Sunday, June 6, 2010

TSS: A Week of Introspection

This has been a fun - but rather unusual week for me.  I did not read a single book of fiction this week, although I did complete four non-fiction books.  I think after three weeks of summer vacation, my brain was ready to tackle some deeper issues.

The first book I read, thoroughly enjoyed, and was greatly inspired to start a summer meme was Life is a Verb by Patti Digh.  You can read my initial post here, if you did not have the chance to do so on Thursday.  This week's question asks us to contemplate why we are so uninhibited as five-year-olds (readily thinking that we can do 'anything') and yet by the time we reach eighteen we have boxed ourselves into a corner that allows for little experimentation and exploration.  I am still pondering this question, but I have discovered, through some chats with a good friend, that my primary reason is because I do not feel worthy.  Since I have compared myself to others my entire life - I always fall short of the mark.  I am therefore not worthy to try anything new because I know from the outset it will not be "good enough" - so why bother.

I have always enjoyed writing - not creative writing so much (again, because decades of conditioning has convinced me that I am not creative) - but introspective writing.  And yet this summer I have written very little.  Why?  Is it because I am too busy?  NO  Is it because I don't know what to write?  NO  Is it because I don't see the value?  NO --- Quite simply, it is because I am an English teacher and I am afraid that what I write will not be "good enough" for an English teacher.  I will be exposed as a fraud and all credibility will be lost.  HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT?!  Who on earth is going to read what I write anyway?!  Well, obviously, I still have some issues with this first prompt that I will continue to work through until Thursday, when I will introduce the second prompt in the series.

Another book that I have read this week to help me break through this writing barrier is called, Writing  Down Your Soul by Janet Conner.  This book is an excellent lesson in learning how to move from the teenager's form of Dear Diary - to a deeper, adult form of Journaling with purpose.  While some of Ms. Conner's suggestions might be a little "new age" for some of my more conservative readers, I believe she has some wonderful words of wisdom for anyone interested in writing - no matter your religious affiliation, your core values, or your lifestyle.

She advocates writing every single day for thirty days straight (with the thought that this will develop a habit that will last a lifetime).  She says to write fast, and without thought to the words that are appearing on the page.  As she puts it, your Inner Voice will soon reveal itself to you (I personally have replaced Inner Voice with Holy Spirit - but she advises that we use whatever title we feel most comfortable) and a discovery of who we are meant to be will become apparent.  She gives several starter questions to ponder, but I feel that once I start, I will instinctively know what I need to write.  I plan to start my own thirty day challenge this week.

Another writing book that I read (it only took about an hour or so) is called Writing about Art by Henry M. Sayre.  The target audience for this book is the art student who must write essays and research papers for class.  A rather select group of readers and probably not many of you fall into that group.  However, that it is not at all why I read the book.  In my quest to learn Art Appreciation, I thought that reading a book that helps to write about the medium - might help me to learn to analyze paintings.  And, I was right.  One of the initial statements in this book, found on page four of the introduction states:
The process of writing about art begins with recognizing that certain decisions have been made (by the artist) - and wondering why.
This had a profound affect on me.  When looking at a painting there are so many questions to ask:  why did the artist select this particular subject matter?  why did he/she choose to portray it in this particular way?  what others way could the subject be presented and what would that effect have been?  why these particular colors?  why this degree of light (or dark)?  what is my eye initially drawn to in the picture -- why?  if I take the time to look at other aspects of the painting what do I notice that I missed the first time?  does the painting give an overall feeling of balance and peace - or imbalance and tension?  how does the artist achieve that?

Anyway, I am very anxious to put these new-found analytical skills to use.  I am sure another visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum will be in order, as well as perhaps future visits to the St. Louis Art Museum and possibly the Art Institute of Chicago.

And finally, the last book that I read this weekend (and again, it was quite short and only took about an hour to read --- but will take several hours to re-read and begin to digest) is called Traveling Light by Deborah DeWit Marchant.  If this name sounds familiar, it is because this is the same artist about whom I ranted and raved a week ago.  I first discovered her artwork on Cathy's website and I immediately ordered the book from my local library, In the Presence of Books.  This newest book is a collection of her photographs and somewhat of a memoir of her life and the pursuit of light and shadows.  There are SO many paragraphs in which I hope to copy and present to my classes next year.  She does an absolutely amazing job of "showing" vs "telling" in writing.  She incorporates all five senses in her writing and it makes you, the reader, want to slow down and truly inhabit the place that she is describing.  Here is but one example:
Each day was filled with sensation.  Like an infant mesmerized by her own toes, I was enchanted with the natural world around me.  Every physical experience branded its corresponding visual impressions onto my sight.
Strawberries picked at dawn were sweet and syrupy, wet with dew, and so, so red against the black dampened earth.
Pewter-barked beech trees cast green slippery light beneath them as the rain spattered and splashed through their leaves.
Delicate woods of silver birch smelled musty, spicy, dusty, and the little tress themselves glowed like twisted strands of precious metal in the setting sun.
The cows, awkward and weighty, congregated in deep blue shade on a warom day, breathing their huge damp breaths of life.  (page 15)
The photography is absolutely beautiful - some are more reminiscent of watercolor paintings than real-life image -- and it is yet another book that I need to add to my own personal library.

