Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Week Without Reading

I'm a creative person. I always have been, and I always will be. My mother says that I came out of the womb that way. As I child, I taught myself how to play the piano, the guitar, the harp, and the autoharp. I painted. I drew with charcoal and with pencils. I made things out of clay. I wrote short stories and one book. I wrote plays and songs and performed them for my parents, my brother, and our next door neighbors. This is always something that has been a huge part of who I am. 

But then you grow up. The world tells you to choose one thing - one profession - that you will be good at. You will pursue that one thing, go to school for that one thing, and, hopefully, find a job allowing you to do that one thing. The one thing that I chose to do was acting. As someone who has always enjoyed juggling lots of different creative things at the same time, this was ideal. I could play a hooker with a heart of gold, then I could play a rich uppity British lady, then I could play a witch, then I could play a fairy sprite. I love finding infinite selves within my one self - finding things that I didn't realize were in me. It's the pisces in me - being able to change and shift like water. I also love building relationships with other actors onstage. People in real life get to fall in love once. As an actor, I get to fall in love over and over again, and with the most genuine, open, loving people. These people are my family.

So what happens when your family doesn't cast you? When you don't get the job? When you have an eight month gap between one show and the next? 

Your creativity screeches to a halt, that's what. And I have found that when the number of creative outlets goes down, the emotions and the depression go up, along with the hours of sleep, the amount of food eaten, and the amount of crap watched on television. 

I was in this very scary place when a lovely friend of mine suggested a book called The Artist's Way - A Spiritual Path of Creativity. The back of the book says:

The Artist's Way is an empowering book for aspiring and working artists. With the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, Julia Cameron leads you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity.
This is a pretty spot-on description of what the book does. I write what Julia Cameron calls "morning pages" everyday - three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. At first this was difficult. Now, on week four, I crave that outlet like prayer or meditation. Every week, I take myself on an "artist date." I go somewhere, alone with my artist, and do something to help fill the "creativity well." I've painted pottery, I've taken myself on an ice cream date, and I've taken myself to the movies. The program has inspired me to start writing in this blog again, to start working on a play that I want to produce and act in, to re-decorate my bedroom, to start learning French, to give clothes away, to get an agent, and to let go of past hurts that I've been holding on to for too long. It has helped me more than I can adequately describe.

Until I read this week's assignment.

If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation. No reading? That's right: no reading. For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.

What was that, Julia Cameron? No reading? No reading... for a WEEK!? I don't know if you noticed, but this blog is kind of... um... dedicated to reading? So yeah, I like reading a lot. I'd say that's what I do with the majority of my time. 

About 25% of that time is reading books. The other 75% is made up of facebook, twitter, google+ (I don't get it, but I'm already addicted to it!), tumblr, blogs that I follow, magazines, text messages, e-mails, and the list goes on and on! Reading is what I use to communicate. Also, I have about a dozen books on my nightstand and I'm reading all of them at the same time. 

So what, pray tell, should I do with all of this time if I'm NOT spending it reading, Julia Cameron? WHAT? 

Her response:
Listen to music. Knit. Work Out. Make Curtains. Cook. Meditate. Wash the dog. Fix the bike. Have friends to dinner. Sort closets. Watercolor. Pay bills. Rewire the lamp. Get the stereo working. Write old friends. Paint the bedroom. Sort bookshelves (a dangerous one!). Repot some plants. Rearrange the kitchen. Go dancing. Mend.
Alright... I don't have a dog, I don't work out, I don't know how to knit or rewire things, and I'm not Laura Ingalls friggin' Wilder!!!

But then I take a deep breath and tell myself that I'm committed to this program. I am! I can do this! I can TOTALLY do this!

The truth of it is - if this is what I need to do to get back to that 8 year-old self - the one who writes plays and paints and dances and sings without care or judgment - it's a small sacrifice. I would gladly sacrifice much more to be her again.

So I'm doing it, dear readers. I'm going on a reading fast. I've made the facebook and the twitter announcements that I will be gone for a week. I've had heart to hearts with the books on my nightstand.

And you, Cranford... I think I'll miss you most of all!

Now the reading fast begins. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Pray for me, dear readers. Pray for me. If you don't hear from me in a week, send a librarian.

Hey! Look at This!

This is what you have done to me, Julia. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Louisville Jane Austen Festival!

