But then you read

When we sailed on the Celebrity Summit in March 2011, our cabin was two doors down from this lovely little library.

Aboard the Celebrity Summit in March 2011, our cabin was near this lovely little library.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”  — James Baldwin

Although it took me quite awhile to realize it, I connect with people primarily through reading and writing.  Even as a child I wrote long letters to friends, and had pen pals who lived close enough that we could have talked on the phone for free (even back in the days when long distance was EXPENSIVE).  But talking on the phone was not the same as reading or writing a letter.  And there was nothing in the world like reading a book.

No matter how strange or different I felt, when I read books I knew I was not alone.  That’s why I identified so deeply with this quote from Baldwin.  Books for me were and are a safe place, where I can encounter a new idea and ponder it without being immediately questioned or asked to respond.  It is also wonderful to feel as if I know people who lived decades and even centuries ago, just by reading their heartfelt words.  There are many authors, living or dead, who seem more familiar to me than some of the people I see on a weekly basis.

Written correspondence (online or via good old-fashioned snail mail) has something magical about it; there are no distracting facial expressions or vocal tones to color the meaning of the words, and this is a tricky thing that can work for or against us.  For that reason, I think we tend to take a bit more care with what we write than we do with what we say.  That’s not to say that written words cannot be vicious or defamatory, but when they are written, we can more easily destroy them or ignore them, and keep them at a distance.  Likewise, when we read words that are wonderfully encouraging or inspiring, we can keep them and go back to them again and again, not relying on memory or video as we must with the spoken word.

I hope you will carve out some time, today and every day, to engage in at least some communication through reading or writing. May you find it as rewarding as I do!

37 Comments

  1. I feel so connected to you as I adore reading books as well as blogs where we can share our lives. As for letters, well, I believe in the power of receiving and writing a heartfelt message to a friend…please enjoy a free card on me. Just click on my website and follow the tutorial! http://www.sendoutcards.com/126830
    It’s why my gravatar is send out love. 🙂 ♥♥♥

    • Thanks so much! I remember being impressed by the idea of your blog sending out cards when I first went there. The more our mail gets “junked up” with unwanted advertisements disguised as business letters (to say nothing of actual business letters and bills) the more we need a spot or two of cheer in the mailbox. I appreciate your visits here!

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    I would like to comment on the “tricky thing that can work for or against us”. It is not only the solitary confinement of a prison cell that can separate one from personal interaction. A long wilderness hike, a religious cloister, or even an extended stay in a hospital can seem to rob us of the facial expressions, tones of voice, and individualized gaits that even animals learn to find comfort in their observation. So the flip side of “distracting facial expressions or vocal tones to color the meaning” reveals meaning without words.

    • Yes, it’s easy to become a zombie-like creature while living in the hospital (complete with bad hair and everything). And that’s just for the extended-stay visitor; imagine what it’s like for the patient! Over the years I have learned some survival tricks (foam pads to put over the board-like foldout chairs for sleeping; eye masks [as given out on overseas flights] to block out the light) but I agree that the sort of perfunctory responses we give in such situations can be almost worse than not talking at all. Luckily there is always the sense of humor– ours or staff’s or even the patient’s– to rescue us from getting too stymied for real communication.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Fate! I thought you were asking about Freight!?!

        • Hee-Hee! I have tried (without success) to find copies of The Profit to give to others. It’s still one of the best parodies I’ve ever seen. BTW, “that’s OK, I wanted to know what freight was too.”

  3. i’ve been traveling, but have enjoyed your posts. this one is very special. aren’t we lucky that we know the value of the written word? book or movie? for me a book always trumps a movie; you can pause at any moment and savor a well-written sentence or paragraph before moving on.

    i’ll read this one again when i’m home!
    hope all is going well. have a great day. lisa/z

    • Yes, I’m always a bit nervous about seeing a movie of a well-loved book; so often they can’t equal the scenes I reconstruct in my imagination under the spell of a good writer. There are very few experiences (travel being one) that can at once take us both deeper into ourselves and farther out among our fellow humans; reading is perhaps the most amazing. Those of us who blog and read online now have a wonderful new dimension in which to indulge our love of this blessing.

      • yes, emily published a nice post today about books that one reads more than once. do you know her ‘book’ blog?

        • If it’s the Emily whose book blog I follow, I haven’t seen it yet; feel free to post a link in the comments for others to enjoy. I haven’t had much time to go exploring though blog wonderland lately, but I have really enjoyed Emily’s posts in the past. Thanks for telling me about this one – I definitely want to read it!

  4. Mike Bertoglio

    Thanks for advice on the card. This person is actually my wife’s boss and the diagnosis has come very fast. Have to check out some of the Poetry suggestions. Have you read the James Dickey book? I have only read, “Deliverance.’ Very disturbing book.
    I am still reading, “Writing down the Bones.” I like her approach to writing and it is quite different from the way I was taught in high school English classes. I have done a couple of posts on the Word Press site under pseudonym– Mike Carter. I read your post on Upper room. Jeff sounds like a very tough fighter indeed. Not sure I could put up that kind of fight. I have a low tolerance for pain and would probably cave under first twinges of discomfort.

