As You Look at Your Own Life Story You See Yourself Differently

By Brent M. Jones

In August 2015, the Atlantic Magazine published an article titled “Life’s Stories”. It was written by Julie Beck. The sub title of the article states: “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.”  In that interesting article, Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, offered a lot of insight on this subject. She stated, “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story.”

We share our life stores every day. In just our greetings with others, here are some examples of that: "Hi, where are you from?"  "Where did you grow up?" "Which school did you attend?"

Recently I watched a sales woman standing at the entrance door of a store in a local mall. She made eye contact and smiled as people passed by. A lady customer passing, smiled and said hello back to this friendly sales woman and the two of them walked into the store together. I was nearby and overheard what happened next. The sales woman asked how the potential customer was doing and got a smile and a reply. As they went into the store the sales women asked where the lady was from. She mentioned a town in California. The sales women person replied with some enthusiasm as she knew the town well. They talked about the street where it turned out they had both spent time. The sales women person had plenty of personal experiences in this town to talk about and share. Both women relaxed and enjoyed getting to know and talking with each other.  It was clear they both had made a connection by sharing part of their life story about this town they both knew.

We see our own lives as a series of events, we connect the events with narrative that then becomes a story, our story.  The resulting story, that we to a large degree have constructed, has a great deal to do with our self-identity. 

In the last 20 plus years I had an opportunity to tell my own life story in front of a church group at least twenty times. Each time I shared my story it was always a little different as I added or withheld certain details or events. It was different because I thought more about the story and it became different with the time that had passed. Yes, I was recalling it differently because I would reflect back on events and see them differently. 

In that same time frame, I heard few hundred men present their life story and then often heard them tell their story again after a few years. As with my sharing, the emphasis and substance of their stories changed as they told them.

Life stories are like books. They have plots, themes, time lines and characters. We choose which of these are important and we connect the events to be able to present them in a narrative.

Thinking about thoughts which influence and shape our self-identity shows some answers in why we see it differently over time.

People come and go in our lives, but some become significant and important key characters in our story plot as events occur. Events shape us. How we choose to look at those events changes, and this happens as we look back filtering all we have been through with our memories.

Books and authors influence us. Art, music, poetry, literature, service, our heritage and even food can influence us even to the point of being part of the life story.

A poem by an unknown author suggests that, "Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime.” Some feel God sends the people that are needed. Others who may come bring challenges and darkness.

I believe we have a choice in putting together the narrative of who we are, and who we become- We can pick which of the events we connect with, what we conclude about them, and then weave and reweave them into our story. 

We can see our past change, as we look back, finding that our perspective makes a great deal of difference, or we can take a more deterministic view believing that people are wired to be what they are. This view says that since we didn't choose our parents, or the time or place where we were born, or our genes that we are programmed by cause and effect resulting in our current circumstances.

Tell your story to your family and listen to how you see things this year and then again in a year.

Is The Soul Eternal?

By Brent M. Jones

Will Durant wrote the 11 volumes of "The Story of Civilization”, a biography that considered the living conditions of everyday people. Durant said that he wanted to chart the wilderness of experience and history, to bring into the future into focus.

He viewed life as river that flowed from  a mysterious source that history could reveal to a destination without looking back was just too complex for explanation. 

He said he tried to see human existence as a whole, but he wrote of individual experiences. He rejected the idea of determinism, the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will and placed great value on individual experience. 

Durant felt that the universe brought life to the elements and felt that where life existed a soul existed. My own opinion is that he was on the right track, but with conclusions that were incomplete on the nature of the soul. He said that he was fond of his own unique soul, but that he did not expect it to survive the complete death  of his body. He felt that death resulted in the breakup of the human soul. 

Durant just didn't live long enough to see all the options. He defended free will, a soul that was unique, and he saw a universe that created and advanced life all around him. He refused to accept deterministic conclusions, that the end was all predetermined by the beginning, and he valued individual experience. What he lacked was options into what could happen after death to the soul.  

We live in a world defined by three spatial dimensions and one dimension of time.  Durant's conclusions were framed with this knowledge. So what about a 4th, 5th and other dimensions?

