Monday, January 29, 2018

The last time I worked at a bookstore

I shelved the books in the Romance section, which was the easiest section to maintain because there was only one way to organize those books-- alphabetically by author -- and I was a part-time bookstore worker. They were never going to give me one of the big, complex, multiply-segmented sections like History or Religion

or even Poetry, even though I was working on my MFA in poetry at the time. Everyone at that bookstore was an expert in something, and people all over the city would call our Information Desk line to ask questions about Whatever. What movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1936 or How many years did the Mexican American War last, and one of us would know the answer or we'd know where to find it.

We were basically the Siri of the early 1990's, when there was no such thing as the internet or Google and cellphones were as big as your forearm and only really wealthy and/or obnoxious people carried them around.

I wasn't always the best bookstore worker. I snootily looked down on the Romance novels I shelved and I secretly rolled my eyes at the people who came in looking for a book but couldn't remember the title or the author or really anything about it, except that it had a white and black cover.

(for the record, they wanted Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein)

Something people are often surprised to learn about bookstore clerks is that we were not allowed to read the books-- at least while we were on the clock.

I wanted to read everything.

But once I got over that rule, I loved working at the bookstore. I loved unpacking the new arrivals. I loved the smell of the storeroom, the wooden shelves, the rows and rows of backstock. I loved reorganizing books in the bookcases. I loved talking to people about books and asking them what they were reading and learning what was new in the book world and getting to meet authors at book-signings and fulfilling my mission

which was always to put a book into the customer's hands.

Turns out that nearly thirty years later I still love doing all of these things. The bookstore where I have been working for the past few weeks is called Cover to Cover.  It's the reconfiguration of the original Cover to Cover (my favorite bookstore of all time, which closed a few months ago when the darling owner Sally Oddi retired), now reopened in a new space by the lovely Melia Wolf, a former art teacher, which is very apparent the moment you walk through the door. 

(LOOK!! a teeny mouse nook under the counter, designed by
artist Sharon Dorsey of Open Door Studio)

(The original Cover to Cover had a wall of visiting author
and illustrator signatures. The wall went with Sally but Melia
took photos and recreated it as tissue paper!)

I am having a blast unpacking boxes and moving the books around on the shelves. Struggling, a little, to learn the ordering and computer cash register system (yes, THIS has changed mightily over the last thirty years), but the smell of the books is the same, and I will never tire of talking about books with people.

(One of my first customers, Sally! at the grand opening.)

And my new favorite thing?

Kneeling down to put a book into a child's hands.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Something of a Radical

Last week someone called me a radical.

Okay, it was my husband, and I think he meant it in a nice way?

Because I march in the women's marches and make calls to my representatives? Because I've been to ACLU meetings at stranger's houses and talked to the person who is running for Congress in my district and met face to face with a representative at the Ohio Statehouse and told him my story about how Planned Parenthood saved my life? Because I parked myself at the Farmer's Market with a petition to end gerrymandering in Ohio and persuaded random people to sign it?

My husband may have a point.

The funny thing is I wasn't always a radical. When I was in college, I barely read the news. I didn't vote. When I saw kids protesting on campus, a small gathering of the fringiest of the fringe carrying signs against Apartheid, I hustled by fast, averting my eyes, thinking, What a buncha weirdos.

and then off I went to a frat party. Once, when I was home for the summer and working at a law office downtown, President Reagan came to speak in the town square. I hadn't known he was coming. My mother was dropping me off at the law office, and she had to let me out blocks away because the entire downtown was cordoned off.

I was annoyed, and then afraid, when I had to explain to the Secret Service that I was trying to get to work, and then having my purse searched and wanded with a metal detector. At lunchtime, in the law office, one of the attorneys said, Let's go hear Ronald Reagan, and I shrugged, but went. There was a huge crowd and I stood there bored, not listening to the speech,

and then I was mortified when the attorney, a young woman only a few years older than me but light years ahead in maturity and education, began to boo loudly. The people around us threw us both dirty looks and shifted away, and I shifted away too because that attorney was the radical.

Not me.

Except okay,  I did write a letter to the editor of the newspaper when I was fifteen in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and another person wrote back and called me out by name, basically saying I was an idiot for wanting women's rights. It turned out that the person was my history teacher,

a nun at my school, and she berated me in class and said in so many words

I was a radical. So, maybe there is some truth to the label?

Yesterday I rode with a friend downtown and marched on the snowy wet sidewalk, carrying my NO! sign, shuffling along with hundreds of other people, old women and men, younger women and men, some of them pushing babies in strollers, the babies wearing adorable pink pussy hats -- and I still CANNOT BELIEVE I AM WRITING THAT WORD, or saying the word SHITHOLE, but here we are,

our country,

being led by a sick man, an emperor with no clothes, and who knew there were so many people too cowardly to confront him?--

But yesterday, at least, there were some of us marching to the Ohio statehouse --where our leaders have recently been passing laws that seem like a page out of the Handmaid's Tale--

all of us shouting and waving our signs, chanting my favorite chant, which seems like a radical statement these days, but that's okay because


I am a radical.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Random thoughts on January 15

When I was a kid, I always knew when it was Martin Luther King Day because it was the same day as my brother's birthday. In the 1970's in Connecticut, January 15th was a state holiday, so we always had off from school.

