How To Avoid Blogging: Have Something Difficult to Say

I’ve been looking at a pile of scribbled notes and dog-eared copies of The New Yorker for some time now. The issue of gun control has been weighing heavily on me, but I did not want to simply state my position or argue a point that many people may already have made many times over. It took a book on war to bring me around to what I’ve realized is the fundamental focus of my thoughts and my desire to write about this topic for other writers.

As many of you know, I’ve been very slowly going through How Yoga Works and reveling in the, well, revelations. My current mantra is “Plant the Seeds.” Yes, the title of one of my earlier blogs and directly related to that book. When I feel sad, or more importantly, overwhelmed and scared as I am prone to be, I pause my thoughts and say “plant the seeds.” Basically, just changing the thoughts but with the more important component of the new thought taking hold and growing into a more positive and fruitful behavior over the long run. I’m telling myself for the first time ever that nothing has to be the way I see it–at least not the negative. A challenge should be met, not eluded. OK, OK, enough, you get it already.

So, how do I go from How Yoga Works to addressing gun control as a moral and ethical requirement of us all? By reading Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse. Big change in content, huh? I have a long-standing interest in history, especially war. It began more as an interest in how the areas we now call specific countries have formed and changed over the centuries in direct relation to the wars waged on or by them.

When I imagine myself as a draft-age male in 20th century America, I especially shudder at the prospect of going to Vietnam. I have no doubt that I would not have survived. At least not intact. The more I know of that war, the more horrified I am by the volume of atrocity unleashed in an offensive measure. I’m not saying bombing Hiroshima was a righteous act, but let’s agree that the U.S. would not have had to face making the choice if the Germans, then the Japanese did not swing first. Feel free to disagree. My point is that I cannot really comprehend the disbelief that people have over the fight against gun control when texts like Kill Anything show us how absolutely disinterested our government has been in our well being before and how many soldiers were not appalled or horrified by the orders they received to “kill ’em all.” When you note how much lower on the scale of value women, children, and the elderly have been than the average male, the surprise should be even less. Rape is a weapon of war and that has been wielded as readily as guns and grenades. Now, anatomy is one thing. It is what it is. But we can limit access to extraneous weapons and punish the inappropriate use of both. Hunting and lovemaking really cannot be compared equally with slaughter and rape.

My yoga teacher reminds me often that we all have our own universe to manage. Not that we stand alone, but we can only tend to our own world. We can plant the seeds and try to help others tend to their own goals so that all of us work in conscious harmony, but “we cannot plant the seeds for others” as she likes to say. I really understand now what “everyone in their own time” means. So, the discussion of each person’s rights is what I keep coming back to. How is one person’s rights more important than the safety and rights of the whole? Let’s face it, I have the right to live, don’t you? If restricting gun ownership and the type of guns allowed in public means I have a greater chance of exercising my right to live, then what is the problem?

If you are wondering what my world is like–how I’ve come to my perspective—I’ll tell you. My husband and I are gun owners. My husband hunts. We don’t buy meat raised in the realms of agribusiness, but we’ve not gotten to the point of becoming vegetarians. We would rather do without though than buy a cellophane and Styrofoam package of questionable quality meat from a questionable source. We plant the seeds of ethical farming even if we have not–yet–gotten to the point of sparing some animal lives. Still, I have no problem having to restrict access to our guns if it means preventing someone from accidentally or purposely harming others. I would love to have a central armory where we have to house our weapons and sign them out. If you are not planning on committing  a crime, what’s the problem with structure? Your freedom? I have freedom too: To live safely. Really, most of the NRA types sound like kindergarteners who were absent the day they learned about sharing and taking turns. I mean, really, you HAVE to have 100 rounds in an automatic or semiautomatic weapon at arm’s length? Are you sure you are not planning on committing a crime?

The April 15th issue of The New Yorker, has an article in the “The Talk of the Town” section entitled “Shots in the Dark.” The main question here about stepping up to the plate about gun control seems to be about taking risks. Who is willing to stretch out his/her neck and stand up for common sense and the right for the rest of us to live? Perhaps we are being abandoned because some members of Congress are not willing to risk losing their seats in the next election? Perhaps the Senate would not uphold any substantial changes. They like the cushy lives that playing with the pro-gun boys support. The column mentions Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s position (of all people!): ‘[A] right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose’ is not how the Second Amendment should be read. It does not “confer” this unadulterated view of absolute freedom. Last I checked, absolute freedom from control was anarchy or, no, wait, infancy.

