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I’ve had people tell me for years that I should exploit my odd upbringing by writing about it.  I’ve kind of done that with this blog, but I don’t think it’s in the way people intended.  The first time I heard that, I was perplexed.  I was raised in the upper midwest in a solidly middle-class, two-parent household in a small town–it’s seriously textbook.  I  wasn’t raised by wolves or by a traveling circus, or anything else that seems like it would make a compelling story.

People kept insisting. People who didn’t know each other would tell me at different times that I needed to start writing stuff down.  I kept wondering though, if what I consider normal is actually a bit odd, how the hell am I supposed to figure out what others find interesting?  One of my writing professors went nuts for an anecdote that I told about how my parents tried to keep me from reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was in 7th grade.  He’d bring it up at parties, when we were planning my class schedule–really emphatic.  Since this is a man I revere, who basically made me the writer I am, you’d think I would have listened to him, but I really didn’t get what it was he liked about it so much.

But here goes.

I used to read The Babysitter’s Club books religiously.  I loved these books from the time I was in 3rd grade until actually two summers ago when I finally went back and finished the series.  The library in my small town didn’t have the complete set, so I managed somehow to work out a borrowing system with a classmate’s older sister wherein he (classmate) would bring me five books at a time, I’d read those, then get five more.

Aside from entertaining me to no end, and giving me ridiculous fashion tips that I never had the guts to act upon, The Babysitter’s Club often subtly made book recommendations.  A character would occasionally mention a book that the kids she was sitting for enjoyed, or a book that she was reading.  I made a point of reading every book they told me to, and one time it was The Catcher in the Rye.  Stacy mentioned reading that book in Super Special #2–the one where they go to camp, and though I forgot about it for a few years, when I was in 7th grade I found it on one of my dad’s bookshelves.

I started reading it, was fascinated by the amount of swearing, but felt like I didn’t really get it.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be reading a “grownup” book, and pressed on.  Eventually, my mother saw me reading it, and told me that she didn’t think it was appropriate for a girl my age.   This baffled me.  My parents had never commented on anything I read before, certainly they had never told me that I couldn’t read something, and by this point in my life, I’d already read some seriously graphic romance novels. Plus, Stacey in BSC had read and recommended it–what was the deal with Catcher?

My Mom took the book away and secreted it on a shelf in the basement.

As she was a terrible hider, I found it shortly after, and re-hid it in my room.

Perhaps as a result of my spiteful nature toward being told no, The Catcher in the Rye became my go-to book.  It was the book I would carry around with me everywhere I went (not an original habit, but I didn’t know that at the time) and read when I had nothing else that sounded appealing because it never let me down.  I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve read the book all the way through because I’d usually just pull it out of my bag, pick a random page, and read until interrupted.

The copy that I carried around for years was one that my dad had either taught from, or used as a student, and all of his underlining in green and red was in there.  I made sport of trying to figure out why he underlined certain phrases and not others–I’ve never been a big underliner, or a good note taker so the behavior baffles me.  I will never forget that he underlined, “I was feeling pretty horny” in red ink.

When the book eventually started to decay, I patched it back together with Elmer’s glue as best I could.  When I forgot that copy at home after going off to college, I went to the bookstore and bought a new version with a different cover.  That prompted my best friend, Map Fleece, to start buying me copies of The Catcher in the Rye every time she saw new cover art, and now I probably own six or more various copies, but they’re all in storage in Minnesota.  I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye for years, and I’m almost afraid to because what if it’s not what I remember?  I got into a fight with my father about the themes and symbols of the book once and remember thinking that he was a total moron, what if I come to agree with him upon re-reading it?  It’s a dangerous proposition.

Someone heard that original story–the reading, losing, stealing, reading– and found merit in it, which was completely unexpected.  I still struggle with, and I think many other people either do as well or should do: what’s a story and what is not.  I have a bit of an obsession with the memoir genre because I feel like everyone has a story to tell, but rarely are they capable of both recognizing the real story and relaying it in a way that makes anyone care.  I compulsively read memoir looking for something powerful that’s rarely there.  When it is, it’s incredible.

