My Reading Group Adventures

This past summer, we started visiting the local library on a regular basis. Our toddler’s reading selection seemed to be growing thin and the steady two-or-three-books-a-night made the circulation tight. With the additional expenses of homeownership, we were on a mission to find ways to save money and take advantage of the resources in our new community.

As couple of weeks ago, during our last “refuel” of children’s and adult literature, I noticed a flyer for the library’s “Reading Group.” This month, they were reading Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, which was on my growing list of books to read this year. Eager to join a group that would discuss the books we were going to read, I grabbed a copy from the circulation desk with the plans to read it before the next meeting and check out this group of readers in this community.

The Reading Group

At 4:25, I showed up at the library, armed with my read Patchett novel and ready to discuss the complexities of story ownership that was a central theme within the book. When I walked into the room, which usually held art and photography exhibitions, there was a circle of chairs and a couple of the members already catching up with the events of their lives.

As the room began to fill, I began to wonder if I was in the right space. I was easily the youngest person within the room by at least one generation. As I listened patiently to the other members critique elements of the book and provide their own insight, I considered getting up and excusing myself. I could give myself the excuse of “at least I tried.” I could justify it by telling myself had put in a good effort and could return comfortably to my introverted life.

However, when the reading group promptly wrapped up at 5:30, I lingered for a few minutes in my chair as I tried to not look too eager to leave. At this time, a couple of the group members began to talk with me, about both the book and about the history of the reading group. They encouraged me to come back next month as they were eager to attract younger members.

Building Community

One of the many critiques of our generation is the lack of traditional community involvement. For me, the reading group–I believe it is intentionally not called a “book club”–provides an opportunity for social entrance into our new community. It also provides me with an outlet to engage outside of my work and family lives.Since completing my master’s, I’ve been looking for something to “work on” while I’m at home, in addition to the traditional mother-homeowner responsibilities.  Finally, the reading group encourages me to do something that I have neglected over the last decade–to read for the joy of reading. 

When moving to a new city or town, finding outlets like a reading group can help you connect with new people within the community. Even if your move is only one city over–like ours–each community has its own characters and story. Learning the story of your new community can help you find role within it.

People walking on a street

 

 

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Reflections on “A Room of One’s Own”

A Room of One's Own Title page from 1929 edition

I began my 2018 reading challenge with A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The essay is based on a two papers delivered in October 1928. The essay discusses the challenges women writers have faced and the possible conditions these women would need in order to prosper like their male counterparts.

A Room of One's Own Title page from 1929 edition
Title Page

The idea of reading Woolf’s essay haunted me for the last six months as I completed my master’s degree. I was exposed to the work when I was an English major so I searched my undergraduate anthologies and looked for a free PDF of the essay online. I finally found an edition (1929 no doubt) in the shelves of the local library. The due-date stamps on the card holder indicate that the text has gone years between loaning, which could be seen as a sadness for this historical commentary on “women and fiction.”

The book, with its thick pages still showing the signs of their initial cut, feels like I’ve travelled through time. The font is antiquated and the margins are wide. Paragraphing is limited. The voice feels distant as Woolf writes from her London perspective.

Yet, there is something carefully telling about Woolf’s journey towards her conclusions regarding “women and fiction.” She searches the canon for examples of women writers and finds few. She postulates the journey of a hypothetical sister to William Shakespeare and the additional challenges she would face due to her womenhood. She describes the challenges of the limited space women have within the 1920s home to write, women who often resorting to the sitting room, a space located in the front of the home, and who were often interrupted by the needs of the home and family.

The foreword to "A Room of One's Own" reads, "This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society of Newnham and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too long to be read in ful, and have since been altered and expanded."

We can draw correlations to the challenges facing women in the twenty-first century. Notable women who do not receive the recognition they deserve. Inequality amongst genders in many professional fields. Persistent challenges in the strive to have it all while managing family and career.

However, Woolf does take time to remind us of Jane Austen, one of the first novelist. Period. This position solidifies her membership within the canon. In her perspective in this new written form, Woolf argues that Austen could be unapologetically feminine. The additional triviality of the novel as a genre also meant that Austen would not face the same censors her comrades would years later.

