Book Fairs Are Better Than Hospitals

I visited the Newberry Library Book Fair this past weekend. Apparently, it’s one of the best book fairs in Chicago (well, according to Newberry Library…) with over 120,000 titles for sale.



This was the biggest room of books, by far, but there were five other rooms besides this one. GLORY.

The fair had already been going a few days when I finally managed to visit, so the tables were plenty picked over. I can only imagine what it looked like the first day. I still managed to find a couple things, but I mostly just liked being there. So many nice, introverted people wearing glasses, you know?

It was good being out and amongst my people, but I had trouble feeling present since we had some drama at home the night before. At dinner, my two-year old son had an anaphylactic reaction to, well, we’re not even sure what yet. My husband and I are old pros at dealing with allergic reactions (my oldest son has a crazy severe allergy to peanuts), but it’s terrifying every time. I mean, I had to shoot my baby up with epinephrine, call 911, ride in an ambulance, and sit with him for a few hours in the hospital while doctors loaded him up with steroids. It was awful. I know it could have been worse. I’ve read plenty of stories from parents of children who have suffered much worse. (I can’t even…) But it still sucked. Food allergies are no joke. Anyway, my heart just wasn’t in the book-filled moment. I ended up leaving the fair pretty early and coming back home.

The weird thing, though, is that I can’t stop thinking about this one thing (completely unrelated to anything I’ve said above, by the way) that happened while we were at the hospital. About fifteen minutes before we were discharged, a nurse rolled an older guy past our half-curtained door, and a few minutes later we hear him shouting, “Fuck you! Fuck you, you fucking cunt! Get the fuck away from me! FUCK YOU!” He went on like that for ten minutes. Just a full ten minutes straight of telling that poor woman to fuck off. Maybe ten minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to be cursing at the top of your lungs, but I have to say, after witnessing it, it really does take commitment.

The point is that, as I sat there listening, it occurred to me how unimpressive and pointless it is to be mean. At least mean like that. I am all for acknowledging and working out conflict–and, truthfully, there will always be a place in my heart for the calm, on-point, perfectly-executed comeback (though it often eludes me). And I don’t want to be too harsh with that guy, because he was probably on something and not in his right mind…

But, still. Hearing someone verbally vomit over another human being, to hear him lash out so harshly, completely unfiltered, with the sole purpose of wounding and degrading… I don’t know. Sometimes I have these moments when I think, “If I had just shut that person down. If I had just said exactly what I thought of her, I would feel better now.” But I think maybe there is enough of that in the universe. Maybe it feels like strength in the moment to be a complete dick, but I wonder if the more admirable thing to do is contain it. To keep your anger, fear, irritation, hate, insecurity, whatever to yourself. To sit with it for a bit, take time to process, and only then open it up if it all still feels important.

Then again, I’m at a point in my life when I realize I’ve been “containing” way too much for far too long, and that obviously isn’t good either. There’s got to be something in between “Fuck you, you cunt,” and “Everything sure is rosy!” I guess the trick is finding that sweet spot.


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