Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, March 24, 2008

Writing Backward While Moving Forward

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
-Mahatma Gandhi

In 2003 I was living in our oft-talked about small town in California. I have mused often in my writings about the wondrous thrift stores in the town and of the books I found there.
Not having grown up with many American books, I am finding now that I enjoy children's fiction immensely and am in a sort of second childhood when it comes to reading. I am, perhaps, taking in what I may have had should I have grown up here.
When I found an innocuous-looking volume- Paula Danziger's 'The Cat Ate My Gymsuit' - and a 25 cent price accompanying it, I scooped it up and walked the one third of a block home. We were so close to a treasury of literature. I shall not forget it.
Only upon arriving home did I find that the book, a work of fiction for young adults, was signed by the author. I was very excited. There is something to be said about holding a book that was clasped by its creator, whether one heard of them or not.
It was a special message to an excited reader; how lovely. I noticed that the book had been shut when the ink was wet and it had transferred onto the opposite page in reverse. Glad to have the copy, I consigned it to the shelf for later reading.
It was months later when browsing through the volumes that we owned that I took another glance at the book. I opened it to the page with the signature and message.
How funny that I had not noticed before, but the autograph was a little peculiar. I could not establish quite what struck me as unusual but most certainly I saw the writing in a new light.
I looked at the friendly scrawl and then over at the transplanted message. Like a bolt from the blue, I saw what had been bothering me. There were more words in one than in the other. They were two entirely different messages.
I was stunned at the revelation. Holding the second message up to a mirror I was able to see that it conveyed the same sentiment to the owner as the previous message- but the words were not the same.
I wondered how on earth the entire message had been written, by hand, in mirror image.
After a quick study of Paula Danziger's biography, I was humbled, as I so often am by writers and amazing, creative people.
She had once been involved in a dreadful accident which left her with brain damage. The injury meant that for a time, she had difficulty reading and writing- a nightmare for anyone but doubly agonising for a writer- and was for a long time afterward only able to scribe in mirror writing style.
She recovered over a long period, but never lost the ability to write both ways. Subsequently the brave and boisterous author would often sign books in both formats to the delight of her young readers. She never gave up and as a result brought joy to so many people.
Words could not do justice to my thoughts when I learned such about Paula Danziger, who passed away some years ago.
The book I held, and the lovingly scribbled words are a testament to her courage and good humour.
She is quoted as saying,
"I decided that if I wanted to be a writer, I'd better get started before I got run over by a truck."
Life is short. We need good humour and courage like Paula Danziger was possessed with and we need to do our best in everything before it becomes too late.


Beth said...

What a discovery. You must have felt like Nancy Drew when you solved that mystery. One year I did a Big Sister book club with 5th and 6th grade girls and mentors. It was fun to read books written for their level. Reading for the sheer joy of it.

Pappy said...

Old book stores. There you can still find book people with thread bare sweaters and tossled hair poking through the fading covers. I enjoy the older books myself. They wouldn't pass muster in a modern writing group looking for reality T.V. fluff.

hele said...

What a lovely story. I love the idea of a secret discovered and treasured.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, I love Nancy Drew stories! She was such a clever heroine.How did you know that's how I felt :) You said it- I read children's books for the joy, and for a change of pace.

Texican, you just put me in mind of one of my older posts

which has a poem by Ted Kooser; his poem is about a girl in a dirty raincoat who wanders into a bookstore. Whenever I read the poem that's the kind of bookstore I'd like to find. And it's also why I've never joined a writing group. Not my thing.

Hele, it was indeed a treasure. I miss that thrift store so much. There was so much dust and dirt and nothing was ever organised. It was great...

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