I am not a book critic, and I never plan for my blog to bungee jump off that bridge. But I did an impulsive thing the other day while at the library; I checked out a book. Actually, the impulsive part was that I chose a book I’d already read. (I hardly ever double read.) Back in high school, I remember loving this book for its quirky story, so much so that as I stared at the spine and read the familiar title, I couldn’t remember one single detail from the story. All I could remember was how much I loved it and how I’d gone and read another book by that peculiar author, Tom Robbins. For a man with a particularly normal name, he is anything but common.
I'm so glad I re-read Still Life with Woodpecker because as the story all came back to me, so did my affirmation of the brilliance of Tom Robbins. (I don't smoke, but I actually debated purchasing a pack of Camel cigarettes yesterday as I stared at the label behind the drugstore counter. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read the book.) Here today, I will not review his book but rather offer you tidbits of the lovely and eccentric language of Tom Robbins as used in the two novels of his that I’ve read: Still Life with Woodpecker and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
Still Life’s home base is Seattle, where “A gelid wind, Alaska decals on every piece of its luggage, lingered in the rain without a sneeze…” (If I hadn't been reading a library copy of the book, I swear I'd have highlighted this phrase and practiced it until my writer's brain could come up with a similar way to describe the heat of South Florida.)
The underlying theme of Still Life is the protagonist’s quest to find out how to make love stay. Princess Leigh-Cherie is in love with Bernard Mickey Wrangle, aka the Woodpecker. The author’s response to Leigh-Cherie’s question: “Tell love you are going to Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.”
Come on! Even if you’re unfamiliar with Junior’s Deli, how can you not love this man?
Here are two more gems:
“Sometimes one gets the feeling that life still thinks it’s living in Paris in the ‘30s.” (I’m personally all for life’s delusional thinking on that one.)
“They glared at her the way any intelligent persons ought to glare when what they need is a smoke, a bite, a cup of coffee, a piece of ass, or a good fast-paced story, and all they’re getting is philosophy.” (I know this look very well because I feel I’ve passed it around a few times.)
Robbins spends a LOT of time philosophizing in all his books, which might drive some readers to the point of taking the aforementioned bungee jump without first attaching the bungee cord, but I for one have to agree with the attitudes Robbins shares with us. Oh, you want a sample? (Well, you’re getting one anyway. I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must like something about Robbins’s writing, right?)
On humanity, Robbins says, “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” Which ties in to this next topic. “Growing up is a trap…When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing. Reach a nice level plateau and settle there, predictable and unchanging, no longer a threat.”
That brief treatise has stuck with me recently. When I find my children asking me to participate in childlike play and I hesitate, I hear Robbins warning me not to grow up. He tells me not to settle for the adult rules placed on me so long ago. He reminds me it’s perfectly healthy and better for my growth as a person to let myself be childlike every now and then – especially with my kids.
In a recent post, I included a photo of my son jumping through the sprinkler, and I remarked how my neighbors would think I was crazy acting like a kid if they caught me doing that. Tom Robbins reminds us all that those neighbors feel threatened because they themselves are stifled. Who are we, the reckless neighbors, to break the rules of growing up? In rebellion, I've just returned from a water park with my kids, where I let myself be jettisoned from the superslide and be sprayed from every direction with blasting water along the lazy river. I laughed the whole time. (Take that, cranky neighbors!)
So in honor of my children and Tom Robbins, I encourage all of us to continually grow, to go on playing, to always want to know more, to never completely conquer our fears or realize all of our dreams, to only stop being a threat once we die. Only then is the game truly over.