That’s probably why I’m hesitant to write anything about myself outside of this self-indulgent blog.  Blogging is one thing, it’s a soundbite, and you can quit at any time; memoir has the potential to be something bigger than the author and bigger than the experience.  Plus, how do you know what your story is unless someone from the outside recognizes it, or unless you’re the type of person who can completely remove yourself and look back?  I don’t know if that’s me.

This summer, since I have a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do something charitable.  It’s really no different than how I would ever spend a summer of underemployment, but it’s a warm and fuzzie way to legitimize all this reading for pleasure that I plan to do.

What it is is the Not About the Buildings summer read-a-thon.  Not About the Buildings is a non-profit/run by volunteers organization dedicated to promoting literacy in Providence.  It was founded in 2006 as a response to the completely lousy way Providence Public Library has been running its organization.  This is a problem that has been ongoing, and has received national attention (at least in library land).

Basically, PPL voted to close 2/3 of its branches claiming that it couldn’t afford to run them anymore though Library Director Dale Thompson makes an annual salary higher than those of Mayor David Cicilline or Governor Don Carcieri. These were branches in the poorest neighborhoods, very relied upon by the people who lived there. Thankfully, the branches still haven’t been closed (except one), and are now being taken over by a different non-profit group that actually wants to act like a library.

I live within 700 feet of one of the branches on the chopping block, and can say firsthand, that the building is heavily used.  After school and in the summer, it is teeming with kids who have nowhere else to go (sometimes they hang out in my landlady’s potting shed until the police come).  It still doesn’t have air-conditioning, so on days when it’s too hot, it has to shut down.

When I first moved to Providence, I was in there every day using the internet because my laptop cord was fried, my replacement had been stolen, and the library is the only place in Providence where you can go and use a computer with internet.  The nearest library branch to this one is over a mile away through a less-than-delightful neighborhood, or all the way downtown where walking is hazardous to even the most mindful pedestrian.

Since the branches are being taken care of, this summer read-a-thon benefits The Providence chapter of Books through Bars, which is a program that provides reading material to prisoners.  More than 2/3 of the more than 2 million state and federal prisoners in the U.S. are sub-literate, and more than half lack a high school education.  This means that upon re-entering society, these people will remain unemployable, and more likely to re-offend.

Anyway, this is something that is very important to me, and if you are interested, you can sponsor my reading here.  Or if you’d rather sponsor someone else– please do!  It makes me really uncomfortable to ask anyone for money, and I know times are tough (believe me), so I’m only going to ask once, and get back to my reading.

Long before I got into the “no-buy month” thing, I started carrying a bottle of water with me everywhere I went.  This is part of the reason I carry such a gigantic purse.  The reasons are threefold: I like to stay hydrated and enjoy drinking water, I hate paying for bottled water when if I have a container designed to let me travel with water, and because I grew up in the Midwest where the “winter survival kit” is a must and parents and older people get very, very angry with you if you don’t have one.  I’m not saying I carry a winter survival kit with me at all times, or even have one in my car, but I always feel like inevitably I’m going to be stranded somewhere where I’ll be cold, possibly hungry, certainly thirsty.  This is why I almost always have a jacket or sweater and carry oatmeal in one of my purse’s side pockets.

The only problems up to now, are the fact that I’ve been drinking exclusively out of a Nalgene bottle for about four years now, and if what they say about the plastic leaking chemicals into your drinking water is true, then any potential babies I may have will most likely have flippers.  Also sometimes I forget it places, and once it rolled under my couch without my knowledge which prompted me to re-visit every place I had been that week and ask people if they had seen my water bottle.  Then this week the stupid thing opened up in my purse and dumped 1/2 quart of liquid all over my possessions and my library book.

