Make Up Your Mind: The newsletter for readers, thinkers, and listeners
"All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people."
Why make time for reading? ::
I have this recurring memory of a childhood friend relaying to me that her father, seeking to console his daughter about her grades as compared to mine, said that what I had were only book smarts, but my friend had real knowledge. She could operate a four-wheeler, downhill ski, drive a car at 10 years old, cook, etc. I had books and test-taking skills, he said, and what she had was far more valuable than As on a report card.
This memory pops up from time to time when I need my husband’s help to hang a picture, when the power is out and I don’t get the mechanical workings of our generator, or when I hear of a friend who built her own bookshelves and re-wired her kitchen lights, by herself. I am blessed with capable people around me, and sometimes I blame my husband for making me so inept—if he weren’t amazingly good at all mechanical things, I’d maybe have learned to do them myself. But mostly I am defensive and I flashback to that childhood memory, and I remember how I tried to fix things. Instead of trying to learn some more practical skills, to raise my street-smarts or increase my handiness, I deliberately failed a test.
Logic has not always been as big an influence in my decisions as people-pleasing, and I have often been confused about what people wanted from me.
“A few people reason, but all people feel.”
The truth is I am defensive, but I know I could learn to do those things if I really cared about doing those things. If no one else was around to do them, necessity would force me to figure it out (or figure out which professional to hire). And to learn to do those things, I’d probably read a book.
Books have taught me practical skills, after all. I’ve learned to cook, organize, manage a home, homeschool my children, discipline my spiritual life, eat healthy, grow vegetables (not very well, but I’m learning), and numerous other useful things that have folded into my life unpretentiously. And I’ve learned from the people in my life, being blessed by both good and bad examples.
“I saved myself much hardship by learning from the experiences of others, learning what to expect and what to avoid.”
When asked the question why make time for reading, it’s not a list of accomplishments or practical skills that first comes to mind. More than anything, books have inspired me to cook, organize, manage a home, homeschool my children, discipline my spiritual life, eat healthy, grow vegetables...Having all the right knowledge does not lead me to desire the right things, and on the days when multiple dilemmas and dramas conspire with general fatigue and mental boredom, when I am unbent toward the upward call of Christ—a story, a parable, beautiful language and imagery, all do their work to draw me back. I am inspired by stories, and by that I mean fiction and non-fiction, memoir, self-improvement, history, biography, poetry, short stories, and essays from thoughtful people on the internet.
The most important thing I’ve ever received from a book may be the inspiration to try again, to try differently, to know what not to try. This is all part of my education.
“If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction…Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences.” [All bold quotes above from Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man.]
Here’s an updated link to my Homeschool MFA Evernote file, where I keep all my plans and track my goals monthly.
Here are a few things MFA/learning-related that have been helpful blessings to me lately:
Printing my rough drafts. I do most of my wiring on the computer and I have a bad habit of editing as I go. I say bad habit because “the experts” say I should just write and let the words flow and not worry about editing until I have a whole draft written, start to finish. I’m trying to do better at this, and printing my rough draft has been a tremendous help in ordering the flow of my writing and seeing holes in my thinking. (I learned this from the editing work I’m doing with Joyful Life Magazine…more on that another day.)
Finding 5 things I learned each week. I’ve been sharing a “5 Things I Learned This Week” post on Instagram the past several weeks, and I’m really liking the thoughts it’s stimulating. It forces me to see how much learning is going on in my life outside of just book smarts and word tricks.
I’m part of a writing group! I live in a pretty isolated part of Oregon, but I have some writer-friends further north and we’ve committed to meeting once a quarter for dinner and all things writing. We’ve met once, but I’m convinced this is a thing. We have the right blend of differences and similarities and I’m honored to share time with them, to sharpen my skills as I glean from their wisdom, and to eat good food together. It’s pretty simple, really.
I scheduled a last-minute Reading Day and it did not work. Spontaneously trying to take a big, 6 hour chunk of the day to hammer out some reading did not bring much fruit, other than learning the lesson that a Reading Day really does need to be a special event, something planned for and around. I’ll get back to planning these soon.
A link to Kimberly Coyle’s suggested booklist. She’s a college professor and these are books she uses in her classroom.
I read Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well and Hannah Anderson’s All That’s Good back-to-back in December of last year. I highly recommend reading them this way. Prior’s book highlights three categories of virtues—cardinal, theological, and heavenly—and shows how specific works of literature example them.
A few quotes:
“Prudence, like all virtues, is the moderation between the excess and deficiency of that virtue."
“The attentiveness necessary for deep reading…requires patience. The skills of interpretation and evaluation require prudence. Even the simple decision to set aside time to read in a world rife with so may other choices competing for our attention requires a kind of temperance.”
