Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Growing Up During the Great Depression

During the roaring '20s, my mother's birthplace was a prosperous community, known for its coal mines and steel manufacturing.  However, the stock market crash of 1929 changed everything.  In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the mines closed down and my grandfather, along with hundreds of other immigrants, was out of work.

Daily life, during the Depression, was bleak.  My grandmother gardened and canned.  At least once, my grandfather and great-uncle Leo managed to raise pigs and make sausages.  A chicken was baked and boiled and stretched to last a whole week, and a 5-cent knucklebone from the butcher become soup (or at least, beef broth).  When her parents realized the butcher thought young Molly was cute, they sent her to the butcher with a nickel because she always got "the ones with the most meat on them."

I suppose things could have been worse.  Both of my grandparents were skilled gardeners and craftspeople.  They could grow, make, or repair almost anything.  And they weren't ashamed to forage for edible wildplants.  My mother told me many times how she and her father would go to the cemetary to pick dandelions for a bitter spring salad.  Her father made her promise not to tell anyone that the dandelions came from the graveyard, and her mother made her promise never to pick dandelions from the graveyard.  "I couldn't win," she said - she was caught between the threat of Father's leather strap, Mother's "kuhansa" (the Yugoslavian word for spoon), and the Catholic church's prohibition against lying.

When it was time to pay bills, my mother would walk for miles with her parents to drop off the payment in person, because who could afford a stamp or bus fare?  If a store on the other side of town had canned milk on sale, the kids walked there together, Molly on one side of the street and her brother Johnnie on the other, pretending not to know each other.  I don't know why Johnnie was embarrassed to be seen with his sister, but he was, so they walked separately, bought their canned milk individually, and then carried the heavy bags home again, still pretending not to know one another.

There weren't many pets in those days, perhaps because no one could afford to buy food for useless animals.  A neighbor had a vicious German shepherd that would lunge at little girls, and choke itself when it reached the end of its chain.  Another neighbor had a cat that hated children and scratched my mother when she tried to pet it.

When my mother was given two pet rabbits, she was excited, until she realized that she had to feed them.  Of course, there was no money for rabbit food, so she spent her free time gathering grass and woodland plants for them to eat.  As the rabbits multiplied, so did her workload.  Nevertheless, my mother loved her rabbits and took good care of them all summer long.

When fall came and the plants died, my grandfather pragmatically butchered the rabbits and my grandmother canned the meat.  My mother was heartbroken.  Although her parents tried to force her to eat the rabbit meat, my mom refused and she never bonded with an animal again.

In those tough times, food was far too precious to throw away, even if it tasted terrible.  Once, my mother was putting salt into her soup and the lid fell off the salt shaker, along with all of the salt inside.  Her father made her eat the whole bowl of soup.  And, though it's been decades since that incident, I have never seen my mother add soup to a dish at the table.  One negative experience, apparently, was enough to teach her not to take risks with seasonings.

My mother's birthday fell in December, but nobody celebrated it.  Her birthday was too close to Christmas, and her family could not afford an extra gift.

For Christmas, Molly and Johnny each received one orange and one piece of candy.  I'm sure, like all kids, they wanted toys.  Perhaps they scrutinized the pages of the Sears catalog before using it in the outhouse, and dreamed of dolls or soldiers, but what they got each year was one orange, and one piece of candy.  No toys, no socks, no warm jammies, no new clothes for school.  An orange and one piece of candy, and that was it.

Sometimes, when I'm in the produce section at Christmas, I see bin after bin of ripe navel oranges, and I try to imagine my mother as a little girl wearing a too-short skirt and darned, tattered socks, carefully peeling her one orange of the year and savoring every bite, making that precious fruit last for as long as possible.  My childhood was so much easier than my mom's!

Maybe because her childhood was so hard, she did her best each year to make Christmas wonderful for us kids.  We had a beautifully decorated tree with lights and tinsel, and lots of presents that magically appeared under the tree on Christmas morning.  We always had warm coats for winter, shoes that fit, and new clothes for the holidays.  My mom would cheerfully do without, to make sure we had what we needed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

John and Amalia Start a Family in the US of A

My mother's parents came from Yugoslavia.  My grandfather, John N., was originally from Germany, but fled to Yugoslavia to avoid working in the salt mines.  My grandmother, Amalia B., came from a farm.  I think she was one of 16 children.

