The Blame Game, The Shame Game, More-Of-The-Same Games: Poverty Is Not A Game.

Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself. • Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate, October 5, 2011

I cannot sleep, so I’ve been reading in the night and working on organizing materials for the end of the quarter. I’m re-reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s (2001) Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. In the book, Ehrenreich describes her experiences as she moves around the United States working as a housecleaner, Wal-Mart salesperson, nursing home aide, house cleaner, and waitress. On the final page, she writes:

“The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” (p. 221)

I finish rereading Ehrenreich and really cannot sleep. Her book evokes too many memories. For many of my working years I was a low-wage worker. I cleaned houses. I painted houses, inside and out. I babysat. I did laundry and ironing. I worked as a seamstress at home and in a factory in Macon, Georgia, where I was a pieceworker—sewing back pockets on Levis®—a job that paid much better than the newspaper job I forsook* it for. I worked in a day care center. Each time I moved or changed jobs, even when the work was interesting and required a degree of creativity and writing skill—newspaper editor and columnist, radio production director, and graphic designer—I never made enough money to support a family, although my wages helped keep the family afloat. Until I became a teacher, I was paid less than the men who worked for me.

After many years of low-pay, no-benefits work, I went back to school, got a degree, and became a high school teacher. Then I went back for another degree. And another. Always working while I did so. I haven’t forgotten what it is like to work fifty-one weeks out of the year when I was fortunate enough to have a one-week vacation, to have two or three or no days of sick leave each year, to have no benefits, to feel despair every time one of my children ran a fever and I had to worry about how we would pay the bills if a doctor’s visit was necessary or if I had to take time off without pay, or even if I would lose my job because of an absence. One of my most vivid work memories is of throwing up in the wastebasket beside my desk because I was too broke to stay home and lose a day’s pay. I got fired from Southern Bell when I became pregnant with my first child.

I remember these experiences as I start to reread David K. Shipler’s (2004), The Working Poor: Invisible in America, pulled from the stack next to my bed. As a teacher educator, I am regularly reminded of the assumptions teachers make about the availability of things we often believe to be basic necessities of living and may expect students to use: smartphones, computers, internet access, cable television. In many households, these “basics” are unattainable luxuries. Awareness is the first step in developing compassion, yet the current politicizing of need and work can make this difficult. As Shipler notes:

In the Puritan legacy, hard work is not merely practical but also moral; its absence suggests an ethical lapse. A harsh logic dictates a hard judgment: If a person’s diligent work leads to prosperity, if work is a moral virtue, and if anyone in the society can attain prosperity through the work, then the failure to do so is a fall from righteousness, The marketplace is the fair and final judge; a low wage is somehow the worker’s fault, for it simply reflects the low value of his labor. In the American atmosphere, poverty has always carried a whiff of sinfulness. (pp. 5-6)

Time Magazine’s recent (November 28, 2011, Vol. 178, No. 21) “Invention” issue also features an article by Barbara Kiviat, “Below the Line,” (pp. 35-41) that attempts to debunk myths about poverty in America and expose its more nuanced components. I read it yesterday—it’s probably the reason I grabbed Ehrenreich for my mid-night reading—and I definitely recommend it as well.

If you’ve never been poor, if you’ve never wondered how you would pay your bills or which ones to skip for a month, if you’ve never had to file bankruptcy, if you’ve never walked because you couldn’t afford to put gas in your car (or didn’t have a car), if you’ve never skipped your own meals to feed your children, if you’ve never grappled with the disheartening and frightening consequences of too little money to meet your family’s basic obligations, or if you’ve never missed a job opportunity because you didn’t have a phone, you may find it difficult to understand the punishing despair that accompanies these challenges.

Late night/early morning reading is dangerous. It is easy to stir up anger and sadness and resentment and frustration. It is easy to wallow in feelings of impotence in the face of overwhelming challenges. It is easy to measure how far we have not come, and to despair as I see past victories being eroded. It is more difficult to find and celebrate small victories, yet it is the accretion of the incremental that provides reasons to celebrate. I celebrate the efforts of all those who seek to remind this country of the majority whose hard work and efforts and daily challenges must be recognized and supported.

What are you reading and what does it mean?

To sit in silence when we should protest/Makes cowards out of men. • Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1914), “I Protest”

A few years ago everybody was saying we must have much more leisure, everybody is working too much. Now that everybody has got so much leisure—it may be involuntary, but they have got it—they are now complaining they are unemployed. People do not seem to be able to make up their minds, do they? • HRH Prince Philip, 1981 interview on BBC Radio

* In all my years of writing, this is the first time I can ever remember using the word forsook.



