Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And the Dead are Newly Risen

North Beach Notebook was originally conceived as a travelogue-type blog about living in San Francisco, but I don't want to write that anymore. I just want to write.

I spent half the weekend reading Heroines, a book by Kate Zambreno that just came out Nov. 2. I found it by following a post on facebook from an old high school friend of my daughter's. That led to a web site called The New Inquiry which had an interview with the author, here, and an excerpt from the book, here, and also mentioned Zambrino's blog Francis Farmer Is My Sister, and that led to me rushing down to City Lights Books to buy it.

The guy at the counter was such a dick. (That's part of my new blog aesthetic: being allowed to say words like "dick." Allowing myself.) First he told me to look in the Women's Studies section for the book, since the topic was "so specialized." Why is that? I wondered. Why is a book about the suppression of women in literature (the wives of great authors [Zelda and Viv, et.al], lovers, characters, women writers) filed in Women's Studies, while a book about men is filed in the general section? Why don't we have a Men's Studies?

It's an ostracism, a diminishment. It felt like being banished to the "kids table" at Thanksgiving. And is the experience of being a woman "so specialized?" It doesn't seem that way to me. It seems universal--it is everything. And I'm pretty sure half the people on the planet feel the same way.

But anyway, I bopped down the stairs to get the book. Of course it wasn't there.

Mr. Dickhead gave a big sigh and shook his head like I was an incompetent who was causing him a migraine before he tromped down the stairs to look himself. As he crouched peering at titles on the bottom shelf I said, "See? No Z's."

"Actually, there are three Z's," he said testily.

"No Zambrenos."

Back upstairs his more helpful counterpart said he'd seen the book -- two copies -- somewhere. "It's gray. Outsized. Slim." Mr. D. wanted to send me away and told me he'd call if he (ever) found it, but I lingered among the shelves, trusting Mr. Helpful to solve the problem without directly asking him to--that might have been seen as an insult to his coworker.

This reminds me a little of what happened later that night, when I was supervising a high school dance as part of my job. (I am a high school English teacher, which is why I have previously censored myself from using words like "dick" on this blog, but I don't want to do that anymore. Like I said.) I arrived early and the two adorable sisters in charge of decorations were hovering around a big morass of blue and white ballons strung together with white ribbon on the floor of a big, empty room. Every so often a helium-filled balloon star rose out of the jumble.

"It's too heavy. We're going to have to pop half the balloons" the blonde sister told the brunette one, desultorily pricking a little white one with a small scissors. It popped.

Their mom stood nearby talking into her cell phone. "We haven't got lift off. We need a helium tank here, stat!"

I looked up at the rafters, down at skeins of yarn in a paper bag. "You could just hoist the whole thing up. Hang it from the ceiling," I said. The blonde daughter was skeptical. "I don't want to electrocute myself," she said, before they wandered out of the room. "We have to go get dressed."

Then a male administrator, a very tall man with an odd kind of bouncy swagger, walked into the room. "Their balloon cloud won't float," I told him, thinking to enlist him in my project.

He looked down at me from his great height. "That's their problem. What makes you think it's your job to deal with decorations?"

Sometimes I think there are basically two types of people in the world: problem solvers and... You know what I mean?

So anyway, the problem solver at City Lights eventually tromped up the stairs with an armload of books, including a slim gray one on top. I looked at him hopefully. "Did you find it?"

He had. And I was rewarded for my submissive subtlety with a great read that kept me going all day and all night, and then percolating all the next day and night until this very morning when I sat down on my red couch beneath the small window, inspired, to refigure my old blog.

And I bought a second copy and talked my friend into reading it. And I saw that Kate Zambreno is coming to SF to speak next week. And I learned of a mysterious venue in the lower Haight in an abandoned apartment lit by candles where a man named Janey reads his poetry about snow by flashlight to an audience sitting on the floor. I'm going to go there!

And the balloon cloud floated over all the teenage dancers for most of the night, until some prankster snipped the anchoring yarn and it floated down atop them, and they had such a time stomping and popping and laughing and dancing. We all had such a time.

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