The Bookstore Lady

Taking on the literate world, one Ohioan at a time

Do It Your Own Damn Self: Leadership in the Community

Pride is not always a sin.

Pride is not always a sin.

A few weeks ago I sat with several community leaders on a panel talking to a group of Mansfielders about how we “give back.” The group was in Leadership Unlimited, an adult leadership training program that explores issues and challenges with leading in our county. I was told that this was basically an opportunity to brag about what we do, so we did. But being that I freeze when placed in front of two or more strangers and made to talk, I wrote out some of what I wanted to tell them ahead of time. Below are the three ways I discovered I give back to my community.

First, I believe in Mansfield. There’s a whole lot of us who lived in big cities in our 20s and then came home for one reason or another. My mom pointed something out to me recently that I hadn’t put together myself, but all of us who came home brought pieces of the big city with us. Stuff that we came to expect there, and that are the bonuses of living in a big city and compensation for putting up with stinky rush hour subway cars. We brought those pieces home with us and established them here and ended up kind of accidentally enriching the cultural environment.

Like, for me it was holding open mics for writers, bringing in authors from all over the state, hosting poetry readings and writing clubs. For others of my friends it was bringing in bands from across the world, starting an opera company, a graphic design company, a dance troupe, bringing arts to Mansfield that others said Mansfield was not ready for. Read the rest of this entry »


Grow Your Soul: Vonnegut & Poetic Vandalism

Vonnegut looking, in his words, like an iguana

Vonnegut looking, in his words, like an iguana

A few Mondays ago, I found myself squinting back at the blank stares of sixty or so junior high-aged girls who had never heard the name Vonnegut before. I spoke to six sessions of thirteen-year-olds in a leadership program over the course of a day, and it was terrifying. Public speaking is hard enough for me, but on top of that, I remember what girls in junior high are like.

I was given virtually no instruction — I just had to talk to the girls for 20 minutes and show them what a female leader looked like. (Trust me: I spent hours debating which outfit to wear that morning.) And I had so much to tell them! I made mental lists while showering:

  • major in the arts
  • if you want something, make it
  • boys are dumb until they’re 30, and even then it’s questionable
  • you don’t have to leave home to make a difference in the world
  • your parents grow much more likeable in their old age
  • it doesn’t get easier, but it will get better.

All this to say and only 20 minutes?! When the first group came in and sat down I tried to break the ice with, “so you guys are all in junior high?” They nodded yes. I deadpanned, “I’m so sorry.” Nothing. Not even a pity smile from their chaperone. I panicked and jumped into a adrenaline- and caffeine-fueled version of my talk, which I had laid out loosely ahead of time, assuming wrongly that I would be able to wing it. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Ohio Spectrum

My ride into work

On my ride into work

This morning I sat half-awake in my new bedroom, lit dimly as dawn approached. After living in a tightly-packed Mansfield neighborhood for almost two years, I had forgotten how raucously loud the birds could be in the morning. My husband and I moved to a new apartment last weekend, leaving the city limits for a place further afield. In the lavender light I couldn’t focus enough to pick out any one bird song, it just sounded like a riot of language I couldn’t understand. My legs still ached in strange places; my hands, dry and swollen.

Our new back porch faces north, and the sun sets over a stand of pines to our left. Yesterday evening I watched a white-tailed deer munching in the field behind our apartment building. After a while the doe kneeled, slowly first and then all at once, her ungainly angles folding under her, and sat there at the border of the forest, watching the sunset with me.

At the bookstore we have a monthly poetry reading called Borderlands, thus named because of my town’s unique position between so many poles, in particular the rural/urban dichotomy. I travel the spectrum on my new route to work each morning. I begin surrounded by fields, forests, and ponds. Here a park with soccer fields and baseball diamonds, there a river and fishermen. As I drive the scenery becomes more suburban and eventually I pass our mall, now half-empty, ringed with rows of chain restaurants. The road becomes rougher, more crowded. Smokestacks line up in my peripheral vision and trees become scarcer. By the time I get off at my exit, I can smell Mansfield. Read the rest of this entry »

Dreamscape with Other Men

I Have a Periodic Table of Songbirds in My Head

I Have a Periodic Table of North American Songbirds in My Head

Originally written for February’s Love-themed Book Loft, Lit, an open mic of sorts we hold at the bookstore on the first Friday of every month.

It’s the middle of the night and suddenly we’re both awake and confused. “Are you okay?” I ask Ben. Later, neither of us will remember how we awoke.

“I was dreaming,” he says. Even though it’s night I can sense that he’s looking through the dark past my shoulder.
“What’d you dream?”
“I was floating…over…rivers of information,” he says.
I’m starting to fade. “You should write it down,” I say, turning back to my pillow.
“Write it down? Why?”
“Just…you should. You’ll remember it.”
Days later when he’s not home I pick up the child-size pocket notebook he’d written in. It says:

From the window of the small vehicle I can see the data flowing past like massive rivers. The voice of my partner, unnamed says, ‘it wasn’t always like this.’ I agree. They go on, ‘Used to only be a few of these streams, but now it’s this…’ they said, drawing my attention to the rivers of cables of data flowing beneath us, even more unseen. I have the impression of an ocean of a network of the rivers all flowing and branching and interconnecting. It is overwhelming but I have a job I must do. I don’t exactly know what. We go to a remote branch in the flow below us in order to do something with old information.

The dream is so quintessentially Ben. He spends long stretches of his day reigning in threads of information he chases after online. I often ask him what he’s reading in hopes he’ll hand me the end and unspool a line of thought for me: scientists have suspended objects in mid-air using sound; you can stay alive in the arctic using hand warmers. He has the indices of medical books in his head. The periodic table. Manuals for cars, phones, and home entertainment systems from 1990 to present. Me, I have sage grass, the names of North American song birds, the architecture of wine and beer, the color of every type of heartbreak. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sound of Now

Making dinner with Duane Michals

Making dinner with Duane Michals

There is a storm coming and I’m giddy. There’s not all that much excitement predicted, but still I’m as wired as a kid on a snowy school night — listening to music too loud and singing along, talking too much. Dancing around the house in my fuzzy blue pajama bottoms and an old men’s undershirt. Retro bass booms from The Heavy are reverberating in the walls, and I turn it up. Keep it loud, keep it coming.

Earlier, while Ben is cooking and I’m doing dishes, we come across a new song with lyrics we like — everybody’s got a little hole in the middle — that has this one heavy beat, one note like a thumb in the eye that vibrates the cupboard doors. We talk around it like it’s a pillar in the middle of the kitchen, one that we kind of like having there.

Ben is telling me that it is possible to suspend objects in air using sound waves. Somehow, somewhere, someone got a toothpick or kernel of corn or something to sit on a cushion of sound, blasted at it from good God!-strong speakers on either side of it. I picture an airline peanut suspended between the rear ends of two jet planes, scientists in flapping white coats and giant safety headgear.

Sound is making some waves in my little town, and people are finally listening. Read the rest of this entry »

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