my 20th birthday. I remember watching the news coverage from my dorm room, and calling home and just sitting silent on the phone, neither of us talking… but not hanging up, just holding on to the phone so we’d have some kind of connection.

Today… I can’t believe it’s already been twelve years.

I really can’t say anything else about that day better than Sarah did at Tomato Nation:
For Thou Art With Us