The Longest Night

The Longest Night

2018.12.21

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

*Song lyrics in { }  written by by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  Rossetti wrote the poem in 1872 (or earlier) as a response to the magazine Scribner’s Monthlys request for a Christmas poem.  When Gustav Holst composed a melody to the poem in 1906 a new Christmas carol was born.

 

{In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.}  Today at 4:33 CST, the winter solstice will occur.  The date of this solstice, as with the other solstices, varies from year to year.  This is because the tropical year, the time it takes the sun to return to the same spot relative to planet Earth, is different than our calendar year.  The 21st or 22nd of December are the most common dates for the winter solstice, though.  The next solstice occurring on December 20th will not happen until 2080 and the next December 23rd winter solstice will not occur until the year 2303.  It is doubtful anyone reading this will be alive then.

 

The specific time of the winter solstice is determined by the exact instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on a 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis.  Also at this exact time, the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  While the solstice will occur within minutes of this post being published, it occurs at the exact same time worldwide and even for the astronauts on the International Space Station.

 

Since the solstice brings about the longest night of the year, it stands to reason that it is also the shortest day of the year.  After all, each day is only 24 hours, regardless where it falls on the calendar.  For example, New York City averages nine hours and fifteen minutes of daytime or sunlight, depending on the weather, on the winter solstice.  On the summer solstice it experiences fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight.  That compares to Helsinki Finland receiving five hours and 49 minutes of light and Barrow Alaska n9ot even having a sunrise.  In fact, Barrow’s next sunrise will not be until the third week of January.  The North Pole, which has a prominent role in determining the solstice, has not experienced a sunrise since October while the South Pole will not have a sunset until March.

 

Early cultures created a great many myths about the winter solstice.  Celebrations were held to beckon the return of the sun and to celebrate rebirth.  Many believe the traditional Yule logs originated in Scandinavian and/or Germanic cultures to encourage light to return to the earth.  Great feasts were prepared and cattle slaughtered so that people could dine heavily since there would be no fresh meat or vegetables for several months.

 

{Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.}  December 21st has had a prominent role in history for other reasons, though.  The Pilgrims arrived in the New World at Plymouth, MA and went on to settle and found a society encouraging free worship.  In 1898 on this day, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium which opened the door for the Atomic Age.  On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 was launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.  The Mayan calendar supposedly ended on December 21, 2012 and many feared it would be the end of the world.  Others believe it was the rebirth of a new era for earth.

 

Some ancient cultures believed dark spirits walked the earth at this time while others felt it to be a time of renewal.  For most people, the winter solstice is a time of continued hurrying around while they prepared for the holidays.  {What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.}  How we should celebrate this longest night is by gathering energy to make tomorrow the best day ever.  It truly is a wise man/woman who does their part in helping others, sharing goodness, showing kindness to all.  On this the longest night which has followed the shortest day, I invite you to share your heart with others. 

 

https://youtu.be/U0aL9rKJPr4

A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part One

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part one

2018.12.08-11

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

It is a most contradictory time of the year.  In the Northern Hemisphere temperatures are at their coldest and yet, we celebrate the holidays that are designed to bring out the warmest feelings in us all.  At the very time of the year when Mother Nature is experiencing death, we celebrate birth and rebirth.  For many of us the weather is a bit shifty.  Some days are moderate in temperature and then within twenty-four hours, we can experience a climate change of magnitude proportions.

 

Bi-Polar Disorder is a mental health disorder that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated or happy moods.  During such periods of mania, the individual behaves or feels abnormally or unusually energetic, happy, or conversely, irritable or depressed.  These extreme mood swings create these episodes of emotional highs and lows and can create changes in sleep patterns, thought processes, eating, and other behaviors.

 

The very mention of Christmas or other winter holidays can bring about similar reactions in many people.  Those with a bi-polar diagnosis might experience such episodes during seasonal changes and the winter time in many areas is ripe for such.  For others, though, the holidays represent loss or failure.  Very few people get through the month of December without some type of anxiety or depression.

