Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Accidentally Walking a Mile Barefoot and Accidentally Buying Books

Last night I walked a mile barefoot through the streets at 1:00 a.m.

This wasn't exactly my plan. Well, it was my plan to go walking at 1:00 a.m. Because, although I shouldn't go walking until my sprained ankle heals, it's hard to tell how much it's healed unless I try to use it, and anyway I've been going stir-crazy and couldn't stand being trapped in my house anymore. And, well, daylight hours are just never as convenient as nighttime hours. Particularly since going outside at all during daylight hours tends to involve seeing certain undesirable neighbors. Is there an online support group somewhere that I could join, exclusively for people whose fiancées left them for someone else, married the other person less than a month later, and then bought a house with their new spouse within sight of one's own house? I imagine the group would consist of everyone posting sarcastic daily updates on the ridiculous actions that our exes and their new spouses have been undertaking in their front yards each day, interspersed regularly with horrified exclamations of, "Why the hell do I even know what my ex and spouse are doing every day? All I actually want is to never have to see them again for the rest of my life! But instead they've parked themselves continually in front of my face where I can't avoid seeing far too many details about their ongoing daily lives!"

Anyway, the middle of the night seems to me to be the best time to venture outdoors lately. This is a little inconvenient due to the unspoken rule that women are kind of not allowed outdoors alone after dark. But I solve that problem by bringing Boston with me; it seems to me that any creepy people who might be inclined to bother a woman walking alone at night are probably quite a bit less likely to bother a woman walking a large-ish dog. So last night I took Boston for a walk at 1:00 a.m. And it was a very nice walk, until I got about a mile from home. At that point I abruptly became aware that I had no skin left on the backs of either of my ankles. I was well beyond "hot spot" and even beyond "gigantic blisters"; I was into the stage of "gigantic blisters that have already popped and are oozing agonizingly."

This happens to me far too often, and I don't know why. Do I just have ridiculously fragile skin? I was wearing very good socks, running socks. I was not wearing running shoes, but I mean, I wasn't running. I didn't run a single step of the way! I was walking, and I was wearing what I took to be sensible walking shoes. The shoes in question don't seem to be for sale anymore, but they were a variation on these shoes (and I also own a pair of those exact shoes, in purple, of course, because everything is better in purple). Are these not sensible walking shoes? The marketing blurb calls them an alternative to sneakers. They do not look to me like the sorts of shoes that one should beware of attempting to walk a dog in. So why did I end up with blisters?

If I had been hiking, I would have had moleskin with me to deal with this sort of eventuality. I don't think, though, that people usually feel a need to bring moleskin to take their dogs for a walk. I feel like I'm the only person who blisters this easily.

Anyway, I was a mile from home, and I could not walk in my shoes anymore. I took them off, and my socks as well, and walked a mile home with bare feet, carrying my shoes and socks under my arm. It wasn't too bad on the sidewalks. Crossing the asphalt streets was the problem. And even then, it depended on which street I was crossing. Some streets were nearly as smooth as the sidewalks. Other streets, though . . . other streets will haunt me in nightmares.

Today I bandaged my feet as best I could, put on a different pair of shoes, and went Mother's Day shopping. I had mail-ordered a present for my mother a week and a half ago, and under normal circumstances it would have arrived by now, but for some reason the store has been dithering for a week and a half and failing to ship it. I could have just explained to my mother that her present hadn't arrived yet, and I thought about doing that; I also thought about bringing her a token present of some sort - flowers from my yard, for example - while explaining that her real present hadn't arrived yet. But I decided to just go buy her another real present. I went to Barnes & Noble. It wasn't the same Barnes & Noble where I first met Susan - it was a different Barnes & Noble also in Sacramento - but all Barnes & Nobles look fairly similar, and I realized when I walked in the door that it was the first time I'd been inside a Barnes & Noble since Susan left me. I wondered vaguely whether I should hold a grudge against Barnes & Noble now. But you know, Barnes & Noble and I go way back, and I can't let this get in the way of my relationship with them. Not that I apparently have that much of a relationship with them anymore, since I haven't physically visited them in all this time . . . but that's because it's just generally easier to order books online than to drive to Sacramento for them.

It was strange walking into a physical bookstore and realizing how much narrower the selection was there than online. My mother has basically four interests: Jane Austen (whose books she's already read all of, but now she reads terrible spinoffs of Jane Austen plots by other authors), Star Trek (which she's already read anything related to if it wasn't published in the past year), the San Francisco Giants (ditto), and science (with an emphasis on nuclear physics and astronomy). I walked in and wondered where Barnes & Noble might have placed a shelf labeled "terrible Jane Austen spinoffs." Upon realizing that Barnes & Noble wasn't actually likely to have such a shelf, I began to wonder whether there was any hope of finding anything for my mother here at all.

Back in 2007, when I was waiting in the other Barnes & Noble to meet Susan for the first time, I started looking at the gay studies bookshelf, because it seemed the thing to do while waiting to go on only my second date with a woman in my entire life (and the first one had been a thoroughly dull one that led nowhere). Finding nothing of interest there, I moved on to the adjacent women's studies and cultural studies bookshelves, and on the cultural studies bookshelf I picked up Jung Chang's autobiographical book, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, and read one and a half chapters of it before Susan showed up. I didn't buy the book then, but I bought it a few weeks later, to finish reading the rest of it.

