Thursday, February 24, 2011

RIP Borders-Bloomington

Bookstore from the Movie You've got Mail

When the most recent national news about Borders came out last week, I shared a moment of sadness with folks in those Borders communities. You see, the Bloomington Borders closed right after the holidays this year. We have already gone through the bookstore closing that is to come for over 200 communities around the country.

When Borders came to town about 10 years ago, I was pretty upset about it. They opened their large store just a few doors down from our own independent bookstore called Morgenstern’s which had only been open for a few years. Before Morgenstern’s, we had only IU-based bookstores and teeny-tiny (quaint but small) Howard’s that indulged bibliophiles like my husband and me. We loved to slip into Morgenstern’s on evening dates and roam the aisles reading book jackets and talking about authors and ideas. Once we spent an evening in the children’s section talking about our favorite young adult books.

But Borders came to town, and it was at least three times the size of Morgenstern’s and it had a big ol’ coffee shop and a huge music section. Morgenstern’s did not stay open much past winter that year. That’s the way the free market works.

So it surprised me that I got all weepy over this big corporate store finally closing its doors as well. I had grown used to stopping by on Friday nights after my family and I went out for dinner. My husband would get his coffee and roam the stacks, my son would hit the kids’ section, and I would be over in fiction, or at the sale tables, or travel, or reference—whatever was on my mind that night.

Once the closing was announced, my husband stopped going. He said it was just like watching vultures circling a dead carcass on the road. People stopped in to get deals, so books and CDs flew off the shelves by the carload. Once cases were emptied, books and media would be consolidated and empty cases and racks would be sold. While my husband couldn’t go back in, I couldn’t stay away. Once a week I stopped in, yes to look for books and get deals, but more importantly, it seemed an appropriate way to say farewell to a place where I found great comfort.

Some people find solace in nature, others in churches or in the presence of God, but I have always found comfort in books. No matter what the problem or the mood or the weather, a fully stocked bookstore is what I picture heaven to be: rows and rows of bright colored books—some new, some classics, all stacked high and wide on big wooden shelves. Each book is filled with ideas and stories and poetry, written by dead white men or celebrities or new young authors. There is room for everyone and every idea at the bookstore.

So yes, I went in frequently during those last months of Borders and watched the vultures circling the carcass. I felt sad when shelves were stripped bare, and there were no more tables in the café, and when all that was left was overstocked books , kitten calendars, and coffee beans by the pound. I looked for bargains myself –how can you not buy books that are 4 for $1? (I guess that makes me a vulture too) and generally felt bad about the whole book industry.

It seems odd to me that a solitary activity like reading can maintain a community feel to it. I went to Borders to look for books, but I always chatted with friends and sipped coffee. I made recommendations to anyone looking confused over a selection; I bought books on special weekends recognizing educators or local schools. I sat in the café with members of my writing group while I composed columns and short stories.

So you can see that one mourns many different losses in the closing of a community bookstore: ideas, authors, poetry, community, conversation and comfort zones. I’d imagine patrons of those stores in those places will also circle the carcass for a few months, hauling off treasures and shelving to house them in. We are lucky here in Bloomington, as we still have another large bookstore we can physically enter because turning to Amazon for book needs, or purchasing instantly downloadable e-books is just not the same as mingling among the stacks and chatting with neighbors about ideas and stories. Viva the bookstore!

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who You Calling Valetudinarian?

Who You Calling Valetudinarian?

I think of myself as a healthy person. It’s part of who I am: mother, daughter, friend, and writer. I’m not a patient patient. I don’t have time to be sick. I rarely get tired or sick and it makes me mad when that happens. Last month when I couldn’t walk across the room without needing to rest and catch my breath, I had to give in admit something was wrong and I needed to go to the doctor. It turned out that I was severely anemic and close to needing a transfusion. It was an easy fix, but not a quick one.