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Filed under autobibliography, autoethnography, books, education, poverty

To Have And Have Not: Book Gifts Examined

Guest post by Carrie Anne Ebner, May 30, 2011

What makes you choose the novels you read?  Do you go into a book store, or online, and greedily snatch up one more, just a little past your arbitrarily allotted budget, and then weigh the diplomacy of leaving one of them for another buyer while you suspiciously eyeball the assumed bibliophiles around you?  Are there books you loaned, and never got back, that beckon you to  repurchase after it’s been years since you’ve read them?  Do you have lists of books…on note cards, receipts, final drafts about to be turned in to the professor…which were recommended to you from various respectable sources, littering the inside of your car, wedged between books you’ve already read, filed in one of your drawers you never intend to organize until you can’t close it anymore? Why this constant obsession with literature anyway?  And why do you read the books you call…yours?

I woke up at 4:30 this morning with the winter wrens and spring light, and clever thoughts about how I’d give something priceless to my brother for his birthday.  It was actually May 19th, and today is the 30th, but he’s coming to town from Ohio, and I can’t wait to see him.  Before his birthday he told me explicitly that he already had four books he was reading, so this meant I couldn’t default to the old standby of sending him a book in the mail.  Of course, this made me panic a little, since I have plenty of books I’d like to give him, but, there are other gifts, and ideas which come to me at the wee hours which prove my constant ingenuity, and can solve that problem of celebrating his birthday late.  Anyway, he lives across the street from a bookstore…he could hit his sand wedge and knock a window in.  Why would I presume he needs me to find him his books?

And what is it to receive a book from another, or a recommendation?  Someone has just told you that this is the best book I have ever read in my life. And it turns out to be The Celestine Prophesy, and you thank them and tell them you’ve already read it, but you’ll give it another go once you’ve climbed through the stack on your night table.  I caution myself now when I make a recommendation, and I’m very choosy when it comes to the gift of book…even if this is all I want to give all of the time, given I had endless funds.  Why wouldn’t someone want a world of their own, one where the plot lasts longer than a film, but shorter than a lifetime? The best book I’ve ever read is a particle in motion, acted upon by outside forces, so what spoke to me then, might not speak to me now.  And I’m sure there have been several I’ve given away with certainty that they would move another to velocities unmoved…yet remained unread.  Or un-re-read.

This world is full of traffic signals, and provider bills, and rubrics, and things we don’t call vacations.  Some nights I can’t read a book because of worry or excitement for the following day.  Sometimes the book I’m reading is hard work, and really requires I’m there with it and all of the characters, and the author’s reliance on my undivided attention.  And some days I toss all cautionary woes to the wind and allow myself the time I need to be with my book…which ever one it is, created specifically for this purpose of my calling it my own.


Filed under autobibliography, book collecting, books, gift books, guest post, reading

Cultivating Literary Gardens Of Frivolity

Reading isn’t good for a ballplayer. Not good for his eyes. If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs. So I gave up reading. • Babe Ruth

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. • Joseph Addison

My students who will soon be fully-licensed teachers have been asked to write their literacy histories, indulging in a bit of shelf analysis that they’ll be able to share with their students. So often our students seem to think their teachers exist outside of time and space, perhaps imagining us hidden away at night in cupboards, pressed flat and shelved with the copier paper and markers and pencils, or hung on hooks in some basement lair, slumbering until the morning bells awaken us to teach again. I have seen the look of surprise on their faces when they see me buying butter and eggs and enchilada sauce at the grocery store or standing in line to buy movie tickets or shopping for new underwear at Target. You? Here? Their eyes telegraph astonishment even as politeness overtakes them and pleasantries reign.

I know too that at least some of them imagine that their teachers spend their time  thinking important thoughts and reading important books and delighting only in the erudite, seldom deigning to indulge in ordinary joys. Alas, this is not true for me. I wallow in the unimportant, tromp shamelessly through the trivial, immerse myself in puerile seas of silliness. You have only to read what I’ve written to see me revealed as a hopeless eclectic when it comes to reading. I am quite good at rationalizing all of this, but I feel no need to do so here. Instead I’ll share someone else’s literary past:

Four Prongs of Literacy
A Literacy History by Carrie Anne Ebner

Around the circle of kinder classmates
I danced, ferocious and mighty.
Little herbivore personified by a big me in the middle
We sang: My name is Stegosaurus
I’m a funny looking dinosaur,
And on my back there’s many bony plates
And on my tail there’s four.
Now I know there are four,
Grammatically, and as a scientific fact.
But what are four bony plates for?

