Falling in Love

A couple times in my life I’ve avoided falling in love. The first time I was aware of doing it was in 1985, which was a watershed kind of year for me: I had a breast cancer scare (that turned out to be benign); My father went into a steep decline and died; A six-year long relationship finally crashed and burned; I met the Mathematician; I started field work for my doctoral dissertation; and I saw a movie that I tried not to see.

The Eric Garden was a tiny theater on Nassau Street in Princeton, just across from the university. I didn’t often have money or time for the movies, but then one day I saw a new movie poster to the left of the ticket booth.  Recall that this was long before you could google a movie trailer to see what it was about, so the poster was all I had, but on that basis it was clear to me that this was a movie I would adore.

Look at it, this object of my reluctant admiration. I still get a flush when I see it, all these years later.

The odd part: I simply could not make myself buy a ticket and go inside. I waited until the last day of its run, and then, sure enough, I was very put out with myself for waiting.  I would have happily bought another twenty tickets and seen it twenty more times. Assuming of course my graduate school budget had stretched so far. Because I waited, it was a couple years before I could see it again, but I thought about it, a lot. 

So now this phenomenon has repeated itself, but this time with a novel. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came out in 2009 so it has been about eight years that I’ve successfully avoided reading it. I somehow knew that I would love it, and so I stayed away from it. 

I’m here to confess that again, I was wrong to wait. I just finished it, at 2 a.m., and I’m kicking myself because now I know that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those novels that I will re-read every year. I’ll start feeling lonely for it first. Then the story will keep intruding into whatever I’m thinking about until I  give in, sit down and read it again. There are maybe six novels and just as many movies that have this ability to kidnap my attention.  

As I just finished reading this novel, I need to think about it for a while before I’ll be able to put into words why I like it as much as I do. Of course that will mean reading it again. Once or twice, at least.

Mathematician Update and Statutes of Limitation

This entry is part 12 of 17 in the series Memoir
This post is 2 years old.

toasterThe Mathematician now has three honkin big screws pinning femur to pelvis on the left side. He spends one more night in the hospital and will be home tomorrow, once he’s completely comfortable with crutches and the negotiation of stairs. His spirits are alarmingly good. Opiates will do that, I guess.

Here is one of the best Mathematician stories, ever. I am telling it now because (1) the statute of limitations expired long ago and (2) it provides some perspective on a guy who would walk ten miles on a broken hip. 

The Mathematician and I shared a suite of rooms in the Princeton graduate college dorms one summer.  We  were getting ready to move to a place off campus, and all our stuff was in boxes, piled up to the ceiling.  

On the morning in question I took off to work on my dissertation in the computer lab on the third floor in the East Pyne Building.[1. Note: this is long before anybody had a computer of their own, and the computers were the kind you hooked up to a mainframe by way of a telephone handset you forced into rubber cups on a big modem. And you could input only one line of text at a time. It makes me laugh to think about it. Shortly thereafter the computer were upgraded and we got software. I wrote my doctoral dissertation with WordPerfect 1.2.] So there I am, typing away on a tiny screen, amber letters onto a black background, when the Mathematician comes flying into the room, out of breath. Fortunately there was nobody else in the room at the time, because he flings himself down next to me and says I don’t want you to be mad at me.

Interesting start to the conversation. 

This is what happened, he tells me. Somebody knocked on the dorm room door. Nothing good ever comes of answering a knock at the door, because the fire inspectors stood there looking serious. Now, he believed there was nothing to worry about — we had no coffee makers or toasters or anything that produced heat — so he let them in. 

These two inspector types have a quick look around the two rooms and a bath, and they’re about to leave when one them scans the tower of packed boxes. He points to one of them near the top and asks the question. Is that a toaster oven box?

Um, yes, says the Mathematician. But it’s never been open. You can see the seal is still intact. It’s just in transit and will be out of here tomorrow.

Never mind that, sez the inspector. You’re in violation. We’re taking it with us.  You’ll get a notice about a hearing and a fine.

Here’s the thing: the Mathematician has both a keen sense of justice, and a temper. They left, and he jumped onto his bike and took off in pursuit of the inspectors in their van. He followed them all over campus until they got to the security building, parked, and went in.  

Now he leaps to take advantage of the opportunity, opens the van, digs through piles of tea kettles and hot plates, grabs the toaster oven box — and this is not a small box — tucks it under one arm, and pedals away at high speed. 

Fast forward to me listening to this in the computer lab. 

Me: Um, you stole the toaster oven out of the van.

Him: No. I liberated your property from men who had seized it under false pretenses. 

Me:  And what did you do with it?

Him: It’s in a safe place.

Me: 

Him: It’s in my office in the math department.

Me:

Him: Nobody saw me taking it into the building.

Me:

Him: I’m pretty sure.

Me: They could deport you.

Him:

Fast forward to the day the notice arrives inviting me to visit the security office to be interviewed about my sins.  I sit down across from the director of security trying to look calm.

Security Guy: This is a fairly unusual situation. Inspectors seized a toaster oven from your rooms at the graduate college a few days ago, but it disappeared from the van that same morning. 

Me: Oh?

