Curiosity Journal: May 2, 2012

Each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’ve been recording a Curiosity Journal to recap the previous week using these tag words: reading, playing, learning, reacting and writing.

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Reading

I’m chewing on these excerpts, especially the lines I’ve highlighted in bold, from The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (free Kindle version):

The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. (loc. 145)A loving Personality dominates the Bible, walking among the trees of the garden and breathing fragrance over every scene. Always a living Person is present, speaking, pleading, loving, working, and manifesting Himself whenever and wherever His people have the receptivity necessary to receive the manifestation. (loc. 446, 453)Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us. (loc 584)

Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us. (Loc 594, 599)They [saints] differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response…As David put it neatly, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” (loc 604, 609)

Learning

Though my computer keyboard was teeming with bacteria last week when the eager, curious student swabbed it for a science demonstration, I’m happy to report that the petri dish carefully labeled “Mrs. Kroeker’s Computer Keyboard” wasn’t the worst offender. Sure, we exclaimed over the yellow gunk growing vigorously in almost all of the petri dishes, but the one that practically sprouted arms and legs to climb out of the glass container was…the dish rag.Swap out your dish rag often. Wash in hot water. Use bleach.The teacher pointed out one of the dishes that was growing yellow gunk. “This one,” she said, “was the stair railing. We swabbed it, and then afterwards, I swiped some Purellon the same spot and swabbed a second time, to compare. And look!” She pointed to the petri dish labeled as the railing swiped with Purell. It showed only the tiniest specks of growth. The teacher exclaimed, “That stuff works!”Also, I’d like to report that as soon as I knew my keyboard had been swabbed, I searched the Internet for how to clean the thing and used these instructions to sterilize it. Next time you shake my hand, be not afraid.But if you ask to use my laptop to write a quick e-mail or check Facebook, please understand if I hand you a bottle of Purell, first. It’s nothing personal.

Playing

Charity joined me on a short road trip to hear a lecture by author Scott Russell Sanders. He offered a few remarks about the wonder of libraries and then read the short essay “Hunger for Books” from his book The Country of Language. In the hushed air of his small town library, he could “follow any question wherever it led, and all for free.” That was me. That was my childhood.

Like sunshine, like the urgency of spring, like bread, language is so familiar that we easily forget what an amazing gift it is…Surely this is what most clearly distinguishes us as a species, the ability to accumulate knowledge and to pass it on. We pass it on by word of mouth, we pass it on by example, we pass it on in films and tapes and disks, in magazines and newspapers, but above all we pass it on in books. (30, 31)

At risk of sounding like a technophobe, he applauded the strengths of the printed, bound, physical book. The kind we carry with us, tucked in our backpacks, purses or pockets.

I’m still devoted to the humble book. A book requires no electricity. It is portable, made for the hand and pocket. It invites but does not demand our attention, and it leaves us time to think. We can enter or leave a book just as we choose, and we can interrupt our reading to burp a baby or pay a bill or ponder a cloud. A good book appeals to what is best in us, without trying to sell us anything. (31)

As he read, I found myself in the description of the curious kid searching for answers to simple questions about constellations and Native Americans and muskrats. I loved the library. I would check out an armful and drink deeply of the ideas, explanations, stories and inspiration. Books were my food and the library was an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.

[T]he best books invite us to share in a sustained, complex, subtle effort to make sense of things, to understand some portion of our humanity and our universe. As long as there are people hungry for such understanding, there will be people hungry for books…even now, after devouring so many thousands of books, I am as ravenous as ever. (32)

Hearing him read, I heard, even felt, myself in his rich descriptions of libraries, books, words, ideas. I sat in that chair—Ann the reader, the writer—and I grew hungry for more: more from him (I bought two of his books), and more from me (I resolved to work harder at my craft).

Writing

Charity and I lingered after the lecture to ask Scott Russell Sanders (SRS) a couple of questions. I asked about improving my craft. I mentioned that MFA programs had tempted me as a way to take my work to the next level. Should I explore that? Or is there a way to achieve a level of excellence and artistry on my own?If I wanted to pursue an MFA, he suggested I look into low-residency programs. But he assured me that finding like-minded writers to form a writing group could achieve a similar end. Gather some working writes who share an inner drive to develop themselves, he said. A group like that could provide a rewarding level of stimulation, evaluation and interaction.The group could read the same book together (poetry, essays, fiction) and discuss why it works—dissect it and learn from the writing in order to apply those principles to our own projects.He thought it could be done.Charity’s feeling pretty well situated, as she recently joined a writer’s group committed to that very process.I figure at the very least, I can read and dissect some books on my own. I bought two of SRS’s books. Perhaps I’ll start with those. After all, as he read, my heart raced a little and I held my breath. When he paused between selections, I scribbled in my notebook, “I want to write like that.” And then I underlined it. Twice.

