Return of the Book Week (the Length of Which is Ten Days, Actually)

Last year, some of you may vaguely remember (in the farthest recesses of your mind that contain those details that are actually pretty useless and unneeded), I worked at Hebrew Book Week. I’m doing the same thing this year, and today I spent some seven hours setting up stalls, heaving books out of boxes, removing the books from their plastic wrappings and setting them out. My back aches, my wrists hurt and my legs are exhausted, but I got to handle books all day, and in my opinion that’s the best kind of manual labor for me.

Until June 25, I might not have as much time to read all of your lovely blogs as often, although I’ll do my best. I do have most mornings off, but since I’m working on different versions of my resume and gearing myself up to start writing cover letters, I might not have those mornings as leisurely times. I’m applying to internships, you see, at publishing houses and literary agencies in New York City, for next year, and it’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking.

Finally, my current work in progress is coming on well. I think I may have written what is going to be its closing paragraph today, which felt incredible. Since this is the first book I’ve written that has been new to me with every sentence I write, I’m excited to see that maybe it’s actually going to wrap itself up and not leave me hanging and confused as to what on earth I’m supposed to do with the collection of moments in it.

Week

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

It’s been a week, the first,

And I’m sorely tempted.

But maybe the weakness

Is in my mind and heart only.

Mother says it isn’t so,

And others say it too,

But my aching sore,

My blistering insides

Where someone came

And took something away-

That hole tells me it is.

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

A weak week it was,

Laughter stolen,

Soul broken,

Eyes bright in the glass.

But worry not, for weakness fades,

And strength gathers anew.

A week from now,

Where will you be?

Shall I be there too?

 

 

In lieu of Part 2…

Part 2 of Mandy Meets the Goblins is coming, even though it’s a rather silly little story, but it’s not coming to me tonight for some reason. It’s strange how one evening an idea can seem as clear as finest crystal, while the next day the whole thing seems to unravel. The evening after that, which is tonight, gives only partial knowledge of where something is going. Given the fact that I’ve head a migraine all day, I’m willing to forgive myself and allow this musing post to be written instead. Anyway, it’s after midnight, and as some of you may know, I tend to post ramblings at this hour.

It’s been a week now, and I’ve written for two hours every day, except for one day off, Friday, when I wrote for only half an hour. My current project has gone from around twelve pages to fifty during this week. That doesn’t mean what I’m writing is particularly good. It doesn’t mean that it all makes sense. There’s LOTS of research ahead of me, if I want to get things right. But at the moment, I’m focusing on just letting the story take me where it will.

You know how writers say that sometimes the story takes them somewhere completely different than where they had intended to go? You know how they say that characters surprise them, or that the characters tell them who they are in such a strong voice that the writers simply can’t ignore them? I always had trouble believing this stuff. I mean, I believed that the writers felt that way, but I had a hard time understanding how that was possible. But now, for the first time, I feel exactly that. I feel my story and characters taking on lives of their own. I suddenly realized that one character has completely formed its voice without me really doing much. I discovered that my story, which was very loosely outlined, will have to be much lengthened and more complex and might not go where I’d thought it would.

The best thing? Writing hasn’t been a chore. It’s been fun. The hope that comes with that face is growing so large that it’s frightening me.

In Conclusion

Book week has ended. Officially. Completely. Done.

The fair was held every day, except Fridays, between June 2 and June 12. Every evening, the booths opened at six o’clock sharp, which meant that they actually opened around a quarter to, because if someone managed to get into the square where the fair was held and wanted to buy a book… well, far be it from us to refuse to take his money. In essence, working at the fair was about making money. It’s a huge opportunity for publishers to sell their books in one place, rather than distribute them to bookstores, and to invite writers in to sign their books. So every evening, starting around six and ending between eleven and midnight, I think I repeated the following lines dozens and dozens of times:

“You have a frequent-flier card? Great! So this is how it works – you choose one book that costs up to 88 NIS, and you get that book free – wait, wait, then you’re eligible for three more books, each for only 35 NIS!”

“Let me see that coupon – oh, yes, fabulous, so look, you can get this book for 40 NIS, and you can get three more for only 35 NIS each! Forget the other coupons, this is cheaper, I swear.”

“Our deals? Well, everything is 20% off, of course, plus if you buy two books, you get the third for free!”

I was a good little worker-bee, and I repeated my mantras again and again. I repeated them to the same people more than once, because I’d forgotten that they’d spoken to me five minutes before. I repeated them, unintentionally, in my head before I went to bed. I repeated them with irony to my friends, to show them how good I was at reeling off the lines.

But that wasn’t what it was about for me – not really. Sure, the paycheck I’ll be getting is a pretty nice thing, and sure, of course I enjoyed being praised as a good worker. But I also enjoyed the fact that I was selling books. By the end of last night, I could tell with a glance what books to offer to whom, and who was there to buy as opposed to complain about the deals. I could recognize the people I was going to have a long chat with, and the people who would be rude to me. I learned how to convince people that despite what it said on the back of the book, Orlando is NOT a transvestite, but simply changes gender halfway through the book. I managed to convey that even though I haven’t read Hemingway yet, I knew which books were good to start with. I established a rapport with some customers and remembered them when they came back a day or two later.

And then, last night, it all ended… The lights above our booths were cut off at midnight, but we kept selling books until almost one o’clock, while¬†simultaneously¬†starting to pack up. After the last of the customers left, all us drones worked together and taped up cardboard boxes, packed books into them, salvaged more boxes when we ran out, talked and laughed and sweat in the hot night air. There were seeds from a nearby cluster of trees that had somehow opened up in the night to form these white puffballs that got into our clothes and mouths and eyes and stuck to our bare skin. It was hard work, and it took more than an hour.