Is this a new ideology for me? No. One of my most vivid memories of my freshman year of college is unwaveringly arguing against the whole of my first-semester composition class the point that I did not mind stricter criminal laws if that kept the predators and other unsavory characters behind bars longer. I did not mind having to watch my own behavior if that meant others stayed in jail. Yet, the rest of the class wanted as much freedom as possible even if it meant less jail time, or none, for offenders. Wow. I mean, I’m not saying we need to live in a police state, but why is it so hard to be responsible for your own actions and look out for your neighbor? And, no, I’m not saying our justice system isn’t damaged, but let’s work on the whole, not just give up and let everyone run amok.

Bottom line: I’m willing to curtail some of my own freedoms in order to ensure that the bad seeds are thwarted as much as possible. I’m also for reading as much about as many things as possible so that my range of knowledge includes seemingly disparate subjects such as spirituality and war crimes.

Of course, nothing will end violence, but everything can be done to limit it and access to its most effective tools. No one can plant the seeds for cruel, troubled, or misguided souls, but we have to do our best to keep these people limited to small container gardens until they are ready to do their share. We don’t need a whole field of perennials setting the wrong seeds on the wind.

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Plant the Right Seeds

Plant the right seeds in your students as you endeavor to plant them in yourself.

What seeds? Well, I’m still reading How Yoga Works–very carefully and slowly. I’m savoring every bit of it and doing my best to restructure my own perspectives on life by practicing what the instructor in the text, Miss Friday, directs her students to do. The seeds are of course not actual plant seeds, but metaphors for right behavior. Good habits take root and grow and these beneficial plants then spread more seeds. Hopefully, you can influence others to rotate their own inner crops and let the bad seeds die off while the good hold fast and flourish.

I’m doing my best to crowd out the bad seeds that many events and choices in my life sewed deeply. The more I read this text, the more often I actually cry. I am in mourning for what I did not know and for the things I cannot undo. I’d have written “yet” and the end of the last sentence, but I’m learning that there are some things we cannot change because it takes the participation of others to allow the soil to become fertile for change. Well, maybe the “yet” still stands. The others involved may come to their own desire for change and allow me to participate.

Planting the seeds sounds easy enough, right? It depends upon where you are in your own stage of life. My current thought process as a professor and tutor is to try to offer some of the wisdom I am endeavoring to retain and practice to my students and hope that these seeds take hold somehow, someway, someday. I can ‘t make them be ready, but I can’t cheat them of the chance to learn if they are ready now. I don’t presume to be a master by any means, but I can’t be anything but an observer if I don’t act consciously.

Planting the seeds in my college students is a tricky matter. Not everyone is in my classroom for the same reasons. Some are there under duress frankly. The composition courses I teach are mandatory. Not everyone likes to write. Fair enough. Not everyone is in school to learn and many are there to “buy” a degree so they can be “qualified” for a job. What they learn seems to be secondary to the framed paper on the wall. I have to weed through (no pun intended) and see if I can find a way to reach them all–to help them value themselves enough to value what they can learn even in core requirements seemingly unrelated to their major.

There are times when students are unable to meet the requirements of my course or focus regularly on tutoring sessions. The reasons can range from not being properly prepared educationally, to not caring enough to want to bother, to not having the confidence to think they can do this. Maybe life threw them a physical or emotional curve ball and they just don’t know how to regroup. At these times, what seed is it that I should plant to help them for their sake?

It would be easy to let them make their decisions and let them take the consequences. So I could let a student who has not participated all semester suddenly drop a bulk of back logged coursework on me so he can graduate on time. What about the quality of the work? I could work hard to lead him to the good grade and go easy on him because life just got harder or his GPA is balancing on my final click of the mouse. Who are these decisions really benefiting? These last options seem pretty cushy really for the student. But what about real life after school?

Let me tell you about real life. I was a student. I had serious setbacks. I did not get coddled. I had to take the hits, financial and educationally to catch up. I had to face the reality that no one was obligated to change standards and requirements just because I could not meet them. Sound harsh? Sound like a grudge? Sound like I’m taking it out on them? Nope. My falsely smoothing the path now will plant seeds of false expectations for later and that, my friends, would be a disaster. My bleeding heart now could lead to a lost job and lost opportunities later on. I must plant the right seeds for their sake.

