Perspective

My goal for this reading cycle — I call it a cycle because I’m refusing to be ruled by the “New Year’s” time constraints — is 84 books and 30,000 pages. When I wrote these numbers over a month ago, I felt I was being overly ambitious. Now, I feel the numbers may actually be too modest.

In less than six weeks, I’ve already made it through 21 books and 7,500 pages: exactly one fourth of my goal. And I’m not slowing down. Some of the librarians have been slightly lifting their left eyebrows at how often I check out half a dozen volumes.

My son and I are also working on a research project for school. We spent over an hour this weekend searching for information on his favorite inventors/engineers: Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Neil Armstrong, Henry Ford, and Alfred Nobel. (Okay. Tesla is actually one of my favorites.) His number one is still Steve Jobs; however, Nobel is starting to grow on him. I think it’s the dynamite.

Hugo doesn’t have a library card anymore ( irrelevant story), so while checking out the dozen or so junior encyclopedias, biographies, and History Channel specials on my card, I was given a very stern warning that I still had three books out, due in one week. This particular librarian is one I usually try to avoid for this exact reason. Most the others know I’m good for it, like a bar tab.

While in college, I learned how to read several books at once without getting character and plot confused. I also have a talent that allows me to set a book aside for several months and then go back to it as if it’s only been a day. Like watching a TV series, or several. As I read, the story plays in my mind. The special effects are just as incredible as in a theatre.

Whether print or film, I’m equally likely to yell at characters, to cry at deaths, to laugh at snarky dialogue, or to (nearly) fall on the floor during suspenseful moments.

Although it’s not healthy, I enjoy the company of fiction more than the company of people. I’m happier without the constant anxiety of betrayal. Much of what I read argues in favor of a reclusive lifestyle; horrible things happen within society, and people do nasty things to each other. If evil must exist, I’d much rather read about it than experience it first-hand. Vicarious heartbreak. This may be why I enjoy the post-apocalypse and future dystopian sub-genres so much: fewer people and more time and freedom to do what I like, not to mention automatic loan forgiveness!

Unlike that poor guy on The Twilight Zone (season 1, episode 8: “Time Enough at Last”), I’m not at risk for the irony of broken glasses, although I do have bad vision. I have to wear glasses to play video games, and I can’t drive at night or in non ideal weather without my prescription. Hindsight is literally 20/20 with me, since I can’t see road signs until I’ve gone past them. However, I have never needed glasses to read a book. In fact, the few times I’ve forgotten to take them off have been terrifying. The words jump out at me in red and green — constant after images of after images surrounding words that appear to float around or vibrate.

I don’t need 3D glasses to see things jumping out at me. And now that I’m thinking about it, I’m tempted to buy a pair and see what happens when I read with them on.

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The Elephant in the Library

For the first time in a long while, I read a book my mother recommended. It’s not that she has poor taste in novels; when I was a teenager, she and I would often read the same books right after each other and have long talks about them afterwards and during. She reads twice as fast as I do, so we had to make a deal that we would take turns reading new books in a series. I remember doing this for both Left Behind and Harry Potter.

I’ve said a couple of times here that my mom is a librarian now. She has an entire network of material to enjoy with hardly any limitation. I haven’t told her about my marathon reading goals. She’d probably think it was sweet how I find 84 books in a year a challenge. She is so much more prolific and reads a much more diverse selection; whereas, I have been on a science fiction streak for 15 books.

This morning, at three a.m., I finished number 16: a mystery. At least, that’s what the little library sticker says on the spine. I would consider it a sub-genre: paranormal mystery perhaps. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s comedy and tragedy. It builds up dread for the murder reveal, and then reveals everything about life, death, and afterlife. There are also elephants.

For anyone who hasn’t read Leaving Time, I highly recommend it. Although I haven’t been a fan of Jodi Picoult since Nineteen Minutes, I may need to start considering some of her more recent work.

I understand why my mom wanted me to read this book. It’s about the relationships between mother and child. It’s about grief and longing. And some of the most painful and amazing parts are shown through the emotions and interactions of elephants. That’s a fairly clever way to tell a story, and I found myself either laughing out loud or in tears through much of it.

Building A Life or Two

Although I haven’t been posting, I’ve been writing quite a bit. A few days ago, I began a piece about movies adapted from or based on books, inspired by my excitement of watching the final installation of The Hobbit. My son and I went to see it yesterday, and we’re reading the book together as well. I hope every parent experiences the joy of having a literary conversation with an eight year old. It is both simplistic and mind-blowing, pure yet passionate. He and I both cried during “The Battle of Five Armies;” I imagine we’ll both be heartbroken for the same characters before finishing the book.

The piece I wrote was meant to be short, but it grew into several pages and included numerous examples. I’ve decided to turn it into a regular series in this blog. The subject is rich and a joy to explore.

I’ve used the word “joy” twice now just in the first two paragraphs. Some might twist that into saying I’ve finally found a bit of Christmas spirit. My response to that is still “bah humbug!” I am enjoying the holidays, but not because of the holidays themselves.

