Archive for August 29, 2011

The First One Gone to College

It’s the question every parent inevitably asks. After, of course, what happened to my black hair?! My face??!!

How did this . . . turn into this?

Where did it go, all those times together? I don’t have anything to communicate, really. It’s hard to fathom even what I’m feeling, the signals jumbled, my wires crossed, because like Ron Burgundy I’m trapped in a glass booth of emotion.

I’m happy and excited for Nick. This is a good thing. An amazing time in a life. Just that it’s a new one for me, the boy gone.

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The Yoga & Reading Connection

I’ve been enthusiastic about yoga lately. I’m just a beginner, no peacock pose for me (yet!), but I’ve been getting more into it. I practice at home with DVD’s and do my best. I can feel that it’s healthy for me, and rewarding. The body learns to like it, to want it.

Yesterday I found myself comparing yoga to my old nemesis, running. Most runners I know are concerned, to varying degrees, with numbers. The times, the distances, the 10K and the personal bests, and so on. Usually when they have a conversation about running — how a race went, or the training for the “Fun Run!” — mathematics quickly enters into the equation.

We like to measure things. The numbers tell us where we are, help us navigate the process; otherwise we are like ships lost at sea, the night sky absent of stars. So we are comforted by numbers, and motivated by them, too.

Whereas with yoga, one of the principal tenants is that each one of us has our own yoga experience. If you can’t stretch beyond your feet, grab an ankle or a knee. There are no winners, no losers. People of widely divergent ability can take the same class and each person will have his own (valid, rewarding) experience. You can’t measure it. Anyone who practices yoga and gives an honest effort will get something out of it, each according to his own need and ability.

It was like reading, I realized. We can all sit down with the same novel and turn the same pages, encounter the same characters, events, and ideas. Do we have the same experience? Of course not.

Was one’s experience “better” than another’s? Well, okay, I suspect it’s true; I agree with Mr. Pirsig that the quality of experience matters, certainly in terms of reading comprehension and how our (singular!) understanding of a text effects emotional and intellectual responses. However, we immediately get into slippery areas, since readers understand texts differently, and there are no “right” or “wrong” responses to a work of art. A skilled yoga practitioner may well get more fullness out of a sequence of movements than someone who is not yet able to hold the poses correctly. But in the practice of yoga, nobody tries to measure these things. It would be absurd. The important thing is that you engage in the discipline of yoga and get out of it what you can.

Given practice and effort, we trust that the process-oriented experience will deepen over time. Just like with reading. Yet in the academic world, there’s pressure to quantify these experiences. We have to separate the minnows from the sharks. Bestow A-pluses and C-minuses. Issue standardized tests. Strive to measure results, meet target scores, and achieve statistical objectives. The numbers guide us to the point where, by the sorry end of things, the numbers rule over us. In our pursuit of quantifying the mystery we are in danger of losing the essential thing, because we lack faith in reading itself.

We should look at reading instruction, and writing instruction, the same way we look at yoga (as opposed to the runner’s mathematical model). Or at least, align ourselves more closely to the yogic perspective.

Trust that reading is enough. Any reading. Trust in the process, and reward the reader for engaging in that activity. Sure, an instructor must still instruct, walk the room, adjust a spine, remind one to stay conscious to the moment, breathe. Or think about the book. Dwell in it, reflect, ask questions, make connections.

In my perfect world, anybody who reads — regardless of ability, regardless of age or experience — gets an A+ and a “Great Job!” sticker.


Photo Me: Age 13

Today is my sister Jean’s birthday. Fifty-four years on this earth. So I dug out this old photo from a family trip, D.C. I think, perhaps Virginia. I seem to recall us heading down there to visit my brother John. Of the seven children, Jean was #6 and I was #7, so toward the end, as the elders fled, it was us.

I’d bet that I’m 13 in this shot, making this 1974, guessing.

Don’t you love my retro kicks?

If you are like me, you can’t get enough of shots from this period, Nixon to Ford to Carter.

The glorious ’70s. The story of innocence lost.

Warning: Sarcastic, Hilarious Graffiti Added to Well-Intentioned Signs

This is a cheat today, I’m just passing along a few laughs and the name of a website that’s ideal for time-wasting. Seriously, if you’ve got a lot of time to kill, it’s no easy task. You are going to need to bring in the big guns.

Below I’ve nicked some examples, but the site, Happy Place, is loaded with ’em . . . enjoy!

Fan Mail Wednesday #122 (Bystander Sequel)

Bryan writes:

Can you please make a second book for "Bystander"? I loved the book and wanted
to see more about eric and mary, griffin etc. It would probably sell. Thanks for
I replied:
Thanks for your note. It’s funny, I get asked that question a lot. I recently learned that in 2011, there were more movie sequels than at any point in history. It’s just expected that if you liked a movie, they’d soon churn out another with the number “2” after it. It’s natural for young people today to expect a sequel.
It was different for my generation when sequels were the rare exception (I’m fifty, btw, but I feel forty-seven). The idealist in me tends to view sequels as these very cynical, marketing-based decisions. A crass bunch of fat cats sit around a big table, crunch the numbers, and proclaim, “Hey, we made a ton of money on this first movie. Let’s make another!” Same thing with books.
It simply doesn’t strike me as a pure artistic effort. Most of the time, anyway.
When I wrote Bystander, I buried myself in research about bullying. I came away convinced that I could write 100 different books on the topic, all from different perspectives. The ground was so fertile, there was so much to explore. But at the same time, I felt satisfied with my work. Bystander didn’t feel unfinished, and I didn’t have anything else that I was aching to say about these particular characters.
Moreover, today I also feel strongly that — wait — did you say, “It would probably sell“?
Let me call my agent.
P.S. Seriously, though I never intended to write a sequel, I take your request to heart. When I think about it, there are two characters I could imagine exploring in more detail. Mary, since she was only a minor character in the book, and her experiences with cyberbullying seem particularly relevant today; and Griffin, because even I am curious about what happens to him. It might be fun to write a book that centers on the bully. The bad guy who might have some unexpected depths of his own. Hmmm.