I had to cancel things I was looking forward to and barely had the energy to do the things I absolutely needed to do. I felt like a whiner, this was something that could be treated and I would be fine. But it still changed how I thought about myself. This went deeper than just “feeling poorly” as my Grandma Wentz used to say. Between my mother and my former mother-in-law, I’d had a lifetime of hypochondriacal behavior used to gain attention and to manipulate people. I think I felt so used by that behavior that I went too far toward the stoic end of the scale, sometimes to the detriment of my health. Fortunately, for me, I have a good immune system and good genes and don’t have to deal with illness very often. I’m sure this adds to my impatience.

Illness adds another layer of frustration when I’m so drained that I’m unable to create. I hate feeling cut off from my creativity. It feels like a loss of control over my life, that I’m being kept from doing what I want to do because someone or something else is messing in my life without my permission. It makes me feel like I did when my mother and mother-in-law were running the show. I just want to yell, “You’re not the boss of me!” to my illness. Being sick takes me back to a time in my life that’s not fun to revisit and that just adds to my grumpiness and crankiness. I’m not fun to be around when I’m sick.
I haven’t written much of anything for almost two months. When I’m not writing, it feels like a piece of me is missing, my chakras feel out of alignment. No matter how bad I feel, the urge to write and create is ever-present. My fingers itch to write, but my mind doesn’t have the focus to guide them.

Last week classes started again at Women Writing for a Change and it felt so good to start writing again, to be among writers. I was also glad that it was time for my Poplar Grove Muse post. I’ve savored the time I spent this week thinking about what I would write for this blog and I can feel my creative juices starting to flow. It has felt very luxurious to have enough energy to spend my Sunday afternoon writing. I feel balance being restored to my life and I’m on to the next project of creating a special surprise for some women I love and whose company I’ll get to enjoy next weekend. As I sit here watching the snow outside my door sparkling in the sun as it shrinks, I feel the grip of illness loosening its hold on me. The life that I’ve worked so hard to create is returning. I can breathe again. I can write again.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, February 10, 2011


It’s whimsy to consider this exercise; a soft approach to starting somewhere—anywhere on the empty page without a shard of confidence at the moment that anything might come forward.

My finger, recent victim of my own carelessness still throbs electric pulses with the memory of a slim, unfamiliar knife I was using when the snow began to fall. This day glistens in aftermath of a brilliant storm. Blue meets brick, meets white and the hardwood underfoot in the Green Bean Café, colors the morning lovely. I write. I look around. I settle in to an unfamiliar chair.

Where do all these bundled travelers come from today? Out of the cold, for one. Out for provisions, some for distraction from home-bound days and ice fall. Sideling up to these second hand tables in sweatshirts and stocking caps, men of various ages gab and turn the pages of today’s paper. Kevin, Richard, Bruce, and the new guy who just joined them, talk religion at a table for four.

“I prefer the Taoist perspective personally, though I was raised Episcopalian.” Says the new guy. “Gimme five, man”... says another, and then suddenly the new guy’s talking about a rat named Spunky—who looked like a Dalmation. “Never owned anything more than rodents, actually.” He says, “ So, did you see, IU Won Last night?”.

The quiet guy, out of nowhere and seemingly in reference to nothing in particular says, “ There used to be a coffee shop downtown right next to Nick’s called the Daily Grind. They’d give you really big cups of hot coffee”.

“I don’t like hot coffee, a-a-a-ctually.” It’s the new guy. Actually appears to be a filler word he uses to minimize what I now recognize is a stutter.

They ramble aimlessly from one fleck of conversation to the other. Transitions are vague, the willingness to flit without landing on any sustained subject, now seems a given. “ I was always good with nouns and verbs and adjectives says the older man named Richard”….as they move to latin derivatives and what they studied in college. Philosophy and English. Turns out Richard graduated in 1948. The new guy is Nick. He stutters more noticeably and says he’s taking a break from school now since he ran out of college money. I suspect there might be other reasons he’s taking a break from college, but am glad for him to find new friends in these strangers today. The capped men of multiple generations keep it up, the coffee and conversation keeps pouring. It’s a sketchy kind of flow. But there’s a rambling give and take, a welcoming presence in this morning light.