 

Christmas is a holiday based upon the past events that Christians believe tells the story of the birth of a baby named Jesus.  Hanukah is a holiday celebrating the story of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights.  Both of these have elements of a miracle occurring but perhaps the greatest miracle is that these stories are still with us.  It can be difficult for some to find a bill they believed they paid three months ago and yet, these two stories have lasted over two thousand years.

 

The story of Hanukah does not appear in the Talmud, since it occurred after its writing.  It is, however, referred to in the New Testament when Jesus is described as attending a feast of rededication.  The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C., Judea, known then as the Land of Israel, came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion. His son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent: Ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. 

 

Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.  There was only enough untainted olive oil to burn for one night and yet, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply of oil.

 

The celebrations of Hanukah for this year have just ended but the message burns brightly, even in the aftermath of the recent terroristic murders of eleven at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue.  Hanukkah is a joyous eight-day Festival of Lights in the Hebrew calendar. It is a time when Jews celebrate the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

 

We have a choice during this holiday season as to how we respond to the past, our present, and hopes for the future.  We can wallow in depression, lamenting the sins and problems of the past or we can choose to think positively and move forward with hope.  “Every person can be a small light,” said Hayley Miller, Associate Director of Digital and Social Media of the Human Rights Campaign nonprofit organization. “And just as the small quantity of oil that fueled the miracle of light for eight nights, when we are our authentic selves, we can be a beacon of light that shines.”

 

Importance of Community

The Importance of Community

2018.11.26-28

Growing Community

 

Good health is a positive thing and we all know at least one thing we should change in order to improve our health.  For instance, most of us could improve our diet.  Eating right, that is to say eating a balanced diet helps to combat disease and weight gain.  We all should have at least one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate physical activity each week.  When we opt to walk instead of drive, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even pace while on the telephone, we make positive changes for our personal health.

 

Fitness is not just a personal thing.  It improves with community.  Those one hundred and fifty minutes of physical activity improve our mood and cognitive function and that makes us more productive members of our community.  This means we are better able to be useful, offer assistance and guidance to those around us.  It also means we are more likely to form connections with those in our neighborhood, professional and personal networks.  This increases the opportunities for positive relationships. 

 

Communities, by their very nature, contain a diversity of opinion, ideas, and knowledge.  IN the early twentieth century, there was a group of men who called themselves to “vagabonds.”  This diverse community of businessmen and politicians forms a camping community.  Membership included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, the occasional US President and leading scientists.  The Vagabonds were a perfect example of how communities, large and small, are beneficial. 

 

It is impossible to do everything by yourself.  A community offers the prospect of meeting others who can render skills that you might have lacking.  It is not wrong to utilize the skills of others.  A community offers a quid pro quo or an exchange of abilities that benefits everyone in the community.  To quote the Centers for Disease Control:  “Designing and building healthy communities can improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options.”

 

In her book “Second Chance”, Jodi Picoult writes: ““Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”  This sentiment is echoed by Kurt Vonnegut in his “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage”:  “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

 

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”  This quote by Jane Addams is just one of many used by the initiative Do One Thing.  This is funded by the Emily Fund.  Emily Rachel Silverstein, of Roosevelt, was tragically taken from us on April 9, 2009, at the tender age of 19. Born in New Brunswick, NJ on June 27, 1989, for most of her life Emily resided in Roosevelt, NJ, in Monmouth County. From an early age Emily was a creator. She was a skilled artist all of her life and most recently displayed her talents in her creative writing. Her sensitive and caring nature leant power and meaning to all of her works. At twelve years old she decided to become a vegetarian. She wrote her first letter to the president when she was in sixth grade. Her academic prowess followed her through high school as a member of the National Honor Society, and graduating with honors. She continued her success as a member of the Dean’s list at Gettysburg College, where she was an Anthropology Major, with an English Minor. She also participated in several extracurricular activities like the Hightstown High School Marching Band and swim team. Emily was a dedicated activist in all of her causes, which included Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At Gettysburg, Emily lived in the Peace House, where she also served as the co-president, whose mission was to create awareness of world peace issues. She was involved in Amnesty International, Free the Children, Adopt a Holocaust Survivor Program, among many others. She was planning to participate in a week-long event, called Tent City, to help bring awareness to the homelessness crisis.

