Wednesday, October 22, 2008
In the words of Anna Quindlen:
It is like the rubbing of two sticks together to make a fire, the act of reading, an improbably pedestrian task that leads to heat and light. Perhaps this only becomes clear when one watches a child do it. Dulled to the mystery by years of STOP signs, recipes, form letters, package instructions, suddenly it is self-evident that this is a strange and difficult thing, this making symbols into words, into sentences, into sentiments and scenes and a world imagined in the mind’s eye. The children’s author Lois Lowry recalled it once: “I remember the feeling of excitement that I had, the first time that I realized each letter had a sound, and the sounds went together to make words; and the words became sentences, and the sentences became stories.”
Reading became the pathway to the world, a world without geographic boundaries or even the steep risers of time. There was a time machine in our world, but not the contraption of metal and bolts and motors imagined even by a man as imaginative as H. G. Wells. Socrates was wrong: a reader learns what he or she does not know from books, what has passed and yet is forever present through print. The mating rituals of the Trobriand Islanders. The travails of the Donner Party. The beaches at Normandy. The smoke from the stacks at Auschwitz. Experience, emotion, landscape: the world is as layered as the earth, life cumulative with books. The eyewitnesses die; the written word lives forever.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I recently read a new book, titled "What Now?" by Ann Patchett. The book was based on a speech she gave at her old university, and it is quite well-written. She is a journalist, and has interesting things to say about her journey to become a writer. Like this:
I learned the most from sticking with my dream even when all signs told me it was time to let go. I came to understand that fiction writing is like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dawn, wearing protective gear, then you stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the circumstances you’ve created, because more often than not the ducks don’t show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue, and you realize they’re in love. You see a snake swimming in your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine, and you start to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you get out of the marsh you will have written a novel so devoid of ducks it will shock you.
Friday, August 29, 2008
More from the Queen about the purpose of books:
I agree with the Queen. There is never enough time for all the reading I want to do.
When Sir Kevin tries to understand the Queen's new love of reading:
'I can understand,' he said. 'Your Majesty's need to pass the time.''Pass the time?' said the Queen. 'Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.'
Though I'd love to visit New Zealand and pass the time there.
(And, of course, I'd take a book.)
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I've discovered part of the time I am an amanuensis. Who knew?
‘Yes,’ said the Queen. ‘We would make a good team. Ah, well. The road not travelled. Who’s that?’
‘The road not travelled. Look it up.’
Norman looked it up in the Dictionary of Quotations to find that it was Robert Frost.
‘I know the word for you,’ said the Queen.
‘You run errands, you change my library books, you look up awkward words in the dictionary and find me the quotations. Do you know what you are?’
‘I used to be a skivvy, ma’am.’
‘Well, you’re not a skivvy now. You’re my amanuensis.’
Norman looked it up in the dictionary the Queen now kept always on her desk. ‘One who writes from dictation; copies manuscripts. A literary assistant.’
More words of wisdom from the Queen:
‘Do you read, Summers?’ she said to the chauffeur en route for Northampton.
‘When I get the chance, ma’am. I never seem to find the time.’
‘That’s what a lot of people say. One must make the time. Take this morning. You’re going to be sitting outside the town hall waiting for me. You could read then.’
Seems she knows about stealing.
I just finished reading a fun novella. It was The Uncommon Reader, A Novella, by Alan Bennett. I've never read anything by him before, but apparently he's well known in Great Britain. This book is a fun read, with many parts that made me smile/laugh/grimace I'll share with you.
When the Queen had just picked up her second book from the mobile library:
“The Pursuit of Love” turned out to be a fortunate choice and in its way a momentous one. Had Her Majesty gone for another duff read, an early George Eliot, say, or a late Henry James, novice reader that she was she might have been put off reading for good and there would be no story to tell. Books, she would have thought, were work.And a bit later, as the household began to notice her reading....
As it was, with this one she soon became engrossed, and passing her bedroom that night clutching his hot-water bottle, the duke heard her laugh out loud. He put his head round the door. “All right, old girl?”
‘Of course. I’m reading.’
‘Again?’ And off he went, shaking his head.
This novella was very entertaining. It was interesting to see inside the life of royalty, and see how reading fits/doesn't fit with the duties of being a royal.
Check it out.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
As Lance Larson concluded his talk, he said:
He feels he has merely scratched the surface of the topic. “Last time I checked, which was this morning, taking pen in hand remains a messy, recalcitrant, but invigorating process that resists my attempts to explain it.”
Each of these principles he's covered can easily be applied to other circumstances:
- Read (immerse yourself in the literature of the field)
- Write Daily (takes us to the heart of nearly any discipline)
- Let Writing Lead You (have faith in process of creative process) (Note from me: as I was finding the painting for the last post, I came across a quote that fits so well with this -
"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things." Edgar Degas)
- Revising (revisit and improve early efforts, take advantage of perspective of others)
- Falling in Love with the World and Taking Notes (help cultivate powers of observation otherwise left dormant)
- Insights (garnered from other disciplines will help you see more clearly through your own lens)
Gordon Lish, an editor, had this strategy: He read until he hit a bad line in the submission. If that was on the first line, sorry, you had your chance. If he got to the second page of your ten-page story, you had an excellent chance of being published. He said: “I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see, instead, that perseverance, application, industry, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.”
That's it! I hope it has inspired some of you to write more, or use his points in whatever interest you're pursuing. And, while it's been a terrific talk to listen to and integrate into my life, I'm ready to move on to other books/topics. How about you? Come with me?