The book doesn’t look terrible, it’s a bit puffy.  Certainly it’s not as bad as that copy of We were the Mulvaney’s some lady returned to the library after dropping it in the lake– but clearly something needed to be done.  When he saw the state of the book, and me unsuccessfully trying to squeeze water out of it, Gentleman Caller got very excited.

“We need rice!  Do you have any rice?”

I said yes, and the book has been sitting in a rice bath for a few days now.  The fact that it’s Minute Rice may affect the process somewhat, but since I’ve never done this before, I really have no idea.  Gentleman Caller has never done this either, but said he’s always been curious.  He’s a scientist, so I trust him– also, I know rice can act as a desiccant cause, well, I know things.  It does seem like it’s taking quite a while, but I have one more renewal, so I’ve got plenty of time.

In other news, I haven’t seen my boss in nearly two weeks.  I got one email from him saying he’d be out of the office last Wednesday, but he wasn’t there on Thursday either, nor was he there today.  I make a point of adjusting his chair so he knows I’ve been there, but then I just go home.  I wonder if he’ll be in tomorrow…  My job kind of rules.

I’ve been far too much of a buzzkill these days what with worrying about money and school all the time (while spending money I can’t afford to, and doing no homework at all).  It’s time to focus on the positive, and think of all the stuff that I already have/enjoy.

  • My chair. This is a pleather wingback chair  in the same pukey shade of brown as the discontinued M&Ms, decorated with cat clawmarks.  When I moved into my apartment and had no furniture, my landlady had left this in the middle of the livingroom.  “If you don’t want it, you can set it out on the boulevard and someone will take it.” she told me.  I elected to keep it, as it is one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever had except in the summer when my skin sticks to the pleather).  For the first two months of my life in Providence, this was my only chair.  Sometimes I would move it into the front room in front of the tv; sometimes (if I wanted an “office” feel), I would move it into the living room near the kitchen counter.  Every evening when I get home from work or school, I sit in my chair for a while internetting or reading, usually with Wee Watson on my legs.
  • Sundresses! It’s that magic time of year again when the stores start filling up with sundresses, and I systematically try on every single one.  It’s like hunting that elusive animal– like that guy in Jurassic Park: The Lost World who wanted to hunt a T-Rex.  I don’ t want to kill the dresses, I just want as many as I can get my hands on.  Then I want to wear them all summer long.  I seriously can’t wait, I’m so very excited.  I never feel this way about buying pants.
  • Making Little Women jokes. Last week, I was feeling under the weather, and left my internship early.  A couple days later, I got an email from Sassy Redhead with the subject line Scarlet fever killed Beth March, slowly. We then proceeded to make jokes back and forth about Marmee coming home, and selling our hair.  It was great fun.
  • Making Superfunadventure plans. Speaking of Little Women, did you know that you can visit Louisa May Alcott’s girlhood home??  Well, you can, and I will, and I’m excited.  Also, one of these days, I’m determined to visit the National Plastics Museum. Unfortunately, they don’t have regular hours on their website, so you have to call.  Gentleman Caller and I were going to go there for valentine’s, but they didn’t pick up the phone.  I just hope that during this time of economic downturn, they aren’t forced to close their doors forever!  And I hope that they allow flash photography.

Some in the blogosphere tend to do a Year in Review type of thing this time of year.  To them I say– I have an entire years worth of blogs that people should spend time re-reading, I will compose no list of the noteworthy events, there are just too many!  Actually, I feel like that’s something I should have done yesterday, and I didn’t, cause I am lazy and on vacation from school.

Instead I will look to the future rather than dwelling on the past.  This is how I try to live my life (insert grandiose tone here), and as the past is past and unchangeable, the future is the thing!  Resolutions tend to be trite, predictable, and annoying, and rarely pan out, so instead I’m going to call these goals.

1. Graduate from grad school and not reapply for more grad school.

I’m not going to plan to get a real job because I’m aware of the economic climate, but I’m not going to bury my head in the sand of academia anymore unless that academia is paying me for a change.

