All the Books & Dragon Cheese

On the way home from the “Ferris wheel” (as E calls the carousel) at the mall, Eleanor and I stopped at Half Price Books to buy presents for her mom, dad, and brother. She herself requested these gifts be bought at the bookstore. Although we did have a brief falling out over her wanting to go to the library instead and me saying it was closed (so we could buy instead of check out these presents)…but all was forgiven when we entered the store and she saw “all the Bibles.” She’s in a phase where, rather than have us always read to her from children’s books, she often prefers to pull thick paperbacks, what she calls Bibles, off shelves and tell us fantastic stories while flipping through the pages. It was like we’d walked into the candy store, and she didn’t know where to even start…

But she settled on some books down on her level, settled on to the floor and in for a good storytelling. It was the most precious thing in the world…as you’ll see below.

What blows my mind is what a synthesizing machine she is; I mean, to get all scholarly for a second, she is like the human embodiment of intertextuality. The stories she tells are incredible remixes of her daily life: phrases she hears us use, stories we tell her, and, of course, the media–both books and television–that she consumes. In this video alone, we’ve got dragons–(the stars–in all shades of the rainbow–of most of her tales), peanut allergies, spit-up (what she calls vomit and which she did a lot of the week before, much of it on me), her bedtime routine, cheese which we’d been talking about earlier, the penguins I promised her we’d see at the aquarium later that week, seeing Thea tomorrow, the sailors from our Moby Dick book, mommy and daddy, shopping for them, and love, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. She’s a sponge–takes it all in, doesn’t forget a thing, and spits it all out later in her own delightfully new creation.

Obviously, this is how many children grow and learn, and I’m just seeing it for the first time (Spinster Aunt that I am*) up close. It doesn’t hurt that my love for E is immeasurable and colors all her being, doing, knowing as miraculous. (Call Guinness, as my dad would say). But I am blown away by the child brain in general and this weaving together of being and knowing with the world and all the stories–told and experienced–it tells her. Beyond intertextuality, watching her remix is watching agential realism in action. Those blank pages at the end changed her conversation, that stuffed dragon on the floor set her on a tale about dragons, the books low to the ground with pretty covers drew her in and gave her a spot on the floor to peruse them. And on and on and on…Though bits and pieces will make it into later remixes of her life and days, this story, the one in the video, will only be told once. It came out of a singular and unrepeatable space-time-mattering where its possibility was realized and recorded. She didn’t discover the story about dragons–she created it with the world, her material-discursive world unfolding through and within our unique time-space to actually create reality. And while I insert the artifact (recording) of that reality here, what you see is a different story than the one she and I experienced in that moment. It will play a new story each time it’s viewed, framed by my interpretation and creating new meaning with you and your understanding of her words and your own bits and pieces you bring to the watching of this tale. It’s miraculous, but the miracle is more than her–it’s an assemblage of past, present, here, absent, people, animals, objects, ideas, rooms, noises, smells, sights…all the things of the world working together.

And we wonder why I’m the Spinster Aunt 😉

The cherry on top of these scholarly musings is after this video stops, when she wanders over to the YA corner. And when I come up behind her, this little bit of a girl dancing within an aisle of floor-to-ceiling books, she does this Belle from Beauty and the Beast twirl, her arm up and out with a sweeping gesture and cries (happily), “Look at all the books!” I died. She killed her Spinster Aunt Say, stopped my heart dead with joyous affinity. I will never forget her smile or the love I felt for her then (I keep thinking there’s no way to love them more and events keep proving me wrong). I hope she never loses that delight. And I hope she tangles together and spins out stories for all her days and never, ever, finds the words “The End…”

belle_bookshelf

~

*I fully embrace and celebrate the Spinster Aunt title–this was not a cry for reassurance nor is that a “bad” word. For more information, see Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.

Juliet, Virginia, & Theadora Save the Day

I’m in love with Juliet Stevenson’s voice. Particularly married to Virginia Woolf’s words.

I first encountered the pairing while driving to Houston for a conference a couple of years ago and listening to A Room of One’s Own most of the way there. And then while walking around the Rice campus to view the school’s beauty and its outdoor art while Juliet Stevenson unrolled Virginia Woolf’s points about not walking on the grass and being barred from the library…

When I re-read those passages now, she isn’t walking on an imaginary campus my mind built from her own words, but on Rice’s lawns. And she’s burying Judith at the crossroads in The James Turrell “Twlight Epiphany” Skyspace and revealing a Mary on my way back out of town at the Rothko Chapel. But that’s a post I’m saving and have been working on for a while. It may never be just right, but I have to keep trying to capture the marriage of that voice, and those words, and these spaces.

But the point of this post is that I had no idea that Stevenson, basically, has done the audio for most of Woolf’s works. I thought it was a pairing I could return to in A Room but never experience again as that unrolling and unraveling and unfurling that enfolds and entangles and spins you into it instead of out. I stumbled onto the realization that I can have that experience again a few days ago when Audible reminded me I can’t hoard my credits and I was about to lose one and, by the way, would I like to try their 2-fo-1 mysteries special. There, as I was looking for a free book to go with my complete Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry (who wouldn’t go there?), I saw Juliet Stevenson’s name and bought, on my delight in her voice alone, House of Names by Colm Tóbín. And then it occurred to me to search her name in Audible. And there they were.

I chose To the Lighthouse first.

And it was magic. Just like the first time.

I’d listened to a few twenty-minute chunks here and there—driving, dressing.

And then today came. And for some reason everything was just an inch off. Maybe even just a centimeter, but nothing was right. Nothing was good. No matter how much I got done, all that was left to do loomed over me and whispered and bore down and reminded me that I can be as productive as I want, I can get as much of my shit together as I want…

But it will never be enough. I can do all the things and still have done next to nothing [or so says the anxiety in such moments].

Too many things. Too many people needing things. Too many little things keeping me from the big. Too many big things to even know where to start. Too much. Too much. Entirely too much.

So I took a break. And I let Theadora outside and I followed her with a ball and I put my ear buds in and I turned Juliet on and I let Virginia—slowly, brilliantly, electrically—unfurl the Ramsay family and I threw the ball and Theadora raced after it and she came back and dropped it and the family lived and I threw the ball and the day dimmed a bit and the thoughts slowed and Juliet spun out the tale as easy and steady as the lighthouse light there (but not) and Theadora ran and dropped and I picked up the ball and threw and the words hummed through and into flesh and a whole world sketched itself into my backyard where Theadora ran and I threw and Juliet spun on and Virginia wove us through and into the ups and downs of the Ramsay family and from one moment to the next they were this way and another and that…

And so was I. From one moment to the next, Juliet slowed me down, saved me in fact—saved the day—and when my timer went off and Theadora’s ball session was over, Juliet and Virginia sent me back in to that room of my own in that house of my own (that’s how lucky I am) to get something, anything, one thing that turned in to many more, done.

And I thought, “I’m in love with Juliet Stevenson’s voice. I’m in awe of Virginia Woolf, full stop.”

And together, together they are magic. At least for me.