6. Immerse yourself in other disciplines
Let other ways of seeing inflect your own vision.
He - the speaker, Lance Larson - is drawn to visual arts. Whenever they go places, they go to museums – his wife’s an artist. She provides a second, and more insightful set of eyes for his projects. They help each other. She helps him know when he’s created a "literary still-life" – not just devoid of life, but dead on the table.He’s written some poems in response to some pieces of art, where the poem is about what he sees in the picture.
NEXT: A wrap up of his talk, putting it all together.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
This is the fifth post in a series about Coaxing the Muse (see previous four posts).
Principle 5 of Writing: Fall in love with the world, and take notes.
Most writers have an innate curiosity about surroundings, they are alive to what’s around them.
Look at Charles Darwin’s journal: As a young student studying at Cambridge, he got caught up in the national mania for collecting and cataloging beetles. The prize was not money or metals or real estate in the Lake District, but credit for discovering a rare six-legged species.
Darwin writes: One day, I’m tearing off some old bark; I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand. Then I saw a third, a new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one, which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas, it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue, so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.
Lance Larson (the speaker) is not advocating a new form of protein, or that we snack on forest foragers, but to help us become alive to what’s around us.
But don’t just observe, take notes. Don’t trust your brain to hold onto things. Most writers carry around of notepad or stack of 3x5s. Old receipts, blank checks, margins of textbooks will also work in a pinch.
His family knows what it means when he reaches for a piece of paper as they’re together – something they said will be recorded for possible future use. His son said: “You be Jesus, and I’ll be the tiger, keeping the wolves away.” That one has made it into an essay, a poem, countless class discussions, and now, this forum. Came when he was four, from the car seat in the back seat of their car.
Why are close observations so important? They are clues, magical breadcrumbs into or out of the woods. Writer who seems small will often see larger connections.
On a trip to John Keats house, in London, his kids (who didn’t understand the significance of the occasion) were busy doing sit-ups on the rug. Instead of writing a “high-minded” poem about the Keats house, he wrote about them doing sit-ups in the Keats house. (It was a great poem “Sit-ups, with Mr. Johnny Keats”) It was detailed and specific, about that period in John Keats life compared to him holding his daughter’s feet while she did sit-ups on the rug.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Principle 4 of Writing: Revise yourself into eloquence.
This works in tandem with principle 3, though it might not seem that way initially.
We are each Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde stuffed in one body: The not-knowing, unpredictable Mr. Hyde, who invents wildly, versus the more measured, logical Dr. Jeykll, who shapes and edits the mess. Writers must find a balance - A tolerant stand-offishness that acknowledges begrudgingly the other’s necessity. If you indulge either side, end up with dreck. Avoid dreck by keeping the balance.
Most of us need someone to look over our shoulder at times and register an opinion. (Editor, writer’s group, etc. Not someone who loves everything you write.)
Throw out any bad lines, or revise them till they are compelling.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
This is the third post in a series about Coaxing the Muse (see previous two posts).
Third Principle of Writing: Let the Writing Lead You.
In his seminal essay titled “Not Knowing”, Donald Barthelme argues:
“The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention....”
The best writers are constantly trying to discover what they didn’t know they knew. As more than one writer has put it, “how do I know my thoughts on a subject until I’ve read what I’ve written?”
Most writers I admire do their best writing when they ask a question they can’t answer, at least at first. Djuna Barnes said “The unknown room is always larger than the known.”
Victor Hugo said: Any poem has at least two subjects: The triggering subject (what causes the writer to compose), and the discovered subject (that which reveals itself only in the writing – serendipitous, intuitive, organic. If we dutifully stick with our first impulse, we will say more and more predictable things, and thus lead the reader into slumberland. By contrast, if we allow ourselves to drift a little, and pay attention to the music of the piece, we’ll make discoveries we hadn’t dreamed of otherwise.
Flannery O’Connor “Good Country People” about a conniving door-to-door Bible salesman and a potential customer, Hulga. At a critical moment in the story, the Bible salesman steals Hulga’s artificial leg. Ironically, this theft humbles Hulga and helps prepare her for God’s grace at the end of the story.
O’Connor explains that she had no idea the salesman would steal the leg until 10 or 12 lines beforehand. Because O’Connor was surprised, her readers feel that surprise on the page.
Allow the story or poem to lead you. Write to figure things out. The awkward and uncooked lets him see what’s on his mind.William Stafford, about writer’s block: I just look out my window and something almost always comes. And if it doesn’t, I just lower my standards.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Part 2 from Coaxing the Muse: Thoughts on the Creative Process
a talk given by Lance Larson, May 22, 2007.
Strategy 2: Write everyday. And if not every day, as regularly as possible. One can find accomplished writers who are “binge writers” – those who write in “fits and bursts,” but they are rare. In his experience, the most successful writers have consistent work habits.
Picasso said, “I don’t know if inspiration exists, but when it comes, it usually finds me working.”
He shared with us the writing schedule of several famous writers – exactly 2000 words before lunch, 8 hours a day, 3 hours a morning, 90 minutes…. The Facility Center on BYU campus encourages 15 minutes a day. More time is encouraged, but 15 minutes will do. That's 75 minutes a week.
He’s found 4 benefits to writing every day:
1) he ends up spending more time writing – he estimates 2 – 3 times as much as before.
2) he spends more quality time, particularly if it is first thing in the morning.
Goethe said, “Use the day before the day. Early morning hours have gold in their mouth.”