I stifle laughter and radiate love for these men of a world I live in but seldom inhabit. I have only seen this little spec of the world because I ventured to an unfamiliar shop today. I pause in a moment of appreciation for the wackiness of refugees and retirees. The ways connection can sound when I’m literally listening in sideways. They consider their plans and old Richard says he no longer plans much any more since every plan he ever made got botched. And now they’re talking about Nick’s stutter and Richard’s lifelong speech impediment. They lean in toward one another in an intimacy of a shared affliction. Richard’s developed when he was in Jr. High. He says he’s convinced it had something to do with S-E-X. He whispers this loudly in the close quarters of the coffee shop. The miracle of the morning is that Richard, who I figure is 85, claims his impediment disappeared a mere 3 weeks ago!

The electricity is on now back home, so the men get up to leave and make their way as softly as possible down the front steps along the knife-edge of the curb to their rusty cars. The new guy, Nick, holds old Richard’s elbow, waves and saunters off once they’re on more solid ground. Shards of light scatter rainbows across the room as a crystal on the door moves with the open and close. This whimsy, this glittering morning, a smile on my face. Grace in the random juxtaposition of people and things. A second cup of coffee and second hand conversation.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Footprints on Campus

A new job on campus has given me the opportunity to experiment with two alternative forms of transportation: walking and riding the bus. A typical journey to work looks something like this: I leave my house on foot, walk what seems a like a very long distance down my winding street to the bus stop at the corner of Smith and Morningside. (“Good Exercise,” I keep telling myself). Here I wait for the bus. I anxiously glance southward on Smith Road for any sign of the green-and-white Bloomington Transit with the flashing title “Route 6 – Campus Shuttle.” Sometimes I stand with fellow travelers, sometimes we say hello, sometimes we don’t. I like that there is no pressure to be social at the bus stop.

I’ve discovered on sunny days there is a precise angle at which I can stand and let the sun shine on my face for a few blissful moments. When the bus comes into view, my stomach does a little flip with excitement. This harkens me back to my school bus days. The door opens, I board the bus, flash my pass to the driver, and find a seat. I notice how public transportation in Bloomington is much cleaner than in larger cities (lower demand = less wear and tear).

Luckily the bus has plenty of empty seats. I easily find my favorite next to the window. Sometimes I watch the world flash by outside as I enjoy the ride, other times I pull out my iPhone to check my email or play a game of Angry Birds. As more college students board at each stop, I notice I’m one of the oldest passengers on this bus. It’s hard to believe these young adults are closer in age to my daughter than me. The funny thing is, I still feel like a college student in many ways.

Eventually the bus is packed and I feel like a proverbial sardine. Here is where it can helpful to focus on the Angry Birds game and pray that my seat partner did not have a garlic bagel for breakfast. As we near campus, I begin to gather myself for departure at the IU Business School on Tenth Street where I, along with many others, pour out onto the sidewalk and cross the street to the Arboretum.

I pass the Library; so many memories here. This was my study place when I was a student, sometimes in the cafeteria, sometimes in the stacks, and sometimes in the lobby. I particularly liked the stacks, where it was so quiet the silence padded my ears as I dove into the academic journals for relevant material for my research papers. I once had a Criminal Justice class in the basement of the library called Alternative Control Systems. I remember writing a paper titled “Listening as a Guide to Justice,” in which I argued that more support for teaching people how to listen to one another would lead to a lower crime rate. It’s funny how threads from those days have found their way into my life today.

I walk at a good pace; I have ten minutes to get to my office on time. I pass the Fine Arts building and Auditorium and take the stairs down to the path through the woods that intersects with a well-worn trail from my undergraduate years: the path the Ballantine Hall. I continue south, past the Musical Arts Center, the round music building, and to Sycamore Hall. My walk ends with a hike up four flights of stairs. I arrive, breathless, ready for another day’s work.

I wonder, in the larger scheme, what has drawn me back to campus (I do ponder the Larger Scheme more than I did twenty years ago). Perhaps it is a need to revisit these threads of my earlier self and gather up some missing pieces for the next chapter. Deep inside, I know the answer to this question is best pounded out through the feet, and I take comfort in knowing these feet are leaving a smaller carbon footprint in the process.

-- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse