Like some other lovers of literature, I’m a bit too prone to have my nose in a book all the time and forget about the world around me. So when I bought a notebook with blank pages by mistake, instead of my usual ruled journal, I thought it might be a good chance to do some nature observation. I’ve dabbled in drawing at various times in my life, but as with so many other artistic pursuits have let it fall away. Some workshops I participated in recently reminded me that drawing from nature can be a part of inner work and spiritual practice, and motivated me to try it again.
Though my efforts don’t hold a candle to the real thing, I’m pleased with them anyway. The activity of looking closely and letting my mind go into the mode of line and color rather than into words is soothing, and good for me when I tend to be anxious and over-reactive. I hope I can make this a regular part of my life.
As I was looking around for subjects, I saw this amazing plant that I had never noticed in flower before — with green balls of smaller pentagonal buds, gradually unfurling into complex star-shaped flowers dangling on long pink stems. What was it??
From my drawing, my son said it looked like milkweed, and he was right. I had noticed the pods with their silky contents spilling out later in the year, but not these astonishing flowers! See what I mean about not looking at the world around me?
I’m going to try to be better about that, and actually see what is in front of my nose. Do you have any activity that helps you to read the book of Nature?
I was not very comfortable with real-life social situations when I was growing up. I was shy, even withdrawn, and deeply sensitive. The aggressive, outward-oriented demands of school were often too much for me, so I retreated into the world of books. That was where I could engage with and learn from people, events, and experiences that explored the full range of what it means to be human. And I gained so much from my reading, so much wisdom and comfort and beauty.
But obviously, as wonderful as the world of books may be, it’s not real life. So as I grew up I tried to enter into that life more fully, to engage in real relationships and to attempt to unfold myself. This was not easy, and much confusion and hurt ensued along the way. As I didn’t have any personal guidance to help me, I didn’t know what to do with this suffering, and so I pushed it down and tried to move on.
Now, in midlife, some of that buried confusion and pain has risen to the surface demanding to be dealt with — leading me to take a break from blogging for the past several weeks while I sort things out. But the book blogging community has been much on my mind during this time, because here is one place that I’ve found the social circle I missed in childhood. And feeling held by such circles is what has given me the strength to take up the challenges facing me in my real-life relationships right now.
Though we may not share much about our personal lives, I feel that through our shared love of reading we are connected in a very vital and essential way. We understand things non-readers may have a hard time relating to. We know what it’s like to identify with and feel compassion for someone we’ve never met, who only exists as words on a page. And we know that releasing those words into life is one of the most exciting, most fulfilling acts of co-creation imaginable. We’ve felt the thrill of reading our way into the deeper levels of things, and we’re not content to merely stay on the surface.
And so it’s not just the warmth and acceptance of this particular community that has helped me, but the particular activity we’re engaged in. It helps me to know you’re there, when I want to delve into the meaning of life and am met with “Oh no, we can’t do that — it’s too scary, too unsettling, too unpredictable.” It helps me to remember how each of us, when confronted with a seemingly impenetrable screen of black lines on a page, has patiently persisted and unraveled its secrets. And how rewarding that journey has been.
It amazes me that when I posted that I was going to take a break from this blog, twenty-three of you responded with good wishes and encouragement. Twenty-three friends I didn’t have five years ago! And that’s on top of many other readers who very likely sent the good wishes even though they didn’t comment.
I know it didn’t cost you much effort to do that, and you might think I’m making a big deal about nothing. But it isn’t nothing to me. And I just want to say thank you.
I intend to get back to posting again in the next weeks, though I’m not sure quite where life will take me or what direction this blog will go in. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.
I discovered this link-up (hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy) via Wendy’s post at Falconer’s Library. What a great topic to explore in this difficult month – here’s what rolled off the top of my head.
1. Poetry – After a long hiatus, I’ve been feeling inspired to write poetry lately. Probably nothing that’s ready for public viewing, but just a way for me to experience creative flow and release the intuitive side of my brain. I’ve been amazed what comes out when I stop censoring myself, and want to give myself permission to make this a regular part of my life.
Along with writing poetry, reading poetry has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I have a beautiful volume of Rumi that I’ve been slowly going through, and I also have a volume of poems for each day of Lent that I’m looking forward to starting.
2. People to talk to – In the midst of a recent crisis, I reached out to some people I didn’t usually talk to about personal things, talked to people I was already close to about subjects I hadn’t previously felt able to go into, and I also made a conscious relationship with a spiritual director to acknowledge that I need help in articulating and managing my inner life. Without these people who are willing to listen to my babblings with open hearts, I would be lost.
