What Am I Reading?

Lots of books. The one that I am most fascinated by is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. There are many reasons. The most important one is that Harari is so definite about everything that he writes. The counterargument is something to which he pays very little attention. Engaging counterarguments is a primary weakness in the papers that my students write. I take points off their papers for the absence of same.

It is lovely and wonderful to see that someone has written an entire book in which his very definite-ness – if that is a word – is the most fascinating part of the book. Confidence? Hubris? Knowledge? All of the above? This is a book that I pick up in the morning and read one chapter at a time. It is taking me months to finish because some mornings I don’t read. Some mornings all the details are just too much to entertain so early in the day.

Still Waters by Viveca Sten. There is something about Nordic culture that is so foreign to me, I am attracted to it. Maybe it is the fact that there is so little sun there. That has got to affect the psyche of the people who live there, yeah? I mean, consider how open and happy people are who are born and raised in California.

Okay. I don’t know that for a fact. It is a mythology that I am willing to believe. Just as I am willing to believe – based on the fact that so many of them are in the United States – that Nordic culture is gloomily homogeneous – because there is so little sun.

The setting of Still Waters is an island during the summer – Sandhamm – three bodies so far, all connected. We don’t yet know how. I can’t wait to find out. I am reading this one on Kindle. I am 45% into the book according to my reader. Page 202. There is something about knowing how far into the book that I am which I like. I am not yet half-way through. The police don’t have a clue. Unlike Harari, they are not confident. They are confused, puzzled, and trying to find a way into the next step. Nothing so far.

As the reader, however, it is essential that they find a clue that is compelling or I will not want to finish the book. I mean, really, there are three bodies. By now Christie would have already pointed you toward the perpetrator though you wouldn’t realize it necessarily. This is a book I read when I am waiting for my next appointment. It is taking me weeks to finish it.

Just stumbled across The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris. On audiobook because I am in to multitasking – again. If I had thought about it, I would not have chosen this book because it is so graphic. Autopsies are that way. I once viewed an autopsy when I worked at a hospital. It is not as fascinating as the books make it out to be. It is smelly and so, so sad. The person whose autopsy I witnessed had ascites. Look it up and you will know why I have a particular perception about autopsies.

Harris captures the goriness of an autopsy – the smells, the inhumanity, the detailed slices and scientific curiosities. The forensic scientist wants to know… period.

This takes me back to Harari’s Sapiens. One point he makes toward the end of the book – yes I am almost finished – is that Europeans have ruled the planet because they accepted that they did not know. They were not more powerful – which is the mythology that we live with in the 21st century. Their curiosity is what led them to other lands. According to Harari, maps were filled – monsters, places you didn’t want to be, but not actual lands. At some point, folks started to accept that they did not know what was beyond their beyond and their maps had lots of blank spaces. Europeans wanted to know what was beyond this beyond. So their motto was “let’s go see what’s there. And discover it! And make it our own!”

What made Europeans exceptional was their unparalleled and insatiable ambition to explore and conquer. Although they might have had the ability, the Romans never attempted to conquer India or Scandinavia, the Persians never attempted to conquer Madagascar or Spain, and the Chinese never attempted to conquer Indonesia or Africa. Most Chinese rulers left even nearby Japan to its own devices. There was nothing peculiar about that. The oddity is that early modern Europeans caught a fever that drove them to sail to distant and completely unknown lands full of alien cultures, take one step on to their beaches, and immediately declare, ‘I claim all these territories for my king!’ from “The Marriage of Science and Empire” in Sapiens

Now maybe that is so. Or maybe that is Harari’s “So.” Confidence. You gotta admire it.

Following My Own Advice

It has been several weeks, perhaps even months, and I have abandoned the practice of writing 500 words most days of the week. Weeks have gone by when I’ve not written anything. It is as though I feel that nothing I say matters.

I feel that nothing I say matters.

I have nothing to say that I think matters.

Matters to whom? I am writing for myself. Yes, even to myself, what I say doesn’t matter.

I have not written because I believe I should be writing something profound and worthy of publishing and I have nothing like that to say to anyone, not even myself.

Now, if a student were to say those words to me, I would offer words of encouragement and when those didn’t work I would say, “It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be done.”

This advice is great when there is someone to hold the writer accountable – a partner, coach, teacher, someone who cares that you honor the gift that you have.

