Two Quotes: Writers and Determination

From Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby: 

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and solitude, that I came out of that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much the talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose and vocation, which manifests itself in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. 

 

From Kevin Hardcastle’s website:

So, after years of being told a load of weird shit by a bunch of people in this business, and a pile of rejections for stories and novels, this one little story read by the right person at the right time led to all of this magic. I always say that you should never be just sitting around waiting on other people to do something with your work, and, when you are waiting on worthwhile things, you should keep at the writing. Since 2012 I’ve just tried to lay down as many stories as possible, and to get better at it as I go. A lot of things didn’t work out the way I thought, but the stories kept on getting written, and people started reading them, and this is where it all ended up.

 

 

There Are Prizes

It has been over a week since I won a gold National Magazine Award for “Blip”, and I suppose it goes without saying that this was a good thing. It was also surreal and wonderful in strange ways I suppose I’ll find a way to write about later when I have some distance. A year ago I was attending the Vanderbilt/Exile awards events, filled with anxiety because I didn’t know what to do or how to act, and feeling very out of my element. The twelve months in between the two events were very good ones for my writing career. And I now know maybe a little better that, as Regina Spektor sings, “People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous.” I went, I talked to the wonderful people from The New Quarterly, I survived the heart-pounding walk up on to stage to receive the certificate, I spotted writers I knew and recognized and failed to speak to them, nervous as I was, and I didn’t really realize how much my feet hurt until we left the building.

It was a lovely evening, spent with my husband, and I had fun.

Standing next to the Best New Magazine Writer display, the award I didn’t win.

Prizes are nice, and prizes are problems. It’s nice to be recognized even though it always (for me) hurts to lose. Except for those times it feels better to lose, if losing means less attention, even though attention, as a writer, is what you’re after. The prize isn’t about you, about your value, or you can’t let it be, anyway.

Later that week my good friend and very talented young novelist Amanda LeDuc posted this picture of the two of us (among others) after we were awarded writing prizes as teenagers.

I’m the scowling blond with glasses and black turtleneck. Amanda’s to my left.

Power of the Pen winners, 1998, Hamilton, Ontario.

Power of the Pen winners, 1998, Hamilton, Ontario.

I don’t need to tell you that I was an angsty teenager, but I was also, despite my low self-esteem, a paradoxically over-confident one, and sometimes early success can do as much harm as good since it makes success feel like magic instead of like the result of hard work. It took me too long to figure out how to work at my writing.

But I did figure that out, so maybe it’s alright anyway.

Incidentally, I also happened to listen to this gem of a podcast while out walking the other day, a short story by Janet Frame read by Miranda July. It’s worth listening to just for the conversation between Deborah Treisman and July, since they discuss Frame’s fascinating life. (Frame was  diagnosed with schizophrenia and saved from lobotomy only after winning a prestigious writing prize). The story is called “Prizes”:

In “Prizes,” the narrator recalls the great lengths she went to in order to win awards as a girl, and her eventual discovery that she could “no longer use prizes as a fortress.” Here are the story’s opening lines:

Life is hell, but at least there are prizes. Or so one thought. One knew of the pit ahead, of the grownups lying there rewarded, arranged, and faded, who were so long ago bright as poppies. One learned to take one’s own deserved place on the edge, reading to leap, not to hang back in a status-free huddle where bodies were warm together and the future darkness seemed less frightening. Therefore, one learned to win prizes, to be surrounded in sleep by a dream of ordinal numbers, to stand in best clothes upon platforms in order to receive medals threatened upon black-and-gold ribbons, books “bound in calf,” scrolled certificates. One’s face became, from habit, incandescent with achievement.

Because prizes are something, but, like money, not everything. Always most exciting is the next thing, always easier to focus on is the failure, always happiest is the woman who learns to live in the moment with the people she loves. Or who, at least, gives that a try.

Preliminary Reflections on the Festival of Faith and Writing: Canadian Pronunciations & “Rapt-Capacious” Minds

My two mugs from my two festivals. And the gorgeous guidebook.

My two mugs from my two festivals. And the gorgeous guidebook.

