Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dictionary Game

Okay, I admit it. I was a weird kid.

I remember a game my Mom and I played occasionally. Actually, looking back I realize that I played the game and she probably endured it. She’d iron (not many wrinkle-free shirts back then), and I’d open up the dictionary and randomly select a word, read the word aloud, and then wait to see if she could recite the meaning.

Sometimes she could, and sometimes she couldn’t, but of course she didn’t know the complete definition, so it fell to me to educate my mother on all the alternate definitions, the different connotations, the obscure meanings, the archaic usages.

I told my husband about this game one day, and he just shook his head. “Only you,” he said.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ten Talent People

Aren’t you grateful for the ten talent people? Just imagine a world in which the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was painted by a group of tradesmen with rollers in flat white or the prisoners never attempted to escape from their prisons of marble. What if we never knew the stories of Jean Valjean or Anna Karenina or Peter Pan? What if Beethoven’s DA DA DA DUM never reverberated in concert halls or in our heads?

We’d never wonder why Mona Lisa was smiling, or marvel at the fragmented unity in Picasso’s paintings, or nod our heads as our minds slowly grasp the conceits of the metaphysical poets. We would not laugh with Oscar Wilde, cry with Thomas Hardy, or marvel at Shakespeare.

Skylines would be uninterrupted by Eiffel Towers or Taj Mahal’s or arches in St. Louis. There wouldn’t be pyramids in Egypt, faces on Mt. Rushmore, or a Statue of Liberty. We’d never sit in the darkness munching popcorn and watching Star Wars or ET or Saving Private Ryan.

Neil Armstrong would never have taken that famous step, our constitution would never have been written, and there’d be no world-wide web.

I am certainly not among the ten talent people, those humans given an extra measure of creative grace. Maybe one of my meager talents is simply to appreciate them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Praise of Audiobooks

Before anyone gets too upset, let me start with a disclaimer: In no way do I believe that audiobooks (or e-books, for that matter) will ever take the place of a real, hold-it-in-your-hands book. Do I hear an "amen"?

That being said, I think audiobooks are great. Most of my university education was acquired as a commuting, non-traditional student. As an undergrad, I drove two-and-a-half hours one-way from eastern Arkansas to Delta State University in Cleveland, MS, some semesters five days a week. I’ve spent the last two years driving, at least once a week, from central Arkansas to Ole Miss in Oxford, a three-and-a-half hour trip, one-way.

During those years, it took all the time I wasn’t driving, or working, or doing all the things necessary to keep a household from total ruin, to get the books read and the papers written for the classes I was taking, which left no time for recreational reading.

Enter audiobooks. Every week I’d pick out the latest novel from the Times Best-Seller List or something I’d been meaning to read for a while but had never gotten around to. Usually I chose detective fiction, but sometimes I picked the latest non-fiction work, sometimes a memoir or biography, occasionally even a collection of short stories.

This kept me current and connected when I was often otherwise buried in centuries past. It also made the long drive pass more quickly. Occasionally, though, it caused a weird mental disconnect. Once, I was “reading” a novel about a woman trapped in a mountain-top cabin during an ice storm with a supposed murderer. As I drove past a bank sign, I noticed that it was ninety-seven degrees, and for a moment I couldn’t figure out how it could sleet when the temperature was that high. Those of you who are true-born readers will understand. Others will simply think I’m crazy.

I know that some students who struggle with reading, or who are aural learners, substitute audiobooks for the books they are assigned to read. They think it’s easier, and it may be for them, but I’m not sure it makes them a better reader. A better solution, I believe, is to listen to the book as they read. This can be especially helpful with Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, when students often struggle with unfamiliar language.

Books and audiobooks. There’s room in my world for both.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ben & Matthew

Picture get your attention?

Each month, O, The Oprah Magazine asks a different celebrity to share a list of five books that have made a difference in his or her life. The August 2008 issue features a list by Ben Affleck. Included in his list is the Gospel of Matthew. “I chose this Gospel,” he says, “because saying the Bible is one’s favorite book is both too glib and too broad.”

