Posts Tagged ‘Smartness’

Book Fetish

In books on June 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm

*editors note: this post was originally written a few weeks ago on the way to the race at Whip City. Before you ask for the make and model of my car, I was in the passenger seat. But for the record, it’s a lime green 1970 hemi ‘cuda.** in the post to follow I allude to my book hoarding issue as being my only real compulsion. That’s a lie. I also get an assignment with a two month timeframe and wait until the week before the deadline to even call a source. (ok. AND I’m a hyper vigilant hypochondriac. And sometimes I lie. But this isn’t Dr. Phil, people.)the point is, I haven’t posted this post because I’ve been busy un-bleeping the ripples of all of last week’s almost missed deadlines. But it’s a good thing i didn’t because I had a really good idea…

I am lucky enough to be alive in a time when every action, whether noble or perverse, can be ascribed to a psychological condition. If you do something bizarre that you would rather not take credit for, all you have to do is blame your condition. I’m not trivializing these issues either. I’m just pointing out the convenience of being fluent in them. And it’s nice to all be in the same boat. The other day I was out to lunch with two of my dearest friends, Sandi and Alterna-mommy. (AM) Sandi was updating us on the progress of someone else’s OCD.

“Shit,” I said. “show me someone who doesn’t have OCD.”

My friends looked wounded.

“I don’t,” they each said.

“Sandi, you clean and paint your house all day long. AM, you frame all your jewelry and hang it on the wall. OCD, my friends. You’ve got it. And I hoard books. So there. We’re all crazy.”

Then we did some eating in silence. I envisioned my books. When I say I have at least a thousand, probably more, I am not even dipping my toes into the river of hyperbole. Our house is roughly 2,000 square feet, counting the garage. That means at least one book for every other square foot. My family lives in a used book store. We laugh at the library and the Internet when we need to research a paper.

Since Scott does not like to read unless it’s something that’s been posted on Craig’s List, sometimes he makes little sighing noises when a stack of books restricts his movement in some way. I tolerate the sighing, but when he escalates into suggestions that I donate a portion of my collection to the trash can, I kindly draw his attention back to the 25 bicycles that occupy the garage. We are all crazy.

Who cares about rooting around for the source of my crazy? I love to read and I will never quit. If I go blind, I’ll learn Braille. I loved to smoke and I quit doing that for all the loudmouths in the world like my doctor. A little complaining wont make me get rid of my books.

I’m certain, though, that I inherited book hoarding from my parents. When my father died, I also inherited his lifetime collection. He was an engineer and a computer geek. I donated most of the books, like the ones with titles I couldn’t even sound out, to the book box at the elementary school. Most of the espionage books went to Paul at Annies Bookstop in return for a lifetime worth of credit. But I kept the library books he forgot to return in 1957. I kept the books he read out loud to me like The Neverending Story, The Once and Future King and Pet Semetary. And I kept the ones that looked well loved. The ones he must have read between weekend visitations or during all the years we didn’t talk.

One day, Sandi was over marveling at the quantity of books. “Dawn, if you drop dead tomorrow, no one is going to know which you really loved because there are so many,” she said. That’s true. What if someone throws away my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth without thinking about how it kept me company when I changed schools in the 3rd grade? Of course, another psychological condition, narcissism, leads us to believe that anyone would even care. But I would have loved to know which my dad liked better: the dog eared Asminov or the dog eared copy of 2001.

Which leads me to my good idea! I’m starting a quest to weed my books down to the ones I love. That means cookbooks, self help books, and outdated how to build your own farm/robot/computer books as well as paperback novels. I’m going to read them all. If I don’t love them after 34 pages (I know, harsh.) I’m going to give them away or leave them somewhere for somebody else to love. It will be like a treasure hunt! And then, I will be left with the treasures.

So, let the games begin. I began with Frankenstein. Not the one by Shelley. The one by Koontz. I love Dean Koontz because once I sent him fan mail and his dog wrote me a letter back. She even signed it with her paw. And now I get a monthly newsletter from him. My dad loved Koontz too. There are a billion paperbacks in my collection. But Frankenstein will leave me later on today or tomorrow when I am finished with it. I will leave it somewhere secret and mysterious so that somebody can stumble upon it and say, “oh look, a book! The universe must want me to read it.” so, it’s not like I’m trying to cure my hoarding issue or anything. But I’m happy to share. Oh, and Scott? You’re welcome.

