Night Reader

I grew up surrounded by books. I became an English major, and I’m even trying to write my own.

This weekend, I spent a whole night discussing books with a great friend. A whole night.

And it all comes down to one turning moment in my life: my parents read to me. I wrote my college essay on the beauty of my Dad coming up to my sister and me’s bedroom and bringing the book we picked together from the library only days before. Whether it was Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, my Dad always read to us at least a little every night to give our mom a break. And when our eyes started to flutter close, he would check on us to see if we were still listening. And the next night, he would inevitably have to go back and reread parts that we had missed.

I can’t say anything about my math skills. Maybe if I had rehearsed my timetables at night, I would be better. But I can say I’m a good reader.

So, if you do anything for your kids, make sure you read to them. They won’t forget it, and neither will you.



Archers Never Made Good Kings

… is an excellent line in the song “Archer” by the Ballroom Thieves that really got me thinking today.

And my message is simple: Archers never made good kings.

Which in my own head means simply you can’t be on the defensive and the offensive at the same time.

Which means simply, stop trying to get better when you are healing.

And if that doesn’t help, simply, knock it the hell off.

Maybe I’m reading too much into one line, but hey, I was an English/Communications major. The curtains are blue for a reason.

So, what to do with that advice? Like I said, simple. Take your time and do one thing at a time. Be an archer – aim for your target. Or be a king – revel in your good fortune. But you can’t do both. You can’t grow and be content at the same time.

Remember that for the New Year season. It’s okay to try and be a better person, and it’s also great to be grateful for what you have and want things to slow down for a minute.

It’s good to have goals but don’t pull the string too taut on your dreams. You never know, you might be king one day.




A Need to Believe

I must admit that I read into things. Maybe that’s why I became an English major, to read between the lines of Hemingway and to be beaten over the head with symbolism when I read Hawthorne. Or maybe that was already in my DNA before, what makes me still buy a book that tells you what a certain animal signifies when you see it (ooh, look a bedbug! I guess that means I need more sleep!)

But I don’t think I had to look too far to see the meaning in one event today.

I was exhausted. I’d been burning two ends of the midnight oil the night before. I was the kind of tired that if I closed my eyes, I got a little dizzy with how fast my brain was losing consciousness. And from there, it wasn’t hard to realize that I was feeling a bit down. I’m currently at a crossroads in my life (but who isn’t really, when they’re in their twenties?), and I’m trying to figure it all out. Today, I was simply tired in more ways than one. I would have liked nothing better than to crawl into a deep, dark hole to rest my head and my thoughts.

And so I was debating my choices (give up or give in) when I heard it. It was a song on the radio. But it wasn’t just any song, if you will excuse my dramatics. It was a song that I had never, ever heard on the radio before. Yet, it was a song that I had desperately wanted to have played on the radio. You see, it wasn’t exactly made for the popular stations. Not what you would call a toe-tapper or the next summer hit.

It was performed by Loreena McKennitt. She’s a new age-y artist who sings about the solstice and the wind that shakes the barley. Think of her as a less mainstream Enya, I guess. She also happens to be my absolute, all-time, favorite musician.

Now, I can’t really impress on you how strange it was to hear her own the radio, but I will try. Let’s just say that the odds of playing Loreena McKennitt are about as good as the odds of playing “It’s Friday” by Rebecca Black on that same station. In all seriousness.

But here she was. My favorite artist was belting out notes in the middle of my crummy day. I was every shade of dumbfounded.

Of course, I could dismiss this as a funny coincidence. I could slap my knee and utter something like, “Well, I’ll be.”

But I didn’t. I took it as a sign. I took it as one might grab a rope to pull oneself out of a very deep and very dark cell. Why? Because that is what I needed to believe. I needed a benevolent message, and I got one.

Yes, our own perspective and understanding colors things. Indeed, it was a well-timed occurrence. But then, why couldn’t that mean that it was also a sign, a personal reassurance? The answer is that it can be both.

I believe that we’re giving footholds like this all the time, to ensure that we keep holding on. But it is up to you to reach out and grab them, see where they are, even in the darkness. If you are open enough, if you are alert enough, and if you need it badly enough, you may just find what you’re looking for. That is, if you have the courage to recognize it for what it is.