This does not make me very popular sometimes with parents or colleagues. Often, their goals are for the student to stay in the time frame expected and with the grades demanded rather than earned. Somehow, education for education’s sake is getting more and more lost in the mix. Colleges tend to worry more about attrition rates rather than the reputation that comes with the quality of learning the person holding a degree with the school’s name represents. There is no big picture. No thoughts about the reputation of the family or the university later on down the road when a degree from this place is not respected and when the person fails at bigger challenges later on. The seeds planted so often are for now and not always for the student. My desire is to have my students and clients value now, for the sake of now. I want them to value what they have in hand and demand of themselves that they earn their grades, degree, and respect the right way. I plant the seeds of responsibility and reality while doing my best to overtly acknowledged their discomfort and fear.

I do care, that is why I challenge the  shortcuts and compromises. I hold onto the good seeds that were planted in me early on and the seeds I am endeavoring to plant now. These were and are very much about self respect and earning–not demanding–something and having to redo or revisit what I could not complete the first time around. While I mourn for the losses that the bad seeds produced, I look forward to letting go of them and continuing to plant the right seeds in the fallow soil. With any luck, some will be cast beyond my own fields.

It All Depends on How You Read It

Reading is the necessary rehearsal or preparation for the act and art of writing. But so is listening. Really, have you ever just had to put a book down and give up on it? Even some of the greatest authors just make it hard to sit still and pay attention for long. And by “long” I don’t mean the “short attention span theater” type that has a million devices dinging and buzzing all around, but the avid reader who looks forward to the quiet moments alone with a book. The first author I think of when I admit great admiration of, but little patience, for is Salman Rushdie, one of the most wondrous minds of our time. How he can write so extensively about so many disparate character types and subjects, not to mention locations and cultures, is beyond my comprehension. How do I know he is so wonderful if I just admitted that his verbosity makes me squirm? I LISTEN to him.

Audio books are not a new phenomenon nor are they hard to find, but did you ever really consider that the medium through which the story is delivered can affect the enjoyment factor and even affect comprehension? Of course it can. Professional storytellers are professionals for the very reason that they are able to deliver a tale through the expert command of language, inflection, diction, pace, and tone. Now, these vocal skills are enhanced by body language. Take away the body language, and you have only the one tool left to catch the audience. The voice.

I adore listening to Rushdie read his books. I can listen to him for the hours it takes to complete a novel and even look forward to a re-listen. I believe that his ability to capture the reader lies in the fact that he is the only one who has the personal connection to the text to deliver it as it should be with all the inflections, ironies, pain, and even objective distance that a reader must provide the listener. This is not to say that only the author can engage a listening reader, but the voice artist must seem to fully immerse himself in the telling.

Neil Gaiman is another author whom I cannot help but be captivated by when he reads. I don’t think I could listen to anyone else read his works though. He has such a wonderful and highly individual speaking voice that I’m definitely prejudiced in favor of his voice being the only one for my ears. I will also add that I can sit with Gaiman’s texts easily. He does not factor into the “can only listen to or I’m out” category.

The first time I actually listened to Rushdie, he was read by one of my favorite actors Art Malik whom I remember best for playing Hari Kumar in Masterpiece Theatre’s production of The Jewel in the Crown, in, gads, 1984 (I’m feeling old right now). It might have been that I was inclined to enjoy the text hearing that lovely voice of Malik’s, but I don’t think he would have lasted if he was not sincere in his verbal interpretation of the text as a whole. Once I listened to Rushdie read some of his other works though, I decided it was Rushdie or no one.

Perhaps it is simply that I can picture Malik, or Rushdie, or Gaiman as I hear them. Perhaps the visual aspect of storytelling does come in to play here as well. I envision them performing. That is something to consider. Regardless, while I’ve covered the easy part—listening to famous authors—let’s think about how to find new authors in the same way. With the little time that I have to read or re-read even the texts that I have to spend time with for my work, I find it hard to get to the pile of those I am interested in for pure enjoyment. And how do I find new works to add to my list of “must reads”? I LISTEN to these new voices. I make the time to go to readings and observe the writer deliver her work. Even truncated tales or works in progress are worth the time spent if the author can draw you in and make you want him to finish the work soon or deliver a signed copy into your hands before the night is through.

