Friday, November 8, 2013


Through most of college I kept a livejournal.  After a great trip last weekend to visit a bunch of college buddies, I decided to wade back through the archives.

I took a lot of quizzes.  And wrote a lot about being excited to get drunk.  I also spent a lot of time writing about how depressed I felt, apparently for no reason.

I am a different person now.  Clearly.  And I know it's because of work that I put in.  I hated being shy.  I hated being awkward.  I hated feeling overly self-conscious around strangers, or even friends.  And sometime during the last two years of college I started to force myself to get over it.  I had long talks with myself about how stupid I was being.

Now when I describe myself as shy, or explain how I used to be unable to speak to strangers, I get "yeah right" looks.

Out of curiosity, I just took re-took the Myer's-Briggs personality test.  I don't know why, but I remember exactly what I used to get: INFP.  Now, I get ENFJ.  It appears that these two personality types are closely related, and I recognize that these things are silly, and aren't truly reflective of the complex mishmash that every person's personality is made up of, but there are definitely kernels of truth.

This one just hit home:  "ENFJs are optimistic idealists, often trusting other people more than they should." 

Ugh.  I'm the eternal optimist.

But I guess what I'm getting at is that I do believe it's possible to will yourself into a revised person.  While nature v. nurture arguments are interesting, they're both external forces.  And it's probably because I'm such a goddamned optimist, but I 100% believe that individuals are capable of transforming themselves through personal willpower.

This post feels like a livejournal post my college self would've posted. 

So here we are - a tribute to that shy, overly self-conscious girl.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Johnny Book-seed

On the ride home from a birthday party I asked our DD, Steve, if I he had read the book sitting in the middle of the trucks' front bench-seat, David Gran's The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.  When he said he had, I asked if I could borrow it.

"Well....okay.  I'm just gonna tell you this because I have to.  I hate loaning books to people and then never getting them back.  And I hate loaning books to people and then they never read the books and they just sit around in a pile in their house.  So if you really want to borrow it, and you're going to read it, and you'll give it back to me, or give it to someone else who really wants to read it, then yes.  You can borrow it."

With mild trepidation, I reached out and took the book.  I'd been wanting to read it ever since we did our Amazon trip in 2008.

"That's cool.  I really want to read it.  I pinky swear I'll read it and give it back."

I don't often care about whether or not books make it back to me.  In fact, I have a habit of depositing books wherever I go.  And I actually would've deposited this book in Beloit, Wisconsin if Steve hadn't given me a warning.

My advisor at Antioch College, the wonderful Robert Fogerty (long-time editor of the Antioch Review) was a collector of Modern Library editions.  He had a bookcase just for them in his home.  Picking up those books with their especially silky paper and their rough cloth bound covers, it made me want to be a collector.  I admired his passion for the physical object.  I used to try and do the same thing, because I thought that it was the right thing for a dedicated reader (and eventually a writer) to do. 

And then I realized I didn't give a shit.

Because it's not the physical object that gives me the pleasure, it's the ephemeral stuff, the weird magic that happens somewhere behind my eyes.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy physical books at all, I do, and haven't yet succeeded in using eReaders, even though they would drastically decrease my luggage weight.  But I don't feel attached to the book once it's through. 

There's something about leaving a book behind, the idea of some random meeting the book might have with the eyes of an as yet, unknown reader, that appeals to me. 

A Johnny Book-seed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writer's Block - Dancing Bears

A year and a half.  That's how long it's been since I've been a writer.  I thought that I was so intrinsically a writer that, even without the act of writing, I would always be one.  Maybe that's the case, maybe it isn't.  But it's been a year and a half since I touched my novel.

That changed today.

And despite the fact that I haven't touched the thing for so long, it's still been with me this whole time.  Still rattling around in my head.  Still picking up flavors from randomly accumulated impressions.

Weirdly, I still believe in it - still believe that I have a good book in me and have the chutzpah to put a good book down on the page.

What finally got me going was this video:

The bear running across the field, directly at the camera, an image out of every hiker's nightmare.  And then the surprise of the wild beast transforming into a pet.  The weird physical intimacy of the trainer and the bear.  The way the german shepherd and the bear share the same coloring, emphasizing the similarities in their snout shapes.  The indignity of the bear jumping and clapping.  The endearing way the bear sits and holds the trumpet followed by the awkward march.  The way the bear paws seem both like hands and so unlike hands.  The child's chair.  The hula hooping.

When I was living in Moscow I went to a large craft market outside the city.  As you entered the market there was an area where street performers set up.  One of the regular performers was a dancing bear and his trainer.  The market was huge and floods of people would stream past.  The bear was popular and there was always a large circle around her.  Seeing a bear in the midst of vast numbers of people was disconcerting, watching a bear dance for the reward of squash was even more jarring.

But at the same time there was something magical about it.  Like the world was full of frightening things that could become friendly.  Like anything was possible.

Here we go again.