Sunday, January 19, 2014

the richness of words

It would be difficult for someone of my temperament to sit in the quiet, dark privacy of a movie theatre absorbing an ode to books, words, stories and the hunger for them and come away without a sense of urgency about living in honour of them. 

I spent this afternoon alone watching The Book Thief in a small theater, second row from the screen. It wasn't how I had planned it, but it was what was meant to be, I suppose, and it was perfect.   

The timing was ... telling. Just last night STG and I had been talking about 'A Year of Living ...' - the kinds of challenges that seem to be rising in popularity and that, for some reason, call to both of us in some way as a way to add some richness, challenge, growth in our lives. I had just discovered last evening Brittany, Herself and read her hilarious and thought-provoking post about having sex with her husband every day for a year. This on the heels of reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, chatter about the guy who spent a year living Biblically, and some blog post I read (the headline of) the other day about a former pastor who is spending a year as an athiest. Year-long personal challenges are all the rage, and we pondered what we each individually might do. And yes, STG was a fan of the sex-every-day idea. 

In part of that pondering, STG asked the inevitable question, "well, what makes you happy?" and I answered pro forma "singing, writing, reading." But I couldn't make of that something that I could/would do every day for a year. Something was lacking. It isn't just the reading and writing that I enjoy, it's the luxury of space and time to savour the words, to revel in them, to share them, and to be restored by them. 

In The Book Thief the love of words and stories and books is so clearly seen as a humanizing influence that result, in the words of young Liesl, in 'people being people.' They form bonds between people that form the basis of survival. They are a bridge to being ... something more both individually and relationally. They are calming, moving, healing. 

I sat through the movie as though I were Liesl - so drawn to books that I become unaware - or uncaring - of the danger that may lay in their acquisition. I am not. I am not an adolescent German girl in a city on the brink of war. I have not survived that kinds of human trauma. I am not a made-up girl.

On the drive home the question that kept banging about my head was why did I abandon them? I know what made me happiest - the time my life was richest, in many ways - was when I was in grad school surrounded by and immersed in reading and writing and teaching writing. I didn't just read - I was challenged to read with more insight, and to develop a new facility for  sharing my learning with others. I read new things, and discussed them with the people who had recommended them. I spent my days and evenings with people similarly immersed, devouring existing works of art while often creating their own. Words oozed out of us. An observation from the top floor of the library became a poem. A personal revelation during a reading became the basis of an essay. The more I read and wrote, the more I wanted to read and write. Life expanded with the wealth of words at my disposal. 

I think about those days - my sons so young, life so full yet having time for friends and lovers, my ability to work all day and come home to write, being simultaneously exhausted and alive - and I wonder what's missing now. I am older, yes, but so are my sons, so shouldn't that balance out? Shouldn't I still have the internal resources to work all day and write at night? I read, yes, but it seldom seems to fill me to the point that I have enough in the tank to let it spill over onto the page. Is what's missing the conversation? 

I am sorry I didn't fight harder to stay in the classroom, both as a student and as a teacher. As grateful as I am for the life I have, that nagging doubt never really leaves me. I could have this wonderful life with all that's great in it, and still be in the classroom. I wonder what that would take. 

*No, I still don't know what I'd take on if I were to take on a year-long personal challenge.
*Yes, if there's anywhere you can still see The Book Thief I highly HIGHLY recommend it.
*Yes, I am still looking forward to reading the book - as much as I am a book snob, I am not the kind of book snob who thinks that movies are better/worse than books. They are different mediums that I also enjoy, and that I judge on different criteria.
*Yes, apparently I did forget to review The Happiness Project when I read it and I will get on that ... along with 6 other pending reviews in 'draft' mode. 

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