But then that ended, too. The action wound down, although everyone was still pretty full of adrenaline. Big trucks with big men on them came and took away the boxes we’d packed, one by one, and dismantled our booths, one by one, and then it was time for us to leave, one by one.

I’ve never had a better job. Three of my superiors told me it was a pleasure to work with me. I was on good terms with every single one of my fellow workers. I made at least one friend, and another two potential friends with whom I’d really like to keep in touch. I was surrounded by books, touching books, selling books and looking at books for over sixty hours – and I was paid to do it.

I was so scared going into this job – dealing with people, giving the hard sell, lots of lifting and carrying, and the worst… needing to get along with workers without being painfully shy. I succeeded and did well and on top of it all enjoyed every moment of it.

In conclusion, as my title says, it was good, and I’m both sad and relieved it’s over. I now have an exam to study for and friends to catch up with as well as friends to keep in touch with. I also have, finally, time to write again. Hopefully, that’ll mean less rambling, personal, crazy and misty-eyed posts like this, and more stories, characters and writing exercises. But because this is my blog, and has been so for over a year and a half, I’ll still lapse into sessions of confession and personal babble once in a while. And that’s okay.

Time

The keyboard clacks and clicks,

The clock now tocks and ticks,

As time goes by,

The words do fly,

Little shapes like sticks.

**

The music beats and swells,

Containing sounds of bells,

The speakers thrum,

The voice does hum,

Like echos in a well.

**

The night is damp and dark,

Loud voices in the park,

Dreams are rare,

When sleep is spare,

But wish they could embark.

**

The days are long and slow,

But weeks, they seem to flow,

Confusion reigns,

The body strains,

And missing is the glow.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams

One evening in late August, Daniel and Caroline, known to most of their neighbors as Mr. and Mrs. Adams, sat in their rocking chairs on the porch. The sun had just disappeared over the hills and the sky was a wonderful canvas of pastel colors, ranging from soft orange to a deep purplish-blue.

Mr. Adams, glasses perched precariously on the edge of his nose, was doing the big Sunday crossword-puzzle. He was chewing on the end of an unlit pipe, but sometimes he laid it down and chewed on the end of his pencil instead as he thought about the clues. Mrs. Adams was holding a large square of needlepoint and stitching away at it. Every few moments, she put it down in her lap, rested her chin in her hand and gazed at the sporadic lights of the fireflies winking in and out in the front garden.

A stranger, happening to walk past this picturesque scene, would think that the grey-haired pair sitting on their front porch in wooden rocking chairs were a regular Granny and Gramps. The stranger would probably imagine that, inside the house, there would be something baking in the oven and an afghan thrown over the sofa. Easy to imagine, too, were the long weeks of bingo and naps, phone calls to the kids and an anticipation for the weekends during which the grandchildren would come over for milk and cookies. Strangers didn’t often walk past on this suburban street, though, so Mr. and Mrs. Adams weren’t subject to many such misconceptions about their lives.

In fact, both of them were professors at the rather prestigious liberal-arts university that sat in the valley twenty-five miles away. Mr. Adams was in the literature department and Mrs. Adams was in the psychology department, and although both were in their mid-sixties, neither had ever yet played bingo. Their weeks were normally busy with drives to and from the university, quiet evenings of grading papers interspersed with outings to lectures, staff-events or dinners with friends. They were even seen at the community center every Saturday night for salsa-lessons, along with a variety of young and old folk from the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were definitely not an idle pair.

Still, in late summer, they were on vacation. The summer term, which was an easy time for both anyway since they each taught only one or two courses for it, was now over and both husband and wife had finished grading all the final papers a few days earlier. In two weeks, they would both be beginning the fall semester and their lives would become hectic and busy again, but they were now enjoying some rest and relaxation, and sitting on the porch in the evening was one of their greatest pleasures.

Handing In My First Essay

The assignment was simple, but we were all much too nervous to appreciate that fact. The classroom was a buzz of talk throughout the hour and a half lesson as we discussed one theory after another, dissecting one paragraph after the next. The discussion was real and intense, ideas tossed back and forth, shouts of “I agree” and “No, I don’t think so” flying around the room as tongues loosened as we all bathed in the liquor that is shared knowledge and differed opinions.

It was an hour and a half that was free of the normal constraints of time and space. The very walls seemed to change dimensions as the air heated or cooled with the passion of the students, and the time zipped past in a fashion most unlike the normal “classroom time.” Shared craving of healthy discussion and conversation made us all comrades, part of an entity – until our opinions differed and we changed sides in an instant, becoming enemies in a war where the sides respect each other but are each completely adamant about triumphing.

We were working with our essays in front of us, and when my turn came to discuss my passages, I felt like the very air I was breathing was heady – I don’t do that normally, I don’t charge into an opinionated speech based on examples and analysis of a situation – but I did it then, my mind being freed from bonds of shyness or intimidation.

At the end of the lesson after I handed my paper to the professor, I lingered, as I do, to write down the assignments for next lesson in my weekly-planner and to pack up my bag just right. As I got up to leave, I found myself the last one in the room besides my professor, who casually turned to me as he packed up his own bag and said to me “That was very good.” I didn’t understand, so I said “What?” and he replied “That was a very good presentation.”

I stammered some sort of thanks and rushed out of the room. My first week of classes officially ended, and I did something right. Good start.