In 1919, mathematician Theodor Kaluza theorized about a 4th dimension. Today string theorists present a more complicated visions saying that it's quite easy to assume that there are  10 or 11 dimensions, including time.

Maybe other dimensions await our own participation and perhaps it is our soul that, at least, will go there.

An ultimate destination for the soul in the river of life.

(Essay by Brent M. Jones inspired by, Fallen Leaves by Will Durant)

Dean Koontz Compares Real Life and Fiction

By Brent M. Jones

In Dean Koontz's book, The Crooked Staircase, the little boy Travis is hiding out in a fortified bunker, below the ground, with the "End of Times" recluse Cornell Jasperson. Cornell has no need for the world above and spends his days reading.

Cornell has just finished reading the complete works of philosopher Immanual Kant and has on his table a Nero Wolfe mystery, a fictional character created in 1934 by American mystery writer Rex Stout.

He mentions his interest in reading all one hundred andd twenty plus books of Henry James, having found "The Turn of the Screw", very screwy. 

Cornell says he understands about lying low as he mentions the Wolfe stories.  Gavin leans forward in his chair and says, "This is real life now, Cornell. Real bad people, a real threat, not a story by Dickens."

Cornell replies, "There is no meaningful difference, cousin. I think Plato might agree. Except he's dead. When I return to reading fiction, which I hope to do in just a minute or two, it is my real life. 

Did Koontz use this dialog to shape an eccentric character or to put action novels on more of a par with the classics? 

 

Bottle Fishing on the Banks of the Portenuf River

By Brent M. Jones

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As a young boy in the late 1950’s I walked barefoot on the muddy banks of the Portneuf River, a tributary of the larger, better-known Snake River, in Southeastern Idaho. The river was lined on both sides with trees, bushes, and especially peachleaf willows, some overhanging the banks with growth stretching to the middle of the river, meeting others growing from the other side. 

Our home was right next to the river and at night, with the window open in my bedroom, I could hear the roaring, sloshing and flow of the water. In the winter there was ice on the banks to walk and slide on. In the summers with friends we built rafts, caught snakes, frogs, and fished. We always thought the river was too dirty to swim in so that didn’t happen too often.  It was easy to build a river bank fort deep into the overhanging bushes and willows and not easily found by others, since it could only be accessed from the raft. It was my own small Huckleberry Finn experience, but the fishing was not the same approach as his.

One difference was my own version of bottle fishing where no poles or hooks were needed. The first step was to get a pint or quart glass Mason jar, which was not a problem. My mom had plenty of extra jars because each year she bottled fresh raspberries, cherries, peaches and pears sealing them in the bottles and heating them in a boiling water bath. The raspberries were especially good and were my favorite.

An empty bottle, strong string, bottle lid, a knife and some bread, was all that was needed. The string was usually six feet long with one end tied and fasted around the lid.  Using the knife, a hole could be pressed in the middle of the flat lid creating a punctured x and then pressing the x to open so that 4 sharp sections of the lid depressed into the bottle.  At this point a few bread pieces would be put in the bottom of the bottle. They needed to be big enough so when the bottle was filled with water that they wouldn’t float up through the opening, now in the lid.

With the bottle secured by the long string, sometimes doubled up strong enough to hold the bottle full of water with some pressure, the filled bottle was then just tossed off shore under some overhanging branches or close to a large rock.  

This type of fishing amounted to just waiting at least ten minutes or maybe even an hour but when the bottle was pulled back in it almost always had some small minnows in it. Bigger fish could be caught with a pole, hook and bait, but it wasn’t always a sure thing like bottle fishing was.

The small fish could be used for bait on a hook with a fishing pole if a trip to the Snake River was coming up, or it could be sold for bait just like worms could. Mostly the small fish were an option for more riverbank activity.  Mud and rocks could be used for making a little pond to hold the small fish. With some work the pond could hold access the river flow and still trap these fish for days. Just letting the fish go was the best option

If a fish pool was created and loaded up with fish the next step was to move back away and hide or even leave and come back in an hour or so. Sooner or later a snake would find this little pool and go in and eat the fish. With good timing the snake could then be caught.

What to do with a live snake was a little more of a challenge. Several attempts to keep the snake in a cardboard box under the front porch failed. They just disappeared or sometimes we wound up killing them or letting them go?  I always hoped they wouldn’t find a way into the house if they got away.

