Upon being Literary-Minded or Where is the Grand Narrative in the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis?

Tonight I was in Bookshop Santa Cruz with Susie, and the Elevens. I was on the hunt for a card for my mother-in-law. Upon entry I steered immediately for the card section and began hunting for something appropriate: not too quirky, artsy, ironic or Santa Cruzy (she's more of a Max Lucado/inspirational sentiment/Marth Stewart type.) I immediately found the antitheses of all these requirements, found them in spades. I picked up one in particular: on the front a photo of a marble statue of a woman with fairy wings superimposed on top, lots of glitter. A banner above the statue read: BREATHE. BELIEVE. RECEIVE. And the message across the statue's midriff read, "It's All Happening." Chuckling inwardly, I turned to show my friends, as a joke. I had to hunt around the bookstore for them, and when I couldn't find them I realized it was because immediately, upon entry, they had bled away into the store to look at books. It was so endearing, satisfying and familiar; hanging out with booky people who weren't just in there waiting for me to find my thing so they could leave. I stood there for a moment, grateful for my friends and then realized that the song that was playing over the store's loudspeaker was Sufjan Steven's 'Casimir Pulaski Day'. I ended up just standing there in the midst of all the books and people, humming along; a goofy grin on my face. The trumpets at the end of the song are so joyfully solemn, and the story Sufjan tells is so sad and beautiful.
La Derecha vs La Izquierda
I read aloud to a friend of mine last week- the opening paragraph to 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', that great bit that starts out, "There was a boy whose name was Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." Now, this friend is a self-proclaimed non-reader (she told me, half-joking but probably not too incorrectly that she had read one book the year before-and she's definitely does not do fiction). So after I finished the paragraph she said, "I get no picture from that. I know those are all words, but they don't say anything to me. It's all jumbled." Which is interesting, because she is so astute with matters of finance and marketing. She tells me about the housing crisis and how you should buy a house when the market is on the upswing, not at it's lowest, and I smack my forehead (Gomer Pyle voice), "Well whatdayouknow? I never would have thought of that!" And that's just the stuff I understand. To the rest, all about equity, mortgages and tax shelters, I think the same thing-those are all English words, but they don't mean anything to me. Sometimes when I get in a conversation with left-brained mathy types, I want to gently interrupt them and ask, "Um, could you just write me a story that uses metaphor and allegory to explain the sub-prime lending crisis and what exactly hedge funds are?" But to her credit, this friend always keeps explaining and clarifying terms until even my feeble abstract-thinking right brain can understand. ( I picture my poor little brain like a choo choo train chug-chugging up a steep hill, muttering, "I think I can, I think I can.")
It's good to be with all sorts of people, not just those like me and so far my experience at our church has taught me that. And I've realized this past week that being around people who are not 'literary'has made me appreciate and recognize where myth & story have played a big role in my life.
Towards the end of 'Dawn Treader' Lucy is reading the magician's spell book and comes across
a spell 'for the refreshment of the spirit.' It's more of a story than a spell and as she reads it she forgets that she's reading-it's as if she is living in the story, as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. At the end she says it's the loveliest story she's ever read and tries to turn the pages back to re-read it, but being magic, the left-hand pages won't move. And what's more, Lucy begins to forget what it was about, even as the words begin to fade from the page. "How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can't remember and what shall I do?" This becomes an ideal for her in later life, when she says something is a good story, it's one that reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician's Book. A little later on, Aslan appears and as she asks him,

"Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn't remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do, do, do."

Aslan replies, "Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years. "

This imagery feels so familiar that I didn't even realize it was significant until just this past week. I think in the past I've assumed that of course a spell for 'refreshment of the spirit' is a story; of course the story is a metaphor for that Lewisian Joy, that longing for something more, something outside our earthly experience that points to heaven. Of course Lucy's forgotten story finds it's re-telling with Aslan, the Christ-figure in this story. Being around people who do not immediately resound with these images has made me really see them, and now they show up in sharp relief, as sunlight shafts pierce a cloud.
Por Ejemplo.....
And in other news, I picked up Annie Dillard's new novel, 'The Maytrees'. I guess it's been out for a year, but I'm about a year behind so this is brand new for me. (Why am I still writing this post? I've got a book to read....!)


Anonymous said...

B and I walked up to your place last night when she was too 3ish to sit through the concert--but your car was gone and all was quiet, so we did not knock. How lovely to think now of where you might have been at that moment, smiling and humming and searching for loved ones in the stacks. ; )

Of course, I should have known. I assumed you had read Anne Lamott, but I never thought of bringing up Annie Dillard--and now I am really hoping you have read her novel "The Living" so we can talk about it sometime. That was one of the most amazing works of fiction I have ever read, but I have yet to meet anyone who has read it. Sure, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" is her most famous, and it is beautiful, and not a little haunting in itself (the poor moth, its wings permanently fused and useless, marching down the schoolhouse drive!!!) but it is not really a human story, and did not grab my heart like the pain and resilience of people did in "The Living." Please, please, please tell me when next we meet that you have read it and wish to talk about good books over a cuppa soon!


rosa said...

This is exactly what I'm talking about!

Colleen said...

I am honored that you would discuss me in your blog. I must admit that I scanned ahead to find the part about me. I didn't read past Alergia, too many words. I will have to go back and finish reading the post later, after the scar tissue heals. I agree that it is good to be friends with other types, otherwise it would be so boring :-) The other

Franny said...

Yours is the only blog I can read without making the text larger. My new computer screen shrinks everything, which is bad because my vision is already awful. But your blog is a relief, in more than just literary ways :)

Mbuckingham said...

Nice article!

Colleen said...

I am so glad that I came back to read the rest, after my brain had a break of coarse. Believe it or not, reading the words they did make sense. I still don't wish to read the book, but thank you for sharing this part of it. Instead of reading Cliff Notes I will keep having tea with you and letting you tell me the highlights ;-) The other

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.