It was a mostly quiet weekend.
I know, I know. That sentence is so boring that I should enter it into the Bulwer Lytton contest for the worst first lines of books.
This year’s overall winner was Molly Ringle from Seattle for the following:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.
Another one of my favorites was Rick Cheeseman’s entry for fantasy fiction:
The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced in the morning light past the glistening dewdrops on the meadow thistles by the Old Mill, ignorant of the daily slaughter that occurred just behind its lichen-encrusted walls, twin 20-ton mill stones savagely ripping apart the husks of wheat seed, gleefully smearing the starchy entrails across their dour granite faces in unspeakable botanical horror and carnage – but that’s not our story; ours is about fairies!
Granted, in light of the eloquence of previous winners, “it was a mostly quiet weekend” lacks a little… spice. Or comic hyperbole. But I like to think that its bland equivocation is a supremely boring sort of elegant. If there were a “meh” category it’d definitely be a strong contender.
Sadly, there’s not yet a category for meh.
So, this weekend. First, it came after five solid days of working on my consultancy report all day, every day. Then it came after three solid days of noise. The guesthouse right next door hosted a 48-hour party complete with karaoke and periodic drumming (at first we thought it was a funeral, but apparently someone bought a house). On Friday the drumming competed valiantly with the circular saws going over the back fence.
By 5:30pm Zulu, who had been locked in the office with me for most of the day, was completely over the din, his toys, and the sheets of packing paper that (desperate, and awash with guilt about my necessary neglect) I’d let him shred. The office was covered with tiny pieces of white paper and he was lying on his back with his head under the bed, moaning sadly to himself and chewing on cardboard. I knew how he felt.
Instead of feeling relieved after I sent off the report draft I just felt exhausted and flat. Why, I wondered, can’t I write a draft of a report in a week that I feel is brilliant instead of just a draft that I feel is a good start?
Then a whole host of other thoughts started to feed into a familiar mental storm – the kind of mental storm that occasionally generates inner tornadoes.
Why were we even living in this blasted place of incessant noise – this place where people think it’s acceptable to drum for two days, this place where people run circular saws eight hours a day, this place where radios only seem to have one setting – loud.
This place of swarms of mosquitoes that invade our house so that our pre-bedtime routine now consists of lurking in the corners of the bedroom watching… waiting… and killing.
This place where we can’t get reliable vaccines for our puppy, or doctors for ourselves.
Where we have no oven. And where I can’t buy pesto in a jar.
Yeah, once these mental tornadoes start to form it’s truly remarkable how quickly I can generate a wide variety of things that I am unhappy about to pull into the maelstrom.
“What can I do to help?” Mike asked on Friday night.
“Nothing,” I said from the depths of my stormy darkness. “I just need to go to bed and get over myself. But I can’t go to bed and go to sleep because they are still drumming.
At some point this weekend, however, the drumming stopped, so did the saws, and the world went quiet. We played with the puppy. We had a new friend, Luzia – a Swiss vet – over for dinner and she gave Zulu a deworming shot for us and shared some thoughts on how to possibly track down puppy vaccines. I figured out that the toaster oven works quite well for roasting pumpkin. We opened the jar of pesto we’d bought with us from California. Mike pottered around happily, and I sorted my books and finally got them stacked onto our new bookshelves.
Novels. Memoirs. Essays and short stories. Poetry. Academic texts on trauma, and peace building, and aid work. Books on writing.
Some of these books have been around the world with me more than once by now, and more than a few were bought in a pre-move literary-spending-spree (or, uh, ten such sprees). Sitting on the tile floor in the silence and sifting through them was soothing. The dozens that I haven’t read were tangible promises of many hours of pleasure to come. The dozens that I have read served a double function. They are stories that I have loved – each a whole world in their own right – and they are also each a small piece of my own story, my own world. I can remember where I was when I read many of the books that I have most loved – what I was doing, and how I was feeling about life.
Whenever I handle The Time Travelers Wife, for example, I flash back to Heathrow airport and a six-hour layover after a brutal week of hard work and food poisoning in Kenya. That book was read in a single stint – lying on hard plastic chairs, amidst the cacophony of constant boarding announcements. It redeemed those six hours, and I loved it even more for that.
Hours of peaceful sorting this weekend have finally yielded some order in our book collection and in my mind. It’s also transformed the corner of our downstairs room. We may not have access to good medical care here, but we now have our own library tucked neatly under a spiral staircase.
Luzia was stunned when she walked into our place on Sunday.
“It’s so nice to see books,” she said, entranced. “I haven’t seen hardly any books during the last eighteen months. This is amazing that you brought so many.”
“Yes, well,” Mike joked as he gave me a hug. “She is the love of my life. And they are the love of hers.”