Thursday, March 17, 2011

"You, My Fine Friend, Have Entered Doll Time."

"Do you have a book about a rabbit named Edward Tulane?" a student of mine asked me about a week ago?  I checked the computer catalogue.  Nope.  I went to the Internet and found it online.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate KiCamillo.  Hmmm.  $4?  I think we can manage that.  (By the way, I am going to promote Abe Books ad nauseam.  I find amazing deals here weekly and help make both kids and myself happy really inexpensivelyy.) 

"We don't have it, but I could get it.  Would you like me to?"  I asked.  "Yes, please."  (Oh, how I especially love the ones with manners.)  "Ok.  It'll take at least a week, but I'll let you know when it comes in and I have it ready for you,"  I told her. 

The book arrived last weekend and I was drawn to the cover art.  Kate DiCamillo, the author, had written The Tale of Despereaux,  the heart-wrenching mouse and princess story which my son and I had listened to on audio just last summer.  The story had been emotional and magical.  (No, I haven't seen the movie and can't compare it.  Maybe later . . .)  I thought I might just peek inside this book and see just what was so special that a student would remember it and ask for it. 

Edward is a custom-made china doll that had been commissioned by a woman for her granddaughter.  He had hinged arms and legs and sported real rabbit fur, although "whom the whiskers had belonged to initially-what unsavory animal-was a question that Edward could not bear to consider for too long."  Edward has a wardrobe of fine clothing and his little mistress, Abilene, dotes on him.  He sits at the table while the family has their meals, much to the amusement of Abilene's parents.  The grandmother, Pellegrina, on the other hand, seems to know that Edward is more than just a doll, and she is disappointed in his snotty attitude.

I was hooked by page 16, when the neighboring Boxer comes into the house "uninvited and unannounced" and commences to urinate on the white tablecloth and shake Edward back and forth "vigorously, growling and drooling." 

We have a boxer and I could just see ours pulling the same stunts.  I decided to keep the book just a little longer, just to see where the story might go.  Well, tonight I put off the dishes and sat for about 30 minutes, reading this book up like a bowl of gravy with rice.  Edward starts off as a vain, contemptuous, bored rabbit; ignoring the babbling of his adoring charge.  He is taken on a cruise with the family and is accidentally flung into the ocean by some teasing boys.  All the stricken Abilene is left with is his fine pocket watch.

Spoiler alert:  I will just quote the Coda, which summarizes the rest of the story, which had me weeping into a towel. 

Once, there was a China Rabbit who was loved by a little girl.  the rabbit went on an ocean journey and fell overboard and was rescued by a fisherman.  He was buried under garbage and unburied by a dog.  He traveled for a long time with the hobos and worked for a short time as a scarecrow.
Once, there was a rabbit who loved a little girl and watched her die.
The rabbit danced on the streets of Memphis.  His head was broken open in a diner and was put together again by a doll mender.
And the rabbit swore that he would not make the mistake of loving again.
Once there was a rabbit who danced in a garden in springtime with the daughter of the woman who had loved him at the beginning of his journey.  The girl swung the rabbit as she danced in circles.  Sometimes, they went so fast, the two of them, that it seemed as if they were flying.  Sometimes, it seemed as if they both had wings.
Once, oh marvelous once, there was a rabbit who found his way home.

I loved the message that DiCamillo expressed on page 189.  Edward is sitting on a shelf in the doll mender's shop, feeling empty and like nothing is worth anything.  A 100-year-old doll is placed next to him on the shelf.  She has been on a long journey and wonders who will come for her next. 

"I don't care if anyone comes for me," said Edward.
"But that's dreadful," said the old doll.  "There's no point in going on if you feel that way.  No point at all.  You must be filled with expectancy.  You must be awash in hope.  you must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next. "
"I am done with being loved," Edward told her.  "I'm done with loving.  It's too painful."
"Pish," said the old doll.  "Where is your courage?"
"Somewhere else, I guess," said Edward.
"You disappoint me," she said.  "You disappoint me greatly.  If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.  You might as well leap from this shelf right now and let yourself shatter into a million pieces.  Get it over with.  Get it all over with now."
"I would leap if I was able," said Edward.
"Shall I push you?" said the old doll.
"No, thank you," Edward said to her. "Not that you could," he muttered to himself. 
I found the book lovely.  Special.  One of the good ones.  Tomorrow I'll take it to school, stick on a barcode and a date due paper, cover it in plastic and let the sweet girl know her book is ready.  When she brings it back, I will place it on my "Mrs. E's Pick Favorite's" shelf.                               Thanks for listening.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Effects Books can have on Children . . .