I also include in this category you, my blog readers, who provide an audience for my “talk” about books, which are such an important part of my life. I need you, and thank you!
3. Walking – Another way I deal with stress is to walk a lot. I’m lucky I have such a beautiful, peaceful environment to explore right from my front door.
4. Snowplows – That said, without the intrepid crews who keep our streets clear in a snowy, icy New Hampshire winter I’d be pretty stuck, whether on foot or by car.
5. Sheepskin hats and mittens – Useful for preventing frostbite and pneumonia.
6. Chocolate – Years ago I gave up chocolate to try to stave off migraine headaches, but more recently I decided life is not worth living without it (especially when visiting my husband’s family in Switzerland). Sometimes I just need some kind of hit.
7. My work – Working with adults with so called “special needs” keeps me grounded in what is really important: caring for and connecting to one another. Every day I am inspired and humbled by their courage, their capacity for love and joy, and their determination. If they can keep going, with all that they have to deal with in their lives, so can I.
What’s keeping you going at the moment? Please share in the comments!
Please note: This is not a post about books. I don’t usually do purely personal posts here, but I feel a need to get something off my chest, and this is one place where I can attempt to express myself. I appreciate your listening, if you choose to do so.
I am a Christian.
It’s a loaded word these days, and I don’t use it very often, because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I don’t want them to think that I require certain behaviors or beliefs or opinions from them, or that I imagine they need saving, or that I’m going to start speaking in tongues and singing Kum-Ba-Yah. So I walk my path in silence, and keep my head down, and don’t speak up.
But now, in this time when so much is being revealed, I feel a need to say what this statement means to me. It means this and only this: there was a time when I was thrown into an abyss, an emptiness, where I had nothing. All outer supports had left me, and I was confronted with myself, my real self, stripped of all illusions. I saw it, naked, ugly, and diseased, and I hated it. And yet, without it, I would have nothing at all. To go on, I would have to bear it.
And there, in this place, I felt a being, a presence. This presence did not swoop in like a Superman dressed in red, white, and blue, and “save” me. He (she? it?) waited until I perceived my naked self and said, of my own free will, “Yes, I will bear this.” Only then did he make himself known, saying (though there were no words in this place, you understand), “I will bear this with you.”
Then I could go on. Then I knew that all along, this being had watched me with surpassing care and yet refused to exert control over me. I knew, too, that this being would never leave or abandon me, as long as I did not abandon myself.
This was not just a gift, but a responsibility. I was responsible to take up the burden that only I could choose, for otherwise a part of creation would remain forever unfulfilled.
I’m not a very good Christian. I would say that along the path of following this being and being worthy of his (her? its?) promise I’ve taken approximately one-half of a step. My response was more or less “Oh, now I feel better, I can go back to my life the way it was.” Certainly I appreciated the support, and was grateful, and said so when it occurred to me and was convenient. But I didn’t quite get that in answer to that all-out, no-holds-barred, overwhelming declaration of love I might want to give something of the same nature in return – not to him, but to my fellow human beings, my fellow sufferers.
Now, that has to change. Personal comfort is not enough any more. I need to reach out, to speak out, to be more and do more. I need to communicate with those who understand me, and those who don’t. I need to find common ground where no ground seems to exist.
Where do we find this ground? Not in the outer trappings of sameness and commonality, I believe. Although I personally feel supported by the rituals and stories of Christianity, and find them a good way to prepare for and comprehend the experience I had, I see no reason why someone who grew up within another tradition, or no tradition at all, would not be able to have the same shattering encounter, though they might speak of it in different words and clothe it in different pictures.
In fact, insofar as I am a Christian, I am Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist and agnostic and not sure what I am and not interested in religion at all.
Insofar as I am a Christian, I am Democrat and Republican and moderate and extremist and fundamentalist and libertarian and socialist and conservative and progressive and indifferent.
I am white and black and brown and yellow and pink and red and blue and purple. I am rich and poor and gay and straight and male and female and everything in between. I am Frederick Douglass and David Duke and Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. I am Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln and Charles Lindbergh and Christa McAuliffe and Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Walt Disney and Steve Jobs and all the people who live out their lives without leaving a single mark on the world.
I am Hitler and Goering and Himmler, and I am the nameless dead. I am a pacifist and a murderer and an innocent bystander. I am pro-life and pro-choice and in favor of the death penalty and against killing under any circumstances. I am about to open fire on a school full of children, and I am ready to die to protect them.
I am a winner and a loser and this has made me angry and triumphant and sad and hopeful and despairing and confused and bored and inspired and baffled and glad and sorry and gleeful and forlorn.
