The Jane Austen Incident

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Every Friday I head down to the bookstore to read and enjoy a cup of coffee.  There is something rather cathartic about a hot cup of caffeine and the escape of a really good book. A corner table flanking the main aisle serves as my favorite place to sit.  I’m always happy to find it empty as if everyone knows that’s my spot.  Without fail I arrive at around six o’clock and leave by seven-thirty.  This little ritual may seem pretty boring, but sometimes the extraordinary realm of fate chooses to reveal itself in the most mundane of places.

One evening, I sat at my table with my customary coffee and a copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  In the midst of escaping to Fanny Price’s world of English propriety, my mind began to wander to a conversation I had with a friend about a book he had just finished reading: Villette by Charlotte Brontë.  The memory was so intense it was difficult to pay attention to Fanny’s burgeoning fascination with Edmund Bertram.  I struggled to focus for another chapter, but a growing need began to occupy my every thought.  I had to find a copy of Villette.  Not in the next day or two, but right at that moment.

When I looked at the time, seven-thirty was a mere five minutes away.  I packed up my stuff and headed towards the “B’s” in the fiction section.  Sure enough, there was a lone copy of Brontë’s enormous novel.  It should have been a simple spot and grab sort of purchase, but when I look for one book I inevitably look for more.  I wandered over to the classic literature display and perused books by D.H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, and Dante.  For some reason, I decided I couldn’t live without a compilation of Anton Chekov’s short stories.

At the cash wrap, the girl took one look at my books and told me I should go get a third.  As it turned out, classics were on sale: Buy two, get one free.  So, like any savvy shopper, I went back to look a for free book.  For a normal person, this would be easy, but for a bibliophile the “books I want” list is immeasurably long.  At first I thought of grabbing another Brontë book or indulging in my newfound love of Eastern European writers, but none of them satisfied the need that still burned in the back of my brain.

Jane Austen.  It was so obvious I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner.  The only book missing in my collection of her works was Northanger Abbey.  I snatched it off the shelf and hurried back to the cash wrap.  It was getting late.

By the time I got to my car, I was running a very uncharacteristic fifteen minutes late.  Nothing seemed amiss when I drove to the main road and entered the on-ramp to the freeway.  I figured I’d be home in no time, until the car in front of me came to a sudden halt.  All four lanes of the freeway were at a virtual standstill and I was stuck in the middle of it.  Inch by inch, traffic merged into the emergency lane.  Only a really bad accident would warrant such extreme measures.  Still, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Sprawled across the width of the freeway were six mangled cars.  Three were crushed so severely it was impossible to tell the make and model.  The shock of it caught my breath as I fought back the tears.  There was no question in my mind that at least one life had ended, for one car had been ripped into two pieces.

It took a moment to realize the police were still setting up a perimeter, the on ramp had not yet been closed, and the first ambulance was just arriving.  The accident was only minutes old.  Perhaps, the same few minutes it took for me to go back and find Jane Austen.

c.b. 2011

Wreck This Journal: Leap!

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Sometimes I wonder if my muse and fate have an alliance going.  Whenever I question my next move or let a nasty little thing called doubt creep into my mind, something happens to give me a good old-fashioned kick in the butt.  In this case, fate and my muse arranged for this week’s Wreck This Journal page to catch my attention.  The instructions essentially call for flinging my journal from a high place.

Luckily, I live in a two story house with a vault ceiling.  The second floor hallway is open with a view of the living room, which means there is plenty of room for a little journal flinging.  Once I checked to make sure there were no cats or dogs anywhere near the “drop zone” I sent my journal over the edge.  To make things a bit more interesting, I threw it so it would flip a few times on the way down.  My journal flew like a stone and hit an end table before it landed on the floor.

The flipping action kept the book from closing on the way down, so a few pages were bent and the binding took yet another hit.  Other than that, the damage was relatively minor.  I documented my journal’s descent with a little doodle and some crayons.   While I sat drawing a set of stairs and the splat of my journal on the floor, the epiphany of this whole experience became very clear.

Life is all about taking that leap.   Whether it be jumping on a plane to explore all the places on my bucket list or diving headfirst into the challenge of teaching high school, I’ve always believed every good thing worth having requires a little courage and gumption. Even when the cliff is so high the bottom can’t be seen . . . I’ve got to buck up and jump!  The same is true with my current endeavor into the realm of writing.  My novel is done, my query letter is written, and a synopsis is on the horizon.  I have to stop doubting and procrastinating.  It’s time to jump.  Before the month of November is done, I’m going to send out at least three query letters.

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For previous posts in this series, look for “Wreck This Journal” on my sidebar in “Recent Posts” or in my tag cloud.

c.b. 2011

Three Weeks Is Close Enough

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The original plan was to stay in London for a month, but a small twist of fate has caused me to alter the length of my trip.  It turns out the original day of my departure, June 30th, is going to be something Londoners are calling “Black Thursday.”  Close to 600,000 public sector workers are going on strike.  Among the strikers are the train drivers of the London Underground, which upon I rely completely to get around the city and most importantly to the airport.  The strikes are set to last most of next week at varying intervals and it looks like more unions are gearing up to join the movement.  The chaos that will most certainly ensue from all of this was not on my list of fun things to do, so I’m getting out before it gets too crazy.

While my stay is shorter than expected, the experience has been nothing short of extraordinary. Travel is often about willingly taking on change, but the time I spent in London has been truly life-altering in ways I could never have anticipated. My senses are on fire and I suspect they will remain that way for a while as I sort through everything I’ve seen, done, and felt.  All I know for certain is that every moment of wandering in this place has changed me for the better.

Tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane heading home.  My life as I left it is waiting for me and I am excited to get back to the familiar.  However, there is a little part of London that also feels like home and I shall miss it dearly.

c.b. 2011