John came to the United States first.  Amalia came to join her brother, Leo.  I'm not sure how or when the two young people met, but they married and had two children, Johnnie and Amelia.  Johnnie was the man-child, and my mother just a girl, born to do chores and marry (or so her parents thought) a Yugoslavian coal miner in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

My mother was born in the early 1920s, during a period of prosperity.  Although her parents didn't speak or read English, there was work in the coal mines for John, and Amalia kept house.  In those days, being a homemaker was really a full-time job.  My grandmother made bread one day, washed clothes on another day (by boiling the clothes in some metal container in the front yard and stirring the clothes with a stick!), and cooked and cleaned constantly.  Since the house was heated with coal, there was always dust, and with two kids, there was also always something to be cleaned!  My grandmother also tatted, and made beautiful lace borders for pillowcases, handkerchiefs, and other household items.

When little Molly started first grade, she spoke no English, but she learned quickly, and every day, her father made her teach him what she had learned in school.  Soon John was reading the newspaper, and because he knew what was happening in the world, he became respected as a leader in the Yugoslavian community.  He used this to financial advantage, and started selling life insurance to fellow immigrants.  My mom still remembers being dressed up in her best clothes and being taken to visit her daddy's clients.  She hated it, but had to go because she was cute and her presence increased sales.

In 1929 - about the same time my mother started elementary school - the Great Depression began, and so did the hard times.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stories My Mother Can No Longer Tell

At first, I attributed her forgetfulness to strain and exhaustion.  What began as skin cancer behind my father's ear became cancer in his saliva glands, his lymph nodes, his bone, and finally, his brain.  My mother took care of him throughout all those years of surgery and radiation, until the day before he died.  In the last weeks of his life, helping him out of a chair was an enormous challenge, yet my father insisted on using a walker instead of a wheelchair, and my mom, being stubborn and independent, cared for him at home for as long as possible.  One day, he had a stroke or seizure and fell, for the last time, onto the floor of their bedroom.  A hospice team took my father to the hospice house, and my mother, still hoping he might come home, carefully packed a suitcase with a razor, a hair dryer, and his favorite Grape-Nuts cereal.  He died that night, before he could use anything my mother sent with him, and it was only then that we realized there was something wrong with my mother's memory.

My first clues came when we were driving to familiar places, like the grocery store.  "Look," my mother would say, pointing at a construction site near her home.  "I wonder what they're building there."  Every time, I answered, "Condos" and assumed this was a symptom of grief.  Other landmarks remained equally mysterious to her:  in particular, a closed grocery store and a recently opened Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market surprised her each time we drove past.

However, my mom was able to shop for groceries, cook her own meals, and do her own laundry, so I didn't pay that much attention.  I was absorbed in my own grief, and I had my own life to live.  Later - a few years later - we would receive a diagnosis of vascular dementia and untreated diabetes.  A few years after that, my mother would enter Alzheimer's care.

Sometimes, I wish I could call my mother and talk to her, but I don't call anymore.  The voice on the phone is familiar; the woman I knew is gone.  At least once a week I stop by with Depends and baby wipes, toilet paper and snacks.  We sit in her room and talk about inconsequential things.  I hug her and kiss her before I leave, and some staff member distracts her so I can key in the combination and slip away before she realizes that I'm gone.  None of us want her to realize that the door is locked, and she is no longer free to come and go.

As my mother's short-term memory and independence slipped away, so have the stories of her life.  I regret now that I was not a better listener, but I do remember some of her life history.  This month, I want to share some of her story with you, in honor of her and of all those who can no longer remember their own stories.

So, December's theme is "Stories My Mother Can No Longer Tell," in honor of those we love who are slipping away from us one memory, one moment, at a time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Purpose and motivation: the last word

In addition to all the secular reasons for doing whatever we do (whether blogging, reading, writing or taking out the garbage), there is also a spiritual aspect to our daily activities.  Who I am and what I do is intimately related to my spiritual practice and my daily walk:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Col. 3:17, NASB).
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  (1 Cor. 10:31, NASB).
When I was a kid, that stuff seemed pretty lame to me.  I didn't want anything to do with dying to self or glorifying somebody else.  Well-meaning adults told me that "the chief end," or purpose, "of man" (i.e., all humankind) was "to glorify God," but unfortunately they left off the most important part of the quote:

Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, emphasis mine). 
Later, I learned that God was meant to be enjoyed, and that our lives were meant to be enjoyed as well:
Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.

Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:18,19, NASB).
I have also discovered that true pleasure does not exist in isolation, but through relationships.  As people, we were meant to live in community (what Scripture calls the Body of Christ).  As you know from your own experience, people don't really enjoy life without friendship and connection.  Hence, the two Great Commandments to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

Blogging, reading, writing - whatever we do with our time - ideally will bring something of hope and joy to us, and to those around us.  I personally want to be an encouragement to others, and I want my writing to bring some strength, or knowledge, or wisdom to somebody besides myself.

As a writer, lover, friend and follower of Jesus, I am no different from a physician:  if I can't do good, at the very least, I must not do harm (Hippocratic Oath).  And I hope, whatever befalls me, that I will not forget about delight.

Lyrics, "Don't Forget About Delight" by Bruce Cockburn

The Joy of the Lord is My Strength Piano Solo (pretty trippy piano playing for an old guy)

The Joy of the Lord is My Strength - Asaph Borba

By Angela ~ The Joy of the Lord is My Strength - you'll love this beautiful, acoustic song 

Westminster Shorter Catechism (I learned a somewhat more modern version of  this when I was fifteen)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The challenge of reading a difficult text alone

If students and other folks in America aren't finishing books, what is the problem? Is it, as Professor Davis says, that we lack dedication and discipline?  I cannot speak for anybody else, but for myself, I will say that literary works can be tough to understand when I read them alone.  Despite my degree in English literature and a lifetime of reading, I sometimes need encouragement, assistance and accountability to get through a challenging text.
Help, in the form of written interpretations, university-level lectures, or discussion with a literary friend, allows me to enjoy reading difficult novels or poetry that I might otherwise abandon.  Similarly, accountability helps:  if I have to take a test or teach a particular book, I will read and re-read even the most difficult literary works until I have mastered them.

Different kinds of text present different challenges for individual readers, depending on that person's reading skills, background knowledge, and interest in the topic.  For example, if a child has an interest in a subject and has acquired a significant amount of background information on a topic, that student might whiz through a text that is overwhelmingly difficult to other students reading on the same grade level.  So a first-grader who loves dinosaurs may be able to read books far beyond his normal reading level, because he knows and loves dinosaurs, and he is highly motivated to master books about his favorite animals.

On the other hand, my sixteen-year-old students who love "auto shop" and messing around with engines can comprehend a Chilton's manual, but generally think that Shakespeare is impossible and boring.  These sophomores reject Julius Caesar because: the text is years above their reading level; they lack background knowledge about Rome; and they have no interest in Renaissance England, politics, or drama.

You can see, then, how for different readers, the same text might fall into one of three categories:
(1) the independent reading level (what I can comprehend and enjoy on my own),
(2) the instructional reading level (what I can comprehend with help from a teacher or well-informed friend), or
(3) my frustrational level (what I cannot comprehend because it is way too hard for me, even with help).

And the same text, whether it is Shakespeare or Chilton, will fall into different categories for different people.

As a fellow teacher, I understand Professor Davis's frustration.  Nevertheless, it is far more useful for an instructor to discover why students are not completing assignments than to blame society, technology or our students for their failure to read.  Today's non-reading students may be encountering difficulties because they lack interest and background knowledge, or because of poor reading skills. It's our responsibility, as mentors and teachers, to find out what our students need in order to be successful, and to do our absolute best to help them succeed.