    • Hi Mike, I have never read James Dickey and really haven’t had the inclination; perhaps I had some sense that he would be “disturbing” and I generally avoid those type books, except for notable masterpieces such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. If you enjoy Goldberg, I would suggest her other works as well as Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (if you have not already read it) and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or The Right to Write. All of these guides are useful for breaking out of the confines of the high school English class style of writing, without abandoning the structures that build excellence. I’m sure you are familiar with the venerable Strunk and White, who also cut through some of the myths about writing that we pick up early on.

      Jeff is an amazingly tough and stoic person. This trait mostly serves him well, although it can also work against him insofar as he is reluctant ever to ask for help – which is why I am “camping out” here in his hospital room because I have no such qualms :-). It’s been an interesting comparison to watch him endure the types of suffering and indignity that previously I have only seen firsthand in our younger son, who has basically been in such situations from infancy on. I have seen some almost uncanny resemblances in their responses to pain. Remarkable how like our parents we are sometimes.

  5. Carolyn

    I will send you a note today to say hello and I hope your day is going well. I love to get letters from friends and even e-mails. I just want to know how they are and what is going on. Time is too short not to keep in touch with family and special friends. Love and hugs to you all.

    • Carolyn, I feel the same way, but I’m afraid I’ve gotten so bad about sending regular mail…I do send notes and cards and letters, but never as many as I intend to send, or as many as I write in my head before I sit down with a pen! Then sometimes I can’t remember whether I actually sent a letter or only thought it up in my head. Oh well, blame it on age I suppose. I’m so glad to be back in touch with you via this blog!

  6. Julia, you have such an engaging writing style. Through your daily posts you are connecting us to the past, future, and the here and now. It is simply magical in a world of clouded thinking that keeps us from living in hope. Your magical places that you share with us replace the ‘cloud.’ Thank you as always!

    • Renee, thanks so much. I am so grateful that you, Tammy and Roger came so far to be with us during the surgery last Thursday. Tonight I was looking at the photos we took and plotting to use one of them here; if you object, speak now or forever hold your peace! And also, looking at the photo of the mother duck with her ducklings, there were actually NINE of them, not eight! I appreciate your kind words and your friendship. Keep those prayers coming for Jeff. He’s much better but still hitting snags here and there.

  7. Julia, I can so relate to this post. I’ve always loved writing as well as reading, and find it one of the best ways to share. You do it so beautifully, that I’m sure you’ve had life-long pen pals…and now blog followers, to share with. Great post.

    • Thanks so much, Alys! I loved seeing the photos of you and Boomdee enjoying beautiful California. I appreciate your visits here and can’t wait to get back to your “Gardening Nirvana” and mine too!

      • Thanks, Julia. We had such a good time. What an amazing thing this blogging world has been. Sending you love and peace.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I went to the Upper Room before I replied this evening, to read your comment there,and also the update on Jeff. In the medical field, I’m sure that the witness to such recovery, only has one answer. God answers prayers and God heals. Thank you for the continued correspondence as you are my “cyber pen pal” that means so much. Jeff, you’re quite the example! Garden City is having a storm! Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila, I agree that God has been answering all our prayers here and it has been so wonderful to see. Jeff is much better although still having minor issues here and there that mean he will still be in the hospital for at least a few days. But each day gets a little better. Keep those prayers coming! I will pray for you and Bill also – I have so enjoyed our online “chats.” Hope the weather clears off for you soon.

  9. I totally agree with what you have to say about reading and writing but I fear that in this world of haste and instant people don’t even care any more. They don’t use punctuation, spelling is a thing of the past because everything is text speak. I almost hate to read any type of correspondence because it will be full of errors. I read that cursive isn’t even taught in school anymore and that a set of high school students given a work of history written in long hand were not able to make out what it said. That made me sad. What a shame if the written word goes away.

    • Amy R U serious!! It tks 2 long 2 B wrting & no 1 has time 4 it N E more!!! J/K!!

      OK, so I’m out of touch; I don’t have a smart phone and have no desire to get one. I can type faster than I can talk or write, so I’ll keep churning the words out on the “old fashioned” notebook computer, never fear. As for cursive, I plead guilty! I quit using it over 40 years ago because my printing was far more legible, and when teachers found that out, they let me slide on the cursive. To this day I print everything I write out in longhand. The only time I use cursive is when I sign my name. If you could see how some of these doctors write you might be glad cursive is going away! I can’t read most of it myself. 🙂

      The good part is that there are still quite a few of us out here who love reading and writing; even in the younger generations, there are lots of book lovers. That’s why I loved library school so much. I was surrounded by people who loved the printed word. It was hilarious at orientation; the new students were snatching up all the handouts and brochures when I’m normally the only one doing that. I’m used to being the oddball who is addicted to reading everything including cereal boxes.

      So as long as I’m still alive and kicking, you will always have a “book buddy.” Between the books in your house and the ones in ours, we will have enough to last the rest of our lives; even if reading is totally passé, we can still get together and talk books.

