Friday, March 25, 2005

Gift or Temptation?

When I walked into the library Friday, my mind was still full of the past ten days of blissful exploration in the pages of my 'new' World Book Encyclopedia. I was anxious to get my business taken care of and get back home to them. Few things could have jerked me out of that trance. I can think of exactly four: Someone placing a baby in my arms while saying 'Welcome to motherhood.' Taking possession of my very own notebook computer. A book contract with a publisher. And owning once again Britannica's Great Books set with its indispensable Syntopicon of The Great Ideas. So when I came out of the bright outside into the fluorescent lit library, my eyes blinking fitfully to adjust, I can be forgiven for thinking briefly that I must be dreaming, for right there on the very same shelf the World Book set had sat two weeks before were the distinctive spines of the Great Books.

This was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle for me. (the only other being my own notebook computer) It felt like a gift from the Universe. A blessing on the work that I had done over the past year to get my manuscripts retyped and my web pages back up. I have been itching to get back to work on what I consider to be my magnum opus. One very long novel or a series of shorter novels on the theme of The Fruits of the Spirit. Though my list of the Fruits of the Spirit is longer than the one in Galatians. More on that later. In order to resume work on that project I needed frequent access to the most important reference tool second only to dictionaries: The Syntopicon of Britannica's Great Book set. A topical index of the Great Ideas that occupied some 3000 years of Western Civilization's evolving concept of itself. An intergenerational dialog which the editors, Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler, call the Great Conversation. With that Syntopicon I would, with considerable effort, be able to reconstruct the skeleton of that project. I could get access to most of the writings in question via the library, but libraries tend to keep the Syntopicon on reference shelves.

But just ten days ago I spent $20 out of the fund that I had set aside as untouchable except for one of three things. Retrieval of our belongings in storage in San Jose--now irretrievably gone. The move into our own place--which would take me another three years, assuming the same rate of accumulation. Or a notebook computer--possibly refurbished--so I could have 24/7 access to my work and never have to leave it behind again. And--most pertinent to our circumstances--have the tool that is the most perfect fit for both my talents and my disabilities and thus could enable me to rise from this unhealthy state of dependency and sense of burden on my family and begin to contribute financially. Have Computer Will: Write, Edit, Research, Tutor, Webmistress, Consult, Type, Desk Top Publish, Enter and Manage Data Base Data, Beta Test software…

The list could go on. My talent and experience in the manipulation of information is extensive. But my various health issues prevent me using them in the typical workplace under the typical workplace conditions. I need special tools and significant control over my working environment to accommodate my severe visual impairment. I also need significant control over my schedule to accommodate transportation exigencies, joint pain, easy fatigue and a sleeping disorder that makes sustained enforcement of the typical 40 hour workweek impossible. So working from home is the best fit all around. And a computer coupled with the internet and combined with my skill set makes that a viable option.

All of this roiled in my head as I blinked my eyes and the glittering gold of the embossed spines refused to vanish. I quickly counted, confirming the set was intact. Not only intact but in mint condition. I pulled one out and checked the copyright page. The set was from the 24th printing in 1982. But every volume was pristine. In fact, about fifteen of them were still individually shrink-wrapped! And when I fanned the pages the gilded edges across the top crackled, indicating that few if any of these pages had ever been turned. Oh, the pity of it. For twenty years these books had languished on a shelf or in a box, with the riches of centuries of wit and wisdom penned (pun unintentional but apropro) between their covers--nothing but a dead weight or a knickknack to be dusted. The sign said 'Make an Offer'. The other sign regarding the more typical Friends of the Library book sale fare quoted $1 as the price for hardbacks. How could I offer less? Yet how could I justify the $54? But how could I walk away from them? I had only minutes to decide.