3) he stays engaged in a project, more alive to its potential.
“Skip one day, I know it. Skip two days, the work knows it. Skip three, the reader knows it.” (Anon.)
4) he relishes writing time more than ever. It seems like a gift, not an obligation. Like “an ax to the frozen sea within" me (Kafka)
Everyday, he writes from fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. Anything more than that is pure gravy. He still feels a bit embarrassingly inefficient – one who starts eleven poems, finishes 3-4, publishes 2. As Samuel Beckett said: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Tomorrow, Strategy Three!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I've been thinking a lot about writing lately - In fact, really since last October, when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. That primed the pump, so to speak. In January, I started doing some freelance writing for companies over the Internet. Though it isn't that great of writing, and it is low-paying, it is a foot-in-the-door, a "paying my dues" sort of experience. But I'd love to be doing more of it - I'd love to have it pay enough to be a living wage someday. So, I've been doing much more writing lately, and reconnecting with a root choice of "potential occupation" of being an author. (Another root choice would be to be a Librarian, but some of that interest was because I love books and wasn't sure I would be good enough as a writer.)
I was delighted to find on KBYU-TV a speaker that really caught my interest -- Lance Larson, who is a very well-acclaimed (published and awarded) author/poet/essayist. He teaches for BYU (as of the date of this talk, May 22, 2007) in the English department, and has even taught in London at BYU's Study Abroad, teaching English Literature and Creative Nonfiction. Wow. This guy is amazing.
So, his talk was titled "Coaxing the Muse: Thoughts on the Creative Process". Even the title gets me excited! Last night I thought "Ok, I'll listen to it as I fall asleep - if isn't that engaging, I won't bother to go back and finish watching it. (It is on the DVR. Waiting for me to watch again. :-) I love DVR!)
His talk is available online for those who want to listen to it or watch it themselves. If you are patient, over the course of the next few days I'll take you through his whole talk, highlighting the numerous wonderful parts. That will give you some time between (daily) posts to digest and implement his ideas.
Coaxing the Muse: Thoughts on the Creative Process
He begins by telling some of the methods that have been used in the past to tap into "hidden reservoirs of creativity" - from the ancient Greeks who would ask one of the 9 Muses to sing them a song of wisdom, to a phrenologist who would read the bumps on your head to profile your personality, to visiting with Sigmund Freud for two years on his couch.
Lance Larson has several "strategies to help us harness this power we only dimly understand." He wanted to talk about creativity for all areas of life, all interests, but realized that was way too big and broad of a topic. Instead, he decided to talk just about writing creativity. Though he says he still feels in over his head, even with a more limited topic. He quoted T.S. Eliot: If you're not in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? (I like that quote a lot! It has so many applications in life...)
Today, I'll write about his first strategy.
"The first principle of creativity I stress in the classroom, is very simple: Read. If this sounds too simplistic, then let's dress it up: Immerse yourself in the discipline and gorgeous chaos of words."
He told a story about a student who brought him several poems he'd written, and was waiting for him (the professor) to read them and praise him on them. Trouble was, they were really bad. Terribly bad. And he struggles with how to respond. He asked the young man whose poetry inspired him, who kept him up at night, reading. The young man said, "No one. I don't read poetry. I don't want anyone's style rubbing off on me."
Lance Larson says:
"If we don't consciously seek the best model, we unwittingly put ourselves at the mercy of the worst."
And "Sir Philip Sidney's advice, "Fool, look in thy heart and write" works pretty well if you've internalized the English canon and taken in a healthy sampling of the world's literature in translation. It works less well if you limit yourself to what pop culture drops into your lap. Sing-songy nursery rhymes in Kindergarten, faked emotion trapped in greeting cards, advertising jingles for fast food, and the saccharine cooings that leak into our brains when we turn on our car radios. Each writer is a capacious storage tank, containing a lifetime of reading and experience. If this is true, how can we expect refreshing elixirs to pour forth from our spigots if we have filled ourselves with stale pool water and artificial sweetener?
We can change this. My advice - to the young man then, and to would-be writers now -
Devour books - eclectically, intelligently, voraciously.
He says - Listen to what others have said about reading:
- Nobel prize novelist Sabella - a Jewish writer - "Good writers are good readers, moved to emulation". (Love that quote too!)
- Giorgos Seferis - a Greek Poet - "Don't ask me who's influenced me. The lion is made up of the lambs he's digested and I've been reading all my life." (Wow.)
- Daryl Spencer: "Listen, if you're not reading 3 stories a day, you're not in the game."
For his class, the students sign a contract. In it, they agree to read 700 pages beyond regular class reading. It must be literary, not assigned in another class, and previously unread. (Sounds like fun to me!)
Strategy two tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Monday, June 23, 2008
“Our courtship was very much a vegetable affair. By way of thanks I invited her to see my garden, and to my amazement she accepted. She had never grown vegetables herself, she said, and it impressed her to see familiar foods like cabbages rooted to the earth. I showed her how Brussels sprouts grow, attached along the fat main stem like so many suckling pigs. She seemed to need to take in the textures of things, brushing her hands across velvety petals, even rubbing my shirt sleeve absently between her thumb and forefinger as if to divine the essence of a botanist.”
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Ok, I've got something to show those of you who read this blog. Go to the link below and take a look at her wall hanging....go as close as you can!
So much fun - combining quilting and books - two loves...
I wish I had more free time to quilt and read...
I know some of you are not fond of poetry.