**a complete lie. It’s actually a rust colored Bentley convertible.


Read These Books and Live Forever*

In Monday Review on May 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Oh God I love books. Stories…. Plots….characters I can bury my face inside…I need not say more. You get or you don’t simple as that. I wanted to say that much, though, because I’m in the middle of a self-indulgent moldering gloom thanks to the weather and the tragedy of the last few weeks and the fact that I quit drinking. I didn’t see that coming. Anyway, as we escapist readers do, I have, this week (give or take a day), read three novels which I love. The first was “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan. The second, “The Girl Who Chased the Moon,” by Sarah Addison Allen and the third, which I am actually not quite done with yet is Chris Bohjalian’s “Secrets of Eden.” I chose these three because the bookstore had Goon Squad on the table of buy-two-get-one-free’s and I’ve wanted to read it since I first read a review…what? Last year? And therefore I should also buy two more books. What can I say? I’m a slave to the red sticker.

So, what I want to tell you is that Goon Squad is one of those books that make you stay up past Craig Ferguson reading. It will make you fake Montezuma’s revenge just to get a little time to yourself with the door locked. It’ll make you leave for carpool half an hour earlier just so you can have an excuse to sit somewhere and finish another chapter. It’s a novel made up of stories told by a handful of characters whose lives intersect at some point or another. The story doesn’t go from point a to point b, despite the section headings, however. Or maybe it does but in the convoluted f*cked up way that time and memory really work.  I remember reading that Egan had screwed around with the construction of the novel at the last-minute because she didn’t think it worked as a linear story.  She nailed it in ways that are going to be analyzed by future lit undergrads.

But, clever construction aside, Goon Squad is an overall smart novel. People should be falling all over themselves the way they did over Frantzen’s “Freedom.”   

*just kidding

Ten Important Lessons I Learned at the Laundromat:

In Life Lessons on March 18, 2011 at 2:15 am

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I’ve decided to try Logotherapy to help myself through this tough time. Logotherapy, in a nutshell, is the practice of finding meaning in the random things that happen to you in order to make sense of it all. The idea isn’t new and it isn’t mine. Viktor Frankl came up with logotherapy and somebody tweeted about it this morning. Sounded like a good idea so I thought to myself, Dawn, find some personal meaning in the broken washing machine. So here it is.

  1. Don’t act like a know it all. It’s better to ask for help than act all cool with your roll of quarters and then pour your soap in the wrong hole. And fabric softener. Just let the Russian lady who runs the Laundromat help you. I act like a know it all a lot. I think life would be easier if I didn’t bear the burden of having to act like I know everything. Also, more interesting conversations could happen if I let somebody else know something from time to time.
  2. Don’t pay in quarters. Or dimes or nickels or pennies for that matter. They don’t call it nickel and diming because it’s cool. Laundromats, toll booths and arcades used to operate on coins. Now the toll booth is operated by a white box glued to the inside of my windshield. The arcade is operated by make-believe quarters that have pictures of a giant talking mouse stamped on them. And the Laundromat is operated by a special Laundromat debit card into which you must put cash. And cash only. No coins. I feel bad for coins in a way. I wonder why people don’t like them. I can only assume it’s because they are rigid, they rattle, they stink, and it takes too many of them to buy anything. Which leads me to lessons #3 – 6:
  3. Don’t be rigid.
  4. Don’t rattle.
  5. Don’t stink.
  6. Don’t be cheap.
  7. If you want to accuse the Russian Lady of being both a spy AND a thief, accuse yourself first of being an idiot My grandfather used to say that if you want to criticize, don’t. If you still want to criticize, don’t. And if you STILL want to criticize, criticize yourself. I don’t think he made that up any more than I made up logotherapy but I heard it a million times throughout the course of my childhood. Clearly I still haven’t learned the lesson. When I couldn’t find the debit card for the Laundromat, I had a little conversation with the Russian Lady that went a something like  this:


Me: Should I use the same card next time I do laundry?

RL: Yes of course the card is yours!

Me: Well, can I have it back then?

RL: I don’t have your card.

Me: Neither do I!

RL: What do I want with your card?

Me: How should I know?

RL: Darling, I think your card is on top of the washing machine.

It was. After I thought about it, I realized that since I already fed my fifteen dollars into the machine, she already had my cash. The card was just a meaningless piece of plastic. Then I realized that ALL MY CASH is represented by meaningless pieces of plastic. Then I dug a hole in my yard in which to place my entire coin collection. Those aren’t plastic. No one can take them from me. Not that anyone wants them.

8.       Don’t carry your crap around in a black plastic trash bag and expect to get any respect. It just looks bad. And believe me, people judge you by the bag you carry.

9.       Don’t fight with your spouse in public. Exact same reason as for lesson #8. Exact. Also, don’t try to get all dramatic and grab your spouse’s arm and sigh and roll your eyes and genuflect either. While it’s entertaining for the rest of us, you just make yourself look melodramatic. I was accused of being melodramatic this week. I’m not. I’m plain old dramatic. If you have to overdo it, overdo in authentic drama. Not melodrama.

10.   If your car stinks, try keeping open bottles of Downy and Gain in the backseat. This was a lucky bonus lesson I learned after I lost the caps to the Downy and Gain bottles.