 

I have managed now to go to two of Calvin College’s FFWs without writing much about them. Short story: I loved this festival, which happens biennially in Grand Rapids. In 2012, they hosted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Marilynne Robinson, and this year they had plenaries with Anne Lamott and James McBride. Amid numerous other erudite and fascinating writers from all over the US and Canada.

I have found the festival both spiritually and literarily nourishing.

A few memories from 2014:

1. I saw Christopher Beha (author of the universally lauded What Happened to Sophie Wilder) in the stands just after James McBride’s speech (where he made some confusing claims about God–more on that in a later post). I had just bought his book after hearing him give a really interesting talk about the relevance (or lack thereof) of Catholic writers in current literary climes which ended up being about the relevance (and lack thereof) of thoughtful literature in general to our culture. So, rather awkwardly, I approached him for an autograph.

“Can I do this?” I said. “Can I just accost you like this while you’re milling about?”

He said something very charming, and then I apologized some more, and then I apologized for apologizing, and then I confessed that I was Canadian. “I could tell,” he said. “You said ‘milling a-boot.'”

Whaaaa? I say a-boot?

And then his friend wondered why Canadians are always so surprised that they have an accent.

In sum, Christopher Beha is charming, smart, and talented, and I was pretty starstruck by the whole thing.

2. I went to a few sessions on Creative Nonfiction, a form I’ve been dabbling in and which seems more flexible and exciting than I once thought. Though, as I told a friend yesterday, writing it is a much more difficult process for me than is fiction. These panels were all really helpful and intriguing, too, and one highlight of the weekend was hearing Amy Leach read from her book of nature-nonfiction called Things That Are. AmyLeachHer prose is unlike anything. (A blurb from Lawrence Weschler calls her voice “gamin-sly, rhythm-rhymey” and her mind “flint-flighty, rapt-capacious”, which seems about right.) (I feel like that blurb needs a blurb, too, being so artful and interesting). But anyway, here’s a taste of Leach, from an essay called “Radical Bears in the Forest Delicious”:

What does a panda know, who studies just a few cloudy-mountain miles of the world? From her experience she must know about fallibility. Icicles melt, flowers fail, intangibly small babies grow tangible and autonomous, and one day when you come back from foraging to collect yours from the tree fork where you left him, he is gone. Mushrooms, moonlight, everything is ephemeral, with one exception: bamboo. Bamboo never fails, bamboo is eternal, evergreen, green in the orange season, green in the white season, green in the green season, poking up sweet little shoots into the spring rain. Blessed is the bear that trusteth in bamboo.

The whole thing is the kind of delightful that makes me read long passages aloud to anyone else in the room.

3. And, in other news, we have a place to live in Riverside and ballpark timing for the move. I’m taking one last academic course on Religion, Secularism, and the Novel, finishing up some short stories, and starting work on (eep!) another novel for my thesis project. (The other one is stewing in a bottom drawer). It is going to be post-apocalyptic, sort of. And today I got a monster bruise (attacked by the box I was jumping on during my CrossFit workout so that I was knee-down numb and crying for a while); this may be a good thing to show off in my dress for the National Magazine Awards Gala in two weeks, which I am attending as a double-nominee. I’m pretty proud of those nominations, and also of the swollen scraped bruise, which will go well with my nominated essay on pain.

 

“The Making of a Story”

When a story-draft is done I put it away for at least a month. Longer is better, because I’m in love with my fiction and myself; almost certainly the story needs more work. Often I have 3 or 4 in process at once, so I turn to another and concentrate on it for a while, then set it aside in turn. When I go back to a draft unread for weeks, often what’s needed is blindingly, embarrassingly clear.

–Cynthia Flood

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Flood about her wonderful short stories for Echolocation. See the rest here: The Deepest Pleasure’s in the Making of a Story

The Winter is Over, Maybe Forever

This semester’s door is creaking closed. The end of a busy stage never comes with as much relief as I hope it will, since the busyness of the semester has been concealing all sorts of other things that have needed tending all along. For example the children, with whom I’ve been enjoying Easter weekend by trying to bite my tongue about how much candy they are eating and by belting out tunes from Frozen, just like everybody else.