I don't like all of it - only certain pieces. Here's one I came across this past weekend, in the Organic Gardening Haiku contest in 2005. (Ok, so I'm a bit late in reading the magazine.)
First, for those who need reminding, a haiku is
"an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively; also : a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference"
Now, enjoy this First Place winner:
The Last GrasshopperNow that's poetry!
Season ends; legs age.
Friends are gone. Why jump alone?
Accept the cat's paw.-Lance Williamson
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I'm currently reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Homeland and Other Stories. I'm sort of impressed. It is a series of short stories - some I like, some are just "ok". The first one I read I found quite interesting - It is the story of a couple who are in their late 30's, trying to decide whether or not to have a baby.
“Lena’s eyes are a very serious, oceanic shade of blue. “What do you really think?” she asked me.
“Well. I have to admit the idea overwhelms me. To rock the boat, just when I feel like I’ve finally gotten my life arranged the right way.” I considered this. “From what I can tell, it’s not even like rocking the boat. It’s like sinking the boat, and swimming for eighteen years.”
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org) (LLLI) is a worldwide organization dedicated to helping mothers and babies with breastfeeding. I've been involved in it - in one capacity or another - for many years. I still am working with the Leader Accreditation Department, accrediting more Leaders to help more moms and babies here in my neck of the woods and throughout the world.
On Sunday, May 25th, Edwina Froehlich (one of the seven LLLI Founders) suffered a stroke. All of us who care deeply about her are waiting, watching, and praying - while we wait for more information. The last we heard, they are still doing some testing, but she is quite old (90+) so expectations are not high. In her honor, as well as the other six Founders (also old but not as old as Edwina), today I will share some breastfeeding and baby related thoughts.
From Your Amazing Newborn, by Klaus and Klaus (I met them - a husband/wife team - at an LLL Area Conference a few years ago.):
"...In addition, when the infant suckles from the breast, special cells in both the mother's and infant's brains secrete oxytocin (also known as the "cuddle hormone") into the brain. Increased brain oxytocin results in slight sleepiness, milk euphoria, a raised threshold for pain and, most appropriately, increased love for the baby."Dr. Naomi Baumslag: "In many parts of the world, a woman would be considered guilt of neglect for weaning a child less than two years old."
And the rest of these are from Seven Voices, One Dream, a book about the history of La Leche League:
Marian Tompson said: "And then one day, as I was leaving Mary's, I was standing on the steps of her house and we were debating for the umpteenth time whether or not to do this. And I finally said, "You know, Mary, if we can help mothers nurse their babies, then we will be helping families, and if we are helping families, we will be helping society. So I think we ought to try it." So that's when we made the decision to go ahead with it."
"Along the way, Mary White became known as the "guardian angel" of the mother-baby relationship. Mary never hesitated to speak out. Circumstances might change, she'd remind the group, but a baby's needs do not."
About people who supported LLL from early on: "Oh, and Dr. Kimball - E. Robbins Kimball. We first heard of him as being very supportive of breastfeeding. We later found out that what had convinced him that breastfeeding was really special was when he was part of the Army liberating the prisoner-of-war camps in WWII. He said that while the adults might be skin and bones, the toddlers that were being breastfed were running around and were healthy. He realized that even if a mother was malnourished, she still could feed her baby very adequately."
I've met all seven Founders, several times. I've co-spoken with a few of them in Area Conference sessions over the years. I love each of them and the work they started. For the sake of my grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, I'm grateful La Leche League exists.
Enough for today. I'll find a picture of Edwina and I together from last year's International Conference to add to this post soon. (now added to the top)
Friday, May 23, 2008
About times with kids when "He's just looking for attention" is uttered or thought:
For years, the standard advice has been to ignore such behavior. I don't get that. We don't say, "He keeps asking for food, but I just ignore him; he's only saying that because he's hungry." We don't say, "Your cup is empty, so I'll make sure you don't get a refill." If someone is looking for attention that bad, I figure they must need some attention! If we give them enough of the good kind, they won't be so desperate that they'll settle for the bad kind.
From The Grim Grotto:
The way sadness works is one of the strangest riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that happy things are tainted with sadness, the way smoke leaves its ashen colors and scents on everything it touches. And you may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.
What other author plays with words as much as Lemony Snicket? Any suggestions?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
One of my favorite quotes:
Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget you have one of your own.That's from bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver, from her book High Tide in Tucson. Hm. I've never read anything by her but I think maybe I'll go pick up that one. In looking online at an excerpt of that essay, I have no clue how that quote fits, but it looks like it would be great reading.
That is why you read it, and might even sit up in bed till dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who--you know perfectly well--are made up.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Did you know that Kenny and Julia Loggins have a wonderful relationship? So wonderful that a few years ago they co-authored a book about it: how it came to be and how it has evolved. It's called The Unimaginable Life: Lessons Learned on the Way to Love.
I really liked this book, as it was wonderful to see how they've fostered such a wonderful relationship. That is the kind of love we can aspire to have. From it, I loved several quotes:
Kenny: They say we pray to God when the foundations of our world are shaking, only to discover it is God who is shaking them.
Kenny: It is not in your nature to live in pain. Pain is a mover, not a residence.
Julia: Trust is the key. Trust your highest selves to expand with infinite flexibility to the beloved's needs. There is no right or wrong, because all feelings and needs are real and valid...What are you biggest fears? What are each of your needs? Allow love and the spoken truth to transform all these tigers into toothless housecats. Remember: the undefended heart travels free of protective armor, and nothing is lighter. It takes years to gather up the weapons, the tools of war and wit that the protected heart needs to carry. The undefended heart can move in the blink of an eye from an unloving posture to a loving one. Trust that you are safe to travel light as angels.
