July 18, 2010

Things that mattered: Illusions

In a song that I came to know thanks to Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark once wrote a song about the objects that surrounded him and how little they might mean to anyone other than him.  The Lyle Lovett version is titled "Step Inside This House" and includes the following verse...
Here's a book of poems I got
From a girl I used to know
I guess I read it front to back
Fifty times or so
It's all about the good life
And stayin' at ease with the world
It's funny how I love that book
And I never loved that girl
The song is a beautiful one, something that speaks to me.  That verse in particular speaks to me of today's object that matters to me.

I've only ever been in relationships with four women, one of whom gave me this copy of Richard Bach's Illusions.  She was a student of Alma College in Michigan but was spending the second semester of her junior year at the University of Aberdeen where I was spending the entirety of my junior year.  I'd dated only The Girl when I headed to Aberdeen but had spent time with two other American students during my first semester, settling into a relationship with one of them when Kristin (or Kristen - sad that I can't actually remember the exact spelling of her name - I'm sure I could check the numerous hand-written diaries that I kept throughout that year) arrived on the northeast coast of Scotland.

I met Kristin (that's the spelling I'm going to go with for the remainder of today's post) on her first or second day in Aberdeen having been asked to assist with the campus and city tour for the group of students who were joining the program for the second semester.  She mentioned to me later that she'd noticed me initially but that I'd been dating another American student (Jenn "Ffej" Willis) at the time.

Things between Jenn and I went south not too long after that, and I found myself spending a bit of time - and eventually dating - Kristin.  The word love was used between Kristin and me.  At the time I felt right in using the word, but in looking back from my vantage point a decade and a half later, I know that the word was used far too early and far too easily by both of us.  We were together throughout the end of our time in Scotland and promised to see each other once we both returned to the States - she to Michigan, me to Southern Indiana - but never did.  I'm the one to blame there and wasn't willing to simply break things off cleanly when I started dating The Girl once I got back to the US.  The way Kristin was forced to end things between us isn't something that I am proud to have forced - through my inaction, admittedly - but it is something that I am able to acknowledge now.

I took only three books with me to Aberdeen - one of them I'll write about later in this series - and was looking for new reading material a few weeks into the first semester so I wandered to the local book store and purchased Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.  The Thompson was because I'd read and enjoyed many of his works but hadn't read his first book.  The Bach was almost on a whim because I remembered the book from my parents' book shelves at home.  I didn't know anything about the book other than that I recognized the seagull imagery from those bookshelves that were then separated from me by a couple thousand miles.

Both of those book came back with me when I left Scotland.  They're on the downstairs bookshelves, but they're not the ones that matter.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull (JLS) did, however, lead to the one that matters to me.  In perhaps the most unlikely of outcomes, I very much enjoyed JLS, reading its slim length two or three times through.  The book is generally seen as a motivational book, a self-help, discovery, vaguely Christian tale - all characteristics away from which I would normally steer but which spoke to me for some reason.

I mentioned this to Kristin somewhere along the way, and she gifted me with Bach's follow up: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  Inside the front cover, she wrote an inscription to me.

At this point in the story, I should quote that inscription.  It spoke of her hope that I would enjoy the book whether she and I would be together.

But I can't quote the inscription.  I planned to do that, but I cannot because when I went to look for the book, I found that it wasn't on the bookshelves anymore.  So I went through the house looking for it and found nothing.  I also looked back at my post about those shelves and saw that the book wasn't in its place then, either. The book is gone.  I can't imagine that I would ever have gotten rid of it, but I just might have loaned it out to a friend.  If so, it hasn't come back yet.

I'd read its slim length- 192 pages - a dozen times before it disappeared from me.  I loved the words, and I loved the feeling that I got from the book, and I loved my memories of how the book came to me.

It certainly mattered to me.


Katydid said...

This is lovely. I've found that the things that really matterfind their way back to us if they're meant to.

PHSChemGuy said...

I do remember that story about The Stand, and I'm kind of hoping that my post gets out to whomever I loaned my Illusions to. If it doesn't, it doesn't. No worries.

And in good news, I have like three more of these Things that matter posts coming up.

Joe G said...


Thanks for sharing.
vulnerable perfection.

Smamy said...

Great post. I know very few people that could take this type of subject and do it justice in writing. I used to be and still am amazed at your ability to put these things to words. It is really a gift that few have, and I hope you continue to write long into the future, even if it is never for public consumption.

As a side note, this post really brought memories. I distinctly remember the day that you tossed me JLS in your room, and I sat on the floor and read it cover to cover while we were listening to Warren Zevon, Neil Young and a few of the regular CDs that you would toss in. Interestingly, at that time, I was neither in the mood for self-help, motivation, or wanting any connection with with Christianity. I remember feeling completely uneasy and even a bit disturbed after reading it. Would love to go back and read it again now. My guess is that it will be a very different read this time. Think I will put that on the to-do list over the next month when I have a little time off.

Great stuff, looking foward to reading the rest of this series of posts.

PHSChemGuy said...

Joe - just trying to give the public what they want. You guys seem to respond well to this series, so I'll make sure I keep writing it from time to time.

Smamy - JLS certainly shouldn't take you long. I really have no idea why those two books clicked with me. They're pretty much everything that I would describe in a book designed for me to hate it, but I love them both. Good luck with the reread.