Monday, July 26, 2010

On Growing Up (Or, Oh, to borrow your brain, Tom Robbins, just for one day of writing)

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.


  1. Great quotes.

    One of the great things about having kids was it gave me even more excuses to just play and have fun!

  2. I'm sold. Not on the need to jump through sprinklers, our summer is grey, overcast and cold, but definitely on tracking down Tom Robbins' books.

  3. Firstly, I love water parks. Secondly, I'm all for stratetic immaturity.

    Also, I have tried to avoid posting book reviews, but I may do a couple in the coming months. I still haven't made up my mind on that one. Mostly I haven't wanted to do them because I feel like there are so many book blogs out there that give everything 4 stars with 12 exclamation points. I think I'm too tough a critic to be successful as a reviewer, ya know what I mean?

  4. ACK! I just typed a response hit post, then clicked the "x" JUST as the word verification come up. (sigh) it's gone now.

    I don't do in-depth analytical reviews...those aren't the ones that coerce me into buying/reading a book either. But when someone tells me about their experience with a book...the gems they found, THAT intrigues me enough to give it a shot.

  5. I agree with your sentiment. Carry on carrying on!

    All the best from Boyish Boonsong

  6. Sounds like Tim Robbins has a lot of insightful things to say. Can't wait to check him out.

  7. Sadako~ I hope you enjoy, but make sure to look for TOM Robbins.

  8. I read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues years ago and LOVED it. I can't recall the storyline now (which I feel better about knowing the same thing happened to you!), but I remember being wholly enchanted with Robbin's voice. I'm putting both his books on my must-read list. Thanks, Wendy!!

  9. Wendy I loved the snippet you posted on my comment board this morning!!! I have my idea of what she looks like and I'll be on the look out for when you post it!!! Oh my gosh I'm excited that you've decided to join in on the fun!!!

  10. Great quotes and definitely a book I should add to my TBR pile.

  11. Lovely post....and a wonderful attitude to have about life.

    I know in my heart that I don't want to ever grow be that fuddy-duddy that finds no joy in life. If there's no joy, what's the point??

  12. I remember reading this book years ago, and thinking how brilliant he was. I forgot all about him. Thanks for the reminder! :)

    (I like getting book recommendations from smart people I trust, btw. So don't be afraid to share again.)


  13. I've gone back and read some books that really affected me as a child and a teen. I still want to write like some of those matter what current trends say we should be writing like.

  14. A quick P.S.

    Yesterday my son and I rode bikes to the park where he tried to play on the playground for a while. (He's almost 12 but emotionally much younger.) Because of his size, he got many an evil eye from concerned mommies watching their tots play on the equipment.

    Now I ask you, how can a grown up seek eternal play when as young as 11 we're getting the message that we're too big for such fun?!

  15. I love that snippet on growing up. Here's to staying a theat!

  16. I've read all his books, some more than once, and have loved most of them. Because he is so philosophical, I get something different out of them each time I read them. "Still Life" and "Fierce Invalids" are still my faves, and now I am reading "Villa Incognito." Your recap makes me want to pick up "Still Life" again.

    Also check out: Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore.

    And you will always be 15 to me :)