Monday, January 16, 2012

Dear Mr. Faulkner...

Dear Mr. Faulkner,

I am afraid our brief acquaintance must come to an end. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, it’s my inability to understand your writing. I have long cherished a hope that you and I could be BFFs, but I have come to the realization that we are not meant to be.

For twenty-two years, you have been the ghost at my shoulder as I wrote. My ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Stewart, once told me, “Your writing reminds me of William Faulkner’s.” I took it as high praise. Now…I can’t help but wonder if it was not meant to be complimentary. Was she referring to my long-winded sentences that were paragraphs within themselves, or was there something more insidious in her comment? I will forever wonder.

Although you may not know it, our paths have crossed many times. I read your short stories in both high school and college. “A Rose for Emily” was the perfect example of Southern gothic fiction. Surely, I thought, your other writing would elicit a similar sense of joy in me.

Joy? Not the word I would choose now.

When Charles and I visited New Orleans, I fell in love with Pirate’s Alley where you lived and wrote some of your first stories. I bought a picture of it. I bought a copy of your short stories at Faulkner’s Books.

I was convinced we were going to be kindred spirits.

Kindred? Not the word I would choose now.

I believed you and I would get along royally due to the company you kept. You were Southern -- I love Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty. You were a modernist -- T.S. Eliot, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway are all great companions of mine. James Joyce? Not so much. Perhaps when I read you wrote in a stream of consciousness that should have been a tip off.

But no. I went blithely on, thinking you and I were meant to be.

You were a New Year’s resolution. I was going to become a Faulkner aficionado. I even printed off an article entitled, “How to Read Faulkner.”

I checked out The Sound and the Fury from the library. (Thank goodness I only borrowed you.)

 I settled down to spend my Friday night with you.

That is a Friday night I will never regain.

Where did we go wrong?

Perhaps it was when you trapped me in Benjy’s mind for 75 pages. 75 pages of stream of consciousness with Benjy jumping from one point to another.

Perhaps it was when I couldn’t figure out whether Quentin was a boy or a girl because Benjy kept changing from calling Quentin a him to a her. (Do you know it took me looking up a Wikipedia article to discover that there were two Quentins? How was I supposed to figure this out on my own???)

Perhaps it was the sense that I was moving through a vat of molasses in January.

When did I know we were never going to work out?

That I can answer definitively. It was in the nine pages of the second section. While I had thought Benjy was a difficult narrator, nothing prepared me for Quentin as a narrator. He was impossible to follow, and I realized…

Why was I doing this to myself? Our relationship was unhealthy to my own well-being. I could not and would not put myself through 296 more pages of this madness just to say I had read it.

You and I. We were never meant to be.

I wish you the best. Go on and live a happy life in college classes and literary circles far loftier than the ones I frequent.

One day, our paths may cross again, and I would still like to visit your lovely home, Rowan Oaks, and leave you a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at your grave. I hope that we can remain nodding acquaintances.

For my part, I have found a new BFF. Her name is Fannie Flagg and I am reading her book Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. I knew she was the kindred spirit I was searching for within the first chapter when I had laughed out loud on every page.

Who wouldn’t love lines like, “The trip down was great. I saw real cotton growing and cows and read Burma Shave signs and there were rednecks all along the side of the road. Momma says I have white trash blood on my father’s side, but I don’t believe it”?

Maybe Daisy Fay is my rebound relationship, but she sure is a heap more fun than Benjy and Quentin.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Mice and Books!

Mice terrify me. Actually all rodents terrify me, but today, I am writing about mice.

Real mice and literary mice (because after all, ALL of my life can apparently be tied in with reading and books).

Let’s start with a little story about real mice.

Over the last several days, there has been a mouse in the front office of our school. This has been a bit nerve-wracking for me because I use the bathroom in the office (my room is just two doors down from it).

Well, there have been traps set all around the office with peanut butter. Yesterday, it was discovered that said mouse has been licking all the peanut butter off the traps.

Wily little mouse.

So, our assistant principal put in those high-frequency sounding mouse deterrents that plug into outlets.

What a great idea, I thought!

Not really.

Fast forward to about 2:10 yesterday afternoon. I was on my planning and feeling pretty good about life in general. I had graded all my papers, was all set for Tuesday, and was just hours away from our three-day weekend. I decided to treat myself to a few pages of the Walt Disney biography (I kid you not) I have been reading before my seventh-grade students arrived at 2:30.

Perfect peace and quiet.

When what to my peripheral vision should skitter by? A little brown scurrying piece of fur just inches away from my feet which disappeared between the bookcase and my file cabinets.

I shot out of my chair and was in the front office within seconds where I stood wringing my hands and declaring the mouse had vacated its former premises and was now in my room.

There may or may not have been a note of hysteria in my voice. Have I mentioned how much mice creep me out???

So, our principal accompanied me down to my room. Sure enough, he found the apparently baby mouse behind my file cabinet. (I was kind of hoping my paranoia had been playing tricks on me.)

I may or may not have been standing in the chair of a student desk while he was moving the bookcase and file cabinets.

Upon the arrival of two custodians and another teacher, I left them to do their thing.

Imagine my dismay when my principal arrived back in the office to tell me that they had been unsuccessful in catching the mouse, and it was now in one of my closets.

I may or may not have descended further into hysteria.

Somehow I managed to teach the last hour of the day. I taught a good portion of it standing in my doorway.

When the kids asked me why I was doing that, I did tell them about the mouse.

One Student: Um, you know mice can go under doors?

Me: The door isn’t open for the mouse. It’s open for me, because let me just say this up front, if the mouse reappears, I am out of here. You are on your own.

Another Student: Gee, thanks.

Me: I will protect you from tornadoes, fires, and armed intruders, but I cannot and will not protect you from mice.

Luckily, my students know me well enough that they just laughed. However, I don’t think they realized I was being quite serious.

Yet Another Student: But you love Mickey Mouse???

Me: That’s what we call “irony.” (I then did a quick lesson on irony. That’s me -- able to bring out the literary element tie-in even in the face of an impending nervous breakdown.)

As soon as the students were dismissed, I was out of there.

I refuse to think about the fact that the mouse will still be there on Tuesday, and that I need to get into that closet to get out the copy of CATS (again, I promise I am not making this up) I need to show my eighth graders after they take their test on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

I didn’t always hate mice. In fact, growing up, one of my favorite books was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I loved that book so much I begged my mother for a pet rat. I know, I know -- my excuse was I had never actually seen a live rodent (when I did that’s when the phobia started). I was to discover there is a huge difference between anthropomorphic rodents and real ones. Real ones do not talk and hold intelligent conversations among themselves.
Another childhood favorite was The Cricket in Times Square. Who wouldn’t love Tucker Mouse and his streetwise ways?
And Stuart Little. Also a cutie.
Recently, Despereaux from The Tale of Despereaux has entered into the pantheon of literary mice. He wields a sword. I don’t think my mouse could do that. But he can lick the peanut butter off traps without setting them off, so perhaps I am not giving him enough credit.
Mice in adult books do not fare as well as those in children’s literature.

I think you know what I mean…

Mr. Jingles…
Lennie’s mouse in Of Mice and Men
If given the choice, I would definitely pull to be a mouse in a children’s book. My chances of survival would be much higher.

Of course, no blog would be complete without mention of the leader of the Literary Mouse Club and the only mouse I will willingly take a picture with -- our very own Mickey Mouse. (He has appeared in comic books and books, so he gets to be included).
I just wish that my new resident hadn’t mistaken the presence of Mickey-related paraphernalia in my room as a sign of a mouse-friendly habitat.