I might follow-up with meaning found in all the other things that broke this week: a long-term friendship, the dishwasher, a cup one of the kids made, the 4-in-1 printer, the sand dollar I found on the beach in Charleston, the furnace, the thermostat that runs the furnace and a bowl that Scott made in his pottery class. I’m not sure. For now, I’ve got to catch up on the laundry.

Malapropism and Mispronunciation — NowInteractive with Embedded Links!

In English on February 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I read a prompt somewhere recently that solicited the moment when you realized you aren’t as smart as you think you are. That happens to me a lot because I have a personal defect that causes me to think that I am so smart. People are always saying to me, “Oh, you just think you are so smart, Dawn.” And I just shrug and nod smugly. Because it’s true. I do think that.

The Universe likes that sort of blatant cockiness because then It has the opportunity to enact Murphy’s Law. I’m often knocked off my high horse, caught eating crow or groveling over the hairy toes of someone I’ve exposed to one of my bouts of elitist know-it-all-ness. ( And believe me, there is NO founding in reality for this behavior. It’s just inherent.)

I can trace this superiority complex back to 10th grade lit class and the introduction of Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop. I felt immensely superior to that character because, even then, I considered the stables of my own vocabulary farm to be overflowing with pretty little ponies. I would never stop to consider an accusation that I had spouted a malapropism or mangled the pronunciation of a word. What’s more, I delighted in finding occasions in which people around me would commit these offenses. I can’t remember anybody else’s epic malapropisms right now. (Actually, I can. But I’ll get to that.) I just remember, on more than occasion, laughing with an affected British chortle. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I often act superior in British.

The Universe, with its twisted, Murphonian sense of humor, saw fit to make me the biggest, bumbling buffoon of all.

Rewind to the summer between 7th and 8th grade or so. Summer camp at the horse stable in Hopkinton. (Now it’s one of those evangelical churches.)Teeth to throat rivalry with Genevieve, (who insisted, with an affected French accent, that people pronounce her name soft j -ohn-vie-ehv instead of Jenna-Vive.)  We were both memorizing all the words to all the songs on the new Belinda Carlisle tape. We were both in competition to be the best rider ever since the day riding was invented. We were both in the process of devouring The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West.Which, I must add, is one of the best fantasy novels ever. We were neck and neck. Then one day Gabby, (which is what my memory insists I called her despite the unlikeliness of it) launched a coup. I don’t know how she did it.  We were on our lunch break, between riding lessons and cleaning saddles, or whatever it was we did. We sat in the hot break room that smelled like a combination of old wood, leather and summer green and had the kind of wooden screen door that slammed with an angry series of creaks and crashes. I announced that I had reached the epilogue of the Heavenly Horse and thus had won the competition to see who could finish first. Gabby stopped eating her ham and cheese sandwich mid-bite, with the bread still close to her lips. Her glossy black eyebrows hit the ceiling and she choke-laughed.

“Say that word again, Dawn,” she commanded.

“What?” I asked. “Epilogue?”

She burst into a volcanic explosion of crumbs and laughter. All the other campers, nervous and unsure of their own pronunciation abilities looked between us, baffled. And then they decided she was the safer bet and began laughing. See what a bit confidence can create?

“It’s pronounced ep-ill-oh-gee you moron,” said Gabby.  (Oh, you think you are so smart, Dawn.)

I’ve mispronounced it ever since. Even when my friends and family have scoffed, laughed at and purposefully misunderstood my pronunciation. I have persevered.

Which is why I almost never let my superiority complex make a fellow mispronouncer-of-words feel bad. And I try not to point out another’s malapropisms. But here’s a list of my top six favorites:

Over the years my children have:

6. Called the dining room buffet a “buffalo.”

5. Called the kitchen the “chicken.”

4. Wanted to chew on a “Starbucks” instead of a Starburst.

3. Accused their teacher of being far too “consistent” instead of persistent in her acquisition of homework paper.  (Not a serious switch. Either works. Funny nonetheless.)

This morning I noticed that my seven-year old has a habit of assigning flavors to memories. “This tastes like the Fresh Produce Market,” she said of her glass of sparkling water. “This tastes like the race track,” she said of her ham sandwich. “I think she’s got synesthesia,” I said to my husband. Which led to:

2. “Mom, Olivia thinks she has anesthesia!”

1. And then there’s my all time favorite. One day when I was volunteering in the school library, I overheard one of the first graders tell his teacher that he still felt a little unconscious. Alarmed, I quickly reviewed life saving steps in my head. But his teacher pulled me aside and said that he hadn’t been able to poop in a couple of days. The old constipation/unconscious malapropism. It gets me every time.

Eh -pill-oh-gee:

Despite my best efforts, I still suffer from episodes of superiority. The Universe still delights in these occasions. I’ve never heard The Universe speak. But I bet if it did it would affect a British accent.