My St. Helena

GettyImages-146793866_super_csNapoleon Bonapart was exiled twice in his lifetime.

The first time to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean, where he seemed to have a pretty nice time.  He was still afforded the prestige he was used to, his home was maybe not a palace, but still some very nice digs and he made time lying around eating fresh cherries with one of the local girls in addition to spending time with his mistress.  Napolean stayed on Elba less than a year before he went back to France and messed up even more.

It was called Waterloo and it prompted the British to exile him to the remote island of St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic, which is still one of the most remote, hard to get to places in the world.  And in our age of globalization, that’s no small feat.

So there he was on this tiny rock of an island in the middle of vast ocean.  I imagine him walking around on the cliffs, looking out at the expanse of water surrounding him and knowing he would die there.

But maybe he felt like he was already dead.

From the pictures I have seen St. Helena seems very like a purgatory type of place.  Craggy, windy, moldy, steep, quiet, lonely, isolated, hard to reach…are just some of the words used to describe it.

For a man so used to intrigue and power, how devastating.

We don’t have to wonder or speculate on his state of mind, as so much has been written about the feisty French emperor.  He detested St. Helena Island.

Exilethe state or period of forced or voluntary absence from one’s home or country. 

My Facebook account has not been active for several months now.  I have left all of my volunteer commitments.  My phone now only serves to keep the time or occasionally check the weather forecast.  My contact list has been pared down to emergency only numbers.

I still go to work every day.  I shop and cook and clean my house. I read copiously and write on the computer or with soft pencils.   I watch and wave from the dock as my family and friends venture out, each to their own battles and adventures.  And then when they return I greet them with either trumpets or gauze.

At first it was hard, this self imposed exile, but it was needed.  Exhausted after too many Waterloo’s where I had not been Wellington I felt a bittersweet relief as I stood on the sandy beach.

I do not detest my  island.

I embrace my silence and my exile.

I walk my craggy cliffs and look out at the vast ocean around me and I am thankful for my St. Helena.

The spoils of the library book sale.

 

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I do think at times I have some psychic moments.

Since Thursday I have been thinking about this one library that I never go to.  I think I have been there once or twice maybe in the last several years, but only to run over a pick up a book they held for me, never having the time to browse around.  It’s just not in my neck of the woods, so to speak.

But anyway, anyway….so, I had been thinking about it and since my hubby and both sons were out of town on Saturday, I took my mom out to this library on a whim.  But there, dropped across the front doors was a sign from the Universe!

It read, Library Book Sale!

Cue chorus of angels!!  

Library book sales are the best!  

All paperbacks fifty cents, hard covers, $1.00 and large hard covers, $2.00.  And at this sale you had a very active and helpful “Friends of the Library,” volunteer staff who said all kinds of wonderful things such as, “Can I help you find something?  Could I take those for you so you don’t have to carry them around?  Would you like them in a large box or bags?” 

That last statement will mean a lot to those like me who clear out trunks and bring wheelbarrows to events such as this.  

My entire bill was twelve dollars.  Twelve dollars!

I worked that sale like the professional I am.

Step One  – seek out the miscellaneous box.  This box has all the books which don’t fit in a specific category.  Many novices pass over it because they don’t want to dig through, but you run the risk of missing some real gems.  In the miscellaneous box I found a beautiful Funk & Wagnalls, copyright 1909, Best of the World’s Classics, edited by Henry Cabot Lodge book.  I’m not a “how-much-is-it-worth-person,” but I do know that this small book is pretty hard to find and will be a great addition to my classics collection. IMG_1770

Step Two look for the books you always wanted to get, but never did.  I loved watching the original Carl Sagan Cosmos series on PBS all those years ago and I always thought I would buy the book, but it just never happened.  I got it yesterday for $2.00.  IMG_1768

Step Three – access Goodreads.  I used to think this was cheating, because part of the fun was discovering a new author on your own, but now…well, money is harder to come by and I have grown reclutant to go exploring on my own.  The lovely community of Goodreads convinced me to purchase, My Several Worlds, by Pearl S. Buck.

Step Four– the travel box.  So much of the travel box is filled with out of date Michelin guide books, snooze!  But if you root around in there you can find some wonderful stuff.  I always look for the travel books written in the fifties and sixties.  The war had ended and a lot of people had the cash for travel, so the travel books have lots of lovely photos and the prose is meant to entice.