Maybe if I had read the book “Huckleberry Finn,” when I was a young and learned about this farm boy in overalls out on his raft carrying a fishing pole and bait bucket I would have viewed my own experiences differently. Reading and real-life experiences are both good and both add to each other.

Acquiring Wisdom

By Brent M. Jones

How does experience, knowledge and good judgement bring about wisdom?  Are there classes in school that explain how to apply experience and judgement to knowledge with wisdom? Is it just lifelong attempt to find that answer that becomes wisdom, and if that is true then how much time does it take? 

The answer to these questions requires a decision about what wisdom is. Wisdom is not the product of only schooling, or just gaining knowledge, or even the lifelong "attempt to acquire" it. The sincere attempt to acquire it may be part of what wisdom is but that effort is never completed.

Reading, school courses, and study can bring about knowledge and we can gain experience and understanding as we try to use what we have learned.  How we feel about the understanding of the knowledge and the consequences we observe in this process is also part of the answer we are seeking.   

A well-known quote, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, seems to imply that sincerity added to knowledge is of value. Someone must truly believe that the knowledge desired is of value. Then they need to believe that it applies to the situation.

Wisdom is likely not a constant even in the same situation because we often see that our conclusions change over time. The events of our own life when examined years later can lead us to making changes and reinventing ourselves. What is wisdom now may be different that what is seemed to be before.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about wisdom and knowledge. It suggests that they both come from God. This quote seems to sum it up very well: Wisdom is the principal thing: therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7)

It Just Wasn't My Time

By Brent M. Jones

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I had 5 trips to the hospital for a heart attack between 2009 and 2016. Two trips were false alarms, but I still made it to the operating table 4 times.

The first trip was a complete surprise. I got up and started getting ready for work. The week before I had been in a group of volunteers that worked with older people and we were given instructions on what the symptoms of a heart attack were. I had a pressing pain in the middle of my chest, the inside of my arm hurt, I felt nausea, and just overall dizzy. I had made it downstairs and was sitting in the kitchen and just wasn’t sure what was happening, so I said a little pray and asked if what I had was a heart attack if perhaps I could recognize another symptom. Within a couple of minutes, I felt a cold sweat and so I went upstairs and told my wife and got into bed.  

The surprise of all of this started to sink in when 8 EMT’s arrived in my bedroom lifting me onto a stretcher and carrying me to the ambulance.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about how surprising it was that I was having a heart attack.  Laying on the stretcher I looked up at the lady EMT leaning over and taking care of me and said, “I just don’t understand why this is happening, I have run 13 marathons in my lifetime?” She looked down at me and said, “Maybe it is just your time.”  I didn’t laugh at the time.

Being wheeled into an operating room is frightening. They slide you over on to a cold stainless-steel table where you lay, almost naked, in the middle of the table. The room has a lot of people in it all seeming to be doing something important. The staff was young, professional and engaged in some good-natured banter was going on.

On my last trip to the cold steel table the first thing that caught my attention was that the music seemed to be a little loud. By this time I had my own personal heart doctor but he was not on site and when I met the doctor it seemed like he was so young he could have been my grandson. Every one was very busy of course and I just laid waiting for a drip anesthesia to be set up. From the comments and the volume it seemed clear that all those young folks walking around were enjoying the music in the background but and at least they weren’t staring at my naked and cold body. A young man came over and said he would get the anesthesia set up soon, a good thing I thought, but he wondered if I had some favorite music saying he would find it and play it. Well I still had my thoughts in place, so, figuring it was a long shot, I suggested Leonard Cohen. Not one person in the room had heard of him, nor could they find any of his music even though they actually made an effort to find him. I thought it was funny and might have chuckled, but I was out soon after that.

My last trip to the hospital was one where they again picked me up with the ambulance. For some reason the ambulance sat in our driveway in front of the house after I was in for a while. A fire engine crew and a support car team were there on site with us and several paramedics were regularly checking the back of the ambulance, and they each would greet me and ask how I was doing.  One of these guys seemed to have paused for a few minutes so I looked up at him and told him I still remembered getting help like this the first time I had a heart attack telling him about the question and the reply I got from the EMT nurse about it “being my time”. Neither of the two paramedics said a word or even changed facial expressions.  They just seemed like they had kicked into gear and was about some important business. I noticed that the one paramedic left the back door ajar as he left, I saw him go over to a group standing by the fire engine where they seemed to huddle and laugh, and then he went to a different group. I figure this was a good sign. The last heat attack event had a connection to the first. It still wasn’t my time.