My son had a magical Christmas morning — the presents appeared at the foot of his bed just like it the Harry Potter series! — and we spent several hours putting together what we named a LEGO Clash of Worlds. At one point, there was a Godzilla-sized MineCraft creeper terrorizing the dwarves of Middle Earth who were up in a burning tree while watching Han Solo team up with Master Chief to try to rescue the baby creeper from Nindroid Kai.

It was pretty intense for a Thursday.

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This week hasn’t been all fantasy and science fiction (actually it has been for books and movies). Reality has creeped in as well. I’ve been making decisions — one might even say resolutions — about my life and my son’s: past, presents, and potential futures.

First of all, I’ve decided to stop hoarding my issues. They seem to keep piling up and overwhelming me. I have about ten examples off the top of my head, but they’re all personal, so let’s move on…

Presents: the spelling was intentional. In the spirit of The Giver, I’ve decided to get my son a bike (sans training wheels) for his ninth birthday this spring. If I can afford it, I might get myself one at the same time so we can go riding together. I can no longer run, due to a health problem, but pedaling would be all right.

As to the future, there are a lot of uncertainties, which is why it is so important that I stop allowing things to clutter. I’ve already gotten rid of the annoying and mostly useless presence of men (including that one from a few weeks ago), I’m allowing myself more time to enjoy myself and relax (by myself like I prefer), and I’m considering a change, professionally (more on that another time).

These really do sound like resolutions. I’m not a fan of those, but I’ll accept the label. I don’t consider the cross from December to January a new year. My beginnings and endings are not dependent on the calendar — they are fluid, constantly changing, with many smaller beginnings and more significant endings. If I have to assign a defining number to each year, then it cannot be the same one everyone else uses; it must be meaningful to me.

My year will be marked by my son’s birthday — my accomplishments measured by his continual growth.

Building A Life or Two

Although I haven’t been posting, I’ve been writing quite a bit. A few days ago, I began a piece about movies adapted from or based on books, inspired by my excitement of watching the final installation of The Hobbit. My son and I went to see it yesterday, and we’re reading the book together as well. I hope every parent experiences the joy of having a literary conversation with an eight year old. It is both simplistic and mind-blowing, pure yet passionate. He and I both cried during “The Battle of Five Armies;” I imagine we’ll both be heartbroken for the same characters before finishing the book.

The piece I wrote was meant to be short, but it grew into several pages and included numerous examples. I’ve decided to turn it into a regular series in this blog. The subject is rich and a joy to explore.

I’ve used the word “joy” twice now just in the first two paragraphs. Some might twist that into saying I’ve finally found a bit of Christmas spirit. My response to that is still “bah humbug!” I am enjoying the holidays, but not because of the holidays themselves.

My son had a magical Christmas morning — the presents appeared at the foot of his bed just like it the Harry Potter series! — and we spent several hours putting together what we named a LEGO Clash of Worlds. At one point, there was a Godzilla-sized MineCraft creeper terrorizing the dwarves of Middle Earth who were up in a burning tree while watching Han Solo team up with Master Chief to try to rescue the baby creeper from Nindroid Kai.

It was pretty intense for a Thursday.

image

This week hasn’t been all fantasy and science fiction (actually it has been for books and movies). Reality has creeped in as well. I’ve been making decisions — one might even say resolutions — about my life and my son’s: past, presents, and potential futures.

First of all, I’ve decided to stop hoarding my issues. They seem to keep piling up and overwhelming me. I have about ten examples off the top of my head, but they’re all personal, so let’s move on…

Presents: the spelling was intentional. In the spirit of The Giver, I’ve decided to get my son a bike (sans training wheels) for his ninth birthday this spring. If I can afford it, I might get myself one at the same time so we can go riding together. I can no longer run, due to a health problem, but pedaling would be all right.

As to the future, there are a lot of uncertainties, which is why it is so important that I stop allowing things to clutter. I’ve already gotten rid of the annoying and mostly useless presence of men (including that one from a few weeks ago), I’m allowing myself more time to enjoy myself and relax (by myself like I prefer), and I’m considering a change, professionally (more on that another time).

These really do sound like resolutions. I’m not a fan of those, but I’ll accept the label. I don’t consider the cross from December to January a new year. My beginnings and endings are not dependent on the calendar — they are fluid, constantly changing, with many smaller beginnings and more significant endings. If I have to assign a defining number to each year, then it cannot be the same one everyone else uses; it must be meaningful to me.

My year will be marked by my son’s birthday — my accomplishments measured by his continual growth.

The Wisdom of Frank Herbert

I read to find myself — to understand my deepest emotions — and to establish direction within my own chaos.

In the multiverse, there are infinite choices and outcomes of those choices. The me in this reality is unlike any other me. I wonder if I could love myself in one of those other worlds or if any me is even worthy of being loved.