But the celebrities don’t simply provide a list. They have to explain why they chose the books they did. About his choice of the Book of Matthew, Affleck says this:

“I never read the Bible as a child, and I expected that it would be full of fire and brimstone. This notion had only been enforced by hearing one angry, hateful person after another claim to represent all Christians, as they wagged and pounded the Bible. Reading the Bible disabused me of any sense that a hateful person could represent this faith. The book is beautiful and exquisitely written—but it is characterized by one quality that colors every page: love. Beyond giving me a way to question the theological firmament of “tax cuts for the rich” by invoking “the eye of the needle” and “a rich man,” reading the Bible made it harder for me to accept its being used to propagate damaging and small-minded beliefs in the name of Christian values. In the Book of Matthew, those values sound like this: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy . . . Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’”

Nice observation, huh?

There's a Word for That?

I’m not quite sure how easy it will be to work this word into your everyday conversation, but it’s a great word, nevertheless:

Accismus (n): An insincere refusal. As in, “No, please, I want you to have the last chocolate chip cookie. Really.”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of Words and Lines

From prose and poetry:

If you're looking for a novel to add to your list, I'd highly recommend Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. We seem to find it so easy to cast people in the role of "Other," whether because of race or gender, nationality or socio-economic level, or religious or political beliefs, forgetting our common humanity. Works like these can break down those barriers, forcing us to relate to each other on an individual level, fostering understanding and compassion. If you enjoy this novel, you might also like Hosseini's The Kite Runner, or Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, or the movie House of Sand and Fog, with the great actor Ben Kingsley.


Perhaps no one points out human inconsistencies and foibles with more irony and wit than Henry Fielding (although he and Oscar Wilde might have to fight it out for first place). Here’s a great passage from Joseph Andrews, an 18th century novel that proves that, although social customs may change and technology may advance, human beings remain pretty much the same:

‘Why,’ says Adams very gravely, ‘Do not you believe in another world?’ To which the Host answered, ‘yes, he was no Atheist.’ ‘And you believe you have an immortal Soul?’ cries Adams:
He answered, ‘God forbid he should not.’ ‘And heaven and hell?’ said the Parson. The Host then bid him ‘not to profane: for those were Things not to be mentioned nor thought of but in Church.’ Adams asked him, ‘why he went to Church, if what he learned there had no Influence on his Conduct in Life?’ ‘I go to Church,’ answered the Host, ‘to say my Prayers and behave godly.’ ‘And dost not thou,’ cry’d Adams ‘believe what thou hearest at Church?’ ‘Most part of it, Master,’ returned the Host. ‘And dost thou not then tremble,’ cries Adams, ‘at the Thought of eternal Punishment?’ ‘As for that, Master,’ says he, ‘I never once thought about it: but what signifies talking about matters so far off? The Mug is out, shall I draw another?’


Billy Collins, America's Poet Laureate for two terms, is one of my favorite poets. He sees poetry in the everydayness of life, and when I read his poetry I catch myself smiling and nodding my head, thinking, “Yes, it’s just like that.” His poetry is accessible, yet deep; often funny, but always profound; unpretentious and full of surprising imagery.

Here are a few of my favorite lines from his collection The Trouble with Poetry:

From “Drawing Class”:

“the intelligent little trinity
Of my fingers gripping the neck of the pencil” (9-10)

From “The Trouble with Poetry”:

“But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry
. . . the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.” (21, 25-27)


Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 for her collection American Primitive, is very much a poet of nature, yet I am most drawn to her poems about people.

A few of her great lines:

From “When Death Comes”

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” (21-23)

From “In the Backwater Woods”:

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.” (28-36)

Gezelligheit II

11. finding a pair of jeans that fit perfectly
12. re-reading a favorite book
13. chocolate chip cookies, warm and soft from the oven
14. eating a meal you didn’t have to cook and don’t have to clean up after
15. having a spouse who’s your best friend
16. seeing the light of understanding dawn in a student’s eyes
17. looking through your old High School annual
18. writing a poem
19. receiving an unexpected call from an old friend
20. waving at your neighbor

To be continued . . .