 

Rust is a Passionate Color

By Brent M. Jones

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Rust is a passionate color, rich with warm-orange, brick-red, mustard-yellow and the combinations seem to be endless as one’s emotions are stimulated when fond memories come front and center. Rust lets us know that an old and perhaps otherwise worthless car, has a history and a story to share if your willing to listen.

When a really great restored old car is found you may find yourself thinking, "Wow, that car is so cool, that era was so cool." As you caress the car with your eyes the remembering "back in the days" floods your memories and sends you back in time. When you see the same type of car all rusted out you still may think of the time and place, but your thoughts will be deeper and perhaps longing with nostalgia.

The car seems to be still be alive, if only in the remembering. Will a rusted 55 Chevy take you back in to that time any faster than a restored one? The restored one may take you back to a particular car and time but perhaps the rusted version leaves your mind open to looking deeper.

The rusted-out car doesn't smell new. The doors (if they work at all) sound different if they close. The surface of rust may break and crumble if you rub your hands over it. Is it really a car or is it a spirit of a car?

The spirit of the car brings back feelings, memories and emotions and allows for that moment in time to transfer to the "now."

Rust is beautiful. Rust is the color of timelessness.Rust is a passionate color, rich with warm-orange, brick-red, mustard-yellow and the combinations seem to be endless as ones emotions are stimulated when fond memories come front and center. Rust let's us know that an  old and perhaps otherwise worthless car, has a history and a story to share if your willing to listen. 

Why Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible

See Review of The Crucible: by Arthur Miller in Review Section

 

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1952. World War II, had just ended in 1945 and it was during a time in which the United States was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising power of the Soviet Union. Parania was growing inside the government worries that the Soviet Union's communist ways would infiltrate the United States led to a significant amount of paranoia within the American government and Hollywood was becoming a target for Joe McCarthy. This article in The New Yorker,  appeared on October 21, 1996 P. 158. 

"LIFE AND LETTERS about the inspiration for and influence of Miller's play, "The Crucible," a reflection of the Communist witch-hunts of its time. Miller recalled the source of his creation while watching the filming of the new movie of "The Crucible." When he wrote it, Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were prosecuting alleged Communists from the State Department to Hollywood; the Red hunt was becoming the dominant fixation of the American psyche. Miller did not know how to deal with the enormities of the situation in a play. "The Crucible" was an act of desperation; Miller was fearful of being identified as a covert Communist if he should protest too strongly. He could not find a point of moral reference in contemporary society. Miller found his subject while reading Charles W. Upham's 1867 two-volume study of the 1692 Salem witch trials, which shed light on the personal relationships behind the trials. Miller went to Salem in 1952 and read transcripts. He began to reconstruct the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams, who would become the central characters in "The Crucible." He related to John Proctor, who, in spite of an imperfect character, was able to fight the madness around him. The Salem court had moved to admit "spectral evidence" as proof of guilt; as in 1952, the question was not the acts of an accused but his thoughts and intentions." 

Having more information on what Miller was thinking and what inspired him answers some questions as we look back over so many years at this play and try to answer the question, "why this play" at that time. 

Thoughts about Nighthawks the Painting

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"Nighthawks, a 1942 oil on canvas painting, was inspired by Hemingway's short story 'The Killers,' which Hopper read in Scribner's magazine. Edward Hopper is considered by some as the most important realist painter in the 20th century in America. Even so is vision was selective and reflected his temperament

The painting, Nighthawks, tells it's own story of lonliness. 

The diner is a stand-alone building with long front windows with rounded corners on the glass itself that gives the glass a thicker and more confining look. It is late at night and the streets and other buildings look empty with their darkened windows, even more than just closed.