My recent personal literary resolution is to find as many local authors as I can and familiarize myself with their works. I say “personal” because my work as a professor (adjunct assistant, read “broke but happy”) and tutor does not always allow me to be as exclusive in my choices. A couple of weeks ago, I found a flier on the counter in my husband’s gallery in Flemington, NJ (small plug: Kissimmee River Pottery; www.riverpots.com). It announced that the SOMI Fine Art Gallery, just down the sidewalk from our studio, was to host an evening of readings by David Galef, Mia Siegert, and Cassia Rainne (aka Keisha Thorpe). This announcement came just in time. As my yoga instructors always remind me, when events or experiences are ready for you and you ready for them, they will become available. Well, we were ready for each other. I’d been dying to learn again. I spend so much time teaching writing and being isolated with my own projects that I begin to miss the thrill of being guided by someone and of sharing ideas. I try to encourage my students to find themselves in even the least desired or interesting assignments they must complete. At the least, I tell them, you don’t have to love writing, but you must be able to respect your own language and ideas to present them clearly and fully. That goes for fiction and nonfiction. All well and good, but where is my guru and guide these days? It’s good that I never feel competitive with other writers. I feel inspired by the gifted ones, hopeful for the weakest or beginners of the group. The point is finding the right group and, on this particular night, the right group came to me.

*Galef is a prolific author and is currently professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University. I picked up a copy of his latest book of short stories My Date with Neanderthal Woman after he read to us about a kleptomaniac as described to us by her loving husband. It was amusing, enthralling, bizarre, and poignant. As now go through my notes from the night, scribbled on the back of the flier for the readings, I remember something very interesting about this couple, the kleptomaniac and the CPA. Well, I’ll start with the fact that the husband is a CPA. Order vs. chaos and unpredictability? Too obvious? I feel it to be more amusing than predictable. While Galef lists off the strange behaviors of this wife and her obsession, which happens to spiral inwards and affect her husband’s own belongings, he refers at times to Plato. This switch from mundane weirdness to cerebral ruminations did not isolate those who had not taken Philosophy 101 or one of The Great Courses on DVD. His references guided us to an understanding of the characters and Galef himself, rather than weeding us out and making us feel embarrassed. I feel that a great read should of course contain believable events and that the historical, literary, philosophical references, etc., must be accurate. But must it necessarily require extensive research for the reader and audience to understand all references? No. Galef helps us out knowing we might need it and without holding a grudge.

It was freeing to hear him acknowledge that the works in My Date with Neanderthal Woman have no particular connecting thread. What a relief to know that not all writing must be so perfectly definable. Let it flow.

Wow. Yes, I am partial to the short story form, but with so many volumes of work competing for my attention, listening to Galef put me over the edge and into ownership of his text. I found him in it as he read. Galef enjoyed the text as much as we loved giving him our attention.

Mia Siegert graduated with an MFA from Goddard College and has been teaching fiction courses at Southern New Hampshire University as well as various locations in Hunterdon Co., New Jersey. Her bio notes that she has been published by Word Riot, Capboard House, and soon, by Robocup Press. We were treated to an excerpt from a YA novel in progress that, from what we experienced, will most probably be a must read for both the YA crowd and adults who appreciate a mature and believable approaches to adolescent and teenage  perspectives on family and personal development.

Siegert also shared a brief passage from a novel she is in the process of developing based on real-life events in the “A” circuit equestrian world. Honestly, when I heard “horse” I thought, “oh, not another person trying to pass whinnies and rolling eyes off as knowledge of horses.” But, as it turns out, she has worked under the tutelage of George Morris, the top of the heap in the Hunter/Jumper world for those who have not travelled that route. While I was too faint of heart to work with the fierce Morris myself, I did train with a number of his students and colleagues. Siegert is the real deal. She knows the A circuit. She knows the scandals too and I can’t wait to see what she makes of them. I hope in some aspects, only the names have been changed. The stories need to be told, but not for the sake of the “gotcha” factor but for the sake of the people now entering the business and the horses still in the field. Awareness can only lead to better practices. Siegert is not obligated to hold the torch for change though. I would not be averse to her own interpretation for her own reasons. After all, her work is fiction and at this she is no slouch.

