On Reading and Pondering Deeply

Freedom Friday, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

Second Sokkai Gakkai president Josei Toda urged young people to read good books and to ponder things deeply. Even though Toda died in 1958, this advice is relevant today and is great encouragement for everyone. And, in fact, is a way to stay youthful despite your physical age.

What makes a book “good” to begin with? Is it informative? Inspirational? Energizing? Does it make you see things differently? Laugh? Perhaps good books do all of these things. Perhaps something else entirely.

books-158066_640A good book enriches me. It nourishes me in some way. A good books speaks to me, even if it’s a psychological thriller with a love story at its center.

A good book is not only worth reading, it is worth rereading. You come to it again to unlock new lessons, discover new images, uncover subtle nuances. It may touch you differently because of who you are this year, or what happened to you last season. Or because you’re finally ready to deal with that twenty-year old trauma. But sometimes you just want to check in on your favorite characters and reminisce about old times.

As for pondering deeply, many  refuse ponder at all, much less deeply. Social media platforms are filled with incoherent ramblings from knee-jerk reactions to hearsay. Some who claim to have researched a hot-button issue have limited their reading to the title of click-bait, which is designed to be sensational rather than informative.

Pondering is slow. Much slower than the skim-swipe-share culture of today. It requires one to engage with one’s brain and with a variety of ideas.

Pondering is dialogue, not declaration.

It is inquiry rather than assumption.

It is research and reflection, not regurgitation.

I wonder if in 2015 we can slow down, read good books and ponder things deeply. Let’s engage each other in conversations (on social media and in real life) grounded in wisdom, thoughtfulness, and respect for diverse views.

Magical thinking. Mixed feelings.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Text Talk

I’m reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It’s wonderfully written, yet halfway in, I’m not sure I like the book. Well, the book I like. It’s my relationship to the book that puts me ill at ease.

I came to the book from several sources.

One. A mentor/advisor recommended it once she discovered my renewed interest in journalism and creative writing. She spoke highly of the author in general and this book in particular, so I added to my ever-growing List of Books to Read.

Two. Every now and again I review the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and add them to the similarly growing, often overlapping List of Writers to Know.

Three. Pearl Cleage’s newest book arrived amidst much fanfare, and more than once I saw Joan Didion’s name referenced as a peer. As in, this book is autobiographical/confessional and brings to mind other well-read writers like Joan Didion.

Four. In the aforementioned book, Pearl notes Joan’s work (although not this offering – it hadn’t been written at the time). As it was already on two Lists, and her name was becoming a steady fixture in my consciousness, I finally ordered it.

So, the book…The very first page compels. Yet soon thereafter, I’m repelled. She’s exploring her husband’s sudden death, and it’s so well done, I feel it.

Having experienced my mother’s death up close (albeit 11 years ago), much of what she wrote hit notes I wasn’t prepared to experience. The circumstances and the relationship were different, but the trauma and the grief remain true.

I put it down for a day or so.

I picked it up again and found myself, at turns, congratulating myself and questioning the book. Congratulations because I saw whispers of my writing style in hers, and I thought this might be a good mentor text for professional development. Questions because, unlike Pearl’s book which seemed to edify and affirm something in me, Joan’s book felt more… I hesitate to say it… self-serving?

I believe in the power of storytelling, yet something about this storytelling seems to serve the teller. Which is an interesting critique given my praise of Pearl as her journals were originally meant to serve herself. Pearl didn’t write them to publish them. She wrote them to reflect. I don’t know if Joan set out to document this period in her life so she could publish it, or decided later on the story could be valuable. It certainly can be. I’m sure it has been.

To be fair, I’m at the halfway point. And maybe the crux of my resistance is the emotion. Because her writing is so clear, because she lets you inside the black box, you know and witness and feel everything. Which is good writing, great writing, but a bad feeling if that’s not the feeling you want.

So I have mixed feelings. I like the book, but I don’t love it. I do plan to finish reading it.

Did you read it? What did you think of it?

I want to be free.

Personal Narrative, Text Talk

I didn’t get the chance yesterday, but I’m back to reading Pearl’s book today. It’s so great. What makes it great? The truth! It’s just life shouting out at you from the pages. Sometimes I recognize myself at various turning points. Sometimes I see where I want to be later in my journey. All the times I’m just enjoying truth line by line.