Today's Links
Misunderstood Minds: Difficulties with Reading

Preventing Reading Difficulties and Reading Failure: Early Intervention and Prevention - lots of great information for parents and teachers
Introducing the book - one of my favorite-ever videos - a medieval tech-support guy teaches a monk how to use the newest technology

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why People Read (or Struggle to Read) Literature (Part 3)

Professor Davis has a theory about why students (and people like me) don't finish reading works of literature:
...in an age when technological toys dazzle our senses with colors and sounds, and constantly call us to come and play, books--as well as the activity of reading them--seem boring.  Books require dedication and discipline, two words that are not popular in our leisure-loving society (Davis).
I must respectfully disagree with Professor Davis.  Books aren't boring.  In fact, some books fascinate me so deeply that sometimes my husband wakes up to find me standing in the bathroom at 3 AM, book in hand.  A good novel can bring everything else in my life to a grinding halt for days on end.  The same is true for many of my friends and also many of my high school students.  Yet even the most avid readers don't finish reading every book that we begin.

If I quit reading a book, does it mean that I lack dedication and discipline, as Professor Davis so glibly assumes?  I would agree that that some students are unmotivated and lack self-discipline - but not me!  In school I was always an over-achiever. Nonetheless, I sometimes stop reading books, even an interesting book on a topic that appeals to me.

Today's Links

Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline

Reading in America


Davis, Jeffry C. "Why Read Books at All?" Wheaton College. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <http://www.wheaton.edu/english/faculty/davis/guidance_for_students/books.html>.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why People Read (or Struggle to Read) Literature (Part 2)

Although I agree with Professor Davis, that reading great literature makes for a better life, the idea that we can make better decisions by reading great literature seems a bit absurd.

Great literature is not an expert system, and exposure to great works does not automatically improve our decision-making. For instance, reading Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade did not have any discernible impact on who, or how, I dated; nor did repeated exposure to Hamlet cause me to reconsider my position on romance with royalty. (Okay, I'll 'fess up - I didn't know any princes then, so Hamlet's cruel rejection of Ophelia meant little to me). When I discovered D.H. Lawrence, I was entranced by the idea that sexual intercourse could include a profound sacred element; I seriously doubt that Professor Davis would consider D.H. Lawrence a positive influence on my life.

I often used literature to justify choices which would later seem irrational, regrettable, or hopelessly romantic. If you used my life as an example, you would probably conclude that reading good literature to aid in decision-making is a bad idea. Nevertheless, reading has had a positive impact upon me.
Upon mature reflection, I realize that those books and poems changed me, no matter what choices I made, and whether or not I remembered what I had read. James Collins explains this phenomenon as follows:
One answer is that we read for the aesthetic and literary pleasure we experience while reading. The pleasure — or intended pleasure — of novels is obvious, but it is no less true that we read nonfiction for the immediate satisfaction it provides. The acquisition of knowledge, while you are acquiring it, can be intensely engrossing and stimulating, and a well-constructed argument is a beautiful thing. But that kind of pleasure is transient. When we read a serious book, we want to learn something, we want it to change us, and it hardly seems possible for that to happen if its fugitive content passes through us like light through glass.

...we have been formed by an accretion of experiences, only a small number of which we can readily recall. You may remember the specifics of only a few conversations with your best friend, but you would never ask if talking to him or her was a waste of time. As for the arts, I can remember in detail only a tiny fraction of the music I have listened to, or the movies I have watched, or the paintings I have looked at, but it would be absurd to claim that experiencing those works had no influence on me. The same could be said of reading.
Fortunately for my adolescent self, reading helped me realize that there was a larger universe outside my own relentless self-absorption. Others, in reading, have also experienced a gloriously expanded involvement with something greater than themselves:
“It’s that excitement of trying to discover that unknown world,” said Azar Nafisi, the author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” the best-selling memoir about a book group she led in Iran (Rich).
Perhaps the greatest benefit of reading is that it gives us a perspective on the human condition that life alone cannot offer. Books free us of the constraints of time, place, culture, race, and gender to offer us experiences we otherwise never would have. The writer distills universal human experience into a single moment of sublime awareness for a character (Zahran).
Reading great literature is truly and deeply transformative.
No matter how independent or unique we consider ourselves, the truth is that we become like the people we spend time with. I once heard it said that who you will be in five years depends largely on two factors: (1) the books you read and (2) the people you spend time with....

If who you are is not who you hope to become, the surest remedy is improving the quality of the books you read and the people you spend time with (Partow 128).
Henry David Thoreau said that he did not wish to come to the end of his life and discover that he had not truly lived. As a result, he chose to live deliberately and read widely.

