Monday, April 23, 2012

Shakespeare and Cervantes and World Book Night

Cover ImageApril 23 is the birthday of Shakespeare (who also died on this day) and of Cervantes. Some time ago, it was marked as International Day of the Book, but other than in Kensington MD, I don’t see much reference to it. 

Taking its place is World Book Night, a new international event where the book industry donates a ton of free books, assisted by a myriad of volunteers across the country, to “light or non readers” in hopes of encouraging literacy. 

Are they simply tilting at windmills? After all, every community in America has library access. The books are there for free reading if people are so inclined, including, I’m sure, Cervantes and Shakespeare. Is the question now to help them decide to be or not to be readers? To push them to give it a try?

I’m all for encouraging reading! Obviously, as a writer I would encourage reading, but not only as a writer. I also encourage it as a perpetual learner and as someone who knows just how much I know simply because of books.

Only recently I’ve been in Ireland during the famine and during the formation of the Irish Republican Army and I now understand that formation and what they were trying to accomplish (Irish rule and Irish land belonging to the Irish). I’ve also recently been in Madrid during their Civil War, in contemporary small town rural Georgia (I lived ‘there’ several years ago and the return visit was a little blast of the past), in Paris during the big artist move to Paris to study art and the “upper class” American surge to Paris to help broaden their children’s horizons (did you know an American Ambassador was formative at the start of the war in getting many civilians out of Paris and into safety? and the big tourist dollars helped to build and rebuild the city after the war), and now I’m in both England and South Africa as I journey along with a South African nanny relocated in England.

I admit I’m one of those oddballs who loves to read Shakespeare. You know the key to understanding it? Keep going. Just like any language (and Shakespeare certainly had his own), the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it is to understand. That applies to any fiction, including literary fiction.

In these days of YA fiction being the bestseller even among adults, I’m here pleading for adults to also read such things as Shakespeare and Cervantes, not because one is better or worse than the other, but because they are different. Different is mind-expanding. Mind-expanding is good for all of us. I’ll admit I’ve yet to read Cervantes but Don Quixote has just jumped to the top of my to-read list (with apologies to those books sitting on my shelf already waiting patiently).

Or don’t read Shakespeare and Cervantes. Pick up anything that looks interesting on a library or bookstore shelf and jump in. If that one doesn’t float your boat, move on to something else and keep trying. I don’t believe anyone actually “hates” to read; I believe they have yet to find the right book for them.

In my own little celebration of World Book Night, I’d like to offer up 3 copies of Stanley, my children’s book that is touching many adults in grief groups and personal struggles, and 3 copies of Protect The Heart, my sweet home front story safe for all ages. The catch: they have to go to your local library. Post the name and location of your library in the comments and I’ll randomly select 6 to send one copy of one of the two books, signed to your library. Either leave your email so I can contact you, or for privacy, come back here to check and see if you’ve been chosen and you can email me with mailing info. This will run for one week, or until I get 6 libraries.
ShakespeareAndCoMy valued copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare, along with Don Quixote and a few others still waiting for my attention.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stop and Enjoy the Quiet

Woods in a ParkDuring my last year of school-room college, I took a required class called Senior Seminar. Meant as preparation for the outside world, the class focused on local, world, and environmental issues. I dreaded going into this class, not because of the topic - the topic was terribly interesting – but because I knew going in it was half graded on class participation.

I still shudder to think of it. I was a good student. I’m still a good student although these days I self-teach. I’m a perpetual student. I love to learn. I love discussion that stretches my mind and my world. I love to take that new knowledge and reformulate what I already knew and didn’t know. Other than some math and science classes (we all have our weak points), my grades were high.

The professor of this course was a psychology teacher. My major was psychology. I figured he would understand my reticence to talking in class. I figured he would be able to see how hard it was to force myself to do so, and I did, red face sweaty palms racing heart and all, I did. My grade depended on it.

