My Quote Journal

img_7757When I was a kid, I painstaking copied quotes and poems that spoke to me into a notebook. I wrote down any little snippets I loved, memorized them, and told others all about them.

Then I got older, and I abandoned the practice. Not for any particular reason, but just because that’s sometimes what happens when kids grow up.

I still occasionally jotted down a quote on a scrap of paper, or emailed it to myself. But the emails sat in my inbox, forgotten. And the scraps of paper got lost.

In 2013, I was working at a counseling center, and I met someone who loved quotes as much as I did. We’d exchange interesting quotes, and I started writing inspirational ones on a whiteboard in my office.

I’d been collecting upcycled journals for awhile. I just love them. But they’d been sitting on my shelf, unused. And then, one day, I realized that I could fill them with words, these wonderful quotes that I had collected. So that’s what I did.

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I found this quote, it spoke to me, and I realized that’s what I’d been doing all this time. I’ve been collecting words and phrases that say something I can’t quite say, articulate something caught in my throat or burning in my heart.

When I’m having a rough day, I flip through my quote journal and read a random page or two. Without fail, one of the quotes on the page speaks directly to whatever’s going on with me that day, and makes me feel a little better.

Do you have any interesting practices from your childhood that you abandoned (or not) as an adult?

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G is for the Great Gilly Hopkins

Unknown-1This was perhaps the first letter where I really, really had a hard time choosing what to do. It was between Gilly and Grimm’s fairy tales, as they both influenced me a lot, just in different ways.  So… I’ll probably do a bonus blog all about fairy tales and mythology once this challenge is over.

Anyway, The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson gave me so many different things.  The book is about Gilly, who’s in foster care and goes to live with Maime Trotter, a fat woman with a huge heart, and William Ernest, who’s a younger child in the home and a bit of a sissy.  Gilly is mean, and like most foster children who’ve been moved from home to home and been promised things that never happened, is hardened, focused on her fantasy mother, who she believes will save her.

When she gets to Trotter’s home, she does everything she can to escape.  But Trotter never gives up on her, and Gilly eventually falls in love and realizes what family really means.

Gilly taught me that people who act mean often do so because they have a story, and that hard shell is mostly just armor.  She taught me that when you fight against something too much, you might get something you didn’t bargain for.  (Gilly eventually goes to live with her biological grandmother, and then realizes that she wanted to stay with Trotter.)

This book also introduced me to my love of poetry.  It contains an excerpt of Ode, by William Wordsworth.  I didn’t know it was an excerpt, of course, and it was the first poem that I copied into a notebook and then memorized.  Imagine my surprise when I eventually located the poem and found out that it was about four times longer than I thought!  I can still recite the excerpt, and it’s still one of my favorites.

I didn’t understand it when I read it (I think I was maybe 11 or 12 at the time), but the poem had a profound effect on me emotionally.  I felt it reverberate through my heart in a way that very poems ever have.

I drive my critique partner crazy.  He’s firmly in the camp of not adding quotes, poetry, or song lyrics from other people’s work into stories.  He feels that the author shouldn’t have to borrow emotional impact.

I do it though, because I remember how, without this book, I probably never would have read this poem.  This book is the first of many to not just introduce me to the world in the book, but to broaden my universe beyond it.

Thus began a life-long love affair with poetry.  It set me on the path for an empathetic life.  Years later, when I worked for CPS and saw hurt and emotionally injured children come through, I remembered this book, remembered Gilly, and it helped me to remember that everyone has a story.

That’s a lot of influence for 148 pages of book.

“Once the tugboat takes you out to the ocean liner, you got to get all the way on board. Can’t straddle both decks.”
— Katherine Patterson

So Many Books, So Little Time

A couple of years ago, my reading tastes started to shift.  I’ve always loved to read, and I’m a firm proponent of the novel, but I started to notice that many novels were kind of the same.  Once you’ve read one Harlequin romance novel, you’ve kinda read them all.  I started craving variety in my reading life.

