Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who Moved My Historic Literary Knowledge Base?

I went to a lovely, lovely reading tonight at the Edmonds Bookshop, in adorable downtown Edmonds, the adorableness of which I hadn't noticed before, because I usually just breeze past it on my way to the ferry--or, I'm in snotty mode, so I shun the cuteness. (No cuteness shall get its sea-foam green, shellacked tentacles into me while I am in snotty mode!) But tonight, it was balm for the soul. It's so sweet, and people let you jaywalk without laying on the gas to teach you a lesson. I loved it! Downtown Edmonds is just very...calming and pretty and clean. I needed that tonight, since people were trying to make my life complicated all day. (And for you New-Agey types out there--that is not my interpretation or my perception of events--that is just pure, shining fact. They were out to get me. All of them).

Anyway, it was a terrific reading! Four esteemed poets read: Jack McCarthy, David Ash, Amanda Laughtland, and David D. Horowitz...all total originals. They were each a joy in their own unique way--Amanda with her dry wit and generosity of spirit, David Ash with his inimitable haiku (and some serious poems, too. And the hat. Let us not forget the hat). Jack McCarthy, who was just...well, you just have to hear him. Unlike how he describes himself in one of his poems, I am not moved to tears at the drop, but he had me all welled up by the end, damn him. I bought his book.

And then there is David Horowitz. David, with his passionate performance and his vast vision and his beautiful formal verse, and his...his damn trivia questions, already! Just because he had the gift certificate prizes for the right answers, he was all like "Bwahahahaha! I have all the power!" And then he started asking really hard questions. I mean really hard questions, as though just because I was in a bookstore listening to a poetry reading I am somehow smart. Oh, my God. I was so embarrassed about the things I didn't know!

For example, I took a class...a whole semester of Shakespeare way back when I was but a slip of a thing in college. And I couldn't remember his birth date! I just knew something about the 1600's....1600's...yeah, something about that. The clothes. The high hair. People threw things at the stage. Big dresses. The Queen. Oh, god, what was that date again? I used to know things! What is wrong with me? I mumbled something about the 1600's, and he took mercy on me on and gave me a gift certificate. He also forgave that I mispronounced "trochee." I have only ever read the word, so I didn't know how to pronounce it. That ripped open an old wound from childhood, because I read a lot in a family of not-really-readers, and so I would say words in public that I never heard anywhere but in books, and people would look at me funny, because I mispronounced them. But this is not all about my childhood and my un-staunched wounds. This is about what the hell happened to my Historic Literary Knowledge Base, which I fantasize that I must have once had.

The thing is, for years....I'm trying remember things that I have to do: Did I verify the approval list for the event at the state prison? Did I pack the large blood pressure cuffs for Wednesday? Did I get back to Suzie on that e-mail? What did I do with the giant clogged artery model? And literally, who moved my cheese? (Our fridge at work is overpopulated. Often, my Pepper Jack is shunted to the side door).

So I was thinking: things get crowded out. Like, when was the Golden Age of Chinese Poetry, and which African poets have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes (I think that was the question), and so on...First of all, I am awful about dates and always have been. I have to think really hard to remember significant dates even in my own life. I don't even remember the exact date I got married! I mean, I know it's stamped on the photo album, so I can always go look, but dates just don't mean much to me. Everything blurs together in moments for me. What does it matter that it was June 11th, 19blahblahblah? I don't understand the meaning of dates, and I think that's partly why I was never a history major. That, and because history always seemed so bewildering to me. It was like this vast, bizarre conglomeration of wars for motives I couldn't comprehend, so I never enjoyed it, and also, the women's lives, when they were mentioned at all, always seemed so awful and drab and unbearable, I didn't want to think about it. I want to think always about now, what is now. Not who I would have been then, which would have been unsurvivable to me. Only what about what is new, what is now, what is so-called "relevant".

That's not really a good thing, but it's how I am. David H.'s enthusiasm for history and the importance of it is infectious, and he's right. When faced with our blank stares at his questions, he kept saying that he is going to teach a class; that we are a world leader and we must know these things, we must learn them, we must delve into them and get the lesson. And he is right. It does matter, it does have to with us, it is important, all of it. Dates and everything.

David, if you decide to teach that class, let me know. I'm signing up. To-do lists can go to hell. I'm deleting Suzie and Pepper Jack cheese to make room for what you have to teach us.

--Kristen McHenry

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