Kenny: To me, being in your power is being who you came here to be. It's about feeling comfortable in your own skin, knowing who you really are, not who you think you're supposed to be. Power is living where fear isn't running your life.
Julia: I do need Kenny to make a decision. I can't stand living in this ambiguity. I'm jumping out of my skin. If I notice a shift in my breathing, a release, then five minutes later I feel panic again. Rather than moving form one complete feeling to the next, as if these hunks of pain are the soap and cereal on my grocery list, they will exist inside me simultaneously. Sometimes my anger seems more predominant than my grief, but I don't move cleanly from one tidy feeling to another - "Oh you're fixed, let's move on to this big, gaping hole over here!" They're all mixed up. When I hear myself saying, "Whatever happens will be perfect," I can't imagine that thirty minutes later I'll be enraged again.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
From The Last Precinct, by Patricia Cornwell.
On the night in question he fell asleep while reading in bed. Not unusual, and it was my cue that I could have my own time now. I crave the silence, the absolute aloneness when the rest of the world is unconscious and not needing something from me.Can you relate to that? I can! Life gets crazy, kids are busy, and chaos reigns supreme! Then, the night comes, the kids are in bed, I can take off my shoes, and start to really relax.
Makes me think of those old Calgon commercials.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
What are you doing this weekend? Maybe the Festival of Books?
If you love books and live anywhere in southern California, you should come. Books, authors, illustrators, poets, speakers, booths, food, freebies, crossword puzzles, etc. You owe it to yourself to go at least once, if you can.
My lifelong love is of children's books. I have a lot of favorite children's books - not just "favorites," but loves. My teenage son was looking for a certain picture book recently at home (Flossie and the Fox, a family favorite) and he ended up with several other long-time favorites in his arms - one was Heckedy Peg...By Don and Audrey Wood. Fun stuff.
In Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children, they describe picture books.
When I am forced to come up with a definition of what makes a good picture book I say that a good picture book is one where the words tell the story without needing pictures and the pictures tell the story without needing words - yet when the two are combined, you cannot imagine them existing apart.Two other quotes from their book that hit home for me:
Read to them every day that you have them. Read to them until they flat out refuse to stay in the same room with you, and then chase them from room to room with the book in your hand, reading aloud.
Reading together needs to be a constant in your children's lives, a promise that you would not break any sooner than you would break your promise to feed them, love them, or make them wear a coat in winter.All good points. For me, going to the Festival of Books is a shot in the arm. I look forward to it every year. It firms up my resolve to read to my kids and to push again to help them develop a love of reading for themselves. My mother asked, "isn't that hard, though, to give up a Saturday for that?" Mom, it would be harder not to.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
Today the book I'll share from is The Reader, by Bernard Schlink. I'm sure I was drawn to it initially by its name, but I soon became engrossed in the story. It's been a few years since I read it, and so I took a look at it again online. As I read what they say about this book, it is obvious that what seemed an interesting story to me was full of all sorts of other, hidden, meanings. Oh well, for me, this was one part that spoke to me then...and speaks to me now.
"Then I looked at Hanna's writing and saw how much energy and struggle the writing had cost her. I was proud of her. At the same time, I was sorry for her, sorry for her delayed and failed life, sorry for the delays and failures of life in general. I thought that if the right time gets missed, if one has refused or been refused something for too long, it's too late, even if it is finally tackled with energy and received with joy. Or is there no such thing as "too late"? Is there only "late," and is "late" always better than "never"? I don't know."
Sometimes, "late" should be better than "never".
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Years ago, when I was in high school, we read The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. I don't remember it very well, just bits and pieces. But more recently I discovered a children's book of hers, The Big Wave. It is about two rural Japanese families (the two young boys are good friends), and the aftermath of a big wave that hits the island.
"I don't think Jiya can ever be happy again," Kino said sorrowfully.
"Yes, he will be happy someday," his father said, "for life is always stronger than death. Jiya will feel when he wakes that he can never be happy again. He will cry and cry and we must let him cry. But he cannot always cry. After a few days he will cry only part of the time. He will sit sad and quiet. We must allow him to be sad and we must not make him speak. But we will do our work and life as we always do. Then one day he will be hungry and he will eat something that our mother cooks, something special, and he will begin to feel better. He will not cry any more in the daytime but only at night. We must let him cry at night. But all the time his body will be renewing itself. His blood flowing in his veins, his growing bones, his mind beginning to think again, will make him live."
"He cannot forget his father and mother and his brother!" Kino exclaimed.
"He cannot and he should not forget them," Kino's father said. "Just as he lived with them alive, he will live with them dead. Someday he will accept their death as part of his life. He will weep no more. He will carry them in his memory and his thoughts. His flesh and blood are part of them. So long as he is alive, they, too, will live in him."
Other civilizations' thoughts about mourning make a lot of sense to me.
Today, I may be mourning a loss. I may cry a lot - maybe all the time. But tomorrow, I will not cry so much. And over time, I will get back to living. Kino's father assured me of that.
Monday, April 14, 2008
I'm reconsidering going back to school to become what I thought I wanted to be when I grew up. (Apparently there will be a lot of job openings in my preferred field within the next 5-10 years, and the increase in technology has changed the job but not negated the need for it. On the other hand, maybe I'm too old to bother with finishing my degrees at this point?)