Austen writes of concerns facing women of her time and covers themes like sisterhood. She also portrays the opportunities of proposals and marriage from both social and economic perspectives. Because of the timing of these novels, these viewpoints are not through the masculine lens that will later develop within the genre.

As a reader ninety years later, I reflected most on the importance of the unapologetically feminine voice. Our world is constructed around the masculine norm, but values that are historically viewed as feminine issues, such as health and education, are equally important and must remain visible. Yet, on a more personal level, I also considered how my own actions and beliefs are impacted by the masculine norm. Therefore, in my professional realm of higher education, I began discussing community, one that is based in shared objectives and aggregated supports. In my professional realm, I began discussing relationship building under the guise of social capital for all members of our community. I discussed caring and kindness when reviewing institutional values–and not in a hug-a-teddy-bear kind of way.

Ninety years later, we still have a long way to go to ready to world for whom Woolf calls “Shakespeare’s sister.” However, by promoting these values within our daily lives and recognizing the validity of historically feminine perspectives, we can improve the world for all.

Final sentence of the essay reads, "But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while"

(re)Starting Again

I thought about deleting this blog and starting again. But that’s not real life. There are no do-overs. There are no restarts that wipe away the past.

It is obvious, if you look at the dates within this blog, that I have not posted in more than a year. In that time, I completed my master’s degree, purchased a house, focused on family and negotiated turning 30. I also worked on my goals for my career in higher ed and reexamined my health goals.

I think it’s time to find some space in my life to write.

BenchI’ve made a few changes to this site and will continue to do so over the next couple of months, so check back often!

Searching for Inspiration

Inspiration is one of the most exhilarating, yet fleeting conditions of the human experience. When inspiration hits, it is hot and passionate and invigorating. It can make you mad with thoughts and feelings and determination. Everything becomes sharp, well-formed, musical. You are focused, able, confident.

Your heart beats in your chest as you relish the high that only inspiration can give you. The excitement is nothing short of dangerous. A wild look comes into your eyes and you feel the intensity in every inch of your soul.

And then it is gone.

You spend time searching for it. Blaming the lack of it for your reluctance to do what it is you do- paint, play, write. Seeking to regenerate the spark.

Because, indeed, it is a spark.

And it can be done. It took twenty days of writing before I really wrote, before some came from my fingertips that was art, even it is was sloppy and childish and undeveloped. Twenty days of writing, of inviting the spark, of coaching inspiration back into existence.

For twenty days, I wrote for 30 minutes. It often felt like a chore. I committed to writing and my partner in crime would remind me to do it. Sometimes, I would blow it off, surf Facebook, house hunt or check my bank statements. Sometimes, I spent the time and wrote down feelings, emotions, dictated the scene around me. Nothing generated. Nothing organically creative.

For me, I felt like a failure. I wondered if I had allowed something so core to my identity that I dread sharing too much of it with others to fade away. I wondered if I let “the real world” rob me of my essence, the softness of my cold New England heart that bleeds for Frost, Dickinson, Lowell and many more. I feared that I had made a mistake and allowed the drive for financial stability and the naysayers of creative ventures to sway my unsteady commitment to writing. I feared that my bed was made.

And then, in a moment of brief clarity, it was there. I felt it as I broke lines to create choppy phrases in a rough poem. I felt it as I exploited repetition to emphasize my opinion of the piece. I felt it wind down as real life started to call me back and self-doubt set in.

To feel inspired is to feel fearless. I share this story often with students before they are about to take an exam: When I was preparing for a solo performance, by instructor told me to feel inspired because the chakra that houses fear also houses inspiration and if I felt inspired than I would not feel fear as I stood before the audience.

And it worked.

Our lives are filled with excuses to fall into fear. Fear of failure. Fear of mockery, of wasting time, money. Fear of not being good enough. Even, fear of success.

It is not easy to replace fear or reluctance or indifference and acceptance with inspiration and motivation and determination. It took twenty days of determination before I felt a glimmer of inspiration.

To be inspired is to be fearless.