In case you haven't noticed, I come from a family of readers, on both sides.  We would read for entertainment, information, to waste time, and to create a lesson for our children.  With the devastating earthquake and tsunami so recently experienced in Japan, my son had questions I couldn't answer.  I got books from work and brought them home to teach us both just how those tectonic plates worked.  When I was rude at home, my maternal grandmother would have me look up the word which described my particular action and read the definition to her.  Another case in point:  Noisy Nora , "An Almost True Story" by Hugh Lofting (whom I just discovered created Doctor Doolittle).

Once upon a time there was a little girl and her name was Nora.  She lived on an old farm in a hollow of the hills with her mother and father.  On the farm they had many kinds of animals, horses and cows and pigs and chickens.  Now Nora's table manners were very bad.  She never said "please" or "thank you" and she always ate with both hands at once.  It was a good thing the neighbours used to say, that she had not four hands, for if she had she would surely have used them all at the same time.  But the worst thing in Nora's very dreadful behaviour was chewing with her mouth open. 

This book was published in 1929 and the copy I have is an original.  The pages are falling out and the cover is faded.  There are water marks (or possibly tear stains from the naughty children in my family who were made to read it) at the bottom of some of the pages.  This book belonged to my paternal grandmother and she kept it high up on a shelf.  She was a stickler for manners and had very definite ideas about how children should behave.  When one of us was rude at the table, smacking our lips or speaking with our mouths full, she would refer to "Noisy Nora".  I remember feeling a gleeful sense of foreboding when she would take that book down and pass it to me.  Sometimes I would ask for it, even when I was acting appropriately. 

Last weekend I was visiting my Aunt when she got this maniacal look in her eye and said she had something for me.  Out of the hall closet, she pulled out this very same copy of Noisy Nora and handed it over to me with a shiver.  I think she was glad to get rid of it. I sat there and read it, feeling myself shrink to a young girl, sitting in the dark family room of the old family place, with the light coming over my shoulder from the huge window way in the back of the room, over by my doll house and the loom.  Yes, my grandmother had a loom.  The pictures in the book are part of what make it so charming, and freaky.  There are little pictures drawn in-between words to help young readers, as well as larger ones to help make the point of the book.

With my step-mother looking over my shoulder, I quickly summarized the book to her, how Noisy Nora is so rotten at the table she is sent to the kitchen to learn some manners.  By lunchtime, the cook tells her father that none of the farmhands will eat with someone who made so much noise chewing with her mouth open.  Nora's father sends her out to the horse stable.  Nora thinks that sounds fun, so instead of apologizing to the cook, she goes to the stable.  Soon, the horses send in a message, begging for the dreadful little girl to be taken away.  How does she fare in the cow shed?  With the pigs? The rats in the barn?  None of them can stand her obnoxious chewing and lack of manners.  Nora is put out in the pasture, scaring away the rabbits, birds and worms, the butterflies, ants and grasshoppers.  Eventually Nora is surrounded by "a solemn silence".  Even the wind has gone someplace more peaceful.  Nora reaches for her sandwich and starts eating.  Now that she can hear herself clearly, she is disgusted by the "nasty and dreadful noise she had been making."  Finally, Nora decides to never again eat with her mouth open and "to always think of others when she was at table." 

My dad read the book for the first time in MANY years and wasn't as creeped out by the memories as he thought he might be.  I'm looking forward to reading this book to my son.  I have referred to him as "Noisy Nora" from time to time and wished I had a farmful of animals to shun him when he's being gross.  I'll have to put my mind to this one.  Maybe I can borrow a horse or chicken from the neighbors.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Ratty Old Blanket, a Guilty Conscience and a Confession

When I was in Jr. High, for my birthday one year, I received a dual-sided pink comforter for my bed.  I also had a sleepover.

Young teenage girls can be "cliquey" and petty and mean-spirited.  I know.  I was one of them at one time.

 A group of my girlfriends came over to spend the night and a girl who used to be my friend came too.

Growing up, she lived across the street and we spent a lot of time together.  I don't remember us particularly bonding, but we were the same age and same sex and our moms got along, so it was assumed we would too.

