Quote of the day

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

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Philip Hall and other loves

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

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?

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

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

Dereliction and Fire

Narrative of Frederick DouglassI debated the merits of crafting a preamble to this excerpt, and as I begin typing, I honestly haven’t decided what to say about it. So we’ll see…

I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Early on in my reading, I became angry. I graduated from a high school named after this man. We did not read his words. At various points, teachers or administrators recited quotes of his, or summarized the “highlights” of his life. Our mascot, school paper and yearbook were all symbolic of him. But we did not read his words.

We did not spend time in an English class, nor a history class, nor an extracurricular making sense of his life. Glaring omission seems too quiet, too meek, too gray to describe it. Dereliction of duty is how I framed it in a brief note of complaint to a friend. And perhaps it was our fault, incurious teenagers that we were, we didn’t seek him out on our own accord.

I don’t know why it was not mandatory for incoming freshmen at the very least. Not just to find out more about Douglass as a historical figure, but also to help us begin to understand his fire to free both his mind and body. For him, the two were interconnected in ways that may not seem as obvious now. But we needed that. We need that.

I don’t know whether its apathy or rebellion, but it seems the fire has gone out in many quarters. Whether we blame government mandates, institutionalized oppressions, our families, ourselves, somehow we must at least acknowledge that smoldering embers and cooling ashes are often found where fires once roared.

I have more to say on the matter, but for now let us read his words:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ʺIf you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master‐‐to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,ʺ said he, ʺif you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty‐‐to wit, the white manʹs power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

~Frederick Douglass