Saturday, July 11, 2009

Do-Over! (Robin Hemley)

You know those things you did when you were a kid/teenager that still kind of haunt you? Like not learning how to ride a bike (just a generic example). And giving up on piano lessons because the teacher wanted you to play classical music and you wanted to play the Beatles (again, just another generic example). Robin Hemley confronts his own list of do-overs at the age of 48 in Do-Over!, including kindergarten, an elementary school play where he flubbed his lines, eighth grade, and a foreign exchange year cut short.

I loved reading this book. I would end a chapter and ask Jim questions like if he ever went to camp (answer: yes), what his favorite grade was (answer: twelfth, because it was the last) and his least favorite one (eighth grade, same as Hemley's). (My favorite was tenth grade, the year I went to a great school in Colorado Springs, and my least favorite was seventh, when it was very, very uncool to be smart). Hemley assimilates easily back into kindergarten. Of all the grades he revisits, these kids are most accepting of him.

By the end of my first day, we're all a bit confused. If I wasn't having a midlife crisis before, I am now. And my classmates are having a bit of a beginning-life crisis---not quite sure what to make of the new kid.

As we're waiting at the end of the day to be dismissed, we sit on the floor with our coats and backpacks, legs "crisscross applesauce," which is a little difficult for me.

"Are you going to Extended Day?" Stefan asks me.
"No," I say. "I'm going home."
"Do you ride the bus?" Louis asks.
"Oh. Well, who's picking you up?" Haley asks.
"My wife," I say.
There's a long moment of silence as they take that in and blink at me like cats.
"Oh," says Stefan finally. "I thought you were going to say your dad."

Hemley finds that the second time around isn't necessarily easier, and still feels a lot of the nervousness/embarrassment he felt the first time. Or there's added nervousness when he starts to think about the strangeness of his project and what others must be thinking about it.

I'd often think about my own do-over list while reading. The only item I really could think of was piano lessons (a common answer, according to Hemley), but instead of a do-over list, I was forming a different list in my head, what some people call a bucket list, or a life list (my favorite example is Maggie Mason's Mighty Life List, and she even recently got herself a sponsor!). I haven't really decided what would be on it, but in some ways it might resemble a do-over list in that some items would be things that I could have done in the past but didn't (like learn how to ride a horse, hike Pikes Peak) and other items that either I'd forget that I'd want to do or might need an extra push to actually go do them (either because they're out of my comfort zone or take commitment or extra funds, etc.). Sometimes just writing down a list of things you want to accomplish can really help push you in the right direction. I'm thinking of posting it on Facebook so then I have a built-in cheering section and can document the progress.

(Oh, and I did finally learn to ride a bike. At age 25. In a Jewish Community Center parking lot on a borrowed bike. So in some ways I guess that's a version of my own do-over.)

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