Judy Blume was my mother, inside her voice and eyes
Deciphering mysterious symbols, she was
Fudge and Ramona, and characters with high-pitched voices
Low-toned grunts,
Unlimited personality range while
My brother and I were ivy
Lacing up and around my mother’s body
Begging for one more chapter before bed time.

By fourth grade I was eating my own books
Incentivized by stars, rival-eyed, on the contest chart
I was winning in more ways than one
And producing my own poetry from vocabulary
Metabolized that year
And years prior.

To prepare us for the adult world
My friend and I memorized Silverstein’s “Sick Day”
For show-and-tell.
Just to show off.
Fifth graders can be like that sometimes.
I cannot go to school today said little Peggy Ann McKay
We had: the measles and the mumps
A gash , a rash and purple bumps.
Along with the rapt attention of our peers.

From nickels and dimes in couch cushions, to
Wheelbarrows filled with pine cones and weeds, to
Five-consecutive clean room days, to
A coastal town where my grandparents lived, to
The entire Black Stallion series, all twenty
Usurped, practically
From the nice, old proprietress
Watching me leave in full possession of worlds:
A stationary rider galloping with Alec and the Black
Curling up against that big climbing tree,  
Which was not “time” and “place”
But a reconnaissance trail
Toimagined others, else-wheres

And emotions of my own.

Music was the thing to teach the song a writer sings
Whitmanesque inspired sophomore, I found
Lyrics could be altered to make my own alternate identity
Pearl Jam, the Cranberries, Nirvana, the Cure
Facilitating the muse, friends to us all
Winning, I wrote my own flannel and concert T-shirt philosophy
Onto my journal’s impressionable slate.
A refuge, my island, an excuse against homework.
Clever coyote confidante yipping at me,
Your homework can wait,
It, and the books I would read instead of algebra.

Beware all: Don’t read! Don’t write!
Or that is all you will ever want to do!
Stillacademically rebelling against homework
But justly wasting a whole day
Reading an entire novel with:
I’m learning.

Words words words
Matter matter matter!
But I know I’m just escaping.
It’s what I did Saturday, and Saturday last,
Spending plastic dollars on collections of language.
I went to Europe on frequent flier miles.
On authors’ invitations.
Authorial incantations.
Wizards leaving me wizened.

It follows…
Those textbooks for college,
And novels bought on an anti-philosophical whim.
The new journals started and stopped, until I discovered Moleskin®,
Pasting in receipts and movie tickets and love notes
To remember places I’d been.

And every word sent to my Dear Letter-Reader Friend,
2000 pages at least!
We could drown the Nile, wallpaper the Wild West,
With those yellow pages
Marked with Argumentum ad hominems
…Ad ignorantiums
…Ad infintium…
And all manner of phonemic representation.
Ahs and Ums and marathon run-ons

Sometimes another dinosaur
Comes around and wants to fight!
I don’t use fists,
I use my tail-
It has four sharp, sharp spikes…
I don’t know what old Steggy would want with a pen.

What’s your literacy history?

A one sentence literacy history from William Shatner aka Captain Kirk: “I enjoyed reading all the classic authors like Isaac Asimov and Bradbury.”


Filed under autobibliography, childhood, guest post, literacy studies

An Autobibliographic Reflection On Marital Compatibility For My Husband Of Thirty-Six Years: If You Didn’t Love Books, Perhaps I Wouldn’t Love You, Although I Can’t Imagine Not Loving You, Books Or Not, So I Suppose It Doesn’t Matter. Except It Does.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. • Groucho Marx

My husband is my best friend. We celebrated our thirty-sixth anniversary at the end of March and as we sit here in bed reading this morning, I realize that our mutual bookishness helps sustain my love during those tough times when I’d just as soon stomp on his toes and push sharp objects under his fingernails as look at him. Of course, we also share a love of guacamole and movies and home-popped corn and artichokes and the garlic-that-can-never-be-too-much. Trips to the beach, camping in the redwoods, walks to the farmer’s market for tamales and just-fried donuts, and driving for hours to find a drive-in movie theatre are other things we both enjoy. But although these shared joys are certainly meaningful, as I count the things that really count, it is the books. Once the initial fires of attraction become the glow and occasional growl of ongoing companionship, a relationship needs something to sustain it. Books help.

