Reading Like a Kid

I remember reading a lot when I was younger. I gobbled up books one by one, reading whatever took my fancy. Most of them were children’s classics, cozy tales with female protagonists.

Little Women made me want to be a writer. The Secret Garden inspired me to sketch the plans for my own secret garden, complete with a wall and gate I would somehow craft all by myself in my small-town backyard. Anne of Green Gables reminded me it was okay to be a little odd and poetic, even if people looked at you funny.

But then somehow, as I got older, it got harder to find time and energy to read, even when I still counted reading as one of my main hobbies. It’s hard to justify sitting down and reading for fun when you have a job, or laundry, or reading for a college class, or—let’s face it—when you’ve already wasted enough time on the internet.

A lot of adults have a similar story. We loved indulging in literature when we were younger, but now recreational reading seems just that—an indulgence we can’t quite justify.

Ironically, I think my nearly five years of undergraduate education made me hate reading for fun. And I’m the biggest nerd I know. I love school. I didn’t mind reading for classes at first. But that mindset of reading-for-credit really gets ingrained, even when you don’t think about it. And it turns on you. When I graduated, there was no one telling me, “Read this by that date,” no counting pages til I could be done, no direction, even, of what to read and what to look for in it. I found myself a little lost, and a little miffed that my long-time hobby had been taken away.

I soon realized that my motives and justification behind reading had become twisted. I had taught myself that reading was a chore. I had reduced literature into page numbers I had to get through. Sometimes books were on my reading list because they were “good books to read,” something that had been recommended to me, or worse, books which everyone referenced with ease and I still didn’t know about. And sometimes I didn’t read because it felt trivial to sit on the couch and read a book I wouldn’t get any benefits from besides inherent enjoyment and perhaps some useless knowledge.

But the truth is that any writer needs to read. It is also true that life is too short to read a book you don’t like (thanks Leonard). And finally, it’s incredibly smug to assume you have nothing concrete or useful to learn from a book. Any book.

So this summer I let myself read like a kid. I picked what looked interesting even if it wasn’t my genre or usual choice. I had books gifted and recommended to me, and I enjoyed them and let them lead me to new fields I’d never considered before.

And you know what? I’ve never read so much in a summer, not since I was a kid. Something about taking away the boundaries and expectations, of letting the imagination wander if it wants, makes you explore and soak in. You learn, and you have fun doing it.

This summer, I’ve read children’s lit, adult fiction, self-help, theology, and poetry. My reading has been like a hike: I’ve walked alone, followed along with a friend, run off the trail and darted back, and walked a few familiar parts of the trail over and over again.

My hobby has returned to me, or perhaps I to it.

Runner and Doorman

I’ve been reading a book about quelling anxiety. Not for myself, of course, because I don’t need it at all. Ha.

One thing I’ve learned is that the fear of anxiety is what makes anxiety something to fear. Anxiety in itself is nothing, just extra adrenaline. Becoming hyper-aware of it and then fearing its arrival is what makes anxiety so crippling.

The thing to do about this, the book says, is to dare anxiety to do its worst. When you start to notice the symptoms of an anxiety attack, you’re supposed to call them out. “Heart palpitations? Is that all you can do? I’ve gotten through that before. Try harder.”

This approach is based on the premise that running away from fear makes fear more frightful. It makes its steps sound louder, its voice more resonant, its whispers more chilling. You try not to look until you can’t bear to look.

But when you do end up forcing yourself to turn around and stare fear in the face, you find that it’s really small. It’s pitiful. It’s laughable. When you run toward it, daring it to do its worst, you find as you get closer how utterly small and insignificant it is. You find its claws dull and its voice nothing more than a squeak.

Wartbug Door Handle

One day a friend and I were talking about fear. We noticed how fear is often like a door that swings shut, and if you leave it alone, if you choose not to indulge it, it’ll stay shut. It’s not strong enough to open the door itself. But idiot humans that we are, we indulge a peek. We crack the door open, and then we stick our foot in, and then we keep it there, even though what we let out makes us miserable.

But running is tiring. And a heavy door on a small foot hurts. So why do we torment ourselves when the thing we’re running from and the thing we’re leaving the door open for is just a knee-high squeaky nebby jag* who’s only alive because we indulge it? To be honest, it doesn’t make sense. And it’s just plain impractical.

Running away from fear is one of my main hobbies. And every time I manage to outrun it, I double back, crack open the door, and stick my foot in to let the fear catch up to me. I’m both runner and doorman. It’s exhausting. It’s moronic. But it’s my nature.

Recently, during a super stressful week, I tried out the book’s strategy. I dared my fear to do its worst in the little knots of life that often turn into my biggest sources of anxiety.