If I cannot encompass all these contradictions and many more, then how can I claim a share of the love that encompasses all?
I’m not very good at being all these things at the same time, and that’s why I’m not a very good Christian. To get there, I still have to go through the eye of the needle, which is my puny, inadequate self. In spite of what I’ve experienced and what I know waits on the other side, I’m still afraid. I still fear that such an overwhelming experience will wipe me out, will make me into Nothing.
Sometimes I wish we could have a new name for those of us who have had this encounter, with the emptiness and the love, and who want to find a way through the Nothing. I think the old name is getting in the way, is preventing me from finding my people, and I need them. We all need each other, in this time of uncovering. Not to be a mass, or a mob, or a group soul, but to know we are united by our common perception of a being (or a presence or a principle, if you prefer) that has, purely out of love, left us free to choose to be ourselves.
I’ve always had trouble with those Gospel passages about names. “Hallowed be thy name.” “Believe in my name.” What does this mean? A holy puff of air? Believe in an assemblage of syllables?
Of course, it’s what’s behind the earthly name that is meant, not the sounds that change from tongue to tongue and that can become corrupted by misunderstanding. But what and who is in that place behind the words? What name can I call, when I want to identify the one I follow?
“Jesus” (healer) and “Christ” (the anointed one) are the Greek translations of the names given to him by the people who had waited many long years to be healed and led by him. They are good names, as long as we use them in that sense. But they also lend themselves to limitation, to imagining that only a certain privileged group is worthy of being touched by and belonging to him.
He spoke of himself, sometimes, as “the Son of Man,” a name that has no such limits. He came to show us our future, what the human being can become — any and every human being, not just one group or nation or race or creed or religion. His name is hidden in our name, in the many who may become, mysteriously, one.
In the name of the being whose only aim is for us to become free, if you have even the faintest inkling of or interest in what I’m saying, if you didn’t stop reading this post after the fourth word, talk to me. How do you keep going when the sea rises up to overwhelm you and the powers of the heavens are shaken? Where do you find the strength that enables you to endure, to live, to learn?
As winter drew to a close, and it started to be possible to make social plans without fearing they would be cancelled by bad weather, I thought it might be fun to try to get together with some local book bloggers. The Boston literary district seemed a logical place for such a meeting, and so a date was picked and I put out an invitation. Alas, scheduling proved to be difficult for many, but at least last Sunday I got to meet up with two terrific bloggers I’ve followed for some time, Laurie of Bay State Readers Advisory and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library. With three New England states represented (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island), it was quite a respectable showing.
We had a lovely brunch at Carrie Nation on Beacon Street, and exchanged some review copies that we had gathered. I somehow ended up with more books than I started with…
We then walked across the street to the Boston Athenaeum, a private library with a first-floor gallery that is open to the public. We viewed the current exhibition of recent print acquisitions (no photos were allowed in there), and then looked around at some of the other art on view.
We then walked to a nearby cafe, followed by a visit to Commonwealth Books, a narrow space on a crooked old side street, well-lined with used books stuffed into every available space. I enjoyed browsing, but found that carrying around a heavy bag of books is a very good deterrent to buying more books.
It was a marvelously bookish day, and I’m so glad that Laurie and Charlotte were able to make the trip to share it with me. We’ll definitely try to do it again sometime!
Katie of Bookish Illuminations tagged me for this post. It seemed fairly painless, so here are my answers!
Four Names People Call Me Other Than My Real Name
2. Loris (as in slow)
4. Lorig (pronounced with a soft “ch” sound, as in German e.g. “honig”)
Mercer Island Library, where I worked in HS
Four Jobs I’ve Had
1. Library page (high school)
2. Bookstore gift wrapping department (Christmas break in college)
3. Proofreader for Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia (remember CD-ROMs?)
4. Editor and book designer (still doing this)
Four movies I have watched more than once:
1. The Wizard of Oz (of course!)
2. Singin’ in the Rain
3. A Room with a View
4. When Harry Met Sally
Four books I’d recommend:
1. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
2. What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
3. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
4. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Four places I have lived:
1. Honolulu, Hawaii
2. San Francisco, California
3. Northampton, Massachusetts
4. Seattle, Washington
The old Elliott Bay Book Co., my favorite Seattle bookstore
Four places I have been:
1. Paris, France
2. Florence, Italy
3. Yorkshire, England
4. Bern, Switzerland
Four places I’d rather be right now:
3. Christchurch, New Zealand
4. Any place where I don’t have to shovel snow
Enough snow already!