2. Run 700 miles.

My father spent the last year running 1000 miles, and last time I spoke to him on the phone he referred to his little goal as “just trying to get this thing done”.  I think 700 is much more manageable, especially since after I graduate, I probably won’t be able to get a job– lots of free time.

3. Read 150 books.

Last time I challenged myself to read a certain number of books, that number was a mere 100.  That’s because I didn’t start til May.  Starting in January means I only have to read 2.88 books per week– I scoff at that number.

That’s all, those are my only read concrete goals. Although I do plan on getting a lot of other stuff done, it would be boring to write down and read about.

Among the resolutions I’m not making are most of the list of the top 10 New Years Resolutions obtained by doing a quick google search.

1. Spend more time with friends and family.

I moved 1800 miles away from my family, and we’ve never gotten along better.  I already spend plenty of time with my friends, and will continue to maintain that.

2. Fit in fitness.

Well, that kind of is one of my goals, but it’s not a new thing.  I will not be among the thousands of Americans visiting the gym for the first time in years, I will be among the Americans that were there all along and find these people annoying.

3. Tame the bulge.

I don’t own a scale, and I’m certainly not going to spend money on one.  The bulges I already have are probably there for good, and too much work to get rid of.  I say they give me character.

4. Quit smoking.

I’ve quit smoking 1/2 dozen times– it’s no longer an issue.

5. Enjoy life more.

My life is already the envy of many, and I like it too.

6. Quit drinking.


7. Get out of debt.

Not possible in one year’s time, especially since I’ll be borrowing more money for school.

8. Learn something new.

I try to do that every day already.

9. Help others.

Meh. That really doesn’t sound like me, although I am going into a rather altruistic profession.

10. Get organized.

I accomplished this one by moving across country with only what fit in my car, and then remaining in poverty thus unable to buy things. Done.

The meteorologists starting predicting snow about a week ago, but since I don’t watch the local news I heard about it first from Jewish Friend. Being from Albany, she was mostly concerned about having to drive in it, and by concerned, I mostly mean annoyed.  “I just don’t want to,” she said.  I was glad to hear we were finally getting some snow, because after I’d heard that it was snowing in Las Vegas, I got a bit petulant and jealous.

Then on Thursday, I was watching the local news at the gym and all they could talk about was the snow.  Every school in the state was canceled, employers were urged to stagger the release of their workers to avoid clogging up the roads like last year.  I watched the news for  45 minutes, and there was not one story on there about anything but the impending snow– not snowstorm– but snow.  It was a pre-panic panic the likes of which I could not have imagined.

Now that classes are over, and I’ve been laid off from fancy library, I have more free time than I know what to do with.  When I realized that I could effectively bunk down and not leave the house for the duration of the snowfall, I decided that that would be the best course of action for me.  I have plenty of food, entertainment in the form of movies and books, knitting, and Gentleman Caller and I went to the Wal-Mart and bought six new board/card games.

The snow was predicted to hit around 3pm, but actually came at 1:45, thankfully, we were prepared.  Presently, it’s still snowing and I can hear drivers struggling to travel down my un-plowed streets.  If I was in Fargo, I would think nothing of this, but now I look outside and think I can’t drive in this.  That’s now actually true, I just won’t drive in this because everyone else is probably still out there panicking (plus the governor urged me not to travel, and I’m doing my civic duty).

At almost 24-hours of being holed up in the house, I’ve read about 150 pages of a trashy novel, watched one movie and 2 episodes of 30 Rock, knitted about six inches of a quilt square, played 2 games of Trivial Pursuit and one of Scrabble, and done 2 loads of laundry all while the snow falls quietly and prettily outside.

I love snow days.

This summer has done nothing to regurgitate my enthusiasm for school. I realized, yesterday, that the air had that first “hint of fall” smell to it, and I needed more than just a sheet to keep warm at night. Naturally, my first response was to shut off all fans (also, I just got my electric bill), turn down the temperature on the fridge, and cuddle up under my fleece blanket with a Gothic novel and a cup of tea. I have extreme reactions to fall, and very specific needs to be met.