If You Didn’t Love Books, Perhaps I Wouldn’t Love You

A Reflection On Marital Compatibility

You have packed and carried and moved and shelved hundreds—no thousands—of books in our years together, yet you never suggest that I let go of any of them.

You don’t really like thrift shopping, but you go with me. I can find you in the book section, leaning against a shelf, book in hand.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I pay you back with the Hawaiian shirts I find.

You never complain as you carry my bags of books on the walk home from the store.

You stop at any bookstore I want to visit and you enjoy them too.

You don’t complain if I spend hours browsing the shelves.

I’ll find you somewhere, book in hand, patiently reading.

And waiting.

You step over books that are piled in almost every room in our house and never gripe.

You know that books are decorative, that they add to the soul of our home.

You love them too.

You don’t mind when I turn the staircases into extra bookshelves.

When we traveled across the country and back and our narrow sleeping space in the van was increasingly encroached upon by the boxes of books that were too heavy to ship home, you laughed with me as we rolled onto our sides to sleep. From behind, the van had a serious list to one side.

You enjoy many of the same books I do. Under our bed are boxes full of books ready for reading.

There are stacks of books on your side of the bed too.

We fill sacks with finished books to give away, but you understand that many books are keepers.

Much of our shared reading is cotton-candy and ephemeral, but although you are not an academic, you read serious stuff.

You love history and geography and can find rivers and mountains and strange lands whose names have changed and changed again.

I rely on you for daily briefings on current events and for your knowledge of the history of the countries involved.

You step over stacks of books and never say a word.

You understand that a home can never have too many bookshelves.

You help me make room for another.

You are a learner. I love that in a man. I love that in a person. I love that in myself. It is an ongoing joy that doesn’t cost anything, unless, of course, you buy a lot of books.

You never question the money I spend on books.

You like to go to the library with me.

You go to the library without me.

You carry my library books home.

You can fall asleep with the light on if you are ready to go to sleep and I am still reading.

You can sleep if I awaken in the night and turn the light on and need to read or write.

You were as excited as I was to find volume one of Mark Twain’s Autobiography discounted at a big box store.

And, of course, you like to read yourself into the day as much as I do.

You are reading right now, while I write this.

What sustains your relationships?

Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.  • James Russell Lowell

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. • Mary Wortley Montagu


Filed under autobibliography, autoethnography, book collecting, books, reading, thrift shopping

An Essence Of Five: Recipe Writing

A guest post by Carrie Anne Ebner

(W-OZ note: There is a genre of autoethnographic exploration that focuses on food, on using recipes, cookbooks, memories of meals, and other food-related investigation to aid self-understanding. Ebner’s writing inspires this kind of autoethnographic—and autobibliographic/autoculinary—thought.)

Are you with me here in this forest?  Will you light a match to frame your face in the eerie dark, one familiar to wanderers on the brink of curiosity and cold?  And then throw that flame in the pile of sticks and dried moss for the start of a campfire?  It will ignite.

You thought you heard something rustle in the cold dark night.  And you were right.  Ten enflamed eyes shine at you from the forest.  You are startled and aware of your vulnerability; the precariousness of existence.  Your soft-skinned frame is, by your estimate, dwarfed compared to those eyes standing above your own height.  Or are they perhaps in the trees?  You have heard of these mythical creatures; you are sure they exist.  Legend has it they are dangerous.  Quests have been set out to kill them.  You are not yet immune to fairy tales, young-at-heart that you are.

And it is now your knightly quest to chop and blend the fire-breathers, for it is the Five Dragons recipe that has set your imagination aflame.  One tail curls around a scaly body of Onion.  Another, red this time, nods the don’t-touch-me head of Cayenne.  An enemy it is not, the Garlic creature, as its exhale reminds you of so many dishes that don’t need artificial ingredients for perfection.  And it is not without love that the Horseradish monster, its raw supermarket rarity finds its nose-nipping expression in your concocted quintessence.  Along with Ginger, belly soothing and bright, these five towering entities of the real and incorporeal, beckon you further to create.

But you think, fleetingly, of some other dragons, the shadow ones not with you on this night. Time, Space, Doubt, Perfection, and Death are also with us.  The slaying of these, and their relatives, is impossible.  We can only stave them off as best we can.  The five dragons understand this.

