Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Raconteur

More about this to follow...
One of the benefits of living close to where I was born and raised is that I can easily return to the old quarter-acre city-lot homestead. There, I inevitably find myself sifting through bookshelvesof which there are many. My father built all of them. Three bedrooms and a bath can be found on the second level, along with a thigh-high bookshelf that lines the length of the half-open hall to the stairway. In it I find a blanched copy (1954) of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises

In the sleeping quarters I shared with my two sisterslater converted to my parents' roomI find  a Second Edition of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction in bookshelves above a writing desk.  It contains stories by many of my favorite storytellersjust some of the Bs for instance: Bellow, Borges, Barthelme, Bradbury. I'm making headway. Higher up on the shelves, I find this and stop:

Circa 1960 3 ½" x 1 ½" Flashcards

Have I told you about my dad? You may remember I've mentioned him here and there.


With ample gesticulation, he loved to tell amusing stories that, usually, had a moral. After all, what was a story worth without a moral? (Said the teacher.) By way of example, there was this old parable he would tell about the Head:
Once there was this Head--just a Head—no body or appendages on which to drape fancy clothing.   The head was often sad and lonely, separate as he was from a world of full of bodies. Day after day the Head would roll to work, roll to lunch and roll home. Each day the Head would look longingly at the woman who worked at the desk next to his, but he could never work up the courage to speak to her—because, well, who would want to talk to a Head? Every night he prayed that he'd wake up as something different than a head. But every morning, he'd would wake as the same 'ole Head. Finally, late one night in the darkness of his bedroom, the Head could no longer contain his agony, and he cried out, "God, please help me. Why’d you make me this way? I don't want to be just a head. I want to be ANYTHING but a Head!"  The next morning, when he looked in the mirror he was amazed to discover he was no longer a Head. He’d been transformed into a Grape. 
“What great luck, he thought, now I can do something with my life—everyone loves grapes!" He happily rolled out his front door, and over to the house of the woman from work so he could ask her out. He bumped against her door   until she answered. She opened the door, but seeing as how she had legs and he did not, she looked out over the top of the Grape and didn’t see him, so she promptly closed the door. The Grape, however, refused to be denied. He again rolled up against the door until she responded. This time she opened the door, and again seeing nothing, stepped out the door to look around. As she did so, she stepped directly on the grape and squashed him.  

No, that's not true. Not entirely. The audience simultaneously frowned and chortled.  And they got the moral, too.

Whether oral, paper or electronic, stories are a ligament to our pastand often an augury of our futurethat reveal the desires, beliefs and values of a culture. When we blog, we contribute our own unique narrative to the great library of anecdotes. The tales are importantmoral or not. And you don't need to be Hemingway or Borges to tell a story.

Which brings me to the Liebster: I'd like to thank Tim, a middle school English teacher who chronicles wonderful, little slices of life at Life of Riles, for passing along to me some Liebster Blog (above award, or is it meme?) love. Go and see him, he's a very nice guy (one can tell these things, even in the blogosphere) and his slices always make me smile. I've received this awmeme in the past, but failed to adhere to the rules, which include award-passing, because I'm overcome with schoolgirl awkwardness and anxiety whenever I try choose a prescribed, finite number of recipients. There are just too many bloggers who pepper me with wit and consequential pondering. Once in a while, I'll make reference to them in my posts. 

For instance, today I stumbled upon Pueblo Waltz, a blog about the arts (music, literature, etc.) written by college student and Taylor J. Coe. He also writes his own music and plays it for you on this fairly new blog. His first post, concerning choice of blog name, describes the talented/tragic Townes Van Zandt (found on my Frolics page) as the real-life Bad Blake (the protagonist of Crazy Heart, written by one of my former professors whom, by the way, was a student of Barthelme's). I read the post with interest, of course, but that isn't how I stumbled onto Taylor's blog. To tell you the truth, I don't remember how I stumbled over thereI do a lot of stumbling maybe it had something to do with art and literature. 

Oh, heck, I'm going to just get over my schoolgirl awkwardness and bestow upon Taylor his very first blog award. Congratulations Taylor, the Liebster is yours for the taking. Nice job, my friend. And good luck with school this year. :)

In any event, my talented raconteurs: Write. Spread the love through narrative, poetry, song, however your hearts desire. I love sifting through your well-endowed blogger bookshelves—what I find is valuable and treasured.

