Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Woman Who Rides Like A Man

I have been reading fiction novels as a way of dealing with some of my emotional turmoil over the past two months. Recently, I have read three novels by Charles DeLint in a row. I have four favorite authors: Neal Stephenson, Isaac Asimov, Tamora Pierce and Charles DeLint. These are authors whom I am always in the mood to read a new book from and whose entire library I've mostly read. Except for Asimov. With over 500 books written, I haven't got a chance with Asimov. For the most part, they are also authors that have influenced profoundly the way I think about the world. Except for Stephenson, I have read them all since I was very young and when I re-read some of their work, I have huge insight into why I think the way I do because I am hit with the memory of when I first read a particular passage and times when I deliberately shaped my life to be more like that particular moment in the book.

I'm in the middle of rereading Tamora Pierce's books about Alanna. I have seriously considered naming a child after this character. A middle name, but a name nonetheless. I started rereading it with the intention of taking notes about the specific passages that have been influential with the idea that I would craft a longer essay with quotes and anecdotes. It would be funny and somewhat moving and have some overarching message. You know, something to work on as a hobby for a little while. You see, I first read these books when I was in the seventh grade. It is the story of a ten year girl living in a fictional kingdom who doesn't want to go to the convent to be a lady but instead disguises herself as a boy to study at the palace to be a knight. It follows her from age 10 to about age 21. And it's perfect. Alanna was everything I ever wanted to be but was too shy or embarassed to actually pursue. She said the first thing that came into her head and people thought it was charming. She lost her temper and her friends simply shook their heads. She could set a long term goal and have the focus and discipline to work in secret for months to accomplish it. She had worthwhile secrets. I mean, how cool is that? Plus, she had friends. People who weren't her family but loved her unconditionally and included her consistently and who stood by her when she made mistakes. Who gives a shit about swords and magic, this was escapist fantasy!

So, I began reading them again with the intent that I would take notes, but I am pleasantly surprised at how they still hook me in. After the 4th chapter of the first book, I made no more notes. I just kept reading to experience what happened next. I have read the series over 20 times. You think some of the magic would have worn off by now.

But it hasn't. I'm still completely pulled in by Alanna's adventures and her relationships. In fact, let me tell you a story about last Friday to illustrate Alanna's power over me.

Morning routines are powerful things. Last Friday, I had to disrupt my routine because I had no food for breakfast. No eggs, no bread, no juice. That holy trinity can occasionally sustain the loss of one of its members for a morning. Maybe. But all three? Might as well not get up out of bed.

But no worries. We had meetings on Thursday that involved bagels and cream cheese and the good orange juice and there were plenty of leftovers, so I knew I could get acceptable breakfast at work. I figured that I would wake up at the same time that I alwasy did and instead of spending 25 minutes of the second part of my morning preparing my breakfast and eating it, I would simply leave and spend twenty minutes at work eating breakfast. (Five minutes would be lost in the stumbles that would be the consequence of changing the routine. See, I planned for it!) So, I did exactly that and got on a train that was 20 minutes ahead of the train I normally take. I opened In the Hand of the Goddess and proceeded to read. About 35 minutes later, I got the uncomfortable feeling that I was too high in the air. I looked up from my book and looked around and sure enough I was pretty high up and the scenery looked a little different. I shook off the odd feeling, explaining to myself that I usually don't look out the windows while I read, at least not since it has been light in the mornings and that I was sitting in a side-facing seat instead of a front-facing one like I usually do, so the scenery might in fact look a little different. But I realized that on the side of one building was a GIANT building-sized banner that read "Teamster Town" and I had to admit that I'd never seen that before. I looked around in a panic and finally thought to look at the sign in the window that indicates which train one is on and, sure enough, I had boarded the wrong train back at my stop. I forgot that part of my morning routine is to look out my kitchen window while I cook my eggs at the passing trains and keep track in the back of my head their every-other pattern. (There are only two that come through my stop and they actually follow a parallel course all the way through downtown until they get two or three stops out to the westside.) So, because I'm keeping track, I generally do walk right on the next train that pulls into the station. This morning, though, I followed habit without having the foundation there to support me. But the really rediculous part is that the train announces over the loudspeaker at every stop, "This is a blue line train to 54/Cermak." Every other morning I hear, "This is a blue line train to Forest Park." Every stop. But I was so into Alanna's fear of letting the King of the Rogues love her that I never heard the announcement. Not once in the entire 15 or so stops.

So, as soon as I realized that I was only one station down from where the trains split, I got off the train, went down the stairs, across the hall, up the stairs and got on the eastbound train back toward the city. I got off the train, crossed the platform, got on the westbound train, settled myself for the rest of the ride and opened my book again. Soon, though, I started to get this uncomfortable feeling that I was too high off the ground. I looked around in a panic and, there it was again! Teamster Town! I had gotten right back onto the wrong train! So, I had to get off the train, go down the stairs, go across the hall, go up the stairs and get on another eastbound train. Then I got off the train at the next stop, waited for the 54/Cermak train to pass, finally got on the Forest Park train, settled in for the rest of my ride and opened my book. So, because of a book and an interrupted morning routine, not only wasn't I early to work, I was actually late.

So, Alanna is still wonderful. And you know what? I'm a lot more like her now than I ever was. I say the first thing that comes into my head and people laugh. I dated a man that I loved but could not ultimately make a life with (although he wasn't a Shang Dragon, master of bare-handed fighting). And I have friends that will stick by me and want me around. I'm ready now for the next quartet, where Alanna is all grown up and the stories follow a younger woman coming of age in Tortall who follows a completely different path with different experiences but with Alanna as an influential figure. However, I don't think that Daine makes quite as catchy a middle name for a small girl.

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