Making good time

I’m currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and thought the following passage too moving not to share:

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. Your’e completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Chris and I are traveling to Montana with some friends riding up ahead, and maybe headed farther than that. Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere. …We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on ‘good’ rather than ‘time’ and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.”

–Robert M. Pirsig

Advertisements

Checking off the list

February presented me with a few technical difficulties (thus the low number of posts this month), but now I should be back up and running. Since we’re almost three months in to the New Year, I thought it would be a good time to evaluate the progress of some of my goals. (Some are certainly coming along better than others.)

The one that is constantly on my mind is the 30 books this year–no excuses. I’ve read two books total and gotten halfway through about three more. I need to pick one and finish it because 30 books in a year requires at least two a month. We’ll see how the next couple weeks pan out.

However, I am living up to some of the other goals quite well. I’ve reached almost 60 posts, so that’s going well. And I’ve been challenging myself more and having adventures. For the challenge, I’ve hired a personal trainer named Tristan. Let’s just say that I feel good about going to my training sessions, but I don’t feel so good immediately after going to the sessions. They only remind me how I need to work harder.

One of my most recent adventures includes a weekend trip to New Mexico to visit a friend from high school. I’d never been to NM and now I’ve only got one of the four corners left to check off the list. In addition to going somewhere I’ve never been, I also added new experiences to the list.

My friends and I went hiking in the snow (a first for me) and then went to the local hot springs (another first) where it started to (surprise, surprise) snow while we were there. Never in my life did I think I would be outside in a bikini in the snow, but there I was and it was awesome. We also visited Santa Fe while we were in  the area, but I was unable to find Jack Kelly while I was there. Maybe next time…

2012 Book #2

I have officially finished reading my second book for the year (only 28 more to go) and have to say that it has been my favorite so far. (It had a 50/50 shot.) Despite my days filled with teaching and writing and various activities, Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing caused me to pause what I was doing and pay direct attention to what she had to say. Though it isn’t too long (the pages aren’t numbered) and some pages have no words at all, it is by far one of the best books on writing that I have read.

The book is a mixture of encouraging and honest advice, clever prompts, quotes, tips and personal experiences from the author. And so I thought I would break down my review into those categories:

Advice

In her intro, Wood explains that she used to be a school counselor–a job which she loved and quit in order to pursue the writing life.  Like the rest of usm she has struggled and succeeded, and offers the lessons she’s learned from that. For example, she offers 7 Rules of Etiquette for a Reading, such as:

  1. Arrive on time, even if you’re famous
  2. If you’re reading poems, don’t explain them first. If you must add an intro, don’t make it longer than the poem.
  3. Slow down. Most people read too fast.

She also talks a lot about the writer lifestyle and things she has learned that come with the territory—such as the dreaded rejection. Wood offers a lot of advice on rejection.

Prompts

Wood’s prompts vary from fun and silly to serious and thought provoking. She uses some of her own words, words from others, single words, pictures and a plethora of other tricks to get that pen writing or keyboard typing. Open the page, pick a prompt, and start writing. You might end up with a prompt such as:

[insert picture of two hippos in front of what appears to be a brick building]

These hippos are called Dodger and Betsy. Your challenge is to figure out how they got into the parking lot of a Catholic school.

OR

Who were your parents at your age?

Quotes

Surrounding myself with writers has made me realize that we don’t only love words—we love words about words, words about writing, thoughts about words and writing, talking about words and writing. While some of the quotes she uses are for prompts, a lot of them work for general inspiration (about words and writing) as well.  For example, Wood includes the following quotes as part of her conglomeration:

“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something terrible.”

–Roy Blount, Jr.

OR

“Let us write and let us dance—two amusements that will never do harm to the world.”

–Voltaire

…truth.

Tips and personal experiences

Wood shares one activity she enjoys where she goes to a café with someone, but does not listen to them. Instead, she listens to what’s going on around them.  Or she asks, “what is the subject you’re avoiding? Write it down.”

Another example is when she explains:

“Colors can be delivered as similes that suggest something about the character’s inner life. Your reader will receive a character in a red shirt a little differently if that shirt is described as the color of spilled wine or fresh liver or SpeghettiOs.”