(Oh, and if you're looking for vintage vocabulary flashcards like the ones my dad bought all those years ago, turns out you can find some in the the other jungle, eBay!)

22 comments:

  1. Aww what a beautiful piece you have here...'a ligament to our past and and augury to our future'..i like that a lot.
    The use of words and how they relate to your present situation is handled deftly and carefully as well and that is what attracts me, being a demon for words, though I haven't done a hell of a lot recently.
    Someone once told me that words and language are the net which capture our experience. You girl have done this very well here ;)

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  2. Thank you so much for the link to Taylor Coe. It is the most encouraging thing to find young writers and thinkers who'll pick up the baton. And I liked picturing your father's bookshelves. My parents had them built in to the home they designed together in 1959. We sold that home to my young second cousin when my parents died and I left most of the books on the shelves for the new residents to enjoy. I knew the spines of those books as well as I knew my own spine...well, better, really.

    Congratulations on your award!

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  3. I remember my mother’s tall oak bookcase. It had carvings of angels and leaves and held her favorite books. Mom, and her bookshelf, have long since moved on, but sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember some of the titles: Hugo’s Les Miserables, She enjoyed that one so much she gave me the middle name Cosette. Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, and of course Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
    How fortunate for you to be able to browse through the years of pages. To have some things still the same. I loved your post.

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  4. Thanks so much for the award! It's always great to learn that people are reading some of my writing and thinking about some of the same things as me (in other words, that people are listening to Townes Van Zandt).

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  5. when i was a little girl i used to get lost in my mom's bookshelves, she had the gold leaf volumes of the classics and shelves and boxes full of old paperbacks...i read gone with the wind when i was just ten and fell in love with her books like green mansions and the population bomb and a tree grows in brooklyn...i remember crawling under the covers with a flashlight to read my great grandmother's collection of elsie dinsmore books...my dad gave me books of poetry and we wandered through the tallest shelves at powell's and life was these few perfect memories of old books and a million words. i am happiest when i am surrounded by words whether it be books or good conversation, and love what you've shared and how it brings up things in my own mind.

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  6. I love the line in your post "Write. Spread the love through narrative, poetry, song, however your hearts desire." Yes, we all should.

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  7. Stepping into our childhood homes is as close to time travel as we'll ever get. My mom hasn't changed a thing in our 1950's home and once I step in the door I'm sucked right back.

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  8. I'll admit I am slow, but I am still working on the moral of the story.
    Is it... "Look before you walk out of the house in the morning or you might squash a grape that used to be a head pitied by God?"

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  9. Thanks for the introduction to Pueblo Waltz! I'm already trying to work up a post about his posts about film trailers. (Especially the stuff about Vladimir Propp.)

    From my own childhood, I remember one (smallish) bookshelf of our own, plus two others: one at the elementary school library, and one at the public library. Loved the muted audio vibes when standing by myself completely surrounded by books. The first time I was in a library with closed stacks it felt like a criminal violation.

    Raconteurs are to be treasured. I just looked up the word's etymology; the French root simply means "to tell" (in the manner of our recount). Quite an understatement, hmm? I've heard that this will be Keillor's last season with Prairie Home Companion -- even though I never listened to it much (hearing issues, y'know), the thought of not having him as part of the cultural landscape saddens me.

    My favorite sort of jokes are "shaggy-dog" jokes, jokes made in the telling -- the recounting -- and often lacking a real zingy punchline. Ditto shaggy-dog comedians, vs. the ones who fire one-liners like they're wielding a semi-automatic.

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  10. Dan, you demon- Funny, I read that quote somewhere not long ago...words or language as being a net for our experiences.

    It's such a joy to cast a net, isn't it? As someone who is rather uncomfortable speaking in public, I'm always in awe of those who can capture an audience with oral narratives. It's such a talent.

    Keep writing your stories--they're quite entertaining! I have a feeling you probably tell some good ones, too. ;)

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  11. Nance- I thought so, too. Very encouraging!