Either way I was set up for a marathon wrestle with second guessing? Was this a gift and a reward from the Universe in acknowledgment of the dedication to my work and talents I had evinced over the past fifteen months? Or was it a perfidious temptation to deviate from the plan, a distraction and an offering to the grasping and greedy bibliophilic genie in me that had often and often before lured me off on tangents that diverted me from tending to my work? One could argue that, at least in this case, the books had a direct bearing on my work. One could also argue that I had no right to spend money that way while my husband and I were still living with his parents. Yet the $1 per 54 volumes plus the $20 already spent on the World Book set amounted to much less than my husband spent monthly on cigarettes and designer coffee. But one can not argue that two wrongs make a right. I finally decided that if I had to live with regret either way, I would prefer to have the books as consolation even if sometimes their presence would seem a condemnation. So I made the offer and it was accepted. I said I was going to make the walk back home to get the money and my collapsible luggage cart but the librarian nixed that by offering to deliver the books to my doorstep on her way home from work. That gave me time to get home and do some juggling of things in our room to make space for a set of books that was twice the size of the World Book set that I had struggled to accommodate just ten days ago. I joked with the librarians that I was probably going to have to curtail my usual rate of check-out in order to make room and time for these two sets of books.

Update: as it turned out, the very boxes in which the Great Books were transported became jury-rigged shelving that actually increased the space for books. In the three months since I brought home the Great Books, I have increased the average of books checked out to my account from 60 to 90. It has been a long time since I actually counted them. I get that figure from the fact that I average a weekly turnover of ten books--those checked out and those returned. But more than 80% of the items I bring home are not in high demand and so they typically will renew the allotted twice for a total of three times three weeks. So that I have at any one time nine separate batches of books. This allows me to order books from the county system that I find cited in the books I am reading and have them arrive while I am still in possession of the book that referenced them.
Well, those three cardboard boxes gave me the space to accommodate an increased level of source acquisition. As for the extra time--I'm stealing that from TV (mostly a moratorium on MSM news programs, internet, and sleep accounts. Hence the great slowdown of postings here.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bringing Home the World on Wheels

Last Friday on my weekly pilgrimage to the library I found on display, on the shelves set aside for the Friends of the Library Book Sale, a 1999 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia in excellent condition. There were call number labels on the spines of the volumes which had been blacked out. Evidently the set was being retired from the library's collection. The sign on top said 'Make an Offer'. It has been years since I have spent more than a couple bucks on anything for myself. I stood in front of those books and practically drooled. It was as much a nostalgia trip as anything. My parents bought us a second hand World Book set when I was about eleven. I loved it. I started trying to read them cover to cover. But I never made it more than fifty pages into the A volume before I got sidetracked by the list of related articles at the ends of major articles. And of course many of the articles in those lists had lists of their own. My favorite way to 'read' the World Book encyclopedia was to follow those trails from volume to volume. Opening book after book and leaving them spread open, layering book over book in a blossom of pages. I loved the maps of countries and states and the plants and animal photos. That set had been published before Kennedy's presidency and the pictures and maps were all black and white but it was still engrossing. This set I now stood before was full of color photos. Nearly every page sported at least one. And not only that, the covers were an eye popping cornflower blue. One of my favorite colors. Not that I would have turned down the set because I disliked the color of the covers. Hardly. But it seemed an added boon, almost an affirmation as though the books whispered to me by this sign that they were meant for me.

The timing was so providential. I had access to the World Book Online but the internet connection we have is not broadband and major graphics are time intensive to download. So my most urgent need for access to good maps was often thwarted by this limit. My time on the computer here is too precious to waste sitting here staring at a little bar-graph creeping from left to right. I have eight hours--10PM-6AM--and that time has to be split between creating and uploading HTML pages, blog posting, journaling, writing and editing essays, poems, stories, emails and all internet research related to them including news and current events as I no longer have any faith in the MSM.