“If certainty is knowing absolutely an absolute future, then that’s only death disguised.” – The Preacher

The Preacher in Children of Dune is one of the only likeable zealots I’ve encountered (in fiction or life), perhaps because he appears to be destabilizing the most powerful religion in the history of the universe. At the halfway point in the book, I can’t know his end game. He could just be employing a Bene Gesserit trick — “a feint within a feint within a feint” — yet even if I learn that his true motive was to strengthen the Maud’dib faith, I’ll still admire him for his methods; in order to reestablish truth, truth must first be destroyed.

Frank Herbert wrote an incredible series. I say that because I’m reading it now, at the time in my life when I needed to experience it. I am not shaped by what I read; what I read evolves through me.

The Preacher of Dune has two purposes: to either mold a pliant mind or reaffirm one’s own principles. Here are some of his words that mirror my way of thinking:

“…I realize that humans cannot bear very much reality […] Most lives are a flight from selfhood. Most prefer the truths of the stable. You stick your heads into the stanchions and munch contentedly until you die. Others use you for their purposes. Not once do you live outside the stable to lift your head and be your own creature…”

“Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk? Is your religion real when you fatten upon it? Is your religion real when you commit atrocities in its name?”

“Irony often masks the inability to think beyond one’s own assumptions.”

‘Tis the Season

Belief is a touchy subject. It is difficult for me to accept something exists without absolute proof — to have faith — and yet, the majority of what I do believe cannot be proven. It is internal. If I feel something is true, then I hold it as true with or without tangible evidence. But I cannot join in the blind faith so many of my friends and family possess.

I transferred to a private Christian academy for my final three years of high school, not because I believed in God, but because my dad did. When he was diagnosed, I started receiving Social Security benefits. When he died, the amount increased to over $800 a month. I didn’t want that money. It was insulting to think that it was adequate compensation for his loss, but it was his, so I decided to use it for something that would make him happy. And it did turn out to be a blessing.

Christmas is all about belief. The Pagan Yule, Jesus’s birth, Santa, Commercialism, family: there is something for almost everyone. Until my son started preschool, he knew where the presents came from: Mommy, Grandma, aunts and uncles. Then he sees that other kids believe in a jolly old elf-master, and he starts playing along.

At four, Hugo convinced himself that Santa was real in order to be like other kids — at four, it was already obvious to him that he wasn’t like them at all — and, at eight, he continues the myth. It’s familiar in a world that has changed too much. His logical mind allows him to prove, rather than disprove, Santa because of his need for stability. Rather than question why Santa looks so different in every store, Hugo reasons that these people are Santa’s representatives from the North Pole. They are agents sent out to find out what small children want for Christmas, and they only way to obtain that information is by looking like Santa. Little kids are very shy and stranger-conscious after all.

I don’t like Santa Claus. He steals too many of my mom points. I tolerate his presence because I understand. There really has been too much change for one boy to handle: he’s lost his grandfather and his brother, and he’s moved across country leaving almost his entire family behind. He’s rarely given much explanation — he feels as if his opinion doesn’t matter and that he doesn’t have a choice in regards to his own life.

If I were him, I’d be angry too.

I began with the concept of belief — how difficult it is for me. It seems so easy for my son; he seems to believe in everything: God, Santa, homicidal robots, etc. I don’t understand how he believes, but I do understand some of the why.

I’ve never bothered to give him real answers. I assumed that he didn’t need to believe in anything because I don’t need to. He’s eight years old — of course he does!

And that barely touches on how much I have failed him…

Phoenix

In September, I sent away for some medical records. Did you know you can order autopsy results over the phone? All you need is a direct claim on the person who died, a mailbox, and some courage. The information is free.

The records arrived in October, but I didn’t open the envelope right away. It was so small (regular business size) with my name and address handwritten. I expected something bigger (perhaps a brown 9×12) and more official looking. The answers couldn’t be in something that thin; there were only a few pages inside — I could feel them.

It was the next morning, about fifteen minutes before work. I parked farther away than usual and nowhere near anyone I knew. I opened the envelope, took a deep breath, and read my name.

This is not a ghost story — not a fiction told in first person. My name is on the autopsy because I am his mother; he died inside of me just a few days before he was supposed to be born. He had a name, but only I remember it. It means resurrection — rebirth. The month before he was due, I chose to name my baby to honor my dead father.

You could almost say I wanted him to die, giving him such a loaded name like that.

I don’t talk about him anymore — no one cares to hear, Hugo cries for his baby brother, and I can’t bear to say his name out loud — so I just think of him as Phoenix. The meaning is the same, but I don’t break down when I say or hear it.

A couple of years ago, I saw a little boy who would have been born about the same time. His mother called his name — my baby’s name — and I felt myself die all over again. I was back in that hospital room holding him, unable to let go. The feel of his cold body in my arms is burned into my memory. His ashes are sealed in an urn no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. And his true name is etched on my skin: his only memorial is an unfinished tattoo.

The pages I read in October — the ones that used my name instead of his — the ones that called him “infant” and “fetus” — those pages changed nothing. They dissected him and found no reason. He’s gone, still with no apparent cause. The only thing I know for certain is he was dead for several days, and I didn’t notice. I didn’t save him.

My name belongs on that autopsy.