Four things I don’t eat:
Four of my favorite foods:
1. All of the above, except I can’t eat them. (Migraines.)
3. Really good wood-fired brick oven pizza
4. Pfeffernusse cookies
At least I don’t live in Alaska.
Four TV shows that I watch:
Um, I don’t own a TV. Some shows I used to watch at one time or another:
1. Northern Exposure
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation
4. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
After doing this post about My Life in Bookstores, I realized that I’ve surely spent much more of my life in libraries, and that they should be given their due. Here are some that had personal significance for me. For more library love, you can browse this page of Library Visits from Wildmoo Books. (What a great idea! If anybody else is posting about libraries, please let me know.)
The one I grew up in: Mercer Island Library (Mercer Island, WA)
Besides visiting frequently from ages 8 to 18 and on visits home after that, I had my first job here in high school, solidifying my alphabetization skills and packing books to send to patrons by mail. I liked shelving books because I could browse as I went, but the dreaded “shelf reading” (making sure shelves were in the correct Dewey Decimal order) bored me silly.
The library was completely transformed by a remodel after I left home, so the place of my childhood memories is gone. When looking for pictures for this post, I learned that another proposed remodel is causing controversy (as in, why fix what isn’t broken?). Libraries come and go, but Mercer Island politics are eternal. The one I wish was still around the corner: Forbes Library (Northampton, MA)
I only lived in Northampton for a year, but it remains my ideal town. Not least among its attractions is this wonderful castle-like building with an arched interior and glass balconies, which houses a splendid book collection and tons of atmosphere. I used to live just around the corner, and I wish I still did. I haven’t been back since a remodel, and I hope it remains as distinctive as I remember it. Some architectural history
The ugly duckling: Finkelstein Memorial Library (Spring Valley, NY)
For 17 years this was my home library. In spite of its uninspiring architecture, grumpy librarians, and noisy clientele, it had a pretty decent book collection which was quite excellent when combined with easy access to the extended county library system. Alas, a couple of years ago they decided to secede from that system, forming one more reason for me not to regret moving away from the area. When researching this post, I was startled (but not entirely surprised) to learn that just last month an SUV rammed through the front entrance, injuring six people and causing extensive damage! What a terrible shock for patrons and staff. I hope everyone recovers soon.
The glamour queen: New York Public Library (New York, NY)
I didn’t actually use this library as a patron, but I always enjoyed stopping by when I was in Manhattan. The majestic architecture really gives reading the importance it deserves. There are also frequent free exhibitions; one is described in this post from Wildmoo Books, which also has lots of excellent photos. If you’re in New York, you should definitely visit.
The dream: Bodleian Library, Oxford, England
Perhaps the ultimate attraction for English lovers, the Bodleian encompasses beautiful historic buildings as well as important and ancient books. I visited as a teenager but haven’t been back since, and I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to return, but I can dream. I wrote here about a recent exhibition I would love to have visited; Reno of Falling Letters wrote here about how she actually did. Jealous! The reality: Keene Public Library, Keene, NH
My new town library is adorable but tiny — I probably own almost as many fiction titles as they do. For only $50, though, I was able to gain access to the collections of both this spacious, recently modernized public library and Keene State College. It’s 45 minutes away, but online reservations and renewals make it all easy. Hooray for technology!
Robin McKinley’s author bio in her early books used to say that she kept track of her life according to what she was was reading in various locations; she traveled around quite a bit as a child because her father was in the navy. I didn’t have such an exotic upbringing, but I find that I have strong memories associated with the bookstores located in the places where I’ve lived. Here are some of my favorites. Please share yours!
This was the only bookstore in the suburb where I lived from third grade till college, so I spent a lot of time there. It had (and still has) a pretty good general book selection, cool magazines, paper goods and greeting cards, and a nice children’s department. It was just around the corner from my dentist’s office and I got to go there frequently for a non-cavity-causing treat after dental work. Another memory: when I was about ten they had a contest to name their new children’s book department. I don’t remember what my entry was, but I’m sure it couldn’t be more boring than the winner: “Children’s Books Etc.” Oh, please.
The U-district was the place to go when I was a teenager, and no visit was complete (for me anyway) without a trip to this mecca run by the University of Washington. The office and art supplies were an attraction as well as the excellent selection of general, children’s, SFF, and scholarly books. The Bellevue branch store opened at some point in those years as well, and I worked there in the pre-Christmas season for a few years, learning useful gift-wrapping skills. One year absolutely everybody was buying Possession in hardback and the pre-Raphaelite cover is engraved on my brain.