"'You are in a melancholy humour and fancy that anyone unlike yourself must be happy.  But remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by everybody at times, whatever be their education or state.  Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience; or give it a more fascinating name:  call it hope.'"
- Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility

I am crazy about Jane Austen. Have I made this point before? Even if I have, it's worth reiterating. 

I am crazy about Jane Austen.

I have grown up surrounded by Jane Austen. I have a Jane Austen finger puppet. Yesterday, I bought a regency dress on ebay. ("When and where are you going to wear that?" I can hear you thinking. WHO GIVES A SH*T, I reply! I NEED IT!) 

I was not always this way. My mother, a woman with excellent taste, had the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice on VHS - the nine (okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration) video tapes pretty much took over her dresser. When I was young she used to watch them all the time and I would think, "BO-RING! I'm going to go pretend that I'm Jo March and turn down perfectly good marriage proposals in the backyard..."

In high school, Pride & Prejudice was required reading. I looked at that book, one of the first truly lengthy books I had ever read, and thought, "I think it would be easier to watch the nine (exaggeration alert!) video tapes than it would be to read all of that book." But, being the school teacher that she is, my mother would have none of it. 

We reached a compromise - each time I would finish a chapter, my mother would let me watch the mini-series up until the point where I had stopped reading. 

After seeing Mr. Darcy in that cravat (ZOMG!) I was hooked. 

We went on to Sense & Sensibility and Emma and I thought, "Okay, this romantic world full of dreamy dudes is DEFINITELY for me." I would imagine that I was Marianne Dashwood, fainting in the rain only to be saved by Willoughby and nursed back to health. 

"WILLOUGHBY!" I would sigh in the back yard and faint.

(Yes, I was in high school at this point. And yes, I still do this.)

I went on to read Pride & Prejudice again for a college English class. This time,  the teacher made us watch the Keira Knightley version. I watched it. "Psshh! B*tch, please," was my reaction. "NO ONE is Elizabeth Bennet but Jennifer Ehle. NO ONE is Mr. Darcy but Colin Firth." And I looked down my well-cultured little nose at all of my friends who enjoyed it. "YOU just haven't seen the REAL version..."

It is of note that this "real version" that I was referring to was the Colin Firth movie, not the book.

Then, after I graduated from college with my theatre degree (and my empty wallet), I got that call that is every unemployed actor's dream.

"We're doing a production of Pride & Prejudice. The girl who was playing Lizzie can't do it. Could you come in and read for us?"

To which I replied, "F*#$ yeah!!!!!!"

Now, this was a challenge. I had Jennifer Ehle TATTOOED on my brain. She was and is Elizabeth Bennet. I decided to re-read the book again and banned the movie versions to cleanse my mental palate. 

An extraordinary thing happened. This Austen film fast introduced me to Jane Austen - the real Jane Austen that had been there all along. The Jane Austen that is more David Sedaris than she is Charlotte Bronte. Jane Austen the witty, satirical genius. Jane Austen - the badass.

At this point, I broke up with Mr. Darcy. It was Jane that I was in love with. Jane's voice - the voice of Pride & Prejudice's narrator. The voice that is muted in the movies. It was like heroine. I had had a shot of the real stuff and I couldn't settle for less. 

I went on to read Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and the annotated Pride & Prejudice.  I was invigorated because I discovered that this woman deserved a place on my shelf next to Shakespeare and the Bible. I was infuriated because the only thing that I saw originally, as a result of the movies, was how dreamy the dudes look and how important it is that the women end up with the dudes at the end. Jane Austen, in all her powerful glory, had been invisible. Her characters, like Shakespeare's, are extraordinarily gifted and also extraordinarily flawed. They are human. As far as I can tell, Shakespeare and Austen are the only two authors who have achieved this amazing feat. 

This weekend, my mother and I decided to make the drive up to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville for the second year in a row. Squeal! To be quite honest, this is probably the only place in the world where I feel really, REALLY understood, like a Trekkie at a Star Trek convention. We learned how to do hair, how to fight a duel, and how to start a Jane Austen book club. 

The best part, by far, was high tea. High tea always makes me a little nervous because you are forced to sit at a tiny table with strangers, and there's really no way to get out of talking. I was worried that the girls at our table would say, "Oh, I just LOVE Pride & Prejudice! Mr. Darcy is SO hott and I love him in the movie when he comes out of the pond with the wet shirt and I have to find a man like that and Jane Austen didn't become a good writer until that Tom Lefroy dude helped her and ZOMG! LOL!" 

