As other projects eroded away under the weight of my own disinterest, I’ve decided to cut my losses and not let a withered vine waste internet space. I’ve amalgamated Celluloid Heroes posts into this blog. And after a bit of bushwacking, I found my old Livejournal account from 2005. I’ve also brought some of those posts over. Even if they do not amount to nothing more than “Yay! The semester is Ov-vah!” they are still a mark of who I once was… in a terrifying version of It’s a Wonderful Life.
After spending the majority of the years 2001 through to 2007 going to university and working in two different bookstores, I managed to accumulate several hundred books. I counted once mid-2005 and it was about 350. More gathered since, both before and after the Grand Library Merger with Husband’s collection in 2011. Even after the Moving House Purges of 2006, 2009, and 2012, I would reckon that we entered July 2013 with about 400-500 books.
The importance of a single book in your library is indescribable. Each book is like a photograph. I pick up a book and am transported to the time and place where I collected it. Was it for Engl 105, that fantastic introduction to Joan Didion? Was it the last copy of a bargain book I found during a shift at Chapters? Was it a gift from an ex-boyfriend who meant well (but probably not that well, since he should have known that I worked at a bookstore and must have known that Dover Classics are about two bucks apiece, so thanks-but-no-thanks for the six dollars well spent on Dante).
But like Frodo Baggins, we are going to a place where books cannot follow. The cost is too great to ship or store that many books and there is something liberating about casting off our libraries: literally getting rid of baggage; literally getting rid of dead weight (dead trees, that is); literally pawning the past.
At the end of all of that, the four books below were the four I simply could not bear to part with.* Four. Out of four hundred. What is it about those four? What power is it they hold over me? Do those four books hold the core of who I am? I can even recall the years I bought them all. Howl was 1998. Bethlehem was 2001 (for Engl 105). The Jungle was 2006. Lorca was just 2011.
That’s the narrative of my life.
All of this was quite unintentional.
*Not counting obvious keepers like my grandmother’s old copy of Jane Eyre from 1918 and souvenirs like I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York.
As I pack up the last year and a half of my life (a nightmare of Rubbermaid tubs and grovelling to used bookstores), I just want to say, your Downtown was better than your Uptown (although Uptown was better than I thought it would be), your restaurants are delightfully sole proprietary, but your hills are steep and I will never – ever – miss the soot from traffic along Royal.
This week a colleague got engaged. We used to work side-by-side and were once upon a time better friends. I was there the night a few of us went out and she ran into an old friend who is now her fiance.
Her proposal was classically adorable: a bended knee at a Bruno Mars concert. As she told me the story, she was lost in that wonderful fog of elation: a rare moment without the stress of an overwhelming life decision.
Only a couple of times have I been asked how Gregg proposed. The truth is, Gregg didn’t propose. Neither did I. But if you had to blame someone, it was probably me.
Gregg and I lived together for nearly a year before we became a couple. When Old Roommate moved out of the basement suite of The Commune, Dr. Roommate said she had a cousin who had just moved back to town and was looking for a place. “Did I mind living with a guy?” she asked.
I had met this cousin once before. It was summer 2010 and I was tagging along with a bunch of med students to the fireworks at English Bay. This cousin was in town and was coming with us. I still remember the first moment I saw him: walking into the kitchen of that old basement suite, I realized immediately that I had subconsciously been expecting a male version of Dr. Roommate. But no. He was tall and broad-shouldered and irreverent. And he had hair like Jaime Lannister.
Knowing that I would be living with him was not a worry. I knew the narrative of a crush. Crushes only last as long the imagination can sustain a perfect person. Familiarity would soon bring resentment. My crush on him would end as soon as I realized he did things like leave dirty dishes everywhere and stink up the bathroom.
But he didn’t and it didn’t.
During the course of our friendship, we talked about all manner of things, from who is the better Joker to how neither of us saw the logic in things like marriage. Our relationship was a natural progression to make Lyell proud. We watched movies together for months, the distance between us on the couch growing shorter and shorter until we shared a bedroom and still do.
Months later, The Commune long over, we were in New York. It struck me one moment, like things tend to do in New York City: “God damn, I want to marry this man.” I didn’t want a wedding (although we would later strike a compromise with my mother), I just wanted him to be my husband.
This thought lingered for a couple of days. It festered. I was upset and confused. I could not possibly fathom why I would want something that clearly has no logical purpose. I won’t get into why here, but I still believe, even after getting married, that marriage is not logical. At best it was buying into a societal expectation, and Gregg and I were always too contrarian for that. But I just wanted him to be my husband. I liked the idea of us being married. I liked the emotional heft of it. Perhaps there is nothing more to it than that.