Step Five- get a little shallow and go for looks.  Let’s face it, some books are just more attractive than others.  And the library book sale is probably one of the only times you can justify buying for looks only.  My mother got some wonderful needlepoint books which are stunning and I got a lovely book of ghost storiesIMG_1767 with hands-down some of best illustrations I have seen in years.

Step Sixtext books.  I love old text books because of the marginalia.  Whenever I see a text book shelf I first look for the subject matter which appeals to me.  I will be passing on the chemical engineering and the geology, but I love to look in the humanities sections.  Then I thumb through and look for the notes.  This may be some kind of phychosis, but I love to see what others have written to themselves in textbooks.  Yesterday I found a wonderful book, Reading for a Liberal Education, which is filled with notes and some kind of mysterious short hand.  IMG_1769

Step Seven – talk to the other shoppers.  Some book sale shoppers are out for blood.  You know who you are.  But most are wonderful and willing to swap and help you look if you help them.  For example, “Excuse me, I see you have a lot of mysteries there, well, I just saw a wonderful book of Ed Gorey art in the miscellaneous box, if you are interested,” or I’m sorry, but I can’t help, but notice you have the only copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, would you be willing to trade for my hardback Isaac Asimov Collected Works?” 

Ah the Library Book Sale!

Good times….good times….

 

 

The Alchemy of a Story

What makes a good book a great book?  

A question that has been debated by far more brilliant minds than mine.  But what the heck!  Let’s pour out some more tea, pull up a chair and see what we come up with.

I just finished reading two books –

“Murder Most Austen” by Tracy Kiely and “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham.

They were both good books, but only Maugham’s was a great book.  But before you go all I-knew-you-were-going-to-say-that, let me just take a moment to say why.

The Kiely book was everything it said it was going to be.  It was fun and charming and it took me away to The Jane Austen Festival in Bath, where I have always wanted to go.  The author kept me interested in the story and her descriptions were well written enough to where I felt the experience of the festival, as much as the heroine.  This book helped me accomplish a goal.  It had aided in my escape from the realities of an almost fifty-year old working mother.

But it didn’t make me….feel. 

Maugham did that.  In his meandering, lengthy character study, with no great plot twists, he somehow poked a hole in me and I felt.  When I closed the book last night, I lay in my bed with the melancholy of a trip ended, a passage closed.  Larry, Isabel, Sophie, Eliot, they were truly gone and I felt such an emptiness.  But they were never real people.  They were only words on a page…letters strung together.

Words and letters only….words and letters that made me feel.

How is that possible?

I can’t even being to contemplate.

But isn’t it amazing.

Returning to them.

So I tried to save the world.

But it was grasping and hand aching to tug and pull so much.

Defeated I put the world away on the high shelf.

Then I tried to clear my mind,

But I couldn’t get the memories to come unstuck no matter how hard I tried.

I lay face up in the bed, not praying.

My guilt and shame at leaving them bore a hole right through me.

“I can’t promise you anything,”  I told them.

Their returned silence meant they didn’t want to hear my excuses.

This morning I picked them up and slowly read about their lives.

Let’s see, Annie was stuck in the cave and the water was rushing in….

Seth and Luke were locked in a fierce battle with trust….

And Paul…

I had left Paul, still heartbroken and crying, beside the cold sea. 

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You say I am.

Why are you so afraid of me?

Do you not believe in your own convictions, values, ideals, statements?

“________ people are wrong, stupid, evil, whiners,biased, dishonest,dirty, treacherous. We know what is right.”

Why does it matter to you  if I disagree?

Why does it matter to you if I read or question?

How does it harm you if I hold a sign or march in a group?

You have power and money and influence.

I have none of those things.

You say you are helping me, you are protecting me, making my life better, that if I disagree with you I should move away, I am ungrateful.

I have no money, no power, no influence….I am no threat to your strength, your control, your dominance.

And yet, you fear me.

Why?

Because I will not be cruel.  I will not condemn others.  I will reach out to those needing help and I will show decency and I will work hard to be kind and I will not be a slave to money or greed and I will learn about others and I will work for peace among all nations, for all people.

And he said, “Why?  What evil has he done?” 

But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

Matthew 27:23

Busted at the library –AGAIN!

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“There is a problem with your account.” 

“Please see a librarian for assistance.” 

NOOOOO!

It happened again!  My overdue fees had exceeded the $25.00 mark(don’t judge- just don’t!) yet again and now I was going to have to make that walk of shame up to the check- out desk and well, it could not be a worse time….my mother was with me!