Around the 6th grade, I started going to the same school as her.  We didn't run in the same circle of friends.  In fact, I thought she was snobby and standoffish.  Maybe my feelings were hurt because she wasn't friendlier to me, considering the fact that we had hung out together since age 5.  Anyway, we didn't have anything in common anymore.

I'm not sure why I invited her to my sleepover, but I did and she came.  Instantly the groups of girls divided.  She and another one of the girls broke off from the rest of us from the beginning.  She didn't like the games we had planned and I even have a picture of her from that day where she's got a rolled-eye expression on her face and her arms are crossed.  My dislike for her was intensifying by the minute.

By bedtime, it was definitely us vs. "them" but mainly her.  When she fell asleep first (NEVER) a good idea at a sleepover, we went into action.  First we put her hand into warm water, that old "pee your panties" trick.  I was of mixed emotions at this point.  Mainly, I wanted to get back at her for being who she was, but dang it, she was sleeping on my new, double-sided pink comforter!  My spite got the best of me and the trick commenced.  The warm water hand trick did not cause her to pee so we decided to just go ahead and pour the warm water "down there" and pretend that she had.  We poured.  She awoke to find all of us standing around her, staring.  My remembrance gets a little hazy at this point, but I think we pretended not to notice the "pee" on her underwear and bed until she got up to use the bathroom.  Then the whispering and giggling commenced.  Now's where my 22-year-old-ish memory of this incident diverges onto two possible paths.  Perhaps she pulled me aside and told me that something had happened.  Maybe we just accused her of peeing her pants when she got back.  Either way, I wasn't particularly nice about it.  I made a big deal about the comforter being new.  A birthday present from my mom.  No, I wasn't too nice and it still bothers me.

I am ready to get rid of the blanket.  I am almost 40 and the blanket has rips in it and is pretty thin.  Plus, I grew out of pink a long time ago.  It was on my bed in college, in my apartments and folded up for the dog.  It is time for it to go.  But you know what?  I think I owe someone an apology. 

I have at least 4 friends on Facebook who were there at that party.  I wonder if they remember this incident?  I wonder if they are friends with her. Maybe she's even on Facebook.  Anyway, I've been carrying this around inside for a long time and it's not a story I am proud of.  I wonder what will go first . . . the blanket or the guilt.  Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Course in Miracles

"Are you ok?" E asked me as I lay on our bed, my arm covering my eyes.
"Yeah." I moan, then get up with a purpose in my stride and get out my laptop.
"What are you doing?" he asks, looking up from playing Angry Birds on his phone.
"About what?"
"My new book."
"The one you got today?"
"Did you finish it already?"
"The preface."
"And you're going to write about it?"
I've known for a few years that eventually, A Course in Miracles would come my way.  It was mentioned again and again in books and audiobooks I had read/listened to.  I had decided to not actively seek it out, knowing that when the time was right, it would be the right time to read it. 

Yesterday, my girl A and I were perusing the shelves in Barnes and Noble, our favorite "girl date" site and I was scanning the Spirituality shelves.  I had a gift certificate from my son and I was ready to spend it.  A few titles jumped out at me with names like A Course in Miracles in Five Minutes and A Course on a Course in Miracles.  I opened one of them to find out the original author of the original book.  Helen Schucman.  I went to the "S" section.  It wasn't there.  I went to the self-help computer and typed it in.  The computer said that there was a copy in stock, in fact the copy was a combined volume with the text, workbook for students and manual for teachers all in one.  Score!  I went back to the section and got back to the "S's".  Nope.  Not there.  Was this a sign that now was not the time for me to read this book?  Hmmm.  Looked at the computer again.  Stroll down a few other religious aisles. Still not there.  Ok.  I will start at the beginning of the Spiritual aisle and look at every title.  If it's not there, find something else for now.  I got to about the 5th row and there it was.  A Course in Miracles, combined volume, new third edition, "the only complete course as authorized by its scribe and published by its original publisher", published by the foundation for inner peace.  Wow.  Ok.  The book was sealed in plastic so I couldn't thumb through it, but all of a sudden, I didn't want it anymore.  It looked boring.  The cover was dark blue with gold lettering and there were no pictures to suck me in.  It looked time consuming, the thickness of a Bible or textbook.  It looked life-changing.  My ego spoke loudly about how I was doing JUST FINE and did I really want to delve into new thinking patterns?  I told A I didn't want it.  I asked aloud if it were just my ego getting in the way. A reminded me that I had been waiting for this book to land in my hands for over 3 years.  I had to get it.  "Ok." I sighed.  "Let's get to the checkout counter before I change my mind."

