most of my 20s were spent in between situations--in between colleges, in between marriages, in between jobs, in between living in one place and another, in between sobriety and whatever state I was in--so I was often in wandering mode, moving from spot to spot just to keep myself alert. one of the few "in-betweens" I was rarely in was in between girls or boys I could sleep with and it was with one of those, a pretty blond with big glasses named gail, that I was wandering around new paltz one afternoon. it was a sort of cloudy, not-quite rainy day and we had just come from doing our laundry together and taking it back to my place and stopped by another friend's place.
her name was gigi. I knew 3 gigis when I was an undergraduate and I don't think I've met a single one since. I must have met my allotment. gigi was studying for her gre in literature and had quit her waitressing job in order to do nothing for 2 months but read.
she rented a couple rooms off one end of an old 40s style, gi loan, singlestory house that had seen better days. there were leaks everywhere and some windows weren't exact fits for their holes because most of them had rags and washcloths stuck into them. the place smelled of gingerbread, that kind of scent old dried wood houses get in the summer. the panelling on the outside was falling apart although it still looked okay in the front. she led us into the rooms and I noticed she had a small alcove or nook set up for herself in one corner that she must have used to read.
the corner was at a right angle to where the bedroom and kitchen came together and there was a tall, narrow window set in it. this window had no washcloths. there was a big red pillow on the floor directly adjacent to one wall and a trove of books, most of them hardcover, and a steaming mug of tea.
we sat in the kitchen and she fixed us some tea and we talked although about what I don't remember and I don't know if we had a thesis for stopping. I remember the smooth, quiet feeling I had seeing that little alcove. when gigi answered the door she had a book in her hand--I remember it as adam bede--with her thumb jammed about 3 quarters through the pages. when we left she saw us out the sliding kitchen door and in response to something gail said, an invitation to join us somewhere, she said, "god, no, I've got to keep reading."
I have always wanted that alcove. I've had the opportunity many times over the decades since to set up my own and it's never felt the way I imagined. it was always the wrong nook or the wrong season or the wrong book or the wrong something else. the truth of course is that it wasn't any of the physical things that were wrong. the truth is that I simply don't do well when all I have to do is "keep reading."
I read quickly and sloppily and I'm happier at grabbing the stray hour between classes or while waiting for someone or before going to bed. I used to read while walking but age and gravity are preventing me from doing that any longer. when I lived in my car I stopped at least 3 times a day to read or write. I used to keep a novel--the mandarins by simone de beauvier--in my car and if I was stuck in traffic or had to use a public restroom I could read a page or 2. I get itchy sitting in one place very long and fall asleep if I'm comfortable enough.
I've always thought this a kind of unfortunate thing and my only saving grace that I read so quickly. but I'm coming to see it as something else, something of a match with why I don't sit zen well or pray without looking around or meditate in the traditional ways at all. I think it comes from the same wellspring walt whitman was getting at when he wrote, "I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, I am mad for it to be in contact with me. The smoke of my own breath, Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine, My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs, The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn..." such things, while they can be found in books, are also best found elsewhere.