The More I Read, the More I Defined Myself

I Found Me in Books

Young girl sees herself entering the pages of a book
In a book, you can be anything

Until sixth grade, I lived in an unaware haze. When I try to remember me then, all I see is fuzzy and undefined. It was that first year at Rockford Elementary School, that my mind woke up, primarily thanks to an incredibly understanding and inspiring teacher, Mr. Bakke, and a wonderful, fellow student, Linda Nistler.

Linda was the smartest girl in our class. I envied her blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. One day she led me through the wall dividers that separated our three sixth grade classes to an enormous floor to ceiling bookshelf.

tall  library bookshelf full of books
First time I remember seeing so many books

“Do you like to read?” She asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ve never thought about it.”

“How can you never think about reading?” She asked. “Reading is so much fun.”

Linda pointed to a shelf, gliding her fingertips across the book spines as though each and every one indeed belonged to her, “This is the Hardy Boys series, if you like mystery.”

She pointed to a row of books on the shelf beneath that, “This is the Babysitter’s Club.” She stuck the tip of her finger onto the top binding and tilted book number seven towards herself. “I’m on book number seven. Why don’t you start at number one? If you read fast, you can catch up with me and we’ll read them together.”

My First Book

Linda pulled book one from the beginning of the row and placed it in my hands.

“But, I warn you. I read pretty fast, so…”

The implication was clear. Linda did not think I would ever catch up to her. Neither did I, frankly.

“There must be hundreds of books on this shelf,” I said, gazing in awe over each row from the bottom to the top.

“Two hundred and fifty-four, to be exact,” Linda confirmed.

As we headed back through the room dividers to our classroom, I asked, “how many have you read?”

Linda’s hair flipped forward over her face as she plopped down onto the brown and black, plaid, reading corner sofa. The same slender finger that had claimed dominance over the Hardy Boys Series, delicately slid silky, blond strands behind her ear. A silver cross dangled from her lobe.

Young child reading a book
I never stopped reading

“I’ve read forty-six, actually.” She tapped the empty cushion next to her, “Come on, join me. You’ll see how much fun reading can be.”

That’s all it took. From that moment forward, reading is all I ever did. Reading was all I ever thought about. I did catch up with Linda. We voraciously completed the entire book shelf. The more I read, the more I defined myself.  The haze cleared, revealing me.

Hazards of Being a Personal Muse

A Word from Melvin Marvin

Work has been pretty intense lately. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with Marlyn’s demands. Being a personal muse is not easy. I’m expected to inspire ideas, give feedback on the plot, aid in the construction of dialogue, listen to innumerable read alouds, and offer productive criticism as regards flow and relevance. I should also mention the job hazards, and there are several.

Devil's Bridge in Sedona, Arizona water carved bridge of red rock
Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

One time she took me on a day trip to Sedona. I was touched. She told me it was a vacation and to just relax and enjoy the inspiring views. She took me on a hike to Devil’s Bridge. Breathtaking sites. She treated me to a Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks. Sipping on the Frappuccino, we gazed out at an incredible landscape. Being a personal muse has perks. Everything was going so well.

Not all Perks, The Job has Hazards

Then Marlyn asked, “So Melvin, what if we write a book about a woman, let’s call her…Amanda. So, Amanda takes a day trip to Sedona and when she reaches the top of Devil’s Bridge, she’s kidnapped by aliens and taken to their lair on the dark side of the moon? What do you think about that? Sound good?”

I just wasn’t thinking clearly. The whole day trip thing and the Frappaccino just loosened my tongue and I replied, “Marlyn, that is the most ridiculous plot I’ve ever heard.”

Marlyn didn’t take it well. She slurped to the end of her drink and abruptly grabbed me up. She stuffed me in the back pocket of her purse and proceeded to shop.

“Marlyn, I’m sorry. Please take me out of here, it’s dark,” I pleaded.

Melvin Marvin behind bars of a display stand in a tourist shop
Officially punished – Marlyn left me in a tourist shop

“Melvin, you twit, I didn’t employ you to ridicule me.” Marlyn took me out of the back pocket and stuck me behind a barred display in the shop, “Enjoy that, you ingrate,” she goaded as she turned on her heel and left the shop. She left me there for three hours. Clearly, if your employer does not appreciate full honesty, being a personal muse can be hazardous.

Sometime after sunset she returned, apologized, and took me home. The entire event initiated within me intense dread over my obvious lack of control. That’s when my visits to Dr. Conrad began. He’s a great psychoanalyst, if you find you ever need one.

On another occasion, I simply wasn’t in the mood to respond. I admit that I have my own issues to wrangle with, and, frankly, any employer worth working for should know when to push and when to be supportive. But Marlyn can be quite narcissistic and selfish. There are times that she even speaks for me when that is not what I was planning to say. I find that quite disturbing.  I already struggle with issues of ‘control.’ Dr. Conrad informed me that this is not unusual for a puppet, particularly an intelligent puppet, like myself.

Time Outs Suck

puppet placed high on a shelf in a time out
From my Time Out perch

So this one time, when I did not have the mood to respond, Marlyn accused me of indignant silence. She constructed a ‘time out’ area just above her work space and left me there as punishment. It was torture. Not only did my best friend (Marlyn is my best friend, sad to say) demonstrate blatant disregard for the psychological turmoil I suffer from, but she committed me to a location that further intensified my area of weakness, ‘a lack of control.’ Confined to this perch, I was forced to observe her as she worked by herself. Every once in a while she would glance at me, angry and vindictive.

Consumed by my own resentment and frustration, I stubbornly refused to give in and earn my release from the ‘time out.’ I knew she wouldn’t be able to hold out. After all, I provide a vital, irreplaceable service. And that is when the unspeakable occurred. Marlyn jumped up from her chair, grabbed her car keys, flipped me the finger and left the office. She returned a few hours later, brimming with self-satisfaction. She reached into her bag and pulled out my replacement. “Hey, Melvin,” she taunted, “look who we have here. Meet Martha, my new personal muse.” I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, I realized just how expendable I was…again, no control.

Well, as with everything ‘Marlyn,’ it didn’t last forever. She soon realized that Martha was a horrible muse. Martha simply agreed with everything Marlyn said. “Damn, Martha, you suck! Can’t you offer a bit of constructive criticism? How can I get Amanda out of this predicament? I have her trapped in a cloud of alien mucus.”

To which Martha replied, “There’s nothing to criticize, Marlyn. You are a genius.”

Marlyn looked my way, “What’s your take on this, Marvin?”

I said, “Trash the story, Marlyn. It’s awful.”

A Good Muse is Hard to Find

hand holding Melvin, a bird finger puppet, and Martha, a small plastic large eyed finger puppet
Meet Martha – She works for me now!

Marlyn genuinely smiled, “You’re right, Melvin. I’m so sorry. I should have listened to your advice the first time.”

Martha is still with us. Although she doesn’t contribute much as a personal muse, she does make for an interesting companion. Well, I must get back to work. Hazards do exist, hours suck, and Marlyn is a temperamental time bomb, but I’m needed and that makes it all the more worthwhile.