The Pocket Muse  calls directly to my odd character traits and intense literary desires that often come with the gift and burden of being a writer. The only point on which I disagree with her is that I should get a cat.  However, the rest of the book is gold. And she so eloquently ends it with “don’t forget to be grateful that you love words.”

…As if I ever could.

Overall grade: A++

Post Script:

I found out that there is a sequal to this book. I plan to pick it up and review it for your reading pleasure in the near future. 🙂

2012 Book #1

Ok, I have already started on my goal of 30 books for this year. But before I start with book number one, I want to talk briefly about the last book I read for 2011.

Before the last year ended, a friend told me about one of his favorite childhood books, The Phantom Tollbooth.  And when I said that I’d not only never read it, but never heard of it, he went out and bought me a copy. When I walked around with my new copy, people would often tell me how they loved that book growing up.  Apparently I’d missed out on a well-known classic. Go figure.

But for those of you who are in the same boat as I was, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (and illustrated by Jules Feiffer) starts off in a similar manner to Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.  Juster’s protagonist is a young boy who finds himself, well, uninterested in life and learning:

“There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always.”

Milo comes home one day to find a tollbooth (some assembly required), a couple coins, and a map waiting for him in his room. Despite the many other toys and gadgets in his room, he has nothing better to do and decides to build the tollbooth and take his little toy car to a random destination on the map: Dictionopolis.

As might be expected, once Milo passes through that tollbooth, he is in for quite an adventure. Along the way he is joined by friends, such as Tock, the literal watchdog (see picture), and the Humbug, a well dressed and well meaning, but rather cowardly and bumbling bug.

He visits lands such as Dictionopolis, the Duldrums, Digitopolis, the Isle of Conclusions, the Mountains of Ignorance, the Valley of Sound and many more. He is assigned the quest of rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason, who are the only ones who can bring peace back to a troubled land.

Needless to say, the book is full of colorful characters, thoughtful lessons, quirky adventures, and an impressive amount of play on words. For example, the first person Milo meets on his adventure is the whether man, who claims:

“I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.”

Milo ends up at one point literally eating his words, jumping to conclusions, missing what’s in front of his nose, and hearing nothing in a valley of sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read. A bit quick-paced at times, especially for all the characters introduced and tasks assigned, but a fun adventure nonetheless. It is full of great lines and quotes and I am glad that I’m now caught up on another classic. Check.  (I would go on more, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.) Overall grade: A-

Now on to my first book of the year: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  This is yet another classic that I had not read before. Such are the troubles of an English major–they make the books faster than we can read all of them. Fortunately, one of my students specifically requested that we read this book, so the opportunity presented itself.

If it counts for anything, I have seen Muppet Treasure Island (who doesn’t love Tim Curry in that?), so I knew the basic plot going in. I also saw Treasure Planet, which I inconveniently keep calling the book every time I mention it.

The basic Sparknotes version is that the protagonist, Jim, and his family are visited by a stranger at their inn. They soon find out that their unruly tenant is a wanted pirate! And he is not just wanted by the law, but other pirates as well (especially the one-legged pirate–he’s the worst of them all) because he possesses something extremely valuable: a treasure map to the booty of old Cap’n Flint.

Pirates show up to get him one day and their tenant dies of a stroke–blast that rum! Before the pirates can get them, Jim opens the stranger’s chest and steals the treasure map. The pirates are run out of town by the village doctor and Jim shares his secret with the doctor and his friend, the squire. And so the adventure begins!

They acquire a ship and a crew and set sail. Their ship cook, Long John Silver, is a one-legged inn owner. Jim is suspicious of him, and eventually finds that his suspicions are right as mutiny takes place once they reach the island. Turns out half the crew were pirates! It is now a battle to the death and winner takes all.

Overall, it’s a great adventure story. Who doesn’t love a pirate or two and a hunt for treasure? Unfortunately I wish I’d read it when I was younger because a bit of the magic was gone. However, maybe that will change when I get to teach it next week. Grade: B+

But I could always watch this: 

The perfect girl

Found this piece by Rosemarie Urquico on nonah merah’s site and thought it was too good not to repost:

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

– Rosemarie Urquico –

Those who cannot

“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.”
― Charles Dickens

Love it

“I do not recall a Jewish home without a book on the table.”

–Elie Wiesel