The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Old Books


I love books. I have books - cookbooks, plant books, biographies and autobiographies, poetry books, fiction, non-fiction, specialty books, music books, coffee table books, art books, text books, how-to books, self-help books, books of cartoons and blank books. If you see me at a thrift store or a garage sale or a flea market I will invariably be checking out the books. Ask anyone who has helped me move -- I love books.

There is a certain satisfaction to be enjoyed by reading a book. It feels good to hold a book - the physical feel of some books is exquisite - leather bound or linen finished board covers, the smoothness of the page, or, conversely, the coarse pulpiness of a favorite paperback. Books are comforting because they are there, they are physical, because they hold knowledge and secrets, ideas and humor and pictures and and they are available at your bidding to share it all with you. They can be a world unto themselves, and you can go there whenever you like. They are part of my home and part of myself. How in the world can I even think of getting rid of them - or even some of them? Yet, thinking of a major move ahead for myself, I know I must thin the bookshelves, at least a little. It will be an interesting and painful project, but the result will be a smaller library that is all the more precious for the thinning.

Several weeks ago I sent a CARE package to my mother. It contained the sugarless chocolate she loves, the purple scarf and red hat I'd had a friend crochet for her, and a few odds and ends. I was about to seal the package when I noticed, on my bookshelf, a biography of Bette Davis. I'd found it at a yard sale and it was among the biographies I've been meaning to read, but had never gotten to. Bette Davis was a contemporary of my mother. They grew up at the same time in history, coming of age during the war years. That was one of the reasons I chose to put it on my shelf to read one day. But I can find another - such books are thrift store regulars. Instinctively, I knew it would be a treat for my mother. It would be a tight squeeze, but I fit it in, sealed the box and sent it. Mother's response was amazement (she had the mistaken idea I'd made the hat and scarf for her - but though I knit some, I don't crochet...) and surprise. "How did you know," she asked me, "that I have always been a Bette Davis fan?" Well, maybe I remembered something about that, possibly subconsciously, when I bought the book - I can't say it was a conscious thing. At the time I put the book in the box to send to Mother, my only thought was that they were contemporaries, and she would enjoy reading about that time again through someone else's eyes. It made me feel good to picture her as she said she was: curled up in her chair with a cup of coffee and her sugarless chocolates, reading Bette Davis' life story.

I love it when that happens - when I can give exactly the right book to exactly the right person. I am looking over my bookcases with a different eye these days, wanting to do more of that. But there are books and there are OLD books, and of those, there are olde books and there are ol' books.

In these days of Internet, most books become outdated quickly. I was reminded of that reading Taran's blog this morning, wherein he wrote about a website, Newsroom101.com where Associated Press lays out its stylesheet and even provides exercises for those who want to write for them or like them. I reached over to my reference shelves and pulled out three style references: one a 1965 booklet, 52 pages in length, called The Associated Press Stylebook , a 1970 publication of the (Modern Language Association) MLA Stylesheet, and a copy of the 1977 The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Now - were I a lady of leisure, I'd have gone to the website Taran mentioned and compared my tangible stylesheets with those now presented by The Associated Press. But I am not a lady of leisure, and at that moment I was late for an appointment, so I just left my ol' books near my work chair and went about my business. But as I drove to my destination, I realized that my entire reference library is probably all updated somewhere on the internet. I really don't need any of them anymore...do I?

Returning home, I started writing this. I look at my three books and know I will put them in a pile to get rid of. These are ol' books that have served their purpose on my shelves, and it is time to let them go. I won't throw them out, though. Somewhere there is a lady of leisure (or a gentleman) who will find them irresistible and might even check their contents against the information on Newsroom101.com and thoroughly enjoy herself doing it. I've just lightened my moving load by about 12 ounces...

There are some books on my reference shelf that will join them - ol' books like my 1991 copy of Florida Media Law Second Edition published by USF - Tampa. It is outdated, but I think I will read this one first, just to get the principles of it, before it goes into the OUT box. There are far too many ol' grammar books, and I think I will limit myself to just one. Maybe two. Dos for Dummies was a good ol' book, but as I recently told a lady who told me she had a six year old degree in computer science, that and a buck will get me a cup of coffee. I have a few other books dealing with writers and the internet, all about 8 or 9 years old. Those ol' books are gone! If I can't find what I need to know about writing on the internet myself, these days, I'd best throw my keyboard out my 7th floor window!

After I get finshed sorting the books on the reference shelves, throwing out those outdated ol' books, I will move on to the rattan shelves that divide my apartment and work on the rest of my books, those olde books that might just have to find, as Bette Davis' biography did, new hands to hold them.

The adventure continues...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What an interesting stream of thought...

Taran's Blog was interesting this morning. He speaks of opinions...and what an interesting stream of thought he has lain out for us today!

