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On Books and Beer

I was sitting there having a beer, doing what I do. I had a book. Actually, I had three books. The only problem is that none of them were the book I was actually supposed to be reading.

Weeks earlier, I had bought six books in preparation for a trip to Arizona for Spring Training. Since then I worked my way through five books — all of which were interesting, compelling, and worth the read. Then I got to the sixth book.

We were in Santa Cruz for a few days of ocean, sunsets, and relaxation. The Queen Midget and I. I had that sixth book and I was gonna get it done.  Imagine Me Gone.  I was trying, but I was struggling. Then on Friday, we did the thing. The one she likes to do. We walked through downtown Santa Cruz, where there are lots of shops. Antiques and clothing stores.  And shoe stores.  Oh my!

We walked through one and afterwards my wife asked me about something she saw in the store. I mentioned that it may look like I’m looking at things in those stores, but, no, I’m actually not. It’s pretty much close to torture for me, this thing.

But at one point we walked by a book store. “You wanna go in?” she asked.  “Sure,” I replied. I knew what would happen. 20 minutes later, I walked out with three books, after finding about 8,763 books I would have liked to buy. When I was ready to check out and found my wife, I showed her books.  “I see,” she said.  “What? You know what happens if I’m gonna go in a book store,” I replied.

Even though I had bought Imagine Me Gone with us on this little side trip to downtown Santa Cruz, I left it in the car because I decided to try to do the walking/shopping thing with her instead of what I normally do. Which is this. “Oh look, a bar. I’ll go have a beer while you walk around.” She’s patient with me and says “okay.”

I had my three books, but we had plenty more walking to do. I went with her. I avoided the bars and restaurants and walked the streets and went into the stores. Until I could no more.

“I’m gonna go over to 99 Bottles now and have a beer.” We were going to meet my nephew there for dinner in a little bit. I thought I could have a beer and then hold a table in case the place got crowded. “Okay,” she replied.

I settled in at the bar. 99 Bottles pretty much describes the place’s approach to beer. It has at least 99 different options in the carbonated alcoholic beverage category.  Probably about 20-30 on tap and the rest in bottles. I ordered something and looked at my bag of three books. I pulled one out and started reading. The Revenant, which Leonardo DiCaprio recently starred in a movie adaptation of.

I read the first chapter. It’s short. And then set the book to the side. I talked a little bit with a guy sitting to my left. And then another guy pulled out the stool to my right. He pulled out a tattered piece of paper with all sorts of numbers and many of them checked off. “Let’s see,” he said to the bartender, “I think I’ll start with 47.”

The paper represented 99 Bottles ultimate challenge — to drink every one of the beers they have to offer. Check the number off each time and achieve fame on the walls of the bar. There are some people who have completed that little challenge more than 50 times. One or two have done it 70 or 80 times. Think about that. Do the math.

Judging from his paper, the guy to my right was about two thirds of the way through it.

We’re sitting there. Me, with The Revenant in front of me. Guy to my left who talked about history and how much he loved it and said something I thought meant he was a history teacher, prompting me to think that I should talk to my un-motivated older son who likes history to see if maybe he had thought about being a history teacher.  But later guy on the left revealed that it was his dad who was a history teacher. Guy on the left was, in fact, a long distance truck driver.

And guy to my right, with his beer-drinking challenge, who suddenly asked me, “How’s the book?”

To which I replied with a chuckle, “I don’t know yet, I just started it. Only finished the first chapter, but I’ll let you know once I read more.” Wink, wink. I then told him what the book was about — a true story about a man in the early 1800s who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by the trappers he had been with and who then crawled out of the wilderness to revenge their treachery. And as I finished this summary, I said, “And the first chapter ends with him beginning to crawl.”

I knew what I had to do when we got back to our room after dinner with the nephew. Go back to Imagine Me Gone. I was committed to the book, having got about halfway through. I read a bit more that night, but it was hopeless.

This is all a long way to explain why I never got to the 6th book in my Spring Training series. The next day, I moved on to The Revenant, because it seemed to promise something far more interesting and compelling. That promise was fulfilled. It’s a stunning story of survival and revenge. I highly recommend it. I won’t say more about it. Just go read the book.

Now, I have to decide whether to go back to Imagine Me Gone.

Truth is, I read another book in the in between. Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson. It’s a short, quick, easy read. She’s a self-published author I discovered through the WordPress blogosphere and my own self-publishing efforts. I love her stories and Differently Normal is no exception. She writes modern day fairy tales of two people finding companionship and love when they weren’t looking for it and weren’t expecting it. And frequently, rather than living happily ever after, Tammy is willing to give the reader an unhappy, bitterly sad ending and I give her great credit for that.