Anyhow, reminded me of a insightful bit from "Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief," by Bill Mason:
"I think what's actually going on is that childhood is like an allergy test for talent. If you've ever been tested for allergies, you know that the doctor rubs your skin with hundreds of different substances until one of them raises a welt. In the same way, a kid comes across hundreds of opportunities to uncover some latent talent until one of them hits, and then his course in life starts to take on some direction. Sometimes it's obvious, like when a seventh-grader is six feet tall and can dribble a basketball blindfolded with either hand, or a grade-schooler builds a radio out of old washing-machine parts.
Sometimes it's not so obvious, as in my case. I could climb trees like a monkey and take apart all kinds of machines and put them back together; there was little that frightened me and I could keep my mouth shut while listening. But so what? How did these things add up to a career?
It wasn't until I went out and tried to steal something that I realized what my odd collection of skills might be good for."
Sigh. Unfortunately, that doesn't help me decide in my situation...I know I have interest and "talent"...Now I'm up against the calendar. Suggestions?
Friday, April 11, 2008
Tomorrow, I'll be singing in a double trio for a special women's program at church. I'll be singing as a 2nd Soprano, which is normally fine. I'm fairly flexible, when I sing....Trouble is, I haven't been singing much lately. (Well, at least "official" singing. Singing along with the radio without an audience doesn't quite count.) And, unfortunately, my voice really shows it. I feel really congested in my throat, most of the time. We've had a few practices over the past week or so, and every time I'm frustrated as it takes quite a while for my voice to be where it "should" be, and I know I'm not singing as well as I used to. Plus this is a hard 2nd Sop part...very tricky harmonies. Even my co-2nd Sop -who sings a lot- is struggling to consistently get the right notes.
Part of me wishes I could just get "sick" and forget the whole thing - I don't want to embarrass myself or my fellow singers! But then I remember it isn't all about me.
From Songs From My Heart (by Janice Kapp Perry, who writes amazing songs):
"A wise old Hawaiian woman chastised me when I declined to sing a solo at a [religious meeting]. Holding back was a sign of pride, she said. Just stand up, do your best, and look to the Lord for your approval, not the world, she instructed me. I took her advice, and I've been singing ever since."
My singing may not be the greatest, but if it is uplifting and helps the women feel good about themselves and their role in the world...I'll have done my job.
We'll still warm up before singing tomorrow morning...and somehow, I'll find my voice.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
This is not a post about cars. Not at all - except for in their function as a bookcase. Some of us just can't fathom being caught without! Frankly, that's probably my phobia - of being stuck somewhere, waiting, with nothing to do....I wonder if there's a name for that?
Anyhow, check this out:
One of my favorite sentences is the eye-catching first one. Had to read it twice, I admit!
Glad I came across this gem.
Last Sunday night, I was feeling really stressed. I just needed to hide away from the rest of the family and do something basic...something for me. I ended up cleaning out a couple of boxes of "stuff" - you know, the piles of things that you keep because you want to read it, or you like it, or it is from your childhood. Maybe it is something "good" that while you may not know what to do with it, you know you shouldn't just throw it away...it could be useful!
There's a great book that deals with these issues - in more ways than you can imagine - called "Unclutter Your Life: Transforming Your Physical, Mental, and Emotional Space" by Katherine Gibson.
"We discovered that battling clutter isn't a one time thing but a continuous process. It requires a shift from impulsive acquisition to being mindful about what we bring into our home, minds, and hearts. It means pitching what doesn't serve us and enhancing our lives to make room for what does. Most importantly, remaining uncluttered means examining our relationship with our stuff."
So what is "clutter"?
Clutter, defined by Karen Kingston: "things that we don't use or love, too many things in small spaces, and anything unfinished." Clutter also extends beyond the physical and into our emotional and spiritual well-being, surfacing in negative, life-limiting thoughts; relationships with toxic people; and disruptive or abusive situations."
Hm. When I re-read those, I see I need to go back and re-evaluate more of the clutter in my life - both in the boxes and beyond.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
I really like the book Playful Parenting.
The author's got a great sense of humor. For example, when one child comes to him to complain about the other....:
"Hmmmmm, this sounds like a bad case of it all started when she hit me back."
But he's also quite wise. About the importance of identifying the reason for a child's misbehavior - and why it is important to not go on auto-pilot:
"It doesn't make much sense to say: You are feeling bad, so I'm going to yell at you. You are lonely, so I am going to send you to your room. You are feeling disconnected from other people, so I am going to hit you. You're hungry, but I"m going to take your toys away instead of feeding you. Absurd! Punishment enters into the scene because of our own feelings: I am mad, so I'm going to yell at you. I am frustrated, so I am going to have a temper tantrum. I am scared, so I am going to scare you. I've had a hard day, so I'm going to take it out on you."
Along the same lines,
"Emotional competence means that we have a dimmer switch, instead of just an on-off button, on our feelings. We want children to be able to express strong feelings in a modulated way, safely and respectfully, but directly. We don't want them to have a switch that is stuck on off, or that can't be shut off at all."
Don't you love the way he writes - and his ideas?
Friday, March 28, 2008
These last few weeks I've been able to spend more one-on-one time with my youngest son. With none of the rest of the family around, we spend the time doing whatever we want to do - so far, it's been trips to the library and long walks geocaching (oops, this week he played his favorite game on the computer without brothers helping and I finally tried the creme brulee recipe I'd been meaning to attempt - while checking in with him periodically), but I'm sure it will expand to other activities as time goes on. It is fun to have him alone and listen to him talk. And talk. And talk.