What better way is there to live?
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading -- that is a good life (Dillard 32,33).
Today's Links
Interview with Annie Dillard

The Annie Dillard Log

Collins, James. "The Plot Escapes Me." New York Times 17 Sept. 2010, Sunday Book Review sec. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/books/review/Collins-t.html?_r=1>.

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Print.

Partow, Donna. Walking in Total God-Confidence. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999.

Rich, Motoko. "A Good Mystery: Why We Read." New York Times. 25 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/weekinreview/25rich.html>.

Zahran, Mary. "Why Read." Big Read Blog. National Endowment for the Arts, 18 May 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. <http://www.arts.gov/bigreadblog/?p=1940>.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why People Read (or Struggle to Read) Literature (Part 1)

A quiet evening with a book is the perfect ending to a stressful day, especially if I can enjoy a nice glass of red wine and a few bites of dark chocolate with my suspenseful thriller or off-beat romance.  However, not all my reading is so pleasurable.
Often, I read quite seriously.  I read "informational text" to answer practical questions such as how to deal with a parent suffering from Alzheimer's, or to answer questions that interest me, such as animal cognition.  I really do want to know what my dog knows, and how she knows it.  When I am perplexed by man or beast, I turn to books and the Internet.

When I feel frustrated as a writer, I pick up a work of literature which comes highly recommended.  Despite having a B.A. in English Literature, a MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry), and numerous teaching certifications, I find many of these books to be tough going.  Far too frequently, these edifying books pile up in my study or go back to the local library, never to be read to the end. 

You might think that, given my skill as a reader and writer, that I could finish any book.  Given my experience as an English teacher, you would guess (correctly) that I believe in the life-changing value of literature. 

That's true.  I whole-heartedly agree with Jeffry C. Davis that reading "good literature" does indeed "free students [and life-long readers] to be who they were meant to be."  Davis, like many English professors, believes that good literature teaches us how to live better lives:

If you want to learn about yourself, learn about others--people both real and fictional.  This way you can gain insight into their struggles, fears, longings, beliefs, habits, and relationships; then you can apply that insight as you make sound decisions for your own life (Davis).

You might think that, if reading literature could give us such great insights, we'd be all over it like ants on a picnic, and that literary works would outsell self-help books.

Alas, this is not the case - and if you don't believe me, check out today's links to current bestseller lists.

Today's Links

Amazon.com's Best-Seller List

National Public Radio's Best-Seller List

New York Times Best-Seller List

U.S.A. Today's Best-Seller List


Davis, Jeffry C. "Why Read Books at All?" Wheaton College. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <http://www.wheaton.edu/english/faculty/davis/guidance_for_students/books.html>.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Real Reason that I Read

If I were being honest about most of my reading, I would have to admit that I could probably find something better to do with my time.  After all,
Reading is absurd, isn’t it? Page after page of symbols. Voices in our heads that aren’t our own. Why persist? (Dodge)
Nevertheless, I read daily and passionately.  I immerse myself in novels about werewolves and vampires, detectives and fantasy heroes.  I read about failed marriages and middle-aged women, young people on quests, people struggling to survive and people trying desperately to save someone they love. When I discover a new author, I track down every title available from my local library.  Wherever I go, books go with me, and I cannot imagine a life without reading.

Richard Peck explains this addiction wonderfully:
From novels we want a better life than we're having:  more adventurous, more dramatic, ultimately more hopeful because a novel is the life story of a survivor.  We can experience real life without reading (Peck ix).
Another author explained it this way:
“It’s that excitement of trying to discover that unknown world,” said Azar Nafisi, the author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” the best-selling memoir about a book group she led in Iran (Rich).
I could lie, and say that I read for self-improvement, to "light the single candle of [my]self" (Bloom), but the honest truth is that I read for pleasure.  Happiness for me is as simple as a good book, a glass of wine, and chocolate. 

I can even do without the wine and the chocolate, if I have my book!

Today's Links
Harold Bloom, Interview:  On Books, Like Ill Fortune
On the Pleasures (and Utility) of Summer Reading


Bloom, Harold. "How to Read." Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts. Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. 18 May 1999. Lecture.

Dodge, Chris. "Why Read Books?" Utne Reader (2005). Utne Reader. Jan.-Feb. 2005. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <http://www.utne.com/2005-01-01/WhyReadBooks.aspx>.