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rollover Minutes

My cell phone plan provides me with rollover minutes. Any minutes that I’ve paid for and don’t use this month can be rolled over to next month, when I may feel the urge to talk more. A good plan, I think. Awfully handy sometimes.

But I can’t help thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had rollover minutes in real life? All those minutes wasted in check-out lines, sitting at stop lights, or waiting in a doctor’s office could be rolled over, claimed when we have to work late and wonder how we’ll have time to prepare supper, or when we need to clean house on Saturday but would really like some me-time, too.

I’m sure all teachers would like to roll over some minutes from the first of the semester to the end of it, when grading research papers and final exams and figuring and posting grades overwhelm us.

Many parents would probably like to roll over minutes from their children’s infancy to the teenage years, for just a moment or two to regain the calmness of rocking that sweet baby in the midst of angry confrontations and power struggles with teenagers growing into adulthood. Or they’d like to rollover as many minutes as possible from those overtime hours worked at the expense of a little league game or a piano recital.

Spouses might want to rollover minutes spent on the boss’s special project to the missed anniversary dinner or from at least one business trip to that constantly-put-off weekend getaway, a second honeymoon, maybe.

And in the final years of life, alone in an empty house or tucked away in a “retirement village,” I imagine a lot of people would like to claim those squandered minutes to talk to a friend long gone, to once more squeeze a loved one’s hand, to plant a garden, to take a brisk walk, or just to wake to the coming day with purpose and energy.

There are no rollover minutes in life. I hope I never forget it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When a Typo's More Than a Typo

Being an English teacher is great. We get to read and talk about literature and call it a job. We even have a legitimate excuse (and sometimes a tax deduction) for the books that we continue to buy, even when the bookshelves overflow and the nightstand is stacked with a year’s worth of reading.

But there is a problem, and I’m not talking about all the freshman comp essays we have to grade. It’s that our words, both printed and spoken, are always on display. Yes, of course, we know where the comma goes and when to use a semi-colon. We know the difference between “lie” and “lay,” when to use “affect” rather than “effect.” But our fingers fly over the keyboard in automatic mode, too, and occasionally we only notice our mistake after we’ve made and distributed fifty copies of the handout or blurted out the wrong word in a room full of people. And believe me, we feel the shame.

Imagine the stress level. It raises the pushing of the “Post Blog” button to a whole new level.

Come on, show a little mercy. English teachers are people too! :-)

P.S. Although here I’m begging for mercy, I have to admit that I, too, am a member of the Grammar Police. I circle typos in the books I’m reading. I shake my head and say, “Can you believe that?” when I see a sign with a misspelling or an out-of-place apostrophe. I even silently wish people had let me proofread their PowerPoint before their presentation. Maybe it's in our DNA.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The View from My Front Porch

This is the view from my front porch.

We live in a valley. In front of our house are acres and acres of pasture, a gently rolling space that stretches to touch a distant, tree covered ridge. In summer, as you can see from the picture, the green is often dotted haphazardly with big round bales of golden hay. In fall, the grassy pasture, a duller shade of green now, seems crowned by a ridge of glorious reds, golds, and oranges, a few stubborn evergreens successfully hanging on to the color of summer. On an early winter morning, the trees high on the ridge are sometimes covered with a thin film of ice that glints prism-like in the distance. And of course, after the bare grayness of winter, spring tints the ridge a light green that, at first, seems to be only a figment of my hopeful imagination.

For my birthday this year, my husband gave me two beautiful wooden rockers, and we placed them to the right of our red front door, on either side of the potted geraniums. Our front porch is a soothing, special place to be.

I often sit on the porch in the early morning as I finish my last cup of coffee. I sit there, occasionally, to read. And often, my husband and I spend whole evenings there, rocking, and talking, and rocking, marveling still, even after six years away from the Delta, that there are no mosquitoes to spoil the twilight.

I can sit there and sip, or read, or converse, with great ease. But what I’ve found that I can’t do is just sit there, alone with my thoughts.

