Thursday, July 31, 2008

In between the between... (2nd ed.)

Preface to the 2nd ed: We acknowledge that the poem before a book is an epigraph.

Well, some things don't change. When something hurts, my favorite place to come and spend some time is writing here. Someday I'll write seven drafts of a thing that will be published in a book. Till then, I'll fiddle through three drafts and hit "Publish Post."

So I haven't made any changes to the blog yet. Right now I'm like one of those plate spinners on the old Ed Sullivan show, trying to balance as many things as I can.*** Or as another friend put it, I have the Columbo syndrome, "Just one more thing!" (Or as I quipped to her when we met by chance in the library lobby, I need some cheese with my whine.)

As I think about friends in need, (an English teacher would say, did you introduce this idea?) I tend to first think of what book I'd recommend. It's called bibliotherapy and folks have differing views on the topic. I often blurt out "have you read such and such" when really what the person was hoping for was a little sympathy. Such. a. librarian. I had a conversation once with a friend and her husband and she said to him, "You do that too, I think it's so you don't have to say something, you can just recommend a book and be done with it." And after that conversation I thought some more on that topic. And while there might be some truth there, it's also the being-ness of me. I purvey books for a living. So if you're hurting, I'm going to try to find the book that fits, just as a baker will try to make the best cake, or a doctor will try to prescribe the right antibiotic.

Recently some friends had to give back a child they had been caring for in foster care. Everyone had fallen in love with the child, their whole family, our whole church. I wanted to give them a copy of The Great Gilly Hopkins, about a foster child who goes to live with her grandmother after she fantasizes about her mother and how wonderful life will be when her mother comes to get her. No, maybe that's not the right book. But Baby, by Patricia MacLachlan, where a family finds a baby with a note, a la Paddington Bear (Please take care of this bear) but also, "I will come back for her one day. I love her." This book is so near and dear to my heart, with an excerpt from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge without music" in the front matter.* The family in the book has lost a baby (they're called Angel Babies**) and somehow taking care of Sophie (the baby entrusted to them) helps to heal that wound, allows them to talk about memories.

I'm sure I have more to write, but I keep getting interrupted by "what time is it?" and "My library card is blocked" and "Do you have the fourth book in the Dolphin Diaries series?" and the top question of the night, "Can you put a book on hold?"


Some other thoughts: I long for the days when I shelved and stocked my sections at Fox Books. I knew where every book was on the shelf, because I'd put it there, or I'd ordered it for a display. I HATE that I have to look up Dolphin Diaries, that I failed in recommending an adventure book to a dad and son, that I can't just walk over to the shelf and pick off a book, "here, take this one." I watch patrons grow up before my eyes, but there are so many (we are a large library) and I don't have relationships with them. Part of that is my fault, (I don't remember their names, go up to them, say, how's it going.) But part of it is the anonymity you have at large places. I long for a small place.

This week was a week of many losses. One of the smaller losses was that I didn't get a job (not Queens, something closer, something that would have kept me in da Burgh for a while at least.) And that job would have been one where I would have been able to forge a very close relationship with my collection. And my patrons.

But as I try to tie this post together, (where is the conclusion?? asks the inner English teacher) I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, one by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Childhood Is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen, or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green striped bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.

But you do not wake up a month from then, two months,
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say
Oh God! Oh God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
--mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have ever said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died, who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries; they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed;
they slide back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

Okay, so the library is about to close. Thank you, dear blog, for helping me work through some thoughts...and dear reader, yes, ch-ch-changes are coming, but not yet. Right now, I need to take the plate in front of me, and only that plate.

Yours till Niagara Falls,

Sarah Louise
*if there is a name for a poem excerpt at the front of a book, let me know. Google is NOT cooperating. What kind of librarian am I anyways? (I just tweeted it.) Thank you to Cuileanne--it is an epigraph.
**this links to a post I wrote about my two siblings that were (are?) Angel Babies, Joy and Peter.
***(Stuffed Animal Sleepover, my Mom coming to town, Church Basement Roadshow, Monarchs @ your library, a new car, saying goodbye to Lucy-the-Honda.)

And yes, I know that in the up down of this blog, the footnote with three asterisks comes first, but I wrote it last, so there!


cuileann said...

Poem excerpt at the beginning of a book = epigraph. Righty?

Sarah Louise said...

YES! Thank you! Just found lovely wikipedia article. Bless you!



Katrina said...

What a post, SL. You really open up in words. I totally get your "recommend a book" thing. I do the same. It's not a lack of caring; it's offering up some of the same medicine that often helps me.

I'm sorry to hear about the job, and about your friends who lost their child back into the system. I will be praying for them, and for you.