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…”

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~

*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.

Flashback: nov·el·T Writes the Apocalypse

I fell down a rabbit hole today, combing through old computer files to curate a project I want to work on later, and found so many old writings I had forgotten about. Some are cringe-worthy, some surprisingly good, some hilariously melodramatic (I blame the genres). Then I came across this. And the nostalgia hit me hard enough that, no matter the quality of this piece, I had to share it here.

So, back in the day, when I was a brand new high school teacher fresh off the assembly line, I opened up my classroom after school for student writers to try NaNoWriMo and, after November was over, they stayed and we formed the nov·el·T club (our school’s name was Timberview). As a club, we decided to write a novel together. We world-builded as a group, loosely sketched an over-arching plot, and then assigned chapters to singles or pairs who wrote their chunks before passing what they wrote to the next group to continue the story and so on and so forth. The students asked me to write the “Intro,” the sort of preface that set the scene, explained a little bit why our brand of the Apocalypse occurred, and that they could all refer back to to keep the story on track. No pressure.

Do keep in mind, this would have been around Aught 9, the very height of The Hunger Games (book) craze and my students (OK, me too) ate those books up and devoured anything Amazon might have spit out under Customers who bought this item also bought…

I share this “Intro” as an artefact of a younger, idealistic me who would have written anything–no matter how wacky or nerdy or anime-inspired–those kids asked me to and had a blast doing it. I loved those students. While there are many things about teaching high school I don’t miss, they aren’t one of them.

I wish I remembered the name of the novel or had any of the other parts (we never did finish it), but this was all I found in my searching today, and it’s time to climb out of the rabbit hole and plan my American Lit class for tomorrow in which we will discuss, as one of the authors we’re reading says, that “Stories are a wondrous thing. And they are dangerous.”* That they very much do create our world with us and that it’s not such a stretch, or speculation, to say that, one day, they will help us end it too.

How’s that for melodrama? Even if it is true.

[ PS: You’ll notice I made the President a woman. Back then I thought, Surely that won’t be a thing of fiction for long. Almost a decade later and alas. One day. ]

[ PSS: I dare you to not love that last line. Genius. 😉 ]

~

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Intro

The world ended because of a poem about flowers.

Nationwide, students rallied behind symbolism the long-dead poet probably never intended. They plastered his lines on buildings and shouted them in mobs and set them to music and strummed them with guitars. The President took offense and the Congress didn’t back her, though the House certainly did, and the Prime Minister across the sea seized the opportunity to poke fun and open old wounds and the tension built until one diplomat at one dinner said the wrong thing and…well.

The poem seemed like such a small thing at the time.

The war isn’t worth mentioning. Or, maybe, it’s too much to mention. One war is like another, after all. Regardless of time or place or instigator or victim or beginning or end.

People rebelled. People took sides. People enlisted. People protested. People burned the poem. People tucked the poem away in their hearts for another, safer, time.

People, too many people, died.

What is worth mentioning is that, in the end, it was North America versus the world. The US, Canada, and Mexico. Strong. United. Holding a hungry, angry world at bay. But then our President chose the unthinkable; she unleashed what should never have been unleashed.

One bomb: a seemingly normal missile in a seemingly everyday barrage. Except this one contained just one thimble-full of a disease that had been dormant since the Ice Age, that no one but the American scientists who’d discovered it knew existed, much less had a cure for. Silene Fever, extracted from one of the frozen flowers Russians revived and American scientists stole…though no one knew anything about that story until far, much too far, later.

One target: Great Britain herself.  From the heart of the country that spawned ours, the Fever spread. House to house, city to city, county to country. And, like dominoes, the world fell one continent at a time. Except for North America, the Alliance, who’d all been sharing rations, who’d all been drinking the same protein shake pushed on us by a government trying to keep us healthy when trade embargoes cut off our resources  We didn’t know they’d been inoculating us and our allies. We didn’t know they’d planned this strike for longer than any of us could have possibly imagined. Neither did the other Alliance governments.

Horrified, Canada and Mexico turned on the United States too. Our borders shrank as the remaining Alliance herded us, north and south, killing and overrunning as they went. All to get to the President and her Cabinet hiding from the allies they’d thought would be grateful, would fall at their feet and unite under the President’s leadership.

We fought back, but we were divided—fighting among ourselves over who was right and who was wrong. Fracturing into dozens and then hundreds of factions. Banding together where we could, with who we could, just to survive our own infighting.  We didn’t have the horror and disgust the Alliance had to unite them. We were, instead, the cause of their anger; our country’s crime was their rallying point.

Our numbers dwindled until we were crammed into the heart of what was once an expansive nation. We became a sad amalgamation of what was once South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma. What now has no real name except for what whoever holds the land in that moment chooses to name it.

The Alliance contained us here and destroyed the rest of our nation. With biological and chemical warfare. With fire and pollution and flood and any other conceivable punishment they found that would scar the land around us and leave it unusable. Out there beyond the scorched and decimated land, the Alliance moves on, repairing the world or licking its wounds. None of us knows.

We are isolated. The ravaged remains of a nation, imprisoned by what’s left of the world for the sins of a government we now hate. Trapped in an island of bare-civilization among a sea of wasted land that stretches far beyond where our strongest could walk and still make it back alive. Within our little reservation boundaries shift, alliances form and fracture. The Gangs roam and conquer and die out and are reborn.

The Fever is still free in the world.