For years and years it has been said that a person of good manners will not speak of such things as religion, politics or the cost of things. I was raised in that generation and I was taught that, but as I have aged (think of me as a good cheese, or a good wine!) I have found that such self-limited conversation quickly becomes boring - or stupid. If it is good manners to not include such topics (I believe the reason given was to avoid conflict) so as to not offend or alienate, then what is the purpose of the conversation? Nearly all of getting to know a person via conversation is finding out the person's opinions, his beliefs, his feelings. Deliberatly avoiding politics - when so much is political these days - or religion - when so much of a person is his ethical and/or spiritual beliefs - or the cost of things - when that is a major concern of most of us, and is tied to the other two subjects - is to form a superficial relationship or to fail to really get to know another person.
It would be rather like standing blindfolded before a wall, hearing only the reverberation of one's own voice.


See, we don't have to agree - or avoid a topic - to be friends. What we need to be friends is to have an understanding, a genuine liking for the other person, and respect. By virtue of life itself, another is worthy of our respect until the very day that that person proves unworthy of it. We like another person for his traits and qualities: his sense of humor or sense of integrity, shared interests, or just some - intangible something that we find likeable. Growing to know someone without knowing his insides, how he feels about such important things as religion, politics and even the cost of things is knowing a shell, not a real person.

In this day when everyone is being told to be his/her "authentic self" how can we not want to know the authentic selves of those we encounter? Including the parts we may not agree with when getting to know someone is honest. It is the caring thing to do. You don't have to agree. If you are a tolerant person (and we should all be - or be becoming - tolerant persons, given the day and age we live in, the smallness of our planet due to internet and global interrealationsips) you can find friends - people with whom we share a mutual liking - in the most diverse places.

And if an overture to a person meets with indifference or ignoring (odd how the word "ignorance" seemed the grammatically correct extension of the word "ignore" in this sentence!) then we have faced one of the major truths to our existence: not everyone is going to like us - any more than we are going to like every individual we encounter.

But better we know this.

Knowing this keeps us from looking stupid.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And so passes another Valentine's Day...


I always wonder why it is that, for every other holiday on the calendar, we look out for the needy. Thanksgiving - we try to make sure everyone is well fed. Halloween means a bit of candy for everybody. At Christmas we have drives to make sure everybody gets something. On the 4th of July we make huge displays so everybody can see the fireworks. But on Valentine's day, the needy go unnoticed. The ones who had a partner once but no longer do, the ones who have never had the closeness that is celebrated with chocolate and red satin and lace today are left to their memories. Some of those are lonely, some would really like to be partnered again, some feel completely abandoned on a day that celebrates Love. No one offers an acquaintance to a single friend or family member, no one plays matchmaker, no one even notices those who go home to a dinner for one. I guess it is a rather self-involved holiday, with the couples thinking only of themselves, albeit one another.

It's been years since I've been in love. At my age and in the state I am in, I suppose it is a normal state to not be in love. I can't say I miss it, though I am far more poetically productive when I am in love. Love isn't always the hearts and flowers of Valentine's Day. Love is hard work much of the time, and while it is almost effortless while you are in it, when it goes, you notice how tired you are, how hard you tried, what you gave, gave up for it. I can't say I haven't loved thoroughly -- I have. But those I loved best are all gone - having passed on to another place entirely or just changed geographic locations, but still on the planet. Sometimes I think I will never find that again, and it doesn't bother me to think so - but I am still open to the idea. It's just that, at the age I am, the requirements change.

I am pleased that I don't need to be part of a couple to feel whole. I'm not sure that I ever did, even when much much younger. Now I have a treasure of memories that warm me. Sometimes when I read some of what I wrote during those episodes of my life I am startled by the passion of those times. What wonderful men I have known! I do not often see the equivalent of such men around me where I live or in the circles in which my social life, wilted thing that it is, takes me. Sometimes being alone is preferable to the choices at hand.

When I read Taran's blog today I found I am not alone in my feelings about Valentine's Day - and that for Taran, at least, there is the sense that perhaps next year will be different.

But to the deaf eye - it doesn't matter.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Art of Moving, Part Two: Being Sure

When I left off writing about where I think I will spend the rest of my life, I wrote as the thoughts came - what Florida has come to mean to me and why I've come to love being here so much. I wrote again about the "rules" by which I've lived my life - those ingrained laws that inserted themselves in my brain while growing up which may or may not be valid. Not being well for a while, (I identify with the Matchbox 20 song, Unwell, - except in the song the person sees an impending breakdown while my "breakdown" is in my rear view mirror - and oddly, someone - my therapist - agrees with me!) I recognize that for now, being introspective, even being somewhat self-involved, is a necessary part to the way back from where I was. Bear with me, then.

I have decided to move from my warm and comfortable Florida home to Beloit, Wisconsin. It's been far from a snap decision, taking years in the making. Even so, I need to work through the decision process, because I will be going into the (nearly) complete unknown - a city I've only visited, never lived. I'd definitely have preferred that my daughter and her daughters and their kids moved back to Florida, mind you, but that isn't going to happen, and, upon reflection, I certainly wouldn't want them all to move here simply for me. They have lives there that are enmeshed with other people they love, places which are familiar to them, and enjoy as much as I love my Florida home. It just isn't realistic to expect them to come here. Jinger and her family tried living here - in fact, it is here Jinger met Tim. But she missed the people and places she grew up knowing so much that she was unhappy here. Choosing a place to live should always include the happiness factor.