Peck, Richard. Introduction. Anonymously Yours: A Memoir by the Author of Ghosts I Have Been. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Print.

Rich, Motoko. "A Good Mystery: Why We Read." New York Times. 25 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/weekinreview/25rich.html>.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Beyond the Blog: The Human Conversation

Although some may blog in pursuit of riches or fame, of a little ad revenue or a handful of faithful readers, I don't see this blog as a commercial venture.  Nor do I see it in terms of popularity and readership.

There is a conversation which runs throughout human history.  This conversation finds its form in words - spoken or written, improvised, performed.  This conversation is articulated through music and drawing and dance.  We don't remember when this conversation began, but we find it recorded in pigment on ancient cave walls, and we find it here, living and active, on the Internet, on our HD screens, in the voices that surround us.

Why is participation in this creative dialogue so vital?  About ten years ago, I came across this quotation from actress Stella Adler:
Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.
If I just focus on politics and the economy, I become crazed from rage and despair.  I need to pull back from the things that crush my soul, and focus instead on what strengthens and encourages me.

Others have also wrestled with angels in the darkness; others have also held on until dawn.  We are all part of the same dance, and the same song.

Today's Links
Everywhere Dance (Bruce Cockburn)  
Instrumental version performed by co-composer Andy Milne
Lyrics & Comments of Bruce Cockburn
Joining the Human Conversation

Stella Adler Quotes

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why read blogs? (part 3)

Finally, blog writers read blogs in order to improve their writing skills.  I do not know of a good writer who was not also a voracious reader.  Why is reading so important?  Because we learn to write in much the same way that we, as infants, learn to speak our native language.

We naturally acquire language from listening, speaking, and getting feedback from more fluent speakers.  Similarly, writers internalize their writing skills by reading, writing and getting feedback from other writers.  If we don't know other writers, it is harder to improve, but we can still read thoughtfully, analyze the works of writers we love, write regularly, and reflect upon what we are learning.

There are no shortcuts to excellence.  Good writing comes from thoughtfully reading and re-reading the best writing of others, then trying their techniques in your own work.   Leo Babauta says succinctly, "If you want to be a good blog writer, you should read blogs with good writing." 

Today's Links

How to Improve Writing by Reading

Ten free ways to improve your writing


Babauta, Leo. "15 Must-read Blogs for Blog Writers." Freelance Switch. 22 May 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2010. <http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-writing/15-must-read-blogs-for-blog-writers/>.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why read blogs? (Part 2)

Students and serious people read blogs to further their research:  "Many weblogs are specialized newsletters. These can help you in your research, and will give you important news and obscure pieces of information that can round out any research paper" (Zuiker).

Some blog readers are skeptics.  They read blogs to get an honest, alternate viewpoint, not what Big Business wants you to hear.  As Anton Zuiker has observed:
Another important reason to read weblogs is the state of the media today – corporate behemoths own the major outlets of our news and opinion and entertainment. The nanopublishing revolution of weblogging allows individuals an inexpensive and simple way to reach millions of readers. Some are even using weblogs to keep the established media honest, in a trend called 'watchblogs.'
When dealing with people she didn't trust, my mother would often remark, "You have to take what she says with a grain of salt" or "You can't believe everything you hear."  Television detectives remind us to "follow the money," because profit motives can lead to deception and even (gasp) murder.

It's good to have information sources that aren't on somebody's payroll, and whose   investment portfolios are not connected to a specific product or point of view.

Today's Links

Technorati's Top 100 - A blog list which is updated daily.

The Two-Way.  National Public Radio's newsblog, with breaking news, analysis, and readers' comments.  As NPR says, "We're counting on you to keep us honest."


