World Book Night: Update

I just received the email from the folks at World Book Night letting me know that I have been assigned a book to give away, and to prompt me to choose from where I’d like to pick up those books.

On April 23rd I will be giving away The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and although it was not the book that I had selected (I’m don’t remember what was), it hardly matters. I’m just incredibly excited to participate in this effort to put a books in the hands of people who may not yet be “readers.” I’ve confirmed my pick-up location and now am only awaiting confirmation. Can’t wait!

If you’re not participating this year, you should be on the lookout for when next year’s sign-up begins, this is certainly a positive and worthwhile effort.

If you want more information on World Book Night and what it entails, here are links to my other posts on the subject:

Happy Valentine’s Day

This beautiful cake is from Hello Naomi.

Although I was initially approaching today with something akin to dread, something happened this morning to change my feelings. My daughter had snuck into my bed at some point in the middle of the night, and woke me up this morning with an enormous hug and many kisses wishing me a happy Valentine’s Day. In an instant she made me realize that although I don’t, right now, have “romantic” love in my life, that I do an abundance of love within my little family of my daughter, me, and our cat. She made us wear matching outfits today, which I was more than happy to oblige as long as she kept smiling, and out the door we went, making up Valentine’s Day songs dressed in our white jeans and pink sweaters. As soon as I get out of work, we are rolling up our sleeves and baking something special, and having our very own Valentine’s Day party.

I wish all of you a beautiful day filled with love, whatever kind of love you have in your lives, and more happiness than you know what to do with!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Darwin Day!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin!

Happy Darwin Day, everyone!

A global celebration of science and reason.

Today more than ever, when anti-science has become a veritable movement in America (think anti-evolution, global warming denial, anti-vaccination), it is important that we commemorate the lives of the people, like Charles Darwin, who changed the course of our history through the use of reason and my expanding our scientific understanding of the world around us.

In our own celebration of Darwin Day, and of science and reason, my daughter and I are taking a trip to our local science museum. If you’re interested in commemorating this man’s birthday, you can go to the International Darwin Day Foundation and see if there are any activities in your area, and I’ve included this video to help us all celebrate. It’s a TED talk by Dennis Dutton where he discusses a Darwinian theory of beauty. Not only is it a fascinating topic, but its animated by Andrew Park, of RSA Animate.

Enjoy! And Happy Darwin Day!

World Book Night: Become a Giver

A couple of months ago I wrote a post titled “A Million Reasons to Read a Book” about World Book Night, the “annual celebration designed to spread the love of reading.” Held on April 23 of this year, World Book Night will supply thousands of individuals with 20 books a piece, with the sole purpose of seeing those books given away to others. The goal, to give away one million books in one night.

I signed up in December and just yesterday received the email that I had been selected to be a “giver,” and although I don’t think that they’re turning many people away, it still felt good to know that in April I will be among the thousands here and in the UK putting books in the hands of those that may not yet love reading. Who knows how many people will be turned on to the joy of literature that night.

They are still looking for volunteers to distribute the books, and I can’t help but think that this can be a really great thing if enough of us get involved. For more information on World Book Night, click here, and if you’re in the US, here is the link to register to be a “giver.”

Go on, click it!

Words of Wisdom from Jorge Luis Borges

As 2012 gets underway, I’m turning to Jorge Luis Borges for advice for this new year. I’ve never been one for resolutions; I find that no sooner have I made one, circumstances change, priorities shift, and what seemed of utmost importance on December 31st has become irrelevant by May.  But as true as that may be, there is no denying that just as much as the close of one year brings about a mood of reflection, the start of a new one evokes a sense possibility, and that sense of possibility invariably gets one thinking about hopes and plans for the upcoming year.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” -Borges

With that on my mind, I lay in bed last night reading Borges. As I read and read, I came across two poems that seemed to fit my mood and thoughts perfectly. The first,
spoke to hindsight and thoughts of all the different ways that things could have gone, but didn’t… and God knows I’ve feeling a lot of that lately. The second spoke to the desire to live a life of meaning and joy. Taken together, these two poems form the kind of resolution that I can embrace.

