Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom

I love reading. In fact, reading is one of the distractions that gets in the way of my writing. When I have a free moment, I’m often torn between the need to write – creating the raw product, and my love of reading – consuming the finished product. As a little girl, I loved trips to the library. I loved poring through the stacks of books, always looking for that perfect treasure. As an adult, I have come to love bookstores as well. I love the abundance of books and, just as with a Starbucks coffee shop (see Pure Luxury), I love that most bookstores have places for people to sit and relax with their books. I love that other people in a bookstore are also readers; even if we don’t speak, there’s a shared camaraderie. But most of all, I love the possibilities – every aisle, every topic invites me to learn, to try, to discover.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited the granddaddy of bookstores – Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland. I’m not normally a fan of Powell’s because it overwhelms me; it is literary sensory overload. However, we were in the neighborhood and there were books we needed, so in we went. We were looking for a couple of children’s books, so we checked out the directory and headed for the Rose Room. We quickly found the first book and began looking for the second – a book I’d heard about but I’d forgotten the title. We looked in the sections that we thought made sense, but we didn’t find what we were looking for. I’m not a fan of asking for help, so I sent my husband in search of a bookseller and I began to wander the stacks. I came out in a children’s reading area full of parents reading to their small children. Around the area, books were displayed upright on shelves. I scanned the titles, recognizing many from my years of reading to my own small children (who are no longer small) and then, there it was, my favorite book to read to my children – Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom. I was already feeling nostalgic after seeing the parents and children snuggled up together reading, but seeing this book on display, just about put me over the edge. I immediately retreated to find my husband, while trying to keep the welled-up tears from spilling down my cheeks. My husband was busy talking with two booksellers, trying to locate the second book, the one without a title. He wasn’t having any luck and had me go over with them the information I knew about the book. They were coming up blank, when one of the booksellers walked away and came back with a book – the book we were looking for! She said she had an idea of where to look and had gone to browse through that section only to get there and see the book sticking out from the others – the magic of a bookstore! That magic was all it took for the tears to spill over. I’m a sucker for nostalgia; add magic to it and I’m gone!

We headed toward the cashiers’ area, me with tears running down my cheeks and my husband looking at me with a look that questioned whether he’d married a treasure or a dork, when I realized that I was succumbing to the other magic of a bookstore – the magic of possibilities. I’d pointed out a vegetarian cookbook I’d like to have and then there was the quilting section – maybe I could learn to quilt. Or gardening – wouldn’t it be great to have our own garden? There’s a book for every topic and they all dance around my head inviting me to look inside, to consider the possibilities. I love the idea of having possibilities, of knowing that there’s more to learn about and discover, but I also know that I have to be somewhat realistic about what I have time for and what innate abilities I bring to the table (or the book), so as happens so often when I visit a bookstore, I had to force myself to head toward the cashier. I had to put on mental blinders so that I could get through the remaining stacks without stopping to browse and consider.

Once outside, I breathed a sigh of relief and contentment – relief that we’d made it out with only a half dozen books, when we went in to get just two and contentment because I’d experienced nostalgia, the excitement of discovery and magic, all by walking through a bookstore. I think I’ll go home and look through our bookshelves. When I find what I’m looking for, I’ll curl up in one of my old lady chairs and I’ll read Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom just for me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sing Loud, Sing Proud

I was raised to feel pride in our country. My parents came from a generation that applauded patriotism and, as a young man, my dad had a taste of another country that did not have the privileges, justices and rights that ours has. I learned early to put my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve known the words to the Star Spangled Banner for as long as I can remember. As a child, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. I still enjoy being in a classroom first thing in the morning in order to have the opportunity to put my hand over my heart and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” There was a time, too, when it was common to sing the Star Spangled Banner; now, usually, we just listen to it. We listen to a recording star or wanna-be recording star or just some local talent sing the National Anthem while we listen and then hoot-n-holler at the appropriate place towards the end of the song. I like to go to sporting events so, over the years, I’ve heard the National Anthem sung in a variety of ways and I guess I’m a purist because I really don’t like all the fancy variations so many singers seem to think necessary. One of my favorite versions was sung by an opera star in town for a performance. His rendition was pure talent, not hoopla, and he sang as if he meant the words. When he finished, there seemed to be a moment of silence as we all took in what we had just heard. However, throughout the years, my all-time favorite version of the National Anthem is that heard at each home game of University of Oregon football. At Autzen Stadium, we don’t listen to the Star Spangled Banner, we sing it! The band plays the music (and they do it nicely enough that we’re able to sing along) and the crowd is invited to sing the words. The singing at the first game after 9/11 was one of the most moving experiences of that time period – we put our hearts together and truly sang loud and proud. While the level of participation varies from week-to-week, there are still many of us who obviously relish the opportunity to actually sing our National Anthem rather than just listen to it. Pete Seeger said, “When you sing, you feel a kind of strength; you think, I’m not alone, there’s a whole batch of us who feel this way.”

I don’t sing well (as my section neighbors at Autzen would surely tell you), but I sing. I sing with passion, I sing with gratitude and I sing with pleasure. In this time when we’re trying to live more simply, I wish we could get rid of the fancy singers and their often-butchered versions of the Star Spangled Banner. I wish we could move back to simply singing it ourselves; to feeling the strength that comes from singing together. I wish we all had the opportunity, on a regular basis, to remember our patriotism and to stand up and sing loud and proud.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pure Luxury

My husband and I and several other family members ran in last week’s Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. It’s a grueling 4 mile run – actually, the first two miles aren’t grueling, they’re downhill; it’s the last two miles, when you turn around and run back up the hill, that are tough. As is common, the morning of the run was cold and wet. I said to my husband that, if I were Oprah, I’d have personal assistants waiting for me back at the car with hot Starbucks coffee – now that would be luxury! We’re not Oprah, so we had to drive to a Starbucks to get our warm caffeine fix, but that was okay; having coffee delivered to my car isn’t really within the realm of my definition of luxury. However, there are a couple of activities that, to me, reek of luxury and, strangely, coffee is often involved.

I am a bit of a coffee addict and I run through Starbucks on a regular basis. Sometimes run through means drive through, but I also get out of the car and go inside regularly. When I do go inside, I’m always envious of the folks sitting in the lovely overstuffed chairs chatting with a friend, reading a book or working on a laptop. I look at those people and I think, That looks so wonderful! How do they find the time to just sit and relax like that? Well, there have been a few times when I have had the opportunity to sit at a Starbucks, slowly drink my coffee, chat with a friend and enjoy the atmosphere and that really does feel like luxury to me.

Another luxurious activity for me is getting up early, when the house is quiet, to either read or write (with my coffee, of course). Right now, that’s what I’m doing and the feeling is made even more luxurious by the addition of our Christmas decorations and the twinkling lights on our tree. Sitting here in the quiet, with my coffee and my laptop, feels almost decadent.

I’ve realized that my definition of luxury has nothing to do with the monetary cost of the activity, the real luxury is having the time –the time to stop in Starbucks and sit down rather than run in and run out; the time to sit in my family room and enjoy the quiet and beauty of our Christmas tree; the time to simply stop. Right now, I’m creating my luxury by taking the time. I have rearranged my day so that I can luxuriate in this atmosphere in the only time it is available. It will probably mean that I get less done today, but that’s okay; I’ll have a warm memory of a little luxury to start my day.