Zuiker, Anton. "Why Read a Blog." BLOGGING101. 27 Feb. 2004. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <http://www.unc.edu/~zuiker/blogging101/readwrite.html>.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why read blogs? (Part 1)

When I try to imagine the blogosphere, I think of a church service when the pastor told everyone to pray out loud, all at the same time, for the same prayer request.  Our pastor explained that God could listen to all the prayers and sort them out, but for me - an ordinary person surrounded by competing, simultaneous voices - the result was only noise.  I couldn't understand what anybody around me was saying.  Of course, God was the audience, not me, and I was supposed to be praying, not eavesdropping.  The cacophony was so distracting that I couldn't pray.  Afterwards, I decided that I prefer it when people take turns, because I like to listen to what my friends have to say.

i feared that the blogosphere might be like that room filled with people all talking and not listening - a virtual room crowded with writers, but devoid of readers.  Instead, I was greatly encouraged to discover that some people do read blogs, and for good reasons, too.

Many read blogs to be informed and entertained.  In fact, some people read blogs almost (IMHO) obsessively:

I read over 250 blogs regularly, because I find them informative, entertaining and interesting.  I get more diversity of opinion and ideas from those 250 blogs than from reading one or two newspapers; and often you get the chance to learn from real experts in their fields, without the casual mistakes, prejudices and dumbing down that you get when those views are intermediated by lazy journalists (Barder).

 Others read blogs to discover "exciting new websites" (Zuiker).  If you've ever used Google, you have undoubtedly stumbled upon at least one blog entry with cool or bizarre links.  Here are a couple of blogs with information, links or videos I would never have thought of:

Today's Links

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed in these links are not necessarily those of the management or the author of this blog.


Barder, Owen. "How to Read Blogs [tech for Non-techies 2]." 28 May 2010. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <http://www.owen.org/blog/3449>.

Zuiker, Anton. "Why Read a Blog." BLOGGING101. 27 Feb. 2004. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <http://www.unc.edu/~zuiker/blogging101/readwrite.html>.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Good Reason NOT to Blog

Blogging is an opportunity to communicate and make connections which may grow you personally or which may grow your business.  However, it may not be the right choice for you.

How could something that so many people value be bad for anybody?  If your blog is hosted on a free site, it won't cost you anything - except time and maybe a little emotional energy.
We all know, on some level, that our lives are finite and our time is limited.  Sometimes, we think we don't have enough time for what truly matters.  Julie Henderson reminds us that we DO have the time to achieve our goals:

Many people say they don’t have enough time. Yet, the truth is you all have the same amount of time in a day: 24 hours or 1,440 minutes. In fact, you have exactly the same amount of time that was given to Helen Keller, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.
If I have as much time as Helen Keller and Thomas Edison, why am I so much less effective?  Doug Fields, in writing about how to be an effective youth pastor or leader, tells us:
You will always have dozens of opportunities, but you need to decide if your time is going to be managed by your opportunities or your priorities.... Examine your opportunities and ask yourself: "Will this help us better accomplish one of our purposes...?"  If it won't help you accomplish your purpose, it will drain some of your time....  Keep from being managed by your opportunities and try to be managed by your purposes.  The old adage "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time" is true.  What is also true is that if you aim at everything, you'll seldom hit your target.  Your purposes, however, will keep you aiming straight at the target....
Blogging may be a fabulous opportunity, but is it one of your priorities?  Will it help you accomplish your life purposes?  Will it siphon time and energy from what you truly care about?

If blogging (or anything else in your life) is a distraction from what you really want to do, let it go.  Or better yet, don't start blogging at all!

Today's Links

Some reasons NOT to blog
A really good list of reasons TO blog

Fields, Doug. Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. page 77

Henderson, Julie. "We All Have the Same Amount of Time." Expect Success - Be UnStoppable. 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 6 Nov. 2010. <http://expectsuccessbeunstoppable.com/blog/post.cfm?Title=WE_ALL_HAVE_THE_SAME_AMOUNT_OF_TIME>.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why bother to blog? (Part 3)

We blog to connect with others like ourselves; we blog to teach and mentor others; we also blog in order to teach ourselves.  As other bloggers have observed, blogging provides “a place [for us to] think, plan and reflect” (Cann).  It is also “a good means of getting down, or building up, all those thoughts that never quite get in to journal papers [or whatever other work you’re engaged in at the moment]" (Weller).  However, such blogging is not really a new phenomenon.  The practice of writing in order to learn is as old as the act of writing itself. 
Consider, for a moment, the humble diary.  Imagine what might be inside the locked "Dear Diary" of an adolescent girl.  My own journals from that time reflect an endless fascination with boys, caustic commentary on friends and family members, and questions about my own future.  Devoted to the quest of discovering who I was and whom I should become, I wrote daily, obsessively, and tediously.  Those entries were bad writing for the most part, yet they helped me to decipher the mystery of I wanted, and needed, to live.  Almost accidentally, the habit of writing daily taught me to how to live as a writer.

