Remember Anne of Green Gables? Petulant, earnest, downtrodden Anne. The concept of kindred spirits was such a revelation when her first dear friend, Diana, helped her feel a little less lonely. Each helped the other find her way.
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Perhaps this phrase stuck in my memory because I think we all seek our own kindred spirits, especially when we’re not sure where we’re headed or why, or even who we are at times. This month I’ve run into a few kindred spirits, people who are interested in the same ideas that I’ve had rattling around in my thoughts while I wonder, “Does anyone else think about this stuff?”
For example, Think Write Publish. Scholars are paired with writers to tell a true story about important scientific concerns, topics that might normally languish in an obscure academic journal. The enterprise was financed by the National Science Foundation, which is hard to beat for funding innovative, “transformative” projects. Transformative apparently now includes Creative Non-Fiction defined as a way of reaching people who don’t normally read research. You can read Issue 52 of the journal by the same name without a subscription, by clicking the Narratives tab here. If you teach writing or are just interested in how these essays got to be so readable, turn on the Yellow Test for a cool teaching tool, that shows how narrative works to tell an engaging story.
(Disclaimers etc: I’m not affiliated with Think Write Publish, or Creative Non-Fiction, though I do subscribe to the latter. I just think what they’re doing is cool. Also, my research lab is funded by NSF.)
Here’s my answer:
Success is making a connection, whether to a stranger or someone more familiar. Success means that someone read the book and liked an idea, or even that someone paged through the book and said “neat format!” Success means that someone showed up at the book event and learned about the fabulous writing community here in Charlottesville, VA, or that someone plans to give the book to a relative who has had a loss.
Another author’s answer to the success question was “When strangers read it.” But that’s not the metric for me. No, my metric is: Are you a human being, also seeking? Did we have a conversation that we wouldn’t have had, otherwise?
I predict the 21st century will be one where cooperation, community, and connection will trump competition. The internet is revealing so many places for the former three C’s. People are doing work for free, work for fun, work for creativity all over the place, and it’s making this world a better place.
This holiday my uncles read the book. That was the best gift they could have given me. And when one of them said, “I think those women were just looking for companionship. That’s the most important thing in life,” I could only say that I agree.
Success is making a connection.
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Title, Author, and Genre Information for event
1. Bowling For The Mob. Bob Perry with Stefan Bechtel. Sports Biography
2. Braver Than You Believe. Sue Mangum with Claire Cameron. Memoir
3. Warming! William Espinosa. Cli-Fi
4. Scary Mary. S.A. Hunter. YA Paranormal
5. Camila’s Lemonade Stand. Lizzy Duncan with Giles Jackson. Pre-K
6. Lotto’s Super-Awesome Unbelievable Park Adventure. Jan Ferrigan. Middle Grade
7. One Step Ahead of Your Future. Christine Ballard. Estate Planning How-To
8. Radical Doubt. Avery Chenoweth. Fiction
We talked about whether it’s possible to “be nice” and “make money” at the same time. Every child said, “YES!”
This is what I consider a Big Question. It was awesome to see the kids grappling with it. And while Sue Mangum and I agree with the children, we also think that once in a while, it feels great to just “be nice,” too.
Get Braver Than You Believe for free on your Kindle now through Sunday, Nov 3rd, 2013. And tell your friends!
Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
This book by a widowed mother of four who becomes a chaplain for search and rescue missions is a soothing read even if you can’t exactly relate. Her voice is sincere, thoughtful, and humane. The scene that touched me most was when she counseled a man whose sister had committed suicide by taking barbiturates and walking into the cold woods. The dead woman’s minister had told her that all suicides go to hell. When her brother expressed distress about this, Chaplain Kate responded, “The game wardens have been walking in the rain all day in the freezing rain to find your sister. They would have walked for the rest of the week. And if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that God is not less kind, less committed, or less merciful than a Maine game warden.” She went on to assure him that his sister is safe, forgiven and “free at last from all her pain.” (p. 112).
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
People keep giving me Anne Fadiman books as gifts, so I must be making it clear that I like to read well-researched writing that still manages to be personal and creative. About the joys and quirks of being a book-lover, there are lots of obscure yet entertaining tidbits in here. I most enjoyed the essay about carnal versus courtly lovers of books, who are distinguished most starkly by whether or not one would ever lay a book face down on its spine. I also learned some new sesquipedalians that made me realize my goals are to have a diapason, adapertile jars, and a team of agathodemons looking out for me.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The title of this book, first published in 1949, is meant not to denigrate but to honestly represent how women were viewed at the time: as an imperfect version of the prototypical human specimen, the male. In her introduction, she asks “Are there women, really?” And certainly, decades of health and psychology research that included only male (and white, Anglo-Saxon, educated, i.e., WEIRD) subjects, would seem to indicate that for many scholars in the early 20th century, the answer was a bizarre “no.”
Side note: In Ex Libris (see above), Anne Fadiman points out in her chapter on “True Womanhood,” noting that “…although my father and E. B. White were not misogynists, they didn’t really see women, and their language reflected and reinforced that blind spot.” (p. 76).
I’m through the chapter on biology and found it a helpful reminder of the physical and physiological limitations of female-hood. S. d B.’s prose reminds me that while women’s moods and anxieties help define our daily experience as more variable than a man’s, this does not define us, our humanity, or our possibilities. Rather, I’m striving, as I read this book, and as I grow into myself (to quote a dear friend), to accept the ups and downs of my emotional brain, and to use these experience to become more compassionate and present with myself and with others.
Another part of transitioning my writing ambitions is reading the type of work that I would like to write. I’m taking a shotgun approach and enjoying the ride.
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Wilkins: an inspiration to someone who very methodically would like to attain happiness (I’m not being ironic). Honest, manageable, thought-provoking, self-accepting.
Lit, by Mary Carr: It took me over a year to open this one and then about 3 days to finish it. Perfect timing, as it turns out, as Ms. Carr gives publishing advice. She also does a remarkable job of writing about the change her thought patterns underwent.
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell: Am half-way done, and appreciating the stories that go along with, and illustrate, the data. This book steps way back from daily events that seem haphazard to find patterns in phenomenal success.
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn: which is apparently available to read online for free, but then wasn’t anymore, but is again. I have to admit I’m going slowly with this one. It’s dense but also, makes me cry.
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg: Also making my way through this one, and wondering where exactly those Central American stories are set. But that misses the point. My favorite so far is The Robbery and not only because the title is a double (triple?) entendre.