Reacting

A discussion with my 10-year-old son:Son: You’re like God to me.Me: Really? How?Son: I mean you’re like a God example to me.Me: I’m not perfect, though. And God’s perfect. So, is that such a good idea for me to be an example of God?Son: It’s okay. No one is a perfect example, because no one is perfect. Everyone sins. I just mean that parents in Christian homes can be that for their children. Christian parents are like God to their kids because you love them, you teach them to do the good things and not the bad. That’s pretty much like God. He tells you what to do and what not to do and loves us infinitely.Me: We do that?Son: Yes!Me: That’s a pretty big responsibility.Son: It’s not really a responsibility. It’s just something you naturally do. You naturally love me and teach me.All of that occurred shortly after he finished his third bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

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Notebook and keyboard images by Ann Kroeker. All rights reserved. You may “pin” in a way that links back to this post.

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  • Comments

    1. Thank you for introducing me to Scott Russell Sanders. I am really intrigued! What books of his did you buy?

      P.S. I don’t have an MFA, but I have a great writers group and lots of great writer friends like you.

      • annkroeker says:

        I’m grateful for my online writing friends, too, Megan. Like you.

        Going through book discussions at The High Calling is helpful, but I like the idea of picking things apart structurally, to learn about the writing itself, the mechanics, the form, the organization and word choice. That’s different than simply discussing content.

        I bought The Country of Language not only to have a copy of that excerpt he read, but also because it is a collection of descriptive short essays, many of which might serve as outstanding models for the writing class I teach (high school, homeschooled students). I asked if I might be able to use a few of them, because I need some samples of beautifully written essays to instruct and inspire. He told me how to go about getting permission. He’s so gracious and generous.

        Oh, and I bought his memoir, A Private History of Awe, which he said is out of print but is still available as an e-book.

        Charity bought Earth Works. We plan to share–I’ll swap A Private History of Awe for her Earth Works. The books are thick, however, so it’ll be a while.

        SRS was a literature teacher in the English Department at Indiana University when I was a student there. Even though I was an English Major, I somehow never had him as a teacher. What a loss!

        • Linda Bannister says:

          Glad you had the chance to visit with him. I bought you Earth Works my friend. Very late birthday gift. I have had it for you for awhile!!! So don’t buy another!
          And actually I think your writing is similar to his. You use simple direct language to describe beauty in everyday things. Which is what he also does. Private History of Awe is one of my very favorites.

          • annkroeker says:

            Fun! And an advance thank you! (Now I don’t have to wait for Charity to finish hers–maybe she and I can read it together?) While we were standing at the book table, I flipped open randomly to a page in Earth Works and read aloud to Charity. It was about being a writer. “Where was that when I needed it for yesterday’s post?” Charity said. “That’s great!”

        • Got ‘em in my to-read list. Thank you!

    2. Ann, I read this earlier this morning and have been thinking about it ever since. The quotes and your description of the event with Scott Russell Sanders took me back to childhood days of sitting on the floor of my local library for after school story hour, and the thrill of finding treasure in a card catalog. I miss card catalogs!

      I appreciate the conversation about the value of an MFA program and/or writing groups. I feel like there are important pieces missing in my writing life, (like all that stuff about where the commas go and how to keep verb tenses under control) but I also think that I’m probably not going to be going to back to school. Good to hear Sanders thought that a writing group could be equally as valuable.

      Love the exchange between you and your son.

      • annkroeker says:

        I miss card catalogs, too. It was one way I browsed and stumbled upon something new and interesting. I actually worked at the library in high school. They called a high school employee a “page.” You can imagine how difficult it was to explain to friends that I was a “page” at the library.

        I’m probably not going back to school, but I’m not going to stop learning, either.

        And I loved that exchange, too. He surprises me. He just looks up from his Cocoa Puffs, with a chocolate mustache or a little milk dribbling down his chin, and says these profound things.

