Friday, June 17, 2011

Not too far from that tree, either

As much as I am my mother's daughter, I am also my father's daughter.

My dad and I share a love of word games: spoonerisms, puns, rhymes, and bad jokes. We share a temper that manifests itself in streams of incoherent cursing. We believe that placing cold things on the back of someone's neck is an amusing thing to do. We believe popcorn is best with butter and salt and in a big ol' orange bowl.

Whether it's because he's learned to live with my mom or that I'm so much like him, sometimes he knows how to read me and either put me in my place or what it takes to adjust my mood.

As a kid, I had a tendency to pout*. My dad is the one who taught me that birds have a tendency to poop on that out thrust lip. And what kid can not laugh in the present of a poop reference.

As a college student, home during Christmas, and struggling with what would become the start of a chronic run of clinical depression, my dad reminded me what the holiday season was really about. Not necessarily religion, but the transcendent feeling of watching kids playing in the snow, thrilled with the joy of living. Since that time, I've taught myself to look for the little joys around me. I'm not going to say it's easy and I'm not going to say it's the cure for depression, but I am going to say that finding the little joys makes surviving that much better.

As a bride, my father showed that he truly understands me and our relationship. When meeting with our officiant in preparation for the ceremony, we requested that the officiant not to ask for the bride to be given away. Yet, habits being habits, my dad walked me down the aisle and when we reached the officiant he asked "Who gives this bride away?" My dad, without missing a beat (and not knowing that I had asked not to be given away) said "No one. She comes here as her own person." Yep. He got it right. And then proceeded to call me "Baby girl" several times that day. For the first time in my memory.

How wonderful for a father to acknowledge his daughter's independence and dependence.


*It's possible I haven't lost this tendency

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Read, read, read

I've already told you I love books. I've recently had three experiences that have only served to reinforce books as a wonderful thing to love.

First, I'm participating in 1Book140 this month.  It's a monthly Twitter-based book club sponsored by The Atlantic magazine.  As of this week there are over 10,000 participants. The book chosen for this month is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, a book I've read several times before, but I realize now that it has neither been been recently, nor carefully.  This community of readers is teaching me to read more conscientiously.  And yet there are times I begrudge them for the same.   I find when I read with intent, I read word by word by word and appreciate the science of the text, but often lose the art.  When I read for pleasure, I turn off the analytical* side of my brain, read by phrases and become flooded with images. Though only black lines on a white background, novel text transports me to an ethereal and yet somehow completely tangible environment.

Then, earlier this week I met Beth in Mankato to attend the Traverse des Sioux Library System Storytellers series featuring Jennifer Weiner.   While waiting for the event to begin, Beth and I got caught up in a conversation with another attendee.  Among the three of us we were able to share stories of reading our favorite books and how the text we read became a part of our realities.  How reading a great book made us think about our own lives differently.  Also, we got to listen to Ms. Weiner speak and answer questions  - the author bringing us more in touch with her characters.

Which brings me to this article based on this study.  Though dated in December, I've only just seen it. Based on data analysis of 30 years worth of responses to the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, Sarah H. Konrath and her colleages have found that "almost 75 percent of students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago." The article goes on to state that Americans have become more socially isolated and less likely to read fiction over than same period of time. "The number of adults who read literature for pleasure sank below 50 percent for the first time ever in the past 10 years, with the decrease occurring most sharply among college-age adults."

But humanity's saving grace may in fiction.  From Raymond A. Mar's article:
While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction.  Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels...The tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores.

Who knew there was symbol for empathy? 
Many of us are reading information (non-fiction) from the time our cell phone alarms wake us in the morning till we take that one last look at the Google news before going to bed.  We have Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, work email, personal email, text messages, online magazines, news aggregation sites.  But stop and think with me for a moment, which made you better understand the experience of those living in Afghanistan over the last 30 years: the innumerable news articles we've seen or Khaled Hosseini's heartbreakingly beautiful novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns?

Admittedly, there is a bit of self-selection here.  As someone who would rather read fiction than non-fiction, the idea that fiction could be emotionally and socially beneficial gives purpose to my favorite reading pastime.  But doesn't it also give purpose to us all, a medium to reach out and connect with those around us? A fuel to power the empathetic human experience.

*Apparently the spell checker I use does not like analytical, wanting me to use analytic in it's place.  An internet search reveals they are synonyms with the "al" suffix being slightly more American.