It is shortly morning and we are now walking in this forest of medieval light.  The fire-breathers accompany us down the path, not talking, but bounding, lurching from tree to tree, flapping their scaly wings in voluminous gusts of power; in effect, they are animating.  Together they are a dance, a story, a symphony, a body of five, unified.

They perch on tree branches, and observe us from above.  They disappear and reappear at leisure and with cheerful play.  Or one will walk behind, like a loyal old dog.  I glance back at Onion, his tail twice the length of my body.  Cayenne is shyer and hides further off, not making much contact with the underbrush he steps on, like light floating on motes, disturbing nothing below despite his elephantine bulk.  Ginger, naturally, is a girl, and has long eyelashes that bat at us mischievously. She is sweet.  And Horseradish is stoic, like an ancient statue unearthed from a buried city of soldiers.  Garlic is just and, therefore, good.  Garlic is always good, and will let you sit on his back and fly off into the sunset for our mutual happy ending.

When working with dragons, it is best to give them equal weight, so they do not become jealous of each other.  I chop them up equipollently then add them to a blender topped with apple cider vinegar.  The elixir formed is then thickened into a dressing with mayonnaise.  When they are together, they compliment coleslaw beautifully, and you may add chicken and almonds. Try this, and go beyond your imagination.

Five Dragons



Ginger Root (scrape with a spoon)

Horse Radish Root (peal with a potato peeler)

Cayenne Peppers (remove tops and use whole pepper & seeds)


Put equal amounts chunked into a blender and add enough Braggs, Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar™ to cover.  Blend well.

Five Dragons Cole Slaw (with & w/o Chicken)

2 cups shredded Cabbage

1 grated Carrot

Apple/Chicken Slaw:

1 cup shredded Cabbage

1.5 chopped Apple

1.5 diced Celery

1 large cooked Chicken breast (pulled apart into very small pieces by hand)

Five Dragons Dressing:

2/3 cup Grapeseed Veganaise

1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

½ dropper-full of liquid Stevia (add less if using mayonnaise)

1/2 cup Five Dragons


1/2 cup chopped Sprouted Almonds


Add 1/3 of the dressing to the Slaw and the remaining 2/3 of the dressing to Apple/Chicken Slaw.

Layer the Apple/Chicken Slaw on top of the Cabbage/Carrot Slaw.

Top with chopped, sprouted almonds.

(Note: Can be prepare ahead of time but add the almonds just before eating.)

Note: “Five Dragons” is adapted from “Dr. Richard Schulze’s Super Tonic Formula” by Paula Baer


Filed under autobibliography, autoculinary, autoethnography, guest post

Story Time

A guest post by Linda Ferguson

Linda Ferguson is a poet and fiction writer.  Her work has been published in Fiction at Work, Pure Francis, Saranac Review, and other journals. She also teaches dance and creative writing to school children.

I’ll confess:  I love being read to as much as I love reading.  Yes, I have a degree in English, and no, I’m not four years old.  Still, I love hearing written words roll off another person’s tongue and the inflections that he or she uses to bring all of the nuances of a story to life.

I discovered this when my son, Ben, was attending a middle school across town, and I was driving him home every afternoon.  I’ve always felt that time alone in the car is time wasted.  I’d rather be outside hanging laundry to dry or in the kitchen cooking a new soup.  To entertain myself on the way to pick up Ben, I started borrowing books on tape from the library.  The first one—The Bondwoman’s Narrative—became one of my favorites, with its spine-tingling story (complete with candles and creaking branches), as well as an enthralling introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explaining the detective work that went into proving this may be the only novel by a female African American slave.  What’s more, actress Anna Deveare Smith’s oddly understated reading (an almost deadpan delivery) juxtaposed with the exciting narrative of an escaped slave and made it even more absorbing.

Since this wasn’t the type of novel I ordinarily read, in the traditional way, with my eyes, I began to realize that recorded books could introduce me to other authors and topics I might not otherwise approach.  Soon to follow was Neal Bascomb’s A Perfect Mile, which had me cheering for Roger Bannister like a seasoned sports fan, despite the fact that my own days as an athlete ended after I squeaked through tenth grade P.E.   Another surprise was the beauty and suspense of Ursula K. LeGuin’s story “The Finder,” although I’d previously had as much interest in sci-fi/fantasy as I did in packing my bags and moving to Mars.  Darker tales, too, have become more accessible to me.  I might not have finished Michael Ondaatje’s tale of Sri Lankan terror if it weren’t for the sly, sensitive voice of Alan Cumming, and I’m sure I never would have survived Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart without the help of Peter Francis James.  Like a hand holding a needle, his patient baritone pulled me through the fabric of a harsh, foreign culture where the main characters earned their status by storing yams before the British imperialists imposed a devastatingly different order on the clan.

