The Reason We’ve Already Met

One of the best icebreaker questions is the one about choosing a superpower. Personally, I am Team Control Things With My Mind. Having ESP, or telekinesis, or the ability to speak to ghosts-those are some quality characteristics to have if you want to stand out at the next Justice League meeting. There is one mystical phenomenon, though, that’s so common everyone experiences it at one time or another: déjà vu. Translated from French, déjà vu means “already seen”, and people who experience it are overwhelmed with a sense of already having done something concurrently while doing that actual very same something. The sensation gives a bit of a rush that comes from feeling that you are in the past and the present at the same time. Déjà vu also causes anyone having déjà vu to announce “HA HA YOU GUYS OMG I AM TOTALLY HAVING DÉJÀ VU RIGHT NOW” to everyone in the general vu-cinity.

I, too, experience déjà vu, but not the sexy paranormal kind. For instance: every Labor Day weekend, I have dinner with a couple of out-of-town friends. Owing to circumstances and location, we always have dinner in the same restaurant, which oddly enough is a sports bar at a Marriott. It’s not that we’re really passionate about buffalo wings and giant nacho platters, it’s just what works. (OK FINE I LOVE NACHOS ARE YOU HAPPY) We’ve been meeting there every Labor Day for a few years now, and this year, as our meal was winding down and we were getting our check, I complimented our waitperson on her very pretty nail polish color. My compliment led to a very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about why she’d painted her nails-she was going on vacation and she’d gotten her hair done for her trip too and she was going to a big Caribbean resort and she was afraid to scuba dive but the pool would be soooo fun and did we think she should parasail? This was followed by a detailed report on her bathing suit inventory.

Dazed as I was from the lighting quick speed at which our relationship had gone from distant but polite to besties who tell each other everything, I started to have that very strong “I have definitely lived through this before” feeling. I gloated for a minute, congratulating myself on being a super-spiritual empath who is open to vibes from dimensions that humans cannot even comprehend, and then I remembered: in that very same restaurant, a year to the day before, I had complimented our (different) waitperson on her very attractive (but different) nail polish color, a compliment that led to very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about how her baby was just learning to walk and she was going to have to fire her babysitter and it’s so very difficult to decide when to have another baby but she thought she was ready but her husband didn’t think he was ready and WHAT THE HELL. I didn’t know that admiring someone’s manicure could inspire such catharsis. Can I please have some non-absurd déjà vu? Where’s my past life as Elizabeth I at?

Putting things on repeat happens in my reading life too. I’ve definitely picked up a book and gotten through the first chapter before figuring out that the reason it’s so familiar is that I’ve already read it. (Picture me slamming the book shut, tossing it over my shoulder, and grabbing the next one on the pile. Except since I’m practically married to my Kindle that doesn’t happen, but there is zero dramatic tension in poking a screen to download another book.) The other book déjà vu that’s all déjà too is reading a book that reminds me of another completely-unrelated-yet-completely-similar book, something that happened to me recently as I was reading a book about another one of my favorite icebreaker superpowers, reincarnation.

Casual Friday

Me inventing Casual Friday when I was Elizabeth I

The Forgetting Time The Forgetting Time is documentary producer Sharon Guskin’s debut novel. It’s an intriguing book that explores the question of reincarnation and past lives, specifically the phenomena of children speaking languages, reporting experiences, or describing places about which they could have had knowledge. Jerome Anderson, an academic who has made the study of such instances his career, meets Janie Zimmerman, a desperate mother who is at her wit’s end trying to manage the odd behaviors and intense phobias of her only child, four-year-old Noah. Hoping to parlay Noah’s case into a book that will justify his life’s work, Dr. Anderson works to unravel the mystery of Noah’s struggles. By turns suspenseful and emotionally raw, The Forgetting Time is made all the more interesting by Guskin’s inclusion of case studies from real-life researcher Dr. Jim Tucker’s work documenting children reporting past life memories. I enjoyed this book, but while I was reading it memories of another book kept popping up in my thoughts over and over, a book that I’d actually never read….

