Dear Ishmael,

You don’t know me, yet I feel like I know you.  I recently had the opportunity not only to read A Long Way Gone, but I had a chance to experience its pages in a way many people do not.  My co-teacher in the SITES program chose your book in his study of global issues.  Having never read the book, I chose to read it with our students, so that I could engage in conversation in class.

As a child of literature yourself, you may know that sometimes, a book can speak to us in a way we do not expect.

For me, maybe it was that I had just finished teaching Paul Rusesabagina’s Ordinary Man and I found the parallel between the two stories haunting.   Maybe it was the moment in our first discussion when one of our students pointed to a passage that I myself could not shake, “We must always strive to be like the moon,” and a ten minute discussion followed analyzing the truth and wisdom of these words.  Maybe it was the fact that you wrote so poignantly that I was able to transcend the delicate refinements of my life to see what I think you want everyone who reads your book to see: even though mankind can terrorize one another and bring pain and hardship, what matters is what we do after the experience.  This book, your book, stays with me because by the end, I felt strengthened by a feeling that already existed in my heart: if I only allow myself to experience man when he is at his worst, I may never know man for the potential he has: for his beauty, for his amiability, and for his love.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear you speak.  As someone who is constantly analyzing my own place in the world, I felt like a child in a classroom.  Your story and strength of the first book were inspirational, but the limitlessness of your spirit is profound.  You are correct in your theory that happiness should not be measured by stretches of time.  It is not to be measured, but it is to be experienced.  Ultimately,  you were the victim of childhood captivity; without an alternative, you were forced to be a soldier. Yet, despite the reality of your past,  you have allowed yourself to heal, you have allowed yourself to eclipse a world speckled with hatred so that you can live again.

Standing in line with my students eagerly waiting to get your new novel Radiance of Tomorrow signed, I felt renewed.  I felt that within the hour of listening to you speak, my understanding of mankind deepened.  Ishmael, for me you rejuvenated truth:  Many people will enter our lives and they will see the flicker of our eternal flame.  Some of those people will want to extinguish it, and if given the opportunity, they will.  However, others will see us for what we are, for what we can be.  These people will take one of two actions: They will either do everything in their power to relight the flame, or seeing that it still flickers, they will protect it, nurture it, and wait for it be what it was meant to be.  Each of us has a light inside, and with the proper guidance and nurturing, it will blaze and we will live to our full potential: hopeful creatures, dedicated individuals, and spiritual heroes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only signing my book but for touching my life.


Random Thoughts Day 3: Obsession

In 1994, I became somewhat obsessed with the American author Nicholas Baker.  I mentioned him once before.  He is most known for his novel, Vox, a 976 party-line exchange between a man and a woman that turns into a 176 page sexual fantasy.  It is rumored that Monica Lewinsky gave a copy to Bill Clinton  (pre or post cigar, I’m not sure).  I was amazed at the ingenious quality of the work, and I decided I wanted to read another book by Baker.

I drove myself to Border’s and perused the fiction aisles.  Remember, in those days you could lounge in a bookstore for hours looking at books and drinking latte’s. Ahhhh, the good old days.  I found his book titled, U and I, published a year before Vox and I decided to buy it.  I fell in love.

The entire premise of the book is that Baker is obsessed with John Updike, his literary hero, and he wants nothing more than to meet him and make him his friend.  In this book about Baker’s real life, he and Updike have many literary friends in common.  Baker becomes very familiar with the life of Updike, a life he wants desperately to be involved.  As insane as it sounds, I felt a kinship with Baker.  I understood this passion.  At different points in my life, I have thought about people I have met or who I would like to meet with whom I truly want to strike up a friendship.

Joanna_GarciaWhich brings me to the point of this story.  I am kind of obsessed with Joanna Garcia  and I want her to be my friend.  I discovered Joanna in 2008 when she starred on a little show on the CW called Privileged.  On the show, her character was a budding writer who took a job as a tutor for two snobby, rich girls in California.  While trying to create her breakthrough masterpiece, she was teaching the girls life-lessons and developing a budding romance with the cute millionaire next door.

Of course, I loved her character.  She was cute, smart, and tenacious.  However, something about the way Joanna played the character made me think that it was not all an act.  A bit of who she truly is was coming through in this role.  Right then and there, in the summer of 2008, I thought to myself, “That girl and I could be friends.”

I was saddened, then, when I heard in March of the following year that the CW did not decide to pick up the show for another season.  My secret friendship was pulled out from under me by corporate executives who worry too much about their pocket books and not enough about the needs of the American woman.  In my mind, I wished her well, but I wasn’t worried for her, I knew she had enough spunk to land more roles.