This advice works even better when the writer can hold herself accountable. After all, ultimately, a writer writes, even when no one else knows she is writing.

In the past few weeks, I have not been able to hold myself accountable.

I have not attended writing group in months. The snowy, frigid weather and work commitments made that group seem less important to me than it has in the past.

Is that true? Or am I just making excuses?

In truth, many people attend the group who haven’t written a thing. We hold each other as writers in a different way, I suppose. Though prompts are offered, we are not compelled to produce anything that emerges from them. It is a safe place to offer our poems and fiction and personal narratives. It is not a writing workshop in the “work chop” tradition; this is why I like the group.

Still, I am left with this lapse: I have not written, nor have I attended writing group, nor have I …

I have been in a shame spiral, which is a good way to procrastinate.

So this past week, I followed my own advice and began writing again and not worrying about how good it is, just holding myself accountable to showing up on the page.

One day at a time.

Sustaining an idea over a long piece-an Example

Ta-Nehesi Coates’s piece in the Atlantic is an example of writing that starts with a provocative premise and does much to support it. He does a fine job sustaining an argument over a very long piece. This is an excerpt from his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power. His book Between the World and Me is also one of those exemplars if you are interested in writing about provocative issues, such as race: The First White President

Keep writing!

Ruth

Make Time for Your Writer Self

What do you do instead of writing? You probably have a long list of things that you do. Two of my favorite low-key activities are watching Netflix and reading. These are not inherently bad activities; however, they do take time away from writing. Yes, you can learn a lot about narrative from watching a series or a movie or reading a novel or collection of essays. And that is what I tell myself: it’s research. Sometimes, it’s research; sometimes, it’s procrastination.

Let’s face it, you can’t write all the time. You have to experience life, relax, have fun, see people, take care of domestic chores, and – if your writing doesn’t support you – spend time at your place of employment.

I have a busy life and I make time for my Writer Self. I hope you do, too. 

Keep writing!

Ruth

Join me for my mini-seminar. See information below.

It’s teatime. Let’s write!

Make time for your Writer Self. Sign up for my FREE 30-minute online mini-seminar, Tea and Writing, Sun 6/4, 4pm eastern. Click on this link to sign up: 

Bring your playful spirit. We’ll imagine ourselves together sipping tea, eating scones (or egg sandwiches, or sponge cake). We will talk about writing and do a brief writing exercise that you can delve into after the gathering.

 

Television. Really?

Every now and again I wonder: Why do people watch television? I include myself in this. In fact, let’s rephrase the question: Why do I watch television?

I love watching television shoes and movies. I don’t own cable; I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, and whatever I can cadge off the Internet. My question ponders the act of watching other people pretend to live other people’s lives.

Personally, I like getting lost in other worlds. I usually watch shows that have little similarity to my own life; so, it is an escape. Fortunately, I am aware of this.

I have just finished watching Bosch Season 3 on Amazon Prime. I’ve read most of the Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver is the perfect actor to play this sardonic character and Jamie Hector looks and acts exactly as I pictured J Edgar. Perfect casting makes the characters real for me as I watch people pretend to be other people, who are themselves figments of an author’s imagination.

Thousands of years ago, would humans have even thought about such a phenomenon as television and streaming video? Well, they went to see plays or listened to stories about historic figures– watching (or listening to) people pretend to be people that may or may not have existed. This fascination with imagining and enjoying other people’s lives is nothing new. Perhaps television is an inevitable evolution of our artistic enjoyment, embedded in the human genes. Those who don’t watch TV or videos might scoff because they read books. However, even reading books represents the same phenomenon: experiencing other people’s lives, some of whom may exist or have existed at one time; much of the time, fictionalized lives.

As I watch Titus Welliver, I realize that he is the actor doing a fine job playing Bosch, the character himself, Bosch as depicted by or deviating from the character as conceptualized by Michael Connelly. I consider the artistry that makes me believe that Welliver is Bosch. Camera angles, soundtrack, lighting, all work together to create a mood and narrative as depicted by the director (among so many others).

When watching televised performances, I frequently consider technical aspects. So much is involved in creating even the shortest film. The other day a colleague showed us a 15-minute film of herself folding paper cranes while reading a poem she’d written that used cranes as metaphor. A few months before, she had read this poem to us while teaching us how to fold cranes.

