The Ninth Day of Christmas: September

The September who lived.

Okay, okay, okay.

You’ve probably predicted that Harry Potter would show up somewhere on this retrospective series if you read this blog, follow me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Instagram, take my classes, have talked to me in the past four months — or seen me at the gym or run into me in the grocery store or, basically, had even the shortest few seconds of interaction with me.

I’ve already written about my experience with young Mr. Potter and friends here and here, so I’ll try not to repeat my thoughts about how Harry Potter is pretty much the most awesome thing that has ever happened anywhere EVER.  Besides, this is a post about my photo of the day series, which means it’s a post about an image of something significant to my life this year — and Harry Potter absolutely, undeniably, luckily and thankfully was.

I think the thing that shocked me most when I first entered academia was this: though it’s your job to teach others how to better read and write, you have very little time to read, at least when you’re first starting out.  This was the case for me over the past few years — frighteningly and, honestly, embarrassingly so.   Especially embarrassingly.  Here’s what I mean:

Figure A: A Frightening and Embarassing Screenshot of My Reading List from Earlier This Year

Let’s break down the information presented in Figure A: there are 8 books listed on my Goodreads profile for the spring semester of this year.  Had I read eight books in my free time over that time period, I’d be saying this to myself: right on, Emma.  Nice work with the reading, yo.  However, a closer examination of Figure A offers the following information: two of the eight books were for classes I was teaching at the time, and though I started reading two other books around that time, I didn’t finish them until August.  Therefore, I deserve no right on.  No nice work with the reading.  No yo.

Use it or lose it was one of my grandfather’s favorite expressions, one which he believed absolutely to be true.  He was an incredibly talented artist, but he was a soldier, then a father to four girls, and he never had time to practice his talents.  He always wondered what would have happened to his gifts had he been able to spend more time drawing.  How would his skills have developed and changed?  What would his drawings have looked like?

I think my grandfather was absolutely right — you use it, or you lose it.  Now, though, I wonder if what you lose is your love of the thing.  I wonder if this love is what’s most important, if that’s the thing that gives you the strength to risk and render, to hone your skills and develop your talents.  Every loving relationship requires work, requires practice — my relationship with words was no different.  When I stopped reading, I lost it — or rather, my memory of it: my love for reading, for the way it transformed and transported me, for the wonder and wisdom and beauty and terror held between two covers.

Harry Potter helped me to remember.  Through Hogwarts, I was transported and transformed.  I loved those books and in loving those books I remembered how much I love reading, and always have.  I remembered why I started reading and writing and why I worked each day to teach others how to better read and write — and I started to realize that really, the most important thing I could ever teach my students is to love the written word, and never to forget how to love it.

I’m proud to say that my Goodreads list looks much different now: since moving to Statesboro, I’ve finished 29 (well, currently 29 and three-quarters) books.  My relationship with reading is steadier than ever, and I think, this time, we’re in it for the long run.

The Eighth Day of Christmas: August

August (and why things don't always have to be august. You know, the other meaning. Like, serious and stuff. That was a pun. Okay, not a funny pun. But I did try. Okay, maybe I didn't.)

Somewhere in one of my parents’ closets, there’s a reel of film featuring me at age two or two and a half or so.  It’s summer.  I’m in the backyard and so is one of those kiddie pools* you get outside Wal-Mart**, and I’m supposed to be playing in it.  Except I’m not.  I’m looking at it with my eyes squinted.  I’m walking around it, once and then twice.  I’m looking at the water very, very seriously.  I’m putting a hand in the water.  Then the tip of my foot.  Then the whole foot.  Then I’m looking at my mother behind the Super 8 camera, asking permission to get in.

The thing is, I tend to live my life this way: looking at things very, very seriously; walking around and around and inspecting every single centimeter before I dive in; thinking of “fun” as “something for which one needs to ask permission, even if one is wearing a lady bug bathing suit and grown-up sunglasses and being filmed in such a way as to suggest that the very thing one most needs to be doing is having fun.”  I find that this is especially true when it comes to my writing: I’ll do just about everything I can to avoid jumping in, and if I’m having fun, I wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

Of course, I’m not, and in August I realized that having fun is exactly what I most need to be doing, especially in my writing.  I also developed a regular writing schedule and finally decorated my guest room, which for months remained this strange and sad and empty space holding nothing but ghosts, dust, and cat litter.  I decided to make it a writing room.  It’s a project I started and never finished in Georgetown, and finishing it here represented a major triumph.  It’s like I was finally able to create the space I’d needed for myself for so long — both in my house and in my life.

Most of the space is dedicated to things that inspire me — especially things that inspire me to have fun, to stop pacing and thinking and harumphing and just sit down and enjoy writing without taking everything so damn seriously.  The photograph above is a picture of the cork board hanging behind my writing desk.  It’s decorated with photographs and postcards and Post-Its of and from the people I love the most, reminders of moments that meant the most to me — and reminders that even if it isn’t particularly sanitary or polite, sometimes it’s just plain funny to put French fries up your nose, so it’s worth it.

* For some strange reason, I’m realizing that pools and water seem to have become a theme here.  Maybe it’s because I’ve moved close to the balmy, balmy coast after three years of living in the land-locked tundra?

** I’m also realizing that Wal-Mart seems to have become a theme, but, as I’ve spent most of my life living in small towns in the South, that’s hardly strange or unexpected.