Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, May 2, 2019
I love surprises. I can’t say that I grew up with many of them, at least not the kind I’m talking about. We did have what I’ll call the Dictum/Surprise, which usually came down from on high (my father) and went something like this: “Rise and shine, we’re working in the yard!” or “We’re going to the property to clear the land, depart time 900 hours.” Or even, “We’re moving to Europe for a three-year tour. We’ll be closer to your mother’s family.”
Because I was the youngest by a long shot of four children, I missed a good number of these surprises, and because the older siblings had all gone by the time I was 11, I got a different sort, in a slew. I had Dad virtually all to myself, for exclusive surprises. Most were harsh (“Surprise, you cannot go to drive-ins. Surprise, you cannot go to rock concerts. Surprise, you’ll be my shadow this weekend because you cannot go to the potluck the Moonies almost convinced you to attend.”). One incredibly sweet and unexpected surprise was getting a dog right after all the sibs had deserted me. Sure, he eventually became my dad’s best friend and not mine, but in the puppy months, it was surprisingly sweet and delicious. Surprising every single day to be a girl with a dog instead of just a girl without one.
I remember a particularly nice surprise in college when, upon my return to Ontario airport in So Cal, I heard my name called to come to the courtesy counter. Arriving there, I was handed a card in an envelope, a card that read “I’m here. Find me.” The idea that someone would imagine this scenario and apply it to me was utterly thrilling. In an airport! On a PA system! Who cared if it had been used before, or what his ulterior motives were or anything else. In the moment, I felt the world open up, as if it contained far more effervescence than I’d ever imagined. As if the world were a fizzy drink and I was dancing up there amongst the bubbles where the real stuff happened.
Just a few days ago, I received the new David Sedaris book, “Calypso,” in the mail, a late birthday present and a surprise, without a clue of who’d sent it. From Amazon. No gift receipt. I let my mind wander to the first person who occurred to me and then I released my grip on solving it quite so fast, so that I could enjoy the surprise and the mystery. Who could have sent me this book? With whom had I spoken of David Sedaris recently? Just for a moment, I let myself float on bubbles again, in the essence of a tingly world where one never knows what awaits them. Which, as a matter of fact, is true, true, true, even though we forget it as we tend to sleepwalk through large portions of life.
One of the not-so-good surprises upon our return from spring break was a case of turista that forced me to lie low and read, a continuation of one of the good surprises of 2019 spring break, which had been that we’d been in a slow-enough-paced Mexican town that reading was relit in the caldron of my heart and soul. Somehow over the long haul of years, reading had flagged. In a major way. There was writing and painting and all sorts of life happening, plus all the reading I’d had to do just to cope with it all, not to mention all the phone stuff one is inclined to do to procrastinate doing anything else, whether it be reading, writing, living or coping with it all.
So in Mexico I read a novel recommended by my friend who reads a lot. And it was so good. It left me feeling larger, lighter and better in every way. Where had I been, all these years, unconnected to the me that reads? And had my circuitry shrunk and could it grow back?
I read the Sedaris in one long day of eating charcoal tablets between trips to the bathroom. I read it in the bathtub and lying down with a heating pad on my gut. I read it because the switch had been flipped and because someone wanted me to read it. I laughed out loud and got really uncomfortable in parts but gorged on it, as if exercising a chew-and-swallow set of muscles that were weak, parts of the prose unchewed completely and gobbled down in large chunks. To continue on in that vein, it’s as if I ended up with bits of words all over my face and just left it there to dry. Ahhhh.
I know who sent me the book and I thank you. It was a sweet surprise inside another one, sort of like a turducken of surprises — or, more accurately, I guess, a turduck.