Listening to books has made me a more ambitious visual reader as well.  Sailing beyond the safe harbor of old favorites such as Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler, lately I’ve been taking on the page-long paragraphs of Henry James.  Although he seems to have written The Ambassadors in code, I’ve discovered that the painstaking effort I’ve put into deciphering his long, complex sentences provides as much pleasure as the clear and simple syntax of more modern authors.

Even if they weren’t so broadening, recorded books have the advantage of making a host of tedious tasks more enjoyable.  Every time I walk through my yellow hallway, I remember painting it while listening to Diane Johnson’s French farce Le Marriage.  I’ve also mopped the kitchen floor while Tom Jones romped with his lady friends in the background, and I actually volunteered to wash the after-dinner dishes so that I’d have an excuse to hear A.S. Byatt’s literary love story Possession.

For many adult readers, listening to books is best left to preschoolers sitting cross-legged on colorful carpet squares.  It’s something that intelligent, dignified people just don’t do—like throwing tantrums in the grocery store or licking the bottom of an ice cream bowl.  But recorded books have introduced me to characters who are separated from me by geography, time, and experience, and I’ve fallen under their spell because they feed—and stimulate—my desire to stretch and learn and feel connected to someone different from myself.  Or maybe I simply love listening to these recordings because I’ve never outgrown the need to sit down and hear a good story.


Filed under autobibliography, guest post, recorded books

Shelf Analysis From The Land Of W-OZ: Using Scraps And Patches To Create The Bitpiece Life

Originally posted at Zinnfull • June 6, 2010 • and provided here as a possibility for responses related to a course I’m teaching.

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. • Clifton Fadiman

I am a bricoleur, a patchworker. I do not make quilts from fabric, but I do piece together many kinds of things whether I am creating a home, a classroom, a piece of art, a poem, or an outfit. I am expert at making something from nothing and I am also adept at connecting the disparate and creating a cohesive whole.

In most lives insight has been accidental. We wait for it as primitive man awaited lightning for a fire. But making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, to see patterns, relationship, context. • Marilyn Ferguson

The naturalist John Muir said that when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world. Thus it is with life. In the act of exploring one thing I often find it attached to another, and another, and another, and have seen in my own life the unexpected connections Mary Catherine Bateson (2002) describes in Full Circles, Overlapping Lives, when she says that “[e]veryone has the chance to discover the patterns that order multiple ways of being human: through the arts, through the media, through conversations with the neighbors” (p. 18).

Learning and living. But they really are the same thing aren’t they? There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. • Eleanor Roosevelt

The metaphor of quilting provides me with an organizing construct for my life and it was with great delight that I realized the significance of my favorite Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). My Aunt Mildred had a complete set of Oz books and I read each one many times, but my favorite character in L. Frank Baum’s collection is Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz. She is a self-proclaimed original who has been accidentally given too many brains and too much cleverness.

What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. • Cynthia Ozick

The Patchwork Girl’s story doesn’t really matter. Her adventures haven’t stuck with me. But her character has. She is what I long to be, heedless of the opinions of others and secure in her own idiosyncratic ways. She is delighted with her self. I do not want to emulate her carelessness, but as a child, I admired her self-assurance. I still do. It is not easy to revel in who you are.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way. • Virginia Woolf

In a letter to his publisher in November of 1912, Baum discusses the process of creating his fantasies, saying, “A lot of thought is required on one of these fairy tales. The odd characters are a sort of inspiration, liable to strike me at any time, but the plot and plan of adventures takes me considerable time…I live with it day by day, jotting down on odd slips of paper the various ideas that occur and in this way getting my materials together. The new Oz book [The Patchwork Girl of Oz] is at this stage….But…it’s a long way from being ready for the printer yet. I must rewrite it, stringing the incidents into consecutive order, elaborating the characters, etc.” Baum was a bricoleur too. Many artists are. Many people are. Researchers certainly are.

Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. • Katherine Anne Porter

Indulge in a bit of shelf analysis. What stories or characters from childhood are significant for you? Why?

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived. • Howard Pyle


Filed under autobibliography, books, childhood, children's books, literacy studies