This is still how Barnes & Nobles are arranged: the gay studies bookshelf is still adjacent to the women's studies and cultural studies bookshelves. Furthermore, everything on the gay studies and women's studies bookshelves continues to bore me, and I still end up far more engrossed in the cultural studies bookshelf. It's not that I don't want to read books about gay people and women, but rather that I don't want to read the kinds of introductory-level "About Gay People and Women" books that end up on those few tiny shelves at Barnes & Noble. The cultural studies shelves are no less tiny - you get about 25 books selected to supposedly summarize The Black Experience, everywhere from America to Africa, and about 25 books about being Any Sort of Asian Anywhere, and so on. Probably the only reason I find them any less dull than the gay studies and women's studies shelves is that I haven't actually lived those experiences. They are definitely not the sorts of shelves where you can hope to stumble onto any rare and fascinating treasures of the sort I used to find in my university library - this is only Barnes & Noble, after all - but there are occasional books I'd consider reading, and some familiar names.

A James Baldwin memoir, No Name in the Street, tried to follow me home today from the cultural studies bookshelves. It was hard to resist, because James Baldwin is one of those few writers who are like family to me - not just in the sense of being a fellow LGBT person (although he was that too, and that does help), but in the sense of being . . . familiar, I suppose, and identified with. This is different from simply being a great writer. Italo Calvino is a great writer, and I could read his books for weeks on end and never get tired of them, but I don't feel like I know him at all; he's simply some unknown person who has written all manner of marvelous books. James Baldwin is different; he's someone I feel like I've had long personal conversations with, gotten to know well, and learned to trust and rely on for good advice. This seems to happen mostly with LGBT writers, but occasionally when a writer is good enough, when a writer inhabits his or her characters deeply enough to willingly engage with more aspects of the human experience than ordinary people do, I think writers can transcend those sorts of categories. Sherman Alexie, especially, is a writer who feels like family to me, and I've never heard anything indicating that he's necessarily LGBT (he is married to a woman), but in his writing, gay experiences do not feel walled off and kept at a distance; they feel embraced as part of the entirety of human experience. This is in contrast to the more common approach of heterosexual writers - Carol Shields in The Stone Diaries, for example, created a gay character who came across to me very much as The Gay Character Who Is Not Like Normal People Because He's One of Those Gay People Instead, and You Should Feel Very Sorry for Him Because It Must Be Very Sad to Be One of Those Gay People. It wasn't intended to be an unsympathetic portrait at all, but it was kind of an excessively sympathetic one, in my opinion; the character seemed to exist almost exclusively as an example of how pitiable and pathetic gay people's lives are. (I'm probably being a bit unfair here; it's been a decade since I read the book. But I remember being quite irritated back when I read it.)

Anyway, the James Baldwin book almost followed me home, because I read all his novels when I was in college, so I tend to forget that there's still more writing of his that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, and then when I find some of it, I get terribly excited. But I managed to talk myself out of buying it, on the grounds that I already have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase at home filled with books I haven't read yet, that I really should get around to reading before buying more, and also on the grounds that I could go home and add the book to my wish list for future holidays so that other people will buy it for me, and that way I'll get it for free. I used this same argument to talk myself out of buying several other books; in fact, by relying on this argument, I managed to look through the entire Literature section of the store without buying anything for myself. I got in trouble, though, when I looked for some Star Trek comics that my mother wanted (that the store did not have), because graphic novels tend to be sufficiently quick reads that they aren't likely to significantly slow down my brogress through my bookcase of unread books. So one of the graphic novels, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, followed me home. It made a persuasive argument by spending a third of its length on a tale about the Monkey King, which I recognized as a reference to the Monkey tales in Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, which I haven't read and do not own, but to which I do own a sequel, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors by Tung Yüeh, which has been sitting on my unread bookshelf for years. I'd probably have gotten around to reading it by now except that every time I pick it up I rediscover that it's a sequel and become reconvinced that I should probably buy Journey to the West and read all four volumes of that first before trying to read its sequel. Anyway, the graphic novel informed me today that it would help spur me to read The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, but then I got home and picked up The Tower of Myriad Mirrors and remembered again why I haven't gotten around to reading it. So unless I'm suddenly inspired to buy Journey to the West very soon, the graphic novel probably lied to me. Oh well.

I did also manage to find my mother a present, eventually. So the trip did achieve something other than causing me to buy stuff for myself that I hadn't intended to buy. Also, I've already finished reading the graphic novel, American Born Chinese. It was . . . how can I put this? Even though it was on the graphic novel shelf rather than the cultural studies shelf, it had the same tone: it is an Introduction to Being Chinese-American at the most ultra-simiplified level. Also, it harps rather a lot on the idea that being Chinese-American consists largely of wanting not to be, which sometimes comes across awfully similarly to It Must Be Very Sad to Be One of Those Gay People, even though this is an insider's view of being Chinese-American. (There are also a few gay writers who write this way about being gay.) There is more to being a member of any minority group than just being harassed and discriminated against. Go ahead and acknowledge the suffering, but can we please also take some pride and pleasure in our identities? The Monkey King story seems like it was an effort in this direction, but it ends up not really working very well for that purpose, in my opinion . . . particularly since it ends up basically calling all Chinese and Chinese-American people stinky monkeys who should not pretend to be civilized by trying to wear shoes. Really, as an effort at cultural pride, this comparison seriously lacks something.

Within the genre of autobiographical graphic novels portraying their authors' childhood cultural experiences, this book is not nearly on the level of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis; it's much shorter and less complex than that. Still, it does have some interesting rhetorical devices and plot twists. The Monkey King tale folded into the other plot lines in ways I hadn't anticipated and that were certainly interesting; now, if only it had managed to be less self-hating.

And now, off to see my parents and my brother tomorrow.
Tags: books
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