Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Visit in the Boneyard

All the little bank signs I’ve passed on the way over here have different temperatures displayed on them, the only thing they agree on is the time. Most of the time and temperature signs peg it about 100 degrees, some a little higher, some merely in the 90’s. Like the debate on the debt ceiling. Some make it sound dire, some not so much. People don’t debate temperature here they way they do politics. Everybody just agrees it’s as “hot as the devil’s asshole.”

I’m not sure how long I should be inside Border’s Bookstore, because the rising temperature in my car might start slow roasting things, and I’ve got my laptop in there. Sometimes my elderly old IBM thinkpad shows signs of mental illness and memory lapses that for the old techie in me looks like motherboard capacitors over heated and popped like popcorn.

As I push open the glass doors, over head, hanging in the damp breezeless dog day air is a big black and yellow banner, which looks like a giant version of the police tape you see at a crime scene “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS”. A gaggle of girls in their summer clothes passes me by as I go in (“I do not think the mermaids will sing to me,” sighs J Alfred Prufrock) , and the cool washes over old fart me, mixed with the bright corporate scent of paper and plastics and signs everywhere – “10% off everything!” and “Some items 40% off Sale Price!”. It’s weird, but what I feel walking in the door of Borders more than anything else, is guilt. The forlorn shelves of books seem to say to me “You let this happen.” Me? How? Because I spend all my book money at the used book store? Or at Barnes and Noble? In the mall? But my wife works in the mall, I go there for coffee and to try to bench press my Daily Thousand Words while I’m waiting for her. I didn’t prefer it so much, I just adapted to it. Borders. . . I’m sorry.

The store is packed with people in a way it never was during better times. I wonder if this is how a vulture feels, picking over the bones of a fallen carcass. Well, the carcass is here. I want my piece.

The funny thing is I don’t know what I want. We live in privileged times where people like me actually get to experience choice. Choice is a luxury denied to most human beings through out history, except the most privileged. The common man had to always make due with what he could get, not only in terms of work and money but also love. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, barely a hundred years ago, most marriages were like mine, arranged. If you got a wife at all, your parents brought you together with someone, or you might even order them from a mail order catalog along with some work tools if you lived in a remote place, some famous brides were won in poker games, and that was your lifetime companion, make it work. Until recently marriages were never intended to be about love, and a man or woman might go through the course of their life without ever experiencing the thrill of falling in love. People, including me, have always adapted through trauma. You played the cards you were dealt.

Walking into a bookstore gives me the giddy feeling of what I imagine it would be like to walk into an excellent brothel, or what the after life could be like. To be in a state of mind freed from the constraints of reality, what would you choose? Unlimited sex? Unrestrained passion? Scholarly curiosity? Conversation over coffee with wiser beings? Self improvement? Why choose anything at all if you’re not going anywhere for a long time?

Among the milling mob I wonder what books might be on sale that I might actually want. Books on writing craft, or poetry, erotica, spirituality. Overhead the music system is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It always seems to boil down to a choice between emotional indulgence or self improvement. Maybe that‘s what books really are.

After some aimless wandering, I head to the writing craft bookshelf first. They’re only 10% off, but one of the bookstore munchkins, who will be unemployed in a week, says they might get cheaper towards the end if any are left. Wait and see. It’s awful that even with a discount I still can’t afford the books I want. I pick out about a dozen books and arrange them at the end of the top shelf, sort of a personal wish list. If the price drops to 40% I’ll choose from them.

I pass the section of shelves marked “Sexuality” and stop and look. I always feel a little self conscious thumbing through them – and there I see it. Something I never thought I would find and all at once I’m having a moment.

I hold my breath and look around. The people are carrying armfuls of books to the check out line. People are picking through the CDs and DVDs. But the store looks very different to me now. I’ve found something and a small dream has come true.

On the shelf next to Anne Hooper’s Kama Sutra is “The Mammoth Book of Erotica 10”. There are a few copies. I don’t know if its selling well or not, but sonuvabitch –it’s here.

I pick it up and flip straight to the back and see my pen name and the title “The Lady and the Unicorn.” And I think “I’m standing in Borders Bookstore in the town where I live and a story that I wrote is printed on paper and I’m looking at it standing in the bookstore. And it’s a good story and I love this story and I’m so proud.” I want to wave this book over my head and yell out to people. I want to give a ponderous and wise speech about literature. I want to sign autographs. I want everybody to know, but this triumph in its way is so small. Would it mean anything to anyone but me? I close the book and look around, and I know I must look weepy and intense and probably a little creepy, and I know nobody’s read this thing, sure, I know all that shit, I know, but ah man. What a feeling. What a feeling to stand in a dying bookstore in my town and see something I wrote in print and hold it my hand. There’s nothing like it.

I go over to one of the leather easy chairs against the wall, and open my story to the part where Nixie is arguing with Daniel. I flip to the table of contents and Charlotte Stein is there, and Kristina Wright, and Lisabet is there and so many of the names there are people I gotten to know since I first stepped into this store five years ago. Its only been a few years, but I’m in Borders bookstore holding a book with something I wrote.