The fridge is getting empty and I’m not sure when I’ll have extra money to go to the grocery store? Excellent. Let’s see how long I can round up what’s left in the kitchen and play Iron Chef.

The new month means a new round of bills more expensive than last month? Sweet. I can’t wait to see how much higher the heating bill is this month. I am actually very interested; the weather’s been cold and I live in an old drafty house. Let’s see how drafty, shall we?

I’m tired and emotional and need to take care of some similarly tired, emotional people? Awesome. I’ll see how long it’ll take before I quietly burst into tears. Maybe I’ll break my record and make it three days instead of two.

Of course, my snappy comebacks helped. I’m always one to laugh at my own jokes. But I realized that calling fear’s bluff helps immensely. Because fear can’t ever keep its own promises.

The book cautions me that I have to keep up with this approach until it’s second nature. It’s a process that won’t be overcome overnight. And sometimes I forget altogether. Sometimes going through the process of calling fear’s bluff is too exhausting. I’d much rather run away and get my foot stuck in the door instead.

But that’s okay, because I have another trick up my sleeve that neither fear nor the book are counting on: I happen to be a child of God. And when I’m tired of running or holding a door open or turning around and going through a set of bluff-calling questions, I can look up and pray one of my favorite prayers:

“I can’t wait to see how You’ll turn this into something I can worship You for.”

It’s a work in progress. But it gets me to stop running. And it helps me shut the door tight.


*Nebby Jag (n). A term of derision. A contracted form of the phrase “nebby jagoff”, taken from the Pittsburghese “nebby” meaning nosy and bothersome, and “jagoff” meaning an unintelligent person, a jerk.




On Children’s Tales


I have a reading list. All writers ought to, I’m told.

And for a while, this was a stressful thing. My reading list was a thing to conquer. I still had yet to tackle classics that my peers had been hotly debating since middle school. My giant to-do list yawned before me, standing between me and literary literacy. For a while I stopped reading altogether, or did so haltingly, guiltily.

But all writers ought to read, so I’m told.

So I went to the library. And on a whim, among the stacks containing the sum of human knowledge and experience, I picked out children’s books.

ccbbIt started with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie of which I’d watched to oblivion as a child. I can now say with smug surety that although the plot of the book is far better, the movie does have the best songs. Also, Dick van Dyke.

Then I checked out “Folktales from around the World.” This was a thicker volume, one I didn’t get to finish. But I did read a truly horrifying tale called “Blue Beard.” “Blue Beard” is the kind of story that either French parents told their children to squelch curiosity, or that French husbands told their wives to squelch independent thought. Maybe both. (Google it.)

tlpThe Little Prince was sweet and beautiful and disconcerting. The whole world is in that story; every line is packed with meaning. Like a haiku. Like orange juice concentrate.

Inkheart, my beloved Inkheart, was cozy and wonderful and profound. It’s a book about loving books, which makes you love books as you love the book.

A Little Princess, my main jam. As a kid I had the black and white illustrated version, which I painstakingly colored with crayons. It’s deliciously Victorian and deliciously hopeful. It makes me want to be six again, wearing flowered dresses and tying my curls with ribbon.

This pint-sized reading list made me fall back in love with reading. Of course, I’ve recently read some amazing, good, deep grownup books as well, but children’s books have a magic about them that adult literature is too audacious to allow. As I was reading, I worried that others might not understand this. A few times I found myself hiding my book choices as I walked to and from the library, worried that my children’s books were not sophisticated enough to deem me a serious reader.

the frog king

Well, screw that. Because any piece of writing can be serious if you’re serious when you read it. The nutrition facts on a bottle of ketchup can be just as profound as the Odyssey. (More so, actually, because I’ve been way more serious about my ketchup choices than I ever was about reading the Odyssey.) Books written for children take humanity and melt it into little Jolly Rancher-like pieces that are bright and sweet and take time to really savor. (Except children’s books are much better because they don’t give you tooth decay.)

little princess.jpgBut the best thing about kiddie lit is it reminds you to wonder at the world, to marvel at light and beauty and the simplicity of truth, and to hope for the good things always triumphing, no matter how bleak it may seem.

The things you read about in children’s stories are more poignant as an adult, because they allow you to eat the bite-sized morsels of truth with a much larger appetite. The crumbs all come together to make a meal much more complete. The childlike joy in the meal couples with an adult-like appreciation of its nutrition. (Sorry for all the food metaphors.)

