Wednesday, September 26, 2012

summer reading list fail

Sometime in late June, I think it was, I pulled Dostoyevsky off my shelf and took a deep breath. I'm a slow reader, so even with some extra time carved out for reading over the summer, I knew it would take me a while. When I start a book, especially a long one, there's a known threshhold for me that determines whether I'll make it or not. I don't know if this kind of thing has some sort of scientific backing (but I wouldn't be surprised). So I made sure that I had at least an hour to dig in and get to page 30, my magic number.

Then, 10 minutes in, my housemate asked me to watch something with her. (And I guess the really pathetic part is that now I don't even remember what that was!).

From that point it was a struggle. I knew it would be. I kept it in the stack by my bed anyway, determined and shamed by my summer reading list. Then I read that apparently Dostoyevsky isn't summer reading! That's exactly what my intuition had been telling me. So I metaphorically crossed it off my list and put it back on my shelf. One day, old Fyodor, one day.

It's not like any of you are actually closing following my adventures in reading, but I feel obligated to report that my summer reading list was a total fail. Sometimes lists work great for me, and sometimes they show me how my gut knows better than my head and I just need to go with it. Instead of The Brothers Karamozov, I read Steinbeck's East of Eden and loved it. The book opens with pages describing the Salinas Valley in California, and it drew me in right away. I read that some critics found the book heavy-handed, and I can understand why - some of the dialogue, especially when it came to conversations that uncovered the true theme of the book, felt forced to me. But being a huge fan of the meaning and mystery of Genesis, I found the ways this story explicated and modeled what's been true since the fall of creation fascinating.

(Side note: I didn't so much appreciate how Steinbeck basically embodied evil in the main female character, but still was totally drawn in by her. I also forgave him when I met Abra, who was kind and beautiful and helped to redeem one of the main characters.)

I have some other reading to report on soon, one book that I'm finishing up and one that I was just notified is on hold for me at the library. That made my day. Oh, don't you worry, I know I'm a nerd. Too bad geeky intellectual isn't as "in" for women as it is for men right now.:)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

learning to write

When it comes to improving education, I so often hear of schools focusing on reading and math, or on class size or the length of the school day. The Atlantic is starting a discussion about the impact of students learning to write - and not an easy paragraph on their favorite food, but real analytic writing that argues a point and persuades its readers. The first article made me think about the kind of writing instruction I received and how writing still challenges me to think clearly and put my thoughts down in a structure that makes sense, and with words and grammar that communicate clearly.

What do you think? How did you learn to write, and how did it impact your ability to think, reason and communicate?

PS This talk given to international students at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism gives terrific advice for writing with clarity and strength.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

the feel of contact

My morning commutes have been hellish. Not an exaggeration - I can think of few experiences closer to a fiery pit than slogging along a car-packed freeway for 50 minutes to a destination that should take you 15 to reach.

Thank goodness for Morning Edition and my favorite reporter David Greene. The sound of his voice makes me happy.

This morning he reported on minor league baseball player Reid Gorecki. So often we get to hear stories of the outliers - the extraordinary people who do unusually great things, and who get a lot of attention for it. Fun to hear about, and exciting to dream about, but often so far from my own experience. But this guy I could relate to. He has a passion, he's going after it, it's taking time and perseverance and he's had ups and downs. He's even considered quitting to become a firefighter, and that idea remains a very real possibility. The best part of the story was Greene's question at the end: What makes the ups and downs, the long seasons with unknown outcomes, worth it?

Gorecki responds: "Going 3 for 4 with a couple RBIs, couple stolen bases; the feel of contact, solid contact; there's not much better feeling. It drives you to the next at-bat."

That's it, isn't it? We all have our swings and misses - but the feeling of contact, the one home run of our season, it makes it all worth it.

And on a writerly note, I love how this guy describes something so universal in such specific terms. I am a terrible softball player (I never actually make contact), but I get what he's saying and found myself nodding my head at his response. This one goes in the file.

What does making contact look like for you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

let's lighten up

After reading my last post, one of you guys asked if I'm doing ok, and I thought, "uh oh, I've done it again." I know I tend towards melancholy, especially in my writing. Yes, life is hard, but life is also pretty sweet at times and I of all people need to remember to celebrate this.

So, in an attempt to lighten things up around here, I thought we could look at some cute cuddly animals. Let's do it.

Now, if you know me well, you know I don't do animals. Well, a little known secret is that I have a hidden affection for hamsters. I found this awesome costume for the critters, and if I had a hamster, the poor little guy would wear one.

Also, this is probably my favorite commercial ever. Like, ever.

I mean, seriously, who can resist?

Sunshine Mitza

Just writing this post gave me a good laugh. Thank you for indulging my incredibly off-center sense of humor. I'll try to keep it at bay from now on...

Photo credit via here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

river of life, stream of consciousness

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of nature, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.  
By the end of high school, I wanted to run for the city. I know now that most young people feel something like that - that they've outgrown their lives or that there's something bigger waiting for them. Instead, I chose a college in the middle of Amish farms and then dreamt of transferring to the big school in the city where my friend attended. But now I am here - in what, the second largest city in our country? And the most diverse, most spread out, and I'd state pretty confidently, the furthest from nature. On the east coast you drive 10 minutes out of a city, or take a train for a short time, and you're there, in the middle of what feels like nowhere after escaping the shadow of tall buildings and all kinds of streets crisscrossing over and under and through each other. Here, you get on a freeway and drive for miles of city or suburbia. The only place to escape it is up, winding through canyons to unbelievable houses perched on stones or wooden legs.

In the Bible, the psalmists - poets and songwriters - write of water as a a lifeline. There's the good shepherd who leads his flock beside still waters, and the tree planted near a stream who's fruit never fails. It makes me wonder how so many people here survive without something flowing nearby. I'm not writing this to rant, only to explain why, when I realized I needed a vacation, I chose to be close to a river. I needed to hear a flow and see something bigger than myself, but this time something that wasn't man made. The trees and green things grew untamed around it, and I felt a certain relief to be in a place where nothing was manicured. (Maybe it's not a coincidence that since I've been back, I removed my toenail polish and haven't gotten a pedicure, even with bruised nails, and some yellow from always having them colored.)

I've also been very quiet. I haven't written much at all, even with attempts to jumpstart myself. I'm taking a class that starts in a few weeks, and I'm counting on some unseen inner resources to sense the shift and come up with some good ideas. I've been trying to pay attention to what's living - around me and in me - and have been asking for that water to flow, if not in rivers around me, then in springs in me and out of me. And I'm trying to spot indifference - those stagnant waters that look harmless but can kill.