I didn't dither over my decision for long. I had seen a similar set in a box on the floor directly after a Friend's sale and when I inquired about them was told they were already sold. My disappointment had haunted me into my dreams. How could I walk away from this opportunity? I couldn't and I didn't. While checking out my selections, I spoke wistfully about the set and how it conjured up childhood memories. I said that I really wanted it but would have to go back home for the money. It would mean giving up Dr. Phil and Oprah but it would be worth it. But she said that wouldn't be necessary. She would put a sold sign on the set and it would be waiting for me when I came back which would be Tuesday at the latest as I had another batch of books due that day. I agreed to this and walked home feeling as though I were floating, wondering how long Tuesday would feel like forever.

Forever arrived today. I left home at twelve-fifteen. I got back at two, having brought with me the entire set of World Book. All 22 volumes. Got 13 into the rolling backpack. Another five into the small turquoise duffle which I carried by slinging the single strap over my head and across my chest so the weight of the books rested over my shoulder blades. The last four I put in a paper bag with handles and the librarian helped me by providing a large sturdy rubber band and a piece of yarn. I had to find a way to carry the paper bag in the same hand which pulled the rollling backpack as I needed to keep one hand free to carry my cane. I rested the bag against the bar of the backpacks pull handle holding the handles of the bag and the top of the pull bar together. I was going to go like that before she fetched the yarn and rubber band. She put the rubber band around the bag and the pull bar to help hold it in place and she wrapped and knotted the yarn around the two handles so that I did not have to keep hold of it every second. This left me free to release the handles and let the bags stand alone for short breaks to flex my fingers every couple blocks. I could have left behind whatever wouldn’t fit into the backpack and got them on the next trip. But I just couldn’t bear to. Even though I knew I would not need or be able to look at all 22 volumes today or even in the next week I still wanted them home with me. I wanted to be able to know exactly how much space I needed to prepare for them. Though I could have solved that by measuring them on the shelf before I started packing them. I confess I just wanted them!

I checked out only two items that day, a paperback novel for my husband and a video for his shut-in 90-yr-old grandma. I was walking back out the door in less than fifteen minutes from walking in. So anxious I was to get home and explore the world again as I had at eleven. I felt like I was walking several inches above the ground. Less than two blocks from the library, a tall, bearded gentleman carrying a large sanded tree branch as a walking stick passed me going the opposite direction. The two of us had passed each other in reverse fashion just half an hour or less earlier when we had exchanged nods. I was debating in my mind whether to nic-name him Moses or Walt Whitman when he stopped and, taking note of my white cane, asked if I was lost. I almost laughed as I restrained myself from asking back, How could I be lost? I've got the World on wheels right here. Instead I just said, No. Thank-you, I'm fine. And he said, Oh, I just thot since I saw you going that way just a few minutes ago... But I was shaking my head as I said, I was just at the library and now I'm headed back home. And he nodded saying, I see. And we exchanged Have a nice day and continued on our ways.

I really didn’t get a chance to look closely at them until I moved out to the computer to start my session tonight. At the last second I grabbed the A volume and brought it with me and have been having a hard time keeping my hands and eyes off it.. The color photos and drawings are awesome. But I need to lay off and get busy. I just spent an hour going back and forth between my journal (where the first draft of this post took form) and looking at the pictures and glancing at the articles and just luxuriating in turning the pages and feeling the heft of the book in my hands.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Support Returning Troops

Smoothing their transition back into their communities should be a given. They should never have to wait for months for health care whether mental or physical. They should never end up homeless. They should never end up jobless either. This belongs in the cost calculation of any war along with munitions, fuel, transportation of troops etc. To cut the troops loose after discharge and accept no continuing responsibility for adjusting to the impact their combat experience had on them, for acclimating them back into their community in every way, is the height of disrespect for the service they performed. Whether you support the war or not, the troops need to be supported in every way during and after their service. It is after all the most healthy thing for the community as well for homeless, jobless, stressed out or otherwise disabled vets not only cannot contribute to the overall commonweal, they often contribute to its degeneration with higher suicide and domestic violence rates, vagrancy and drinking related crimes


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