Cassia Rainne is also a graduate of Goddard College with an MFAW. Like me, she is an adjunct professor but also an academic advisor. I was astounded to find that she also acts, directs, and produces. I can understand why she was a radio host for a number of years. Her soft but clear and direct voice holds your attention during both her readings and her casual discussion. I love that the end of her bio tells us that in what I assume is her minimal spare time she can be found “standing in tree pose focusing on what’s next.” Wow, as a yoga enthusiast myself, I completely get that. The balance and focus it takes to stay in proper tree pose is much like the focus and attention that one needs to stay on the creative path. Many distractions want to pull us off our delicately balanced stance and our own doubts or competing desires can prevent that foot from even lifting off the floor to begin with.

What can I say about her work? What I remember most pointedly is the mood she created. She had us all in a trance as her warm voice told us of a woman simply preparing eggs. But the eggs were not the point so much as what memories and musings their presence triggered. I am probably not doing her story justice, but what I can say is that I’m dying to hear it again and more of it. Her style is a mix of observation and intentionally limited explanation. We are both voyeurs and confidents as we stand in the room with the character and listen to her history while watching her every move. We are with her, yet her privacy does not seem violated by our presence. The delivery here is all in the rhythm of the words and their patterns of logic.

Now, none of this is to say that I would not have wanted to read any of these authors’ works if I had not heard them first. A bad book is a bad book as far as I’m concerned, but quality work is illuminated by empathetic reading, no matter how brief the encounter. This experience brought to this intimate gathering 3 worthwhile pens and voices.

Here are some memorable statements and sound ideas from the authors given during the Q & A session and so graciously in casual conversation afterward (as I recall and decipher from my notes):

Galef: When asked how much of the author must be expected to seep into a narrative, Galef stated simply but strongly that “the self is inescapable.” I take this to mean that a work must not necessarily at any point be autobiographical, but one must not expect to disappear entirely, nor desire to. What you learn often becomes what your characters know, don’t you think?

Rainne: When I asked her what ignites the idea for a story, she discussed not needing to plan or brainstorm so much as letting a moment of inspiration or even a simple object like an egg take her on a path. She lets the moment be “the moment.”

Siegert: “I don’t want to write about me,” she smiled and said. Siegert does not argue that our own selves and experiences may very well feed our creations. After all, her forthcoming novel about the world of A-circuit horse shows is inspired by real life. She does share with us that one of her most challenging assignments was to write from a boy’s perspective or someone she could not readily form just by reaching inside for like a kind of Eve’s rib.

For more on these wonderful writers:

Cassia Rainne: contact purpleshamrockmedia@gmail.com or visit Purple Shamrock’s Facebook page

Mia Siegert: http://www.miasiegert.com or contact siegert.mia@gmail.com

David Galef: http://www.davidgalef.com

*I had unfortunately conflated two of David’s stories when I wrote this blog. The CPA and his kleptomaniac wife can be found in “Petty Larceny” while  “More Than a Platonic Relationship” is the tale that, as the title reflects, contains the references to Plato. David was very gracious in his correction and I am pleased to be able to make good on my mistake.

 

The Text is Life

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being I believe. Maybe a state of purity or pureness? There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow around me. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for an separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

Journaling and Blogging: What Should Their Content Be?

There is a substantial difference between journaling and blogging. Some may disagree and say that the only difference between the two is the medium. One opens a notebook or lovely bound blank text created for the very purpose of personal record keeping or one signs on and types into an electronic template of semi-personal design such as WordPress offers. I’ll accept that argument on the surface; but, what blogging offers, is the chance to Immediately share what you are most passionate about and in a form that acknowledges the presence of a reader.

Journaling, as I see it, is very personal and rather random at times. There is no need to worry about physical presentation or proofing because you are the only audience that must interact with the text. Perhaps your descendants may inherit these books and care to read them, but they are not the same audience as the online and blogging community who do not know you and may very well not find your idiosyncratic shorthand or random punctuation endearing. Leave that to those who want a personal connection to you or scholars studying your method of constructing narratives. I am thinking of the Alcotts (as in Louis May, author of Little Women) and the family’s regular discipline of journaling. These journals, their letters, their early works, etc. all serve to enlighten us as to how someone like Louis May developed her skills and her interests. We find out that the need for income as well as artistic output sat on each of her shoulders driving her on.