Some of my favorite books have snippets of poetry or quotations to introduce chapters, or peppered in the text.  I enjoyed those morsels without thinking much of them.  Then, one day, it hit me.  The authors I most enjoy are well-read, and are not just reading whatever entertains them.

Two years ago, I looked around for a list of classics, wanting to be more well-read, hoping that would help me be a better writer.  I wasn’t thinking there’d be some sort of magical transformation or anything, but just that I could learn some things from the masters.

I’d read some of the books on the list, and some of them were books I’ve loved.  But of the ones I hadn’t read, I had to force my way through the first few books on my list.  Reading novels, I was accustomed to reading fast, zipping my way through the pages without having to pay particular attention to anything.  With many of these new books that I was choosing to exercise my mind rather than just for fun, it was actually work.  I had to slow down, read closely, figure out some of the meaning.

At first, it wasn’t fun.  It was hard, not something I’m used to associating with reading.  But the more I’ve done, the more I want to do.  I’m getting to the point where I want to read harder books.  Not primarily because I want to be a better author or because I somehow think I should, but because the ideas contained in many of these books enflame me.  Ideas and concepts are timeless.

In reading  these books, I’ve started highlighting sentences and passages, wanting to get more out of them.  The act of highlighting seems magical, as if that yellow line will somehow imprint the wonderfulness of the sentence into my brain.

I’ve always been a big re-reader, visiting with old friends.  I find I’m doing less of it, for several reasons.  First, who has time for that?  Without exaggerating, I can say I have at least 100 books on my TBR list.  I read 100 books last year, but I can’t just read all difficult books.  Plus, I add new books my list all the time.

Second, some of the books I’ve read in the past don’t stand up on re-reading.  I had that experience recently, when I read a beloved book.  I hadn’t read it in a few years, and when I read it this time around, it wasn’t as good as I remembered.  I found myself critiquing the writing, finding places where the author hit me over the head with philosophy, when it would have been much better to let me draw my own conclusions.  I didn’t like that experience, and may think twice about re-reading books I’m nostalgic about.

I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to stop reading genre fiction.  Not at all.  It’s what I write and what I love.  I’m just saying that there are so many good books out there, and that my goal is to read as many of them as I can in my lifetime.

Have anyone else’s reading tastes changed over time?

 

 

Poetry and Me

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

I fell in love with my first poem in elementary school.  I probably read other poems, but the first one that really touched me was one I found in a book.  The book was The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.  In the book 11-year-old Gilly is a troubled foster child.  She ends up with a woman who won’t give up on her.

At one point, Gilly is asked to read a poem to her elderly, blind neighbor.  The poem is an excerpt from Ode, by William Wordsworth.  The poem is over 200 lines long, but less than 20 were included in the book.  Of course, I didn’t know that because these were pre-internet days.  What I did know was that the poem felt like it spoke to me, reached down inside and touched a special chord.  I read that poem over and over.  It was the first poem I transcribed in a spiral notebook of poems and snippets of text I liked.  I can still recite the excerpt today.

We were taught to analyze poetry in my high school, so I may have developed a love of poetry anyway, but I have to imagine that there was something special about being introduced to it so young, and on my own.  No one told me to like it.  No one directed me to analyze it for a grade.  It was all about me and my relationship with the prose.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as I write my novel.  In it, I have one of the main characters quote lines of poetry and prose.  She does this maybe a half dozen times.  My critique partner hates it.  His argument is that you shouldn’t need to use someone else’s words to invoke an emotion.

I’m torn.  His argument makes sense, and yet… I remember what it was like to discover Wordsworth as a child, to find that pure love of something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.  It still would have been a good book without those lines, but with them, for me, it became something akin to magic.

How do you feel about poems, quotes, or song lyrics in books?

What I Learned in 2014

In Vancouver, Canada Photo Credit: Doree Weller

In Vancouver, Canada
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Odd numbered years tend to be better for me than even numbered years.  And while 2014 wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great either.  That being said, 2014 was full of learning experiences, and I have to be grateful for those.  Perhaps, like literary fiction, 2014 will be better in review than it was while living it.