It’s funny. It’s emotional. It’s thoughtful. It’s lots of things. The reading of it thus far has changed my relationship to writing. Partially because she’s written many of my own thoughts and I can see, at least vicariously, where some of them end up over time. But mostly because it’s encouraging.

We know how things turn out later for her, and it’s this pushing, prodding, growing process we are privy to on the pages of her book. Growing is tough. She doesn’t shield us from that.

We need more of that.

20140422-143520.jpgFebruary 4, 1980
I know we are not going to make it. I think he knows it, too.

I don’t want to feel crazy and unhappy.
I want to be writing.
I want to be myself and be clearheaded and strong and beautiful.
I want to make myself as perfect as I can be.
I want to make myself as wondrous as I can be.
I want to be free.

From Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, by Pearl Cleage. 

Dreams, obligations and learning to say no.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

How many minutes per day are enough to set aside for your dreams when you have a full 25 hours of obligations?

Blue posed this question to me last week. I was between two appointments and missing Tananarive Due’s Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism at Spelman College. (#OctaviaButlerSpelman). I was disappointed, but thanks to social media, I caught some of the proceedings later via live stream.

Blue’s question was a good one. He offered a response: Maybe the secret is minimizing your obligation footprint.

But how?

In the past my approach has been to start with dreams instead of waiting to fit them in later. “Later” isn’t tangible. In fact, by definition, later is always some time other than the present. Starting with dreams means waking before sunrise to tackle priorities. Or it means designing the day with hard breaks for non-negotiables.

In general, obligations take up more space than they’re due. Portrayed as sprawling affairs, they cover time and consciousness they simply don’t deserve. They’re akin to shadow puppets. They play games with light, appearing bigger or smaller in response to our motivation and energy levels.

But let’s be real. Creative scheduling and clarity of purpose do not absolve us of obligations. And despite our best efforts, sometimes they pull rank, and demand healthy portions of our limited attention. But then, what happens to our dreams?

Time is a finite resource, and minimizing your obligation footprint can mean being more efficient, but it also means cutting away that which doesn’t truly move you forward.

yes-238371_640I’ve spent the past couple of days cuddled up with Pearl Cleage’s latest. I’m underlining and starring key points, and alternating between laughing (or gasping) aloud and reading aloud as audience permits.

In the first section of the book she whines, schemes and strives to create time for things that are most important. Eventually, she quits a job that makes her unhappy so she can focus on living her life instead of lamenting about it.

Last May I came across  Learning to Say No, an essay Pearl penned for Essence Magazine in 2004. In it, she said she was a recovering yes-woman:

I realized there was only one way to stop saying yes when I meant no, and that was to understand that I wasn’t just giving up an hour or two here, or a Saturday afternoon there, but the precious, irreplaceable moments of my life. And I decided to stop doing it.

She lights on a specific moment in her life and the circumstances of the essay dovetail with the journal entries detailing her resignation and new departure. She said no to obligations that didn’t serve her, so she could say yes to the priorities that would. We can learn to do that with the big issues of our lives, but it’s also good practice for vetting the energy vampires in our day-to-day. More wisdom from Pearl’s essay:

That night I came up with six questions that I hoped would help me reclaim my life. I call them The Big Six, and I offer them here for one simple reason: They work. Next time someone asks you a question that requires a yes or no answer, ask yourself the following:

    1. What am I being asked to do?
    2. Who is making the request?
    3. Who will benefit from this activity?
    4. What do I want to do?
    5. What will happen if I say no?
    6. What will happen if I say yes?

Wishing you the perfect balance of no, yes and joyful reclamation.

xoxo

Quote of the day

Text Talk

You must never slacken in your efforts to build new lives for yourselves. Creativeness means pushing open the heavy door to life. This is not an easy struggle. Indeed, it may be the hardest task in the world. For opening the door to your own life is more difficult than opening the doors
to the mysteries of the universe.
~Daisaku Ikeda

Philip Hall and other loves

Text Talk

Judy Blume holds a place of honor in my childhood. She was far and away my favorite author, and if I didn’t read all of her books growing up, it wasn’t from lack of effort.