Now, does the average reader want to read these entries and letters every day? Not really. These are supporting material rather than primary areas of interest for many people. Do we want to read formally presented works that are as ponderous, belabored, and stylized as the works of her often-ridiculed father, Amos Bronson Alcott?  No. I’m not saying their private writings or public failures don’t have importance in American history or literary studies. In this family’s case, they also have a substantial place in the study of Transcendentalism. But not all of the family’s writings are of themselves enticing reads for the casual observer.

So, I stand for blogging as a form that is conscious of an audience and responsible for producing well-planned work ready for interaction, while journaling is the private process of drafting ideas or pouring forth observations and reactions or plans that have no need of a formula or obligation to an audience.

If you are interested in reading about Louisa May Alcott and her family, I recommend Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. While it often belies the author’s bias in favor of A.B. Alcott, the text is an excellent introduction to the family and the American embrasure of Transcendentalism. For scholarly essays on the subject, I recommend searching JSTOR. Check with your library to see if they have a subscription to this database. As always, avoid treating Wikipedia as anything other than a starting point offering tertiary materials that my not be accurate at all times. Primary and secondary sources are what you want.

Readers really do make the best writers. And maybe you’ll even figure somethings out along the way.

Long title right? Well, I could not decide. I recently read a book that inspired me in more than one way. It held wisdom that I had been long in need of. Say, all my life. It was also just a great read. On the great read side, How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally is quite accessible for any level practitioner of yoga or anyone trying to work on compassion at a realistic level of earthly conundrums.

One of my yoga instructors has read passages from this from time to time and the narrative itself was so beautifully written that it drew me in immediately. Of course, as I read the book for myself, the wisdom also came through so subtly that I felt less like a student and more like a fellow traveler. This is a tale of yogic practice and purpose presented through the experiences of a fictional female character who must live her practice and beliefs (the principles of the yoga sutras) as she is imprisoned in a small impoverished village in dire and unpredictable conditions.

Ok, so why is this important enough to blog about? Good writing is nothing to ignore in this world of mass publishing, Barnes and Noble bargain books, and well, blogs and Facebook posts. It is harder to be “heard” above the visual noise of so much sharing and sausage grinding across genres. As well, as a middle-aged woman who has had much hardship from day one (no violins, I’ve done well for myself considering), I’ve been assaulted with many axioms that were supposed to encourage me and make me feel included in the world. Nothing has stuck. Much of my misfortune has followed upon the heals of happiness or optimism.

When I was a child, I used to think that an evil spirit was watching me. Keeping track of my hopes and attempts to survive with happiness in tact. At the moment of openness, terrible loss or consequence swept in to annihilate all chances of success. Or that is how I saw it. I did not have the fortitude to take the challenge and fight. Perhaps it was the volume and rapacity of the evil and misfortune. Regardless, once I became an adult, the superstition gave way to pessimism. Simply the knowledge that the good did not last as long as the bad or unexpected negatives became the basis for acerbic asides and knitted eyebrows. I’ve got the lines on my face to prove it and the reputation for real New Yorker one liners. Woody Allen might even be concerned for me.

I still would prefer to be happy. Hence the yoga classes, the desire for a challenge without competition or judgement. So, the book being rather poetic and full of kindness (read it to understand it) drew me in. I had my doubts about finishing it with any long-term inspiration in tow, but I was overwhelmed by a brief passage that addressed entirely my life-long confusion about acceptance and optimism followed by pain. Have you seen Bridget Jone’s Diary? Remember when she alludes to the idea that once something in your life is perfect, something else falls “spectacularly to pieces” (attempted quote–not sure of the exact wording). That sort of rang true but only as an irony, not an insight.

Now, in How Yoga Works, the exact relationship of good to evil or positive to negative is fully addressed and accepted as a universal truth. One that is not to be surrendered to, but understood and prepared for: “When Important things are about to happen, bigger problems come to try and stop them. This is a law of yoga and a law of the powers that run our lives” (40).

Maybe not news to you, but news to me in terms of universal truths rather than bum luck in a jinxed life! So, read and read, and read. One day, maybe later, maybe sooner, what you read will directly affect what you write and how your write it and how you understand why you write at all.

As another of my yoga instructors often says, things will come to you when you are ready to receive them or when they are ready for you.

One of my favorite authors, the late Penelope Fitzgerald, did not start writing until she was 58. And she was from a prestigious family of writers. It just was not in her or for her until she was ready. So as far as I see it, “it” is only just ready for me and I, it.