Writing Assignment #5: the Stuff of Life
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
21 February 2015
In the winter of 2010, I wrote,
“What a delightful time I am having as I read The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. This massive book was on my library shelves for a number of years. It is a larger book that stands out because of its size. I often picked it up and looked through it, used it in references for papers, but had never read it from front to back. There it was, still waiting for a time when I could sit down and really learn what is between the covers by reading it completely. ”
Today, five years later, I am reading a different sort of literature, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, by Tony Judt – published in 2005. It enlightens me into the history and political struggles of some of the countries where I took students every summer for about twelve years. I taught a course called “Drawing and Writing in Salzburg” every July until I retired in 2008. As I read this well researched historical tome, I envision each of the cities and countries I am familiar with from my own travels.
As a Professor of Fine Art and Humanities, it was always my intention to read a number of literary works “when I retire.” My profession required extensive, close reading. I loved to read and I devoured books and periodicals as I researched my focused topics for my courses. However, the reading and research was specific and targeted for classes I taught. I longed to have time to read outside my course materials and requirements. I dreamed of the day, someday in the future, when I would be able to spend quiet hours in my home library reading across disciplines with no thoughts beyond the joy of days with no deadlines and unlimited reading time. I considered how I would spend those delightful days after I retired from my demanding teaching schedule. I kept this future goal in mind; I began collecting all sorts of books I would read in the future after my envisioned retirement.
My shelves bulged with the array of collected literary treasures! I gathered them, placed them on shelves in my cozy home office and had no idea when the day would come when I could read books instead of driving through snow storms like the ones we have been having this past couple of weeks. Today, I reminisced on how I traveled back and forth to the college every day.
At times, I used to muse:
“Someday I can just read all the books I desire and I will have time to do it. I won’t be tied to my office any more. I won’t be grading papers on weekends and late into the nights. I won’t be spending so much of my life organizing classes, taking students on international trips, writing conference presentations and professional development projects. I often envisioned ideal winter days in my cozy library. I’d be reading, and I would still be writing more essays, articles, books and poems…”
Of course, I thought of retirement but I did not know just when I would retire because I really loved all the hard work I was doing as a professor. My profession was my life-long goal – it was my Plan A for my life. I had no Plan B! Each year, I waited patiently for summer when I took students to Europe for a month of studies. In the winter, I had additional opportunities and took my students on trips to Puerto Rico every March. I was part of a special team of professors who developed a course in Puerto Rico Culture and we took our students there every year.
Sometimes I even reflected on the idea that I might retire when I turned sixty-five years old. In my heart I knew that when I would be sixty-four years old I would think, “well, I probably will work until I am seventy.” I had no idea exactly when this book reading project would begin. I continued to gather the literature and lined my shelves in anticipation for that day.
What did I collect? What is on my shelves? Primarily, the shelves hold volumes of poetry. I have collected poetry anthologies and other books on poetry; many are about the process and craft of writing poetry; but mostly the books are by favorite poets and authors. There is something about a book of poetry that is intimate to me. I can hold a much-loved book in my hands; feel the cool heft of that book. The pages feel smooth. The texture of the cover intrigues me. Art work is usually on the cover. But, the book itself is a work of art, an object I admired. I see the life form that is akin to a sculpture because it exists in a three dimensional space. The book is tactile, physical, fragrant, and symbolic.
Let me just share some favorite poets who reside on my shelves:
Robert Bly beckoned me as an undergraduate. He drew me into the world of nature with images of snow, trees, and a dying seal on a beach. I learned to love and respect mythology and the inner world through reading his poems. I traveled in a world of the mystical that one arrives at through images all around me. Through Bly, I realized the ordinary stuff of life in a new dimension.
Louise Glück takes me to her world of flowers and plants, brings me closer to the illusive and unnamable. I nearly tremble as I encounter her voice in a summer flower in the garden. The iris and the rose have a voice. I listen to them speaking.
Some nights I danced with William Carlos Williams. We whirled around the room, making shadows on the window blinds. I entered into his kitchen and saw the notes left for Flossie when he ate the plums; I felt what it was like to visit the sick in their homes, and ride along the country roads as he jotted poetic notes on his prescription pads.
Walt Whitman waits for me to join him in his walk down a rural road. I want to travel with him, listen to him speaking as we walk together. I can feel the wind at my back or the sun on my face. I want to scream out into the landscape, to be a part of it all.
There are many more poets and books and journeys I will take to familiar terrain or uncertain new places by the poets. Some stories and epics were sung before the days of recorded time, when everyone knew that the capricious, controlling gods were orchestrating the events and details of all immortal life in the heavens and mortals on earth.
Unlike the informed visitor to a Greek tragedy, I did not know the entire story before I entered the theater. I could not have known it would take a personal catastrophe to stop me in the midst of my dreams and plans. In my story, I came to a sudden stop, completely shut down in the middle of my dreams, forced to learn how to live my life in a new way in October 2007, when I lost most of my eyesight with no warning. In a few days, the visual world I had lived in disappeared.
Since that time, I am reading books via a digital cassette player provided from National Library of Congress. Each book, recorded for use by blind and handicapped people, is available through a regional library. We can order the books we want to read. They arrive in our mailbox and are free to those who participate in the program.
On winter days like this one, I am in my library while the world outside my window resembles life as experienced inside a snow globe. It’s beautiful and I am at peace with the world. As I read the history of Europe on my digital player, I also knit on a project that I am working on. I think about the good thoughts and feelings I have while I am reading and knitting.
I sit today, surrounded by many of the books I collected. But, there are not as many on the shelves because I donated about 400 of them to the local library last year when they needed books to sell for their fall fund-raiser. It made be so happy to share my treasures in that way, and to know that one by one, the treasured volumes are in the hands of new owners. I even gave away entire collections of particular authors which had taken me years to find. I have to confess here, I could not give away my books of poetry though. These remaining books of poetry and some significant, colorful art books remain with me. But, I have no regrets.
In a few more days, most likely, the snow that blankets the roof of the house will begin to melt; the long silvery crystal icicles. They drip and grow smaller when the sun shines on them. Much like that melting icicle, the loss of eye sight brings transformation with the changes of time I, too, feel transformed as the season slowly changes from deep winter into the hope of springtime. Much like the life of nature stirring beneath the deep snow, and stirring up into the bare branches of the trees, something inside of me is moving, too. Hope is just beneath the surface and it’s just about ready to bloom profusely in the sunshine of a warm spring afternoon.
Walking by Inner Vision Journal Assignment #5:
Do you have a library or personal collection of books?
If so, can you write about how it all started with you?
My own book collecting began when I was a child. How about you?
Describe your books – favorite authors and titles.
How have you collected them?
Why do they hold special meaning for you?
If you are a new collector of books, I suggest you begin with a visit to your local library. Browse the shelves and pull out some books that catch your interest. Read some of them, and soon, there will be special authors and books you will want to own. You can search for them at yard sales, book sales by your local library, or on the internet. I have purchased many good books from Ebay – and Amazon.com, of course, is an excellent source to buy books! Personally, I enjoy owning books. If it is a great book, then I have to have it on my shelves.
Once you begin your private collection, it will be a life long journey. Have fun.
Lynda McKinney Lambert. Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.