We are immune but not all of our children and grandchildren are. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern, genetics and fate are equally harsh. Some survive, some don’t, some live so deformed it frightens even those meant to love them the most.

We are immune, but the animals weren’t. At the best, whole species died out. At the worst they mutated into things that hunt us now, that walk the Wastes between our land and the Alliance beyond.

Resources are scarce. Worth dying for.

Poetry is shunned. All but forgotten except among those with hearts strong enough and dreams crazy enough to overcome the pain and fear now associated with what everyone believes destroyed the world.

As for the flowers the poet sang of…Well, there are none.

~

*The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King

Photo: Fire Pink (Silene virginica) © Jeffrey Pippen

 

National Read Aloud Day

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In honor of National Read Aloud Day, a picture of me and Eleanor reading my favorite BabyLit®  book, Moby Dick, on my most recent trip to SLC:

Tonight, Eleanor is much more involved in our reading…she counts anything and everything on each page, waiting for me to read the words before providing the numbers. She bounces on my leg and yells out “1, 2, 3, 4…” usually 5, sometimes up to 6 and the occasional word and points and points and points. It is one more reminder of how much she’s grown and changed since I saw her in November. Also new: she looks at me, grinning, when I do the pirate and captain voices. There’s some extra awareness now in this grin even though it’s the same voices–one of the reasons I love this book so much–I’ve done for over a year. But it’s the last page that always gets me, the quote from the original text: “Sing out for new stars.” And, as with many things that could mean many things, that string of words written together tugs at something (hard to pinpoint) in me–my heart, my hope, my sense of possibility and adventure. All of which–hope, possibility, adventure–I want for her and which somehow we share–or I imagine we share–through my conjuring of words off the board-page into the air.

Tonight, as I type here in Texas days later and miles and miles away, I hear my voice reading lines I know by heart:

The waves rolled by like scrolls of silver.  

Shipmates, have ye shipped in that ship?

Better to sail with a moody good Captain than a laughing bad one.

Anchor.

Harpoons.

If you’re a big white whale, bite here…

Also new: after we sing our songs (You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…Jesus loves me, this I know…) and Eleanor says our prayers (Jesus, our hearts…Aunt Say precious…And mommy and daddy and Shepard and Gammie and Gampsie…Amen) and I ask for and she gives me a big hug and I lift her up and into her bed and tuck her in (comfy cozy), she does the voices herself.

Shipmates ship ship (with her mouth all folded in and her little voice deep and her head bobbing side to  side and a grin when I laugh. And repeat, repeat, repeat to make Aunt Say laugh again, again, again…)

Ship shipped. Shipmates. Ship.

Also new: after I tell her I love her so much (I love you, Aunt Say) and give her her “towel” (Thank you) and say I’ll see you in the morning (See you in the morning) and turn off the light (Awwww) and slip out of the room, Kate looks up from where she’s holding Shepard in the living room and smiles and says the other night after they’d read the book she’d picked out, Eleanor asked to read Moby Dick and said it was her favorite.

There aren’t words to capture my answering smile, to conjure the swell of my heart off the screen-page and into the air.

Or maybe there are:

Sing out for new stars…

You Turn (Remembering, 1 Year Later)

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1 year since the first break (which was a “first-ever” soon to be, only months later, also a “first-that-year”)–L MB above, the one with a metal plate and eleven screws. 1 year since someone who could barely skate skated out onto the rink thinking she’d be a Roller Derby Queen–Rogue Won, a name I never got to claim–and tried a 180° turn when she could barely take the curve on the track. “What Is” turns on a dime, on four wheels–up one second, on the ground the next–and in that dime, on those four wheels, a lifetime, a slow-motion flash of a single starburst against a suddenly black-screen world–pain’s excess translated into a picture because the reality is a bit much, as they say. Same starburst-against-black as with my ACL back in my Intramural Basketball days and I knew, I knew it was bad–I thought, this is real, this isn’t happening, but it was–and I was still up and there was nowhere to go for a second but down, down on the same ankle…you can imagine. Then–forever, a second laterI fell. Then Little Murdermaid skated over, laughing, ready to cheer me on and get me back up, thinking it was just me falling again. And, barely looking at it out of the corner of my eye (cause when I’d looked before it seemed like my leg ended at my ankle and that image didn’t really compute), I said, deadpan and telling myself to breathe to be calm to not be that person, “I don’t think that’s normal.” She didn’t get it. So I pointed this time, looked at it myself for emphasis–it still didn’t compute but I knew and I said, “That’s not normal.” She said, “I’ll call the ambulance.” I said, “OK.”

One turn. Up one second, down the next. And life is never more real–reality never more felt–than in those moments where What Is shifts the simplest nanonothing into What Is. And the pain is nothing compared to the loss of…no, to the reminder that you never had control and the knowing–in your bones, broken or not–that there is no going back just that second (not even when it’s still one second, not even when it’s only five minutes, and certainly not when it’s 1 year later and going back doesn’t seem to matter so much as going forward). Time–that they say isn’t linear, that they say bends and spirals and plays and whatever else–is never more obvious, more powerful, more unyielding, more ridiculous than when This Is Happening while your mind insists It’s Not.

It’s good to be here–1 year later where the aftershocks of that knowing are less often and less real. These words are a starburst. Some black marks across a white page that translate the excess, the accessible, but not the moment, the reality, the knowing itself. That which can only be felt in living the shift from This to This.

Like when you step in a hole….but that’s a remembering for another time.