Friday, February 19, 2010

Kindle, you can blame the Scholastic Book Club.

Some of my favorite days in elementary and middle school were the days the Scholastic Book Club order form came out. I would notice the shrink-wrapped stack of newsprint sitting, without fanfare, on the teacher's desk. I didn't know when the form would make its appearance, but I could guarantee that at some point during that day or week, the teacher would open that packet up and start passing out the four-page leaflet to me and my classmates. This was usually a "put this in your folder and show it to your parents" moment, but I could never help but sneak a glance at all of the books the leaflet had to offer, books I would have never heard about had it not been for this little newsletter. And because it had the word "club" on the front, it felt like I was part of a very exclusive, underground gang of young readers, anxious to gobble up any book available.

The form would eventually wind up in my backpack, and I would feel frustration rise up when I got home and opened my backpack to find the form had become crumpled. Still, I would flatten it out on top of a text book and grab a pen, when pens were cool because we weren't allowed to use them in school, and I would carefully read the description of each book, circling the ones I wanted. Now, about seven times out of ten, my mom would sadly inform me that we couldn't afford to get new books this time, but I still wanted to circle the ones I wanted, as though I were starting my own little book list at 10 years old. But there were those three times out of ten that Scholastic Book Club coincided with my dad getting a paycheck full of overtime, or thanks be to God, it came right around tax-refund time when my mom would buy us steak for dinner. And those times are what I remember more, even though I rarely was able to get every book I wanted. It didn't matter - I got to pick which books I wanted more than other books, and I got to fill out the order form and go to school the next day with a check! for something I wanted.

My tweenager mind would often forget that I had submitted the order, so the day when the books came was an even more magical day, a bigger surprise (and a much bigger disappointment if I was unable to order books that round). I would notice the box of books, and I knew that the teacher would not distribute them until the end of class. This made the class drag on forever, and I would be eyeing the clock on the wall with intensity and fervor, noticing when it was seven minutes from the end of class, five minutes from the end, three minutes... come on, we're not going to have time! Finally, the moment would come, and the teacher would pass out the stacks of books. Usually the books came with a sticker or a bookmark, and always came with another order form, just in case your teacher didn't have the next month's order form, you could order on your own! The books were colorful and cool to the touch, and they smelled new. There was little better to me than the smell of a new book, except maybe the smell of more than one new book.

I would say that this is when my tactile response to books began, but it probably started earlier, with the first book I learned to read, "I Am a Bunny." I can't remember the words exactly to the book, but I remember with clarity my copy of the book, a cardboard copy, worn from use and duct-taped together, with the stickiness of the duct tape finding its way all over the book, not just at the binding. And as I think about it now, it seems like it's consistent for me to remember the way a book looks and feels more than what's actually in the book. I can see clearly the cover of "Island of the Blue Dolphin," "Hatchet," and "Sixth Grade Sleepover," but I can't really remember what those books were about.

This tactile element of reading has never left me, and I like to collect books. I like to actually have them in my possession to re-visit them. I'm not a big library customer. The best part about the internet is that I can order books and order them cheaply. I've embraced all sorts of technology that seems to make life easier and less cluttered - I've done away with all of my jewel cases and have my CDs stored neatly in a CD book - I don't even buy real CDs anymore - bills are paid solely online, and personal mail is non-existent unless it's in my email inbox. I embrace all of this.

When Kindle came out, it seemed like something I'd be all over. 1500 books at the touch of your hand?! YES PLEASE! But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if I lost the element of the physical book, would I really remember that I read the book? Would I remember the time in my life the book corresponds with? Yes, my nightstand would be less cluttered, and I would probably read more, but books to me are more than just things that take up space. They are memories. They are photographs that I want displayed so that I can remember how I've grown and how I've changed. I want to be able to pick them up and leaf through them, to feel the wind as the pages fly past my fingers while I look for the excerpt that I underlined or highlighted, or simply remember reading. And I want my kids (when I have them) to hold all of those books when I'm gone, and to read them and experience them in their own way, in their own time, while my fingerprints and pen marks remain throughout the pages. Immortality with books isn't reserved for authors - it can also include the owners and readers of the books, and I simply feel like I would be missing out on something significant by switching to electronic text solely. I might change my mind someday, but for now, I'll deal with the clutter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This didn't fit anywhere in the last post, but...

On the day of my mom's move, she took a carload to the new apartment while we went to get the moving van. After she unloaded all of her stuff, she was standing in the courtyard, looking at the harbor, and a movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. It was a hummingbird. While I was growing up, she always kept these hanging flowers on our porch, and they never failed to attract hummingbirds. She was so tickled that she saw the hummingbird, she made a plan right then and there to get a hummingbird bush to plant in front of her place. When she told me this story, I looked up the symbolism of hummingbirds. This was the first thing I saw, from WikiAnswers:

Hummingbirds, called new world birds cause they are native to North America, Central and South America, are considered to be symbols of peace, love and happiness, moreover, ancient pagans held them sacred for their tireless energy and anxiety.
In Native American culture, a hummingbird symbolizes timless joy and the Nectar of Life. It's a symbol for accomplishing that which seems impossible and will teach you how to find the miracle of joyful living from your own life circumstances.

