Monday, October 31, 2005

The Twilight Zone

My department, as the "creative" wing of our organization, hosts a yearly Reformation Day celebration. We turn off the lights, plug in electric candles, and post "Theses" on the door. We set up a table with a Diet of Worms (a pail full of gummy worms), a basket of indulgences (candy with mottoes attached--"Good for 5 years off purgatory," etc.), and fruit for the more spiritual. Under this table is a boom box playing Grunt. We send out an email to the entire organization, which then spends the day tramping in and out of the department while we try to work.

I wish I could explain the effect of pidgin Latin droning in a lowlight environment for eight hours straight, as the sugar from the chocolates, gummi worms, and caramel apple dip courses slowly through my veins. The lyrics are funny, but the music soothes. The repeating CD begins to wear grooves into my brain. I begin to believe that there is no other music in the world, no other sound even, and then, all of the sudden, a particular phrase seeps into my consciousness and I want to scream with laughter. This music is silly! This dim cavelike office is silly! Everything is so, so silly! This kind of silliness requires maniacal laughter, which I would exhibit if I were not dressed professionally and editing words that will be read by thousands of people.

This sensation of being suspended between reality and surreality, with surreality somehow becoming more and more like everyday life, is indescribable. And I only experience this very particular shading of it one day a year.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Day in the Life

Yesterday morning, running late for work, I dashed out the front door and into my car. There I opened my purse and discovered that all my keys were missing (or, did not discover my keys). I did not even attempt to test the front door; I had purposely made sure it was locked on my way out. And both my roommates had already left for work.

After considering various solutions in a slow and leisurely fashion (you know the old ad, "This is your brain on drugs"? Try tweaking it to "This is your brain in the morning"), I decided to call a friend who drives past my neighborhood on her way to our mutual place of employment. "Have you left for work yet?" I asked when she answered her cell.

"No," came the reply, with something peculiar lurking in its tone.

"I locked my keys in the house, and I was wondering if you could give me a ride to work!" I said with relief.

" . . . I did the same thing," said my friend, again sounding like she was speaking to me from a very distant moral height. I found out later that, upon locking her own keys in her house, she had arranged to be picked up by a roommate who was already on her way to the aforementioned mutual place of employment. When I called a minute later, my friend seriously thought that I had somehow discovered her plight and had called to tease her. I was able to convince her, and she and her roommate gave me a ride to work.

Now I ask you: What is the likelihood of two former roommates locking all their keys in their respective houses at the same time on the same morning? I dare you to try it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thoughts on a Postscript

I finally finished reading Our Mutual Friend. It was on my summer reading list, and it's October now, so that tells you something about the book's length and flow. But I stuck it out all the way to the postscript, which Charles Dickens wrote "In lieu of a Preface." The postscript is a jewel. Dickens writes,

[I thought] it worthwhile, in the interests of art, to hint to an audience that an artist . . . may perhaps be trusted to know what he is about in his vocation, if they will concede him a little patience . . . .
What a revolutionary thought, in this destructive Age of Literary Criticism. Dickens also comments on the difficulties of the serial novel:

[I]t would be very unreasonable to expect that many readers, pursuing a story in portions from month to month through nineteen months, will, until they have it before them complete, perceive the relations of its finer threads to the whole pattern which is always before the eyes of the story-weaver at his loom. Yet, that I hold the advantages of the mode of publication to outweigh its disadvantages, may be easily believed of one who revived it in the Pickwick Papers after long disuse, and has pursued it ever since.
This puts me in mind of a book duo written by Daniel Poole. Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters: The Rows and Romances of England's Great Victorian Novelists interweaves a truly interesting history of the Victorian novel with gossipy biographies. It explains how oddities like the three-volume novel provided economic benefits to publishers (and by extension, authors), and how such seemingly arbitrary literary structures led, in turn, to the modification of plots. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is an indispensable companion volume to any Victorian library. Wondering what a "quid" is? Or why certain country houses were called "abbeys"? What kind of indoor plumbing existed in the 1880s, and why poor people sifted through trash for bits of bone to sell? Read this book.

Finally, Dickens describes how he nearly lost part of his manuscript (and his own life) in a railway accident.

I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:--THE END.
It's rather touching, when you consider that this was Dickens' last complete novel.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


One lunch break, done properly, can loop you into eternity and back--and today is the last day I would have expected such a thing. The sky is a metallic grey and everything is damp from the rain that they keep telling us to expect but which I'm not actually seeing. A sort of Holy Spirit rain (if you're Baptist).

This is a drab fall. Again, the rain is at fault: apparently we got too much of it in the spring and nowhere near enough in the summer. Silly us, we forget how lovely a shy, subtle fall can be. This is pointillism at its best: each tree's leaves alternating between faded green, dry brown, and soft yellow or red. Once my eye is caught by such tiny details, I begin to see that the overall effect is like a giant bolt of tweed being unrolled beside the road. The landscape is shot through with subtle gradations of color. Occasionally I drive through a sudden patch of fallen leaves.

I roll down the windows and turn up the country music . . . "Living on Love" is playing. Whoever thought that this warm, damp air, smelling of mildew and exhaust and diesel and dead leaves, could be so delicious? And the pale golden sunlight, trapped below the dully shining clouds close to the earth, sets off the earthy colors beautifully. In some spots, the clouds have moved aside from the sky's delicate blue. Everything is beautiful--pavement, dirt, grass, cars, faces, cigarette smoke. The things I had given up on as being ugly and meaningless are suddenly lit from within.

On a day like this, I think I understand redemption.