Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Passion for the Written Word

That this is the final day of this month of passions, is especially appropriate since our last guest is my favorite person of all, the person who makes my every other passion possible. My husband Jeffrey supports my every effort, all my interests, each endeavor. Today's post is an example of that. As I talked to Jeffrey about my month of passions, he offered to write about his own for me. Yes!

We were with my parents tonight and talking about the royal family. I said something about how hard it would be for most men to
be married to a queen, but not be king. My Mom said, "Jeffrey could do it. He would stand behind you every step of the way. He'd be your backbone, your strength and your sounding board. And he'd do it all without any attention or credit." As usual, my mother is right. And really, Mom, that's just what he does now. That's Jeffrey exactly: my backbone, my strength, my wisdom, my passion, the love of my life. I'm so excited for you guys to get to meet him. This is Jeffrey, my husband, the butter to my bread and the light in every darkness.

my heart

What is my passion? Well, I have a few, but somehow they are all connected to reading. So maybe I could say that literature entwines itself into all my passions. Okay, I am a librarian; I can’t help it. Like most people in my profession, I have loved reading at least as far back as my earliest memories. Those memories include my mother reading Little House on the Prairie to my brother and me, as well as Dad reading Tom Sawyer and a novelization of Disney’s Davy Crockett to us. Books can take my breath away, break my heart, and inspire me all in the space of ten pages. Bilbo’s adventures still thrill me, Edmund Dantes still causes my heart to ache, and Johnthan Edwards still challenges my brain and my soul. I read all those pieces of literature before I had turned seventeen, and they still hit me hard. But you know what? I am not unique in this. I am not even rare―especially not in my profession.

So, what is special about my passion for literature? I have been ruminating on one answer to that question as a result of reading the educational research book Focus by Mike Schmoker. Schmoker quotes Kelly Gallagher as writing, “I am a different person because I have read 1984. I see my government differently, I consider privacy issues differently and I have a heightened sense of propaganda and language manipulation – all because I have read this novel.” Schmoker goes on to say, “I, too, am a different person, as are many of you, because of the characters and ideas I have encountered in prose and poetry.”

The reason my passion for literature really matters? A few of those works of prose and poetry did more than inspire, thrill, or sadden me. They changed me. They left me a different person.

What are those life-changing works of literature? Well, funny you should ask…

The Holy Bible

For me these precious, sacred pages are not a cliché nor are they obligatory. In these pages, I met the Jesus the touches a leper before healing him. Think what that touch meant to a man that had been ostracized in ways very few of us can even comprehend. In these pages the prophets of old burned into my soul the need to fight against the oppression of the poor, the weak, and the unlovely. In these pages, I truly learned that my fate is not determined by my meager strengths or even my deep inadequacies―I am a man cradled by GRACE!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ―

Simply put, I want to be Atticus Finch when I grow up.

“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson ―

“There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse…”

These lines and so many others from Emerson’s genius gave me the intellectual underpinning to have the courage to ignore peer pressure as a teenager. I could not read those words and give up what I knew to be true just because someone else wanted me to or expected me to.

“Some keep the Sabbath going to church” by Emily Dickinson ―

Picture a poetry-hating boy sitting in a junior level American literature class and the teacher assigns the poetry of this crazy recluse from Amherst, Massachusetts. I was that boy, but one poem’s title caught my attention, because I keep the Saturday Sabbath. I read that poem, and it changed me. I suddenly thought maybe there is something to this poetry thing. I have never stopped loving it since then, and it has never stopped changing me (Thank you for this gift, Janet McPeters.). Because of a crazy recluse from Amherst, I found the worlds of Robert Frost, Adrienne Rich, Billy Collins, and even Shakespeare. But the most significant things I found after Dickinson opened my eyes and my mind are the next two pieces of literature.

“Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson ―

My wonderful senior English teacher, Diane Whittaker, assigned this one to me, and twenty-three years later it still makes my heart race. I sat in an old radiator-heated classroom in 1988 and knew I must drink my life “to the lees.” I want to write on and on about how this poem affected who I am. So many lines from it course through my veins today, in this very instant:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

Forever and forever when I move…

…As tho’ to breathe were life!