They made me tear up a little bit yesterday, these songs that seem really to speak to the difficulties children face, particularly that line about “be the good girl you always had to be/conceal don’t feel”. And winter is over symbolically and actually, here in Hamilton, Ontario: the snow is gone, the tulips are up, it’s Easter and love has the power not only to melt magical eternal winters but also over the power of death. And we have news: it may be our last winter here, our last winter experienced as a non-tourist. My husband landed a miraculously good tenure-track job in Philosophy all the way across the continent in Southern California. Thus, a frigid and difficult winter of too many illness, too much to do, and too many weekends on my own with the kids so he could travel has borne unbelievable fruit. A friend asked us, what do you do with this? Because you can’t conclude that it is just because he’s deserving–lots of people are deserving. What do you do when something great befalls you? I suppose you have to find a way to be grateful, to meet it with some kind of grace or dignity. You have to, at least, start acting like a proper adult. There are too many aspects of this move that I haven’t yet processed. I will be blogging about all of it, I’m sure, as we become a fully fledged instead of fledgling academic family, as we move from striving to settled. I’m actually going to be the professor’s wife I’d been half-unready to be all this time.

I’ve found myself praying this weekend to be more like my younger children (which is also to be more like Anna from Frozen): to be a more perfect mirror of my surroundings, as Buddhism would have it. When sad to cry, when happy to smile, when angry to show anger, etc. These two children feel their feelings, express them, and move on. That is also to be in a clear and not-ironic relation to life.

Last weekend, at the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing, I had the chance finally to meet in person someone I’ve been interacting with online: a fellow writer named Ian Hilgendorf. (or Follow him on twitter). He sent me this article about David Foster Wallace and the cynicism that is destroying our culture; the article ends on a hopeful note, calling for sincerity and engagement that is not the same as endorsement or blind belief.

But David Foster Wallace predicted a hopeful turn. He could see a new wave of artistic rebels who “might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels… who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles… Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” Yet Wallace was tentative and self-conscious in describing these rebels of sincerity. He suspected they would be called out as “backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic.” He didn’t know if their mission would succeed, but he knew real rebels risked disapproval. As far as he could tell, the next wave of great artists would dare to cut against the prevailing tone of cynicism and irony, risking “sentimentality,” “ovecredulity” and “softness.”

Since I tend to be overly engaged, hyper-feeling, sincere, and even credulous, I could relate to much of it. Risking the possibility of failure is necessary to make art.

….a move toward something greater is to reject the safety of ironic remove and risk the possibility of failure.

Rereading Beloved

This semester has been so busy–very nearly unbearably busy–and the last six months so hard. More on all that in some future post. For now, speaking to you buried beneath a pile of books and papers and marking, I only want to share the joy and horror of reading Beloved for a second time.

It’s a very painful book under any circumstances, and for me this pain was somewhat bodily–I felt most acutely as I was reading the presence (if she was nearby) or absence of my littlest daughter. I had a little one also the first time I read it, but then I hardly took the novel in, as though I couldn’t bear to see what it was showing.

Beloved_by_Toni_MorrisonThis time, I could look, unafraid since I already knew it. Rereading enriched, as it seems to do: the other books I’ve reread in the past few years–Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, Austen’s Emma, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road–get more affecting and more beautiful with second and third readings. (I read somewhere about spoilers actually making a thing more enjoyable to watch or read–this though we’re always told to be so conscious of plotting, of making the plot move.) In any case, Beloved was incredible to read a second time.

Lines like this, for example:

and suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves. Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her–remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that.

I would love for her to be my teacher. I found this short clip after it, where she explains how she needed as a writer to make the babies in this story her babies in order to write them:

Reading Beloved made them also into my (the reader’s) babies. I want to know how to write this well. So the novel had the double effect of making me feel how I will never ever be this good at the same time as it made feel how important it is that someone is.

EVENT! & Read My Semester

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Image credit: Troy Palmer.

