Gabriel turns Two: Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Okay, so I've decided to post some portions of my book. So read, critique -- I'd love responses and constructive feedback.

Memoirs of a Book Flirt
By Jemila Monroe


This book is about life, breasts, politics, love and religion, among other things. So if you think these things are taboo to discuss, or make fun or genuinely explore, you’re reading the wrong book! Get out of here! This book about being human – especially about being a woman, mother, spiritually quirky, political periwinkle in today’s mad crazy world. If that’s you – or could be, this book is written in your honor, with love.


Why does anybody flirt? Maybe a girl flirts for the attention, the giddy ego-boost and the rush that follows. Or maybe she aches for the touch and taste of something new. Or just perhaps, a girl flirts in search of an extraordinary connection – an electric union with someone whose plain existence draws the nutzo pieces of life together in a way that makes sense – or makes the senselessness tolerable and finally beautiful.
I love books because each has its own personality and quirks, and sometimes we click with an electrifying chemistry. Each new page offers the hope of an answer, or an epiphany that make the search for answers seem trivial. My mind glides over each tantalizing string of words and ideas wrapped in a smoothly titillating cover; I feel less alone, more alive anticipating the thrill of new ideas; the miracle of someone else’s thoughts surviving all the way to my hands.
Each book offers a whisper of newness, a momentary freedom of spirit, a satirical bite of truth or a ray of warmth that melts the feeling of isolation that is so sickeningly normal these days. Of course there are plenty of reads that just make me sigh enough to annoy other bookstore patrons before I wander off to the café’ for another mocha latte. You know some books are so bad they actually make you feel good about yourself, because you think, “Gee, I could write better than that.” And sure, such thoughts are not the noblest of comforts, but they are balanced by the full knowledge that someone else will happily rip to shreds whatever remnant of my thinking makes the long road trip from my convoluted brain to a shelf in Albequerque.
Besides, putting down someone else’s work is usually a sign of insecurity. Which brings me to a confession, which is that my familiarity with classic literature is hodgepodge at best, with a flare for getting the idea from the first two chapters and finishing off with the epilogue. Anyway, the thought of reading something written in archaic English, with absurdly small font and a lot of obscure historical references at the close of a long day sounds kind of like running a marathon twenty minutes after giving birth. Not my idea of a fun and relaxing most nights. Not that I don’t think I should real more classics: I keep telling myself I should, I will, yes, I even cracked open War and Peace a few weeks ago. But my son promptly tore out page 11, and began chewing on it. Then he ripped the page into three parts with great glee, clearly deriving more enjoyment from that one page than I was getting from the heady introduction. And gosh, just contemplating a read of Homer or Shakespeare sounds worthwhile for two seconds before catapulting toward the couch for a fresh episode of Desperate Housewives. Am I the only one who feels that Shakespeare is a synonym for “headache”? And okay, so Jane Austen’s characters are sort of witty, but unlike Austen’s ladies, I just can’t seem to settle down at the end of the day – even to finish Pride & Prejudice. I suppose it’s because I haven’t got enough sense or sensibility. So to compensate, I scour books for pearls, company and advice. Pearls for raising my kids wonderfully and still existing as an individual, real, live person –namely, a woman; Advice for surviving divorce and attempting the first healthy relationship in my family’s known history; advice, or at least some theraputic laughs for living through the Bush years; Companions for the lonely road I walk away from Christian fundamentalism and toward something more like Jesus, knowing that most of the time I have no clue what this means.
Books are like little paper friends I meet along my way. And in a sense I am like an itinerate Israelite: making my way across the desert, creating alters out of books rather than stones to remind me where I’ve been and who I’m becoming, how I worshipped or lost faith or foundBut where is my metaphorical desert, in real time and space? Just around the corner, past (too many) strip malls, there’s a place with smooth round black café’ tables and an endless stretch of books. They call this place Borders.
So with a stack of books by my side, and a mostly-hot chocolate mocha in my hand, my flirtatious book journey begins. My goals? To assemble the pieces of a life, hoping that what I uncover turns out to be redemptive and funny. Meanwhile I’m praying I’ll find God’s face crinkly with warmth and understanding, mischief and good tears; God laughing with me when the puzzle fits together or doesn’t; The crazy epiphany that makes answers irrelevant.

P.S. (Or Prologue Part II)