…To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Today as then, reading those lines makes me want to sound Whitman’s barbaric yawp and pump my fist in the air.

One of my few regrets as a teacher and librarian has been that I have not found a teenager that this poem inspires, but I will strive, I will seek, I will find, and I will not yield.

“Curiosity” by Alistair Reid ―

“Jeffrey, you always have so many questions.” or “Do you always have to know why?” These are things I have heard all my life. It felt like most of the people with authority in my life thought something was slightly wrong with me because I could not let anything rest until I knew WHY. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, and then Diane Whittaker (Yes, her again) assigned “Curiosity” to my senior English class, and I found affirmation that not only is my curiosity okay, it is an imperative. In fact the problem is with the “wagging of incurious heads and tales.”

Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die--
only lack of it will.

Theories of Relativity by Barbara Haworth-Attard ―

Here, at forty-years-old, in my tears, I discovered compassion for those that I had deemed worthy only of my scorn. Never underestimate the power of young adult literature.

Louis L’Amour’s Body of Work ―

I know many people belittle his work, but I truly owe so much of who I am to Louis. I suppose that is why some small part of my heart still longs to be a cowboy. But far bigger are the things his characters taught me. I learned to crave education, to work hard, to punch hard and first if I have to. But the best gift Louis gave me was the knowledge of the kind of woman I wanted to spend my life with―a smart, strong woman that would walk beside me not behind me. And I found her―a woman “to ride the river” with. Thanks, Louis.

Frank Merriwell’s School Days, Frank Merriwell’s Foes, & Frank Merriwell’s Chums by Burt L. Standish ―

Most people have never heard of Frank Merriwell, and yet these didactic little novels changed who I was. These turn-of-the-century novels for boys were intended teach youngsters how to have good character. And you know what? It really worked for my brother and me. When I have been loyal, courageous, or tenacious, at least some part of that is Frank Merriwell popping up in my heart. If I were a cartoon character, he would be the face of the good angel on my right shoulder.

Before picking up each of these pieces of literature, I was not who I am, but each of them has been a significant step toward becoming me. Therein lies my passion for the written word. Every time I pick up a new piece of literature, I cannot know if I will be the same person when I have finished reading. I cannot even be sure I will still be recognizable as the person I am now. This is powerful. This is dangerous. This is sublime.

22 comments:

Char said...

some of my very favorite books too

i would add walden by thoreau

Mountain Thyme said...

I believe that it was C. S. Lewis who said that when we read books we know we are not alone. I, like you, have spent a good portion of my life somewhere else...with that character or that problem or that fantasy or that hopelessness or that unforgettable joy that filled my soul and my heart when I read a book. I do so wish I could write, for I also have many stories to tell. But, alas, I must be content with the stories of others and I must forever let my heart soar through other's words.

Jeffrey said...

Char,
My list was getting long so I did not include Thoreau. Still, it is hard to say enough about how Walden and "Civil Disobedience" helped inform my own perception of the world around me and my place in it.

Tracy said...

Wonderful list, Jeffry! I'd have to say the works of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson would be very, very high on my list of reading that changed my life. Thank you for sharing your choices with us. And thank you, Relyn, for this terrific month of meeting sparkling souls. :o) Happy Days ((HUGS))

Joanna said...

Hi Relyn, just dropped by to catch up. What a great guy you've got in Jeffrey! I'm sure he feels just the same about you as you do about him. His choice of books shows the true depth of that man's heart and soul, and what makes him shine.

Thank you both for sharing yourselves with us.

xx

HKatz said...

The reason my passion for literature really matters? A few of those works of prose and poetry did more than inspire, thrill, or sadden me. They changed me. They left me a different person.

Well said.

I should look up 'Curiosity' - haven't read that one.

Jeanne said...

Love your postings
Love you
Jeanne

Jeanie said...

Well, I now know why one of Relyn's passions is you! And it's so nice to "meet you" in this way -- sharing such a deeply rooted and personal part of your life. In seeing the words that have helped shape you, I see a bit of you -- not the loving dad or husband that we've been introduced to before, but man beneath, with these words as tools to build the man who was all this and so much more. To Jeffrey, I say bravo and to Relyn, thank you for sharing the man you call "Jeffrey My Love" in your labels with us.