These events are totally different. We shared this with her after she showed us the film. For me the film was a performance. Some people would view it as an art installation. I asked her about camera angles. I assumed that someone else had filmed her. However, she had filmed and edited everything by shooting and reshooting from different vantage points, editing and re-reading, editing and re-reading, until she acquired the effect she wanted.

I was fascinated by the process and her talent. Reading this, you probably are thinking that watching someone folding cranes isn’t the most interesting thing. However, it was very meditative watching one segment of a person’s life, while listening to her read a poem about the history of indigenous people. I have taken all the juice out of the experience with these flat words. Yet, at bottom, that is exactly what went on.

And if I were to flatten out the scenes from Bosch, the words would be something on the order of watching a police detective go about doing his job. Many of the scenes are just he and his partner driving around talking. Every now and again, there is a chase, gunplay, or other physical action emotionally intensified through music. Scene after scene. It is a performance that many, such as myself, find enjoyable enough to spend hours watching.

Our ancestors might not have been able to imagine television, but I think they would have understood the fascination.

***

Ruth Farmer
Farmer Writing and Editing
Offering coaching, editing, and writing services
Specializing in personal essays and scholarly personal narratives
rfarmer@gmavt.net
802-377-3001

Listen

Taking into consideration Trump’s cabinet and advisers and understanding the direction in which our country is going, you might think that this is a time in which people of color, poor people, women, just about anyone except rich white males, have been silenced. And let’s face it, while there are many people protesting through demonstrations, letters, phone calls, blogs, etc., there are people who are afraid enough to be silent, and for good reason.

Consider this: Folks don’t try to shut you up, or shut you down, unless they are afraid of the power of your words.

No matter what your particular stance on the current situations, it is unlikely that you are neutral. These days, anger, frustration, fear, and even despair frequently permeate dialogues, blogs, poetry, fiction, essays, music and other forms of expressions. Whatever your viewpoint and whatever your artistic form, remember that your words have power.

Speak your truth. Know that others are speaking theirs. Listen.

Keep writing!

Ruth

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Register for my upcoming course, Joyful Inquiry, at this link.

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

New Essay: Leading and Following

My essay, “Leading and Following: A Perspective on Teaching and Learning” appears in Teaching Transformation: Progressive Education in Action, edited by Lise Weil and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg with an introduction by Elizabeth K. Minnich. This book, published by the Goddard Graduate Institute (GGI), is a collaborative project between GGI faculty, students, and alumni.

For a free download, please click here.

To order a copy of the book, please order the book (priced at $15) at Lulu.com through this link.

New Perspective

As I was driving from town to my home, I saw the houses, streets, landscape in a different light. I didn’t recognize the house where I buy gladioli throughout the summer. Without the table and colorful cut flowers perched in front, the place looked abandoned.

Looking up as I continued my drive, I noticed the multicolored mountains capped by a strip of clear blue and nestled by a blanket of gray cotton.

There is a green house behind the local school that I’d never seen before. It is accessed by a private lane, like so many houses in this area, including mine.

The luscious leaves that come in spring and delight in summer, and the brilliant golds and yellows of fall are so beautiful they blot out everything else. Sometimes I want to freeze the moment, forestall the cold white that is inevitable.

Today, rather than seeing fall as a prelude to winter, I notice what is revealed after the leaves have floated away. The land is new.

Look up. Look around. Notice what you’ve not noticed before.

Getting it Done

So on Monday, I spent the afternoon revising an essay on leadership, which is to appear in an anthology on pedagogy. The due date for the essay was … let’s just say, earlier. Much earlier.

I drafted the piece in February and spent weeks writing and rewriting, researching and rewriting, straying from the point and coming back.

I submitted the essay (late) and was asked to revise it. I left it on my desk for several days –many, many days! – thinking about how to approach this phase of revision. I re-read the essay and re-wrote it, confident that I had conveyed the points I was trying to make.

The editor asked me to revise the essay again.

When I submitted the draft on Monday, I was oh so tempted to add a plaintive note: “This is all I’ve got. If this version isn’t what you are looking for, I understand (Wah, wah, wah!). I’m sure I can get it published elsewhere” (Someone else will appreciate my writing).

I did not write the note. I discourage my students from offering such disclaimers before they read their pieces to an audience. “Let the work speak for itself,” I say.

Sometimes I follow my own advice.