Things That Might Have Been

I think of things that weren’t, but might have been. 
The treatise on Saxon myths Bede never wrote.
The inconceivable work Dante might have had a glimpse of,
As soon as he’d corrected the Comedy’s last verse.
History without the afternoons of the Cross and the hemlock.
History without the face of Helen.
Man without the eyes that gave us the moon.
On Gettysburg’s three days, victory for the South.
The love we never shared.
The wide empire the Vikings chose not to found.
The world without the wheel or the rose.
The view John Donne held of Shakespeare.
The other horn of the Unicorn.
The fabled Irish bird that lights on two trees at once.
The child I never had.

I think its part of our nature to look at our past and wonder about the myriad paths that our lives could have taken. In and of itself, it’s not necessarily an unhealthy thing to do. But becoming mired in what may have been can be stunting and paralyzing if we allow it to take our focus on what we do have and on what actually is. This, I think, is one of those things that is easier said than done, and I know without a doubt that I’m struggling with it. But I’ve known people who live like this, and their lives seem clouded by a regret that never quite dissipates. 

The Just

man who, as Voltaire wished, cultivates his garden.
He who is grateful that music exists on earth.
He who discovers an etymology with pleasure.
A pair in a Southern café, enjoying a silent game of chess.
The potter meditating on colour and form.
The typographer who set this, though perhaps not pleased.
A man and a woman reading the last triplets of a certain canto.
He who is stroking a sleeping creature.
He who justifies, or seeks to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for Stevenson’s existence.
He who prefers the others to be right.
These people, without knowing, are saving the world.

Here Borges gives us glimpses of a well-lived life, snippets of contentment, of generosity, of tenderness. He shows us a life whose meaning comes from simple pleasures, gratitude, and kindness; a life not defined by the external, such as wealth or position, but rather by what occurs in our minds and hearts. I know that this is the life that I want.

I had these poems on my mind when I woke this morning, and went on an internet search for more Borges. As I was clicking through various sites, I came across this. It’s an excerpt from an autobiographical documentary titled Images of Absence/ Buenos Aires, meine Geschichte (1998) by German Kral, an Argentinian filmmaker. This excerpt (I have not seen the entire film) includes an incredibly touching remembrance of an encounter with Borges, followed by words from the author himself. It’s from the filmmaker’s recollections of Borges that I found the third bit of sage advice for this new year.

Borges, who had so intensely loved books, and for whom literature was alive, advised us not to read any book we didn’t enjoy. He told us that morning that if we didn’t like a book, it was better to leave it for some other time. Reading it by force did no good to the book, the author, or ourselves.

Don’t dwell on what may have been and focus on what is. Live a life full of simple pleasures and with a gentleness of spirit. Read those books that you can truly enjoy. Thank you Mr. Borges, these are words of wisdom, indeed.

For more on Borges, watch Buenos Aires: Las Calles de Borges, a short documentary by Ian Ruschel, influenced by the German Kral documentary mentioned above. If you have a little more time, watch Jorge Luis Borges: The Mirror Man, a longer documentary that’s “part biography, part literary criticism, part hero-worship, part book reading, and part psychology.” 

A Wish for a Truly Wonderful New Year

This morning, I read this quote on Charlie’s always insightful blog,

Tomorrow never comes, because when it does it’s always today.

What a perfect sentiment for this time of year, when most of us are reflecting on the past year and looking ahead towards the next. In a moment where we’re living with one foot in the past and the other in the future, its hard to forget that there is still a “today” to contend with.