Can I See Your I.D.?

Isn’t it sort of strange that the blanks you fill out to get your driver’s license have pretty much nothing to do with your actual identity? That’s right. Eye color, height, whether or not you are an organ donor, has nothing to do with who you really are. (That’s right, kids. Keep your liver or don’t. Your kidneys don’t define you.)

And okay, maybe you already knew that your entire identity is too big to fit on a card that you can fit in your wallet. But then again, if there was a card big enough, what would be on it?

I can distinctly remember discussing identity in one of my literature classes. It was with one of my favorite professors, and he was spouting, like a fount of wisdom. He challenged each of us to define the idea of identity. And each time, he shook his head and countered our explanation. I can recall him being especially frustrated when I stated that your identity is what you believe in and what you like and dislike. He told me if that were true, then we wouldn’t have an identity until we were born. I astutely replied with, “oh.”

So, an identity comes from birth, I had to reason. And then where does it go? Somewhere along the line, I think it must align itself with whatever people perceive of us. If we’re smart, we’re nerds. If we’re good at sports, we’re jocks. If we like school, we’re weird. And whether you accept or reject your label, whether you wear it proudly or like armor, it becomes a part of you. So much so, that when you are freed from the black and white judgment of your peers, you feel a little lost. I was a nerd in high school, you think. Now there are about a hundred other people who are smarter than me, if not more, at this company. Suddenly, without that preconceived notion of yourself that you can slip into like a second skin, you can’t be defined. You’re amorphous.

And then, you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out the identity that you should have been developing since, well, birth. Who am I, really? (I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.) And how am I going to define my identity if the answer to the question who are you is something other than my favorite band, my job, my religion, my sexual preference, or my gender? (What do you mean the fact that I love Taylor Swift won’t help me to make big life decisions?) [April Fools! I hate T-Swift].

Of course, it helps to start with what you like. What you know about yourself to be true. But your identity will never simply be who or what you associate yourself with, so you’ll have to move on from there. Rather, identity is what my literature professor was trying to teach us all along: it is a workable concept that is as diverse as the amount of people who possess it. It is never attained, but exists all the same. Like you, identity is amorphous and never constant. But this is a fact to be proud of, not scared of. Having no definition does not always mean that you are lost, but rather, that there are infinite possibilities.

When Writing Was Relevant

Ah, wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back to the days of minstrels and ballads? When your only form of entertainment was hearing about the derring-do and exploits of some roguish knave, spun into lyrics and cooly couched into a lilting melody? Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the days of AM radio, when family members put aside their differences to huddle a little closer to a small speaking box that delivered their news with finesse and enthusiasm? To be blunt, what happened to the power of words? Has it all but disappeared into the dust that could fit on the dot of an “i”?

Well, I spoke with a professor of mine tonight, and he made an incredibly poignant point: forensic scientists are not tossing and turning at night trying to decide whether they should follow their passion. But those in the humanities are faced with a difficult decision: pursue it or eschew it.

Indeed, society’s pendulum has swung back, and we no longer treasure the humanities or the arts. We perceive people who want to develop a career as a writer (for example) as selfish. But forensics science? Well, you are contributing something to society then, if that is your major. And you are putting the needs of society first (because we need CSI: Omaha, Nebraska), so you can have a fat paycheck as well…

After all, the English majors are just as important as the pre-med/pre-law students in the world, just in different ways. You may be discovering a cure for cancer, sure, but we are the magazines in every treatment waiting room. We are the stack of books you can escape to while receiving your chemo therapy. Hell, we are why you chose the hospital you did. It was because they marketed themselves to you in a way that you couldn’t refuse. That all exists due to language, my friends. And it has power, and the people who wield it have power. Even if society refuses to acknowledge that.

Or perhaps, we acknowledge it too much. Now, with everyone playing the author and everyone existing as a reader through social media, maybe we are putting too much on blast. Maybe we are so surrounded by words that it becomes difficult to distinguish what we should pay attention to. And yet, by the same token, wouldn’t that make the most inspiring prose or uplifting poetry all that more refreshing?

