Friday, January 30, 2015

Too Dumb to Be an Intellectual Snot

Fridays are supposed to be the day I do what I want. This is not that day.

Last night on Facebook, someone posted a list of the books that were referenced in 'The Gilmore Girls.' I watched 'The Gilmore Girls' for a while, but I guess I didn't really watch 'The Gilmore Girls' the way some people do. I didn't study 'The Gilmore Girls.' Sorry.

It's the same way with Dr. Who. I don't feel the need to study Dr. Who either, though when I found out who River Song really was, I had a momentary impulse to go back and look for references to her to see how my perspective had changed. Do you care? I'm sure someone has written about these references, in detail. My mind is jumping (always jumping) to a line in Arlo Guthrie's song, 'Alice's Restaurant.' He wanted us to sing 'in harmony.' Yes, there are lots of people writing, in detail, about Dr. Who on the Internet, and in harmony.

And don't get me started about 'Firefly.' If I were to study a show, I would study 'Firefly,' in detail, in harmony.

Yes, I'm that kind of girl, an almost trekker, an almost fan-club girl, an almost cult-follower of particular shows that got canceled too soon. I went to Comic Con once, but I didn't dress up. I'm that kind of girl.

Right. Where was I? The book list. So, I love book lists, though I'm not one of those people who has made a list of all the books I've ever read either. I took a good look at Rory's list, a good list. I love counting how many books I've read from people's lists of classic books. Even better, I like the arguments that ensue when people make lists like that. Remember the BBC list? There were a whole bunch of people saying that this book or that book should absolutely be on the BBC list. That's only because it was a hard, big book that they had read and they wanted it on the list to get credit, to get an 'A' for effort. Do you know what I mean? Do you even care?

So, I was counting the books I had read from 'The Gilmore Girls' book list and, as usual, I was pretty smug at first. I read four out of the first five books! Yay me! I is such a smarty-pants, see?

But then, I got to books I wasn't entirely sure I had read. Yup. There are book that I'm pretty sure I've read, but I have absolutely no recollection of their contents. Actually, that's a lot of books. For example, I read 'Angela's Ashes,' but all I remember is my disgust that the guy's mom would buy cigarettes instead of food and that the author was such a whiner to the end. I mean, there seemed to be no end to the distress, no ray of light, no redeeming reason except revenge for writing that book. How's that for a synopsis? Pretty lame, right? Do you even care? And that's a book I remember. Sometimes I just remember that I read that book, but I have no idea what it was about. None. Nada. Zippo. Zilch.

Okay, I might have a vague recollection of where I was sitting when I read the book, in the hospital lobby, in the stacks of the library and my dad's college, or in the hundred year old house with the strange noises. Or I might remember a lost friend who insisted that I borrow his book and complained that I had it for three months on my bookshelf. But do I remember what these books were about?

Not such a smarty-pants now, are we? Yes, I have gotten half way through lesser-known titles and realized that I knew the ending. I'm not psychic, but I had forgotten that I had already read the book! I'm not prepared, ever, to teach a literature class. After reading thousands of books, I just don't remember the details of most of them. Sorry.

An ex-friend once quizzed me on the storyline of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and quickly moved from friend to ex-friend. I do not need to justify my reading list to anyone, I told her. I had read that book in high school and had easily read a couple thousand books since then. I had read 'The Epic of Gilgamesh!' She looked at me dubiously. I should look her up in a couple of years and quiz her on the nuances of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' Bitch.

But I'd have to reread the book first and there are too many other books on my list to read, some of them from 'The Gilmore Girls' book list.

So, when I got done counting Rory's list, I had about 75 1/2 books or so that I was pretty sure I had probably read. I could not remember for certain. And do you even care how many books I've read? Do you? Should you?

But I like to think that salient concepts stay with me, somewhere deep in my brain. For example, I am absolutely sure I read 'Of Mice and Men' in high school because it was one of a few books on a teacher's reading list that I hadn't already read. I was proud of that fact back then. I knew my details back then. I could quote lines from books I had read, back then. I could provide synopses of any of them and probably did whether or not people wanted to hear them. Oh, I was a smarty-pants.