Although she was firmly number one, I loved many books by many writers. Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. Danny, the Champion of the World and Cheaper by the Dozen, were among the novels I read countless times. Some of my favorites still grace my bookshelves even now – either the original copies I read growing up, or new copies I bought as an elementary school teacher.

My most cherished memories of teaching 4th grade include reading great books aloud to my students, engaging them in novel studies, or helping them make their way through their first truly satisfying reads. I just love young adult and juvenile literature.

After I stopped teaching, I became a full-time graduate student. My days and nights were filled with nonfiction. The required readings never grabbed me like a good novel, and I often lamented the lack of time to read one. I had to squeeze in novels during semester breaks as treats (I’m looking at YOU Harry Potter books).

Although adult fiction is sometimes hilarious, delicious or otherwise moving (32 Candles, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God), I don’t think there’s anything quite like good children’s literature.

Earlier today I finished Make Lemonade, a poignant, free verse novel by Virginia Euwer Wolff. My work often demands I read volumes of informational text, but I’ve been determined to explore more young adult novels and children’s books. 

I’d like to read all the award-winning books from 2014 for starters, and (eventually) make my way through the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King and Lee & Low New Voices lists.

But some great books don’t win awards, and here’s where you come in… What’s on your list of must-reads? Novels and picture books welcomed!

New Year’s Eve

Personal Narrative, Text Talk

It’s here. The last day of 2013. Can you believe it?

I awoke to find an email from WordPress, detailing the milestones and stats for the year. My top posts included a brief remembrance of my mother, Marla’s narrative on living with lupus, and the introduction of the Joy Jar – a beautiful idea I may revisit in the coming year.

I also began writing about sexual violence and I spent a good deal of time pondering a theory of love, something I plan to do a great deal more of in 2014. My thinking and writing are always evolving and it’s enlightening to see what resonates from month to month and year to year. I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey.

Wherever you are in space and time, I hope you are winding down the year with an abundance of peace and joy. I pray the dawning year is full of beauty, love, and good cheer. And if you should wish it, a standing ovation…

wonder“Bravo!” I heard Dad yelling through his hands.

“Why is everyone getting up?” I said.

“It’s a standing ovation,” said Mom, getting up.

So I got up and clapped and clapped. I clapped until my hands hurt. For a second, I imagined how cool it would be to be Via and Justin right then, having all these people standing up and cheering for them.

I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.

What are you creating?

Productivity, Text Talk

I’ve come across a lot of things worth sharing as of late. Long ago I used this space, not only for musing, but also for sharing news articles or other things of interest. Sometimes a video catches my eye. Other times, it could be a picture. Today, it’s a word. Something to ponder:

There is no one lonelier or more unhappy than a person who does not know the pure joy of creating a life for himself or herself. To be human is not merely to stand erect and manifest intelligence or knowledge. To be human in the full sense of the word is to lead a creative life. ~Daisaku Ikeda

Ask questions

Abolition & Justice, Education, Text Talk

As a graduate student, one of my favorite topics of discussion and research was inquiry. Asking questions, conducting investigations, and building knowledge through exploration are powerful tools for thinking and learning. As I continued in my studies, I learned of critical inquiry, which expands the idea of questioning to include a political or sociocultural lens. Developing conscientização, or critical awareness/awakening, is akin to taking the red pill. You start to ask sociopolitical questions and suddenly  you are hard-pressed to see anything as flat, uncomplicated or devoid of nuance. This isn’t a negative thing, but it makes for interesting conversations.

The Meaning of FreedomI mention all of this to introduce a quote by Angela Davis. I’m currently reading The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,  a compilation of speeches she delivered between 1994 and 2009. One thing I appreciate about Dr. Davis’ work is her constant admonition to reflect upon, reconsider, and rethink long-held ideas about “normalcy.” In her speech titled Race, Power and Prisons Since 9/11, she discusses the embodiment of evil and its requisite opposite good, xenophobia, militarism and the ever-expanding punishment industry. Although this is the context for the excerpt below, it’s a salient word, and useful for all serious thinkers reflecting on the world.

Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It is incumbent on us to think, to question, to be critical, and to recognize that if we do not interrogate that which we most take for granted, if we are not willing to question the anchoring ground of our ideas, opinions and attitudes, then we will never move forward.
~Angela Davis