 

Emily lived in a Gettysburg College residence called Peace House with construction-paper flowers covering the windows and world music filling the hallways.  She died a death more violent than her friends care to imagine in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment a quarter-mile away, in a yellow clapboard house that neighbors say was always quiet.  Authorities said Kevin R. Schaeffer, also a Gettysburg College student, choked Emily early Thursday morning and then stabbed her in the neck with a steak knife. He sat with her for 15 minutes before putting her in a bathtub, according to a police affidavit.  Kevin confessed to the crime, according to the affidavit. He told police he had been drinking that evening but was not intoxicated. He said he had recently stopped taking Zoloft, an anti-depressant.  Kevin Schaeffer was arrested that morning and charged him with homicide, aggravated assault, possessing instruments of crime and tampering with evidence.

 

Emily Rachel Silverstein’s compassion, passion and creativity touched many lives. She shared many deep friendships and accomplished many amazing things. But there was so much more that she wanted to do to make this world a better place. There are so many more lives that she would have touched, inspired and empowered to join in the struggle for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. The Emily Silverstein Fund (emilyfund.org) has been set up by her family to continue Emily’s legacy of hope and action for a better world, and her strong conviction that every act of compassion makes a difference.  By creating a community for caring and helping, the Emily Fund uses education, mentorship, inspiration, and leadership in building communities of youth for a better world.  Legendary activist Dorothy Day sums up the importance of community.  “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

 

To Be Creative

To Be Creative

2018.09.07-08

 

Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit.  What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative?  Are they overly imaginative?  Do they think “outside the box”?  In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”.  Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.

 

It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”.  New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.”  Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

 

We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found.  In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship.  In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition.  The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education. 

 

In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.

 

In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.

 

It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related.  However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits.  On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable.  The subject remains controversial today.  Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity.  OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity.  Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.

 

What exactly is convergent thinking?   Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.

 

Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches.  The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers.   An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it.  The standard test does not allow for a creative response.  In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.

 

Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity.  Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step.  However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas.  Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.

 

Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process.  They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.

 

Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking.  They include the most obvious – make a start.  He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come.  A surprising strategy involves making deadlines.  Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently.  That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals.  To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out.  While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep.  One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.

 

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best:  “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”  In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation:  “Believe you can change the world.  Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.  Know when to work alone and when to work together.  Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.  No politics. No bureaucracy.  The customer defines a job well done.  Radical ideas are not bad ideas.  Invent different ways of working.  Make a contribution every day.  Believe that together we can do anything.  Invent.”

 

I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side.  Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it. 

 

 

J K Rowling

J. K. Rowling

2018.08.22

Literature and Life

 

Joanne Rowling grew up in Gloucestershire in England and in Chepstow, Gwent, in south-east Wales.  Her father, Peter, was an aircraft engineer at the Rolls Royce factory in Bristol and her mother, Anne, was a science technician in a local school Jo attended.  The young girl grew up surrounded by books. “I lived for books,’’ she has said. “I was your basic common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.”  wanted to be a writer from an early age. She wrote her first book at the age of six – a story about a rabbit, called ‘Rabbit’. At just eleven, she wrote her first novel – about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them.

 

She attended Exeter University and spent a great deal of her time there reading the classics from the college library.  Her studies also included a year abroad in Paris which Rowling calls “one of her most favorite places on earth”.  After her degree, she moved to London and worked in a series of jobs, including one as a researcher at Amnesty International.  “There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.”

 

According to her autobiography on her website:  “Taking her notes with her, [I] moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married Jorge Arantes in October 1992, and had a daughter, Jessica, in 1993. When the marriage ended later that year, [I] returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, carrying not just Jessica but a suitcase containing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

 

Once in Edinburgh, Jo trained as a teacher and began teaching in the city’s schools, but she continued to write in every spare moment.  Having completed the full manuscript, she sent the first three chapters to a number of literary agents, one of whom wrote back asking to see the rest of it. She says it was “the best letter I had ever received in my life.”  At the publisher’s suggestion, Rowling published the novel using only initials instead of her name.  The “K” was taken from her grandmother’s name, Kathleen.

