November 10, 2015

More than a book club...

Once upon a time, a bank teller asked me how I was doing, and I started crying. I didn't mean to. Things were rough. I stood there at his window, and I forced myself to fold everything inward again, like a messy piece of origami. I've never been good with the crisp edges.

A few years ago, I ran into a woman I know only casually. Only barely. We're at a first-name basis, and I'm not even 100% sure how to spell hers. An i? A y? And the same thing happened, but in reverse. I passed her a casual "How are you?" (like you do when you run into acquaintances in bookstores) and she dissolved onto me in full body-shaking sobs.

We put on our clothes, and we go to our jobs, and we pretend we're not animals. We pretend that everything we do has some meaning or purpose. And yes, a lot does have a purpose. We take care of the people we love. We provide for them. We would die for them. But so much of what I've had to deal with lately is meaningless.

And so I work to find the happiness. In Chaucer—whose words are hundreds of years old, but whose stories delight me. I run my fingers under the lines. I savor the phrases. I research the meaning. I pay more attention than I ever did in school. I found an online Old English Translator, which thrilled me spectacularly. So modern and yet so geeky!

I find pleasure in photos by Riendo. I don't know what it is about the way she captures a moment, but what she does works for me. Turns me on. Like pulling a cord on an old-fashioned lightbulb. (I'll bet she'd take a stellar photo even of that. A bare bulb. An empty room.)

A friend asked me yesterday how I was doing, and I said I was fine as I started to cry. I said it didn't matter. Whatever "it" was. I said I didn't care. Whatever care means.

But if we were having traditional book club meetings—like around my 25-year-old dining room table (that I bought with money I made from selling one of my first stories!)—and if I had poured the wine and passed around the crackers, and we'd all rustled our pages and found our places... I would have sat in my chair and cried silent tears. Because that's what yesterday was. And we'd have put aside Chaucer for the moment. And we'd have sat there remembering that we're all human. We have feelings and worries and hopes and fantasies. We have longings and losses and desires and devotions.

Then someone would have made a joke. Someone would have patted me on the hand. We'd have picked up the books again, and found places of importance in words that are almost a thousand years old. And that's what art does. That's what literature is for. That's why we write. That's why we read. (Or I do.)

Yet in our ashen cold is fire yreken.

Which I think means that you rake over the cold ashes to find the sparks to start a new fire.

And I love that. I love that Chaucer did that for me. Can do that for me.

What does Chaucer do for you?



Jim Scovill said...

Really beautiful piece Alison.

Jim Scovill said...

I'm finishing my final sin (aah lechery) this week, a little penitence (to read, a lifetime to atone for), and a short retraction. Then I plan to circle back to a couple tales before my hard-won "fluency" in ME fades.

Jim Scovill said...

I'm wondering if your opening the floor to nominations for the next Bawdy BC selection.

Jim Scovill said...

Her work may be too tame for the BBC but based on name alone I would like to suggest the pre-Victorian novelist and travel writer Fanny Trollope. Her "Domestic Manners of the Americans" (1832 c200pp) was cited by Mark Twain "Mrs. Trollope was so handsomely cursed and reviled by this nation [for]telling the truth."