    You left the books on the shelves?! Yikes, I don't know how you did that. I have a hard time leaving books. But the many that I keep I'm not so kind to--they sit in the basement and turn grey and brittle.

    It sounds, though, like you've got those books pretty well imprinted with no need to open the pages again. Kind of you to leave them for the new owners. ;)

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  12. Leah- I'm guessing you have a copy of Les Miserables. I don't think that baby is part of the collection at the old homestead.

    You know, I keep telling my mother she should sell the house. It's over 100 years old and it's a lot to take care of, but I know, for her, selling that house would be like parting with my father again. So much of him is there--the books, the built-in shelves, the desks and so many other items collected during his 30 years of teaching.

    It is awfully nice to be able to go back there and poke around. :)

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  13. Taylor- I can't tell you how happy I was to hand it over to you. As Nance said, young writers and thinkers (and songwriters, too!) blogging about the arts... all very encouraging.

    The literary world thrives! And it sounds like there's some mighty good stuff going on at Hamilton--they are definitely living up to their strapline: A NATIONAL LEADER in teaching students to write effectively, learn from each other and think for themselves. Bravo Hamilton, and kudos to you.

    Keep doing what you're doing... I want to keep reading about it. ;)

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  14. EccoGrrl- Oh, what a lovely collection your mom did keep. And grandma's Elsie Dinsmore! I remember that series.

    This makes me smile--every kid should read a book under the covers with a flashlight. I hope they do. Of course, now we have those little reader lights for books, so we don't really need the flashlight, but the flashlight, well, you know, is more irreverent! ;)

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  15. Dicky- We all do in our own special way. It's good to have you back here in blogger world, spreading the love, too. :)

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  16. Leonora- That is exactly how I feel! Time traveling--especially when the house is old and in need of a little TLC.

    Our house is pretty much precisely as it's always been, also. Thus, the need to linger. And then, there's Mom... we do go off on tangents. ;)

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  17. Munk- God pities heads! Then why is my head stuffed with migraine? Humph.

    It's OK Munk, you need to be about five years old to get the moral. ;)

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  18. JES- Ah, the school and public libraries! Such memories there. Thanks for the reminder about those muffled sounds... so true. Funny, last June I was back at my old high school (where my family and I go every June to present to a scholarship in my dad's name). This year we met with teachers in the library before the awards ceremony. It had been years since I'd been in that library. As a high schooler, it seemed like an enormous repository that I could get lost in. Last June, it looked so much smaller (and worse for the wear) than I'd remembered. I hope our libraries aren't shrinking.

    Raconteur is such a sexy word, isn't it? And Keillor-I adore him! Saw him at the Wang Center in Beantown years ago, in his black tux and red sox. I had funny tears in my eyes all night. Yep, he's my shaggy dog guy.

    And then, there's David Sedaris... Now I want to go and pull a couple of very funny books off the shelves. :)

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  19. always great to read your posts Jayne. It must be good to be able to go back to where you grew up. My folks have moved a fair bit so it feels disjointed and like there isn't that place anymore.

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  20. It was so fun looking through your old homestead as well as learning some things about your dad. I can picture the book shelf. I also have The Sun Also Rises; have been carrying it around with me for years. Thanks for the link to Pueblo Waltz.

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  21. The other side of stepping into your childhood home is all the pain and loss and heartache that is associated with it, how the house your father paid for is now occupied by some other man while he lives in a 5 room flat in the city, how that man and your mother have changed it beyond recognition with additions (and subtractions), how instead of a bookcase there is a gun rack, the only bookcase i remember from my youth was plastic and stored the collected works of one Theodore Geisel.

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  22. Kono- Well then, there is that side--for almost everyone. 'Tis what we do with that pain that matters.

    My childhood wasn't a scene out of the Brady Bunch (gosh, I don't mean to portray it like that!), and maybe some day, some day I'll elaborate on those demons. But I may need a pseudonym for that. or just the right time. Anyway--I think you've seen those devils here and there.

    You know how to draw from those painful experiences over at the lounge. I admire you for that (even though I don't really know who your are), admire the raw writing--which always reminds me that I need to slash, slash my darlings.

    And Seuss, he's a savior in a chaotic home. In any home. He's the very best read to pluck from the shelf. ;)

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