Little Fiction/Big Truths is hosting their first ever live event, and I’m reading! I’m reading with three marvelous writers (Trevor Corkum, Diana Davidson, and Andrew F. Sullivan) at a pretty sweet venue in a very cold city. I hope by February 5th it won’t be quite so icy. See the News/Events tab for details.

The semester is off to a roaring start, and I’ve got the January jitters. Always too much to do. Among the things I’ve got happening are a class on The American Pastoral (and ecocrit), a writing workshop with Robert McGill, a writing workshop with David Bezmozgis, a writing workshop that I’m teaching, and a TA assignment. Between the five, I’ll be doing an enormous amount of reading and writing.

If it doesn’t kill me first. My feelings about my first semester are (to put it characteristically dramatically) that I barely made it out alive. I realize that’s ridiculous, but there were moments when I felt that my brain actually might burst, that my seams were beginning to show.

My seams did show, I’m afraid, in the form of me forgetting things and missing appointments and writing essays not up to my usual standard of overachieving obnoxiousness. But I’ve been in recovery from my overachieving ways for a number of years now, and I’m trying live with more imperfection.

I need to get better at denial–it’s useful, and I’ve never been good enough at it. Pretending the dishes aren’t piling and my husband’s job search isn’t happening, fingers-in-ears-style, la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you, pretending its okay with me that I’m not super mom.

Going to go make a list of things I need to do. (1. Find a better answer than “busy” for when people ask me how I am….)

Resolve

I haven’t checked my Twitter or Facebook feeds in three days. Seems like not that much, but my dependence on those feeds is almost like my sugar habit. It is not a New Year’s Resolution, but I’m hoping to last the month. I don’t think that resolutions are about perfection or purity, and I’ll very likely break this fast. It’s just that things were falling through the cracks, and there isn’t any time, and I don’t want to give that time over to the bottomless pit of social media. They are adding to my general panic that there are more things to do and more books to read and more things to know than I’ll ever have time for. Facebook really rubs that in your face.

And that’s without considering the other issues I have with it: the need for approval, the desire to share everything instantly so that it feels like trees really don’t make a sound if they fall and no one tweets them, the privacy stuff, and the icky persona-building stuff. Most of the time I can deal with that all because there’s much to be enjoyed there. Which is why I’m not closing my accounts.

And which is why I’m blogging today, because of this troubling need to share.

In honour of my resolve and I hope not to add to anyone else’s general panic, here is part of a poem called “The Unfriending” by Jon Paul Fiorentino over at Lemon Hound.

You did a real stupid thing there
for your career when you
unfriended me.

I’m so tired of my online presence and my stupid career!

And to further undermine my attempt to disengage myself from the internet, I share this thoughtful and interesting essay by Roxane Gay. It is also related to Twitter. A quote:

I don’t want to feel sorry for Sacco. I don’t even know if I feel sorry for her, exactly. Instead, I recognize that I’m human and the older I get, the more I realize how fallible I am, how fallible we all are. I recognize that Justine Sacco is human. She should have known better and done better, but most of us can look at poor choices we’ve made, critical moments when we did not do better.

Really fabulous and fascinating.

Fast Feasts

threedaughters

(photo above: Eric Jones [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

This was the year that we realized that Christmas wasn’t about us at all. It was about them. It was about the children, and the gifts they’d get, and the magic they needed to believe in. The credulity of children is amazing. I didn’t ever believe in Santa, but our kids do. On Christmas morning, our eldest, after expressing momentary skepticism, said, “I guess Santa is magic and Christmas is a miracle!”

My childhood Christmasses were thoroughly Christian–hymns, no Santa, church on Christmas day before opening presents, and few presents at that. My husband’s were thoroughly secular–no Jesus, all Santa. Now, with our kids in public (rather than Christian) school and two traditions to consider, we find ourselves both outside and inside of the holiday. Inside the holiday is crass consumerism, presents to tear open, heavy foods.  Outside is the wary believer who wonders whether this has anything to do with Christ.

Outside is Mary’s magnificat, in which “the Lord sends the rich empty away.”