And I am happy around my daughter and her family and their families. They make me laugh, they warm me with their caring, and I find myself in a place where I am actually wanted, (even appreciated!) and in a place that I am a part of when I am there. I remember even telling Jinger that her home had become "the home place" - Family Central. And with Dusty overseas and Taran traipsing around his elastic corner of the world, being in the one location where these wayward sons will naturally gravitate to be with family is a great selling point.


It sold me. And it is constantly reinforced. Just this morning I viewed comments added to a photo I posted on Flickr.com - one shot of last night's dinner - and there was my explanation, a comment from Jaime, my youngest (to date) granddaughter, a response from me, and a note from Jinger - a conversation - and the interplay made my day. It happens a lot like that on Flickr, and I enjoy it so much now because it is not an everyday event. Face to face interactions, of course, are much more rewarding. From this distance, these things remind me what awaits me when I do move.

One of the reasons this could not be a snap decision is that there has been a part of me that felt moving from Florida would be accepting a sort of defeat, that I would somehow be a failure if I left this place where I had cut out a life for myself and accomplished things I wanted to accomplish as a poet, as a member of the arts community, as a functioning member of society. When I recognize that the past several years since I became sick I have done little to further those causes of mine (and the longer one stays away from the artsy activities, the harder it is, as in so many things, to get back to it) I think perhaps starting out as the new person on the block may actually be easier. And Beloit, Wisconsin has a viable arts community. This knocks a hole in another of my hesitations for moving: While I love my family, my daughter and her family, my granddaughters and their families, and even the friends I made while visiting, I do not want to live in anyone's pocket. I want to be there where everyone else is, but I want to have my own life apart from them as well.

I can do that. Perhaps this is exactly the best time in my life to start over again, to one more time envision how I want to live (all right, the boots and scarves and mittens and sweaters aren't exactly what I want, but we'll consider it a trade off!) and work toward that. I have come to realize that I have attained a certain success here in Florida. If I haven't accomplished all I intended, it's because I'm not done yet. I can accomplish what I want no matter where I am, I suddenly realized. Yes -- I can do that.

And it will take some doing. I live strictly on Social Security Disability. I actually live quite well, all things considered, because I know how to live well on very little, and - quite honestly, I live better than many people I know who have more income than I - but who are owned by debt in a proportion I do not have. The problem is accumulating the funds to actually pack up those things I will choose to begin this new chapter of my life with me, and physically move myself there. Jinger has sent a list of places that offer the type of housing I will need - subsidized housing that has apartments designed for handicapped people with aid bars in the bathroom, that sort of thing. I have decided which of these to contact and as soon as I have a vague idea of when I can afford the move, I will make more solid arrangements with the one I eventually select to be my new home.

One thing I have pretty much decided: I will probably not take my car. Eventually I will find another when I settle into my new place, but Augie needs things (a back window, a few piddly repairs to the creature comforts - the blower motor, the radio, the cruise control (probably a fuse on the last two items - I have to check it out!) and -- I dread finding out exactly what - some front end work. Could be just the CV joints - a reasonable repair I can probably afford next month - but if it is major, Augie goes. Ideally, I can get him into trustworthy transportation shape over the next few months - it would be a good and comfortable way to travel, just me, Liberty the Cat, important papers and the computer and other delicate things, and the plants. But I am prepared to let him go. Getting him trustworthy for the trip (most of it freeway miles - a cinch if he is in good shape!) will cost money I could be setting aside for the trip itself.

And the smallest truck I can rent for the trip is about 12-13 foot moving U-Haul or its ilk. Pricey. I checked. But I understand that I can also hire a part of a BIG moving van, that it is actually reasonable in cost (whatever that is) and I will be looking into that in the next few weeks as I do what I can to accumulate funds. A friend looks out for small jobs for me - even negotiates a fair price - cleaning houses or designing/creating something to be printed, and another friend uses me as a courier, sometimes.

While the date (or even the season) isn't sure, I do know I am going. I am living my life these days with that in mind, disposing of things that won't make the final cut, acquiring only those things I will need later and making do with what is around me, knowing I will create an entirely new and different home when I get there. I've told Jinger I won't have any draperies at all, but for the sheer ones I love. I don't need any more than that here. Insulating draperies will be necessary there. She'll keep her eyes open for me, and if I am really lucky, when I am close to deciding which of the apartments on the lists are being considered, she may even tour them for me, perhaps with her camera, so I know better what I should shuck off here and what I will need to bring with me. I will need bookshelves when I get there, and probably a chest of drawers or two, a file cabinet, and a computer desk and/or a regular desk. I'll need cooking pots that don't have Teflon, so I can throw out the junky ones and give the better of these to people who have nothing. I will also empty out my pantry of canned goods before I leave, the excess going to the Emergency Pantry the Resident Management Committee keeps.

Usually, when my life has made an abrupt turn into change, I've been taken by surprise. This one will actually have a plan, of sorts. Lord knows it is well thought out.


As I write this, I get excited all over again.

I'll be 59 this summer.

I'm overdue for a new start.