Living in the present is certainly relevant to what I’ve been writing about this week, and this  unintended theme has really forced me to take a look at how I view the world. I suppose that I have always, to some extent, really reveled in the beauty of the people and the world around me. It’s why I spent so many years in college studying one thing after another, always awestruck by how the more I learned, the more questions I had. I think if finances would have allowed, I would still be in school. It’s the reason I teach. Although, as with most jobs, the drawbacks are many, the one big plus is the fact that I can try to pass on that love of learning… no, more than that, the love of living, of which learning is an integral part. It’s this very fact that allows me to be, despite many, many setbacks and challenges, to be a fundamentally happy person.

And this is the very thing that I want to make sure my daughter grows up with. I had my grandfather to set that example for me. (This post is about to go in an unintended direction, but what the hell, I’ll go with it)…

My grandfather was, perhaps, one of the most remarkable people who I have ever met.  He was more than a grandfather, more than a father… the role he played in my life had no precedent, and thus, no title.  He was my moral compass, my teacher, my guide, my sanctuary… the only person on the planet who knew me better than I knew myself.  He loved me unconditionally, every single day of my life.  He never let me feel anything but loved, no matter what mistakes I made (and boy did I make many!).   I am who I am today in a very large part because of him.

His love for my grandmother was all-consuming.  He loved her more than life itself.  He never spoke down to her, always told her and showed her how much he loved her.  He told her how beautiful he was until the day he died.  His willingness to sacrifice for her, and for everyone he loved, made each relationship he touched near perfect.  Granted, he set the bar so high that I’m afraid I’ll never find that perfection with someone else,  but it does give me hope.

His faith was boundless, yet he never proselytized.  He never belittled any beliefs that diverged from his own, yet never wavered from his faith.  Again, in this aspect, he led by example.  His actions spoke louder than any words ever could have, even if shouted from the highest mountain tops. He was always kind, always tolerant, never judgmental, loving without exception and abundant in his generosity.

He elevated and inspired everyone.  He sacrificed, yet always expressed joy in everything he did.  He loved completely, and lived life with a happiness that never diminished.  He epitomized that life lived with a sense of magic, awe, and wonder.

He passed away last year, and next week would have been his 83rd birthday. Needless to say, I miss him daily. But even in his absence he continues to be all of those things to me, and now, I’m trying with all that I am to be the same for my daughter, in whatever way that I am capable of.

As I think of him, of myself, and of my daughter, I am pushed to reflect on the past year; on what I’ve done, said, thought, experienced, and felt. I suppose that as the year draws to a close, it’s as good a time as any to stop and think about the many lessons we’ve learned, and how we can continue forward into the next year with strength and happiness.

As I wrote last Friday, I am in the process of trying to heal from an incredibly painful split from someone who I still love immensely. When things like this happen, it’s all too easy to shut off and shut down, or to really try to forget and close the chapter. I suppose its self-preservation. Despite that, I’ve decided not to give in to it.  Living with an openness to all the beauty that the world can offer means having an open heart, and it was exactly that, despite the initial challenges we faced in our relationship, that made it possible to love him as deeply and honestly as I did. Lessening the pain is never a good enough reason to shut myself off to the potential of having that again. It is, if nothing else, what my grandfather would have done.

In the mean time, I am happy knowing that I am starting the year without anger or bitterness, and with the same openness that I stepped into 2011 with. I will continue to live with the sense of magic and awe that I have been writing about this past week, and I will absolutely continue to make sure that my daughter grows up with the same sense of infinite possibility.

I wish all of you out there a very happy and truly wonderful start to an as of yet unwritten part of our lives. 2012 will be as good as we make it. Let’s all resolve to continue to keep reading books that make us think, listing to music that touches our souls, and looking upon the world with eyes that can see the ordinary as extraordinary.

Happy 2012!

And did anyone else notice that last night’s moon looked like a smile?

Our New Telescope!

Finally assembled and ready to go, here’s the telescope that Santa brought us for Christmas. I’m hoping to be able to head out into a less light-polluted area sometime this week for a good look at our night sky. I can’t wait for my daughter to get her first good look at the moon! Of course, I’ll write all about it once we go on our first astronomy adventure.