Audrey Rose Hahahaha just kidding. I was flinging some dramatic exposition there. I have, in fact, read Audrey Rose, the 1975 horror novel by Frank De Felitta. The book was inspired by De Felitta’s young son, who was so precocious that it was suggested that perhaps he was manifesting talents from a previous life. (Ok really? That is some extreme competitive parenting. “My Bobby is terribly smart but he’s not gifted. He’s reincarnated. We have him with a tutor that specializes in using past lives to get better standardized test scores because just ‘paranormal’ on your resume won’t get you into Harvard anymore. And of course, he goes to Mommy and Me once a week.”) In order to read Audrey Rose, I had to steal it from my dad’s Forbidden Grown-Up Book Stack, a stash of paperbacks that he thought he kept well hidden. I was attracted to the lurid cover, a depiction of a girl walking out of a grave through flames AND YET HER DRESS WAS NOT ON FIRE WHAT POWERFUL ADULT MAGIC WAS THIS? Audrey Rose introduces the Templeton family; they are super happy, except for the part where youngest daughter Ivy is tormented by nightmares of dying a violent death in a car accident. When the father of a child who died in a car accident shows up to share his theory that Ivy is actually his dead daughter, the regression hypnosis for Ivy starts, because the 70s. Spoiler alert: It does not go well.

I love the synchronicity of books existing in parallel, eventually intersecting in the hands of a passionate reader. (ME, I’M THE READER) I don’t think I can claim any kind of special psychic gifts here. It’s basic math. The more I read, the more likely it is that I’m going to get the feeling that I have been there before. It’s like putting my favorite song on repeat. No matter how many times I hear it, I am going to enjoy all over again, every time I press play.  I’ve definitely learned my lesson about complimenting someone’s manicure in a sports bar, though.

Action Items
Dr. Jim Tucker has written a book about his research into children and memories of past lives.

The Reason For A Lot Of Reasons

Bookreasons launched one year ago. I’m a little shocked. I didn’t think I had three months worth of book-babbling opinions, much less a whole year, but here we are. Thanks for indulging me. As it turns out, I’m just a fountain of ever-flowing book babble. Who knew?
You: Everyone
Me: No way! I’m not that obvious
You: Look! A book!
Me: WHERE I’VE READ IT IT’S GREAT LET’S DISCUSS IT
You: The prosecution rests

Today I am throwing back to one of the first Bookreasons posts about one of my all-time favorites, A Wrinkle In Time. You can click here to read it. Madeline L’Engle had a lot to say about tolerance and fear. This book is now getting the film it deserves from the amazing director Ana DuVernay.

menzies

Teaser.

#happybookaversarytome

Action Items
Read all about the A Wrinkle In Time production here.

The Reason I’m Annoyed

Elevator Repair Service is an experimental theater company based out of New York City. Recently, they annoyed me. They likely weren’t trying to annoy me. Probably. But they did, and then they insulted my injury by being incredibly original and talented and entertaining. OMG JERKS.

I am going to go into exhausting detail about my hurt feelings, but first, do you have a few moments to talk about Ernest Hemingway? Let’s sit down with a large glass of straight rum lemonade and I’ll give you some tracts. Like many Earthlings, I first read Hemingway in high school. It was that time in a young woman’s life where she does what it takes to make her a woman. That’s right-I was studying the short story in an American Lit class. It was marvelous. Short stories are juicy, intense, concentrated—everything that makes reading fun but on steroids. Minimal time investment, maximum wallop.

I read Poe, and Hawthorne, and the sublime Flannery O’Connor. It was fun! “Isn’t this fun?” I said to absolutely no one because even I knew there were limits to the amount of literary nerdiness I could externalize without being scary. “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Dayum, y’all. It was good stuff. Then the day came when the textbook served up Hemingway.
Textbook: Here—”The Snows Of Kilimanjaro”. Go.
Me: What the hell, textbook? What WAS that?
Textbook: A classic by an American literary giant. Why?
Me: WTAF. Stahp.
Textbook: Hmm. Not your thing? Try “Hills Like White Elephants”. Everybody loves elephants!
Me: UGH I HATE THESE CHARACTERS AND NOW I HATE ELEPHANTS WHYYYYY

We read two Hemingway stories, the two that are often considered his best – “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “Hills Like White Elephants”. I had not made it halfway through “The Snows Of Kilimanjaro” when I realized the fun story party was over because HEMINGWAY. Apparently, Papa was not aware that he owed me a good time. My immediate reaction to both stories was strong and definite and it boiled down to one non-judgmental reaction: These characters are a bunch of douchebags. When it came time to discuss these stories in class, I folded my arms, exuded annoyance, and maintained radio silence. The sooner we moved past it, the better.

In “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, narrator Harry is trapped in a tent in Africa, reflecting upon the meaning of his life while dying from self-inflicted gangrene. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, a man puts all his glib charm behind an effort to manipulate his reluctant girlfriend into thinking that not only does she really want the abortion she’s on her way to have, it’s a risk-free operation that is really her idea. I rolled my eyes so much through both of these stories I lost eyelashes. They could not take the pressure and popped off like tiny champagne corks.