Silence seems to be part of the painting's message and is reflected inside and out of the diner.  The diner has no visible doors and thick glass which suggest that those inside are trapped. Unsettling are the yellow, faded and peeling walls.  The use of green outside on the reflected walk and around the window suggest unnatural light. Pale green fades to dark green near the buildings and confirms that the building is alone and that the people are isolated. The people inside the diner are not talking and they are not looking at each other. 

Most of Hoppers paintings are about how loneliness feels.  Loneliness connects to depression and anxiety, both things that Hopper suffered from.  Just being alone is not loneliness but having no connection with others is.  

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Hopper, a tall lonely man, said that he declared himself in his paintings. In the diner tall men in suits bend over, but still look tall.

Being alone in a city is something we all can relate to. Those feelings are captured and used by the author of this book, "The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Laing" (see review).  

The book starts out saying: "Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building". The book also mentions this painting and author to explain the feeling.

I have experienced that feeling 30 floors up, at night in a hotel room. When I looked out the window I could see all the other tall buildings and the lights in their windows and could see people in the closer windows. You knew you were surrounded with people but you had no connection with any of them. You were alone.

 

 

Authors reflect a way of thinking

I was asked recently if I had read all the books listed on the books reviewed and books read section on my blog?  Yes, I have read them, some several times. I didn't include political books, many on religion, success books, and many that I had read prior to 1998. So yes, I have read a lot of books, but compared to a lot of people, maybe not so many.

What happened in 1998? Well a friend told me the best book he had read was Louis L amour's, "Education of a Wandering Man". Prior to that I had never read any of his books, and had sort of looked down on western novels. I read the book and was really surprised. It was his autobiography and told of his travels as a young man, and about all the books he had read during that time. Wow! He read the deepest books, and it just really surprised me. In fact it inspired me - I decided from that day forward I would keep closer tabs on what I was reading and I started a list. I should add here that I have read some of his western novels since then and really like them.

Einstein said that if you want your kids to be smart when they grow up read them fairy tales. Pondering that, opened another door in reading for me. I had not read a lot off fantasy or fiction.

I have to admit I now love reading Stephen King. He scares me at times but I keep going back.  With all of the fiction he has written it is a little surprise that his book, "On Writing" is one of the best I have read on the subject. This book changed the way I saw his books. The writing skill of this author just jumps out at you in his books.

So can I remember what is in all of the books in that section? I find that they come back just looking at them, and thinking about one, brings several others back.

Some authors are so familiar that they become labels. Darwinian, Shakespearean, or Orwellian imply things that most understand. Harold Bloom is a literary critic that knows all the older authors that well and likely could imply labels of influence for them all. A goal I have is to be able to do the same and to in that way have them come alive and even talk to me. 

C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.” He sad we become a thousand men and yet remain ourselves. When it happens you will feel renewed and reinvented.

 

 

 

Homeless are Now, Part of the Art

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Street art has become common and the walls of buildings may be a new venue for modern art.  The same photographers that capture street art often include in their pictures the street people.  Art and photography can inform us and tell us what is being felt.  If the homeless have blended into and become part of the art have they lost their humanness? Did the photographer take it from them?

Colette Brooks wrote the book, “In the City: Random Acts of Awareness”, She said, “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”. She likely just meant those folks walking the sidewalks going and coming to work. Surrounded with people but no real connections. 

Is this homeless man less important as a human now captured as part of the painting above? Is he still real and an individual? Was his presence just a way for the photographer to tell us what he saw?  Did we take his "humanness" away from him by making him part of the picture? Do we see the homeless? Maybe this is the overall message?

I am not saying the answers are easy but the questions are important. 

Liberal Arts vs's Liberal Politics

If you were, or are, a liberal arts major does that mean your politics have to be liberal?  No, of course not.

Liberal arts refer to academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, and social and physical sciences, as distinct from professional and technical subjects.  As far back as Ancient Greece liberal arts subjects were felt necessary to enable a person to take an active part in civic life.

J.Paul Getty, the billionaire from the mid 1900’s, said it well when he said that he could teach a new hire accounting but he couldn’t teach them how to talk to people.

This blog is liberal arts focused intended to help get away from looking at daily routine in only technical terms but to consider thoughts and connections to enable further pondering.

The Dean of the Business School at Wake Forest recently said. “We have become so myopic in solving business problems that we don’t think about those problems from the perspective of other disciplines”.

