Sunday, October 11, 2009

The day I learned to read

It's a funny thing to think that there was one day when I became a reader.  However, this is the task I was given last week.  This is is what I came up with.

A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised.
 -Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume.

It makes me smile remembering Maggie Mackin telling me, "Oh, man, ya gotta read this.  This guy has written a bunch of great books, but Jitterbug Perfume is the best!"  I was in my second year at college and Maggie had just arrived on campus from a year abroad.  Maggie was an artist, cute, funny, and a world traveler.  I thought if I read the book and could talk to her about it, I might sound really impressive.  Sadly enough, this reflected my sole motivation to read the book.

In turns out I loved the book! I mean I really loved it.  Not just the story, but the characters, the voice I could hear from the author, the feeling that I could write like that someday (oh the naiveté!), the passion, the way the author wove multiple segments of a plot together in the end - that was both obvious and terribly clever at the same time.  This book started my reading career and when I was offered the opportunity to reflect on the time when I became a reader, this is the memory that instantly sprang forth. 

Jitterbug Perfume provided me, for the first time in my life, the passion and craving to know more, and understand that books could be used to satisfy my desire.  Slightly embarrassed from starting so late, I was able to develop a sense of urgency to explore the world of written expression since then.  This passion has only increased over the years.  I cannot image my life without the hundreds of books I have read.  When I meet people, I always want to hear about the books they have read. I read over 2000 books to my son - before he entered kindergarten.  My wife laughs at me because I keep a list of all the books I have read.

Robbins taught me the incredible freedom that fiction provides. Barbara Kingsolver has made me smile, laugh, cry, rage and marvel at what can be learned and expressed in a book.  Noam Chomsky has opened my eyes to the power of documentation and that critical research-based analysis that can diminish the affects of the powerful propaganda machine that surrounds us. Thich Nhat Han has written words on a page so simple in form and so profound in meaning.  And to read Jack Kornfield makes me think it is possible to gain enlightenment and finish my laundry all in the same day.  Joe Simpson and Shackleton propelled my idea of what adventure could mean.  Anne Rice convinced me that she has been a vampire!  The Lovins, from the Rocky Mountain Institute, taught me that we already have the technology we need to save our planet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama taught me that doing so might be a good place to start.

These words have opened up new worlds to me and I know my life is profoundly richer because of the efforts of others to inform, create, entertain and provide a medium for connecting all of us to them, and them to us.  Part of my joy of reading (and writing) comes from the fact that neither has come easy for me.  I suspect that I would have benefited from support that recognized that I have a minor form of dyslexia.  This challenged manifests if I am tired or if I lack concentration when I am reading.  Spelling has also provided me a great opportunity to learn and grow.  Until I took ownership of my reading and writing, my relationship with books, reading and written expression reflected the challenges and failures that I experienced throughout my elementary and secondary education. 

As an educator, I hope that others can better themselves and create more love in their life from their relationship with reading and writing.  Having had the challenges of reading and writing provides me a valuable perspective to address all beginner students and finding the joy within reading and writing allows me to give voice to the motivation that others can benefit from.

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