Estella’s Revenge

How I Spend My Summers

By Miss HavishamAnyone familiar with Great Expectations (and if you’re here you must have noticed the theme) should have a passing knowledge who Miss Havisham is. She’s the bitter old woman wearing the tattered wedding gown dating from her jilting at the altar decades ago, unwashed and unbrushed hair sticking up like a Brillo pad, sitting around watching rats eating what’s left of her wedding cake (though how any cake could last that long is a fact that’s always baffled me). And for kicks? She teaches her ward, Estella, that men are shit and she should use her beauty to make every one of them pay.

A good life, Miss Havisham has. Well-rounded. Well, sort of. Okay, not really at all. The woman hasn’t seen daylight in at least 40 years, and she sure as heck doesn’t bathe. We can safely surmise that, considering the dress and all. While I’m not saying I’m exactly like her, not that bad, once you’ve read my story you’ll know my own secret Miss Havisham-like tendencies. But let’s not spoil it quite this early. That would stop you reading the essay and, well, that’s not what this is about now is it.

To begin at the beginning, I’m the sort who whines constantly about the weather. In the winter it’s, “I’m so COLD!” In the cold months (in Chicago that’s October through May) I can never get or stay warm no matter how much I bundle up. The one time I’m comfortable is when I’m dressed in flannel pajamas, hibernating beneath the down comforter.

If I had my way I’d hibernate all winter, though I’m thinking the library (my employer) would have some issues with that. Family Medical Leave all winter, every winter? Sounds a bit suspicious. (Though if you know a doctor who’d sign off on that let me know.)

At work it’s equally horrible. The library keeps the thermostat in the staff room set somewhere around 60 degrees year freaking ‘round. I guess they’re afraid if it gets too warm we’ll all fall asleep. That problem’s avoided by keeping our teeth chattering, which sounds like a room full of typewriters going full speed. The collected condensation from our breath gives the room a foggy, Dickensian feel. It’s really very Scrooge and Marley, and appropriately literary for a library.

The funny thing is, no matter how much I complain about winter cold, as soon as the temperatures rise to 90 or above for more than two consecutive days I start whining all over again, this time for the opposite reason: “It’s so HOT!!! Turn on the air conditioner, you cheapskate, or I’m calling my attorney!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about 80 to 85 degree weather, clear blue skies dotted with little puffy clouds, flowers bursting into bloom (though I’m afflicted by allergies, a misery for another time) and all that sort of stuff. It’s the humidity that kills me. When the mercury hits 90 and the humidity’s high my makeup runs down my face, making me look like Tammy Faye Bakker as Picasso may have depicted her (were he very desperate for material). Very not attractive, in case you don’t remember the 1990s.

Then there’s my naturally curly hair. It’s not the pretty kind, the sort that’s thick and wavy (like my daughter’s, damn her), but the kinky variety that turns Einstein-like in high humidity. Ever see ‘Bride of Frankenstein’? I’m that chick’s twin when it’s humid. Either her’s or Marge Simpson’s, though my hair’s a little less blue. No matter what you hear about miracle hair products on TV, there hasn’t been one created yet that comes near making a difference on my hair. It’s a travesty, I tell you.

Not to sound like a big whiner or anything (too late for that), but when it’s sunny my pasty Dutch-Irish complexion burns like Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house. Like her food, it doesn’t matter how much sauce/lotion you put on it. Burned is burned. My dermatologist thinks of me as his poster child for future melanoma. He can’t look at me without shaking his head, mentally planning what he’ll say about me in the eulogy.

Considering my feelings about pretty any extreme form of weather, spending life sitting around in a tattered wedding gown in a manor house with heavy velvet drapes shut against the weather doesn’t sound half bad. In winter you just light fires in the fireplaces. In summer, hey, it’s England! It’s generally pretty temperate there, give or take a freakishly hot summer. Throw in a fortune of mysterious origin and who needs work! I’d be slave to no man’s thermostat.