The people in these stories made me want to throatpunch kittens. I had not lived enough life to acknowledge grey areas, and the nuances of a confronting crisis in a less-than-solid relationship, and making the least awful choice out of an array of awful choices. Accordingly, the subtlety and subtext that are the structure and strength of these stories was lost on me. I wanted these drips* to have behavioral insight…and they didn’t. (*flagged as potentially judgmental)These stories were an incredibly frustrating reading experience that seemed rooted in passivity and indirectness. I just wanted someone to do something other than drink. Or talk about drinking. Or drink while talking. Or die slowly from gangrene. GAH.

Given my vast knowledge of everything about life and of course knowing that I was always right about everything always but most especially matters literary, I tossed Hemingway over my shoulder into the pile of Book Laundry That I Will Never Get Around To Washing. If a Hemingway book came up on a recommended list, I shrugged my shoulder in dismissal. If someone mentioned Hemingway as a personal favorite author, I sneered. (I mean, I was self-important AND smug.) (AND SMUG, you say? PLEASE COME OVER HERE AND MAKE OUT WITH ME. Stand down. I’m in the middle of something.)

In the meantime, I read other stuff. It’s not that hard to avoid Hemingway, if you have a good alarm system and take some basic self-defense training. I geeked out on popular crime novels. I comfortably read comfortable history and comfortable contemporary fiction and, God forgive me, The Bridges Of Madison County. I only read stuff I knew I would like and I was very happy thank you very much. Put brutally? I was a boring reader.

The universe, or possibly Hemingway’s ghost, was looking for a chance to knock me off my tower of Books That I Know Are Better and the perfect opportunity presented in 2012. I had to go to New York on business and realized that my trip would overlap during a time that Elevator Repair Service was appearing at The Public Theater. I was thrilled that I could adjust my trip to include seeing one of their productions. I barely paid attention to what the show was when I bought the tickets. “It doesn’t matter!” I said to myself. “I’d go see them read the phone book! And it would be brilliant! It literally DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE SHOW IS! Also nobody makes phone books any more!” (I talk to myself in simple declarative sentences mostly.) About a month before the show, getting my calendar together, I pulled out my ticket to check what I was going to see. The show was entitled “The Select (The Sun Also Rises)”.
Me: Wait, what?
Ticket: YOU are going to see a Hemingway show.
Me: Are you fucking kidding me?
Ticket: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Me: This is not funny.
Ticket: No, it really is. You’re the worst.
Me: That was way harsh, ticket.

So, there I was, ticket in hand, cussing an innocent performance ensemble. The show had a running time of 3.5 hours or so. Clearly, I would benefit as an audience member if I had some familiarity with the source material. I was going to have to read this shit. “Let me recap this!” I said to myself. “I am going to go see a Hemingway show THAT IS GIVING ME HOMEWORK!” I reluctantly cracked open the book, resigned to suffering through an overrated classic. I was going to read it, but I wasn’t going to like it. Poor me.
Here is what happened when I read The Sun Also Rises:
1. I could not put it down
2. I was moved to tears
3. I made a list of my reactions

The Sun Also Rises is both breathtakingly original and utterly familiar. Hemingway’s spare, direct style is devastatingly precise. Nick and Brett are unflinchingly human. Their struggles, their disconnectedness, their isolation, are raw and real. While their story arcs are informed by the Continental post-Great War vacantness, their flaws and foibles make them timeless. This book is the DNA for so much modern American literature. Hemingway built a better mousetrap. It was so good.
I could not believe I had to put up with this crap.

It had been so easy, too easy, to build a reading world that reflected back to me exactly what I wanted to have reflected. In my complacency, I had forgotten what it was like to be challenged and to work through narratives, or ideas, or styles, that made me a little uncomfortable. The Sun Also Rises reminded me that “well-read” isn’t the same thing as “reading”. This kind of literary bitch-slap is henceforth dubbed ‘being Hemingwayed’.
Thank you, Elevator Repair Service. Point taken. I’m trying to ensure that my natural tendency to the opinionated (ahem, cough) does not prevent me from missing amazing things. Since I read The Sun Also Rises, I’ve pulled in some extraordinary reading because I went looking for it. It’s more demanding, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable, and I hope it’s made my world bigger and me less insufferable.

And for those of you wondering, yes, the show was incredible. If you ever get the chance to see it – or anything staged by this wonderful group – I can’t recommend it enough. The bullfight scene was the bomb.
I still hate being wrong though.
#shutupandreadit

Action Items
If you’d like to go see Elevator Repair Service, start here.