05 January 2017

Gifted

by Eve Fisher

Necklines plunged further, needing a chemisette to be worn underneath. Sleeves widened at the elbow, while bodices ended at the natural waistline. Skirts widened and were further emphasised by the addition of flounces.
Victorian Ladies, a/k/a Wikipedia
I trust that everyone had a Merry Christmas,  Happy Hanukkah, Silly Little Solstice, a Happy New Year, survived the holidays (this is harder for some than others - come to an Al-Anon meeting over the holidays some time and I'll show you), and were/are/will be gifted with good things.  We had a lovely time, thank you.

Other than the fact that our furnace went bad on Boxing Day, and we had a couple of days of Victorian temperatures in the house (50s and 60s) while waiting for parts to arrive. (BTW, now I understand completely why Victorians wore 37 pounds of clothing.  It wasn't all about modesty.)  We were lucky.  Considering it was 14 degrees outside, with a windchill of minus 5, when this happened, we were VERY lucky. Our plumber showed up by 8 AM, and our furnace, thank God! is fixed!!!  Huzzah!!!!

I did almost no writing over the holidays - too much going on for concentrated work, and when I did sit down at the old computer (or even the old pad and paper), I managed to distract myself really well. But I did get a lot of reading done.  I always get a lot of reading done.  I have a gift for reading.

I am very fortunate.  I started early.  My mother taught me to read when I was three years old.  (She always said she did it because she got sick of reading the same story to me every night before bedtime, and I believe her.)  One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor of the old living room in Alexandria, VA, with an array of word flash cards that my mother made out of plain index cards.  I specifically remember putting the word "couch" on the couch.  I don't know how long it took me to actually learn to read, but I know that by the time I was four, I was reading [simple] fairy tales on my own.  I can't tell you how magical, how full, how rich, how unforgettable it is to read fairy tales at the right age, all by yourself.

Someone once said, they liked books rather than TV, because books had better pictures.  When you start reading young enough, they do.  Then and now.  I can still remember the worlds that those fairy tales created in my mind - so real that I shivered, walking down a snowy lane.  I could smell the mud under the bridge where the troll lived.  The glass mountain with the glass castle on top of it, and the road running around the bottom.  And it only increased over time.  I know the exact gesture that Anna Karenina made as she turned to see Vronsky at the ball; have heard the Constance de Beverley's shriek of despair, walled up in Lindesfarne; have seen the drunken Fortunato bouncing down the stone walls of the tunnel to the wine vault; have shivered slightly as drops of cool water fell upon the sunbather. For me, reading is a multisensory experience.

And I get drunk on words.  Let's put it this way:  when I read John Donne's poetry, I fell in love with a dead man, and cursed my fate that I never, ever, ever got to meet the man who wrote such burning words...  And I've had the same experience with others:  Shakespeare, Tennyson, Chaucer, Cavafy, Gunter Grass, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Laurie Lee, Rostand, Emily Bronte, Dickinson, I fall hard and deep and willing into words.

My office.  And this isn't the only wall covered with books.
When something gives you this much pleasure, you get good at it.  For over fifty years I've read every day, obsessively, compulsively, constantly. When I was a child, I knew that reading was the best thing in life, and there were too many books and too little time.  So I taught myself to read faster - not speed reading, I don't skip (although thanks to graduate school, I do know how to gut a book) - but I can read every word at an accelerated pace.  (My husband says I devour books.)  And I remember what I read. My mind has its own card catalog, dutifully supplying (still) plot and main characters (sometimes minor ones, too), as well as dialog and best scenes from a whole roomful of books.  And I think about a book, while I'm reading and afterwards.  I analyze it.  I synthesize it with other readings.  I'm damn good at reading.  It's probably the thing I'm best at.
BTW, this was one reason I really enjoyed graduate school, because (in history at least) you spend most of your time reading books - a minimum of 1 per class per week - and then writing an analysis to present to the class, as well as reading everyone else's analysis and arguing away about it.  I was in my element at last.  
Scenes from a Marriage DVD cover.jpgAnyway, constant reading as a child inevitably led to wonder about writing my own.  The real breakthrough into writing came when I realized that the Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote the "Little House" books was the same as the Laura Ingalls character in the "Little House" books.  Wow!  Real people actually wrote these! So I started writing.  I wrote very bad poetry on home-made cards for my family, and I wrote short-shorts (now called flash fiction).  I tried writing novels, but as a child I thought that you had to start at the beginning and go straight through until the end, without any changes or editing, and it never occurred to me that people plotted things out.  So I was 24 before I wrote my first novel (a sci-fi/fantasy that has been sitting on my shelf - for very good reasons - for years).  

Before that, I went through a folk-singer / rock star stage and wrote songs.  I wrote my first short story in years because someone bet me I couldn't do it (I won that bet), and then many more short stories that were mostly dull.  Until I had a magic breakthrough about writing dialog watching - I kid you not - Bergman's "Scenes From A Marriage".  I stayed up all night (I was so much younger then) writing dialog which for the first time sounded like dialog and realized...  well, I went off writing plays for a few years.  Came back to writing short stories.  Along with articles, essays, and blog posts.

And here I am.  Good to see all of you, damn glad to be here.