To my relief, the exact opposite happened. The ladies we chatted with were extremely intelligent, loved Austen for her intelligence, her wit, and her writing, and not because of the clingy pants. 

Then my mother asked that question that all Austenites ask -  "Which Jane Austen character are you?" 

We went around the table one-by-one. "Elizabeth Bennet," one girl said. "Elinor Dashwood," another said. 

My brain was going about a thousand miles a minute. "Which one am I!? Which one am I!?!? I want to say Elizabeth Bennet, but I know that's not true. I'm not pretty or wealthy enough to be an Emma. I'm not practical enough to be an Elinor. I don't have enough self-control to call myself Anne..." 

And then it was my turn. 

I remembered fainting in the backyard. I thought about myself gushing over sonnets and flowers, walking in the rain, crying for no reason, giving my heart so completely to so many who said they would treat it well and didn't, and eventually finding love in the place where I expected it the least. 

As I said it, I realized that it was still true. 

"Marianne Dashwood." 

Who cares why or how you fall in love with Austen? Her characters are still true, whether you read them as a teenager or as an adult, for the love or for the wit. Maybe I thought that my tastes had matured and that my brain had become more discerning, but my heart is still the same heart. I am thankful for that. 

I sat there, sipping my "Marianne's Wild Abandon" tea, and hoped that this would never change. 

Hey! Look at this! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sad Trombone

Please imagine me groveling at your feet, dear readers. I did not mean to be away so long AND I did not mean to completely abandon my awesome New Year's resolution and leave you hanging (how David Lynch-y of me!). After a while, I ran out of steam and got a little tired of writing posts every time I finished a book.

But never fear! Lazy Amanda is no more! I've decided to give this blog the love and attention it deserves again. You can expect weekly updates from now on. Huzzah!

Sorry, dear readers. I have virtual (aka imaginary) flowers and candy for you to ease the pain.

Hey! Look at this!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Year's Resolution

"When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, 'Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.'" 
— Virginia Woolf

Yes, I am aware that it is almost March and maybe a little late to start making New Year's Resolutions. But in this case, I have a truly extraordinary one - one that I've wanted to accomplish for a long time - and because it's so awesome, I think it's okay that it's a little late.

I have decided to read all of the books on the BBC's list of the best 100 books ever. I have already read 27 of them, so that's 73 books to read. I will read them and then blog about them when I finish. 

Pretty awesome, eh? I think so.

SO (drumroll please...) here's the list! I've crossed out those that I've already read. Join me if you like. It'll be a fun adventure!  

See you next time, when I'll be blogging about Gone With the Wind. Happy reading!

BBC's top 100 Books

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell - reading right now!
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck

53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger & The Catcher in the Rye

Today, the world has lost one of it's greatest treasures - J.D. Salinger has passed away.

It's difficult to put into words, even to comprehend, the great effect that Salinger's writing has had on the world. Every good book that comes out now that deals with disillusionment is compared to Catcher in the Rye, every book that deals with the intense pain of growing up. I've just finished reading Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower - all three reference Catcher.

Catcher is my husband's favorite book - one that he asked me to read when we first started dating (he was shocked that I hadn't read it already). For his birthday, I gave him a hardcover second edition of the book.

Everyone who reads this book feels connected to it. Everyone who has ever felt disconnected from the world feels connected to it, which to me is a miraculous thing. Everyone who has read and has felt one with Holden Caulfield feels one with Salinger, yet Salinger hid from the world - hid from the press, from photographers, from publishers, from everyone. This man who worked so hard to stay away from the rest of the world is still so very much at the center of our consciousness - still someone that teenagers AND adults wish that they could talk to, years and years after Catcher was published.

Catcher in the Rye is to the literary world as Led Zeppelin is to music. You listen to Led Zeppelin and you think, "This still sounds new. This still sounds fresh, modern, and innovative. This is what so many of our contemporary musicians are TRYING to sound like but will never be able to."

When you read Catcher, you think "Oh... THIS is what all of those other authors were trying to say."

I think that John Green describes the beauty of The Catcher in the Rye better than anyone when he explains that Holden is human, Holden has no one to talk to but us, and we love him for his humanity, for his imperfections, for his frailty and his loneliness.