A diary or a journal may remain a simple record of daily life. or a carefully guarded cache of  private musings.  Journal entries might capture a moment or a feeling; record an interesting dream or nightmare; explore a memory; or preserve family history.

For more public writers, the journal may become a sort of writer's notebook, and act as the prelude to essays, poems, articles, or novels.   A journal may be the dusty attic of a busy life, or a treasure trove for creative endeavor.

I love how William Zinsser describes the writing process:  "Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own.  Writing enables us to find out what we know - and what we don't know - about whatever we're trying to learn.  Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting the windshield:  The idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into a sensible shape" (Writing to Learn 16).

Whether I journal or blog, when I write, I learn.

Today's Links
Famous Historical Diaries
Dear Diary :  Famous Journals and Diaries


Cann, Alan. "Why Blog?" MicrobiologyBytes. 24 Mar. 2010. Web. 4 Nov. 2010. <http://www.microbiologybytes.com/AJC/whyblog.html>.

Weller, Martin. "Some More Reasons to Blog." The EdTechie. 05 Sept. 2007. Web. 4 Nov. 2010. <http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2007/05/some_more_reaso.html>.

Zinsser, William. Writing to Learn: How to Write and Think Clearly about Any Subject at All. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why bother to blog? (Part 2)

No matter what the question, I love poetic responses that touch on the known before veering off wildly into the mysterious and the imaginative.

However, the question, "Why bother to blog?" begs a more structured, rational answer.   It is true, as the poem implies, that blogging can be an attempt to connect with like-minded readers, to make connections in an unpredictable and sometimes indifferent world.  We need to know that somebody out there hears us.

Blogging is also about connecting with others from a position of strength and confidence.  We want to share what we have learned through experience, by reading or by thinking about a particular topic.

 Ed-tech professor Martin Weller tells us that blogging "exposes the process" so that novices can "observe, and to an extent participate with, experts in action."  Weller's focus is academic, but blogs can teach practical skills as well.  Personally, I have used blogs to discover how to make self-watering plant containers, sew historic costumes, and to learn how to weave.  I enjoy seeing other people's works-in-progress, sharing their successes, and learning from their failures.  I really like knowing what NOT to do before I cut into expensive fabric or spend hours warping a loom.

I could say more, but I cannot say it better than Gloson, a perceptive twelve-year-old in Malaysia.  He blogs because "helping people gives you happiness."  When you give of yourself to others, in some way you are also always blessed.

"Some More Reasons to Blog" by Martin Weller
"Twenty-Two Reasons for You to Blog" by Gloson

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why bother to blog?

This is the best answer I can give.

wanting to feel
even the dry rasp of winter skin
sliding across my palm
on this cold morning

wanting to know
there's more out there
than dead grass
nodding dully in the wind

wanting to wrap
your body in my arms
and feel your breath rising
and falling, like mine,

wanting to stand
belly to belly and chest to chest
as the world tilts toward winter
and the sun climbs and falls

not wanting to be alone
when the shadows grow
and the exhaled atoms
fall frostlike and cling

for a moment to the thorns
of the dark iced branches
and the echo of apocalypse
given birth in the heart

of a distant golden sun
light rushing past us
and as quickly

Poem copyright 2010 by Tina Quinn Durham.  Used by permission.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Step of a Thousand-Mile Journey

This blog is inspired by Henry David Thoreau, who was willing not only to try something new in his life, but also to share his experiences with others.  If Thoreau were alive today, he’d probably be a blogging eco-tourist and an opinionated activist. 

In some sense, everything I’ve done in my adult life has sprung from two passages in Walden.  First, when beginning his back-to-basics experiment, Thoreau wrote:
I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion (Walden, Chapter 1).
After two years in the woods, Thoreau concluded:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them (Chapter 18).

This blog is both a record of my attempt to live deliberately, and an attempt to put foundations under my desire to be a disciplined thinker and writer.