Saturday, January 14, 2012
I Put a Spell on You
I should clarify, for any non-readers out there, that this marks a clear reversal of the proper order: customarily, you go to the library and become enchanted thereafter.
Or, more explicitly, you go to the library to become enchanted, to select a particular oblong, to take it home knowing that, despite its weight of less than a pound, it will inhale you, revealing itself to be magically capacious enough to take the whole of you into itself and spit you back out, visibly unaltered but with all of your organs, all the furniture of yourself, rearranged.
But I was already enthralled this particular Wednesday. Or, more exactly, in thrall. Eleven months into accidental Kindle ownership, I had become a One-Click-depressing, digital-book-jonesing Amazonian rat, nosing at plot summaries and thinking hey, what's another $9.99? Again and I again I pushed my button; again and again, the sweet words flowed.
I went to the library to break the spell.
It was not easy, this disenchantment. It required the payment of $9.60 worth of fines accrued during the great insect battle of 2011, during which concerns like reading revealed themselves to be as important, as necessary, as vestigial limbs, and during which the vacuum cleaner assumed a place within my personal cosmos of ineluctable significance: that time when, in the smother of summer, William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways lay mouldering, unread, in a plastic bin.
There was an address change to take care of, the ritual placating of the dragon of the anti-theft machine. But soon enough it was mine, a real book, square and hefty and, due to its advanced age, not yet available in a Kindle edition. It was a book I miraculously hadn't managed to read by an author I reliably enjoy: Friends for Life, by Meg Wolitzer.
I paraded home. I curled up victoriously on the couch, made tea, prepared to be pleasantly engulfed. Meredith and Lisa and Ann were 28; they lived in New York; they had industrious, if angsty, love lives....small pings of familiarity were sounding themselves within me, like arthritic joints giving notice: you've felt this before.
By this time I was eighty pages in. Eighty pages in to a book I'd definitely read, sometime within the last decade but probably not within the last three years, because the heroines, at 28, reeked freshly, painfully, of youth; they'd been older the first time around. Eighty pages into a book the title of which, the jacket of which, the plot summary of which, for the love of God, had, in succession, failed to ring any bell.
It's undeniable; my mind is going.
This is not news. It's been a slow process of mental retrenchment, of resorting to list-making and calendar-keeping and all the circus tricks of leading one's life I remember, as a child, I scorned. Up through middle school I used to keep track of my assignments -multiple assignments for various classes, plus a full calendar of extra-curricular activities- in my head. Thursday, I'd think, and everything I had to do that day would appear before me. A planner, like an outline, like the dreaded "pre-writing" was just one more idiotic, wholly unnecessary intermediary adults kept trying to thrust upon me.
If the purpose of adulthood, of living, is to humble you, I am humbled.
At 31, I depend on ICal. I try to make to-do lists and can't recall what I was supposed to put on them. I forget appointments and lessons and get-togethers; I need reminder alarms and grocery lists and Facebook's sorry proddings to recollect my friends' dates of birth. In college, I easily tracked the names of everyone in a 100-member cooperative. Now, I can't retain the names of the group of a dozen music students I see monthly.
My mind is going.
I am, it should be acknowledged, mildly terrified. There's Alzheimer's in my family, a lot of it. What if the disease is misunderstood; what if you decline your whole life, but it's only in your sixties and seventies that other people start to notice? I miss, achingly, my own reliability, the trustiness of my short-term recall. I've never trusted much, in life, but I used to trust myself.
On the other hand, I'm sitting here with a book by one of my favorite authors. Sure I've read it before. But I don't remember a thing, so it's fresh and ready and waiting in the way of the best unread books, the most alluring doors, the muffling, late-spring snows that take what you love and transmute it -enchantment!- into a vast and terrible world.