“If justice is making right, then seeing people rightly is a form of justice.” (Yes. Yes. Yes.)
“The tragedy, of course, is not in failing to be exceptional but in the greater loss of rejecting the glories of everyday gifts.”
“…most accomplishments in life require the tedium of time and effort.”
In reference to allegory… “When the ties between layers of meaning inherent in language are broken, then our own ability to know and grow in truth is hindered.”
I don’t generally re-read books but this is one I will definitely pick up again. Each chapter is fairly self-contained, so you don’t have to read it beginning to end to benefit from it.
Hanna Anderson uses Phil. 4:8 as a spine to examine discernment in All That's Good. I love her writing style and even found the Benediction (reflection questions) at the end to be helpful. I confess: I usually skip this section in most books. But Anderson applies the scripture to real life and helps the reader examine ways their discernment is lacking, and how to grow.
“…the leaders we follow, the communities we’re part of, and the organizations we support all play a role in shaping the decisions we make.”
“We sacrifice for each other because we are in relationship with each other, not in order to stay in relationship with each other.”
“Because we can’t custom order our lives, we must become people who can spot goodness wherever and whenever we encounter it.”
“…sometimes pursuing goodness will lead us outside the boundaries of polite conversation.”
“Ultimately, utilitarianism becomes a threat to discernment when it teaches us to evaluate what is good and bad by our earthly definitions of value.”
“But here’s where a proper understanding of beauty helps us: beauty calls us to goodness beyond itself.”
Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour
I’ve been quoting from this book for months and I finally finished it. If you’re interested in how a high school drop-out educated himself with books while traveling the world and listening to stories, you’ll enjoy L’amour’s memoir and probably appreciate some of his thoughts on education. I’ve never read any of his westerns but I have a lot of respect for L’Amour's self-education and reading habits—he read hundreds of books over the course of his “wandering years” and built himself an impressive library. (In his book of poetry, Smoke from this Altar, is a poem titled "I Haven’t Read Gone With the Wind". Apparently it was the Twilight of its day, and he was pretty proud of the fact that he’d read Plato, Plutarch, Euripides, and Spinoza (among hundreds of others), and pretty tired of people asking if he’d read Gone With the Wind. *chuckle*)
There are plenty of wise nuggets, such as:
“Bias can and does slip through, so one should not listen exclusively to one television news source or read the editorials of but one newspaper.”
“All young men and women owe it to themselves to be able to write a letter on not more than one page, to set forth an idea or possible plan. That same young person should, in a few brief spoken words, be able to deliver that idea orally.”
And his thoughts on education have me nodding:
“Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.
No one can ‘get’ an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue."
However, the book does seem to lack an editor’s touch. It’s a bit rambley and unorganized, and I skimmed some portions where he reminisces about his travels. Still worth the read for the inspiration and great quotes.
Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace, by Christie Purifoy
“The rushing world has convinced us that beauty is something extra, not the thing itself.”
I’ve only read the first three chapters of this book, which releases March 12th, but it’s Christie’s signature vision of beauty in the world that permeates her writing. To quote from the back cover, “Placemaker is a timely yet timeless reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of a world that is more real than we know.”
I have an extra copy to giveaway on my instagram account. Stay tuned!
"Why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read" by Jessica Stillman @ Fast Company
Need to feel better about your TBR list and bulging bookshelves? Read this article.
When Mary Oliver passed in January, essays and interviews documenting her life and work were everywhere. Most of them were favorable, but it was interesting to me to note my reaction to an interviewee who was not the most favorable Oliver fan. I was offended for Mary, though I’m sure she endured her share of critics in her lifetime. I kept listening, and I finally realized that I would not have wanted to hear an interview that glossed over the poet’s faults and weaknesses. One person’s opinion doesn’t change Oliver’s effect on me.
Hannah and Erin do a great job in this series of podcasts on thinking. This link will take you to the first in the series.
First Things: The Hardest Course You'll Ever Take
"In this episode, Mark interviews Hillsdale College professor Eric Hutchinson, who is teaching a humanities course that W. H. Auden originally designed and taught at the University of Michigan in 1941."
I finished this audiobook early February on a drive home from Portland. There is so much in Berry’s writing that resembles my town of 500—the old-timers and their stories, the lament for the old ways and distrust of the new, the farming and ranching lifestyle. I’ve loved each story.
One note: my first Berry book was Hannah Coulter and I was impressed by how well a male author was able to see life through a woman’s eyes. Jayber Crow is told from a man’s perspective, and the language is less lady-like in places. Just forewarning you.
