“Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.” –Max Ehrmann
October 1st always brings with it some psychological change in me. Sometimes it’s a permanent, long-term thing. Other times, the feeling fades rather quickly. Interestingly, this year, I’ve felt the day coming for a long time. I’ve been counting down to it for weeks, since before the first day of autumn, even. I think part of it is that the first day of fall is like the first day of spring, for me. It is my time of rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation. This year, that takes on, again, a heightened meeting.
Less than two months ago, my partner and I moved across country, about 1,800 miles from Chicago, where we had been living for the last 9 years. After finishing my Ph.D. in May, I accepted a position as an English professor at a large college in the American southwest. It has been a wild, exciting, thoroughly exhausting (and quite nerve-wracking, to be honest) time, but so far, we both love it here. It is hard to be away from friends, and family, though. I’ve become even more reliant on Facebook and Twitter, for which I was already a junky, and in our culture and country’s current state, this is not a good thing.
So, as October has approached, and as the mess of moving and settling in has reduced from a boil to a simmer, I’ve begun to think more and more seriously about getting back to blogging, and about what that would mean since a year ago, the last point at which I was making a serious effort. Would I return to Roof Beam Reader? Create something new? Would I go back to blogging mostly book reviews and hosting events? Or would I focus on my creative writing and journaling, on politics and current events?
For a long time, I elevated book blogging above all else and left other things for other places. But that always made me feel overwhelmed and schizophrenic. In the last few weeks, as I’ve anticipated my “return” to blogging, I realized I needed two things: First, I needed to stay at Roof Beam Reader. Maybe it’s bizarre, but it feels to me like an important part of my identity. Second, my blog needed a kind of renaissance, a re-alignment with my current place and perspective. That being said, a new vision has emerged.
Going forward, Roof Beam Reader will still be mostly (51% or more?) about books. I’ll still be writing my personal reviews, posting fun memes, answering surveys, and maybe even joining some events like the upcoming Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon (10th anniversary!). I still read like a mad person, though my tastes have altered slightly, and I once again need a space where I can keep track of my thoughts. I’ve been breezing through books without reflecting on them and, for me, this is almost sacrilegious. Some of the books I’ve read in the last few months that have gone without reflection include:
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchison The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman Traffick by Ellen Hopkins Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera Brave New World by Aldous Huxley We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchison The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
I have to stop myself there because this list only takes me back to mid-July. My last “new” reviews were posted on July 8th as mini-reviews (a feature I will probably continue because I’ve learned, I hope, to be less strict with myself; sometimes I don’t want or need to write a complete review for a particular book, but I could still get a paragraph or two down). On a positive note, even if I did not review these books, I did mark them all as 4 or 5 out of 5 on Goodreads, which means at least I still know my tastes!
One thing I will probably do less of in regards to the book side of blogging is participating in challenges. When I first started, I absolutely loved doing challenges. I also had the time for them. Now, that’s not so much the case. I might join one every now and again, but I have to learn to limit myself to the “easy” levels. I was always a competitive student and am still a competitive professional in many ways, and this habit flows over into blogging. When I am “challenged,” I want to win. But that isn’t fun for me anymore, not when it comes to reading. I want to explore and enjoy, I want to meander down the walkway of my reading choices, joyfully taking it all in and deeply appreciating every experience, rather than devouring simply to consume. This is also why, in the last couple of years, my Goodreads challenge lists have shrunk from 70 or 80 books per year to something like 50 or 60. If I beat it (and I always do), that’s great! But I don’t want to feel the need to hit it. Last year, I ended up reading a bunch of graphic novels in the final few days of December in order to hit my goal. How silly! That being said, I’m very strongly considering bringing back the Official TBR Pile Challenge. I’m leaning heavily toward yes at the moment. That challenge is flexible and rather small, but also so special to me and this blog, and its readers.
In addition to books and reading, I plan to talk quite a bit about politics and current events. Or, if not quite a bit, whenever I feel the need. I’ve only posted once in a rare while on issues that “mattered” because I was worried about my audience and tiring them out or scaring them off. I have to keep this place mine, though, and I have to break from the rapid-fire, highly-charged, completely insufficient platforms that are social media when thinking about or writing about such important issues. I feel social media has done a great deal of damage in the way we communicate (or not) today, and the way we treat each other. I recently read an article in the The New York Times titled, “The Dying Art of Disagreement.” I disagreed with some of the points the author makes, such as his total dismissal of identity politics, but in general I found myself nodding appreciatively through it. We don’t know how to disagree anymore, largely because we do not look each other in the eye when we debate and because we do not value liberal education that once taught us to listen and consider before speaking; to find common ground where possible, rather than striving only to be right. I want to be more intentional in my own arguing, now, particularly because I teach my students to do so. Facebook and the like – I’m rather done with you, my dears.
Lastly, I plan to incorporate more of my personal and creative writing, here. I doubt I’ll share anything I plan to publish in some other venue, for obvious reasons, but I do consider myself a writer and am starting to understand what kind of writer. I need the practice, and I need some steady, routine, and mostly enjoyable mode. What’s better than my own writing space? In addition to playing around with fiction and poetry, I’ll probably focus quite heavily on non-fiction, particularly the personal essay. I think that’s my niche, when it comes down to it, though I didn’t realize this until about 6 months ago. Odd, considering that’s about 90% of what I’ve always written. I just figured, if I’m not already a famous person, who would want to read what I have to say, even if I sometimes manage to say it well?
I think I do have a lot to say, though, especially about what’s happening in our country right now, in our culture and our humanity. I also want to say things about books and music, about my new adventures in a new state and new region, about education and travel, and about my own little life and what it means to me. I had been, no, I still am self-conscious about writing and speaking, and what my solitary voice means or matters in the grand scheme of things. But Vaclav Havel once wrote, only “by throwing yourself over and over again into the tumult of the world, with the intention of making your voice count – only thus will you really become a person.” I’ve always been a fan of Madeline L’Engle’s statement that “a self is always becoming.” In lessons to my students, I often pair that sentiment with what E.M. Forster said about writing: “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?”
Maybe if I throw myself into the world by observing it and writing about it, I will continue to grow and continue to understand myself.
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You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. Octavia E. Butler
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