Georgie K. Buttons said...

Atticus Finch is amazing. I always love reading that book because of that character.

Georgianna said...

Jeffrey, I hope to adequately acknowledge what you've written here. I believe you have encapsulated and shared such tremendous concepts, concepts that are in danger of slipping away but that I feel hopeful about, knowing people such as Relyn and yourself carry the standard for literature, imaginings and the power of words. Yes, they really matter. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Wishing you, Relyn and Sloane a beautiful Sunday. – g

ELK said...

so enjoyed reading along with this post shaking my head yes and yet many I had not read...but it is in the act of reading that we live such a life and are shaped and molded ..what a passion!!

Rita said...

Jeffrey you are all those things that my sister said and I am so proud to call you nephew. You are as passionate as Relyn and you two make a great pair. I don't know of any two people who are as suited to each other as your guys are. Relyn, thank you for sharing Jeffrey with us today. I love you both.

Ragamuffin Gal said...

This post is moving in so many ways ~
the love you two have for each other and shared passion of stories are so beyond wonderful. How awesome that God joined you together and how wide spread in your remarkable influence. Thank you for being a part of my life, I am honored to know you both and love you so dearly.

tracy said...

Oh, what a beautiful couple you are!

Oliag said...

There are some books there that I haven't read yet...I will be sure to add to the "LIST" What a wonderful post Jeffery!

Cinner said...

Ever since I have been coming to your blog, I have been blown away by the passion you have for literature. You have inspired me to read more as I know I do not do it enough. you guys make a great couple. take care, have a great week.

Jennifer Richardson said...

swooning that it's such a
wise and wonderful man
that you love, relyn.
I sooooooo enjoyed this!
Thanks ever so much
for sharing this treasure trove
of goodness
with us!
-Jennifer

christinelaennec said...

Thank you Jeffrey for writing this wonderful post. I can see what each of you and Relyn love about the other! I particularly like the fact that you don't draw a lot of hard lines between different genres of writing, or between adult and young adult. You're right, the power is potentially there in all of them. One of the people I have most admired and loved in my life (my husband's Auntie Mya from Donegal) was a huge fan of Louis L'Amour! I look forward to exploring some of the things you've listed that I don't know - yet!

susanna said...

First, it's GREAT to meet your Jeffrey! Hey there, Jeffrey! You have kind eyes and a beautiful family. That's a terrific portrait.

You know, I never thought of how literature has changed MY life even though I've heard others like Maya Angelou and now you describe how books profoundly affected theirs.

To Kill a Mockingbird certainly opened up my eyes. I remember reading it in school and wishing that all the books we had to read were as good as that one.

And 1984 also opened my eyes up to "Big Government" and the importance in taking a stand for what we believe.

Ulysses?! Really, Relyn? Well, let's just say I couldn't wait til THAT book was over! ;p

Books that profoundly affected my life include The Bible (I was raised in a religious household. Although I no longer go to church, I am glad that I grew up reading and hearing all the old Bible stories. They certainly play a part throughout the events in history.),

For me, Michael Ondaatje writes on a whole other, higher plane! The way his words drift in and out of consciousness in The English Patient ...just like his character drifting in and out of consciousness. His words in Coming Through Slaughter reads like a mad, broken blues/jazz song - wow! He opened my eyes as to how words, a phrase, can have FEELING.

susanna said...

I mean, Ulysses? Really, Jeffrey??! I would have most definitely tried to bribe you for your notes in class! (grin)

You have me wanting to read "Self-Reliance", though!

Christina said...

this has to be, one of the most wonder posts i have read. these are some of my favorites, as well.
xo

waving to relyn.*
xoxo

Jaime said...

Hello there Jeffrey...this is an impressive list, as are your reasons for adding them.
My earliest reading memories started with the Little House books as well...I'd like to revisit them one day and see if I can recapture a part of my childhood.

I paused when I read that quote "...envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse".......Such a powerful statement.

Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful thoughts.

Oldies, but Goodies