  10. merry

    Reading has always been my favorite past time. Book stores and libraries my favorite place to visit.
    Julia, glad Jeff has made it through this around of surgeries and that his liver looks good.
    You and Jeff are in my prayers. Praying for the medical staff as they care for Jeff. And that he’ll be able to eat soon.
    Blessings

    • Thanks! We really need and appreciate the prayers. We feel that our prayers are being answered and I am so grateful to everyone who’s been part of that.

      The other night when we went to pick up my sister at the airport (she’s staying with our younger son) her flight was delayed so my son and I went into a Barnes and Noble nearby. I said something about loving to go there and my son said “You’d better enjoy it while you can.” Though he does not want to see it happen, he’s afraid most of the brick-and-mortar bookstores will go away. I surely hope not!

  11. Writing can be an exercise that allows you to express things you may be to shy or introvert to share verbally. I’ve heard this from some actors I admire, that they are actually shy in their everyday lives and I can relate to that. I was always the quiet, introvert in school.

    A lot of creative people I admire, both past and present tend to be more introvert. The ones that aren’t, like the loud and obnoxious types that just insist on ‘hammering’ their ideas home are never on my watch or read list.

    The great thing about any message you don’t enjoy or agree with, is you can: choose not to read it, turn it off, change the channel, not buy it or just walk away. The Blogging community has been great for this. I feel like I’ve got to know so many more ‘like souls’ than I would have been able to by just relying on with books.

    • I agree! I am more of an extrovert, but I tend to get over-stimulated easily and really need a lot of quiet and solitude. With reading and writing, I can enjoy connecting without getting overstimulated, taking things at my own pace. I also agree that most creative people I have known are basically introverts, though they are drawn to connection with like-minded people, and they do enjoy exploring if it can be done in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or drown out their own thoughts.

      What is so great about blogging is the interactive nature of it; when I find someone whose work is appealing or interesting to me, I can tell them so directly. The other great thing about the blogosphere, even for people who don’t write or blog, is the sheer vastness of it, all keyword searchable and available through any computer. We really are lucky to live with such abundance, though the magnitude of it poses a challenge. That’s why professional organizers like Alys have such an important role to play in today’s world. I find that keeping the physical environment organized helps keep me from getting overwhelmed with the mental stimulation in the deluge of information available.

  12. Bingo, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the deluge of information. I’ve gotten far more selective this past year. When I first started Blogging, I felt I had to ‘follow’ everyone that followed me. Honestly, I still wonder how some people find my blog since their interests seem soooooo different. Our Alys is one of those special souls who seem to know exactly what you need and don’t need. Be it a timely hug or a closet edit. I seem to be able to work in a mess but MUST begin each project with a clean workspace, organization is a must.

    • Maybe some of your followers are like me; I only follow blogs I like or that interest me in some way, but I’m so interested in so many things that I end up following TOO MANY to keep up with regularly. Organization is crucial to all disciplines. Much of what librarians do is some form of organization: archiving, indexing, abstracting and cataloguing. So I am naturally drawn to organizing although I am not as good at weeding out the unnecessary as I wish I was. Everything is interesting to me so I have a hard time prioritizing.

  13. kjyaccino

    I agree that most of us have gravitated towards “instant” communications via text, facebook messaging, and emails, away from old-fashioned letter-writing. However, some of our emails all the way back to 1999 were/are so great that I kind of “created” more traditional correspondence out of them years ago: I have a 3-ring binder, with a section of printed emails labeled “letters to/from Julia”. 🙂 Love to you and Jeff.

    • Hey, great! I’ll have to get copies from you sometimes of the years between 2005-2009 that I lost in my one big computer crash (I had very little of it backed up, shame on me). I have all my emails archived in digital format but some of them go back to 1994 and are saved in plain text format, which today’s computers can’t usually translate. So whenever I save anything now, on whatever format, I think “in 20 years this will probably be unreadable due to an obsolete format.” Kind of undermines the determination to create backup copies!

  14. These days I don’t read much – I must admit. But during my college days books took me around the world in the pindrop silence of the elegant libraries. We forget the place and time and get lost in the world of stories and words. Beautifully written piece.

    • Thanks Bindu, I think that when your children are grown you will be able to read more. If you have unabridged audiobooks available, that is one way to get in a bit of “reading” – that’s about the only way I could “read” when my kids were young. I would listen to books while doing household chores and it made things much more fun.

  15. This is what you shared that truly resonated with me- “Likewise, when we read words that are wonderfully encouraging or inspiring, we can keep them and go back to them again and again, not relying on memory or video as we must with the spoken word.”

    My dad wrote me an encouraging letter that I’ve kept. If he’d just said the words, on my down days, I’d wonder if I wasn’t making it up. But, I can bring out the tattered copy, unfold it and have a feast that lifts my spirits!

    • Yes, in that letter you will have him with you always, cheering you on. I’m so happy your father has given you such a gift. I have such letters that I read again and again over the years, and they continue to bless me. Thanks so much for your comment! I hope you have a wonderful week ahead.

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