Used books

I  am curled up in bed, my nose buried in the middle of a wonderful book, one bursting with even more wonderful recipes and I cannot wait to try out this particular one called boeuf farci. My book is called Clementine in the Kitchen and I am on page 90. I so want to dog-ear this page but I just can’t bring myself to that. Where, oh where, is my bookmarker, one of the many I always have lounging around most everywhere? It is everywhere but near me and I am too lazy to stand up. I struggle with myself for a second (really, who is going to punish me if I make a teeny-weeny dog ear?) and decide that I really can’t, and won’t. I get a piece of Kleenex to mark the page instead. And read on.

I am a creature of habit and even as a kid I never vandalized my books. I like keeping them in mint condition, I never highlighted sentences with a fluorescent marker nor did I scribble randomly on empty spaces. At most, I would copy them by hand into a journal just so I could keep going back to them at whim or will. Naturally, doodles are also a no-no. I somehow like the idea that anyone can just pull out any one of my books from the shelf and enjoy not only the wonderful story but the tangible appeal as well — the crisp pages, the sparkling newness of it still. I believe very much that the way the book feels in your hands is part of the experience, part of the magic. Why else do you think there are such things as paperbacks and hardcovers? Why do you think so much attention is given to little details like the use of nice white paper with uneven and gilded edges? Why do we bother to cover them when they do not come in their own dust jackets?

The only book I am very “interactive” with is the Bible. That book I like to be worn out, lived in, personalized. I doodle and scribble and highlight like crazy using hot pink and lime-green fluorescent markers, especially when I hold God up to a promise written there. I like writing dates when specific prayers have been answered, I write my thank-you notes to God in whatever white space I find in the pages. I use red and blue ink, sometimes even pencils, too. There you will find everything from personal thoughts interspersed with exclamation points and question marks. It is a very personal thing, almost like a diary of my life so far. That book has pages that have been folded in more than just one way and there are dog-ears even on the bottom edges. It has a life of its own. But I digress.

Let’s go back to Clementine and her kitchen adventures. And the all-too-familiar but still strange way I struggle with this habit of wanting to keep most things neat and in mint condition. It is ironic how a good trait can also be a great flaw. Where is the logic in seriously wanting to purchase an extra copy of this lovely book-cum-recipe-trove, one that I can bastardize unapologetically, knowing that I have my original copy sitting serenely on a bookshelf, a virgin still except for being read through once and by me only? The extra copy I know I can bring to the kitchen, splatter with flour and oil, fold here and there, unfold, and then fold yet again. I know I will scribble recipe adjustments as I go along. Simply put, I know I can and I will do anything I want with it because it is an extra copy. That will give me license to not be so careful with it.

Pray tell, what school taught me that I must preserve things I like? Do I scribble recklessly in my personal Bible because I know I have more stacked neatly in a drawer, presents all? But I do not have to have two of everything to allow myself to do that, right? So what if the one I’m using suffers the fate of wear and tear, becoming less perfect in the process? It is no crime. I must remember that, engrave it in my brain, program it in my O.C. system.

What of always looking at forever? I have, in the past, let go of so many nice projects/ideas/little crafts that would have been so much fun to do only because I get trapped in the “if it will not stand the wear and tear that time will bring what is the point of making it in the first place?” bubble of thought. Who says “forever” always has to be the motivating factor in all things anyway?

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I’m thinking now that life can be richer when you just take in everything like a little child, enjoying things for what they are in the now, not what they will become tomorrow, in two weeks, in a year. There must be so much freedom in just jumping spontaneously into the thick of things, without analyzing too much if time spent there is wasted time. Besides, who decides what or when time is wasted? We think too much, and lose even more in the process.

I will think about that the next time I want to decoupage a tray with delicate tissue, or when I want to try making the felt coasters I saw Martha Stewart do on her show. If it gets soiled and ruined beyond repair after the first use, so what? I enjoy making them anyway. I will remember that the next time I want to painstakingly make by hand sets of all-purpose note cards that I have to use fancy punchers and bone folders for. When the little voice inside me starts whispering that it will be easier and more efficient to just buy or order, I will brush it aside. Long after these things are worn out, I know the joy it brought me then will find its way back to me always, warm and welcome. If only for that, then it has been worth it. My memories do not have to get worn out and frayed along with them. As with the famous Nike slogan I must remember to “Just Do It.” It will give little joys, and some clarity.

I love pretty things and if I just surrendered sweetly to the innocent impulsive voice inside me, how many mismatched plates would I have now? Enough to tell a story. And I suspect very much that, put together, they would somehow work beautifully in a shabby-chic sort of way anyway. Sadly for me, my only thought then was “Oh, there aren’t enough to make a set.” Again, who says it always has to be a set?

How many times have I lost a precious assembly of thoughts, the chance to retell a magical night or a poignant memory, if only in the pages of a journal that promises reverent silence for as long as I keep it under lock and key, only because I was too guilty to write something perfectly new and perfectly beautiful? I have always been very apologetic about starting a new notebook until I have filled the last page of the one I am currently using. But then I look at my daughter’s drawer and I see dozens of pretty notebooks, all half-used here and there, some more than the others, filled with colorful drawings and doodles and beautiful one liners she copied from her favorite books while she practices fancy handwriting. There are phone numbers of her little friends, a pizza place, the theater at Promenade, lists of her favorite things, and little drills we do in math and spelling. What joy she and I have when we go through them. Why shouldn’t I be like her, less reverent of lovely things? Why must I be a slave to them? I must be able to use them as I want to, with no attachment to the concept of forever, and with no pressure to keep it as new as the day I bought them.

I will start with Clementine. I am going to march to the kitchen now, the book tucked under my arm, and already I look forward to making it truly my own, splattered with oil and flour and sugar, bastardized with notes penned in ink, highlighted too, if need be. And no, I am not buying an extra copy “just in case.” So there. Already, I’m feeling very good, in a reckless sort of way that is quite not me. That can be a good feeling to start with sometimes.

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