Raison D’Etre

This post has been on my list for awhile, yet I never seem to write it. To define a raison d’etre (or roughly, “reason to be”) is very final and permanent-feeling…as opposed to constantly evolving. But perhaps if I put it out there, it will prove a touchstone along the way.

I can’t really explain why I started Yearning for Wonderland. I wrote a blog before. For the gluttonously curious, it was here: ruanna3.livejournal.com. I resisted writing one for forever. Blogs seemed an odd combination of public and private, half-diary and half-who even cares? The really private entries were locked and the really public ones didn’t seem particularly interesting, even to me. After awhile, it became clear that only a handful of people ever read it or cared, so I lost interest (see last entry? 2009).

Then one night I wandered over to Blogger and tried out a few names. Yearning for Wonderland just felt right. I added a vintage photo from my own collection and a few paintings. But what to write?
*cue obligatory finger on chin*

No, this is not me. My picture looked identical, except my roots are visible.

It took a few weeks before I started shaping what I truly wanted to achieve for the blog. This goal was was two-fold:

1) To force myself to write. Regularly. And to let my writing go. I’m such a harsh critic of my own work that it often paralyzes me. I try to write an entry every day or two. Because I only really have a few hours of free time, it forces me to do my best in a set time and then set it free. No writing and endless revising, just write and post. If it’s not Jane Austen or Shakespeare, I’m probably the only one surprised.

This also keeps me from playing endless hours of Plants vs. Zombies…which, incidentally, is quite fun and may one day be reviewed here. Currently the zombies are winning.

2) To offer a platform (however small) to others whom I admire. I have already completed two “3 Question View” posts for Paul Ramey and Sarah J. Stevenson. I have several others in the works: a poet, a travel writer, and a documentarian, Plus, I have a very long shortlist of people for whom I would like to do a 3QV. I really didn’t realize how many amazing, clever, peculiar and talented people that I know…until I sat down and inventoried them.

I have enough 3QV prospects until we colonize Mars…at which point I am heading to Mars for Red Rock Margaritas. My computer (which is smarter than me) can post to my blog.

You’ll find me there ===  , playing Plants vs. Zombies.
                                    \ /             

The Library’s Whispers

Should I ever end my gypsy ways, I might actually have a home of my own. Despite the various perils of the real estate market, it seems to me there is not much more glamour in moving on a yearly basis, existing out of boxes, or continually living in places that cannot be made one’s own. Today, I spent twenty minutes fruitlessly hunting for a book that I finally located, shelved with my DVDs.

For I must have a library one day – I must. Personal libraries are quite different from institutional ones, which are forced to cater to the many not the few. They also close in the middle of the night, which is quite inconvenient for the night readers amongst us. Who reading this has not read by the dim light of a nightlight or flashlight, long after they were supposed to be abed?

Old Library – Trinity College

With no budget limitations in my mind, I have composed a list of rules for my library-to-be:
A. The library must have art.

The art needn’t be particularly expensive. In fact, general shabbiness of the room is permitted, as long as the art is especially beautiful. There should definitely be a marble bust somewhere, a bronze, some portraits of long-dead and smiling, patrician-nosed people in flaking gilt frames.

I’d like a few engravings too, pertaining to reading.

Girls in the Library – Forbidden Fruit

B. The library must not have a television. Or a stereo.

Then it is a rec room or entertainment room. Anyone who reads books voraciously knows that books -are- the entertainment. Books are your friends when you have none. Who can be lonely with Cyrano and Porthos making you laugh? A favorite book will never let you down and you always know how it ends…and how it begins.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'”

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The loss of music is a real one. I do love music, but it definitely occupies my mind when reading. It should be as pure a moment as possible, when hours slip by with each page and sleepless nights filled with 1001 tales.

C. The library’s furniture must be more functional than decorative.

It must have deep, squishy chairs, cozy wells for wallowing by the fireplace. One must have the proper rolling ladders along the cases, which must be wood and not particleboard or metal. There should be a reading stand which highlights some particularly excellent first edition or illuminated manuscript, next to a wooden globe. The draperies should be slightly dusty, but the books never. The floors should be wood parquet or faded oriental rugs, but never tile or linoleum. Wood paneling is a nice plus.