Midway through we also had to go talk with him privately in his office. That was nearly worse. Yet I did it. I had to in order to get through the class. So far, I’d received all As in my written work, including my essays which he praised highly. His focus, though, was that my class discussion was lacking. Okay, I know that. I did manage to tell him how hard it was, or at least to try to make him understand how hard it was. (There is truly no way for a social phobic – these days called social anxiety disorder – to fully explain.) I told him I was trying and that I was forcing myself into conversation. He said it wasn’t enough. I needed to work harder at it. He also leaned forward, invading my space, held too-direct eye contact, and generally made me terribly uncomfortable. I was flustered about that meeting for weeks, on top of being flustered to the point of wanting to drop out of school after every class period because I forced myself to talk and knew everyone saw my red face and heard my shaking voice.

I didn’t drop out. The teacher, the psychology teacher no less, who should have understood, not only made everything worse, he also gave me a C despite my glowing written work and my huge attempt at class participation.

I have a myriad of events such as this that took my social phobia to nearly unbearable heights, to the extent that when we lived in a certain location when the Army sent us there, a place where I was fully as uncomfortable as I was in that classroom, I became all but a full-time hermit.

I’m determined, though. I’m a writer. When I put my books out, I wanted them read. So I pushed myself here and there into public situations in order to let people know I was a writer.

Let’s pause a minute…

Quiet-SusanCainI wish everyone would read this book.

Yes, everyone. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is an amazingly powerful book. Even if you check it out from your library and read only the introduction and first chapter, you’ll learn something everyone needs to know. Not everyone should be an extrovert. Introverts should not be pushed to become extroverts. They have incredible power of their own, but that power is very often diminished because extroverts take charge and won’t listen to those who don’t speak loudly enough. This alone is harming our society by leaps and bounds. Introverts are not ‘better’ or more important than extroverts, but they are just as good and just as important. We all need to realize this. We need to learn how to deal with each other even when we’re such polar opposites as self-confident extrovert and anxious introvert.

Of course there are many levels of both. Some introverts are comfortable with public speaking. Some extroverts are not. Quiet  by Susan Cain explains the middle ground and other things that affect how we act and react.

Simply, this is an amazing book. Read it.

I wish that Senior Seminar teacher had read it, or even understood the concept (which he should have, by all rights, but there are many people in professions who shouldn’t be there). I especially wish all teachers would read this and learn how to deal with their introverted students, how to help them thrive instead of stifling them.

Our culture is set up to stifle the quiet and the timid. We horribly undervalue them. In doing so, we are selling out our whole society (to include things such as the market collapse in 2008 that introverts tried to warn their non-listening extrovert co-workers about). We are also making a heck of a lot of very intelligent, very sensitive people feel miserable and unworthy because they “don’t fit” the right mold.

That’s a shame. It’s an injustice.

We the Quiet of the Western world want to be heard, but we want to be heard on our terms. We want the freedom to be who we are and to prosper in that. In return, we will help the rest of you prosper.

I found this online recently and it’s excellent. Luckily for us introverts, the internet does allow some wonderful interaction for those of us who can’t do so face to face. We are in the minority. But we have plenty to say and plenty to add. Hush a bit now and then, and listen.

Back to the story, I did finish college, although I moved away from that particular college to follow my new Army husband to his duty station. I finished online. What a wonderful thing, online classes! I don’t think I got anything less than an A there.

And, I’ve continued my quest to let people know I’m a writer. I do book signings at local events. I always have a migraine the next day due to the stress of it, but I do them. I sometimes lose sales simply because I sound timid and unsure about my own work. It’s not that. I am sure my work is worthy of reading. Sometimes the talking to one person who stops to look at my books, though, makes me want to go back to my hermit cave.

Still, I will do more this summer. If you happen to stop by and see me, don’t be insulted if I barely speak. Don’t take it as more than what it is: anxiety.

By the way, many of us writers are introverts to some extent. Introversion and creativity are highly correlational. If you want our thoughts, read our books. You will learn far more about us that way than in trying to talk with us, unless you are a very skilled and quiet listener.