Security Guy: Yes. The inspectors mentioned that there was a young man in your rooms when they took the toaster oven.

Me: Oh?

SG: A tall guy, brown hair, brown eyes. They believed he may have followed them here and stolen the toaster oven out of the van. 

Me:

SG: Who was that person?

Me: I’m not sure I know.

SG: He had an English accent. 

Me: 

SG: You don’t know who was in your rooms  when the inspectors came by?

Me: It wasn’t me, I know that much.

SG:  You don’t have a name for me.

Me: I do not. 

SG:

SG:

SG: Okay. Well, we will reimburse you for the cost of the toaster oven, of course. How much did it cost?

Me: Do I still have to pay the $50 fine?

SG: Of course.

Me: The toaster oven was $50.

SG: Then I think we’re finished here.

———

See? Persistant. Unflinching. Anxiety-inducing.

as far as it goes

This post is 9 years old.

I was looking for something else deep in the guts of my hard drive, and I ran across this. I wrote it almost eight years ago, but it still feels right to me. So I’m posting it. To prove I’m still here, and writing.

——————————–

St. Benedict High School
Class of 2000 Commencement
Chicago, Illinois
May 26, 2000
Rosina Lippi

all rights reserved

Twenty-six years ago I sat where you are sitting right now. Somebody else — and I have absolutely no memory of that person — stood at this podium and gave the class of 1974 advice about how to go out into the world. I’m sure it was a very good speech, just as I’m very sure that you’re going to follow in my footsteps. Twenty six years from now you’ll have no idea who I was, or what I said. So I can be honest. I can give you the very best advice I have to offer, knowing that if you take it and it goes wrong, you won’t be knocking on my door in 2026 to tell me so. So here we go. Continue reading “as far as it goes”

mathematical gymnastics and book hooky

Things here at Casa Crisis have begun to settle down a little. Some good progress is being made in those areas which were most worrisome. Long way to go, but we have a solid and promising start.So the Mathematician went skiing. Right now he’s at Whistler in British Columbia, where he goes every year for a long weekend with a group of friends.

This post is 10 years old.

Things here at Casa Crisis have begun to settle down a little. Some good progress is being made in those areas which were most worrisome. Long way to go, but we have a solid and promising start.

So the Mathematician went skiing. Right now he’s at Whistler in British Columbia, where he goes every year for a long weekend with a group of friends. In the evenings they play poker and eat and drink a lot of beer, and in the day they ski. He hesitated about going; I tried not to push him out the door too roughly.

I like having the house to myself now and then. Okay, I like it a lot. What would a writer be without a lot of conflicts in her nature? Love the family, glad to be alone.

However. I am just alone enough to feel overwhelmed by the long list of things waiting to be done. A backlog of things, most of them not especially fun. Like: getting the tax stuff ready to send to the accountant. Not only our personal tax stuff, but the Saralaughs corporate tax stuff. This always makes me nervous. You know if you look in your rearview mirror and there’s a cop following you, you get a flush of adrenaline? Thinking: shit. Thinking: what did I do? Did I cut that light too short? Are my tags out of date? Where’s my insurance card? What’s the speed limit here? Are my brake lights working? Did I pay that parking ticket? I can work myself into a sweat in a situation like this, and then the cop pulls out and passes me and I collapse into a twitching lump of adrenaline-saturated self mockery. That’s how I feel about doing the corporate taxes. I am very scrupulous about making sure that business expenses are really business expenses, that I can justify and document everything, that I’m well within the letter and the spirit of the law. Every year I say the same thing to the accountant: no numerical gymnastics, no loopholes. I want to pay what I owe.

All of this so that if dear old Saralaughs ever does get audited, I don’t faint dead away. So I can walk, angst-riddled, into the audit knowing that I am in the clear with at least a chance of not having a full blown panic attack.

What can I say? I was brought up Catholic.

Have I ever mentioned that the Mathematician collects graduate degrees? He’s got an undergraduate degree and a Master’s from Trinity Cambridge, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate from Princeton, and then for fun he went and got an MBA at the University of Michigan while I was on the faculty there.

He’s the Mathematician with an MBA, and I’m doing the taxes. And you know why? Because we’ll end up divorced if he does them. A typical exchange would go like this:

Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for server space?
Me: We’re not paying anything. Sara is paying. Saralaughs is paying.
Him: With our money.
Me: With her money.
Him: Debatable.
Me: You promised not to use that word.
Him: I have told you before, I could set up a server of our own, right here from the house–
Me: Can we move to the next item?
Him: It’s ridiculous what they charge.
Me: Granted. Can we move on to the next item?
Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for software updates?

You see that it’s easier, in the long run, to do it myself.

So the taxes need to be sorted out, and various animals need to go to the vet, and I have to call the attorney about something really irritating but necessary, and there are three boxes of things I need to pack and take to the post office, letters to write, email to answer, the forum to check, and I have a doctor’s appointment and oh by the way, this book that is stuck in my craw. More than one book.

I have such an urge to play book hooky. Not work on the book I have to work on, but on the book that appeals to me most at the moment. The one I don’t have a contract for. The fun one.