A Rather Proper Example of a Library.

The light that filters in the window should slide across the room in syrupy golden pools as the day wanes. Fluorescent light is verboten; I don’t care how much electricity it saves. Light should shine from Tiffany-like lamps and stained glass and a bay window seat, piled with pillows, with a view over a vast lawn.

If there is no music room, the piano may grace the library, but it ought to be only sounded when no one is reading.

And while I’m dreaming, why not have a tree in its midst?

Digital artwork by Brian Miller

There are those who claim that it’s just a matter of years that books will be defunct. That we will be able to read any book in the world, digitized, in moments…off a screen.

The Luddite in me scoffs at this proclamation. There will always be those who love the smell and the feel of books, the crackle of paper and the crisp print on the page. They can make the digital readers user-friendly, they can cover them in fabric and format them like books all they wish…but they will never replace books. Books were once so precious that they were copied and recopied by hand. Books are a uniquely human creation. Books contain all that we know or ever wish to know.

And so in this bright, shiny future where everyone carries their plastic reader…you’ll find me in my library, behind oak-paneled doors, curled up on my bay window seat…with a book in my hand.

I’ll Be Wearing Ribbons Down My Back This Summer…

It occurred to me yesterday that I was all wrong. For years, I have been saying (like many I know, similarly disaffected) that I live my life like I am from another century. That’s not true. I exist in a century that -doesn’t- exist, a made-up amalgam of customs and courtesies and costumes.

I prefer hand-written letters (16-19th), use powder of violets (18th), dress for work in pencil skirts and pumps like a secretary from the 50s (20th), listen to opera from the 19th century and symphonies from the 18th.

I avoid television, write stories longhand, wear ribbons in my hair and fret when people tease me about it. I study etchings and engravings, dream about writing a Paul Helleu catalog raisonne and a book about Austen’s life. At work, there’s a running joke that Anna goes home on Friday night and reads Shakespeare…which is occasionally true.

I am hopelessly sentimental, read poetry aloud, cry unabashedly at movies, wear my heart on my sleeve so any idiot passing by can poke a hole in it. It comes down to a longing for a time that never existed in the first place.

This fairytale of a prettier, gentler time…I blame it on too many Merchant-Ivory films, on too many Austen books, too many Wilde and Coward plays, too many musicals with happy endings…a diet of comedy of manners and soft-spoken romances.

I know very well that if I had been alive at that time (usually the 18th or the 19th century) and privileged, I would be a very different person. Yes, I could sit alone in the elegant splendour of my drawing room. I could spend my days writing letters and playing the piano, sewing (well, maybe not) and spending hours on my toilette to make myself as decorative as possible (in contrast with the days that I wad my hair in a bun).

I could also not vote, not own property, not even necessarily own myself in the sense that I could marry as I please. The corset of my life would tighten around me until I could not even breathe, as the choices dwindled to nothing. The constraint of manners and societal expectations can be a smothering one.

Not that the exact opposite is necessarily desirable. I occasionally refer to ‘basic human courtesy’, which may be a contradiction in itself. Humanity always has its dull, cruel, ugly and disenchanting aspects. Manners are the armor in which each century cloaks itself and our century has shown up like the Emperor without clothes.

The noise, the brutal noise, of everyday life has been hammering at me lately. The jackhammer working on the bridge, the piercing voice of the passing trolley guide, the obnoxious roarings of a cavalcade of motorcycles, the sawing and the shouting. After the leaf blowers and the stentorian church bells and the car alarms, I just want to go in my room and plug my ears with my fingers.

Since I cannot hide, I just have to accept. For now.

I may at some point have to go off where real life cannot find me. You may stumble upon me some day there, tucked in a little cottage in some wild countryside, living out my life in the century that -I- want to be in…with ribbons in my hair.

[Repost – ed.]