The downside would be the lack of good hygiene, though the hired servants wouldn’t dare complain in my presence. And the hair? It’s already like Mrs. H’s half the year, so who’d notice? That leaves one lack: a minion, a young protégé. I’d need to apply for someone to be just like me: smelly and comfortably warm year ‘round. There must be a taker somewhere, someone willing to come live with me in my darkened Victorian mansion, picking up pieces of my tattered gown as they fall off, talking about how all men suck. Hell, that’s half the female population right there.
Just one request, please. Someone clear out the wedding cake and set out some rat traps. I may be willing to endure a lot of things, but even a hermit must have her limits.

Posted by Estella at 12:27 AM

From My Bookshelf, June/July 2008

By Lisa Guidarini

I’d like to say I’m in the process of cleaning out my bookshelves, that that’s the reason I’m pulling out random books to read, before I release them into the world. That’s not strictly so.

For six months I’ve had four bags of books in my car I’ve been meaning to donate to the library, books I’ve either read and don’t intend to re-read or those that aren’t appealing to me anymore because I’ve lost interest in the subject. It was my intention to donate these sorts of books to the library, to find new owners who’ll read them.

Instead, I keep transferring them from the trunk to the seats in the car. My children have become used to tossing them into the back seat to make room for them to sit in the car, which I understand is its primary function. It’s gotten so bad my youngest refers to it as the “mobile library.” He recently said, “Pretty soon we’ll have to keep quiet so our “patrons” will be able to read without diversion.”

Every time I turn a corner a book flies off a seat. When a door opens at least one book falls out. I nearly left a parking lot with a 100 year old book by Balzac sitting on the pavement, falling underneath the car unnoticed. I screeched to a halt and grabbed it, unable to leave it behind where who knows what may have happened to it.

I do sometimes donate books, but sometimes I occasionally buy a few back from the library sales. That way the library is making money from the book, plus I get to keep “the preciousssss….”

All that to introduce this, my new ER column, “From My Bookshelf.” Each month I’ll profile a different book, reviewing it in a brief way, letting you know if there’s an interesting back story behind how I obtained it.

This month’s book is by Korean author Young-Ha Kim, titled I Have the Right to Destroy Myself. As the title suggests, it’s loads of fun. The theme is suicide, one man’s belief that those who are miserable, or who have lost faith in life (especially in art), have every right to commit suicide. He’s willing to be there for the person, staying by their side, providing moral support while their lives slip away. Sometimes, he tells us, he has sex with the person before they end their lives, though usually not.

The book’s not all grim. In a way it’s a parody of books with suicidal themes. Mostly it’s a treatise on the importance of art, how it transcends any one life, and the question of how important enduring art is compared to the lives of the creators.

Kim necessarily chooses artistic types as his characters. All of them are involved in the artistic process. C and K, brothers who are never named both fall in love with a woman named Judith. Her art involves covering her naked body in paint, slinging her hair on the canvas and rolling around on it. It’s performance art, meant to be seen by an audience, and she’s well known for it, having developed a following.

C wants desperately to videotape Judith in action as she creates. After some argument she relents. When the resulting videotape is presented at an art gallery Judith becomes inconsolable that her art has been devalued by capturing it on film. She feels it’s stolen a part of her soul; her reaction is dramatic and immediate.

To tell the rest would ruin the tale. It’s grim, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Asian writing specifically for its dark quality. I’m not one who believes life is easy or particularly fun, nor do I generally enjoy reading cozy works that don’t force you to think outside the façade we call “normal life.” Kim’s book forces deep thinking. It investigates moral issues as well as the meaning of art and how it affects the artist. It’s a short though very deep work, one that demands to be read slowly. Though it has qualities of surrealism, it’s not as much so as the work of another Asian writer I admire very much, Haruki Murakami. It’s a complex little book at 119 pages.

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble, mostly based on the intriguing title, but also because it was a staff favorite. Not a particularly interesting backstory, but then again I buy a lot of my books based on book lust.

Would I recommend the book? Wholeheartedly, though be somewhat cautious if you’re feeling particularly down. It’s somewhat redemptive, somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not all depressives may agree with me. What’s ironic is I read it immediately after a book with the opposite theme, one recommended to me by my therapist, Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. Weird how karma works sometimes..

I’m pleased to be a part of the ER team. I’ll be back next month with another column based on another book pulled off my shelf. Stay well, and keep reading.

Posted by Estella at 12:26 AM

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