I later discovered that the reason the book wasn't in the "S" section for Schucman was because she didn't feel she had written the book herself, that the book came to her and that her job was to write down what she was told.  "The names of the collaborators in the recording of the Course do not appear on the cover because the Course can and should stand on its own.  It is not intended to become the basis for another cult. Its only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher."  (viii) Dr. Wayne Dyer has said this before about some of his books, that an overwhelming need to write down a message is often put in his lap, at which time he gives thanks for it, meditates on it a bit, then starts writing. 

Helen Schucman was a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York city in the 70's.  She and a fellow professor found themselves on the path to this book after the head of their department "unexpectedly announced that he was tired of the angry and aggressive feelings (their) attitudes reflected, and concluded that 'there must be another way.'  As if on cue, I agreed to help him find it.  Apparently this Course is the other way."  (vii)

Helen's co-worker suggested she write down the "highly symbolic dreams and descriptions of the strange images that were coming to her and she came to realize that she was being dictated to by a Voice that seemed to be giving her a kind of rapid, inner dictation which she took down in a shorthand notebook."  She would dictate this to her co-worker, who would type it out.  This went on for seven years.

The curriculum of the Course states specifically that "a universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary." "Although Christian in statement, the Course deals with universal spiritual themes.  It emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum.  There are many others, this one differing from them only in form.  They all lead to God in the end."  (viii-ix)  The workbook contains 365 lessons, though it is encouraged to stay with a lesson for more than one day if it seems appropriate. 

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.
One more time? Nothing unreal exists? We may find ourselves in a world of perceptions which leads us away from Truth, the love of God. "What perception sees and hears appears to be real because it permits into awareness only what conforms to the wishes of the perceiver." (x)

This is how A Course in Miracles begins.  It makes a fundamental distinction between real and unreal; between knowledge and perception.  Knowledge is truth, under one law, the law of love or God.  Truth is unalterable, eternal and unambiguous.  It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed. . . . The world of perception, on the other hand, is the world of time, of change, of beginnings and endings.  It is based on interpretation, not on facts.  It is the world of birth and death, founded on the belief in scarcity, loss, separation and death.  It is learned rather than given, selective in its perceptual emphases, unstable in its functioning, and inaccurate in its interpretations.  . . . What perception sees and hears appears to be real because it permits into awareness only what conforms to the wishes of the perceiver.  This leads to a world of illusions, a world which needs constant defense precisely because it is not real. (x)

The intro goes on to say that when one is "caught in the world of perception, (one) is caught in a dream."  This sounds mighty familiar to me, as I am a huge fan of Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements, a book which changed the way I viewed my life and those around me.  Ruiz explains that from birth, we are introduced to a dream-state by our caretakers who aren't trying to punish us by bringing us into this illusion of lack and scarcity and hate and pain, but only because it is only what they know.  Time to wake up, people!

The Four Agreements image borrowed from

"The world we see merely reflects our own internal frame of reference-the dominant ideas, wishes and emotions in our minds.  'Projection makes perception.'  (p 445) We look inside first, decide the kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it.  We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing.  If we are using perception to justify our own mistakes-our anger, our impulses to attack, our lack of love in whatever form it may take-we will see a world of evil, destruction, malice, envy and despair.  All this we must learn to forgive, not because we are being 'good' and 'charitable,' but because what we are seeing is not true."  (xi)

"Sin is defined as 'lack of love' (11).  Since love is all there is, sin in the sight of the Holy Spirit is a mistake to be corrected, rather than an evil to be punished.  (!!!)  Our sense of inadequacy, weakness and incompletion comes from the strong investment in 'the scarcity principle' that governs the whole world of illusions.  From that point of view, we seek in others what we feel is wanting in ourselves.  That, in fact, is what passes for love in the dream world.  There can be no greater mistake than that, for love is incapable of asking for anything." (xi)

The law of attraction states that what I surround myself with in my mind will come to pass in the physical world.  It is time for me to read this book.  Dr. Wayne Dyer states, "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change."  I am ready for a change.  If I felt the need to blog after reading just the intro, who knows what will be coming up the pike?!?  Thanks for listening.