It doesn’t need to have anything to do with Christ. At least not more so than anything else we do. On one day last week, two people, thinking they had got the better of me, expressed how absurd it is to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a day which was not actually his birthday. Whether or not Jesus was really born on December 25th on our calendar is really not the point. The point, for me at least, is that this is the time of year where the solstice celebration and the Christian one converge: it is a celebration of new life, the green of spring, and light during the darkest time of the year.

I read this and this on Christmas day. The first article, by a Christian and beautiful writer, Tony Woodlief, moved me. The second at first felt affirming and helpful–we were digging troughs in our children’s brains that would give them deep pleasure in all of the Christmasses to come. But then I started to feel unsettled about the addiction comparison in it, because I think Lambert’s right to point out that the anticipation of Christmas is for humans like the anticipation of a hit for an addicted lab rat. And addiction is, as a friend pointed out to me, the kin of idolatry: lives are destroyed by our dedication to the things that will not satisfy us. Are we–us Santa-celebraters, that is–addicted to Christmas? To feast during a winter that no longer has any real darkness, and, for most of us, little discomfort? To feast when we are always feasting is no feast at all.

We need a fast for the feast to mean anything. That’s the feeling we’re trying to get at when we say “the Christmas spirit”, but I find I’m taking shortcuts to that spirit of hope, of comfort and joy, and getting nowhere.  And the shortcuts are everywhere.

I want to find a way to live slower next year, and more in spirit of Ecclesiastes. For everything there is a season.

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

English: Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of Advice, I Want Pictures

I didn’t mind reading loads and loads of parenting advice when I just had one child. Up until my blissful second pregnancy ended with a traumatic bang, I believed that parenting was fairly easy. It was a matter of setting aside one’s own needs for a while, and I actually enjoyed that. Naptime and early bedtime allowed for plenty of me-time; I was really happy. At that time I read Sears’ The Baby Book hungrily and without hesitation. Oh, should we just keep co-sleeping until the child decides she doesn’t want to anymore? Oh, should I keep breastfeeding through my pregnancy and then tandem nurse a toddler and a baby? No problem.

By the time it was already too late. I believed that weaning my child would be violence. I used the word traumatic. 

And in the horror-show that was my life after the second child was born I had already found my parenting identity in martyrdom. All I knew how to feel was guilt. I had no idea that a new baby would find all of the breathing room in my full life and take it for herself. I had no idea that the toddler would respond to my being overwhelmed by cranking up her own despair.

At this point, any parenting advice was a smart to the open wound I’d become. I felt terrible whenever someone insinuated that I was being too hard on my kid. I felt terrible whenever someone insinuated that I was being too easy. Really any advice at all was taken badly, no matter how kindly it was meant, or how benign or forgiving it was. If someone said, “well, all that matters is that you love them,” I’d think: do I love them? If someone said, “well, we turned out okay,” I’d think: um, did I? 

Now I have an allergy to parenting advice. No matter what it is, if I start reading any book at all that doles it out I become anxious about my children and their past and the damage done and their future and the unknowns and I lose my tenuous grip on faith and on this little shattered-and-reassembled self. I become anxious, and then my daughter becomes anxious, and it spirals downward from there.

Here’s what helped instead:

1. Maurice Sendak. I read a blog post on a feminist/academic/parenting blog on one really tear-drenched day titled “I’ll eat you up, I love you so” and it made me feel slightly better. It was partly about how the need for children to behave and the need for mothers to behave were related cultural problems–that there was not enough space for broken or limited human beings in the world. (Which we all are, btw.) Spoke to the way I felt then, that I was no longer fit for human society.

Anyway, after that, a frequently read story by Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are made me feel better (the title of that post alludes to a line from that book.)

 wildthings

2. Elmo’s Dad. This is going to seem really stupid for lots of reasons, but in those days lots of the characters in Sesame Street with their optimism and gentleness ended up parenting me a little. We hadn’t even let our older daughter watch TV at all before the second one came along, so watching television with my kid became symbolic of the way my parenting was falling apart. Anyway, there was this one series called “Sesame Beginnings” which just had babies and parents playing together spliced with baby Big Bird, baby Cookie Monster and their caregivers. You get the idea. These muppet parents were so patient and happy. For some reason, it helped.

