Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The High School Reader

I started a new journaling technique today. I bought an old book, in this case, "The High School Reader". The flyleaf states: Entered according to an Act of Parliament of Canada, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six, by the MINISTER of EDUCATION for Ontario, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture.

At the time it was a published in 1886, it had a ticket price stamped on the front of Sixty Cents.

1886? Sixty Cents? I paid $10.00.

The book I really wanted cost $80.00. It had tissue thin paper that crinkled as each page turned. It smelled of age and time past, of a future never caught up to, never realized. Each page light as air, it sat heavily in my hands. Erudite. Learned. Weighty matters.

"It's perfect," I told the shopkeeper. Until I looked at the price. And then its perfection paled into that future light of knowing -- I couldn't pay $80.00 for a book upon whose pages I was going to write and paste and draw and colour.

And so, I found the next perfect book waiting on a shelf by the cash register. The High School Reader.

The previous owner had written her name in cursive on the inside front cover. Tidy. With letters inked over on the edges resembling caligraphy. Aggie Mather, Thurlow, Ontario.

And on the inside page, "If I should chance to drop this book/ and you should chance to pick it up/ and if you wish my name to see/ turn to page 103.

I turned to page 103.

Now since you have took the time to look/ Turn to the page in the back of the book.

I turned to the page in the back of the book, and Aggie had written:

Oh you goose you cannot find it/ Shut the book and never mind it.

Intrigued, I could not shut the book.

This Aggie had spiked my curiosity.

I want to go hunting for her. To do a quick 411 search but in 1896, ten years after the book was published and the year Aggie wrote her name in the front cover, 411 and Internet searches didn't exist.

And Aggie has long since left the world for other realms. Yet, still, I wonder about her. This woman of the spidery pencil marks littering each page. I want to know who she was, yet, not know.

The intrigue is much more fun than knowing. The anticipation of a mystery I know will never be solved sometime in the future much more enticing than the real and immediate fact of knowing in the present.

She has written in pencil throughout the book, this Aggie Mather. Written notes in poetry and prose. Her writing is tiny -- even with glasses it is hard to discern her scribbles.

Beside the title of the poem, "The Bridge of Sighs" she notes, Lyric. She commits a sin by drowning herself in -- and I cannot read the words -- she jumped from London Bridge, she concludes beside the first paragraph.

The Bridge of Sighs
Thomas Hood, 1799 - 1845
One more Unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate
Gone to her death!

There is a note between the third and fourth line. Pencil thin. Indecipherable.

The object of writing such a journal is to highlight words within the printed text while writing entries on the page.

I began...

Beginnings. I write on a page lined with thought and find no sympathy for my thinking. The power is not in what I understand but rather in my remembrance of what was.

The non italicized words are the highlighted words I randomly chose from the text.

It is an interesting process this journal writing. To create a sentence using words already on the page while writing freefall. Challenging.

I write another sentence:

Some of these words I write are simply insights that cannot be experienced without losing their value.

In the Trial Scene from "The Merchant of Venice" Aggie has underlined words, obdurate, malice, forfeiture, moeity, commiseration, brassy bosoms. "Pound of flesh" she writes in the margin beside forfeiture.

I wonder who owned this book since Aggie first made her tiny marks. I want to let them know that in the distant future someone bought it for 100 times its original value and still it was a steal.

I set pen to page. Deep breath. I begin to write upon the PREFACE page. I finish my first page of writing and on the second page paste a collage of words and images. This is to be a memory journal, an art object, a personal vision map. Of times past leading to the present opening windows to the future.

It is a fascinating exercise, this using pages of a book to write upon. Past. Present. Future combining on one page. I fast forward. Flip through pages to page 207. Aggie is present here. She's underscored several words. "The Sensual and the DArk rebel in vain,/ Slaves by their own compulsion."

She's underscored 'Sensual', 'Dark', 'Slaves' and 'compulsion'. Above compulstion she's written, 'ignorants'.

I wonder if she twittered nervously like a schoolgirl at the word 'Sensual'. If she blushed and paused nervously before saying the word outloud.

She is present on the page and I am intrigued by The High School Reader from 1886 and a woman named Aggie Mather whom I shall only meet in the past tense of what she wrote in the pages of a book I am using to journal my way into the future.

