Bibelots

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Tag: unwritten moments

Of fire and will: a letter for Lyra

'letters to myself' old faded cover of a magazine

Letters to myself and other words I’ve never set free, image via British Library

Dear Mr Phillip Pullman

I’m a bit angry. You see, I only recently started to read Northern Lights. The world is full of books and somehow I missed this/you/the boat. I’m halfway through and I’ve had to stop and put it down. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it. I’m loving it.

Oh, yes. It’s exactly my cup of tea. No question there. And it’s not that I don’t like Lyra. I madly, deeply love her. I don’t want to be like her, I want to be her. Lyra is a thousand million types of wonderful. She’s wilful. She’s fierce. She’s a firebrand. She’s on fire. She is luminescent and wild. She runs across rooftops and breaks my heart with every bound. Because it’s all a little late.

She’s who I wanted to be when I was a young girl. Only I didn’t know her. You hadn’t written her yet. I can’t say she didn’t exist, because she did. In my mind and, no doubt, in the minds of countless others.

So, yep. I’m angry. But only with your timing. You’re only a few decades too late. What’s that between friends? Everything, I tell you. Everything. What wouldn’t I have given to have her as my companion. But it’s okay. I think I did. It feels like I did. Did you know? Where you inside my head? Could you hear me? But, no. You couldn’t have. It all came too late.

I’ve put her aside, because when next there’s a day that I want to steal boats and set fires, I can pick up the book and be there again. I’ve done this with books before; there’s one book on my shelf with 3 pages unread. Its story will never end. I know it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to. My younger self – my version of Lyra – she’d understand. If a treasure is good enough, you should bury it deep.

So, Mr Pullman, I’ll forgive you and your rotten sense of timing. If you’ll forgive mine.

Yours

 

A fellow firebrand, aka Pirate Rose

Recalling the yabby

beautiful black and white photo of a chef and a giant pot

What’s in the pot?
Stirring image by SMU Central Uni Libraries

The Macquarie’s Australian word for this week is yabby.

Seeing that word gave me an immediate tap into a distinct childhood memory. A good tale, because, like so many good yarns, it’s tinged with a faint hue of horror.

We used to go yabbying as kids. Though that’s not quite the honest truth. It’s more that I used to go running around in the creek or on the railway when my brothers left me behind as they went yabbying.

One day I convinced them to take me along and show me the ropes. I begged. I pleaded. I even promised to behave. And even though I was a little kid, I did behave. It was bewitching to watch. String, catch, net. Squirm. They were catching river bugs! Yabbies, they called them. Beautiful was what I thought.

On the way home I picked out the prettiest, bluest beautifulest one. I named him. Goodness knows what. I only recall that he was now mine. My new pet yabby.

I left him and his mates on the back verandah, swirling around in a sturdy bucket. I didn’t want to leave him, the shining little wonder, but I’d been called inside. Who knows what for. A bath, a tidy up, a telling off? Or something equally ridiculous and unimportant.

When I came back the bucket was empty. I left the backdoor swinging and went through yelling for my Mum. Where was my little mate?

You can guess, can’t you? I couldn’t. I can still remember it. The kitchen. The slow dreadful walk. The big lidded pot, boiling and roiling.

‘Mum? Where’s my yabby?’

She picked me up so I could get a proper look. What a good mum.

I can still hear my screams to this day.

Dear Mister Asimov – a memory

science-fiction magazine coversToday I briefly described myself as a science-fiction fan at heart. Nothing new. Nothing unusual. For some reason, this time as I said it I was suddenly struck by a memory of the moment that I learned of Isaac Asimov‘s death.

Asimov died over twenty years ago. That makes it pre-internet-as-we-know-it, so I can’t be sure of the exact date that I found out. Still, Asimov wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which he celebrated on January the 2nd, so I guess that’s okay. If I had read the news online, I know I would have been reading about it on the exact day of his passing. But perhaps it wouldn’t have impacted me in the same way.

I was standing in a specialist science fiction bookshop called Galaxy. It was a little shop, but packed tight with  every type of science fiction a woman could hope for.

I was browsing amongst the A books. I always stopped there first. There was Aldiss, then Anderson, then Asimov. And above Asimov’s set of star-filled words sat a small newspaper clipping. Asimov had died.

I don’t know how long I stood looking at the clipping. At one point, my hand reached out to touch the newspaper, perhaps in hope that it wasn’t real. After a time, I turned to see someone at the counter watching me. I can’t recall her exact words, but I can still see her face.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s just so sad.’

He’d always been there. I’d grown up reading short stories and articles by Asimov. At first, in all the astounding science fiction magazines, then later in books from libraries and bookshops. He had started writing nearly twenty years before I was born. From the Stars, Like Dust to Gold, he just kept coming. Whenever I wanted a bit of pure sci-fi, but with the finest of humanitarian sensibilities, I knew where to look.

A is, was and will always be for Asimov.

Other wonderful authors have since passed from our midst. Harrison and Dickson and Sprague de Camp, White and Norton and Sagan. Stories and authors who delighted and amazed me. None of them, though, felt quite like this.

I wasn’t there, not in this way. I felt like I was with him. Him and his books. His grainy, grey, side-burn-bearing face looking back at mine. I can still see it. I hope to never forget it.

I never got to meet him. I’ve stood in long and winding book-signing queues for other authors and I would have stood an eternity if he had ever come here. But the man who taught me to love the stars didn’t like to fly.  My biggest regret is that I never wrote to him. To say how much he meant to me. He might have heard it all before, but maybe not. And he never heard it from me.

Asimov is gone, but his words will outlive both you and me. And that’s what it’s all about. His unstoppable words.

All the same, you’ll bear with me for a moment as I say this.

This is for you, Mister Asimov. This is my unwritten letter.  With the warmest of affection and the greatest of admiration.

Thank you, dear Asimov. Thank you.

Dear librarian

a photo of a book titled "one thousand beautiful things" with a rose on the cover, next to a little Lego manThe walls were beige and the floor was beige. The chairs were plastic and the tables flimsy and chipped. Yet this room was more full of life and colour than my most vibrant dreams.

This was my first library. A place overflowing with books. Shelf after endless shelf of them, reaching far above my young head.

My library also had a little games room. A table, two chairs and a beanbag. It was the warmest and most welcoming room on the planet. I felt safe there. Safe and happy. The word sanctuary seems too thin to convey just how good it was.

Of course, I shared this space with other children and adults. I didn’t mind. A place of books draws in people who love books. That’s not to say that all people who love books are lovely people, but it does attract people with a similar frame of mind.

And at the centre of all of these books and book-ish people was the Ringmaster. The librarian.

I don’t know her name. Oh, how I wish I did. I would hunt her down, hold her in my arms and pepper her forehead with the gentlest of kisses.

In one way, it doesn’t matter. Librarians the world over provide access to knowledge, share with us their beautiful collections of books and, almost unwittingly, they provide shelter.

Each librarian probably has a different way of welcoming you. My librarian was of a kind who felt that all books were good books, even the bad ones. She has left me with an unbiased love for any book. I’m as at home with Luminaries as I am with the Little Fuzzies. Whatever it is, I’ll try not to judge it by cover, genre or price. Every one gets at least one chance. Maybe two.

So, from the bottom of my papery heart, dear librarian, I wish to say thank you.

Thanks for every bright little word. Every grand word. Every long and winding sentence. Every page, every author, every book. Thank you and your amazing house of words.

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