Okay, I never actually lived in Portland, more’s the pity, but it was worth the three-hour trip just to go to the massive Powell’s. If you can’t find it here, you’re not looking. By the way, if you use the “Search at Powell’s” function on this site and buy anything from them, I’m an affiliate and get a small percentage, which I will spend on more books from Powell’s. Support independent bookstores!
I mostly bought textbooks and sweatshirts in the basement during my four years at Carleton, but the upstairs general books department was always good for a browse. I remember eyeing the Penguin paperbacks of Robertson Davies’s novels there for years and then finally buying Tempest-Tost when I was a senior — the start of a long love affair with that wonderful author.
When I moved back to Seattle after college, I could take the bus or even walk downtown from my Madison Park house, and I would frequently end up at this Pioneer Square landmark. As well having a fantastic store and cafe they also hosted author readings and visits practically every other day. I saw Ursula K. LeGuin and Denise Levertov here, among others. The historic neighborhood went severely downhill, however, and a few years ago they decided they had to move or die. I haven’t yet visited their new Capitol Hill location, but I do hope it keeps them afloat.
I probably spent more time in this store than in any of the others combined, because I worked there part-time for seven years while attending Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College and then the eurythmy training at Eurythmy Spring Valley. My manager, who took over the store the year I arrived, was an eccentric but brilliant woman who tripled the size of the store and turned it from a dumpy corner of the Threefold Auditorium building into a jewel-toned, artfully arranged oasis. In quiet times when she was not around I got to spend many happy hours perusing the small but carefully-chosen stock of books on spirituality, education, the arts and crafts, and more. Another casualty of the internet age, after I left it had to drastically reduce its stock and move into Meadowlark Toys and Crafts, the end of a brief but memorable heyday.
There are lots of great bookstores in New York, of course, but I was a fan of Books of Wonder before I even moved to the area. For a while I was a member of their collector’s club, and always loved perusing their catalog of used and rare titles. As well as being one of the best children’s bookstores you’ll find anywhere, for several years they collaborated with the William Morrow publishing house to bring some classics back into print including works by E. Nesbit and L. Frank Baum. These are sadly now mostly out of print, but they still offer the complete Oz series in hardcover, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.
Don’t let the rather unprespossessing exterior put you off.
A year ago I moved to what some friends rather uncharitably called “the boonies,” but with this super independent bookstore just 15 minutes away, what more do I need? There are two other locations in the Toadstool mini-chain, in Keene and Milford, but this one is my favorite. It has a large used book department as well, and I pretty much never leave the store without buying something there. My latest score was the first U.S. edition of The Neverending Story, with its unusual two-color printing that identifies the two parts of the story (in our world and Fantastica). I’m sure I’ll find many more treasures there in the years to come.
Have you been to any of these? What did you think? What are your favorite bookstores?
This week, I’m pleased to join the Armchair BEA conference. A few years ago I got to attend the actual BEA (Book Expo America), thanks to my sister who is an editor for Wizards of the Coast, and it was amazing — but now I live too far away from New York for that. When I learned about this virtual event, I was curious to see what it was all about, so I signed up. And here we go!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?
Books define who I am; I just can’t imagine life without reading. I started blogging in January to record and share some of my enthusiasms. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to it, but I’m enjoying making more bookish friends and collecting more book recommendations than I could ever get around to in a lifetime.
I’m blogging from the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, an area with great natural beauty and many fine cultural opportunities (and bookstores). I live and work in a community centered around the care of adults with special needs; I also work part time as managing editor for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. When not reading or writing, I may be found spinning, knitting, singing, hiking, or cooking. I’m married and have a story-loving seven-year-old son.
What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like?
Share your favorite book or reading related quote.
Bright is the ring of words When the right man rings them, Fair the fall of songs When the singer sings them. Still they are carolled and said — On wings they are carried — After the singer is dead And the maker buried.
— Robert Louis Stevenson
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why?
For my non-book items, I would bring a person who knows everything about how to survive on a deserted island, and whatever other two items s/he finds most essential. That would free up my book selections to be chosen for sanity-saving value.
For books, I think I could do worse than to bring along my two-volume Norton Anthology of English Literature, which I’m still hanging onto from college. There’s plenty of meaty material in there to keep me occupied for a long time. I could memorize poetry and shout it at the waves as I await the rescue boat, or learn to appreciate a Johnsonian sentence at last. For pure narrative comfort, I’d bring a one-volume edition of the novels of Jane Austen. What book would you love to see as a movie?
Few movie versions of books are really satisfying to me, but if it could be done well, I’d love to see a Georgette Heyer novel on the screen. Those clothes! That dialogue! Which one, exactly? Hmm…I’d better go re-read them all and let you know.