Thursday, December 23, 2010


So this is the way it would go down. First, I'd sidle up to the Express Checkout. Then, I'd spend fifteen minutes figuring out how to work it. (Express checkout is a misnomer. It would be faster to hand your card to the confidently bespectacled individual skulking behind the circulation desk, but then you'd have to reveal to someone who is sentient and ambulatory that, yes, you are checking out Match Me If You Can.) I'd swipe the last decade of my life under the little red scanner thingy and finally, BING, it would renew. My twenties: a do-over!

Only this time I'd do it smarter. This time I'd say no, I don't want to date you instead of hiding in the closet. I'd ask out the amusing boys and ignore the pretentious ones; I'd cotton to the fact that skeezy men are, in fact, skeezy; I would refuse to be seduced by vocabulary. I would not try to major in four different things at once; I would not try to live four different lives at once; and I'd accept, once and for all, that just because something is hard for me doesn't mean it's worth doing.

If only I'd had guidance! An instruction manual, a handful of proverbs, something! I refuse to enter my thirties so grossly unprepared. Ergo: a fresh round of Library I Ching!

Library I Ching works because our books do indeed reveal something about who -and where- we are. I'll read romances when I'm tired, mystery novels when I'm afraid, literary fiction when I'm restless. Nonfiction when I'm feeling especially virtuous, popular fiction when I'm feeling especially alienated. And within each category are the subheadings: nuances of feeling and mood as encapsulated by a range of writerly effort. Margaret Atwood: wistful disconnection. Alice Munro: trees & fatalism. Anne Tyler: the sweetish nausea of home.

In other words, there's guidance in there somewhere! I went to the library today. Now, if I just take a page from my book(s):

"Of course he didn't do it," said Caroline, who had been keeping silent with great difficulty. "Ralph may be extravagant, but he's a dear boy, and has the nicest manners."

-Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Translation: Have faith. Or etiquette? One of the two.

Let me begin at the beginning. Julia arrived on the dot of our appointed hour. For a wicked woman, she is always surprisingly punctual. And she didn't seem at all winded by the stairs. The stairs are a kind of test, for people of our years.

-Margaret Drabble, The Seven Sisters

Translation: I am old. Possibly also wicked.

But the zip could not be unfastened with one hand alone, at least, not for the first inch or two. You had to hold the top of the dress straight with one hand while pulling down, otherwise the fine material will bunch and snag. She would have reached over her shoulder to help, but her arms were trapped, and besides, it didn't seem right, showing him what to do. Above all, she did not wish to hurt his feelings. With a sharp sigh, he tugged harder at the zip, trying to force it, but the point had already been reached when it would move neither down nor up. For the moment she was trapped inside her dress.

-Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach

Translation: Undressing is tricksy. Alternatively: avoid zippers.

It's not much to go on, but heck, it's more than I had at twenty.

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