And this is not just a front-porch issue. I find it almost impossible to just be. It makes me uncomfortable. My mind immediately starts listing all the things that I need to do—laundry, homework, housework, grading, buying groceries, ad infinitum. To our multi-tasking generation, sitting there doing not even one thing that seems necessary or productive may be the ultimate sin.

It’s hard to be still and know if you can’t even be still.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Of Words and Lines

If you're looking for a book of poetry to read, I cannot recommend Naomi Shihab Nye's You & Yours highly enough. Nye combines her love of language with her love of people, and the result is a collection that will make you smile even as your eyes mist with tears. Born of an American mother and a Palestinian father, Nye's poetry weaves together these two worlds, seeing the simple beauty of both and allowing her readers to share her vision. Always respectful of human dignity, her poems are full of righteous anger at a world who sees political ideas and actions apart from the people those actions devastate. What is so remarkable about Nye's work is that, although her indignation at "man's inhumanity to man" is achingly clear, it never controls her poetry or hides her beautiful spirit.

A few lines to whet your appetite:

from "Last August Hours before the Year 2000":

"What better blessing than to move without hurry
under trees?"

from "Don Chu Go": "Don chu go talking bout the sunrise
purty pinky sunrise
as if they ain't all kinda people
suffrin evry corner a this world."

from "I Feel Sorry for Jesus": "It's dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately."

See what I mean? I hope you can't resist.


Two favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:

"When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

"God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers."


From Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns:

"On the bus ride home from the doctor, the strangest thing was happening to Mariam. Everywhere she looked, she saw bright colors . . . It was as though a rainbow had melted into her eyes."

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Original Idea

My first literary critical analysis papers as an undergrad were elementary attempts to grapple with the basic elements of a text, usually short texts like a poem or short story. But I’ll never forget the time that, as an upperclassman, I had an epiphany of sorts while reading a text. I quickly grabbed pen and paper to get down my brilliant insights before they disappeared into thin air. After all, that mid-term paper was due soon.

My elation soon evaporated when I went to the library to do research and found out that, to my dismay, several other people, famous literary critics to be exact, had already had and explored this idea before me, extensively and eruditely. Depression followed dismay.

I went to see my professor to explain my dilemma, and he gave me some of the best advice of my academic career. “You’re looking at it the wrong way,” he said. “You shouldn’t dwell on the fact that someone had the idea before you. You should celebrate the fact that, on your own, you came to some of the same conclusions as the great scholars.”

Thank you, JF.

It's in the Bag

I’m searching for the perfect bag.

Requirements: It must be roomy enough to hold my billfold, keys, glasses, Blackberry, ipod, miscellaneous makeup items, my afternoon-snack-protein-bar, a small notebook, a couple of pens, and a book (or two), yet not be so large that it looks as though I’m leaving my husband.

It should be chic, stylish, sturdy, and go with a variety of outfits. It must contain convenient and appropriately sized pockets and dividers, for easy access to abovementioned articles. It should not collapse upon itself when left unattended.

Although several bags have applied for this position, they proved themselves unequal to the task, and were therefore unacceptable.

If you can guide me to this bag, or its near cousin, and an arrangement agreeable to both parties is negotiated, there’s a drink of your choice from Midnight Oil in it for you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Since my favorite new word means "the pursuit of small pleasures," I thought I'd begin a list of simple things that give pleasure to me. Please feel free to contribute your own.

1. a good cup of coffee in a real coffee mug
2. recreational reading
3. rocking a baby
4. getting up early just to enjoy the quiet
5. going to Bottletree Bakery for breakfast and eating one of their plate-sized cinnamon rolls (the pleasure's in the eating; I make no promises about how you'll feel if you eat the whole thing.)
6. laughing out loud
7. going to the movies in the middle of the afternoon
8. hearing a good joke and actually remembering it long enough to share it with at least one person
9. browsing in a book store
10. learning something new

To be continued . . .

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Just Another Number

A Scene from America’s Funniest Videos:

A young boy stands, shirtless, calmly looking into the camera.

MOTHER (from behind the camera): “How old are you now, son?”

SON: “Three,” competently holding up the correct number of fingers.