3. Sarah Garland’s books. These are a series of very short British kids’ books with titles like Doing the Washing and Going Shopping. In Doing the Washing, a favourite of mine, the mom character hoists laundry up and down stairs and hangs it to dry, all with a toddler following behind. By the end, she’s so exhausted that she drops down to the floor to read stories with the kids. These books depicted the loveliness of an unlovely life: the work involved in the daily chores, the mess, the exhaustion, and how it fun or normal it might seem to a child. I needed these books. I might even buy the set of them just for myself.

doingthewashing4. Peepo by the Ahlbergs. 

Partly, it’s that I read these books as a child myself, and the illustrations pressed down on some happy memory centre in my brain. This book has a similar effect as the Garlands, with the added benefit of it looking a lot like my own cluttered life, the one I’m always apologizing for.

peepo1

At this point, I find The Baby Book a little bit sexist. Anybody with me?

Forthcoming

Some wonderful news: I have two personal essays forthcoming.

On November 6, I have an essay called “Temper, Temper” that will go live on Big TruthsI got the chance to work again with editors Troy Palmer (editor of Little Fiction, Big Truth’s big sister) and with Amanda Leduc, the multitalented novelist and basically my neighbour in Hamilton. “Temper, Temper” is about different kinds of rage, and being a parent, and the serenity prayer.

Also in November, my essay “Pain: A Brief History of my Intensity” will be printed in Issue 128 of The New Quarterlyafter having been first-runner-up for the Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest. I have for many years dreamed of being published in TNQ; it’s one of my favourite lit journals and I’ll be in the same issue as some short story writers I really admire, like Miranda Hill and Rebecca Rosenblum. I wrote a little blurb on their blog about a book I recently read.

 

CVC3And, if you’d like, you might want to pick up a copy of the CVC anthology my story was featured in. It’s filled with good things: all of the stories are great, and I particularly loved Greg Hollingshead’s “Mother/Son” and Helen Marshall’s “Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects”.

All of this is lovely. And, if I may admit it, kind of scary too. Because in these essays I am very forthcoming. They are personal. One is about my bad temper (a deep source of shame), and the other addresses some other very deep and precious things, like childbirth and my teenage bout of anorexia.

I have for a long time subscribed to a philosophy of art that states that the artist must go very far in an effort to tell the truth and must not hide from herself. To paraphrase Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, the artist is naked so that everyone else doesn’t have to be. But this is much scarier now that it comes time to have these things consumed by others.

All that said, this is really amazing. I’m terribly antsy to see them out there in the world.

 

Are people horses? Some thoughts on Schooling

For the past two-some years, we’ve been engaged in a discussion that we cannot seem to resolve: should we unschool our children or not? Adam recently used an illustration from The Odyssey*to describe our perilous attempt to parent–Odysseus must choose to navigate near a six-headed monster or a whirlpool. Having a trained philosopher in the house can sometimes be useful.

Sixfinger threadfins, Polydactylus sexfilis

Sixfinger threadfins, Polydactylus sexfilis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can there be a middle ground, or are we always choosing between dangers? And how does one navigate it?

(I have lately preferred this illustration of our dilemma–as James Fitzjames Stephen wrote in 1873:

We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist through we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do?)

This, of course, is what anxious people are so anxious about.

But when it comes to schooling our children, is either option monstrous and terrible? Are we not choosing, merely, between two non-ideal things?

Until Now

I used to blog about unschooling a lot. I was really into the idea, which seemed an extension of the kind of attachment parenting we’d been doing. I was also into the idea that people were essentially good and that people’s natural goodness and curiosity gets dulled or corrupted by the civilized world. I was into the idea that families were democracies, and children should have a say in what happens to them.

I would be in situations where all the children were encouraged to sing in a story time, and Fiona wouldn’t want to, and she would be treated like she wasn’t being “good”, and then I would get angry and defensive. Didn’t the world have enough groupthink?

