The Double Life of a Printed Page

The Double Life of a Printed Page

I’ve added one more pebble to the bucket of experiences I want to collect as I travel through life. For many years I have attended the annual Library Sale held on the last weekend in February at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds. I have amassed a ridiculous amount of books that have filled 232 linear feet of shelving. A decent amount is still in boxes waiting to be displayed.

This year, I finally made it a priority to volunteer at the sale. I signed up on a whim, before my brain could kick into overdrive and throw around all the reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea. You know, the usual “I’ve got so much to do” excuses and a rapid fire of other tasks vying for priority. I held my breath and clicked submit. As remorse crept through the creases, commitment stood cross-armed at the threshold of my mind preventing recrimination to develop. My resolve solidified.

After a day of teaching, I got in my car, inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly and drove to the Fairgrounds. Upon arrival I was greeted by a squad of smiling folks clad in peachy orange t-shirts who handed me one as well. After I slipped it on, I was directed to work in the General Area, a large room filled with thousands of books neatly laid spine-up on tables spiked with signs designating genre. I was placed under the tutelage of an older gentleman in the mystery section. The task was simple: keep the books in order and alphabetized as much as possible.

Not quite a case of Stendhal syndrome, but the expanse of cellulose garbed in colorful covers threw me into a semi-catatonic state. As if on autopilot, my hands grabbed book after book, sliding each in its place. Slowly, my brain tingled back to its regular activity. “So many books,” I thought. My first reaction was sadness. They had been bought, gifted, read (maybe) and discarded. Some even bore the shameful word stamped in red ink across the title page to prove it. They had donned the shelves of our local libraries and had been declared no longer relevant. They had been stacked in the rejection pile, then packed up and shipped off to the sale. How deeply sad. I almost felt their souls throb with pain. Or was it pain?

My thoughts shifted hue as a rainbow does, and I realized that I had it all wrong. The myriad of words encapsulated in them were a living organism. They no longer seemed Oliver-Twist-ish, poor and dejected. No, they weren’t victims of cold hearted rejection, they were just moving on, following the constant flow of change. They had accomplished their goal: entertaining and teaching; opening minds and challenging assumptions; and now, they had been released to find new eyes and penetrate other consciences.

As a writer, I often feel lost in the great ocean of published works. I ask myself if there’s room for my voice in the chorus of authors who produce such masterful books. I hang back and struggle to join in. It seems like a magic whose tricks are unknown to me. Words bloom from an idea into an arrangement that brings pleasure to readers. Am I capable of such a feat?

Handling hundreds of books, reading the spines and back covers, occasionally peeking inside and indulging in a few sentences, renewed my desire to join the throng of men and women who push forth the stories that populate their imagination. The millions of pages beckoned me once again to defy my hesitation and dream a little longer, holding tight to the hope that one day, perhaps, one of my books will find itself in the hands of a reader…and then another…and another.

Perspiring a Story

Perspiring a Story

After months of crazy weather we long for the predictability of summer. We welcome hot days, the outdoors and vacations. I wrote a story about summer in the Pen & Keyboard anthology, published in November, when fall was giving way to winter. I relived a memory of decades ago, when relatively footloose and fancy free, I spent a summer at day camp in an old Medici hunting lodge, cleverly disguised as a villa. Reading it is like biting into a ripe peach, the kind that is perfectly sweet and soft enough to hit the spot on a hot day. You don’t even mind the juice dripping down your arm.

That memory was my inspiration. However, before the story could reach maturity in my mind, I had to perspire. There were long frostbiting hours staring at the screen. The landscape of my mind seemed barren. I scrambled to search for an idea under the coat of insecurity of the blank document. The strong winds of impostor syndrome froze any thought that emerged above the seemingly infertile ground.  When all seemed lost and I was ready to succumb to resignation, green sprouts started to poke up here and there. Images and feelings pushed through the thawing soil. They clamored to be attended to. I watered them with words. I fed them from the spring of past experiences. They grew as I trellised them into shape. When they were strong enough to withstand a little more force, I pruned and pinched any unruly vines and the creative lymph coursed through the main stalk. The story bloomed and matured into the final fruit, an offering for your enjoyment.