My First Readathon

I thrive on challenges with set deadlines.  So when my friend Marcie told me she was participating in Dewey’s 24 hour readathon this Saturday, October 21st, I wanted in!  I love to read, yet never feel like I have enough time to get to all the books on my shelves, on my nightstand, piled on my office floor (you get the picture.)  I have a few family things to attend to this Saturday, but no work obligations.  So I am determined to make this readathon work.  Here’s my plan of action:

  • Do ALL the laundry I typically do on Saturday on Friday and Sunday.
  • Take breaks only to eat, exercise, and run the necessary errand
  • Get a good night’s sleep on Friday so I am not a drowsy reader
  • Get my kids involved in the readathon too

This last bullet point is crucial because if my kids don’t read, I can’t read.  I have offered them reward incentives for every 25 pages read during the day on Saturday. I hope this encourages their own love of reading.  They are excited about the challenge (and hopefully their excitement lasts!)

While exploring the internet, I discovered that readathons take place all the time.  Want to try one yourself?  Dewey’s 24 hour readathon takes place twice a year in October and April.  Also, Molly’s Book Nook has organized a helpful list of readathons being hosted all year long.  Take a look and join me in this fun, productive challenge!

P.S. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I will NOT be reading for a full 24 hours.  I would be worthless on Sunday if I did.  But Dewey is not strict about this.  You can participate and just read as much as you can.

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My Summer Priority–write, write, write

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Photo credit Ralph

People often don’t realize how hard those of us in an academic community work during the year. The enviable focus is on our summers “off”—which assumes a career of leisure in higher education. I am actually on a twelve-month contract, though, so I will go in to the office every day this June and July. But, with the students gone, the pace is slow, the surroundings deliciously quiet, and I can focus on goals and priorities that I rarely get to August through May.

June and July equal hope in my world. I start looking forward to these summer months in December, start planning what I will do with this time in January, make my reservations and pay my deposits by February. All this planning is what gets me through the incredibly hectic winter and spring that lies ahead.

This summer writing is my priority. Here’s a glimpse of my plan-of-action:

  • Online Classes: I’ve been considering taking some online writing classes as a convenient and fairly inexpensive way to challenge myself, get feedback, and generate new work. There are lots of places to take online writing classes. I’ve explored the Gotham Writer’s Workshops, The Loft, and Creative Nonfiction’s classes. I decided to sign up for Creative Nonfiction’s Summer Bootcamp because I like how they structured the class as well as the fact that it would require me to write and submit daily assignments. I am also taking a class on blogging (The Clumsy Blogger’s Workshop) that I discovered through the RevGalBlogPals community. I hope to learn more about utilizing the blog medium through this course and instill a good habit of writing and posting weekly. Remember that quote from John McPhee? “Writing teaches writing.”
  • Writing Conference: Every summer since moving to Illinois I have enjoyed a week at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival in Iowa City. This summer, though, a new conference caught my attention and I decided to sign up for it instead. This July I’ll be attending Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon. Kenyon College is known for its great writing program, which is what led me to explore what their summer institute offered. And when I found out that they were offering this week-long conference on spiritual writing with my favorite poet Marie Howe as one of the teachers—I was so there! I’m also really excited to meet Amy Frykholm from The Christian Century and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, The Velveteen Rabbi, who will also be teaching that week.
  • Reading for Writing: I cannot wait to dive into my books! I always have lots of books I want to read, but never enough time. So I try to be strategic and read books that serve a good purpose for me. I’m interested in reading different styles of writing—styles I might want to tackle myself some day. So here’s an incomplete list of the books I hope to read this summer and why:
  • Practice saying “No”: I used to think that I had to say, “Yes!” to every opportunity or else those opportunities would no longer keep coming.  Now, I know better.  Now, I know myself and my priorities better so I can discern whether or not an opportunity is worth acting upon.  Thomas Merton once said that the imagination should be allowed a certain amount of time to browse around.  June and July is this “browsing around” time for me and I plan on protecting it by saying “No” to any opportunity that doesn’t fit with this priority.  This way, come August, I can start saying “Yes” again.

Summer Pilgrimage into Poetry

photoIowa City is a place of poets and aspiring writers of novels, memoirs, flash-fiction, and sermons.  It’s a place of independent book stores, all-you-can-eat Indian buffets and Hawkeyes—everywhere—Hawkeyes.  I hope to post some of the writing that has bubbled up for me at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival.  But for now a simple note of gratitude.

First, I am grateful for my class, Poetry for Beginners (A Short Course in Attention) and for my teacher, Michael Morse, who taught me that, “More than intending, the poet ATTENDS!”[1]  How true this is (or should be) for pastors and preachers as well.

Michael introduced me to the Pantoum, the Ghazal, and the Sestina, specific kinds of poetry that I might have assumed were wild safari animals before taking this class.  We discussed voice, image, metaphor, sound, and structure—the “ways in” to poetry.  And we read poetry to each other—slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully.  The reader of poetry, as James Tate describes, instinctively desires to peer between the cracks of the prayerful, haunted silence between the words, phrases, images, ideas and lines.[2]  This is what I’ve been doing all week and loving the luxury of it—because in between those lines of poetry lay observations of life I deeply appreciate.

I am constantly in awe of the ability certain poets have to name the mysteries of the universe, or call forth a beautiful, insightful philosophy, in a few, perfectly chosen words.  The power of poetic language astounds me.  For example, this poem by Nazim Hikmet blows me away.

It’s This Way

I stand in the advancing light,

my hands hungry, the world beautiful

My hand can’t get enough of the trees—

they’re so hopeful, so green

A sunny road runs through the mulberries,

I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.

I can’t smell the medicines—

carnations must be blooming nearby.

It’s this way:

being captured is beside the point,

the point is not to surrender.

photoHikmet, a revered poet from Turkey often imprisoned for his socialist views, speaks deeply to me even though my life in no way compares to his.  His point, though, of never surrendering to that which oppresses, or captures, or negates the beautiful, is universally insightful and helpful. What an astonishing poet!  I’m so glad his poetry now graces my bookshelf.

Other new poets have found their way to my shelf as well: Bob Hicok, Elizabeth Bishop, and Stanley Kunitz.  After learning that Marie Howe (still my favorite poet) studied with Stanley Kunitz, I quickly ran to buy his book. (And yes, my husband will roll his eyes at me when he sees my credit card statement from Prairie Light Books.) Kunitz had me at “hello,” though, or, the words of his brief foreword entitled, “Speaking of Poetry.”  Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Poetry, I have insisted, is ultimately mythology, the telling of the stories of the soul.

If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is to poetry we must turn.  The moment is dear to us, precisely because it is so fugitive, and it is somewhat of a paradox that poets should spend a lifetime hunting for the magic that will make the moment stay.  Art is that chalice into which we pour the wine of transcendence.  What is imagination but a reflection of our yearning to belong to eternity as well as to time?

Does one live, therefore for the sake of poetry?  No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of life.[3]

Thank you, to the poets, for another nourishing, contemplative, inspiring week in Iowa City—the land of my spiritual, summer pilgrimages.Image


[1] Dean Young

[2] James Tate, Introduction to the Best American Poetry, 1997.

[3] Stanley Kunitz, Passing Through, (W.W. Norton and & Company, New York, 1995), pgs. 11-12.