ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AN ORDINARY LIFE by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 1400080452
Acquired:
Bookcrossing.com
Reading Began:
May 22, 2007
Completed:
June 3, 2007
Overall Rating:
ten out of ten

  I rarely give a book a perfect 10 on the ratings scale, but I have to do so in this case. It’s not that the book itself is perfect, nor the author extremely engaging in her own right, but I found the experience of reading it to be a magical one. I was thoroughly inspired at every sitting, my creativity just bursting upon reading each entry. I want to create an encyclopedia of my own life! And for that boost I applaud Rosenthal. I am viewing my world with new eyes and a notepad in hand. No other reading experience has brought me to this place, and I suspect few will ever come close again. Encyclopedia is a book tailor-made for those who seek inspiration in their surroundings, and it succeeds in bringing to life all the minutiae that seems to oppress but is actually the cocoon that shapes us into what we can become.

Favorite Entries (and those in which I see myself)

CONNECTED (VERSUS REMOVED) – When I read a magazine, I feel connected to the world, in on everything. When I read a book, I feel removed from the world, isolated, as if I’ve slipped off into a soundproof booth. It is the same with listening to the radio (connected) versus listening to a CD (removed). Both fill a certain need, balance the other out. There’s the getting away, and then there’s the coming back.

WAKING – When I wake up in the morning, my mind slowly reels in the hard facts that transfer me from subconscious to conscious: I am in bed. That is my husband’s leg. I ate too much dip last night. My necklace is still on. I am upset at L. The baby is awake.

ALLOTTING ENOUGH TIME TO MAKE FLIGHT – I always work backward. Okay, the flight leaves at 11:15, so I should be at the airport at 9:15. That means I should leave the house at 8:30—no, play it safe, could be a lot of traffic, say 8:15. That means I need to get up at 7:30; that gives me 45 minutes to get ready and finish any last-minute packing. As soon as I’ve come to this conclusion, I’ll immediately repeat the whole internal dialogue-calculations, see if I come up with the same time estimates. I’ll do this at least a couple more times the day before I leave, one of the times being that night when I set my alarm clock.

CAPRICIOUSOooooh, fancy words, Amy, he said. I more or less ignored the comment, as a way of implying that I didn’t think one way or the other about these words, that they were just the kinds of bon mots I used all the time now, no biggie. I wished the words would have felt more worn in my mouth, the way words do after you’ve said them hundreds of time. Table. Melt. Floundering. See, I can say any of those without thinking about them as I say them. But he had spotted ‘capricious’ and ‘precarious’ stiffness; in fact, he caught me with the tags on. I think of this every time I use or hear either of those words.

COFFEEHOUSE – Growing up in a family of four children and a TV, I quickly learned not so much how to tune out chaos, as how to ride its energy as I memorized spelling words, practiced my multiplication tables, and skimmed The Hobbit.

OTHER PEOPLE – It’s hard to accept that other people’s lives are as full and real and now as yours. You look at someone and sort of think, against your intellectual knowing better, that they have a less complex life, they’re able to flit about, their lives aren’t clogged with the same kind of pressing deadlines, they don’t really have cousins like you have cousins, they are free tonight, of course they are free, or if they have plans they can easily break them to be with you. Our lives just feel so impossibly big to us; we’re breathing versions of that Saul Steinberg poster, where New York is in the foreground, prominent and massive and drawn in colored-pencil detail, and the other states and Asia and Africa are tiny lumps fading into the horizon.

It is precisely why people leave their phone number so quickly on other people’s answering machines; they’ve said the number so many times that they think everyone else in the world is as familiar with it as they are. The number has become synonymous with their identily: Surely my phone number/me is as prominent in your brain as it/I is/am in mine.

And it is precisely why you think everyone is looking at you and your lopsided, Novacained mouth, when in fact, not only is the droop indiscernible, but there is not even a single gaze directed your way; you’re filler, at best. You’re one of the endless chunks of extraneous, dispensable flesh flurrying about in the wings of the next person’s (equally delusional) center stage.

VAN GOGH PRINTS – I was writing at the coffeehouse when in struts a young guy, twenty-ish, peddling poorly framed Van Gogh prints. He had a large box of them, dozens of two-by-three feet, faux-gold-framed, ready-to-hang posters. They looked awful. To make matters worse, he was rambling on about how if he sold just a few more, he’d be set with beer money for the week. The whole scene was unbearable. This was, after all, Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night Vincent Van Gogh. Truth splendor torment pain pain pain paint Van Gogh. Who now, a century and change later, has emerged on the other side of fame and glory, the side where your work is so universally known and accepted that it turns up on key chains, and hand towels, and prints being hawked door to door by a fellow who’s a six-pack away from being passed out on the couch. It seems not even an artist like Vincent Van Gogh is exempt from the rule that in time, the sublime is reduced to Cheez Whiz.

WABI-SABI – I was noticing how more and more I was feeling both happy (actually, content) and sad at the same time. I started asking around if anyone knew a word that meant happy and sad at the same time. A couple months later, I picked up Utne Reader magazine. I was drawn to the cover story about wabi-something. It reminded me of the word wasabi, which I like, so I bought the issue. Here’s what I found:

SABI: a mood—often expressed through literature—of attentive melancholy.
WABI: a cozier, more object-centered aesthetic of less as more.
WABI-SABI: As a single idea, wabi-sabi fuses two moods seamlessly; a sigh of slightly bittersweet contentment, awareness of the transience of earthly things, and a resigned pleasure in simple things that bear the marks of that transience.

This was it. This was exactly it. The word/concept I had been searching for had been there all along, tucked away in twelfth-century Japanese culture, waiting patiently for my straight-ahead gaze to shift a bit eastward.

TIP OF TONGUE – And then in the middle of the night, thank God, the name comes to you. (Blythe Danner.)

SEVERAL BOOKS SEEM TO COME TOGETHER, MAKING A STATEMENT; THINGS BEGIN TO GEL.
“To simulataneously strive and let go…don’t be concerned with the fruits of your labor.” — The Heart of Yoga, by T.K.V. Desikachar

“Hone your craft, have fun, don’t go for ‘art.’ ” — Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

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About Jules Q

sharing stories of life, faith, and love for pop culture

Posted on 5 June 2007, in What I Read and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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