— From the Fool —

My sister is reading books. She’d like to change jobs. Still staying in the service industry, as she calls it, but not so much processing hard-up guys in truckstops, where there’s not much future, as maybe serving lattes at Starbucks. How much future in that she doesn’t know, but she figures if guys will pay that much for coffee, maybe she’ll land a rich one. And she’s always got a trade to fall back on. Our dad always said, “Learn a trade,” and she did.

So now she’s reading books because she thinks they won’t hire baristas who don’t look smart, even if all they do is dribble water through coffee grounds. They want you to look classy, more or less. So my sister was an English major but she mostly just read the Cliff’s Notes version of the books and then used long words on the final exam and did okay. But now she thinks she better read the books.

The one she’s on now was written by someone named Milton. She chose it because she once had a boyfriend named Milt who treated her halfway decent. She told me the basic plot, which is about gods or angels or people back in the old days, and Satan tries to upend God, but of course God wins even though it takes him 500 pages to do it. I would have thought he could just go Shazam. Anyway, she’s plowing through it. She kinda likes Satan, reminds her of a plumber she knew named Stan. “Funny coincidence,” she said.

I don’t know if she can read herself into a better job. It can’t hurt, although Mom always told her, “Don’t read so much, you’ll hurt your eyes,” and Dad would say, “In this world you’re better off staying dumb.” I asked her what’s next on her reading list. She’s got a book about a guy who turns into a cockroach. “Doesn’t surprise me one bit,” she said.

— From EF —

Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict. Wikipedia has style — it just puts the words out there with succinct definitions and lets it go at that. I particularly like “derelict” — no one has any hope of reclaiming it.

I was actually hunting for a different word but haven’t found it yet. When all my mess gets raptured up maybe the perfect term will appear. I do things, make things, finish projects (almost), and leave all sort of strange wrack around the edges. The Oxford Dictionary does a nice number on “wrack”: Any of a number of coarse brown seaweeds that grow on the shoreline, frequently each kind forming a distinct band in relation to high- and low-water marks. Many have air bladders for buoyancy. I like those bladders.

In preparation for the tour, I spent hours and hours in the kitchen, peeling and dicing and mashing and braising and roasting, finally loading the results into small freezer containers and allowing us to eat our way across the continent without getting anything at McD’s except their wifi through the walls.

But oh boy, the “coarse brown seaweed” debris in all the corners, behind the nuke, under the work table— The dishes and pots get washed, the countertops get cleaned (mostly), but there’s always this drift of little crap that didn’t get put away or thrown out. Same thing when doing the taxes. Same when dealing with the aftermath of getting seedlings out of the pots and into the ground. Same when bringing the luggage in and emptying it. Oh God.

The core task is usually a big one, and when it’s done there’s a big heaving sigh of release. Getting rid of the flotsam, jetsam, lagan, derelict, and wrack doesn’t seem like part of the whole package. But it adds up, and I don’t have any air bladders. Time to start digging.

— From CB —

My reading list has always been way beyond eclectic, since the end of my freshman year in high school, when I discovered there was a world beyond Jules Verne and Dink Stover at Yale and plunged into Dostoyevski, Nietzsche, Kafka, and the first two pages of Finnegans Wake — never made it any further. Through my seven years of college, it was heavily focused on drama and in research for my dissertation and for background on plays I staged. When I left the academic career, I courted serendipity: the chance picking-up of a book might result in a play, and did: Marie Antoinette, The Shadow Saver, Drake’s Drum. Reading was constant but always secondary to the rehearsals, the travels, and the business of making theatre.

In recent years, there’s been a renewal of the old adolescent plunge. Between the stack of books on the side table, e-books on the iPad, and audiobooks on the iPod, I’ve been reading — slowly, as always — at a nearly frantic rate. Simply having more time is a factor, and the same old motive of research, but probably the major urge is a kind of panic that comes with age.

A panic that’s controlled and beneficial, I think. I may hang on till the age of 101, or I might suddenly whiff out next year, so I need to absorb it all while the light’s still good. At 15, I’d walk into the Council Bluffs Public Library and be awestruck by the task ahead: read all the books. Since then, libraries have always, always stirred in me a sense of grotesque inadequacy, yet it’s a sense I seem to court. I still intend to read all the books.

Right now, at the gym I’m listening to The Idiot, which I haven’t read since high school. On the iPad, Howard’s End, Paradise Lost (bloated but as provocatively insane as anything by William Blake or the Book of Revelation), and When We Dead Awaken, Ibsen’s final play, very strange. On the reading shelf, ready for a glass of wine before dinner, there are two books about Death Valley (preparing for a road trip to follow our characters’ path in a novel we’re writing) and the first volume of Toynbee’s A Study of History, which I’ve heard about forever and never had the urge to attack. Just finished The Tipping Point, Upton Sinclair’s The Moneychangers, and Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. Yes, I do read popular fiction, though not often with great pleasure: favorite authors are LeCarre, Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich.

Each selection, in fact, has a purpose, though “purpose” usually masks a vague slough of rationalization. Eating food, making love, or sleeping are the only pastimes I can readily do for their own sakes. Everything else, even listening to music or looking at paintings, is passed through the filter of What Can I Do with This or What Must I Do Now. That’s just the way I’ve been since I started to discover what’s out there. If I ever catch up with myself, that’s the day I’ll croak.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2015

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