Tag Archives: creative

Read a book, so I don’t have to be sad.

The Washington Post released a story on May 12 that made me make my sad face, to say the least. You can read the article for yourself, but it essentially summarizes a report from Common Sense Media that found a dramatic decrease in the number of young people who are reading for pleasure. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, since the blogosphere is full of literary types, but this breaks my heart and I have to say it somewhere.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Photo credit: Randen Pederson (flickr username: chefranden)

Even as a child, books were my refuge, some of my best teachers, and constant friends. They encouraged my creativity, and provided insight into places/times/cultures I had never encountered in person. We all know that books can serve a great purpose as both educators and entertainers. What we don’t always think about is the effect they have on our personal development. Reading, quite simply, facilitates compassion. It helps us embrace diversity, introducing us to a variety of people and situations from the comfort of our own favorite comfy chairs. And we live in a world that is increasingly in need of compassion.

That’s what bothers me most about these stats: I don’t want to see the percentage of understanding people drop lower and lower with every flip of the calendar. I don’t want younger generations to lose an entire channel of information, a direct line into the inner workings of another individual’s mind. I don’t want kids to grow into adults who don’t know any better.

That said, I also know a lot (note: a LOT) of adults who don’t read. They think they don’t like books, that all avid readers are traditionally “bookish.” Personally, I’m a firm believer that everyone does like to read–they may have just not met the right book yet. (Literary matchmaking is my favorite, by the way.) These adults usually hated the required reading list when they were in school, didn’t do any reading at home, and came to the conclusion that all books were evil, scholastic heathens, sent to ruin their GPAs. When they graduated, they tossed literature aside to concentrate on more “productive” pursuits. Or, you know, to watch TV or something.

So here’s my request, of everyone, because I want our collective sense of compassion to grow in the coming years–because we can’t afford to see it shrink:

Read a book.

If you love to read, read something new. Immerse yourself in the story, or the poem, or the biography. Read whatever makes you happy, makes you think, makes you better. Talk about what you read, if you feel excited about it. Recommend the book to a friend.

If you’re sure you hate reading, hear me out. Please, please, just give it one more try. Please. Find a reader, someone you trust, and ask them for a recommendation. Visit a library. Listen to an audiobook during your commute. Read something you’ll enjoy. Don’t put pressure on yourself, or worry about the number of pages or how long it takes you to reach the end. A book is not about its ending. Even if you end up hating it, try to understand why. If you don’t hate it, try to understand why.

And if you have kids, help them find their books. Mine were Dr. Seuss titles and Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter stories. I read through my elementary library’s inventory of Ramona books, and shortly thereafter, The Saddle Club and The Babysitters Club series (clubs were a big thing for a while). Read bedtime stories. Give books as birthday presents. Find a book that makes your child smile, and then find more books like that. They’ll branch out on their own, eventually. When kids want to talk about what they read, talk with them. Listen to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t force it too much. Let them catch you reading.

Let’s all be more compassionate. Engage with characters. Lose ourselves in stories, then find ourselves in them. We must allow ourselves to feel something beyond our own experience.

You can help me make my happy face, and I’ll be very grateful.

 

Make It Work. Make It Beautiful.

The Cloisters (exterior of the museum)

The Cloisters (exterior of the museum)

A couple days ago, I visited the Cloisters—a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at the northern edge of Manhattan and dedicated to medieval art and architecture. The museum, along with neighboring Fort Tryon Park, is one of my favorite spots in New York. Home of the iconic Unicorn Tapestries and herb gardens that would be the envy of any alchemist, the space hosts an energy that is not easily found in the throngs of the mid-Manhattan Museum District: quiet, natural, reflective. I love the atmosphere.

The art itself is, of course, extraordinary. And everything is art, from the paintings to the statues, the ornate wooden doors to the figures carved into structural columns. Even the sinks and the pitchers of water used to wash hands before a meal, all of it is gorgeous in a way that makes the prefabricated frames of my Ikea furniture feel shameful. The books on display are made from parchment paper, handwritten in calligraphic ink with gilded drop caps and sketches of angels and saints in the margins. Dishes, tapestries, candelabras—these simple, functional objects are presented as ornate decorations. The display of wealth is shocking, really. Chess pieces carved from elephant ivory rest behind a glass case in one air-conditioned gallery. It’s obvious that these few stray pieces were once part of a complete set, kept in someone’s home. They were probably dusted regularly by a servant and pulled out from time to time when the master of the house felt like playing a match or two. They were part of a life. It all was.

The Unicorn in Captivity (from The Unicorn Tapestries series)

On the one hand, I know that these objects—valuable in their own time and priceless today—were never the norm. I know that they are symbols of exorbitant wealth, vestiges of people who lived decadently, either ignorant or negligent of the poverty that surrounded their own happy, gold-plated bubble. I know that, if she’d been around in the 14th century, Suze Orman would have told these people that commissioning a jewel-encrusted chalice isn’t the smartest financial move.

Still, there is something I can’t help but appreciate about their extravagance. Maybe it’s the result of a childhood spent watching Disney movies and playing princess dress-up. But I think it’s more than that. What I really love is that these people, who had money and influence to burn, chose to cash it in on beauty. On creativity. On art. What struck me most during my time in the museum was the detail with which even the most ordinary everyday items were crafted. The handles of a heavy wooden door, adorned with carvings, angelic faces chiseled into the corners of a window; the tapestries used for winter insulation, woven with intricate narrative scenes. Beauty was important, and these were people who wanted to immerse themselves in it.

Stained glass window at The Cloisters

Consequently, the artist was an important person—the person they could pay to provide them with the things their money couldn’t actually buy. Talent was celebrated on a scale that seems unreachable for the modern-day creative, whose work is nurtured on a much more “indie” scale, and whose education is often dismissed as fanciful procrastination before the dust settles on the “real world” of post-collegiate life. Artistry was valued and, perhaps most importantly for the artists themselves, it was fashionable. Time consuming, non-utilitarian, trendy, successful expression—and unapologetically multifaceted.

There’s a lesson there.