Reading Countdown

The alchemy of the school year has simmered down now. English teachers are in a pressure cooker the last month of any semester. We’re assigning and then grading and then upset at ourselves for not leaving that one last essay out of the curriculum this year. I had nightmares that last week during final exams. They woke me up in bed and had me saying the old and true: it was just a dream; go back to sleep. Let it go.

I don’t envy being a student during finals, and I’m sure being a teacher is not any easier. But in the context of how so many careers work, teaching rewards us with long breaks which keep us at the pulse of our own high school days. That ensuring rhythm keeps an aging part of us connected to youth through its pattern and exposure.

Crazily, I’ve experienced two novels as an escape when I couldn’t squeeze any more time from a turnip to devote to social and work commitments: Camus’ The Stranger and Morrison’s Sula. Both texts have me looking at the fire glowing and steaming in the fireplace a little longer, a little deeper. 

Even as an English teacher, I appreciate this reminder of what I tell my students all the time: we read to be human. It’s through a gifted artist’s perception and patience that humans get a private chance to become better humans, to understand where our judgments come from and how at a tip of an angle, they can change distinctly, offering just enough pause that can redirect our lens just so. 

If you’re still out there shopping today and don’t know what to get, consider two things: one is any version of this keyboard (which I’m using now as one tributary-goal to be more tech efficient), and second is this short list of texts, mostly oldies and some of which I’ve referenced here before, to complement your generous heart:
1) Ann Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea. This is hands down one of my favorite ones to share. It’s perfect for a woman to read, and it’s even better for a man to know. I’ve written with it countless times. Buy a thousand copies. 
2) Albert Camus The Stranger. This is not for the friend who likes to read books on how to increase revenue, although maybe he or she could use a break in thought. This one will take you through a philosophy by way of man, murder, and indifference. 
3) Toni Morrison’s Sula. There’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize. This book distinguishes between a writer and a writer. You’ll be thinking of her language for acres and acres. Buy a copy for yourself, too. And then buy Song of Soloman, and…
4) Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. This one is perfect for neutral readers who maybe didn’t know they like a little science mixed in with their literature. If your recipient lives in The South, this could be another connection. Beautifully written, one of a kind. 
5) Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. This one is random and complicated. If you have a friend who enjoys somewhat obscure world literature or who has a tinge of certain literary snobbery, this could be a treat. I read this in grad school but found myself more preoccupied with the autobiographical nature of this text and with the author himself, who committed suicide in 1968., after reading it. It’s memorable even if you read it only once. 

6) Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. This a collection of 13 eloquent short stories. This can be a one-short-story-at-a-time read. Read and savor. Savor and repeat. Each story leaves a distinct scene in your mind. It’s yet another Canadian contribution to art and wonder. 
This list could easily spiral into disseminating rings, all shining in different categories. 
What is your go-to gift book? What have you read recently? 
That’s all I got today, folks. I hope to come back with some experiences to share, one of which includes a cabin, another includes a changing savannah, and the last one includes new running shoes. 
Happy Holidays, friends. 

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Clocks, Knots, and 2017

There is an absurdity to daylight savings time. The clock’s rigidity dictates our day every day, and it bends for no one living in the same place, except for twice a year when we casually, uniformly move it forwards or backwards. My friend Tally pointed out once how she finds it odd that something so foundational just magically changes, uneasy in trying to keep the balance: changing the clock without altering our perception of it.

Maybe I’m remembering this random twig from a tangential conversation because I think I’ve been thinking in resolution format the last two weeks. It wasn’t on my mind like a buzz feed. My natural reflections have been rounding into declarative sentences, and I realized them for what they are this dark morning with grey rain dribbling around the house.

For those of us who make New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year, I think we’re doing two things:

  • playing with our perception of time both physically and mentally
  • working out the knots of the current year.

If you’re like I am, the end of the day has your left arm crooked over your right shoulder as you rub between your neck and your shoulder blade. I’m not lying when I say my physical knot and my mental knot have been greeting each other.

2016 gave me 4 seasons in an imperfect house that I truly love. It’s got a crack in the old stain glass door that has too much character to be replaced, and it’s a representative of the ways prayers are answered sometimes. I have so much gratitude for this year, but you already know that I hope.

The small list for 2017 I share here doesn’t include the usual stuff regarding, for example, healthier living or career goals. It’s also not focused on motherhood because I’m confident I’ll keep major tabs on that and come back here to work out the stuff that’s on my mind. Also, long resolution lists can leave us feeling that we didn’t instead of we tried, no? I guess this list is truly personal.

I’m keeping the focus short so that a long year’s path has more chance to bear fruit.

  1. Have 3 trips however basic or grand they can be. One with my family. One with Kal. One with me. I’ve envisioned going by myself to the Grand Canyon. A renewed mom can go a long way for the family. Also, I relationshiped and married young, and I’d like to still learn more about myself independently of marriage and children during these years. I want to sit on the edge of somewhere beautiful and be my own company. Listening/viewing this song  from my friend inspires that feeling each time.
  1. Make real, steadfast, true, and just-as-important block-out dates. I’ve only done this three times this year, and one of those times was for my friend. I grabbed her calendar and wrote something similar to, “Do not plan anything for this weekend. Family/Me time!” A month later, she thanked me for that clearing. God willing and the creek don’t rise, before January, I’m setting up my phone calendar with block-out dates and times that are first for me and second for my family. I say it in this order because I know I’ll naturally give up any of the me for the family, and I’m going to try to balance out that tendency with written word. I encourage Kal to do the same thing. My consistent personal goals will stall if I parcel out time pockets liberally. The block-out times will be just as observed as the “Bday party for ___ @ 2-4 at Catch Air” or “Dinner with ladies @ 7 pm.”
  1. Part ways with self-deprecating humor. I think I tend to poke fun of myself to make conversation or to make people feel at ease, and sometimes I warp some of my biggest insecurities through that natural habit. Wanting to be real and identify with people may give other people ease (or maybe it does the opposite, really), but it can leave me with a residue, making me wonder what picture I’ve created, what eighth of a story I’ve told flippantly. I think I’m done with my 20s (well, of course), where being real in that way made me feel I was being down to earth. I’ll try to stay grounded down and earthy without making myself feel bad in the process. There’s so many other ways that conversation can hold hands and feel the sun.

I’ll leave you with this definition as you appreciate your year and then work out your knots:

Definition of resolution

  1. 1:  the act or process of resolving as

a :  the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones

b :  the act of answering solving

c :  the act of determining

What part of the process do you want to focus on? What is something your 2016 knots has revealed to you?

As always, I’d love to be inspired by you.