Even the best of intentions can come back to bite you in the butt if you aren’t careful.
I’ve been trying to spend less time whining and more time changing the things that make me whine. Back in October, I started trying to de-clutter both our tiny house and even tinier budget. I’m about as far from a hoarder as you can get, but in a house as small as ours even the necessities take up too much room. My one hoarder-esque weakness is books, and they’d overrun my bookshelf, several storage boxes and way more than their share of closet space, although I justified that to myself with the fact that unlike most chicks, I only have 5 pairs of shoes. I spent a painful weekend sorting them into “keepers” and “giveaways,” and vowed not to bring any more home.
Because life is boring if you don’t make it a barrel of contradictions, I did this at about the same time I was reminding myself that if I wanted to be a serious writer, I needed to read more. So that same weekend I headed to the library and renewed the membership I had back in middle school.
I adore reading. I work in higher education, and have a campus library not far from my office. I live less than a mile from the branch of the county library where I whiled away many after-school hours and Saturday afternoons as a kid. So the fact that I haven’t had a library card since I was old enough to legally walk into a bar kind of makes me a douche.
Walking back into the library of my childhood as a 40-year-old woman was an experience. Back then, everything seemed so BIG. I used to think I could get lost in the stacks, and had to use a step-stool to reach the books on the top shelves. The options seemed endless, and it took my pre-teen self forever to narrow the choices down to two or three.
Now, I feel big in my little local library. There are fewer stacks than there are in most bookstores. Most of the tables would scrape the top of my knees if I tried to sit at them. In what is really just a few long strides, I can cover the once endless distance between the kiddie section where I once spent my time and the adult section where my mom would be picking out her own entertainment.
But even so, returning to that little library felt like coming home. I get the same feeling when I go to my local middle school to vote every election. The lockers that were once so tall are the same height as me now, but the cafeteria where the voting booths are set up still smells like cardboard pizza. Voting always makes me feel like I should have on my 80’s parachute pants or some legwarmers. I guess the local library gives me the same bittersweet but comfy feeling, because even though a 10 minute drive would get me to a much bigger branch, I’ve stuck with that one.
For the first two months, I was like a kid in a candy store, heading up almost every weekend and exchanging that week’s literary finds for a stack of new books. I delved into new writers and revisited some old friends and became such a bookworm that I actually had to force myself to put down the words of others long enough to make some of my own. Reading to become a better writer is a good thing. But it won’t happen if you never write.
One of the perks of working at my university is a full week off between Christmas and New Year’s. Right before that scheduled break, I dropped by the library and took out a supersized stack of books, practically drooling about those post-Christmas-frenzy days when I’d be off work with nothing to do but bury myself in a million made-up worlds. I brought home my books, put them on my dresser, and busied myself with less exciting things like last-minute shopping and gift-wrapping.
On Christmas morning, I opened a surprise gift. My mother had gotten my sister and I each a Kindle. A few of my co-workers had recently gone Kindle or Nook in their reading habits. I’d heard them singing the praises of their new toys and debating which was better. But I hadn’t given either much thought myself. I have always loved the feel of a book – a crisp new paperback or a sturdier hard cover, the soft turning of pages. So although I thought the whole Kindle/Nook idea was neat, I didn’t really think much about going there myself.
Every now and then, someone knows you better than you know yourself. Especially when that someone happens to be your momma. Once in a while, that thing you didn’t think you needed lands in your lap and it takes you less than a week to wonder what the hell you ever did without it.
That was me and my Kindle. Love at first sight, or at least from the first time I charged it up and started to play.
There are a million reasons it became one of my new best friends. The way the words on the screen are, for whatever reason, so much softer on overworked eyes. The fact that I can have several books, short stories, and whatever else I want on it, and choose a read that suits my mood wherever I may be, without weighing myself down at all. The novelty of something new and different.
I did all the reading I said I would on my holiday break, and beyond. But I never opened a book.
Last Friday, I was rummaging in my dresser for something and my eyes landed on that forgotten stack of library books. They were half-buried in some Steelers garb I’d tossed off and never bothered to put away after a happy-ending (for me, anyway) playoff game. Hey, I never said I was Martha Stewart.
I swear those books looked at me like puppies in an animal shelter. They were overdue, untouched, and half-buried under a Terrible Towel. A part of me felt like I’d just kicked my childhood in the balls. The other part of me was mentally calculating the overdue fines.
Yep, that’s me. I re-enter the world of the library to save money on books, and last a whole three months before I wrack up a fine that would make Jerry Seinfeld proud. At least, unlike Jerry, I didn’t have the Library Man banging down my door and basically telling me I’m an arrogant turd, although that episode played in my mind all the way to the parking lot.
As far as that goes, I actually got lucky. At the very least, I expected a stern library matron who would glare at me through her glasses and crinkle her hawk-nose, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I was the douchiest kind of douche, even though such crass language would never actually escape her lips. Instead, I was greeted by a smiling, chatty, happy woman who clearly loved her job. She told me to think of my hefty fine as a contribution to a good cause, then added with a wry grin that that’s exactly what she tells herself every time she racks up her own.
I left the library with a heart that was even lighter than my wallet. I’m still taking a hiatus from turning pages. Me and my Kindle are in that phase of BFF-dom where there’s really no room for anyone else. But its nice to know that little slice of childhood is still waiting for me.
After all, summer will be back again eventually. And there’s no way a klutz like me is letting her Kindle anywhere near the combination of herself, a margarita, a raft and a swimming pool.