It was Thanksgiving in Canada yesterday.
I’m grateful for the combination of creative solitude and family celebration I enjoyed over the weekend.
I’m also grateful for past blogs to turn to after I used the creative solitude for other purposes, and the family celebration was way to fun to interrupt to write.
The boy I wrote about in this post from last year has grown up and he no longer follows this practice. I miss it! But no matter. He taught me a timeless lesson during that brief delightful phase of his childhood.
Monday evening is the regular library time for a father and a small boy. Those two are the highlight of my week.
At the time of their visit, I work in the room that houses the book drop. The murmur of their voices and the scraping sound of a step-stool being pulled into position comes to me through the slot. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and another as he prepares for his book return ritual.
“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.
He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.
I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.
This child shows me:
- He respects and cherishes books.
- He expresses gratitude.
- He knows how to “be here now.”
- He celebrates each moment with a Bam!
Some lessons for all of us, from a child.
Several years ago, before I started this blog but when the idea for it percolated in my brain, Dawkins published a book: The God Delusion. I don’t care for his writing—I find he adopts a condescending “I’m smarter than you are” tone—but the subject of his book related to topics I pondered then, so I resolved to buy his book and get through it.
Like a dose of Buckley’s cough syrup.
I made a trip to the book store. I saw the silver glint of the book face-out in the “New Arrivals” section. I couldn’t get close to it. Something about that book repelled me. I had a little talk with myself. “Now, Arlene,” I said. “You came all the way to the store. You’ve got the money in your pocket. Don’t be ridiculous.” Intellectually and rationally, I knew I needed to read Dawkins’ arguments. But I couldn’t take that step closer. A force pushed me away from the shelf.
After some mental back-and-forth talking, I turned away. “I’m going to a friendlier section,” I told myself. I wandered around for a while until I landed in “Art and Architecture.” I saw The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I had the opposite experience with this book. I felt drawn to it. I couldn’t keep my hand from picking it up.
I used the money in my pocket to buy that book instead, and the ideas in Julia Cameron’s book transformed my life. The stories in this blog come through the morning pages I write every day. The ideas for my fictional creative writing come through the same process.
I borrowed Dawkins’ book from the library later and read it, and, yes, I bristled at the “I’m smarter than you are” tone. He worked hard to convince his readers that there is no God separate and apart from us, and some believe he succeeded. But he didn’t manage to convince me that there is no God-ness. I experienced that while buying, or rather not buying, his book. It was one of the irrational experiences that drive Richard Dawkins crazy.
Life overflows with them.
“Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves.”
Several years ago during a long car ride, I read Cheaper By the Dozen out loud to the family. (My Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Judd, had read it aloud to our class, and I remembered the book fondly.) I got to the point where the mother in the story talked about a low-class or unrefined person, and I stopped reading.
What?” my kids asked
I silently considered my options. The author, when describing a vulgar, low-class, person, used the word “Eskimo.” I couldn’t in good conscience:
(a) use this word to describe the First Nations group without some explanation about why we don’t use the word anymore, or
(b) let that word be associated forever in my kids’ minds with ill-mannered people.
I took a few minutes to explain the back-story of the word, give it some context, and then I read on. It’s a good book – except for that one word.
I’ll tell you what though, I would NEVER read Huckleberry Finn out loud.
This story came to mind because it’s Freedom to Read Week, a time to open our minds to books and book content. What seems subversive and inappropriate to you might be just what someone else needs. Books like Cheaper By the Dozen and Huckleberry Finn give us valuable historical context, even if we don’t like the history, maybe especially because we don’t like the history. They remind us of where we were and the costs that came with it, so we never visit that place again.
If you read Bannings and Burnings in History, the list includes Galileo, Hemingway, and Shakespeare. My favourite on the list is Beatrix Potter’s A Tale of Peter Rabbit because it contained only “middle-class rabbits.”
Freedom to Read week honours freedom of expression. It encourages us to fire up our brain cells to discern quality reading material for ourselves—for ourselves, but not for others.
So, pick up a volume of Shakespeare, or Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, or even go to the movies to see Les Misérables. Do your bit to honour those spectacular controversial works of art.
Read the Position Statement of Freedom of Expression and Freedom to Read