Boston University’s assistant dean at their school of business said, "businesses want workers who have the ability to think, the ability to write, the ability to understand the cultural or historical context of whatever business decision they’re making”.   

Liberal arts can help you get out of where you are to somewhere new.  C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.”

So whether your personally conservative or liberal, the good news is that more liberal arts will help you renew and reinvent yourself. 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Writing In The Moment

Stephen King on Writing. George Orwell, Why I Write. Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir. Making A Literary Life, Carolyn See.

“Writing in the moment” is a term that seems to have several uses. I can be just a focus of attention on things happening right now. The idea of even trying to capture the details, like a slow-motion camera’s input, gives focus to the way you approach the moment. If not being a directive at the “here and now” it still can be a map to where to look.

The idea that some moments might stand out and that you can sort of sense them, almost breathing them in, and then using the senses to direct your thoughts at the details is just more of what the moment can be about.

A life story can be a reference to moments in our life, but those moments change. Seldom do you hear a person tell their own life story the same way over and over. As they look back and recall events, they see those events differently.  The conclusions as to why things happened in the past change when the events are seen over again looking back. 

Stephen King on Writing. George Orwell, Why I Write. Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir. Making A Literary Life, Carolyn See.

Four Good Books on Writing

Click the books to link to the Reviews

Social Media Can Be Harmful

Social media can be harmful.  I don't think as many people get addicted to blogs as social media.  Real "face to face personal relationships" with people are hands down better than either blogs or social media. I don't think that would be disputed. 

A University did a study last year on social media's effect on self esteem and anxiety and reported that 50% of the 298 participants said "that their use of social networks, like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, made their lives worse". Research shows that they had a false sense of belonging and connecting that wasn't real world based.  One big reason for this is that all those "assumed connections" that people are checking in on out of habit, several times a day, look like they are having the perfect life. It just often isn't real and if your life isn't perfect it can be depressing. People can be whoever they want to be on those sites. Whatever they are doing, it can be a staged situation, not a shared life. Our lives can look boring in comparison. As said it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Not good things. Other peoples passions can be polarizing.

Depression, in part, is a state of not caring. The world turns "black and cold" all around us when were depressed.  Things just don't matter. Anxiety may be the other end of this same spectrum. On that side you care "far to much about everything" and there is no way to accomplish all that you care about. 

Connecting with people can help for either problem. Getting "out of ourselves" helps.  People, books, art, poetry, service, our ancestors, and music can all help us get out of ourselves. If it is people that are going to pull us out they need to be pulling us into the real world not a made up fantasy on line reality show.

Having said this I have to acknowledge the real world. I may wind up using these same social media sites as places to offer some very short encouragement and to try to pull people to this site.  I don't think I originated any of this so I hope you don't want to hang the messenger

What to Read Next

With the new year facing us, a question is what to read next?  "Fiction is the gateway drug to reading” according to Neil Gaiman, a successful fiction and fantasy writer. He added that fiction drives us to want to know what happens next. It becomes exciting, and it satisfies the excitement, as we turn the pages.

When we read fiction, it increases our imagination and results in our finding something new of interest. The new things we find may lead us in a direction such as science, history or art? Maybe we look for a biography of a person with an area of similar interest to our own.

Often the path to the next book, or even choosing one to re read, is built on past choices. Years ago I watched the movie “Apocalypse Now”. That lead me to reread Joseph Conrad’s book, “Heart of Darkness” set in Africa with very much the same basic plot. The book was considered one of Conrad’s best. 

Conrad's book was critised by some for have a white mans perspective of life in Africa. I wanted to find another perspective.  I wondered if there were good African writers that I could read? At that point in my life I had never looked for African writers. I looked and found many good ones who were respected for their work. I found several authors of interest.  Chinua Achebe, was at the time emerging as a well known African author for his book, “Things Fall Apart”.

It seemed to be the perfect “other point of view” I was looking for. This book is indeed something that should be read by anyone who reads “Heart of Darkness”, and wonder if they have seen Africa correctly.

