The Way I Read (Some) Books

Having friends who think deeply is a gift; that I have some with knowledge of not just literature but psychology, sociology and the business surrounding books is an undeserved treasure, for which, (or whom?) I don't express appreciation often enough. I know in my head I should be careful not to exhaust them with my flippancy, but I can't shake Mom's motto she raised us with, either: it's rude to just sit and not take part, (which, strangely, my sister was allowed, but not me,) that we must all participate to the fullest extent to show appreciation of everyone's company.


The other day I inadvertently shared something I've never shared with anyone, ever. We were talking about the benefits of good books, their ability to make us "think", but that thinking manifested in different ways to different people, at different times, with different books. And I blurted out, "I insert myself into the book."
I'm talking about fiction. But not all fiction. And sometimes I don't get to choose. I am an extra: an apprentice fetching a pail of water; one of the many old ladies squeezing fruits while gossiping at the market; a kitchen maid; even a weaver emerging from the dark house, shielding my eyes from the afternoon sun. I am a daughter, a spinster, a widow, but usually an invisible someone who can move around unnoticed within a limited area. And I see, and eavesdrop! Too often I think the central characters are risking great danger and being silly, except, heavens, if they ever listened to me, there will be no story, so it's a good thing I don't have the chance to go anywhere near the center of the story. But the spaces and situations I occupy or encounter by chance are vivid. They are the "other side" of the story.  

I love to read historical fiction and magical-realism, especially for young adult. Sometimes while I'm reading, I see me in the crowd; other times I create a wee backstory, and I slip into the role. Try as I may, it's not up to me to know which books I can get into, and I sure never went anywhere near Harry Potter because the magnitude, and the speed, of Rowling's imagination was more than I could handle. Discworld, on the other hand, I'm so there, all over, everywhere, loitering, being one of the many in the noisy, roudy crowd.

And here's where it gets a little weird. I am in Vincent van Gogh's biographies, too, but only in the post-Paris years. I'm a rank amateur drawer/painter, a working class female of indeterminate age. I have a tiny raggedy notebook I made myself, maybe a feather or reed and some ink, maybe a stick or charcoal I picked up from the fire, and I sometimes like to watch that strange Dutchman paint outdoors. I've never spoken to him, because I'm afraid of him; I can't tell when he's drunk, and he smells bad. Sometimes I look in the same direction as the Dutchman, and try to draw something, in secret, but he never notices me. Sometimes I stand some distance away and watch him, painting flowers and haystacks and stars and Montmajour, so quickly, with so many colors, like he can't stop the pictures sputtering out of his hands.  

Sometimes there are other men watching him; they think they are so cleaver hiding behind a tree, scribbling in notebooks, though some boldly walk back and forth behind the painter. They never notice me, and the Dutchman never pays any attention. I heard someone gossiping these men are called "biographers", and in years to come, they all make up their own stories about the Dutchman and make more money than the painter ever did from his paintings.

Ah, to be alive in this world!

1 comment:

Meg said...

As regards Mom's full participation, she's still at it at 92. We have LINE, much like Zoom, with which the nursing home allows us to speak for 15 minutes per booking. From memory, they started this service at the end of the year, possibly in 2020.

She enthusiastically shows up, sticking to the full-attention participation mode, and tells me there is nothing new at her end, and I tell her there's nothing new at our end, unless I have a new weaving to show. Sometimes she starts speaking in English, but if I reply or ask a question likewise, she can't be bothered. She becomes quite alive when we talk about weaving, but only for a few minutes, until either she gets tired or bored, or because one or both of us can't hear too well on these tiny machines, and we're both shout-repeating things like, "8-shafts", "Summer and Winter", for all the world to hear. Sometimes she doesn't care. Recent sessions hasn't gone the whole 15 minutes.

Some days, though, she tells a very strange, serial story about Dad, (who passed away 10 years ago,) how he doesn't call, or he came to visit but stayed for only a few minutes, or he's looking for a house near her nursing home, near Mr. so-and-so, or he's homeless and roaming the streets of Yokohama. It's all pretty dark stuff.

She doesn't remember if or when any of us three call or visit, even days after my sister went and spring-cleaned her room. At this point, I understand it's for my own satisfaction that I call her, for me to feel I am doing my duty. I don't know if she's happy or not when I call. In the winter, I think she was better off left alone in her warm room rather than being wheeled down to the cold downstairs common area. I'm not sure if it's going to be better this spring.

I appreciate her performance, but I don't know if I should keep booking. I wish she could stop the act, it's painful to watch, though it's so ingrained in her I doubt she knows she's performing. I'm not sure what I want; surely not to see Mom sit quietly and grumpy, so I think I'll continue to book sessions, and she'll continue to play her cheerful self, and maybe the sessions will be shorter and shorter. Or something else.