    3. So much to digest in this week’s journal! Ever since nursing school, I’ve been intimately acquainted with Purell, but I haven’t given any thought to my keyboard. One more thing to sanitize!
      On another note, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to a writer’s group as well. While my situation living overseas doesn’t really allow for the opportunity to meet many English speaking writers (or any, for that matter!), I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor and a great way to grow as a writer. I hope someday I’ll be able to take part in a group in that way, and I’m interested to see where it leads you.

      • annkroeker says:

        Kimberly, I’ve been wondering about how a virtual writer’s group could work. I don’t know…I’m sure people are doing it effectively. Charity and I talked about Writing in Community, and one thing I’m thinking about is writing in response to one another’s posts. That might be a casual way to help each other learn and grow, maybe? I think it happens sometimes when a lot of people participate in TheHighCalling.org book club. We read the same selection from the book and blog about it. That can be interesting.

    4. I love the fact that you are (like) God to your son. Just so he does not bow down. :-)

      • annkroeker says:

        Yikes! Yes, that would be bad. That’s why I was sort of downplaying it when he brought it up!

    5. This was a delightful edition of your Curiosity Journal – every bit of it. Sanders is a new name for me – I’ll have to check those books out. And libraries? Used to be my favorite hang-out. I even worked in a library all the way through college (with little contact with actual books, however – I worked in the “Gifts and Exchange” section of the UCLA library, down in the basement, mostly writing letters…)

      And that conversation with your boy? Priceless. Just lovely. Thanks for this.

      • annkroeker says:

        I think Sanders is known best in academic circles. And it doesn’t surprise me one bit that you’re a fellow library lover.

    6. Checking out those books as well. Thanks for the tip.

      Cocoa Puffs? Whew! I’m relieved we’re not the only ones.

    7. Ann — I want you to know that these compilations of Curiosity are one of my favorite things to read each week (most week’s, I should say, since occasionally I don’t get here). And not just when I am featured, either!

      I’m so glad you captured what Scott Russell Sanders had to say about the MFA, because I think this is probably in the back of the mind of a lot of writers. I think any of us could go and have a fantastic experience. But if that’s not possible, it’s could to know that is might not be necessary for everyone.

      Also, hooray for Linda and the new copy of Earth Works. Yes, let’s definitely read it together (slowly!). I think it will be a good way to do more of what Scott Russell Sanders was saying.

      By the way, I just got the chance to write about our experience this evening (am finishing now in fact), and I couldn’t help but mention the part about getting the band back together. :)

      • annkroeker says:

        I love it when you show up and join the conversation–it’s a continuation of what we discuss in real life. By the way, you can still borrow A Private History of Awe, even though we don’t need to trade anymore.

    8. That conversation with your son knocked my socks off.

      I’ve thought about an MFA, too. But there was a time when I thought about library science. So I could be surrounded by books. (That was right before our daughter came along–when I had finally let parenting dreams go, and *then* God decided to intervene.)

      • annkroeker says:

        That son is a keeper. He surprises me so often.

        And I did the same thing as you–pondered library science so I could be surrounded by books. I’m glad you are writing now–we can work on our unofficial MFAs, eh?

    9. Too many books – so little time. But I can read you and Charity and others whose writing drips rich. Thank you for letting us feast on your thoughts, Ann.

    10. Ann, I read yours and Charity’s posts each on the visit to hear SRS. You are both already great essayists–you will only blossom and grow.
      Now–on another note, how in the world is it that you are blessed with such an astonishing, insightful (hungry :-) 10 year old? His comments were amazing; how positively affirming that must have been.
      It is such a delight when our kids not only like us but want to talk to us. What a treasure.
      have a blessed week.

      • annkroeker says:

        Jody, thank you so much for dropping by and taking time to read (and comment!). How exciting to think you already spot essay possibilities in me as you read–that gives me hope to read, to learn, and to keep trying.

        And, you know, that boy is something else. He really does put stuff together and come to these conclusions–I don’t think he heard or read exactly that anywhere, though he may have put together things he heard at church. The matter-of-fact way he just looked up from the Cocoa Puffs makes it so…sweetly surprising.

    11. Tozer is a giant and always has something worthwhile to say. For some reason, I was reminded of Ann Kiemel when I read this post – annkiemel.com – Several decades ago, she had a huge impact upon my life; her book “I Said Yes To God” changed my Christian walk and made me aware of God’s largess and His myriad opportunities.
      I’m visiting via Blue Cotton Memory; somehow she found Thistle Cove Farm and I followed her home -smile- then saw one of your comments on her blog and came here for a visit.
      It’s done my heart good, many thanks and God’s blessings upon you, yours and the work of your hands and heart.

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