But now … it’s time to decide whether to go back to that other book. Or give up.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

A Moment

Over the years, I’ve occasionally taken my own personal vacations.  A few days at the ocean.  Maybe a night or two backpacking.  Or a long weekend at a mountain lake.  I was fooling around on my laptop tonight and the photo editing program on the laptop just kind of opened up.  I started looking at pictures, and was reminded of one of those trips. To a place called Caples Lake — a very rustic cabin.  So rustic, one night I had to set a mouse trap for the vermin running loose.  It’s in the Sierra Nevadas.  It is beautiful and quiet and … I started looking through the pictures I took while I was there.  Here you go … a moment from the past.  A moment that inspires me to take another trip.  Another vacation.  A few days here or there.  Of peace and quiet.  And natural beauty.

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Go Deeper

I posted this picture a day or so ago.

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It’s part of my on-going “A Moment” series — when I’m out and about and find a picture I want to share.  Nothing more than that.  A moment of beauty.  A moment of peace.  A moment.  That’s all.

A regular reader  commented on the picture that it reminder her of this:

Gray Weather

 

It is true that, older than man and ages to outlast him, the Pacific surf
Still cheerfully pounds the worn granite drum;
But there’s no storm; and the birds are still, no song; no kind of excess;
Nothing that shines, nothing is dark;
There; is neither joy nor grief nor a person, the sun’s tooth
sheathed in cloud,
And life has no more desires than a stone.
The stormy conditions of time and change are all abrogated, the essential
Violences of survival, pleasure,
Love, wrath and pain, and the curious desire of knowing, all perfectly
suspended.
In the cloudy light, in the timeless quietness,
One explores deeper than the nerves or heart of nature, the womb or soul,
To the bone, the careless white bone, the excellence.

— Robinson Jeffers
I’m glad a picture I posted here could create a connection to words as stark and beautiful as this.  I’ll be studying this poem in the days ahead.  Over and over again.  Trying to solve its riddle.

Three Sunsets

The Queen and I spent the last few days in a place called Seascape — just south of Santa Cruz, California.  There is a restaurant there that is aimed perfectly towards the sunset.  I had great hopes.  Nothing remarkable, but here are the sunsets from our three nights there.  Would have liked something a little more … colorful.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

And here we are at book #5 of my Spring Training tour through books.  Here’s a post about book #4, which includes a link to the links for the first three books.

Book #5 is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

Kalanithi is a successful man by any measure of the word.  A Renaissance man as well — torn between his desire to pursue science and medicine and his love of literature and a need to be a writer.  He chooses the proper course and pursues neurosurgery and neuroscience.  “Proper?” you ask.  Well, hell yeah — that other thing, being a writer, doesn’t usually pay the bills.  (That’s my rationale, not his, by the way.)

As he winds up his schooling, education, residency, etc., and is in line to head a new neurosurgery program, he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi’s memoir, written in the final months of his life, when he and his wife decide to have a child and he deals with successful rounds of treatment followed by relapses and, ultimately … well “inoperable” means something for a reason when it comes to cancer.

I don’t know what I think about this one.  On the one hand, it’s a pretty remarkable piece. Written elegantly and unstintingly about the death he faced. Which is apparently how he handled the whole thing. On some level, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a scientist, particularly a neuroscientist, who had learned the unknown secrets of the brain (where ultimately his cancer spreads).

On the other … well, let’s just say that ever since my first son entered this world, I have feared an early death.  First, it was that I would go the way of the dodo bird before I had a chance to see my kids grown.  I have spent these years convinced there is a poison lurking in my body, in my bloodstream, in my bones, in some obscure organ that will snuff my flame out before I am ready.

Those kids are now 22 and 19.  I’m almost there. But my fear of the inevitable now is based on the idea that I want to have a retirement, a period of years where I am finally able to do the things I want and experience life the way I want to.  It’s not that being a parent, being married, working, and all else over the last few decades were not that.  I will never complain about the beauty and wonder of being a father or that it prevented me from something.  Raising my kids was and always will irreplaceable.

But now that I am just about done with that responsibility, I want desperately to have an opportunity to do all of the things I put off.  I want to revel in and wallow in the things that feed my inner soul.  And I am convinced that the poison still lurks and it will take away from me that dream.  That opportunity.

When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi’s story.  His experience with living just that … well, I call it a horror.  He accepts it.  And while he clearly is saddened by it and that he will never see his daughter grow up (yes, he and his wife had a daughter born a few months before he passed away), there was something missing from this.  At the end, it just didn’t speak to me in the way I had hoped.

When Breath Becomes Air is well-written.  It is meaningful.  It is powerful, inevitably, given the subject matter.   But it didn’t have the oomph I expected.

 

P.S.  The sixth and final book in my Spring Training journey through the published world may not make it on here.  I’m struggling with it.  About halfway through, and I just find it to be incredibly tedious.  We’ll see if I make it through.

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