Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading to Escape - a rough Part 1

I do have high reading & writing skills – I won’t be overly modest about that, it’s been tested – but unlike a lot of kids/people who intimidate me, I didn’t know how to read before I started school. In fact I’m not even sure I knew the alphabet before starting school – I remember it seeming new in First Grade. (I didn’t get bored until maybe the end of Second Grade. Before then I was avid for what Tomball Elementary had to teach me!) In Second Grade I learned to read – words, sentences, not a lightning flash of comprehension but no big road block either. In my memory, it seems that as soon as we had learned to read short Dick & Jane sentences (yes, I think that book was still in use…at least in 1968 in Tomball) there was a “who can read the most books” contest. Pressure…2nd grade version. For the first few weeks, other kids (girls, and nerdy ones at that, of course) were in the lead, but then I pulled ahead. I didn’t stay in the lead for weeks at a time, but I emerged as a contender.

Because the competitive Sarah reared up – that Sarah who had already been oriented to competition simply (or not so simply) by being the little sister of two intelligent, book-loving older brothers. A historic letter of my mother to her mother quoted me as saying that when I got a little older, I would be The Oldest Child! – apparently I couldn’t wait for that ascension – not only did I want to rule but I wanted to be the smartest of my siblings. I wanted to correct their mistakes. For example, a zillion years later I am still smarting that my brother Dave – snarkily, adolescent-style – corrected my pronunciation of “salmon.” (I argued with him, but of course I lost. I still check dictionaries sometimes to see if the pronunciation I thought was right is at least secondary. Dave still acts superior though, so it doesn't matter.)

Anyway, books…early reading, and reading since…what reading seemed to mean to my family…the horrible periods of time that I couldn’t read because of no access to books, or even worse, no ability to concentrate…the times I couldn’t stop reading... This big subject could almost use its own blog, my gosh.

To try to help myself get started – yes, I am intimidated by this topic – I looked for a section I remembered from one of my draft novels. OK, yes, it is a romance novel, but I don’t always refer to it as that, don’t want to pigeonhole it, would prefer it considered in a special category. (I would like myself considered in a special category! In all things. Unique is the way to go.)

Even if not a published writer, I have written a lot of stuff in my 48 years and it feels good that I have something available to borrow when needed…don’t have to create after a long day at work, can ethically steal (great phrase!) from myself.

Although actually this excerpt below was hard to clean up – when I last worked on it, in 2002, I was not yet on anxiety meds and could only write creatively if I put a huge number of question marks in every sentence. It made me too anxious to make actual final word decisions when I was in the creative mode – I left that for the editing phase, which never came – I mean, which hasn’t come yet. If I live to be 100 I know I will have time/resources-energy to finish this particular book! Given 50 years to procrastinate that ship will finally dock, I think.

My blog readers might find a few questions marks cute, but not dozens, not in 2-3 paragraphs…so I must draw on the anxiety-suppressing meds I swallowed this morning (hours ago), and persevere.

DEEP BREATH. (And yes, big gulp of Chardonnay.) I am going to take out question marks, delete mysterious phrases, add missing words, and basically smooth out the sentences. This is not to submit to a Manhattan book publisher – this is for a Tuesday night blog post. And the finished product will almost surely NOT please me anyway. I wrote it years ago! I have evolved since then and so has my writing. Why didn’t I just do this from scratch...is editing really easier than creating? Is the editor part of my brain still awake? OOOOKKKKKAAAAYYYY. Geez – it is such a short excerpt – but so hard to contemplate an unfinished novel – where is my wine glass…


Beth was hard on herself that she didn’t have more pop cultural knowledge as defined by, for example, Wheel of Fortune – not that Wheel of Fortune was the height of culture, but game participants and viewers were assumed to have a certain degree of cultural knowledge. She read a lot of library books but too much teen romance (1950s teen romances, which the library had a lot of, plus a few recent Judy Blumes) and Harold Robbins. She had read the newspaper – at least skimmed it – for 3 World Events topics during a high school social studies project. Had clipped a couple of recipes since… Maybe the problem was not enough primetime TV (the family still had TV rules, just having finally gotten a TV hadn't busted open the floodgates) and not enough nonfiction. Beth knew she mostly stayed in her own world – not the junior high world. Not the hometown world. Lots of visits to fictional worlds, but…

She had done what she could to move her level of knowledge up toward an adult notch. Not at an adult notch, but aiming that direction. One day she came home and announced, “Mother, I checked out some books from the adult section,” and her mother had said OK. Having already – if unknowingly – started her last year on earth, although having a not-bad day, Mother did sound a little weak and distracted. Beth didn’t clearly see that sad future either, but she immediately felt some guilt because she didn’t think a complete, coherent approval had been approved from her mother. Mother probably assumed Beth, who was an early and good reader, needed more challenge book-wise.

Yes, Beth felt guilty over having sneaked Harold Robbins and his smarmy writer compatriots past her mother this way, but once she started with Robbins she didn’t want to stop and the ability to continue without confrontation felt more important than complete honesty. She was far from articulating what would later become a prime philosophy of hers, “It’s OK to tell a white lie when you know people don’t want the truth.” But she knew that when the grandmother-age librarian lady usually stationed at the desk, who unfortunately attended her church, balked at stamping the Harold Robbins check-out cards and worse, suggested that she read some kind of smarmy series about somebody with freckles – sounded like an extra-boring Anne of Green Gables – she should hold her head high. “Mother knows I am checking these out.” There wasn’t much that grandma-lady could say that to that.

Of course the next time Beth checked out another book that – in Beth’s mind – would prove to be a valuable resource in understanding about pornography, prostitution, and transvestites in general – the Grandma librarian would ask again about the Freckles series. But Beth would hang tough.

Beth suspected her junior high peers weren't reading these books. They knew more than Beth about almost everything in the pop culture. But they were strangers to Harold Robbins. Yeah.


Courtenay said...

Sarah....I am reading these out of order. You had a link to your blog via facbook and found this one. Choosing "Beth" as your name...a bit Freudian, don't you think? Do you really think Mrs. Sims believed you? Ha, ha. What you don't know, and should know, as you were making your ascent to adulthood, there were a bunch of adults in Tomball "trying" to be adults. I was reading voraciously during the same years. Granted, I was in college until '73, but events occurred which propelled me into psychological books (still can't say self-help). There we were, both trying to grow into our skins...separated by about a mile and a half...if that far. So close in spirit.

SarahBowie said...

Do we ever really grow into our skins...but we can't completely shed them either.