I learned that I needed to remember how much I love poetry and quotes.  When I was a teenager, I kept a notebook where I dutifully copied poetry and quotes that I loved.  I still have that notebook somewhere.  As I got older, I started saving things I liked in folders in my email, and promptly forgot them.  For years, I’ve loved upcycled notebooks and bought them, but then didn’t write anything in them.  Well, I now have an awesome poetry and quotes book.  I copy things down and doodle in it.  Writing things I love in there is more immediate than saving them on my computer, and it feels more personal.

Journaling is fun and therapeutic.  I’ve been a sporadic journaler for a few years, and even when I was doing more of it, it was mostly stuff about what I did during the day; nothing exciting. Recently I turned my journal into a place where I jot down all my thoughts.  Things about stories, reflections on my day, positive things that people have said to me.  And you know what?  Just like that, not only do I enjoy journaling again, but I find that it’s a good way to process my day or my feelings on something.

Colored pens make everything better.  Okay, they don’t cure world hunger or addiction, but if I’m having a bad day, doodling in my journal in colored pens makes me smile.  It doesn’t matter if I can’t draw; as long as it’s in color, it looks great.

I learned that no matter how many friends I have, there’s always room for more.  I’m an introvert, so in my mind, I only need so many friends.  I mean, there’s only so much time in life.  Despite my intentions, I ended up making a new friend this year, someone who will undoubtedly be around for the rest of my life.

Books aren’t written; they’re rewritten.  I know this, but I still have to learn it over and over again.  I just have to keep editing until I get it right, and every time, it will be a little better than it was last time.  That’s okay.  The best things in life take time.

Criticism hurts, but it won’t kill me.  I joined a fantastic writer’s group, and got some feedback that really stung.  After I got over licking my wounds and eating 41 pints of ice cream, I took an objective look at the criticism I received.  Some of it, I still disagreed with, so I filed it away and decided not to edit anything based on that.  Other parts of the criticism were spot on, and I made some changes based on that.  Once I got over tripping on my own ego, I realized that I was presented with a unique opportunity to improve.

I strive to be a lifelong learner, and I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen in 2015.  What, if anything, did you learn in 2014?

 

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Tomorrow, April 24th, is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  The idea is to have a poem in your pocket (duh!) that you share with others during the day.  I think high school can ruin poetry appreciation with all the picking apart and analyzing language.  I say that if you like it, it’s good.  And there doesn’t need to be much more to it than that.

Here’s a link to Poets.org in case you’d like to find something different.  Or search for your favorite poet online, like Emily Dickenson or Robert Frost.

One of my favorite poets is William Wordsworth, from the 18th century.  I’ve included a link to Ode, my all time favorite poem, at over 200 lines long.

Here’s another of my favorites:

Dust if You Must

-Author Unknown

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

 

Poetry

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

IMG_0744When I was a kid, I loved poetry. I read Wordsworth, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Emily Dickenson. I’m not sure when I stopped reading poetry, but I suspect that it was around the time we started analyzing it in high school.

From the perspective of adulthood, I understand why we were analyzing it. Poetry generally has complex layers of language that can be discerned on deeper analysis and exploration.

Just because I get it doesn’t mean I agree with it. To me, poetry was about emotion, and how it made me feel. Analyzing poetry felt the same way criticizing art did. It felt like the magic trick was being revealed. I know magic isn’t real, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking for the sleight of hand or the trapdoor. I want magic to be real, in the same way I want poetry and art to have that layer of magic.

As a writer, it’s important to understand how technique and language create that magic. If we’re going to write, we need to understand. Yet in my high school classes, our goal wasn’t to create anything. I still enjoy writing really bad poetry, and I don’t understand how to create anything like the magical ones I most enjoy.

I’ve started reading poetry again, partly because I think it’s important, but also because it was something I enjoyed so much, once upon a time. I had a notebook in which I faithfully transcribed some of my favorite poems, and I read them so many times that I memorized some of them.
“Ode,” by William Wordsworth was my favorite poem growing up, and I’ve included a link to it so that you can enjoy too.

Do you like poetry? What’s your favorite poem?