So that is where I am at this moment. You know what? I’ve been up two and a half hours, and I feel the need to take a nap.

books out of mind

One of the bonuses of cataloging all our books is running into stories I haven’t thought about in a while. Today I came around a corner and there was Rebecca…. How can I have gone so long without re-reading this novel? It feels like going to a class reunion and running into somebody who was once a wonderful friend, somebody you haven’t seen or really thought about for years.

This post is 11 years old.

One of the bonuses of cataloging all our books is running into stories I haven’t thought about in a while. Today I came around a corner and there was Rebecca. Du Maurier’s Rebecca, of Manderley.

Now, there’s a well done first person narrative.

Question: How can I have gone so long without re-reading this novel? It feels like going to a class reunion and running into somebody who was once a wonderful friend, somebody you haven’t seen or really thought about for years. How sad, that long absence. How nice to see her again.

Of course with this lovely bonus comes a downside, and that is the height of my to be (re) read pile. Which reminds me of a panic dream I had when I was studying for my doctoral exams. A recurring panic/anxiety/holyshitexams dream.

In the basement of the main library at Princeton there are study carrels. Something like a walk-in closet, with a sliding door. Glass window in the door and next to it. Just enough room for a long desk-like slab, two chairs side by side (sometimes people actually had to share these closet-carrel thingies). Four long shelves for books, right to the ceiling.

Dead quiet in the bowels of Firestone Library. Florescent light that made everything seem slightly Brazil-like (I’m thinking of the movie, either you know it or you don’t). Studying sixteen plus hours at a go, you could forget what time of day it was, if it was day at all. People stumbled around at three in the morning, mostly so other people would see how studious and unkempt they were.

In this dream I was sitting in my carrel studying. Every surface covered with books. The door open, for fresh air (or what passed for fresh air down there). Suddenly I look up and realize that the sliding door has slid shut. And, what a lovely touch: there are now bars on the windows, and a slot in the door.

Footsteps coming down the hall, and the sound of a cart being pushed. Dinner, I think. The slot is pushed open, and books start coming in. Fast. So fast I can’t grab them, and they start to cascade across the floor. I’m up to my knees in books. I scream: STOP. I CAN’T KEEP UP.

The cascade stops.

From the other side of the door comes a woman’s voice. Calm, authoritarian, inflexible:
READ FASTER.

Now of course I don’t have to read faster, even though my pile of books is growing by leaps and bounds. Because nobody is going to sit me down in a chair and ask me to talk about the editorial history of Grimms Deutsches Woerterbuch or how to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European consonants or to outline the underpinnings of a theory of universal grammar. If I feel like it, I might tell you about Rebecca after I’ve re-read it. Maybe. If I feel like it. And you promise not to quiz me.

Back to work. And I just remembered an even better anxiety/panic dream. Tomorrow, maybe.

enough already

This post is 13 years old.

I’ve decided to give up reading the dozen or so blogs that (1) pride themselves on their literary acumen and taste; and (2) take it upon themselves to move beyond flogging others who do not live up to their standards to trying to get them booted off the web. This includes Mark’s The Elegant Variation (he’s the one that pushed me past the point of no return with his Dump the Book Babes petition; more below), Sam at Golden Rule Jones, Daniel of The Reading Experience, and a host of others. I’m so pissed that I’m not even going to include links to their blogs, so if you want to read their side of this, you’ll have to go find them.

here’s the thing. There’s a column at Poynter Online (news for the journalism community) called Book Babes, written by two women. It’s supposed to be, as I understand it, about the publishing industry, for its insiders. But TEV decided that they weren’t doing a good enough job as so he started a petition to have the column handed over to somebody else. Who? He doesn’t say, but he wants somebody more literary. More in tune with his view of literary, at any rate.

Let me be clear: I don’t particularly like the Book Babes column, and I don’t think they helped matters with the column in which they responded to the petition (nor did Mark with his response to that column). In this back and forth, a lot of very complex issues got jumbled together, things to do with gatekeeping (and that is the issue here, no matter what the LitCrit Police would like to claim); elitism (which I admit, pushes all my buttons; and yes, I have a Princeton PhD — that’s precisely where I learned to hate the pompous academic oriented literature types); censorship; reading as a cultural experience; definitions of good and bad in storytelling; and the nature of the publishing industry.

I never have read the Book Babes and I won’t be starting. It’s not my claim that they deserve a huge readership, just that they don’t deserve to be dumped on by the self-annointed LitCrit Police, who I won’t be reading anymore. However, if and when one of them has a novel come out, I’ll read that. And you’ll hear about it here.

Postscript: someone who wishes to remain nameless sent to a link to this article (“It’s a Little Too Cozy in the Blogosphere”) by Jennifer Howard (dated November 16 2003 at washingtonpost.com). Note this memorable paragraph:

What began as the ultimate outsider activity — a way to break the newspaper and TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information — is turning into the same insider’s game played by the old establishment media the bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They’ve fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they’re creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn’t been broken by the Internet’s democratic tendencies; it’s just found new enabling technology.

Jennifer Howard has a website; there is also a discussion of her Washington Post article on blogging,
here
. And yes, I picked up on this late, but then I don’t usually read the Washington Post.