listening to: Deep Dish
For those of you who asked, and those of you who don’t care yet find yourself reading this anyway, this is my new desk:
This is my new desk in mood lighting:
This is the view from my desk, complete with small wayward child:
And this is an excerpt from a thing that I am working on at my desk:
But I am not a well-rounded type. Not then, not now. I am ‘spiky’. I learned to read when I was 5 – I know this because I found mid-year kindergarten report cards that proclaimed “Justine is reading!” – and bought my first book for two dollars at the local Coles bookstore. It was Blubber, by Judy Blume, and one of the big kids had written a book report in the school newsletter about it. I was with a childhood friend named Andrea who also bought a copy of Blubber, and the next day I went to her house and asked her if she’d finished it. I was surprised when she said no. This would have been my first inkling – if I’d been old and mature enough to have such things as inklings – that I was not your typical reader. In grade one I would sit in reading group, bored out of my little-girl skull, while other kids sounded out Dick and Jane. I flipped through to the ‘teacher’s instructions’ at the back and read those. Then we’d return to our desks and I’d pull out my copy of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Although I didn’t know this at the time – and wouldn’t until I ran into that same teacher over a decade later – the teacher never believed that I was truly reading Christie. She thought I was staring at the pages for show. Just another intellectually pretentious little first-grader.
Reading was my first and most powerful drug*. I didn’t want to go out on the playground during recess and lunch hour. I would hide somewhere in the school building and read. In junior high I found excellent nesting places among the stacks in the library, at least until my teacher realized where I was (and wasn’t). He would pound angrily on the windows to flush me out. The grown-ups in my life seemed determined that I learn how to socialize like a normal kid, which I was beginning to realize I wasn’t, not quite. I was lonely and craved popularity but could only be with other kids for a certain amount of time. I got bored. I wanted to get back to my book.
Fiction raised me. Although I remember getting the birds-and-the-bees conversation from my parents in a way that didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time – something about a seed getting planted in the woman’s vagina, how gross, and what did gardening have to do with human babies? – my sexual education came to me, thoroughly and in-depth, from books. I read Judy Blume and learned about menstruation, wet dreams, erections, and first love; I read Richard Peck’s Are You In The House Alone and learned about date rape; I read my way through VC Andrews and learned about forbidden desire. I read so much about HIV – I came of age during the AIDS crisis – that I could lecture adults about how it was and was not transmitted. I knew about the different kinds of birth control years before I had any use for them. I knew that sex seemed simple enough but could get really complicated really quickly and made you emotionally vulnerable and had a seedy underside and a dark side and could ruin your life if you got pregnant, as several girls in my high school proceeded to do. None of the adults taught me this, at least not in a way that made any real impression. Fiction did. Fiction delivered not just a ‘message’ but rich emotional context and power that sent that message resonating through gut, heart and soul. Fiction was like stepping into a whole other life – a succession of lives – and the knowledge I gathered there I could bring back into my so-called real one. It was a strange kind of knowledge, it was the knowledge of life gleaned from books, of hard-won experience when I was an innocent, but it was knowledge nonetheless, and it fueled my hunger for more, more, more. I wanted the world. And no one, absolutely no one, could talk me out of it.
* Caffeine. I am a slave to the caffeine.