People didn't like me, sometimes, because I was a smart-ass, I mean smarty-pants. I've come to believe that it's nice to be smart, but it's nicer to be nice. Besides, I can't carry off the intellectual snob thing with my Swiss-cheese brain anyway. Drooling and total dementia are just around the corner, I tell you. I just can't remember enough details to make the intellectual snot approach work anyhow . It was exhausting anyway. There were always people who were better at it than I was and who could make me feel bad in an instant. There were also people who didn't know details but they didn't usually give a shit and that made me feel bad too.

Trying to prove something, other than a theorem, usually leads to a sense of inadequacy. There, quote that!

So, this morning at dawn, I was trying to figure out where I was, trying to wake up, trying to remember my plan for the day. Nick had been up in the night with a stomach ache after eating too much cheese. That kid.

And so I had stayed up with him for a while in the night and ended up getting only half a night's sleep. Yes, it is difficult to hold onto smart-ass details after slightly less than four hours of sleep. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

But this morning, that book list was still with me in some nebulous form. I realized that instead of having a nice Friday doing some of what I had to do first and then some fun things, I was going to spend a good chunk of my day trying to become sane by sleeping until I'd gotten reasonable rest and then struggling, as usual, to get done those things done that I really had to do. Fun things? My own agenda? Out the window, as usual.

And there was a snatch of a detail that remained in my mind from a book I had read: '... the best laid plans of mice and men' ...

which, when I went to find it on the Internet to get the quote right, I had to look through five or six pages of Steinbeck quotes before I could find the one I was thinking of, the one that titled the book. In the process, I realized that I remembered very little of the book itself. Lenny, a wise but stupid boy-man, was accused of a crime he didn't commit. Pathetic. And you probably don't give a shit, do you now? I finally found my quote, wondering why that wasn't the first thing that came up on my Internet radar. I realized that my paltry recollection of the quote, which actually came from a poem by Robert Burns, was worded completely differently than I remembered it. I read the whole poem by Burns, barely understanding it. I'm sure people have analyzed and made lists about this poem too, but I could barely hold the thread that held Burn's poem to Steinbeck's book. Was there a good connection? Steinbeck must have thought so since he made it his title. Those people who quoted quotes would probably be glad to tell me if I asked, but would they make me feel bad in the process? Most of them didn't think it important enough to include in their list of quotes.  Does this even matter? It must have been so obvious that those smart-ass, I mean smarty-pants people out there who were trying to prove their intelligence to the world, wouldn't even bother to add the line to their list.

 So, never mind about the list of books I can't remember reading and never mind about 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and never mind about Steinbeck and Dr. Who and that guy who wrote 'Firefly.' We'll all be worms some day and none of it will matter anyway. Right?

So why even give a shit?

Why are the stories important? That's all they are, the shows, the books, even the lists of relevant quotes that someone compiled. They're all stories that we cling to.

It mattered so much, Burns wrote a poem. It mattered so much Steinbeck wrote a book using a line from Burns' poem. It mattered so much someone copied a sentence from Steinbeck's book. It mattered so much that part of my tattered mind remembered an element of that first sentence, something that was written when a Scottish poet had a conversation with a mouse invading his house in 1785.

And suddenly, I was that mouse, intent on living in the poet's cozy home, intent on listening to the poet's voice echoing off stone walls, intent on nibbling bits of discarded bread and cheese, only to be thrown out into the cold night, the best laid plans of mice and men.

And the reason that you should give a shit, not because I can prove something I can barely remember, not because I've accomplished bits of a pseudo-important list, but because the stories make a connection through time and space and imagination. We need those stories because they tell us who they were then and who we are now and they remind us that there is a connection, still. They make us human.

I'm going to go eat some cheese and listen to a bit of a story before I snuggle into my warm nest.

Thank you for listening, jb

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