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Monday, March 2, 2009

In Like a Lion

Days are lengthening, green leaves bursting out, but when darkness arrives--out here beyond cell phone signals, where stars are bright against the black velvet sky over the Gulf of Mexico--it drops with the suddenness and finality of a stage curtain. And just when it seems that Florida winter is finally past, along comes another cold spell. Not Michigan winter, to be sure, only enough cold to suggest hot cereal for breakfast and to require coats and caps before venturing outdoors. Put away the sandals, dig out the socks again!

The last day in February was windy, and rain arrived before daylight on Sunday, the first of March. (Thinking of dry woods and scrubland and parched pastures inland, I had to welcome the much-needed rain.) Morning sounds as the lion roared in were the whoosh of wind and rain, clatter of live oak leaves, purr of furnace. Saturday was sunny, though, and a fine day for rummage sales.

I found a lovely book at our second sale, and an umbrella for a dollar was a timely purchase, given the turn in weather the next day. Then up at Howard’s Flea Market we met a bookseller who generously steered us up the road to a bookstore going out of business. Indeed, it was the last day of the Book Basket’s liquidation sale, so how could we not go? We’d already had a satisfying midday meal of blanket sausages and cherry pie à la mode, after all. Nonetheless, we drove north on Hwy. 19 and east on Homosassa Trail with mixed feelings. There is no denying the thrill of the book-hunt, wherever it leads, but we are always sad to hear of a bookstore closing, and the woman who gave us the tip had muttered gloomily about “the economy” and a rash of bookstore closings. Who wants to be a vulture picking at the carcass of someone else’s dream? All of us in the business know what it’s like to live close to the edge, surviving year by year.

Happily, the story turned out to be quite different.

“No, a lot of people assume it was the economy, but that wasn’t it at all,” bookseller Daisy Baze told us with a smile, her young son playing happily close by. “We’re expecting our second child, and I just couldn’t see bringing two little ones to work every day! The only place the economy hurt us was when we tried to sell the business. We’ve been here two years, so it’s an established business, but no one wanted to take the chance.”

Knowing that we were not looting a failed business but helping someone move from one chosen life stage to the next, we were free to enjoy ourselves, scouring the place for treasures. Helping? Oh, yes. Because closing a retail business is a whole lot more complicated than quitting a job. You don’t just turn in your keys and walk away. Daisy seemed relaxed and confident with her decision, however, coping cheerfully with customers, moving truck, phone calls and the child at her feet, and I’m glad we had the chance to meet her.

[Bookstore report so far: Of Florida bookstores we knew three years ago and looked for this year, only one has closed. We had not known about the Book Basket until its last day of business but were happy to discover that the reasons for its closing were personal rather than financial. Given the general economic climate in Florida and judging from my own very unscientific survey, bookstores in the Sunshine State seem to be doing slightly better than the general business average. At least, they aren’t doing any worse.]

Now once again I’ve been thinking about the lives of booksellers, artists, farmers, restaurateurs, vintners and others. Some would call these “lifestyles.” I resist that label, but I realize that If I thought of “lifestyle” and “way of life” as interchangeable terms, there would be nothing to resist, so now my challenge is to make clear a distinction. One starting point in my thoughts is that a “lifestyle” is something in which one can afford to indulge, while a “way of life” implies commitment, even sacrifice. I’m not interested in dictionary definitions but in what comes to mind when people hear the words. And how, if at all, does the necessary level of sacrifice relate to the seriousness of anyone pursuing one of these ways of life as a means of also making a living?

As the chilly Sunday wore on, sun and clouds played tag (clouds eventually won), temperature continued to drop, and “Lake Donnie” covered half of the narrow two-lane road that cuts across this little island, reminding us once again that Aripeka is only three feet above sea level.

Reading: I raced through Isabel Allende’s entertaining memoir, My Invented Country, turning next to Timothy Taylor’s novel, Stanley Park, and a 1946 book of interviews with writers by Robert van Gelder entitled, reasonably enough, Writers and Writing. David is reading a book by Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour.

And here's Norfleet's store as darkness falls once more over Aripeka.


Raph G. Neckmann said...

It always makes me sad when people say somewhat dismissively that working in the arts is a 'lifestyle' - as if it means lolling around lifting a languid paintbrush occasionally while sipping wine.

I agree with you that it is more a way of life involving commitment and sacrifice. Commitment to using the talents one has - a feeling of responsibility as well as artistic passion. Why is it seen as indulgence to use gifts and skills?

I have been grieved recently to hear of exceptional young people I know saying they feel they have no future. If they are not able to find a way of making a living using their abilities it will be a great loss to the world.

P. J. Grath said...

Some will find a way, I'm sure, though it may be even harder in the immediate future than it's been in the recent past, and that's saying a lot. But probably more people have been deterred from creative lives by a drive to "get ahead" and to make a "good" living than by objective difficulties. Probably? Maybe? I don't know. Having a good life has to include somehow making a living, of course. But getting ahead? The carrot is always just out of reach, and the harness never comes off.