It’s sort of like when you are swimming in a pool, and you feel a warm spot. You notice it, and suddenly you are trying frantically to find its source. That’s what good writing should do: make you feel kind of warm and make you want to know more. And in this way, we need to make writing relevant again.

After all, the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

But more importantly, the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

The Zombie of Shalott

Author’s Note:

I saved the best for last. I know it isn’t cool to laugh at your own jokes, but this blog post made cackle. I think I should pervert more of the world’s classic literature. What do you think? Anyway, I’ll be back next week with more fresh scrapings from my brain (not literally) in the form of new posts. 

Everything is better with zombies. (Okay, except for apocalypses. Then it just means things have taken a turn for the worst.)

But I’m still going to stand by the fact that most things are better with zombies. Which was my exact thought when I took another look at one of my favorite poems of all time: The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It’s a rather dark poem, which centers around a lady from Shalott. She is cursed and cannot look directly out of her window at the nearest town, which is Camelot. Instead, she must look at a mirror to watch the daily happenings as a lonely bystander. That is, until she sees the hunky Lancelot. She then turns around in her tower, takes a good look, and dies. (Ladies, let me remind you. No man is that good looking. No matter what your magic mirror says.)

Well, I mean, she doesn’t die right away. She gets into a boat with her name on it and sails down (ironically) to Camelot so that all of the people of the town can gaze upon her (which is actually a huge metaphor for women in the media, if you ask me) and basically, Lancelot decides she’s pretty hot, ya know. Posthumously.

The end.

Or is it?

So, I thought this four part poem could use a fifth. I think all of you English majors (and anyone who has a sense of humor) will enjoy that I brought this poem into the 21st century. You could even say that I brought it back from the dead.

Ahem. Anyway, here is the last stanza of the original poem in case you forgot how that ended.

They cross’d themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
       The wellfed wits at Camelot.
‘The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
       The Lady of Shalott.’
Now, here’s mine.
Gathered by the boat, near her cold, pale head,
Their hearts and eyes were filled with dread,
But the closer they moved, the more they said,
“But seriously, are you sure she’s dead?”
The lady of Shalott.
And then, from out of the bustling crowd,
Came a man tall, handsome, and extremely loud
Walking forward, no, strutting, acting very proud,
was Lancelot of Camelot.
“Don’t worry, citizens, for I am here,
And so you must cast away your fear,
I was voted sexiest man of the year,
(It was almost solely due to my rear)
It is I, Lancelot of Camelot.”
And so he stepped onto the bank,
And examined her face (which was blank)
“If I had to give her a number, a rank,
It would be an eight, she’s kind of hot.”
While the crowd listened to the knight closely,
The lady’s complexion became rather ghostly,
Suddenly, she opened her eyes, which were mostly,
red and bloodshot, and moaned rather grossly,
The lady of Shalott.
No one saw that the lady had awoke,
and everyone thought it was a terrible joke,
when she rose eerily from the boat and spoke,
The lady of Shalott.
“Hear this,” she said in a booming voice,
(but the bored townspeople thought, “do we have a choice?”)
“All who bow down to me will be able to rejoice,
but death and destruction on everyone else I must foist,”
the now zombie of Shalott.
Who animates corpses these days? they all thought,
but Lancelot, who is never distraught,
asked, “What, fair mistress, on this town have you brought?”
the zombie formerly of Shalott.
“I don’t want much,” she replied, “because it’s always the same.”
“And what would that be, maybe my last name?”
“No, that won’t do. It has to be brains.
And actually it would be nice to cut out this stupid refrain,”
said the zombie of Shalott.
“You can have my brains, but it will be a small meal,”
said Lancelot happily, hoping to stealthily steal,
the lady’s heart. A damsel in distress? What a deal!
The idiot knight of Camelot.
So, she ravenously began to eat,
Not wanting to miss the show, they took a seat,
and watched the young lady enjoy her treat,
of knighted Lancelot, a man no one could defeat,
the zombie of Shalott.
The town was glad to be rid of the pompous knight,
And so they took her in, and they treated her right,
And she tried hard not to eat them, with all of her might.
The happy (but hungry) zombie of Shalott.