The problem is, fall is my favorite time of year, and it’s when school starts. Sure, there’s a part of me that can’t wait to put on something “collegiate” and powerwalk downtown to throw in my two cents in Information Ethics, but the other part of me is incredibly lazy and rather dreading the amount of work I have in store for me this semester.

I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, that I will be my professor’s “shining star” in two of my four classes. While I appreciate the sentiment, and confidence in my abilities, I know how academically lazy I can be and how sometimes professors figure that out.

I admit, I’ve been a bit bored this summer. I’ve been working a lot, and reading a lot, and socializing, and having adventures– but I always get a bit of the summer malaise if I feel I’m not accomplishing anything. I should be giddy at the chance to show off my smarts to a new batch of semi-literate colleagues. Sadly, I just can’t psyche myself up.

Instead of focusing on all the cool things I get to learn– Administration of Archives, History of Books and Printing– I’m bogged down by the thought or groupwork, and paper writing, and presentations.

I still haven’t finished A Passage to India (it’s just so boring, just like I remember), nor have I watched the movie– how can it possibly be time to go back ?!

I am a whiner, officially.

I start my new job on Monday, but still do technically have 2 weeks of freedom before classes begin. In that time I will:

  • have superfun adventure Boston birthday
  • celebrate Jewish Friend’s birthday by buying her nothing but reminding her that her keeping the book that I shipped to her house (since my neighbors steal all packages that come to my place)– she managed to get a birthday present despite my intentions
  • finish reading the Babysitter’s Club series (just three left out of, like, 50 that I read this summer– I don’t recommend it, they don’t stand the test of time)
  • read Anne of Green Gables for discussion with Sassy Redhead Friend
  • try to get into the proper headspace where I can be someone’s “shining star”
  • pick out an outfit for the first day of school
  • relax, as best I can

Now that school is over, and I’m finally starting to feel like school is over, it’s time to turn my attention to what to do with all of this spare time.  Lately, I’ve been coming home feeling guilty about schoolwork that I don’t want to be doing, then when I realize that there is no more schoolwork–for now, I wander around my apartment listlessly doing nothing, snacking, eventually half watching a movie or half reading a book feeling like I’m forgetting something.  That is finally fading, I need new goals.

1. Pay off Visa bill– this is a big one, but I think I can do it, maybe.  I’m certainly going to try, anyway

2. Learn Hindi alphabet, and start learning Devanagari script, work on vocabulary

3. Run at least 10 miles per week

4. Read Moby Dick

5. get a tan

6. Read The Diary of Anne Frank— I just can’t get through that stupid thing, it’s a long story, but I have a lot of history with that book.

7. paint ceiling in bedroom, and do faux-finish to walls– I know that faux-finishes are beloved of Trading Spaces fans the world over, but I think I can do it in a way that won’t look stupid.  Also, my room is too dark and gloomy, but I do like the wall color, hence, faux-finish!! I can retain the lovely base tone while bringing more light into my life.  I require light.

8. Make a perfect dirty martini

9. Wait and see if landlady plans to clean up the backyard, then, if she doesn’t, do it myself.  Then utilize backyard in a lounge chair/cocktail manner

10. Go on a picnic

11. Go to the beach– technically, I’ve already done this, but it was really cold, and there was no swimsuit involved.  Goal is: Go to the beach for real

12. repair table

13. Fix fridge door so I can line up condiments without worrying that they will fall and break everytime I open the fridge door.  I imagine I can accomplish this with thick string and adhesive

14. Go to movie theatre where they have the self-service butter dispensor and $5 movies before noon (sounds like a magical place)

15. Read A Passage to India— I read it as an undergrad, but that was before I was obsessed with India.  I think it may resonate more now

16. Watch All Quiet on the Western Front, since, apparently, the one I saw was a made-for-tv version and the real one is kick-ass

17. write

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but whatever.  This is a good place to start out.