NOOOOO!

My mother, who checks out just as many books as I do, but somehow manages to keep them all in one place and never pay fines.

“Of course I pay fines,” she corrected me. “Last week I had a fine of eighty cents and thank goodness I had cash on me to get that taken care of.”

I just don’t know how the library puts up with me.  They even let me volunteer there.

My husband insists the library not only puts up with me, but loves me.  He says he has done the math and roughly a quarter of our yearly income goes to overdue fees.

Ha,Ha.

As I tuned out my mother’s lecture while driving home, I got to thinking about my lifelong adventures with books and bookstores and libraries and reading…and it was a nice something to think  about.

When I look at my family of readers and how we use the library, we couldn’t be more different.

My oldest son, once he learned how to read, quickly adopted the “been there -done that” attitude toward the library.  He does not read for pleasure.  I can’t complain too much about this because he is doing very well in college and has gotten us lots of nice scholarships.  But he is not a library user.  He views walking into those hallowed halls with all the excitement of standing in line at the DMV.

My youngest son is an ambitious reader, to say the least.

Joe– I think I will check out this large book of ancient cartography essays in the original Greek.

Me– Can you read Greek?

Joe– I’m sure there are footnotes….

My husband is a focused, determined plodder.

He finds a book he wants online, checks to make sure it is available, sets a date and time to go pick up the book, picks up the one book only and proceeds to the electronic check out system, reads the whole book(no matter if he finds it dull or boring–he has made a commitment!), renews his check in date if needed and returns said book to the exact same library.  And he also refuses to let me use his card to check out anything!!  EVER!!! 

My mother, of the no fines, checks out lots of books at a single time.  She loves fiction and devours mysteries and historical fiction.  She can work that library card of hers on the computer like nobodies business.

Renew this one, put a hold on that one…she has the surgical precision of an air traffic controller.

And then there is me. 

The last time I was at the library and paying my $25.00 fine, my stack of books included a book about reading books, one about how classical education has changed over the years, a book giving the main points of six major world religions, a book about the discovery of cave paintings and one about a woman who rehabbed injured song birds.

Remember what I said about judging!

And they are all wonderful!

Now you may be asking how I can’t keep track of them…well, it’s like this….

I might take one in the car to read while I wait to pick up Joe or I might have one in the kitchen to read while I make dinner.  Lot’s of times I take them out on the porch or into my  bedroom or shove them in a tote bag for time at the coffee shop.

Well, they end up all over the place.

But I do get them back to the library eventually!

And if any of my money goes to the support the wonderful institution which allows me to explore my world and the wonderful, wonderful librarians  who never once have gotten upset with me—then it’s money well spent!

 

A Shameless Plug for Pinterest

I’m not much of a social media fan.

I do have an account on Facebook, but I don’t post much and I rarely read others.

Twitter and Snapchat, I just don’t get those two at all and  you can throw Instagram in that group also.

But, oh, how I love, love, love Pinterest!!

My parents loved to go to old bookstores and they would let me get  stacks and stacks of old magazines.  Once I got a huge, whole cardboard box for one dollar! When I got home  I would make these books using magazines, construction paper and glue…the old kind of glue that was really messy.  I spent hours sitting on the floor of my room, cutting out pictures and glueing them to paper while using newspaper to sop up the glue. Then I would put on one of my favorite albums, yes, those were the days of vinyl and just let the stories wash over me.

Oh, what wonderful times!

I thought the heady feelings of discovery and imagination were gone….until…..

PINTEREST!

Take the photos above….

  1. A girl -love the hair and the candle!  Where is she planning on going that she has to use that taper? Hmmmmm
  2. A boy– is he a hero or a villain?  My choice!
  3. “Don’t go into the woods”– of course, we are going! We probably wouldn’t have if you hadn’t posted the silly sign, but now it’s a given.
  4. A creepy door knocker“Hello?  Is anyone there?”  Cue creepy laughter or a shadow out of the corner of your eye.
  5. A stream slowly meandering in the woods– where does it originate, where does it end?  Is it a dividing line?
  6. Witch humor-I never thought of witch’s being funny, but what if they were?

Six images – boom!  Story! 

If you haven’t used this tool for your own writing or creating, whatever it may be, you should really try it out.

The best part about Pinterest is knowing how many people out there are just like me.

Bookmakers, storytellers, imaginers.

Lord, how I love the imaginers.