MOTHER: “And what will you be on your next birthday?”

SON: “A duck,” he replies.

The picture bounces as MOTHER dissolves into helpless laughter.

This scene, of course, is hilarious. But, if you think about it, it’s also really sad. I wonder exactly when a belief in life’s possibilities changes into resignation over life’s inevitabilities?

Next year, I want to be a duck.

Functional Fitness

Health experts recommend what they call functional fitness—parking at the far end of the parking lot so you have to walk farther to the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing stretches while you talk on the phone, delivering messages to co-workers in person instead of always relying on e-mail. Just ways, they say, of adding extra activity into a lifestyle that has become increasingly sedentary.

I try to do these things, don’t you? After all, I don’t really want to become a little old lady who can’t push her shopping cart in the grocery store or even get up from her easy chair without assistance.

But I have to admit, some days I’d like to ask my husband to just let me out at the door. And, wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to ignore the stairs, plop down in front of the elevator, and enjoy an ice cream cone? Two scoops. And yes, sprinkles too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Poetry Plan

I like poetry. I buy books of poetry. I go to readings by poets. I’ve met a few well-known poets, some of whom I’m proud to call my friends. I teach poetry to my students, and I talk about poetry with my colleagues. I’ve even tried my hand at writing poetry, with varying levels of success. But guess what I noticed? Even though poetry gives me much pleasure, I wasn’t actually reading much poetry.

I thought about it and realized that the only reason I wasn’t reading any poetry was because I simply never made the time; I never made it convenient. So here’s my plan: I always have a book of poetry on the table beside my chair. The poetry can be from any time period, any author. No limits—just whomever I feel like reading at the time. Every day, say while I’m having that last morning cup of coffee or right when I get home from work and just need to wind down a little, I pick up that book and read at least one poem.

The only problem with my plan so far? I rarely stop with one.

I Wanna Talk about Me

If you remember from my first post, I talked about my reticence to write—the reluctantly begun memoir, the diaries and journals abandoned out of fear someone would find them and have a window into me. I didn’t mention this, but another reason I’ve been a failure at producing diaries or journals is that I thought I had absolutely nothing to write about. I’ve always admired columnists who, day after day, seem to have no trouble making intelligent and interesting observations about themselves and the world at large, but the thought of doing it myself seemed impossible. What would I have to say? Great writers and writing teachers always suggest keeping a notebook with you at all times to record thoughts, observations, things overheard, epiphanies. A couple of times, I’ve tried keeping a writer’s notebook, but after a day or two of mostly strained and self-conscious scribbling, the notebook became just something else to find room for in my not-big-enough purse.

Guess what? Four days into blogging I’ve discovered something really amazing. I can’t wait to write. I carry my notebook everywhere, and it is filling up so fast that I’m afraid there may not be time enough for me to post everything I want to say. Who could have known that an audience (consisting of, as far as I know, only my Mom and a few close friends) could have provided such motivation! In light of this phenomenon, I’ve made two observations:

1. When I get back to classroom teaching, I’d like to find a way for students to feel that their writing has a larger audience than just me, a teacher marking errors, making suggestions, and putting a grade in the gradebook. Perhaps it might help them get over the reluctance factor and provide motivation, at least for some. And,

2. Maybe I’m a secret exhibitionist at heart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture, or: Piles of Books Do Not a Reader Make

I’ve always been a reader. If you told me to choose five words to describe myself, “reader” would probably be at the top of my list. It is so much a part of who I am that I don’t think I’d be me if I couldn’t read.

So, of course, I wanted my children to be little readers also. I read up on it (of course), and all the experts suggested that I read to my kids, model reading for my kids, provide them with access to books, have plenty of books and magazines around the house, talk to them about books, take them to story hour at the library, let the printed word be a natural part of our lives. I did all these things religiously and with much fervor.

My score? 1-1-1

My oldest is a reader, though I don’t think he reads as avidly as I do; I don’t think he needs it. My middle child occasionally reads a book, but often finds it hard to make it through to the end before the library sends her a bill for overdue fines equal to the price of the book. My youngest would rather be slathered with honey and thrown on an anthill than have to read a book of any length or description.