This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18: “…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Adult Christians try really hard to attain this kind of childlike faith. We strive to see God as a loving Father. We force ourselves to throw off the cares of the world. We scour our Bibles and exhaust our small group studies in an attempt to be more childlike.

In this way, we create a very ambitious “reading list” out of life. It’s a list not created out of a spirit of joy and wonder, but one of stress and begrudging piety. We read our list—we live our lives—haltingly, guiltily. It’s a thing to conquer, something to hotly debate with the people around us.

But maybe it’s more simple than we think. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe all it takes is to throw out all the adultlike self-help crap we clog our brains with. Maybe sometimes we don’t need yet another platitude, another prescription for good living. Maybe we just need to pick up a good children’s story.

Try it. What’s the worst thing that could happen; you learn how to slay a dragon? At the very least, that’s practical. At the very most, it’s a step towards childlike faith.




Writing Lessons from a Jock

I got a new book today and I am so excited to devour it! Enter To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while – it’s been the book I think of when I say to myself “I need to read some classics!” Last week while driving home I heard on the radio about Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s first book to be published since this one, written before this came out in 1960, but functioning as this book’s sequel-before-the-first-was-written (technically making To Kill a Mockingbird a prequel, a feat that even George Lucas himself would have trouble topping).

I figured I needed to get cracking, so I found the mass market paperback for five bucks with Amazon Prime (with eleven bucks conveniently in my checking account), and the deal was made.

I’ve been trying (miserably) to read more; I know that if I want to be a good writer it’s important to be a good reader. This idea has been hammered into my head through many a poetry and literature class, but oddly enough it came alive for me by watching sports.

…or rather, by watching sports with my husband. Alex is a sports guru. (We met at a basketball game). He plays or has played golf, soccer, baseball/softball, basketball, track, and tennis. He also succeeds at them all, while I just played my first game of golf (and thus my first legitimate game of any sport) yesterday.

I’m becoming more acclimated to his adrenaline-pumped world, but I still don’t understand how he can play in a softball tournament all day and then come home and (willingly!) watch the Pirates game. By then I personally am exhausted and need to go read poetry. But that’s him, and I love him. (I like to say that our love breaks all stereotypes. The nerd and the jock togethah forevah!)

One reason Alex watches so much sports on TV is to see how the masters do it. They may not always play well or even win, but he can still learn from their technique. He can learn from them by observing what they do, and then taking that with him the next time he plays whatever sport it happens to be. It’s a far cry from the mere goal of entertainment that I initially thought was his sole reason for watching televised sports.

Watching sports for education and not merely entertainment is what sets apart the athlete from the fan. Similarly, reading a book for education and not merely entertainment is what sets apart the writer from the casual reader. I’ve found that for a writer, it’s important not to just absorb a story, but to absorb how the story was crafted, and to take those techniques with me the next time I write.

Isn’t that inspiring? I used to think sports were a necessary evil in the world, but I’m not so sure about that now. Being married changes you I guess ;)

So have you ever read To Kill a Mockingbird? Can you give me a spoiler-free comment on what you think? And when you read (or watch sports), do you do it more for entertainment or to learn?

Happy End of Wednesday folks! Enjoy your week!

Before I Say Goodnight

Hey! Guess what? It’s officially Wednesday morning, and I haven’t given you dear folks a post. Sorry about that! Today was our first day back to class after spring break, and well, I was a bit busy. I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you before I say goodnight.

Today I was stressed. I’m getting married. I can’t flunk school. I need money. I need time. I need chocolate. I also need to eat better. And work out more.

All these stresses combined to form one heavy, globular mass. I get stressed easily. This is one of my biggest faults.

I also hadn’t read my Bible in over a week. I do that; I slack off in what matters most. I coddle my body while I starve my soul. This is my biggest fault.

That didn’t help my stress at all. “God, I’m so busy!” I complained. “I need a job! I’m not fit and healthy! I’m always running out of time! Help me! Where are You? Show me that You love me!”

(Now that I see that all written out, I feel like a snotty three year old. Oops.)

And then God lovingly, laughingly reminded me of how stupid I am. A scenario came to mind.

What if Alex were on a trip far away (as he has been before), and so he, being the wonderful guy that he is, sent me some texts to let me know he loves me and misses me (as he has done before)? That would be swell.

But what if I never opened the texts and instead sat around crying because I missed him and wanted to hear from him, to know he was there, missing and loving me? That would be really stupid. There I am crying because I want to hear from Alex when he has already sent me several texts that are probably full of declarations of love, mushy emoticons, and stuff like that. There I am whining for some communication when it has already been made.

All I need to do is read it.

(For the record, this scenario has never happened. I am not that stupid.)

…except when it comes to reading the Bible. Then I am indeed very stupid.