Reminded me of a terrific book called "Playful Parenting," by Lawrence Cohen. I read it a few years ago, while more of my kids were little, and a lot he said made great sense. I wish I had heard his ideas years before...
From the book:
Tuning in does not mean questioning our children about every little detail of their lives. Instead, tell an interesting story from your day; they might respond with one of their own. Another mistake we make is cutting them off when they are talking about "unimportant" things, or when they are chattering away about nothing, or when they are repeating themselves. Then, later, we expect them to tell us what we want to hear. That's not fair. We have to listen patiently to their way of telling things, even when it is excruciatingly dull to us, if we want them to get around to telling us the good stuff. Understandably, they want to know that we are really listening and aren't going to interrupt them or scold them, before they are going to share anything important with us.
Now that I'm listening more...yes, he's sharing more.
Stay tuned these next few posts for more from this terrific book. Your kids and grandkids will benefit. (If you don't have kids now, file this info away for when you do...please.)
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Like you, sometimes I wonder why we have to go through some painful times - if you haven't had a painful time, don't rest yet they will come - - For a different perspective on the painful times, try this:
From The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
All of my days in Egypt had been spent in that house, and looking back on them in the night air, I recalled little but good: the scent of my infant son and the face of Nakht-re, cucumbers and honeyed fish, Meryt's laughter and the smile of new mothers to whom I delivered healthy sons and daughters. The painful things - Werenro's story, Re-nefer's choice, even my own lonliness - seemed like the knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place. My eyes filled as I bade farewell to those days, but I felt no regret.
A good book, worth the read. About people in Biblical times - and the purpose of the red tent will be unforgettable (particularly for women).
Monday, March 24, 2008
According to Toni Flores:
The world is full of wonders, riches, powers, puzzles. What it holds can make us horrified, sorrowful, amazed, confused, joyful. But nothing in it can make us bored. Boredom is the result of some pinch in ourselves, not of some lack in the world.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This Easter weekend will be filled with visits with family of various generations - including visiting my mother who is an amazing quilter. Luckily, the genes have been passed down, but more about that some other time. This time, here are a few quotes I enjoyed from "The Cross-Country Quilters" by Jennifer Chiaveria - Just in time for a few days of working on and admiring quilts.
"Donna said, 'I have no many projects in the works that I won't possibly live long enough to finish them all."
How many of us have that "problem?" I can't be the only one! The trick is in identifying which projects are urgent, which will be fine set aside, and which are best given up entirely, along with the guilt we feel whenever we see them still unfinished.
Here's one answer (from the same book):
"You should do what my mother does," Megan said. "She keeps each of her works-in-progress in a separate box labeled with the name of one of her friends. If, God forbid, she should pass away unexpectedly, each friend will receive the box with her name on it and think my mother was working on a quilt especially for her. She used the names of women she doesn't get along with, too. She says it's a great way to make sure she has plenty of guilt-ridden, sobbing mourners at her funeral."
Incidentally, my grandmother was also a wonderful quilter, and made quilts for each of her grandchildren - there were a lot of us! Most of them had already gotten their quilt when she passed away, or their quilt top was finished, labeled with their name, and folded, awaiting quilting. There were a few of us grandkids who weren't born yet when she died, but somehow, she'd already started quilts for us, too! While I was engaged, my mother, sisters, and brother found there were the perfect number of "rings" (it was a double wedding ring quilt), added a bit more of the solids, and finished the top. It was quilted for my wedding and I love it! I confess, I don't use it all the time - I'm worried it won't last long enough with all the kids....Someday I'll put it back on the bed all the time.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I see over and over examples of how we have let our "intuition" and "common sense" be over run by what the media and others tell us...
From How Weaning Happens, by Diane Bergson, when she writes of primitive societies:
(Note: The name of the society is the !Kung, with an upside-down exclamation mark at the beginning. Since I have no clue how to make one here, I'll use a right-side up one.)
"In the book Childhood, author Melvin Konner tells about reading a passage to a !Kung woman from Dr. Benjamin Spock about the importance of having schedules and ignoring the baby's cries while you work about the house. Dr. Konner explains the mother's reaction: "The !Kung mother looked bemused and disapproving. 'Doesn't he understand he's only a baby, and that's why he cries?' she said. 'You pick him up and comfort him. Later, when he grows older, he will have sense, and he won't cry anymore.'" Dr. Konner adds, "the !Kung bet on maturation - and they have never yet had a child who didn't outgrow crying."
And we consider them "primitive"? Seems like we are the "primitive" ones, at least when we neglect our offspring...
Monday, March 17, 2008
I know, I sort of answered this one with my first post, which was not that long ago. But, for those of you who are curious about specifics, here are the quotes I copied into my writing journal that night I got inspired to share these with the rest of you:
From Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz:
"This story begins on a Tuesday. For you, that is the day after Monday. For me, it is a day that, like the other six, brims with the potential for mystery, adventure, and terror.and
You should not take this to mean that my life is romantic and magical. Too much mystery is annoying. Too much adventure is exhausting. And a little terror goes a long way."
"Dreams that are rich as cream while they unfold are skim milk when we wake, and in time they wash out of our minds, leaving as little residue as water filtered through cheesecloth."Any wonder why I like his style of writing? He's a master.
I just started reading the sequel, Forever Odd. We'll see what gems it will produce.