Well, they can’t say I didn’t try.

And experts don’t always have all the answers.

Of Words and Lines

My new favorite word:

gezelligheit (Dutch) – the pursuit of small pleasures

Best line in Daniel Silva’s The Secret Servant:

“Forgive me, my friend. Now that you are no longer striking me, I was just trying to make polite conversation.” (36)

From Natasha Trethewey's poem "Again, The Fields" in Native Guard:

The wheat falls beneath his scythe--
a language of bounty--the swaths

like scripture on the field's open page. (11-13)

(Trethewey was the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Things I Wish I'd Done #1

I wish that I had kept a list of all the books I've read--from the very beginning. Actually, I wish my parents had started it for me. They could have listed all the books they read to me, before I even learned how to read, including all the Little Golden Books (especially the one about George the pig who ate so many doughnuts that he blew up). I remember that Mom read me Lois Lensky's Strawberry Girl, probably more than once. I think it was a favorite of hers. There were many more, I know, selected from the cool interior of the county's traveling Bookmobile, a pleasant place to linger on a hot summer day, but the titles escape me now.

If I'd kept such a list, I would have put check marks by the books I read more than once--one check for each reading. Maybe even with dates. What a life journal that would be! I could trace myself from childhood (Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary) to preteen (Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries, Hardy Boys, too, alongside the Junior Biographies of Great Americans series). I'd even be brave enough to list the books my teenage self was afraid for my parents to know I was reading, like Go Ask Alice or Judy Blume's Forever.

I'd list everything I read in school, the books recommended by friends, the ones my aunt Peggy shared with me, the great books that changed me forever, and even ones that I didn't like but made myself finish anyway.

I'd list my Now That You're Pregnant book and the ever-popular Baby Names A-Z. I wouldn't omit the romance novels I've read, or the Self-Help books, or the true crime dramas. I'd list Shakespeare and Dickens and the Bronte sisters right in the middle of books about dinosaurs that I read to my little boys, the Chronicles of Narnia and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, and 1000 Dresses, especially for my daughter.

I'd list Mere Christianity and The DaVinci Code, Two from Galilee and The Handmaid's Tale. All Jane Austen would be there, some Thomas Hardy, some Virginia Woolf. Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Love, Pray and Richard Wright's Native Son. I'd list Gone with the Wind and The Bluest Eye, Nabakov's Lolita, Dracula, and Charlotte's Web.

There's no possible way I could reconstruct the list now, although I really wish I could. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with the only existing history of the books I've read--the person I've become.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just a glimpse

Last year, I took a class in Writing Creative Nonfiction at Ole Miss. One of our first assignments was to write a memoir, one limited in scope, of course, but covering an event of obvious significance in our lives.

When it comes to writing, I'm not usually a procrastinator. Maybe that comes from being a non-traditional undergrad student who was too afraid that if she put off writing a paper until the day before it was due, one or all of her children would wake up with projectile vomiting and uncontrollable diahhrea, or maybe I just realized that my brain works better if I allow myself time to let ideas take root and grow. Either way, I was always the student who started writing the day after the paper was assigned. (You can probably already tell I have control issues.)

I've written many critical analysis papers, even some fiction and poetry. But the thought of putting my life on paper for others to see left me reluctant even to turn on my laptop, much less to begin trying to find words and shape sentences that would lay myself bare to a classroom full of critics and a demanding professor. Then finally, after producing what I thought was a no-holds barred expose', the most often-repeated response to my memoir was, "You left out what we most want to know!"

This is not a new problem for me. I've started multiple diaries and journals only to either abandon them because the introspection required was too painful (you have to be honest with yourself when you are your only audience) or because I was afraid that someone would find my words and actually read them. Yet, all my life the words that others were brave enough to write have given me great joy. I have no illustions that my words here will illuminate anyone's life or bring joy to the multitudes. I simply want to gain the courage to speak, to reveal myself, but I must admit, at first it will probably be only in small glimpses. That's enough for me now.