Book flirting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, unless an affair ends so badly that the book in question finds itself ripped from head to tail and violently sucked away into mouth of a Dirt Devil. In which case the flirting part of the relationship would safely be assumed to be over, bringing me back to my original point that book flirting doesn’t happen in a vacuum When I was deciding on the best venue for meeting and entangling with the books for this project, I couldn’t decide between Borders and Barne’s & Noble. Both are relatively near my house, since I live in the middle of Strip Mallville, U.S.A. Neither is an endearing small bookstore owned by a sweet granny with big eyeglasses and a nose for quirky novels. Nor has either chain been the topic of a romantic comedy about what happens when Meg Ryan’s beautiful small bookstore is bought out by Tom Hank’s big bad Fox and the two fall madly in love despite the ruthlessness of American capitalism.
So I took my time in appraising the remaining merits (and demerits) of my potential book flirting venues. Borders is slightly closer to my home, by about 500 feet and a rotary; it also possesses a spacious, open-feeling café, with round black tables and chairs, and enough space between each for a person to lapse into another world without smelling someone’s belch from next door. Border’s likewise has nice setup for new and bestseller books, which are laid flat on their backs, revealing attractive, colorful covers; Each book announcing its presence, yet waiting attentively in the missionary position.
The Barnes & Noble in my town has a more claustrophobic café area, but they serve Starbucks coffee, instead of the coffee-flavored water featured at Borders. Barnes & Noble seems to have greater selection of interesting titles…or at least titles that peak my interest. But the real assets of Barne’s & Noble have little to do with books, and everything to do with quality of life: tasty lemon water free pf charge, and a lovely Thomas The Tank Engine table occupying Kid’s Corner. Really, overall, Barnes & Noble has a more pleasing feeling, a sumptuous message to your subconscious that you’re on a special outing – a cherished moment of quiet with yourself, a night out with your girlfriend, or a date with someone who could be become your lifelong lover. For all these reasons intangible reasons, Barnes & Noble was about to get picked for my flirting zone until this really unfortunate thing happened.
I was eight weeks postpartum after my son Gabriel’s birth, and feeling just a little depressed. It was one of my first outings with my husband and our new baby, and we decided to head for Barnes & Noble, with plans of snagging some hot drinks and browsing around for some fun tidbits. Little Gabriel was busily trying to lift my shirt, intent on yanking my breast into the open air; meanwhile David was ordering a soy milk hot chocolate with a touch of coffee on my behalf. My hearing was more attuned than normal, perhaps because of increased sensitivity to baby cries calling me from deep sleep, and I happened to overhear barista ask David whether we were hoping for a boy or girl with the next baby. First I thought this guy must have a prophetic gift or a side job at the psychic connection, because David and I had just been discussing the possibility of a third child! “How did you know we were thinking about having another one?” I exclaimed, awestruck.
“’Cause look at you, you’re expecting. Duh.”
“I already had my baby,” I said pointedly, trying to maintain my composure.
“But you’re having another one,” insisted the foolish barista.
“No, I’m not,” I said, my irritation – and humiliation increasing.
“C’mon, you’re pregnant! I mean you are pregnant.”
“No, I’m really not, I’m not, and you’d better make it up to me, because you just called me fat.”
“You don’t look fat…you look…healthy.”
Healthy? He didn’t just say that. The foolish barista should stopped digging the second after he opened his mouth; there was no way out of that hole, except maybe by way of free coffee – for life!
Pregnant and postpartum are very distinct phases of a woman’s reproductive life, and confusing them out loud is practically a mortal sin. If you’re not sure, don’t ask. Just tell the lady she looks especially beautiful. If she wants to tell you she’s pregnant, she’ll tell you and be flattered you noticed her glow. If she’s not pregnant, she’ll still walk around feeling beautiful, and you’ll be grateful you kept your nosy trap shut!
Well the flustered barista gazed up from the profoundly deep hole he dig himself and promised me a free cup of coffee to make amends. He even gave my daughter milk and cookies on the spot. But later when I came to collect my coffee he said, “No now, we’re too busy.” Oh, so he has time to insult a lady, but no time to finish making it right? I began to retreat backward, my my face getting redder by the second. On my way out, I announced my plan to permanently boycott Barnes & Noble, while Bargain Books, listened respectfully. A few of the self-help titles actually validated my feelings. I thanked them profusely, as I walked out the door and headed for Borders, now the official winner of my little contest. Of course a few weeks later, my hormones a bit more settled, I reduced
Barne’s & Noble’s sentence to a partial boycott, as I reflected on the importance of free lemon water. Then half way through writing my first draft, in, during a trip to Barnes & Noble, I felt the sudden, profound desire for a mocha. I sped toward the Café’. Glancing over at the cash register, I saw the barista, still in his hole, and the humiliation arose once again. We recognized each other immediately, with an appropriate sense of awkwardness. I tried to be kind and civil, while I secretly pondered writing a book called: What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting but People Think You Are. But before I could imagine the table of contents, the poor barista did a brave thing: he opened his mouth and spoke:
“Look, I’m sorry, about last time. I’m always saying what I think and getting myself into trouble,” said the barista.
I retorted, “Do you make a habit of calling women fat?” “I didn’t call you fat…at least I didn’t mean to…and I wanted to give you the free coffee, but my boss was right there and I just couldn’t do it then.”
“Yeah, okay, I get the whole boss thing. You wanted to give me the coffee. Yeah, okay, no hard feelings.”
I forgave the barista, mostly. But I was still feeling scarred. I mean the guy did call me fat. As he handed me a perfectly blended mocha and ignored the cash register in front of him, he said really kindly, “Here’s me keeping my promise.” Redemption is always sweetest when it comes in form of chocolate and coffee swirled in a hot, soothing mixture. And at that very moment I realized the bible is right when it says, “In everything, God works for the good of those who love Her.” That’s Romans 8:28, with a feminine pronoun inserted because let’s face it, women are the experts when it comes to turning insults into free mochas. So I began to let my bitterness melt and filed the whole fiasco under “funny stories. Sympathy even welled up in me for this poor barista who clearly suffered from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. One final positive thing came out of the mistaken pregnancy incident and its redemptive conclusion: Right after I sipped down my mocha, I took a step toward preventing future mistaken pregnancies and joined the gym. Someday soon I plan to start going regularly. In the meantime, I’ll just be thankful book flirting doesn’t demand a perfect figure.


ktismatics said...

Right from the beginning seductive things are happening. You’re talking about yourself flirting with books but really you’re flirting with me, your reader. This isn’t your flirtation; it’s your book’s – but it’s going to be a memoir after all, so you’re there too.

The whole episode with the coffee guy at the bookstore is a very satisfying tale: it lets us know something about you in the context of a kind of fate that decides where you’re going to be doing your flirting. The dialogue is nicely interspersed with narrative. Sure, I’d keep reading. The main thing is that it doesn’t keep me stuck in how you’re writing, but in what’s going on in the world you’re showing me. It’s getting me involved; the flirtation is keeping me around...

Jemila Monroe said...

Thanks ktismatics! I needed the encouragement :) Will post more soon.

ktismatics said...

Here's a little bit of writing advice my wife just passed on to me and that I thought you might get a kick out of.

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