How about you? What are you reading that leaves you thinking "I gotta write that down!" (or mark it with a post-it flag until you've read it several more times, before the book is due at the library or you've finished and are putting it on your bookshelf...or that you want to share with someone else...?)
Friday, March 14, 2008
In those days I was many whats. A kid can be that. Grown-ups have gone ahead and answered the question: "What shall I be?" They have tossed out all the whats that don't fit and have become just one. Teacher. Truckdriver. Businessperson. But a kid is still becoming. And I, as a kid alone, was free to be just about anything.
So many careers came and went through me: salamander finder, crawfish annoyer, flat-stone creek skipper, cedar chest smeller, railroad car counter, tin can stomper, milkweed blower, mulberry picker, snowball smoother, paper bag popper, steel rail walker, box turtle toucher, dark-sky watcher, best-part saver. They didn't last long, these careers of mine, but flashed into and out of existence like mayflies. But while they employed me, I gave them an honest minute's work and was paid in the satisfactions of curiousity met and a job well done.
Be sure you're trying out plenty of whats.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Chalons-sur-Marne, Winter, 1971
The barracks at the Gunnery School.
When it comes to assigning details, Private So-and-So (serial number 14672/1, well known to the service) systematically volunteers for the least desirable, most disgusting detail, the one usually handed out as a punishment, that has tried the bravery of greater men: the legendary, infamous, unnameable latrine detail!
With the same half-smile.
"Who wants latrine detail?"
He steps forward.
With a sense of mission, as if he were going off to storm Hamburger Hill, he grabs the mop and pail, his company colors, and marches off, much to the relief of his fellow soldiers. He's a brave man. No one follows him. The rest of the company lies low in the trenches for more honorable details.
The hours go by. Where has he gone? We almost forgot him. We did forget him. But just before noon, he shows up with a salute to the sergeant. "Latrines clean as a whistle, sir!" The sergeant receives the mop and pail. He'd like to ask the question that's on his mind, but basic human respect stops him. Private So-and-So salutes again, turns on his heels and marches off, his secret still intact.
The secret is contained in that thick book in his uniform pocket: the 1,900 pages of Gogol in a paperback college edition. The complete works. Fifteen minutes of noxious detail, and he's free to spend the rest of the morning with Nikolai Gogol.
Every morning through the winter, seated comfortably on a throne in a locked stall, Private So-and-So soars far above latrine detail. Nikolai Gogol, down to the last word!...
The army likes to celebrate its exploits.
But of this one, only two lines remain, written high up on the edge of the water closet. They are among the most meaningful in all contemporary poetry:
It's no lie when I tell you, pedagogue,
That I read all of Gogol in the bog.
(*While we're on the subject, old Georges Clemenceau, aka "The Tiger," another famous fighter, thanked his chronic constipation, without which, so he said, he would never have had the pleasure of reading Saint-Simon's Memoirs.)
From "Better Than Life," the book.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Wait - that may not sound right. Before you react too strongly, read these excerpts from "Better Than Life," that awesome book I talked about in the last post (or was that the first post?).
"Time spent reading, like time spent loving, increases our lifetime. If we were to consider love from the point of view of our schedule, who would bother? Who among us has time to fall in love? Yet have you ever seen someone not take time to love? I've never had the time to read. But no one has ever kept me from finishing a novel I loved."
"Time spent reading is always time stolen. Like time spent writing, or loving, for that matter. Stolen from what? From life's obligations. Which is probably why the subway - the very symbol of life's many obligations - is the world's largest reading room."
"If you have to ask yourself where you'll find the time, it means the desire isn't there. Because, if you look at it more carefully, no one has the time to read. Children don't, teenagers don't, adults don't. Life is a perpetual plot to keep us from reading. 'Reading. I'd love to, but what with my job, the kids, the housework, I don't have the time.' 'You have so much time to read - I envy you!'"
Please - learn to steal.
Steal bits of time for reading - on the bus or subway, at long stoplights, at night before bed, in the bathroom, wherever. Steal it from your life's obligations. You'll be better off for it.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
My "reading journal" is a blank book into which I copy quotes, stories, conversations, etc. - ones that I've come across in my reading that I don't want to lose forever. You know how it is, you read something great, and later try to remember where you read it and how it went. I was tired of that happening.
So, of course, after I added the new quotes to it I had to flip around, re-reading things I've written in there before. As it always does, it brought me to tears - so many beautiful quotes!
I'm not much of a blogger...But I decided to give it a shot.
The title of this blog makes reference to "Better Than Life", a book by Daniel Pennac. It was translated from the French years ago. I can't remember where I heard of it, but it sounded like something I might enjoy, so I requested it through the library (I don't buy many books). It was so inspiring and hit me so hard that I instantly went online to find a copy. I didn't care if it was gently used - aka "previously enjoyed" - and I bought my copy and a few extra copies to give away when I felt so inspired.
It is a wonderful book about helping children learn to love to read. He includes what he calls "The Readers Bill of Rights" - and, boy, do they hit home! I love the way he writes - very engaging - and so many parts got copied into my reading journal. Here's his "The Reader's Bill of Rights" - see if you "get" them:
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes
If you haven't read it yet, it is time to.
A different cover than any of my copies, but the same guts http://www.amazon.com/Better-Than-Life-Daniel-Pennac/dp/1571103171
And one more quote from the book, to whet your appetite for what's to come -
"For a reader, one of life's pleasures is the silence after the book."