In the "Introductory" it states, "The ability to read well cannot be attained without much pains and study. For even a moderate proficiency in the art of reading two requirements are essential: (1) A cultivted mind quick to perceive the sequence of thoughts which the words to be read logically express, and equally quick in is power sympathetically to appreciate the sentiment with which the words are informed... (2) a voice so perfected that its utterances fall upon the ear of the listener with pleasing effect.... Of these two requirements the first is undeniably the more important...

I wonder about the 'pains' required to read well. I wonder about how to best cultivate my mind to perceive the sequence of thoughts.

In that perception, the sequence of the future rests, idly waiting for time to appear upon the horizon.

"Hi Aggie, I write. "Nice to meet you. It's one hundred and five years after you wrote your little poem on the inside cover of your High School Reader. The utterances of your pencil fall upon my eyes with pleasing effect. The future of which you once dreamed is here. Hope you like it."

and I close the book. I will return to cast markings on the page, to create another story upon the story told long ago. I shall return, some time in the future, to tell a story beyond the pages of this book that Aggie bought for 60 cents in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six.


Today's entry is part of Blog Carnival over at Peter Pollock's place. Today's one word promt is "future".

To read other entries, click on over to Peter's place and enjoy the creative and varied prose other writers share on the prompt, future.



Mari-Anna Frangén Stålnacke said...

What a delightful post! Thank you! Abundant blessings!

Anonymous said...


perhaps you are in search of an imaginary friend . . . and Aggie serves that purpose

real friends work too ... but you have to call them once in a while!

lunch/coffee later this week?



katdish said...

Oh, Louise! What a find. That's just fascinating.

S. Etole said...

Oh what a treasure you have found!!!

Louise Gallagher said...

LOL -- Mark -- this week is crazy busy -- next week is better.

you're right Kat -- it is a find.

Hi Mari-Anna -- thank you so much for dropping by! I clicked on over to your site and was delighted to make your acquaintance. I listened to the song, Refuse -- fabulous!

I'll be back visiting you.

Hugs everyone,


Claudia said...

wow - this sounds magical louise - you can be fortunate to have found a treasure like this

Joyceann Wycoff said...

This is way cool ... it sounds like the beginnings of a novel that threads its way back and forth through the years until you discover some incredible linkage or insight. Louise and Aggie ... I can hardly wait for the next episode.

A Joyful Noise said...

From the Past came vibrant words from a young teen age girl. Your words writing back to her, cultivate to a present day, and also to a look in the future. This charmer had quite a sense of humor as she wrote her poems to those who would open and share her book. I enjoyed your post very much.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks Joyceann -- I'm enjoying this journalling process!

Thank you Joyful Noise -- what a lovely viewpoint!


nance marie said...

aggie is a cool name.
and interesting to meet someone in this way.
words upon words upon words.

Maureen said...

Great post. Fascinating all the way to the end.

Yours will be an incredibly interesting journal by the time it's filled.

Brandi said...

A great post!! Have to catch my breath :)

Fi said...

What a fantastic idea, I would never have even considered this. I love handwritten journals. As someone smart said to me today - thanks for the inspiration.

Cheers, Fi

Ruth said...

This is a sweet dance between past, present and future. It's a great idea to do this whole process. My friend Inge and I are going away on a writing retreat tomorrow, and I am going to suggest this to her, because she does a lot with memory, especially about her mother.

My dad's mother, whom I never met, had a huge book that she pasted into, a scrap book. It was a real book, with real pages, and she just pasted new pages of journaling or newspaper clippings.

This also brings to mind a little book-poem by Robert Kelly titled Mont Blanc in which Kelly inscribed his own words into Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Mont Blanc" -- thus creating a new poem. It is fascinating, and very like what Aggie and you have done.

Glynn said...

We never know how what we do -- simple things, like writing and underlining in a book, or telling a crying child that it will be okay -- will reverberate a year, or ten years, or a century later. Good post, Louise.

JTS said...

I loved this and the realization that Aggie would be as curious about your life and what the world is like now as you are about hers and back then... what a treasure you've found in that book, and what a lovely concept for journaling!

Your Servant, Christa said...

What a creative and wonderful way to mix in the present with the past! May you learn as you journal!

trisha said...

its so mysterious to think about the people who have read the book you are reading now.

loved the post.