In doing some research on this amazing artist, I came across her website, Simple Mind Card, where you can order prints of her work or individual note-cards of her paintings.  While the website did not include her photography, it did include nearly every image from In the Presence of Books.  Each note-card is priced at $2.50 for a 6.25 inch by 5 inch replica and includes an appropriate quote and envelope.  There is no minimum order (shipping is a flat $5.00) and you can order a variety of single cards - and/or multiples of any card.  I think this would make a marvelous addition to any bibliophile's personal collection, and I am even giving thought to ordering a few of my favorites and having them framed as a collage.

Finally, I have spent some time this week pursuing another favorite past time that has lain dormant for a few years, Scrapbooking.  I used to be a Creative Memories consultant (for over ten years --- longer than any other job I have held besides wife and mother), but since teaching full-time, this creative release has taken a back-seat.  I have decided that I want to create a scrapbook just for me -- a collection of my favorite things and future activities I would like to accomplish in my lifetime.  I have sorted through lots of pictures, shopped at several scrapbook stores (spent more money than I probably should have) but I feel empowered to complete this summer project.  I have only created one page so far (you can see it at the left) --- but I am anxious to do more.

So there you have the week of May 31, 2010.  Not a lot of reading accomplished, but many other interests have been cultivated.  I hope all of you had a great first week of June - and are looking forward to many more lazy, hazy summer days.


  1. Molly, it sounds like you had the perfect week to begin your summer vacation. Your NF book selections sound like great choices. I need my regular fix of NF as well to keep me grounded...LOL

    Have a great summer~

  2. Yours has been a very busy vacation. I've heard that people tend to make life changing decisions while on vacation. I know that I have.

    I say, whether or not you pursue art appreciation or writing about art, visit the St. Louis Museum. It's wonderful. They have a terrific Holbein. And the Chicago Art Institute has the Chagall stained glass windows and the Throne Room Miniatures which are fantastic. And you don't have to know anything about art to enjoy them. ;-)

  3. Your week has been an absolutely fascinating exploration into all kinds of intriguing things. I like the sound of that new meme...I'll have to check it out on Thursday.

    The questions certainly invite us to delve into our "psyches" and discover things we might not have tapped into before.

    Love the idea of learning more about how to "understand" artistic expression.

    My oldest son is a photographer who lives in Europe, and I simply adore the way he captures his world. He is an artist, IMO. Enough bragging! lol

    Here's my salon:

  4. Great idea - writing for 30 days straight. The fun part will be re-reading it 30 days later! Here's
    My Sunday Salon

  5. Molly, this was a great post. I've always been intimidated by bloggers who are English teachers, journalism majors, editors, etc., but I never imagined that those people would be critical of their own writing. That makes me feel better to know that about you :)

    Also, I've always been drawn to books related to writing, so I loved your book choices this week. Have you read Writing Down the Bones? That's what I'm reading now and it's very good.

  6. You are so incredibly talented at that scrapbooking thing. I used to try it years ago (with mixed results) but then kids came along and they ate my glue. :) Maybe I can just send all my stuff to you,LOL.

  7. Sounds like a wonderful week to me with opportunities to stretch horizons. Also makes me think (again! ) about how I should read more nonfiction especially in areas of my as yet unexplored interests. See, you have inspired me to reach out a little today. Hope the next week's reading is just as rich for you. Happy reading!

  8. What a great post! My son likes to write, but he avoids creative writing too. He says he doesn't like to show it to other people because of what he thinks their expectations are. I tell him (and you) to write for yourself and don't worry about everyone else.

  9. I love your scrapbook page!

    And I understand so well what your "hang ups" are on creativity and writing. I think writing exposes the writer so much so it is really really scary. And if you are interested, here is a link to some books on writing that I really enjoyed and would recommend highly. I bet the Brenda Ueland book (if you haven't read it) would resonate with you.

    Here is the link:

  10. Life Is A Verb sounds like the kind of book I would enjoy. Thanks for the review!

  11. Molly, you are having the most creative summer! I love reading about all the things you are exploring.

    I'd love to go with you to the Nelson Atkins and all the other great places around KC. We would take our cameras and shoot all the gorgeous architecture and fountains on the Plaza. I'm homesick for Kansas City.

    I've ordered Life Is A Verb so I'm looking forward to following along with you this summer. I guess our summer visit will be a virtual one.

  12. Molly, I really enjoyed this post. I have been an avid 'journaller' over the years, and have spent time pondering similar questions about my 'quiet times'. I think you've raised some good points here, but one conclusion I came to recently (and I like this one) sometimes I dont write because everythings OK in the world - I dont need to write when it's all OK.... Maybe you feel OK with things this summer? Thanks so much for the book reviews on writing. And I do love your scrap booking idea - mmmmm Mont Matre - Quelle idee - Superb!

  13. Sounds like you are on a journey of self-discovery this summer. I have a feeling you will look back at this time you are spending being a bit more introspective and feel it has been more than worth it for you.

  14. Fantastic books, Molly - I have the first two! And the Sayre and Marchant books sound interesting.

    I'd love to hear more about your scrapbooking project - I'm really interested in the idea of doing one for yourself. It's something that I've been thinking about for a long time.


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