Saturday, January 16, 2010

Three Feet; Two Cups

I'm sitting in my second-choice cafe drinking my second cup of coffee, though it is only my second cup if you discount the first bitter half-cup I mainlined up against the coffee bar. Who needs milk when you have desperation?

I have desperation because it's January, and January is grey and gormless, with no cultural rituals of consequence and no distinguishing feature besides unremitting chill. January is when, bereft of a bearable outdoor existence, you turn against yourself like an auto-immune disease. You attack your interior life. You break out the yardstick.

The yardstick is, of course, metaphorical. The last known exemplar of the literal species disappeared into the maw behind our refrigerator when I was seven. It was not particularly missed. The literal yardstick was too big to measure the wings of insects and too small to measure how far you had to walk. It was good for nothing but hitting one another on the shins.

So the yardstick is a ghost, a discarded carapace of a word. It measures the distance between who you are and who you should be, or who you are and who you would be if your twelve-year-old self had a time machine and an iron will. I wield the yardstick ruthlessly and find:
  • I am a heck of a lot older than I thought I would be.
  • I drink more coffee.
There are probably some additional discrepancies, but by this time I've put down the yardstick because H, across from me, is talking about her trip to Sweden. She spent three weeks there over Christmas and gives me a play-by-play, including pertinent family history, her opinion on various second cousins once removed, and the things she ate and drank. The Swedes have the second-highest coffee consumption per capita in the world!

I contemplate moving to Sweden but realize January would be even worse.

H keeps talking, recounting her experiences day by day, and I'm surprised to realize I'm riveted. Someone else's travelogue is up there with strangers' home videos and academic presentations on planaria: it's supposed to be snoozeworthy.

But it's not. Partly, it's that H tells a good story. But also there's this: Somewhere in the gap between twelve and now, I've given in to my own nosiness. It's not as shiny as musicality or as useful as facility with words. It's not the gift I thought I'd treasure. But it is a gift: the desire to listen, to get the details, to poke into your business. And, downing my second second cup, I accept.

P.S. Five more of you need to step up and supply the names of books for my challenge! Books you love stupidly, without volition. Books someone you love loves. Lovely books.

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