I liked Martin Luther King Jr. because he was the man who had a dream that black kids and white kids could someday be friends, and if you'd asked 8 or 9 or 10 year old me, I would've told you that it was a dream I fully agreed with. 

I'd seen the film Roots at the library in weekly installments. It was clear to me that slavery was evil and all of the white people who'd owned slaves were bad. But that was all in the past. And in the South. We, in the North, were completely blameless. When I was a kid in Connecticut we didn't talk about race. 

And it was really easy not to talk about race because the town I lived in was nearly all white.

It was an old factory town, mostly second or third generation immigrants from Poland and Italy, and with a sizable group of people from Puerto Rico. Many kids I knew spoke another language with their parents at home. The Catholic churches in town still held masses in the language of the people in the neighborhoods. Polish, Italian, Spanish. 

Not that we were always nice to each other. I heard people openly talk about Puerto Rican people using derogatory language, and everyone said you should steer clear of their neighborhoods. But no one thought of themselves as racist. That was something that only happened in the South. (See Roots, above.) 

When I was thirteen, I met a woman from the South and I eyed her suspiciously for signs of racism, but the woman seemed really nice and we all thought her Southern accent was darling. Okay, there was one incident when we were walking in the park, and she suddenly whisked her young daughter away and made the remark that maybe all of us were used to seeing "that kind of thing" but where she was from they weren't used to it. 

I had no idea what she was talking about, but later my mother told me that what upset the woman was a couple holding hands, a black person and a white person. 

This was a confusing moment because the woman seemed so lovely, and I didn't know what to make of it, so I filed it under: Weird Stuff People from the South Say, and forgot about it

until I went to college in the South. 

My college roommate first semester was black, and I was eager to show her that I was Not a Racist by never having a conversation with her about race, and by acting as if I didn't notice that I was white and she was black, hoping that she could see how Progressive and Open-Minded I was. Anyway, this was the 1980's, and even though we were going to school in the Deep South, racism was a Thing of the Past,

especially at our forward-thinking liberal arts college,

which, okay, true, like my Connecticut town, this college was mostly white. 

Also, most of the female students joined sororities, and it was an unspoken fact that black girls didn't belong to any of the sororities because it was against the sorority rules, 

although the story was that one sorority had pledged several black girls a few years before, but half of the white girls dropped out that year, which killed their membership numbers, and now that was sort of the meh sorority on campus. Anyway, the very few black girls at the college didn't bother going through Rush after that, including my roommate.

I did though, and my roommate and I pretended to each other that she just didn't want to Go Greek. She dropped out of school at the end of the year and I never saw her again.

Here's something I understand now that I didn't when I was growing up: lovely people can be racist. Some of them can even be from Connecticut.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Goal Setting at the Edge of the Earth

It's January, a new year, my usual time for looking ahead, making resolutions, setting my writing goals and other goals-- projects to tackle around the house and in the garden, resolving to eat better and exercise more and volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way, reading my poem a day and reading more, in general, and in a variety of genres.

I can go on and on with these goals, because I am a big believer in setting them, making lists, and tracking progress, all of which, I realize, lately, relies entirely on my faith in the future,

that I will be there, in the future

that there will be a future.

It's a scary realization, one that I haven't felt in a long time, but lately it's come back to me, how nothing is certain, how my fate-- how all of our fates-- are dependent on forces beyond our control, a feeling I understood instinctively when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old.

Back then I didn't have much faith in the future. I wasn't a big-time follower of the news, but a lot of it filtered into my head anyway, news about the arms race between our country and the Soviet Union, the Cold War amping up.

I watched the movies about nuclear war, The Day After and War Games, listened to music where rock stars wondered if the Russians loved their children too, read about downed airlines and uprisings in Eastern European countries, heard stories about nuns chaining themselves to fences outside nuclear weapons plants.

In the 1980's we were wise enough to know that if there was a nuclear war, no one was going to stumble out of it alive, and we mocked the deluded people of the 1950's who had disaster drills in schools, the kids told to hide under desks, as if cowering under a desk would save them.

I'm not saying I thought about potential total annihilation every moment, but it was hovering in the back of my mind, the near certainty that something really bad could happen at any moment-- on purpose or by accident--

and we would all be done for.

So, why bother studying for the SATs or doing your homework or making any plans, really?

But the thing is I did study for my SATs (not that it helped all that much since I was pretty dingy when it came to taking standardized tests). And I always did my homework. I applied for part-time jobs and filled out college applications. I moved forward as if the future would be there for me,

and, what do you know? it was.

Which I guess is my long way of saying that I did set my goals for the year 2018, because while I know there is no certainty that we'll all make it to the end of it, I am going to move forward as if we will.

For the record, my goals:

1. finish the revision of my middle grade novel
2. jump back into the adult novel I set aside last spring
3. write four blogs a month, plus one over at YA Outside the Lines
4. read a poem a day; read more, in general, in a variety of genres
5. eat better and exercise more (10,000 steps per day according to my Fitbit!)
6. paint the exterior of the house
7. expand my herb garden
8. volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way (in Real Life as opposed to on social media)
9. take monthly dates with my husband
10. remember to live in the moment, which is all we truly have.