They are really spectacular birds, and have a lot to teach a person about self discovery and healing.

Epic win.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Midwestern Beach Bum

My grandparents moved to Florida when I was four years old, and I spent many a summer vacationing in Tampa. The primary reason of course was to visit my mother's parents, but I think if they had lived in Maine, we would not have visited as much as we did. My mom has been obsessed with “the beach” for as long as I can remember. Her idea of “going to the beach” is getting up at 7am, packing sandwiches and drinks, and heading to the beach until about 3pm. I’m not sure how the skin-that’s-able-to-tan gene avoided me SO COMPLETELY, but let’s just say that I endured a lot of sunburn and a lot of green aloe vera gel for my mom to feed her beach addiction.

When it came time for us to leave Florida, she would cry the entire day before and for the first half of our first driving day home. I always thought it was because she was leaving her mom, and as an eight-year-old kid, I couldn’t imagine the thought of leaving my mom for a year at a time. As I’ve gotten older, I realize it was more that she was not in love with her life in Ohio. And who can blame her? Have you been to Ohio?

When we weren’t in Florida, we lived in a house that used seashells as decoration. Not only was the bathroom done in a beach theme, but starfish and sand dollars could be found in various parts of the house, as well as cross-stitched beach scenes. My mom was a Midwestern beach bum.

It wasn’t so much my mother’s choice to spend her life in Ohio. When she was 20 years old, she moved to Los Angeles with several of her friends. Her dream was that of almost everyone who moves here that young – she wanted to be a movie star. She spent a rainy six weeks in Culver City, in a small apartment with five other people. From what I’ve heard of this time in her life, she didn’t work or do much other than smoke weed with her pals. What she thought was homesickness turned out to be morning sickness – she found out she had a little Katie kickin’ around in her belly. She didn’t want a bastard of a kid wanted the best for me, so she moved back home to Ohio, married my dad, had me, and began her life of suburban normalcy.

A series of events occurred that led her to move here to Los Angeles a year and a half ago. She moved in with us, and when most people find that out, they exclaim (aghast, incredulously, full of pity), “your mom lives with you?!”, to which I reply, “You don’t understand – my mom is not like other moms.” Translation: “My mom is way cooler than your mom or anyone’s mom you’ve ever met or will ever meet.” My mom is hilarious. She can drink you under the table, beat you at Euchre and pool, but still give you a mom hug – a hug where you know no matter how upset you are, everything will be okay.

It should be noted here that my family does not have money. My mom moved in with us because she left a $8.00 an hour job and a mountain of debt at home. My family has never had a lot of options in anything, but they did a damn good job of never making me or my sisters realize that.

Back to her living with us – the thing is, if we had a bigger place, she could stay with us forever. But we have one thousand square feet, and two bedrooms, with four adults (me, Gina, my sister Jess, and my mom). The idea was always for Mom and Jess to move out eventually. I think Jess got home late one night and my mom realized she couldn’t expect her 23-year-old daughter to follow her rules, and that got the ball rolling on her move. In fact, it happened in about a week’s time – she said she was ready to go, she found a place, and we were moving her in.

My mom has never, ever lived on her own. She’s not even an experienced mover. She grew up in the same house I grew up. She’s never had to find a place of her own. Naturally, I assumed I’d be driving around on Saturdays with her looking for places. So when she told me she found a place and she was thinking of taking it, I was surprised… and a little worried, to be honest. The place is in San Pedro, and San Pedro’s not necessarily known for being Pleasantville. But she said she felt safe in the neighborhood, and at 52 years old, she has a bit of intuition.

When we arrived to her place on Saturday to move her in, the first thing I noticed was that the outside of the building looked kind of run-down. Upon closer inspection, it just needs a coat of paint and some landscaping. Her apartment is small, but completely appropriate for her, with fresh paint, new appliances, and new carpeting. It’s a courtyard style apartment, and there’s room for her to plant some flowers right outside her door. I felt really good about her being there when the on-site maintenance guy helped us move most of her big stuff in. Once we got everything moved in, we were eating pizza when there was a knock at her door. A 60-something woman stood there with cupcakes – she wanted to welcome my mom, and she told us she’d lived there for 35 years and raised her son there, and she just loved the place, and if my mom ever needed anything, she should feel free to ask. I’ve lived in seven different apartment buildings in LA, and no one has EVER knocked on my door to even say hello after I’ve moved in.

I’ve always adored my mom. I’ve never had a bad relationship with her. But I’ve also never really felt the pride I felt on Saturday when we moved her in to a place she found on her own, a place that she really liked, and a place for which she will be solely held financially responsible. A tiny little apartment she can call her own, with a view of the San Pedro Harbor, and just a five-minute walk from the beach.