 

The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997; USA publishing was under a different title.  Other books followed as did the movies, all breaking records in succession.  The last movie based upon a full-length Harry potter book was released in 2011.  J.K. Rowling has also written two small volumes, which appear as the titles of Harry’s school books within the novels. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Quidditch Through The Ages” were published in March 2001 in aid of Comic Relief.  In December 2008, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” was published in aid of her international children’s charity, Lumos.  In 2012, J.K. Rowling’s digital company Pottermore was launched, where fans can enjoy news, features and articles, as well as content by J.K. Rowling.  In the same year, J.K. Rowling published her first novel for adults, “The Casual Vacancy” (Little, Brown), which has now been translated into 44 languages and was adapted for TV by the BBC in 2015.

 

Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech at Harvard was also published as an illustrated book.  She was part of the collaboration that brought Harry Potter to the stage In 2016 she made her screenwriting debut  with the first of what will be five films, a prequel series to Harry Potter entitled the Magizoologist Newt Scamander series.  KR Rowling has been married since 2001 to a physician and continues to live in Edinburgh with two additional children, a son and second daughter.

 

While the world of Harry Potter is now a major part of Universal Studios, Orlando (FL), Rowling encourages us all to live not in a magical, make-believe world but in the real world.  “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

 

Rowling lists two books as her favorites.  The first is “Emma” written by Jane Austen.  “Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness’, which is a fantastic line.”  Rowling explains:  “You’re drawn into the story and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action.  But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.”  Another beloved book as a child was “The Story of the Treasure Seekers” by E. Nesbit, whom Rowling considers “the children’s writer with whom I most identify.  “Oswald is such a very real narrator, at a time when most people were writing morality plays for children.”

 

Today she is a successful author, having sold more books than anyone else in the history of Great Britain.  However, she is quick to offer these words of encouragement.  “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.  You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.  The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates

2018.08.21

Literature and Life

 

As mentioned before at the beginning of this series, the most often advice a would-be writer hears as “Read”.  I know of no other author who believes this as much as today’s featured writer, Joyce Carol Oates.  Reading is not only for learning the craft of writing, in her opinion; it is a way of life.

 

Oates taught at Princeton for thirty-six years, retiring in 2014 and published her latest book last year, “Dis Mem Ber”.  She grew up in New York State, attending the same one-room schoolhouse that her mother had attended.   She became interested in reading at an early age and remembers her grandmother giving her a gift of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as “the great treasure of my childhood, and the most profound literary influence of my life. This was love at first sight!” In 1980, Oates founded Ontario Review Books, an independent publishing house, with her husband, Raymond J. Smith, a professor of 18th century literature.  Oates has described their partnership as “a marriage of like minds — both my husband and I are so interested in literature and we read the same books; he’ll be reading a book and then I’ll read it — we trade and we talk about our reading at meal times…”

 

In an interview given in 2013 with ‘The Boston Globe’, Oates revealed that Dostoevsky was one of her favorite authors.  When asked her all-time favorite book, she replied:  “I would say Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, which had an enormous effect on me.  I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is.  The other book I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.  It’s not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort.”

 

For the writer, Joyce Carol Oates offers this advice:  “Novels begin, not on the page, but in meditation and daydreaming – in thinking, not writing.  For the reader, she advices: “read widely, and without apology.  Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read.”  For all of us, she offers this pearl of wisdom:  “All that matters in life is forging deep ties of love and family and friends.  Writing and reading come later.”

Miller-Hemingway

Arthur Miller

Ernest Hemingway

2018.08.13-14

 

Today we are focusing on two authors who might well be called the “bad boys of literature”.  I am posting their favorite books together because, although they both lived somewhat of a rebellious life and rebelled against some of the confines of literature, they both share some favorite books. 