But then the time came for us to sign Fiona up for school, and we did. We thought we’d just try it out. On the first day, she ran screaming and I took her home, crying myself. But when I then committed myself to homeschooling, realizing I had left it up to the overblown reaction of my almost-four-year-old, I felt terrified and upset. I didn’t know why, but when it came down to it, I did not want to homeschool.

When I was talking about it with another AP friend of mine, I said, “Well, we don’t want to let her know that she has the power to choose this for herself,” and it sounded distasteful to me.

And yet, as bad as it sounds, we don’t want her to have power of choice. Because having power of choice also entails having a burden of responsibility. And what a child prone to anxiety needs is parents who are benevolent dictators.

Unfortunately, I am more of a hotheaded jellyfish.

(What are People Like?

Are people like wild horses? Will schooling break them, break their spirit and their rebellious hearts? Is it a shame, does it diminish them?

Or will they be broken in like the breaking in of shoes? Will they be softened, made flexible?

Or are people like sheep who need a shepherd, better when we obey?

We know that everything we do is teaching them. We do not know exactly what it is we are teaching).

The Best, the Best, the Best

As it turns out, we needed to have real faith in one direction or another. And faith is what we’re lacking. Unschooling seems great, really great–all the stories online really appeal to me–except that we don’t want to be home all the time with our kids. Choosing to follow AP dictates has in the past caused really serious depression and resentment for me.

As with tandem nursing and co-sleeping and many other decisions regarding our children, this frantic question reveals our anxiety and despair:

What is the best? What is the best?

Well, maybe there is no possibility of best. Maybe there is the situation as it is, with its limitations and variables built in: that father is trying to build an academic career, and that mother if she doesn’t work away from the kids finds herself short-tempered and overbrimming with despair, and that they are not good at organizing other people’s time, and that these particular children if not pushed would never do anything at all, and that going to school, as it happens, is not the very end of the world.

Raised by Weaklings

Because I said so and because everybody else does and because you just have to, I’m sorry.

As it turns out, it is very difficult to both promote school and promote criticism of school. At least at this point. At this point my grade 1 and SK kids are both balking, running, crying, sobbing, kicking, trying to escape. It does not feel good to have my child pried off my body and forced into a classroom; it feels like I am violating her rights. On the other hand, this is not a prison, not really. This is a just an imperfect, sometimes-boring, sometimes-fun little place in the world. I want to take their protests seriously, but I think I have taken them too seriously. Now we are letting those feelings and anxieties rule us.

So we are still left with our difficulty. We, like our children, and like that enthusiastic group of bear-hunters in the child’s rhyme, “Gotta go through it.”

Illustrations of Odyssey

Illustrations of Odyssey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(*Adam’s philosophical illustrations of The Odyssey have also given me the idea for my next novel.)

Everyone Intelligent Knows

Annie Dillard’s essay “How to Live”* (printed in Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE,) followed me around for a few days after I read it. A sample:

Since everyone around you agrees ever since there were people on earth that land is value, or labor is value, or learning is value, or title, necklaces, degree, murex shells, or ownership of slaves. Everyone knows bees sting and ghosts haunt and giving your robes away humiliates your rivals. That the enemies are barbarians. That wise men swim through the rock of the earth; that houses breed filth, airstrips attract airplanes, tornadoes punish, ancestors watch, and you can buy a shorter stay in purgatory. The black rock is holy, or the scroll; or the pangolin is holy, the quetzal is holy, this tree, water, rock, stone, cow, cross, or mountain and it’s all true. The Red Sox. Or nothing at all is holy as everyone intelligent knows.

Holy Cross Sermons

Holy Cross Sermons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read the rest here .

 

*aka “This is the Life”

Basic Cognitive and Existential Needs

the … importance of both closure and openness as qualities of narrative texts stems not just from aesthetic considerations per se but also from what appears to be basic cognitive and existential needs. On the one hand, there is the need for openness, so that life (or its narrated image) would not become too boring and predictable; on the other hand, there is the need for closure, so that it would not become uncontrollably chaotic.

 

Eyal Segal in “Closure in Detective Fiction”