Someone noted the lack of movies on my MFA list in Evernote…suggestions welcome! I seem to have a strong books-over-movies bias, but I’m a sucker for a good story in either form. I actually think my bias is just a hold-over of a utilitarian mentality I’m trying to shake—some part of me thinks it’s more noble to check a book off the list than a movie. *shrug*
I can’t think of anything I watched in this last month that was inspiring, unless you’re into bullet journaling videos on YouTube. (Just search “bullet journal”. You’re welcome.)
I’m still failing in this department. I’m brushing up on my scripture memorization and continuing to work on committing W.H. Auden’s poem, "The Unknown Citizen", to memory. It’s taking me too long; my daughter is memorizing 30 lines of Shakespeare every month and will recite a 5 minute portion of MLK’s I Have a Dream speech next week, and I’m just sheepishly hoping she won’t ask me how the poem is coming along.
A constant readjustment::
Back in November, December, and the first half of January, I thought I had finally developed a good routine for reading. I was keeping three books going, reading every night before bed and every morning after my quiet time, and I had one audiobook that I was listening to on my daily walk. I was getting in at least an hour on most days and feeling really good about things. I don’t know why I thought this was my new routine and that it would last.
Basketball season came full force in mid-January, and having games several nights a week really threw me off my game. I’ve only finished two books that I started in 2019, and I’m not all that excited about any of my other books right now.
I need a change.
Basketball is over but other projects have crowded in, and I will have to either fight for reading time, or just wait for it. What this tells me is that reading is just one more thing that I need to think of in terms of seasons. November through January were good months for reading because we were post volleyball-and-football season (yes, our life really does revolve around sports much of the year), basketball games hadn’t begun, and we had Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks from school. This was heavy reading-season, and I capitalized on it.
I’m not sure when another reading-season will be. I have several big projects and events to plan for and school is in full burn-out mode. While I wait for that next season, I keep sharp by reading when I can and whacking the distractions away more than ever. This season of reading less is teaching me more about my slivers of time–the cracks where non-essentials creep in and steal what could be a chapter or a paragraph.
After the last newsletter in January, a friend asked about how to schedule time for learning when your children are little. Just like my reading, learning has seasons, and what I learned when my kids were young is different from what I’m learning now. Being a lifelong learner is not a steady curve upward, in my experience. Some seasons are about mere survival and you learn how many hours of sleep you can function on and how to coordinate different nap schedules to maximize a time when all the children might be quiet and resting at once. You adjust to motherhood, and readjust with each child you add and each stage they go through.
This is learning.
It is natural for you to look at people in seasons that are different than yours and think they have so much more time to themselves or they have more help or their kids are “easy”. These things may be perfectly true, but God doesn’t call us to “compare ourselves amongst ourselves”; He calls us to be faithful in the moment we are in, with the resources we have. And you know that the seasons of a child’s life can change week to week. Expectations need readjusted just as often as schedules.
I’ve said this many times: I wish I could lay down one schedule, one rotating routine for the week, that would stay set as a boundary. I wish life was predictable. And it just never has been. Even when the kids were all little and their schedules were mostly in my control, back when I planned life by the half-hour slot on my spreadsheet; even then, things came up to disrupt my carefully laid plans. I was often frustrated, thwarted in my attempts to control life down to the minute, and it’s taken me all these years to accept that life is more about making adjustments than it is anything else.*
So if you have young kids and a desire to keep your mind sharp and active, plan your MFA around your “already life”, as I wrote about in the last newsletter. Kill two birds with one stone by reading aloud to your kids, even books that seem far over their heads. Read beautiful language. Look at beautiful pictures. Listen to good music. Invest in your future and the futures of your children by storing the treasures that will never be taken away: truth, goodness, and beauty.
If you want practical advice about how to “Make Up Your Mind" with little kids, here it is:
Develop your tools of concentration by reading something easy (a read-aloud with your kids), something interesting (a magazine or book on a topic just for you), and small chunks of something a little out of reach (15 minutes, a few times a week, in a difficult book).
Develop your memory with poetry and scripture (but do a better job than I currently am).
Develop your interests, but narrow them to one skill at a time (learn to crochet, watercolor, use power tools, grow a garden, write an essay).Keep yourself light by specializing—a basket of forgotten craft supplies and drawers full of scrapbook paper will only be a testament to too many unfocused interests, and will weigh heavy on you. You don’t need that kind of negativity. Pick one thing.
In my opinion, learning to use language well is the most practical thing book smarts will give you, and it’s good for everyone—children and adults. So keep reading 😉.
*This newsletter was already going to be late, but I had it mostly written and ready to go by the first weekend in March. Then #snowmageddon hit us and we lost power for e l e v e n d a y s. It was miserable and cold and depressing but we are so blessed and yada yada yada. Life will never be predictable.