Saturday, February 24, 2007

Small Marvels

Sunday Morning Joe suggested last week that I ought to write a post based on a particularly gratifying conversation we conducted in the wee hours of a Sunday morning past. I think it was back in January sometime -- maybe even Super Bowl Weekend, though why I would ever remember Super Bowl Weekend as football challenged as I am, I have no idea. I also have no idea how it it was that we got to talking about small pleasures in the first place, but it sure was a small pleasure doing it.

Some things we agreed on right up front -- reading, the changing of the seasons, homemade soup (though he goes for split pea and I go for anything that's NOT split pea), the first sip of morning coffee ( small disconnect here too, as he for some strange, unknown reason likes Taster's Choice crystals and I prefer Folger's dark gourmet. fresh brewed )-- but other things were our own unique delights. Take bubble baths, for instance. Is there anything so gratifying as a good book ands a scorching hot bath scented with mango? Ohmygod, I could stay in there until I turned into a prune, or the hot water ran out, which ever came last. Then there's black licorice. I know most people like the fake red stuff, but when it comes to licorice I'm such a purist I could be on the Food Channel expouding on its piquant qualities. Yes, I could be the Rachel Ray of licorice! One of the best Christmas presents I ever got was back in the 70's when Eric and I had only been married a couple years. He gave me this huge box filled with 23 paperback novels by my then-favorite author and about ten bags of black licorice in various forms. I couldn't have asked for another thing-- which is not to say that the occasional bottle of Oscar de la Renta, which said husband presented me with this past Valentine's Day (he calls it Oscar's Daily Rent), isn't likewise appreciated.

Anyway, the point is that ever since that conversation with Sunday Morning Joe I seem to keep adding small delights to my mental list. Fresh sheets on the bed, Tyler's little voice on the phone saying "Hi Gran," popcorn and movies, the view out the kitchen window, Sunday walks with Nancy, Saturday morning talks with Jessica, making a great find at a book sale, a clean house (best if I wasn't the cleaner), a new issue of the New Yorker in the mail, the company of cats, a looooooooong email from Lisa, the writer's group sitting around my dining room table, daffodils, lilacs, Motown, dancing, Irish music, my kids, lipstick, skinny jeans, being skinny enough to wear skinny jeans, Pino Grigio, champagne, sharing ebay stories with my niece Liza, Christmas trees, white twinkle lights, fireworks, Ode to Joy, small town parades, porches, grocery shopping, penny candy, pajamas, altered books, bookstores, walking on the beach, a sky full of stars, fireflies, the sound of croaking frogs at night, good neighbors like Linda next door, talking in line at book sales, PT Cruisers, getting up early, the Gilmore Girls, ephemera, the morning paper, Sunday Morning Joe ...

I could go on and on, but one thing's for sure. No matter how much there is to complain about -- and God knows I complain more than I ought to --the world is filled with marvels. And the best part is they're right there all the time and lots of them cost little to nothing. The secret is to recognize a marvel when you see one and don't wait until things get better to appreciate it. I think I've always known this, but it's taken me fifty-five years on the planet to make a point of fnding them every single day. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Zen of Bookselling

When I began as a bookseller ten years ago this April it never occurred to me that bookselling was a free lunch. Go to a library sale, load up, and – presto! chango! – money cascading into your account. The crazy part is that the money did sort of cascade in those early halcyon days of internet selling. But even so, I knew that if I wanted to turn my lifelong love affair with books into a successful, dignified, and meaningful business I needed to knuckle down and learn a few things. So, autodidact that I am, I opted for baptism by total immersion. I read countless books about books, experimented with packaging materials, learned how to keep careful records, transferred the customer service skills I had attained in my former job as PR director for a nursing home complex into my new endeavor, and polished my writing skills to offer detailed descriptions of my wares. To do any less seemed to me to trivialize a time honored profession -- witht he operative word being profession.

All that was great and has served me well, but there was a missing component which, strangely enough, I just “got” very recently. The cosmic joke is that it was taught to me by the very people to whom I had developed a natural antipathy – the new breed of booksellers who, along with their corporate counterparts, have discovered that used, out-of-print, and rare books are Big Business. For years now I have ranted over their rudeness at sales as they shoved past me -- and into me -- to grab as many fetching little moneymakers as they could, rolled my eyes when they made such inane statements as, “You don’t gotta know nothin’ to sell books,” and seethed at the eternal beeping of the scanning devices which allow them to check the going rate for books on the Big River (a.ka. via ISBN number.

“There sure was a lot of communing with the great god amazon today,” I’d tell my husband after a sale. We’d laugh, but inside I was becoming less and less amused.

Meanwhile as the hobby sellers reproduced like one-celled microorganisms the corporate entities became greedier and ever more paternalistic in their dealings with sellers. Little by little the original joy I had found in bookselling began slipping away. It’s not that I didn’t love my work. Nothing could take away the deep satisfaction of the books themselves, the exhilarating interaction with the customers, even the pleasure of such mundane tasks as cleaning and wrapping. But my attitude was nonetheless becoming as sour as an old pickle.
So how did I finally “get it”? And what is it that I finally got? The answer to the first question is I don’t know. There were no thunderbolts, no one big defining moment. It just happened and as quietly as if on Carl Sandburg’s “little cat feet.” I may not know the how, but I sure know the what and that is simply this – my anger at the sellers and the corporations stemmed from a primal fear that they would snatch away this thing that meant so much to me. The truth is, of course, that you can’t run a business, or a life, based on fear. I’m not big on religion, but I’m all over faith -- faith in a limitless Universe and a benign Creator with a sense of humor and a heart the size of Her creation. I had just failed to understand that faith and intention are as much a part of bookselling as knowledge. What the penny sellers and the scanners do has nothing to do with me. My intention is what it always has been -- to run a dignified, meaningful business, to serve my customers well and to enjoy doing it. And it's working! Watching other sellers scurrying around like ants tossing books helter-skelter into boxes has made me realize exactly what I DON'T want and, most importantly, exactly what I do.

So then. Railing at external forces is a monumental waste of energy, not to mention damaging to the soul. Far better to simply live in the Light, walk my own path, and follow the river -- just not the one with the dot com extension.