 

SEE "PAST REVIEWS TAB" TO FIND

REVIEW OF "THINGS FALL APART, by CHINA ACHEBE

HEART OF DARKNESS BY JOSEPH CONRAD

Our Life Story Creates our Identity

Each time I think back over my own life story I see it differently. I re-think what happened and draw different conclusions. This story below seems to have stuck with me throughout my life.

When I was about 11 years old I had the unfortunate experience of being chased home each day after school by a kid who was much bigger than me.  One day my mother met me as I was running into the yard.  She probably had planned to do this and must have been aware of the fact that I was running hard on arrival at home each day. That day she asked why I was running so hard? I told her this big kid was chasing me. I guess I could have said  "I was running to avoid getting pounded". That would have been an honest answer. 

We lived by a river and crossing the bridge in front of our house meant that I was home. The next day she was out front waiting for my arrival as I came across the bridge. She stopped me there and when shortly the big kid came across she called him over and announced to us both that the next day we would meet right there in the park across the street from my house and fight. It surprised me? It surprised me, perhaps even more, that my mother was setting this up. In looking back it also surprises me that I didn’t try to get out of it, or worry a lot about it. I just figured that was what I had to do. I had to fight him.  

The next day at school word got out. I was asked by some of the kids if I was really going to fight him? I said yes I was.  The next day after school the big kid, and a lot of kids from the school, arrived at the park, some even before I arrived. My mother was there. She had all the kids form a big circle in the park.  The big kid, his name was Alan, and I went into the circle with fists up ready to start swinging, and mom was the referee.  We fought. I danced around with my fists up and tried to land some punches and avoid getting punched. I hit him as hard as I could and did land a few.  He wasn't very good at boxing and preferred to just push and shove. He probably felt he had to try and box with the audience. Several times he just pushed me to the ground and then would beat on me. I would hit back even from laying on the ground.  Each time this happened my mother had us get up and have us continue boxing. It wasn't a fight I had a chance of winning.  Finally, my mother held up his hand and said there you go Alan, you won!

What has always surprised me most then, and ever since looking back, is that I wasn’t scared. I felt like I did the best I could and I didn’t hurt too bad. I lost my fear of failing. Life went on. I did get into a fight or two in later years at school but I'd lost my fear.

When I tell this story, as part of my life story it seems to connect with the future challenges I had in life. I have pondered and rethought a lot about this story. It does seem different with time, but it is still part of the narrative of my overall life story.  I have not been afraid of failures and have worked through them. Somehow challenges and changes in my life connects for me in various ways with what happened that day in front of my house. When you get knocked down you get up. You keep fighting and when it is over life goes on.

By the way, a side note. I have always loved boxing. "Watching it", in particular.  Muhammad Ali's my favorite.  This quote of his has relevance for me. 

"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."

Art is About Connections

I was not good at art and had never taken a class in it, until the 9th grade.  Many in the class were talented and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Our teacher was Mr. Lampson. He was passionate about art. Early in the year he mentioned a phrase that just drove him crazy.  He explained that when he heard someone say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to yell. It offended him and he took it very personally. 

He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us". I am sure he had a lot more to say and I do recall that it often came up. 

Even though this class did not set me on the path of greatness in art, it did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art is a reflection of the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?

Oscar Wilde, in his 1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying" said that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.

Do we really see what is there, or what an artist taught us to see? It has been found that people do see what they are conditioned to see.  When people are hypnotized and asked about what they saw when they walked through a room they have very different answers than when not hypnotized. They can remember the number of tiles on the ceiling, or even the faces on the magazines on the tables and they can’t remember those things otherwise.  Their conscious mind was not interested in them.  Those who believe that the artists taught us to see will like this.

Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artists hands worked. It seemed magical as he created some beautiful bowls and vases.  He wanted us to understand that the clay could talk to us and that what we finished with would be different from what we intended when we started.  Learning how to listen seemed exciting. 

Writers and artists reveal much about themselves in what they do but they also find a great deal waiting to be expressed.  

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New Mexico holds a real mystic for writers and they mention their time there often in their stories.  Tony Hillerman, a well known New Mexico author, wrote a great deal about the cultures reflected in the art of its people, especially the Navajo. The stories were told as he saw it or perhaps as other artists taught him to see it.

Art is a path to connections, that can help us see ourselves differently. We can become better than we are by re-looking at the connections.