Luckily, not more than a few months later, she had a guest appearance as Ted Mosby’s college buddy on How I Met Your Mother.  Of course, she did!  Ted Mosby is from Shaker Heights, just a hop, a skip, and a jump from where I am now.  The universe was bringing us closer together, even if it was only in a fictionalized sense.

Two years after that, she appeared on another one of the shows I love, Royal Pains.  She appeared in multiple episodes as Dr. Nina Greene, a brilliant and compassionate nephrologist.  Every Wednesday, come hell or high water, I made sure I was there, in front of the television, watching my friend knock her roll out of the ballpark.

Funny that I just used a baseball reference, you want to know why?  This year in the preseason, the Cleveland Indians acquired first baseman Nick Swisher.  My husband was elated.  Swisher played for The Ohio State University, a school held in high regard in this house.  Just having a Buckeye on the team was going to bring us luck, he told me.  I didn’t know much about him, but then one night, I was watching the local news, and they showed a picture of Nick Swisher and his wife.  OMG!  Nick Swisher married Joanna Garcia.

I got chills down my spine.  Could this be happening?  Joanna Garcia was moving to Cleveland?

Joanna Garcia is somewhere in Cleveland right now!  Now, I know this sounds a bit nuts.  What does a 43-year-old teacher and mother of three have in common with a 34-year-old, soon-to-be-mom actress?  I don’t know, but I think we would have something in common.  We could talk about books, movies, and baseball.  We could talk about burping babies and sleeping habits of infants.  After three kids, I have some very practical advice.  Maybe she needs that.

The universe is bringing us together.  I can feel it.  It is only a matter of time before she and I are on each other’s speed dials!

Day 293: Be True. Be True. Be True.

When I turned sixteen, I decided it was time I needed a job.  I had been working every Saturday and Sunday since I was nine helping my father clean his bars, but I wanted to find a job on my own.  I promised my father I would still be his main vacuumer, but I needed to spread my wings and explore new avenues.  Of course, the first place I applied was the county library.  Books have always been my love.  I wanted to be around them, even if I wasn’t reading them.  I knew if I could just land a job as a page, I could spend twelve to fifteen hours a week in a place of quiet study, and somehow, maybe through osmosis, some of the knowledge in the books I was putting away would get into my head.

The county library job was a very competitive job.  In 1986, minimum wage was $3.35 an hour.   The library offered pages $4.02.  Thus, when I applied I was one of dozens of applicants.   I wanted it so badly that I prayed to all of the dead writers to allow me the chance to be able to be in a place that celebrated their greatness. Hemingway, Steinbeck, Lawrence, and Bronte– I wanted to linger in their midst; I needed to amalgamate with their works, assimilate with their musings.  They heard, and within a few weeks, I was hired.

My favorite room to work was, of course, the Fiction room, although, I worked the slowest in this room.  I would read the backs of books as I put them away, and more than once, I found myself well into the first chapter of some riveting story when my supervisor would walk by and clear her throat.  She did not understand that the words would mix in my thoughts and dreams, and that many nights, while I was deep in slumber, I would dream of the apparitions of my favorite authors and they would share secrets of writing.

When I awoke, I always forgot what they said.  I would remember Fitzgerald’s smile or Virginia Woolf’s contemplative demeanor, but I would forget their instruction, leaving me, many morning, feeling elusively caught between two worlds: the one I lived and the one I wanted to recall.

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the influence of the written word and these great artists, and I worry that with the new core curriculum, the love I feel for language will die.  The core curriculum is requiring that in all subject matter, 70% of the works to be read must be non-fiction.  The core curriculum does not have a standard for poetry, seemingly saying that it can and should be omitted as fluff.  I worry that the richness of works like The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, and poems like “The Road Not Taken” and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” will be forgotten.  In this brave new world we are embarking upon, will we be focusing on community, identity, and stability at the cost of identity and creativity?  Literature and poetry teach us about people more than any non-fiction piece of work does.  Literature and poetry teach us about the human heart and soul.  They allow us to feel empathy and sympathy, exaltation and joy.

At night, I still try to conjure conversations with my muses. Last night, I dreamt I was in the forest, near a brook with overgrown weeping willows.  Butterflies danced in the sunlit sky.  I sat on a blanket basking in the sun when Hawthorne stopped by for a visit.  He had a kettle of Earl Grey and two cups.  We shared the tea and discussed the inhibitions of the natural world compared to societal demands and pressures.

“What do you think Nathaniel, “I asked, “of the way education is changing.  What shall we do?”

He was quiet for a fairly long time.  He sipped his tea and seemed to study a bird nestled in the nest of a tree.  Finally he spoke. “I will tell you what I told dear Hester.  ‘Be true. Be true.  Be true!’ ”

Words to live by.