So, in line with the open communication required for a healthy relationship, I brought up the subject. Perhaps I was not so mature at first with my indirectness, as we discussed other people’s marriages – past, present, future – and did nothing but poke holes in them.
Finally, I said it outright. I can’t remember my exact words, but something like: “I know it doesn’t really make sense, but I can see marrying you.” He replied with a shift in tone, like delivering a punchline to what you had been thinking was a horror story. “Oh well, of course I want to marry you,” as if it went without saying.
Later, when decided to run away to England, we thought we should get married before we go. That was when we finally called the families and considered ourselves engaged.
That was it: the most logical way we could handle such an illogical thing.
This is the California where it is possible to live and die without ever eating an artichoke, without ever meeting a Catholic or a Jew. This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book. This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and return to hairdressers’ school. “We were just crazy kids” they say without regret, and look to the future. The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.
Joan Didion, Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, 1966
Don Draper’s California is Joan Didion’s California.
The coolest I have ever been is the day I had eye surgery on my left eye. When I left the hospital with one pupil normal and one dilated, I looked the closest to David Bowie as I ever am likely too unless Tilda Swinton and I are in a horrible accident together and the only way to save one of us is to put my brain in her body.
But I digress.
I bring this up because the follow-up make-sure-you’re-healing-and-not-going-blind-instead appointment was tentatively dated to a time when I was immersed in the heavy production period of a film school would-be masterpiece. I cancelled the appointment and never remembered to reschedule.
Four years later it’s been something of a nagging itch. Did my eye heal? Or am I slowly going blind? Will Pirates in Space be the closest I’ll ever get to my Paradise Lost?*
So obviously the healthiest way to deal with this was by ignoring it. And so I continued to ignore it. Because things like doctors and dentists and optometrists give me inexplicable and near-intolerable anxiety.
Same with banks. They all make me feel like I’m being judged. Like, while flipping through a decade-old copy of Highlights for Kids in the waiting room, the receptionist is weighing my organs and placing them in canopic jars while cackling maniacally.**
Somehow, the bank teller knows I purposely buy the slightly more expensive organic milk and in her eyes this mismanagement of funds deems me evil or, worse, childish. “Pay into your RRSPs!” She will forewarn as the camera swoops into a low angle and the sky darkens.
So I’m moving to another country in a month and what went from well-intentioned plans has turned to cowering in a corner pleading to a silent entity to not make me have to talk to anymore strangers with advanced degrees.
I began with the rationale that these anxiety-inducing encounters will only be worse if undertaken in a foreign land, so I might as well get all those nagging itches scratched as soon as possible. However, it’s amazing what cold, squidgy rationalization can do.
Suddenly, there is nothing wrong with me. So what if I haven’t been to the dentist in several years. I’m going to Britain, land of bad teeth! I need to fit in!
But alas. I ran out of contact lenses. Sure, my eyesight has worsened in the last four years but I was always afraid of that second appointment I never had. But I sucked it up. I booked what I thought was a really quick prescription-taking eye test.
But this optometrist, he had a sixth sense for bull-shitters. Like Karl Pilkington’s alter-ego, the optometrist swooped in and called “Bullshit!” on my hand-wringing denial of any further concerns.
A set of eye drops later, he calmed my fears. I am not slowly going blind. No holey retinas here. This leaves me pondering the nature of my medical professional-related anxiety. I always fear the worst, but hate seeing someone about it, even if I know they will calm those fears.
What the hell, brain? Should I get you checked out? But then I would have to see a psychiatrist, which might just be the worst possible thing in the entire world. Do you have a disorder? Or a chemical imbalance?
Am I crazy? Or just totally normal…? Wouldn’t that suck.
Oh well. At least I’m not John Milton.
*Apologies for the pretentiousness of a Milton reference. Apologies, apologies all around.
**Oh wow. More pretensions. Was that a reference to ancient Egyptian beliefs of the afterlife? Why, yes! It was! But with a little pop culture witch behaviour thrown in for added offence.
The most common question heard by newlyweds: “How’s married life?” Answer: “Good.”
The second-most-common: “How does it feel to be married?” That one is a little harder to respond to. Usually, I will say, “Just the same as before.” But that’s not necessarily true. There is a difference I was not expecting. Mostly, it’s in how the rest of the world views us, as though we’re taken more seriously or something, but there’s an element I found indefinable.
But then a co-worker asked this question, and when I struggled to reply she just smiled and said: “It’s just nice knowing that somebody loves you that much, isn’t it?”