 

Henry Miller is not an author for whom it is difficult to list favorite books.  He did, in fact, write an entire book about the subject.  Entitled “The Books in My Life”, Miller described these books as “a vital experience”.  What a glorious critique for any author to receive! 

 

Ernest Hemingway once proclaimed “There is no friend as loyal as a book!”  It was said that he would, on occasion, send a list to select friends of those books he would “rather read again for the first time… than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.”

 

One of the favorite books of both of these acclaimed writers was written by a writer we’ve already discussed – Mark Twain.  The book is “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.  This novel by Mark Twain was first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism.  I will note here and now that it is often on lists of books to be banned or censored because of the language. 

 

Sometimes listed as “Adventures of…” and other times “The Adventures of …”, this book is unusual for its beginning.  It opens with a “notice” from a character named G.G., identified as “the Chief of Ordnance.”  G.G. demands that no one approach the novel with intent to find morality and/or seriousness. In its declaration that anyone looking for motive, plot, or moral will be prosecuted, banished, or shot, the Notice establishes a sense of blustery comedy that pervades the rest of the novel.  This is followed by an insert from the author himself called “the explanatory”.  The Explanatory takes on a slightly different tone, still full of a general good-naturedness but also brimming with authority.  In the final paragraph, Twain essentially dares the reader to believe that he might know or understand more about the dialects of the South, and, by extension, the South itself.  Twain’s good nature stems in part from his sense of assurance that, should anyone dare to challenge him, Twain would certainly prove victorious.

 

Those wishing to have this book banned object to the language of the period.  To be sure, the language was inflammatory, not in intent perhaps but in usage.  In his book, Twain accurately portrayed the period historically as well as the absurdity and lack of humanity in assuming people should be valued by the hue of their skin.  It also portrayed the class structure and how those caught in the middle might object, seeking a better form of humanity.

 

One might say that the yearnings of Huckleberry Finn are reflected in the lives of Arthur Miller and Ernest Hemingway.  Both men engaged in adventures trying to find themselves and a better version of man.  “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a serious novel, and Twain’s note on dialogue speaks for the authority and experience of the author and establishes the novel’s anti-romantic, realistic stance. In short, the Notice and Explanatory, which at first glance appear to be disposable jokes, link the novel’s sense of fun and lightheartedness with its deeper moral concerns. This coupling continues throughout Huckleberry Finn and remains one of its greatest triumphs.  It is the approach I feel that Miller and Hemingway also sought in their own works. 

 

This series is about more than just favorite books.  It is about how those books have influenced not only the lives of writers but also our world.  “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” asks a very important question – What is freedom?  Huckleberry Finn presents two main visions of freedom in exploring questions about the meaning of liberty and at what price, if any, a person is truly free. Both Huck, an abused, neglected young boy, and Jim, a black slave, seek freedom, though they have very different ideas about what freedom means.  Both seek that freedom by running away from their life situation and the Mississippi River becomes their avenue to freedom.

 

One of the unforeseen effects of this book was the opening of a youth crisis shelter eighty years after the book’s publication named Huckleberry House.  A shelter for runaway and homeless youth located in San Francisco by Larry Beggs, this shelter offers counseling, food, shelter, and medical attention as needed.  Today Huckleberry Youth Programs also sponsor Huckleberry Youth Health Center, Huckleberry’s Community Assessment and Resource Center, both in San Francisco as well as the Huckleberry Teen Health Program in San Rafael, CA.  Huckleberry’s for Runaways opened its door on June 18, 1967.  Their efforts helped change being a runaway from a criminal offense to the concerned social problem it is.  Today the justice system is able to encourage voluntary communication with parent and child using family therapy and other helpful tools instead of merely incarcerating the child.

 

Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, and Ernest Hemingway all sought to reflect the times in which they wrote of but also to illustrate the idiosyncrasies that humans often portray in their living.  Often humankind seeks to emancipate itself from itself.  We create the very constrains within which find ourselves bound and then rebel against.  In their writing, they all asked us to take a good look at ourselves and then, if possible, make tomorrow a better day and create a better world.