When that scenario came to mind I had to laugh, and I sensed that God was probably laughing too, with me. (And also probably at me, which is okay, ’cause so was I). How eye-opening spiritual situations become when they are put in practical settings! Makes you realize why Jesus used so many parables.

So I hope this encourages you to “open those texts” from God (eek. I never thought I’d say something like that. Cheesy.) Please excuse me as I say goodnight and do just that.

The Speech

Hello everyone!

My readings went really well last night. I was super nervous, almost to the point of dreading it. I just kept telling myself “I refuse to be nervous, I refuse to be nervous, I refuse…” And that helped a little.

There were so many people in the room! The event was held in the West Wing of the library, where there are gorgeous vaulted, wordworked ceilings and stained glass windows. There’s a tiny stage at one end and chair were set up in rows between the bookshelves. It was a great little setup, but so many people came!

My name was called (I was well-introduced), and I walked up in a daze. You know how, when you’re really nervous, you just do something without really thinking of it? I felt like my self got hollowed out and was left with only the mechanical parts, a mechanical girl reading a poem. But then as it went on I got really into it. It was really wonderful.

I shared three poems tonight. One was “Irony”, which I’ve shared on here before. This one for today was my second offering. It’s called “The Speech”. In a nutshell, it sort of fictionally explores how we as Christians have the responsibility to speak what we believe no matter how violently the rest of the world protests. Some people I talked to thought the main character was an actual person, and there were a few Biblical figures they came up with. That’s not what I initially had in mind, but you know, that’s poetry! People taking different things away from what they read (or hear). And that’s what I’ve learned to love about it.



The Speech


He addressed the crowd small and wizened.

He knew them well;

He had stood where they now did,

and had offered his services as one of their mob.

They remembered. And they were angry

because he was a new creation now,

a freak of nature, an anomaly,

because his eyes were clear

and there was light in them,

because of his audacity to be so weak

in defiance of their great strength,

because he stood before them like a bird before the ax,

because he had thrown away their coins and badges.

He spoke to them with patience,

his smooth, gentle words rolling off his tongue.

His whispers were drowned in their roars,

and yet they heard him, and they were threatened.

His frailty carried might.

He was like the pulling undertow

while their strength was in the mighty wave.

He spoke, and they erupted,

like molten rock spewing from Vesuvius,

like the jarred plates of the earth dissolving continents,

like Pontchartrain running free from its banks one August.

He spoke, and they exploded,

like the mushroom above Hiroshima,

like a crushing tornado on the plains in summer,

like thunder and lighting lacerating the sky.

He spoke, and they screeched,

hurling curses like rotten tomatoes and broken glass,

spitting through bared teeth,

scratching with their sharpened claws.

He spoke, and they profaned,

they swam in blood and drank of it, washed themselves in it,

howling like beasts in the dark of night,

reveling as beasts in the light of day.

His words wounded them,

like a thorn scratch,

a toe stub,

a nose slap.

His words wounded

with shame more than pain,

which was unacceptable.

They could not stand for shame,

but pain was the language they spoke.

So they lashed, but he smiled,

so warm and bright that the sun was jealous.

He raised his face to heaven and sighed.

He was at peace.

They lashed, but he was not surprised.

Like the tide drowning castles they swarmed him,

trampled him like soot, snow, and cigarettes.

He was not bothered.

They bruised him and slandered him,

and pushed him through town,

kicking and screaming, incensed.

But he sang like a chickadee bathing itself in the snow.

They bound him and beat him,

and dragged him through streets

greasy and dirty and dank.

but he laughed like the merry Saint on Christmas.

“They may rage all they like;

“I have said my piece.”



Happy Thursday!


The Ring

Happy Tuesday Folks!

Tomorrow I will be reading my creative work for the first time in public! Yipes! If you think of me, say a quick prayer. I am excited and terrified. That should really be a word, you know? Blend those two feelings together. Exiterrified.

In my poetry class we’ve been taking a lot of classic poems by well-known poets and using their styles to come up with something new. We’ve done several of these “parodies”, from writers as varied as Edgar Allen Poe to Taylor Swift (that was interesting!). These exercises are very helpful because we learn to take the tools that great writers used and use them ourselves to make something that is all us. It’s tons of fun!

Last week we studied “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams. It’s a really charming little poem, very small and intimate. I’d encourage you to look it up if you haven’t heard of it. This poem I have today is my “parody” of it. I call it “The Ring”. (Not to be confused with THE Ring :o)

The Ring


so much life



a gold jeweled



dropped in flowing



lost to dusty



Thanks for reading! Have a great week