Meanwhile, Constant Reader (thanks, Dorothy Parker!) keeps on reading.  And re-reading.  Speaking of re-reading, I don't see why people don't do more of it.  I mean, if you like going to a certain place for lunch, dinner, picnics, weekends, or vacations, why not keep reading stories / books that do the trick?  If it's a real knock-out, I'll read it a lot more than twice.  By now I've practically memorized the "Little House" books, "Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass", "David Copperfield", "The Left Hand of Darkness", "Death of a Doxy", "The Thin Man", "Pavilion of Women", "The Mask of Apollo", "In This House of Brede", "The Small House at Allington", "Cider With Rosie", "Nemesis", "Death Comes for the Archbishop", "The Round Dozen", and a whole lot more, not to mention a few yards of poetry. Because I want to go to the places those books and stories and poems take me, again and again and again...  Or I'm just in the mood for that voice, like being in the mood for John Coltrane or Leonard Cohen or Apocalyptica, for beef with broccoli or spanakopita or lentil soup.

So, this Christmas, I reread some Dickens, Miss Read's "Christmas Stories", "Hans Brinker & the Silver Skates", and Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales".  BTW, I have "A Child's Christmas in Wales" in the collection "Quite Early One Morning", available here, which includes "How To Be A Poet", the most hilarious send-up of the writing life I have ever read.  Excerpt:
"The Provincial Rush, or the Up-Rimbaud-and-At-Em approach.  This is not wholeheartedly to be recommended as certain qualifications are essential...  this poet must possess a thirst and constitution like that of a salt-eating pony, a hippo's hide, boundless energy, prodigious conceit, no scruples, and - most important of all, this can never be overestimated - a home to go back to in the provinces whenever he breaks down."  [Sound advice for us all...]
Reading, writing, good food, good company, good conversation...  life doesn't get much better than this.  I've found my calling, which makes me a very gifted person indeed.

Happy New Year!







14 comments:

Art Taylor said...

So much enjoyed this post--and inspired by your reading life! And need to watch Scenes from a Marriage now, which I don't think I've seen before..... (I went through a Bergman phase years ago, an off-shoot of my love of Woody Allen's films, which helped teach me about how to write dialogue!)

janice law said...

A super post with so many nostalgic titles.

I always aspired to be a reader- not a writer!

John Floyd said...

What a fantastic column! Glimpses into your writing life AND your reading life.

Believe me, I'm with you, on RE-reading those favorite books--I do it all the time.

Thanks for the great post. (Like Art, I now plan to watch Scenes From a Marriage--again.)

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, Janice. Art and John, "Scenes from a Marriage" is definitely dark, but the dialog is so real (of course, in my childhood, parents fought a lot) that it just triggered something in my head. Thank God.

Melodie Campbell said...

A great list of things I really need to read (or reread) - thank you, Eve!

B.K. Stevens said...

Wonderful post, Eve. I agree with you about rereading favorite books. I don't know how many times I've read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Barchester Towers, Gaudy Night, and a few others; I'm probably better off not knowing. And then there are the special joys of rereading childhood favorites with children and, when we can, with grandchildren. I reread the Little House books with my daughters when we lived in South Dakota (glad you're surviving your long winter, by the way); now, my older daughter is rereading them with her children. And we gave our ten-year-old grandson the audio book of Little Men for Hanukkah--he'd already read the book but wanted the audio version too because he likes listening to audio books after he goes to bed. So I guess we have another generation of reading addicts on our hands.

Barb Goffman said...

Ahh, reading. And I love your bookshelves.

Steve Liskow said...

Great post, Eve, and so true.
The books we learn to read are our center, so we go back to them.
Kids who are not read to by their elders will never understand what they've missed...and may never catch up.

When I re-read books, I remember my parents, grandmother, aunts, cousins, and everyone else who read them to me the first time. And I see the house, the Christmas tree where those wrapped books waited for me, and all the rest of those times.

Books transcend time. Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, The Time Machine (how appropriate!).

And I wish I had room for your bookcases, too.

Eve Fisher said...

Thank you, Melodie, B.K., Barb, and Steve. I forgot Gaudy Night, which I love. And Emma. Huck Finn, Treasure Island... And so many others.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, a beautiful post. I understand completely.

Two side notes. When my folks got into some of their frequent arguments, I could escape to another world, one of adventure, in a book above my age grade (Scaramouche, Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, etc.). And secondly, when our Springs grandsons were very young, I would read them their favorite books (at their request) so many times that they supplied the next word or sentence if I paused. They both read well now, which is a good thing because their schools are pushing books and book reports.

Elizabeth said...

A lovely post, Eve. I'm the oldest of three & my mother didn't teach me to read, but probably could have saved herself some aggravation if she had. I started reading to my daughter when she was just a few weeks old. She had Goodnight Moon, the Color Kittens, Space Case, Babar, the Poky Little Puppy, & many others. But she was just as happy being read to out of an office supply or gardening catalog. The little tiny kids don't care anything about plot or characterization!

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, those storybook illustrations look so familiar… I wonder if we had some of the same books? Some illustrations were so intricate with gilt highlights, they came with a special protective paper.

Sometime after school, I lost my ability to speed-read. For a long time I found it frustrating, but now I accept the slower journey. I seldom re-read though because there’s way too much new stuff I want to devour.

Glad your furnace is working! And I’m glad you turned to writing.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, R.T. and Elizabeth - I still reread my favorite escapes. As C. S. Lewis once said, sometimes every adult novel (other than Sherlock Holmes) seems to be rubbish.
Leigh - those are the Arthur Rackham illustrations, which I got from Wikipedia. He used to be THE illustrator for children's books. I think at some point we've all seen his work, maybe even drowned in it...

Mary Montoya said...

Now I know why you have so much knowledge to share about often arcane subjects on our AVP weekends.