We love him because he isn't a character - he's a human being. He is us. He is me.

J.D. Salinger, the hole that you have left will never be filled.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower & Awake

"So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be." — Stephen Chbosky 

Recommended Tea: Tazo's Awake

So, my very very best friend is studying to become a teacher. She's quite good at it, I suspect. We were talking about her experiences student teaching the other day - about how being around high school students makes us uncomfortable sometimes, takes us back to those feelings that we felt when we were in their shoes. Feelings that you couldn't pay me money to experience again.  

Naturally, we started talking about Young Adult books (like we usually do). She recently attended an awesome young adult book convention extravaganza thing, and got to meet (GASP!) Sarah Dessen (we're not worthy! we're not worthy!). 

She was particularly moved, she said, by a speech that Stephen Chbosky gave about how "changing one person is like changing the world entire." (Please tell me, BFF, if I misquoted that)

"Who's that?" I asked.

"GASP!" I felt the room reply.

"He wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Read it. Read it now. It saves lives."

So, I decided to check it out from the library. I've recently finished Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska by John Green, which are both BR-IZ-ILLIANT books, but I have to admit I was kind of thinking, "Hmm...are three quirky YA books about being awkward in a row going to be a little too... angsty?" 

Again, that feeling that I get when I think about high school came back. Do we really want to re-visit those feelings too much? Like I said... not enough money in the world.

But I started reading anyway. And I didn't stop until I finished it, my face wet with tears.

I have to say, I usually enjoy most of the books I read. Finishing a book makes me feel like I've gone on a journey - each has its own experience - so at times, I have a little trouble judging the "goodness" or "badness" of books. 

This time, I had no trouble at all. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is beautiful. Heartbreakingly beautiful - which is a phrase that I use often, but never has it been more appropriate.

 Rarely does a book make me feel the way that this book made me feel. 

Charlie, the novel's narrator, is such a real character. I struggle to even use the word "character" because he feels like a friend. You fall completely in love with him - and not because he's sparkly and dreamy. He is vulnerable, painfully honest, deep, intelligent. Small. My heart literally hurts when I think about him - the same way I feel when those Sarah McLachlan commercials about the kitties and puppies come on.  

It hurts to be unable to reach through the book and hold him, hug him. It hurts not to be able to scream at everyone around him, "Pay attention to this one! PLEASE tell him how special he is!"  

I found this book so relatable. Not in the "Oh, I went through that in high school. Poor kid! I really feel for you!" kind of way, but in the "I think these things all the time. I worry about these things. I feel things like he does. I'm not the only one who feels things this deeply?" 

And that's the thing that I love the most about Charlie - the way that he feels things. Here is someone who is quiet and shy, (again, "small" is the best word I can think to describe him) with more than a few communication problems, but he really FEELS things. He lives. He soaks up the world. He sees the beauty in the people around him, and he isn't afraid to care about them and to tell them so, and in a completely pure way. He cries often - but wouldn't we all if we hadn't been so conditioned not to?

The experience of reading Charlie's story is like being baptized. You are completely submerged in his world, in his head, in his feelings. After the last page, you're reborn in a way. And by "reborn" I mean that you look at the world - at the people around you - with different eyes. Moments in your life that were just moments become "infinite." Human beings become family, in that realization that we all feel. 

It reminds me of Jane Eyre, when Jane says to Mr. Rochester:

"Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? ...Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! ...I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!"

What would the world be like if we took that word - "feel" - more seriously? If we weren't afraid to feel, to feel new things, to feel scary things, and to express those feelings, unashamed of how we look or what people think?

I want to shout as loudly as my body would let me, "What would the world be like if we all took a minute to think about the fact that everyone around us FEELS things?" 

Honestly, I think that this concept is one that we forget - one that we make a decided effort to forget. That girl you went to high school with isn't just a "diva" or a "bitch," that boy not just an "ass" or a "nerd." They are human beings with the same capability to feel as you - no better or worse. 

What would the world be like if we didn't reduce everyone around us to such soulless name-tags? 

Wake up!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

John Green & The Great Gatsby

Okay, this youtube video is so awesome that I've posted it in every place postable, and this blog is no exception.

THIS is why reading is so important! THIS is why learning how to analyze, to read and to think critically is vital in order for us to exist together.

Check it out!

And if you like what John Green has to say, check out his books Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska.
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