I glance to the right and see the shelf dedicated to Stephen King, a whole shelf, roughly four feet of real estate, all Stephen King. Does he ever still feel like this? This virgin’s first time feeling, as compared to the old jade? His first short stories were published in gentlemen’s entertainment magazines like “Juggs” and “Cavalier” and “Spanking Lesbians”, and I don’t suppose he could show off those stories to his family either, but it must have moved him the same way once just to see them on a page, somewhere anywhere.

He’s prolific. According to his book “On Writing” he writes everyday except Christmas and his birthday; that would be 363 days a year if you’re counting. Some writer’s are incredibly prolific but we all do it the same way. We set a daily goal and we try to keep it, whether we have anything to write about or not. We have a place, or maybe several places, marked out as sacred territory where we go to dream. We might type it out, we might go long hand, we might have coffee at hand, or maybe not. In the older generation we’d have had a pipe or a cigarette hanging off the lip, and maybe checked our look in the mirror. But we would have been lost in the world of the story just the same.

I don’t know how the magic works, but I know how the magic feels when its working right. That lightning, that feeling of not wanting to do anything else except stay in that world a little while longer. It doesn’t come easy that feeling, but Stephen King and other writers are very clear about how you get it. Writing is different from other art forms in that talent doesn’t count for so much. If you’re a graphic artist, you have to be able to draw before you learn how to draw and paint beautifully. If you’re a musician you have to master your scales, but you need the talent to string the notes together. But if you’re an apprentice writer you can read like mad and get a feel for it over a lifetime of reading. And when you start to get a feel for it, if you write like mad and stay faithful to your calling you can start to get the hang of what it sounds like when its done right. You can learn it. You may not ever be Tolstoy, or even Margaret Mitchell who never attended a writing class and still wrote “Gone With The Wind” on her very first try, but hell, you can be somebody. You can learn it by doing it faithfully, every day, in the same way, in the same place and just ignore the voice in your head that says your stuff sounds like horseshit, even if it does, and listen to the other voice, the one that knows what about to happen to next and can’t wait to tell you. No other art form is quite like that. More than anything, that’s what gives me hope.

Too late for this place though. On afternoons like this, bookstores are a sad place for me. These hot contentious days a book store is so often a place where books come to have their moment in the sun and die.

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Well, it's a sad thing to see a bookshop close (and I feel for the staff as well) but the company had been bought and sold a number of times and ended up in the hands of people who didn't have a clue how to sell books. Now everyone's paying some kind of price for their ignorance.

    I can certainly understand your reaction to seeing your own work on their shelves, even if it is marked down at a sale price! I remember another author telling me they even get excited if they see their work in second-hand bookshops or charity shops!

    But it's not like your stories aren't going to be available any more... and I always think the best story I write is the one I'm still working on...

  2. When I was reading your comment, i was reminded of Stpehen King's rock band - "The Rock Bottom Remainders". The band's name is a reference to those forlorn bins of unsaleable books marked down all the way to cost just to shovel them out of the store. One thing about Maxim Jacubowski, you'll never find any of his anthologies in the remainder bin.

    Still, it's pretty sad.


  3. Oh, Garce, I'm right there with you-- mourning the loss of Borders and feeling guilty for wanting to take advantage of the sales (my pulse actually accelerated at the thought that maybe all the *good* books are already gone). And Stephen King-- oh, I've crushed on him since I was 13 and thanked him in my introduction to Dream Lover for inspiring my paranormal stories. He *is* prolific and I don't know many writers who come even close-- at least not in terms of publishing credits. 363 days a year? I'd settle for half that. Maybe a third, some years. This year, for sure. But yeah, we writers all do it the same way-- and we always strive to do it a little better than the last time.

    I'm going to miss Borders. I already miss the bookstores that have come and gone before them-- the indies, especially, but any bookstore that inspired that restless feeling of needing to write (that I never get when I drop by, that fueled my fantasies with stories I could never write, the quiet moments of pure joy... I will miss all of it. But I'll keep writing. And so will you. And that's what it's all about, right? Thanks for this piece. It's awesome.

  4. Kristina!

    I feel sorry when I see Borders in such trouble and I hope this doesn't happen to more bookstores. Google books and Amazon are good for some things, like if you know what you;re looking for, but its not the same as wandering down the aisles and waiting to be surpised. A lot of what I write is "found", I wrote a blog on that here, where you can just pull a book randomly from a shelf and read a paragraph and find the next sudden turn in your story you were looking for. Can't do that online.

    Stephen King inspired me too. I still read his short stories. People associate him with horror but I've always thought his best stories were the one's without the monsters, just people in trouble.

    Hang in there.


  5. Hello, Garce,

    What a wonderful post! As is so often the case, you've woven a variety of themes into an organic whole. I particularly liked:

    "I don’t know how the magic works, but I know how the magic feels when its working right."

    So true.

    And I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who picks up a copy of an book and flips to reread my own story, dazed and amazed that I could have written something so good.



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